[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: July 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Bauza Watch - Part II

Mora over at Babalu posts a scathing commentary on Sun-Sentinel's (freelance? staff member? who knows) Cuba reporter Vanessa Bauza's latest piece on the Cuban education system's efforts to recruit young people to the revolucion.

Of all the Bauza columns I've read, this one has to be the most disappointing. Someone might argue that Bauza is just presenting observations of what is occurring on the island, and that is partially true. The problem is that she's missing the other part, the crucial element to the entire Cuba issue which is the struggle between opression and the dissidents who want change.

Bauza seems to gloss over the dissidents and their efforts, resorting to matter-of-fact reporting of the latest protests and arrests. Even here, she's failed by not admitting to the violence that fidel goons have used against the protesters.

Contrast her reporting to that of the Miami Herald, which focuses more on the dissident struggle, while still covering fidel's ramblings which are well disseminated by international media outlets.

I did catch one interesting comment from Bauza's column:

Values vaunted in the 1960s and '70s -- self-sacrifice, solidarity and the rejection of consumer culture -- are still instilled in today's youth, but Cuba is no longer as insulated as it was then. Tourism, foreign investment, American pop culture and visiting Cuban-Americans offer young people a different world view, making the role of schools in teaching ideology perhaps more significant than in the past.

She alleges that Cuban-Americans are indeed influencing Cubans on the island with their ideas and values. Hmmmm. Wait a minute! I thought the embargo prevented that from happening.

By accident, I'm sure, that paragraph justifies everything the pro-embargo crowd has been saying all along: You can send all the tourists you want, you can flood the island with Americans, but nothing, NOTHING, will change unless fidel and his cronies are removed.

The indoctrination and brainwashing of the regime, this "battle of ideas", starting at a very young age, is something that is severely underestimated by the U.S. anti-embargo crowd. They assume that Cuba plays under the same rules and thinks the same as the rest of the Western world. The exact opposite is true.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Will DeFede Come Back to Herald?

This will be the last post, at least in the near future, in the continuing Jim DeFede saga.

Just a few minutes ago I read this story from AP concerning the firing, and in the last paragraph, Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz states that the Herald door may not have totally closed behind DeFede:

Herald Publisher Jesus Diaz wouldn't say Friday whether the paper would consider rehiring (Jim DeFede), but added: "We made the decision based on what Jim said to us and I guess as life moves on, anything is possible."

That "anything" includes whether or not charges are filed against DeFede, and whether he would be convicted.

My bold prediction (not necessarily a wish) - if DeFede isn't convicted of felony charges, he'll be back writing for the Herald by the end of the year.

Jounalistic Ethics (Continued)

Much talk and debate has been going around in blog circles about the Herald's firing of Jim DeFede. An interesting point brought up by Conductor of Cuban-American Pundits contends that it is debatable whether the law required DeFede to notify Teele of the recording because Teele didn't have an "expectation of privacy".

I see it this way: If Teele was having a private conversation with DeFede, which has been supported by all accounts I've seen, then there is an expectation of privacy. The law would therefore apply. I have experience in dealing with the media, and have done more than my share of interviews with newspapers as part of my job. I am well aware that anything you say off the record in an interview can be used by the reporter, therefore I am very careful with what I say at all times. However, this doesn't excuse a reporter for publishing off the record comments. It's unethical.

In the end, this was a private conversation initiated by Teele who apparently thought of DeFede as someone he could trust in a time of duress, therefore it should not be recorded without consent.

We don't know what intent DeFede had in recording his conversation with Teele, but it is interesting to note that he turned the recorder on AFTER Teele started to lose his cool. That leads me to believe that DeFede MAY have intended to use it for a future story. Considering the circumstances during the call and what occurred after the call, it is reasonable to believe that DeFede wasn't just going to sit on the tape.

I agree with the Herald's action to fire DeFede. However, I also agree with Conductor that there is a double standard in the media. Consider this quote from the story in today's Herald linked to above:

Journalism ethics Professor Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg agreed that DeFede's action was not to be viewed lightly.

''People have a reasonable expectation to know when they're going to be taped,'' he said. ``Even if it's legal, it still doesn't mean journalists should tape people without knowledge of the other party. People need to understand how we operate. It's right for journalists to explain the rules of the conversation.''

But, Tompkins said, there are exceptions that should only be made with approval from the news organization in cases where ``the harm we would cause by the deception is outweighed by the public's need to know. I'm not hearing that in this case.''

The Herald's (executive editor Tom) Fiedler said that he supported the right of journalists to break the law only in extraordinary circumstances, where the story is of high public interest and cannot be reported without, for example, going undercover, using a hidden microphone or trespassing. In those cases, the reporting methods must be approved beforehand by editors, Fiedler said.

DeFede agreed this was not one of those cases, the editor said. (emphasis mine).

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Herald: Ethics and Bad Taste

In the wake of the dramatic death of Art Teele yesterday, one of our local fish wrappers, the Miami Herald, has done a few things that have both angered and pleased me.

Let's get to the good first: Their firing of Jim DeFede was the right thing to do. What DeFede did was ethically wrong, and of course illegal. Some people might say, "But DeFede himself told his bosses he taped the interview without consent". That doesn't absolve him. If I were to kill someone out in the street and then called the police to let them know what I did, do I get the right to walk away free? Of course not. The analogy may be extreme, but I think I made my point.

It's so ironic that a person such as DeFede, a journalist who prided himself on standing up for the little guy, who "supposedly" stood for right and just causes, would try to wiggle himself out of this jam. I realize the tough situation he must have been in when he received Teele's calls, however I expect a professional in any field to perform at his/her best and do the right thing when the situation gets tough. No exceptions. DeFede is not above the law. Good thing Tom Fiedler and Jesus Diaz realize that.

Now the bad: The Herald's decision to publish the graphic picture of Teele lying on the floor with a large trail of blood pouring out of his head on the front page was terrible. Awful. Deplorable. Just as bad was the lame disclaimer by executive editor Tom Fiedler below the picture, stating that the graphic nature of the picture would be disturbing to some but that it was an essential element in the reporting of the story.

No regards whatsoever was made to the feelings of Teele's family and friends, as well as to the many children (like my own) who read and look at the pictures in the newspaper. If they felt the compelling need to publish the picture, an generously edited version would have sufficed, or perhaps the unedited version buried somewhere in the back of the section with a warning to those who don't wish to see it.

Back to the firing of DeFede. George Moneo has posted on Babalu about a blog called Journalists for Jim DeFede started up by some of DeFede's colleagues which displays an open letter to the Herald publisher and executive editor expressing sadness and disappointment at their decision to fire DeFede. It is signed by a few dozen journalists, most of them either current or former Herald reporters.

The website claims it may not have been a technical violation of the law. The link to the statute provided on the site is a bit fuzzy, but regardless of the technicalities, it is a "real violation" as stated by Paxety in the comments at Babalu and most definitely an ethical violation. Professionals are supposed to follow the code of ethics in their job.

What's really disappointing to me is the relatively large number of people who've signed the letter, including several current Herald reporters whose work I've been reading for quite a few years now. Here's the list of the Herald reporters:

Elinor Brechner - Dave Barry (!) - Frances Robles - Michelle Kaufman (Mrs. Barry) - Ronnie Green - Linda Robertson (yech!) - Andres Vigilucci - Nicholas Spangler - Jordan Levin - Leonard Pitts, Jr. (what a shock!) - Patrick Ogle - Alejandro Armengol - Rui Ferrera

Shame on you all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Art Teele Commits Suicide (UPDATED)

Former Miami-Dade County and city of Miami commissioner Arthur Teele committed suicide in the lobby of the Miami Herald Building this evening shortly after 6 PM.

I've been trying to get the latest from the Miami Herald site, but the building was evacuated after the incident and their links aren't working at the present time.

UPDATE 7/28 6:30 AM: Herald columnist Jim DeFede was fired by the paper late yesterday for illegally recording a phone conversation with Teele earlier in the day.

DeFede, who defended Teele several times in his columns despite Teele's checkered past, issued a prepared statement: (emphasis mine)

''In a tense situation I made a mistake,'' he said. ``The Miami Herald executives only learned about it because I came to them and admitted it.

``I told them I was willing to accept a suspension and apologize both to the newsroom and our readers. Unfortunately, The Herald decided on the death penalty instead.''

Jim, the law is the law, right? As champion of the little guy, you should have known that recording conversations without the consent of both parties is a crime.

Then again, DeFede has had problems interpreting the law in the past.

Please Welcome to the Blogroll...

A belated welcome to KillCastro - A War Blog, with excellent, informative, and never-boring commentary by Ziva, Charlie Bravo, and the one and only KillCastro himself.

Another VERY belated welcome to local blogger Steve from Hog on Ice, "broadcasting live from the holy city of Coral Gables." Being very familiar with the Gables, I can personally attest to the Holy City moniker. A site that runs the gamut from hilarious to serious, but almost always with tongue firmly in cheek. Please check it out if you haven't already done so.

Bauza Take on fidel's Speech

Never mind the serious issues facing the people of Cuba these days: no power, lack of food, lack of adequate housing, etc. It doesn't matter to el maximo lider, it's all about him. fidel went on his usual self-aggrandizing rampage yesterday, this time to commemorate the Moncada Barrack attack of July 26th, 1953.

The Sun-Sentinel's Vanessa Bauza gives her usual soft take on news in Cuba with this article:

HAVANA · President Fidel Castro commemorated the 52nd anniversary of his revolution by taking aim at his nemesis, the Bush administration, and bitterly accusing it of financing and promoting recent anti-government dissident demonstrations.Addressing an auditorium full of Communist Party leaders and handpicked supporters, Castro called the top U.S. diplomat in Havana a "grotesque character," and sternly warned that future protests planned by Cuba's dissidents will be thwarted "as many times as necessary."

"The supposed opposition in Cuba does not exist except in the feverish minds of the Cuban-American mafia and the bureaucrats of the White House and the State Department," Castro said a four-hour speech at Havana's Karl Marx Theater on Tuesday night. "They deceive themselves ... with their own lies."He referred to two demonstrations this month in which dozens of dissidents were detained and declared that his enemies are mistaken if they think his government is on its last legs (Emphasis mine - they weren't just detained Vanessa, they were also beaten, here's proof).

Castro, who turns 79 next month, also promised improvements to Cuba's decayed infrastructure and dilapidated housing. Many of the island's 11 million residents have been plagued by frequent power outages this summer, forcing them to make do without electric fans and refrigerators in scorching heat. Responding to widespread discontent over the blackouts, Castro said the Cuban government has invested $282 million in equipment and material to improve outdated power plants. He predicted Cuba's electrical output would double by the end of the year. "As president of the Council of State and government, I dedicate a significant amount of time to this problem," Castro said. "I am not exaggerating what I have said."All I ask is that you have a little confidence."

Cubans in the far eastern and central provinces face the additional burden of rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Dennis, which ripped across fishing villages and agricultural towns earlier this month, killing 16 people, destroying 15,000 homes and causing $1.4 billion in damage. On Tuesday, Castro promised 10,000 homes would be repaired by the end of this year and an additional 100,000 would be built next year.Castro painted a rosy economic picture, in contrast with the persistent hardships and shortages many average Cubans struggle with daily. He said the Cuban economy grew by 7 percent in the first half of 2005, adding that run-down hospitals are being repaired and buses and trains are being imported to ease congested public transportation. Economically, ties with China and Venezuela, coupled with tourism revenues and high prices for nickel, have helped Cuba cope with the tightened U.S. embargo.

University of Florida researcher Paolo Spadoni, who frequently writes on Cuba policies, gave the island's economy mixed reviews."From the U.S. side, Cuba is on its last legs and it looks like the system is going to fall apart tomorrow. On the Cuban side there has been optimism and they've openly said the economy is better because of Chinese and Venezuelan support," Spadoni said. "There are some indicators that the economy is better. I'm not sure how much of that you can see on the street." (ed: Mr. Spadoni, the answer is - not much.)

Castro's government, meanwhile, faces criticism again from the U.S. government and European Union over the detentions last week of 33 dissidents who planned an anti-government demonstration. So far, 24 of the detained dissidents have been released. Nine others remained in prison Tuesday, said veteran activist Elizardo Sánchez of the nongovernmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation."The situation concerning civil, political and economic rights is worse than it was last year," Sánchez said. "The number of detentions without charges is greater than last year. I have never seen so much discontent in Cuban society as there is now. It is not leading to massive protests, but isolated manifestations ... especially during blackouts."

The anniversary marked the July 26, 1953, rebel attack that sparked a popular uprising against former military dictator Fulgencio Batista and launched Castro's revolution.The surprise attack on the Moncada military barracks was a spectacular failure for the rebels, but it is commemorated as one of communist Cuba's most important holidays. At the time, Castro was captured and more than 50 of his compatriots were tortured and executed. At his trial Castro famously declared: "Condemn me; it does not matter. History will absolve me."He echoed that phrase at the end of his speech Tuesday night, proclaiming, "History will absolve us!" in front of an enthusiastic crowd, including American activists who traveled to Cuba in defiance of the four-decade embargo.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Who is This Man?

Is he the lawn and landscaping guy?

Is he a vagabond who can't afford a pair of shoes? (Actually, yes part time, although he can afford shoes).

Is he a guy you think can run the ball for 1,000+ yards?

Is he a guy the Dolphins can pin their hopes on this season?

I hope so.

His name is Ricky Williams.

Posada...Terrorists...and July 26th

Those are the subjects of three articles/editorials published in today's Miami Herald.

Leading off:

- Looks like Luis Posada Carriles is not going to have an easy time of it in immigration court if yesterday's hearing in El Paso is any indication.

One thing I'd like to point out from the article is something disturbing the judge said during the hearing (emphasis mine):

Judge William L. Abbott cited allegations that Posada is a terror suspect and concerns he would flee if granted bond.

Listing a series of terror allegations against Posada over the years, Abbott said even Posada's participation in operations against Cuba in the early 1960s could be considered terror under today's standards.

Abbott's statement seemed to catch by surprise Posada's lawyer, Matthew Archambeault, who interpreted it to mean the judge would include the Bay of Pigs invasion -- sponsored by the U.S. government -- as an act of terror under today's definition of terrorism.

''It doesn't necessarily matter who helped it,'' the judge said, in response. ``The question is whether that kind of activity today would be defined as aiding terrorism or participating in acts of terrorism.''

Maybe I'm missing something here, but the Bay of Pigs invasion could be considered a terrorist act? Wow.

- Next up is a letter to the editor by Wayne S. Smith, ex-chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, executive secretary of President Kennedy's Latin American Task Force, and Castro apologist supreme (emphasis mine):

The Herald's July 18 article Former official: Reduce Cuba tensions, on my presentation in Coral Gables, omitted any reference as to why I called for an easing of tensions and a lifting of travel controls between the United States and Cuba.

The story notes that many exiles support the embargo and other sanctions against the island ``as a legitimate foreign-policy tool to pressure the Cuban government into allowing changes that would bring democracy.''

My point was that the embargo has not had that effect in 45 years and will not have it now. Neither will restricting the travel of Cuban Americans and other Americans. That causes pain and suffering to Cuban families, but has no effect whatever on Fidel Castro. I've been in Cuba three times this year and can testify that tourism was booming. There are fewer Americans and Cuban Americans. But that was more than made up for by increased numbers of Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans, especially Venezuelans.

The idea that the Castro government is in its last throes is delusional.

With a new economic relationship with both China and Venezuela and a new oil field off the north coast, its economy (though still with problems) is in absolutely no danger of collapse.

In short, our sanctions are not only ineffectual, they are counterproductive -- and they do make life more difficult for Cuban families. When a policy hasn't worked in 45 years, isn't it time to try something else?

WAYNE S. SMITH, senior fellow, Center for International Policy, Washington, D.C.

Not convinced of Smith's pro-Castro leanings? Then check out his Center for International Studies Cuba Policy site.

- Want a response to Wayne Smith's letter? Read no further than this excellent editorial written by the Herald Editorial Board. Ironic how the print version of the paper has this only three inches to the left of Smith's ridiculous and erroneous letter. Kind of like saying, "readers, the truth is right over here".

For more great analysis and comments on the editorial, please check out these posts from Babalu and Paxety Pages.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Fonda Helping Out the Enemy Again

Well, maybe Jane Fonda won't actually hang out with the enemy like she did in Vietnam, but AP reports that Fonda is coming out to oppose another war. She's taking a tour of the U.S. next March to drum up support against the war in Iraq, on a bus that runs on...get this...vegetable oil.

Read the story here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Freedom and Hope (Updated)

I'm sure you all noticed the changes I've made to the site over the weekend. Let me explain the motivation behind them.

I've wanted to come up with some type of banner or header for a while, but being a little creatively challenged, I haven't been able to think of anything. The other day at work I read Songuacassal's post on Cuban-American Pundits about the Freedom Tower. Driving home, it smacked me in the head: I'll put the Freedom Tower up in the header!

The symbolism is hard to miss. The Freedom Tower is the Ellis Island of Miami (the 26th Parallel). It's even been compared to the Statue of Liberty. Regardless of which comparison one chooses, one thing is clear. It represents freedom and hope for so many Cuban-Americans who were processed in that building back in the 60's. Like a sentinel, it stands guard at Biscayne and 6th, overlooking Biscayne Bay like a beacon of freedom and hope.

The tower represents freedom for those who risked all to make the journey to this great country of ours. It represents all the sacrifices that Cubans have made througout the years, and still make to this day.

The tower also represents the hopes of freedom for those still in Cuba languishing under castro's rule. Since the main focus of this blog has been to highlight the injustices of the castro regime and to promote change in Cuba, what better way to show the blogworld the building that opened the doors to so many of us and our families?

Regardless of what happens to, around, or behind the tower in the future, one thing will never change: what the Freedom Tower proudly stands for.

I hope you like the changes.

UPDATE 7/25 9:00 AM: In my half-asleep state when I wrote this post last night, I forgot to thank Songuacassal for the inspiration behind the banner, and for his help in figuring out where to place the HTML code in my blog template. Gracias blog-hermano!

Zapatero, Are You Paying Attention?

From Net for Cuba:

EU CONCERNED OVER NEW CUBA CLAMPDOWN (AFP) - The European Union voiced deep concern Sunday over Cuba's latest clampdown on dissidents, lamenting a renewed hardening of stance in Havana six months after the EU suspended sanctions against the island state.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, welcomed news that key opposition figure Marta Beatriz Roque had been released, but condemned the rounding up of more than a dozen dissidents on Friday."The European Commission remains extremely concerned about the current political situation in Cuba," it said in a statement. "Recent events appear to show a clear hardening in the attitude of the government of Cuba." "While the Commission is pleased at news of the release of Martha Beatriz Roque, the arrest of a number of Cuban dissidents on (Friday) nevertheless illustrates the extreme social tension in Cuba at the present time."Roque, a 60-year-old economist, is president of the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, which organized a protest Friday to demand the release of political prisoners from Cuban jails. She was among a group of activists arrested in Havana in what appears to be a new crackdown on the opposition by President Fidel Castro's communist regime.

Dissidents said Sunday that Cuban authorities had released nine detained political dissidents over the weekend, including Roque, but continued to hold another 17 activists. The EU slapped diplomatic sanctions on Cuba in 2003 after a crackdown on dissidents which saw 75 of them jailed. But the 25-nation bloc suspended the action in January, amid conciliatory signs from both sides. The suspension was extended by EU foreign ministers in June, but in theory could be ended at any point. The next meeting of EU foreign ministers is scheduled at the start of September.
I could have picked on France, Germany, or any of the other EU countries that supported the suspension of the sanctions, but I've selected the ol' Shoemaker himself because he almost certainly lobbied the hardest to lift the sanctions.

It should be perfectly clear to Zapatero and the rest of the EU that no easing of sanctions, no dialogue will encourage castro from ending the oppression, abiding by international human rights regulations, or allowing civil liberties.

Spain's previous administration understood perfectly. We're still waiting for the current one to learn.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Roque Released and Campaign Against Repression

Two press releases from NetforCuba.org:

- Marta Beatriz Roque is Back Home: English Spanish

- Solidarity Campaign Against Repression in Cuba: English Spanish

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Protect the Freedom Tower

Next on my blog to-do list was a post on the efforts by a local developer to build a 62-story condominium tower directly behind the Freedom Tower.

Looks like our friends over at Cuban-American Pundits beat me to it.

I would like to add new developments which took place last night, good news for those who don't want the tower to be drawfed by a huge high-rise.

The Miami Planning Advisory Board's vote to endorse the project ended up deadlocked at 3-3, which means a recommendation for denial. This means that the project ends up in the hands of the city commission for the deciding votes.

The Herald article mentions that the Board's past recommendations have been met with mixed results by the city commission, so the battle to save the tower is far from over.

I won't add too much to the good words Songuacassal wrote in his post, other than to agree that it is absolutely imperative that the Freedom Tower be kept as a stand-alone building, with nothing behind it detracting from the view. It is one of the few structures of historical and architectural significance in downtown Miami, and the reasons for protecting it are plenty. As Songuacassal mentioned, the Freedom Tower processed hundreds of thousands of Cuban immigrants back in the 1960s. Most recently, it was the place where thousands paid their respects to the late Celia Cruz. Needless to say, it is an important part of our Cuban-American heritage and a great source of pride for many Miamians.

I sincerely hope that the leaders of the city of Miami take a good hard look at this and think about what the tower means to so many. The development boom going on in downtown Miami is exciting and welcomed, but should not risk demeaning the only true historical landmark we have.

I hope developer Pedro Martin, a Cuban-American himself, can stand back for a second and think about the potential impact. I respect his wishes to turn the tower into a museum to chronicle the Cuban immigrant experience, something that is long overdue. However, do we have to wrap a monstrocity around it to justify its existence?

I know that for all the good intentions Martin may have, the bottom line is $$$, so I won't wait for a change of heart. Besides, there's plenty of land around to build a high-rise condo, so don't feel too bad for Martin if his project gets rejected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"In Cuba There Are Professionals Without Fear"

Without fear of unjust laws or human miseries"

Those words are from Elsa Morejón Hernandez, director of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, and wife of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, prisoner of conscience who is serving a 25-year sentence.

Mrs. Morejón wrote an editorial piece which was published in today's El Nuevo Herald, with full translation below. I'll let her words speak for themselves.
Havana -- On June 25th Granma published an article titled "Social Philosophers and Scientists Who Support Cuba". It made reference to the closing of the XVII Conference of Philosophers and Social Scientists of Cuba and the United States,which concluded on June 24th. The closing document from the U.S. delegation was read by Tim Sakelos, graduate student at the University of Chicago, that alleged: ' ' Our visit takes place within a framework of continuous aggressions on the part of the government of the U.S..'' Cliff Duran, general coordinator of the Association of Radical Philosophers, declared: ' ' The most important thing of the conference is that it allows academic interchange between professionals, as well as to be in contact with the Cuban reality". Journalists Iraida Calzadilla and Jose Carlos Velasquez, dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, History and Sociology of the University of Havana, praised the U.S. delegation for not fearing to disagree with the government of its country, and described them as being brave (emphasis mine).

A common citizen, Antonio, said to me: ``Did you see what came out in Granma? Professional Americans came, spoke bad of their government, returned to their country and nothing happens to them. Do they know that your husband, Dr. Biscet, a professional, is imprisoned and sentenced to 25 years for opposing capital punishment and abortion, and for wanting democracy? I believe not."

Many Cubans ignore the fact that Americans have a democratic constitution with a very clear message: We the people. They also ignore that in the U.S. there exists a basic right, which means that what those professionals did when they came to Cuba is not an act of bravery, but a right to free expression.

We have never been against the interchange of knowledge, but an interchange in conditions of equality. It is impossible that in five days a group can state the reality of a country and its people, but Mr. Velasquez continues saying to the Americans who attended the event: ' ' You could state our mood, how people think and act, how our academia can present a set of ideas and put them through debate'. Granma concludes: "An object of attention were subjects linked between human ethics and education, nations, political culture, public governability, public politics, and civil society. "

If speaking of human ethics, I would vote for the triumph of the human being and its dignity, and this is far from being reached in Cuba. Here exists the largest number of political prisoners in the world, for thinking differently from the prevailing system. Many Cubans ignore that these American visitors are owners of small and large businesses, regardless of whether they belong to the Communist Party, Republican or Democrat. That the development of its civil society places that nation among the richest in the world. That a citizen can feed his family and enjoy basic rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has never been published in Cuba, rather it is presented as a subversive document and for more than 46 years free and democratic elections have not been celebrated, nor is accepted the diversity of political parties.

We aspire to a political culture that extols the human personality. We shelter the hope that Cuba will not have prisoners for their ideas, because to think and to speak is a human right, not a privilege. The prisoners defy unjust laws in order to say to the world: ' ' We are people, we want human rights. Cuba needs and wants to live in freedom''. Yes, THIS IS bravery. It is a gesture of love towards humanity. It is a gesture in favor of life. The prisoners have chosen spiritual suffering, the separation from their families, the pain of prison for saving human dignity. Americans must know that in Cuba there are professionals who fear neither unjust laws nor human miseries, to save the most precious goods that man has: God, life, and freedom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Welcome Back Ricky?

This just in to the 26th Parallel Sports Desk:

NFL Clears Ricky Williams to Join Training Camp This Sunday.

Val - I know what you're thinking.

UPDATE 8:55 PM: From the Babalu archives, here's what Val really thinks of Ricky.

No Vacations Allowed...

If your a county commissioner. That's what the latest piece by Miami Herald columnist and 26th Parallel favorite Jim DeFede suggests.

The newest target of DeFede's pointed pen is Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. You see, Gimenez had the gall of going on vacation to Europe with his wife at the same time that the commission was overriding a veto by Mayor Carlos Alvarez that would have denied the town of Florida City the ability to annex envionmentally-sensitive land near Biscayne Bay and the Everglades. Gimenez originally voted against the annexation of the land, and a similar vote last month would have shot down the override and kept the mayor's veto intact.

DeFede's first questions Gimenez's trip to France on taxpayers' money to study aviation and transportation issues. Then he grills the commissioner for then going on a vacation across Europe with his wife in celebration of their 30th wedding anniversary.

That's not all.

Gimenez had the nerve to buy a Mercedes Benz in Germany during the trip! GASP!

Mr. DeFede: who are you to call out the commissioner for going on a vacation which he's perfectly entitled to? Who are you to question his personal purchasing decisions? He's a public servant, but a private person as well. He missed an important vote, so what? Let's face it, the issue being voted on is not as important as you're making it out to be.

DeFede's concern is that the land being annexed will be converted into new developments that could harm the fragile environment in that area. The fact is, that land sits outside the Urban Development Boundary, and nothing can be built upon it unless the commission agrees to it by vote. That vote hasn't come up yet.

Back to the vacation issue. I love it how DeFede gets on his moral white horse and states that Gimenez should have flown back to Miami for the vote, then gone back to Europe because he serves the people whom he represents. Give me a break, Jim. There are 13 commissioners, each with an equal vote. Why doesn't he criticize Commissioner Javier Souto who cast the decisive vote?

Gimenez has the right to go on vacation when he wants, with whomever he wants, and he can buy as many Mercedes on sale as he wishes, as long as it's done on his time and money.

One last word for DeFede: why don't you write about something relevant and important to the community, like the airport fiasco?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Travel From U.S. to Cuba down 60% (UPDATED)

The Bush administration's tightened travel restrictions have made an impact in U.S. travel to Cuba, according to this article by Wilfredo Cancio Isla of El Nuevo Herald.

To the non-Spanish readers out there, I apologize for not translating the entire article. Between my regular paying job, household chores, watching over a rambunctious 3-year-old, and helping out with the baby, I just don't have the time! I will try to summarize the key points of the article, however.

The article quotes an estimate from the Cuban government that forecasts losses from the reduced travel will amount to between $93 and $104 million. It also talks about how companies which charter flights to Cuba have suffered as a result of the tighter restrictions.

The article goes on to quote members of local organizations who are fighting for a temporary lifting of the restrictions in order to provide direct aid to Cubans affected by Hurricane Dennis. One interesting mention is that up to 30,000 people have sought to get around the restrictions by traveling under licenses granted to religious and humanitarian organizations.

My take on this - It's a tough situation. No es facil. I go back and forth on the issue of temporarily lifting restrictions in order to provide direct aid to families in Cuba who so desperately need it. I understand someone's need to reach out to their families in Cuba. I just can't bring myself to criticize those people for genuinely wanting to help the people, not the government.

But - yes there's always a but - we can't be fooled into believing that lifting travel restrictions, and ultimately the embargo itself, will by itself open the door to democracy and change in Cuba. It just doesn't add up. As has been mentioned here and in other blogs many, many times, change has to come from the Cuban people themselves.

The only effective way to promote change is to hit the Havana regime where it hurts - in the wallet. If the forecasted losses estimated by the Cuban government are anywhere near being accurate, then it is a clear sign that the overall U.S. restrictions ARE working.

In the short term, it is tempting to crack the door open and give people a chance to go to Cuba to provide aid. But we need to concentrate on the long term goal which is to bring down castro, and the only way to accomplish that is by keeping the door shut.

UPDATED: Check out Mora's astute thoughts on this here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Local Cuba News Roundup

- Today's El Nuevo Herald reports on an effort by Miami radio station WQBA to reach out to Cuba via its airwaves. It has set up a free phone number that Cubans can call to inform relatives in Miami on their condition, as well as any assistance that the relatives can provide. That number is (305) 441-2411.

WQBA has also set up a web site - univision.com, keyword WQBA - for the same purpose. I don't know how effective the web site will be since Cubans' access to the internet is limited at best.

- The Miami Herald's Nancy San Martin reports that at least 11 Havana residents were detained for participating in demonstrations commemorating the sinking of the 13 de marzo tugboat in 1994.

For those who think that the counter-protests (read: repression) by communist party goons was non-violent, consider this quote from the article:

(Elizardo) Sánchez said the repressive actions -- veiled as counter-protests -- were carried out in four separate incidents, three of them along the Malecón and a fourth near the Plaza de la Revolución that involved ''punching and kicking'' by rapid-response brigades.

''It is a great pity that the Cuban government's fear of its own people prompts it to attack people who were simply demanding their own human rights,'' Kevin Whitaker, the State Department's coordinator of Cuban affairs, said Thursday on Radio Martí."

- From the disappointing but not totally surprising news section, the Herald reports that a U.N. human rights group has concluded that the trial and detention of five Cubans accused of spying was flawed.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Love Letters

A badge of honor amongst bloggers is the occassional critical or downright insulting e-mails and comments we get from dissenting readers.

Since I started this blog over 3 months ago, I had yet to receive a single critical or even mildly insulting comment or e-mail. Perhaps it's my tendency to not use inflammatory language in my posts, or the lack of heavy traffic to the blog.

I'll be honest. I've been waiting with anticipation for my first one to arrive.

Today, July 14th, 26th Parallel received its first merit badge.

Last night at 12:14 AM EDT, I received my first critical comment. It was from Alexis, who posted a comment to my "Idiot of the Day" post about the Naples Rugby Team's match in Havana against the Cuban National Team.

Here's what Alexis posted, in Spanish:

robert. sos un idiota, me majino (sic) que nunca fuiste a cuba. pero tipico de los cubanos en miami hablan mierda de cuba y su gobierno. si te hace sentir mejor te cuento que la gente en cuba no se mueren por el ultimo modelo de auto y proximo juego de play station 2, ellos valoran otras cosas como la educacion, familia, cultura, y comunidad. Y no se quejan de como otros paises y gobiernos se manejan si mismo.tampoco ahi gente viviendo en la calles o gente muriendo se de hambre, eso si se ve en eeuu. y con toda la oportunidad que pensas que tenes en eeuu y no en cuba, debedias educar a los cubanos en miami por que son la gente mas ignorante y estupida que he conocido en mi vida. (y no es genetico ya que los cubanos de verdad son muy listos y educados)

For those who don't understand Spanish, Alexis called me an idiot (alright!), and goes on a brief anti-U.S. rant, criticism our materialism, poverty, and homelessness and praising Cuba for placing value in education, family, culture, and community. He saves his best for Miami Cubans, calling us the "most ignorant and stupid people" he's ever met.

Of course, Alexis didn't leave an e-mail, so he'll have to check back to see my response.

Gracias Alexis. Del alma.

Apple of Daddy's Eyes

That's Amanda at 1 day old. She's doing very well and sleeping pretty well at night. Needless to say, Daddy is very proud!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Social Cleansing: castro Style

From NetforCuba:

Declaration Condemning the Arbitrary Arrests of 400 Young Cubans

We, the signers of this declaration, condemn the arrests of more than 400 young Cubans, which were carried out by the Cuban government from late 2004 through June of 2005. These young people were arrested in what the government called "Operation Contention", the aim of which was social cleansing.

According to the Cuban government, the arrests were carried out as a "measure of pre-deliquent security." These young people did not commit any crime. However, because the Cuban government, based on physical appearance among other factors, believed that they were dangerous, they were arrested and sentenced.

Read the rest of the declaration in English here, or if you prefer español, aquí.

At least they have free education and healthcare, verdad?

July 13th, 1994: In Remembrance

On that date, a tugboat leaving Cuba for the United States was sunk by Cuban patrol boats seven miles off the coast of Cuba. 43 died in the attack, many of them children.

There are some excellent posts remembering that sad day over at Paxety Pages and Babalu. Please make sure to follow their links to the report sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding the event.

There's really nothing for me to say that not already expressed in those two posts, only to show solidarity with my fellow Cuban-American bloggers and to remind people of the atrocities that the castro regime has committed and continues to inflict to this day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cuba Restrictions and Hurricane Aid

In the wake of Hurricane Dennis, Cuban-Americans are debating whether travel, trade, and monetary restrictions should be temporarily lifted in order to help Cubans affected by the storm.

As with everything else Cuba-related seems to be...it's a tough situation.

I don't doubt the sincerity of exile groups who advocate a temporary lifting; groups such as Democracy Movement, Puentes Cubanos, and Consenso Cubano. They want to help out, as do the rest of us who have family or connections in Cuba. They say that politics shouldn't get in the way of reaching out to help the people of Cuba. Of course, they are right.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is that politics ARE in the way. Some, quite predictably, want to place the blame for this on the pro-embargo folks. But consider this: it was announced yesterday that the Cuban government has rejected the aid offered by the U.S., and also plans to reject any aid offered by the European Union (hat tip - Paxety Pages).

That's right. The big, bad U.S. offered aid, and it was turned down.

Another thing to consider is where the donations end up once they arrive in Cuba. More than likely, the government gets ahold of them and either re-sell them to the public, or end up in stores in other countries.

At the heart of this argument is the simple logic that the Cuban government should be responsible for providing for its own people, especially in times of crisis. Instead, they can't even build homes for the homeless.

That's why the restrictions are in place: to prevent the castro regime from cashing in on our generosity and repress his people even more. That's also why I don't feel the restrictions should be lifted, even temporarily, as much as it hurts me to realize the dire need that Cubans are in.

Fortunately, there are ways we can help without having to go through fidel. The Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), you know, those evil right-wing pro-embargo bastions I mentioned earlier, have set up a fund to provide aid to Cuba via opposition and church leaders. It is called the Cuba Relief Fund. For more information, please visit the site via the link provided.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Wise Words From a Wise Man

Next on my blogging list was to post the excellent speech made by James Cason, Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, on July 4th before departing his post.

It appears that George beat me to it. He posted Mr. Cason's comments in English and Spanish over at Babalu Blog.

It is required reading for those who believe in the current U.S. approach to Cuba, but especially for those who don't agree. I'll let Mr. Cason's words speak for themselves.

Please take the time to read it if you haven't done so already. It's well worth it.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Media Hurricane Coverage

The way the media covers landfalling hurricanes has always amused me. Actually, it's often quite irritating to see reporters standing in 100 + mph winds telling us how bad it is out there. (Memo to media: we already know). I must admit it can make for interesting TV.

The shots they decide to use are so predictable: the swaying palm trees, the stop sign flopping back and forth (it only takes about 20 mph winds to make those signs start to move), a boiling sea, surfers risking their lives, etc.

Today's coverage of Dennis making landfall near Pensacola was fairly uneventful if you were looking for reporters flying through the air, unlike last year when a reporter from the local ABC station broke some ribs during Frances in the Bahamas when a piece of styrofoam siding broke off and flew right into her torso.

Still, there were some amusing moments. Here are the highlights:

- The Weather Channel's Jeff Morrow hanging on to a lamp post to prevent from flying away.

- CNN deciding to have not one, but two reporters in the same location measuring the wind and telling us how bad conditions were. During the height of the storm, they watched in amazement as a tall metal sign from a Ramada Inn came crumbling down. One of the reporters said it was the most incredible thing he'd ever seen (at least until the next hurricane). Of course, they had to get out of the way as the pieces of the sign started to fly in their general direction.

- The highlight for me was the coverage provided by the pride of Hialeah, Florida: Rick Sanchez. He was reporting from "Hurricane One", a Hummer which gives Rick a chance to move from one place to the next in the hope of catching the worst of the storm.

During one dramatic moment, he was standing in the middle of a highway which was about ankle deep in water from the storm surge which was rolling in. Rick explained to viewers what was causing the water to flow across the roadway, then proceeded to taste the water to remind us that it was indeed salt water from the ocean.

You didn't have to do that, Rick. We believed you the first 5 times you told us.

It's going to be a loooooooooong hurricane season.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The "Mercenary Hurricane"

Photo courtesy of AP

That's what's left of a house in Guines, Havana province, after the passage of Hurricane Dennis.

10 dead. Countless people without power. Up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.

The Miami Herald has continued to compile reports from Cuba in the aftermath of Dennis, with several additions from today.

The Sun-Sentinel also has an article on the damage, including a link to an NBC interview with reporter Vanessa Bauza in Havana.

As many Floridians know all too well...being without power for any length of time is incredibly frustrating and stressful. As of right now, there are still thousands without power in South Florida from our brush with Dennis. We know we'll be getting our power back pretty soon. However, for Cubans it is much different. This is the reality that faces many Cubans today as they come to the realization that they may be without power for days, possibly weeks as the following clearly shows:

Hearing earlier in the day on Cuban radio that Hurricane Dennis would come through Matanzas, a 55-year-old school office worker in Matanzas was glued to Radio Rebelde, unable to sleep, when the power went out.

''I was so nervous I kept calling the radio station because all I had working was my telephone,'' she said. ``We have nothing here, no candles, no water supplies, no battery powered radio to stay informed. The government gives us nothing and we have nothing.''

She said there was no damage to her house, nor others in the La Playa neighborhood in which she lives, but they have been without power and no water since around 12:30 a.m. Saturday.
She said she heard reports of downed power lines all over Matanzas and the surrounding towns -- the worst damage in Union de Reyes. One detail being passed around between neighbors: A century's old tree in Parque Central, huge and once with roots deep into the ground, was uprooted -- quite a sight to behold.

``This will only add to our misery. Before this, we had nine and 12-hour (outages). Now we're expecting to be without electricity for a week to 10 days. And the water situation is horrible. Now we have to go with our bucket to get one bucket of water per person from a pipa (a truck that carries water) they'll bring in -- and I'll have to fight all these people to get my water. Like always, fights will break out. It will be horrible just horrible.''

She then began to openly rant against ''our lying, inept government'' and ``that liar [Fidel Castro], who is now obsessed with Chavez, Chavez, Chavez, and hasn't even delivered on his promise to distribute the rice cookers.''

While the lady suffers and wonders when she'll have running water and electricity, all fidel castro could think about was his obsession with "invaders" and "mercenaries":

"Not one to miss a dig at the United States, Fidel Castro on Friday referred to Dennis as ''the mercenary hurricane,'' because it entered Cuba through an area of Matanzas province that included the Bay of Pigs, site of the 1961 invasion by Cuban exiles sponsored by Washington.

Ever since, the invaders have been called ''mercenaries'' by the Cuban government.

Castro used the description several times while talking on the phone with Daniel Moreira, a Communist Party official from the Bay of Pigs region who reported that Dennis had ''landed'' in Matanzas and was being ``fought off.''

On Saturday, the daily Granma reported the telephone conversation under the headline: ``The mercenary hurricane was defeated.''

Dennis' Aftermath

Looks like Havana may have escaped the brunt of the damage, due in large part to the hurricane weakening during its treck across the island. I haven't seen any reports of widespread damage in the capital, which is great news. However, heavy rains continue to fall which can cause the collapse of some of the deteriorated colonial buildings in Old Havana.

Unfortunately, Dennis did leave a deadly mark on Cuba where 10 deaths were reported in the southeast part of the island. The towns of Pilon and Niqueros, near Cabo Cruz, got the direct hit from 150 mph winds that Dennis was packing late Thursday. Santiago also suffered significant damage, as did Cienfuegos yesterday afternoon where Dennis made its second landfall.

You can take a look at Cuban damage reports compiled by the Miami Herald by clicking here.

Takes One to Know One

Friday, July 08, 2005

Dennis Slamming Into Cuba (UPDATE 3)

Photo Courtesy of NOAA.

This Cuba-related post won't have anything to do with politics.

Hurricane Dennis, with winds of up to 150 mph, is slamming the south coast of Cuba as I type. The image above clearly shows the eye of the hurricane very close to the coast near Trinidad, which is known for its colonial architecture and is a World Heritage Site. I'm afraid the entire coast from Trinidad to Cienfuegos to the east may get a massive storm surge of up to 20 feet. A wall of water 20 feet high slamming onto the coast with large waves on top of that. The damage which can be caused from something like that is unthinkable.

The forecast track has Dennis passing very close, if not directly over, the cities of Matanzas and Havana.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Cuba.

UPDATE 3:40 PM EDT: Reports from Cuba relayed to the National Hurricane Center indicate winds of 149 mph in Cienfuegos at 1:30 PM EDT, with over 85 % of power lines down, as well as extensive damage to communications.

UPDATE 4:40 PM EDT: Just saw the following message posted on storm2k.org, a popular weather bulletin board, from a person relaying a message from someone in Havana.

Hello. Hurricane Dennis made a final adjustment in its track and is now headed directly to Havana City. According to the local forecast, the eye of the storm will be crossing Guanabo, which is about 6 Km East of our house in Tarara. Even if it moves to either side, we'll still be in the 50-mile zone of hurricane-strength winds. We have another 4 or 5 hours before we won't be able to get out of the house without being blown away, so I'll try to do some work in the meantime... Dennis is a category 4 hurricane and is forecast to strengthen a bit more before making landfall this afternoon. Sustained winds are at 150 mph (240 km/h). Also, the hurricane pummeled all of Cubas South Eastern and South Central coast, including Jardines de la Reina and Júcaro. I expect to have some dramatic reports next week as soon as crews are able to get to the area. Also, the current track will blast much of the oil infrastructure on Matanzas' Northern shore - all the wells are in the middle of the eye, as is this area's second-largest power plant. Needless to say, the government is publicly very nervous considering the bad shape of most of Old Havana's houses and buildings.

2nd message: Thanks for your input - I guess that's experience talking. While we're still able to get the NHC data via the web, we don't get updated local information because even now there's the classical Cuban censorship in place. Keep sending updates - as long as the phones work, we'll be able to download. And now we also have one of Raquel's friends here with us - she's pregnant and about 3 days from her scheduled delivery date; our resources here are better than the ones she has at her own home Let's just hope she doesn't start giving birth in the middle of the storm; now that would be something...

UPDATE 7:55 PM EDT...Reuters is reporting 10 dead in Cuba from Dennis, mostly in Granma province in southeastern Cuba where Dennis rolled through last night.

Fidel Castro said Dennis had already killed 10 people as its outer bands brushed over Cuba's southeastern corner Thursday night. Storm fatalities are rare in Communist Cuba where the authorities can muster all state resources to evacuate hundreds of thousands from the path of hurricanes. Most of the victims died in collapsed houses in Granma province, Castro said on state television. An 18-day-old baby was among those who died. On Friday, the storm's sustained winds of 135-mph (215 kph) ripped up trees and downed electricity lines in Cienfuegos and U.S. forecasters said Dennis was threatening the capital Havana, where many live in decrepit colonial buildings.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Support Our Troops, Support Our President

Another "gem" from the MSM was published today in the Miami Herald, this one being an opinion column by Washington Post lefty columnist Ellen Goodman tilted "Tainting Dissenters with Disloyalty".

Time for a little fisking (thanks Val for the correction).

In the column, Goodman starts off by describing her thoughts after seeing "Support Our Troops" bumper stickers and decals while driving down the highway. In typical liberal fashion, she deduces the following:

"I cannot interview the drivers at 70 miles an hour, so I do not know the complexity of their politics. But I automatically read ''Support Our Troops'' as a proxy statement for ''Support Our Commander in Chief.'' The yellow ribbons tied for soldiers fighting in Iraq seem to have morphed into a collective blue ribbon for the president handling this war."

You're right Ellen. If you support the troops in ANY way, then by default you must support the efforts of the person who made the decision to put them to war.

Unfortunately, this is the last time Goodman makes sense in the column.

"If there is anything this White House is adept at, it is co-opting symbols. If there's anything that makes this driver wince, it is having such powerful symbols wrenched away. These days those who do not support the president are easily dismissed as people who disparage the troops."

Why so defensive Ellen? Perhaps you feel guilty because many of your left-leaning colleagues actually feel that way about Bush AND the troops?

"Last week, the president stood before a sea of soldiers and used prime time to defend a war that is not going well."

Gee Ellen, didn't know you were a war expert. And to whom did you expect the president to give his speech to? Al Qaeda?

"At one point, Bush said, ''The best way to honor the lives that have been given in this struggle is to complete the mission.'' In a single sentence, he defined his mission as the mission and his opponents as those who would trample the graves of soldiers."

Once again, why so defensive? Automatically deducing that those against "his" mission are against the troops. By the way Ellen, "his" mission is one that is shared by many in this country, polls be damned.

Near the end, the truest statement of the entire column; of course it was not from Goodman:

"Nor can I forget the New Hampshire wife who told a reporter querulously, ''I have to respect the president. To not respect him would be to not respect, in some sense, the reasons why our husbands are over there.''

"Who among her neighbors wants to shake her faith?"

Now for the grand finale, straight from the liberal handbook of anti-Bush/anti-war quotes:

Today, few Americans see either a clear way forward or a clean way out of Iraq. When a war begun on false premises slogs on without an exit strategy, when a war against terrorists becomes a terrorist training ground, when the body count rises -- 1,700 American troops and counting -- it's time to give up the notion that dissenters are the dangerous ones.

The war that was initially supported by BOTH Democrats and Republicans. The war that Democrats turned their back on for political purposes once the first American casualties were announced.

The wife from New Hampshire whose faith Goodman didn't want to shake? I think she just did with that last paragraph.

After reading the column, I was reminded to put up the "Support the Troops" decal that I have been putting off from placing on my car. Thanks Ellen for reminding me of what's right.

Cuban Rugby Matches Cancelled

Today's sports section of the Miami Herald has a story which states that the matches between the Naples Rugby Club and the Cuban National Club have been cancelled.

The Naples club indicated that it was the Cuban side that cancelled the match.

Previously awarded the prestigious 26th Parallel Idiots of the Day Award, the Naples Rugby Club will have to get smart real quick to get out of Cuba...Hurricane Dennis is rapidly approaching.

"We Shall Prevail and They Shall Not"

My thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by today's terrorist bombings in London.

Paxety has some thoughts on this, as does Val at Babalu.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Menín Pinguín and Racial Standards

Mexican President Vicente Fox has gotten in some hot water recently with US politically-correct types (i.e. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) with his remarks about Mexicans doing work in the U.S. that "not even blacks do". While Fox's use of blacks as a point of comparison may have been a bit inappropriate, it's hard to deny the veracity of his statement. He could have used a broader term to define those of generally lower income, instead of specifying a race or ethnic group, but I believe his statement meant no harm.

Raise your hand if you think we would've seen the same knee-jerk reaction if Fox would have replaced "black" with "Colombian" or "Puerto Rican"? I thought so.

Now Mexico is in trouble again for printing commerorative stamps of 1940's cartoon character Menín Pinguín. You see, Menín was black. The Miami Herald decided to write a short editorial blasting Mexico for these two "faux pas". The editorial points out that the character has "supersized lips and features that are the hallmark of racial stereotyping". Folks, it's a caricature. Would Al Pacino's Scarface character Tony Montana have been more "realistic" had he been of Nordic features?

A web search directed me to a blog called Random Stuff where the writer posts about Menín and the ridiculous backlash it has generated. It's worth a read, and it includes pictures of the Menín stamps. I will admit that I'm not familiar with the character, but my impression is that it's basically a Mexican version of Buckwheat from Little Rascals.

I really hate it when some Americans think it's right to impose their own cultural standards on others, regardless of race, ethnicity, history, etc. I think Mexicans might be similar to other Hispanics when it comes to dealing with other races. Not to say that racism doesn't exist in Hispanic cultures, but I think it's much more subtle and based more on social status than color. In Cuban culture it's rather common to hear people, especially the older generation, call their black friends "mi negrito" (my little black one) or something along those lines. And there's the late Cuban musician Ignacio Villa, better known as Bola de Nieve, which means snowball (as the picture in the link shows, he was black).

It's hypocritical. We stereotype all the time, especially in movies and sitcoms.

Next thing you know, we'll be removing Aunt Jemima's black face from syrup bottles and banning the production and sales of things such as this.

Cuba in the Crosshairs Again

Courtesy of National Hurricane Center Posted by Picasa

After getting hit twice last year, looks like Cuba is going to get hit by another strong hurricane.
Looks like Havana and Pinar del Rio will get the brunt of the storm, as was the case with Charley and Ivan last year.

Fortunately for South Florida, we're pretty much out of the "cone" for now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Idiotas del Dia

The Idiot(s) of the Day Award goes to...drum roll please...

The Naples Rugby Club.

That's right, from good ol' Collier County, Florida straight down Calle Ocho.

Yesterday, July 4th, the Naples Rugby Club was scheduled to play an exhibition match in Havana against the Cuban National Rugby Team. That in itself may not sound incredibly bad; they could be going for humanitarian reasons, right?

Well, here's the invitation sent to fidel castro, which was only published in the Herald's print version:

"It would be our extreme honor and privilege if you would consider attending this contest between athletes from our two nations".

Team member Sean Reddick, a trial lawyer by trade, makes the following case:

''We wanted to go to Cuba because of the mystique of it,'' Reddick said. ``The fact that it's forbidden and you're not supposed to go there as an American and you have to jump through all these hoops to do it.''

At least Reddick is honest about his intelligence level:

''We're just a bunch of dumb rugby players; I don't know if we're qualified to really get into the politics of it,'' Reddick said.

"We're going to have a good time and go to support those guys. Rugby is different. You go out and play hard and rough, but the tradition afterward -- we call it the third half -- is to get together and have a little party.''

I guess that's what playing what is essentially football without pads will do to your brain cells.

Wonder if Reddick and the others even thought about what went through the minds of the Cuban rugby players as they held their post-match party? Did they think about freedom? About the hardships they surely face? About how the Americans can party so easily, then get on a plane and head back to tony Naples?

Monday, July 04, 2005

Happy 4th of July!

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Saga of Sgt. Lazo (Updated)

Back home with the baby today...haven't gotten much sleep after 3 nights at the hospital, but I am happy to have our new addition home with us. I hope to post some pictures sometime in the next few days.

Now back to some blogging....

Much has been posted today on other blogs regarding Sgt. Carlos Lazo's plea to Congress to lift the travel restrictions to Cuba so he can visit his two sons. In addition, the Herald's Jim DeFede has a column in today's paper...his second in seven days...on Lazo's plight.

I won't add much to the excellent posts up at Babalu and Cuban-American Pundits, except for a few things. I sincerely feel bad for Lazo and others in similar situations who can't visit their relatives as often as before. Val summed up my feelings quite well in a post last week:

Yes, the new travel restrictions can be hard on some Cuban families. Yes, Sgt. Lazo's case is heartbreaking. Yes, there are quite a few Cubans in exile complaining about the travel restrictions.

Mr. Defede forgets, however, that it was the hard line exiles that got that first purgante, that first bitter taste of the separation of the Cuban family. It was these hard line exiles that first left their families behind and that for decades had no communication with them save for those emergency phone calls when a family member in Cuba had died. It was these hard line exiles that were the first to shed tears when they realized they would never see their parents again, or their children, or their siblings or grandparents.

Not to mention, of course, that many of these hard line exiles also served their new country proudly and dutifully. Many having never returned after paying the ultimate price for their freedom.

Sgt. Lazo had a choice, just like the hundreds of thousands of others who left family behind in Cuba. He could have stayed close to his two sons from a previous marriage. Instead, he decided to taste freedom and proudly serve his adopted country. He must have known the risk he was taking: the possibility of being apart from his sons for an extended period of time.

For those out there who point the finger at the "Miami Mafia", please take a look at this, courtesy of Center for a Free Cuba:

Lazara Brito and her children Yanelis, Yamila, and Isaac were granted U.S. visas in 1996, but remain virtual hostages in Havana. Castro will not allow them to join her husband and their father Jose Cohen in the United States. Cohen, once a Cuban intelligence officer, was granted political asylum in the United States in 1994. Despite his appeals to Americans and international organizations who meet with Castro, his family remains in Cuba. They are not charged with any crime. Lazara Brito has written: “neither I nor my three children can have legal representation. My husband, who is abroad, and I here call out for help from all who believe in human rights everywhere.”

Ask Jose Cohen who's at fault for the separation of the Cuban family. Cohen's wife and children were granted visas to come to the U.S. in 1996, yet they are still in Cuba because castro inexplicably denies their exit.

At the surface, Cohen's and Lazo's situations are quite similar. The difference is that Cohen, whose plight is well known in Cuban-American circles in Miami, has not blamed the United States for not being able to see his family in 11 years. He knows exactly whom to blame.

UPDATED: In case someone is ready to jump on me...yes I think it's likely that Cohen himself would not want to visit Cuba for fear of persecution due to his past as an intelligence officer. That fact is not lost on me. That's why the Cohen and Lazo cases aren't identical. However, it does not change or alter the premise of my argument, which is that it's the castro regime which
has provoked and regularly denied unification of families.

Sgt. Carlos Lazo, with all due respect, if the stories of denying visas for your sons are true, then you have no basis whatsoever to blame the United States. Instead, you have decided to divide Cuban-Americans with your plight. By allowing visas to be granted for your sons, you would shine the light on the real reason for not being able to see your sons.

Sgt. Lazo, you battled bravely in Iraq. What are you so afraid of in this case?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Tired but Happy (Updated)

Hello everyone! Taking a breather at home after the birth of my daughter Amanda Christine yesterday afternoon at 3:27 PM.

She weighed 6 lbs 11 oz, and was 19 1/4 inches long. Too early to tell exactly who she looks like. At the very least I hope she didn't inherit my hair genes!

Amanda and Mom are doing well, we hope to be home sometime tomorrow, or Sunday at the latest.

Thanks to all for the well wishes left on Babalu. It means a lot to me to have everyone's support.

UPDATE: A big Thanks to all who sent me congratulatory e-mails as well!

I'll try to have some pictures up on the blog this weekend.

Time for a little rest before heading back to the hospital!

P.S. - George: I already bought a 34-inch Louisville Slugger to take care of the boyfriends. ;)