[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: August 2005

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

They Need Our Help

I've been running around today cleaning up after our version of Katrina and taking care of other chores, so I haven't had time to watch much TV today. However, when I did turn it on a couple of hours ago, what I saw was incredibly depressing.

I watched as Army helicopters hovered over New Orleans and picked up people standing on the roofs of their homes. Homes submerged under what looked like 8-10 feet of water. Shots of New Orleans revealed the devastation. It looked like a scene from one of those horrible sci-fi flicks like "The Day After Tomorrow". Entire homes under water, lamp posts halfway under water. An entire city paralyzed, ceasing to function.

It was eerie, and incredibly depressing.

In Mississippi, things are just as bad. Scores of people are confirmed dead, and more will likely be found in the coming days.

From reading Val's post over at Babalu, I found out that Instapundit is organizing a blogathon on Thursday to aid the victims of Katrina. Val has also provided a list of charities that are accepting donations. As an incentive, Val has offered up his Babalu Eyes t-shirts for donations of at least $30. Sounds like a good deal to me.

If you haven't visited Babalu yet, follow the above link and please give a helping hand to those poor people. Those of us here in South Florida who went through Andrew back in 1992 remember the graciousness of those from around the country who offered aid and support.

This is a very giving and generous community, and now it is time to show our willingness to help others.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina and Mis(perceptions)

WARNING: Weather-related rant upcoming, brought to you by the 26th Parallel Weather Department. No one in particular is being targeted here (well, OK...perhaps a small group of people with the initials MSM), just the misperceptions raised by Katrina's move across South Florida last Friday.

Much has been said here in South Florida about the "unexpected turn" Katrina made towards Miami-Dade County. A common refrain I've heard is, "I thought it was headed for Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale area)"!

For anyone who is even remotely familiar with our geography, one can see that Broward and Miami-Dade counties border each other. That means that, if a hurricane is expected to "hit" Broward County, a resident of Miami-Dade County can deduce one of two things: 1) The hurricane will pass very close to Miami, and therefore be felt there in some form, or 2) The hurricane may veer ever so slightly from its exact projected path which is never 100% correct, and hit Miami head-on.

Let's take a look at the weather maps, shall we?

This is the forecast issued by the National Hurricane Center at 11 AM Wednesday. The blue and pink line along SE Florida is a Tropical Storm Warning and Hurricane Watch. This means that hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours. Notice the infamous skinny black line going from east to west. That the exact forecast track of Katrina, with the big white "cone" representing the error cone. That line is pretty close to Miami, right? The white cone covers all of South Florida, meaning that the track could pass anywhere within that area.

Let's move ahead 12 hours:

This is the forecast from 11 PM Wednesday. Notice the line along the coast is now red. This means a Hurricane Warning is in effect for all of SE Florida, including Miami-Dade County. A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours. The skinny black line still looks pretty close to Miami, and most of Florida is under the white cone. Are we safe here in Miami? Don't think so.

Katrina made landfall near the Broward/Miami-Dade county line about 6 PM on Thursday, within 24 hours after the warning was issued. The actual track took Katrina southwest across the northern half of Miami-Dade county, resulting in an error of about 15-30 miles from the forecast issued 24 hours prior. That's about the distance that most of us travel to work every morning. A hurricane is a system that covers several hundred miles.

Schools were closed in Miami-Dade county that day, so local officials had a good idea of what might happen.

So then, why were so many people caught by surprise? Was it because it was stronger than expected? No, the forecast called for a category 1 hurricane, and that's exactly what we got.

Was it a lack of perception of what a category 1 storm can do? Maybe. Here's the definition of category 1 hurricane and what kind of damage one can expect from a storm of that magnitude:

Winds 74-95 mph (64-82 kt or 119-153 km/hr). Storm surge generally 4-5 ft above normal. No real damage to building structures. Damage primarily to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery, and trees. Some damage to poorly constructed signs.

Except for the storm surge, that describes exactly the type of damage which occurred over South Florida as a result of Katrina.

So I'll ask again, why were so many people caught by surprise? The experts weren't, and conveyed this very clearly in the advisory which was issued Wednesday at 11 PM. Read the entire message, especially the part about the hurricane warnings and the expected rainfall.

My conclusion:
Many people did not take the storm very seriously because it was a category 1. Imagine if this would have been a cat 3 or 4 with the same exact forecast track. People in Miami would have been freaking out days in advance.

My other conclusion is that too many people listen to the talking heads in the media (not all media did a bad job, but generally speaking) more than they do to the experts or local officials who were warning people in Miami all along that this would happen.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Big One

Photo Courtesy of NOAA

Hurricane Katrina is a Category 5 hurricane as I write this, and it is headed for the general vicinity of New Orleans. By the time most of you read this, we'll know for sure whether New Orleans will receive the full brunt of this potentially catastrophic storm. The city is mostly below sea level, and people have always feared of a huge storm like Katrina hitting the city head on. The loss of life could be massive if people don't take this with 100% seriousness.

Seeing this makes me feel extremely fortunate that all we had to deal with in South Florida were broken branches, a few downed trees, and lack of electricity for a few nights. Let's pray for our friends in New Orleans and for the rest of the Gulf coast, that somehow Katrina will lose its punch and cause as little damage as possible.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Post-Katrina Mess (UPDATED)

I lost power literally minutes after my last update yesterday evening (unfortunately my gut feeling was right). I'm still without power or telephone service at home, so I am sending this quick update from work.

It was a quite impressive show last night. Hurricane force winds and 10 inches of rain buffetted 26th Parallel headquarters. My mango tree tipped over (oh no!), banana trees are shredded, and leaves and branches are everywhere, including my pool which is a total mess right now and on the verge of overflowing.

Other than that, no structural damage which is really what counts. All things considered, we were pretty lucky. The eye did make a southward shift, passing very close to my house. But imagine if it would have been a 100 or 120 mph storm instead of an 80 mph storm.

And yes I agree with Val, hurricanes do suck.

UPDATED 9:35 PM - I got my power back late in the afternoon, very fortunate to only have one night without power and AC. Still don't have phone service, and our cell phones are getting very poor reception (thank you Sprint).

I'm absolutely exhausted after a stressful week, and I have to work all weekend.

I can't complain though, I have it better than a lot of people in Miami right now.

Here's hoping everyone gets their power back very soon. In the meantime, I'll try to keep everyone informed and entertained here and over at Babalu.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Katrina Weather Updates

Since Katrina is making landfall right on the 26th Parallel late this afternoon, thought it would be appropriate to post some weather updates from HQ. No, I don't have a fancy schmancy webcam like Val does, but being the weather weenie that I am, I'll try to give you as much of a "visual" as possible. Stay tuned.

4:45 PM - Got home from work.

5:25 PM - Finished draining a little bit of pool water out, brought in patio furniture.

5:35 PM - Winds gusting to tropical storm force. Coconut trees bending in the wind, coconuts still on tree.

6:05 PM - Katrina close to making landfall near Ft. Lauderdale. Winds getting stronger and more steady, lights flickered, cracked open an adult beverage.

6:21 PM - Spotted the Gorton's fisherman on Val's webcam. Kinda looked like Val himself.

7:35 PM - Winds gusting over 60 mph. Lights flickering, but still have power. Thank goodness for underground cables! Not sure our good luck will last much longer. Strongest part of the storm is sitting offshore reading to move in during the next 2 hours. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Raul Hangs It Up

Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald

A shocker out of Hialeah today...Long-time Mayor Raul Martinez announced he is retiring in November.

The Democratic mayor of the 4th most Republican city in the United States says he wants to spend more time with his wife and children.

Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez, who has spent three-decades at the helm of Miami-Dade's second-largest city, announced this afternoon that he plans to retire at the end of his term in November and will not seek one final bid for office in the city's upcoming election.

Martinez broke the news during a press conference at City Hall, his seat of power, where he has run the city like an old-time ward boss, which irked many but made him popular among the citizenry.

''It's time,'' Martinez said. ``I've been here long enough. I have had a great job. I've had my ups and downs. It's about time.''

The mayor did not say what he plans to do next. He did say he wants to spend more time with his wife and children and said he looks forward to being a grandfather, with two grandchildren on the way.

The announcement comes nearly a week into the election's qualification period, which ends Sept. Among the potential successors is Martinez protégé, council President Julio Robaina.

Three Opinions on Cuba

Some interesting comments from three individuals regarding the situation in Cuba were published in today's Herald.

I will copy the article here without commentary, but it's pretty obvious what side each person is on.

Shedding light on Cuba's blackouts, economic woes
Question: Cuban President Fidel Castro celebrated his 79th birthday on August 13 under a cloud of growing social discontent, including frustration with lengthy power blackouts. Do you see discontent with economic hardship growing into something else? What is the political outlook for Cuba in the short-term?

Answer from Kirby Jones, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association and a consultant to U.S. firms wanting to do business with Cuba: In the land where manifestations of discontent are ''prohibited,'' Cubans seem more outspoken than ever before. If this were to occur in other countries, one could describe it as a healthy public discourse. But in Cuba every such demonstrative action is interpreted as a possible harbinger of an underlying threat to the very political foundations of the country. Unlike what we see in Bolivia, where decades of systemic mistreatment of the Indian population have indeed produced a threat to the very fabric of the country, this is simply not the case in Cuba. While I was in Cuba two weeks ago, in fact, the brownouts had greatly subsided, which still had not lessened the complaints about the heat nor of the dissatisfaction that they happened in the first place. Quite simply, in the short term there is no political impact to be derived from these complaints, much as some might wish.

Answer from Dennis Hays, managing director of the Global and Government Affairs Practice at Tew Cardenas, LLP, and former executive vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation: John F. Kennedy remarked more than 40 years ago that 'those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.' Nowhere is this more apt than in Cuba today. Castro continues to believe his personal hold on power requires him to stifle all forms of free expression -- both political and economic. His brighter lieutenants presumably know this is a recipe for disaster, but lack the courage or ability to force a change. At frequent intervals over the years, the average Cuban's apathy has erupted in sudden, violent action, and only the rapid and ruthless response of the security forces and the promise of emigration has stemmed a broader breakdown. We are once again on this path, but this time there is a thin hope. The handful of dissidents who refuse to be silenced despite prison, torture, and exile offer the only possible way forward that escapes the horror of the status quo or the uncertainty of indiscriminate violence.

Answer from Dan Erikson, director for caribbean projects at the Inter-American Dialogue: There is no reason to believe that the frustration with the current blackouts has reached regime-threatening proportions. Nevertheless, the Cuban government's efforts to tout energy-saving light bulbs clearly underlines its inability to deal with the core problem of restoring the country's electrical grids. While Cuba's electrical problems are only loosely related to the issue of oil supply, many Cubans are wondering why blackouts continue to plague the country at a time when thousands of their family doctors have departed for Venezuela in exchange for discounted oil. Even though the recent problems have undercut the government's already scant reserves of popular support, Castro and his allies remain able to control the internal affairs of the country, and have even succeeded in strengthening international ties with China and other Latin American nations.

For its part, the U.S. has recently tried to inject energy into its Cuba policy, appointing a ''transition coordinator'' to oversee democratization of Cuba from Washington. Nevertheless, it appears waiting for Castro to die remains the cornerstone of U.S. policy.

Sleep? What Sleep?

Photo Courtesy of NOAA

Between Katrina, two kids who refuse to sleep the entire night, and waiting to hear about my job application, it doesn't look like I'll be getting much sleep in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Interview Update

Just want to post an update on my job interview yesterday...I thought it went well, although you always have second thoughts and doubts after something like that. Being as objective as possible, I don't think I hurt my chances if I am indeed the person they were looking for.

Hopefully I'll find out one way or the other sometime later this week.

Thanks to all of you who posted their good luck comments the other day and have asked for an update. I appreciate it greatly!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cuban-American Bashing Courtesy of Sun-Sentinel

For those of you who love it when Cuban-Americans' and Miami's reputation take a low blow, this article is for you (emphasis and italicized commentary completely mine).

(prepare to deploy barf bags)

Appeals court ruling underscores negative view of Cuban exile politics

By Madeline Baró Diaz Miami Bureau
Posted August 22 2005

When a federal appeals court ruled recently that ardent anti-Castro sentiment in Miami-Dade County prevented five accused Cuban spies from receiving a fair trial, leading Cuban-Americans expressed outrage. But many outside of the Cuban-American community nodded their heads in agreement.

"[The impression is] that Dade County is like Alice in Wonderland where up is down, down is up," said David Abraham, professor of immigration and citizenship law at the University of Miami School of Law. "As soon as you drift out of Dade County you find that the Alice in Wonderland world ends at the Dade-Broward line." OK, we're off to a fine start.

Such perceptions are drawn from decades of tumultuous events in Miami-Dade. From bombings and assassinations militant Cuban exiles carried out in the 1970s and 1980s to strident demonstrations over Cuban performers, the community's outcry over Cuban castaway Elián González and one-sided court battles in Miami-Dade courts in which judges awarded millions to people with claims against the Cuban government, Cuba has long been the enemy.

That last sentence is the only correct thing stated so far.

In one famous case, the duped wife of a Cuban spy successfully sued the island's government for rape because her husband never revealed he was a Cuban agent. Hooray for justice!

The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 9 rejected the 2001 convictions of Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González, and René González, ruling that the climate in Miami prejudiced the jury against them. Barring a successful appeal by federal prosecutors to the entire 11-member court, the five Cuban nationals will receive a new trial. Hooray for justice!

The judges said that seating an impartial jury was an "unreasonable probability because of pervasive community prejudice."

"The entire community is sensitive to and permeated by concerns for the Cuban exile population in Miami," the judges wrote. Hooray for justice!

The most serious charges in the spy case involved a tragic episode in Cuban exile history, the 1996 shoot down by Cuban MiGs of two small planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue, known at one time for rescuing rafters and dropping leaflets over Cuba. The jury convicted Hernández of conspiracy in the deaths of the four men aboard the planes.

In their decision, the judges cited demonstrations and commemorations held during the trial as contributing factors to the unfair atmosphere.

Cuban-Americans take particular issue with that. Damn right!

"This is America," said Alfredo Mesa (not according to some bozos, Mr. Mesa, just wait), executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation. "Healthy debate -- protests -- are legal. There were people protesting outside the Michael Jackson trial. Why there are different standards when it comes to the Cuban-American community is what I don't understand."

Neither do I.

"Richard Nuccio, special adviser to the Clinton administration on Cuba (OK, place barf bags on face), said some people in other parts of the country are unsympathetic to Cuban-Americans because of the community's single-mindedness.

Yeah, like, we don't like Fidel and people who conspire with him, comprende Mr. Nuccio?

That became apparent during the battle for Elián, he said. The spy trial took place shortly after Elián returned to Cuba, something the appellate judges mentioned in their decision. The boy was reunited with his father, Juan Miguel González, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear the custody dispute between González and his Miami relatives. That sparked protests in Miami-Dade streets. Hooray for justice!

"The kind of high-decibel extreme emotion, even the language that a lot of Cuban Americans used about the Elián case turned off a lot of people," said Nuccio, director of international programs at the Center for Civic Education in Los Angeles.

The writer forgot to add this to Mr. Nuccio's credentials - expert on Cuban-American behavior.

Mesa and others also were offended by the judges' mention of Miami-area bombings from three decades ago."They are talking about a situation that happened a long time ago," said television commentator Tomás Garcia Fuste. "Those practices … are no longer used today in Miami. We understand that it was not the right path.

Don't even bother Mr. Garcia Fuste, they're not listening. Besides, some think it still happens.

"Nuccio, however, pointed to the case of Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles, who is awaiting an immigration hearing in Texas on charges he entered the United States illegally and some in the Cuban-American community's embrace of him as evidence of twisted notions of justice in the community

Ssince when did the opinion of some represent the entire community? Perhaps in Clinton-ese it makes sense.

Posada, accused of violent acts that include the downing of a Cuban jetliner and the bombings of Havana hotels, came to Miami in March, months after being pardoned in Panama of charges stemming from an alleged attempt to kill Fidel Castro in the Central American country."You did get this impression that he thought he could go from exile in Central America to Miami and that would be … safe haven there," Nuccio said. "For people that are paying attention, I think it does give the impression that somehow the Constitution and laws of the United States don't exactly apply the same way there."

Mr. Nuccio, we are paying attention, and last time we checked, Mr. Posada is locked up in El Paso, TX, not drinking mojitos in Miami, Florida, US of A. The protests the day he was taken away were deafeningly silent.

Madeline Baró Diaz can be reached at mbaro@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5007.

Teens Work to Save Freedom Tower

It's always good to see kids getting positively involved with the community.

That's why I was very pleased to read this article in the Neighbors section of the Miami Herald about a group of eight-grade students from Arvida Middle School, only a short walk from 26th Parallel headquarters, whose social studies class assignment is to start a grass-roots movement to save the Freedom Tower from developers' plans that would basically resort the treasured building to a glorified high-rise condo ornament.

Congratulations to teacher Rebecca Mazzarella and her students for taking on this noble endeavor. I wish them the best of luck.

Class assignment turns into grass-roots activism. A teacher is using the controversy over the future of Miami's Freedom Tower to teach students about civic activism.

BY JOSELLE GALIS-MENENDEZjgalis-menendez@herald.com
A group of teens at Arvida Middle is planning a protest that includes songs, T-shirts, petitions and speeches before Miami commissioners.

No, this isn't a throwback to the 1960s. The kids are spearheading a movement to save the Freedom Tower -- now.

The students in Rebecca Mazzarella's eighth-grade social studies class are learning a lesson in community activism, courtesy of the controversy plaguing Miami's historical preservationists.

''I've followed this story,'' Mazzarella said, ``and as a history and civics teacher, you think, my God, we have to be aware of what's going on in our community.''

Recently, developer Pedro Martin of Terra Group unveiled plans before the Miami Planning Advisory Board to tear out the back of the 80-year-old building and keep the rest as an ornament for a new 62-story condominium.

The board rejected the plan, but Miami commissioners must give final approval. The Freedom Tower is endeared by many Cuban Americans because that is where they first received immigration papers and rations.

Mazzarella and her class worry the historical site is far from safe. Wednesday morning, enlarged black and white photographs of the tower lined the walls, while students sat quietly, hunched over recent newspaper clippings.

The classroom is the headquarters of a preteen political movement.

''This grass-roots movement coming from the students, that's exactly what this campaign is all about,'' said Rafael Penalver, a local activist and attorney who spoke to the class Wednesday.

Penalver represented the uphill battle of residents who believe the tower should be turned over to the public and made a national landmark.

Ruth Jacobs, educational director of Dade Heritage Trust, joined Penalver with pleas to preserve the tower.

Mazzarella said she tried unsuccessfully to contact Terra Group to address the students so they could hear both sides of the issue.

''Why can't they just build the condo somewhere else?'' asked Jackie Garcia, 13. The simple question summed up the problem.

Mazzarella said she hopes at least some of her students will voice their opinions at the September city meeting when the issue will be heard and voted on. The kids' homework, due Monday, will be to pick one side of the issue and represent that point of view.

Shanmae Lark, 13, showed Penalver and Jacobs her project, a handmade brochure that she compiled from a survey of students.

''They told me it was a wonderful brochure,'' Lark said, beaming.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


That's what's been swirling around in my stomach the last 2 days.

The reason? I found out last Friday that I am on the short list for a new job and big promotion at work. I am scheduled to be interviewed for the job tomorrow afternoon.

It's a position that I've been eyeing for a few years now, and this may be the last opportunity for quite a while. I'm not nervous because I don't have faith in my abilities. I'm nervous because the final decision is out of my control. In the end, I guess the best thing is to be confident and let God's will take over. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. If it's not, then the worst that can happen is that I stay in my current position a bit longer - which is just fine. I have no right to complain when others out there are in jobs they truly hate. Besides, I've been blessed with many wonderful things throughout my life.

Any blog-positive thoughts and well wishes are greatly appreciated!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Iraq and "Political Blasphemies"

The columnist fisking department has been quite busy here at the humble offices of 26th Parallel. Yesterday I posted on Ana Menedez's Hialeah column (thanks to all for the kind comments and e-mails, and of course to my blog-father Val for his seal of approval).

Today I am posting on another column from Wednesday's Miami Herald, this one from Editorial Columnist Robert Steinback. It deals with his perception that no one wants or dares to ask tough questions about the war in Iraq. He uses Cindy Sheehan as the example of someone who has stood up to the president and asked those questions that people are afraid to ask. At the end, he lists his seven "political blasphemies" which no one wants to touch.

Read the column here, or scroll down to read it in its entirety. Then tell me if you're as surprised as I was to read that, according to Steinback, the media has been "intimidated" into not asking tough questions. I don't know if they're actually asking tough questions, but based on the coverage in the MSM, one would be led to believe that absolutely nothing good has come out of the war so far, which logically leads the average American to doubt our involvement in Iraq.

I e-mailed Steinback and responded mainly to his seven blasphemies, which I indicated in bold, followed by my response.

Here's the column:

For more than two years, many Americans have wondered what noble cause our soldiers are fighting for
in Iraq. But to dare to ask the question brought certain denunciation from the neo-conservative political power grid: Only a traitorous, subversive, unpatriotic, flag-burning, communist America-hater would question the virtue of a U.S. military venture.

The intimidated media shied away from asking the question. A decorated Vietnam veteran presidential candidate waffled over posing it. The opposition party caved in rather than mount a challenge about it.

And so it went largely unasked, except by a few harmless pundits on the Left.

Meanwhile, the stinking morass of Iraq deepened, claiming military and civilian lives, depleting the U.S. treasury and eviscerating U.S. global prestige.

It took the mother of an American soldier slain in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan, camping outside President Bush's Texas ranch, to ask for an explanation of the noble cause her son died for -- and thereby expose the president's utter lack of a persuasive answer. Sheehan embodies the power grid's worst nightmare: A citizen whose authority to pose the question is close to unassailable (though they've tried) -- and whose personal loss makes her impervious to intimidation.

Sheehan's stand got me thinking about what other legitimate debates have been turned into sacred but dubious axioms. I came up with what I'm calling the Seven Blasphemies None Dare Debate -- concepts neo-conservative Bush loyalists feel must not, should not and cannot be questioned.

Political blasphemies aren't synonymous with conventional wisdom, which are ideas no one bothered to question for so long that they gradually became broadly accepted -- even if inaccurate.

Rather, political blasphemies are highly debatable, complex issues that have been deliberately reduced to simplistic maxims specifically to squelch debate -- which then work to the clear advantage of one side in that debate. Partisans need only express shock that anyone would dare question what everyone knows to be true, and voil! Debate closed.

Here's my e-mail to Steinback:

Mr. Steinback,

Your column in yesterday's Herald regarding your "seven political blasphemies" has prompted me to respond to each of them. Before I do, I have to say that I'm truly shocked that you think that media has shied away from questioning the war in Iraq. I'd say the exact opposite has happened: all you see in the mainstream media, TV and print, are negative stories, followed by even more negative editorials condemning the war. Yes, bad things happen in wars. But rarely, if ever, do we see or read any positive news from Iraq. The elections in Iraq earlier this year was an exception, but even that story was laced with doubts about the future. Not totally unwarranted, but extremely unbalanced.

You're surprised that John Kerry didn't openly question our involvement in Iraq? If I recall, he, along with virtually all of his Democratic colleagues, voted in favor of using force to topple Saddam Hussein.

Now to your blasphemies:

- Not every deployment of U.S. troops is, by definition, a noble exercise.

Sure, everyone makes mistakes, even the commander-in-chief. But I have a hard time accepting that the U.S. makes decisions to deploy troops for anything other than to protect ourselves and to promote stability in different parts of the world. I see no problem in questioning the president, this is after all a free country. However, accusations of "liar" and "murderer" that have been leveled by many in the left in this country toward our president is extremely irresponsible, disrespectful, and counter-productive. Ms. Sheehan, I'm talking to you.

- It is overly simplistic to dismiss all those who resist the American presence in Iraq as ''terrorists.''

Perhaps the resistors don't openly support terrorists, but by resisting our efforts to promote democracy in Iraq and fight those who seek to perpetuate oppression and terror, by default they are supporting those who seek to destroy our way of life. We are not provoking the resistance (i.e. terrorists). They have been attacking us for decades now. Ignoring the problem and appeasing the terrorists won't make them go away or hate us less. How many 9/11s do we have to go through to learn this lesson?

- It can be argued that the world is not better off without Saddam Hussein.
Premise: Nobody likes a dictator, but sometimes, there is a short-term geopolitical benefit in the presence of a tyrant who keeps rival factions from colliding -- Tito in the old Yugoslavia, for example. This doesn't have to undermine the long-run goal of eliminating all despots.

Ask the families of the thousands of Kurds he gassed to death several years back. Ask those others who were victims of his brutal regime. Mr. Steinback, he used WMDs to kill those Kurds, and who's to say that he didn't have them right up to the day the war began? And who's to say that he didn't have indirect connections to Al Qaeda who would've loved nothing more than to get their hands on those weapons to hurt us? When do you suggest is a good time to eliminate despots? After they inflict massive damage, or do we take the appropriate steps to get rid of the problem before more innocent lives are lost?

- Not every society is ready for American-style capitalism and democracy.

Capitalism isn't without its flaws, but it's the best system we've come up with. Democracy needs to be encouraged right from the start. There must be a transition period, but democracy must still be included even in those early stages. Otherwise, what's the purpose of promoting peace and stability if we don't encourage people to have basic rights?

The word of God is what one chooses to believe, not a universal truth that unerringly applies to all people. Premise: Your belief in your particular version of God is not sufficient justification for you to impose your will on others.

Sounds like you're referring to Islamic fundamentalists. I thought the purpose of toppling Saddam was to promote freedom in Iraq, not to impose our religious will.

- The American social model may not be every reasonable person's idea of a perfect society. Premise: Other cultures are not necessarily inferior to ours simply because they are different. We, as Americans, should proudly promote our values, but our aim should be to persuade, not compel, others to embrace them.

Our values are democracy, pure and simple. It's the only system that's been proven to work.

- Criticizing the U.S. government is not synonymous with criticizing America. Premise: Nonviolent dissent can be both patriotic and healthy for the nation.

I agree 100%, but I would add "respectful". Calling the president a liar and accusing him of murder is neither patriotic nor healthy.

26th Parallel

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Sheehan's Saga and Moroccan POWs

Check out Sirimba's latest post and analysis of the Cindy Sheehan saga. It's a compassionate, yet firm take on the situation and is well worth a read.

Also check out her latest post which deals with the release of Moroccan POW's, and it's relation to Cuba.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Hialeah: Where Values Matter Most (UPDATED)

After the Miami Herald's firing of Jim DeFede, I thought I was going to get a break from commenting and replying to Herald columnists.

I guess I was wrong. Based on this column and the one she wrote over the weekend, it looks like the staff at 26th Parallel will be quite busy with new columnist Ana Menendez.

Menendez is perplexed of the fact that Hialeah residents vote overwhelmingly Republican in most elections, yet many are working class people who depend on government aid, and have Democratic economic interests, right? Menendez attributes this dichotomy to her opinion that "symbols matter", as if all the Republicans represent are merely symbols, while the Democrats provide basic sustenance.

Make sure to read her column in the link at the top, then read my e-mail to her which follows below.

Ms. Menendez,

First of all, welcome back to the Herald. As a long-time subscriber and daily reader, I look forward to reading your columns.

Your column today about Hialeah's apparent political dichotomy left me a bit puzzled. I have never lived in Hialeah, but as a Cuban-American and life-long resident of Dade County, I feel I can vouch for my neighbors from the City of Progress.

You make some good points, but your political bias prevents a true objective analysis of the situation. You're generalizations about Republicans hide the entire facts. Consider the following:

You mentioned Nebraska Governor Heineman's current trip to Cuba to sell his state's goods as an example of Republican greed. However, you failed to balance this with the fact that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco took a trip of her own to Cuba back in March and signed a $15 million deal with the regime to sell her state's agricultural goods.

Governor Kathleen Blanco is a Democrat. Good ol' Democratic greed, right?

Hialeah votes Republican because it's people believe in traditional conservative values. Those values include but are not limited to: working their way up through honest, hard work without too much government meddling, willingness to help those in need, and economic freedom. Hialeah's successful sons and daughters - Republicans and Democrats - got to where they are today because of these values which were instilled in them as kids.

They support the party that has historically stood by their intense desire for a free Cuba and for helping those who leave Cuba's gulag. They also support a strong military to protect our country from our enemies abroad.

Yes, the Republicans have been far from perfect in their policy toward Cuba. But while Republicans try to hurt the regime by limiting the amount of money flowing into Cuba, many Democrats advocate lifting all sanctions and thereby giving Castro lifelines to continue oppressing its people.

Democrats have not only failed to deliver, they have helped to perpetuate the crisis in Cuba. Their administrations' policies have left much to be desired: Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Carter, his fruitless "dialogues" with Castro and the Mariel exodus; Clinton, the ridiculous wet foot/dry foot policy and the Elian disaster.

It's no mystery, then, that Hialeah would vote for the party that understands them the most.

In closing, I'd like to modify that banner you suggested to place at the entrance to Hialeah.

It should read - "Welcome to Hialeah, where values matter most".

Maybe one day, today's fractured Democratic Party will understand that. Republicans already do.

Staff at 26th Parallel

UPDATE 8/18 2:50 PM: Here's Ana Menendez's courteous reply:

Thank you for taking the time to write and for being thoughtful and eloquent as well. Valid points, all. And that's why I wrote that it's perfectly right to vote one's values, as Cubans do. My concern is that too often we're labeled "right wingers" when we're nothing of the sort. Just anti-communist. As for Blanco, yes, but Democrats are always accused of trying to curry favor with Castro, so there is not the same level of irony as when a Republican does it. Though your wider implication is, of course, true: Greed is a non-partisan issue. Warm regards, Ana

Honest Analysis of State of Dissident Movement

I received an e-mail from Net For Cuba with a release issued by Cesar Alarcon and Huber Matos on the state of the dissident movement in Cuba. It is not exactly optimistic, but not unfounded either. Here's the release which can also be accessed here, with my own thoughts below.

A call of alert.

In the last few months, the perception of the end of the Castro regime as a possible reality has rekindled the hope of many Cubans. This is an event of great importance because one of the objectives of the dictatorship has always been to keep its people immersed in defeatism. A positive vision of the future such as an attainable ideal is almost an indispensable requirement to materialize a change in Cuba.

This optimism is the beginning of change in the distribution of forces which the regime itself has taken note. The official political meeting in answer to the protests of this past July 13th and the speech of this past July 26th has demonstrated their nervousness. The Cuban democratic opposition must take advantage of these circumstances to prepare as rapidly as possible, the conditions that will allow the development of a responsible strategy. Nevertheless, we think that at this moment, two serious errors of appreciation are popular.

First: To affirm that in Cuba the conditions are present for its people to rebel is an error. Between the generalized existence of displeasure in the population and its disposition to take to the streets there is a great distance. It is true that in Cuba there exists a deep level of frustration and that people criticize openly, as never before. But it is equally certain that instead of a fighting spirit, in the population prevails a generalized and intense desire to flee the country.

Second: Even more it is dangerous to think or to affirm that the dissidence in Cuba is organized at a national level. The dissidence has, neither sufficient level of organization, nor coordination in the country. Most of the opposition is disarticulated in small groups that live under the permanent hostility of the regime. These do not have recognition nor international endorsement. Many do not have resources even to mobilize themselves. Once the State Security discovers them they lose their jobs and are abandoned completely. Even more, there are false opponents who dedicate themselves to seed the division in the ranks of the dissidence and in some cases they cause the ostracism and the persecution of legitimate dissidents.

Truthfully the assistance that reaches a sector of the dissidence is fundamental, as is the aid received by the families of imprisoned dissidents. But these efforts must be increased and consolidated. The Cubans on the outside, which are the true rear of this fight, must organize more effectively.

Lamentably we are observing as in a capable advertising and repressive maneuver where the regime demonstrates to the people, to the exile, and to the world that they control the streets. Dissident leaders are cornered and harassed in their own homes and the streets by crowds of the dictatorship in order to demonstrate that the dissidence has neither organization nor resources to mobilize the population.

The dictatorship needed a victory desperately, a reaffirmation that its capacity to control is intact. It has obtained it momentarily but we do not have to be discouraged by this maneuver. The distribution of forces continues to move against them. We must denounce the harassment that the dissident leaders undergo and we must avoid, due to improvisation and overconfidence, that the Cuban people suffer other tactical failures that slow down and make more expensive the final outcome in favor of freedom.

César L. Alarcón. Huber Matos Araluce.
Baltimore, Maryland. San José, Costa Rica.

Monday, August 15, 2005.

I'd like to address the first point: yes there is a gap between displeasure and actually taking to the streets. There is a lack of a fighting spirit, instead there is resignation, and those who can leave do so. But I think the main reason for this is fear. Living under an oppressive regime for decades will do that to a population. That fear is slowly melting away, but it takes time. The worse the living conditions get in Cuba, which they undoubtedly are, the more we'll see the fear go away.

The second point regarding the lack of organization of the dissident movement is right on the money, unfortunately. Which brings me to the repressive mobs which have been active the past few weeks in harassing and preventing dissidents from attending meetings. The release states that it is giving a sense of victory on the part of the government. Perhaps to governmesympathizersers it does. But to everyone else it is a clear sign of insecurity on the part of the regime. If the dissidents truly posed no threat, they wouldn't bother sending the mobs and risking international scorn. The regime has always been good at swaying international opinion in their favor through deceit and falappearancesces. Now the regime is risking all this by sending the mobs, which they know have received a good amount of international press.

There is still a long way to go, but the first steps have been taken. Let's continue to support those brave dissident souls inside Cuba all the way to the end.

¡Ya No Mas!

Monday, August 15, 2005

But the Healthcare is Free (Continued)

That's what fidel apologists always tout. Of course, it would be better if there were actual doctors available, right? That's part of the severe health crisis facing Cuba today, according to this report in El Nuevo Herald by Wilfredo Cancio Isla. Below is a translation of the main parts of the article.

Health Crisis in Cuba

The recent deaths of children and adults as a result of an epidemic breakout in Cuba are barely the tip of the iceberg in a battered public health system that for decades proclaimed itself as a model of excellence and a great achievement of Fidel Castro' revolution.

Although the Cuban government on July 25th did informe of the deaths of eight minors, recognizing the "affected water supply, domestic fuel availability, and electrical service to the population" as possible factors tied to the hygienic-epidemic situation, independent sources and testimonies point at deeper causes, related to the galloping deterioration of health conditions and medical care in the country.

A four-page report by the Center of Health and Human Rights "Juan Bruno Zayas" questions the assertions published in a release by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), and also questions the number of deaths confirmed by Cuban authorities.

"In internal meetings with doctors, a total of 31 deaths involving children and adults have been handled in Havana alone, but there must be even more", indicated Dr. Darsi Ferre, director of Juan Bruno Zayas. "We are continuing to compile all the data to alert the population and international public opinion of the dangers that we currently face in Cuba and the immorality of the authorities who don't properly inform its citizens."

"Several factors appear to have a decisive influence in these breakouts'', affirms the document. "They are: the lack of attention given to the epidemic control programs of transmitted diseases, due primarily to the lack of qualified personnel, the lack of motivation of the part of the professionals in those fields and the lack of resources required to accomplish the tasks; as well as the deplorable hygienic-sanitary state, characterized by the presence of garbage dumps on every city block".

The four-page text, that even manages to track down opinions of MINSAP employees, observes that the provision water provision is irregular throughout the country and the pipes are seriously damaged, resulting in the contamination of the water drains.

In addition to the virosis, the report points to an increase of epidemics of dengue, hepatitis, leptospirosis and meningoencefalitis. "The situation is very serious", confessed a pediatrician of a clinic in Havana. And many people think that all this is because of the lack of qualified personnel due to the large number of doctors who have been sent to Venezuela and other missions outside the country."

In order to erase these black marks, the Cuban government is promoting short-duration courses for nurses and health technicians.

This year, 29,000 students are projected to enroll in the medical science fields, the most in Cuba's history. Conscious of displeasure in this professional sector, Castro announced in June the increase in wages for all health workers, with a maximum of 573 pesos (about $21) as basic wage for specialized doctors.

But the wage increase is not providing enough stimulus for doctors and stomachologists, who see foreign missions as an alternative in order to make money in dollars and to remove themselves from the tense national reality.

Arco Progresista, a moderate dissident organization, has already alerted on the exodus of health professionals to Venezuela and the humiliating reorientation of medical services to foreigners.

"The government of Venezuela worries and takes care of the health of Venezuelans. The Cuban government does as well. Who then worries and takes care of the health of Cubans?", dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa questioned. "Entire communities in this country have seen their doctors sent to other countries, and how they themselves have been neglected by a badly-understood solidarity, strictly for the political benefits of the authorities of Cuba".

Cuban Torture Suspect Released

Wonder where all the MSM outcry and editorials are regarding this story from today's Miami Herald (hat tip daniel):

Cuban torture suspect released from detention

A Cuban national held by federal immigration authorities as a torture suspect has been released. He's the second Cuban suspected of torture released this year.

BY ALFONSO CHARDYachardy@herald.com
A Cuban national detained by immigration officers last year on suspicion of being involved in the torture of Fidel Castro's political foes has been released, but may still face deportation.
Luis Enrique Daniel Rodríguez was freed about two weeks ago from an immigration facility in Bradenton on Florida's Gulf Coast, where he had been held for months, his attorney, Leonardo Viota Sesin, said Sunday.

Daniel Rodríguez is the second Cuban suspected of torture released this year. Jorge de Cárdenas Agostini, detained in June 2004 on suspicion of supervising a team of torturers in Cuba, was released in February from the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade.

Shortly after, federal officials said de Cárdenas Agostini was put on supervised release because he could not be held indefinitely and they had been unable to persuade Cuba to take him back. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 prohibited the indefinite detention of foreign nationals whose countries refused to readmit them.

Viota Sesin said he was not sure why his client was freed.

Dean Boyd, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman in Washington, said Daniel Rodríguez was released Aug. 4 because of the Supreme Court ruling.

''Our hands are tied,'' Boyd said, adding that ICE will continue trying to deport Daniel Rodríguez. Until then, he will be required to report periodically to the immigration service.

Cuba generally refuses to take back Cuban exiles ordered deported, although Havana made an exception April 19 when it agreed to take back Juan Emilio Aboy, a Cuban spying suspect.
Daniel Rodríguez was detained July 2, 2004, when immigration officers raided his West Miami-Dade apartment. The detention came after an immigration judge ordered Daniel Rodríguez deported on suspicion of having persecuted dissidents in the early 1990s before he left Cuba for the United States. The Board of Immigration Appeals denied his appeal in December, Viota Sesin said.

Viota Sesin said his client was unfairly accused and that, in reality, he was a defector from Cuba, where he opposed the Castro regime.

''I am convinced that even though he worked for the Cuban apparatus at one time, he was not a torturer,'' Viota Sesin said.

"He may have worked for the Ministry of the Interior, but many other defectors did as well and they are living under the protection of the United States.''

De Cárdenas Agostini was detained June 8, 2004, also on suspicion of being involved in torture, an allegation denied by his attorney, Linda Osberg-Braun.

De Cárdenas Agostini is the nephew of Jorge de Cárdenas Loredo, a longtime lobbyist and political strategist in Miami who was charged with embezzlement, witness tampering and bribery in the 1990s.

De Cárdenas Loredo pleaded guilty in 1997 to one count of obstructing justice and was sentenced to one year in federal prison. After his release, he was sent to Krome to await deportation, but was released in 1999.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Nobody Said War Was Easy

Several news items this weekend have made me think a bit about the war in Iraq. One of them is the well-publicized vigil by Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, TX. Another was a column written by new Herald columnist Ana Menendez.

The subject of Menendez's column is Iraq war veteran Jimmy Massey, a Marine. Massey was stationed in Baghdad shortly before the city's takeover, and was witness to an attack on a car heading toward a checkpoint:

"When a red Kia approached, Massey's men opened fire. They'd done it before with other cars, and as before, when they checked the car they found no weapons. ``These were civilians.'' Three of the young men in the car were hit, but the driver walked out unscathed. 'He kept asking, `Why did you shoot, why did you shoot my brother, why?' '' Massey recalled. ``He was running around frantically asking my Marines, `Why, why?'

Twenty minutes later, the medical corpsmen just dumped the other bodies on the side of the road. And he lost it. This guy wasn't a terrorist. He looked like a college kid. I watched him pick up what must have been his brother's head and he was just rocking and weeping. Then he stood. He knew I was in charge and he started toward me. I thought, this guy is going to choke me. But he just lifted one finger at me and in perfect English said: `You did this. You killed my brother.' ''And that's when I just lost it,'' Massey said. 'That's when I said, `What are we doing?' ''

A horrible experience, no doubt about that.

I'm no stranger to awful war stories all my life. I was never in the military, but my father served in Vietnam and was wounded in action. This happened when I was a mere 2 months old. My father was fortunate to survive a booby trap that was set off by the soldiers at the front of the convoy, and my father was farther back, receiving shrapnel in his knee. Others in his platoon weren't so lucky. I remember my father recalling that first night in the infirmary where he could hear the screams of agony from his mates who were at the front of the line. They didn't survive.

Several of my dad's friends who also fought in Vietnam have similar stories. One of my dad's long-time friends lost a leg. I understand the cruelties of war.

Fortunately, my dad does not suffer any mental trauma as a result of the war. However, Massey is suffering from depression and high blood pressure as a result of his experience. That is understandable.

What I don't understand is his subsequent reaction. According to Menendez, Massey returned with "the conviction that what we're doing there amounts to genocide".

''We talk about smart weapons and I don't believe it,'' he said. ``I saw the brutality. The only word I can think of to describe it is genocide. We're exterminating Iraqis. We're exterminating a whole culture.''

Surely, a 12-year veteran of the Marines must know that this is not about genocide. Any reasonable person knows that. Do people make mistakes in wars? Sure. But to imply that the goal of the war is to exterminate a group of people is just ridiculous.

This is exactly the kind of statement that the MSM loves to jump on. Someone who suffered a traumatic experience and who's suffering from a mental disorder is qualified to make a statement about the war in Iraq. A war where people such as Cindy Sheehan's son lose their lives fighting for what they believe in.

Massey decided to take his experiences on the road. He spoke recently in Coral Gables to a group of 30 people, including members of Grassroots Miami, a liberal organization which is organizing a "Support Cindy Sheehan" rally in downtown Miami tomorrow afternoon. Jimmy Massey is scheduled to attend.

I can't even begin to understand Cindy Sheehan's pain. But there's obviously something strange about her vigil outside President Bush's ranch. Last year, she met with Bush and walked away with nothing but good feelings. Now she decides she wants to speak with Bush again, this time accusing him of lying and killing her son and the others who have died in Iraq. Even members of her own family are speaking out against the vigil.

I have no problem with people, especially veterans and/or family members, who are against the war, even if I don't personally agree with them. What I don't like are the unjust accusations of "liar" and "murderer" being hurled at President Bush. They discredit everything those people stand for. Of course, the MSM doesn't see it that way.

My father and his veteran friends understood that war isn't easy. But you'll never hear them bad mouth the war in Iraq. War is not a pleasant experience. Bad things happen. But it's the overall purpose that matters. If you need proof of this, check out this entry in Dean's World from an Iraqi blogger who posted a response to Cindy Sheehan.

Contrast the words from Mohammed in Iraq to seasoned war veteran Ana Menendez, who finished her column with these words:

"For a long time, many have believed that the soldiers who returned from the war proud of their service were testament to all the good things we have brought to Iraq. Some day we'll come to understand that the broken lives of soldiers like Massey testify with equal force to the horror of what we've done."

God bless our troops.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

fidel Turns 79

Today is fidel's birthday, and in honor of this special day, here's my birthday card to him (thanks CB).

I've also posted a suggestion for how to celebrate fidel's birthday over at Babalu Blog.

Happy Birthday, you bastard.

Friday, August 12, 2005

La Cuidad Que Progresa

The City of Progress, that's Hialeah, Florida's moniker. It was also named as the fourth most conservative city in the United States, according to a voting research group in San Francisco. It ranked just below Provo, Utah, and Lubbock and Abilene, Texas.

Hialeah has also been noted as the city with the most Cubans north of Havana, estimated to be about 80-90% of the population.

Any guesses as to the most liberal U.S. cities?

Detroit, Gary, Indiana, and Berkeley, Calif.

It's interesting to note that no Florida cities made the top 50 most liberal cities. Tallahassee and Ft. Lauderdale were the closest at 65th and 86th, respectively. Miami didn't make the top 100, a sign of its diverse political environment.

Miami's neither strongly conservative or liberal. Who would have thought?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Same Ol' Same Ol'

Net for Cuba brings us news of another mob attack in Cuba, with a few new wrinkles.

Government mobs besiege the home of Martha Beatriz Roque

(emphasis mine)
Before 7:00 a.m. today, a government mob congregated in front of the home of Martha Beatriz Roque to impede the fruition of a meeting to be held at her home by the leaders of the Assembly to Promote a Civil Society in Cuba.

This mob, comprised of mostly the same people who were part of the mob that were out last Tuesday in front of the home of Humberto Guerra Perruguria, repeatedly pushed Felix Bonne Carcasses so as to impede his entry into the hallway that leads to Martha's apartment.

They also did not permit entry to Jacqueline Montes De Oca, not even to pick up some clothes she had left in the apartment. They told Jacqueline not to return to that house. None of the opposition leaders who where called to attend the meeting were allowed to enter.

Cuban political police officials delivered lunch and refreshments to the mob, who for hours were yelling out obscenities, many of which were very offensive and denote the nature of the leadership of the communist regime.

Martha B. Roque was left without telephone line access since the pre-dawn hours until mid-day today, when we were able to contact her.

On a separate note, Roque also informed us that her blood pressure has been real high, and that this mob, organized and spearheaded by the political police, prevented anyone to reach her house so they may take her blood pressure, nor allow her to exit her house so she may be tended to.

We would like to note that ever since the European Union, encouraged by the government of Spain, re-instated normal relations with the Cuban dictatorship, there has been an increase in the repressive measures taken against peaceful opposition groups, which include physical aggression and persecutions in their own homes.

Alright, so now the government is feeding the mob as well as paying them. Damn, I should move to Cuba. Now I know why it's called the "worker's paradise".

Herald: Bay of Pigs Invasion Doomed to Fail

A newly discovered unclassified CIA document reveals that the planned Bay of Pigs invasion was "unachieveable as a covert paramilitary operation", reports the Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg in today's edition.

Having just finished reading Humberto Fontova's outstanding book "Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant" several days ago, the findings in the document aren't the least bit surprising (if you've waited as long as I did to pick up the book, perhaps this story will provide the impetus to buy it, it is well worth the money).

You don't have to go far into the released document to see how things would turn out. Here's an excerpt from the foreword:

"The policy decided on by the U.S. Government in March 1960 called for the displacement of Fidel Castro, and it was by no means a unilateral decision promoted by the CIA -- although it is demonstrable that the Agency was far more perceptive than the policy making bodies in recognizing the threat to the Western Hemisphere posed by Castro's communist affiliation. Because the policy makers feared censure by the United Nations and/or the Organization of American States, the myth of 'plausible deniability' was the caveat that determined the CIA would be the principal implementing arm for the anti-Castro effort. From inception to termination, 'deniability' would be the albatross around the necks of Agency planners; and from D-day minus 2 (15 April 1961) it became the strangling cord insuring the failure of the effort at the Bay of Pigs."

By deniability, I can deduce that it refers to the intended denial by the U.S. that American troops would be directly involved in the mission. As we know now, President Kennedy decided that the mission was too overt to then later deny, therefore pulling the plug on the air support and stranding Brigade 2506.

I will post more on this as time permits. Stay tuned.

We Did It!

That was my immediate reaction when I saw this photo in today's Miami Herald. I'm referring, of course, to the meme campaign started by George Moneo.

Alas, the signs were made by truckers in Miami who were protesting to demand mandatory fuel surcharges.

Still, it shows that ¡Ya No Mas! is something that could catch on very quickly if enough exposure is given to it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cuban Spies Get Retrial

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the conviction of the five Cuban spies, the "Miami 5" as they are known in Cuba. The reason: community pressure and bias in Miami against the defendants.

Read the court's decision here.

I'd like to quote the last paragraph of the court's release.

"The court is aware that, for many of the same reasons discussed above, the reversal of these convictions will be unpopular and even offensive to many citizens. However, the court is equally mindful that those same citizens cherish and support the freedoms they enjoy in this country that are unavailable to residents of Cuba. One of our most sacred freedoms is the right to be tried fairly in a noncoercive atmosphere. The court is cognizant that its judgment today will be received by those citizens with grave disappointment, but is equally confident of our shared commitment to scrupulously protect our freedoms. The Cuban-American community is a bastion of the traditional values that make America great. Included in those values are the rights of the accused criminal that insure fair trial. Thus, in the final analysis, we trust that any disappointment with our judgment in this case will be tempered and balanced by the recognition that we are a nation of laws in which every defendant, no matter how unpopular, must be treated fairly. Our Constitution requires no less."

Does anyone else note a condescending tone to that paragraph, or is it just my paranoia?

Here's what I read:
"Yes, Cuban-Americans, you're good citizens, but please remember that this is a nation of laws and your past acts have forced us to make this decision for retrial outside of your community where your potential influence and bias may hamper due process."

If you didn't trust us, why wait 4 years to make that determination? Everyone knows that Cuban-Americans are just a bunch of right-wing intransigents who bully everyone around in their community. Didn't we make that clear in April of 2000?

OK, enough sarcasm.

Never mind the fact that no Cuban-Americans were in the jury, the appeals court still thought that the perception of a "pervasive" Cuban-American pressuring jurors to rule in favor of conviction was too much to ignore. Never mind the fact that non-Cubans were much more likely to be less sympathetic to the Cuban-American cause, and therefore be more sympathetic to the defendants.

I put perception in bold because in essence, that is what the court is basing its ruling on. No hard facts, just perception. I'm sure that's acceptable legal grounds for a retrial, but it doesn't make me feel 100% confident that it's correct.

I understand the reasons for wanting to move the trial. But, then again, who's truly unbiased? In highly-publicized trials such as the Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson cases, were the juries truly unbiased? I don't think so.

In the end, I say OK to a retrial outside of Miami, if that's what it takes to convict these spies once and for all. I trust our judicial system, warts and all. I just wished they would have had the foresight to see the potential conflict before the original trial.

I also wish that our Cuban community in Miami could be seen in a more favorable light. Things like this only serve to plant more doubt and cynicism among a group of people that have made good and significant contributions to this country.

I refuse to accept that we are anything but solid, honest, and hard-working contributors to our community and our country. The 11th Court of Appeals doesn't seem too enthusiastic in sharing my feelings.

Payá Speaks Out for National Dialogue

Oswaldo Payá, Cuba's star dissident, speaks out on his desire for a "National Dialogue" with respect to a democratic transition in Cuba in an opinion piece published in today's Miami Herald and displayed in its entirety below. I offer a few comments at the bottom of the post.

HAVANA -- There are many myths about Cuba and speculation about its future. Yet its people have not had a chance to express themselves freely -- and now, for the first time in many years, citizens have to opportunity to offer their opinions about a democratic transition and to show the path to the future. This is the National Dialogue.

The Varela Project's well-known campaign for a referendum on basic freedoms has already gathered more than 25,000 signatures from Cuban citizens demanding their rights. Despite the imprisonment of dozens of its activists, this campaign continues. Cubans do not only want the rights called for by the Varela Project; they want to shape all aspects of Cuban society -- social, political, economic and cultural, all controlled by the totalitarian state. Cubans want their voices heard in shaping the transition.

The National Dialogue was launched in December 2003. The following spring, Cubans both on and off the island began to participate in this process. Thousands of Cubans, in ''dialogue groups,'' have met to discuss the Working Document, which helps to frame the debate over the transition. More than 3,000 collective and individual responses have been processed by committees on the following themes: economic change, political and institutional change, social issues, public health and the environment, public order and the armed forces, media, science and culture, reconciliation and reuniting with the exile community.

Fear of change
As a result of the consultations of the National Dialogue, these committees are providing a summary of their findings to a commission that will produce a draft of the Transition Program. This document will be presented to Cubans for discussion and to help prepare for the transition.

The National Dialogue has been successful in helping Cubans overcome two great fears: first, fear of the regime, because this process is not conducted under perestroika; and second, the fear of change. For Cubans, being able to engage in the dialogue despite official repression and intolerance is psychologically liberating. It is also helping to dispel the myth that a transition will mean catastrophe for Cuba. In fact, not only Cuba's impoverished majority, but also Cubans from all social classes are participating in the dialogue, including some individuals in comfortable positions in the regime.

The National Dialogue is demonstrating the desire for a transition free of chaos, revenge, primitive capitalism, interventions or displacement of families from their homes by previous owners, without destroying what is positive. Above all, Cubans want freedom and their basic rights. They never will embrace a system that denies them the inalienable right to freedom.
Those who think that Cubans prefer living without freedom see Cuba through the warped prism of ideology or other interests, or simply see us as less human. The National Dialogue clearly demonstrates that we Cubans have the right to those basic rights.

The National Dialogue has also shattered the fallacy that for the sake of social benefits Cubans voluntarily renounced their rights to private enterprise and free initiative. It is our great hope that, in the immediate future, Cubans will be able to use their capacity, creativity and hard-working spirit to pull their families out of poverty.

National Dialogue participants foresee a future order in Cuba in which free enterprise supports public health and education, both of which will continue to be free and universal.

True democracy
Those who think this vision is Utopian do not believe that democracy is suited for achieving development based on principles of humanity and social welfare. Cubans, who have already suffered the extremes of capitalism without democracy, and primitive communism, do not accept that we must deprive ourselves of democratic rights to gain social benefits -- because without democracy, we have been left poor and without rights.

We think that a democracy that is unable to achieve social justice is not a true democracy. The support that the Cuban people need right now is solidarity with the National Dialogue. This is a dialogue without borders and without exclusions. We hope that this spirit, which has brought Cubans together in an unprecedented way, will transcend our country's borders and reach the hearts and minds of people around the world. Cuba will be the home of all Cubans.

Unless you're fidel, it's hard to argue with Payá's basic goal which is a free and democratic Cuba. For that he deserves to be commended. It's also hard to argue with the overall message being conveyed in the article.

All this doesn't mean that we can't have doubts over the particulars concerning his plan. Unfortunately, the dissident movement in Cuba is divided, in no small part due to Payá's refusal to endorse other dissidents such as Martha Beatriz Roque who prefer a more confrontational, yet peaceful, approach. This rift must be resolved if Payá's plan is to come to fruition.

Payá speaks of uniting all Cubans, including those in exile, but has been critical of exile support of Roque and others. Perhaps he's afraid of an exile takeover.

He also mentions the participation of those with "comfortable positions in the regime". If that's the case, then wonderful. But who's to believe that those people would be interested in true change, rather opting for only a slight modification or compromise of the current situation. This is a frequent criticism of Payá that he hasn't been able or willing to dispel.

For all of Payá's good intentions, his words of unity cannot come true or be taken seriously until he starts to recognize and accept the other dissidents who have a different, yet viable, approach.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Castros and Drug Trafficking

Conductor over at Cuban-American Pundits has posted a translation of a terrific article from El Nuevo Herald about a book from Uruguayan writer Jose Antonio Friedl, detailing alleged links between the castro regime and drug trafficking into the United States.

Conductor poses a good question at the end of the post - Why doesn't/hasn't the English Herald publish this article? It's not like they have to go far to get some sources, El Nuevo Herald is in the same building as they are.

I'll take this question one step further. Why doesn't the New York Times publish something like this? Well, we probably know the answer...but it would be indeed be interesting to see the reaction if it ever was published in the Times.

On a side note...thanks Conductor for the modified ¡Ya No Mas! jpeg.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Marino in Hall of Fame

Picture courtesy of Miami Herald

This afternoon, Dan Marino was officially inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Today is a wonderful day for Dolphins fans who spent many a Sunday (and Monday night) watching #13 throw his patented spirals into the hands of his receivers. Marino represented everything good about the Miami Dolphins, he WAS and still IS the Miami Dolphins as far as I'm concerned.

But what has always stood out about Marino isn't his prodigious abilities on the field. It's his character, both on and off the field. The speech given by his son Dano was a tribute to Dan Marino the person, the father. The way which he represents our community with his time, class, and generousness is something that I am very proud of.

No, Dan Marino did not win a Super Bowl. Many people see that as a defining achievement (or non-achievement) in his career. I've always thought that Marino lifted merely average teams to contenders, and that's we he did his entire career.

More importantly, however, he's a champion off the field. Today's speeches and tributes remind us that what matters in the end isn't numbers and Super Bowl rings. It's all about character, spirit, and devotion to your team, your family, and your community.

For that, Dan, you'll always finish on top. Thanks.

Oil as a Weapon

It's no secret that Hugo Chavez and fidel castro are using each other and their countries' resources to spread the plague of communism and totaliatariasm across Latin America. In this weekend's Sun-Sentinel, Argentinian political analyst and AIPE (Interamerican Economic Press Agency) columnist Alejandro Tagliavini describes the deals Chavez is forging with Venezuela's main resource, oil, with other South American countries, not just to benefit Venezuela, but to encourage the spread of communism across the region.

Keep in mind when you read the translation of the article that this isn't coming from some exiled Venezuelan in the U.S., this is coming from someone familiar with the political scene in South America.

Oil Finances Chávez's Dreams

Alexander A.Tagliavini, for El Sentinel
Posted August 6th, 2005

Buenos Aires (AIPE) · Fidel Castro denounced that the United States is creating a "interventionist military device" for "restraining" the revolutionary movement in Latin America, all because Washington sent 400 soldiers to Paraguay. What must we then think of Cuba which has between 35,000 and 50,000 emissaries in Venezuela, in "physical training, health services, and education programs".

In addition, there's a great number of Cuban military personnel in Venezuela, where Cubans have also taken important administrative positions in almost all the state capitals. At the same time, there's a flow of thousands of Venezuelans towards Cuba. In return for the personnel that Castro sends, Chavez sends 90,000 barrels of oil to the island on credit and at subsidized pricest. But this is barely the beginning of the exchange; Venezuela now finances the failed Cuban Communism that was previously kept afloat by the Soviet Union.

Chávez announced that he wants to invest in South America parts of the $30.338 million of the international reserves of the Central Bank of Venezuela: "We want to invest partly in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil", he affirmed while inaugurating a ring of businesses with Uruguay in Caracas. "It can be for purchases", to create "a national food reserve", reminding of the present shortage of supplies that his country is undergoing after the imposition of price controls. "We can buy meat and milk from Uruguay while we recover our production here".

The price controls have caused a shortage of meat, while the milk producers request that their prices be freed of the controls. But the solution for Chávez is easy. He said that his goal is "to begin to provide Venezuelan oil to Uruguay" and "that they pay us with calves". Like a good shepherd, he assured that "we need to recover our flock" and reminded that "we are bringing pregnant calves from Argentina". He also suggested that Uruguay pay with cement. This is how South America returns to trading in the 21st century.

The agreement stipulates that Montevideo will have to pay for the Venezuelan oil by 75 percent in cash (exchangeable by goods and public services) and the remaining 25 percent in 15 years, with two years grace and 2 percent annual interest. Chávez announced that in a few days he will visit Montevideo to meet with president Tabaré Vázquez and reminded that Vasquez is currently acting as the rotating presidency of Mercosur, while he occupies the presidency of the Andean Community. "To him (Vasquez) they gave the hammer and to me the sickle. We must cross them ", laughed Chávez. (Emphasis mine)

Telesur, Petrosur, Petrocaribe, Petroandina, el Banco del Sur, la Universidad del Sur, are all projects with a clear Marxist ideological duty that comprise ALBA, the plan that Chávez jointly formulated with Fidel Castro and that which he describes as an integration which extends beyond the market (Emphasis mine).

There's no doubt that they extend much beyond the market. According to Roger Pardo Maurer, assistant U.S. Undersecretary of Defense, Cuba and Venezuela are attempting to destabilize Latin America in order to install extreme leftist governments, which they may be able to achieve in Bolivia with the rise to power of coca-grower leader Evo Morales. He and center-right ex-president Jorge Quiroga are considered the front-runners in the Bolivian presidential elections at year's end.

Chávez "is financing and providing moral support" to the radical forces in Bolivia that have created chaos. Pardo Maurer also said that Chávez provides the money for the uprising in Bolivia, and Fidel Castro contributes to the organization and direction of the populist movement. "Both are trying to capitalize the formation of a populist Marxist-Socialist state", he said in Washington, during his conference in the Hudson Institute.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Cuban Migration Rising

And some people think that things in Cuba are just peachy-keen.

The Miami Herald's Alfonso Chardy reports that more Cuban migrants have been stopped at sea so far this year than during any of the last 10 years. Considering that we still have 5 months to go in 2005, that figure is sure to rise considering the dire conditions in Cuba right now.

The U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 1,524 Cuban migrants at sea so far this year -- more than the total for any single year since more than 37,000 migrants rode the waves to South Florida in the 1994 rafter exodus.

U.S. officials are not worried. They say the increase in the number of Cuban migrants stopped at sea is relatively small -- only 25 more people so far this year than during all of last year. Last year's figure of 1,499 was the largest yearlong tally since 1994.

The trend suggests that the 2005 total will be considerably higher by year's end than for 2004. ''We have seen an increase in Cuban migrants this year, but there is no indication of a mass migration,'' said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Ryan Doss. ``It's up, but it's still a low number.''

Figures for Cuban migrant interdictions compiled in fiscal year format -- Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 -- appear more impressive: 2,027 so far this fiscal year compared to 1,225 in fiscal year 2004. By July 29 of the 2004 fiscal year, 1,068 Cuban migrants had been intercepted.

Cubans stopped at sea are generally returned home by the Coast Guard, a result of U.S. accords with Cuba following the rafter exodus. Some Cuban migrants stopped at sea are taken to the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay for resettlement in third countries.

Cubans who evade Coast Guard interdiction and reach U.S. shores are generally allowed to stay in the United States.

Figures listing the number of Cuban migrant landings in South Florida this year were not immediately available.

More than 150 Cuban migrants landed in the Florida Keys during July, according to Border Patrol information released July 27. Figures compiled by the Border Patrol for fiscal year 2004 show a total of 955 Cuban migrants arriving in South Florida, compared to 1,072 in fiscal year 2003.

Some Cuban smugglers may have shifted tactics, transporting migrants to the west coast of Florida instead of traditional drop-off points along the east coast. Nineteen migrants possibly smuggled from Cuba landed July 26 on Sanibel Island on the Gulf Coast.

While Cuban migrant interdiction is up, the number of migrants from other countries stopped at sea is down. For example, 847 Haitians have been intercepted so far this year, compared to 3,078 last year.

Herald vs Castro...Continued

Looks like someone on the Herald editorial board is on a mission, a mission to let the world know about castro and his friends. Kinda like us bloggers, right?

We couldn't be more pleased with the Herald's latest condemnation of the castro regime, this time targeting the injustice of the nine people who remain in jail for protesting in front of the French Embassy last month.

For all the faux pas it has committed in the past 7-10 days, the Herald must be commended for taking on a harsher and more direct tone toward castro the castrator and chavez.

Bravo Miami Herald!

Here's the editorial in full:

Cuba's new crackdown


Once again
, Cuba is detaining dissidents and charging them with crimes that don't exist in any free country on Earth.

Some might tire of hearing the same old news, as if jailing people for peacefully criticizing an abusive government is normal. We tire of the dictator who continues to violate the human rights of Cubans and yet is courted like a rock star in parts of this region.

René Gómez Manzano, Oscar Mario González and Julio César López deserve better. The three prominent Cuban dissidents were arrested before they even had a chance to make it to a pro-democracy protest. Now they are being prosecuted under the same law used to punish 75 peaceful dissidents with lengthy prison terms in 2003.

Media throughout the world took notice of that crackdown, and calls to release the political prisoners rained down on the Cuban regime. Last year, the regime released 14 of those 75 prisoners, and the European Union rewarded it by lifting sanctions it had imposed because of the crackdown. The regime, though, hasn't changed its stripes.

Now Messrs. Gómez, González and López are among the 15 activists detained in connection with two peaceful protests in July. Their charges allege that they were involved in causing a ''public disorder.'' In reality, pro-government mobs were the ones beating on the dissidents.

Mr. Gómez already has served three years in prison for co-writing The Homeland Belongs to Us All, a critique of Cuba's one-party rule. Mr. González is a respected independent journalist. Mr. López is a pro-democracy militant with an independent library. Their ideas are dangerous only to a regime built on repression and lies.

Once again, the world needs to take note and call for their release. Send a message to the Cuban regime from the Human Rights First website: http://www.humanrights first.org/index.html