[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

Trick or Treat

Just in time for Halloween night, I thought I'd post something goulish and scary. I was thinking what exactly I could post that fit that description. On Saturday, I opened the local section of the Miami Herald and found something quite fitting - Ana Menendez's column.

You can always depend on Ana to hand out the candy, except hers is full of sarcasm, spite, and plenty of staples and razor blades.

Here's her latest piece of obnoxiousness. Enjoy!

An ungracious answer to an unwanted guest

By ANA MENENDEZamenendez@herald.com
Miami has been through many trying times in its short history, and I've noticed there's nothing like adversity to bring all of us together as one family.

So it was that hours after Hurricane Wilma passed, the good souls of our community immediately went to work. Musicians serenaded folks on gas lines, the government quietly agreed not to return Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela and members from Tampa's Church of Scientology gathered at Metrozoo to distribute ice they'd brought all the way from the Seyfert II galaxy.

Speaking of science fiction: The office Tuesday was a touching scene. It's true that a newsroom is at its finest after a horrible disaster, but this was great even by our own humane, high standards. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to that fantastic bar scene in the movie Total Recall, where all the bizarre of the universe gather for playful banter.

So there we were at the mother ship a day after the storm passed, all of us clustered as one around the free cookies: a diverse group of creatures from such far-flung solar systems as Broward, Biloxi and the sixth floor.

I like cookies. But the reason I'd gone into the office was for power, the electrical kind. As of Friday, I still didn't have electricity. It's my own fault. After Katrina, I told everyone (over and over again) how I never lost power. Now I'm paying for my annoying bragging. But it's OK because I understand that power must first be restored to the more vulnerable and deserving sectors of our society, such as the Dadeland Mall.

Thursday night, as I was powering up the candles, I got a thoughtful, automated call from the city of Miami Beach. I'd like to thank them for taking the time to taunt me with the information that two-thirds of the Beach already had power.

It's times like these that make one grateful for responsible political leadership. Unlike those whiners in New Orleans, our local and state leaders refused to point fingers. Gov. Jeb Bush, for example, took full responsibility when the state was gripped by a deadly ice shortage. ''Blame me,'' he said. ''Don't blame FEMA.'' Deal.

But the absolutely best example of all we can be has been demonstrated this week on the streets of Miami.

The lines at the gas stations are portraits of grace under pressure: tears, curses, fistfights. All so that Exxon could record the largest quarterly profit ever by a U.S. company.

And the respect at the four-way stops was astonishing. I have one word for all you civil types who came to a full stop at nonfunctioning traffic lights: Suckers! I myself made the mistake on Biscayne Boulevard. I'd barely touched the brake when the guy behind me leaned on his horn and held up a middle finger. Then he raced ahead, a maneuver that allowed me to get his tag number. (Ed. - Don't pat yourself on the back too much Ana, he was probably reacting to your faded and wrinkled Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker).

I spent the rest of an otherwise boring week having fun with public records. (Alas, the tag came back as belonging to a rental car. Be on the lookout for a very intense tourist blanketing Miami with wild cheer.)

Sure, there were moments of sublime and disconcerting beauty: The relief of cool air Monday night and the shy stars, out for the first time in years. The sound of crickets in the still, black night. Wine, candlelight and saffron couscous. (Ed. - I guess arroz con frijoles negros is too Hialeah for her).

All short-lived: Sweet but distracting bumps on the road to our true selves. Crisis, they tell us, does not so much build character as reveal it. And this week, the maxim was put to rigorous testing on the streets of our lovely city. I think we passed. And we didn't even have to cheat this time. Is this a great town or what?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Herald: Lift Travel Restrictions

Now for some post-Wilma blogging, just like the "good ol' days".

The Miami Herald ran an interesting editorial today on the travel policies of Cuba and the United States toward each other. It rightfully denounced Cuba's continued violation of denying its citizens free travel, even those with visas. It denounced the U.S. policy of Cuban-Americans visiting once every 3 years, limited to immediate family.

I have to say that I generally agree with the Herald's stance here. No one can accuse the Herald's editorial board for being soft on Cuba, recent editorials have been scathing in their criticism of Cuba's regime. Consider this paragraph from today's editorial:

For Cuba, the right to free travel is only one of many rights violated daily. No Cuban can legally leave or reenter the country without regime authorization. The regime also bars travel to punish relatives of Cubans who have left the island against government wishes. Cuba uses travel policy as a weapon to deter people from fleeing, prevent family reunification and drive a wedge between Cubans who stay and those in exile.

They even bring up the case of Jose Cohen, whose family in Cuba hasen't been allowed to travel to Miami to see him since he defected in 1994.

The editorial criticizes the U.S. policy, calling some of its measures "Draconian".

The United States has restricted Americans' travel to Cuba to varying extents since 1961, as noted in the new Human Rights report, ''Families Torn Apart: The High Cost of U.S. and Cuba Travel Restrictions.'' Some of the most Draconian measures took effect in June 2004. The rationale was to cut regime earnings from U.S. visitors. But also painfully cut are human relations, which serve to encourage and could ease a transition to democracy.

Now Cuban Americans may travel to see ''immediate family'' only once in three years. They can visit for only 14 days and must have a special U.S. license. Cousins, uncles and aunts aren't counted as ''immediate family,'' although they form part of typically close-knit Cuban families. The United States also eliminated provisions for humanitarian travel.

I don't necessarily buy the human relations angle the Herald brings up, but otherwise their argument here is reasonable.

I understand the reasons for tightening the travel to not allow the abuse that was occurring, but I feel the Bush administration went a bit too far. Enforce the restrictions better, don't punish those whose main intention is to visit relatives, especially elderly and sick relatives.

I also understand the attitude of those who arrived at the beginning of the exile and who've vowed to never step foot on Cuban soil until castro is gone. That's fine and I respect and admire that attitude. However, every case is different, and I honestly don't think that, say, allowing a group of Cuban-Americans to visit relatives for a limited time on a yearly basis, instead of every 3 years, is going to bolster castro's regime any more than the millions that currently pour in from Europe and Canada. Those who have sick and/or elderly relatives ought to be given special consideration.

To me, it's just the sensible thing to do.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Slowly But Surely

Things are slowly coming back to normal after Wilma, but there's still a ways to go. I got my power back early this evening. The downed power lines about 5 blocks from my house gave me the impression that I'd be without power for about a week, so I am thankful to say the least (good job FPL). I lost some roof shingles, a large palm tree, and part of my fence, but other than that the house did just fine.

Now I could definitely use a day off from work (10 days in a row and counting), but I guess that won't be coming for another couple of days. The cool weather Wilma left us with is much appreciated, although taking a cold shower in the morning when it's 54 degrees outside isn't much fun.

Things like hurricanes and being without electricity really put things into perspective. All of a sudden, the World Series doesn't seem like such a big deal - I missed the first 3 games either getting ready for the storm, working, or being without power. The routine daily things mean so much more: not having to carry a flashlight to the shower, warm meals, working traffic lights, kind neighbors...you get the idea.

I'll have more to say about the storm and our reaction to it, but in the meantime, something's out there wanting to get my attention. It wants to be called Beta.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


There's my obligatory Flintstone reference.

Looks like Fred's signature call may be echoed by many South Floridians this weekend.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Versailles Restaurant

Every Cuban in Miami (and likely outside Miami) is quite familiar with Versailles Restaurant (review courtesy of 3 Guys from Miami) on Calle Ocho on the western edge of Little Havana.

About 2-3 times a year, I manage to drag the family over there for dinner, usually on Sundays. Yesterday was one of those times. I'll refer you to the 3 Guys site for a full review and description, but one thing they mention is so true: you do feel proud of being Cuban after eating there.

The service is rather informal, but friendly and warm in a typically Cuban way. For example, the server immediately suggested we put my baby daughter Amanda's infant seat on a high chair instead of on the seats of two chairs which I had put together to accommodate the seat. He said he'd be constantly worried about me knocking it over.

The place is always full of families, often 3 generations of relatives sitting at the same table like ours was. You also have your share of tourists, I always see at least a couple of tables full of out-of-towners on every visit.

The food was very good, although the sopa de platano (plantain soup) was initially lukewarm, they warmed it up quickly for us. My oldest daughter's Chicken Fingers (from the kids menu) were initially overcooked, but again they corrected the problem. There are few things better than a homey Cuban meal, and Bistec Empanizado (breaded steak) with moros and fried plantains fit the bill.

Of course, no meal at Versailles would be complete without dessert, and my wife got the natilla (custard pudding). We skipped on the cafesito only because we followed dinner with a visit to my wife's uncle's house where he made us some of his homemade stuff.

Hope you all liked my pathetic attempt at food reviewing!

I'm Baaaaaack

Well, I didn't go anywhere, but I've been away from the blog for a while. Basically, it's a combination of wrapping up my old job and starting my new job, increasing household chores, and an overall drop in interest in posting which started with Hurricane Katrina back in late August.

A lot of Cuba stuff that I would ordinarily post here I've been posting over at Babalu ever since Val made me a contributing writer (not that I've been doing much there either). I definitely don't plan on stopping my contributions to the king of Cuban-American blogs.

Frankly, I've gotten burned out on the same old conservative-bashing from our favorite Miami Herald columnists (namely those by the name of Pitts, Steinback, and Menendez) which have provided so much fodder for previous posts. It's the same old broken record, over and over again, and I don't have any interest in reading, let alone analyzing, their garbage.

It all adds up to less posts here at 26th Parallel. I plan on picking up the activity once I get the time, and the creative juices flowing once again. Perhaps I need a slight change of focus. Look for a bit more variety in the posts, a little less Cuba-centric and more locally-influenced which is kind of what I started out doing.

Stay tuned. I think I smell a food post coming! And in the meantime, take a look below at the next distraction to my posting schedule:

Courtesy of National Hurricane Center

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Hello There!

Here's a recent picture of my 3-month old daughter Amanda hanging out in her big sister's Mickey and Minnie chair.

Notice the writing on the t-shirt!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Epitome of Cluelessness

Photo Courtesy of Miami Herald

(H/T Mike Pancier)

The picture above was taken at the protest in front of a Broward County library in Pembroke Pines. They were protesting the library's decision not to show the Che Guevara "autobiography" Motorcycle Diaries as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. For the full story, follow this link to read my post at Babalu.

Regarding the photo above, exactly what part of "Free Speech" don't these people understand? Don't they understand that it's perfectly within the library's right to cancel the showing of any film they deem inappropriate, even if the library is part of a local government entity? Nobody is questioning the protesters' right to stand in front of the building with signs and Che T-shirts, no matter how ridiculous or offensive it might be.

Censorship? I don't think so. Not when the library has 49 copies of the movie available for checking out. Not when the library decided to show the film in November instead.

It's scary to think that some of these protesters have a vote, not because of their beliefs, but because of their ignorance toward our core rights.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Elian On 60 Minutes

Yesterday's Elian Gonzalez story on 60 Minutes was as I expected it to be - unsympathetic and strongly-tilted against Elian's Miami family and Cuban-Americans in general. Elian being elevated to deity status by the Cuban-American community? C'mon, give me a break!

I won't belabor on the details surrounding the saga: his brave mother's (her name was Elizabeth Brotons, by the way) decision to risk all to provide a better life for her family; his father's knowledge and acceptance of her decision, and his real desire to join him in Miami; his grandparents' ridiculous attempt to take Elian away during their brief visit to Miami; his father's reluctance to do what any real father would've done by going to Miami personally and seeing his son without needing permission from "Big Daddy" or "Big Momma".

None of that. While I think it's fair to criticize some in the Cuban-American community for grandstanding and making a huge spectacle of Elian's stay here, the bottom line is that most, if not all, of them truly wanted the best for Elian. You may fault their methods, but you certainly can't fault their intent and purpose. All of the warnings given about Elian being manipulated by the regime once he got back? The 60 Minutes story speaks for itself, even CBS couldn't hide that.

I also won't belabor on the interview itself and the details surrounding it. I won't get into details about the short, insecure answers of an 11-year-old; his unusually good memory about things that happened when he was 5 (traumatic events I can understand, but not complex emotions about complex issues); whether he was fed the questions beforehand; whether the government had control over the interview; and the obviously disturbing reference to fidel as "his father".

None of this really matters.

What does matter is that Elian is not free today because of the actions of our government back in 2000. What does matter is that Elian's mother risked, and ultimately lost her life so that her son would be free. So that he wouldn't face the possibility of being imprisoned for speaking his mind.

That's all us crazy, extreme, screaming Cuban-Americans wanted. For Elian to be free, and for his father to have the freedom to decide what was best for him and his family.

Excellent analysis and commentary on the interview and the saga as a whole can be found here and here.