[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: December 2005

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year

Just a quick post to wish all of my loyal readers, as well as those who occassionally drop by, a New Year filled with love, peace, and prosperity.

2005 has been quite an eventful year. I would have never thought that I would be writing in a blog, let along take part in two of them! Of course, you all know who's to blame for the blogging, right? ;)

A heartfelt thanks to Val, and all the other bloggers on Babalu, Cuban-American Pundits, and all the other sites on the right-hand side, most who have been nice enough to blog roll this most humble of blogs. You all have inspired me and helped me to continue on this journey. Hopefully, Cuba will be free one day very soon.

Here's hoping for a less-eventful 2006 - no hurricanes would be a start. The only major event I'm hoping for is a huge party in Miami after fidel's downfall!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Biscet's Health

You may recall this post earlier in the month which pointed to a post in Babalu concerning Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet's declining health.

Courtesy of Net For Cuba, here's another link to the unfortunate events from Christian Solidarity Worldwide. It's good to see the Christian community standing up for Dr. Biscet's rights.

And here's yet another Biscet post relating to the Christian community from Alfredo, our Cuban-American brother blogger in Texas.

By the way, I still haven't heard back from CODEPINK, those bastions of justice and human rights, about my letter to them regarding Dr. Biscet.

Don't hold your breath.

Caida Comunista

Hope everyone reading this had a very Merry Christmas!

Now from En La Yuma, I present what could easily be the only death metal video to ever be liked in Little Havana and Hialeah.

Here are the lyrics to Anti-Castro, by Brujeria. I'm not a fan of the death metal genre, but I must say that the song is cool when it's played along with the video.

Friday, December 23, 2005

ManCamp Lunch

An all-too-rare event occurred today under the South Florida December sun...a gathering of South Florida and Cuban-American bloggers at the vaunted ManCamp for lunch. Conductor was gracious enough to provide lunch for us, and we sat back, threw back a few cold ones, viewed and chased some iguanas, and basically enjoyed each others' company while Val was taking a break from his Noche Buena preparations.

It's always good to meet up with people whom you have a lot in common with, and those of you who read this blog and other related ones know where our common interests lie. After all, that's what the holidays are about, getting together with both old and new friends (this Hallmark moment brought to you by...).

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I Give Up!

As the following article shows, sometimes you just have to acknowledge that some writers/journalists just don't get it.

To them, it's "vendetta politics". To us, it's trying to do what's right, even if it's sometimes a bit short-sighted.

Thanks to Mike Pancier for the link.

The Bray of Pigs
Dave Zirin, AlterNet. Posted December 21, 2005

This March's "World Series of Baseball" was supposed to celebrate the explosion of diversity that has forever altered the Major Leagues. Teams from the Dominican Republic, Japan, Puerto Rico, and the little seen but highly regarded Cuban national team (ed. wonder why?) were going to play the United States in an unprecedented contest to redefine the slogan "America's Pastime."

But then the Bush administration, yearning for more reasons to be internationally despised, decided to destroy it. In a beautiful act of small government at work, the White House Gang, through the Treasury Department, has denied the Cuban team entry into the United States, effectively gutting the harmless exhibition.

As one Cuban citizen told The New York Times, "Enough already! It's unbelievable. This is about sports, not politics. In Cuba, baseball is our culture. Everyone was so anxious to see these games."

But the White House disagrees. "I think our policy regarding Cuba is pretty well known," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. "We want people in Cuba to participate in freedom." That is, the freedom to not be a constant source of irritation and embarrassment. The freedom not to criticize neoliberalism. The freedom not to have higher literacy rates and better health care than the United States. Of course, the lack of certain political freedoms in Cuba is very real (ed. OK readers, can you help Zirin name these certain freedoms Cubans lack?) But to hear the Bush gang lecture any nation about freedom -- given the fact that they are currently engineering two occupations and defending domestic spying -- is like hearing Hugh Hefner pontificate about abstinence.

In reality, this is consistent with a U.S. policy toward Cuba that began under Bill Clinton with the passage of the Helms-Burton Act. The U.S. wants Cuba to be a pariah nation, its life choked out by an embargo.

The politicians on the "exploding cigars" fringe of government are lauding the Bush decision. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Florida Republican with dreams of Havana Casinos, chortled with glee. "There are plenty of free Cuban players and Cuban-Americans here in the Majors who would be proud to represent Cuba, and they should be able to and not a totalitarian regime that would share in any proceeds from this tournament."

Perhaps Diaz-Balart needs to dust off his copy of the Baseball Almanac. His team of actively playing Major League Cuban émigrés would consist of just three pitchers, two of them brothers (ed. I hope he's not implying that the entire team consists of only three pitchers. Otherwise, Zirin is even more clueless than I thought).

Then Diaz-Balart, flexing his chutzpah reflex, compared Bush's "brave" baseball embargo to the 1970s and '80s international sports ban on teams from South Africa. Of course it was a global movement against the racist apartheid system that launched the South African ban, not the U.S. government. Moreover, this act of solidarity was virulently opposed by the Reagan administration and United States Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage.

The anti-Cuban baseball brigade could also affect future U.S. efforts to secure the Olympics. "[The U.S.] will have big problems down the road," said the delightfully named Dick Pound, an International Olympic Committee member from Canada. If not reversed, he said "it would completely scupper any bid" by the United States for the Summer or Winter Games.

One of the strongest voices against the ban is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Angelos brought the Cuban team over to the U.S. to play the O's in 1999 because he actually opposes the U.S. embargo. He is somewhat of an anomaly among owners, a lawyer who made his fortune suing asbestos manufacturers and cigarette companies, and defending unions. That doesn't make him a good baseball executive, a fact to which any Orioles fan will attest, but it does lead to some succulent quotes not typical of the owning class. "I think what's worse is that, once again, the U.S., this huge colossus, the strongest country in the world, is picking on this tiny, little country of 11 million," Angelos said.

"And, this time, for what? For their participation in an international baseball event? That seems to me that it makes us look like the big, bad bully that our non-admirers say we look like."

In a later interview Angelos said, "It's not financial. It's a continuation of a vendetta against one who rightly or wrongly defied our administration over the years. As far as the sport is concerned and the hierarchy of Major League Baseball, it's hard for them to act in defiance of a directive out of DC."

Angelos is absolutely right. This is the politics of the vendetta. Major League Baseball and the players union has expressed their intention to fight the ban, but given the thrashing they have taken in Congress over steroids, don't expect anything too robust.

Ironically, this is being celebrated on talk radio, by the same forces that tell players like the New York Mets' Carlos Delgado to "just shut up" anytime they try to speak out on off-the-field issues. When athletes express their opinions about racism, poverty or war, they are told that "politics" has no place in sports. I suppose it all depends what "politics" are expressed -- and for whose benefit.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

No Ballgame for Cuba

I haven't had the time to post on the U.S. government's decision to ban Cuba from participating in next spring's World Baseball Classic. Fortunately, my fellow Cubano bloggers have posted their thoughts here, here, here, and here.

Before I get to the meat of the post, I'll state that I am not happy with the decision to ban Cuba from participating, even though if it means I have to swallow hard to agree with despicable NY congressman Jose Serrano. It plays right into fidel's hands, and seems like a whimsical decision since Cuban sports teams have recently participated in the United States. We keep on losing the PR battle. What do we (the US) have to lose by allowing Cuba to participate?

Having said all that, I can understand and even respect the basic motivation for not allowing any Cuban sports teams and artists from performing in this country even though I don't agree with that policy. The motivations behind this belief is simple: Cuba is an enemy of the state (!), the castro regime is selective in who they send abroad, and last and definitely not least, basic human rights violations are routine there.

As an idealist, I feel a strong tug to act on those basic motivations and fall in line with those who advocate a strict no-participation policy. I also feel an inclination to ignore the PR loss. After all, we're on the side of freedom and democracy, aren't we?

A column by Ana Menendez in the Miami Herald over the weekend brought some of these arguments back into the fold. She also feels Cuba should participate. However, and to her credit, she interviewed Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who of course is against Cuba's participation. Here's an excerpt from the column:

"Like others, Diaz-Balart often compares the isolation of Cuba to the boycott against apartheid South Africa. Setting aside moral equivalencies, the glaring practical difference is that the South African regime was universally condemned. Fidel Castro, on the other hand, remains the world's sentimental favorite.

How did this happen? 'The media is lazy,' Lincoln says. No argument there. But manipulating world opinion seems to require a level of skill that so far only Castro has been able to manage."

I was extrememly pleased to read Lincoln's comparison to the South Africa boycott of the 1980's. It's not often that a Cuban-American makes this kind of statement in the MSM. After all, the South African boycott is the holy cow of leftists everywhere. What's even more rare is for a left-leaning journalist like Menendez to fail to come up with a hearty dismissal of Lincoln's South Africa comparison.

Not only is the media lazy, but it's also biased. It's not like castro has done such a good job of hiding the numerous human rights violations and other atrocities, it's that the MSM conveniently turns the other cheek. castro is a master of the evil, backhanded PR, but he's no magician.

In an ideal world, the international community would view South Africa and Cuba with similar (but not exactly the same) lens and exert the same pressure on Cuba that was placed on South Africa. Unfortunately, we don't live in that world. We have to be somewhat pragmatic, that means agreeing with those we don't usually agree with.

Perhaps having Cuba send its baseball team for the tournament won't make a bit of difference in the international community's perception of castro and his regime. Not much has worked in the past 47 years. Sometimes you have to play the devil's game, and that's what has been lacking all these years. The U.S. plays it straight while castro lies and deceives.

Perhaps it's time for the U.S. to play a litte cat and mouse with castro. Doing what castro doesn't expect would be a good start. In this case, that would be to allow Cuba to play ball.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Excuse Me, But "Merry Christmas"!

In light of the increasingly PC world (politically correct, not personal computer) we're living in, things that were once considered normal and perfectly acceptable can now be viewed as offensive.

One very unfortunate example of this is the falling out of favor of "Merry Christmas" in favor of "Happy Holidays". If I am greeting a non-Christian, I will most definitely use "Happy Holidays" since that is the respectful thing to do. However, in general cases when one is not referring to any one particular group, I don't see anything wrong with a hearty "Merry Christmas". I don't advocate rubbing it in people's noses, but why should anyone feel guilty for using a greeting meant to spread good cheer and positive wishes?

I can understand a Jewish person feeling awkward if someone came running up to him and wished him a Merry Christmas. What I don't understand is someone being offended because a department store or restaurant decides to put up Merry Christmas signs on the days leading up to December 25th. Last time I checked, that day was Christmas Day, right?

Anyway, the following e-mail I received describes this situation quite well, if a bit over-the-top.

By Debbie Daniel

I'm on a "Merry Christmas" mission and I'm in full throttle. My little yellow VW Beetle has turned into a Christmas billboard with Merry Christmas written across the back window. Yes, I've decided to trek off to work everyday on the public highways with a message that seems to offend people.

At stop lights, I even turn my music up a little louder, and to top it off, I sing along with it. Don't I know that stopping at a red light to roll my windows down only to share the joy of Christmas carols on public streets is a No-No? Don't I fear the Christmas Gestapo and those who would have me remove the written message from my car?

I'm sorry folks, but the only person I'm concerned about "offending" during this Christmas season is the Lord himself. LEAVE THAT MANGER ALONE! We've allowed the Baby Jesus to be kicked out of His lowly manger, and those offended by Christmas are still not happy.

I refuse to let this happen. I'm going to do my part to make sure "Merry Christmas" doesn't become extinct. Because like it or not, if the believers in Christmas don't take a stand now, it's gone forever.

Listen folks, the Christian community has been underestimated before; we will have to show ourselves again.

I walked into a Wendy's Restaurant the other day and was rather exuberant with my "Merry Christmas" greeting to the manager. He didn't have much of a response and I said, "Where's your Christmas spirit?" He said, "We're not allowed to use the words "Merry Christmas" when greeting customers. We can only say "Happy Holiday."

This morning I grabbed a quick breakfast at a Whataburger Restaurant. I noticed there wasn't a single decoration in the store. I asked the manager why they weren't decorated for Christmas. He told me the corporate headquarters decided not to send any decorations to any of their stores, and he didn't know why.

After I heard about all the Macy's and Federated Stores taking down their Merry Christmas signs, the Target stores not allowing the Salvation Army to "Ring the Christmas bells," and the many incidents of children, choirs, and bands not allowed to play or sing Christmas carols, I realized it was happening right here in my own little Texas town.

How can this be? Not Texas!

We do, however, have a store, Hobby Lobby, that plays nothing but Christmas carols during the season. On Christmas Day they run a full page ad in our local newspaper. That ad is not to promote the store, but uses the entire page to tell the story of Jesus' birth. Now that's taking a stand. We need to thank them.

When I saw a news report the other evening of children being taught new words to a song we've sung for years - "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - I was saddened to hear "We Wish You a Splendid Holiday."

I know now that it's just a matter of time that the "Merry Christmas" greetings will be gone. Look around your town. Notice the "Holiday" greetings and not "Christmas." It's happening right before our very eyes.

Start singing the songs; go down the streets of America singing to your heart's content. Get some of those wash-off markers that these kids use to write on their car windows when they're rooting for their hometown football team. It's easy to do, and if a torrential rain washes it off, write it on there again.

We've got to get this message out. "Go Tell It On the Mountain . . . that Jesus Christ is Born." Sing it, speak it, be a billboard for our Lord.

The story of this "Baby Jesus" alone has brought about more goodwill at this time of year than any other day we celebrate. How can we sit back and allow Him to be snuffed out of our lives?

Is it Jesus, or is it His followers that the "offended" don't like? What kind of revulsion galvanizes one to campaign so vehemently against the mere mention of His name, the mere singing of a carol, or the mere visual of a sign that says "Merry Christmas?"

I can listen to my own boss at work use some of the vilest words and follow up with, "Excuse my French." I may cringe inside at his damning of God's name, but I tolerate it. So if you don't like me wishing you a "Merry Christmas," I'll say, "Excuse my joy." You may cringe that I celebrate the birth of Jesus, but just tolerate it.

I cannot be concerned that "Merry Christmas" offends you. If I'm not careful, the day will come when saying I'm a Christian will offend you.

I'm offended that you're offended. How about that?

When we get to a point that we can no longer take part in a tradition we hold dear, we have no choice; we either defend that tradition or we give it up to those who say NO. That's it . . . period. So, which will it be?

I'm not giving up my "Merry Christmas" joy to anyone. If I know of someone that celebrates another holiday during this time of year, I will be glad to wish them whatever holiday they want. Just tell me what it is and I'll shout it to the world and wish you a grand celebration.

Just give me Christmas. To you merchants: Stop being so hypocritical and "filling your tills" on the back of Jesus! Who do you think is the symbol of giving at this time of year? It was the wise men bringing gifts to the newborn Christ-child.

You want your coffers full, but have ordered your employees to take down all the Merry Christmas signs. If that's the case, I'll buy gifts at a place that understands my joy.

If you're worried about offending someone, you just did. The most recent Newsweek survey shows that 82% of Americans believe that Jesus is the Son of God. So, in trying not to offend a few, you've offended many.

It's okay to jump into the "Merry Christmas" spirit when it fills your cash register, but let's call it something else . . . and don't stop giving . . .and don't stop buying. . . we'll just change the name and you'll never know the difference.

I know the difference and I'm feeling it greatly. It's hard not to be aware that townships across our country have actually banned the singing of Christmas carols because it might offend someone. And it's not just the religious songs; it's the secular ones too. No more "Jingle Bells" or "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" because they're associated with Christmas. Boy, aren't we getting sensitive?

If we're not celebrating Christmas for the hope it gives with the birth of our Savior . . . there is no hope!

I noticed a few years ago that we changed the name of Abraham Lincoln's and George Washington's birthday so as to be all inclusive regarding the Presidents. Hark, if we should recognize anyone as exceptional. Now it's called Presidents' Day.

Well, if we're going to be so all inclusive, next month I'll have to refer to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as Civil Rights Leaders' Day. We don't want to exclude great Americans like Rosa Parks or Cesar Chavez, do we? And to think that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton might be left out.

We might need to change Mother's Day, Father's Day, and Grandparents' Day to All Parents' Day. Just lump them all together.

It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? So what's the difference?

My freedom to celebrate Christmas in the tradition of the Christian religion is as much my right as it is your right to be offended by it. So what are we going to do? Did anyone hear me . . . what are we going to do?

Do we defend a person's right to go forward with a time tested tradition (how about 2000 years?), or do we defend a person's right to end it all because they're offended? As long as we live in this great land and have the freedom to express ourselves and what we believe in, we will always offend someone.

If we try to make everything right for everyone, we won't have anything for anyone.

May you always have Christmas in your heart!

Bloggers and Anonymity

Most bloggers post anonymously or at least semi-anonymous. This is for a variety of reasons, central of which is the issue of privacy. Another issue is how our blogging might affect our perception and work in the public arena, i.e., our jobs.

I am careful about not identifying myself clearly on the blog, not because I don't want people to know who I am, but because of potential privacy issues, and for the protection of my family.
However, it's not too hard to make the connection with me due to my involvement with Babalu Blog where "the cat's been let out of the bag". I have no problem with that.

Our fellow Miami blogger Alesh from Critical Miami had to deal with an unfortunate situation when he was recently turned down for a job at the Miami Performing Arts Center (PAC) due to some blog entries he had submitted about the PAC. I personally feel that the posts he put up, although somewhat critical of the project in some instances, shouldn't have turned off his potential employers. It also illustrates the reason why so many bloggers remain anonymous, but this definitely not a criticism of Alesh or any other blogger who decides to reveal his/her identity.

Best of luck with Alesh with future job searches.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Parmly Praises Dissidents

In a refreshingly pro-dissident article by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Havana Bureau, David Cazares (note: not Vanessa Bauza) writes about new U.S. Interest Section chief Michael Parmly's speech honoring Cuba's dissidents and opposition groups.

Some excerpts from the article:

"Sadly, Cuba has been left behind in the global march toward democracy and greater respect for human rights," Parmly said. "The Cuban regime does not represent the people, nor does it have any interest in bettering their lives. Rather, the regime is obsessed with self-preservation."

(Parmly) also criticized the actos de repudios , or 'acts of repudiation,' which he called government-sanctioned violent demonstrations against pro-democracy dissidents.

"The regime would like us to think that these so-called actos de repudios in front of the homes of dissidents are spontaneous," Parmly said. "We all know that most neighbors refused to participate in such vile abuse. Instead, the regime resorts to busing in its modern-day equivalent of Nazi `Brown Shirts.'

Then there's this gem from fidel himself:

President (?) (f)idel (c)astro said that during the country's 46 years of revolution, "Not one man has been tortured."

Friday, December 09, 2005

Free Biscet

Thanks Val for the picture

Please check out Val's post about the critical state of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet's health.

When I read the post, a strange idea came to mind. "Write a letter to CODEPINK about Dr. Biscet."

Well...that's exactly what I did.


From: 26th Parallel

Re: Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet

To whom it may concern,

Since your organization is involved with peace and social justice, I thought I'd bring to your attention the case of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

Dr. Biscet is imprisoned in Cuba, serving a 25-year sentence for trying to establish a human rights group in Cuba. You see, in Cuba the only rights are those of the government to impose their will on the population. Dissenting voices are quickly snuffed out.

Dr. Biscet was imprisoned in 2002 and his health is beginning to take a turn for the worst.

In light of your planned visit to Cuba (which I believe has been cancelled), perhaps your organization should make a point of highlighting the injustices that occur in that country. Imagine this: the rights and values you espouse would be quickly stomped on in Cuba. Be grateful that you live in the United States of America where you can express your disgust for the president's policies without fear of incrimination.

Here's a chance to stand up for what's right: please visit this web site dedicated to Dr. Biscet's cause: www.free-biscet.org



Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Miami-Dade Commission - "Hold THIS"

That's pretty much what the Miami-Dade commissioners said today when they overrode Mayor Alvarez's veto that tried to snuff out applications to expand the county's Urban Development Boundary.

In a 12-1 vote (twelve to one!), the commission will leave it up to the state to consider the applications, with a final commission vote in April. Who was that 1 lone vote of sanity to "Hold the Line"? Katy Sorenson, who happens to represent my district. Good for you, Katy!

In a post way back during 26th Parallel's infancy, I highlighted the ongoing battle between Alvarez and the commission. This wasn't the first time they've overriding his vetoes, and it probably won't be the last.

This quote from Commissioner Joe Martinez says it all:

''I think everyone has said what they really have to say''

That's fine, Joe. Except you didn't give people too much of a chance to speak during the last hearing.

I'm sure the vote today was equal parts spite toward the Mayor and influence from lobbyists who want to develop beyond the boundary, regardless of its impact on our community. Admittedly, this may not be as big of a deal as many, including myself, are making it out to be, since the state can easily trash the applications.

What does bother me is the commission's reckless attitude when it comes to decisions that ultimately affect everyone in this community. A more reasonable approach would have been to keep the mayor's veto intact and take a harder and honest look at the proposed projects' potential impact.

By this and other commission's decisions, critics and cynics have every justification to continue poking fun at Miami and its politics.

Can It Be Possible?

Can the Monster of the Caribbean be turning a new leaf? After 78 years, can he be seeing the light?

fidel castro, the monster being referenced here, said that Florida Governor Jeb Bush should lose weight for his health's sake.

You would think castro would want Jeb to throw down a million twinkies a day in order to expedite his death. Jeb is a Bush, after all. One of the hated Bushes who are so beloved by the Miami Mafia. You would think castro would send a monthly shipment of 1,000 pasteles de guayaba to our governor.

No, castro has taken the high road this time, maybe for the first time in his life.

(Now back to your regular castro-bashing).

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Miami NICE (A Continuing Series)

Next time you here someone complain about the awful people that inhabit Miami, tell them these stories:

- South Floridians help Wilma-ravaged family with relief fund.

- More hurricane-related aid.

- Rick at Stuck on the Palmetto covers Alonzo Mourning's and the Miami Heat's generosity.

Thanks Zo!

Freedom Tower Update

In this post over at Babalu, I wrote about the Freedom Tower being donated to Miami-Dade College, a very noble gesture by its owner Pedro Martin.

(Aside from Victoria at Sundries and a post in Miamist, this story has received no coverage in the Miami-centric blogs out there. Perhaps it's due to Art Basel, which obviously deserves coverage in its own right, but you'd think my fellow local bloggers would've had something to say about one of our most historic buildings).

Martin also proposed to build a high-rise condo behind the tower, a proposal which has generated quite a bit of controversy. On Thursday, the Miami City Commission approved Martin's project.

The deal was a compromise of sorts. Preservationists are assured that the tower's structure is not altered in any way. The tower gets donated to a public entity and is hopefully well on its way to becoming a true cultural center. The high-rise is a little farther removed and not as enveloping as the original plans suggested. Still, I fear how the Freedom Tower will look in front of a 62-story building. I hope that Martin knows what he's doing and truly means it when he says that his high-rise will enhance, not drawf, the tower.

Only time will tell.