[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: January 2006

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Hiding the Truth

Check out fidel's latest attempt to blindfold his people into ignorance.

Folks, I really think we're going to come out ahead on this one...that's just a pathetic and blatant act which smacks of desperation.

Of course, we'll wait to see what the MSM has to say about this. Better yet, can't wait to see what kind of spin they'll try to put on it (something like, "The reason fidel put the flags there is because the light reflecting off the Straits of Florida and the Malecon hits the flags just right. The flags are a sign of Cuba's respect for other countries' sovereignty."

MSM, are you out there? MSM? Bueller?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

More on Embargo and Baseball

Here's an interesting editorial by the Wall Street Journal titled "End the Embargo", published yesterday.

Their argument to end the embargo, at the surface, is dissapointing for those who believe in clamping down on castro to bring about change. However, the WSJ editorial seems to contradict itself a bit, purposely so. At the very least, it doesn't discount the moral and ethical reasons why some of us advocate a hard line when it comes to dealing with the Havana regime. For that, the WSJ should be given credit. If only most MSM outlets could see the complexities of this issue the way the WSJ does.

As far as the baseball issue is concerned, I generally agree with the article.

H/T Mike Pancier

End the Embargo
Import Cuban baseball.
Friday, January 27, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

The World Baseball Classic sounds like fun. Now that baseball has been dropped from the Olympics, the new Classic actually offers a more exciting field for international competition. When the series featuring teams from 16 countries begins March 3, America's Major Leaguers will be in the mix for the first time. And now that the issue of Cuba's participation has been settled, it's tempting to sit back and say, "Play ball!"

If only life were that simple for everyone. An article on Major League Baseball's official Web site this week explains that the U.S. Treasury Department initially barred Cuba's team from entering the U.S. to play Classic games because of "financial concerns." That is MLB's delicate obfuscation for the American embargo, in effect for 45 years now, that seeks to keep dollars and other benefits of U.S. trade out of the hands of Cuba's communist dictatorship. The recent flap about Cuba's team playing here, which some found so "petty," was in fact part of a long and morally serious debate about the best way to help the powerless citizens of a repressive totalitarian regime.

We happen to believe that the embargo hasn't worked and that trade and other contacts with the Cuban people are more productive ways to pry open their society and promote freedom there. Yet ending U.S. sanctions won't automatically lift Cubans out of their misery--not as long as Maximum Leader Fidel Castro and his socialist economy are in force. Cuba has always been free to trade with other nations, but it produces little to sell, and few outsiders want to do business there.

It's good, though, that Treasury found a legal way to OK visas for Cuba's baseball players. (Any money they win here will go to Katrina relief.) Cubans back home deserve the thrill of cheering on their team. Entertainment for the rest of us will include watching America's major leagues broken down into competing national components. In fact, so many MLB stars have chosen to play for the country of their birth or family's origin that the U.S. roster resembles a passenger manifest for the Mayflower.

With luck, the Classic will now proceed smoothly. Regrettably, the last time a Cuban team played here, in Baltimore during a 1999 match arranged by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Americans got a taste of repression, Havana-style. Much of it came from their own side. While Cuban political minders kept their players on tight leashes, Baltimore police cracked down on free speech by U.S. citizens, enforcing a ban against political posters or chants in the stadium, where Immigration Service officials--at Mr. Angelos's request--were not allowed to tread. Later, an Orioles official confirmed that the team had a policy of not hiring Cuban defectors. Under fire for such discrimination, Mr. Angelos backed off by saying that he just didn't want to encourage defectors.

Let's hope that officials at Classic sites in California and Arizona do not take similar steps to appease Fidel. Instead, let's offer all our guests a look at the real America, land of the free.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Are Sanctions Ethical?

A couple of days ago I posted about an article in the Sun-Sentinel which talked about how the U.S. travel restrictions are hurting ordinary Cubans. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Phil Peters of the Lexington Institute who was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel article. He was kind enough to provide me with his five points as to why the U.S. sanctions against Cuba are wrong.

Below, I've listed Mr. Peters' points, with my reply in italics after each one.

I thank Mr. Peters for his courteous e-mail, and I welcome him and the rest of the readers out there to take part in the continuation of this discussion. It's better to talk about this, even if we don't agree, than to ignore it totally.
1. The point of sanctions is to hurt a country’s economy. But you can’t really hurt an economy without hurting the people who live in it. Cuba’s economy is already hurting because of Cuba’s economic policies, but the embargo hurts too – it cuts that economy off from its largest neighbor and natural trading partner. I think if you argue in favor of the embargo, the argument only holds together if you accept that the embargo hurts Cuba’s economic welfare, and Cubans’ economic welfare, and then argue that there’s an ethical justification for it.

First we have to accept the fact that the "embargo" as it stands today is anything but. According to a recent story in the Rocky Mountain News, the U.S. was Cuba's largest food supplier in 2005, U.S. exports to Cuba totalled $400 million in 2004, and Cuba bought $900 million worth of agricultural goods in the past 5 years. The rest of the world can and does trade freely with Cuba. The question then becomes; why aren't those goods getting to the Cuban people efficiently and in mass quantities? The answer is simply because castro doesn't allow it to reach those who need it the most. We can end all sanctions tomorrow, and that sad fact won't change. The "embargo" isn't hurting the Cubans' economic welfare, the Cuban regime is. Ethically, I argue that lifting sanctions would be wrong because it would mean even more money flowing into fidel's pockets, which gives him even more strength and motivation to oppress his people. Multilateral sanctions which place pressure and demand that the regime recognize human rights and allow for free democratic elections is ethically right.

2. The intention behind our sanctions, U.S. officials say, is to affect the Cuban government, not the people. I don’t doubt the intention, but the impact of the new policies is to stop Cuban Americans from seeing their relatives too much, or from helping them too much. If you saw your Mom last year and she’s dying now, you can’t go see her, period. If you want to send your brother $500 to buy a refrigerator, that’s against the law. Unlike before, you can’t visit or send money to your aunt, cousin, or nephew at all, because U.S. regulations now say these are too-distant relations. If your aunt is 82 and depended on your $50 per month, that’s just too bad. If you are ever nostalgic about your local CDR, the U.S. government is supposedly using informants and sting operations to catch Cuban Americans who would evade these rules – that’s written in the transition report. If U.S. regulations limit family visits and acts of family charity, how they be defined as anything but sanctions aimed directly at Cuban families – even if they have a secondary impact of eventually denying revenue to the Cuban government?

I think the travel restrictions are a bit harsh, I stated as such in my original post. It punishes those who want to see a sick relative whom they may not see again. Unfortunately, a big reason why the restrictions were passed was because of those who abuse the system by sneaking in through a third country or go disguised in church groups, or are involved in spy operations, as we recently discovered here in Miami. A more humane, sensible policy is needed in this area.

3. The government says these sanctions on families are part of a series of measures that will “hasten the demise of the dictatorship” because, taken together, they cut $500 million annually from Cuba’s hard currency income. The CIA estimates that the Cuban economy is growing by about $1 billion a year. With rising tourism, high nickel prices, offshore oil discoveries, and Venezuela and China helping out, the new U.S. sanctions have no decisive political impact in Cuba. They are a manageable financial blow and a propaganda boon for the Cuban government, and they are decisively painful to Cuban families.

I agree that the sanctions aren't doing what they were intended to do. But that's not totally the United States' fault. Again, a multilateral approach would be much more effective. This also underscores the reasoning that opening the floodgates would at best have little impact, and more likely will make conditions even worse for the Cuban people. Cuba has been winning the propaganda war for a long time now, mainly because of the mainstream media's lack of willingness to tackle the regime's atrocities head-on. Imagine what would have happened in South Africa if only one or two countries would have participated in the sanctions against that country, and if the media would have totally ignored the atrocities there.

4. I don’t argue that unfettered travel will change the political order in Cuba. That would be as mistaken as arguing that the embargo, or Helms-Burton, or the new measures will do the same. I argue that travel and engagement are better than what we have now.

Based on all the statistics regarding U.S. - Cuba trade and record number of tourists flocking to Cuba from all over the world, I believe we've already catched a glimpse of what impact those factors would have on the Cuban society. As of now, the impact has been for the regime to oppress their citizens even more (dissident numbers are increasing, so are attacks against dissidents). Therefore, I can't see how increased travel and engagement would be better than the flawed policy we have today.

5. I can’t tell if you are arguing that the average Cuban does or doesn’t have access to lots of information. Regardless, my argument is that relatives and others who travel to Cuba bring information and ideas, not to mention income, that are beneficial to many, many Cubans. The Reagan policy toward the Soviet bloc and the Helsinki accords, to take two examples, encouraged a free flow of people and information and ideas regardless of other countries’ actions, because that was judged to be in our interest. I don’t think those policies were mistakes.

My argument is that the average Cuban knows more than we think. Why? Because of contact with relatives in the U.S. and abroad. Virtually every Cuban knows someone who has left the island. That means that Cubans know that they live in a repressive society, and that in other countries people have freedom of expression and other basic human rights. For many years, Cuban-Americans were able to visit relatives in Cuba once a year. Money in the form of remittances to relatives have totalled in the hundreds of millions, if not billions. All this contact, yet what has been the end result? More of the same, I'm afraid. Opening up Cuba would have little impact based on what we've seen.

Eastern Europe was blessed with people who stood up to the establishment and demanded change. The Soviet Union in particular was blessed with people from within the establishment who believed in change. That more than anything else is what caused change in those countries. Perhaps that will happen in Cuba once fidel dies. We'll have to wait and see.

The only constant during the past 47 years has been the Cuban regime's unwillingness to change, to grant its citizens freedom and basic rights. My argument is that we need to do everything we can to eliminate the source of the problem - the regime, not the United States' policy, as flawed as it is.

All I ask for is that the regime take active measures to promote freedom of expression and democracy, is that too much to ask for? In the meantime, we need to put the pressure on Cuba. The rest of the world needs to join us. It is most definitely in this country's best interest for a neighboring country to be free and loosened from the shackles of Marxism.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

More Local Cuba News

The Alvarez spy case gets even more intriguing with this news that they spied on FIU President Mitch Maidique.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, folks.

And in yet another example of why this is such a great country, several Miami-based pro-castro groups are holding a news conference today to call for the U.S. to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.

Next time those groups complain about the lack of tolerance in Miami, please remember this story.

Ticker Wars (Updated)

I couldn't be happier at the ticker that the U.S. Interest Section in Havana is using to display messages to the Cuban people. The best part about it is that fidel is visibly bothered by the messages, so much so that he organized a rally to make sure he reminds his people who's boss.

This is one of the rare times in U.S. - Cuba relations that our government is doing something clever and constructive. No empty rhetoric, no bluster, no posturing, no empty promises. Just a simple ticker scrolling pro-freedom, pro-democracy messages on the side of a building near El Malecon. And it's pissing the bearded bastard off.

Kudos to Interest Section chief Michael Parmly for having the picardia (gumption) to use the ticker during fidel's "million man march". Looks like he's taking cues from his predecessor James Cason.

I have one idea for Mr. Parmly as far as what he should display on the ticker:

UPDATED: Thanks to Conductor for the updated graphic!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Trying to Make Some Sense

I just finished reading an article in the Sun-Sentinel from David Cazares about Cubans on the island who think that the U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba are hurting the average Cuban.

This is an old topic, but I think it deserves another look. At the surface, one can easily make the conclusion that limiting family trips to once every three years hurts Cubans on the island more than castro and his cronies. However, let's take a closer look.

Quote from the article:
"According to U.S. government and business estimates, the amount of money Cubans receive annually from relatives abroad -- most in the United States -- varies from about $400 million to more than $1 billion."

I don't know about you, but I think that's a lot of money flowing into Cuba. For many years, relatives could go to Cuba once a year to visit relatives, and we saw how little of a difference that made in changing conditions in Cuba. We've seen how Cuba has opened up to tourism from every other country on Earth, and how little of a difference it's made in the way the castro regime operates.

Another quote:
"Only in Cuba has America tried to fight communism by aiming economic sanctions directly at families," (Phil) Peters said. "The policy has succeeded in hurting families, but the Cuban government is as strong as ever. And fewer visits means a reduced flow of information and ideas in a country that the administration wants to change profoundly."

I think Mr. Peters has it wrong. The sanctions are not aimed at families. The first quote proves that. The sanctions are meant to hurt the government. Problem is, no one else wants to join the U.S., therefore rendering the "embargo" as completely toothless and ineffective.

As far as a reduced flow of information is concerned, don't blame that on the sanctions. I find it impossible to believe that the average Cuban doesn't know what's really going on in their country. They've heard the stories from relatives in the U.S. They don't live in a perfect vacuum, regardless of how much castro tries to restrict access to information. Regardless, the average Cuban is not allowed to have internet access, and can only read newspapers with one point of view - the regime's. They can't travel freely around the island or abroad. How in the world can the sanctions be blamed for that?

I think the travel restrictions are a bit excessive. I feel for those who want to visit their relatives. But I draw the line when it comes to blaming the U.S. for Cuba's problems. All the money that Cuban-Americans send, all the trade between the U.S. and Cuba, all of that for what? So that people can continue blaming the U.S. policy instead of placing the blame squarely and completely where it belongs - on castro.

You see, as long as castro continues keeping the money for himself and not sharing it with his country, there will always be those who will continue to fight the good fight. We can open the floodgates and let every sunburnt, corn-fed Midwesterner visit Cuba and its resorts. We can officially eliminate the "embargo" so that trade with Cuba can go unfettered.

This will allow for the free flow of information in Cuba and help bring down the regime, anti-embargo advocates naively argue.

There's one big catch to that theory. castro won't let it happen. Repression is the order of the day in Cuba. It's been proven time and time again. More money into Cuba = more money into castro's pocket, not to the average Cuban. More money = more power. That's life.

A real, multi-lateral embargo, one with teeth, would go a long way toward bringing about change.


No, it's not my age. It's a milestone that 26th Parallel has just reached.

At 11:32 PM yesterday, January 23rd, this blog received it's 10,000th visitor. It took nearly 10 months and over 260 posts, but we finally got there. Visitors have come from all parts of the United States and Canada, Asia, Europe, South America, and yes, Cuba.

The 10,000th visitor was from Mendon, Massachusetts. If this is you, please stop by the 26th Parallel gift shop to receive your special prize.

Exactly one year ago, I knew very little about blogs, let alone thought that I would have one in the near future. The turning point was when I read this article in the Miami Herald. That's when I discovered the world of blogging, and I haven't looked back since.

Along the way, I've met some fascinating and very nice people, either on-line or in person. People committed to a cause, not for monetary or other selfish reasons, but because they care.

At the top of the list is the daddy of many a Cuban-American blog, Val Prieto and Babalu. I immediately got hooked to Babalu, and it eventually inspired me to start this blog. Little did I know or even imagine that I would eventually be asked to become a contributing writer to that prestigious blog. I'm still not sure I deserve that honor.

Val, thanks for your inspiration and support. I will continue to do my part to help spread the truth about Cuba.

To the rest of my small but loyal group of readers (I know who you are!), thanks for your kind words of support which have given me motivation to continue on with this despite my busy schedule.

To everyone on my blog rolls over at the right sidebar, you all have served as an inspiration to me. Whether Cuban-American, South Florida-related or neither, the blogs listed at the right have all provided me with insights and knowledge that have helped to shape and fuel my own thoughts and words. I may not agree 100% with everything posted at all of those blogs, but I believe that we all have room to grow and consider opposing points of view.

Gracias, merci, and a heartfelt THANKS to all of you for helping me reach this milestone. I hope to reach 100,000 soon! ;)

Monday, January 23, 2006

If This Doesn't Make You Upset...

Courtesy of Net For Cuba:


Thursday, 19 January 2006

Around midday, ELIECER CONSUEGRA RIVAS, of the Cuban Democracy Alliance, GUILLERMO LLANO RICARDO, of the Cuban Foundation of Human Rights and Secretary General of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, and JESUS ALEXANDER ALMAGUER PEREZ, independent journalist of the agency "Youth Without Censorship" were brutally attacked by paramilitary forces while they were headed to a hunger strike in Mayari, province of Holguin, to request in unity the cease of violence in Cuba.

In a terror-filled atmosphere, the three received death threats. They are full of hematomas from the kicks, slaps, and blows that they received from the paramilitary forces in front of a mob of 200 people which accused them of being counterevolucionaries who were going to place bombs. They ripped off the clothes of Eliecer Consuegra Rivas, who can barely breathe and suffered several fractures.

These defenders of human rights declared that they were not going to back down one bit in their fight for a Cuba free of injustices and violence.

Hialeah Marlins?

With all the Cuba-related news going on the past few days, I neglected to post on something that came out last week - the Florida Marlins, you know, that poor team who's looking for a new stadium (home) will stay home to meet with Hialeah officials about building a stadium in the "Cuidad Que Progresa".

The Marlins have already visited San Antonio and Portland, Oregon, and are due to visit Charlotte and New Jersey in the coming weeks. Recent talks with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga regarding a facility next to Dolphins Stadium has stalled, according to the article.

I like the possibility of Hialeah as a site for a new stadium. Accessibility to highways, ease for all of South Florida to get to the stadium, favorable demographics in the city of Hialeah and nearby communities, etc.

Good luck to Hialeah. Based on the Marlins' track record with stadium negotiations, they'll need all the luck they can get their hands on.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Classic Cuban Spy Operation

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Hank Tester, a reporter for South Florida TV station WTVJ-NBC 6. He was nice enough to send this humble hack of a blogger a copy of his on-line column which deals with the arrest of suspected spies Carlos and Elsa Alvarez. I was honored that Mr. Tester would send me some of his work, since I have always respected his reporting. His reporting of Cuban and Cuban-American issues is done with fairness and with a sensibility to the local Cuban-American community, something you don't see much of in the mainstream media.

Tester's column is extremely revealing and offers lucid insights as to why the capture of the Alvarez couple, as well as the activities of others like them, should be taken seriously.

Below is the column, with a direct link to Tester's News Plus columns here.

Thanks Mr. Tester.
January 19, 2006

What Do The Spies Want?

"It is a classic Cuban spy operation," a former CIA agent told me. Elsa and Carlos Alvarez, according to FBI agents, spent 30 years spying for Cuba.

They were practicing their spy tradecraft on the campus of Florida International University. On the campus they rubbed shoulders with the university elite, including Mitch Maidique, the FIU President, and facility members attached to a number of programs geared to FIU’s aggressive pursuit of the Cuba issue. The Alvarez couple also worked their way into the Cuban exile intensive congregation of St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church. That is where Elsa Alvarez was active in producing retreats for married couples.

The feds were quick to say that the two alleged spies did not deal in the world of top-secret material. What they were after was dirt, gossip, inside information about prominent members of Cuban exile community. The method of operation is all too familiar to those of us who have followed the Cuban espionage story in South Florida.

"Active measures" is what the Cuban Intelligence call the activity, which is geared to create discord, divisions and intimidation in the Exile community. In other words, Castro's agents attempting to make exiles look bad to each other and the general public.

The five Cuban spies convicted in 2001 were tasked to do just that. They targeted Brothers to the Rescue, The Democracy Movement, The Miami Herald, The Cuban American National Foundation and individuals involved with those organizations, not to mention the offices of high level Cuban-American politicians.

And why is the gossip, dirt and inside information of high interest to Cuban Spies? It is useful to the Cuban intelligence operations in their attempts to spread rumors, generate letters to editors, produce damaging flyers, and anonymous phone calls to radio stations and individuals in order to create hostility, distrust, jealousy.

During the late 90s, spies were successful in generating feuds between exile organizations. As far as information on individuals, their vulnerabilities, where better to mine a treasure trove of information than a church-sponsored marriage retreat? Heaven knows what Fidel Castro knows about. We are likely to find out if the Alvarez spy case goes to trial.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dan the Man (UPDATED)

No, not Marino, but Le Batard.

I've been a critic of many of Le Batard's columns in the past, including here in this blog. However, as I posted at Babalu today, he surprised me by writing an excellent, straight-from-the-heart column regarding Cuba's admission into the World Baseball Classic. Please follow the last link to read the column if you haven't done so already. It encapsulates everything Cuban-Americans believe in and stand for when it comes to Cuba and castro. If you haven't been able to understand why Cuban-Americans react the way we do regarding Cuba and Cuban issues, the column should answer at least some of those questions.

Even though I was in favor of inviting the Cuban team, Le Batard perfectly explains why it's such a hard issue for us Cuban-Americans to deal with.

I'll probably never look at another Le Batard column the same way again.

Thanks Dan.

UPDATE 10:17 PM - Marc at Uncommon Sense does an excellent job of explaining his reasons for wanting Cuba to participate in the tournament. His sentiments and experiences echo mine in many ways.

Friday, January 20, 2006

U.S.: Cuba Can Play

The hot topic over at Babalu is the United States' reversal of their previous decision to allow Cuba to participate in the World Baseball Classic.

I've made my feelings known in previous posts here, so I won't reiterate my initial feelings.

However, I will say that I sincerely feel for those Cuban-Americans who are upset at today's decision to allow Cuba to play. I understand their reasons, they are valid and from the heart. Nothing is easy when it comes to U.S. - Cuba relations, and I surely don't feel any better now that the Cuban baseball team is coming.

There are no real victors, just a lot of losers, mainly the Cuban people of course.

Let's turn this decision, whether we agree with it or not, into something positive. Let's continue to hammer away at public opinion and the MSM.

Let's do it with images and words, and with the truth.

Alarcon To Be Asked Tough Questions

Well...at least that's the hope. I'm not holding my breath.

Cuba's Alarcón may take questions at journalism conference


Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's National Assembly, is considering participating in a question-and-answer session with reporters during this summer's National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention in Fort Lauderdale.

An invitation to Alarcón was hand-delivered to him personally by South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editor Earl Maucker in the last two weeks, said NAHJ Executive Director Iván Román.
Maucker's secretary said Maucker was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

''The editor of the Sun-Sentinel, who was in Cuba on business, actually hand-delivered a letter from us,'' Román told The Miami Herald Thursday. 'All [Alarcón] basically said was, `Sure, I'll think about it. Let's work on the logistics.' ''

Román said Alarcón has not reached out to NAHJ or anyone planning the convention, including the Sun-Sentinel, since he got the invitation. The plan is to have Alarcón appear via satellite from Cuba, and undergo questioning from journalists chosen by NAHJ, Román said.

One staunch anti-Castro Cuban exile group, the Cuban American National Foundation, said they hope Alarcón accepts the invitation.

''I think it's a great opportunity to ask Ricardo Alarcón why there is no freedom of the press in Cuba,'' said CANF Executive Director Alfredo Mesa. ``I think it's a great opportunity to ask him why he participates in a forum where everyone else has to play by the rules of free speech and freedom of the press, and once the forum is over, his government is unwilling to offer the people of Cuba that same opportunity.''

Rumor has it Jim DeFede will take the lead in the interviewing.

Just kidding...I hope.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Cuba - Intoxicating

I ran into this article on Cuba from Rosemary McClure of the Los Angeles Times, published in the Sun-Sentinel a few days ago.

As one can suspect from the insititution McClure writes for, it's a mostly breezy look at life in Cuba. The obligatory mentions of free healthcare and education are there (although one has to wait until the 18th paragraph for the reference), as well as the intoxicating nightlife, quaint old cars and stunning colonial architecture.

Of course, the article also covers the travel restrictions, and interviewed several American tourists who insisted that it's their Constitutional right to travel wherever they want. There was one tourist who blamed the Miami mafia for the restrictions. Pretty standard MSM fare.

Here's an interesting excerpt from the article:

Neglected for more than four decades, Havana is rife with imperfections: Sewage runs in the streets; water pipes won't work; abandoned structures, some converted into slum housing, collapse overnight. Thomas Paul, a Tucson fireman/paramedic visiting with the Global Exchange group, said much of the city would be condemned if it were in the U.S.

When Fidel Castro's rebel army won victory in 1959, life changed irreversibly for the Cuban people; it changed again in 1990 when the Soviet Union departed, taking its financial subsidies with it.

Cubans have little cash — incomes range from about $10 to $18 a month — and supplies are hard to come by. A ration system allows each person eight eggs, 6 pounds of rice, 3 pounds of beans and 2 pounds of sugar monthly. But Cubans also have universal healthcare and an effective education system.

OK, I had to include the part about the healthcare and education just so everyone can believe me.

McClure did manage to get a quote from a U.S. government official:

"Castro uses travel-related dollars to bankroll his regime on the backs of the Cuban people," said Molly Millerwise, a Treasury Department spokeswoman. "The Bush administration is steadfast in its commitment to hasten the day when the Cuban people can enjoy the same free lives we enjoy in America."

That's it. No further explanation or elaboration on what Millerwise said. It would have ruined the overall theme of the piece.

What's the theme, you might be asking? Well, I'll leave you with this quote from Miguel Figueras, a Cuban tourism official:

"The highest spenders are Americans," said Figueras, the tourism official. "We want them to come. We think they want to come."

"The first million American tourists will be no problem. But give us notice for the second million."

Read the entire thing here, if you dare.

I'll Believe It When I See It

Everyone in the Cuban blogosphere is commenting on Ramon Saul Sanchez's ending of his hunger strike due to the White House agreeing to meet with Cuban-American groups to try to resolve the wet foot/dry foot issue.

Here's my brief take: I really hope that the meeting will bring about positive, long-lasting changes to U.S. - Cuba immigration policies. In other words, end wet foot/dry foot. On the other hand, my hopes are somewhat tempered by the possibilities that could arise as a result of suspending the policy - namely a mass and uncontrolled influx of Cubans which could result in chaos on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

One can hope that a fair, controlled process would take the place of the current policy. Of course, this won't stop Cubans from risking their lives to get here. So we need to find a way to handle those people.

I say, let them in.

What I think will end up happening is that the White House and Cuban-American groups will settle on granting Cubans intercepted at sea more rights such as attorneys in order to justify their reasons for coming. The wet foot/dry foot will not be repealed. I'll be shocked if they ditch the policy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Cuban-Americans in the Blogosphere

I recall back in March of last year when I started this blog, I would go through the 5 or 6 Cuba-centric blogs daily when either thinking of a post or checking to see what the compadres were saying.

Nowadays, I'm proud to report, the number of Cuba-centric blogs have at least quadrupled. Blogs from all over the place, I might add. As La Ventanita, whose Wall Street Cafe is another recent and excellent addition to the blog scene mentions, the glass is shattering from so many Cuba blogs starting up. It's extremely hard for me to go through each one daily, most days I just have time for a few, then try to catch up on other days. It's a wonderful thing to see the list on the right-hand menu growing and growing. Each blog listed there is another shot at castro and his cronies, another step toward the truth and freedom for Cuba.

Speaking of which, it's serious time to update my Cuban blog roll. Look for some additions and a brief intro soon!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Military Recruiters Not Welcome

In this day and age when anything resembling nationalism is viewed as extreme by many in this country, especially those that are left-of-center, it's not surprising that the Armed Forces isn't looked upon as favorably as it once was.

However, the article below in the Miami Herald took me by surprise, in a bad way.

According to the article, there is a drive underway in South Florida public schools to discourage kids from joining the military. The drive, initiated by a left-coast group known as Leave My Child Alone, is targeting schools with a significant percentage of minority and poor kids, schools which attract more than their share of military recruiters.

More comments after the article.

Groups unite to defy military recruiting efforts

Grass-roots groups have formed an offensive in South Florida to combat military recruiting at schools throughout the region.


Starting at the break of dawn, Luis Cerros and his team take positions outside high schools around Miami-Dade County.

Inside the schools, military recruiters later station themselves at lunchroom tables, looking for a few good men -- and women -- to join in America's war on terrorism.

And so a battle line of sorts is drawn in an escalating struggle between groups opposed to the war in Iraq -- and the tactics they say recruiters use to enlist students -- and military recruiters who say they are informing students of how they can serve their country and benefit from that service.

Cerros and company are members of Mi Familia Vota (Spanish for My Family Votes), a Miami-Dade group that seeks to empower Hispanics. In mid-August, they launched a campaign to inform parents and students about their right to keep teenagers' names off military-recruitment lists.

They say the school districts need to do a better job of publicizing a federally mandated opt-out form that keeps students' personal information, including home address and phone number, from recruiters.

''We found out a lot of the kids were just signing up [for military service] because they needed the money. They felt they didn't have other choices,'' Cerros said. ``Recruiters were taking advantage of that.''

In less than two months, his group said more than 5,000 students in Miami-Dade had signed up to remove their names from the list.

''We weren't allowed on campus, so we had to catch students on their way in,'' Cerros said.

"Sometimes we would canvass corner stores where parents hung out.''

Several Broward County groups that also oppose recruitment in high schools plan similar campaigns.

Marc Silverstein, who heads the Alternatives to Militarism Project, said his group will reach out to students at Coral Springs and Deerfield Beach high schools. He said at least two other groups, Coral Springs for Peace and the Broward Anti-War Coalition, will also be involved.


Franco Caliz, a junior at Coral Park Senior High in Westchester, said he thinks the recruiters are too aggressive.

''They run up to you after school and harass you to enlist,'' he said.

Caliz, a former member of the Junior ROTC program, said the recruiters' pitch is misleading. Students are usually shown a video on the benefits of military life -- traveling overseas and getting money for college, he said. But they aren't told of the dangers, he added.

''They pretty much avoid mentioning that you could get killed,'' Caliz said.

He drafted a petition asking school officials to distribute opt-out forms to parents and students. He said about 200 classmates signed it. ''Students should have the right to privacy,'' Caliz said.

The anti-recruitment fight started with a San Francisco-based group called Leave My Child Alone, which has helped more than 37,000 students remove their names from military lists.

''The highest recruiting is often in lower-income areas, large urban areas such as Miami,'' said Felicity Crush, the group's spokeswoman. ``The people in those communities may not have many options [after high school], but they're being given a fairly unrealistic option by recruiters.''

Not everyone agrees. Recruitment supporters say the military offers many opportunities, especially for students who have few after graduating.

''The military offers a good future for a lot of our kids,'' said Maj. Henry Avellaneda, head of the JROTC program at Southridge. ``It's the best option for many of them.''

''Some students may not want to go to college after graduation,'' said Harvey Spigler, spokesman for the Army Recruiting Battalion in Miami-Dade. ``The military offers an alternative to gain values in life so they can continue at whatever they want to pursue.''

And, he added, ``We don't target schools. We accept all people who are physically and morally qualified, no matter what school they go to.''

But according to district records, recruiters seem to go more often to schools where large numbers of students qualify for free or reduced lunches because of family income. For example, Felix Varela Senior High had 176 visits and Southridge had 123 from recruiters in 2004-05, according to the latest district records.

Yet at Coral Reef, an all-magnet senior high located between those schools, recruiters made 20 visits that year.

District records also show another trend. Over the last five years, schools such as Central, which is in a lower-income area, saw twice as many military recruiters as college recruiters. At Barbara Goleman Senior High in Northwest Miami-Dade, officials say they try to keep a close eye on military recruiters, who usually flock to the campus in the fall.

''They were here about four out of the five school days each week in September and October,'' said John Failoni, activities director at Goleman. ``There's been an increase in military recruitment, and we've taken steps to make sure it's done orderly.''

In 2004, Goleman, with a mostly Hispanic student body, had one of the highest numbers of Army recruits among district high schools -- 20. Other senior highs with a lot of enlistees included Central, Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Southridge, Jackson and Homestead -- schools where the number of students who qualify for federally funded lunches range from 57 to 77 percent.

Overall, Pentagon figures for 2004 show that 627 Miami-Dade students enlisted in the Army. Of that group, 65 percent were Hispanic and 27 percent black.

The Broward district does not keep overall numbers on recruiter visits, said spokesman Keith Bromery. Pentagon statistics show that 362 students were recruited from Broward high schools in 2004.

Some private school officials said they don't see military recruiters on campus too often. ''We don't discourage recruiters from coming, but we don't really see them here,'' said Peter Sanders, upper-school director at the University School at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Sanders said most private-school students are focused on going to college, not the Army.

One of the provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act grants the military access to public high-school students and their personal information. But the 2002 law also requires school officials to notify parents or students that they can sign a form that blocks the release of personal information.

Cerros said many parents he has spoken with were unaware of their right to opt out.

''We just wanted to educate the community,'' said Carlos Pereira, an organizer with Mi Familia Vota. ``They needed to know they had options and the military shouldn't make decisions for them.''

The group's campaign is not always popular, and some volunteers have had their patriotism questioned.

''People would ask why we don't love our country and why are we opposing the war,'' Pereira said. ``We love this country. We just want people to be informed so they can make the right decisions.''

The activists are urging school districts to implement stricter regulations on military access to students.

Neither the Miami-Dade nor the Broward district has a formal policy regulating military recruiters on school grounds. While the No Child law grants access for recruiters, principals can decide where and how long they can be on campus.

Failoni, the Goleman activities director, says there are other factors that draw high schoolers to the military.

''A lot of it is a family thing,'' he said. ``They have siblings who've been in the military, and they kind of follow the leader.''

Cerros agreed that enlisting should be a family decision -- as long as it's an informed one.

''Parents should be given the full picture of the military so they can make the right decision,'' he said. "That was not happening.''

My first reaction after reading this was: Hmmm.

My reaction after reading it a second time: What the #$#$ do these people really want and why are they bothering our kids at school?

Let me start off by saying that I've never served in the military. However, my father served in the Army, and I have grown to respect the Armed Forces greatly throughout my adult life. I have seen how the military has helped shape young men and women and given them a direction in life, as well as providing a solid foundation. Not to mention, they get to serve the United States of America. I know many veterans, both personally and professionally, and almost all of them are solid, principled human beings.

I'm not surprised that recruiters target schools in poorer neighborhoods, and neither should you. The military offers an education, as well as all the positive attributes previusly mentioned. Most kids who come from poor families and/or struggle academically find the military to be a viable and rewarding option. It's either the military or working in menial, hard-labor jobs for most of these kids. Recruiters are going to go to schools that they've had success with in the past, plain and simple. They are less likely to go to a school in an upper-class suburb for obvious reasons, most of those kids have many other options besides the military.

The anti-recruiter groups mentioned in the article (Alternatives to Militarism, Broward Anti-War Coalition, to name a few) have an agenda which is detrimental to our society. They are discouraging kids with few good options from joining the military and strengthening our country's defenses. As a result, the chances increase that those kids will end up on welfare as adults, which naturally continues the classic leftist need to feel empowered and superior.

I really feel bad for reasonable liberals who have to put up with activists on the far left who undermine the values which our country were built on. The military instills many of these values that we can all be proud of.

Parade, Tradition and Activism

The 35th annual Three Kings Day Parade took place yesterday in Little Havana down Calle Ocho. It is a tradition for many Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics in South Florida. On a beautiful, cool day under cobalt blue skies, an estimated 500,000 people lined the famous street to see marching bands, floats, and grand marshal Zach Thomas (that's right - the football player Zach Thomas).

This year, something extra took place very near the parade route - Ramon Saul Sanchez's hunger strike. Sanchez's protest is taking place right off of Calle Ocho on 13th Avenue, and many parade attendees stopped by to wish Sanchez well.

Latest word is that Governor Jeb Bush and Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman have gotten involved and are trying to convince the White House to set up a meeting with Cuban exile groups to discuss the wet foot/dry foot issue. A later edition of the Miami Herald not available on-line suggested that the White House has already set up a meeting, which would satisfy Sanchez and end his hunger strike.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Is This A Great Country Or What? (LINK INCLUDED)

(UPDATED TO INCLUDED LINK TO THE ARTICLE...that's what happens when you post before 7 AM as you're headed out the door for work).

The arrest of alleged Cuban spies Carlos Alvarez (not the mayor) and his wife Elsa has created quite a stir in the community, and of course lots of media coverage.

One of the stories I read this morning regarding the arrests deals with the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a leftist organization started in Miami by Cuban-Americans who support the Cuban Revolution. Elsa Alvarez was a member of that group.

That's right. Here in mean ol' intolerant Miami, an active pro-castro group is open about its allegiance to the Cuban Revolution.

If you don't believe me, here's a quote from their leader, Andres Gomez:

''There is no question that the Antonio Maceo Brigade is a leftist organization that coincides with the goals and aspirations of the Cuban revolution".

Like I said in the title, and with no sarcasm intended whatsoever, what a great country we live in! Imagine what would happen to someone who was openly anti-castro and anti-regime in Cuba?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Believe It or Not

Cubans often are accused of exaggerating. From the mundane to the spectacular, Cubans have a general tendency to overstate or exaggerate things.

Because of this, most non-Cubans and even second-generation Cuban-Americans raised in the U.S. tended to react skeptically when the older folks made statements such as these:

"castro killed Kennedy"

"fidel has spies everywhere in Miami".

Every Cuban-American youngster has heard these comments from their mamas, papas, abuelos, and tios at big family gatherings.

There's another one that is oft-repeated, this one extremely sobering:

"fidel wants to attack the United States"

Let's hope I never have to blog-link that quote.

Better Late Than Never

Just read that my friends Val and Conductor are going to be live on the air at 2 PM on Radio Mambi here in Miami (710 AM). Awesome!

Click here to get details on how to listen on-line, but you better hurry because the show starts in 6 minutes!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Media Wakes Up to Rafters' Ordeal

Looks like the media has finally responded with a front-page spread in today's Miami Herald on the rafters' return to Cuba for not picking the right bridge to wait on.

Similarly, the community and its representatives in Washington appears to be responding with sadness and disgust at the U.S. government's latest decision to repatriate the rafters. The above-linked article quotes strong comments from Lincoln-Diaz Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mel Martinez. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz even joined in. Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the local Democracy Movement, is on a hunger strike until the policy is changed.

Could this be the straw that breaks the camel's back? Will this event finally force Washington to seriously consider repealing the ridiculous wet foot/dry foot?

If not now, then never.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Rafters Sent Back to Cuba

Just read the sad story over at Babalu.

Basically, the rafters got sent back because the piling they touched wasn't attached to the portion of the old bridge that touches land.

Can you believe that? That's the kind of arbitrary decision-making that goes on in Washington. The kind of arbitraty decision that affects people's lives in a huge way. The rafters aren't living, breathing human beings searching for freedom, they are just pieces in a cruel game in which the ones who touch land win, and those who touch a broken portion of a bridge losers.

A reader at Babalu made an interesting comment about the reasons why there wasn't a massive Cuban-American protest in Miami regarding this incident. The reader suggested that Cuban-Americans don't protest in mass numbers because the Republicans are in charge. Interesting and worthy of consideration, but I don't think it's a primary reason.

Here's are my reasons:

- Lack of media coverage. There are many reasons for this, the war in Iraq, Farris Hassan, you name it.

- The leftover aftertaste of the Elian fiasco. Many people were burned and scarred by the events of early 2000. Many of those who protested in front of Elian's house back then, and were there when the boy was seized, had their fighting spirit sapped from them. Those people were once a big part of the core "protest" community. These days, you only have a couple of small groups who protest regularly.

- The Aging of the Cuban Exile Community. This one is closely related to the previous reason. The first-generation exiles are getting long in the tooth, and of course, many have passed away. It's not that the second-generation doesn't care (although some probably don't give a hoot), but it's a different type of activism and protest - one that is more traditionally American (meaning subdued and calculated). This is not a criticism of the old visible and vocal first-generation Cuban method of protest nor of the "American" style. Both methods can be effective. After Elian, however, most people seem hesitant to hit the streets yelling and screaming because of the backlash from the rest of the community.

Also, you have this phenomenom known as "blogging", where average, ordinary people can express their anger, outrage and disgust with a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and broadband connection. What a concept! ;)

- 9/11. The passion that was directed solely toward Cuban issues pre-9/11 has been at least partially diverted to the war on terror. 9/11 shook up many people and made us reflect on our priorities in life.

- Many still associate Wet Foot/Dry Foot with Bill Clinton. Maybe the reader has a point, but this one is down on the list. Clinton signed the initial policy, so he should get a lot of the blame. However, G.W. Bush has had an opportunity to end this ridiculous policy with a stroke of his pen, and hasn't. This fact isn't lost on most Cuban-Americans.

I welcome any other ideas from readers.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wet Foot/Dry Foot Reaches New Low

Photo by Roberto Koltun of El Nuevo Herald

Alfredo at El Cafe Cubano and Ziva at Blog for Cuba have posted on the latest saga involving Cuban rafters seeking freedom. This one involves a group of 15 Cubans, including 2 infants, who arrived at the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys on a makeshift boat this past Wednesday and hung on to a concrete support pillar underneath the bridge as their craft sank. The Coast Guard eventually arrived, but what happened next was unexpected. The rafters, thinking they had reached U.S. soil by touching the bridge's support structure, were taken to a USCG cutter instead of to dry land.

In other words, they are being treated like if they didn't touch land, similar to what occurred recently with another group which got stranded on a reef just outside the Keys.

Their status remains up in the air.

searching for news stories on this hasn't been easy. The local TV media gave yesterday's protest on the causeway next to the Miami Coast Guard station about 30-45 seconds of air time. The Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel have nothing on-line.

Fortunately, El Nuevo Herald comes to the rescue with an article about the protest.

I apologize to my non-Spanish readers for not translating the article as I have a full day ahead of me, but here are some of the main points:

- About 30 or so people gathered at the bridge for the protest, organized by the Democracy Movement. Its leader, Ramon Saul Sanchez, has declared himself in a hunger strike until the rafters admitted into the U.S.

His most poignant quote was, "We are starting the new year as if Cubans were a piece of crap".

- This was the group's third attempt to leave the island prison in less than a year and a half.

- One of the rafters said that a Good Samaritan who spotted them handed the group a cellphone, through which the group made at least two calls. Relatives of the group has pictures of empty water bottles and clothing articles left by the rafters on the bridge itself, lending further support to their claim that they indeed reached "dry land".

- Relatives are studying the possibility of seeking legal action as early as this coming week, providing the rafters aren't returned to Cuba.

When will this absurdity end?

President Bush, are you listening?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Bit Chilly Out There

I love it when it the local media over-exaggerates the news. An example is the cold snap South Florida is experiencing this weekend. You would think from hearing them jump and scream that we never get cold weather here.

Fact is, this weekend's temperatures, while indeed the coldest we've seen so far this winter, doesn't measure up to many cold snaps from the 70's and 80's. We're expected to see lows in the lower 40's both tonight and tomorrow night, with even colder temperatures away from the city. Pretty nippy by our standards, but nothing we don't see at least a couple of times a year. Actually, most of us welcome the cool weather. Freezing temperatures are expected to stay north and west of the metro areas, so crops should make out OK.

Keep watching the "26th Parallel Weather" temperature icon over on the right side bar and see how low we can go this weekend.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

R.I.P. Chuck Zink

This one's for the locals.

May you rest in peace, Mr. Zink, and may you find lots of peace, love and happiness.

As a grade-schooler in South Florida in the 70s, I remember watching the Skipper Chuck show right before school. There isn't a South Floridian who was a grade-schooler between 1959 and 1979 who doesn't remember Chuck Zink and his show. It was indeed part of South Florida, a tradition, and Mr. Zink will be sorely missed.

Thank you Mr. Zink for doing your part in making our world a better place.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Genocide in Cuba

As a long-time subscriber to National Geographic magazine, I always look forward to each edition in the mail. I have always been fascinated by the stories on different cultures and places, and the pictures of course are always top notch. Sometimes I don't agree with the political leanings which some of their stories take, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying most of their work.

In this month's edition, one of the stories is about genocide. I know, not exactly a pleasant topic. As I was reading through the article the other day, I came upon a graph which illustrated numbers of people killed in mass murders and genocide throught the world. The numbers, provided by the Strassler Family for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, showed China with 30 million, the USSR with 20 million, Germany and Japan with 11 million, Pakistan with 3 million, Iraq with 240,000, all the way down to Burma with 5,000.

Where's Cuba?

That's what I asked myself after reading the graph. We've all heard and read all about castro's executions in the Paredon, the beatings, the downing of boats leaving Cuba, and the numbers of dead reported to be in the thousands.

So why aren't Cuba's numbers included?

Maybe because not all the killings in Cuba can be attributed purely to genocide, at least in its strict definition. I'm not going to blame this one on liberally-skewed politics, although that can never be totally counted out. Let's just chalk it up to lack of information and knowledge, as simplistic and naive as it may sound.

Fortunately, someone out there in the MSM knows. Furthermore, there is a hard-working group that is going through the tough task of counting the dead in order to reveal to the world the evil that has had its grasp on Cuba for so many years now.

That group is the Cuba Archives. Go there and give them your support.

The World According to Steinback

Back in October I frustratingly posted how I was sick and tired of reading the diatribes of Miami Herald columnists such as Leonard Pitts, Ana Menendez, and Robert Steinback. I have purposely refused to post anything by these individuals here, until today.

The latest piece by Bob Steinback really isn't that earth-shattering; it's a standard-issue left-wing discourse on everything that's wrong with America today. However, some of the points he makes are so easy to refute that I thought I'd share it with everyone.

My comments are interspersed in italics.

Let's rejoin the world

After my Dec. 26 column about how fear of terrorism has affected U.S. policy, I received this e-mail from Down Under:

"I just wish to comment that from the outside, the U.S.A. has in fact gone completely mad. As you point out, the U.S.A. of pre-9/11 is almost a distant memory -- a memory of a Camelot-like society that appeared to value principles of freedom and human rights.

"I have been an observer of the U.S.A.'s fall from grace. Where once [the Americans] were the consummate global diplomats, using clever tactics and strategies to guide and manipulate the world toward their interests and goals, now they are military bullies who have failed at almost every diplomatic endeavor.

"Not only is the U.S.A. a far poorer place for the changes, so is the entire world.

Declaration of Human Rights
'I am hunkered down, bearing my own local loss of freedoms and liberties `in the name of terror.' My saddest realization is that governments have forgotten what 'freedom' means; they simply equate freedom with an absence of physical harm instead of the protection of the many rights encapsulated in the [United Nations' 1948] Universal Declaration of Human Rights. . . . I had thought that in my country and yours it had become a part of the legal framework. Yet our governments both publicly and secretly have torn it apart.''

"D.R., Perth, Western Australia.''

It has become fashionable since 9/11 for supporters of President Bush to display a blustery swagger about how little we need care what the rest of the world thinks of us. We don't need anyone, went the refrain, and we answer to no one.

This posture struck me as shortsighted and peevish. It also was sharply incongruous with our simultaneous expectation -- almost as an unearned entitlement -- to be admired as the world's cultural and economic leader. It's as if we figured on being selfish and loved at the same time. This mind-set hasn't been fruitful. In breathtakingly short order, the United States has squandered the legacy earned through 20th-century victories over fascism, Nazism and communism, as well global sympathy after 9/11.

The victories over fascism, Nazism and communism happened because we had leaders with guts who didn't cower to public opinion and flinch at the first hint of adversity. Unfortunately, that era of fearless leaders ended in the 1990s. Thus, we stand here today doing the work that should have been started at least 10 years ago. No, it's not a popular thing we're doing now, but neither were the tough decisions FDR, Truman, and Reagan made.

Keeping their distance

Seventeen nations that were once part of the U.S.-led coalition to invade Iraq have pulled out of ground operations, or will shortly.

Political aspirants in various venues -- even our smaller mirror image, Canada -- earn points by distancing themselves from Washington. The Spanish people dumped their government, and the Italians are restless to do likewise, in part over alliances with the Bush administration. Only Germany has bucked the trend, where conservative Angela Merkel dislodged Gerhard Schroeder, a Bush antagonist.

As we lose friends, we gain enemies -- the election of an anti-U.S., anti-Israel president in Iran may have extinguished a quietly nascent progressive movement there.

Has Iran ever been our friend? Has any anti-Isreal country in the Middle East really cared about peace, or is it about a religious ideology taking over the world? The nascent progressive movement in Iran is, as you mentioned, quiet. Too quiet.

In our hemisphere, leftist administrations dominate in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, and now Bolivia has elected as president an indigenous leader who proudly declared that ''the coca leaf is beating the U.S. dollar.'' This has much to do with the administration's lack of interest in helping assure that workers, the poor and the public share in the bounty of free trade. That has enabled President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, for one, to don the mantle of popular hero by dispersing the nation's oil wealth rather than allowing oil multinationals to siphon it away.

That's right, Chavez is a hero for seizing control of oil fields in Venezuela and shipping barrels of the stuff off to places such as Bolivia in exchange for agricultural products. As far as blaming the US for Latin America's problems, once again it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. The US has supported free trade agreements such as CAFTA and FTAA, but as long as South America trades like it's the 1800's instead of the 21st century, their corruption, cronyism, and lack of regard for human rights will go unnoticed by the liberal left.

An ominous alternative
Meanwhile, on the horizon looms the huge shadow of China, which is challenging the customary Western marriage of capitalism and democracy with its ominous alternative: capitalism with dictatorship. The danger is that China's formula may prove more nimble and aggressive than Western capitalism, which is weighed down by the popular vote and shifting political environments. If Bush has a strategy to counter this -- other than beating China to Iraq's oil -- it isn't yet evident.

We are fools to pretend we have no need to partner with the world community and, where prudent, to compromise in the interest of a greater good. It is in our interest to lead, not spurn, the global campaign for human rights, human dignity and a healthy standard of living.

The UN had a wonderful chance to do all that you mentioned in the previous paragraph. They failed miserably (oil-for-food, Cuba and Libya on the Human Rights Commission: is this an organization that we should take seriously?). Their incompetence has pretty much forced the United States' hand. Either we wait for Saddam to rebuild his arsenal, or we do something about it now.

D.R. sounds genuinely crestfallen that both his nation and ours now seem to have no greater mission than self-interest and self-protection. America became a great nation because of its ideals. We will cease to be a great nation if we continue to neglect them.

We have made mistakes, no doubt. But the only effectively way to deal with problems is by dealing with them, confronting them head-on. Waiting until they go away a-la the UN isn't going to do a thing to help. When the world is serious about helping us take on these challenges, then they can rejoin the real world.

TV Marti Reloads

In the previous post, I mentioned the way in which Google Earth tries to uncover the secrets of the Cuban regime. Today, more news from the skies...

TV Marti is prepared to hit the skies with new aircraft that will hopefully be jam-proof and provide Cubans on the island with answers to the secrets that have hounded the residents of the island for 47 years.

Read the Miami Herald article here.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Google vs castro?

For those of you who may not know, Google Earth is a fantastic program that allows you to virtually "scan" the world via satellite pictures. One can zoom into a particular city, neighborhood, and even city block. The resolution is very good and many features can be identified, including your house if you know where to look.

This fantastic piece of technology hasn't escaped the grasp of those interested in Cuba, as the following translated article from El Nuevo Herald shows.

Who knows, maybe the bearded bastard's secrets can be revealed after all.

Internet Page Divulges Secrets of castro

El Nuevo Herald

Want to know how is the house of fidel castro, or where is his army's command post, or what are those airplanes parked in the airports of Havana?

Nothing could be easier. In Google Earth it is all explained ever since the popular program was transformed into a sort of platform for anti-castro denunciations, and where dozens of people are placing the coordinates of all public buildings in the Cuban capital and marking it with an "I"
on the satellite map.

Although most of the places marked are well-known, on the island as well as abroad due to the increase in foreign tourists, some constitute authentic revelations for most people.

Take the house of fidel castro, which has not one but two references in Google Earth's list. One of them is obviously in error, because it is located in the center of Havana, in the well-known colonial fort "Castillo del Principe" which served as a jail until the mid 1970s when it became a military command center.

That location was placed by someone who identifies himself as "Alexander Mendoza", but another person who goes by "Luisdo" places the governor's residence much farther to the west, in a place where according to the intelligence community of the United States castro actually lives with his wife Dalia Soto del Valle and some of his seven children and grandchildren.

According to "Alexander Mendoza", castro's house is called "point zero" and has a tunnel that leads to the nearby Baracoa military airport.

"Mendoza" seems informed and does not fail in sharing some details with Google Earth readers: "Underneath the house fidel keeps a fleet of automobiles, and behind the house is the entrance to the main bunker, constructed underground for castro and his generals'', he wrote.

There, "all the accessories were bought from Canada through the Tecnotex company, belonging to the Ministry of Defense, including silent generators to produce electricity, silent water and air pumps, special santiary services with chemical agents and electrical batteries to destroy fecal material and other waste''. Additionally, he continues, "castro's shower is of his same height and is of recycled water. His bed, custom built to his measurements, is special''.

According to "Mendoza", the bunker is equipped with radioactive protection, and has a capacity of survival without outside exposure for up to 24 months.

"Mendoza" doesn't reveal where he obtained so many of these details. Nevertheless, another Google Earth user who signs his name "Jose", tells him in the program's chat room, "I don't know if what you're telling us is true or not".

However, "Luisdó" runs to his aid and states: "Alexander, I have the location of the house of fidel castro. It doesn't agree with the location of your image; nevertheless it agrees with everything else you have written about it", he wrote.

And he added: "If you teach to me to put it [ the photo and text with the details ], I will do it. And I have many more things [to say and place ]".

"Luisdo" seems to be one of main enthusiastic readers of Google Earth when it comes to identifying little-known places in the Cuban geography. His nickname appears all over the map where he has identified military units or airports. He even seems to be an expert in military aeronautics, since he doesn't hesitate in correcting some identifications of airplanes in the military airports of the island done by other readers.

It is in the case of the "Ciudad Libertad" military installation, formerly the "Campamento de Columbia", where "Luisdo" remembers that an airplane repair shop by the name of "Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin'' is located. Near this place are airplanes that, according to other readers, could be civil craft such as twin-engine planes AN-26 and ATR, or hydroplanes like the Pelican, which has folding wings.

But to "Luisdo", they are jet fighters MIG-23, MIG-21 or MIG-17. Even though the colors are poorly distinguishable on the images, "Luisdo" indicates that some are Mig-23ML, others Mig-23BN, or Mig-21Bis. But there's more; he also indicates the serial numbers of the aircraft: he assures that they are 232, 714, 637 or 103.

The only thing that "Luisdo" doesn't explain is how he found all this out. "I can't say'', he wrote.

Google Earth is one of the latest products --and according to Bloomberg one of the most successful - of the Google search engine, a company that has jumped to the top of the New York Stock Exchange.

It is a virtual map of the earth with satellite photos that allow a clear view of the earth's surface, where one can even identify people walking in the streets.

The program has provoked controversy in some countries, mainly in the Arab world, afraid that their military secrets would come to the public light. Google has discarded that possibility because the photographs are at least six months old and can be obtained through other commercial companies.

The readers who place comments and locations in the program must previously register in what is called the "Google community", but none of the people mentioned identified their e-mail, address, or telephone; therefore they could not be contacted.

In addition to fidel castro's house, in Google Earth it is possible to identify the main ministries, tourist museums, hotels or points of interest. But there are errors, some monumental.

An enormous star-like feature imprinted on the ground in the town of Tarara, east of Havana,
appears as a "rare symbol", "satanic in a certain way", wrote a reader. For another, it is a"Sam-7 surface-to-air missile site". But "Luisdo" exposes the truth: "It's an old amusement park which has been torn up.

Also, somebody identified the Ciudad Libertad runway, inside the Cuban capital, as the Jose Marti International Airport which is actually located in the outskirts of Havana. The well-known Gulf of Batabanó is identified as "Matamanó".

Although most of the points are correctly identified, there are also readers who don't know how to interpret the satellite images.

In the middle of 34th street, between First and Third avenues in the Havana district of Miramar, somebody wrote on two white points: "What are these objects "

A careful glance would have identified them with only a small margin of error. They are two automobiles badly parked in the public right-of-way, an endemic in the Havana of today.