[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: February 2006

Monday, February 27, 2006

Brothers Documentary Debuts in Miami

The Miami Herald has a story on the debut of the documentary Shoot Down, produced, directed, and written by Cristina Khuly, niece of Armando Alejandre, one of the four who died in the shooting down of the Brothers To The Rescue planes by Cuban MIGs.

Khuly is seeking a distributor who can get her documentary released to theatres. I wish her the best of luck as I'm sure it will be an uphill battle.

Conductor from Cuban-American Pundits attended the screening and offers a review.

Here's the Herald's story:

Downed exiles' story told in documentary

A new documentary about the four Cuban exiles shot down over the Florida Straits by a Cuban fighter jet 10 years ago debuted Sunday in Miami.


Ten years after a Cuban government MiG fighter destroyed two unarmed civilian airplanes belonging to the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, a Miami audience got its first look Sunday at a documentary film of the crisis -- co-produced by the niece of one of the four victims.

The English-language film, titled Shoot Down, is an attempt to create a thorough and unbiased review of the Feb. 24, 1996, incident and to document the range of opinions expressed by key players of the moment.

''As a documentarian, it's my job to try to have journalistic integrity and to tell a complete story,'' said writer, director and co-producer Cristina Khuly, whose uncle, Armando Alejandre Jr., 45, died over the Florida Straits a decade ago.

``A polemic has its place, but if we really want to reach the broadest possible audience, we have to address how it is that certain people's opinions and misconceptions [about the event] came to exist.''

The other victims were Carlos Costa, 29; Mario de la Peña, 24; and Pablo Morales, 29.

Sunday's audience, which nearly filled the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami, gave the film sustained applause at its conclusion.

''It was very balanced in what they presented,'' said Miamian Eduardo Prats.

Except for a 13-minute recreation of the fateful flights performed by actors, the documentary relies on interviews with key players, archival video footage and some graphic visual elements to tell the story.

Even a news clip of Cuban President Fidel Castro taking responsibility for the shoot-down while also claiming the moral high-ground -- a comment that drew derisive laughter, hisses and one cry of ''Asesino!'' [assassin] from the audience -- made the film.

Perhaps the most dramatic sequence featured authentic audio clips of the Cuban pilots getting their orders to fire on the two Cessna aircraft, then hooting with glee as one plane takes down the targets, played against video placing the audience inside or alongside the doomed airplanes.

Sisters Catalina Quadreny-Castillo and Diley Polini -- whose mother is a cousin of victim Costa -- said they weren't aware of the growing political tension between the United States and Cuba over previous Brothers overflights of Cuba, and about warnings that the Cuban government might react violently.

''I wasn't aware that was a special day that they shouldn't have flown,'' Polini said. ``I wasn't aware that there had been problems to that extent.''

Khuly, who grew up in Miami, now lives in New York with her co-producer and husband Douglas Eger.

The couple said they will enter the movie, which cost less than $500,000, in various film festivals while seeking a distributor that might arrange for theatrical release.

To Toll or Not To Toll

From the 26th Parallel Local News Bureau:

It appears that commuters on some Miami-Dade County roads will no longer be getting a free pass. Starting in 2010, the plan is for the county toll roads to go to an "open road tolling" system. This means that you will no longer be able to drive from Kendall to Miami International Airport via county roads for free.

Sounds unfair, right?

Upon closer inspection, it's actually quite fair. Right now, on a typical day only 28 percent of drivers using the toll roads actually pay tolls, the rest either get on or get off before having to actually pay. Doesn't sound fair at all.

The open tolling system is based on a simple premise, you pay for driving on the road. Electronic devices will be strategically placed at pre-determined intervals to ensure that everyone pays something. Opponents are deriding this as an additional charge to those who already use the roads without paying a dime. Proponents are claiming that for once, everyone will share the cost of driving on our roads.

I fall in the latter camp.

The ideal solution for everyone would be to get rid of the tolls altogether. So why hasn't this been done?

Well, we had our chance and blew it a few years ago.

Back in 1999, then-mayor Alex Penelas proposed a one-cent increase in sales tax to fund transportation projects. One of the benefits of his proposal was that all tolls on county highways were to be eliminated. Nothing, nada. The proposal went to a vote, and Miami-Dade County voters turned the proposal down by a whopping 70-30 percent margin. It wasn't even close.

The big reason voters turned it down was mistrust in government, which was somewhat understandable. However, proponents of the tax warned that if the measure failed, the local highway authority (MDX) would jack up tolls even more in the coming years, with no real improvements to our clogged highways.

They were 100% correct.

So where does this leave us? Back in 2004, residents finally passed a sales tax increase for transportation, this one a half-cent increase. However, tolls remain and continue to increase in cost. We are paying much more now than we would have if we would have had the foresight to approve the one-cent increase in 1999.

Opponents of the open road tolling need to look at themselves in the mirror and explain why it's come to this. Odds are, most of them voted against the only chance they had to get rid of the dreaded tolls once and for all.

Live and learn.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Cuban Films at Miami Film Festival

The Miami International Film Festival starts next Friday and runs until March 12. As part of the festival, several Cuban films will be shown. As can be expected, there are discussions concerning the intentions and feelings of the Cuban directors whose films will be shown at the festival.

At the top of this list is Juan Carlos Cremata, who directed the award-winning film Viva Cuba.

As the following article explains, Cremata's background and standing with the Cuban government is creating a little controversy, although nothing even resembling mass protests or the like.

Check it out here, or continue reading below.

Film Wars: Miami Festival is Ground Zero For Cultural Clashes Over Cuba

By Fabiola Santiago

Coming from Havana, where cultural products are often wielded like weapons of war, there's no avoiding the political fireworks that a new award-winning film generates.

This year, the heat is focused on Viva Cuba, a children's movie by Juan Carlos Cremata, an island director whose own life has been shaped and swayed by the stormy winds of politics, as it is for the protagonists of his film.

Viva Cuba is one of several movies and documentaries with unique takes on the Cuban drama showing at the Miami International Film Festival that starts Friday and runs through March 12.

It stars Malú, a sassy 10-year-old who doesn't want to leave Cuba with her mother and runs away with her best friend and neighbor, Jorgito.

The two children, whose families hate each other and are poles apart politically and socially, embark on an adventurous trek from Havana to Maisí, the easternmost corner of the island, where Malú's divorced father works as the lighthouse keeper.

Malú, who has not seen her father in years, wants to ask him not to sign the permission form for her to leave Cuba with her mother, who has married a foreigner.

''I don't want a new school, I don't want to make new friends,'' she tells Jorgito.

They pledge each other a forever friendship, a promise that will be tested throughout the trip as they flee police, hitch rides, make up stories and steal food to survive.

As humorous as it is sad, the film won the Best Children's Film award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival and it was Cuba's unsuccessful entry at the Academy Awards.

The story of Malú (played by Malú Tarrau) and Jorgito (Jorgito Miló) becomes most remarkable in that their two families represent the Cuban divide.

Jorgito's parents have supported the regime and continually ''make sacrifices'' for it, enduring a life of few frills. Malú's mother is ''tired, so tired I can't take it anymore,'' as she whispers into the phone to her foreigner boyfriend. She sees leaving Cuba as the only way out of her dismal life.

Cremata's previous film, Nada+ (Nothing More), also dealt with the subject of exile. It featured Carla, a bored postal clerk who dreams of reuniting with her parents in Miami, and as she waits, intercepts and rewrites other people's mail in hopes of making their lives brighter.

''The tragedy of whether to leave or not to leave Cuba is always in his head,'' Alejandro Ríos, a film expert who runs the Cuban Film Series at Miami Dade College, says about Cremata.

Currently in Melbourne, Australia, to promote Viva Cuba, Cremata -- who cited the time difference as a reason why he couldn't be interviewed for this story -- has walked the tight rope of staying vs. exile himself.

His family is what in Cuba is described as ''integrada,'' full participants and supporters of the system. Cremata's father, an airline worker, was killed in the 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing linked to two Cuban exiles. Like those on the downed flight, he's hailed in Cuba as ``a martyr.''

On the other hand, as an intellectual and filmmaker who operates within Cuba's official film industry, Cremata has enjoyed access to capitalist privileges.

At the height of the Clinton administration's people-to-people contact policy, Cremata lived in New York for a year as a Guggenheim fellow. He has also lived in Buenos Aires and visited Miami.

And now, as Viva Cuba airs at Miami's headliner film festival, it's not so much what Cremata's movie says about the choice of leaving Cuba that's causing a stir in the Cuban diaspora. It's what he's saying from Havana, as quoted in the Cuban press and in Europe.

In an EFE agency report published in the Spanish daily El País, Cremata said that leaving Cuba ``is a personal problem and not political, that also happens in Mexico and Morocco.''

In the Cuban press, he was quoted making government-style, militant comments in an interview to introduce his film to the Cuban public.

''What the terrorists wanted was to shut us up, silence us, shadow us, frighten us,'' he says. ``And we did what we know how to do best, we won once more the opportunity to yell, time and time again before the whole world, Viva Cuba.''

It's made people who like his film shake their heads.

''His talking a lot of crap is lamentable,'' Ríos says.``He should let his film speak for itself.''

Two Cuban writers -- Duanel Díaz in Madrid and Antonio José Ponte in Havana -- have written essays on www.cubaencuentro.com, a respected news, culture and opinion magazine, debating the shortcomings and merits of Cremata's film in portraying the Cuban reality.

''It's difficult for whoever has followed Juan Carlos Cremata's comments, interviewed over and over . . . not to interpret them as pure political opportunism,'' Ponte writes.

Cremata's interviews in the Cuban press, which started off with the issue of terrorism, have ''nothing to do with the plot of his film,'' but it got his film booked in every movie house across the island -- and a lot of press, Ponte notes.

After seeing the film in Havana for two pesos, Ponte adds, ``this story of love between two children, which began with grace and agility, doesn't deserve the publicity hijinks of its maker.''

Díaz's article, titled ''Too many palm trees and not enough cows,'' also calls Cremata ``opportunistic.''

The film, he says, ''obviates'' issues such as the fact that all Cubans have to ask the government for permission to leave the country, that they are issued food ration cards, are not allowed to enter national hotels, ``and can't even sacrifice their own cow, if they ever got one.''

In the EFE report published in Spain, Cremata said he made the movie with only $45,000 and a staff of 15.

The child actors are from the children's theater group La Colmenita, which Cremata's brother, Carlos Alberto, runs in Havana. Other relatives also had a prominent role. His mother, Iraida Malberti, an experienced children's television programmer, co-directed the film. Cremata's grandmother played the role of Malú's abuela.

The 44-year-old director is not expected to come to Miami for what will be the North American premiere of his film.

But in the audience will be a special guest -- the mother of the actress who plays Malú's mother, Larisa Vega. She has lived in Miami since 1998, separated from her only daughter, Ríos says.

She declined to speak to reporters.

''I don't want to hurt my daughter,'' Ríos says she told him. ``I have already seen the movie and cried, but I've bought tickets to every show. I want to see it with the public here.''

Saturday, February 25, 2006

White House to Meet with Exiles?

Let's hope this isn't a set-up for another dissapointment, any that the meeting can produce some fruitful results.

White House 'committed' to meeting exile leaders

A White House meeting with Cuban exile leaders to discuss the wet-foot, dry-foot policy may be held within two weeks.


The White House and Cuban-American leaders are finalizing the date for a meeting next month to discuss the Cuban migration accords and the controversial wet-foot, dry-foot policy.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the tentative date for the meeting is March 8.

White House spokesman Blair Jones did not confirm a date, but said, ``We are committed to holding a meeting as soon as possible.''

The White House agreed last month to meet with Cuban-American leaders to discuss U.S.-Cuba migration policy after a well-known Cuban exile activist went on a hunger strike to protest the repatriation of 15 Cuban migrants who had been found by the Coast Guard standing on the pilings of the old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.

The Coast Guard concluded that because that section of the bridge -- which has missing pieces -- was not connected to land, the migrants were ''feet-wet'' and sent them back to Cuba.

Ros-Lehtinen and other U.S. congressional representatives had been asking the White House to review the wet-foot, dry-foot policy for years.

The policy requires that most migrants picked up at sea be repatriated, while those who make it to land usually can apply for residency.

The policy only applies to Cubans. Haitian migrants caught at sea or on U.S. land, for instance, rarely are allowed to stay in the United States.

The wet-foot, dry-foot policy was implemented under the Clinton administration in response to the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis.

Before that, most Cubans picked up at sea were brought to the United States because the policy took into account that they were fleeing a communist dictatorship.

Cuban-American leaders hoped that the Republican Bush administration would revoke, or at least change, the policy to allow the migrants access to lawyers and contact with family members on humanitarian grounds.

Two U.S. senators in Miami on Thursday agreed that the White House should review the policy. Sen. John McCain, in town for a fundraiser and to plug a new immigration bill, said the repatriation of the Cubans found on the bridge ``fueled the fire and resentment against this policy. . . . It should be reviewed.''

Sen. Bill Nelson said the Coast Guard ''wrongly applied'' the policy on the 15 migrants and agreed that it should be more humanitarian, but said it needs to be maintained to control the nation's security.

''We need a consistent way of handling wet-foot, dry-foot without some of these ridiculous things,'' Nelson said.

Ros-Lehtinen said she hopes the Bush administration responds positively.

''We hope they take our recommendations seriously,'' she said.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

10 Years Ago Today

Today is the anniversary of the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes over the Florida Straits. As promised, I will describe my feelings on that day, and how my feelings have since evolved.

My first reaction upon hearing the news was one of great sadness, followed by anger. Not all my anger was directed at who you might think, however. A lot of my anger was directed at Jose Basulto, the leader of the Brothers. About one month before the incident, he flew over Havana and dropped anti-regime leaflets down to the city. This of course, incensed the Cuban regime. Tensions were higher than normal.

Because of what Basulto did the previous month, I blamed him for doing his part in "provoking" the Cubans to do such a horrific thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't leave the Cubans off the hook. Who in their right mind would authorize the shooting down of four unarmed Cessnas in international waters? No matter how many times Basulto may have flown over Havana, there's no justification for what castro ordered his pilots to do.

In the days and weeks following the incident, reaction from the community started to pour in. Indignation from the Cuban community. A puzzling indifference and even what I would call an "I told you so" from certain sectors of the non-Cuban community. Yes, Basulto should have been more careful, I thought, but what exactly would drive someone to think that the blowing up of two (thanks Ventanita for the correction) unarmed Cessnas carrying three American citizens and one resident over international waters was somewhat justified or understood? Even after the evidence clearly showed that the pilots were not in Cuban waters, some people still thought that way!

I was somewhat surprised to read in Wednesday's Herald article that the family of the four who perished harbor resentment toward Basulto for his role in the incident. It surprised me because it's not much different from how I felt.

I still feel Basulto should have been more cautious. However, my sadness toward the families of the four is what predominates, along with a feeling of disappointment at the U.S. government for not doing more to punish the regime. Think about it, four Americans were shot down in unarmed planes in international waters in what was obviously a hostile act by a hostile nation, and what did we do?

Actually, the Clinton administration responded by tightening the embargo. This response, of course, also served to prevent a mass exodus of Cubans to the U.S., which is the driving factor around every decision which all other administrations up to and including the current one seem to make.

Four Americans, whose only purpose on that clear February day was to help those fleeing Cuba reach shore safely.

Four Americans, their lives cut short by an evil regime.

Four Americans, who live on in the minds of many.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Favorite 4's

I was "tagged" by Rick from Stuck on the Palmetto yesterday to play the Favorite 4's meme game, so I guess I should oblige by playing along, right?

Here we go...and who knows, you might get to learn something new about me.

1. Burger-flipper and order-taker at McDonalds
2. Day care "teacher".
3. Government scientist (sorry guys can't be too specific although some of you already know)
4. That's it folks.

1. Airplane
2. Naked Gun
3. Forrest Gump
4. Fargo

1. Knoxville, TN
2. Tallahassee, FL
3. Miami, FL
4. Unincorporated Miami-Dade, FL (sorry had to stretch that one).

1. A Mano Limpia (I know, I'm a dork)
2. Various South Florida professional sports team events
3. Everybody Loves Raymond
4. That's about it on a regular basis.

1. Madrid, Spain
2. Mexico City, Mexico
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
4. Napa Valley, California

1. http://www.babalublog.com
2. http://stuckonthepalmetto.blogspot.com (had to mention that one right?)
3. http://www.songuacassal.blogspot.com/
4. Any and all of the other blogs listed on the blogroll.

1. Cuban (who would've thought?)
2. Thai
3. Italian
4. American

1. Standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean in Asturias, Spain
2. San Francisco
3. Any place on a beach where the temperature is above 70F
4. Cuba (a free one, of course)

The Pain Continues

I open the paper this morning, and I am instantly reminded of a very sad anniversary coming up: the 10th anniversary of the shoot down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in the Florida Straits by Cuban MIGs.

The Miami Herald article is a sad testimony to the events of that day and how it's affected the families of those 4 young men who needlessly perished. If the article doesn't bring a tear to your eyes, then nothing will.

I have quite a few things to say about the whole incident 10 years ago on a cloudless late February day, but I'll wait until Friday to publish most of those.

I'll finish with this thought: if anyone reading this wonders why the Cuban community can't "let go" of their pain, why they can't forget everything that was taken away from them by castro and his evil regime (thanks Sean Hannity), why they mostly advocate a hard line against the regime, then perhaps this article, read in its entirety, can help explain all this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fariñas Update

Latest word this afternoon out of Cuba via NetForCuba is that Guillermo Fariñas is back in intensive care and is once again on intravenous fluids.

Please sign the petition to help save Fariñas here.

Bicycles For Peace

In today's Miami Herald with hat tip to daniel:

A gift for Cuba

Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx on Monday gave one of his signature bicycles to Fidel Castro, lamenting only that he did not get the chance to present it personally to the Cuban president.

Merckx presented the blue Eddy Merckx brand bike to Vice President Jose Ramon Fernandez, president of the Cuban Olympic Committee.

Merckx was winding up a two-day trip to the island, where he donated 1,000 of his bicycles to doctors who work in the easternmost province of Guantanamo, as well as to Cuban cyclists.

''It makes me proud to be the sponsor of a project like this,'' Merckx said. ''Sports can bring nations closer and can be a great learning experience in life.''

Merckx, 61, participated in the last run of the international Vuelta, a Cuba cycling competition that ended on the island Sunday.

Merckx, a five-time winner of the Tour de France, said he was not worried about the future of the sport with the upcoming retirement of Lance Armstrong.

''Cycling will go on and other names will emerge,'' Merckx said.

Wonder how much hospital supplies, food, and medicine Merckx could have donated with the money 1,000 of his bicycles cost? It's not like the Cubans need bikes more than clean bed sheets and medicine, right?

Eddy Merckx...another sucker without a cause.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Don't Let The Door Hit You...

Looks like Ricky Williams will sit out yet another season.

It was nice while it lasted, but this BS has to stop.

At least the Dolphins got more than their money's worth last season. Of course, they could have traded him BEFORE this most recent incident.

Oh well.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Petition for Fariñas

If you haven't done so already, please go here and sign the petition to help save Guillermo Fariñas. There are over 180 signatures so far, but we should have a lot more than that by now.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Cuban-American Blogger Meets Che Fan

And both survived... ;)

Congrats Conductor! I don't think anyone can talk sense into a delusional, burned-out individual such as Santana, but I'm sure your comments and your calm, classy temperment resonated at least a little within him.

Letters to the Editor

Last year I posted on my strange and almost masochistic fascination with the letters to the editor that newspapers such as the Miami Herald publish on a daily basis. Some of the most absurd and ridiculous comments and opinions I've ever heard have been found in those pages.

I'm sure the Herald purposely chooses the most outlandish, far-flung ones to publish. Maybe they do it for its sensationalistic value. Maybe they do it to expose the letter-writers' intelligence (or lack therof).

Most of those letters irritate me, but like flies to a rib roast, I can't help but come back to them every morning.

I thought I'd share a few with all of you this morning. These are far from the best (or worst) I've seen, but they are quite representative. If any of today's letter writers happen tostumble upon this post, I apologize in advance for posting your name along with your comments!


Re the Feb. 8 article Spy culture takes toll on exiles' psyche: There's no doubt that the Castro regime is trying to import its ''sickness'' to Miami. But for all the talk of agent provocateurs, there was no hint of exploration of what seems probable -- that some of those advocating to preserve the embargo are doing so to keep Castro in power.

Lest that sound paranoid, many Cuban exiles have never hesitated to attribute the most baroque and Machiavellian of motives and maneuvers to this crafty old dictator. Wouldn't it be logical to assume that at least a few of his most seemingly implacable enemies are actually double agents, as some rumors have had it?


In an otherwise perceptive news article, I was surprised to read: ``A common whisper in Miami: Luis Posada Carriles, the exile suspected of anti-Castro bombings, is probably a Castro agent himself.''

That kind of phrasing is unworthy of a professional newspaper. Many years ago, as a cub reporter at the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, I quickly learned that the phrase ''rumor has it'' should never appear in the news. Later, as The Crimson's managing editor, I had to tell many newcomers that they must lose the phrase.

While journalists are forever driven by rumor -- same thing as a whisper -- their job is to find out the facts in order that the rumor, or the whisper, never has to be invoked.


I can certainly understand the anguish of Cubans and Cuban Americans over the fact that their native land has long since become a dictatorship, suffering under unworkable economic policies. However, I have no sympathy for their unfortunately successful efforts to maintain an utterly failed policy on Cuba on the part of the United States.

The embargo has not and will not do anything to dislodge Fidel Castro; only his inevitable death will accomplish that. However, for 47 years, the embargo has provided a convenient whipping boy.

The travel restrictions were originally an unconstitutional and outrageous abrogation of the right of Americans to travel freely. More recently, new and harsher measures have proved gratuitously cruel to Cuban and Cuban-American families. These measures are kept in place largely at the behest of three Cuban-American members of Congress and a few opportunistic congressional allies.

I can't help feeling that they would countenance mass starvation of everyone on the island if Castro would starve as well. But, of course, he would not. Nor will the remaining inhabitants, thanks to the refusal of the rest of the world to abide by our absurd policies.


Cuban Five Had Support

Remember the Cuban Five? They were originally convicted a few years back of spying on the U.S., only to have the conviction overturned last summer by an U.S. appellate court.

The Cuban-American community in Miami was targeted in the decision by the U.S. court, the judges thought that it exerted too much "pressure" on jurors to make an unbiased decision despite the fact that there were exactly ZERO Cuban-Americans in the jury.

Well, now it appears that the U.S. Court of Appeals was influenced by a group far more powerful and far more evil than the Miami Mafia.

castro? Well, at least one of his fans.

From today's Miami Herald:

A retired Florida International University psychology professor's admiration for (f)idel (c)astro could have compromised the findings of a study he conducted that helped overturn the conviction of five Cubans accused of spying for the communist government, legal analysts told The Miami Herald.

The study, by FIU Professor Emeritus Gary P. Moran, concluded that Miami was so saturated with hate for Castro that the five defendants could not have received a fair trial. None of the jury members was Cuban American or of Cuban descent.

''Castro is a complicated world figure,'' Moran said in a phone interview Thursday night. ``I think he is a very sincere man. I admire greatly how he has managed to survive with this great Satan [the United States] as his enemy. The U.S. government, which I don't have any respect for, has obviously been doing everything in its power to crush this man, but they haven't been able to do so.''

Amazing, just amazing. One more for FIU.

I urge everyone to check out the entire story here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Walesa on Cuba

Ex-President of Poland, Noble Peace Prize winner and communism-buster Lech Walesa is currently Miami talking to Cuban exile groups and making appearances on TV. He spoke to an audience of 200 yesterday morning regarding Cuba's future, and what to expect after fidel's departure.

Walesa basically echoed what the University of Miami Institute of Cuban Studies concluded from their simulation last week, that Cuba will likely suffer through a violent transition period after fidel.

Here's the Sun-Sentinel's coverage of Walesa's speech, which is superior to that of the Miami Herald's; rather shocking considering the author of the Sentinel piece is none other than Madeline Baro Diaz. Not even Baro could hide the truth behind Walesa's words.

Ex-Polish leader warns U.S. Cubans of possible chaos when Communism ends

By Madeline Baró Diaz
Miami Bureau
Posted February 10 2006

MIAMI · Former Polish President Lech Walesa said Thursday that Cuban-Americans will need to be armed with good ideas for Cuba's future when the island's communist government comes to an end.

"There could be anarchy. All the structures could fall ... anarchy is worse than anything else," he said. "You should be prepared."

Walesa, a Nobel laureate, made the remarks during a breakfast hosted by Miami-Dade College at the Marriott Biscayne Bay hotel in downtown Miami. It was one of the stops on Walesa's latest visit to the United States.

Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron presented Walesa with the school's Presidential Medal. Walesa is the second recipient of the honor. The first was Cuban poet and journalist Raul Rivero, a former political prisoner who visited the college last year.

Walesa spent years fighting against the communist system in his native Poland and Eastern Europe as the leader of the Solidarity Labor Movement. In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1990, after communism ended in Poland, he was elected president.

On Thursday, Walesa continued to rail against communism, blaming repressive communist governments for millions of deaths.

"This is one of the worst systems," he said, speaking through a translator. "All the wars together have not killed so many people as ... communism."

The relevance of his experience to South Florida's Cuban-American community was acknowledged by State Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, who introduced Walesa.

"We are a community of men and women who've lost their youth, their families, their homes, to the same types of oppression that once visited your people," Rubio said. "You are to many of us the single greatest living democratic hero in the world."

Walesa, who participated in a teleconference with dissidents in Cuba last month, said they, too, must prepare to rebuild, from the most basic structural level, to meet the daily needs of Cubans.

But he added that because of the electronic nature of his meeting with dissidents, he knows they were not candid with him.

"They could not discuss many of their concerns because [(f)idel] (c)astro was listening," he said.

Walesa also expressed concern that left-leaning governments in Latin America, such as Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela were a step back in time.

"Everything I see or observe in Latin America and elsewhere belongs to the old time, to the 20th century," he said.

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

Hunger Strike Over

Hidden in page 14A, and not even posted in its website, is this Miami Herald snippet on Guillermo Fariñas ending his hunger strike:

HAVANA - A Cuban dissident journalist has agreed to be fed intravenously after an eight-day hunger strike left him in critical condition, a family member told AFP on Thursday.

Guillermo Fariñas, who heads the outlawed Cubanacan news agency, had called the hunger strike to protest the communist regime's censorship of the Internet.

Too bad the MSM didn't jump on this. Unfortunately, I don't see any impact being made by Fariñas' noble and brave act.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Missing Perspective

When it comes to the Cuban exile community, it's apparent from reading many news stories and from interaction with ordinary people out there that there's quite a bit of misunderstanding. Of course, this is more common the farther you get from Miami, but that doesn't mean that Miami itself is immune, far from it.

I was reminded of this when reading this morning's Herald story on Cuban exiles, part of a loosely connected series the paper is running this week. I won't publish the article in its entirety here due to its length, but you can find it here.

The basic themes of the article as written by Oscar Corral (a below-average journalist in my book) are: older Cuban exiles are virulent, anachronistic, old-fashioned dinosaurs who are trapped in 1959.

Now, a lot of that may be true to a point, but what Corral fails to do is explain why. You would think it would be easy, right? Many of those exiles suffered through traumatic experiences at the hand of castro. They are saddened by the putrid conditions on the island. They hurt for their relatives back in Cuba, both alive and dead. It would be perfectly understandable, even rational, to feel hate for castro and his cronies.

The perspective of the exile, that's what's missing in Corral's article, and in the opinions of so many out there. It's the job of us bloggers to put everything in its proper perspective.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cuban Journalist's Hunger Strike

Guillermo Fariñas, whose hunger strike I posted a link to last week, is now in his 10th day without food or water. His blood pressure is falling, and doctors fear he may fall into a coma very soon if he doesn't take in food and water very soon.

His letter to fidel castro on January 31st announced the beginning of the hunger strike, and I'm sure fidel cast the letter aside with a chuckle after reading it.

Why is he doing this? To demand that Cubans have open access to Internet just like the rest of the civilized world. As an independent journalist in state-run Cuba, he understands the power of free press and free access of information. The castro regime also understands this. That's why they haven't budged an inch to allow Cubans access to outside news.

I'll repeat this for the millionth time, so pardon me if I sound like a broken record...

It's not the U.S. embargo's fault. It's not the fault of the U.S. travel restrictions.

It's the fault of a cruel man and a cruel regime that only cares about power and control over its helpless people.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


The number above represents the number of photographs the Cuban government placed underneath the black flags they have placed in front of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. The purpose of the flags, of course, is to block the view of the ticker running along one side of the Interests Building.

The number 138 represents the number of Cubans killed in terrorist acts against Cuba, although the regime claims over 3,000 have perished.

Think about that for a second. Okay, the irony should be plainly evident by now.

I'll repeat what I said in a post a while back...the ticker and fidel's futile attempt to block it from people's view is really exposing the bearded one. The stupidity of it all is so blatantly obvious that even the most ardent fidel apologist must be squirming. For once, the US is beating fidel at his own game.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Monday Evening News Recap

I've been home basically only for sleep since Saturday, so I've had zero time to surf the blogosphere, let along blog.

Here's a recap with some quick thoughts on the latest news around the world and around South Florida:

- The ruckus over the cartoon published in Denmark is really drawing the line between West and East, between freedom and those who want to oppress via intimidation and violence. The Danish newspaper was right to allow the cartoons to be published. Muslims have the right to be upset. As a Christian, I would certainly be upset if a newspaper decided to publish offensive photos of Jesus, or if a federal taxpayer-supported entity sponsored an offensive work using Christian symbolism. But I wouldn't even think about setting buildings on fire because of it.

The way in which the extremists are reacting does absolutely no good for Islam, especially those Muslims who are decent, reasonable people. However, actions breed consequences, on both sides of the issue. Red State pretty much nails it with this post.

- Carl Hiassen digs up an old theme of his with his "white foot/black foot" argument. One can make valid points for a better immigration policy towards Cubans AND Haitians, but blaming the discrepancy in handling of Cuban and Haitian immigrants on racism is pretty stupid. I guess all those Haitians working hard to make a decent living in Little Haiti must be white, no?

- On the topic of Cuban immigration...seven of the eight survivors of the raft which beached on Elbow Cay were handed over to the Bahamian government, where they will surely be deported back to Cuba. The surviving rafters, as well as the ones that landed on the wrong bridge last month must have been black, no?

- The weather in South Florida has been magnificent the last few days. You just want to bottle this up and save it for July.

- Has a team ever won the Super Bowl doing as little as the Steelers did last night?

- Speaking of the Super Bowl, the commercials have become about as over-hyped as the game itself. And BTW, what drugs are the Burger King advertising people on these days? And where can I find some?

- And finally, this quite humorous incident outside of the WQBA studios in Miami on Friday as reported by Charles Rabin of the Herald:

Radio reporter calls police on Arriola

Miami City Manager Joe Arriola can't seem to go anywhere these days without controversy following him.

Spanish radio station El Zol personality Edwin Bautista got wind on Friday that Arriola was in the Coral Gables studio of WQBA. So the intrepid reporter made his way over there, cellphone in hand, hoping to get a word or two from the embattled city manager who is center stage in Miami's fire-rescue fee fiasco.

As Bautista followed Arriola along Southwest Eighth Street, he peppered the city manager in Spanish with questions asking why only seven city residents shared in the city's $7 million refund.

Bautista's cellphone was turned on. The questions he asked Arriola went live over the airwaves. Also live: Arriola's tirade toward Bautista for bothering him.

At one point, Arriola allegedly squeezed Bautista's flip phone closed, with the reporter's left pinkie finger caught inside.

Bautista called Coral Gables police -- and scurried to a Hialeah diagnostic center for X-rays. Gables police said they decided against pressing charges because Bautista had no signs of injury. ''If Bautista wants to make this an issue, he's got to go to the state attorney's office,'' said Coral Gables Sgt. Mike Frevola.

I would do almost anything to hear Alvarez Guedes tell a joke about the pinkie getting caught in the phone.

Friday, February 03, 2006

He's Baaaaaaack

The Herald's TV critic Glenn Garvin reports that ex-Herald columnist Jim DeFede is back in the Miami mainstream media, as a reporter for CBS-4.

Former Miami Herald columnist Jim DeFede, fired last July after admitting he secretly taped a source, has signed on at WFOR-CBS 4.

DeFede's title is reporter/commentator; he'll do ''news analysis, observations and opinion,'' the station said. DeFede lost his columnist job at The Herald when he told his editors he had secretly taped a phone call with former commissioner Arthur E. Teele shortly before Teele killed himself.

Last summer I made the prediction that DeFede would be back at the Herald by the end of the year. Well, I was off by 1 month and one medium (although he was doing a Saturday morning radio talk show on 610 AM last month).

It's Not the "Embargo"

While castro and his legions of apologists blame the U.S. "embargo" for the problems in Cuba, others know better.

It's about lack of freedom, imposed by the regime itself.

As an example, I present to you this post sent to me by La Ventanita at Wall Street Cafe.

Thanks LV!

Hunger Strike for Internet Freedom - In Cuba

I just ran into this great and sad story, about Guillermo Fariñas conducting a hunger strike "to the death" in Cuba. His request? Internet access for the journalists so they can do their work. Internet access, the same one that allows you to read this blog, read the news, read opposing sides. That basic tool for reporters today, denied to the Cuban independent press, because in Cuba only the state sponsored venues have the resources. The whole story is here. The Hunger strike is on its 4th day.

"I want all Cuban citizens to have the right to an Internet connection, but also for the independent press to be able to report on the government's activities, and if I must be a martyr for Internet access, so be it."

Guillermo, so do we.

"The authorities use the US embargo as a pretext for a repressive policy towards the Internet. The chief reason for keeping citizens away from the Internet is to prevent them from being well-informed." Of course, no easier way to keep the population under control than without information - Hitler was a great example of this. His first victims were the teachers and the press. China knows this well too, as we have learned from the recent MSN and Google incursions into the China market.

A HUMAN Tragedy

Cuban rafters found on remote Bahamian island after 2-week ordeal: 8 survive and 6 die.

It's unlikely that they'll be sent to the US...the Bahamians pretty much send everyone back to Cuba. The only one who will probably stay here is Raidel Martinez Chavez, who had the "fortune" of being airlifted to Marathon to have a finger amputated. Wet foot/dry foot.

Unfortunately, it's not hard to become numb to this kind of news considering the frequency with which it occurs.

However, we must not become frustrated or jaded. We must continue to press on and advocate for those in Cuba who have no voice.

We must also push for a better and more comprehensive immigration policy. This means not just Cubans, but Haitians and others fleeing oppressive or tyrranical regimes.

More on this from:

Uncommon Sense
Wall Street Cafe

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Deja Vu All Over Again

Looks like the European Union is feeling a little heat for their failed Cuba policy. Marc at Uncommon Sense has the details of a letter from Reporters Without Borders to the EU demanding they reconsider their policy of dialogue with the regime.

No doubt that this, the Czech model hiding-pictures-in-her-bra incident, and the denial of the Ladies in White's travel to receive the Sakharov Prize has had an impact on the EU's latest resolution urging its member states to pressure Cuba for the release of its political prisoners.

I'm skeptical that the EU's actions will make much of a difference. Why? Well, the EU has threatened Cuba before, but stops short of reinstating the sanctions against castro and his cronies that were foolishly lifted in 2004.

Cuba Post-castro

A play of sorts will be acted out tomorrow over at the University of Miami campus.

The title? Life After castro.

UM's Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American studies will hold a simulation titled Cuba Without fidel castro. Early reviews of the simulation are mostly negative - negative in the sense that it doesn't paint a rosy picture of Cuba after fidel.

The Miami Herald has written an article on the simulation that is worth checking out. I don't necessarily disagree in that the transition will be rough, but maybe the scholars are being a little pessimistic. This is something you want to keep around and take a look at several years down the road when fidel (hopefully) is gone and Cuba is (hopefully) in transition.

UM's sober view of life after Castro

On Friday, a group of University of Miami Cuba experts will offer a grim scenario of what will happen in Cuba after Fidel Castro's death.


It's Valentine's Day 2008 and Fidel Castro, after a mind-boggling 49 years in power, has finally met his maker. He goes anticlimactically -- complications from Parkinson's disease.
Conga lines down Calle Ocho? Horns honking through Hialeah? A celebration that brings down the Orange Bowl?

Sure. But forget the fantasy about how it will go down on the island.

Some Cuba scholars from the University of Miami will offer what they say is a more likely scenario during a simulation Friday night titled Cuba Without Fidel Castro -- and it's a downer.
The American banks, fast food restaurants and construction companies hoping to swoop in will have to pump their brakes. No frenzied celebrations in Cuba, the scholars say. No magical switch to democracy. No opportunity for Cuban Americans to blast onto the island to reclaim property or to set up no-credit-no-problem used car lots.

''Too many people assume that when Fidel dies, the system is going to immediately collapse. We don't anticipate that. Raúl Castro will take over. The succession will be smooth and quick,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, director of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, who will be playing the role of Gen. Alvaro Lopez Miera, chief of the general staff for Cuba's armed forces.

"The Politburo will first be concerned about security. Second, assuring there are no rebellions, no demonstrations. Then there is the question of the funeral. And if a U.S. delegation wants to come, do we accept them or not accept them?''

The simulation picks up when Fidel's brother Raúl Castro, who heads the military, convenes members of Cuba's Politburo to discuss the immediate future. There's a script. But not a lot by way of costumes and props. Organizers want to make sure nobody confuses their simulation with fun.

''I am going to refrain from theatrics,'' said Brian Latell, who will portray Raúl. ``I'm not going to dress like him. I don't want to be seen as remotely resembling him.''

In the early 1990s, Latell served as national intelligence officer for Latin America; he is the author of the book After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader.

"We are going to explore the kinds of tensions and pressures Raúl will immediately come under. Fidel has been able to hold it all together just by sheer force of his titanic personality. Keep in mind that Raúl is 74 and he's an alcoholic. Will he get drunk when he faces his first crisis?''

Indeed, isn't Raúl pretty much the comic relief of the Cuban government, a sort of Billy Carter without his own brand of beer?

''People do see him that way,'' Suchlicki said. "But actually, Raúl is ruthless. In some ways, more ruthless than Fidel.''

Said Latell: "He is not charismatic and, by and large, the Cuban people don't like him. But he is a very skilled organizer. He has run the armed forces for 47 years. This is the most successful military of any Third World country for many years. . . . Fidel would have never lasted this long without his brother. Raúl is underestimated in Miami.''

Among the other players:
• Alcibíades Hidalgo, a Cuban journalist who was a high-ranking member of Cuba's Communist Party, as José Ramón Machado Ventura, a Politburo member in charge of organization.
• Domingo Amuchastegui, former professor of Havana's Higher Institute of International Relations, as Ricardo Alarcón, chairman of the People's Popular National Assembly.
• Georgina Lindskoog, project coordinator for UM's Cuba Transition Project, as Yadira Garcia, minister of basic industries.

It's not that the players believe there is no hope at all for Cuba.

''We're talking about what we think will happen immediately,'' said UM assistant provost Andy Gómez, who will portray Abel Prieto Jiménez, minister of culture. ``There can be significant change in Cuba, but it will be slow, much slower than the Cuban community in Miami wants. It will create a let-down.''

The scholars are quick to say they're not fans of the scenario they're setting forth.

''We're just offering a reality check,'' Suchlicki said.

But couldn't somebody in this cast of characters break from the pack? Isn't there somebody in the Politburo with enough of an ego to want to go after the Nobel Prize, at least get on the cover of Time magazine for single-handedly steering Cuba to democracy?

''Not in this crowd,'' Gómez said.

''Their priority is to control Cuba,'' Suchlicki said. "They don't want to risk winding up exiled. They want to keep things as they are.''

What with the Cuban spy situation at Florida International University, do the UM scholars think there might be Cuban spies checking out their simulation?

''The Cuban government will send a couple of agents, I'm sure,'' Suchlicki said. ''And I do think they will probably agree with the scenario. It's what's most likely. But are there spies around all the time? I think there are. I think they're probably listening to us right now.'' Suchlicki laughed.

Not that he's exactly kidding.