[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: February 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Harmless Spies

It's been a while since I've fisked an Ana Menendez column, so when I read her column this morning, whistles and bells went off.

It's time to dust off the fisking machine.

Ana's reaction to the sentencing of Cuban spies Carlos and Elsa Alvarez is the subject of her column this morning. Apparently, she thinks the Alvarezes were victims of "misguided pride" who were trying to "persuade Cuba and the United States to make nice". The fact that she even tries to justify and/or downplay their acts is shameful, IMHO.

Contained in the dry court documents are all the personal betrayals and self-important skullduggeries that through coups, revolution and exile have remained a constant feature of Cuban political life.

In that context, Carlos' biggest sin was not ''spying'' but pride. Pride that he could game Cuban intelligence. Pride that he could be the agent of change by betraying friends. And pride that his academically informed ''conflict resolution'' skills could penetrate the miasma of cynicism and calculation that has crippled U.S.-Cuba relations this last half-century.

Here's some of the "harmless" personal information the Alvarezes had on their computer and which they shared with a foreign country, an enemy regime:

FIU president Modesto Maidique's personal finances and private business ventures.

A ''redacted'' U.S. government study on the "status of telecommunications in Cuba.''

Brothers to the Rescue leader José Basulto, including that ''an investigation should continue'' into "the ties he has to the CIA, the Cuban American [National] Foundation and financial interests such as Bacardi.''

A personal contact who had met with Richard Nuccio, then-President Bill Clinton's special advisor for Cuba, who ''was very depressed'' by Cuba's shootdown of two Brothers to the Rescue planes killing three Cuban-American men and a Cuban exile and the subsequent Helms Burton law toughening the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

Lula Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat who later became personal assistant to then-Attorney General Janet Reno and eventually deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration.

Here's Ana's justification of these actions:

Whatever combination of personal ambition and hopeless naiveté first led Carlos to open up to Cuban intelligence and then to the FBI, we can never really know. Neither can we know who ultimately served him up to U.S. prosecutors; that information is secret.

But the picture that emerges of Carlos and Elsa is less one of hardened spies than of two highly educated and religious people who assumed everyone shared their lofty ideals. A member of an underground anti-Castro student movement, Carlos eventually fled to America and grew to believe he could persuade Cuba and the United States to make nice.

This is not intelligence to make or break a country. This is theater of the cliché. By the time Carlos received a commendation from Cuba in 1991, he should have known he was being played in a game he'd long since lost control of.

Is Ana that naive to think that Cuba would have just stopped at gathering personal information on influential exiles? What do we wait for, leaked information on our ports and nuclear facilities? Do we wait for another Ana Belen Montes to show up?

I know. Ridiculous. But it gets better. Ana saves the best for last.

And then the judge sentenced him to hard time. Carlos thought he could be a one-man foreign policy machine and ended up betraying friends and trusting scumbags. The over-the-top hysteria and paranoia surrounding his slight story now must be giving Fidel sweet solace in his last days.

In the end, Carlos Alvarez's biggest victim was Carlos Alvarez. The bigger tragedy would be if the cause of moderate Cubans goes down with him. One suspects that, for the Cubans at least, that was the goal all along.

It's those insufferable hard-liners once again, causing a ruckus with their "paranoia" about those harmless spies. Of course, Ana asserts that the biggest tragedy isn't the fact that personal information was given to the castros, but that the "cause of moderate Cubans" is going down with the Alvarezes.

Un. Believeable.

Here's a man who was commended by the Cuban regime in 1991 for his invaluable work. If Alvarez is indeed a representation of the moderate Cubans, then we're really in bad shape.

Or Ana Menendez's vision of reality is totally warped. My bet in on the latter. And that's the best I can say about Ana.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Vamos a Cuba, The Sequel?

This post at Stuck on the Palmetto has generated a lot of discussion today, as I thought it would once I saw it pop up on my computer screen this morning. In the post, Rick draws a comparison between the Vigilia Mambisa members who charged after a group of Bolivarian Youths last month in Little Havana and a group of Cuban-American parents who have removed a book in a similar vein of Vamos A Cuba from a local public school and promise not to return it.

What's the similarity between the two groups? Miguel Saavedra, who is a member of both Vigilia Mambisa and the parents organization that removed the books from the school library shelves.

Saavedra is not the focus of this post, however.

Several of the comments left to Rick's post were quite interesting and thought provoking, and I will mentioned these in a second.

First, I want to comment on Val's response post "Vamos a Selma" which theorizes what would happen if he had the nerve to publish a book that denigrates the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. My first reaction upon reading it was...uh oh. Val and others will have to excuse me for that initial reaction because I am usually quite leery when moral equivalence arguments are made. I guess that's a result of too much MSM exposure.

However, upon thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that a good comparison can be made between the two causes. Both deal with injustices and violation of human rights. No problem there. As such, Val makes a good point: the average person would be understandably outraged by a book that would gloss over or ignore the injustices committed against blacks in the American South of the 1950s. So then, why isn't there similar reaction by the masses to a book which glosses over the injustices of present-day Cuba?

The only 2 reasons I could think of are:

- The civil rights movement occurred in this country, and the human rights violations in Cuba are happening in a foreign country.

- Cuban-Americans are perceived as the big dogs in town, thus non-Cubans may tend to have little sympathy for them and their causes, no matter how just the causes are.

The first reason doesn't hold much water because the average American would reaction strongly against a book which ignored the Holocaust or apartheid in South Africa.

The second reason...hmmm. We may be on to something here.

I do have to admit, the methods employed by certain members of the Cuban-American community aren't exactly conducive to generating much sympathy. Then again, the civil disobedience employed by blacks in the 50s and 60s probably didn't either, at least at the time.

On to some of the comments left to Rick's post before I conclude.

Rick comments on my assertion that C-As should not have to make a public apology for these past couple of controversial events:

Rick: It's not a question of your integrity, it is a question of why these extremists are allowed to grab the headlines time after time after time after time without anyone speaking out.

Where we diverge is mainstream C-A's "responsibility" to say something loud and clear to denounce these radicals. You say the mainstreams have no obligation to anyone to say anything. That may be true, but don't expect the guy from Wichita or Salt Lake City or Birmingham to realize that when picks up the local rag and sees these stories and believes that C-A's are C-A's.

It's up to people in Wichita or Salt Lake City or Birmingham to have informed opinions. If they arrive at the wrong conclusion, I don't think that's the fault of C-As.

Equality-7-2521: Who's the official spokesman for the 'C-A community'?

I think what rick is pointing out is that most C-A's don't speak up and rather take the politically correct course and say nothing.

As americans we need to stand against this type of activities regardless of the group involved.

This post pretty much sums up the answer to who speaks for the C-A community.

None E. Moose (no relation to Moose A. Moose): Where, in fact are all the A-A's denouncing the Pharaoh-khan? Where are all the Anglo's denouncing... Barbra? The fact is that in neither case (even a hypothetical one), is the expectation even considered, but as an absurdity. Then why the expectation for the mainstream (normal, job, kids, too little sleep, thinks C-pep was a mistake-- you know, normal) C-A to do anything more than your mainstream ABC would do in the same situation? That is, think "what a bunch of shitheads," and go back to lugging the day's credit card offers out to the dumpster...
If you (Rick) believe what you say, why dont YOU step up and set people who would get a false generalization of C-A's straight? You can show us how we do things here in America.
Yes, there are people who suffered loss. If you (Val) understand their frustration, believe me, I can understand it too. But frustration is not an airtight defense. And if you raise their suffering and loss as an excuse for or justification of certain behavior, then you enable an attitude that will one day affect you and your children in ways you can't even predict now (and mine as well).

I think None misunderstood Val in the last paragraph, but otherwise makes a solid point about the absurdity of expecting some sort of official C-A reaction from the mainstream.

None's second paragraph in response to Rick was excellent and I will use it as part of my conclusion: If more non-Cubans were as vocal and fervent about understanding and advocating the plight of Cubans as they can be in criticizing the methods in which some C-As protest, bloggers such as myself wouldn't sit here scratching our heads and wondering why people don't understand our cause. Who knows, perhaps even the MSM would catch on.

It doesn't mean that they have to agree with the methods used. I sure don't. But sometimes we can get so lost in the weeds that we lose sight of what's really important here.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Gene Simmons, Eat Your Heart Out

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Feeding the giraffes at Miami Metrozoo last week.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Chatting About Cuba

Discourse and dissent in Miami? Never happens here, according to left-leaning Cuban-Americans.

Well, at least not until now. Oscar Corral's latest article is about a Calle Ocho cafe which is planning a tertulia, or open chat session, to debate and discuss U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Sounds good, right? Open discourse is rarely a bad thing.

As well-intentioned as this might be, the attitude behind and accompanying the organizers of the tertulias turns me off.

Neli Santamarina, owner of Tinta y Café, explains her motivation:
''My parents didn't sacrifice themselves and come to this country so we would stay quiet and be afraid to speak out,'' Santamarina said. ``Everyone says things need to change in Cuba, and that's true. But they also need to change in Miami. There's a culture of intimidation in Miami that doesn't allow people to criticize U.S. policy toward Cuba. I'm not going to let that go on.
'Miami is at a tipping point,' Santamarina said on a recent afternoon as she tackled a plate with a plantain leaf-wrapped tamal, manchego cheese and arugula. ``I feel that we need to give a voice to the silent majority of people in Miami who are frustrated with the failures of U.S. Cuba policy.''
It's the usual "we're the victims" talk from people like Santamaria who get a front page article in the Herald, yet still complain about the "culture of intimidation" in Miami. The arrogance often displayed by these individuals comes out in her comment about the "silent majority" who apparently agree with her and have apparently been repressed for so long by the indominable
Miami Mafia.

Excuse me for saying that this is a load of crap.

Santamarina and her buddy, none other than Silvia Wilhelm, otherwise known as Ms. "I wish Fidel Castro one more day of survival after George Bush leaves the presidency", each invited 10 people to the first session this Sunday and asked them to bring someone who disagrees with them on U.S. Cuba policy.

How nice of them. How contrived.

To set the mood, Santamarina has an art book featuring Che Guevara at the entrance "to provoke conversation". Discussing the rights and wrongs of U.S. Cuba policy next to a book featuring fidel's #1 accomplice. Seems like the playing field is tilted, don't you think?

Here's my final analysis of this:

Discussion and disagreement on U.S. Cuba policy is all over the place in Miami and other parts of the country. You have radio shows such as Francisco Aruca's on Radio Progreso in Miami who constantly bash U.S. policy and side with the castro regime. Cuban-American families right here in Miami have weekly, if not nightly, discussions and civil disagreements on the matter.

More importantly, you have real and constructive debate in the blogosphere. Look no further than Babalu Blog, where this post from a couple of weeks back is just one of many that have openly discussed the pros and cons of U.S. Cuba policy. There are way too many more examples than I have time to list here.

Therefore, Santamarina and Wilhelm's tertulias, as well-intentioned as they appear to be, are nothing more than a way for them to let out their frustration at being in the minority, or at the very least split 50/50, when it comes to these issues. You see, people of their intellectual level can't stand to be wrong, especially at the hands of the right-wing cigar-chomping Miami Mafiosi.

You see, Ms. Santamarina and Ms. Wilhelm, you can't continue to blame the United States for Cuba's failures and get much sympathy for your cause. It's as simple as that, ladies.

And I hate to break this to you, señoritas, but the silent majority agrees with me.

Read the article here.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Are You Ready?

OK libs, get your barf bags out. Hope you didn't have a heavy meal. Don't say I don't look out for my friends on the other side of the political spectrum.

Didn't watch the show, but found this clip to be pretty humorous. The reviews I saw for the new Fox News comedy show weren't all that glowing, however.

Don't think if I would vote for such a ticket, but you have to hand it to Rush and Ann for poking a little fun at themselves.

"Welcome to the Oval Office, great column this week".

H/T: Nelson


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Working 9 to ????

Expect some very light and sporadic posting this week due to my never-ending busy work schedule.

Here's an interesting news item from Cuba which states that the Cuban government will be...hold your breath...extending work hours for state offices in order to better serve the people.

From the article:
The effort is linked to a government campaign for greater discipline among workers, with a crackdown on absenteeism, overlong lunch breaks, sloppy work and theft.
As the Mad Dog himself would say....ALRIIIGHT!

Officials were working to overcome problems such as insufficient lighting and transportation at night while supplying meals and child care at different times for workers, Trabajadores reported.
Ah yes, that pesky lack of lighting comes back to bite the Cubans in the butt yet again. Maybe the extended hours will give officials more time to come up with a solution to all of Cuba's problems.

Or maybe it will lead to even more corruption and inefficiency. There's no middle ground.


Friday, February 16, 2007

New Dolfan

You gotta start 'em young!


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Novela

I've been planning on posting on this topic for a while now, but never quite got around to it. Earlier this week, this article by the Herald's Glenn Garvin on the attempt to introduce the venerable novela (Spanish version of the soap opera) to English-language TV reminded me that I had to write something.

Growing up in a bilingual Cuban-American household, I've been exposed to novelas for as long as I can remember. I even remember when they were still on the radio (OK, I'm not THAT old). The reason I'm writing this isn't to profess any love for the genre, although I'm sure some of you are surprised than a manly stud like me would be writing about something usually associated with women.

Seriously, this post is about the intensity and fervor with which novela audiences follow their favorite shows.

You know how guys get ragged on by their better halves for watching too much sports? You know, how we plop our butts on the couch to watch 22 men collide, grunt and grab each other every fall Saturday, Sunday, Monday and sometimes Thursday?

Forget it. There's nothing as intense and focused as an abuela watching her favorite novela. The normally doting grandmother who spends the entire day looking after her grandchildren and taking care of household chores suddenly forgets about everything once its 7 PM and the novela is starting on Telemundo. Phone calls are short and only during commercials. Dinner must be served and eaten before the novela starts. I have seen an unnamed family member step away from dinner at 6:59 PM to turn on the TV in time for the start of the show at 7 PM. In my house, the no TV during dinner rule is waived to avoid such a situation from happening. Forget about VCRs and Tivo, folks.

Visits to family and friends must be planned so that they either a) return home in time for the start of the novela or b) watch it at the other house.

On the major Spanish networks, evening novelas are mostly shown back-to-back-to-back at 7, 8 and 9 PM. When a new series of novelas start, I hope and pray that my relatives only like one or two of them, otherwise they are pretty much out of commission for three hours. That's the same length as your average NFL game, except at least football games have a 15-minute halftime.

I figure, if news breaks of fidel's death during a popular novela, you'll get as many calls to the station of 60 and 70-something abuelas complaining that their show was interrupted as you would people celebrating in the streets. The partying would begin as soon as the novela is over, but not a moment sooner.

Catching the start is crucial. Unlike a sporting event, a lot of important stuff apparently happens at the beginning. Usually, it's a recap of the last episode, so they really aren't seeing anything new. But what do I know? The end of an episode is very important as well. A bomb is dropped, something shocking happens, and the cycle repeats itself the next night. I peek over enough to get the gist of what's going on, not that it's hard to figure out. Lies, deception, love, lust, backstabbing, fraud....it's all there and all novelas have all of these crucial elements. In that sense, they're no different than their American counterparts. In other words, they are painfully predictable. The evil blonde will eventually get killed off and the sweet innocent dame gets to live happily-ever-after with the handsome prince.

The only novela that I can honestly say I got mildly interested in was Betty La Fea a few years back, which is now a big hit on English TV (Ugly Betty). Betty La Fea was different in two key ways. One, it wasn't Mexican (it was Colombian). Secondly and most importantly for me, it was original in theme and quite lighthearted and funny, as opposed to the typical stern melodrama of the traditional novela.

It will interesting to see if the novela catches fire on the English-language networks in prime time. For my sanity's sake, I hope it doesn't.

Then again, can it be any worse than reality TV?


Letters to the Editor

Here's the latest installment of "Letters to the Editor", Middle East policy-style.

Meddling in Mideast

Who can blame Iran for helping Iraqi militants? Wouldn't we do the same if a foreign power invaded Mexico or Canada? Iran merely is helping its friends and protecting its own interests in the area.

Iran is well aware that the United States has no scruples about invading another country; Iran fears that it will be next. This undoubtedly is why they refuse to give up their nuclear program. Who can blame them?

The sad part is that we might have been able to turn to Iran for help and advice, and possibly even get it on our side. But then again, that's not the type of thing that you would expect from an invading country. Let's not forget that we are the aggressors there, and that the militants are just defending their own country like any of us would do if the United States were invaded.

DAN DUGAN, Homestead

Let's check off all the far-left bullet points here.

Moral equivalency...Check
United States as aggressors...Check
Militants merely defending their own country...Check

Thanks Mr. Dugan for reminding me why we need to defeat the militants in the Middle East.

Here's another one:

Even though the world has gotten smaller with the advent of travel and communications, there are many pockets of the world that will never change. The Middle East is an example. The culture and religion have been the same for thousands of years.

Our troops should be brought home immediately, and the Bush administration should stop meddling in the affairs of sovereign countries. I would not like for a foreign entity to come into my ''home'' and start forcing its way of life on me and mine.

Should problems arise with aggression from any country, then it should be brought before the U.N. Security Council. This administration has brought more than its share of misery on the United States and other places in the world.

It is past time for the Iraqi people to settle their problems through diplomatic channels in their own region.


Ms. Fulks is approaching the same theme from a different angle: the arrogant "they won't change and we can't change their mentality, so why bother" approach. Perhaps we ARE there to force a different way of life in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of brutal dictatorships, we're trying to impose democracy and free thought. Maybe that's meddling. But, maybe, just maybe...based on the masses that voted in the first free elections in both countries in decades, we know what we're doing, and what we're doing is right.

If only the U.N. had been able to accomplish that years ago, we possibly wouldn't have to be there now. But, of course, that would be meddling, wouldn't it?

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Monday, February 12, 2007

The Trouble With Islam Today

That's the title of a book by Canadian Muslim activist Irshad Munji. I recently saw her in a one-on-one interview with conservative radio and TV talk host Glenn Beck (funny how someone accused of being a racist is willing to invite a female Muslim to his show), and she is quite a personality.

More importantly, she's got guts.

Manji's mission is not to denounce Islam, her own religion, but to denounce the radical elements and interpretation of Islam. She's the "moderate" voice that we've been clamoring for since 9/11, if not before. The interesting aspect of Manji's approach isn't that she's denouncing the radicals, but that she's denouncing them by showing them how Islam should be interpreted. In other words, she's fighting the radicals at their own game. She's fed up with how they have been misinterpreting and hijacking the Koran and Islam in the name of Jihad, and she's out to show them, the moderates and the world that the Koran and Islam in general can be interpreted as a peaceful and progressive-spirited religion.

I'm not familiar enough with Islam to pass judgement on the accuracy of Manji's interpretation, but who I am to doubt someone's knowledge of their own religion?

Of course, she has received death threats from Muslims who support the radical terrorists movements, and condemnation from some moderate Muslims who would rather keep everything under the rug.

Fortunately for us, she's undeterred in her efforts.

I wish her the best of luck. We need her to be successful, folks. We need to support people like Irshad Munji.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Numbers and Percentages

As a scientist, I work with numbers on a regular basis. I have a particular interest in probabilities. Therefore, polls and surveys have always fascinated me because of the confluence of numbers and percentages.

This morning's post by Henry at Babalu breaks down the numbers from a recent poll on Cuba. Aside from peaking my interest in such things, it is a revealing look at polls and the many different ways the results can be interpreted and even manipulated. For me, it is an eye-opener.

Check it out here.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cuban American Support System

There are few events that cause as much worry in a Cuban family as when a family member is sick. I'm not referring to a serious illness, but something like a cold or perhaps the flu.

Back when my wife in the last stages of her pregnancy with my youngest daughter, I wrote a post about what I called CASS (Cuban American Support System). Well, the CASS also springs into action when someone is sick, but in a slightly different way.

Recently we had a nasty stomach virus run through everyone here at 26th Parallel headquarters. In what appears to be something similar to telepathy, relatives start to call non-stop asking how we're doing. I'm thinking, "how did they find out we're sick?". It's part of the CASS, folks. It doesn't matter if you're too sick to talk, or if you can't get any rest because of the phone ringing off the hook.

For those of you familiar with the Que Pasa USA series, think of the episode when Joe had to be taken to the hospital for an appendectomy. Although very over the top, it captures the essence of CASS.

When my wife was pregnant, the CASS functioned in rotating shifts of people visiting. In our recent case, however, since we were all sick, no one came over because the CASS won't function properly if everyone catches your virus. That's where the phone calls come in. The same person will call at least three times a day, which may not seem like a big deal except when it's five, six, or ten people doing the same thing. Usually there's one person in the house assigned to handle the calls, but when everyone is sick, that can be tough to handle.

Their voices are usually filled with concern over your health. Como sigue Robert? How's Robert doing? This is then followed by some sort of medical advice such as: slowly sip your Sprite, don't gulp it all down in one shot. It doesn't matter if you're ten or forty, you get the same advice.

We're all recovered now, and the phone calls have decreased back to normal levels. The CASS is back to Level 3 status, ready to spring into action the next time a crisis rears its ugly head.

I wouldn't have admitted this when I was sick, but I welcome the calls and well wishes. It's part of what the CASS is all about.

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Monday, February 05, 2007


A lot has been said about the character exhibited by the two head coaches in yesterday's Super Bowl. There's no doubt that even at the professional level, having a leader who is a solid person as well as coach is very important.

An aside on the game yesterday...I'm hoping that the myth of the outdoors team playing better in bad weather has finally come crashing to earth. Truth is, no team likes to play in bad weather, not even a team with a "reputation" (still haven't figured out when they earned it) for playing well in bad weather such as the Chicago Bears. Bottom line, the better team usually wins. In the case of SB 41, it was accentuated by a Hall of Fame quarterback playing against a mediocre quarterback.

Back to the topic at hand. Character in coaching is even more important in the college ranks.

George Will wrote a very good column on University of Miami head coach Randy Shannon in yesterday's Herald that surely got lost in the Super Bowl hype, but deserves to be read.

Shannon's story is inspirational:

Shannon, 40, grew up in Liberty City, which is what sociologists and other refined thinkers call a challenging urban environment. Shannon was 3 when his father was murdered by one of his friends.

''They had an argument,'' Shannon says matter-of-factly. Two of Shannon's brothers and a sister died, from cocaine and AIDS. By age 16, Shannon was a father. He could easily have been on a glide path to a prison or a cemetery. Instead, because of football, he went to UM and became the first member of his family to earn a college degree.

Forget about the fact that he's African-American. He's overcome adversity to become a successful coach and is now in a position where he can directly lead a group of young men to success on and off the field.

His players better get used to performing off the field as well, because here's what will happen if they don't:
Shannon's rules for his players include: If you miss a class, you don't start the next game. Fall below a certain grade-point average, you can't set foot off campus. A conservatively dressed man, with the elegant hands of a surgeon or pianist, Shannon wants his players to learn ''how to respect life,'' so when ''they leave the university and the football program, they will go with confidence.'' They will go, all of them, having taken a public-speaking course.
This is what college football is supposed to be about. I've lost a lot of interest in college football over the years because it has mostly become what the NCAA refuses to acknowledge: a farm system for the NFL. Sure, college kids have always been drafted to play in the pros, but only after at least 4 years of school. Many kids today leave for the pros after a couple of years. I still remember my college days at Florida State during the Deion Sanders era when he would skip an entire semester of classes and show up to games in a limo. Did he ever get suspended? Of course not. This isn't just a criticism of my alma mater, similar things likely happen at many other schools.

I know my view is too idealistic, but it's good to see a major college football head coach take a stand and focus on building successful human beings, not just great football players.

Read the entire article here.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Freedom of Speech in Cuba

It was by invitation only, but it's a start.
In Cuba, dissent by invitation only.

In the first sign of internal dissent in Cuba since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals held a forum to discuss government censorship in the 1970s.

By Frances Robles

One by one, Cuban artists and intellectuals in Havana did something unprecedented this week: They stood before the government and criticized a particularly harsh era of censorship -- out loud and in the open.

Perhaps even more surprising than the conference held Tuesday to discuss a dark period of Cuban cultural oppression was what happened outside: a protest by those shut out of the invitation-only event. Also out loud and in the open.

''I don't know how important it can be, but what's true is that I have never seen anything like that in Cuba,'' Cuban writer Ena Lucía Portela told The Miami Herald in an e-mail. ``It was rudimentary, passionate, incoherent, but it was the closest thing to freedom of expression I have seen in this country in my entire life.''

In a move that Cuba experts say signals a significant shift in Cuban domestic policy, the government led by interim President Raúl Castro appears to be cracking open the door to debate. After Castro publicly asserted he was open to discussion, and later convened a committee to study flaws of socialism, experts say there has been a clear changing of the guard in Cuba, one that allows at least controlled discussion.

In the first sign of internal dissent since Fidel Castro ceded power six months ago, intellectuals furious over the television appearances of 1970s-era government officials responsible for a crackdown on intelligentsia convened a conference to discuss it. But while the event was an extraordinary display of criticism, opponents of the Castro brothers point out that the conference was not open to the public, suggesting that the steps the government has taken toward discussion are small and wobbly.


The flare-up was triggered when Cuban TV ran a laudatory profile last month of Luis Pavón Tamayo, the former chairman of the National Culture Council. Pavón's five-year reign was dubbed the ''The Gray Quinquennium'' -- The Five Gray Years -- for its record of arrests and censorship.

A flurry of e-mails condemning the TV appearances swept Cuba's cultural community, leading to a rare statement by the artists' guild published in the state-controlled newspaper, Granma, which denounced the TV shows.

''The act established a turning point that we hope will be irreversible,'' writer Reynaldo González, winner of the 2003 National Literary Prize, said in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``And it has created an echo that will be difficult to stifle, even if someone tries to do so.''

A magazine editor convoked a conference led by writer Ambrosio Fornet and attended by Culture Minister Abel Prieto to debate the topic. But tickets were given only to some 450 people.


Reports from Cuba say young writers who were not invited protested outside.

Portela, 34, wasn't invited, and viewed the conference as a white-wash. ''A half-century of lies is not something that can change overnight,'' she said.

Former Cuban political prisoner Manuel Vásquez Portal agreed, saying it was nothing but a political ploy aimed at identifying dissenters.

''Look, Raúl Castro is a soldier. Soldiers don't debate. They order,'' said Vásquez, a former independent journalist. ``If he wants to debate, he'd free prisoners of conscience and invite them to debate.''

Prieto did not return e-mails requesting comment. Fornet sent a copy of his speech, in which he acknowledged that today's young Cubans don't know about the Pavón period -- because nobody ever told them.

''When evoking the Gray Quinquennium, I feel that we're plunging headlong into something that not only deals with the present but also projects us forcefully into the future,'' Fornet said, 'even if only because of what [Spanish philosopher Jorge Ruiz de] Santayana said: `Those who don't know history are condemned to repeat it.' That danger is precisely what we're trying to conjure here.''

Florida International University Professor Uva de Aragón said the fact that the event took place shows Cuba is changing.

'The first time I heard Raúl say `open to discussion,' I knew Fidel was no longer in control,'' she said. ``It should not be that much surprising. They must realize things are coming to an end. I think at this point, intellectuals figure they have nothing to lose.''

Miami Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this report.

For those who think that Cuban-Americans will have nothing to talk about after the regime crumbles, this is perhaps a tiny glimpse of the type of debate that all Cubans will take part in as Cuba heads towards freedom.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Post-castro Partying

I'm back from Daytona Beach, thankful to have barely missed the tornadoes that raked Central Florida this morning and sad for those who perished and for those who lost everything.

That being said, my advice to anyone thinking of planning a trip to Daytona Beach in late January: skip it. The place is dead.

Speaking of dead, I did manage to catch the story about the plans for a big bash in the Orange Bowl after fidel's death. I finally caught up with the blogosphere's reaction, from Val's approval to Rick's usual sarcasm and subsequent predictable and boring comment thread featuring Manuel vs. the world.

What do I think? I think a big and organized bash with bands and t-shirts would be over the top. Something more spontaneous and unscripted seems more appropriate. It appears that the city of Miami realized that and backed off their original plans. Of course, it still wouldn't please those outside of Miami (as well as those inside Miami) who quite simply don't get it. You know, those who want us to "act with dignity", whatever that's supposed to mean.

Tell that to the tens of thousands of Miamians who suffered torture, imprisonment, loss of loved ones and family separation because of the bearded asshole. Someone whose legacy will be one of despotism, cruelty and downright murder doesn't deserve to be eulogized.

I respect the opinions of those in Cuba who don't approve of Cuban-Americans celebrating fidel's death, as reflected in Andres Oppenheimer's column. However, I couldn't help but chuckle when reading Oppenheimer's well-intentioned suggestion of "a steak for every Cuban" drive. Cuban-Americans have for years been supporting their loved ones in Cuba not with chuletas, but with dolares. You can buy plenty of chuletas with dolares in Cuba.

Of course, to many (not Oppenheimer) we'll always be heartless and intransigent (read: intolerant) jerks.

As Victoria wrote in her comment to Babalu's post:
It's always the Cubans, Cubans, Cubans in Miami.

I'm sick of it. I'm going for for a celebratory cafecito, in Versailles, and I don't care what people say.

Well said Victoria!

Once again, there's a serious gap in understanding here. A fidel death celebration, no matter how low-key or overblown it may be, is simply years of pent-up frustration being released, and that's perfectly fine by me. Perhaps I won't be out there screaming out of the top of my lungs and partying until dawn, but I'll be happy nonetheless.

To those who are quick to say: "Why party? Cuba has a long way to go even if fidel dies", you're right. Still, give us one day to celebrate, one day to recover, and many more days and weeks and months to help Cuba get back on its feet again. We know what's ahead of us.

As far as what the rest of the world thinks of our celebration...maybe this two-left-footed Cuban-American will dance a salsa song or two on your behalf.