Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cuban Exiles and Supporters Clash in Panama (Pt.2)


Around 11am on Wednesday, FRENADESO (National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights in Panama), a social activist group and independent media site, tweeted pictures of the M.A.R. Por Cuba press conference. The pictures showed Felix Rodriguez and Antunez standing together for the cameras. The tweet read "Cuban worms with Che's assassin." Through FRENADESO an urgent message went out that afternoon for an emergency demonstration at Porras Park. It seems the word got out that M.A.R. Por Cuba, Rodriguez and Antunez were planning to visit the park, and FRENADESO was hoping to derail those plans. By 1pm, FRENADESO and several members of Panamanian labor groups (SUNTRACS and SITRAFCOREBGASCELIS) gathered at Porras park [video]. Also in attendance was Cuban Ambassador to Panama Antonio Miguel Pardo Sanchez, and the Venezuelan Ambassador Jorge Luis Duran Centeno. The leader of SUNTRACS protested against the presence of Cuban dissidents at the Summit forums, and considered the presence of Cuban militant Felix Rodriguez as a provocation [video]. The demonstration ended and soon the news went out (around 2pm) that Felix Rodriguez never showed up at Porras Park.

Days later in Miami, Felix Rodriguez was interview by Radio Mambi over what happened that afternoon in Panama. He mentioned that he, Antunez and M.A.R. Por Cuba decided to visit Porras Park and leave flowers at the bust of Jose Marti. He also said that they were aware there had been an earlier demonstration at the park, so they arrived about an hour later and planned to hold a quick demonstration "to avoid having confrontations with the Cubans" who were there earlier. When they (Felix Rodriguez, Antunez, members of M.A.R. por Cuba, Orlando Gutierrez Boronat and other Cuban dissidents) arrived they left the flowers at the bust of Jose Marti, and started their demonstration [video]. Facing the Cuban Embassy just across the street from the park, they unfolded a flag that read "National Front of Civic Resistance" (a group led by Antunez in Cuba) and began chanting "libertad" (freedom) in front of a small but growing crowd of those (Cubans and Panamanians) who remained from the earlier demonstration. The counter-protest intensified with every second and Orlando Gutierrez placed himself in-between the two groups because no police were nearby. Then, Antunez led the group in singing the Cuban national anthem, but midway they found themselves outnumbered and heading back to their vans. As they retreated from the threatening crowd, Antunez continued shouting back and walking back slowly, with Gutierrez doing his best to act as a bodyguard. Then, from the hostile crowd, one person (Alexis Frutos Weeden) is seen pushing Orlando Gutierrez, and Gutierrez immediately pushing back. In a split second the fight broke out.

Video of violent clashes by Estrella de Panama
Video by NTN24
Video by AmericaTeVe

[Photo: Orlando Gutierrez Boronat (left), President of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, fights with Alexis Frutos Weeden (right), former Cuban Embassy spokesman in Panama. Photo source: La Prensa]

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cuban Exiles and Supporters Clash in Panama (Pt. 1)

Last Wednesday a group of Cuban exiles from Miami and accompanying Cuban dissidents visiting Panama were attacked at Porras Park in the capital city. The group of exiles and dissidents staged a demonstration at the park in front of the Cuban embassy which was immediately met by Cuban and Panamanian supporters of the Cuban government. The counter-demonstrators had been alerted through online media that one of the exiles at Porras Park was Felix Ismael Rodriguez Mendigutia, a former Cuban militant deemed a violent "mercenary" against the Cuban government. Hostility was further fueled by charges that the dissident demonstrators were also "traitors" against the Cuban government.

Spanish-language media, as expected, attempted to suggest that the attack on the Cuban exiles and dissidents was planned by the Cuban government or its clandestine intelligence agency, but failed to produce any supporting evidence. Instead, the violence that occurred was most likely spontaneous, and partially triggered by an online media campaign against Cuban exiles and dissidents coinciding with the arrival of young Cuban activists visiting Panama for the Summit of the Americas.


Civil society groups from all over the Americas began arriving this week to Panama's capital city for the Summit of the Americas. It is the first Summit to include Cuba as a participant since its inception in 1994. Parallel forums on Civil Society took place on Wednesday and Thursday before the official start of the Summit on Friday. Inside these forums, civil society groups from Cuba would for the first time meet face to face with Cuban dissidents invited to attend. But, things didn't go smoothly.

On Tuesday, Official civil society groups from Cuba arrived in Panama already aware that Cuban dissidents such as Guillermo Fariñas and Berta Soler would be attending the Summit forums. They immediately held a press conference [video] stating that the invited dissidents did not represent the Cuban people and were "mercenaries" of the United States. In their hands they each held copies of a small newspaper distributed by the Union of Cuban Journalists. The tabloid  titled "Mercenaries in Panama" [PDF] included an editorial alleging that Cuban dissidents in Panama "receive direct financing from outside [of Cuba]" and "don't have any real connection with our people." Articles inside reminded readers when, in 2010, the top American diplomat for Cuba Jonathan Farrar wrote of seeing "little evidence" that Cuban dissidents "have much resonance among ordinary Cubans." Another page included eight profiles of Cuban dissidents (Fariñas and Soler among them) detailing their alleged links to Cuban exile groups and other international organizations.

Many of these allegations are true, and some are exaggerated. But, for years the Cuban government has waged a consistent media campaign against dissidents and have mostly won the propaganda war inside Cuba. Cuban dissidents then have little option but to look outside of Cuba for support, and often find it in Miami. While some help from Miami is often worthwhile, they should also consider the implications of getting public help from official enemies of the Cuban government. In those cases, while financial support is extremely helpful, an individual dissident or group could be sacrificing their entire legitimacy back home.

Civil society groups gathered early at the El Panama hotel for the start of the parallel forums of the Summit. Delivery of accreditation badges had begun at 8am, but several Cuban civil society representatives had trouble acquiring their badges due to technical problems. As they waited for a solution, news had broken out on social media that Cuban exile militant Felix Rodriguez was in Panama.

The previous day, Cuban exile members of M.A.R. Por Cuba left Miami International Airport for Panama. Along with them came five Cuban dissidents representing different organizations on the island, and the president of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, Orlando Gutierrez Boronat. Among the dissidents was Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, better known as Antunez. In recent years, Antunez has become admired by hard-line Cuban exiles for his intransigent rhetoric against the Cuban government. Expecting his arrival, Antunez was among the eight dissidents profiled in the tabloid "Mercenaries in Panama." On Wednesday afternoon, M.A.R. Por Cuba held a press conference at their hotel. In the audience was Cuban exile Felix Ismael Rodriguez Mendigutia, a controversial figure better known for his militant past and involvement with the capture and execution of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Rodriguez and M.A.R. Por Cuba were in Panama to attend a meeting the next day hosted by former Florida representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart. But, unknown to all of them, the presence of Rodriguez in Panama was already news on social media and causing outrage among Cuban activists at the Summit.

A photo of Rodriguez with Antunez taken in Miami was being distributed on social media. A press conference was held that afternoon condemning the presence of Rodriguez and his close association with Antunez who was invited to attend the Civil Society forums. Cuban activists and supporters were demanding Panama deport Rodriguez.

Already frustrated by accreditation problems, and angered by the presence of Rodriguez and "mercenaries" at the Summit, Cuban civil society representatives vented with a large protest outside the El Panama Hotel. They shouted for the removal of the Cuban dissidents attending the Forum. They refused to share space with dissidents like Guillermo Fariñas. On the cover of their tabloid, Fariñas was featured in a photo next to Cuban exile terrorist Luis Posada Carriles. Both had attended a forum at the University of Miami in 2013. Eventually, the protest ended when all Cuban representatives decided to leave the Civil Society Forum. But, the indignation would find a new place to reappear in the street of Panama.

Video of violent clashes by Estrella de Panama
Video by NTN24
Video by AmericaTeVe

[Photo: Orlando Gutierrez Boronat (left), President of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, fights with Alexis Frutos Weeden (right), former Cuban Embassy spokesman in Panama. Photo source: La Prensa]

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Local Polls Support New U.S.-Cuba Policy

Above is a sample of polls conducted by South Florida news websites in response to Wednesday's announcement of a new U.S. policy towards Cuba. The majority of the polls show strong support (above 60 percent) for the new policy.

Despite the local media's false presentation of a divided Miami, and constantly refocusing the debate around the opinion of the minority hard-line, the poll results above reflect the more accurate view of a rational Miami. Unfortunately, for as long as I've been monitoring the local media, the news stations have yet to center their reporting (and analysis) on this accurate widespread belief. 

Polls Results shown above (clockwise):

Americateve.com: Do you agree with the U.S. and Cuba re-establishing diplomatic relations? (Yes, 54%)
Elnuevoherald.com: Do you believe re-establishing relations between the U.S. and Cuba will benefit Cubans on the island? (Yes, 68%)
WFLA.com: Do you think vacation travel should be permitted to Cuba? (Yes, 66%)
Local10.com: Do you agree with the U.S. trying to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba (Yes, 68%)

[The poll results also support the findings of the more recent Atlantic Council poll on U.S.-Cuba policy, and the FIU Cuba Poll.]

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Alan Gross is Free

Alan Gross: "I also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness for the people of Cuba... It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments' mutually belligerent policies. Five and a half decades of history shows us that such belligerence inhibits better judgement. Two wrongs never make a right."

- Video and transcript available at C-Span website.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Manuel Alzugaray's Provocation Plan

Recent reports of four Miami men arrested in Cuba have also implicated some prominent Cuban exiles in the alleged terrorist plot against Cuban military installations (Miami Herald report). One of those prominent Cuban exiles is Dr. Manuel A. Alzugaray who has denied his involvement with the arrested Miami men. But five years ago Alzugaray mentioned a secret plan to provoke the Cuban government in certain vulnerable areas, possibly through divisions in the military. 

The Cuban government has yet to publicly present any evidence that Alzugaray or any Cuban exile was behind this recent terrorist plot. And we should assume all men allegedly involved are innocent until proven guilty.

Back in 2009, Dr. Manuel Alzugaray, then re-elected as President of the Municipios de Cuba en El Exilio boasted of a secret plan to "provoke" the Cuban government and create the conditions where the Cuban people would "throw themselves [onto the streets]."

What is interesting about the comments in the video above are the details Alzugaray mentions. Alzugaray, as past and current president of the Miami Medical Team (MMT), spoke of plans to use MMT links with dissident groups inside Cuba to cause the provocation. "We have information of where we have to make the provocation," he said. According to the MMT, they have established links with dissident groups inside Cuba through their "Cuba Project" which sends humanitarian packages and provides humanitarian training (more information here). Another detail is Alzugaray mentioning that "we are going to provoke them because inside their military there is a division."

The Cuban government in 2011 accused Manuel A. Alzugaray of being a provocateur which he had also denied. His accuser, a Cuban spy, had infiltrated the MMT and its "Cuba Project."

[Transcript for video above.]

"The youth committee, the labor committee that will work on some programs inside Cuba which shall be with the Miami Medical Team [or] Doctors Without Borders creating what are known as the independent medical clinics.

"We are going to provoke them. And we know where we are going to provoke them because we have information of where they are weak [or vulnerable]. We have information of where we have to make the provocation.

"And, we are going to provoke them because inside their military there is a division. But, that division there that wants to throw itself [onto the streets] needs for the people to throw themselves [out into the streets] so that they can [finally] throw themselves [onto the streets]. They [the military] are not going to throw themselves first. The people need to throw themselves [first].

"We are going to provoke them. Yes, we are going make a humanitarian provocation and with humanitarian things [or actions] because we can't do anything else, but we know how to do what must be done well.

"We have been preparing these last two years since I left the presidency, methodically preparing [to] now begin the provocation against the [Castro] regime. If they accept the provocation they are going to look bad. If they don't accept it, then they are going to look bad as well."

Friday, April 18, 2014

Today in 1961...

If you go to the new Cuban (Exile) Memorial in Sweetwater you will notice a specific series of plaques. Those plaques identify tragic events such as the "Rastra de la Muerte" ("Cargo Container of Death" where nine captured Brigade 2506 soldiers died by asphyxiation) and the 1994 sinking of "El Remolcador 13 de Marzo." But, among those plaques, is the historic tragedy of the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The Bay of Pigs (namely its failure) seems to be one of the origins of the Cuban exile narrative focused on tragedy and suffering.

[Correction: I just recalled that the Cuban Memorial has a plaque for the anti-Castro guerrillas who operated in the Escambray Mountains. This event occurred before the Bay of Pigs and forms the earliest part of the Cuban exile narrative. These guerrillas were formed after the 1959 Cuban Revolution from "disgruntled officers from the revolutionary army" and formed an early potential operating area for the Bay of Pigs invasion. These guerrillas received weapons from the U.S. which were dropped by air. But, the guerrillas suffered from low numbers (around a thousand), lack of support (from nearby residents), and resources (such as food, and weapons would often be intercepted). American William A. Morgan was among the early leaders of the Escambray counter-revolution, but soon arrested and executed on March 11, 1961. Sources: here, here and here.]

[Cuban American Bar Association's 2011 Anniversary Issue on the Bay of Pigs (PDF)]
[ Link to the full April 18, 1961 St. Petersburg Times edition from above]

Monday, April 1, 2013

Yoani Sanchez Live in Miami [Updated Interviews]

If you can't make it in person, here's where you can see Yoani Sanchez in her two public appearances today in Miami.

Her first appearance will be at the Freedom Tower at 2:00 pm and streamed by Miami-Dade College. Click here to view.

Her second appearance will be at Florida International University at 7:30 pm and streamed here.

Locally, some television and radio stations will broadcast her speeches. Any recorded video and audio will later be posted here.

--- [Update] ---

Thanks to The Miami Herald for posting video of Yoani Sanchez at the Freedom Tower [update - thanks to the Generacion Asere blog and Miami Ready Studio, you can view Sanchez receive accolades from local leaders after this event]:

[English translation]

[In Spanish click here]

And, thanks to Florida International University for posting video of Yoani Sanchez later that evening:

[English translation]

[In Spanish click here]

[Additional audio and video interviews with Yoani Sanchez in Miami updated below.]

- Interview with Oscar Haza on Radio Mambi click here.
- Interview with The Miami Herald editorial board click here.
- Sanchez at the Roots of Hope/Knight Foundation "Tweet Up" click here.
- Interview with reporters from Diario Las Americas click here.
- Sanchez on 'A Mano Limpia' (AmericaTeVe) click here.
- Interview with Jaime Bayly on MegaTV click here.