Friday, December 28, 2007

Preserving an Image Through Policy

When Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Miami this past August, and proposed a different US policy towards Cuba, Miami hard-liners reacted in ways that were very revealing. I also wrote then that Obama "had hit on something really big." The hard-line reaction and defense of current US policy revealed to me the fact that the hard-line Cuban exile identity was politically and psychologically dependent on the embargo.

After the Miami Herald printed Barack Obama's new policy towards Cuba, Al Cardenas, current political advisor to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, appeared on Radio Mambi and articulated how it was an insult to the Cuban exile community for Barack Obama to express his views publicly here in Miami. He and radio host Ninoska Pérez-Castellón agreed it was "truly insolent." According to Cardenas, "now this man (Obama) has the audacity to reserve the same space, the same platform of Ronald Reagan, to give a speech on integration here in the heart of OUR community."

Armando Pérez-Roura, program director at Radio Mambi, was also deeply offended by Obama's comments, especially on the Cuban travel restrictions. But, Pérez-Roura found solace (yet again) in the writings of the "apostle" Jose Martí. In his daily radio address (Tome Nota- Aug. 22), Perez-Roura addressed "the scoundrels who settle for an arrangement with the criminal who has committed many crimes against our homeland," and responded to them with comments made by Jose Martí in 1887:

"War brought us here. And here our hatred towards tyranny keeps us, so deeply rooted within us, so essential to our nature, that we cannot tear it from ourselves without living flesh!"

"For what have we to go back there, when it is not possible to live with decorum, neither yet it seems the hour to return and be buried. Go to Cuba for what? To hear the lashes on the backs of men?"

"To see the repugnant association between the children of the heroes, of the heroes themselves, belittled in sloth, and the vices they flaunt in the face of those who should live with their back towards them, their disgusting prosperity?"

"To see the enlightened in shame, the honorable in despair, [...] the women with impure company, the farmer without the fruits of his labor?"

"To see an entire country, our country [...] dishonor itself with cowardice or an excuse? A stab is not enough to say how much that hurts. Return, to such shame?! Others can, we cannot!"

Luis Conte Agüero, on his TeleMiami television program, also gave a response to Obama and his new policy on Cuban travel restrictions. Conte Agüero, a former student of philosophy, revealed that some in the Cuban community may be torn about the travel restrictions, but nevertheless argued that this sense for humanity doesn't necessarily affect the position of the "intransigent." To Conte Agüero, the "intransigent" is forever loyal to the old Independence heroes like Martí and Maceo.

There's actually a thread that connects these reactions. They speak of an imagined Cuban exile as politically homogeneous, sharing one single history (of militancy), whose dignity is inextricably tied to the existence of one policy: the US embargo. Thus, if someone speaks out against that policy, then they disrespect the entire Cuban exile community.

This may explain the fierce reaction that some receive from hard-liners when one speaks out against US policy towards Cuba. The hard-liner may not only be defensive of the policy as a justified punitive measure, but also may be protecting an integral part of the imagined Cuban exile under attack. The image itself is also integral to the wider belief that the Cuban government is the official enemy, and the original and sole cause of exile.

The Cuban Adjustment Act is another policy that the imagined Cuban exile depends on. This past July, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was on Radio Mambi with Armando Perez-Roura (Jul. 5) and spoke of the "responsibility to act like a political exile." That day, a caller to the show complained of those Cuban exiles who travel to Cuba shortly after receiving their residence through the act. Rep. Diaz-Balart agreed, saying that these people are abusing the Cuban Adjustment Act:

"Those who abuse [the Adjustment act] endanger the rights of all... All Cubans are treated in effect, by the Adjustment act, as POLITICAL asylees. And thus those who abuse that great privilege in going back to Cuba, traveling to Cuba, after receiving their residence by the act, endanger the act."

"By receiving that exceptional and extraordinary treatment that no other country in the world has, it bears [on exiles] the responsibility to act like a political exile." [MP3]

Just as the US embargo helps to reaffirm the Cuban exile identity (as victim of communism and the Cuban government), so does the Cuban Adjustment act operate in the same fashion. Any perceived attacks or doubts about the policies, also casts doubts on the Cuban exile image, and especially the hard-line image. And, that in itself is no different than a personal attack.

This interpretation also leads to other characteristics of the imagined Cuban exile who shares a unified politico-historical identity. If what Martí said in 1887 is an accepted belief of the "intransigent," or the hard-line Cuban exile, then it might infer that the Cuban exile is also hurting from shame. Or, as Marti put it: "a stab." And, this pain must be avoided at all costs. Armando Pérez Roura said it best after reciting Martí:

"For what have we to go to Cuba? To watch impassively the destruction, the crime, the insult, everything that has been done to the Cuban family? Everything that has been done to Cuba? No. Esteemed listeners, we must raise our voice to remind those who wish to relieve themselves of the responsibility, of what it means to experience the "Cuban drama" only 90 miles away, to shut their mouths. If they don't want to help us, then don't come with dishonest proposals. We won't accept them, no matter the price we pay." [MP3]

This dimension of victimization and shame may shed light on past violent episodes in Miami.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Some Lessons I Learned

"Deceit and violence - these are the two forms of deliberate assault on human beings. Both can coerce people into acting against their will. Most harm that can befall victims through violence can come to them also through deceit. But deceit controls more subtly, for it works on belief as well as action."*

Looking back over the year (and even some years before), I noticed that there were many reasons why Mambi Watch was created.

In doing research for this post, I found an old journal of mine that brought back some memories. It revealed that around the end of 2003 the monotony at work had allowed me to pay more attention to local news and politics, and soon on national politics. The start of the Iraq War without question had an influence, as it surely had upon the rest of the nation. I was soon drawn further into important questions on politics (which I never paid attention to before), followed by philosophy, and soon psychology.

Following the notes in my journal, the amount of literature I began reading (mainly related to the social sciences) had soon grown significantly and somehow my interest turned to US-Cuba relations. The topic must've seemed very attractive at the time: politics, power, a fascinating history, moral dilemmas, and it was all happening in my backyard. I soon began to focus more of my research on the topic.

Mambi Watch, when it began one year ago, caught me still researching the topic of US-Cuba relations, and provided two wishes: to make public certain facts that I felt were being neglected in the discussion of US-Cuba relations (especially by the local media), and to challenge what I felt was the distorted view of US-Cuba relations in the local media.

Looking back, I realize now I went head-first into unknown waters and with few swimming lessons.

But, Mambi Watch became part of the learning experience that was already underway. By investigating and challenging the local media's accepted image of Cuba, I would not only be able to challenge my personal assumptions on the matter, but ensure that I had informed myself well on the differing views about the island, especially from the hard-line.

And honestly, I never expected the hard-line rhetoric to be so crude and aggressive when it came to Cuba. It further troubled me that public violence and intimidation marked some instances in the expression of contentious views related to Cuba, especially in Miami during the 70's. As a result, I find it very disturbing that (30 years later) there are still influential individuals in our community that condone or ignore acts of violence and intimidation when it comes to Cuba-related issues. But, I learned there's a reason for that.

If there was one important lesson learned after one year of Mambi Watch it would only reaffirm the idea that information is power, and that Miami is perhaps THE battleground when it comes to US-Cuba relations. And, in my opinion, the public interest is losing.

Information sources like Babalu Blog (one among many similar websites) and Radio Mambi (one among many other Spanish-language media outlets) only help to distort the image of Cuba and decieve the general public in order to accept only ONE policy towards the island: unilateral sanctions. This punitive measure encourages and is an extension of similar aggressive US policies on other nations, exercised contrary to the opinions of the general public.

With political power placed within the hands of hard-line policy supporters in Washington and Miami (and with the predictable acquiesence of their loyal followers), Miami over the years has internalized these general hard-line principles, which itself depends on accepting a homogeneous image of the Cuban exile community. And, in a circular logic, that image also depends on political power and power over information about Cuba.

Provided that the political climate between the US and Cuba has changed very little (due to intransigent forces on both sides), I see no reason to believe that the structures of US/Cuba politics and power will soon change radically.

Of course, there are alternatives in changing this political stalemate. But, it is not likely that South Florida residents will be exposed to them. The local media (especially Spanish-language) has no incentive to challenge the prevailing view supporting US policy towards Cuba, and neither the courage to question the power and image of hard-line Cuban exile politics, and its psychological dependence on US unilateral sanctions.

A review of events of the past year would further clarify some of these points.

*[Bok, Sissela. (1978). Lying: moral choice in public and private life. New York: Pantheon Books.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What I Missed

Boy, have I missed out. Here's some Cuba-related news I missed from the last two weeks.


The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released several special reports concerned about the growing incarceration and murder of journalist around the world. One CPJ report shows a dramatic and continuing increase in death of journalists since 2002, making this year "the deadliest year for the press in more than a decade." According to CPJ, "[f]or the fifth straight year, Iraq was the deadliest country in the world for the press." The second-deadliest place for journalists was Somalia, followed by countries such as Nepal, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Haiti, Honduras, Russia and Mexico. No mention of Cuba. (Aside from Iraq, the US currently conducts military operations in Somalia, which is a growing conflict considered "the worst on the [African] continent." Also check Human Rights Watch report: "Shell-Shocked".)

But, Cuba was included in the recent CPJ report on journalists around the world jailed without charge. According to CPJ, "[n]early 17 percent of journalists jailed worldwide in 2007 were held without any publicly disclosed charge, many for months or years at a time and some in secret locations." The world's leading jailer remains China (for the past NINE years), followed by Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, and Azerbaijan. "Twenty-four Cuban journalists are imprisoned, CPJ found, most of them swept up in a March 2003 crackdown on the independent press."

Of the top five jailers mentioned above, the US has diplomatic relations with three of them: China, Eritrea and Azerbaijan. Both China and Azerbaijan, despite their human rights record (China and Azerbaijan), have strong diplomatic and economic relations (both with MFN status) with the US. On the other hand, US-Eritrean relations have been getting worse, especially with Eritrean involvement in the Ethiopian/Somali conflict, and an abandoned border dispute between Ethiopia, a US ally.


Last week (December 10th) marked Human Rights Day around the world, but was followed in Cuba by two paradoxical news reports: repeated assault and intimidation against Cuban dissidents and the announcement that the Cuban government is prepared to sign two important Human Rights agreements (check the Cuban Triangle blog).

The new repression of dissidents in Cuba was captured on video (unedited video at US-funded Marti Noticias website) and highlighted in Miami by local Spanish programming (such as "A Mano Limpia" hosted by Oscar Haza). Yet, despite the news from Cuba, thoughts on Human Rights Day was focused on other grave issues.

Irene Khan, Secretary General from Amnesty International (AI), sent a public message from the website explaining that "we have cause for both celebration and challenge." Khan mentions that "[f]rom Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, human rights are being violated, neglected and eroded with audacity and impunity by governments, big business and armed groups." In her message, Khan specifically focuses on seven regions for "renewed commitment": Darfur, Zimbabwe, the Middle East, China, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan and "the world’s most powerful government" (the United States).

A few days before December 10th, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a new 140-page report on the massive political crackdown in Burma from September. "[HRW] research determined that that the security forces shot into crowds using live ammunition and rubber bullets, beat marchers and monks before dragging them onto trucks, and arbitrarily detained thousands of people in official and unofficial places of detention. In addition to monks, many students and other civilians were killed, although without full and independent access to the country it is impossible to determine exact casualty figures." The US has trade sanctions on the Burmese government, but the American-owned Chevron Corp. still operates there, and has received increased pressure from human rights groups and Congress to either pull out or push for human rights.

A few days after December 10th, a coalition of human rights groups from Zimbabwe reported that since January "there have been 549 cases of torture, 3,086 of unlawful arrest and detention and 2,719 violations of the right to freedom of expression, association and movement." The high numbers include the violent March crackdown earlier this year against the growing pro-democratic movement in Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, President Mugabe , who believed the March crackdown was "deserved", will most likely run for re-election next year, especially with the continued backing of the ruling party and the increased rhetoric against western "sabotage" by the US and the EU. Both the EU and the US have sanctions policies against Zimbabwe that do not seem to be working at all.


Last year's report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found waste and fraud on aid going to Cuba (with reports dismissed by Babalu blog as "pointless" and "hardly news") now has a sequel that again focuses on US policy towards Cuba.

According to the new GAO report (reported by Marc Lacey for the New York Times), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) "conducts secondary inspections on 20 percent of charter passengers arriving from Cuba at Miami International Airport, more than six times the inspection rate for other international arrivals, even from countries considered shipment points for narcotics." This concentration on Cuba, according to the GAO, has "strained CBP's capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country at Miami International Airport."

The news has already allowed opponents of the US embargo to state that "[i]t’s vindictive. It’s stupid. It’s costly. And now we find out it’s a threat to our national security." Time will tell how this news will be received by the American public.


Also, I wanted to say good-bye and thank you to the bloggers formerly from Stuck on the Palmetto. I enjoyed that blog, as I'm sure many did, and will miss it. Best wishes to both bloggers.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What I Meant to Say (Part 2)

Been busy and distracted away from this blog. Also, the One-Year Anniversary of Mambi Watch is approaching (Dec. 27th) and I hope to complete all unfinished thoughts before the New Year, review the mission of Mambi Watch, and make revisions or alterations of what the ultimate goal of this blog was. Without question, I learned many things about US/Cuba relations over the year, and I hope to articulate those new lessons for interested readers.

Below is the other series that I meant to finish.


The general thrust of this story was to point out how ironic it is that some Cuban exile hard-liners (who also describe themselves as supporters of human rights) are also among the most intolerant and threatening agents against freedom of expression in Miami. I began this story with the reports of a recent lawsuit [PDF] started by Rafael Del Pino, former high-ranking general from the Cuban military who defected in 1987, accusing prominent members of the local Spanish media of intimidation and violent threats in response to a series of articles he wrote in the local paper calling for negotiations between the Cuban government and the US.

I saw this recent event as part of Miami's long history of intolerance by some in the Cuban exile community towards opponents of US policy and the embargo. While the acts of intolerance and intimidation in Miami go way back, the documented history by human rights groups goes back to 1992 when Americas Watch published a report titled "Dangerous Dialogue: Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami’s Cuban Exile Community, and soon followed by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 1994 titled "Dangerous Dialogue Revisited" [PDF].

The 1994 report was the result of events that same year following the April visit of several Cuban exiles from Miami to Havana for a Cuban government-sponsored event about migration issues. The days following their return, the Miami Herald reported on several occurrences of violent threats and intimidation aimed at those exiles who attended the Havana conference, especially after the Cuban government released a video of the participants at the meeting with Fidel Castro. It is video that is still used by some to discredit those who attended more than 13 years ago.

The HRW report describes "death threats, bomb threats, verbal assault, acts of violence, and economic retaliation" against those in Miami who attended the Havana conference. The report also acknowledges the fact that "Magda Montiel Davis, a prominent Miami immigration lawyer... became a focal point for the post-conference backlash against participants." The reports by the Miami Herald after the conference (which were many) concur with the HRW report. Several articles described how the participants (and their families) of the Havana conference became the victims of widespread intimidation.

Initially describing some points at the Havana conference with Fidel Castro as "nauseating", former Herald columnist Liz Balmaseda in 1994 later wrote of the "backlash":

"A knot of protesters attacks [Magda] Montiel's car. Her staff quits... A burst of raw eggs hits the house of one exile's elderly mother. Schoolchildren taunt the 14-year-old daughter of another exile. Other participants report a wave of harassment. A bank executive has lost accounts. An office worker has lost her job. Another has lost friends. One woman claims she got beat up at a coin laundry.

"Much of what happened in Havana was lamentable. But here, the ambassadors of intimidation couldn't leave it at that. They couldn't let the already blatant contradictions of an exchange between 219 exiles and four Castro officials stand as their own indictments. They couldn't leave the mob thing to Havana... No, these of a narrow and narrow-minded faction had to go out and be cartoons. Only they forgot their maracas and fruit-laden hat baskets. They had to throw Miami back to the days when people were afraid to speak their minds... and those days had faded."*

But, the most ironic of all the ironies of Miami, was an act that occurred on June 24, 1994, about two months after the Havana conference. According to the HRW report (and reported by the Herald):

"On June 24, 1994, conference participant Emilia González went to have her hair done at the Cadris Hair Design salon in Miami. She was accompanied by two grandchildren, ages eight and six. Everything seemed normal, and Ms. Gonzalez sat for her hair cut. Toward the end of her appointment, however, several women came in to the salon, shut and locked the door and, together with the salon employees, proceeded to shout and hurl insults at Ms. González: 'Communist, traitor, get out of Miami!' Several held signs: 'If you like Fidel so much, go live in Cuba,' and 'Only vermin like Fidel will kiss Fidel,' She was struck by at least two people, hit on the arms and face. All of this occurred in the presence of her grandchildren. Eventually, Ms. González escaped with the children through a back entrance. Extremely distraught and worried about her high blood pressure, the elderly Ms. González sought medical attention."

The HRW report called it an "Act of Repudiation."

The last act of violent intolerance that I can think of occurred on January 19th, when members of the Bolivarian Youth were publicly attacked by Vigilia Mambisa after engaging in a counter-protest on Calle Ocho. It was all caught on video. A report was later filed with the City of Miami police department against the attackers, but charges were never filed after the investigation. Instead, the police told the Bolivarian Youth to pursue their case alone in court.

Another occurrence I can think of that came close to an act of intimidation was in August when the Cuban child custody case again made Magda Montiel Davis a target. In the midsts of Radio Mambi callers again voicing their disgust towards Montiel, radio host Ninoska Perez-Castellon allowed one caller to give out the office number of Montiel's office on the air.

It should be obvious to anyone that freedom of expression also entails having the freedom from obstacles that impede one to freely express oneself. That means protection from intimidation and threats that retaliate against popular or unpopular viewpoints. Furthermore, its should be obvious to those who constantly defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that freedom of expression extends universally as "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family."

Article 19 of the UDHR says: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

And, Article 7 says: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination."

I sometimes wonder if some people in Miami truly understand these words.

[Part 1]

[*] Miami Herald, May 18, 1994, "Backlash Beats the Video for Absurdity" by Liz Balmaseda.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What I Meant to Say (Part 1)

So as I write stories for this blog, and try to keep readers updated with some Cuba-related news, some posts get left behind in the time crunch. I've decided to finish those thoughts once and for all. Here's two stories that I didn't complete, they are summarized a bit, but the original message that I wanted to convey is still there.


In this story I attempted to review the recent defections of top Cuban boxers visiting South America and extract meaning and motivation from their (successful or unsuccessful) actions. I further sought to associate these events with the changing attitude of Cuba's younger population and the prospects for change within the Revolution and the current political transition.

I began by reviewing the story of Odlanier Solis, Yan Barthelemy and Yuriorkis Gamboa, three young Cuban boxers who defected from the national team while training in South America last year. The three have since gone their separate ways in professional boxing. Barthelemy is 3-0 and now fighting here in Miami with a recent win by unanimous decision. Gamboa is ranked #5 by the World Boxing Association in the featherweight division [PDF] and currently training in Los Angeles. And Solis is fighting in Germany with a current undefeated record of five bouts with four knockouts.

Their success stands in stark contrast to the most recent attempts at defection by
Erislandy Lara and Guillermo Rigondeaux, two other top boxers from Cuba who were visiting Brazil in July. Both boxers were arrested by police after disappearing for 11 days, afterward revealing a mysterious tale of events. In this case, there are opposing sides about whether the two boxers intended to defect, or had no intention to abandon their national team. Several stories in the media seem to indicate that the boxers did attempt to defect. Despite reports that the boxers had signed contracts or had prior agreements with boxing promoters, one story suggested that the boxers had tried to apply for visas to travel to Germany. Also, Human Rights Watch became concerned about the arrests and felt that "[e]ven if the two athletes did not explicitly request political asylum, claims for refugee status can be signaled through actions, rather than through an explicit request."

Yet, upon their return to Cuba, Lara and Rigondeaux were adamant that they did not intend to defect, but were instead coerced and possibly drugged by aggressive boxing promoters. Speaking to the Cuban state media, both boxers denied having signed contracts and seeking asylum in Brazil. A recent Sun-Sentinel article by Ray Sanchez catches up with Rigondeaux again saying that he never signed a contract with boxing promoters in Brazil. "That was all a lie... There was no contract," he says. Currently, Rigondeaux lives "in a leaky, run-down apartment belonging to Cuba's sports ministry," wishes to air his many grievances with the Cuban government (especially Fidel), and continues training by himself in hopes that he will soon return to the ring.

The athletes mentioned above, part of Cuba's world renowned athletic community, are seen more as soldiers of the Revolution. Fidel Castro himself, reflecting upon these events, said: "The athlete who abandons his delegation is not unlike the soldier who abandons his fellow men in the midst of combat." This also explains the required nationalistic indoctrination of young athletes throughout training. They are prepared to make a national sacrifice, just like any other potential soldier from around the world. But, the question arises: are these young men prepared to make that sacrifice?

Here too, the answer seems complex. The attitude of young Cubans seems no longer associated with old heroes like the legendary Teofilo Stevenson, better described as the "Cuban Ali." One need only look at how Ordlanier Solis presented himself to the media upon his debut in Germany. He wore gold rings and chains, boasting a "Thug Life" on his Tupac T-Shirt. (Did I mention gold watches on each wrist?) The sacrifice and commitment of Teofilo Stevenson towards the Cuban Revolution seems to have been abandoned by these young athletes. The current economic problems that affects young and talented Cuban athletes, and young Cubans in general, seems obvious to blame. But, does this mean a total abandonment of the Cuban system?

If you read Babalu Blog (check La Contra Revolucion's post on the "Youth Factor") or listen to Radio Mambi every day, Cuba seems ready to burst any day now. (Even the Cuba "experts" at UM can give you chills.) But, some current reports about the attitude of Cuba's youth and general population does not present this dire image. And, again the picture seems more complex.

Late last year, an AP article described well the frustration that many young Cubans are most likely experiencing. Damian Fernandez from FIU's Cuban Research Institute calls it the "frustration of expectations." "I want more technology, to be somewhere that feels more advanced," says Tony, a 20-year old music producer, in the article. "We want freedom of expression, freedom to do what we want... And we want dollars," says Luis, described as a young rebellious Cuban.

Another article (by Frances Robles) published in the Miami Herald last year described the problem as the Cuban government having "failed to capture the hearts of the nation’s nearly 5 million Cubans under the age of 30." But, this article becomes more specific than the AP. Robles quotes a 20-year old "potato vendor" saying: "The only bad thing here is the salary system. ... With capitalism, we’d have to work harder to pay for everything. I’d have to pay for my medicine... I’d like the same system, but I just want to earn more."

Ahmed Rodriguez, 21, is quoted saying: "If the government wants to capture the hearts of the young people, all it has to do is give higher salaries that cover living expenses, democracy, and freedom... Young people want to be able to live off their salaries... We can’t buy things, we can’t go out with our girlfriends... What are you going to do with $10?"

Gallup polling around that time, in Havana and Santiago, also showed similar tendencies. Cubans desire more personal freedoms, while at the same time viewing themselves more "equalitarian" (egalitarian) than "democratic." They also approved highly of the political leadership from Brazil and China, far more than the American leadership. Cubans respondents also strongly favored their educational and health care system, far more in comparison to other Latin countries. The US still remained the most desired trading partner.

In my opinion, young Cubans, and Cubans in general, seem anxious for change, and the new generation may not be ready to make the same sacrifices like the generation before them. The Cuban government may need a new brand for struggle. The Cuban people deserve something beyond meaningless indoctrination, or terrible predictions of instability from Miami. Their honest desires need to be heard, for their youth and their future.

Hopefully, Cuba and the US is listening.

[Part 2]


Tonight on Radio Mambi (yet again), the Commandos F-4 appeared on "La Mesa Redonda" with Armando Perez Roura for the entire two-hour program. Their mission this time (like all the other times before): collect funds from Radio Mambi listeners for their "sabotage" missions and "propaganda" (sticker) campaigns.

According to Rodolfo Frómeta, chief commander of Commandos F-4, and who testified in 2001 of being involved in violent acts against Cuba, their clandestine organization has operational bases in third-countries who provide moral support for Cuban liberation. Frómeta in the next sentence mentions cities like San Salvador.

Tonight, Frómeta and other members of Commandos F-4 are on the air asking for more funding from Cuban exiles who "REALLY" want a free Cuba. They believe that with proper funding they can create the "spark" needed to overthrow the Cuban government within 6 months. They are also appealing to young Cubans in exile who want to know more, or perhaps enlist.

According to their "Declaration of a Military Offensive," Commandos F-4 "declare a firm position of confrontation towards the Cuban government, of which continually justifies the use of force as the only method to to liberate our homeland."

Their "Platform" page states: "In view of the impossibility to achieve these demands by peaceful means, the people are left with no other choice but to burst into a popular insurrection."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Are You for Real?

Yesterday evening, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart appeared on Radio Mambi's "La Mesa Redonda" with Armando Perez Roura. There didn't seem to be a special reason for his appearance, the Diaz-Balart brothers appear occasionally on Radio Mambi to talk about a whole host of current events. Last night was no exception, highlighting the fact that Radio Mambi is nothing more than a soapbox exclusively for the hard-line political leadership in Miami.

Diaz-Balart, with a broad brush, went over current events (practically without interruption) and gave us his view of the world. Somehow, he always manages to include some exceptional levels of fear-mongering.

"Therefore, it is totally, in my opinion, incorrect to assert that Communism is dead. In addition, Communism is in coalition with other elements, other groups, other ideologies that want to enslave humanity. They are in a great coalition of evil. President Bush used the concept of 'axis of evil.' There's a great coalition of evil." [MP3]

As long as we allow our personal fears to override our commitments to reason, then we can only expect a conspiratorial world of perpetual conflict. Which, by the way, for the last 15 years seems to have worked well for Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. Congratulations.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Meeting with Secretary Trinidad Jiménez

Earlier this week, Spain's Secretary of State for Ibero-American Affairs, Trinidad Jiménez, visited Miami to speak with various representatives of the Cuban exile community. Among those who met with Jiménez were members of the Cuba Study Group, Cuban American National Foundation, Consenso Cubano, and the Cuban Liberty Council.

Phil Peters from the Cuban Triangle cites an article from IBLNews quoting Marcelino Miyares, president of the Cristian-Democratic Party of Cuba in Exile, describing the meeting as "cordial, open, and positive."

Diario Las Americas quotes Jiménez stating that Spain is "trying to influence internal developments [in Cuba] in an honest and logical way." Jiménez believes that some in Miami have "erroneous perceptions" about Spain's Cuba policy, and this error is due to the fact that "there's a debate with a heavy ideological burden that prevents treating calmly the complexity of the Cuban affair." Jiménez also acknowledges those in Miami that don't share the Spanish position on Cuba.

Over on the Babalu Blog, blogger Alberto De la Cruz dismisses the meeting with Jiménez as a "ludicrous attempt at reconciliation [which] is nothing more than empty words and obfuscation of Spain’s true goals: maximum profit regardless of the suffering of the Cuban people. Five hundred years of exploitation does not appear to be sufficient for the Spanish government."

De la Cruz points out that members of the intransigent Unidad Cubana were not invited to meet with Jiménez, and describes those who did attend as ones who "consider dialog... as a viable option in the quest for liberty in Cuba." This is false. Neither of the members who met with Jiménez belong to groups that support dialog with the Cuban government. Instead most of them have varying positions on some restrictions of the US embargo, with most supporting the main thrust of unilateral sanctions.

De la Cruz also seems to be ignorant of the fact that members of the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC) met with Jiménez, an exile group as intransigent as Unidad Cubana.

On Thursday morning on Radio Mambi, Ninoska Pérez Castellón, one of the founding members of the CLC got a call from fellow member Diego Suarez to talk about the meeting with Jiménez. Suarez was praised for attending the meeting and representing the hard-line. Suarez was also joined at the meeting by Luis Zuñiga Rey, also a member of CLC, who was also commended for making a powerful presentation to Sec. Jiménez. Suarez and Zuñiga belong to the directors list of the CLC (bottom two names).

Some may know Diego Suarez because he has appeared every once in a while on Spanish television to push the hard-line of a "total change" in Cuba. Suarez also happens to be a very successful businessman as CEO of Miami-based Inter-American Technologies Co. and Vanguard-Inter-American Transport Equipment Co. Ltd., Georgia-based Rome Plow Co. LP, Texas-based Reynolds International LP and Kansas-based Quinstar Equipment Co. LP. His companies manufacture large construction equipment and Suarez is "anxious to go back" to Cuba when "democracy is established."

Luis Zuñiga Rey is a far more controversial figure. He's considered a terrorist by the Cuban government ever since he was arrested in 1974 and charged with carrying weapons into Cuba. He was released from jail after 15 years when international efforts saved him from a 25-year sentence. He later joined the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) as an exile and was accused last year by Jose Antonio Llama of being part of a terrorist plan conspired by former members of CANF against Cuba in the late nineties. Nevertheless, Zuñiga is a well-respected leader of the Cuban-American political leadership having once met Pres. Bush at the White House.

According to the discussion on Radio Mambi, Suarez and Zuñiga made sure to tell the Spanish Secretary that they believe Spain is helping the Castro regime remain in power. Interestingly, they also brought up the names of dissidents like Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo and Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz. Gutierrez Menoyo, leader of the Cuban dissident group Cambio Cubano, was immediately dismissed as a dissident "who doesn't dissent." But, Elizardo Sánchez got the full treatment by Pérez Castellón and Suarez.

Recalling the meeting with Jiménez, Suarez described some parts as contentious. It seems that hard-liners from the CLC and Jiménez had differences over the legitimacy of some Cuban dissidents like Elizardo Sánchez, leader of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Its assumed that some dissidents like Sánchez or Oswaldo Payá (both of whom oppose US policy towards Cuba) are not legitimate dissenters in Cuba because their don't call for a complete overthrow of the government like some Cuban exile leaders in Miami wish. So, they must be discredited.

In 2003, Sánchez was accused of being a Cuban agent, with video evidence of him being awarded for service in 1998 by the Cuban government. The accusations were immediately dismissed by Sánchez as "another chapter in the dirty war" between the Cuban government and the dissidents, with the intent to further sow suspicions after the the recent crackdown on 75 arrested dissidents that March. After those arrests it was revealed that some dissident groups were infiltrated by Cuban spies (some as long as ten years), secret agents like Aleida de las Mercedes Godinez who told CBS News that "[t]he opposition will never flourish again — never!"

Nevertheless, the Cuban dissidents stood firm in solidarity with Sánchez and didn't believe the Cuban government and its offical Cuban journalists who revealed the video to the public. Oswaldo Payá, long time friend and dissident, called the accusations against Sánchez "lies and defamations" that "don't deserve analysis, not even a response." Jailed dissident Gisela Delgado Sablón said "to waste neurons on this would be fatal."

Still, members of the CLC found the time to again raise these allegations against Elizardo Sánchez in the meeting with Sec. Jiménez this week in another desperate attempt to smear dissidents who don't share the hard-line against Cuba. It's even more tragic being that its very likely most Cuban dissidents do not share the hard-line attitude towards the Cuban government like the exile leaders here in Miami.

It's also incredibly tragic that some Cuban dissidents have two enemies to face: the repressive Cuban regime and some organizations in the exile leadership from Miami. Cuban dissidents deserve our utmost respect for bravely standing up to the Cuban government, not unfair criticisms and hypocrisy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ironies of Miami (Part 3)

In 1992, when Americas Watch released their first report documenting "Attacks on Freedom of Expression in Miami’s Cuban Exile Community" and describing "significant responsibility by the government at all levels, including direct harassment by the government, government support of groups linked to anti-free speech behavior, and a persistent failure to arrest or prosecute those responsible for violent attacks on unpopular speakers," Miami City Mayor Xavier Suarez threatened to sue.

Mayor Suarez found it "defamatory" that Americas Watch reported him calling an FBI-accused terrorist a "freedom fighter."[1] Back in 1983, Eduardo Arocena was a fugitive wanted by the FBI on suspicion of being the leader of the terrorist organization called Omega-7. On July 22, 1983, Arocena was arrested by federal agents and charged with crimes he earlier revealed to FBI agents while cooperating in their investigations the year before. Arocena surrendered peacefully.

On his way to his court hearing, a reporter called out to Arocena: "Why did you do it? Was it for the revolution?" Arocena replied: "Of course... All for the liberation of my country."[2] The FBI adamantly believed Arocena was the leader of Omega-7 and America's most dangerous anti-Castro terrorist. Some in the exile community felt differently. The next day, Miami Herald's Jim McGee quoted Pedro Pablo Rojas, described as head of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association Brigade 2506, saying: "I feel sorry for him. Anybody who fights Communism has my sympathy... The best Communist is a dead Communist. If that violence is his way to fight, I won't condemn him."[3]

Arocena was eventually charged with several criminal violations and is currently serving a perpetual sentence of about 325 years according to the "Committee to Free Eduardo Arocena," which, as recently as 2004, has been advocating for his transfer to Miami and believes he deserves a Presidential pardon.

Back in 1983, as the Herald came out with several articles revealing the FBI case against Arocena since his arrest in July, Mayor Suarez was still convinced by October that the FBI had arrested a "freedom fighter."

On October 16, 1983, the Herald's Jim McGee wrote an article called "How Terrorism Sways Miami's Politicians." It was a daring piece that showed how some of Miami's political leaders at the time gave legitimacy to suspected terrorists. In the article, Mayor Suarez comes out sounding very similar to Pedro Pablo Rojas:

Suarez said he preferred to describe someone like Eduardo Arocena, the alleged leader of Omega 7, as a "freedom fighter," not a terrorist. "There is a great deal of reluctance to say, 'I condemn your tactics'" Suarez said.

[1] Miami Herald, August 19, 1992, "Prove Report in Error, Rights Group Says" by Alfonso Chardy.
[2]Miami Herald, July 23, 1983, "FBI Agents Arrest Omega 7 'Mastermind'" by Jim McGee and Bob Lowe.
[3]Miami Herald, July 24, 1983, "Arocena 'Armory' Uncovered FBI: Apartment a 'Bomb Factory'" by Jim McGee.

[Photo of Eduardo Arocena, courtesy of]


Thursday, November 22, 2007

C-Span on US-Cuba Policy

The 3-hour program by C-Span that discusses and debates US policy towards Cuba is now available on their website. The program is a great crash course on what the current debate is all about, and should provide the general public with much needed awareness on the current conflict that will soon reach its half-century mark.


The Ironies of Miami (Part 2)

In the lawsuit [PDF], Rafael Del Pino names leading members of Brigade 2506 (Pres. Felix Rodriguez and Sec. Esteban Bovo), Martha Flores (host from Radio Mambi), Oscar Haza (host of A Mano Limpia) and Miguel Cossio (producer of A Mano Limpia) as defendants. Del Pino alleges:

1) "Defendants had a retaliatory motive and intent in curbing Del Pino's speech."

2)"Defendants agreed to harass, intimidate, and threaten plaintiff and his family for the purpose of retaliating against Plaintiff for exercising his First Amendment Rights under the US Constitution."

3)"At the explicit direction of Brigade 2506, defendant engaged in acts amounting to assault against Del Pino."

4)"Defendants through their entire conduct, intentionally and/or recklessly inflicted emotional distress on Del Pino so that his rights under the First Amendment to the [US] Constitution would be "chilled."


On September 12th, Rafael Del Pino was invited to the local Spanish TV show called A Mano Limpia, hosted by Oscar Haza, to discuss his recent articles advocating negotiations between Cuba and the US. On the show, Del Pino was confronted by two guests (reporters Enrique Patterson and Andres Reynaldo from El Nuevo Herald), along with Haza, with many questions regarding his negotiation proposals. The show was nothing but a modern day inquisition, where Del Pino was basically confronted with familiar questions like: how can you negotiate with a criminal? (Haza even argues that an overthrow of the Cuban government is legitimate under the defintions of "tyrannicide.") You can watch the show on YouTube and see for yourself (in 5 parts, and in Spanish), courtesy of Baracutey Cubano.


In the days after the show, growing frustration by hard-liners in Miami began to show on the Spanish radio airwaves. According to the lawsuit, Del Pino's appearance was immediately condemned by Martha Flores on her evening show called "La Noche y Usted" that begins at 9pm on Radio Mambi (WAQI 710 AM). Del Pino alleges that Flores said Del Pino should be "executed" for his appearance on A Mano Limpia. Flores denies this allegation and has told the Miami Herald: "The only thing I can say at the moment is that this is not the kind of comment I would make." I agree with Flores, but Flores is also an adamant hard-liner who has publicly stated that a violent overthrow of the Cuban government is justified. Furthermore, her regular listeners are well-aware of her hard-line attitude that many callers usually favor violent actions towards opponents. Just recently on her show (Nov. 14th), a caller confidently stated that the only way to solve the "problem" in Venezuela is by assassinating Hugo Chavez. Flores did not deplore what the caller had said, but instead immediately told her that she is not allowed to air such comments on the radio.

Not mentioned in the lawsuit, one of the most extreme examples against Rafael Del Pino came the following Saturday on Radio Mambi. Beginning at 8pm on Saturdays, Radio Mambi has a series of shows running till midnight that provide a platform for the most extreme hard-liners against the Cuban government. These voices provide adamant support for a violent overthrow of the Cuban government, support for "heroes" like Luis Posada Carriles and Santiago Alvarez, and advocate a world view of perpetual violent conflict. One host (Luis Crespo of "Trinchera De Ideas" at 11pm) usually ends his show with the saying: "Communists are your eternal enemies, don't forget, and don't forgive." It was on one of these shows (September 15th, "Puntos De Vista"at 8pm, hosted by Tito Rodriguez Oltmans), that the host excoriated and directed malicious calumnies against Rafael Del Pino that shocked me enough to describe it as "hate speech" on this blog.

Some of the most upset were also the members of Brigade 2506. Despite already spending plenty of radio time condemning Del Pino since the 12th, leading members of Brigade 2506 (Felix Rodriguez, Esteban Bovo, Arturo Cobo), were eventually allowed television time to rebut Del Pino's articles for negotiations on A Mano Limpia with Oscar Haza. This appearance is also available online courtesy of Baracutey Cubano in five parts (in Spanish).

On the program, Rodriguez, Bovo and Cobo were first given the opportunity to voice their opinions about unrelated international news and then later about Del Pino. As expected, Del Pino's character and personal history was repeatedly questioned and attacked, and his article dismissed as "tonterias" (sillyness). Familiar insults were leveled at Del Pino, such as Bovo asking "why doesn't [Del Pino] go back to Cuba?" and the possibility that Del Pino is a Cuban agent, based on suspicions over his reasons for defection and because Miami "is inundated" with spies. The Brigada 2506 members also suggested a US/Del Pino conspiracy whereby Del Pino (who receives some protection from the US government) was instructed to write his articles to El Nuevo Herald in order to support a large media campaign of "accomodation" between the US government and Raul Castro. The host, Oscar Haza, was never confrontational with the members of Brigade 2506, unlike with Del Pino on the 12th, but instead allowed any allegations by the Brigade veterans to air on the program.

Additionally, Del Pino's lawsuit mentions an instance on the show where Bovo mentions Del Pino's home address. The address is mentioned for no reason whatsoever relevant to Bovo's general comments about, ironically, respecting Del Pino's privacy rights. Del Pino believes that this revelation was intended to further harass and intimidate him, and his family.

It should be noted that this kind of behavior of harassment and intimidation by the Miami Spanish media has a long (yet denied) history. In 1992, human-rights organization Americas Watch published a report titled "Dangerous Dialogue" that criticized local Spanish media for being "dominated by fiercely anti-Communist forces who are strongly opposed to contrary viewpoints." This report was followed up in 1994 with "Dangerous Dialogue Revisted" [PDF] after some Cuban exiles were the targets of threats and intimidation upon returning from a much publicized visit to Cuba.

It's relevant history worth reviewing.

[Part 3]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Ironies of Miami (Part 1)

On April 5th, 2007, El Nuevo Herald again published an article by Juan M. Juara Silverio, veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and former Cuban prisoner after the invasion. Juara Silverio wrote about the "irony of history" pointing out that 3 of the 6 pilots who fought and survived against the US-backed Cuban exiles, now themselves live as exiles in Miami. Juara Silverio continued:

"Alvaro Prendes, Douglas Rudd and Rafael del Pino, abandoned their higher military responsibilities, honors and medals and became exiles to fight against the communist dictatorship, providing an example of political unselfishness and integrity."

"Del Pino, Rudd y Prendes, with their honest deeds, today unite themselves with those who fought, in unity with the ideals of liberty and justice that led Brigade 2506 to battle at Playa Girón (Bay of Pigs)."

That was perhaps the last time Rafael Del Pino was praised in the local Spanish media.

Back in 1987, Rafael Del Pino made headlines when he defected from Cuba, becoming the highest ranking military official to be exiled in the US. One Reagan administration official at the time described it as "the biggest intelligence catch we've ever had from Cuba." Upon his arrival, Del Pino was "questioned by American intelligence officers for two or three weeks" and provided plentiful amounts of new information concerning possible Cuban retaliatory attacks against the US, "Cuba's expeditionary force in Angola, about growing discontent in Cuba as the economy worsens, about the nearly 10,000 Soviet civilian and military advisers in Cuba, and about his life in the United States and his hopes for the future." Del Pino gave several interviews to US-funded Radio Marti, providing interesting transcript excerpts which were soon published by the Cuban American National Foundation in a small book titled "General Del Pino Speaks." By the early 90's, as the Cuban economy began collapsing, Del Pino's defection was used by some Cuba experts to argue of the fractured Cuban military and to predict the coming end of the Cuban regime. The predictions eventually faded, and so did Del Pino. Until this year.

Earlier this month, Wilfredo Cancio Isla from the Miami Herald reported on a lawsuit initiated by Rafael Del Pino against some Bay of Pigs veterans, Radio Mambi and other Spanish-language media outlets. According to the complaint [PDF], Del Pino alleges that his First Amendment rights were violated due to "a series of violent threats and intimidation" by hard-liners in Miami in retaliation for two published articles in El Nuevo Herald advocating negotiations between the US and the Cuban government.

Two months after Juara Silverio commended Del Pino, El Nuevo Herald published the first article in a series by Del Pino titled "La Hora de las Negociaciones" (The Hour of Negotiations) on June 25th. Phil Peters from the Cuban Triangle Blog gave a good summary of Del Pino's proposal that day. Two other articles followed, in anticipation of Cuba's July 26th Revolution Day celebration and speeches, one of them (Aug. 1) titled "Carta Abierta a Raúl Castro" (Open Letter to Raul Castro), in which Del Pino follows up his initial US-Cuba negotiations proposal, this time urging Raul Castro to lift the internal "blockade against Cubans on the island" (i.e. prohibition on property rights) and recognize that "the system does not work and... will never work."

Each article gained wider criticism against Del Pino from Miami hard-liners, each easily dismissing his calls for calibrated negotiations as "silliness" and instead reiterating the hard-line position that "the international community has the moral obligation to intervene in Cuba in favor of the defenseless and oppressed Cuban people and against the powerful and oppressive dictatorship."

By September, I also began noticing how Radio Mambi and other Spanish media outlets had unfairly criticized Rafael Del Pino for his articles, some even insulting and vilifying his character to obviate from the important political alternative he presented. Some would make the argument that this new criticism is about Rafael Del Pino's military history with the Cuban government or actions at the Bay of Pigs (where he supposedly shot at Cuban exiles on the beach from his plane), but that is a mistake.

The new condemnation and retaliation against Rafael Del Pino is purely the result of his recently published articles in the El Nuevo Herald (beginning on June 25th) advocating negotiations between the US and Cuba. Before these dates, Del Pino was hardly, if ever, mentioned by the defendants identified in his lawsuit. If this case goes to trial, I think the proceedings will reveal some truths about the Spanish media in Miami, about it's hostility and blind allegiance to a hard-line position on US/Cuba policy.

[Part 2]

Monday, November 19, 2007

C-Span Debates US-Cuba Policy

Don't miss out on today's C-Span coverage of US-Cuba Policy. It includes a September 17th Heritage Foundation speech by US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez beginning at 5:37pm EST. In the Gutierrez speech, Cuba's policy towards the US is summed up as:

"Anything that can hurt the U.S. That has been their policy for over 48 years, and that has been more important than putting a focus on the plight of the people in Cuba."

C-Span's special coverage of US-Cuba policy begins at 7pm EST, and is scheduled until 10pm. The program is scheduled to include several interviews and video from Cuba.


[Update: Nov. 20, 2007]

The three hour program on C-Span yesterday was incredibly informative. It is a program that would best serve those who would like to learn more about the debate on US policy towards Cuba, and its principle actors. It is also the kind of program that is sorely needed in Miami, but has been denied to its English and, especially, Spanish-speaking audience. The program included an excellent and lengthy interview with GaryMarx, Chicago Tribune reporter on Latin America and the Caribbean. Marx and his family lived in Cuba for about five years (2002-20o7) until his press credentials were not renewed earlier this year by the Cuban Government, and had to leave the island. According to Marx, the director of the Cuban International Press Center told him:

"This is nothing personal, this is business. Our overseas image is very important to us. We weighed your positive stories against your negative stories. There are too many negative stories. We think we can do better with someone else."

According to John Dinges, reporter on Latin America,:

"Reading Gary Marx's voluminous catalogue of stories from his five years living and writing in Cuba, one is struck--as Fidel once was--that this is a tremendously thorough journalist who not only understands a lot about Cuba but has a good deal of affection for the country."

Also in Dinges' article, AFP's Havana correspondent, Marie Sanz, said:

"Gary Marx is a very balanced reporter... He went everywhere on the island. He's not an arrogant American. He is unusual in that he is full of empathy for the Cuban common man."

The Marx interview was a very honest view about Cuba. As an American journalist in Cuba, Marx talked about how he felt living in a police state, and about the feeling of being constantly watched and mindful of his conversations, even at home. Marx revealed that he did not allow his children to be enrolled in public schooling in Havana because of the political indoctrination and its suppression of individual creativity on its students. On the flip-side, Marx, living in Havana for five years, fell in love with the country and its people, and considers Cuba his "second home." He hopes one day to return to the island.

The other highlight of the C-Span program was the debate between Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Jim McGovern. Both speakers clarified their positions well on US policy towards Cuba, and showed the public the depth of disagreement on current policy. Rep. McGovern was mostly opposed to the US embargo based on its travel restrictions and ineffectiveness over nearly 50 years, while Rep. Diaz-Balart supported the embargo based on the accusation that Cuba is a state-sponsor of terror, and a country that "kills Americans."

Rep. Diaz-Balart's argument is easily refuted by the research collected at the Center for International Policy (CIP). US State Department reports accusing Cuba of giving refuge to members from ETA, FARC or ELN are also easily dismissed. According to the latest article from CIP:

"...the Spanish government had no concerns about ETA members residing in Cuba. They are there as the result of earlier agreements. Spain has no evidence that any are involved in terrorist activities and regards the question of their presence in Cuba as a matter strictly between the Spanish and Cuban governments which is being handled satisfactorily."

The same applies to FARC and ELN:

"... conversations with the Colombian embassies in Washington and Havana last year indicated that they are there with the acquiescence of the Colombian government, which continues to see Cuba's efforts to broker a peace process in Colombia as 'helpful and constructive.'"

Also, Rep. Diaz-Balart misrepresented the shootdown of the Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996 as a case of terrorism. There's important background on the incident to consider, but constantly ignored or denied in Miami. When the UN's Special Rapporteur on Cuba presented his report to the General Assembly on the shootdown, he posed two questions:

"The high command of the Cuban Army was aware that shooting down the aircraft would add a new obstacle to the already difficult relations between Cuba and the United States. One can thus legitimately ask who in the Cuban Government has an interest in causing incidents that create such obstacles, and why. At the same time, one can also legitimately ask why the United States authorities did not take effective measures to halt additional flights by these aircraft which could be expected to have tragic consequences. One possible reason is the existence of groups in Miami whose relevance depends on the continued existence of confrontational policy between the two countries. "

Babalu Blog's Henry Gomez has his own thoughts on the debate, with a lengthy rebuttal to Rep. Jim McGovern. Gomez's argument is based on the assumption that "the original goal of the embargo was to punish Cuba for those unlawful expropriations" more than 45 years ago(!), and which over the years has included "additional criteria" towards the Cuban government. Gomez doesn't mention the actual economic restrictions over the years and their consequences (material and psychological) placed on a nation (not just the government) only 90 miles away, who once depended heavily on its northern neighbor economically.

[Once yesterday's program is available online, it will be posted.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Health Revolution

The Cuba Journal blog has posted video of a two-part television program called Cuba: The Accidental Revolution. The program was recently aired for Canada's CBC Television The Nature of Things, which is an award-winning television program that focuses on the environment. It's host, David Suzuki, is also an environmental activist who's foundation focuses on issues of sustainability in Canada.

The first part of the documentary focuses on Cuba's "Green Revolution" when it turned to organic agricultural production due to shortages of the Special Period. The second part talks about Cuba's healthcare system. Undoubtedly, two very controversial subjects, both of which are not seriously discussed or investigated by the mainstream US media. For example:

As far back as 2001, the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) noticed how "one of the most efficient organic agriculture systems in the world" was developing in Cuba and being marginalized by the US press. Some european news outlets like the BBC took notice though. Since then, the topic of Cuban "sustainable agriculture" [PDF] has been written about extensively. The release of the 2002 book Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba was supported by Food First and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

It should be noted that these agricultural developments in Cuba only reveal how widespread organic farming can become, but it does not provide a solution to widespread world hunger (as some might view it). Even supporters of the new developments acknowledge that in Cuba "[b]y the latter part of the 1990s the acute food shortage was a thing of the past, though sporadic shortages of specific items remained a problem, and food costs for the population had increased significantly."[PDF] Today, while the great majority of food grown in Cuba comes from organic, cooperative or private farms, food sold at the market is still far too expensive for the regular Cuban wage.

Yet, this doesn't stop those who see this "Green Revolution" as nothing but propaganda for the Cuban government. When Andrew Buncombe last year wrote about Cuba's "self-sustaining system of agriculture that by necessity was essentially organic," the people at NewsBusters described Buncombe as one of the "defenders of communism out there in the Western press." Yet, Buncombe's excellent and well-researched article (spending two-weeks in Cuba) never mentioned communism, but, on the contrary explained how this "organic approach is far more efficient than the previous Soviet model that emphasized production at all costs." The NewsBusters piece also includes a rebuttal by Buncombe that further clarifies his point.

And, a similar reaction occurred with the premier of The Accidental Revolution. Terence Corcoran from Canada's Financial Post provided a rebuttal describing the documentary as "a two-part propaganda homage to the greatness of Cuba's agricultural economy" and a reactionary account of "the evils of modern agriculture." In the end, Corcoran asks two important questions: "Is this ['green revolution'] a total coincidence, or could it be that the rise in oxen use is a function of a police state run by the old murderous despot? Could it be that people are not doing this because they have a choice?"

I say these are important questions because they do draw one to consider other perspectives, even one that includes the history between Cuba and the US, and even to ponder how the Special Period and additional sanctions towards Cuba at the time did not result in a social collapse, given that an important element like food had become scarce.

Recent news about U.N. Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler to Cuba adds more controversy to other questions about Cuban agriculture and food availability. Ziegler was recently quoted as saying: "We cannot say that the right to food is totally respected in Cuba, but we have not seen a single malnourished person."

Of course, this came with an anticipated reaction. Ziva at the Babalu Blog took the opportunity to call Ziegler an "anti-Semite" (focusing on an unrelated story), and UNWatch described Ziegler as having an "extreme anti-American political agenda" and called for his removal. Notice no direct counter-arguments about the state of malnutrition in Cuba were provided. There's a reason: Cuba's food situation is not that bad, and there are far worse situations of malnutrition nearby in South and Central America.

Its generally accepted that child health (and malnutrition) "is the most widely used indicator of nutritional status in a community and is internationally recognized as an important public-health indicator for monitoring health in populations." So we should inquire into what exactly is the state of Cuba's nutritional situation and compare how it does with other countries. Health statistics from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) of the UN has shown that Cuba is a mixed picture (surprise) with respect to malnutrition, but generally does not fare worse than other countries in the Latin region which operate under "free markets" and "free elections."

Results of a PAHO 2000 national survey revealed that in Cuba "5% [of children] showed moderate malnutrition and 1% severe malnutrition." Whereas countries of the "Northern Triangle" (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) show significantly higher malnutrition levels. In Honduras, "[t]he prevalence of malnutrition in 1997 was 40.6%, 26% moderate and 14% severe." In Guatemala, "[t]he prevalence of global malnutrition (as measured by weight-for-age) is 24% in children under 5 years of age." In El Salvador in 1998, "chronic malnutrition in children under the age 5 was 23.3%." The same grim picture applies to countries like the Dominican Republic ("deficit of height-for-age in schoolchildren was close to 20%") and Colombia ("prevalence of chronic undernutrition was 13.5% in children under 5").

In 2003, our friends at UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) published their version of Cuba's state of health. They write that "[t]he repercussions of the shortcomings of the Cuban system are becoming more and more apparent as nutritional deficiencies register throughout the country." While they don't miss identifying nutritional deficiencies in Cuba (which are accurate), they miss the larger picture of malnutrition in the Latin region and instead conveniently blame "the Cuban system."

One source used by ICCAS comes from the 2002 FOA annual report titled "The State of Food Insecurity in the World. According to FOA (2002), ICCAS writes that "13% of the Cuban population were chronically undernourished from 1998-2000." (It must be that "Cuban system" to blame.) The statistic is accurate, and can be seen here, but FOA never describes the situation as "chronically undernourished" (but you gotta love ICCAS for trying). And, also notice the other countries highlighted in the Caribbean region. Cuba's 13% is way below the average of 25% undernourished in the Caribbean, and significantly better than the Dominican Republic's 26% undernourished population. In fact, Cuba's 13% is much closer to the average in South America (at 10%), and similar to US allies like Peru (11%) or Colombia (13%). Given that both Peru and Colombia operate under "free markets" and "free elections" (and close ties with the US), those two systems should be as much scrutinized as "the Cuban system."

Aside from South America and the Caribbean, countries in Central America also show troubling numbers. The average percentage of undernourished people is about 20%, with El Salvador at 14%, Honduras at 21%, and Guatemala at 25%. The numbers provided by FOA reveal a REAL chronic undernourishment problem in Guatemala, showing that since 1979 undernourishment has gotten worse. The recent 2006 FOA report [PDF] shows that the situation has not significantly improved from 2001 to 2003 (with 23%). Nevertheless, this didn't stop President George W. Bush in March from describing Guatemala and the US as "fellow democracies... partners in trade... allies in the cause of social justice."

But, ICCAS does get it right in pointing out other nutritional deficiencies in Cuba, such as the prevalent iron deficiency anemia that PAHO describes as "the most frequent nutritional problem in Cuba" which mostly affects children and pregnant women. PAHO reports a staggering "46% of children from 6 months to 2 years of age in 2000" as being anemic. This is very high compared with Mexico's 27% of children under five with anemia in 1999, and Colombia's troubling 36.7% for "the 12-23-month-old group" with anemia in the late 90's.

Going back to Cuba's "Green Revolution", ICCAS's 2003 report did call the new agricultural developments in Cuba after the Special Period "surely praiseworthy." But of course, they give no credit to "the Cuban System." Just as they, and others, continue to ignore the realities of Cuba and the chronic health problems of the larger Latin region.