Tuesday, March 27, 2007

News Bites!

This month's issue of Costco Connection displays the debate on the US embargo with remarks by Wayne Smith, senior fellow for the Center for International Policy, and Jaime Suchlicki, director of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. The editors of Costco Connection display tolerance and fairness for expression of opposing viewpoints, a demeanor found intolerable by some in Miami, especially towards Wayne Smith.


This past Saturday, dozens of protesters gathered in opposition to the Cuban family travel restrictions. They are made up mostly of Cuban exiles who are frustrated with travel restrictions that only allow visits every three years to see direct family members. The restrictions have prohibited visas to see cousins, uncles and aunts. Last week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement by Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy, saying that:

"No one should be prevented from visiting a dying relative or attending a loved one’s funeral simply for having traveled to Cuba once in the previous three years... It is an inhumane policy that does no honor to our country.... It continues to be our position that the goals of improving the lives of the Cuban people and encouraging democracy in Cuba will best be advanced through more rather than less contact between the Cuban and American people."

The US State Department believes that the travel restrictions will "continue to reduce the flow of resources that enable Castro to keep the Cuban people repressed." These are the same allegations that the US supports towards general tourism travel to Cuba. Yet, Cuba continues to commit acts of repression regardless of current US policy.


Yesterday, Scott W. Carmichael visited the local anti-Castro Cuban-American media (Radio Mambi, WQBA, and Maria Elvira's Polos Opuestos) touting his forthcoming book "True Believer," which recounts the tale of how he helped expose the international spy Ana Belen Montes who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison. She was an analyst for the US Defense Intelligence Agency on Cuba for about 16 years. She was born in Puerto Rico.

Carmichael says that the damages done to secret US programs have been "exceptionally grave," but the true extent is "classified." He further acknowledges that "we are [Cuba's] priority target" since the revelations about Montes' intentions.

The reasons behind her motivation has been expressed as being "morally obliged to help the Cuban state protect itself from US attempts to force its values and political system on Cuba... [and] that the USA had been demonstrating intolerance and disdain toward Cuba for the majority of the past forty years and never respected Cuba’s right to follow its own way to its own ideals of justice and equality."

The local Spanish-language media has yet to report the reasons and details about why Ana Belen Montes became a spy for Cuba.

Friday, March 23, 2007

McCain Tortured Again (Part 2)

Mitt Romney, another Republican presidential hopeful, also was interviewed earlier this week on Radio Mambi. He said the right thing: "America must always be ready in the event of any military incursion by Castro or Chavez against the people of America."

Essentially, these interviews are nothing but tests to see if political candidates are saying the right things on their campaign. It has nothing to do with them being honest.

Anyway, by the end of the interview, Perez-Roura suggested that if McCain didn't have the guts to accept La Beligerancia, then he should support an actual naval blockade on Cuba, like during the Missile Crisis. By then both sides had enough. The tension was so obvious that at one point Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez intervened to defend McCain from Armando's fury.

Near the end, McCain jokingly (but most likely honestly) pointed out that from now on "I must take the Mayor with me wherever I go."

Haha... hehe... (sigh).

[Photo by Gabriela Murillo/Univision]

[Part 1]

McCain Tortured Again (Part 1)

There's no question that Senator John McCain from Arizona is one tough guy, but when he met Armando Perez Roura this past Wednesday (March 21, 2007) on Radio Mambi he was no match for "La Beligerancia."

To Armando Perez-Roura the option of military aggression, covert or not, is an acceptable option to regime change in Cuba. He mentions it every once in a while, knowing that his idea is not very popular at all, only to hard-liners. But, Perez-Roura romantically calls it "La Beligerancia" (the spirit of militancy) to mask his rhetorical hostility.

Well, John McCain, Republican presidential hopeful, began his campaign in Miami with a morning interview on Radio Mambi, and Perez-Roura was ready to grill him. Earlier this year, in another interview McCain suggested that he was perhaps willing to negotiate with Raul Castro, saying: "When Castro has the opportunity to meet Karl Marx, I think that that is the time that we offer a package of trade, of assistance, of economic development, of assistance in democratization..."

This kind of talk has been abolished on Radio Mambi (and on other hard-line Cuban-American forums), so McCain was grilled that morning in order to a show him what La Beligerancia was all about. Perez-Roura (poorly translated through Enrique Encinosa) made it clear that McCain should consider a military strike as a viable option. McCain has said before that such a scenario would not be accepted, but after a grilling on Radio Mambi, McCain changed his attitude a bit. He finally succumbed to saying:

"... if you're asking me if I will send in troops for military action [coughs]... I don't know."

Wow. Its definitely a different McCain compared with his January interview where he clearly said: "I cannot say invade. I cannot say Bay of Pigs. I cannot say military action of any kind."

[Photo by Gabriela Murillo/Univision]

[Part 2]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Other Black Spring (Part 6)

The abuse of power by Robert Mugabe and his government has been atrocious and extremely cruel towards his own people. And, for decades, this abusive pattern has always been justified under the rhetoric of domination by the West. While there is a level of paranoia involved, reasons for hostility exist.

Jerrold Post, one of the leading political psychologists in the US, admits that current dictators have reasons to be fearful of Western aggression, and that paranoia alone is not an adequate explanation. Just like US policy towards Cuba, Britain and the EU will have to review its aggressive policy towards Zimbabwe, or face possible escalations of violence in a country facing an economic downward spiral.

Just as we closely observe the events in Cuba and the health of Fidel Castro, we should also focus on events in Zimbabwe and the 83 year-old Mugabe. Britain is currently looking to toughen sanctions on Mugabe's government, and planning a post-Mugabe agenda for next year's troubled elections.

The following months will provide real lessons on how developed nations honestly react to explicit human rights abuses, and their general behavior towards developing nations and dictatorial regimes. No doubt, a possible future scenario for Cuba.

The Other Black Spring (Part 5)

Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe share an intense displeasure with Western countries. They both accuse the West of being antagonistic and at fault for worldwide poverty. Yet, their accusations of the West are not unfounded, they have good reasons to be angered.

This month's latest report from the anti-poverty organization Oxfam has clearly shown that "trade and investment agreements between rich and poor countries threatens to deny developing countries a favorable foothold in the global economy." The report targets the US and EU for unfair trading practices where "[t]he worst of the agreements strip developing countries of the capacity to effectively govern their economies and to protect their poorest people. "

Like Castro and the US, Zimbabwe shares a hostile relationship with Britain and the EU. Relations intensely deteriorated in 2002 when Britain pushed for targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his cronies after EU election observers where evicted from the southern African nation. Mugabe fired back at the 2002 Earth Summit declaring: "We don't mind having sanctions banning us from Europe. We are not Europeans... Blair, keep your England. Let us keep our Zimbabwe."

The acts by Britain against Zimbabwe, similar to the acts of the US against Cuba, send the same message: threats from the industrialized Western society (and former colonial masters).

But, this shared unstable relationship between developing countries and the West does not justify any abuse of power and violation of human rights from either side.

The Other Black Spring (Part 4)

This crackdown has set in motion what some are describing as Zimbabwe's political and societal breakdown. Many place the blame on Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe, who has governed this nation since 1980, and considered one of the 10 worst dictators alive.

Consequently, there are many similarities with Cuba and Fidel Castro. Robert Mugabe, like Fidel Castro, is widely described as a tyrant and oppressor of human rights. Yet, the reports of Mugabe's tyranny is far more cruel and horrendous than what has been attributed to Castro. The economy of Zimbabwe, like Cuba's, is collapsed. Yet, the level of Zimbabwe's economic performance is far more bleak and desperate than Cuba's economy could ever be. Also, the health indicators in Zimbabwe are far more drastic and dire than Cuba's.

The recent crackdown in Zimbabwe also operates in similar fashion to Cuba's Black Spring. In this case, Mugabe has for many years systematically repressed a pro-democratic movement because he feels they were mercenaries and "shameless stooges of the West" threatening the nation's sovereignty. And, like Castro, Mugabe is fiercely anti-imperialist and accuses the West for many of his country's troubles.

It may appear obvious to some that these dictators are clearly paranoid and addicted to power. But, this conclusion ignores several facts. Its very convenient to blame the dictator for an entire country's woes, but history presents another picture. Just like Cuba's history with the US, Zimbabwe has a very violent history with South Africa (and its colonial rulers) under apartheid, and like many other African nations, a strong nationalism originating from its colonial past.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Other Black Spring (Part 3)

Many international organizations have settled with the position that amelioration of Cuba's human rights abuses is dependent on US policy. That may be a reason why there is little to say over the four-year mark of Cuba's Black Spring: everyone is waiting for the US to change its policy.

So, while some ask (dare I say whine) about why there is little coverage of Cuba's Black Spring, there has been substantial coverage of another Black Spring. Despite the claim that many support solidarity with other oppressed people in the world, there has been a virtual silence in Miami about the recent Black Spring in Zimbabwe.

One week exactly before the mourning of Cuba's Black Spring, police in the capitol of Zimbabwe violently interrupted a demonstration of pro-democracy activists with a massive crackdown of about 100 arrests. The event made headlines after it was discovered that one of the leading pro-democracy activists, Morgan Tsvangirai, was among the arrested and severly beaten, suffering a fractured skull among other injuries.

The Other Black Spring (Part 2)

About three months after the massive "Black Spring" crackdown in Cuba, Amnesty International (AI) presented one of the most comprehensive reports on the event, titled "Essential Measures?: Human Rights Crackdown in the Name of Security." Unlike those who have a very narrow and selective vision of history, AI thoroughly investigated and presented the context and development of events that led to the "Black Spring" of 2003. Consequently, AI's interpretation of events has been ignored and dismissed by those who believe that the Cuban government exists in a vacuum.

According to the AI report, the "fraught bilateral relations" between US and Cuba are the "one exception" to general improvements in international relations before 2003. AI makes a compelling case that by 2002 the "ongoing tensions with the United States" had been the main catalyst to the "Black Spring" crackdown.

AI cites three factors to consider: the US embargo towards Cuba, the case of the Cuban Five, and the War on Terror.

According to AI: "the US embargo has helped to undermine the enjoyment of key civil and political rights in Cuba by fueling a climate in which such fundamental rights as freedom of association, expression and assembly are routinely denied" and that "any tightening of the existing sanctions would only heighten the negative human rights impact of the embargo." Thus, US policy creates "a situation in which perceived external aggression is met with increased internal repression of dissent."

AI also writes that "[t]ensions between the two countries have been heightened over the last months by disputes over the treatment of five Cuban men [the Cuban Five]." Furthermore, AI is concerned over the treatment of the families of these men by the US government. They state that "[s]ince 2002 the US government has denied the wives’ applications for temporary visas for different reasons relating to terrorism, espionage and issues of national security. Yet, neither woman has faced charges in connection with such claims, nor have their husbands been charged with, or convicted of terrorism."

Finally, AI points out the 2002 baseless accusations by then-Undersecretary of State for arms control John R. Bolton and then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Western hemisphere Otto Reich that Cuba was researching biological weapons. AI believes that "against the backdrop of preparations for the US-led military invasion of Iraq and widespread speculation that other states accused of sponsoring terrorism might also be targeted, the Cuban authorities detained scores of dissidents on accusations of seeking to subvert the Cuban system and conspiring with the US."

Amnesty International recommends that the US "review its foreign and economic policy towards Cuba, with an aim towards ending this damaging practice."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Other Black Spring (Part 1)

This past Sunday (March 18, 2003) marked four years since the massive act of repression in Cuba bitterly called "La Primavera Negra" (Black Spring), or "La Primavera Sangrienta" (Bloody Spring) by more vehement opponents.

That day, Cuban authorities detained about 90 Cubans, 75 of whom were later arrested and charged with "acts against the independence or territorial integrity of the state" under the draconian measures of Law 88 and Article 91 of the Penal Code. The sentences were horribly excessive (some with a maximum sentence of 28 years of incarceration) for such behavior and, according to Human Right Watch, "[t]he trials fell far short of international human rights standards." Since then, according to Human Rights First, 59 still remain imprisoned, with the rest having been released under "medical parole" due to health concerns attributed to "an unhygienic environment, substandard care and inadequate medical treatment." Amnesty International and other human rights organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of these designated prisoners of conscience.

This event is among many abuses that constitutes the growing frustration with the repressive Cuban government. It strikes at the heart especially among those who honestly demand human rights for all.

Unfortunately, there are some who would exploit such an event to justify their myopic personal agendas, instead of the greater cause for human rights. They plead (dare I say whine?) to the unknowing that "those [75] men bear the punishment for the sins of the world's indifference" and that "[i]f you value truth" then "help spread the word on their dreadful plight." Another, out of frustration, quickly condemns others because "ignorance [of the 75] makes the world complicit with Castro's crimes," thus, you must "promise to never forget."

Others spread the so-called "truth," but they offer no historical background on the event, as if this event just occurred one day without explanation. It's obvious that these people have a preference to a singular interpretation of history that they wish to promulgate. But, don't be mistaken, there is precedence of events that have lead to this state of affairs in Cuba. This is the background that those mentioned above ignore and have little tolerance for.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cuba's Oil Problem

To follow up on the last post, it seems that Florida Senator Mel Martinez has also decided to jump into the picture of Cuba's oil problem. It's not really so much a problem for Cuba, but instead a problem for supporters of the doomed US policy towards Cuba.

As I posted before, there is considerable support for US companies to explore for oil off the coast of Florida, especially in the form of a joint venture with Cuba.

Well, it seems that yesterday Senators Byron Dorgan (North Dakota) and Larry Craig (Idaho) have introduced an energy bill that would give American oil companies the right to compete for drilling contracts on Cuban waters. This bill is in opposition to another bill also introduced yesterday by Senator Mel Martinez calling for sanctions towards anyone who makes "any attempt to develop Cuba’s oil exploration program." It's basically an extension to the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.

But, of course, Mel Martinez and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also want to protect our "coastal waters and maritime habitats." Right?

According to the independent group League of Conservation Voters, who come out with scorecards on how often congressional representatives vote in favor for environmental initiatives, both Martinez and Ros-Lehtinen don't do so good. Ros-Lehtinen receives a score that hovers around 20% in total since 1999. And, our new Senator Martinez is off to a bad start with 10% so far.

Byron Dorgan's scores from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is far better than both Martinez and Ros-Lehtinen combined. No doubt that Ileana and Mel will want to ally themselves with the Florida Democrats on this issue, who, according to the LCV's annual reports, have better records than Republicans on the environment, in order to fool others that they really care about the Florida's coastal environment.

Nevertheless, its gonna be real interesting to see how things turn out. According to some polls, Floridians seems to show growing support for off-shore drilling, but are still somewhat cautious. Yet, its very likely that Florida business groups will get their way some how on Cuban oil.

Stay tuned.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Cuba's Debt (Part 2)

On the other hand, the US continues to create obstacles to Cuba's trade relations within the US and with other nations.

It was apparent very long ago that Cuba would have problems in acquiring hard currency. By the late eighties it was seen that sugar and Soviet oil sales were declining, and Cuba would not be able to pay its external debts. Many foreign nations assumed that they would have to hold off on new Cuban projects, at least until the US would lift the embargo. But, to the disappointment of many nations, US and Cuba relations worsened into the 90's, even after the fall of the Soviet Union (at the time the principle reason the embargo was justified).

Unfortunately, the same bad blood continues, and it is about to target Cuba's newest source for paying its external debt: oil drilling off its coasts.

After the latest announcement by Canada's Sherritt International to "export a portion of its Cuban [oil] production as a consequence of anticipated production growth" for 2007, our own US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from district 18 says that she finds this as "beyond the pale and totally unacceptable." She plans to introduce legislation this week, in an attempt to prevent Cuba from drilling in the Florida Straits, or rather to prevent foreign companies from doing so.

News reports have shown that there is great interest in the Cuban "oil rush" by American energy companies. Last year, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control interrupted a business conference with Cuban officials in Mexico City because it took place in a US-owned Sheraton hotel. The conference, called the US-Cuba Energy Summit, included meetings with US energy executives, including ExxonMobil.

UM's own Jorge Piñon, a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America, speculates that Cuba could become "a major regional player in oil." An energy analyst from IHS Inc. (an information services company which includes Daniel Yergin) says that "U.S. oil companies would love to do business there [in Cuba] as soon as this thing opens up... They'd be short-sighted not to."

Cuba's huge external debt, which may soon become a marginal issue, is not necessarily an argument to justify sanctions, unless you want to see Cuba's economy and its citizens suffer.

[Part 1]

Cuba's Debt (Part 1)

I plan to write in more depth later, but I wanted to highlight a few things about the current debate supporting the US embargo towards Cuba.

From what I have read most recently, there's one very popular argument that supports sanctions against Cuba: its huge foreign debt and its history of non-payment.

There is no question that Cuba's debt is colossal, "$12.210 billion by late 2002" according to the US State Department. But, such unprecedented debt hasn't stopped other nations from having diplomatic relations with Cuba, granting aid to Cuba, nor has it stopped other nations from trading with Cuba.

The most obvious example is US trade with Cuba after 2000, of which Cuba has become a major buyer of agricultural products, and must pay cash in advance (and other restrictions). There are also the joint ventures by European nations, and barter trades with South American nations. All of these examples are in the spirit of what Japan (Cuba's largest creditor with about $2.3 billion according to UM's Cuba Transition Project) has continued to do for over many years: have good economic relations with Cuba.

The reasons Japan sought such a relationship, despite the US sanctions, are complex, but have to do with their general stance after WWII: a commitment to peaceful relations and non-interference in foreign domestic problems with other nations.

Basically, its a position that many nations have undertaken with Cuba, with the hopes of positive results due to increased trade and diplomacy.

Japan, by 1989, was doing most of its trading with Cuba by barter or advance payment of cash or check. Today, there's no question that Cuba's debt to Japan is a huge obstacle to overcome, but Japan still has good relations with Cuba. Japan has not placed sanctions on Cuba, nor has it justified the US embargo because of this reason.

You have to ask yourself why Japan continues to have this policy with Cuba, and why do other nations have this relationship with Cuba. Its a sobering experience when you read about why other nations still have hope for Cuba, unlike here in the US.

[Part 2]

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Agustin Tamargo (Part 3)

Agustin Tamargo's justifications for a violent overthrow of the Cuban government was highlighted in an article he wrote in 2004, titled "The Letter I Didn't Send to Bush." In it, Tamargo makes his frustrations clear at the US government and its Cuba policy. Citing past American military interventions around the world, Tamargo asks:

"Y Cuba, presidente Bush? Que pasa con Cuba? Por que Irak si y Cuba no?" (And Cuba, president Bush? What about Cuba? Why yes on Iraq and no on Cuba?).

The idea of a violent purge in order to free Cuba contradicts the calls for human rights around the world. The consequences of such a violent solution would be disastrous, as has been evident by many examples around the world. If one truly defends the cause of human rights, then a military solution would not even be considered.

Still, I know that Agustin Tamargo would be adamant for a violent overthrow, and ignore any pleas to the contrary, like many hard-liners in Miami. Tamargo was a proud intransigent, as many call themselves. I can hear his reply as I write this post about him. He would say:

"Y si esta monserga no te gusta, querido lector, es que tú eres una de estas dos cosas: o un cubano desteñido o un fidelista rezagado."

(And if you don't like this gibberish, dear reader, it is because you are one of two things: either a washed-out Cuban or a broken Fidelista).

Agustin Tamargo (Part 2)

Radio Mambi will most likely be eulogizing Agustin Tamargo for most of the day. According to all the calls so far to the station, Tamargo was held in very high esteem by many in Miami.

In my opinion, the story of Agustin Tamargo is a tragic one that I feel many in Miami have suffered and are destined to repeat: to never undue the curse of being in exile. Despite my admiration for determined individuals, I feel that many, like Tamargo, have an intransigent and disappointing philosophy, which in turn curses their ambitions.

Considered by Oscar Haza, local political talking-head, as the "last piece from a generation of writers of the daily life marked by the golden era," Tamargo was a ferocious writer, ironically called "liberal" by some friends, and with a burning nationalism which was expressed by his coined phrased "Cuba primero, Cuba despues, y Cuba siempre" (Cuba first, Cuba later, and Cuba always). He was best friends with Armando Perez-Roura, and considered by him as "what it really means to be Cuban."

Yet, his writings over the years reveal a hostile view towards liberation of Cuba, of which landed him on a list, along the likes of Luis Posada Carriles, as a terrorist supporter by the Cuban government. Like many in Miami who feel that a violent purge is justified to free Cuba, in 2003, Tamargo wrote that "hay que conspirar con ese ejercito [Cubano]... dar un golpe duro, radical, un dia, dos dias, tres dias, y al final establecer un orden absoluto" (we have to conspire with that Cuban army... hit hard, completely, one day, two days, three days, and finally establish absolute order).

Agustin Tamargo (Part 1)

When I first started to listen to Radio Mambi, there was an unmistakable voice that dominated those airwaves in the morning. It sounded like the voice of a man being choked while trying to talk, but it was the determined voice of Agustin Tamargo, who was recovering from surgery on his throat. I knew then that Radio Mambi, through Tamargo, had something important to say, even though I couldn't understand half the time what it was.

Tuning in this morning, I was shocked along with everyone else to hear the recent death of Agustin Tamargo, a determined man if anything else. Listening to the radio, the heartfelt condolences being transmitted was like a partial list of Who's-Who of the Cuban-American leadership in Miami: Radio Mambi's general manager and CPB board member, Claudia Puig, owner and president of "La Poderosa" WWFE 670 AM, Jorge Rodriguez, Miami-Dade Mayor, Carlos Alvarez, House Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, with many more calling in throughout the day I'm sure. Also, some of our local hard-line groups called in as well: members from Unidad Cubana, Vigilia Mambisa, and (of course) the F4 Commandos.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Mr. Gomez

As stated, I have been busy with other matters, but plan to post by Friday. I've been motivated by my recent exchange with Mr. Gomez from BabaluBlog and Cuban American Pundits. Our recent discussion showed an extremely disparaging side of Mr. Gomez. According to an old post, Mr.Gomez has no problems lowering the standards of civil debate, its part of his character.

Anyway, I will be writting about Mr.Gomez's false arguments supporting the US embargo, and other absurd apologies for a failed policy.

Best to all.

Friday, March 2, 2007

This Week's Documentary

I've been extremely busy and will be for the next two weeks. My posts therefore will be shorter than usual. So, I've decided to list some documentaries about Cuba that I think are excellent, and contribute to the current debate about US policy. Today I will highlight one film, followed by another next week.

Some of you may have heard of this documentary when its outtake of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen supporting an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro made the news. She denied her remarks first, then (two weeks later) admitted them. You can also check out how some of our favorite Cuban-American bloggers (Mr. Gomez from Cuban American Pundits, and Robert from 26th Parallel) displayed similar, astonishing attempts at denial when the news first broke. While Mr. Gomez and Robert don't seem to care about the ethical responsibilities of US Representatives, most likely they still believe the video outtake to be a manipulation.

But, aside from Ileana's controversial comment, the film "638 Ways to Kill Castro" by Dollan Cannell is excellent. The final cut does not include our favorite Republican from district 18, but it does include Radio Mambi's own Enrique Encinosa, who alone makes his own controversial comment in the film in support of terrorism. In general, the film is a historical outline of the hostile relations of the US towards Cuba (not just towards Fidel) since the Revolution. Perhaps the most important part of the film, in my opinion, is its focus on our local "patriots," like Rodolfo Frometa (leader of the F4 Commandos and who seems to have successfully indoctrinated his son in the film) and Luis Posada Carriles (some of whose paintings are sold through Enrique Encinosa at exorbitant prices).

Thanks to the magic of the internet (and Google Video) the entire documentary by Dollan Cannell is available to us. It is viewable in two parts (in mp4 format for download), with commercials due to its premiere on UK Channel 4.

[Part One]

[Part Two]

Best to all.