Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Thank You for C-Span"

Just like last week's PBS Newshour discussion with Roger Noriega and Peter Kornbluh, C-Span's Washington Journal program yesterday (Oct. 30) tackled US policy towards Cuba with guests Frank Calzon (executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba) and Elsa Falkenburger (program officer at the Washington Office on Latin America).

Yesterday's discussion (video available here, with discussion beginning at 52:40), was another example of the kind of programming missing in Miami. By presenting opposing viewpoints in a televised forum (and with calls from viewers), C-Span has provided an excellent public service that is rarely copied, especially in Miami where the US/Cuba discussion should be paramount.

At the end of the Washington Journal discussion on US/Cuba policy, C-Span mentioned an upcoming special program on US policy towards Cuba. This future program is scheduled for November 19th at 7pm EST, and will included video from Cuba and several interviews. Given that C-Span makes great effort to present various points of view in a fair manner, this upcoming program should be worth waiting for.

It should also be noted that, along with Cuban political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet, Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span, will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom next month.

Imperious Attitudes (Part 2)

I hardly watch my PBS channel, so thanks to the US-Cuba Normalization blog I noticed that the PBS Newshour last Wednesday had a good segment on Bush's recent Cuba speech.

The discussion on the Newshour was about US policy towards Cuba, and the show had invited Roger Noriega (visiting fellow at the "hard-line" American Enterprise Institute, and "governmental affairs professional" with Tew-Cardenas LLP) and Peter Kornbluh (director of the Cuba Documentation Project, which has helped produce several revealing books and important accounts related to Cuban history). Putting both experts together (who each hold opposing viewpoints on Cuba policy) is an example of the fair debate and discussion that should be common in democratic societies. But, note that such debates and discussions hardly occur in Miami's local media.

I urge readers to read or view the discussion on their time, especially since I will concentrate on one point: Roger Noriega's view that US policy towards Cuba is based on threats. On last Wednesday's Newshour discussion, Noriega interpreted Bush's recent speech:

"I think the U.S. is the most influential country in the world from the standpoint of Cuba. The president made that point to the [Cuban] military leaders, the would-be repressors [sic]. He made the point to the Cuban people that this is the time for a national reconciliation and to their oppressors: If you get in the way, it would be a tragedy, for one thing, if one more drop of blood, of Cuban blood, is shed in the service of this failed Fidel Castro, this project of Fidel Castro's, and they will be held accountable."

"Those are the sorts of messages and the message that we will use our leverage, economic and political relations, as an incentive to reform and a reward to people who bring about real change in Cuba."

It's not difficult to understand how the Cuban government (and even its citizens) feel threatened by a possible US intervention, especially when a former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2003-2005) is revealing the hidden assumptions of current US policy-makers.

But, beyond the US government, Cuban officials also have to worry about threats from organizations in Miami. Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Association (CANF), yesterday appeared on the local Maria Elvira Live! program and discussed the organizations plan to overthrow Raul Castro.

Currently, CANF is viewed negatively by "intransigent" hard-line exiles in Miami because they introduced an idea for "negotiations" with some Cuban government officials, and also are opposed to Cuban family travel and remittance restrictions. But, they still firmly believe "that talks with a post-Castro government should not be held until certain conditions are met." Since the death of the original CANF chairman, Jorge Mas Canosa, and the subsequent splitting of some of its former members, CANF has introduced a new plan of action.

According to Jorge Mas Santos (son of Jorge Mas Canosa), CANF is open to "negotiations" with Cuba's political leaders (especially the "young military men") who wish to initiate the overthrow of the Raul and Fidel Castro power structure. The exception here is that CANF won't hold "negotiations" with those who have "blood on their hands." According to Mas Santos, CANF has spent the last "five years" establishing communication lines to the Cuban political elite, whereby they feel confident in presenting their plan "directly or indirectly" to plot an overthrow.

It should be made clear that what CANF is presenting to some in Cuba's military oligarchy is not a dialogue (firmly reject by Mas Santos) or negotiations, but rather valuable incentives to plan a coup from Miami. On yesterday's show, the host Maria Elvira Salazar asked what were the incentives to the young Cuban military men brave enough to attempt such an action. Mas Santos responded with a possible monetary reward that would go beyond the offers of the Raul Castro government, and also other intangibles like admiration and respect in a post-Castro Cuba.

But, Jorge Mas Santos made sure to describe these plans ("negotiations") as "non-violent."

[Part 1]

Monday, October 29, 2007

Imperious Attitudes (Part 1)

Yesterday, there was interesting commentary from some hard-liners related to Bush's recent Cuba policy speech.

Alberto De la Cruz from the Babalu Blog wonders if there's really any difference between the moral support of sanctions policy against South African Apartheid in the 80's and US sanctions policy now. There are plenty of differences, but its astonishing that most hard-liners cannot grasp them. The most obvious moral difference is the fact that the US administration at the time was initially opposed to sanctions towards South Africa (here's a chronology). Then-Pres. Reagan was actually calling for "constructive engagement" since the beginning of his term in 1981. By 1985, after years of pressure from international organizations, South African riots and UN resolutions for sanctions, the US Congress finally decided that it was time to follow the lead. That's one moral difference.

The basic political difference is the fact that multilateral sanctions were imposed on South Africa, not a unilateral embargo like the one imposed on Cuba by the US. And, even so, the multilateral sanctions imposed did not immediately end the Apartheid system in South Africa, as the economy sought ways to divert the "economic pain." In 1997, a book titled "Political Gain and Civilian Pain: Humanitarian impacts of economic sanctions" highlighted how the sanctions on South Africa had many negative effects on the civilian population, adding to what they were already suffering. It was around this time that international sanctions policy in general was being doubted and questioned. Today, the literature on sanctions is quite vast in investigation and opinion. That's also another moral consideration to compare.

Comparing South African and Cuban sanction policy, both originate from an understandable moral outrage. But, similarly we should consider what is the best policy option if we want to encourage change: unilateral, multilateral, sanctions or inducements. Furthermore, there are psycho-political considerations, especially between former colonial powers and their former subjects, in these cases there are plenty of examples.

But, some commentators don't understand this paradigm of super-power vs former subject. Carlos Alberto Montaner yesterday refused to acknowledge this fact as he praised Bush's Cuba speech. Montaner believes that the US is on the "ethical side of the conflict" with the Cuban government as the appropriate target of US pressure. But, its a very different picture around the world, as well as moral.

Also yesterday, US Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart appeared on the local show "This Week in South Florida" (WPLG) with Michael Putney. As one of the "select group" that met with Bush in preparation for his Cuba speech, Rep. Diaz-Balart made many revelations regarding the assumptions held by hard-liners. Putney asked some standard questions such as why should we support such an old and ineffective policy. Rep. Diaz-Balart actually told Putney that Fidel Castro is still an "omnipotent ruler" even if he succumbs to a coma! Diaz-Balart also revealed the imperious attitude behind Bush's speech: he said that US policy towards Cuba is "the only solution" to change on the island and that the rest of the international community "is making a mistake" by not supporting Bush.

As the old saying goes: "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak." (John Adams)

[Part 1]

Bush's Gettysburg (Part 4)

Plenty of additional commentary and information about Bush's new speech on Cuba policy arrived this weekend.

On Friday, Miami Herald's Alfonso Chardy reported on the preparation for Bush's speech and how Cuban exile hard-liners in Miami helped. According to Chardy, there was a "select group of 10 who met with Bush in Miami on Oct. 12." George W. Bush was in Miami on October 12, scheduled to give a speech at the downtown Radisson about "expanding trade and investment" with Latin America. While the majority of the speech dealt with recent trade deals concerning Peru, Colombia and Panama, Bush also had time to elaborate about strengthening "the forces of freedom and democracy throughout the Americas", which included a few words on Cuba: "And the vision I have for our hemisphere includes a free and democratic Cuba." This comment was followed with an audience member yelling out: "Viva Bush!"

Alfonso Chardy provided additional information to what Ninoska Pérez Castellón was already telling Radio Mambi listeners two days before. After Bush's speech on Wednesday, Pérez Castellón was mentioning on her 3pm show how she helped arrange some of the meetings on Oct. 12th with Bush and the families of the political prisoners mentioned. Including Pérez Castellón and Radio Mambi's programming director Armando Perez Roura, Chardy includes "Remedios Díaz Oliver of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC and the Liberty Council; former state Rep. Gastón Cantens, and Florida's Republican Cuban-American lawmakers, Sen. Mel Martínez and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Díaz-Balart" as part of the "select group of 10."

It's pretty clear to see whose voices were represented in Bush's speech. Chardy also presents some interesting quotes, such as Armando Pérez Roura saying: "I said to [Bush] that for me he was the last hope of Cubans in exile and that we were concerned by the rapprochement [the Cuban regime] was pursuing, without instituting any change." I found this quote as either an honest sign of desperation by one of Miami's most hard-line voices, or another desperate attempt to coax Bush into supporting a hard-line position.

Also, according to Chardy, "[o]fficials familiar with the discussions, who declined to be identified because they did not want to talk publicly about internal deliberations, said the speech was in the works for months." This makes some sense. I found out that the cheesy line in Bush's Wednesday speech that goes "the light of liberty will shine on Cuba" goes back to April 28 when Bush said the same thing delivering a commencement address at the Miami Dade College. And, the inclusion of families of Cuban political prisoners, such as Yamile Llanes Labrada (wife of Jose Luis Garcia Paneque), was probably already being planned since early October given Labrada's appearance on Oct. 10th at the Rose Garden for the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the White House.

But, other things in the speech like the mention of Armando Valladares, a 22-year Cuban political prisoner, and the "tropical gulag" descriptor go back years! Valladares released a popular book in 1986 originally titled "Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares", which recounts his torture in Cuba's prisons. The book helped coin the phrase "Castro's gulag" since "gulag" seemed the most apt for the time. Then-Pres. Reagan made sure to include Valladares in his speech on Dec. 1986 to designate Human Rights Day. The following year, Pres. Reagan nominated Valladares as a US representative to the UN. The Cuban government became fiercely opposed to the appointment. Today, Valladares' book is subtitled "A Memoir of Life in Castro's Gulag." Since then, Valladares has been repeatedly mentioned in other Reagan speeches, including remarks celebrating Cuban Independence Day (May 20th, 1902), a gesture also copied by former Pres. George H.W. Bush. ("Tropical Gulag" may have been coined by Global Options in 1987 with the publication of "Tropical Gulag: The Construction of Cold War Images of Cuba in the United States.")

But, in general, Bush's speech is unchanged since 2001 when celebrating Cuban Independence Day in the White House said: "History tells us that forcing change upon repressive regimes requires patience." Patience indeed! And, so we wait, just like Presidents before.

Carl Hiassen yesterday in the Herald characterized it well: "Bush's speech was recycled from his father, who recycled it from Ronald Reagan, who recycled it from Richard Nixon, who recycled it from Lyndon Johnson, who recycled it from John F. Kennedy." He's right.

(Babalu Blog's Henry Gomez has a rebuttal to Hiassen's column.)

[Part 1]

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bush's Gettysburg (Part 3)

After his inaccurate historical introduction, President Bush coins the basic theme of his Cuba policy speech: "Nuestro Dia Ya Viene Llegando" (Our Day is Coming Soon). Or, as I translate it: Let's wait and do nothing.

The background on the coined phrase comes from a 1991 Willy Chirino song, coincidentally titled "Nuestro Dia (Ya Viene Llegando)" [Spanish lyrics], which became quite popular in Cuba. Alex from the Stuck on the Palmetto blog describes well the personal and significant meaning of this song, and at the time when Cuba was undergoing difficult changes. It was also a time when many Cuba experts were expecting big changes in Cuba, and hard-liners were seizing the opportunity to further squeeze the island with sanctions.

Following this, Pres. Bush introduces us to his administration: Sec. Condoleeza Rice (who is the Chair of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba), Amb. John Negroponte (Director of National "Intelligence", who almost a year ago said that Fidel Castro only had "months" to live), and Sec. Carlos Gutierrez (who last month inaugurated a series at the Heritage Foundation supporting the US embargo, and which currently supports Congressional "hearings on ways that current [Cuban] threats to U.S. national security can be eliminated and market-based democracy can be promoted in post-Castro Cuba").

Next, Pres. Bush introduces his favorite members of Congress: Sen. Martinez, Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Thaddeus McCotter, and Tim Mahony (all US Reps. who this July voted against the recent Rangel Amendment that simply sought to overturn a 2005 banking restriction on US farmers legally trading with Cuba).

(Pres. Bush also mispronounced Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's name too. He said "Leythien" as he read the name off his hard copy. Almost twenty years in Congress, and we get "Leythien"? Even I'm offended.)

[Part 4]

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bush's Gettysburg (Part 2)

In his Wednesday speech, after the first paragraph praising the US State Department, President Bush begins the second paragraph with an accurate remark: "Few issues have challenged this department -- and our nation -- longer than the situation in Cuba." After this sentence, it's all downhill.

Bush begins his speech with an inaccurate premise: "Nearly half a century has passed since Cuba's regime ordered American diplomats to evacuate our embassy in Havana. This was the decisive break of our diplomatic relations with the island, a troubling signal for the future of the Cuban people, and the dawn of an unhappy era between our two countries." Bush's history is quite incomplete here in reference to the "decisive break".

Months before the "decisive break", US/Cuba relations were already bad with the US imposing an embargo on Cuba on October 19, 1960. It was on January 3, 1961 that the Cuban government sent a telegram to the US Embassy in Havana telling them that their personnel "should not exceed eleven persons." A recent Fidel Castro speech "contended that the U.S. embassy was a nest of spies and demanded that the staff be reduced from 87 to 11." Why eleven? Eleven was the same number of Cuban personnel working at the Cuban Embassy in Washington at the time.

According to the US State Department's website, it was the US that, "in response to Castro's provocations, broke diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961." Not Cuba. It should also be added that by March of 1960 (NINE months before the "decisive break"), the US government was already secretly planning for and training guerrilla forces to overthrow the Cuban government.

Someone needs a history lesson.

[Part 3]

Bush's Gettysburg (Part 1)

So, let's get down to it. President Bush's new speech on Cuba policy was met with predictable reactions. After the speech, Radio Mambi was in a celebratory mood as Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Mel Martinez called in to Ninoska Perez-Castellon's 3pm show. BOTH described the speech as "historic." Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, of course, went ahead and compared the speech to Reagan's famous call for "freedom" on June 12th, 1987 in West Berlin. Henry Gomez at the Babalu Blog also couldn't help but make the same Reagan comparison. (Gomez also inaccurately wrote that the speech lasted about 40 minutes, when his own video link times the speech at about 30 minutes.)

Ironically, I think the Reagan comparison is apt. Looking back at George W. Bush's policy towards Cuba, not since Reagan's administration (1981-1989) has such confrontational rhetoric been spoken. (Still, in my opinion, Clinton's administration was far more aggressive and destructive in actual policy.) Recall Reagan's State Sec. Alexander Haig describing Cuba as "the source" of the communist threat in Central America.

Back in 1980, a report titled "A New Inter-American Policy of the Eighties" by the Committee of Santa Fe (Council for Inter-American Security) laid out the basic plan for Reagan's Cuba policy. With the fear of a communist threat coming from Cuba, the Committee of Santa Fe put it bluntly:

"If propaganda fails, a war of national liberation against Castro must be launched. The second alternative will be to encourage the Cubans to make a radical shift in their foreign policy... [W]e should make it clear that if the Cuban-Soviet alliance is ended, the United States will be generous.... Thus Havana must be presented with two clear options. It is free to choose either, but the United States must carry out the threat or the promise with equal vigor."

Currently, Bush's Cuba policy is a slight modification, emphasizing more the "generous" part (the so-called Freedom Fund for Cuba), without the obvious threat of "national liberation" connected to the old Soviet threat. But, note that according to the hard-line, (even without a Soviet threat, as if it mattered) Cuba still poses a "threat to US national security." In essence, current US policy towards Cuba is nothing but a Reagan rerun. This would also explain how hard-liners currently praise George W. Bush, and see him as a worthy successor to the Reagan legacy. But, even more astonishing, this morning I also heard Armando Perez Roura actually compare Bush's speech yesterday to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address! Yikes!

Anyway, let's analyze Bush's Gettysburg.

[Part 2]

The Gutierrez and Shannon Show

After President George W. Bush gave his "historic" speech on Cuba policy, US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon gave an "On the Record" Briefing to the press.

What I found interesting about this exchange with the press is the fact that Sec. Gutierrez avoids specifics about the so-called "international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba." The Fact Sheet attached to the President's speech says that Sec. Gutierrez and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will "lead the effort to form the Freedom Fund", but Sec. Gutierrez avoided the question asking if the Freedom Fund is "something that you are setting out to do or is it something that may happen." He gave no answer.

I personally think the "Fund" is BS.

Also, in the beginning, Sec. Gutierrez incorrectly states the official conditions that would initiate the Freedom Fund for Cuba. He adds the condition of releasing all Cuban political prisoners, which is absent in the President's speech and the Fact Sheet.

Thomas Shannon really has nothing spectacular to say, but Sec. Gutierrez gets some tough questions. And here's some weird answers:

Question: I would like to know why this speech now? Why today? Why not one month before? Why now? Is there a timing or -- Secretary Gutierrez: Well, you know, the President of the United States' calendar is very full and today happened to be a good day to get it on his calendar and to make the speech. And it seemed like as good of a day -- better than tomorrow and better than yesterday. So you know it's just one of these things.


Question: You just mentioned that you want to see changes first (inaudible) before, but a year has passed already since the transition between Fidel and Raul and there is no talking, discussions with the Cubans. What if the Raul government keeps on going by their own hand for the next five years? The U.S. will still keep --
Secretary Gutierrez: Yes. I mean, that's the policy -- the President was very clear if that's the future of the Cuban regime, then that's very, very unfortunate for the people of Cuba because then it means that people will be living under oppression, they'll be living without freedom of speech, without freedom to read, without freedom to travel, without freedom to open up a business, without freedom to worship. So what if? I would say that's a big, big shame for the people in Cuba who deserve freedom.

Question: But that policy hasn't worked in 48 years, so what about trying something new? Secretary Gutierrez: No, but as we've said before and the President's said, the policy is designed to not give oxygen to a dictator, to not put resources in their hands. Again, we have the benefit of 48 years. When they had resources, they -- at one time, they wanted to keep those -- you know, going back to 1962, the missile crisis, going back to their adventure in Africa, going back to their adventure in Central America. When they have had resources, those resources have never been used to improve the lives of Cubans. They've been used to harass governments overseas. They've been used for foreign adventures. Again, we've had 48 years to observe and I don't think we should be naive about that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Reactions

From International Herald Tribune:

"Our policy really is one of utter sterility," said Wayne Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a onetime chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. "We warn the Cubans not to go for transition but it has already happened, and short of some kind of massive military action, which we're in no position to take, there's nothing that we can do."

John Kavulich, senior policy adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the administration demands would most likely be nonstarters. He said the technology and educational opportunities Bush offered are being provided to Cuba by Venezuela and China.

Bush has remained largely silent, [Phil] Peters said, while Raúl Castro consolidated his control over Cuban institutions by establishing his own relationships with world leaders and opening dialogue with the Cuban people.

Meanwhile, the doomsday scenarios predicted for Cuba once Fidel Castro left power - a violent uprising by dissidents and an exodus of Cuban refugees - never materialized. "The administration realized they had missed the boat," Peters said. "Succession has already happened."

From Associated Press(Will Weissert):

"I really hoped for something more," said dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe. "Change in Cuba will never be radical and happen overnight like President Bush said."

He said he would like the U.S. embargo loosened to let Cuban-Americans travel more freely to the island and suggested it shouldn't rule out talks with Raul Castro, who has shown signs of being open to some economic reforms.

"The United States negotiated with North Korea and the results were something positive. I don't see why they can't negotiate with Cuba."

But another leading dissident, Martha Beatriz Roque, said she was pleased that Bush said Cubans themselves must bring about change. "There's no intention to invade Cuba," she said. "That's important, because the Cuban government wants to make us believe there is."

From Associated Press (Ben Feller):

"The president, in his commendable desire to make Cuba free, has unwittingly made it more likely that both Raul and Fidel will celebrate the revolution's 50th anniversary in January 2009," [Vicky] Huddleston said. "And Fidel — aging and infirm — will probably be around to celebrate having outmaneuvered two Bush administrations and 10 American presidents."

From UK Member of Parliament Colin Burgon:

"The ignorance of international law of the current US President is very well known. However, this latest statement on the internal affairs of a Cuba is tantamount to calling for a coup against a sovereign state. The UN position on US interference in Cuba is crystal clear in its condemnation, as is that of the UK government, or so we are told. It is time for our government to state publicly that it cannot be acceptable for the US to dictate affairs in other countries and to remind our special friend of the UN Charter. The arrogance of the US is both worrying and lamentable."

From Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque:

"You will never force us to our knees," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said in response to Bush's speech, which came 15 months after ailing leader Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother.

Perez said that was an "invitation to violence" by Bush. "Cuba categorically rejects the stimulation of violence and the invocation of the use of force," he said at a news conference.

Bush's New Cuba Speech

The Miami Herald has provided excellent coverage of George W. Bush's new Cuba speech today. Filled with reactions and analysis. Read all about it.

Full speech text here (courtesy of Miami Herald).

Friday, October 19, 2007

For Profit or Freedom?

A recent report by NBC6, and also reported today by Telemundo51, adds to public speculation that recent boat thefts in South Florida are tied to the recent increase in Cuban migration to the US.

Late last month, the Miami Herald's Alfonso Chardy began the speculation with the release of a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation report. Chardy wrote:

"The report said that more than 235 vessels had been stolen in Miami-Dade alone between Jan. 1 and June 28, or more than a 20 percent increase over the same period in 2006. It added that at least 784 marine-related thefts, including 492 boats, were reported in Florida between April and June -- 22 percent more than during the same period last year."

Ironically, the chairman of Florida's Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Rodney Barreto, was also a victim of boat theft and was quoted saying: ''Authorities told me they were seeing these thefts with increasing frequency, that the spike was driven by human-smuggling."

This week, the New York Times' Marc Lacey added that "Cubans are migrating to the United States in the greatest numbers in over a decade." About 11,487 Cubans made it to the US through Mexico after landing on smuggling sites in the Yucatan Peninsula.

This new report by NBC6 (Tisha Lewis) confirms how some Cubans are being smuggled into Mexico and where the smugglers are getting their boats. The report (with a link to video) tells the story of a recent boat theft victim whose "boat is equipped with top-notch technology -- a low-jack, which reportedly allowed the U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities to track the stolen boats. Boats were found in Cuba and Cancun."

The video shows the owner of the boat on his way to Cancun to recover his stolen property. Reporter Tisha Lewis says that "authorities confirm the boats are being used to smuggle people." This report, like the Chardy report, doesn't exactly detail what "the authorities" know about the recent boat thefts. Most likely, the federal authorities are in the middle of an investigation.

But, are these actions by smugglers a form of "rescue" for Cubans wanting to leave the Communist island? Mr. Tellechea from Review of Cuban-American Blogs probably thinks so. Responding to the Chardy article, Mr. Tellechea wrote: "Back then [in 1966, smuggling] was known as rescuing fugitives from injustice and entailed no punitive measures either for the rescuer or the rescued."

I don't know if that was true or not, but today making profit from human smuggling is a serious crime. Just ask sports agent Gus Dominguez, who was convicted in April of "conspiracy to smuggle five ballplayers from Cuba to the Florida Keys." He faced "up to five years in prison for his conviction on the smuggling conspiracy charge plus up to 10 years each for 20 separate smuggling convictions." But, he had his punishment reduced to five years in prison, three years probation and a $2,100 fine.

Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax, described Dominguez in a letter to the court as a man of "high moral principles."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On the Political Front (Part 2)

By 2005, the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), an advocacy coalition opposed to the US embargo, had noticed the impact of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC (USCD PAC). In the House that June, "a five-year trend of support for easing the [Cuba] travel ban" was suddenly reversed when votes showed opposition to amendments aimed to reduce restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. LAWG put the blame on campaign contributions by USCD PAC.

According to LAWG, USCD PAC "donated between $1,000 and $5,000 to 111 representatives in 2004. Of these members, 33 had consistently voted to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba in previous years. After accepting a campaign donation, however, these 33 members reversed their support for measures easing the travel ban and embargo."

When the general elections of '06 changed the face of the House, LAWG used "tempered optimism" in analyzing the new Congress. After the impact of USCD PAC in 2005, LAWG felt they needed to "win over nearly 40 of the new [2006] members" or recover those Democrats lost in 2005 and 2006. LAWG saw this as a "serious challenge" in the new House, and they also knew other forces would be at play. In 2005, they had found it "unsettling" that Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz had "personally engaged in a lobbying crusade to secure formidable opposition to the [Cuba] amendments."


In April of this year, Kate Ackley of Roll Call wrote about the USCD PAC's new focus on Democrats and its lobbying efforts in the House. Ackley took special notice when she saw that USCD PAC had not only increased its campaign contributions to Democrats by 15%, but had also made significant contributions to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her new PAC, Democrats Win Seats (DWS PAC). According to Ackley, Wasserman Schultz, who fully supports the US embargo (like many other Florida Reps.), has received "a total of $22,000" for her DWS PAC from the USCD PAC.

But, upon closer inspection, the DWS PAC, which makes contributions exclusively to Democrats, doesn't seem to favor candidates by their position on the US embargo. Relying on contributions filed with the Federal Elections Commission for the 2007-2008 cycle, and based on votes for/against July's Rangel amendment, the DWS PAC has so far contributed evenly to both Democratic supporters and opponents of the US embargo. Before the July vote, 33 Democrats received an average contribution of about $1,800 from DWS PAC, of which 55% voted against the Rangel amendment and 45% in support. But, there's a distinction when we compare total House votes to the Rangel amendment, where 29% of Democrats voted in opposition, and a strong 71% voted in favor. Perhaps the DWS PAC is choosing more pro-embargo Democrats.

Using the same method on Democrats that voted for/against the Rangel amendment, Democrats that received USCD PAC contributions before July were far more likely to vote in opposition. From 69 Democrats who received USCD PAC contributions this year, 77% voted against the the Rangel amendment and 23% in support. Furthermore, those Democrats who voted against the Rangel amendment had received far greater average campaign contributions (about $3000) than those who voted in favor (about $1,800) from the USCD PAC.


A month before the Rangel vote, Josephine Hearn for Politico was reporting about "a spat between [Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Jose Serrano] on the House Appropriations Committee" after a disagreement on a proposal to lift the Cuba travel ban.

"The disagreement arose when Serrano, the subcommittee chairman, who is a longtime proponent of normalizing relations with Cuba, planned to include a provision into the 2008 financial services appropriations bill to lift the ban on travel to Cuba. But Wasserman Schultz opposed Serrano's move and approached other members of the subcommittee without his knowledge to lobby against it, Democratic congressional sources said."

"Serrano and his allies said an unwritten rule existed on the Appropriations Committee directing members to defer to subcommittee chairmen, known as cardinals, and air their objections with the full committee."

Serrano was upset by Wasserman Schultz's actions. But, the possibility of a confrontation from a split committee made Serrano abandon the Cuba travel proposal. According to Hearn "animosity has escalated" between Serrano and Wasserman Schultz.

So, going into '08, it seems like a political battle over Cuba is determined to escalate, especially with the Democratic deadlock. The several months ahead will slowly reveal the fate of the US embargo towards Cuba. But, at the present time, I agree with Robert Muse who sees "permanent estrangement between the U.S. and Cuba" (just like the last ten years in my opinion) as a possible scenario for the future, especially if the US Congress and the Administration continue their hard-line approach to Cuba.

[Part 1]

13 Votes Short and the Road Ahead

Today, the House voted to override President Bush's veto on expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), but they came 13 votes short. Earlier this month, Democrats in the House waged an ad campaign against SCHIP expansion opponents, which may also signal the beginning of election battles going into '08.

On Tuesday, the Miami Herald's Lesley Clark reported that Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart began "a preemptive strike" on Radio Mambi to counter ads that criticized their opposition to expansion of SCHIP. The three voted against expansion of SCHIP when it passed the House last month with 265 versus 159 votes, and a prior passage in the Senate with 67 versus 29 votes supporting expansion. They voted the same today on reasons that many Republicans share: that the expansion of $35 billion for SCHIP went far beyond the intended $5 billion and would encourage more Americans to seek federal coverage instead of private insurance. Today's vote is the culmination of a media campaign that began on the 8th targeting Republicans who initially voted in opposition.

Early this week on Monday, Ileana, Mario and Lincoln heard about the proposed ads against them and immediately called in to Radio Mambi. Together they called in to Ninoska Perez-Castellon's afternoon show, and later to Armando Perez-Roura's show in the evening. The damage control continued on Tuesday and Wednesday with the three Republicans trying to get as much airtime as possible to defend their position on SCHIP. But, aside from the usual defense that the SCHIP program is too costly and would lead people away from private insurance, Ileana, Mario and Lincoln had a different argument for Radio Mambi listeners on Tuesday: SCHIP would destroy small Cuban-owned cigar-makers here in Florida.

It was Tuesday evening on Radio Mambi that Ileana, Mario and Lincoln called in to make their usual case, but they were supported by other guests that night to defend tobacco. Ana Navarro, Republican lobbyist, was on the show with two Cuban small-business owners who were arguing that the tax increase on tobacco, attached to the $35 billion expansion of SCHIP, would seriously damage the cigar business in South Florida. The show went on to speak of the rich Cuban history with cigar-makers, a mention of the decreased risk of cancer from cigars in comparison to cigarettes, and the possible negative impact on cigar employee wages if the tax increase on tobacco would pass. This is possibly the "small minority-owned businesses" that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart had in mind in his letter to the Miami Herald from the 15th.

But, the show neglected several facts about cigars and the tax on tobacco. According to the American Cancer Society, "[i]f you smoke cigars, your risk of death from laryngeal, oral,or esophageal cancers is 4 to 10 times the risk compared to non-smokers... In a recent study, researchers found that the concentrations of carbon monoxide at two cigar social events in San Francisco were higher than the levels found on a busy California freeway." The guests on Radio Mambi made no mention of these negative health effects from cigars.

Also, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently issued a rebuttal to the White House's defense against the possible tax increase on tobacco. In essence, "[t]he SCHIP bill would advance efforts both to improve children’s health and to reduce the harm and costs of smoking, and the biggest gains in both areas would come among low-income families." The argument here goes that the tax increase (from 39 cents to $1) and high price of cigarettes would lead to fewer smokers within low-income families (who make up the minority of smokers anyway), increase family funds, and thus improve general health of low-income families. The majority of smokers (about 60%), who make at least twice as much as those living on the poverty line, will carry the costs of the tax increase. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 72% of Americans favored the tax on tobacco and $35 billion expansion of SCHIP.

Nancy Watzman from the the Huffington Post pointed to the influence of "tobacco money" on Capitol Hill. Since 2000, the tobacco industry spent nearly $25 million on federal campaign contributions, and "[n]early 80 percent of that cash went to Republicans."

Blogger Larry Thorson described a small demonstration that took place on Tuesday outside Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office. He's keeping his eye on both Ileana and Lincoln Diaz-Balart with respective blogs.

So what are the ramifications of this defeat? Ron Pollack from Families USA believes that 718,603 uninsured children in Florida are at risk. And Floridians may have lost $2.45 billion in federal funding that, aside from providing healthcare for children, would have provided $1.08 billion in increased business activity, $417.1 million in increased wages and 12,953 additional jobs for state residents. A recent University of Florida study also noted that possible increases to premiums in Florida's SCHIP would have "a lasting effect on poorer families, who remained more likely to drop out of the program even after the premium was restored to its original level." E. Richard Brown, the director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research, says that "[i]f we increase the cost and kids are dropped, we’re really missing the important goal of why we developed SCHIP in the first place, which is to ensure children have health coverage and access to care."

Surely, this debate will carry into '08, and according to Ian Swanson from The Hill, Democrats in Miami may already be preparing for an election battle. The ads that began this week against Ileana, Mario and Lincoln were "the first time the national Democratic Party has targeted advertising toward those districts." In my opinion, the way that the three Republicans immediately scrambled towards their base, pandering to Cuban exiles, revealed a sign of concern.

[Photo above from SEIU petition march in Washington D.C. on Oct. 1]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the Political Front (Part 1)

The Center for International Policy (CIP), and other co-sponsors, yesterday held a conference on US/Cuba relations. The meeting was titled: "Imperatives for a New Cuba Policy." Among the guests yesterday were well-known opponents of current US policy towards Cuba: Wayne Smith, Joe Garcia, Phil Peters, Alfredo Duran, Robert Muse, and others.

A summary of the event should be released soon, and will be linked and reviewed here, but the CIP today offers us a glimpse. It's not too optimistic it seems. Robert Muse, lawyer specializing on US/Cuba laws and long-time opponent of US policy, puts it bluntly:

"PAC contributions have ensured that Congress is now at stalemate over Cuba policy... Therefore, if relations are ever to be normalized between the United States and Cuba, the lead must come from a future American president. By reverting to the Clinton era policy of relaxation of specific elements of the embargo in response to positive developments in Cuba – for example economic reforms – he or she will have taken the first confidence-building steps toward a normalization of relations with Cuba. If such leadership is demonstrated by a future White House, Congress may be expected to ratify its results. The alternative is permanent estrangement between the U.S. and Cuba, regardless of who governs the latter."


The PAC contributions that Muse speaks of is most likely a reference to the US-Cuba Democracy PAC (USCD PAC), which recently celebrated their defeat of important amendments presented by long-time US embargo opponents in the House. The recent USCD PAC newsletter called it a "historic victory." Founded in 2003 (as a response to relaxed restrictions on agricultural trade with Cuba in 2000), the USCD PAC has progressively grown in wealth and influence on Capitol Hill. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the contributions for the USCD PAC since 2004 has steadily risen from $580,245, to $828,204 in 2006. A recent article in The Hill by Ian Swanson, described the further successes of this "relatively small special interest group."

Swanson's article focuses on how freshman Democrats in the House recently voted on an amendment by long-time US embargo opponent Rep. Charles Rangel. The amendment was aimed "to remove certain banking restrictions related to Cuba's payment for agricultural purchases from U.S. producers." It failed with a vote of 182 versus 245. Swanson reports: "Fifty-two of the 66 Democrats who voted against Rangel’s amendment have received one or more contributions from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC since the beginning of the 2007-2008 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings... [USCD PAC] has given $56,000 to 22 Democratic freshmen this year, and 17 of those freshmen voted against Rangel’s amendment."

While those numbers average to approximately $2,500 for every Democratic freshman, there are exceptions in general contributions. Swanson points to Rep. James Clyburn from South Carolina who received $10,000 from USCD PAC and voted against the Rangel amendment, but "who has previously voted to lift the Cuban trade embargo" at other times. Back in 2001, Clyburn seemed to be very optimistic about relaxed agricultural trade with Cuba publicly stating:

"South Carolina should take this time to prepare for what I hope will finally be the opening of a new market for our State's farmers and pharmaceutical companies. This State is ideally situated for trading with Cuba, because products produced here are within a day's travel to the island that is just 90 miles off the coast of Florida."

Records from the 2006 election cycle show that USCD PAC rarely gives $10,000 contributions to House Reps; only two received $10,000, one received $9,000, and four received $8,000 from a total of 166 candidate contributions.

Swanson quotes Rep. Charles Rangel saying he "was blindsided." But, one should not blame USCD PAC alone for the defeat. There are Democrats inside who have "been very active this year on Cuba-related issues."

[Part 2]

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Nack for Storytelling"

This week's Miami New Times features an article about Robert Alonso, a man who believes he is at war with the government of Venezuela. The article by Janine Zeitlin is a summary of Alonso's life as a Cuban exile and anti-Chavez activist, now living in Miami. Alonso left Cuba at the age of 11, on an old Spanish ship, an event where Alonso believes he committed himself to fighting dictatorships.

Today, Alonso is director of Venezuela Sin Mordaza, a magazine that is very critical of the Venezuelan government, which also includes articles by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Antonio Esquivel, just to name a few that are also very critical of the Cuban government.

I ran into the name Robert Alonso earlier this year when I wrote the 13-part post called "No Defense for Terror." You see, Alonso is another, like Humberto Fontova and Enrique Encinosa, who came to the aid of Luis Posada Carriles after he was arrested in 2005, trying to exculpate him in the eyes of the public. In "No Defense for Terror" I confronted some of these arguments that were in favor of Posada Carriles and found out they were either false or exaggerated. I focused mainly on Fontova and Encinosa after I realized that Alonso was just repeating what the other two were saying, and also because I was getting tired of writing.

But, Robert Alonso did add a new twist in the defense of Luis Posada Carriles and his involvement (or non-involvement) in the case of the Cubana flight bombing of 1976. You see, Zeitlin of the Miami New Times leaves out the part when Alonso was a so-called "independent" journalist in Venezuela during the 70's and 80's. Working in Venezuela at the time, Alonso began investigating the case of the Cubana flight bombing and the arrest of Luis Posada Carriles, a case he later called "The Trial of the Century" for a 1985, 50-minute documentary, which can be viewed on Google Video in five parts (in Spanish). The video (which is very informative) is essentially a soapbox for Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch and their defense team. The documentary ends happily with the news of Luis Posada Carriles having escaped from prison in 1985.

Twenty years later, Robert Alonso, now exiled in Miami, appears on Miami Spanish TV with Maria Elvira Salazar (you can watch the edited version of the interview (in Spanish) on Google Video, courtesy of Guarimba TV). Alonso comes on the show (August 2005) for one important purpose: to defend Luis Posada Carriles who was arrested a few months ago (May 2005). Maria Elvira Salazar gives Alonso an entire show to dust off his 1985 book titled "Los Generales de Castro" (Castro's Generals) and present his version of events that absolve Posada Carriles from the bombing of Cubana flight 455, and instead accuse the Cuban government of the sinister plot. (Alonso also admits that he is "very friendly" with Posada Carriles, especially since they both come from the same city in Cuba.)

There are four important arguments in Alonso's defense: 1) the suspicious involvement of Ricardo Morales Navarrete as a possible double-agent and confessed involvement; 2) the forensic results of the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment (RARDE) lab led by Erick Newton; 3) suspicious refusal of the Cuban government to recover the Cuban flight wreckage from the bottom of the sea; and 4) the identification of seven mysterious "generals" from the Cuban military who were supposedly on the doomed flight, but never included within the official list of 73 victims on board.

The first two arguments I have dealt with already because they were repeated by Fontova and Encinosa. Alonso, like the others, fails to mention that Morales Navarrete confessed to being one of many involved in the bombing, or at least knowing those who conspired in it. According to two persons who interviewed him (Diosdado Diaz and Osmeiro Carneiro), Morales Navarrete is as guilty as Luis Posada Carriles for the bombing of Cubana flight 455.

The results of RARDE should also be seriously doubted since the poor lab techniques used and the political influence of a Venezuelan official in the "independent" forensic investigation most likely favored Posada Carriles' defense.

The refusal of the Cuban government to recover the Cubana flight wreckage from the deep water is suspicious, especially since it could have provided important evidence in the case, but to create a grand conspiracy around this fact alone is irrational. There's plenty of other important evidence to inquire about in this case.

Finally, Alonso presents a very unique theory. In his interview with Maria Elvira Salazar, Alonso tells us that the Cuban government very likely blew up the plane because of seven Cuban military officials on board who would threaten Fidel Castro's leadership upon their return to Cuba. According to Alonso's personal investigation of the Cubana flight bombing, he discovered that there were seven unidentified men on board after examining the photo's taken by Hernan Ricardo inside the doomed plane. (Hernan Ricardo was eventually sentenced to 20 years in 1986 for his involvement in the bombing.) Supposedly, Ricardo took enough photos of all the ill-fated passengers for Alonso to conclude that there were seven men left off the "official" death count of 73 passengers. We are to assume further that these seven men secretly boarded the flight and that Ricardo's film has now been concealed by the Venezuelan government, or Cuban government, in a vast conspiracy to completely erase the whereabouts of these seven men (who were supposedly gaining great respect among their men after battles in Angola), and any other person or memory of those who knew them, because Fidel Castro alone feared their possible influence upon their return.

I've tried to get a hold of a copy of "Los Generales of Castro," but the book is out of print. And, unfortunately, the theory of the seven generals has not been reported elsewhere, or on the internet. But, how fortunate for Alonso to have his theory presented to a wide audience with Maria Elvira Salazar, who was delighted in accepting everything Alonso said.

If one reads the Miami New Times article on Alonso carefully one will see that the life of Robert Alonso, told to Janine Zeitlin, is very mysterious itself. Not only does he get "murky" when asked about specifics of his secret life (which he also long withheld from his own wife), Zeitlin notices some embellishments too. I think Zeitlin's instincts may have been accurate when she wrote that Robert Alonso "
has knack for storytelling." This may also extend to his supposed activism.


Just discovered this. There's an article about Robert Alonso from 2002 published online from El Nacional, a Venezuelan newspaper. The article by Eric Colon, titled "Robert Alonso: The History Behind the Venezuelan Ed Wood" further supports the characterization of Alonso having a "nack for storytelling."

In the early eighties, according to the article, Alonso produced a very popular and controversial Venezuelan television show called "Lo Increíble" (The Incredible). It was shaped by the popularity of such American shows like "That's Incredible" where guests would perform "daring human feats with extraordinary precision." This means things like catching bullets with your mouth, or performing "psychic" stunts.

But, in Venezuela, Robert Alonso pushed the boundaries with his show. According to Colon, Alonso's show "adapted the format of investigative journalism to amazing fiction and the paranormal." Colon recalls shows "that demonstrated three-headed frogs and paralytic bullfighters." Robert Alonso also admits to making things up for the show, especially after his bosses asked for an additional half-hour of programming.

The Colon article covers additional history not found in the Miami New Times by Zeitlin, such as Alonso's run in with the corrupt media, and a stint in jail where he organized a concert for inmates, starring his famous sister, Maria Conchita Alonso.

But, what I found most fascinating about the article was this brief exchange with the reporter:

Colon: What's your opinion on the practice of journalism [in Venezuela]?
Alonso: That every good journalist should lie.
Colon: Are you sure? And they never accused you of being a swindler? Of being a fraud?
Alonso: No. On the contrary, they gave me awards and provided tributes... completely satisfied as long as your voice is lost within the frenetic song of the macaws and the dusk.

A "nack for storytelling" indeed.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Documentaries on US/Cuba Relations

Been pretty busy this week, and regret I couldn't get to this earlier. This entire week the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival has been showing some great films and two documentaries I wanted to highlight.

One documentary is the The Man of Two Havanas which tells the story of Max Lesnik, whose Replica magazine was the target of several bombings in the 70's in Miami. The film was directed by his daughter Vivien Lesnik Weisman, who describes the film as an exploration of their father/daughter relationship, and seen through the lens of US/Cuba politics. In a DemocracyNow! interview, Lesnik Weisman recalled living in Miami in the 70's: "I was aware when I was growing up that we were bombed and that there were drive-by shootings in our house, and I lived in a constant state of siege, like a war zone."

Max Lesnik's history with Cuba is complex, but he advocates that US policy towards Cuba be changed, the embargo lifted and supports steps towards normalization.

"If Americans come to Cuba they could know Cuba. They don’t understand it because they don’t know it. Since the beginning of the confrontation between Washington and Havana, hundreds of senators, representatives, mayors, governors...have visited the Island and have learned the Cuban perspective. Once they listen to the Cuban side of the story, they understand it."

The film was shown this past Wednesday, and will be repeated today at 3:15pm (PST) at the Arclight Cinema Theater.

The second documentary is titled Tell Me Cuba by Megan Williams. It's a documentary that film critic Phoebe Flowers says "takes a complex and divisive subject and captures it with a clear-eyed, intelligent perspective." I saw this film last year when it premiered in Miami Beach and I thought it was a very intelligent film too. It packs plenty of information, old film footage, and plenty of interesting interviews as well. Check out the website, especially the clip with Orlando Bosch, and then think about purchasing the movie to see the entire interview, its very revealing. The Tell Me Cuba website also has a WPLG Channel 10 interview with Megan Williams and other goodies.

The film will be shown on Sunday at 1:15pm(PST) at the Arclight Cinema Theater.

Full schedule of the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival is available in PDF format.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The War in Little Havana

On this day, in 1868, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes issued his proclamation of Cuban independence from Spanish rule: El Grito de Yara. Thus began "Cuba's first formal war against Spain" which also brought to prominence Cuban heroes like Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gomez and, of course, Jose Marti.

These names were called out earlier this month (October 1st) when the "Miami Declaration" was announced at the Manuel Artime Theater, in front of more than 800 Cuban exiles in Little Havana. By memorializing these men, who fought an armed struggle against Spanish imperialism and brutality, some in the Cuban exile community have embraced the soldier mentality, the code of honor, the act of war.

Orlando Bosch was there that night and received a round of applause. US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was also there and surely clapped at the man whom she supported in 1988 as "a valiant freedom fighter."* But, Bosch represents the perverted example of what Maceo, Gomez and Marti fought for. In a 2006 interview, Bosch called the explosion of a plane including women and children "a wartime target" and that "a bomb is proof of rebelliousness, proof of bravery."

Eduardo Arocena, and Santiago Alvarez were other names called out that night. Arocena was sentenced in 1984 to life in prison on several criminal charges and his involvement as the "chief bomb maker" in an attempt to prove his "bravery." Alvarez was another who proved his "rebelliousness" by keeping a "staggering amount of illegal weaponry and ammunition" in one of his apartment complexes, which was soon discovered by federal agents. His original 20-year, 6-count indictment was soon reduced significantly after he surrendered more illegal weaponry, which "consisted of dozens of machine guns, rifles, C-4 explosive, dynamite, detonators, a grenade launcher and ammunition." Alvarez is scheduled to be released from prison before the end of this year.

The official announcer of the "Miami Declaration", Armando Perez-Roura, has publicly stated that an armed struggle is justified, even asking presidential candidate, John McCain, last March if he would support such measures against Cuba.

But, today is not 1868. We don't live in an era of such brutality and violence. Since the end of the second World War, our integrated and interdependent society is structured under laws that prevent such chaos to spread. Back in 1868, laws that protected international human rights didn't exist; we didn't have international criminal tribunals; we didn't have universal protection under the law.

Today, we depend on such values. We care about what is happening across the globe in Burma, we are concerned about the talks between North and South Korea, the peace process in Nepal, or the criminal trial of Alberto Fujimori. We care because their effects will have profound influence in our global society.

But, if we support violence now, in a world far removed from the time of Maceo, Gomez or Marti, the consequences can be far too great to bear, and the risks too great for a society that does not support it. This time, the brave ones will call out "peace", and an end to war.

* [The Miami Herald, February 23, 1988, "Politicians Plead for Bosch's Release" by Carlos Harrison.]

Monday, October 8, 2007

Some News Bits

There's three interesting news pieces on the US/Cuba Normalization blog, check it out:

- A restoration plan for Ernest Hemingway's Cuban home is blocked by the US embargo.
- "Grass-roots discussions" and debate in Cuba about free markets.
- And a transcript of a recent CNN debate between US Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Charles Rangel.

All available in their entirety.

I Nominate Cuba Watch

At one point I was actually considering to put the Cuba Watch blog on my list of favorites, until I noticed that much of the criticism was ridiculous and without reason. There are some good posts, but most of the time it's just wrong. Take a look at the latest one.

Cuba Watch has this arrogant series called the "Oblivious Asshole Award" rewarding strangers for what he deems have "true lack of reasoning skills" or those who come from "the wolf's den of bigotry and hate." But, the latest award recipient reveals more about how hysterical and vindictive Cuba Watch really is.

A reader of Cuba Watch seems to have pointed to the latest victim here, RubyJi. On June 29, 2007, RubyJi uploaded this public photo on her Flickr account. It shows a young man wearing a T-Shirt that says: F--K the Miami Mafia, Get Well Fidel. (You might also recognize this person, since he was attacked in public by Vigilia Mambisa in January.) The t-shirt is as offensive as Cuba Watch's own "Oblivious Asshole Award" image, but Cuba Watch then decides to take out his/her anger on RubyJi, who's quite innocent in this case.

Cuba Watch notes that RubyJi has a blog and Flickr account, but fails to mention that in each account there's hardly a mention of Cuba or Fidel Castro. The Flickr photo in question is the only image with a "cuba" or "fidel castro" tag. Also, RubyJi's blog makes NO MENTION of Cuba or Fidel Castro since its creation in December of 2000.

But, this doesn't stop Cuba Watch from saying that RubJi "apparently supports the continued subjugation of the Cuban people and illicit enrichment of the regime's fat-cats in Havana" and that she should "crawl back into the wolf's den of bigotry and hate from which [she] came."

All this from ONE photo (among 2,461 so far by RubyJi), and about a shirt she didn't even wear.

In the end, not only does Cuba Watch violate the Flickr Community Guidelines by copying and publishing her photo, and not linking back to her Flickr account, Cuba Watch threatens to post RubyJi's private e-mail exchange on his blog. Such a gesture would not only violate RubyJi's right to privacy, but also her "right of first publication" protected under US common law .

In which case, Cuba Watch would be the true winner of being oblivious.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Declaration of Retribution (Part 2)

So, speaking of international crimes against humanity, it seems that Unidad Cubana also has that covered. According to their website, they already have a constitution written up for the "Independent Court of a Free Cuba." This is the future venue where Unidad Cubana envisions "justice" to be served against the "genocide" of the Cuban government. I'm sure they can come up with other heinous charges, especially if the "independent" court and its judges are appointed by them.

Unidad Cubana appears regularly on Radio Mambi, with Armando Perez-Roura, and they talk about the usual things: how they are gonna have tribunals and charge everyone who they consider accomplices to the Cuban government, even the press and several other foreign companies. In some respects, it should even include the American government. But, they sure love going over how they cannot let anyone go unpunished for "los mártires" (martyrs), and all the time they have been in exile, almost 50 very long years. And, they never forget to reassure us in the end that they don't seek revenge, just justice.

But, saying that you want justice is not the same as doing justice. There's a fine line that divides our legal system from acts of retribution. One of those essential divisions is an impartial jury or judge. By appointing an impartial arbiter in any dispute, one takes a very positive step towards seeking justice. But, in the case of Unidad Cubana and its "Independent Court", there's no mention at all of appointing impartial judges to investigate these serious crimes.

Despite saying that the "Independent Court" constitution "reflects a summary" of such noble international tribunals like Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, they still forget essential parts of those statutes that clearly describe how impartial judges are chosen. And, it's so odd that Unidad Cubana omits these important parts because their website actually includes the recognized statutes to the international tribunals of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. So why did they leave it out?

The statutes that appoint judges to the International Criminal Court, and the tribunals mentioned above are basically the same. The judges are appointed through votes of SEVERAL participating members of the UN, or members of an international assembly who have ratified the statutes in question. The judges are also nominated from a list of those who meet several high standards, and who are recognized and approved by many nations. This seems fair and easy to understand. So, it's baffling why Unidad Cubana has left this open to speculation, unless of course they want more control over the appointments. If this is the case, then how can they convince anyone that they really want justice done?

Another point that astounds me in the constitution of the "Independent Court of a Free Cuba", is the part that states the crimes that will be investigated. Yes, genocide is there. But, also the "crime of apartheid."

Those who are familiar with the Cuba debate should be aware that many exiles accuse the Cuban government of apartheid, specifically a "tourist apartheid" where foreign visitors enjoy luxuries and basic services far superior than what Cuban residents have. "Tourism apartheid" in Cuba is a fact, but there's some trouble when the concept reaches international law. There's no "crime of tourism apartheid", unlike the recognized "crime of apartheid."

According to the UN resolution titled "International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid", the crime of apartheid relates to "domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group." The same applies to the definition used by the International Criminal Court. This kind of crime is not occurring in Cuba.

But, if Unidad Cubana has it way in a future free Cuba, it seems that international standards won't matter much. Basically, they plan to do as they wish, and as they see fit. That's not justice.

[Part 1]