Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Unethical Maria Elvira Salazar (Part 2)

Cuba 111, is a documentary shot in Cuba in 1995 by Dirk Vandersypen. This documentary revealing the lives of several Cuban families in a crumbling building in Havana won a lot of attention and several TV awards for Vandersypen's work. When he died in 2000, Vandersypen left a long list of television documentaries that focused on Latin America, and of whose people he admired greatly. Currently, the Vandersypen Award is given annually to those who share the same passion for Latin America and film-making. Vandersypen is quoted as saying:

"Ultimately my concern has always been for the fate of the people themselves. It is not for me to embellish that or play the hero at their expense. I present the stories as they are: drawn from real life."

On Friday, May 25, Maria Elvira Salazar not only broke basic principles of ethics, she denied her audience the underlying message of Vandersypen's history of work.

As I watched that entire show carefully, I noticed my suspicions were being confirmed: Maria Elvira Salazar and her guests were never going to reveal the date in which the documentary was shot. The entire program went by without one mention that Cuba 111 was shot in 1995, the year in which Cuba was still recovering from a 34.8% contraction of its GDP, and 36.7% decline in GDP per capita (Perez-Lopez 2002). The only mention was that Cuba 111 was shot "some years" back. They never came close to saying that it was a decade old.

Several moments throughout the program, Salazar cut into segments of the documentary to analyze "La Realidad Cubana." The only information she gave about the video was its title and director (which she repeated more than once), but no year. But, then Salazar topped it all off when she began comparing the video with "current" pictures of the Club Havana resort, which used to be known as the Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club, and is now considered part of "Havana's Fifth Avenue." I say "current" because Salazar said that some anonymous person e-mailed the pictures to her, and she didn't mention a date attached to them.

Well, upon some internet surfing, I actually came upon some of the actual pictures she showed. These two pictures that were shown on Polos Opuestos last Friday are from 1955! Salazar never mentions the date, and these pictures were mixed in with more "current" pictures that show water racers on the beach.

Near the end of the show, having compared these two historically inaccurate accounts, Maria Elvira Salazar says: "Este es el gran contraste de la Cuba de hoy." (This is the great contrast of today's Cuba).

The ethical violations are clear. By denying the audience of Polos Opuestos the exact dates Cuba 111 and photos of the Club Havana resort were shot, Maria Elvira Salazar has not only debilitated judgment, she has allowed her work to progress with erroneous beliefs and false perceptions about Cuba, and has so far denied anyone to challenge or expose her errors.

Unfortunately, this is just one example of the state of affairs in Miami about issues on Cuba. Cuba, in Miami, is a horribly altered reality, mostly due to the fact that the debate relies on an incompetent dichotomous divide. By concealing the date of Cuba 111, Maria Elvira Salazar is supporting one side of an ongoing conflict over the various realities of Cuba.

[Part 3]

The Unethical Maria Elvira Salazar (Part 1)

Last week was a very interesting week for Maria Elvira Salazar. Weekdays at 8pm, Salazar hosts a local political talk show called Polos Opuestos (Polar Opposites) on local TV station MegaTV. Its quite a hit down here in South Florida where before Spanish primetime was usually dominated by telenovelas (soap operas). But, by 2003, Salazar had shattered the telenovela supremacy and paved the way for Spanish TV political talk. Now, shows like Polos Opuestos and A Mano Limpia ("Straight Talk"/"Face to Face") are beginning to dominate Spanish primetime. A Mano Limpia is aired on channel 51 America TeVe, and has been beating the Spanish network Telemundo since late last year. Local Spanish TV station GenTV has recently jumped on this trend and introduced Ultima Palabra, a political talk show co-hosted by Ninoska Perez-Castellon from Radio Mambi.

All of these programs give considerable coverage to issues about Cuba, giving far more coverage to support for US policy towards Cuba.

Maria Elvira Salazar is already known to be an adamant supporter of US policy towards Cuba, and normally describes Fidel Castro as a tyrant. She usually offers an entire show to reveal "La Realidad Cubana" (Cuban Reality) as she puts it. But this past Friday, Maria Elvira Salazar may have breached the most basic of journalistic ethics.

Beginining on Wednesday, Salazar hosted a very heated debate on her show between Joe Garcia, Chairman of Miami-Dade Democrats, and Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba. [Watch video here.] The show was finally living up to its name (which it often doesn't do). Both participants talked over each other and disputed even the most minute of details. Growing frustrations and a vocal tussle over US funds, which both recieve for their respective organizations, ended with Calzon walking out of the show within the final 10 minutes of the program. He eventually came back to give a final statement, but it was clear that he would never debate Garcia again.

Thurday's show gave the audience another impassioned debate between Juan Amador, famous father who led the Vamos a Cuba ban (and newest member of Unidad Cubana) and Pedro Rodriguez Medina, director of Combate News who opposes US policy towards Cuba. The stark differences of opinion were displayed, with both talking over each other, but with more restraint that the Calzon-Garcia debate. The following day on Radio Mambi, several regular listeners called in to congratulate Amador for his comments.

Looking back, it seems that Friday's show was a response to the debates, to even out Garcia and Medina. The topic this day was all about a documentary called Cuba 111, and Salazar had invited two men to analyze the film: Mario Fernandez Mora and Camilo Loret de Mola (so much for diversity of views on Cuba). I enjoy documentaries from Cuba and always pay close attention to them. Salazar enjoys showing documentaries on her program to present "La Realidad Cubana," but on closer inspection, Salazar has a strange way of presenting these fine films, which happen to look dated.

[Part 2]

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

[An Addendum to "Mr. Gomez"]

While still on the topic, let me add another point about the faulty analysis of Mr. Gomez.

On April 7, 2007, Mr. Gomez actually responded to one of my queries at the Stuck on the Palmetto blog. In the comments section of that day, Mr. Gomez indentified FIU sociologist
Lisandro Perez as "one of [Miami Herald's] 'go to' experts."

Confounded at the description, I challenged Mr. Gomez: "I have never seen the Miami Herald interview or quote Lisandro Perez with any consistency. I can't recall the last time, before this [topic in question], that he appeared in the Herald. What are your remarks based on?"

Mr. Gomez responded with utmost clarity and simplicity. To my astonishment, he actually presented evidence! It seems that Mr. Gomez went to his internet news database (looks like NewsBank) and did a simple search on "Lisandro Perez" for the Miami Herald, and cut and pasted the first-page results of his search (identical to the first page of my NewsBank search). He posted 9 stories. I quickly saw his reason.

But, looking back, there seems to be something that Mr. Gomez left out in his response, and it questions whether calling Perez a "go-to" expert really means anything at all. Let's examine.

Mr. Gomez, who also posts for the Herald Watch blog, definitely enlightened me on how often Lisandro Perez is mentioned in the Herald. When one does a search on NewsBank for "Lisandro Perez" in the Herald for 2006, you get 14 matches (excluding two who are for Lisandro Perez-Rey). Only14 matches for the entire year! And, Mr. Gomez posted eight of them in his reply. Does 14 mentions in the Miami Herald make Lisandro Perez a "go-to" expert? Let's compare with other Cuba experts.

When one does a NewsBank search for "Brian Latell" in the Herald for 2006 you get 17 matches. I guess Latell is also one of Miami Herald's "go-to" experts. When one does a search for "Jaime Suchlicki" you get 19 matches. We can add Suchlicki to the list too I guess.

When you search for UM's "Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies" (where Latell and Suchlicki work) you get 32 matches. But, a search for FIU's "Cuban Research Institute" yields only 19 matches.

So who's really The Miami Herald's "go-to" experts? Let's do a deeper search.

A search for the "Cuban Research Institute" in the Herald from 2001 to 2006 yields 65 matches. But, a search for the "Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies" yields 119 matches!

A search for "Lisandro Perez" from 2001 to 2006 yields 64 matches, but "Jaime Suchlicki" yields 80 matches.

Who are the Herald's "go-to" experts now?

Finally, when I do a separate search for "Jaime Suchlicki" and "Lisandro Perez" from 1996 to 2006, I get equal matches! One hundred and eleven results for both.

I don't know what methods Mr. Gomez used to describe Lisandro Perez as a "go-to" expert, but there seems to be little justification in using such a description. So why did he use it?

I think Mr. Gomez's bias is showing.

Mr. Gomez's False Analysis (Part 2)

Mr. Gomez mentions that his "job [in 'account planning'] is to know what consumers are thinking and feeling." It sounds like Mr. Gomez works in the field of applied psychology, but the evidence and explanations that Mr. Gomez proceeds to give is barren of any scientific evidence. Instead, Mr. Gomez gives us a collection of his general assumptions and simple conclusions.

He mentions that "there is general psychology and behavior common to most immigrants. For example a new immigrant will probably settle where he has family or friends living." This is accurate. Mr. Gomez is describing a general phenomenon known as ethnic solidarity. Perhaps unknown to Mr. Gomez, a study done two years ago examined ethnic solidarity in the Cuban-American community in an attempt to explain the "internal divisions" of this so-called monolith. The author (Heike C. Alberts) provides some insight into possible reasons why cohort waves are responding differently in polls. She states that since the 1980's the ethnic cohesiveness of the "Cuban enclave" in Miami has decreased due to a merging with the overall US economy, increased competition with other immigrant groups, and decreased preferential treatment within Cubans. Alberts believes that "deep rifts now exist among Cubans of different refugee generations, due to different class background, values, ideologies, religious beliefs, and race."(p.246)[*]

But, Mr. Gomez prefers to give his own interpretation based on his experiences alone, not scientific research. He most likely agrees that there are "internal divisions" within the Cuban-American community, but seems to be in denial over whether these divisions are authentic. Over time Mr. Gomez believes that "[t]here is a slow discovery process in which the [new Cuban immigrant] begins to, perhaps for the first time, reflect on the veracity (or lack thereof) of what the regime told them during their formative years... But eventually that exhaustion wears off and certain realities set in." Mr. Gomez then concludes that "[i]t’s far more likely that those younger Cubans [from the July 31 celebrations] will become more outspoken and intransigent than their forerunners." And, that newly arrived Cubans will also assume an "outspoken and intransigent" stance once they assimilate in Miami and watch the local Spanish channels, such as the increasingly popular America TeVe and Mega TV.

I have never heard of this "slow discovery process" theory, and neither does Mr. Gomez provide any evidence to support it.

Yet, Mr. Gomez is correct in stating that a "static model" for how people think is incompetent. But, I have never seen anyone (Ana Menendez or Joe Garcia) argue that the "static model" is appropriate. This is Mr. Gomez's false argument.

On the other hand, many have cited the FIU Cuba Poll to examine past and current attitudes of Cuban-Americans. Evidently, Mr. Gomez is arguing about a possible future which is likely, or not likely, to happen. Mr. Gomez offers no evidence to support his prediction, instead he only has faith that Cubans in Miami will become "more outspoken or intransigent." Only time will tell.

But, of course, Mr. Gomez would have a difficult time challenging the methodology and results of the FIU Cuba Poll or the Bendixen Poll. This may explain why he argues against interpretations and false arguments, not facts.

Guillermo Grenier, one of the principle authors of the FIU Cuba Poll, has written extensively on the factors explaining the growing political diversity within Cuban-Americans. In a 2004 study, Grenier attributed the growth of a stronger dissident movement in Cuba, unique immigration experiences of wave cohorts, political abandonment of the Cuba issue, and the natural passing away of a hard-line "exile ideology" as factors in political changes in Miami.

In 2006, Grenier added more factors to consider: the general political "relaxation" after the end of the Cold War, political diversity from new Cuban-American political groups, and Cubans living outside of South Florida (Cubans in New Jersey are more likely to favor a "national dialogue" with the Cuban government).

These are arguments that are supported by facts. Grenier never suggests a "static model." In fact, Mr. Gomez's "slow discovery process" theory may be accurate, but operating against its own inventor.

Comparing the 2000 FIU Cuba Poll with the 2007 Poll, one reaches a startling conclusion. On the question of a "national dialogue," Cubans who immigrated between 1974-1984 changed their minds in support from 40.2% in 2000, to 50.4 in 2007! That's some "slow discovery." And, about those young Cubans that Mr. Gomez mentions... they (US born Cubans) support a "national dialogue" more than ever! From 67.9% in 2000, to 82.5% in 2007! I guess living in Miami with that "historic exile" community does that to you.

There's plenty of more data to go over and interpret. But, the real question is: who's peddling a myth?

[*]Alberts, H. C. (2005). Changes in ethnic solidarity in Cuban Miami. The Geographical Review, 95, 231-248.

[Part 1]

Mr. Gomez's False Analysis (Part 1)

On May 16, 2007, Henry Gomez from the Babalu Blog wrote a lengthy post titled "The Peddling of a Myth." Mr. Gomez, provoked by a Miami Herald (Ana Menendez) column published that day, argues that a "miniscule [sic] Cuban-American left" (of whom Mr. Gomez mentions Ana Menendez and Joe Garcia as examples) are perpetuating a lie: "That the historical exile community is old, that it’s losing its power and that the Cuban-American community is fractured in its thinking on the Cuba problem."

Mr. Gomez believes this lie has two functions:

- The egotistical Left "desperately want to believe that people are joining them;"
- The surreptitious Left "tell a lie so many times that it begins to be perceived as truth," and as a consequence "there are some Cuban-Americans that believe exactly what these false prophets believe."

To support his argument, Mr. Gomez says that the Left "cite surveys, which they conduct. They splice the data by date of arrival and attempt to show that the growing portion of the Cuban-American community, the most recent arrivals do not identify with the 'historical' exile community."

Mr. Gomez is obviously referring to the recent Bendixen and FIU Cuba Poll, both of which have been commented on Babalu Blog upon their release. You can read Mr. Gomez's earlier posts on Bendixen and FIU at your leisure. But, this is the first time I have seen Mr. Gomez comment on the interpretation of the waves of arrival for Cuban immigrants.

Analysis of statistical data through cohorts (what Mr. Gomez calls "splic[ing] the data") is standard practice. The wave cohorts of Cuban immigrants used by FIU and Bendixen have been used by other studies, with some variation. Some identify four waves of Cuban immigration since 1959, and others identify six. But, there isn't a hidden agenda behind this common research practice, as may be implied by Mr. Gomez.

Looking at the latest results of the FIU Cuba Poll, there were clear differences in the response of Cubans depending on their arrival to the US. On the question of a "national dialogue" (one example that Mr. Gomez mentions), the majority of Cubans (56.8%) who arrived between 1959-1964 oppose the idea of a "national dialogue among Cuban exiles, Cuban dissidents, and representatives of the Cuban government." But, among Cubans who arrived between 1985-1994, the majority (65.5%) favor a "national dialogue." Those are stark differences to interpret.

Nevertheless, Mr. Gomez believes that the Left's "analysis is flawed in one major way. They assume that these recently arrived Cubans will maintain the same ideas the[y] presently have over the rest of their lives. It’s a static model, which doesn’t account for migration away from their dialoguero ["national dialogue"] position. Logic and hard evidence would seem to dictate that this is an improbable scenario."

Let's examine Mr. Gomez's "logic and hard evidence."

[Part 2]

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Miami Herald's Puzzle (Part 4)

Part Three of the Cuba Puzzle ends with a look at Cuba's current foreign relations. In my opinion, it is the most balanced article in the entire three-part report. Pablo Bachelet produces a good summary of events that have occurred recently, and does quote at least one Cuban studies expert, William LeoGrande, Latin American policy specialist from the American University, saying "[South American countries] think the US policy of isolation is a big mistake." But, that is all we get from the Miami Herald who prefer the academic analysis of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, which is essentially an arm of the US State Department.

While the Cuba Puzzle does suffer from a slanted view of Cuba after Fidel, it is nevertheless a excellent report about sentiments in Miami. There's no doubt that Gyllenhaal's wish of reaching a "wider audience" may come true, though it may only be for those interested in Miami's perspective, and not the nation's.

The "Voices" section on the Cuba Puzzle website reveals this Miami view by including 16 short interviews, almost split between opposing views on US policy, but the majority of whom are from Miami. There's plenty of extras (audio and video) on the website to absorb too.

I will end my post with an apt comment found in Part Two of the Cuba Puzzle. It comes from Yoidel, a 24 year-old cowboy from central Cuba, who says that he wishes to leave Cuba for a better life, but is committed to fighting for Cuba "until the end."

This describes well the complexity of the Cuban issue.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3]

The Miami Herald's Puzzle (Part 3)

Part Two of the Cuba Puzzle, written by Frances Robles and Wilfredo Cancio Isla, is perhaps the best of all parts. This piece best represents the effort of what Anders Gyllenhaal (editor of the Cuba Puzzle) describes as a "10-day, 1,200-mile journey across the island" by the Miami Herald team.

This part provides many excellent descriptions about the current economic hardships in Cuba, which are indisputable and a sobering reminder of Cuba's rampant poverty. This piece also reminded me of the excellent 5-part journal by Carlos Frias, sports writer for the the Palm Beach Post. Frias' description of the unfortunate in Cuba, during his first trip to the island in August 2006, were vivid and powerfully sincere.

Cuba's economy has been written about extensively, by many organizations, so there is little to say about it. It's been made evident that if Cuba doesn't recover from its poor conditions, any future Cuban administration shall continue to face a growing social crisis.

But, many would confuse such dire conditions as a justifiable reason to make things worse. Despite economic frustrations by Cubans, many still are opposed to the US embargo. According to the latest poll inside Cuba (Havana and Santiago only) by the Gallup Organization, there was overwhelming support for the US as an "ideal partner" in trade. 44% percent of urban Cubans chose the US, with China and Venezuela falling right behind with a meager 17 and 15 percent.

Speaking of trade, the Cuba Puzzle also includes an extra article by Martha Brannigan reporting about American agricultural trade with Cuba. Despite US exports to Cuba reaching beyond $300 million annually, Brannigan writes that "[b]y most accounts, exports of agricultural goods will remain a fraction of what they could be so long as US restrictions remain." US rice exporters also support the fact that current trade with Cuba is but a fraction of what it could be. The main obstacles to US agricultural export are reported as working through third-party banks and difficulty in obtaining licenses and cash in advance, all due to US restrictions.

Brannigan also cites the USA Rice Federation saying that Cuba instead looks to Vietnam or China for their rice because the US is seen as "unreliable" due to restrictions on offering credit, unlike other countries.

In 2006, USA Today gave some insight into exactly how big US agricultural trade can grow to without restrictions or the US embargo. Edward Iwata, wrote that "[w]ith no embargo, agricultural officials say, U.S. food exports could grow tenfold."

[Part 4]

Thursday, May 24, 2007

About Ana Menendez(Part 2)

The history of debate in Miami about Cuba and US relations has unfortunately been shaped, for a long time, by a dichotomous divide: anti-Castro or Castro apologist. Within this incompetent paradigm, frustration are obviously littered with insults as people cross both sides. The sides are mainly drawn by positions on specific US policy towards Cuba, and the insults usually originate when the sides disagree.

I've had such debates on BabaluBlog before I was essentially banned (my comments are now reviewed before being approved for posting), and had always received insults, somehow due to the fact I must have been offensive. Even though my intentions were not to be offensive, it is the audience's perception that matters most. In these cases, the unintentional insult should be retracted, clarified, or altered. These are options that I think Ana Menendez should consider.

But, in this climate of heated debate one can become hesitant to change their comments, especially since there's little trust for both sides. On May 18th, Alejandro Armengol on his blog commented [in Spanish] that these condemnations on Menendez were nothing new, but part of ulterior motives. "I've already said that every seventh day in this city an excuse is used so that certain instigators of public opinion justify their cultural and political incompetence with new calls for persecution."

That same day, Ileana Curra, a former Cuban political prisoner, posted her reply to Menendez on the Baracutey Cubano blog. Despite being someone who has suffered real political persecution, her condemnation towards Menendez was no different than Perez-Castellon's. Curra concludes that Cubans should not purchase the Miami Herald "until they comprehend, one day, that they must respect us." Curra, just like Perez-Castellon, supports the Cuban family travel restrictions under the same arrogant premise asking the "extreme left" : "Where were they protesting" when repression occurred in Cuba? The false moral argument. Curra also has articles on the Cuban Liberty Council website.

There's little trust, and little respect around here. The two replies to Ana Menendez at BabaluBlog were not without insults themselves. Val Prieto timidly avoids calling Menendez an "asshole" and her work a "hemorrhoidal schtick," and Henry Gomez directly describes Menendez as a "coprophagic (excrement eating) columnist." Rick, from Stuck on the Palmetto, did not received Prieto's cautious wit, and was called an "asshole" directly.

So not everyone has a clean record here, especially those condemning Ana Menendez. But, this reciprocal mud-slinging has a remedy. It begins by agreeing that insults have no place in debate, and that retractions or clarifications are always welcomed in a discussion. I think Ana Menendez should consider these options, and the same advice should apply to her critics. This is where trust will begin to flourish.

But, someone has to make the first move.

[Part 1]

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

About Ana Menendez(Part 1)

Before I get back to posting about the Cuba Puzzle, allow me to comment on the May 16th Ana Menendez column. I seem a bit late in doing so, but, to my astonishment, Ninoska Perez-Castellon yesterday briefly condemned Menendez again on her radio show. She must be having nightmares.

In past Menendez columns I saw her writing as drawing close to undue provocation. I see it mainly due to her liberal use of negative adjectives and ad hominems wrapped in wit. In her May 16th column, Menendez uses "right wing lunatics" and "mighty Miami Cuban Mafia" to describe a segment of the Miami Cuban-American community with whom she is obviously frustrated with (the feeling is mutual). Both "lunatic" and "mafia" have drawn the most criticism (as expected I'm sure), but notice that both words are followed by the sentence: "I miss them already." Welcome to Ana Menendez's world of satire, filled with irony and sarcasm. In fact, its the same format used by Humberto Fontova, Cuban exiles favorite columnist.

Well, the same day the Menendez column came out, so did the backlash. By noon, the BabaluBlog had come out with two posts: a curt reply by Val Prieto and a long denouncement by Henry Gomez, and Ninoska Perez-Castellon, on her 3pm radio show on Radio Mambi, made sure to let Menendez know that she had crossed the line. Perez-Castellon fiendishly articulated that "Ana Menendez, at the time of refilling her printing cartridges, must pinch her liver and fill it with bile."[MP3] As always, Perez-Castellon then went on to describe Menendez's insult to Cuban-Americans as if someone had insulted the Jewish community. She loves that analogy. Obviously, Perez-Castellon doesn't understand that NO ONE should be insulted, and that all insults have the same effect regardless of ethnicity or race. Later that day, further condemnation came from Robert at 26th Parallel, saying that he was about to ignore Menendez's comments, but couldn't help it.

So, did Ana Menendez insult anyone with her column? She may have. But, if you consider the climate in Miami when it comes to debating Cuba, neither side is purely innocent. Not even me. Let's examine this climate.

The following day (May 17th) Rick, over at Stuck on the Palmetto, made an important observation. The word mafia, a shameful description used by the Cuban government to describe a network of some Cuban exile organizations, has been used by some Cuban-Americans to describe themselves. There's an obvious pun in this context, but the same paradoxical phenomenon occurs with African-Americans and the N-word. Its a cultural appropriation of a nasty word in order to minimize its negative intention.

Nevertheless, would this allow Ana Menendez (who is Cuban-American) to use it? I guess it depends.

[Part 2]

The Miami Herald's Puzzle (Part 2)

Cuba is a topic that many in academia have taken up. Several universities have their own department on Cuban studies and many also have prominent "experts" on the subject. Here in South Florida we have two good institutes: University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) and Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute. Without question, any journalist who wants to write about Cuba, and has any questions, can access these fine institutions, speak with their experts, and look at their research.

With so many experts to choose from (each with varying points of view), its interesting to examine which experts on Cuba are often quoted and relied on for any report.

Part One of the Miami Herald's "Cuba Puzzle" started off with an introduction to various points of view on Cuba after Fidel's illness. Rui Ferreira, Frances Robles and Luisa Yanez together present personal perspectives from academic, political and non-academic positions. While non-academic voices on Cuba are very important, political and academic voices are far more influential, and the focus here. I was disappointed, but not shocked to see that the list of people who are cited or quoted for this first part mostly support US policy towards Cuba.

[In order of citation]
Brian Latell (cited, not quoted), senior researcher from UM's ICCAS;
Raices de Esperanza, a student group whose website reveals that Carlos Alberto Montaner is a "raices academic council chair";
Joe Garcia, chairman of Miami-Dade's Democratic Party;
Jaime Suchlicki, director of ICCAS;
Jose "Pepe" Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF);
Juan Clark, sociologist and famed author of Cuba: Myth and Reality, and other articles;
Diego Suarez, member of the Cuban Liberty Council;
Ramon Colas, former Cuban dissident;
Carlos Saladrigas, Co-Chairman of the Cuba Study Group;
and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, US Representative.

The majority of the people above support US policy towards Cuba, with some variations towards the restrictions on Cuban family travel, and academic travel. The Miami Herald somehow ignored the many perspectives of other academics or politicians who are totally opposed to US policy towards Cuba, and have a very different view about what has happened since July 31.

Just last month, The Nation magazine had a forum on this same topic and most of the arguments agreed that a smooth transition had occurred since July 31. There was no "confusion and frustration" as attributed to the exiles by the Herald. Also, earlier this year, the Council on Foreign Relations had a forum with two US Representatives (Republican and Democrat) on Cuba after Fidel, and both agreed, after a trip to the island, that a smooth transition had taken place. A very different view from most politicians here in South Florida, who dare not travel to Cuba themselves.

Despite the excellent work done, its important to note that the Miami Herald has presented a report that reveals a Miami perspective, not a national or objective one. I also found it interesting that no one from FIU's Cuban Research Institute was interviewed for this first part. This would also reveal that the Herald report may be more skewed than one would think.

Examining the rest of the report reveals other interesting points.

[Part 3]

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Miami Herald's Puzzle (Part 1)

This past Sunday, the Miami Herald published the last part of a three-part report on Cuba. The report was evidently titled "The Cuba Puzzle" in a convenient attempt to give a name to the various issues discussed. The first part of the report tries to set in motion what the "puzzle" is about, but gives the reader three basic descriptions:

- Understanding "a new phase of uncertainty" after Fidel Castro's illness.

- Understanding the "key players from Cuba to Miami to Caracas and Madrid [as they] jockey for position to influence the island's future."

- Understanding Miami "exiles' hopes and trepidations" about Cuba that they have been trying "to make sense of" for about 48 years.

While the Herald report does cover several topics "to make sense of," in my opinion, The Cuba Puzzle is not at all puzzling, but rather a bland summary of events and opinions that have occurred since July 31, the day Fidel Castro stepped down as head of the Cuban government. Still, the summary, carried out "for the past two months," by a "dozen reporters" from the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, is a decent introduction to the most recent events, and well researched too.

There is nothing really newsworthy about this Cuba Puzzle, but the report does deliver an excellent collection of diverse views about Cuba, some presented in audio, or video, on its own website that provides many worthwhile extras.

The downside of the report is that it provides no new insight, or interpretation about Cuba's future based on its own research. Instead, most of the report relies on familiar voices and opinions that have already graced the pages of the Herald, and also other local media outlets in Miami.

In other words, its not really an objective view on Cuba. It's mostly Miami's view.

Let's examine.

[Part 2]

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 9)

"Pernod Ricard [and Cubaexport] knowingly purchased an interest in property that the Castro government illegally confiscated from my family and therefore has no legitimate claim to this trademark," said Jose Manuel Arechabala, speaking on behalf of the original Havana Club owners, the Arechabala Family.

In 1960, the Cuban government expropriated all of the Arechabalas' property connected to its rum business. The family then fled to the US and Spain. According to Stephen Kimmerling (1999)[PDF] and Perry, Woods & Shapiro (2000)[PDF], the Arechabala Family had evidently abandoned the Havana Club name from 1960 to 1974, when Cubaexport filed for the Havana Club registration. Perry et al. remind its readers that the Arechabala Family "neglected to renew the Havana Club trademark registration in the United States, although they could have done so with a Certificate of Excusable Non-Use." This is a very important point.

According to Kenneth Germain, a lawyer and professor of intellectual property who appeared before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 2004, US Trademark Laws rely on proper use of the trademark, and their constant renewal in order to "unclutter" the Trademark Register. Unfortunately, the Arechabala Family "
allowed its pre-embargo U.S. Trademark Registration of HAVANA CLUB (for rum) to lapse by failing to file an appropriate and available post-registration document attesting to excusable non-use. Had this company acted appropriately, it could have maintained that registration. Because it did not, CubaExport, the record owner of U.S. Trademark Registration 1,031,651, was able to register HAVANA CLUB as a U.S. trademark for rum."

This is why section 211 exists. Bacardi-Martini Ltd. know that the Havana Club trademark was abandoned, and that if they ever had to go to court over ownership, they would lose to Cubaexport (Fidel Castro). Section 211 saves Bacardi from going to court, and allows everyone to hide behind the US embargo as an excuse. That's why the entire "stolen property" argument is irrelevant. And section 211 is but a fraud.

Just last month, reported in a few news outlets, a Spanish court made an important ruling. It was reported that a "Provincial Court of Madrid, Spain... rejected the Bacardi claims over ownership of the Havana Club rum." Part of the decision was based on the fact that "the Havana Club brand was never used by the previous owner and neither was it renewed when the time to do so expired."

It's a decision that Bacardi plans to take to the Spanish Supreme Court, but its doubtful it will win. Spain doesn't have a section 211, or an embargo. But, most importantly, its obvious that the Arechabala Family abandoned their trademark, and allowed it to expire under the laws of intellectual property around the world.

But, here we are, in the USA with our fake Cuban cigars and fake Cuban rum, all because of a fake policy towards Cuba. Not surprisingly, here in Miami, there are a lot of fake arguments about Cuba. And, I believe all this deceit can be remedied once the US embargo towards Cuba is gone, and only then will we begin to smell, taste, and see the real Cuba that has long been forbidden to the senses of reality.

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8]

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 8)

Which brings me to the allegory of these "fake" products in the US. You see, because the US has codified our Cuban enemies into law (e.g., Helms-Burton), many people now absolve their mistakes by invoking the name of the official enemy. These arguments of innocence are as fraudulent as a Dominican cigar with a Cuban label on it.

Juan Penton, the Cuban cigar counterfeiter, sees himself as innocent because US policy tells him that the real criminal is Fidel, and thus Altadis USA has no trademark rights for Cuban cigars because of section 211. But, in reality, Penton is guilty of a crime, and Altadis does have registered trademarks in the US that are protected (as do many American companies have trademarks in Cuba that are protected). Section 211 does not cancel these legal trademarks, especially now that the WTO has ruled that section 211 is inconsistent with the core principles of international treaties protecting trademarks.

Jorge Rodriguez Marquez, Bacardi employee, sees nothing wrong with quid pro quo political contributions because the real villain (Fidel Castro) must not win. But, in fact, Rodriguez Marquez's actions were unethical and illegal because he had later violated the principles of the Lobbying Disclosure Act to hide his actions at the time. Bacardi alone has drawn numerous criticisms from the non-profit organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) for violating federal campaign laws. CREW has also condemned the cancellation of Cubaexport's Havana Club trademark, and called Bacardi's political conspiracy as "fraudulent and deceitful."

Some US congressmen are also guilty of ignoring the errors of section 211 and the unethical tactics of Bacardi USA. According to the Miami Herald, Bacardi continues to influence and derail changes to section 211 in Congress. US Representative Tom Feeney (District 24) believes "the [Bacardi] cause is right... [Havana Club] was stolen by Castro." Feeney added his name to Robert Wexler's (Florida- District 19) newest House bill supporting section 211 this past March. The bill denies "recognition by United States courts of certain rights relating to certain marks."

The bill only helps Bacardi USA and discriminates against Cuba. Bacardi argues that the Havana Club name was stolen (expropriated) by the Cuban government, but this is only part of the whole story, and another example of a "fake" argument turned against the official enemy.

[Part 9]

Friday, May 18, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 7)

Despite the four letters to the PTO, sent by those who specifically received Bacardi contributions, Cubaexport's registered trademark was still not canceled. The PTO decided in 2004 that Bacardi's "petition fail[ed] to state a claim for cancellation." Bacardi was obviously upset. Since 1997, they had battled with Cubaexport in US courts to claim the Havana Club trademark.

I don't wanna bore anyone with the minute details of the court proceedings, but as Stephen Kimmerling summarized [PDF] in 1999 for the ASCE, the question still remained: "Does Cubaexport or Bacardi own the Havana Club trademark in the United States?"

In 1999, it seemed that Cubaexport had lost. That year, a New York federal judge decided that Cubaexport "ha[d] no rights to the Havana Club trademark" in the US. Bacardi felt vindicated. But, most of the Judge's decision relied on one controversial legislation called section 211 of the Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act. Legislation that had conveniently been introduced the year before by Florida's two Senators, Connie Mack and Bob Graham.

The New York court had made it clear that while Cubaexport had no rights to register the Havana Club trademark in the US (because of section 211 and the US embargo), or stop Bacardi-Martini USA from registering the trademark itself in the US, the court nevertheless would not order the cancellation of the Havana Club registration at the PTO.

As reported, this is the time when Bacardi began its aggressive petition, with the help of Jeb Bush and other politicians, to influence the director of the PTO, James E. Rogan, and the Secretary of Commerce, Donald Evans to cancel Cubaexports application. Lobbying money from Bacardi peaked around this time too. Donald Evans, in 2002, had replied to Bacardi that he did not have the authority to do so. I'm sure Rogan didn't either. And, in 2004 they had no choice but to dismiss Bacardi's petition.

In the meantime, Cubaexport and Pernod-Ricard appealed the 1999 New York decision, received help from the Organization for International Investment, but eventually lost in a 2000 Supreme Court decision. They also looked to the WTO. Bacardi called the WTO attempt "an unwarranted and reckless intrusion into a civil dispute." But, in 2002, the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body gave a final report calling section 211 of the 1998 Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act a violation of parts of international law.

The WTO, along with the European Community and other nations, is hoping that the US will change section 211, implement the recommendations of the final report, and even provide that Cubaexport defend again its trademark in US courts, denied initially by section 211.

It's been five years since that report, and the US has stalled so far on making any changes to section 211. And, most likely never will make changes until they see a "free Cuba." Last year, the US Patent and Trademark Office finally canceled Cubaexport's Havana Club trademark. The European Community was "extremely disappointed" at the decision, and Bacardi finally gave its thanks to the PTO.

Like Altadis cigars in the US, Bacardi plans to sell Havana Club rum with ingredients not made in Cuba. Both are imitations of Cuban products, which the rest of the world so happens to enjoy authentically.

[Part 8]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 6)

Without question, what I had in mind with Fake Cuban Cigars has turned into another beast (but it will all come around to Juan Penton versus Altadis again). The battle over the Havana Club trademark, and the several reports and articles I read over this unprecedented legal dispute, that has lasted for about a decade, has delayed several other topics that I wanted to comment on. But, this has just been a fascinating and enlightening research topic concerning another conflict in the disappointing history of US/Cuba relations.

The history of the dispute over Havana Club has been written about extensively through reports (Kimmerling 1999; Perry, Woods & Shapiro 2001, Swann 2002) by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) , the WTO, and through articles from various organizations. Even an entire book has been devoted to this "hidden war" between the US and Cuba. I will attempt to summarize this story, but encourage readers to rely on the links for the detailed history. To start off, our main actors are Bacardi-Martini USA versus Cubaexport.

"The application NEEDS to be denied," pleaded Jorge Rodriguez Marquez in an e-mail to Jeb Bush's office in Washington D.C. Rodriguez Marquez was vice-president of communications for Bacardi-Martini USA at the time. He was referring to the trademark application for Havana Club that, for the moment, rightfully belonged to Cubaexport since 1976. And, this e-mail was just one of many frustrated exchanges between Bacardi and the office of Jeb Bush, revealed by the Washington Post and the Daily Business Review in 2002.

Both papers found that Rodriguez Marquez was demanding that Jeb Bush, Florida Governor, influence the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to deny Cuba's trademark application, and in the meantime Bacardi also funneled tens of thousands of dollars into the coffers of the Florida GOP. It was reported that Bacardi in 2002 alone contributed about $60,000 to the Florida GOP. "Thank you for your valuable support regarding our problems at Commerce and Treasury," wrote back Rodriguez Marquez to Jeb. From 1998 to 2002, the total contributions were about $200,000 to the Florida Republicans. In 2004, Dan Christensen, reporter from the Daily Business Review, found that more Bacardi money had spread beyond Florida in order to fight Cubaexport's application.

Christensen reported that three US House Representatives in 2002, including the infamous majority leader Tom Delay, had received Bacardi contributions (about $60,000 total) during the same time Rodriguez Marquez was pleading with Jeb Bush to influence the PTO. When Jeb finally sent a letter to the PTO in 2002 "calling for cancellation" of Cubaexport's trademark, three other letters by the three US House Representatives had already been sent to PTO's boss, the US Secretary of Commere.

After the articles, the lawyers of Cubaexport's joint partners were angered. "Bacardi's attempt to bring political influence to bear on a matter that is supposed to be decided by administrative law judges on rules of law is grossly improper. The law bars ex-parte communications," explained the lawyers.

But, like Juan Penton versus Altadis, that didn't matter to Jorge Rodriguez Marquez, he was innocent, and facing a greater threat: Fidel Castro. In one of his e-mails, Rodriguez Marquez makes it clear that Bacardi is "a standing symbol of doing things the right way," but he was growing frustrated and fearful that "Castro and Pernod are winning." Pernod-Ricard was the French joint partner with Cubaexport.

[Part 7]

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 5)

Last October, after ten long years, a decision was finally made by the US Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). They had denied Cuba the trademark rights to Havana Club, brand name of the famous liquor. Cubaexport, the Cuban enterprise that had legally registered the trademark in 1978, with the PTO, was rightly upset. They "energetically" rejected the decision. Yet, the South Florida Business Journal described it as "sweet victory."

Events had definitely turned out quite differently than with the Cohiba case. In 2004, a US federal judge had decided that Cuba, specifically Cubatabaco (the state tobacco enterprise), "
had a legally protectable right" to the Cohiba trademark. A competing US company, General Cigar Holdings, was "obviously disappointed" and planned to appeal. But, Cuba had a strong case, just as it did with Havana Club. Yet, the only difference with the Havana Club case was the political conspiracy involved to deny Cuba its legitimate trademark.

To my surprise, it was a vast conspiracy that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, unethical politicians, and a long chain of emails involving our very own former Governor, Jeb Bush.

[Part 6]

Monday, May 14, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 4)

"Altadis es Fidel," Penton tells the Miami New Times in Spanish. He recalls the day he was arrested, just ten days before Christmas in 2005: "It felt like I was back in Cuba." In fact, back in Cuba, Penton belonged to a human rights group called Alianza Democrática Popular (ADEPO), People's Democratic Alliance. Penton admits that he was often detained because of his participation with ADEPO. Now, 90 miles away, he believed once again that Fidel was still behind it all.

Many in Miami blame Fidel Castro for a lot of things. But, like it or not, Fidel and Raul Castro are official enemies of the US thanks to laws like the Helms-Burton Act that specifically requires that "a transition government in Cuba is a government that... does not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro"[sec.205(a)(7)]. Due to this official position (part of a disastrous US policy), people like Juan Penton now hide behind such laws as absolution for their illegalities, and find comfort that the real enemy lies in the Cuban government.

"Cuba owns no patents in the U.S.A. — everybody knows there's an embargo!" cries out Penton. "Did you see on the news, that they are manufacturing biological weapons [in Cuba]?" asks Penton to the New Times. "I'm telling you, this is how Fidel operates," says Penton, sounding eerily like a top US administration official.

Penton believes he did nothing wrong, and plans to appeal in court to confirm his innocence. "[I]f there is justice in this country, I will be found innocent," he says. Unfortunately, Penton plans to base his main argument on the controversial (and internationally condemned) laws of the US embargo, specifically those that deny the Cuban government the right to register their trademarks in the US "if it was previously abandoned by a trademark owner whose business and assets have been confiscated under Cuban law."

This is a dispute that the US government has undertaken since 1999, attempting to deny Cuba trademark rights through official measures of the US embargo, but seems to be losing their credibility in the process. Like Penton, the US refuses to admit any mistake, absolving their errors in exchange for condemnation of the official enemy.

[Part 5]

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 3)

Those trying to recover from the cigar renaissance took drastic steps to sell off their inferior products. "Well, what happened was the cigar bubble burst. So, unable to sell their junk, they said — ooh, let's just rip off the other brands," explains the veteran lawyer for Altadis USA to the Miami New Times.

Altadis USA, the US subsidiary which sells legal imitation Cuban cigars made in the Dominican Republic, initiated an ironic hunt for Cuban cigar counterfeits (illegal imitations) in South Florida in 2005. Located in Fort Lauderdale, they argued that Cuban counterfeits cost them "the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars" every year. Altadis may be right about this, but according to the counterfeit busts that they helped with in 2005, they only recovered about $100,000 worth of fake cigar boxes in South Florida. Chump change when compared to "hundreds of millions of
dollars." In fact, Altadis USA may be overzealous in their "aggressive campaign" that netted Juan Penton when Canada alone has a "black market [of Cuban cigars] that cost $52 million a year in lost taxes alone" according to Abel Ortego, head of Havana House, exclusive importer and distributor of Cuban cigars for Canada.

But, unfortunately for Penton, Altadis SA has legal rights to famous Cuban cigar trademarks that Penton was copying. And, in 2005 he was busted along with seven other alleged counterfeiters in raids throughout South Florida. A year later, Penton got a fancy electronic bracelet, a five-year probation, and a $7,500 fine for selling fake Cuban cigars. He was found guilty of only selling $3000 worth. On their website, Altadis USA threatens other counterfeiters of proceeding "against the offender aggressively through civil and/or criminal channels." Altadis USA originally wanted to send Penton to prison for five years(!), a punishment that the judge fortunately rejected.

"Altadis is Fidel," declares Penton.

[Part 4]

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 2)

Thompson quickly recounts the turbulent history of Cuban cigars and how Juan Penton, a balsero who arrived from Guantanamo in 1995, got a taste of the boom market in the 90's working for the Caribbean Cigar Company.

In the US, the mid-90's saw a huge growth in cigar sales. Radio personality and connoisseur, Cigar Dave called it a "renaissance." By 1997, imported cigar sales had quintupled to 417.8 million cigars from only four years before. Unfortunately that same year, the unmet demand for high quality tobacco burst the bubble, leaving Caribbean Cigar and its Dominican tobacco products to waste. Before the ship sunk, Caribbean Cigar attempted to salvage what they could, but violated federal laws in the process. They were sued by its stock holders and accused of having "materially overstated its accounts receivables, current assets, leasehold improvements and cash flow and understated its professional fees, advertising expenses, general and administrative expenses, and depreciation expenses." Today, the canceled bonds of the Caribbean Cigar Company are now collectibles for scripophiles.

Juan Penton survived unscathed from the 90's and in 2000 bought a warehouse in Hialeah to begin his own cigar business. He started by making "gift boxes", replicas of authentic Cuban cigar boxes such as Montecristo, and he even stamped on each "Hecho en Cuba" (Made in Cuba) to top it off. Intentionally or not, Penton had then stepped into the underworld of fake Cuban cigars, and eventually became lunch for a hungry conglomerate.

[Part 3]

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 1)

It's a billion dollar industry that Javier Terres believes will triple in size once the US embargo is done away with, but whose history, according to Isaiah Thompson, "is steeped in intrigue, blood, global politics, and greed." Thompson, writing for this week's Miami New Times, narrates a tragic tale of a Cuban balsero, whose pursuit of the American dream to be his own boss is ironically crushed between a corporate giant and a failed American policy of isolation which continues to divide and conquer.

According to the American Cancer Society, Americans in 2005 smoked about 5 billion cigars. Another source indicates that about 220 million of those are top-end cigars. Worldwide, billions of dollars are made in tobacco, and Altadis SA has corned the Cuban cigar market. In a 2000 joint venture with the Cuban government, Altadis SA was given official rights to 20,000 acres of Cuba’s finest tobacco fields, and brand names like Cohiba, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta. Altadis SA has been making some headlines recently because they are the target of a bidding war that has now reached $17.4 billion, in what may be the largest purchase of cigars in European history.

Smoking bans around the world may be triggering some of the latest buyouts of tobacco companies, but there may be an extra incentive for the purchase of Altadis. Javier Terres, development director of Corporación Habanos (the joint venture with Altadis and the Cuban government) believes that when the US market opens up to Cuban cigars there might be a threefold expansion of sales, a market estimated to be worth $1.8 billion. The recent developments in Cuba, and possible changes to the US embargo, may also explain the recent bidding war for Altadis SA, a company that sells the finest Cuban cigars to the rest of the world except the US.

In the 90's, Juan Penton got a taste of that market.

[Part 2]

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Letter to Alberto Gonzalez

Blogger Leftside from A View to the South has reprinted sections of Massachusetts House Representative(10th District) Bill Delahunt's letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. In the letter, Delahunt makes a convincing argument on why Luis Posada Carriles should immediately be designated a "terrorist alien" under US laws.

The entire letter can be found here in PDF format. A must-read.

Horizon Towards Indictment

There seems to be some indication that the case of Luis Posada Carriles is not yet over.

Watching the evening Spanish news today, America TeVe's Noticias 41 is reporting that US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is "in disagreement" with the latest immigration decision from Judge Cardone in El Paso, Texas. The Noticias 41 website [retrieved May10, 2007] says "La administracion Bush nada contenta con libertad de Posadas Carriles" (The Bush Administration Not at All Happy with release of Posada Carriles). If Gonzalez is actually serious about this (not likely) it may give legitimacy to the serious investigation in progress by the FBI.

Anita Snow, from the Associated Press, also reports today about the federal grand jury in Newark whose "lawyers say there's a good chance that Posada will be tried in New Jersey." Oddly, Snow only quotes ONE lawyer, Gilberto M. Garcia, saying that "[t]he (U.S.) government is working very hard on this [case... and are under tremendous pressure] to get him on something." Garcia is the lawyer of five Cuban-Americans that have been called to testify for the New Jersey investigation, but all of whom claim to be innocent of any wrong-doing.

Snow also quotes Phil Peters, Vice President and "Cuba expert" of the Lexington Institute, from his blog saying "[f]ollow the Newark grand jury... The immigration charges were always a sideshow." Snow precedes this quote with an optimistic opinion that "New Jersey has the most potential to put Posada behind bars." But, Peters' New Jersey quote comes from one of four possible scenarios:

1) Posada Carriles might be deported;
2) he might be indicted in New Jersey;
3) might be extradited to Venezuela [very unlikely];
4) or, be detained under the Patriot Act.

Peters does not mention which one scenario has more potential over the other.

Finally, Anita Snow also mentions the 2005, 10-page, FBI affidavit [PDF] presented by special agent Thomas H. Rice, a 13-year counter-terrorism investigator. Its a collection of evidence that Phil Peters describes as "quite a bit" for a possible indictment. I will comment on this affidavit later, but Snow really offers little to hope for aside from the report by agent Rice.

In the blogoshpere, Leftside has excellent queries about Judge Cardone's decision.

The case of Luis Posada Carriles seems to have some potential for real justice, but only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Luis Posada Carriles Exonerated!

Radio Mambi, Miami's most listened to Spanish AM Radio Station, received first news of Luis Posada Carriles' exoneration today.

Arturo Hernandez, lawyer for Posada Carriles, called early into Radio Mambi's two-hour radio show La Mesa Redonda, hosted by Armando Perez-Roura. He recounted the courtroom events in El Paso, around 3pm, when federal judge Kathleen Cardone suddenly called all parties into the courtroom. Hernandez recalls that he was nervous and the courtroom atmosphere as tense, when Judge Cardone entered the courtroom with her 38-page ruling. "Gracias a Dios" said Hernandez, and then allowed Luis Posada Carriles to say a few words [and first words after being freed] on the air.

"Ya estoy libre... estoy un poco emocionado," said Posada Carriles. "Gracias a Dios, a ti, a todos mis hermanos, a la gente de Cuba... por tener la victoria... me faltan las palabras."

(Finally I'm free... I'm a little emotional. Thank God, to you, to all my brothers, to the people of Cuba... for having the victory... words fail me.)

[Listen to an excerpt]

The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald have short summaries of the federal judge's ruling today, but the best explanation is coming from the AP.

Since last week, Hernandez had been trying to argue that Luis Posada Carriles' naturalization interview be excluded from his upcoming trial. Hernandez argued that the events surrounding the interview pointed to "entrapment." It seems that Judge Cardone agreed.

According to the AP (Juan A. Lozano), Judge Cardone believed "the naturalization interview was a pretext for the criminal investigation." This is basically what the 38-page ruling argues. Judge Cardone extensively describes many technical irregularities related to the naturalization interview (tapes and transcript), suspicions and four "anomalous" qualities:

(1) it lasted eight hours over the course of two days as opposed to the usual maximum of thirty minutes,
(2) it involved two interviewers,
(3) the Government provided an interpreter,
(4) there were a total of four attorneys present – two defense attorneys and two Government attorneys, and
(5) it was both audio and videotaped.

The Houston Chronicle has a link to the 38-page ruling [pdf]. Judge Cardone concludes with:

"The realm of this case is not, as some have suggested, terrorism. It is immigration fraud. Terrorism, and the determination of whether or not to classify an individual as a terrorist, lies
within the sound discretion of the executive branch. It does not lie with this Court."

I totally agree. Just as Jose Padilla was indicted by US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez for "intention of fighting in violent jihad", so should the US pursue these same charges towards Luis Posada Carriles, and his "violent jihad" against the Castro government.

Meanwhile in Miami, calls poured into the telephone lines at Radio Mambi in celebration. The 11pm news (Univision Noticias23) had Miguel Saavedra expressing his joy over his hero finally being liberated. Soon, Santiago Alvarez and Osvaldo Mitat will be released too. The only one left for some hard-liners is Eduardo Arocena. Will he also be freed?

Luis Posada Carriles is scheduled to arrive soon in Miami, an investigation by a New Jersey federal grand jury not on his mind. Another day approaches Miami.

[Photo by Patricia Giovine/EFE]

History of Violence in Miami

"That's when the shit hit the fan," writes Vivien Lesnik Weisman on her blog. "Bombings, death threats and drive by shootings would typically scare the shit out of somebody and make them shut the fuck up, but not my dad."

Yesterday, the Miami Herald's movie critic, Rene Rodriguez, had an article published about a new documentary titled The Man of Two Havanas. Rodriguez interviews the writer and director, Vivien Lesnik Wiesman, and writes about the focus of the film: Max Lesnik.

The Man of Two Havanas is a personal exploration for the director as much as it is a documentary on Max Lesnik. Rodriguez describes it as "about a woman who, in the process of getting to know her father better, ends up discovering a passion inside her she did not know existed."

Lesnik Weisman's blog, at the Huffington Post, writes that "Terrorism in America did not begin on September 11th. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a reign of terror in Miami. There were as many as seven bombings in one day and hundreds per year. The culprits were not Communists. They were Americans. And my family was at the epicenter." One of the targets was Max Lesnik.

Max Lesnik in the eighties had adopted a political viewpoint that was found intolerable by some in the Cuban exile community. He was opposed to US policy towards Cuba. He published a political magazine called Replica, whose main office was repeatedly bombed and threatened.

Lesnik Weisman's film premiered last month in New York to a standing ovation.

The hard-line on Cuba policy, and its intolerance for an alternative, is difficult to understand, especially in the United States of America. I first noticed this phenomenon during the Elian case in 2000, but have noticed that the hard-line stance goes way back.

Jim Mullin, from the Miami New Times in 2000, wrote that "[l]awless violence and intimidation have been hallmarks of el exilio for more than 30 years." Mullin added a long timeline of violent episodes in Miami related to Cuban issues. Many incidents include Max Lesnik's office for Replica magazine.

Below I include excerpts from Joan Didion's 1987 book Miami, where she describes another violent episode from 1986. Reading about this event gave me some insight to the history of the hard-line position in Miami. It also provides greater context and an explanation to what occurred on January 19th of this year: The Attack on the Bolivarian Youth.

[Photo above of Max Lesnik with Fidel Castro]

MIAMI by Joan Didion

[Events from March 1986]

"It appeared that many eggs had been hurled, and some rocks. It appeared that at least one onion had been hurled, hitting the president of the Dade County Young Democrats...

"From noon of that Saturday until about three, when a riot squad was called and the South Florida Peace Coalition physically extracted from the fray, the police had apparently managed to keep the Alpha 66 demonstrators on the Alpha 66 side of the barricades... The two thousand Alpha 66 demonstrators had apparently spent the three hours trying to rush the barricades, tangling with police, and shouting down the folksingers with chants of 'Comunismo no, Democracia si,' and 'Rusia no, Reagan si.'

"The mayor of Miami, Xavier Suarez, had apparently stayed on the Alpha 66 side of the barricades, at one point speaking from the back of a Mazda pickup, a technique he later described in a letter to the [Miami] Herald as 'mingling with the people and expressing my own philosophical agreement with their ideas - as well as my disagreement with the means by which some would implement those ideas.'

"'Unfortunately, they have the right to be on the other side of the street' was what [Xavier Suarez] apparently said as the time, from the back of the Mazda pickup... but the fevers of the moment continued for some weeks to induce a certain exhortatory delirium in the pages of the Herald.

"'I was raised to believe that the right to peaceful dissent was vital to our freedoms,' one such letter read, from a woman who noted that she had been present at the Peace Coalition demonstration... 'Apparently,' she continued, 'some in the Cuban community do not recognize my right.... Evidently, their definition of human rights is not the same as that of the most native-born Americans.'

"Voltaire was quoted, somewhat loosely ('I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it'), and even Wendell Willkie, the inscription on whose grave marker ('Because we are generous with our freedom, we share our rights with those who disagree with us') was said to be 'our American creed, as spelled out in the Constitution.'

"A Herald columnist, Carl Hiaasen, put the matter even more flatly: 'They have come to the wrong country,' he wrote about those pro-contra demonstrators who had that Saturday afternoon attacked a young man named David Camp, 'a carpenter and stagehand who was born here, and has always considered himslef patriotic... They need to go someplace where they won't have to struggle so painfully with the concept of free speech, or the right to dissent. Someplace where the names of Paine and Jefferson have no meaning, where folks wouldn't know the Bill of Rights if it was stapled to their noses.'"


[Didion, Joan. (1987). Miami. New York: Simon and Schuster.]
[Miami-Dade Public Library - FLA 301.4537 d556m]

Monday, May 7, 2007

Towards May 11th

Last week presented some interesting news related to the case of Luis Posada Carriles.

The most surprising was the Miami Herald article revealing that three FBI agents traveled to Havana, Cuba "to interview witnesses, review Cuba's forensic evidence -- including bombing materials -- and visit crime scenes..." concerning the case of Luis Posada Carriles.

That very same day, three leading Cuban-American US Representatives held a press conference condemning the actions of the FBI and the US Justice Department. The three politicians stated that "[t]he only 'evidence' that the terrorist regime in Havana could provide... would be fabricated evidence." The following day the local newspaper Diario Las Americas supported the statements of the three Cuban-American Representatives with an editorial saying:

"Fidel Castro must have had a ball making fun of the tree [sic] FBI agents who went to the Cuban government for information... Unfortunately, when least expected, things like this happen in the United States that have no logical explanation before the nation or international public opinion that knows that the mentioned tyranny rarely tells the truth and even less in matters of this nature."

It seems that Diario Las Americas has little confidence or respect for the information-gathering expertise of the US Department of Justice and its three FBI special agents, and may even doubt their commitment to the security of the nation.

Also on that day (Friday), National Public Radio (by
) followed on the FBI story and reported that the "The Department of Justice has been torn about how to handle [the case of Luis Posada Carriles]." NPR quotes Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, saying that "[t]he FBI going down to Havana looks like an indication of the Bush administration's seriousness... [about holding Posada accountable]."

Meanwhile, in the legal front, Radio Mambi reported early last week that Posada Carriles' lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, filed a motion arguing that his client's history with the CIA is relevant to his immigration trial on the 11th. The US government filed their own motion on the contrary, stating that Luis Posada Carriles and the CIA have not had links for more than 30 years, and that his history with the US is irrelevant to his immigration trial.

By Friday last week, Arturo Hernandez attempted another legal maneuver to have his client's 2006 naturalization interview excluded from trial. Hernandez argues that "U.S. officials entrapped Posada during the two-day naturalization interview." It is in this 2006 interview, according to the Department of Justice, that "Posada allegedly made several false statements regarding his March 2005 entry into the United States, including statements about the transportation routes and methods used, as well as individuals who accompanied him."

This week, US News and World Report (by Liz Holloran) publishes an article that describes the general ambivalent sentiments of the media towards the case of Luis Posada Carriles. Hollaran, just like Temple-Raston (NPR), writes that "Posada has been a political hot potato for a slew of U.S. government agencies." She quotes a local Cuban-American saying:

"All the leaders of the counterrevolution should be living free among us... Yes, some people call it terrorism, and unfortunately, some people have to die. But an armed struggle is an armed struggle... [Posada's] heart is still in the right place... You die with your convictions and beliefs."

Luis Posada Carriles is scheduled to go on trial this Friday (May 11th). Several organizations are planning to hold demonstrations in El Paso, Texas, outside the courthouse that day, and possibly as many days as the trial endures. Additional information can be found here.

Luis Posada Carriles' former immigration attorney, Eduardo Soto, is planning to make a movie of his former client's life. He plans to call it: Made in the USA. How touching.

[Addendum: Democracy Now! has an excellent interview with Peter Kornbluh from the National Security Archives. He responds to the recent FBI trip to Cuba:

"[N]ow we have a situation where the FBI is obviously working again with the Cuban authorities to gather information on the hotel bombings, and if Luis Posada is actually indicted in New Jersey, and other co-conspirators from the New Jersey area, of funding and conducting these attacks against the hotels, I do believe that this will be a very, very important statement by the Justice Department to bring terrorists to justice, frankly, and could be a turning point in the history of US-Cuban relations."]