Thursday, September 27, 2007

Round Two Begins

Judge Jeri B. Cohen has decided that Rafael Izquierdo is a "non-offending" parent. The term seems to be most used in cases where child-abuse has been alleged, but where the parent is found innocent of such charges. According to a 2006 article [PDF] in the Michigan Bar Journal, non-offending parents in the US currently face difficult custody battles in our court system.

Judge Cohen has also determined that Izquierdo can regain custody of the child once a home study is completed, and provided that no court objects. But, there will be an objection.

Izquierdo's lawyer, Ira Kurban, told reporters today:

"We are grateful that justice has finally been done. We have said all along that the state of Florida never had a case against Rafael Izquierdo. This was always about the politics of the state of Florida versus Cuba and we are delighted that the judge has seen through all that and has made a just and fair decision.

"We believe that the decision requires that this child be returned to her father immediately. He's a non-offending father. The judge found that today. He is a fit father. The facts found that in this case and he deserves to have his child back. And we call upon the Cubas Family to give it up, to stop keeping a child that is not theirs. They are not family. They are not related to this child. And the appropriate action is to turn this child over to her natural father."

A Miami Herald poll shows that (as of 4pm), from 348 votes, 56% of readers think the child in dispute should return to Cuba with her father, and 44% percent believe the child should remain with the Cubas Family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bay of Pigs Museum and Library (Part 3)

Robert Chisholm, founder and President of Chisholm Architects, helped design the plans for the "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library," but if you look at the Chisholm designs posted on the official website, you'll notice that the building is titled "Cuban Exile Museum and Library." According to the descriptions made on September 19th on Radio Mambi, this seems to be the correct title of the Museum.

Radio Mambi has a late night show called "La Noche y Usted con Marta Flores." It's a very popular Spanish talk show (from 9pm-12am) that regularly features many important local and political guests. Last week (Sept. 19th), Robert Chisholm and Jose E. Miranda (two members of the Museum Project Team) appeared on the show, along with other Brigade 2506 veterans, and spoke at great lengths about the Cuban Exile Museum and Library.

After the veterans condemned the recent TV appearance of Rafael Del Pino, the radio host Marta Flores finally began asking about the Museum. The original idea for the Museum was attributed to Miranda, who also said that he sought out Chisholm for help. Robert Chisholm is seen as "muy Cubano" (very Cuban) to the veterans.

The Project Team see themselves competing with the OTHER proposed museums of the future, neighboring Museum Park, which they see as first-class buildings. The Project Team estimates that the new Cuban Exile Museum will cost about $20 million to begin construction (a significant rise from the $10 million proposed last year). They are planning to have fund-raising events on Radio Mambi asking that Cuban exiles contribute at least one dollar for every year of exile they have suffered, but nevertheless don't see money as a problem.

The Project Team has argued that the original Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana is running out of space. They mentioned that the original museum has sought to incorporate more exhibits about Cuban exile history, and thus they would like to have more space in order to display "la realidad de Cuba" (Cuban reality). But, according to all on the radio show, the most important goal of the Cuban Exile Museum and Library would be to teach young Cubans about what they have lost, and what belongs to them.

The Project Team described the interactive Museum like being at Disney World, and also made mention of the Museum being a venue where the Cuban community could gather and have exclusively Cuban cultural gatherings. One of the guests believed it would be the first uniquely Cuban institution in Miami.

Nicolas Gutierrez' "quintessentially American" museum no longer applies in this case.

Back in 2001 it was reported that a Cuban Exile Museum would be built at Miami's Freedom Tower, an idea originating from the Cuban American National Foundation. Those plans collapsed as possible ownership of the Freedom Tower began changing hands from the Historical Museum of South Florida, to the Terra Group, and now to the Miami-Dade College. Today the Freedom Tower features art exhibits and sold-out history tours by the Historical Museum of South Florida.

The feasibility study by Miami-Dade County is expected to be released by December (or sooner). It's very likely to be a positive report, but its construction will no doubt be met by opposition, such as from the Urban Environment League. But, if the planners of the Cuban Exile Museum and Library begin fund-raising before December, then it would seem that they will be determined to hold on to Parcel B.

But, if Miami residents call for a county-wide referendum for Parcel B, then we can see a very different ending here. Possibly one where a Cuban Exile Museum and Library settles for its original $10 million plan, and where Miami residents enjoy public waterfront "not primarily for museums, or tourists, or as a profit making sports facility, but as one of the ten places that makes Miami great and the downtown worth living in."

[Part 1]

Bay of Pigs Museum and Library (Part 2)

First, I have to say that blogger Genius of Despair at Eye on Miami has provided (and continues to provide) crucial information regarding the so-called Bay of Pigs Museum and Library. The latest post (from Monday) on this issue is worth repeating (from a 2003 workshop), concerning the future site (Parcel B) of the "Bay of Pigs Museum":

"... it is clear that the people of Miami want a place that is first and foremost designed for their usenot primarily for museums, or tourists, or as a profit making sports facility, but as one of the ten places that makes Miami great and the downtown worth living in."

Eye on Miami has also argued that future use of Parcel B, since it belongs to Miami-Dade County, may be subject to a county-wide referendum. I'm sure Miami residents would support voting on the future use of this valuable waterfront property, especially after they realize the true purpose of this "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library."

Since my first post, several relevant events have occurred. On September 4th and 5th, Andres Viglucci and Mathew Pinzur of the Miami Herald reported on the now-County-approved feasibility study for the "Bay of Pigs Museum." The vote was unanimous.

Viglucci provided some important background information about Parcel B:

"[In 1996] the centerpiece of a $3 million campaign that helped tip a referendum in the [Miami] Heat's favor, promised 'a safe new waterfront park for all our families.' But the county and the Heat never made any attempt to build a park. The county conceded it had failed to require it... In December 2004, after the county regained control of the land, it held a public workshop to come up with ideas for a park [quoted above]. County officials said at the time they would move quickly... But [Miami-Dade County Manager] Burgess said they decided to await the results of the city master plan."

It's clear that the County has delayed any development of Parcel B for years. Now comes the "Bay of Pigs Museum." Pinzur writes:

"With an outpouring of emotion for one of the seminal moments in Cuban-American history, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported the notion of building a museum and parking garage on a small piece of bayfront earlier promised as park land... A number of Bay of Pigs veterans were in the audience."

"Commissioner Natacha Seijas... said it could compare to Sydney's signature Opera House in Australia."

Aside from the ridiculous pieties, the idea of the parking garage was finally being reported. "Chairman Bruno Barreiro, fretting that nearby development was leaving the arena without sufficient parking [said] 'I think we might hamper and will hamper the arena if we do not really consider an additional parking structure with amenities on that site.'"

On September 11th, Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm called the whole thing a "land grab," and the Museum a "very fancy hat" that will adorn the parking garage. "The 2007 version again scuttles the waterside park that voters were promised back in 1996 when they were persuaded to underwrite the Heat's waterside arena. But somehow that lovely bayfront park with a soccer field, lined with palm trees, has morphed into a parking garage."

After Grimm hit the nail on the head, Nicolas Gutierrez Jr., vice-president (and former president) of the "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library," did some damage control and revealed important information about the project.

"The new museum would display, study and preserve the events of the past 48 years, analyzing how a totalitarian system forced millions to find freedom and opportunities in this country offered by South Florida and generous people... This museum would help ensure that such repression does not occur again elsewhere... It would be a monument to man's indomitable quest for freedom and justice. It should not be pigeon-holed as simply having ethnic appeal. The museum would be quintessentially American and could be a rallying point to unite our diverse community's many interests."

This is BS in my opinion. First, if Gutierrez believes that the Museum "deserves fair consideration from the people of Miami-Dade County," then he would be working to conduct another planning session workshop like in 2003, or be putting the Museum up for a county-wide referendum. He's doing neither. Second, members of the Museum's Project Team recently appeared on Radio Mambi and described the Museum as a future venue that would cater to the Cuban-American community, and not "our diverse community."

When Robert Chisholm and Jose E. Miranda appeared with Marta Flores last week on Radio Mambi (September 19th), they made several revelations about the plans for the so-called "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library."

[Part 3]

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Getting Personal [Updated]

Last month, I began posting about Antonio Rafael De la Cova, assistant professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, criticizing his academic irresponsibility, his personal attacks on the radio, his factual errors on the internet, and recently his misinterpretations of history.

On August 16, Mr. De la Cova publicly challenged me on my blog:

"If I do not get a direct e-mail and phone response from Mambi Watch and they wish to remain anonymous, it will be obvious that they are monitoring the Cuban exile community on behalf of Fidel Castro’s intelligence service."

For the record, I have met BOTH challenges.

That same day (the 16th), Mr. De la Cova sent an e-mail demanding I give him my phone number so that he can call me. I refused to give my number to a stranger, and so Mr. De la Cova gave me his. Before calling him, I had confessed my personal history to Mr. De la Cova within a series of e-mail exchanges (titled by Mr. De la Cova as "Are you courageous enough to identify yourself?", a confession of which he has now publicly posted on his website. This action alone violates several ethical standards that should already be familiar in our civil society. Furthermore, according to a recent paper in the Kansas Law Review, Mr. De la Cova (by copying my private e-mail response for his personal use) has committed a violation of common law that protects every citizen's privacy rights under the US Constitution. In essence, Mr. De la Cova has violated my privacy rights, despite my arguing on the phone with him that I preferred my name not be publicized.

Needless to say, our phone conversation was quite meaningless as it neither confirmed or falsified Mr. De la Cova's controversial accusations against me, and was an apparent move to further engage in personal attacks. And clearly, a strategy that Mr. De la Cova, and others, desperately engage in.

The internet and Blogosphere [photo above] is certainly new terrain in our civil society with many horror stories and people who seek to preserve what little remains of civility in this new Wild West. I am one who supports such civility, respectable argumentation, and fair debate.

My criticisms of Mr. De la Cova, or anyone else, have been built upon these principles. I have never engaged in a personal attack upon Mr. De la Cova, and have always focused on arguments and evidence presented by the assistant history professor of Indiana University, Bloomington. For Mr. De la Cova to denigrate my personal history and at the same time make several transgressions upon the ethics of our civil society is surely unacceptable.

I condemn the acts of Antonio Rafael de la Cova, Ph.D of History, and hope that he will respect the privacy rights of American citizens, and undue the error he has committed.

Nevertheless, Mr. De la Cova and others have challenged my anonymity, and this is fair. If anyone wishes to know MORE about my personal history they can just e-mail and ask me (hopefully before making any calumnious charges, or taking advantage of my sincerity). I defend my anonymity because of the actions of people like Mr. De la Cova who wish to focus on making personal attacks and obviate from important political issues. While it is important to debate the double standards of esoteric ethics in our society, concentration on personal histories can also lead to a dangerous path of unwarranted surveillance and the collapse of a civil society.

Mambi Watch seeks to avoid the collapse of our public forum of free expression, and will continue to make critical examinations of Miami's hard-line rhetoric along ethical standards. I focus on evidence and arguments, not personal histories and attacks.

These declarations shall always apply on this blog. Now, back to the mission of Mambi Watch.

-----Update: March 2008-----

Looking back on this incident it is clear whose image has been tarnished. Later I found out that Mr. De la Cova already had a long history of illicit behavior, that had I known beforehand I would have ignored his malicious accusations. Mr. De la Cova's tarnished history is long and sorrowful, and he seems willing to drag anyone down to his level. But I won't allow myself to do that.

Mr. De la Cova engages in hypocrisy so often that anything he says is meaningless. In my case, while he insinuated that I was a spy, Mr. De la Cova himself has already engaged in espionage himself. Back in 1976, after his arrest, it was revealed that Mr. De la Cova assumed a left-wing persona in order to infiltrate himself into certain groups. His mission was to infiltrate Areito, a magazine that supported the normalization of US-Cuba relations.

A Herald article by Edna Buchanan showed that he assumed the figure of a pro-Palestine militant. At the time, the Cuban government was supporting the pro-Palestinian movement. The Herald provided a photo of Mr. De la Cova in disguise. In a Miami News article, it was revealed that Mr. De la Cova had admitted to an FBI agent (Joseph S. Dawson) that he was trying to infiltrate Areito.

"The [FBI] memo related how De la Cova explained that some students at Florida Atlantic University favored the Castro regime. To penetrate the magazine hierarchy and learn more, De la Cova told Dawson, he had become friendly with some of Areito's leaders."*

So, there's nothing honest about what Mr. De la Cova says. He attempted to defame me by publishing my private e-mail responses to him, and manipulating my words, but its useless. Mr. De la Cova hardly has any credibility.

To make my point, below is part of my e-mail response to Mr. De la Cova that he conveniently left out. It basically summarizes my deep respect for a community that provided love and friendship in difficult times, and whose image I hold up when I envision Miami, unlike the image of hard-liners who support violence, force and intolerance.

[From 8/24/07]

"That's why I will never forget those who opened their arms to my family when we first arrived here in Miami. It's those Cuban families that we shared our lives with that still have impact in our lives today.

"And, that's why I have a fascination with the Cuban community. I have faith that they wish for peace between the US and their homeland, and that they want it peacefully, not by force or violence. That's why I criticize hard-liners that want the opposite. Those who support violence should be the ones who should be most criticized. They are demanding that people make big sacrifices, and that should be strongly examined and critiqued.

"That's the purpose of Mambi Watch. And, since I have been writing about the Miami hard-liners, I've noticed that some argue for irrational objectives for a 'free Cuba' and also outright reject various alternatives for peaceful solutions.

"That's unacceptable, and that will be the work of Mambi Watch to point out."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You're Wrong Again Mr. De la Cova (Part 2)

Mr. De la Cova's webpage on Thomas Nast is very strange. It's actually part of a larger section titled Nativism and Bigotry on Mr. De la Cova's Latin American Studies website. On this main page, you are presented with six images (three of those images are cartoons) and seven links. The seven links are important to look at.

At the top is the link to Mr. De la Cova's Thomas Nast page. THREE of the links are devoted to white supremacists. One link is outdated, and another takes you to a 1997 International Migration Review article about immigration and Nativism in the US. But, the last link is strangest. It takes you to a 2005 book review about William M. Tweed and his infamous Tweed Ring. It's an obvious connection to Thomas Nast, who's cartoons famously attacked the corruption of Tweed and his Ring. Reading the article, it becomes clear that Mr. De la Cova is using it to point out Nast's "virulently anti-Catholic" attitude and other criticisms of Nast's work against the Tweed Ring.

But, Mr. De la Cova leaves out a lot of history, which is strange coming from a Professor of History.

There's no doubt in anyone's mind that white supremacists are guilty of Nativism and Bigotry. But, as I had pointed out already, Nast was not a total Nativist because he supported the rights of Chinese immigrants, and he himself was an immigrant. Also, everyone at the time (the 19th Century) was guilty of bigotry, even the immigrants. To single out Nast as a bigot leaves out a huge piece of American history.

Nativism, defined as a policy "favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants," has a long, long history in the US, leaving Mr. De la Cova's webpage about the subject small and inadequate. In my opinion, its inexcusable since he is a history professor. During the 1800's, Nativism was everywhere, rooted in politics, economics, and race.

Nast's anti-Irish bigotry was was rooted more into politics. He was a staunch Republican favoring a Protestant American society, but mostly a post-war "Great Republic." At the time, Catholics and Protestants were mostly divided by political lines and Nast was a strong opponent of Democrats. To him, the "Democratic party... was bitterly anti-black and, at best, lukewarm on fighting the Confederacy." These were considered Nast's "defining issues."

The conflicts between Catholics and Protestants were brutal and went back to the 1830's. One big dispute concerned religious studies in school, beginning in the 40's and resurfacing in the 70's. Nast is famous for one of his cartoons tackling the subject. Mr. De la Cova obviously labels it anti-Catholic, but he neglects the important political background. Furthermore, Nast was not the only cartoonist to notice the suspicious connections between the Catholic Church and the wholly corrupt Tweed Ring.

Nast's insulting caricatures of Irish immigrants were also rooted in the racism they exhibited towards Blacks and Chinese. But, this Irish bigotry was complex. According to Social Scientist Stanford Lyman, "[u]nlike black slaves and many free Negroes, the Irish had the right to vote, to join political parties, to seek niches of influence, power, and control in urban politics each providing a competitive advantage in the struggle to get ahead in America."

But, that need for competitive advantage got really bad in 1863 when Irish immigrants, fueled by racism and mass hysteria, took part in one of America's worst riots against African-Americans. The Irish immigrants had succumb to the racist lure of what Lyman calls "the social, moral, and civic status of white men"; the culmination of earlier events such as shouting out "Down with the Nagurs!" The Irish assault on Blacks and Chinese continued for years. But, Mr. De la Cova does not mention that on his Nativism and Bigotry webpage.

History professor Morton Keller explains Nast's anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitude:

"Mid-nineteenth century liberals—and Nast certainly was one of them—regarded the Catholic church as the fount of anti-modernism and fanaticism. This attitude was reinforced by the commitment of many Irish-Americans to the Democratic party, hostility to abolition, and Negrophobia. The intertwining of his hostility to the Church, the Irish, and the Tweed Ring suggest that for him this was another chapter in the ongoing struggle to preserve the American Union, and Lincoln’s new birth of freedom, from its enemies. In this sense the Confederates, the anti-Reconstruction, pro-Johnson Democrats, and the Tweed Ring and the Catholic church were parts of a collective whole. It stirred in Nast the peak of his distinctive mix of artistic inventiveness and political passion."

And it was that passion that made Thomas Nast one of the greatest political cartoonist of our times. Some say he was one of the last great cartoonist who used "a tradition of ruthless, two-fisted attack." No doubt he was vicious, but Nast carried on the tradition of Charles Philipon, considered the Father of Political Caricature, who was repeatedly sent to jail for his political cartoons.

These were truly "[a] breed of troublemakers by profession" as Art Spiegelman once put it. And, that's the job of caricature or cartoonists. We should expect it, not condemn it.

In the end, they're just cartoons Mr. De la Cova. But you need to brush up on your history.

You're Wrong Again Mr. De la Cova (Part 1)

While doing research for the Pat Oliphant cartoon story, I also ran into important information about famed cartoonist Thomas Nast. In one condemning letter against the controversial Oliphant cartoon, our favorite Ph.D., Antonio Rafael De la Cova, compared the cartoon to "the racist, anti-immigrant spirit" exhibited by the 19th Century cartoonist Thomas Nast.

But, history shows that Nast wasn't racist, or anti-immigrant. But, in fact, his work revealed a man who stood up for Chinese immigrants, supported abolition, and respected the rights of other minorities, despite the powerful calls of American Nativism at the time (check cartoon above by Nast). Let's review.

In his email to the Washington Post (posted on Babalu blog of course), Mr. De la Cova provides a link to his website that takes the reader to a page called "Nativism and Bigotry - Thomas Nast." This page provides four Nast cartoons that clearly reveal an anti-Catholic and anti-Irish attitude by Nast. This is accurate. But, is it racist and anti-immigrant? Let's look closer.

In a 2002 symposium held on the centennial mark of Thomas Nast's death, Morton Keller, Spector Professor of History (Emeritus) at Brandeis University, presented a summary of Nast's life. He said: "[Nast] reacted with passion against white Southern violence against the Freedmen, Indians denied the vote, and Chinese immigrants facing exclusion." Keller's comments are supported by four Nast cartoons: one is provided at the top, and another ironically happens to be on Mr. De la Cova's Thomas Nast webpage. The cartoon shows Columbia (symbolizing the US) telling an angry Irish mob: "Hands off, gentlemen! America needs fair play for all Men."

This certainly doesn't seem racist. I wonder why Mr. De la Cova would think so?

Furthermore, this same cartoon contradicts Mr. De la Cova's description of Nast as anti-immigrant. The Nast cartoon (from 1871) shows sympathy for Chinese immigrant laborers, who at the time were being targeted by exclusionary forces (which included Irish immigrants) against Black and Chinese. By 1882, the US stopped all Chinese immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act, which subsequently caused harmful effects on the ethnic population, and provided a grim legal precedent for Blacks later.

According to Keller:

"Nast came of political age not in the prewar antislavery crusade, but in the crucible of the [Civil] War. Saving the Union, freeing the slaves, supporting Lincoln’s Republicans against a Democratic party that was bitterly anti-black and, at best, lukewarm on fighting the Confederacy: these were his defining issues. Emancipation and the compelling vision of a postwar Great Republic, in which all races and ethnic groups would share in an equal American citizenship, had a strong, self-evident appeal for him."

Where's the "racist, anti-immigrant spirit" that Mr. De la Cova speaks of?

To be fair, let's also examine the anti-Catholic and anti-Irish cartoons by Nast.

[Part 2]

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Unacceptable Speech

Rafael Del Pino, who in 1987 became "highest-ranking officer to defect from Cuba," appeared last week on local Spanish television (A Mano Limpia with Oscar Haza) and has generated unrest in Miami Spanish Radio.

The Baracutey Cubano Blog has provided the whole show on YouTube (in 5 parts) for viewing. Rafael Del Pino, a former Cuban General who still considers himself an active member, has recently received media coverage in calling for negotiations with the new Raul Castro government. Phil Peters at the Cuban Triangle blog provides the details of Del Pino's negotiation proposals and considers the approach "constructive." But, constructive talk doesn't fall well here in some parts of Miami.

Ever since the show, Del Pino has been insulted and his comments condemned. As recently as a few minutes ago, WQBA's 4pm show had on Brigade 2506 Veterans talking about how Del Pino's comments here in Miami are insulting to exiled Cubans and how his proposals shall never be recognized because "we don't deal with people who have blood-stained hands."

The worst condemnation came from Radio Mambi this past Saturday evening where the most hard-line shows are aired. One host called Del Pino every insulting name in the book that, in my opinion, it amounted to hate speech.

One wonders if Del Pino will ever be seen again on TV.

Troublemakers (Part 3)

So should we be outraged at Carlos Perez? I think so. Just as we should be outraged with Pat Oliphant. Bigotry and ethnocentrism should be confronted, especially when it's being disseminated in the media.

But, should we immediately declare Carlos Perez a racist or a bigot? Maybe he made an error in judgment and is simply misinformed about the "racial problem." In this case, how should the African-American community confront Perez? With a letter campaign to Radio Mambi asking for an apology? With a demand that Carlos Perez invite a member of the Miami-Dade NAACP on air for his next show? Maybe we should let them decide.

If you found the statements of Carlos Perez offensive, then I think you should send the Miami-Dade NAACP an e-mail to and ask them to review the comments made this past Saturday on Radio Mambi. Here's the contact information.

If you wish to contact Radio Mambi, here's the information, but I also suggest that people make the effort to directly confront Carlos Perez on his 4pm show where he regularly takes phone calls. He also mentioned that he would continue his discussion of the "racial problem" on his next show.

In this world we face a lot of stereotypes and bigotry, whatever your background, so the most important problem is having to enlighten others and raise their awareness on certain issues. If we spent most of our time condemning bigots, we wouldn't be solving our problems.

[Part 1] [Part 2]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Troublemakers (Part 2)

Carlos Perez is a local television and radio host (but not a real big media personality like Armando Perez-Roura or Tomas Garcia-Fuste). He has his own TV show on TeleMiami (small local station) called Carlos Perez Pregunta. He regularly has important local politicians or government officials on. Once he had an entire show with our three favorite US Representatives: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart. (Only a few shows are able to get these three together at once.)

According to NewsMax (item 6), Carlos Perez had the "No.1 TeleMiami program" and once interviewed Newsmax's Christopher Ruddy in 2003. Also, Carlos Perez is considered an important part of local radio that presents "la realidad Cubana" (Cuban reality).

Saturdays at 4pm, Carlos Perez has his own 1-hour radio program on Radio Mambi. He gets into local topics and also Cuban issues. This past Saturday, after speaking with the founder of the Cuban Committee of Human Rights, Ricardo Bofill, Perez began a discussion on what he called the "racial problem" in the US:

"[I want to talk about] a problem that troubles me greatly, which is the racial problem here in the United States. What is happening with African-Americans here in our society? I firmly believe that African-Americans are creating a problem where they are not advancing in our society in the most suitable fashion."

I agree that we should be concerned about problems within the African-American community, as we should be concerned about all communities in our interwoven society. But, Carlos Perez (like many other people) believes part of the problem is more deeply rooted.

(Listen to MP3 in Spanish):

"Are there genetic differences between whites and blacks? Absolutely not, there are no differences whatsoever. Are there cultural differences? Yes. This is one of the basic problems with the differences between blacks and whites.

"You see, African-Americans logically come from Africa where there was a complete tribal culture, [and only recently] seeing one hundred or three hundred years living in non-tribal states and nations where there are governing organizations, or kingdoms, or democracies. And this is important because this forms some kind of unconscious foundations in Man. This is very important."

According to Carlos Perez, part of the "racial problem" African-Americans have in trying to advance in our society is due to the fact that their "culture" (and not the American culture) is still rooted in some kind of primitive, African foundation. (Sounds familiar to the rhetoric of white supremacists.) Perez later notes the "destructive culture" of rap.

If this isn't bigoted then I don't know what is.

Another part of Carlos Perez' argument is also centered around the fact that a great number of African-Americans make up the national prison population (He erroneously states that about 70-75% of Blacks make up the prison population, when its about 60% of Blacks and Latinos that do). In fact, the greater number of Blacks in prison, compared to any other racial group, reveals what Human Rights Watch in 2000 called the "racially unjust 'drug gulag'" where "penal sanctions to combat drug abuse has imposed inordinately high costs" on the African-American community, despite data indicating Whites are more likely to use and sell illicit drugs.

Carlos Perez is obviously ignorant of many things concerning the "racial problem" in the US, as are many other people. Currently, based on extensive academic research over the recent years, it is an uncontroversial fact that African-Americans (especially young Black males) still carry a heavy racial burden in the United States, mostly due to the US penal system.

Bruce Western (author of Punishment and Inequality in America) has produced perhaps the best recent data and analysis of the inequality that still surrounds incarceration in the US, arguing that since the increased incarcerations of the 90's "the penal system deepened inequality by further diminishing the life chances of the disadvantaged" striking hardest on young Black males.

Devah Pager (author of Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration) adds to this inequality by highlighting the high recidivism rate where ex-felons are still stigmatized by society and how "the mark of a criminal record shapes and constrains subsequent employment opportunities."

Also, all this recent literature has become very important to those who truly wish to address issues of poverty, such as the National Poverty Center of the University of Michigan, who believe that such findings reveal how penal sanctions are contributing to several other negative correlates that afflict families and whole communities.

Is it really a primitive "tribal culture" at the "unconscious foundations" of African-Americans that makes up the "racial problem" in the US? Or, is it our unequal society and continued racial prejudice that is at the root of the problem? Given the recent crime crackdown (called Operation Gangbusters) in Miami's Little Haiti, it's difficult to argue that putting more than 150 residents behind bars (most of them young Black males) will really solve our "racial problem."

[Part 3]

Monday, September 17, 2007

Troublemakers (Part 1)

Late last month, there was outrage at cartoonist Pat Oliphant and his provocative depiction of Cuban-Americans.

The Cuban American National Foundation called it "incredibly bigoted and exceedingly inaccurate." Blogger Marc Masferrer from Uncommon Sense called it "filth" and believed it showed that "it's OK to hate Cubans." Jose Reyes, writing for the Cubanology website called it "communist propaganda." Blogger Charlie Bravo at the Kill Castro blog called Oliphant a "racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Cuban, anti-Arab, anti-Catholic bigot." Professor Antonio de la Cova called the cartoon "inconsiderate" and thought it revealed "how Mr. Oliphant does not need to hide behind a white hood to express his racist views."

But, in my opinion, the most extreme reply comes from everyone's favorite (and hysterical) columnist Humberto Fontova. His reply is titled "Hate Speech at the Washington Post" and believes that Oliphant has depicted Cuban-Americans as "these vermin [that] should be shoved off en masse to Stalinist prison camps by a smiling Uncle Sam."

It's a cartoon ladies and gentleman. And its Pat Oliphant.

Just last year, an important debate over the impact of cartoons and caricatures took place when the Muhammad Cartoon controversy occurred. One of the debates, of course, was about the impact of offensive imagery in cartoons. One of my favorite cartoonists, Art Spiegelman, confronted the whole controversy in a June issue of Harper's Magazine (which at the time was among the first to bravely confront the issue) and pointed out some harsh truths about cartoons and caricatures:

"Caricature is by definition a charged or loaded image: its wit lies in the visual concision of using a few deft strokes to make its point. The compression of ideas into memorable icons gives cartoons their ability to burrow deep into the brain..."

Spiegelman clearly points out the fact that cartoons (especially caricature) belong to a limited language. Every political cartoonist, like Oliphant, has to work with "memorable icons", cliché images, even stereotypes to make a point. Stereotypes that are already "burrowed" in the brain. That's the inevitable and dirty work of the cartoonist. They are "[a] breed of troublemakers by profession," as Spiegelman honestly puts it.

But, that doesn't mean we should excuse cartoonists and their work all the time. Spiegelman and Harper's Magazine confronted the Mohammad Cartoon controversy by publishing the offensive cartoons as "a matter of demystifying the cartoons and maybe even robbing them of some of their venom" because "open discourse ultimately serves understanding," and this act allows everyone to ultimately confront and eliminate social stereotypes.

In the end, it's IGNORANCE that we struggle with. There's no question that Oliphant exploited his personal biases of Cuban-Americans and revealed his bigotry and ignorance in his cartoon. But, it was Oliphant the Cartoonist: the one that is REQUIRED to burrow into grotesque imitations and personal representations. It wasn't Pat Oliphant the Man. And, if he made an error, then point it out in the work. Don't condemn the man.

I'm sure we have all made errors of judgment at one time or another, especially based on our own biases. Stereotypes, and ethnic bigotry are still abundant today as they were many years ago. But, if a person makes such an offense, then we correct or enlighten them in order to raise their consciousness on particular issues. We don't excoriate them.

What if the tables were turned? What if a Cuban-American made a bigoted statement in the media? Should the offended ethnic group immediately condemn the person? Or, simply confront the offense with facts that dispel such common stereotypes?

This past Saturday, Carlos Perez on Radio Mambi made such a bigoted remark against African-Americans. I wonder how the African-American community should respond.

[Part 2]

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fred Thompson in Miami

Republican Presidential candidate Fred Thompson appeared on Radio Mambi this morning. I heard some parts.

Thompson said that the United States should extend its economic ties with our hemispheric neighbors, in order to strengthen regional peace. Of course, this wonderful effort does not apply to official enemies like Cuba, maybe even Venezuela, since the US "must keep the embargo on."

Beth Reinhard from the Miami Herald, and blogging at Naked Politics, mentions another interesting comment that Thompson made in the interview: "[H]e stopped short of saying Raul Castro should be indicted on war crimes charges for the downing of a Brothers to the Rescue plane. Thompson said he didn't want to pave the way for other nations to indict U.S. officials on similar charges."

I remember hearing this with some surprise. I thought: Our troops charged for war crimes? No way!

Thompson's comment actually highlights a dilemma that Cuban exiles should seriously consider, especially those (like Unidad Cubana) who continuously call for criminal tribunals when Cuba is finally freed from communism (or something like that), because currently the United States REJECTS its participation in international criminal tribunals, and so does Cuba.

Today, there is a court that handles war crimes, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity: the International Criminal Court(ICC). Our last two Presidents (Clinton and Bush) have both rejected the universal principles of the ICC and its founding document, the Rome Statute. Furthermore, current US policy ensures that the US will be IMMUNE to any jurisdiction of the ICC, thus setting a dangerous precedent for other nations. Here's the official background from the US State Department:

"The Clinton administration began actively supporting establishment of a permanent ICC in 1995 and became involved in early planning. However, when 120 nations, meeting in Rome in July 1998 approved such a treaty, the United States voted against it.

"The Rome statute affirmed that '
the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation.'

"The United States determined that, as created under the statute, the ICC could pose an unacceptable risk to U.S. military personnel and to the president's ability to deploy forces to
protect U.S. and global interests."

The United States has signed the Rome Statute, but has not yet ratified it and has since undermined its global efforts. According to Human Rights Watch:

"The Bush Administration is attempting to negotiate bilateral impunity agreements with numerous countries around the globe. The goal of these agreements is to exempt U.S. military and civilian personnel from the jurisdiction of the ICC. The U.S. argues that such agreements are contemplated under Article 98(2) of the Rome Statute. Human Rights Watch disagrees. Such impunity agreements violate the Rome Statute and should be opposed. If State parties, as well as signatories of the Rome Statute, sign such agreements they would breach their legal obligations under the Rome Statute.

"Facilitating widespread immunity for U.S. nationals through negotiated bilateral agreements with the United States would provide a dangerous precedent. By signing an impunity agreement with the United States, states parties and signatory states would be endorsing a two-tier rule of law: one that applies to U.S. nationals; another that applies to the rest of the world's citizens. This would significantly weaken international law and states should resist the Bush administration's ideologically driven attack on the ICC."

US citizens, or any Cuban-American exile, cannot seriously threaten the Cuban government with crimes against humanity. It would be pure hypocrisy, until the US fully ratifies and respects the Rome Statute (not to mention other aspects of international law). Furthermore, without the ICC, any other tribunal of crimes against humanity (against the Cuban government for example) would not be recognized.

The tribunals that Unidad Cubana, Armando Perez-Roura, or others call for is but a corrupted display of power and revenge. If they really believed in legal actions then they would abide by the universal standards of law, and advocate that the US abide by such standards too.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

To Heroes Who Perished...

Six years ago today, the bravery of the passengers of United Airlines flight 93 was reported in the press and heard around the world. That moment of pure heroism (and dramatized in the film United 93) surely touched us all. Upon hearing the reports, President George W. Bush declared September 14 as the "National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001."

Looking back, I feel that it all unraveled afterwards.

Americans today are still traumatized, overwhelmingly fear another 9/11, don't think we are winning the "war on terror", and don't think the US is fully prepared for another attack. Around the world, the United States is feared as a threat, and even our closest allies no longer view us favorably. "Anti-Americanism" has become part of common parlance.

It's clear that the US war in Iraq, and its view of being "illegal in the eyes of international law", and other related frustrations and condemnations has been at the origin of these "doom and gloom" days (mega-dittos). Just read the words of the leading human rights organizations.

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, wrote in her latest report:

"Today far too many leaders are trampling freedom and trumpeting an ever-widening range of fears: fear of being swamped by migrants; fear of 'the other' and of losing one's identity; fear of being blown up by terrorists; fear of 'rogue states' with weapons of mass destruction."

"Fear thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership. There are indeed many real causes of fear, but the approach being taken by many world leaders is short-sighted, promulgating policies and strategies that erode the rule of law and human rights, increase inequalities, feed racism and xenophobia, divide and damage communities, and sow the seeds for violence and more conflict."

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, adds in his latest report:

"What government is today’s champion of human rights? Washington’s potentially powerful voice no longer resonates after the US government’s use of detention without trial and interrogation by torture. The administration of President George W. Bush can still promote 'democracy'—the word it uses to avoid raising the thorny subject of human rights—but it cannot credibly advocate rights that it flouts."

The abandonment of universal rights and the laws that protect them have come under attack since 9/11, sending an ominous message around the world and gripping people with fear. But, there is still hope in reversing this negative trend and honoring the courage reported six years ago.

Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, upon hearing the battle cries of Americans six years ago, proposed an alternative road to justice. Klare thought that a military action was "highly unlikely [to] actually succeed" and that the best method of achieving justice would be through a "global law enforcement collaboration."

First, Klare suggested we view the hunt of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda as a "criminal matter," not a war campaign. Second, "we must seek out and ally ourselves with the vast number of Muslims who are repelled and horrified by the death of so many innocent people in New York and Washington." Third, "[t]o win over peace-minded Muslims to our side in this struggle, we will, of course, have to show greater sympathy for their concerns... After all, we are now victims too -- and this gives us a common basis upon which to ask for their assistance in a common struggle against violence and terrorism."

These are reasonable steps to achieve, and can certainly be extended to all persons (victims or not) protected under international law. Human rights depends on such an approach, a noble effort already revered throughout the world in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But, to achieve these goals, one must have real courage. Just like those heroes we will remember tomorrow.

Change of Heart

Late last month I posted about the Cuban child custody case and its similarities with the Elian Gonzalez case. I also linked poll results from Telemundo51 viewers. At that time, about 56% of viewers were in favor of returning the child in question back to Cuba with her father.

But, in a new Telemundo51 poll, viewers now think that the child should STAY here in Miami with her adoptive custodians. From 300 votes, 59% believe the girl should stay in Miami. This change of heart may be the result of the increased coverage this case is getting, revelations of lies and false evidence, and increased criticism of the lawyers involved.

Phil Peters Got Cheated! And So Did You (Part 2)

So Phil Peters got 30 minutes last night, and then you heard a rebuttal. You're probably thinking that this is great and democratic. And, it is. But, last night it was Jesus Marzo Fernandez who responded to Peters, and Fernandez gets TONS of airtime on Spanish-language television, and has appeared repeatedly with Maria Elvira Salazar (I even think he's appeared before for an entire hour with Salazar). In fact, Salazar usually has guests stay for the entire show. I can't recall the last time a guest stayed for only 30 minutes.

On the other hand, Marzo Fernandez appears regularly with Maria Elvira Salazar AND (for full shows) on "A Mano Limpia" with Oscar Haza , the competing political talk show at 8pm. There's no way you can miss Jesus Marzo Fernandez. He's appeared on Radio Mambi (I'm sure more than once), his articles get published in La Nueva Cuba (and I'm sure in other places), and videos of him are provided on the internet. Where's Phil Peters on Spanish-language media?

Jesus Marzo Fernandez is best known for being exiled in 1996 as a former "Secretary of the Food Committee of the Cabinet and Secretary of the Foreign Exchange Commission of the Food Group" in Cuba, and being one of the sources that revealed "the Comandante's reserves." That is, he's one among "[f]ormer cuban officials [that] insist [Fidel] Castro... has skimmed profits" from Cuba's state-owned enterprises, according to Forbes magazine. Fernandez forms the basis of Forbes magazine's repeated assumptions (and they say assumptions) that Fidel Castro has a net worth around $1 billion (which Fidel has denied of course). And now, Fernandez keep quite busy with his respectable analysis in regular appearances in Spanish-language media.

So, Marzo Fernandez comes on for the last 30 minutes after Phil Peters, and Maria Elvira Salazar asks him what he thought about Peters' comments on Raul Castro. Fernandez immediately said he had a different view of the matter. He said that Raul Castro will not make any reforms in Cuba because Granma (the state-owned newspaper) said so. He referred to a recently published "reflection" by Fidel Castro saying that socialism must continue, and other articles saying the same thing. And, that's it. Salazar as the devil's advocate was all of a sudden absent, reserved only for others like Phil Peters.

At the end of the show, Fernandez got a friendly embrace from Salazar.

[Part 1]

Phil Peters Got Cheated! And So Did You (Part 1)

Last night, Phil Peters, Cuba expert and vice-president of the Lexington Institute (and blogger), appeared on Spanish-language TV with Maria Elvira Salazar. The televised interview was part of Salazar's new show called Maria Elvira Live!, which, in fact, is no different than her last show "Polos Opuestos," which was no different than her show before that called "Maria Elvira Confronta." Despite the name changes, Maria Elvira Salazar has always provided the same content: more in favor of anti-Castro views.

Every now and then, Salazar brings in guests with views that counter hers and the majority of her guests (and then criticized by Radio Mambi callers). Last night it was Phil Peters turn, but he got cheated. You see, Salazar views Fidel Castro very poorly (unlike most of Latin America), thus she enjoys guests that share her views and also gives them as much television time as possible (sometimes the entire 1-hour show). Phil Peters only got 30 minutes. Here's how it went.

Salazar spent considerable time asking Peters about Raul Castro (and his mention of the marabu in one of his speeches), and even asked Peters TWICE (like she couldn't believe what she was hearing) if Raul Castro is really a potential reformist. Peters was very patient in repeating his answer.

Then, there was a revealing exchange where Salazar played the "devil's advocate" responding to Peter's belief that the US embargo should be lifted. The questions that Salazar posed to Peters were not just for argument's sake, but most likely her own questions based on her hard-line position:

- Why allow unrestricted travel to Cuba when tourists from Europe and Canada have not caused any political change in Cuba? (This same question also applies to trade with Cuba.)

- Why allow trade with Cuba now and "give oxygen" to the totalitarian regime?

These are some of your typical questions from hard-liners that Peters last night answered clearly, honestly and to his best abilities. (His Spanish may be even better than mine.)

But best of all, Peters was confident enough in his position of Raul Castro being an economic reformist that he predicted some change in Cuba by Raul Castro this time next year. Salazar made sure to note it. Especially for Marzo Fernandez.

[Part 2]

[Watch the interview]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Damage Control by Mr. Gomez

Henry Gomez, over at the Babalu blog, made sure yesterday to let readers know about his feelings on a recent article from the Wall Street Journal. In two posts, Mr. Gomez responds to an article from Micheal Phillips about a 24-year old Cuban-American, Giancarlo Sopo, and his unwavering support for Barack Obama amid the hard-liners in Miami.

Mr. Gomez acknowledges that the Phillips article "did not contain a single factual error," but was biased nonetheless. Let's examine Mr. Gomez's charge of bias.

First, it is apparent that the Phillips article focuses on the experiences of Giancarlo Sopo, a supporter of Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama, and thus his profile will not be easily digested by loyal readers of Babalu blog (or the Wall Street Journal). Lord have mercy that an opposing view is published by the Wall Street Journal!

Many of the other grievances (dare I say whining) by Mr. Gomez has more to do with personal negative attributions, rather than fair observation. What Mr. Gomez calls an "obligatory attack," is really a quote from Sopo (most likely being honest) and an important part of the entire Phillips article.

What Mr. Gomez calls an "allegation of pandering" and an attempt to "pump up his messenger's bona fides" (or any other charges of partiality), are but standard reporting practices by Phillips to inform readers.

At the end, what really seems to irk Mr. Gomez is what he believes is an attempt by Phillips to peddle the myth that "the old [] order of things has crumbled" (meaning the hard-line position of Cubans in Miami). By reporting of "a few dozen older protesters waving signs," Mr. Gomez believes that Phillips "is like those jerks who think that there aren't any conservatives because we don't do rallies. We have better things to with our time, assholes."

The fact is that the story is about a 24-year old Cuban-American, and the truth is that members of Vigilia Mambisa (who were the protesters that day), and Cuban-Americans in general (median age is 40.7 according to the 2000 US census), are just OLDER than him. No its not a sin.

Mr. Gomez wraps up his thoughts with a second post of more grievances of bias. He believes that Ninoska Perez-Castellon, quoted by Phillips, was made to look bad. I doubt that is possible since she is a beacon of sunshine. But, Mr. Gomez repeats TWO FACTS that he believes Phillips (and the rest of the media) should have included in his article.

1) The political party affiliations of Cubans in Miami, as pointed out by the FIU Cuba Poll since 1991. No doubt that the great majority of Cuban-Americans are Republicans, and most likely vote along party lines, but the upcoming Presidential elections are not viewed like district elections (which Mr. Gomez points out), and neither are the issues or voter turnouts the same. But, don't tell that to Mr. Gomez who believes that a his calculations and theories will stand the test of time.

2) Phillips "leaves out the fact that in the same poll a majority of registered Cuban American voters favored direct U.S. military action to overthrow the Cuban government." I don't know where Mr. Gomez gets his numbers, but I couldn't find them on the FIU Cuba Poll. Instead, the recent 2007 poll shows [data table] that 43.7% strongly favor and 7.4% mostly favor (51.1% together favor) a US invasion to overthrow the Cuban government (a significant drop from 2000 and 2004). But, Cubans together OPPOSED to a US invasion come in at 48.9% (a steady rise from 2000 and 2004). How 51.1% is a majority over 48.9% (with a margin or error of 3.2%) is something you will ONLY SEE on Babalu blog.

And then to top it all off, Mr. Gomez accuses Michael Phillips of a "subtle manipulation" of the facts. You can't make this stuff up ladies and gentlemen.

Finally, in related news, the college newspaper over at Florida International University, "which boasts the largest number of undergraduate students of Cuban origin of any university (including the University of Havana)," yesterday published an editorial titled "Anti-Obama Protesters Don't Speak for Miami." It's a good read, unless you're Henry Gomez.

[Update 9/12: Blogger Alex from Stuck on the Palmetto has his thoughts on the Phillips article.]

Good or Bad? (Part 2)

According to the poll [PDF, page 80] by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Fidel Castro is viewed in South America (including Mexico) as having been BAD for Cuba with an average of 41%, and GOOD for Cuba with an average of 32% (margin of error 3%). But, looking closer, there's a very interesting picture.

Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil and Peru have very similar and mixed attitudes about Fidel Castro's Cuba (with an average GOOD of 40%, and BAD of 31%), in comparison to Mexico and Venezuela's very negative view of Fidel Castro's affect on Cuba (with an average GOOD of 22%, and BAD of 58%).

Also very interesting is the mixed view from Canada (44% Good) in comparison to the United States (66% Bad). There's definitely much to interpret into these results, but the obvious difference in foreign policy between Canada and the US clearly weighs into how public perceptions of Cuba have been influenced (positively or negatively). It should also be noted that the survey samples from Bolivia, Brazil and Venezuela are more skewed to urban centers. The most skewed is Bolivia, where the poll reflects a 92% urban population, instead of the accurate 64% currently living in urban centers. Another point to consider is the fact that many respondents chose not to give an answer.

The poll shows [data table] that in some countries almost 20% of respondents "didn't know" or "refused" to give an answer. Argentina and Peru had 19% who gave no response, and the US and Brazil had the next highest with 17% and 16% respectively. Again, we can make many interpretations about this particular data, but, according to other previous responses, many people surveyed may be refusing to answer just because they feel uninformed about the particular issue.

The other question asked was: "Do you think conditions will improve, worsen, or not change much, when Fidel Castro dies?"

The average responses from the South American countries surveyed (including Mexico) showed 32% improve, 18% worsen, and 33% not change much. The four nations (Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Peru) that had mixed views about Fidel Castro's Cuba showed similar averages, while Mexico and Venezuela, who saw Fidel as mostly BAD for Cuba, showed 39% improve, 19% worsen, and 32% not change much. The US, also with a very negative view of Fidel Castro, showed 40% believing that improvements lay ahead after Fidel kicks the bucket, with 39% of Canadians believing things in Cuba won't change much.

There are so many other interesting and important findings in the Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, that I encourage readers to take the time to read the full report [PDF]. In my opinion, other important (and sometimes contradictory) findings were related to the rising positive outlook in South America, despite the many detailed concerns about living conditions, crime and economic dissatisfactions, and the alarming negative view of the US as a regional threat.

FIVE out of the SEVEN surveyed nations south of the US saw the United States as the greatest threat in the region. Bachelet's Chile doesn't view the US as a threat at all, but Garcia's Peru sees the US as the SECOND greatest threat (20%) after Chile (53%).

[Part 1]

Good or Bad? (Part 1)

Back in February, I wrote about an article that appeared in Foreign Policy Magazine. The article [PDF] was a debate about Cuba and Fidel Castro, matching Carlos Alberto Montaner versus Ignacio Ramonet.

Ignacio Ramonet writes for Le Monde diplomatique, a monthly news magazine that covers international affairs, and Carlos Alberto Montaner is a world-syndicated columnist that covers international issues, with a focus on the Latin region.

In my February post, I wrote how this debate was "a stalemate between opposing views, reflecting how in general there are little attempts to bridge the political gap." I also mentioned how the opposing sides provided "no convincing argument" in my opinion. (Babalu blog obviously saw it very differently.) Looking at the article again, I see Ramonet's argument MORE convincing than Montaner's.

One main disagreement I have with Montaner (among others) is his description of how "[n]o one is more anxious to abandon egalitarian collectivism than the legion of engineers, doctors, technicians, and teachers forced to live without the slightest hope of betterment." Egalitarian collectivism? According to past polls and other sources about the attitudes of Cubans, there are many indications that the majority of Cubans still favor revolutionary principles (such as equality over freedom), especially the universal educational and health institutions that are highly criticized in Miami, especially by hard-liners. Montaner's confident belief that educated Cubans are "anxious to abandon" a construct that is viewed very favorably in Cuba, seems to be based more on desire than fact. On the other hand, Ramonet presents a more realistic view of what past research indicates.

Anyway, the big question that Foreign Policy Magazine asked in February (Was Fidel Castro Good for Cuba?) was a question incorporated in an international poll conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.

In their report, released last July (full PDF report), concerning various attitudes in the developing world, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found time to incorporate two questions concerning Cuba and Fidel Castro while doing surveys in South America. The results come from surveys of about 800, over-18-year old adults each from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

[Part 2]

Thursday, September 6, 2007

On Separation

The tales of young siblings being separated by the state are tragic. I myself have an older brother, and cannot imagine a world without him. That's why many, like Alan Mishael, argue that siblings have rights to be together (a "fundamental right to family integrity"), and shouldn't be easily separated. And I agree totally. But, the issue is complicated.

When Carol Marbin Miller reported about Alan Mishael and his fight to keep the siblings together, she also reported about DCF's past record in keeping siblings together through adoption. It wasn't a rosy picture.

"A 2001 audit found that, statewide, siblings in state care who were eligible for adoption were in the same home 67 percent of the time; in Miami-Dade the success rate was 43 percent... And a soon-to-be released report from the University of Chicago found that siblings in foster care often do not live together in the same home, and visitation among brothers and sisters 'is occurring infrequently' in Miami-Dade and Monroe, and 'not occurring regularly' in Broward. The report says brothers and sisters don't get opportunities to talk on the phone or communicate in other ways."

Articles describing the problem of separation cite various obstacles: lists of potential families that only want one child, families that don't have the resources to take in more than one child, or a sibling with special needs. No doubt, there are many other obstacles, but according to Lillian Johnson, welfare department director of 10 years, it's mainly due to the list of potential families.

"[T]he likelihood of finding a family that will take more than two children is so limited... Sometimes all [welfare departments] have are families that only want one child."

Additionally, according to a great 2000 Salon article by Nell Burnstein, "[t]he [national] number of children in foster care has ballooned to more than 500,000 while the number of foster home beds has shrunk. And new federal legislation -- the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) -- has created pressure (and financial incentives) to get children into permanent homes as quickly as possible."

According to a 2005 Miami-Dade County report [PDF], the number of children in foster care has decreased from 5,911 in 2003 to 4,822 in 2005. Yet, a Miami Herald article last month (by Carol Marbin Miller) revealed that foster care is currently suffering from "serious flaws."

Through this tragedy of foster care, all measures should be taken to keep siblings together when they loose their parents, BEFORE one of them gets adopted (looking at you Joe Cubas). The benefits of keeping those bonds can have long-term positive impacts. Thus, there are means to preserving those bonds if they are eventually broken.

Maintaining the bonds of separated siblings can be done by simply arranging regular phone calls, letters or e-mail exchanges, or regular personal visits. Brian Samuels, former director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services believes that "[i]n most cases, maintaining sibling contact is essential to the growth and development of these children."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

About Fathers [and Siblings] (Part 3)

I've mentioned before about one of the controversial arguments that have been presented in the Cuban child custody case, but recently another has been posed.

Last Wednesday (August 29), Joe Cubas [in picture], current custodian of the 4-year old Cuban girl in dispute, appeared on the Jim DeFede radio show to present his side of the story. He mentioned his early efforts in trying to contact the legal father of the girl in Cuba, and how he respected the father's right as a parent. BUT, he also mentioned his respect for the rights of the girl's 13-year old half-brother [MP3]:

"First of all, I've said that I believe these children deserve to be together. And the reason I say that is because the same rights that Mr. Izquierdo has as a father are the same rights that her brother has as a brother."

"This is not only a sibling, this is also a parentified sibling. This has been the one person that has been constant in this child's life... who from the moment of her birth has acted not only as her older brother, but to a certain degree as her father."

The issues that Cubas raises about parentified siblings and the separation of siblings are very important (and have been discussed thoroughly), but I have never heard of the rights of parentified siblings being viewed as "the same" as a legal parent's until recently.

The phenomenon of parentification, where a child assumes a parental role when a legal parent (for various reasons) cannot, does seem to apply to the Cuban child custody case: the 13-year old brother very likely had to assume a larger role in the single-parent family after they arrived in the US, and may have thus achieved a very profound bond with her younger 4-year old sister, especially after the mental breakdown of the mother and the subsequent intervention by the state. But, how these facts lead to a legal claim to the younger sister, on par with the legal rights of the father, is beyond me. Though, attorney Alan Mishael does try to explain.

Alan Mishael, part of the legal team representing the Joe Cubas Family and the 13-year old half-brother, last month told the Miami Herald that ''[c]hildren have a constitutional right to remain with their siblings, unless the state presents a compelling reason for splitting them up." Mishael is referring to the 14th Amendment that specifically forbids laws denying "life, liberty or property" without due process. It's the same amendment that protects a parent's right to their children, unless they are determined to be unfit. But, I think Mishael is really stretching it thin because this particular argument for sibling rights has been defeated in the past, and very likely does not apply in this case.

Mishael's concern is understandable. He's on the board of directors of Florida's Children First, an organization that does very noble work representing childrens' concerns in the care of the state. His professional history is admirable and deserving of many other awards, but does he really want to go on a "collision course" with the rights of the father and brother? Whose interest does this really serve?

In the literature (and articles) concerning the separation of siblings (or parentified siblings), many strongly argue that actions should be taken very early to keep siblings together (during and after state care), especially if the bonds are strong. In the Cuban custody case, while the siblings do not have the same father, their separation could have been prevented if the state had denied any adoption until the parents of BOTH children had given up parental custody. But, instead (as if in a hurry), DCF carelessly gave custody rights to the Cubas Family knowing well that there was a father in Cuba.

It's a bit too convenient for Joe Cubas or DCF to now say that they want the siblings together, when it was they that caused the initial separation of the two. Arguments about the rights of siblings (or parentified siblings) should've been made when the children were still in state care, before the half-brother was adopted by Joe Cubas. According to Ira Kurzban, lawyer for the legal father (Rafael Izquierdo), "the [half-brother] no longer has the same legal rights, under Florida law, as other siblings. State law... terminates the bonds between siblings when one or more of them are adopted." There are similar laws in other states when siblings are separated through adoption.

Those who are making this case more complicated, are stretching the legal limits.