Friday, November 30, 2007

Meeting with Secretary Trinidad Jiménez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ironies of Miami (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo of Eduardo Arocena, courtesy of]


Thursday, November 22, 2007

C-Span on US-Cuba Policy

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


The Ironies of Miami (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

It's relevant history worth reviewing.

[Part 3]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Ironies of Miami (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Part 2]

Monday, November 19, 2007

C-Span Debates US-Cuba Policy

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

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

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


[Update: Nov. 20, 2007]

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

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

According to John Dinges, reporter on Latin America,:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same applies to FARC and ELN:

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Health Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 9, 2007

Some News...


Tomorrow, our three favorite members of Congress (Ileana, Lincoln and Mario) will be making an important presentation at Mario Diaz-Balart's Miami district office. Beginning around 10:30am, the three will officially inaugurate their Oscar Elias Biscet awareness campaign, recent winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Part of the campaign was reported by Pablo Bachelet for the Miami Herald on Monday:

"Miami Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Monday, Biscet supporters will begin an awareness campaign on U.S. college campuses with T-shirts and other items, calling Biscet 'a new hero for a new Cuba.' Among the campuses: University of Miami, Miami Dade College and Florida International University."

The three members of Congress called in to Radio Mambi Wednesday evening (between 6-6:30pm) detailing some of the event, which will include a video about Biscet. On the show, Mario Diaz-Balart, still delighted by Pres. Bush's recent speech on Cuba, made sure to let listeners know that if you don't spend at least sometime EACH DAY being active for a Free Cuba, then you "don't deserve to be called Cuban."


The 17th Ibero-American Summit began yesterday, and so far most of its invited guests which include all Latin American nations, Spain, Portugal and Andorra, have made the trip to Chile. Cuba's Vice-President, Carlos Lage, was in attendance for the Summit and appeared on Chilean television saying that Fidel Castro was "reading, studying, analyzing, offering ideas, thoughts, giving us ideas for us to continue the battle for the ideals of justice and solidarity to which he has dedicated his entire life."

There are indications that members of the Summit have already "approved a special communiqué" that condemns the US embargo towards Cuba and supports the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles to Venezuela. These resolutions against US policy have been persistent at the Summit since 2005 and 2006.


This Sunday, Ann Louise Bardach, author of several articles and books on Cuba (and famed interviewer of Luis Posada Carriles) will be present at the Miami Book Fair, among several other famed authors. Bardach has recently released The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro, and is scheduled to release a new book next year titled Without Fidel: The Death of Castro and Other Tales.

Bardach will be present with Patrick Symmes, long-time travel writer, and famed author of Chasing Che, the book which soon became the film The Motorcycle Diaries. Symmes is the recent author of The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castro's Classmates from Revolution to Exile and, with Bardach, will present a discussion titled "Portrait of [Fidel] Castro as a Young Man" at 3pm [PDF of Sunday Schedule].


The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro produces letters that began in 1953, after Fidel Castro was arrested for his attack on the Moncada Barracks. One of the persons that Fidel wrote to was Luis Conte Agüero, a former close friend, but today one of his fiercest opponents.
Conte Agüero has his own show on a local Spanish station (TeleMiami) which runs weekdays from 11am to noon. He's a hard-liner who describes his intransigence in the memory of Jose Marti and Antonio Maceo, 19th Century heroes for Cuban independence.

But, before the conflict between Fidel Castro and
Conte Agüero, he wrote with great praise of Fidel as the leader of the 1959 Revolution, and included in the prologue of the original release of 1959's The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro:

"This is Fidel Castro Ruz: Endurance, sacrifice, stoicism, study, brotherhood, foresight and destiny, beating heart, closed fist, will to make history; flower and firearm, bread and spirit, milk and spear, land and dream."

Today, Conte Agüero writes that Fidel "subverted and defiled the eternal values of liberty." But, its revealed that Fidel Castro was very clear in his letters to Conte Agüero of being a communist and opposed to freedom of speech. In a great article by Meg Laughlin for the St. Petersburg Times, Laughlin points out that Fidel laid out his plans "to take land and sugar profits from the wealthy and redistribute them to sharecroppers and workers." Furthermore, Fidel specifically wrote to Conte Agüero that "[t]he apparatus of propaganda and organization should be so powerful as to implacably destroy anyone trying to create fissures, cabals, and schisms or to rise against the movement." Conte Agüero seemed to not be bothered by these personal statements when he wrote his prologue in 1959.

Today, Laughlin gets a reply from Conte Agüero saying: "Communism did not occur to me at the time." And, concerning the use of propaganda to "implacably destroy" their opponents, Conte Agüero says: "In the very early days, it was necessary for consolidation."

There you have it. Power certainly corrupts.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

We Debate the Embargo

I was listening to Radio Mambi yesterday, when all of a sudden everybody's three favorite members of Congress (Ileana, Lincoln and Mario) called in. (What a surprise!) It's been two weeks since President Bush gave his Cuba speech, and Mario Diaz-Balart just couldn't help but recall how fantastic it was. It will go down in history just like Reagan's "Tear down this Wall!" speech says Mario. (What a vision!) No question, Mario will be telling his grand-kids about that glorious day on October 24, 2007, when President Bush heralded the end of the evil Cuban regime.

Back in reality, a few days after that magnificent monologue of the 24th, the pages of the Orlando Sentinel was preparing for a debate. To-the-point commentator George Diaz kicked it off on the 26th by writing that Bush's "[t]ough talk only gives Castro more ammunition to load the gun, point it at the U.S. and launch into one of his infamous diatribes... Cuba vs. the U.S. has been the longest-running dysfunctional relationship in modern history, with our condolences to Pamela Anderson and her slew of soulmates... Playing tough hombre with Castro only fuels his arrogance and drives the Cuban people toward further hatred/distrust of the U.S."

On the 31st, Paolo Spadoni, who has written extensively [PDF] on the economic ties between the US and Cuba (arguing well that the US continues to be its own worst enemy in respect to its sanctions on the island), added his thoughts to the Sentinel on Bush's speech.

"Indeed, coming from a leader who has neglected the will of the international community for years, Bush's calls for a Cuba democracy fund will likely fall on deaf ears... On Tuesday [Oct. 30], the United Nations General Assembly held its annual vote on U.S. economic sanctions with respect to Cuba and overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for an end to the 45-year-old embargo and objecting to U.S. laws and regulations compelling third countries to adhere to it... The reality is that many countries share U.S. concerns for democratic changes on the island but disagree with Washington over the best course of action to stimulate those changes... In short, if the White House is serious in its attempt to reach out to other countries, the appropriate way to proceed would be to devise a foreign policy that is more in line with the position of the rest of the world and less driven by domestic political considerations."

By Nov. 1st, surely after having read the various published commentaries on Bush's speech, the Sentinel decided to state their own position.

"The root of the anger and angst is a trade embargo now approaching a half-century. Nobody wants to blink first and make any concessions, all while blindly ignoring the best interests of each country... The next administration needs to dangle incentives such as access to international trade organizations and lifting the restrictive rules for travel and remittances. Doing so would allow the U.S. to strategically put all the pressure on Mr. Castro or, eventually, his successor... The new administration can offer sensible compromises in return for reforms in Cuba... It's all about inclusion, not isolation... The U.S. has been there, done that for nearly five decades. Common sense says it's time for the U.S. to bury the embargo, an ideological dinosaur that lost its roar long ago."

Obviously, these comments did not please some readers. Two letters to the Sentinel were published on the Tuesday [Nov. 6], one saying:

"In the past, multiple efforts made by the world community -- trading, foreign investing (billions of dollars in the tourist industry), cultural exchanges, visits by students, influential personalities, world leaders and more -- have brought no political reforms or even economic benefits to the enslaved people on the island... Are we to reward a tyrant who has no respect for human rights, property rights or human dignity and the rule of law? And also a man who supports and harbors world terrorists?... If the rest of the world decides to perpetuate the Castros' criminal regime by expressing its solidarity with the dictator and its antipathy toward the United States, too bad. We -- the 'shrinking' Cuban-American 'hard-liners' -- are very proud of the position taken by the president of our beloved United States of America."

The other:

"After reading about easing the isolation of Cuba by the United States, I came to the conclusion that your Editorial Board does not have a clear picture on the reality of the Cuban situation... There is a group of elites that have no desire to change the status quo. These are the Castros' close associates, and they enjoy all of the comforts of a modern society; they travel all over the world and have bank accounts in Switzerland. They realize that the end of the Castro regime will mean the end of their lifestyle, not to mention the likely retribution for all of the crimes committed against the Cuban people... With or without the embargo, change will not come to Cuba as long as the Castros and their accomplices continue to hold that country hostage."

To top it off, Manuel J. Coto, a urologist and long-time letter-writer and commentator to the Sentinel, added his thoughts yesterday:

"You are correct when you say the embargo provides Castro with a convenient boogeyman. But I would ask this: If the embargo were lifted, would we suddenly stop being the boogeyman?... I doubt that. The United Nations exists because of our generous funding -- and our Manhattan real estate -- and we have been its most reliable boogeyman, on bigger issues than Cuba, for decades... Ah, but we must appease the 'international community.' As your guest columnist Paolo Spadoni decreed, President Bush must create a policy that is 'more in line with the rest of the world.' Why? Aren't we entitled to our own position?...But since you're in the business of printing 'other views,' here's what I'd like to see: something historic. A true embargo, backed by the same outrage reserved for other brutal regimes in our collective past -- a policy more in line with how the world handled, say, apartheid in South Africa or Augusto Pinochet's Chile or Adolf Hitler's Germany... One of the commentaries grudgingly mentioned that President Bush is the leader of the Free World. And, yes, our next president will hold the same power. Let's ask the 'community' to rally behind its leader, no matter what he (or she) demands of Cuba."

Coto has been writing letters and special columns for the Orlando Sentinel since the early 90's, and has consistently assumed a hard-line position on Cuba. In 1997, he was opposed to the Pope's planned visit to the island.

"I am against the pope going to Cuba. Even more, I am against any of us going there during his visit. But as I witness the hypocrisy of this world, I can only hope that the pope will arrive in Havana with a miracle. I can only hope that, when he kisses the Cuban soil, he remembers his native country and he does for Cuba what he did for Poland. God save Cuba!"*

But, aside from a perceived arrogance, Coto understands well that the US embargo has not been effective like the other sanctions he mentions from history. Yesterday, he correctly stated that "[a]n equal share of the blame for the 'invisible embargo' goes to the exile community... for funding the [Cuban] government through remittances to families on the island." In this case he agrees with Spadoni, who in 2004 brilliantly argued [PDF] that "the United States has played and continues to play quite an important role in the Cuban economy. More specifically, significant amounts of hard currency have been channeled into the Cuban economy through U.S. visitors (especially Cuban-Americans), remittances sent by Cuban exiles to their families on the island, U.S. telecommunications payments to Cuba, U.S. food exports (sold in government-owned dollar stores), and U.S. investors who hold publicly traded shares of major foreign firms engaged in business activities with the government of Fidel Castro."

Many hard-liners know this truth, so they rationalize and say that the US embargo "has never truly existed." So, why do they fiercely defend it? In my opinion, the answer reveals an important aspect of being a hard-liner (be it against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, etc.). As Jaime Suchlicki, Emilio Bacardi Moreau professor of History and Director of UM's prestigious Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, put it in 2000 [PDF]:

"The lifting of the embargo now will be an important psychological victory for Castro. It would be interpreted as a defeat for U.S. policy and as an enforced acceptance of the Castro regime as a permanent neighbor in the Caribbean."

Coto, in 1997, came to the same conclusions:

"The only reason Castro wants so desperately to lift the embargo is that it would be his final victory over the United States. He would be the David who finally conquered Goliath. Lifting the embargo would be a colossal political defeat for the United States."*

I agree with the Sentinel editorial when they say that "the root of anger and angst" lies in the US embargo, which undoubtedly resonated on both sides. Surely, there are other important psychological elements here, such as the collective Cuban and Cuban exile memory, but this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the US/Cuba conflict: a perceived defeat, by those who have wronged us.

Truly a traumatic obstacle, but not insurmountable. Our moral conscience should rise above our short-term satisfactions, and be willing to face a higher moral duty where opposing sides settle their differences, making a real sacrifice for the sake of future generations.

[Watch video of opposing views on the US embargo, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel, featuring History professor Luis Martínez-Fernández Ph.D., and Urologist Manuel J. Coto M.D.]

*Orlando Sentinel, November 23, 1997, "Only a Miracle Can Save Cuba" by Manuel J. Coto

Monday, November 5, 2007

Medal of Freedom to Oscar Elias Biscet

In news that has been censored by the Cuban government's official newspaper, Cuban political prisoner Oscar Elias Biscet has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Biscet's son and daughter (Yan Valdez and Winnie) have received the award in his absence.

This morning, in the East Room of the White House, President George W. Bush told the world:

"To the Cuban dictatorship, Dr. [Oscar Elias] Biscet is a 'dangerous man.' He is dangerous in the same way that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi were dangerous. He is a man of peace, a man of truth, and a man of faith. In captivity for most of the last eight years, he has continued to embody courage and dignity. His example is a rebuke to the tyrants and secret police of a regime whose day is passing."

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given annually to "those who have made outstanding contributions to the security or national interest of the United States or to world peace, or those who have made a significant public or private accomplishment." But, it should be noted that under these requirements, Oscar Elias Biscet barely merits such a distinction. Biscet's prominence as a Cuban dissident is hardly an "outstanding" contribution to US interests or world peace. Yet, the category of "significant public or private accomplishment" is loosely defined enough to award the latest winner of American Idol.

This doesn't mean that Oscar Elias Biscet is not a noble or courageous man. He is without question. I urge people to review his website and "Declaration of Principles" which highlight his vision of a free Cuba. We should admire this man, as much as we should admire all Cuban dissidents who bravely stare directly into the face of a totalitarian regime. But let's be honest, today's recognition of Oscar Elias Biscet is nothing but political grandstanding for President Bush, and an extension of last month's speech on Cuba policy. Furthermore, the nomination of Biscet for the medal has been the result of years of lobbying from the hard-line exile political leadership.

Also note that today's recognition of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with the Medal of Freedom was another political move. President Johnson Sirleaf has not made any "outstanding contributions" to US interests or world peace. But, she certainly has made significant accomplishments in Liberia, a country that has suffered tremendous devastation in the past. The only thing that could be considered a contribution to world peace is the fact that President Johnson Sirleaf "has pledged to work towards reconciliation by bringing her former opponents into a government of national unity." This noble position is the hallmark of Oswaldo Paya's Varela Project and the "Todos Cubanos" Program for a national dialogue, but a component that Oscar Elias Biscet does not include in his "Declaration of Principles," which instead supports "[t]he dissolution of all political, propagandistic, and repressive organizations created by the communist regime since January, 1959."

It is also ironic that Biscet was compared to Martin Luther King Jr. because both were secretly monitored by their respective governments as "dangerous" men. It is uncontroversial (and upsetting) today to acknowledge that the US Federal Bureau of Investigations had been spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife for years, even after the assassination of the civil rights leader, for the same reasons that Oscar Elias Biscet now suffers in a Cuban prison.

For more on Oscar Elias Biscet, and the other faces of those Cuba political prisoners who should be at the forefront of any discussion on Cuba and US/Cuba relations, please go to Marc Masferrer's blog, Uncommon Sense. I think its reasonable to say that the Uncommon Sense blog is perhaps THE BEST blog on the subject of Cuba's political prisoners. Way to go Marc, I don't see why you don't deserve a Medal of Freedom yourself.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A "Slim Line"

This week's Miami New Times lends support to speculation of Luis Posada Carriles' whereabouts: The Big Five Club in Miami.

Reporter Janine Zeitlin recounts her recent visit to the Big Five Club where Posada Carriles was scheduled to appear as the guest of honor to an art show. Posada Carriles is himself a steady painter of landscapes and portraits related to Cuban history, and had work shown. He appears to be quite good, and obviously very popular among some Cuban exiles.

The Big Five Club itself has a long Cuban history. It's name is a memorial to the old elite social clubs from Havana: the Biltmore Yacht and Country Club, Havana Yacht Club, Miramar Yacht Club, Vedado Tennis Club and Casino Español. According to a 1991 article, "[s]entiment for a touch of pre-Castro Havana and a desire to perpetuate the old social order were the motivating forces and glue behind the creation of the Big Five Club back in the 1960's, when the exile community reluctantly confronted the harsh reality that Castro could not be easily dislodged." An art show featuring Luis Posada Carriles and José Dionisio Suarez Esquivel is but another memorial to Cuban freedom fighters and desires to return to a Cuba free of the Castro regime.

The New Times article also features Enrique Encinosa, who has publicly stated that he supports terrorist methods to bring freedom to Cuba. This week on Radio Mambi, reporting on the recent death of Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr, the pilot who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Encinosa described the atrocity as an act of US terrorism. But, gave the impression that it may have been justified. Zeitlin quotes Encinosa describing Posada Carriles:

"[P]eople who think he's a murderer and horrible terrorist are not going to like anything that he does... People who know him know he fights for freedom. He's a talented man with a sensitivity in his heart."

Another attendee to the art show says that Posada "is not a terrorist, but a great patriot... There's a slim line."

This "slim line" may reveal a moral dilemma. Even heroes of the American Revolution have committed acts that we can describe as acts of terrorism. Take George Washington, our first American president, for example.

In 2005, the book Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign Against the Iroquois described another controversial moment in early American history. As the British army began their advance against American rebels around 1777 they also sought the recruitment of American Natives, such as the Iroquois who feared American expansionism. General Washington and his Continental Army was swift in targeting the Iroquois who were increasingly joining the British army. Washington's strategy called for the "total destruction and devastation" of Iroquois villages in the north around New York. According to the historical documents, Gen. Washington sought nothing but terror and violence upon the villages, and in exchange deplete the man power and other important resources the British army depended on. The author of Year of the Hangman argues that this strategic act was a crucial element in America's victory over the British.

Was Washington a freedom fighter, or terrorist? In my personal opinion, there's really no slim line, whether it be Posada Carriles or Washington. I don't see how extreme acts of violence that target civilians can be ever be justified, unless of course our moral principles are already inclined on messianism, or emotional calls for amorphous constructs like "freedom."