Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tom Gjelten on Cuba

NPR has an interview with journalist and author Tom Gjelten on the eve of tomorrow's historic anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Gjelten is a long-time US correspondent from Cuba and shares his thoughts about Cuban history, Cuban exiles, and a possible new relationship between the US and Cuba.

Here's some excerpts:

"If you take the fact that we now have a Democratic Congress, a Democratic President, a new leader in Cuba, we have the ingredients for a possible real revision for US policy. But, I think, over the next four years, the chances of some real changes in US policy towards Cuba, and let's also hope some changes in Cuba's attitude towards the United States, may come... And so, I think, in order for there to be true change, we're giong to need to see a change of attitude on both sides."


"But, I do think that with Fidel Castro now disappearing from the scene, Raul Castro 77 years old, with Barack Obama as [US] President, with the world changing, I think change is gonna come slowly in this relationship... and within I say five to ten years were gonna see a totally different relationship between the United States and Cuba."

[Photo by Reuters]

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Cuba Wars

With the 50 year mark of the Cuban Revolution approaching (January 1st), I'm taking the time to read what Cuba experts are saying, gather my thoughts about US-Cuba relations, and see in what direction Mambi Watch will go in the new year. I've been busy as well with other things, but I hope to post new material soon.

In the meantime, PRI's The World recently released an audio interview with Daniel P. Erikson, senior associate for U.S. policy and director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, concerning his new book The Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution.

According to the summary, Erikson's book is based on "more than a dozen trips to Cuba since 2001 and more than fifty interviews of major players in Washington, Havana, and Miami." I have not read the book yet, but the reviews are enticingly good, and the PRI interview is excellent. Here's some quotes:

"Well, I think that the rationale for the [economic] sanctions [towards Cuba] has changed over time... when the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, then the [US] rhetoric really began to shift much more towards democracy and human rights and trying to bring an end to the Castro government.

"Unfortunately, however, the sanctions have not been particularly effective in trying to hasten some form of political change in Cuba. I think, if anything, they've probably done the opposite. I would argue that isolation from the United States has actually been one of the core political strategies of the Cuban government that has allowed it to stay in power for decades."

[Click here for the PRI interview, and here for a slightly extended online version.]

Friday, December 19, 2008


Pay a visit to Phil Peter's Cuban Triangle blog. He's got great news updates concerning Cuba, and has recently linked to an excellent article he wrote for Real Clear World. It's a must-read.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Militants Behind Chris Simmons

Last night, Henry Gomez of the Babalu blog posted a statement from Omar Ortega, attorney from Dorta & Ortega P.A.. The statement alleges that Dorta & Ortega will represent Chris Simmons in a defamation lawsuit filed against him on Thursday.

Earlier this year, Chris Simmons publicly accused several individuals in Miami of being "agents of influence" or former spies for the Cuban government. He appeared on local Spanish-language radio and television. Silvia Wilhelm was among the accused and has now sued Simmons for defamation, seeking damages in excess of $75,000. Wilhelm has retained the legal services of Bruce Rogow, law professor at Nova Southeastern University.

Rogow has a very impressive record in law, which contrasts starkly with the short history of Dorta & Ortega. And, one certainly must wonder why Simmons has chosen (or has been appointed) these services. But, if one looks carefully, behind Chris Simmons and Dorta & Ortega stand some of the most militant Cuban exiles of Miami.

Rey Dorta and Omar Ortega serve under the law firm of Marcell Felipe. Marcell Felipe is not only a recent donor to the US-Cuba Democracy PAC (a long time advocate of the US embargo), but he also belongs to the board of directors of the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC). In fact, as early as September, Felipe was voted Executive Director of the CLC.

The CLC recently criticized Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias after he commented that a democratic transition in Cuba would "hopefully come with the least amount of intervention from Washington and the Cubans in Miami because, otherwise, it will become more complicated."

The CLC responded with a letter that misinterpreted Arias' comment as "exclusion," which was not the case. The letter was signed by Marcell Felipe, Executive Director, and Ninoska Perez Castellon, member of the CLC Executive Committee.

Ninoska Perez Castellon is a militant Cuban exile that believes a violent overthrow of the Cuban government is justified, and also invited Chris Simmons repeatedly on her television AND radio show where Simmons made all his controversial accusations.

It seems that those now defending Simmons are the the same ones who benefited from his accusations. What a surprise.

[Photo above of members of the Cuban Liberty Council]

[OK, now I take a break.]

In the Meantime...

Gonna take a little break from posting.

In the meantime, check out the revamped website of the so-called "Bay of Pigs Museum and Library." I had written about this project last year and found out that the original vision and title was for a "Cuban Exile Museum and Library." If you look at the website, the title is very appropriate.

Some parts are still under construction, yet they are ready to receive donations online. As far I know, this project has not been officially approved for construction. But, why delay on the future prospect of receiving 10% off at the gift shop with a $50 donation?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chris Simmons Goes to Court [Updated]

He was asking for it, so he got it. Frances Robles of the Miami Herald is reporting that Chris Simmons, the so-called "spyhunter," is being sued in Miami.

"[Silvia] Wilhelm, executive director of Puentes Cubanos and the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, filed a defamation suit against Simmons seeking more than $75,000."

We'll see how things turn out. If Simmons loses, he could face other lawsuits. Robles quotes another person who was allegedly defamed by Simmons:

"I'm glad Silvia is doing this,'' said FIU Professor Lisandro Pérez, who said he is considering also filing suit against Simmons for calling him a spy. "Suing for defamation is an onerous process and would take a great deal of money and time. You have to prove you are not a spy."

[Excellent analysis on Chris Simmons' accusations over at the Cuban Triangle blog by Phil Peters.]

[Photo by C.M. Guerrero]

[Update: Alejandro Armengol, writer for El Nuevo Herald, has posted the official complaint on his blog, Cuaderno de Cuba. And, according to Wilfredo Cancio Isla of El Nuevo Herald, there are two other persons, presently unnamed, also considering taking legal action against Simmons.]

[Update: Henry Gomez of the Babalu blog has posted a statement from the law firm that will allegedly represent Chris Simmons in court, Dorta & Ortega, P.A.:

"By bringing this lawsuit Ms. Wilhelm has not only given a greater forum for Mr. Simmons to discuss the facts which lead to Mr. Simmons’ statements but more importantly opened Ms. Wilhelm to direct questioning by Mr. Simmons representatives concerning all the allegations which she claims to be false."]

"Respect Our Suffering" [Updated]

El Nuevo Herald has a gallery of photos of tonight's protest at the Carlyle Theater in Miami Beach. According to the captions, the film screening about the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara was private and invited the director, Steven Soderbergh, and other main actors, including Benicio Del Toro.

[Update: Juan Carlos Chavez of El Nuevo Herald reports on the protest and finds that among those he interviewed, no one had seen the "Che" film. About 100 protesters were reported to have attended. Video of the protest is included.]

[Update: Video and photo journalist Carlos Miller has more on the protest, and discusses the real number of protesters who attended.]

Mayor Calls Che Film a "Slap in the Face"

This morning on Spanish-language radio station WWFE (670 AM), Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower called in to express her disapproval over a controversial film being screened this evening.

Mayor Bower was on the phone with Cuban exile activist Ruby Feria this morning, and mentioned that she was shocked when she heard that a "Che" film in Miami Beach would be shown this evening.

"Honestly, it gave me a shock when I found out this was happening. The last thing I thought was something like this to occur."

But, Mayor Bower, who was born in Cuba, added that she is opposed to stopping the scheduled screening of the film, and reminded everyone that "in a free country like this one, censorship is not acceptable..."

"Because we come from a country where there is censorship in art, in words, in religion, and censorship in though, and I wish never to fall into something like that."

Mayor Bower assured protesters that she will join them tonight at the Carlyle Theater because the screening of the film was a "slap in the face." She also stated: "I will fix this the best way I can because it is not fair that they do that [screen a film on Ernest 'Che' Guevara] without us being prepared."

Radio host Ruby Feria said that she "will excuse this instance with the promise to work so that in the future this will not happen again."

[Audio of Interview, MP3]

Radio Mambi Says Poll is Bogus

Early this morning on Radio Mambi ("La Noticia y Usted" show), hosts Armando Perez Roura and Ninoska Perez Castellon charged that a recent poll on Cuban-Americans is "bogus."

The poll conducted by the Brookings Insititution, the Cuba Study Group, and the Insititute for Public Opinon Research found that a majority of Cuban-American in Miami are opposed to current US policy towards Cuba. [Full report here.]

Radio Mambi believes the results are fake because they do not represent the recent electoral victory of Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart of South Florida. All three are adamant supporters of current US policy towards Cuba.

Ninsoka Perez Castellon, host of Radio Mambi, recently told the Miami Herald:

"I am tired of these polls that mean nothing... The point is that three Congress members who support the embargo were elected by an overwhelming majority of the people. The reelection of these Congress members tells me that this sample is not a majority. I don't believe this poll."

Today, she accused the poll of producing fake results. Armando Perez Roura, programming director of Radio Mambi, also made the same allegation.

These are serious charges being directed at the three organizations that helped conduct this poll, and the first time that I know of such charges being made by the hosts of Radio Mambi.

Last year a similar poll was conducted by the same organizations, but such charges were not made.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Who's Silencing Who? [Updated]

Earlier today, the Babalu Blog (Alberto De la Cruz) posted information about Thursday's protest at the Carlyle Theater, Miami Beach. De la Cruz links to a Spanish news website (Net for Cuba) with an official press release by "The Cuban Committee in Exile," and provides an English translation. The link also directs readers to a series of videos showing a Spanish-language documentary called "Guevera: Anatomy of a Myth."

According to De la Cruz: "We encourage all who can attend to do so. We cannot allow revisionists to silence our voices and insult the memories of the tens of thousands that died at the hands of this assassin and his thugs."

Who's silencing Thursday's protest?

On the contrary, the current letter campaign targeting city and county officials in South Florida (which I posted about yesterday) is aimed to STOP the screening of this supposed "Che" film in Miami Beach. As Ruby Feria described it, the film screening would amount to a form of "terrorism." And, most likely, this means that some Cuban exiles hope that the film NEVER screens anywhere in South Florida because, as the Cuban Committee in Exile put it, "premiering such a movie in a city like Miami, full of victims of this black chapter suffered by our community under the bloody dictatorship of the Castros is a repugnant offense and a show of utter disrespect to the Cuban-American community."

So, who's trying to silence who?

In fact, De la Cruz also links to an earlier post by Humberto Fontova, Babalu Blog's favorite author, where Fontova suggests that perhaps banning the film in Miami wouldn't be a bad idea. He wrote:

"John Cusacks movie 'Max' about the young Hitler was due for release when the Jewish Defense League and Anti-Defamation League campaigned to have it banned from private venues.... Given the local demographics, can you imagine a 'Max' showing at this same The Carlyle Theater?"

In the past, I've described Humberto Fontova as a propagandist, and this quote only further supports that description. In this case, Fontova has intentionally left out what occured AFTER some Jewish organizations protested the "Max" film. Furthermore, what resulted in that case could provide an interesting lesson for Cuban exiles who plan to protest on Thursday.

In 2002, director Menno Meyjes released his film "Max," a fictional story based on a young Adolf Hitler, which soon met protests from prominent Jewish organizations. Humberto Fontova is correct in stating that groups like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) protested the film, but I cannot find any information that states they wanted the film banned. Anyway, upon the movie's release, the ADL had soon changed their position AFTER they viewed the film.

ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, wrote:

"While some people will find it offensive, 'Max' does not glorify Hitler in any way, offering an accurate and realistic portrayal of Hitler the monster that certainly does not lend itself to a sympathetic view. The film shows a man strongly influenced and motivated by his anti-Semitism and likewise offers a realistic portrayal of the rampant anti-Semitism of the period."

A few months after, Morris Casudo, regional director of the San Diego Office of the Anti-Defamation League, said:

"Although I said I would not have voluntarily seen this movie, having seen it I think it's a powerful portrayal of a society in extremis being led by the most extremist elements, and so I would encourage people to see that film, it's chilling, frightening, discomforting, disturbing but so is life. I think this film is valuable in showing a society that was being torn apart."

Even one Jewish publication gave a very objective review of the film. But, Humberto Fontova doesn't want these facts to be known. They obviously don't support his goal to advocate anger and distress among the Cuban exile community. And, unfortunately, Alberto de la Cruz is just perpetuating these negative feelings.

While I don't oppose the planned protests for Thursday at the Carlyle, I think all persons planning to demonstrate should be properly informed about the "Che" film before they go. Maybe the film has some value, as the ADL discovered about the film they initially protested. But, banning the "Che" film would have serious consequences for our free society, which depends on the sharing of various points of view.

[Photo above of Miguel Saavedra of Vigilia Mambisa, who attacked counter-protesters in Miami, 2007]

[Update: You can view copies of the letters sent to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower here and (in Spanish) here. Both demand city officials to take a position to support or oppose the film screening. ]

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Che" in Miami Beach

Word is that the Byron Carlyle Theater on Miami Beach is screening Steven Soderbergh's new film about Ernesto 'Che' Guevara this Thursday. The film recently picked up a distributor (IFC) which is planning special screenings this month in select cities and preparing a national theatrical release early next year. Some Cuban exile organizations had gotten word of the supposed screening this Thursday and are planning protests.

I couldn't find any information online to confirm this screening, but according to those who are planning the protest, the film is being screened this Thursday around 6pm at the Carlyle. Spanish-language radio station WWFE 670 AM ("La Poderosa") has begun running regular announcements of this protest, telling listeners to stay tuned for official instructions at 10am Thursday.

Earlier today on La Poderosa, radio host Ruby Feria let listeners in on what has been planned so far. Feria is an established activist in local exile politics. This past June, Feria appeared publicly before the press protesting Barack Obama's Presidential campaign advisors (associated with the Elian Gonzalez affair). She told the press:

"Barack Obama represents a very dangerous alliance with the Castro regime."

Today, Feria told listeners that letters of protest have been sent to the Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, and to all Miami-Dade County Commissioners, including the Mayor, Carlos Alvarez. Feria is hoping to receive responses by Thursday. According to Feria, the letters are asking these government officials for explanations behind Thursday's screening, and if they are aware of the offensive nature of the "Che" film. (In 2002, the Byron Carlyle Theater was bought by the City of Miami Beach for $1.7 million, and re-opened in 2004. The funding came from city and county grants.)

Feria told listeners that the screening of the "Che" film would be a "monumental travesty and represent an insult" to the Cuban exile community. For those that don't know, some Cuban exiles in Miami view Ernesto 'Che' Guevara as a vicious murder and terrorist, or as Val Prieto from the Babalu blog once put it: "a murderous false prophet with a pretty face." But, it is only recent that books have been published in English raising the debate over the brutal nature of Guevara. Some examples being 2006's "The Che Guevara Myth" and 2007's "Exposing the Real Che Guevara."

Thus, Feria is being patient for answers from city and county officials, which she is certain she will receive by Thursday morning. But, she also made it very clear that her hope is that the film will not be shown at the Carlyle. Feria compared the film to a form of terrorism that has the potential to breed hate and destroy the principles that unite the community. "Terrorism has many forms...this is one of them," she said. One source has also posted an e-mail sent out by a local exile organization, UMAP, asking recipients to e-mail the Miami Beach Mayor to stop the screening on Thursday. The Mayor of Miami Beach happens to be Cuban, yet very progressive.

Vigilia Mambisa, who sees the film as a "provocation of the castro-communist tyranny" is already organizing a caravan to leave the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana and head to the Carlyle one hour before the presentation.

Thursday is looking to be very interesting. The Mayor of Miami Beach, Matti Bower, certainly has a complex matter to consider. Changing venues to a private theater could be difficult on such short notice, and stopping the screening altogether could have serious legal consequences. Ruby Feria at one point proposed a public debate before the showing, and perhaps an exchange of contrasting viewpoints before the film may provide a reasonable outlet.

But, if the city does not become proactive, then the protest can become an unpredictable affair. Vigilia Mambisa and other exile organizations will most certainly show up in significant numbers, and perhaps groups like the Bolivarian Youth will show up as well, as they did in 2005 in defense of another "Che" movie [photos here]. And, things can go downhill from there.

Concerned Miami Beach residents should e-mail Mayor Matti Bower and share your thoughts about how this event could be handled, and if you support or oppose the screening of this "Che" film.

[Recent protests involving Vigilia Mambisa can be read about here and here.]

Monday, December 1, 2008

Freedom for Arocena

Last week, when Pres. Bush released his list of pardons and commutations, some Cuban exile militants were upset to see that Eduardo Arocena [photo] was not on that list. On Spanish-language radio, some expressed their hope that Arocena would be pardoned by the Thanksgiving holiday, but now some are worried that Arocena might spend the rest of his life behind bars.

It was Friday afternoon, July 22, 1983, when FBI agents arrested Eduardo Arocena on suspicion that he was the leader of a terrorist organization called Omega-7. More than a year later he was found guilty and given a life sentence for several serious charges, including murder. Before being sentenced, Arocena told to the judge:

"[The US government] knows that I am an anti-communist till death and will continue to be until the last days of my existence. More than anything, I shall continue fighting for the liberation of my homeland until the final days of my life. And they won't, nor anyone will, prevent me from continuing to do so...

"[The US government] says I am a terrorist. If fighting for my country, and sacrificing everything the way I have, is to be a terrorist, then I am a terrorist...

"I regret nothing. Your honor, do your duty, for I have done mine

This past July marked 25 years since the arrest of Eduardo Arocena, and Cuban militants in Miami believe that he has paid for his crimes and should be released. But, since July, several different arguments have been given to release Arocena from federal prison.

First, it should be noted that the Campaign to Free Eduardo Arocena is NOT seeking a Presidential pardon for Arocena (despite its repeated uses of the word "pardon"), but rather a commutation of his sentence. This is the wording of the official letter that was sent to the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The use of the word "pardon" (in Spanish "perdon" or "indulto") serves as propaganda for Cuban exile militants to send the message to the public that Arocena's past actions should be officially vindicated by the US government. This is the real motivation behind the campaign, regardless of the hidden fact that Arocena does not qualify for a Presidential pardon.

"Humanitarian reasons" have been argued in asking for a "pardon." But, concerns that Arocena's "health is failing" runs contrary to a 2007 Department of Justice report that says he is in good physical and mental health. Even if his health is truly of concern, it is not mentioned in the official letter to the US Pardon Attorney, nor on the official online petition. And, neither does his wife, Miriam, mention Arocena's failing health in a recent interview with the Miami Herald.

Miriam Arocena has appeared repeatedly on Radio Mambi to speak out for the release of her husband. Her main argument is that Eduardo is imprisoned in the state of Indiana, which is too far from his family in Miami. She has stated that it is very expensive for the family to go visit her husband, and that in the past 25 years she has only seen him 8 times. While this is a reasonable argument to relocate Arocena closer to Miami, I doubt it is sufficient to grant someone a "pardon."

Nevertheless, a commutation of Eduardo Arocena's life sentence is possible in the sole hands of the President. As P.S. Ruckman Jr., expert on executive clemencies, has noted, "[t]here are no rules" when it comes to the power of the President to grant clemency. Arocena can be freed by Christmas if Pres. Bush so decides.

Still, as this administration comes to an end, some militants are growing concerned. Immediately after the release of last week's pardon and commutation list, writers at the militant blog Nuevo Accion wrote:

"Everything indicates that [Pres.] Bush with give one last slap in the face to [us] free Cubans before leaving the White House."

On a more positive note, the Campaign to Free Eduardo Arocena, who is boasting of having sent 60,000 petition letters to the President, also published a response showing confidence that Arocena will receive his "gift" by Christmas:

"We are certain that this will happen, since in his [the President's] hands is the way to reciprocate this community who worked so hard and diligently to make him President on two occasions, and who arduously supported [Senator] McCain until the end. It's time that he reward us with that Christmas gift [for Eduardo Arocena]."

It's shameful to see how some people can easily debase the special powers of the Executive as simple quid pro quo.

Anyway, it should be clear to most readers that Cuban exile militants see Eduardo Arocena as the "patriotic ideal." His "pardon" or release by the President would be exploited by militants in Miami to officially vindicate their belief in violence as a legitimate method in their cause to free Cuba. This would be a harmful message for South Florida, or for any civil society.

While I personally believe that Eduardo Arocena has spent sufficient time in prison, the decision to release him should not come from the sole discretion of the President, but rather from honest "humanitarian reasons." Arocena's release from prison should be part of a larger human rights campaign to address the unfair conditions of the more than 100,000 persons serving life sentences in US jails and prisons, and more than 30,000 of those serving life without parole. [Read 2004 Report, PDF]

This is the humanitarian cause that Arocena's freedom should belong to, and not the militant propaganda that serves to "confront international communism." If Arocena is soon freed, he should be forced to renounce violence publicly. Otherwise, Miami's civil society (whatever remains of it) will suffer an unneccessary setback.

[A recent and excellent article on Eduardo Arocena by Tim Elfrink for the Miami New Times.]

[El Nuevo Herald online poll showing 59% of readers opposed to the release of Eduardo Arocena from prison.]

[Miami Herald editorial from 1985 concerning the imprisonment of Eduardo Arocena.]