Monday, January 26, 2009

Photoshop Wars

Aside from her one-hour Radio Mambi program, Ninoska Perez-Castellon has a television show on GenTV called Ultima Palabra (Last Word). It's identical to her radio program, except with more guests who coincidentally seem to agree with her most of the time.

Anyway, today's hour-long Ultima Palabra was devoted to the recent Fidel Castro photo with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Perez-Castellon's message to her television audience was clear: the photo is obviously manipulated to make Fidel look better than he really is, and President Fernandez de Kirchner is lying to everybody because she has been bribed.

In my last post I wrote that this supposed conspiracy was meant to dispell rumors of Fidel's death, but I was wrong. The conspiracy is aimed to quell any political changes that can occur once it is realized that Fidel is near death or gone, and/or to deny Fidel's enemies the satisfaction and celebration of seeing him in his supposedly grave condition. That's what I understood from Ninoska Perez-Castellon on her television show, and her radio show. [Radio Mambi audio here.]

Well, the guys over at Nuevo Accion, a militant Cuban exile website, are also saying that the recent Fidel picture is fake. And, to prove it they have given us the example photo above. In other words, if they can photoshop the head of their director (Aldo Rosado-Tuero) onto the photo, so can the Cuban government photoshop the head of a healthy Fidel.

According to a post from Saturday [screenshot], Nuevo Accion asserts that the photo is fake, everybody involved is lying and challenges the Cuban government to present Fidel Castro live to the public for ten mintues. I'm sure the Cuban government has taken their challenge very seriously.

But, Nuevo Accion has one problem. They are using a low-resolution image of the Fidel photo which is very easy to manipulate (Perez-Castellon made the same error on her television show). A high-resolution photo has been released publicly, and its very difficult to see how this high-quality photo has been manipulated. (In my opinion, the high-resolution photo looks very authentic.)

If Ninoska Perez-Castellon or Nuevo Accion want to convince anyone that the Fidel photo is probably fake then they should use the high-resolution photo, and produce a high-resolution example of photoshop manipulation.

So far, they have not. (Perhaps on purpose.)

[Photo above compares the different image qualities being used. The photoshop work by Nuevo Accion is great, but fails to compare to the actual high-resolution photo.]

Friday, January 23, 2009

But His Head Looks Wierd [Updated]

That was a short coma huh? Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (photo, far right) earlier this week met with Fidel Castro, later telling reporters that both talked for about an hour together and that Fidel was "doing well."

That meeting with Fidel took place on Wednesday, and earlier today the Argentinian government released a photo of that meeting. Some are now saying its been manipulated.

Just last week rumors of Fidel's health reached near hysteria. Local paper Diario Las Americas reported that Fidel Castro was in a coma, Cuba analyst Andy Gomez from ICCAS said that "high sources" from Washington were saying Fidel was "gravely ill," exile leaders in Miami held an emergency meeting on Saturday to prepare for a possible "great change" inside Cuba, and Val Prieto from the Babalu Blog couldn't decide which wine to celebrate with.

This kind of thing seems to occur regularly in Miami, just like it did in 2007. That year the rumors of Fidel Castro's death had also reached similar proportions. Strangely, even before Fidel Castro underwent surgery in 2006, these kind of rumors existed. As far back as 1998, a Cuban exile doctor by the name of Enrique Huertas told Diario Las Americas:

"the health of Cuba's tyrant is smashed, without possible treatment that can adequately resolve his situation... he has an undetermined cancerous problem, but with signs of metastasis, whose effects have been seen in his television appearances in recent days."

Yup, more than a decade ago!

So, Fidel Castro now reappears in a photo after several signs allowed some to suspect the worse, and now they can't believe it. Writers for the Babalu blog agree that the picture looks fake, and Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon believes it too has been manipulated.

According to Perez-Castellon, Fidel Castro may be alive, but the head of Fidel on the picture does not match. She believes that Fidel probably looks far worse, and that the Cuban government most likely "photoshopped" a healthier-looking head on Fidel. Perez-Castellon recalls Fidel's two prior photos (shown above) were "he's skeletal. He's even missing hair in his beard. And now, all of a sudden, hair is covering his ears!"[MP3]

But compare the three pictures above. You can view them closely here, here and here. In my opinion, Fidel Castro looks identical in all of them. Sure his hair looks shorter in some, but (newsflash) hair grows! And Fidel's beard looks the same. So, I'm thinking, is Ninoska Perez-Castellon and the writers at Babalu so biased its affecting their visual perception? Must be. But, they are not alone.

I just watched the 11PM news and Telemundo51 interviewed Jaime Suchlicki, from ICCAS, and he said that Fidel Castro looked "mummified" in the photo. Telemundo also interviewed Andy Gomez, also from ICCAS, and he said that Fidel looks very weak because in the photo he's using President Fernandez de Kirchner to hold himself up. Well, they may be right, or they may be totally wrong.

There's only a few pictures to analyze, and in all of them Fidel looks the same. To suggest anything about his health condition from so little evidence could lead to misinformation.

For example, in 2006, after Fidel Castro transferred power to Raul after undergoing intestinal surgery, Jaime Suchlicki told local news reporters: "I'm more inclined thinking about either that [Fidel is] so deteriorated or that he's dead." You see, Suchlicki was wrong then, and he may be wrong now.

I personally don't have much confidence in the work that comes from the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).

So, in conclusion... You can believe that Fidel Castro is in reality a walking zombie whose photos have all been deceptively altered (for who know how long) by the Cuban government. And, that President Fernandez de Kirchner (not to mention all others who have visited Fidel Castro) is lying to the world because she was perhaps bribed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, all of whom are part of an elaborate "political marketing operation" (as local Spanish-language news station AmericaTeVe put it) to simply settle a few tired rumors.

OR... You can believe that Fidel Castro is fine and still recuperating.

(Boy, being a militant against Fidel Castro is exhausting.)

[Update: Along the Malecon blog has the new Fidel photo in high-resolution, and additional background on its delivery to President Fernandez de Kirchner.]

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Excellent posts over at the Cuban Triangle blog concerning US-Cuba policy. Make sure to pay a visit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Diario Las Americas: Fidel in Coma

Local South Florida Spanish-language newspaper Diario Las Americas is reporting that Fidel Castro has fallen into a coma and is on a respirator. Diario cites "sources close to children and family in Cuba."

Read it here (in Spanish).

Sounds like another rumor. But, Diario is not a blog, and instead a good source of local information. But, even newspapers can make mistakes sometimes.

[Photo of Fidel Castro and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Castro's most recent from one month ago.]

Radio Mambi: Thank God for Bush

On Monday, after giving his last appearance before the press, Pres. George W. Bush called in to Radio Mambi to say goodbye. He was received by Ninoska Perez-Castellon on her 3pm program.

You can hear the interview here, courtesy of Univision.

Near the end [7:04], Perez-Castellon (self-appointed spokesperson for the Cuban-American community, and Cubans in general) reveals her feelings of high adoration for Pres. Bush:

"Mr. President, during the G8 summit in 2007, when you spoke at the Czech Republic, you said that an individual with moral clarity and courage can change the course of history, and I believe that you are that man. And I know that when freedom finally comes [to Cuba], the Cuban-Americans, as well as the Cubans on the island, will know that you stood by us in your darkest hour. So, I think you have a lot of gratitude in this community."

In that 2007 speech, at the Czech Republic, Bush stated: "Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every soul."

Bush also mentioned that after his Presidency he plans to create his "Freedom Institute" in Dallas, at the Southern Methodist University. He has told the press that it will be "cool-looking."

Anyway, contrary to what Perez-Castellon states, I don't believe the Bush administration ever stood with the Cuban-American community or Cubans on the island.

During his administration, prominent Cuban dissidents on the island have expressed their disagreements with US funding and Cuban family travel restrictions. And the Cuban-American community has increasingly shown their disagreement with the US embargo and travel restrictions.

In addition, Telemundo 51 recently asked their viewers to respond to an online poll asking if they agree with the Obama administration to eliminate travel restrictions to Cuba. From more than 1000 votes, an overwhelming 88% (!) voted in favor.

So who's standing with the Cuban and Cuban-American community?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Courage and Leadership

With the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama just a week away, several US-Cuba policy analysts have already made their recommendations to the coming administration. Fortunately, there seems to be a strong agreement among many experts supporting US engagement instead of isolation.

I noticed (through the Havana Journal) that Wayne Smith, Cuba Program director at the Center for International Policy, shared his US-Cuba policy recommendations at Counterpunch last week. He suggested seven steps, most of which would increase people-to-people contacts between the two nations.

This week, Cuba experts Peter Kornbluh (senior analyst at the National Security Archive) and William LeoGrande (dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University) made a strong argument in favor of engagement and dialogue between the two governments.

And also this week, the Center for Democracy in the Americas released a report titled: 9 Ways for US to Talk to Cuba and for Cuba to Talk to US. This report is excellent. It includes nine essays that provide US-Cuba policy recommendations on nine different issues, such as security, migration and academic exchanges. The main mission of the report:

"Cooperation in these fields will give political leaders in both countries the confidence they need to close this fifty-year chasm of mistrust, so we can finally engage in the difficult negotiations that will bring this conflict to an end."

But, in my opinion, behind these policy recommendations lies the instinct to solve our problems humanely between neighbors, which brings me to Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson. I first noticed this story on the Cuba Journal blog, an article originally from the Key West Keynoter, reporting on a proposed diplomatic convoy from Key West to Cuba.

Key West Mayor McPherson wants to arrange a convoy of "city officials, community leaders, and other residents" to initiate US-Cuba diplomatic talks once Barack Obama is in office. "We're in a perfect position to act," says McPherson. According to the story, McPherson had this idea after Cuba was seriously hit by two devastating hurricanes last year.

"We should have been the individuals ready to send them aid," says McPherson, noting that he tried to "get some movement through [President] Bush" but was unsuccessful.

Best of luck to Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson. He's being very courageous, as a politician in South Florida, to take a leadership position in an effort that could bring positive change for many. May President Barack Obama have the same courage to fulfill his promises on US-Cuba policy.

Friday, January 9, 2009

On Freedom

So I was reading through the Miami Herald stories on Cuba the other day, and ran into this one: Rights Group Prods Obama to Lift Cuba Travel Ban. And boy was I surprised to read who the group was.

Freedom House describes itself as "an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world." But, before you go running for the hills, Freedom House does not have the same agenda of Pres. George W. Bush.

I'm sure some of us still remember Bush's 2005 inauguration speech stating that "the best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." Then, a few days later, 50 US Marines were killed in a helicopter accident in Iraq, with 2006 and 2007 becoming deadlier and deadlier for US troops.

Freedom House does not advocate a military strategy. Instead, they support "nonviolent civic initiatives." And, despite justified criticism of its funding ties from the US State Department, Freedom House has recently made impressive steps in its independent analysis of freedom in the world.

One impressive report from Freedom House came out in May of last year. It was called Today's American: How Free? According to them, it was "the first time that Freedom House, best known for its annual survey of the state of freedom around the world, has produced a book-length report on an individual country." According to the Washington Times, the report found "significant flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system, counter-terrorism strategies and the treatment of minorities and immigrants."

The chapter on counter-terrorism policies summarizes "
that a number of the actions taken by the [Bush] administration in its war on terrorism present genuine threats to the individual rights of American citizens and of foreign citizens caught up in the counter-terrorism net."

The chapter on racial inequality shows "that poverty for blacks remains far higher than for whites and indeed exceeds the rate for most immigrant groups, including groups that have come to America in substantial numbers only recently."

Back to Cuba, Freedom House has continuously reported on the Cuban government's repression of its citizens' political and civil rights (2002-2008 Country Report on Cuba available). They've repeated described Cuba as the "Worst of the Worst" [PDF] when it comes to freedom for its people. And, my criticism would be that Freedom House, unlike other rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, does not make policy recommendations in its reports. But, that may now change.

This past Wednesday, Freedom House called for a reassessment of current US policy towards Cuba. Freedom House's executive director, Jennifer Windsor, states:

"Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries in the world... It is well past time to reassess a policy that impedes the ability of American citizens to freely interact with Cubans on a large scale and thus expose them to unfettered information about the outside world. We call on the incoming administration of Barack Obama to reexamine the embargo and to immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island."

"While the Bush administration expanded American support for democracy activists in Cuba, U.S. policy would be even more effective if Americans were allowed to engage more freely with Cuban counterparts... Those countries that have moved from dictatorship to democracy in recent decades have done so in large part because of the movement of people and ideas across borders."

These comments from Freedom House also follow a recent report based on nearly 180 interviews of Cubans on the island. The report, called Change in Cuba, found that "Cubans see little prospect for change, and even the prospect for change seems to give them more anxiety than hope. There is widespread fear that political change will bring crime and insecurity to Cuba."

Also, Cubans "are uninformed or misinformed about Cuba's democracy movement. The Catholic Church provides a small space for some cultural and social activities, but respondents did not see the Church stretching beyond this into a civil or political role. Young Cubans, while particularly disillusioned, are usually apathetic. The most common response to government injustice is to complain and conform."

While this Freedom House report on Cuba is an informal investigation of Cuban attitudes (unlike Gallup's 2007 survey of 1000 Cubans from Havana and Santiago) and filled with anecdotal observations, the conclusions are still worth considering.

"Cubans must find ways to initiate and encourage civic engagement by their fellow citizens. Democracy activists and other civil society actors (e.g. artists, musicians, religious groups, youth groups) have created a space, however small, within which to act with relative independence from the state. Encouraging these groups to continue creating space for civic activity and to expand their outreach may help ordinary citizens take the initial step of participating in small-scale, low-risk activity."

The recommendation to lift the US travel ban on Cuba is also based on the premise of "[p]olicies that contribute to the strength of movements of civic mobilization [that] may make the difference in the struggle to replace dictatorship with a democratic order." Those are some of the findings of another recent Freedom House study.

I believe these are very important statements from Freedom House, and should be seriously considered by our political leaders. Embracing our rights of movement and travel opens up so many possibilities that can enhance the lives of not only Cubans, but of ourselves.

If you want to do more to support the right to travel to Cuba, please check out the TakeAction page at the Latin American Working Group, and John McAuliff's blog which includes several goods links and an online petition calling on the Obama adminsitration for "a policy of engagement and diplomacy" with Cuba.

More on The Cuba Wars

Hey everybody! I've just finished watching Daniel P. Erikson talk about his recent book, The Cuba Wars, through the C-Span Archives. Boy, do I love those archives.

Erikson's latest book has gotten great reviews, and even Marc Falcoff, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and "conservative" political analyst, has described the book as "one of the best written" on the subject of US-Cuba relations, "rich in detail" and "enormously fair-minded." Wow. Congrats to Erikson.

Please note that the video I'm talking about is from last November at a Brookings Institution event, but still relevant, worth watching and highly recommended for those who want to know more about US-Cuba relations. Participants included Marc Falcoff and Peter Hakim.

Another participant, Carlos Pascual, Brookings director of foreign policy and the event moderator, also had some great comments on US-Cuba relations which are not to be missed. In general, most of the participants of the event made very good arguments on why US policy towards Cuba should begin directing itself towards engagement, especially in efforts to create new contacts with the people of Cuba, within its social institutions and internal opposition.

Speaking on why this is necessary in the case of the internal opposition, Pascual says: "They need resources, they need contacts, they need support."

Marc Falcoff from AEI also seemed to agree. Falcoff mentioned that US policy limiting remittances to Cubans, which can become a vital source of financial support for some on the island, didn't make much sense. Falcoff had his doubts since 2004 when the restrictions on remittances where being debated. "Those remittances do relieve the situation for a lot of families and also create a situation for the government because it creates a whole class of Cubans who don't owe anything, or as much, to the Cuban government," said Falcoff in 2004.

For Falcoff, receiving money from abroad can help Cuban families become more independent from the government. But, this idea doesn't apply in all cases. At the Brookings event, Falcoff seemed to ponder the idea of cutting off US funding to Cuban dissidents as an act that could give them the necessary legitimacy of independence. Double wow.

The question then arises on how best to help the internal Cuban opposition, and at the same time help them preserve an image of independence from external influences.