Saturday, May 30, 2009

"We Will Provoke Them" [Addendum]

Here's something you won't read or hear in the local media.

Earlier this month, the distinguished Cuban exile organization called Los Municipios de Cuba en el Exilio (Municipalities of Cuba in Exile) celebrated the inauguration of their newest President, Manuel Alzugaray (photo). Los Municipios is made up of various representatives from the traditional six provinces of Cuba. In the seventies, Cuba was officially divided into 14 provinces (with one special municipality), but it seems that Los Municipios does not recognize this change.

Anyway, Alzugaray was given a "great tribute" as the new President of Los Municipios. Spanish-language newspaper Diario las Americas reported that Alzugaray, in his speech, "invited the exile community to maintain their fight against the ruling Communism in Cuba and change the strategies and policies for the future democracy and freedom on the island."

Libre Magazine, another local Spanish-language publication, reported the same comments and quoted Alzugaray telling members of Los Municipios that it is time to "intensify the fight against the Castro tyranny."

But, both reports left out some very important facts. That day, Alzugaray provided some very important details about how he was going to "intensify the fight against the Castro tyranny."

Someone recently uploaded video excerpts on YouTube of Alzugaray's speech. The edited video is a very interesting inside-glimpse of a meeting of Los Municipios. But, most important is what Alzugaray says in the video starting at 8:24.

According to Alzugaray, his organization "will work on some programs inside Cuba which shall be with the Miami Medical Team [or] Doctors Without Borders creating what are known as the independent medical clinics... We will provoke them. Yes, we are going make a humanitarian provocation and with humanitarian things [or actions] because we can't do anything else, but we know how to do what must be done well.

"We have been preparing these last two years since I left the [prior] Presidency, methodically preparing [to] now begin the provocation against the [Castro] regime. If they accept the provocation they are going to look bad. If they don't accept it, then they are going to look bad as well."

This is the FIRST time I've ever heard a leader from the Cuban exile community describe their campaign as a "provocation" intended against the Castro regime. Normally, campaigns directed towards Cuba, and designed in Miami, are described as legitimate efforts to help the people of Cuba, and not necessarily efforts to "provoke" the regime.

Alzugaray's new strategy seems like the result of desperation, and he may also be putting many other things at risk.

First of all, it should be made clear that Alzugaray is a militant. Not only is he a leader of Los Municipios, he also belongs to the Foro Patriotico Cubano (Patriotic Cuban Forum) leadership which includes Armando Perez Roura (from Radio Mambi), Diego Suarez (from the Cuban Liberty Council), Juan Alonso (President of Unidad Cubana) and also Orlando Bosch (accused terrorist). Last month, the Foro made an official statement rejecting "all agreement, pact, settlement or dialog with Fidel and Raul Castro or those others who seek to perpetuate the current regime."

Even Alzugaray's own humanitarian organization, the Miami Medical Team (MMT), is part of his militancy. The MMT was founded by Alzugaray in the early 80s during the Cold War to provide medical assistance to the Contras of Nicaragua, and soon to the rebels in Angola. Throughout the wars, Alzugaray continued to provide his services through the MMT because "[t]he freedom fighter's struggle is the same as ours. Castro is in Nicaragua. Castro is in Angola."*

Since the end of the Cold War, the Miami Medical Team has provided much important humanitarian assistance, such as fighting a dengue epidemic in El Salvador, to name one example. But, Alzugaray risks the reputation of his own organization by saying that their main goal now is to "provoke" the Cuban government.

In fact, Alzugaray might be helping the Castro regime by giving them the perfect excuse to continue their political repression against Cuban dissidents. Back in 2003, Fidel Castro justified his worst political repression on the "provocations" of one man: then-U.S. Interest Section Chief James Cason. While Cason was able to easily deny those accusations, dissident campaigns associated with Alzugaray (or anyone in Miami) might now have a much harder time to make the same denial. (Ironically, James Cason was present during Alzugaray's speech.)

The strategy of "provocation," hidden within programs to help Cuban dissidents or Cubans in general, contributes to the endless conflict between Cuba and the U.S., and is destined to fail like other efforts of the past (such as Radio/TV Marti).

How unfortunate again for those who really want to make a difference inside Cuba.


In his speech to Los Municipios, Manuel Alzugaray mentions two years of methodical preparation for his plans of "provocation." Those plans have been reported about before, but not as "provocations."

- In a 2007 story by EFE, Alzugaray described his plans, called "Project Cuba," as a humanitarian mission by the Miami Medical Team (MMT) that would follow the emergence of a "transitional Cuban government towards democracy." The MMT would provide "logistical support" for Cuba's healthcare system with headquarters in Miami and Havana.

- In a 2008 story by Alfonso Chardy, Alzugaray provided more details of "Project Cuba." Once a "post-Castro" transitional government is in place, the MMT would deploy "300 doctors, nurses, medical technicians, and paramedics to go to Cuba in a matter of hours." They would also have the help of recently exiled Cuban doctors, who already have a "network of professional contacts with doctors and other medical personnel in the island."

It seems now that MMT's "Project Cuba" has taken a more aggressive design. Proposals for "independent medical clinics" inside Cuba will be aimed to "provoke" the Cuban government. Exactly how this "provocation" will operate is unknown. But, Alzugaray will surely find a way.

Earlier this year, it was reported by Libre Magazine that Alzugaray came up with the idea of distributing videos in Cuba that documented "the fight that has been wage over 50 years trying to overthrow this ruthless regime." The video, titled "Honor to the Fallen in the Province of Las Villas," was to be distributed through the "independent libraries" inside Cuba.

*[Rhor, Monica. (1989, October 31). Freedom healer Manuel Alzugaray travels the world... Sun-Sentinel, p.3B]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miami's Ignored Experts [Updated]

If you watch Spanish-language television and news in Miami, you won't hear a variety of opinions on U.S.-Cuba relations.

This is most apparent when one looks closely at the "experts" that appear in the news reports. One night, after the Obama administration last month moved towards the lifting of Cuban travel and remittance restrictions, two evening television news stations (Telemundo 51 and Univision 23) had already interviewed their Cuba "experts." Interestingly, all of them were from UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS). While one station spoke with research associate Jose Azel [one example], the other had interviewed ICCAS director Jaime Suchlicki and senior fellow Andy Gomez. (Both reports featured no other "expert.") And, they all spoke about how the Obama administration was engaging in "unilateral concessions" to the Cuban government.

Outside of the Spanish media bubble there are plenty of "experts" on the subject of U.S.-Cuba relations, besides the people at UM, with very different views on the matter. Very few have made it on Spanish media, like Phil Peters [video of interview here], and some are entirely ignored. Unfortunately, the local English-speaking news media also does not do well to present these ignored experts.


Daniel Erikson was in Miami in February (at the local Books and Books) to present his book "Cuba Wars: Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution," but, despite a small mention in the Miami Herald, his book presentation went ignored by the local TV news media, and, of course, the Spanish TV media. Why would the author of a book on U.S.-Cuba relations, which was later nominated as a "book of the year" by Foreward Magazine, be ignored when he is in Miami? Even before the nomination, Erikson's book had received excellent reviews by other foreign policy analysts. Go figure.


One month before Erikson appeared in Miami, Reese Erlich launched his book tour in Miami (also at Books and Books) for "Dateline Havana: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Future of Cuba." While Erlich is not an academic policy analyst, he is a life-long journalist who has received numerous awards and support from other influential journalists for his work.

So far, "Dateline Havana" has been well-received by two foreign policy analysts, Robert Farley of the University of Kentucky and Mavis Anderson of the Latin America Working Group. Having myself read some excerpts from the book at Google Books, "Dateline Havana" looks enlightening, well-researched, and highly-recommended.

You can view video of Erlich's book presentation at Books and Books here (courtesy of C-Span), and read a review and internet discussion with the author here.

Like Erikson, Erlich's appearance in Miami was ignored despite the excellent research he completed in Cuba recently. His book presentation in Miami was filled with interesting points and facts about Cuba, such as Cuba's rank on the Human Development Index, which is collected by the UNDP from various nations worldwide, and the view that change in U.S.-Cuba policy will not come from Washington, but rather "from the grassroots to the House, Senate, and eventually to the White House."

So, which Cuba "expert" shall Miami ignore next? Maybe Julia Sweig.


If you watched Comedy Central's Colbert Report last night, Sweig was on the show to briefly share some thoughts about U.S.-Cuba relations, and advertised her newest book scheduled to come out next month titled "Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know."

So far, the book is being described by the publisher as "informative, pithy, and lucidly written, it will serve as the best compact reference on Cuba's internal politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting relationship with the global community."

Sweig has written extensively on Cuba, Latin America, and considered "one of DC's finest Latin America policy divas" on the subject. She's also participated in numerous reports on U.S. policy towards Cuba, and it baffles we why she has not been interviewed on local television.

These expert opinions need to be shared and reported more often by the local media, otherwise everyone is just going to repeat what Jose Azel, Jaime Suchlicki, and Andy Gomez are saying. Which is the same political rhetoric that has perpetuated the Cold War mentality for nearly a half-century.


I could write a whole lot more about the subject of the local Spanish media (and sometimes English-language media) and how they fail to report on the various expert viewpoints on Cuba, so check the comments for additional thoughts. But I also wanted to highlight something else.

In 1978, UNESCO reaffirmed their commitment toward the "freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." No doubt this principles should also apply to the Cuban government, but its should apply equally (or even more strongly) to the U.S.

In the case of the local television media, and their ignoring of various expert perspectives concerning Cuba, the 1978 resolution reminds of an important right that we should consider:

"Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated

[. . .]

"Freedom of information requires as an indispensable element the willingness and capacity to employ its privileges without abuse. It requires as a basic discipline the moral obligation to seek the facts without prejudice and to spread knowledge without malicious intent."

"Seeking facts without prejudice" when it comes to reporting about Cuba, is something that the local Spanish media is undoubtedly having trouble with.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Intolerance of Ileana (Part 3)

So, last Tuesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called in to Radio Mambi (WAQI 710 AM) and spoke with host Ninoska Perez Castellon. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen called not only to inform listeners that she has sent out a "protest letter" to State Sec. Clinton, but also to encourage listeners of Radio Mambi to write their own letters of protest to the State Department because of what occurred at the U.S. Embassy booth of the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. Furthermore, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen also mentioned another letter that is being signed by "dozens and dozens" of her colleagues telling Sec. Clinton that "she should be informed about (or alerted to)" what is happening at our Embassies.

[Audio of Interview]

While the exact words of the "protest letter" to Sec. Clinton are not known, the comments from the press release are incredibly misinformed. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen believes that the book presentation of "Che's Afterlife" was an event "venerating" Ernesto Guevara. And, thus "the U.S. Embassy in Argentina is using American tax dollars to advance the radical agenda of those working feverishly to threaten regional stability and undermine critical U.S. foreign policy priorities in the region."

These comments make no sense at all.

The book by Michael Casey, just like the other investigations into Korda's "Che," does not "venerate" anyone, and does not "advance" any political ideology. Rather, it seems that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is completely misinformed about the content of Michael Casey's book. As a matter of fact, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen mentions that she wrote her "protest letter" immediately after reading the Miami Herald's article describing the book presentation as "provocative" and part of a "charm offensive." Way to go Herald.

But, even if Rep. Ros-Lehtinen did have some knowledge of the book's content, she would probably still protest because as she told Radio Mambi: "I don't care about the image of 'Che' Guevara. What I care about is what 'Che' Guevara has done, and the hundreds of Cubans that died because of this tyrant."

It's clear that some people only see a "Killing Machine" when they see or think of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's father, Cuban historian Enrique Ros, is author of one of the first books to confront the "Che Myth" before Humberto Fontova or Alvaro Vargas Llosa did. To these authors, based on their thorough research, Guevara embodied all the worst human elements anyone can think of. Therefore, they believe that the people who continue to idolize "Che" the assassin are either "idiots," victims or members of the "worldwide media/academia axis," or tyrants themselves.

But, it's incredibly ironic that these authors, who write to counter the appeal of "Che," are revealing historical material that is irrelevant to the worldwide appeal, distribution and proliferation of Korda's "Che." Remember what Michael Casey wrote, those who idolize "Che" are engaging in a "personal act" where they re-interpret and incorporate "Che" into their "idealized self." It has little, or nothing, to do with the documented facts of Ernesto Guevara.

Interestingly, the conclusions drawn by Casey, and others, concerning the worldwide appeal of the "Che" image, may inform why some Cuban exile militants venerate alleged terrorists like Orlando Bosch, or Luis Posada Carriles.

For example, Orlando Bosch, who was arrested as a suspect of the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner which killed 73 people and and act which he publicly justified (in print and video@4:30) as an act of war, has never denounced acts of terrorism attributed to him. Despite his long-time, open support for terrorism against the Cuban government, then-State Sen. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen signed a letter in 1988 which described Bosch as a "valiant freedom fighter."*

In a 2006 interview, Bosch told a reporter: "I would have liked to kill [Fidel Castro] to set an example for future generations." That same year, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen appeared in a video saying: "I welcome the opportunity of having anyone assassinate Fidel Castro and any leader who is oppressing the people." She dismissed the video as a fraud once it gained media attention, but then admitted it's authenticity days later, never apologizing for her comments.

I guess her admiration for Orlando Bosch is a personal thing, like those that admire "Che." One wonders if it has anything to do with the historical facts. But, just like her protest against a book which she hasn't read, and has no interest in reading anyway, why should the facts get in the way?

[*] Harrison, Carlos. (1988, February 23). Politicians plead for Bosch's release. The Miami Herald.

----- [Extras]-----

- Michael Casey responds to Roger Noriega's book review on "Che's Afterlife."
- Another reaction from a blogger in Buenos Aires.
- And, despite being charged repeatedly with torturing, kidnapping, and homicide, and having U.S. support throughout his brutal repression, Humberto Fontova would have no problem wearing an Augusto Pinochet t-shirt. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

[Part 1]

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Intolerance of Ileana (Part 2)

Before we continue, let's be clear about what Michael Casey's new book, "Che's Afterlife", is all about: the study of a picture found worldwide.

According to the review by Michiko Kakutani, Casey's book "is not only a cultural history of an image, but also a sociopolitical study of the mechanisms of fame. It is a book about how ideas travel and mutate in this age of globalization, how concepts of political ideology have increasingly come to be trumped by notions of commerce and cool and chic."

It is NOT a book on the life of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. It is an investigation on a social phenomenon, which is clearly explained by Casey:

[Excerpts from epilogue]

"Humans have always used meaning-laden images to promote (sell) ideas, to build loyalty among followers (customers), to cultivate a sense of belonging within communities (markets), and to differentiate themselves from their enemies (competitors)."


"Choosing a brand—much as choosing to display a loved one’s photo, to don a religious pendant or national flag pin, to wear a favorite team’s colors, or to declare our admiration for a political, artistic, or sporting hero—is a personal act. Brands, symbols, and images are incorporated into a person’s identity. They form part of the idealized self with which we define our place in the world."


"In fact, the brand is powerful because, quite independently of Che and his story, the icon that emerged from Alberto Korda’s photograph is independently capable of stirring the forces of human imagination and of tapping into deep-seated longings for a better world."

Fortunately, Casey is not the only one that has investigated the various incarnations of Korda's "Che." The 2007 documentary "Personal Che" [trailer] also conducted a similar investigation and came to a similar conclusion: "fact or history is of little importance when compared to these people's desire to see Guevara through their own lens... [Personal Che] is a documentary not about 'Che' Guevara, but about how this man continues to be reinterpreted by many around the world in ways that would probably surprise 'Che' himself." The documentary shows Korda's "Che" appearing as a holy icon in one part of the world, and also on the shirt of a Neo-Nazi in another part.

Another recent documentary, called "Chevolution" [trailer], also studies the unpredictable development of Korda's "Che." The directors conclude "
that there is a mythology that grows from Che and it happens in all sorts of ways in different cultures, and that's one aspect of it. And there's also this development of the icon itself. And what's interesting [...] is that there's this open source where no one really specifically controls it. And it keeps changing and remodifying. It becomes this open vessel that's constantly evolving without one person or group really dictating where it goes."

So you get the picture right? Korda's famous picture of "Che" has taken a life of its own since it was captured in 1960. It operates as a personal symbol which sometimes brings people together (or separates them), but has little (or nothing) to do with the real history of Ernesto Guevara.

But, interestingly, there are some people who don't care about all that, and only see Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, the "Killing Machine."

[Photo above of Alberto Korda (1928-2001)]

[Part 3]

The Intolerance of Ileana (Part 1)

Boy, where do I start with this one? (Sighs in frustration.) Apparently, Florida [District-18] Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has a problem with a book. It seems that she has not read the book, and is not interested in reading it. But, she's confident that it is a bad book, and is now complaining to Sec. of State Hillary Clinton about it, and gathering signatures on Capitol Hill to make sure the book is not associated in any way with the U.S. government.

The book sounds terrifying huh?

Well, the book in question has been getting excellent reviews, including by Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning, and ruthless book critic. To some, Katutani is considered "the most powerful book critic in America," and last week she gave praise to Michael Casey's new book "Che's Afterlife." She described Casey's new book as "fascinating... bracing and keenly observed."

Some of you may be baffled, but regular readers of Mambi Watch, and residents of Miami, may have already noticed the problem: someone uttered the word "Che" and all reason has already gone out the window. Here's what happened.

Last week, the International Book Fair of Buenos Aires, perhaps the largest book fair in South America, opened its doors to the public. The fair is huge, with hundreds of booths and over a thousand presenters. Given that Buenos Aires also happens to be a city that loves books, its clear why the U.S. Embassy in Argentina, since 2007, has been participating in the fair, providing various workshops, presentations and lectures. Last year, the Embassy invited famed author Tom Wolfe to speak at their booth. And, this year the Embassy was again able to invite several authors and writers to give presentations at their booth.

Among them was Michael Casey, who happens to live in Buenos Aires writing occasionally for the Wall Street Journal, working as the bureau chief for Dow Jones, and has now authored a book. His invitation was only natural, as was the invitation of novelist Donagan Merritt, who also happens to live in Buenos Aires. But, the main attractions at the U.S. Embassy booth were the Pulitzer Prize winners, Annie Proulx and Junot Diaz.

Anyway, after the first day's presentations at the booth last week, reporter Vinod Sreeharsha wrote a "special" report for the Miami Herald. The first sentence goes like this:

The U.S. charm offensive in Latin America took a small but provocative step forward on Friday when the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires sponsored two readings of a new book that explains the enduring iconic power of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara."

The sentence alone is controversial and inaccurate. How is it that Casey's presentation alone a "charm offensive" by the U.S. government? Do the other book presentations (by Proulx and Diaz) at the Embassy booth also seperate "charm offensives" in Latin America? And what makes this one "provocative"?

Sreeharsha doesn't directly answer these questions, but instead leaves the reader misinformed at the start before getting into the details. But, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had probably read enough by then to begin writing her letter to the U.S. Secretary of State.

[Part 2]

Vargas Llosa Changes His Mind

Something important just happened. Alvaro Vargas Llosa (left) changed his mind on the U.S. embargo towards Cuba!

No, I'm not being sarcastic. This could be big. You see, Vargas Llosa (son of the famous writer Mario Vargas Llosa) is a political columnist whose views are very similar to conservatives in Miami, including Cuban exiles.

He's optimistic about free markets reducing global poverty, writing in 2007 that "[t]he progress of the market economy that began to free the world of its shackles continues at an even faster pace today." [Reports, since 2005, in fact show that global inequality may be on the rise, and even at risk of growing because of the current global economic crisis. Ironically, Miami also happens to have one the highest levels of inequality in the United States.]

Vargas Llosa is also a big supporter of Cuba's internal dissidents, such as the Ladies in White and the famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez. And, he can't stand Ernest 'Che' Guevara.

Vargas Llosa is also a big critic of the new political leaders in South America, such as Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Pres. Evo Morales of Bolivia. Yet, his harshest criticism is aimed at the people who elected these leaders. He calls them the "Idiots." According to Vargas Llosa, it is "[t]he 'Idiot' species [that] bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment."

Anyway, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, shares several views with conservatives in Miami, including Cuban exiles, and therefore his writings are published by the most conservative local newspapers in Miami, such as Diario Las Americas and Libre magazine (in the latter where his column appears rights before Armando Perez Roura's). And, the surprise is not only that Vargas Llosa now opposes the U.S. embargo towards Cuba, but that his recent column against the embargo was published by both Diario Las Americas and Libre magazine. The impact on readers could be significant.

In his column, Vargas Llosa argues:

"No democracy based on liberty should tell its citizens what country to visit or whom to trade with, regardless of the government under which they live. Even though the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, would obtain a political victory in the very short run, the embargo could no longer be justified... Ultimately, the argument against the sanctions is a moral one. It is not acceptable for a government to abolish individual choice in matters of trade and travel. The only acceptable form of economic embargo is when citizens, not governments, decide not do business with a dictatorship, be that of Burma, Zimbabwe or Cuba."

Vargas Llosa admits that he changed his mind on the embargo just recently, after years of being "conflicted" over it. In July of last year, Vargas Llosa publicly opposed the lifting of EU sanctions on Cuba because it had been historically demonstrated that "you do not pacify tigers by throwing them meat."