Friday, August 21, 2009

Beyond Politics

While the Cuban exile community continues to divide itself on exactly where to stand politically when it comes to the upcoming Juanes concert in Cuba, here's some news beyond politics.

Cuban athlete Leonel Suarez and American Trey Hardee (above) embraced after completing events in the Decathlon at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Berlin. Yesterday, Suarez won the silver medal for Cuba, while Hardee won Gold and is planning to party soon in Austin, Texas.

Cuba has, so far, won 4 medals (1 Gold, 2 Silver, 1 Bronze) in this year's competition (ranking in the top 10 of participating nations), and has remained in the top 10 rankings since 1983, ahead of developed nations like Spain, France and the U.K.

[Photo by Reuters]

You Reap What You Sow

I can now hear their critics saying: "I told you so."

Today, someone posted video clips from Cuba's state-owned television program called "Mesa Redonda" (not to be confused with Radio Mambi's "Mesa Redonda," which ironically happens to also function as a propaganda outlet) showing its hosts talk about the "intolerance and irrationality" seen in Vigilia Mambisa's recent protest. (Video courtesy of CubaNews.)

On Wednesday, Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa, was asked in a television interview (video) if he was worried the Cuban government would use his protest, where music CD's were smashed (video), as part of their propaganda campaign against Cuban exiles. He ignored the possibility.

Also, this morning supporters of Vigilia Mambisa again called in to Radio Mambi to denounce recent comments by one of its hosts (Enrique Encinosa) describing the recent Mambisa protest as "Nazi-like." Encinosa defended his comments against a few, but very upset, callers.

What's ironic about all this is the fact that the extremism displayed by Vigilia Mambisa is the direct product of transmitted intolerance and "intransigent" beliefs by Radio Mambi, and other radio and television stations in Miami. In addition, Vigilia Mambisa has for a long time depended on radio stations like Radio Mambi to promote their protests and demonstrations.

Miguel Saavedra is also a member of Unidad Cubana, a militant Cuban exile organization whose Chairman is Armando Perez-Roura, programming director of Radio Mambi.

[The Villa Granadillo blog has a long statement in defense of Vigilia Mambisa, and in response to Enrique Encinosa from Radio Mambi. It's in Spanish for those who are interested.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saavedra the Scapegoat

Next month's planned performance in Cuba by the Colombian artist "Juanes" has definitely stirred people up, mainly in Miami. I've been keeping a close eye on events so far and things are beginning to get ugly. I'll write more about my thoughts on the upcoming Juanes concert in Cuba, but right now I wanted to post on something related.

Yesterday, Miguel Saavedra [above] appeared on Maria Elvira Live! (video available here), a local Spanish-language television program that focuses on politics. Saavedra was essentially invited on the program to be questioned about his most recent protest against the upcoming Juanes concert. Saavedra is the leader of the local organization called Vigilia Mambisa, a group that regularly organizes protests and demonstrations in opposition to the Cuban government. I've written many times before on the activities by Vigilia Mambisa and readers can view those posts here.

Again, it seems that Vigilia Mambisa caught everyone's attention last Friday when they began to publicly destroy music CDs by Juanes, and then burn a black t-shirt (symbolic of one of Juanes' songs) in a protest near the Versailles Restaurant. A local Spanish-language station (America TeVe) broadcasted the protest live (video available here), in another attempt to give Vigilia Mambisa maximum exposure. In the television report, Saavedra says that Vigilia Mambisa is asking all Cuban artists to denounce Juanes because "the ones that do not make a statement (against Juanes), become accomplices to Juanes."

But, yesterday's interview with Saavedra on Maria Elvira Live! revealed that some Cuban exiles are not happy with the image of Friday's protest. Maria Elvira read a statement by Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon saying that the protest did "a bad turn to the exile community by transmitting an erroneous image" of them. Maria Elvira also defended this argument strongly against Saavedra suggesting that burning objects, such as music, was reminiscent of actions by Nazis and Communists. In response, Saavedra said that people at the protest had the right to destroy those objects because they were the rightful owners and therefore could do as they wish.

Well, this morning those differences really came face to face, when Saavedra called into Radio Mambi and defended the Vigilia Mambisa protest after one of the radio hosts (Enrique Encinosa) described the actions as "Communist," "Fascist" and "Nazi-like." These statements angered members of Vigilia Mambisa who later called into competing radio station "La Poderosa" (WWFE 670AM) defending Saavedra, and condemning Encinosa's comments. One other blog that reports on the activities of Vigilia Mambisa has already posted about this morning's confrontation.

But, what is odd about all this is the focus on Miguel Saavedra. Saavedra is an extremist due to the hard-line and intolerant values transmitted regularly throughout the exile community, namely by people like Maria Elvira, Ninoska Perez-Castellon and Radio Mambi's programming director Armando Perez-Roura. Why target Saavedra when it is Perez-Roura who repeatedly quotes Jose Marti saying:

"When freedom is not enjoyed [by all], Art's only excuse, and it's only right to exist, is to serve [freedom]. Everything into the fire, even Art, to feed the bonfire [of freedom]!"

Also, it's radio personalities like Encinosa (who defends acts of terrorism) and Perez-Castellon (who prefers acts of violence to overthrow the Cuban government) that preach intolerance almost daily.

In this case, Saavedra is made the scapegoat because if you blame Cuban exile leaders like Perez-Roura and Perez-Castellon for promoting extremism, then you pay a hefty price in Miami. Radio Mambi, for example, provides an important platform for a large network of local exile leaders, political leaders and business leaders. If you blame Saavedra, then what's the worst that can happen?

But, the oddest thing of all is that Miguel Saavedra is now criticized for giving exiles a bad image for publicly destroying CDs on Calle Ocho, BUT when he physically attacked another person on Calle Ocho two years ago, during another public protest, there was barely any criticism from Cuban exiles in the local Spanish media.

The propaganda objectives of the local Spanish-language media is another post for the near future.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Flawed Embargo

It was a decent debate on the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. Last week, Phil Peters and Mauricio Claver-Carone, two experts on Cuba, debated the issue and made several interesting points. [Audio of debate available here.]

Opposed to the embargo was Phil Peters who, in my opinion, made two important points about the embargo: the U.S. government DOES NOT have an embargo on other dictatorships and human rights violators such as China or Saudi Arabia; and the embargo towards Cuba sends a hostile message to the Cuban government AND the Cuban people that it is an "enemy."

Peters believes that once the embargo is gone, the Cuban people will finally view the Cuban government as fully responsible for all faults concerning the economy, and eventually hold it responsible for those policies enacted.

Supporting the embargo, Mauricio Claver-Carone expressed SEVERAL reasons why it should remain. Let's begin with the first one.

According to Claver-Carone, the U.S. embargo "was codified into law in 1996" and, therefore, discussing the end of the embargo depends on what this law says. Claver-Carone is obviously talking about the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 [PDF] (also known as Helms-Burton), which in fact outlines EIGHT specific "requirements" before the embargo can be terminated (found in Section 205). But, Claver-Carone does not talk about these specific requirements. Instead, Claver-Carone strangely mentions "three essential conditions" before the U.S. can normalize its relations with Cuba.

Claver-Carone's "three essential conditions" hardly touch on all the specific and elaborate requirements that are expressed in Helms-Burton, and one should wonder if Claver-Carone is deliberately misleading the public, or has been terribly misinformed. In either case, Claver-Carone's statements supporting the embargo are flawed.

Claver-Carone's other arguments are mainly moral positions stating that normal economic relations with a dictatorial regime supports the brutal repression of those citizens and is therefore immoral. It would also be immoral to end the embargo because the embargo represents solidarity with all Cubans who desire democracy and human rights.

These are strong arguments, but the facts do not support a hard-line position. I've already mentioned before that it is very likely that the majority of dissidents inside Cuba oppose the embargo, and this also applies to the majority of Cubans who oppose the embargo and a significant number who view the U.S. as an "ideal partner" for trade.

Yet, Claver-Carone was adamant and insisted that tourists (or "spring-breakers" as he called them) to Cuba would not address political freedoms, or bring about the release of Cuba's many political prisoners. Instead, American tourism to Cuba would finance the brutal government to "beat the hell out of the Cuban people."

The political repression that occurs in Cuba is more complex than Claver-Carone describes because it is more a local government reaction, rather than one solely directed by its leadership, such as the military. While Claver-Carone insists (citing a 2004 article from the Economist) that tourism dollars will go directly to Gaviota, the military-run hotel company in Cuba (created for reasons reported here), there is no evidence that the military has been directing recent political repression. Instead, several cases have pointed to the local police or neighborhood committees committing acts of intimidation or repression.

Also, hard currency (American dollars) earned from tourism keeps many Cubans away from low standards of living. It is only natural for Cuba to become a tourist destination given its unique culture and environment, so why should Cubans (as employed or licensed, self-employed workers) be denied making a living from its visitors? In fact, the Cuban economy thrives from tourism as much as the economy of the Dominican Republic does, and Cuban tourism continues to show growth despite the global recession. Despite all this, the standards of living in Cuba are better than those in the Dominican Republic, according to the Human Development Index [Cuba's HDI; DR's HDI], and added American tourism would most certainly improve those conditions.

Increased numbers of visitors to Cuba may not lead to improved human rights and increased freedom for all Cubans, but neither has the embargo achieved this ultimate goal. Instead, travel restrictions deny Cubans and Americans from making beneficial reciprocal interactions (monetary or otherwise) and from forming long-lasting relationships, from which freedoms can eventually arise.

The challenges of democracy and human rights in Cuba (or in any other nation) shall not be solved with foreign policies, or pressures from foreign governments. They shall always be the problems of its direct citizens, and solved by their own organized efforts. Only people, not governments, can demonstrate their honest support and solidarity with such efforts.

The U.S. embargo towards Cuba has always been an obstacle in creating honest solidarity amongst the people of these two nations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who Wants a Debate?

If you're looking for what will be an exciting and informative debate over U.S. policy towards Cuba, then this might be it.

Today at 11am EST, the people at Wide Angle will host a debate between Phil Peters (of the Cuban Triangle blog) and Mauricio Claver-Clarone (of the Capitol Hill Cubans blog) titled: Should the Cuban Trade Embargo be Lifted? You can listen live at Wide Angle's Blog Talk Radio webpage, and participate if you wish by phone or leaving a question here. The debate will be moderated by Wide Angle correspondent and journalism professor Aaron Brown.

My position on the U.S. embargo has been posted about on several occasions, such as these two. Furthermore, there is wide public support (from the majority of Americans, significant numbers of Cuban-Americans, and prominent dissidents inside Cuba) to end the U.S. embargo (and other related policy measures) towards Cuba. Why should the U.S. remain adamant on maintaining such a policy?

If you missed the debate, I will post the highlights soon.

[The Wide Angle event is also related to the re-broadcast of the documentary "Victory is Your Duty" (aka "Sons of Cuba") which I posted about in 2007.]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hello Again

Hello fellow blog readers, and all others interested in U.S.-Cuba relations (including some other Cuba-related stuff). I've been out of the Blogosphere loop for over a month now, but there's no better way to get back on than with a new post.

But first, I think I should re-introduce the blog for new readers, and then review the goals of this blog: Mambi Watch.

Since my first post in December of 2006, Mambi Watch's mission was to observe South Florida's local news networks (both English and Spanish language broadcasts) and post about how they reported news concerning Cuba. The main motivation at the time was to point out the lack of diverse points of view and research in the stories related to Cuba, and attempt to describe the bias involved.

The current mission of Mambi Watch is not much different. Since 2006, I have posted about several stories and issues related to Cuba, but have extended my comments beyond local news coverage. I comment on the growing Blogosphere, and other media commentary reporting on Cuba. I also comment on many news articles, op-eds, academic reports, conferences or books related to Cuba and U.S. policy towards Cuba. Basically, I'll post about anything Cuba-related that I can get my hands on (that interests me at the moment).

But, what drives me most is the effort to make a sound argument or decision over U.S.-Cuba relations, and do it with civility and respect for others. This is a principle I will always aim to uphold and transmit through this blog. Why? Because as you will see, respect, tolerance, and civility towards others does not shine brightly in Miami when it comes to Cuba.

There's a lot of propaganda coming from both sides, and Mambi Watch will try to reveal the information that some might have left out.

Welcome to Mambi Watch.

[Please feel free to comment on some posts, or send me an e-mail. I will try to respond to everyone, and write freely about anything asked, even on the reasons I blog anonymously.]