Monday, February 23, 2009

Tomorrow at Books and Books

Daniel P. Erikson, author of The Cuba Wars will be appearing at Books and Books in Coral Gables tomorrow, at 6:30pm. The event is co-sponsored by Florida International University's Latin American and Caribbean Center and the Cuban Research Institute.

The book has been well-received by academic experts on Cuba, and I myself found it very informative. Erikson's book is intelligent and prescient. Go see Erikson tomorrow at Books and Books if you can.

Here's excerpts from a book review [PDF]:

"Daniel Erikson opens his book by acknowledging that the U.S.‐Cuban conflict has become so deeply ingrained in the psyches of both nations that making any significant changes in the future will be equivalent to making a train jump off its tracks."

"The 'Next Revolution', as Erikson calls it, will be an organic one in which Cubans will be the central actors and U.S. politicians and lobbyists may be forced to watch from the sidelines. Though this may be a difficult pill for stateside groups to swallow, Erikson implies that they have only themselves to blame, having failed for fifty years to conceive of an effective strategy for dealing with Castro’s Cuba."

Among the many people that Erikson interviewed for his book Marifeli Perez-Stable provided one commentary that I totally agree with. (Other insightful essays from Marifeli Perez-Stable can be found on her website.) Here's an excerpt (pages 134-135):

"Perez-Stable did not foresee immediate change on the horizon, although she predicted that change would come eventually: 'Sooner or later, things in Cuba will start changing, and once that happens, the hard-liners on both sides will just have to run and see how they can keep the polarization going.' But she envisioned a fierce battle to preserve the status quo breaking out in Miami and Havana... 'Miami is moving, and Cuba is as well, except we don't know fully about it yet.' She added,'I think the hard-liners who retain the hard line may find the ground shifting from under them.'"

From what I've been hearing on Radio Mambi, this is already happening. And in Washington, the shift has begun.

Friday, February 13, 2009

When Histories Clash (Part 1)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet yesterday met with Fidel Castro, and she says that he was "active" and "in very good condition." The meeting has sparked outrage on some Spanish-language radio stations and over at the Babalu blog.

Earlier today, I heard a radio host on "La Poderosa" WWFE 670 AM saying that he had more respect for a prostitute than respect for Pres. Bachelet because supposedly a prostitute has less control over the decision she makes, and Pres. Bachelet made the deliberate decision to meet with a dictator. Henry Gomez from Babalu has called Pres. Bachelet "the worst kind of hypocrite because she went to Cuba and knelt at the feet of raul and fidel castro and kissed their rings. She has the unmitigated gall to go there and insult of the memories of more than 10,000 victims of the castro regime." And, Anastasio Blanco (also at Babalu) is calling her life history a fraud because "[i]n supporting dictatorship in Cuba, she not only callously discounts the suffering of her own family and countrymen from years-past, but that of 11 million souls in Cuba as well."

Certainly, the meeting between Pres. Bachelet and Fidel Castro immediately signals a hypocrisy because Bachelet and her family were direct victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, and now she is smiling alongside another dictator. I have not read or heard Pres. Bachelet directly respond to accusations of hypocrisy, but there are facts behind this case that are very easy to understand and explain why this dictator is different from the other.

This is not an attempt to excuse actions, but rather to understand them.

The origins of power for the Pinochet and Castro dictatorships are very different. Augusto Pinochet's ascent to power was financially supported by covert US actions inside Chile from 1963 to 1973. Those are uncontroversial facts based on US government investigations. The reasons were not based on benevolent concern for the people of Chile, they were based on selfish US policy. Recently declassified documents reveal that Henry Kissinger, then-National Security Advisor to US President Richard Nixon, strongly supported destabilization in Chile because he wanted to maintain "the world balance and our own position in it" and avoid "a steady drift toward the modus vivendi approach" with Chile. Once Pinochet and his military allies took power, they sought to immediately eliminate their enemies. In response, the Nixon administration looked the other way. Amid growing rumors of mass graves and firing squads in Chile, Kissinger responded: "I think we should understand our [US] policy--that however unpleasant they act, the [military Pinochet] government is better for us than Allende was."

Democratically-elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973. He also died that same day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Polls Schmolls

Yesterday on Radio Mambi, Ninoska Perez Castellon responded to an article in El Nuevo Herald reporting on the introduction of the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. The bill was introduced last week by Rep. William Delhunt [D-MA] and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans. In sum, the bill "prohibits the U.S. president from regulating or prohibiting travel to or from Cuba by U.S. residents, except in times of war between the two countries or of imminent danger to public health or the safety of U.S. travelers."

Phil Peters, Cuba expert from the Lexington Insitute, has hopes for the bill: "I think the conditions are good for it... The veto threat is gone and Obama has signaled that he is interested in revamping policy. I am not making any predictions, but is it a bill that gets introduced every year and has no chance? No."

Perez Castellon was outraged and described Rep. Delahunt as "anti-American" and "an apologist for the [Cuban] dictatorship." But, it seems that Perez Castellon was even more outraged with the local polling data showing support for Rep. Delahunt's bill. Perez-Castellon cannot accept that fact and has gone into denial.

The El Nuevo Herald article that Perez Castellon was referring to yesterday had an online poll attached to it. Perez Castellon could not believe the results. "Obviously they are not even scientific and lord knows who or how they are being manipulated," said Perez Castellon about the poll. She then began to insinuate a larger conspiracy:

"... in this poll that mysteriously is 75 percent in favor [for American travel]. That if you told me this happened in Arkansas, well OK it was in Arkansas, or in New York or in Boston, who are very liberal... no, no in Miami, right in the heart of the exile community. These are the results because this is consistent with the thesis that the exile community has changed. If the exile community has changed then the three [Cuban-American] members of congress would not have been re-elected." [MP3]

Later in the evening, Telemundo51 covered the same story on the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. They also asked their viewer to participate in an online poll. They asked: Are you in favor of easing travel to Cuba for Americans? From approximately 1500 votes, 82 percent(!) were in favor. The El Nuevo Herald poll had over 2800 votes.

These online results in fact support the scientific polling data presented by the 2008 Cuba/US Transition Poll, conducted by the Institute of Public Opinion Research at Florida International University and supported by the Brookings Institution and the Cuba Study Group. The poll questioned 800 Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, with a 3.6% margin of error.

In that Transition Poll, concerning the question of unrestricted travel to Cuba by Americans, respondents age 18 to 44 favored unrestricted American travel by 75 percent. Respondents who left Cuba from 1980 to 1998 favored the idea by 67 percent, while those who left Cuba after 1998 were in favor by 80 percent.

People who favor unrestricted travel to Cuba sometimes call Radio Mambi. Of course, their comments are immediately denounced and their person insulted. Perez Castellon calls them "stupid" on the air, while loyal callers are allowed to call them "ratas" or rats. [MP3]

Ninoska Perez Castellon does not accept any reliable polling data such as the Transition Poll, which she called "bogus" when it first came out. Nor did she believe a more extensive version when it came out in 2007. But, of course, she supported the results of a recent poll that contradicted the Transition Poll. This one headed by a loyal Republican firm, and called a "joke" by Phil Peters.

I doubt anything would convince Ninoska Perez Castellon, or any Cuban exile militant, that opinions on US policy towards Cuba are drastically changing in Miami. It's called denial.

[Photo by Jeff Chiu/AP, McCain supporters from 2008]

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Militant Prays

The day before Vigilia Mambisa went out to protest Paulito FG at South Beach last week, they held a press conference at the Ayesteran Restaurant in Little Havana. Vigilia Mambisa usually holds these conferences at Ayesteran before their local demonstrations, but rarely does the public have an inside look at how these meetings go.

In the video above you can see that local Spanish-language news stations Univision23 and America TeVe (Olance Noguera) covered the event. But, they are not there to quote the hostile language of Vigilia Mambisa. They are there to listen and then later clean up the message for public broadcast.

The following day, Olance Noguera reports on the protest by Vigilia Mambisa and describes the event as having "great patriotic fervor" where "despite the use of some insults, at least it has been reliable in its manner, its attitude. The commitment from one part of the Cuban community, the hard-line, the intransigent line, to defend a little its patriotic values."

Noguera is correct in his description, but he'll never report that militants regularly use insults (like the ones written on their pickets), threats and personal attacks (like the ones that Hugo Cancio has recently recieved) in order to "defend a little its patriotic values."

In the video above (at 3:18), Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa (a person who is not afraid to physically attack others who freely express themselves), says a prayer before speaking to reporters:

"Lord, thank you. Thank you for gathering us all here today. And thank you for this belief we all share in being very concerned about our homeland. Thank you for the pleas we make that reach you up in heaven and gives us strength, and gives us a path to find out how to destroy the diabolical tyranny that has been murdering our people for the last 50 years."

In his speech to reporters, Saavedra alleges that Cuban artists, like Paulito FG, are at the service of the Cuban government, and are perhaps secret government agents. One wonders if Saavedra prays for their "destruction."

[The video above was shot by Alicia Bencomo, for her website]

What's wrong with Paulito FG?

I've been incredibly busy lately and haven't had the time to post as much as I've been wanting to (and maybe I'll be posting just once a week from now on). So, without further delay, let's jump right in.

There's been a big story reported in the local Spanish-language media which has not been equally covered in English. It's the story of musician Paulito FG and his promoter Hugo Cancio, both of whom have recently been the target of harassment in Miami by Cuban exile militants. This story began back in November and continues today because its development reveals how the local Spanish media acts as an inquisitorial device for exile militancy. While it is becoming more apparent that new Cuban immigrants in Miami do not share a militant political ideology against the Cuban government, the local Spanish media, which for a long time represented voices of Cuban exile militants, now finds itself in conflict with new voices for Cuban reconciliation. Let's review the facts.

This all started on November 13, 2008, when Cuban musician Paulito FG appeared for an interview on a local Spanish-language talk show called "Entre Nos" ("between you and me"). The host, Patricia Arbulu, asked Paulito FG the question: "At some time, has a leader, in this case in Cuba, Fidel Castro, do you feel he has decieved you?" Paulito FG answered:

"Look, its not a question that maybe I can answer with certainty because ..."

Arbulu: "Do you fear what will happen with your children and wife on the island?"

Paulito FG: "No, no. I'm not afraid of absolutely nothing [sic]. What I can tell you, with certainty, is that believing in Fidel, to a certain point, has been for me, let's say, fortunate. We have been, for a long time, people who have believed in 'El Comandante' and have lived peacefully and honorably, fulfilling our artistic dreams."

[Video of interview available here and El Nuevo Herald article here.]

The day after the interview, the local Spanish media was in shock and prepared to get Paulito FG to change his mind or apologize for this comment. Why? Because to say anything positive, or something that can be percieved as positive, about Fidel Castro or the Cuban government in Miami is not fully tolerated. This has to do with how Cuba exile militants have split the debate over Cuba in two: the good and the evil. Militants, for decades, have successfully presented the Cuban government as pure evil, with totally evil intentions and without a single good idea that can be attributed. Thus, to say anything otherwise is immoral and likewise evil. Plus, to not be a militant, or dissident inside Cuba, is to be immoral, confused or an agent of evil, likely to infect others like a plague. The implications of such an ideology, which has been exploited for several political ends, is not compatible with a civil society that attempts to welcome diverse points of view.

Anyway, Paulito FG is a successful Cuban musician who gained his popularity in Cuba and across the globe. The fact that he never became a militant against the Cuban government is enough to offend the Spanish-language media in Miami, especially Cuban exile militant groups. (This also implies that Cuban militants have a very poor view of the majority of Cubans living and working inside Cuba. They are constantly wondering why Cubans don't revolt against their government. Some militants, like Ninoska Perez-Castellon, have even suggested that some Cubans must suffer from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.)

Well, in November, fans of Paulito FG went to La Covacha nightclub (in West Miami) to see him perform. Groups like Vigilia Mambisa were there to protest, and confronted some of the club attendees. Reports indicate that a spitting match had occurred there, as well as the exchange of several insults. [Video here.]

In the next few days, Ninoska Perez Castellon reviewed this incident on her show "Ultima Palabra," along with members of Vigilia Mambisa, where they continued to insult the club attendees. Perez Castellon said [referring to news reports]: "In the three minutes of news that I saw, what occurred there I think was brought directly from the select 'jineterismo' from the Malecon that fell that night; in their behavior, in their responses. I have never seen worst [social] element before." Other guests on the show agreed, and also referred to the club attendees as "chusma" or riff-raff. Furthermore, militants like Vicente Diaz on the show said that Paulito FG and his musical promoters are "operatives" of the Cuban government with a mission to provoke hostilities in Miami.

Soon, Hugo Cancio took over the promotion of Paulito FG, attempting to bring a larger concert to Miami, and was soon targeted by Cuban militants as an agent of the Cuban government. Hugo Cancio hoped to organize a large concert in Hialeah by February, but Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina said that Cancio did not meet specific requirements to do so. Cancio responded saying he was being discriminated against because of the Mayor's personal intervention. Julio Robaina was hailed in local Spanish-language radio. Robaina also made sure to let people know that he thought the concert would be aimed to provoke the Cuban exile community. [Video]

But, Hugo Cancio is determined to promote Paulito FG and any other Cuban musician to play in Miami. His hope is that a reconciliation between Cubans in exile and from the island can occur through music. On January 8, El Nuevo Herald published a letter by Cancio were he made his ambitions clear.

"Reality shows that today there are more things that unite us than those that separate us. Today more of us emigrate [from Cuba] for economic and social reasons than political ones; today more of us advocate for the lifting of the embargo and restrictions on travel, the sending of remittances, dialogue; today there are more of us who finally understand that the rigid attitude that has consumed an entire generation is not correct. And that hate, spite and arrogance need to end here and in Cuba."


"Do you suppose we can fight hate with hate, hostility with hostility, and incomprehension with incomprehension? Let us [Cubans] look at our national identity; our love for Cuba and its people should be unconditional. It is essential we no longer live in the past and forgive."


"I feel that when we stop judging and pointing the finger, when we stop asking ourselves what happened and how, then we can begin to heal our wounds. After all, in one form or another, we have all had in our hands the brush that has drawn our history. I have a new brush in my hand to begin drawing a new history. Is it not about time?"

The ideology of the militant does not accept the idea of a "new" history. Cuban exile militancy is based on the history of its heroes who sacrificed themselves, and loyalty those who continue to suffer a similar burden (voluntary or not). Militants, old and young, are bound by duty to wholeheartedly reject the Cuban government, and any attempts for a reconciliation that does not include defeat against their enemy. By siding with Paulito FG, Hugo Cancio is an enemy (despite his aims to rebuild Cuba and support a free economy).

Last week, before Paulito FG was scheduled to perform at Dolce in South Beach, Hugo Cancio appeared on "A Mano Limpia" to debate Marcell Felipe, director of the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC). Felipe, of course, was not there to debate Cancio's ideas of reconciliation, but instead attacked Cancio.

Felipe: "Let me interrupt here because I think you are going into territory that corresponds to you in reference to the work and situation that you find yourself in." (Felipe is also a lawyer)

Cancio: "And what is that role?"

Felipe: "The role of representing the Cuban government. Let speak plainly. Take off your mask please."

[Video of debate, comments at 8:44. Marcell Felipe and the CLC are also behind the legal defense of Chris Simmons, another person who has engaged in personal attacks in the Spanish media.]

Before performing at South Beach, Paulito FG was questioned by the Spanish-language media (Telemundo51 and America TeVe) about why he made his controversial comments in November. One should wonder why the local news would be so interested in this one opinion by Paulito FG. But, this is not journalism becuase the real aim of the interviews is to change Paulito's mind about the Cuban government, and maybe get him to apologize. This is the media serving the objectives of the Cuban political leadership which happens to be militant.

So, Vigilia Mambisa AGAIN was there to protest Paulito FG's latest show at Miami Beach last week, and they got full coverage. Apparently, its acceptable that wherever Paulito FG shows up he can be protested, or like Vicente Diaz said on "Ultima Palabra," they have to right to "repudiate" Paulito FG. That's pretty much clear. Cuban exile militants feel they have the right to be intolerant of and repudiate certain opinions. They feel that this is democratic. It is not.

Some actions by Cuban exile militants are in direct conflict with people's civil rights. A civil society welcomes and respects diverse opinions, it nurtures civil debate and discussion. It does not act to "repudiate" opinion. Neither should we repudiate opinion if it happens to offend us. There is certainly much pain and suffering in the Cuban exile community, and great injustices committed by the Cuban government, but a civil society should not force anyone to pick a side. Everyone should be entitled to speak as they wish, and pick their own sides in peace. This is freedom.

I'll end this post with a letter from one of the most famous Cuban exile musicians: Gloria Estefan. She made these comments in 1997, referring to a different incident, but they are very relevant.

"As an American, I am frightened to see one of our most basic liberties being trampled on in the march for political gain. As a Cuban American, I am embarrassed that non-Cubans might think that we are all narrow of mind. I cannot imagine how we could explain to the people of Cuba, who have suffered so much oppression, that the very freedoms that they so desperately desire and deserve are being annihilated in their name.

"We who love the cultural and ethnic diversity of Greater Miami must try to close the rifts being created by political muscle between our communities. We must reach out to each other and breed tolerance. At the very least, we should defend each other's right to voice an opinion without fear of reprisal, whatever that opinion might be. It is one of the founding and most basic premises of this country, and it is the reason why my father brought me here at age 2. He wanted me to be raised 'in freedom.' He defended this freedom and paid with his life. I feel that it is my duty to keep safe those things that he fought so hard to offer me.

"I understand the hardships that we from Cuba have experienced as a nation, but for this same reason we must defend everyone's freedom, even if it means personal pain. We cannot allow intolerance to grow. We want a Miami that is beautiful and free for everyone who lives here."

[Here's an interesting story from the BBC (from last year) interviewing Cuban rap artists. One artist says: "Fidel is an idol for me. The problem is not Fidel; the problem is the bosses under him." How would Miami welcome this artist?]

[Photo above of poster for the planned Paulito FG concert in Hialeah, which was later cancelled.]

Monday, February 2, 2009

Another Detour

Some good posts over at Along the Malecon blog by Tracy Eaton. And, of course, plenty of pictures to view.


Also, this past weekend, the people of Spain celebrated and protested the Cuban Revolution's 50th Anniversary. Demonstrators confronted each other peacefully. You can view video here and here.