Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Among the Marchers

When Luis Posada Carriles attended the Miami demonstration last week in solidarity with the Damas de Blanco many news outlets noticed, such as the Miami Herald, Reuters (photo above), local station WPLG Channel 10, and others.

But, BBC Mundo (Luis Fajardo) was able to interview Luis Posada briefly. In the interview Posada said: "I am strongly supporting freedom, and freedom in the United States, and over in Cuba. Soon we shall be free. Viva Cuba libre!"

In the photo above, it seems that Posada also gave an interview to U.S.-funded Radio and TV Marti. I haven't yet found that audio, but I am curious to hear it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gloria's March for the Ladies in White

"Tens of thousands" came out this late afternoon to march in Little Havana, according to The Miami Herald. Other local reports say approximately 100,000.

After this successful demonstration, I'm thinking to myself: Will Gloria Estefan emerge as the newest leader of the next generation of Cuban exiles?

[Video of march among the crowd by Wencesloacruzblanco]
[Video from Famaus marching alongside Gloria Estefan]
[Video from Cubademocratic]
[Video from Univision23, WPLG Channel 10 and The Miami Herald]
[Photo by Getty Images]

Today's Detour

The FP Cuba blog, one of my favorite Cuba blogs, briefly answers some very important questions about Cuba's future.

[Photo (by Getty Images) of Cuban audience at the recent Calle 13 concert in Havana. AP story here.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gloria Supports Ladies in White [Updated]

World-renowned singer Gloria Estefan appeared before the press on Tuesday expressing her strong support for the Ladies in White (wives and relatives of Cuba's political prisoners), and to express her solidarity Estefan is organizing a demonstration on Thursday in Little Havana.

Alfonso Chardy from the Herald notes that "it's not often that a world-class celebrity like singer Gloria Estefan talks about Cuba," and its true. Gloria Estefan has mostly kept herself out of politics, but her personal opinion about the Cuban government has been made clear:

"[Fidel Castro] just needs to go away... I wish he would, that would be the best for the Cuban people, obviously, with no violence and no bloodshed."

Which puts Estefan's ideology along with hardliners (many of whom were present at the press conference), and not exactly with the militants (some of whom were also present at the press conference). But, Gloria Estefan's description of Cuba yesterday [from Herald video] as a country where "the Cuban people ... are enslaved right now" is an exaggeration more likely to come from militants.

But, Cuban exiles of all political stripes are invited to march on Thursday in Little Havana, a demonstration which seems to be part of a larger effort to keep Cuba's political prisoners in the headlines. Since the recent death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the international outrage that followed, some Cuban exile organizations (and other political hard-liners) have made it clear that this is an opportune time to highlight Cuba's human rights record, and justify the use of political sanctions on the island nation.

Of course, the recommendations by human rights organizations to improve the desperate situation of Cuba's political prisoners are totally ignored. But, the message of a "free Cuba" that will be often heard at the march should be clear: a Cuba free from Fidel and Raul Castro. Until then, the U.S. government shouldn't change a thing about its policy towards Cuba. Welcome to Little Havana, everyone.

(Telemundo51, in an obvious promotional stunt, asks viewers if they will attend Thursday's march: 75% say "yes.")


The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald websites will be live-streaming the march tomorrow, and local news stations are planning to provide live coverage during the march which begins at 6pm. It will be interesting to see what effect this maximum coverage will have in Miami and Cuba.

[Gloria Estefan interviewed on Maria Elvira Live!]

[Photo by AP, Ladies in White march in Havana.]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Black Spring 2010

The Ladies in White have been marching this entire week protesting the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents in 2003. The massive political repression seven years ago, now known as the "Black Spring," was (and continues to be) widely condemned across the world, but has left its direct victims and families without recourse, and desperate.

Amnesty International again has called for the release of all Cuban political prisoners, many of whom were arrested in 2003, and to revoke its laws that authorize political repression. But, it should be clear to readers that Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have long ago presented their recommendations on improving the plight of Cuba's political dissidents.

I have addressed them before and will repeat them:

- AI believes "the US embargo has helped to undermine the enjoyment of key civil and political rights in Cuba by fueling a climate in which such fundamental rights as freedom of association, expression and assembly are routinely denied" and that "any tightening of the existing sanctions would only heighten the negative human rights impact of the embargo." Thus, US policy creates "a situation in which perceived external aggression is met with increased internal repression of dissent." [AI 2003 report that recommends the end of the U.S. embargo.]

- HRW believes "the US must end its failed embargo policy. It should shift the goal of its Cuba strategy away from regime change and toward promoting human rights. In particular, it should replace its sweeping bans on travel and trade with Cuba with more effective forms of pressure." [HRW 2009 report that recommends a multilateral policy of smart sanctions.]

It should come to no surprise then that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recently written a letter to the European Union, and not the White House, urging the European countries to pressure Cuba to release political prisoners and enact reforms.

With our current policy the U.S. has no influence over Cuba, and has virtually abandoned the Ladies in White.

[CPJ 2008 Report on "Cuba's Long Black Spring"]
[BBC report on Wednesday's protest (video)]
[Photo of Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata, by Javier Galeano/AP]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

1961: Funds for UM Cuban Exiles

Here's an interesting report from the archives. On March 17, 1961, the Miami News printed this AP story about "a grant of $75,000 to the University of Miami for the next six months, when the government will determine what further action may be required."

According to the article, a government program was approved for "maximum use of scholars and other professionally trained Cubans" already at UM and "developed from instructions issued by [President] Kennedy early last month."

The relevant background here is that the incoming Kennedy administration had already been handed the Eisenhower plans for a covert military operation against Cuba, and President Kennedy recently had given his authorization for increased propaganda and sabotage operations against Cuba. It is most likely that the $75,000 grant for UM was related to the "further actions" that eventually culminated on April 16-17, 1961 [Check Bay of Pigs Chronology and Bohning's The Castro Obsession].

Interestingly, the University of Miami, specifically its Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS), presently continues to receive large federal grants supporting U.S. policy towards Cuba. Since its first $1 million grant in 2002, ICCAS has helped shape a hard-line policy towards Cuba, but most importantly helping formulate the Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which according to Adolfo Franco of USAID "used the [ICCAS] project’s materials extensively in preparing a 400-page report to President George Bush." Policy analyst Lars Schoultz described the report's goal of "hastening Cuba's transition" as an obvious euphemism for overthrowing the Cuban government.

How little things change.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Archives of the Miami News

Back in 2008, Google began a project to digitize old newspaper microfilm with the goal to present historic news articles online. (What a great idea.) And, recently I was happy to see that the archived microfilm of the now-defunct Miami News (first known as The Miami Metropolis) is now increasingly available.

I believe the Palm Beach Post has provided Google with the Miami News microfilm, and its been a virtual treasure to search through. I think I will start posting about some of the more interesting historical articles I find related to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Above is a photo of Fidel Castro above an opinion column titled "We have no right to meddle in Cuba's internal affairs," dated January 18, 1959 and written by William "Bill" Baggs, editor of the Miami News. The article concludes:

"And, as declared in this comment, no one ever gave any citizen of the United States any right to reside over the domestic affairs of Cuba.

"And anyone who assumes the right, a Congressman or anyone else, is a foolish meddler in a nervous world."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beyond Politics II

Cuban athletes again impressed the world at the recent 2010 World Indoor Championships in Athletics at Doha, Qatar.

Cuba had big wins in the men's triple jump (silver and bronze) and the 60m hurdles (gold). Cuba ranked 6th in overall scores among the 27 nations that were awarded medals.

The photo above shows bronze medalist David Oliver (USA) and gold medalist Dayron Robles (Cuba) celebrating after the 60m hurdles competition. Robles finished with the third-fastest time ever recorded for the 60m hurdles (7.34 seconds). Silver medal went to Terrence Trammell (USA) who was just two-hundredths of a second behind Robles.

[Photo by AP]

Human Rights Watch on H.R. 4645

From José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Americas Division to the House Committee on Agriculture:

[Excerpts below]

Human Rights Watch fully supports the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), which would remove obstacles to legal sales of US agricultural commodities to Cuba and abolish restrictions on travel to the island. We believe the proposed legislation, as well as similar legislation in the United States Senate (S. 1089), represents a necessary step towards ending a US policy that has failed for decades to have any impact whatsoever on improving human rights in Cuba.


The death in custody on February 23, 2010, of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike served as a tragic reminder of the abuse suffered by those who dare to criticize the Castro government, and the lack of recourse for victims of repression. In the aftermath of Zapata's tragic death, some have argued that the US embargo policy should not be changed, or that restrictions on trade and travel should be tightened further. Human Rights Watch disagrees.


There is no question: the Cuban government bears full and exclusive responsibility for the abuses it commits. However, so long as the embargo remains in place, the Castro government will continue to manipulate US policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to a US Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully. Ending the travel ban and removing obstacles to agricultural trade are steps in the right direction toward reforming this failed policy, and Congress should act swiftly to pass the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.

[Full letter here]
[Human Rights Watch Report (November, 2009): "New Castro, Same Cuba"]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Postponed Cuba Conference [Updated]

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was very upset this afternoon on Radio Mambi. He called Ninoska Perez-Castellon and appeared on her 3pm show today telling listeners that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce needs to apologize to Cuban exiles in Miami.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) has a Cuba Committee that every year presents a report on trade possibilities with Cuba. Along with a report, it also conducts conferences about Cuba and related issues. Last year's report was a significant departure from earlier hard-line attitudes, and included trade possibilities with an unchanged Cuban government. Trading with Cuba they argued was "potentially perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest economic opportunity that Miami has or will have." This year, the GMCC was planning to hold its Cuba Conference on March 16th. But, they recently had to postpone the date.

Today it seems Radio Mambi and Rep. Diaz-Balart found out about this event. Even though they were slightly satisfied that it was postponed, they found it appalling that such an event would occur at the Freedom Tower, and sponsored by Miami-Dade College. They saw the Cuba Conference as a great insult, and demanded explanations and an apology from the GMCC.

But, one of the scheduled speakers at the conference really bothered Perez-Castellon and Rep. Diaz-Balart: Martin Aragones, representing Sol Melia, the Spanish hotel chain that currently operates 24 resorts in Cuba. They see Sol Melia as an accomplice to human rights violations in Cuba.

Several other speakers were scheduled to appear at the Cuba Conference, including Florida Governor Charlie Christ, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Of course, these speakers got a pass from Radio Mambi because they are likely ignorant of what the Cuba Conference is all about. Sure.

According to the GMCC website, the Cuba Conference was postponed due to "scheduling issues by key presenters" and "will be restructured and held later this year." It will be interesting to see how this conference changes in the future.

--- [Update: 3/3/10] ---

One thing that had me wondering when I first heard about this event was the reason Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was suddenly on Radio Mambi. Was this such an outrageous event that he was compelled to call his favorite AM station in Miami? Or is Radio Mambi at the beck and call to whatever is on the mind of Mario Diaz-Balart?

Rep. Diaz-Balart occasionally appears on Radio Mambi, but usually when he has lots to say, such as on U.S.-Cuba policy or other national issues. He rarely (if ever) appears for short periods to express his outrage over domestic issues in Miami.

But, I recently became aware of possible reasons this Cuba Conference was such a thorn in the side of Mario. It was so obvious.

Miami Dade College, sponsors of the GMCC Cuba Conference, depend on the Diaz-Balarts (and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) for crucial federal grants. For years (ever since Mario Diaz-Balart was Chairman of Florida's Senate Ways and Means Committee in the mid-90s) Eduardo J. Padron, President of Miami Dade College, has depended on Mario, Lincoln and Ileana for government funds.

Just last year, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart presented Padron a $142,500 federal grant for the Kendall campus. It was only one part of federal appropriations obtained for the College, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also obtained a $95,000 grant for the Medical Center Campus. Rep. Lincoln-Diaz-Balart helped too, obtaining a total of $900,000 for both the Hialeah Campus, and the historic Freedom Tower, which Miami Dade College now owns. Of course, there have been other ways these three Florida legislators have helped Eduardo J. Padron.

So, it seems clear why Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart suddenly called Radio Mambi to voice his outrage at the Cuba Conference (sponsored by Miami Dade College). It is also no surprise why he was demanding an explanation from Eduardo J. Padron, whose name was specifically mentioned:

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart believes he has done a favor for Eduardo J. Padron, and therefore Miami Dade College should return the favor and grant him tacit allegiance to his hard-line attitude towards Cuba.

Looks like that federal grant came with baggage.

[Article on U.S.-Cuba trade possibilities]
[Tampa Chamber of Commerce cancels trip to Cuba]
[Photo above of the original title of the Cuba Conference]