Monday, May 16, 2011

Julio Robaina Promises To Be Hard-line

So, I was listening to Radio Mambi this morning (someone's got to do it), and heard something very interesting. A caller identifying himself as a member of an organization of Brigade 2506 veterans called in to publicly support the Mayoral candidacy of Julio Robaina. The caller said that of all the current candidates Robaina has "the toughest stance" on cultural exchanges with Cuba, and Robaina promised to keep that hard-line "wherever he is."

Next Tuesday Miami-Dade county voters will elect a new Mayor in special elections. Among the top candidates stands former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina. Over the past few years, Robaina has certainly presented himself as a hard-liner on U.S.-Cuba policy, such as preventing a Cuban music concert from taking place in Hialeah, to supporting anti-Castro militants like Luis Posada Carriles. These credentials will most likely help Robaina capture plenty of voters next Tuesday. But, the consequences of having another hard-line Mayor in Miami could prevent the city from becoming a culturally diverse center for the arts, perhaps increasing the potential for Cuba-related conflicts like many seen in the past.

The caller this morning to Radio Mambi stated that Julio Robaina made a "promise" to several hard-line/militant Cuba exile organizations to remain "tough" on cultural exchanges with Cuban artists. Unfortunately, I was unable to record the entire comments made by the caller, and therefore the comments are a bit vague, but the last few comments are interesting nonetheless (the "promise" quote is based only on my own recollections of the caller's comments.)


The caller states that Robaina's position on cultural exchanges is the "toughest" of all the current Mayoral candidates. I am assuming that the caller is Manuel L. Malgor, president of the American Missile Crisis Veterans Association, and a leading organizer of a local campaign to stop the Cuban cultural exchanges in Miami [here's an example of their work]. That campaign has successfully resulted in recent anti-cultural exchange resolutions in the City of Miami and Hialeah, yet no specific laws prohibiting Cuban artists from performing in Miami. The caller specifically mentions these resolutions in the audio clip.

The other interesting bit of information provided in the audio reveals that Julio Robaina has adopted a hard-line stance on Cuba because "an uncle of his was jailed for 18 years in Cuba." Most likely, this memory of injustice has influenced Julio Robaina in becoming a hard-liner, just like many other hard-liners with similar stories of injustice. But, it does not justify a government representative adopting political positions that satisfy individual interests that conflict with the interest of the greater community. In this case, encouraging cultural exchanges between Miami and the people of any other region has greater social benefits than maintaining a hard-line position.

But, the hard-line/militant position believes there are no benefits to cultural exchanges with Cuba. According to a copy of a letter sent to the City of Miami, anti-cultural exchange activists believe that "under the pretence of cultural exchange, that same [Cuban] regime is sending communist agents to infiltrate and provoke the Cuban Exile Community." The (sometimes paranoid) belief that the exile community is being targeted for provocation and infiltration is often used, most recently to stop a legitimate public campaign supporting the Cuban Five in Miami. But, Julio Robaina has adopted this position towards cultural exchanges with Cuba, recently telling El Nuevo Herald: "We don't want our people [the Cuban exile community] to continue being instigated with those kind of shows... that is why we are asking Congress to approve a law that will put an end to this matter [of Cuban cultural exchanges]." Last February, Robaina (then-Mayor of Hialeah) and the Hialeah City Council approved a resolution "urging the members of Congress to introduce legislation opposing cultural exchanges between Cuba and the United States so long as the Cuban government continues its violation of basic freedoms and human rights." [From City Council Agenda - February 8, 2011]

Once again, when it comes to Cuba, hard-liners and militants do as they please while continuing to ignore what the rest of the population think. There is no evidence of a majority of Miami residents opposing cultural exchanges with Cuba.

Back in 2000, Florida International University's Cuba poll found that 54.7% of Cubans in Miami supported Cuban artists performing locally, while 45.3% opposed (85.4% of all Miami residents supported these cultural exchanges). A more recent poll of Cuban-Americans in 2009 [PDF] showed that 52% favored cultural exchanges versus 32% opposed.

So, you might be perplexed about why Robaina is ignoring these majority opinions. Well, aside from Robaina's personal reasons concerning his uncle, Robaina is just being loyal to small but well-organized anti-Castro organizations that consistently vote come election day. The same loyalty helped James Cason win the Coral Gables mayoral election recently (Cason had been campaigning discreetly among Cuban exiles since 2009). Yet, despite all the criticism Cuban exile hard-liners and militants get from the local community, when election day arrives they know how to get their voters out.

But, in the end, democracy is only rhetoric, while elitism seems to rule in Miami.

- [Miami New Times - Julio Robaina campaign gave $350 to Luis Posada Carriles' defense fund.]
- [Julio Robaina accepts award from a local hard-line organization, Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart attending.]

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Controversy Over Death of Juan Wilfredo Soto [Updated]

Cuban dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (left) was buried this Sunday, but there is controversy over what lead to his death. Some believe it was the result after being "savagely beaten" by Cuban state security agents, while others attribute his death to unrelated health complications that occurred after his arrest.

Juan Wilfredo was arrested during a protest last Thursday in Santa Clara where, according to some witnesses, he was beaten by security agents. One witness, dissident Guillermo Fariñas, told Radio/TV Marti that Juan Wilfredo was "savagely beaten" while in handcuffs. Supposedly, Juan Wilfredo was then taken to a hospital where he stayed until his death Sunday morning. But, events that happened after his arrest have produced conflicting reports.

According to this report on the El Nuevo Herald website, but attributed to an AFP copy, Juan Wilfredo "was taken by the [state security] agents" to the hospital after his arrest. The original AFP story doesn't include this specific information about how Juan Wilfredo arrived at the hospital. Other news outlets (such as CNN and BBC) have also assumed that Juan Wilfredo was so badly beaten that he was sent to the hospital after the protest due to injuries, and therefore have not reported that Juan Wilfredo was actually taken to the hospital for other reasons.

According this Radio/TV Marti report, Juan Wilfredo was arrested by state agents on Thursday and then "taken home instead of being taken to a jail cell." That information comes from Cuban dissident Idania Yanez Contreras. But, Idania is much more specific in her audio comments linked to the report. She says that Juan Wilfredo was arrested, taken to the hospital by the police because of his already known poor health, and then released home.

Marc Frank for Reuters similarly reports that Juan Wilfredo "was quickly released [by state security agents] but then checked into the Arnaldo Milian Hospital," but Frank doesn't specify by whom. According to Idania, after being taken home Juan Wilfredo's family, concerned over his worsening health, checked him into the hospital on Saturday. Juan Wilfredo was complaining of pain around his kidneys.

Several reports have mentioned Juan Wilfredo's already poor health, stricken with diabetes and hypertension, but Radio/TV Marti also includes "renal insufficiency" among his ailments. According to Marc Frank, "various bloggers close to the government quoted Dr. Ruben Aneiro Medina of the hospital as saying [Juan Wilfredo] Soto died of pancreatitis and kidney failure and there were no signs of physical violence."

But, Radio/TV Marti insists that Juan Wilfredo was a "victim of respiratory failure, caused by the beating ... of police agents." And, several Cuban dissidents have taken a similar position in blaming the Cuban security agents, or the Castro's themselves.

In local news, Telemundo51 has produced a report that constructs a more sinister plot against Juan Wilfredo Soto. According to Telemundo, Juan Wilfredo was already targeted by the Cuban government since July of last year (!) when he was threatened by a security agent who told him: "look out for the consequences that can happen to you." The threat came after Juan Wilfredo showed his solidarity with another Cuban dissident on a hunger strike.

At the conclusion of the Telemundo report, online comments posted on their website are reproduced for viewers alleging that the Cuban government was behind the death of Juan Wilfredo Soto. Undoubtedly, this conspiratorial allegation of murder will be repeated by the most militant in Miami for the next few days.

[Also note that no reports so far have interviewed the family of Juan Wilfredo Soto, and instead have relied on Cuban dissidents.]

- [UPDATE: The family of Juan Wilfredo Soto said that when they took him to the hospital he never mentioned the police beating, nor show signs of having been beaten.]

- [Amnesty International: "The Cuban authorities need to immediately establish an independent inquiry into the causes of Juan Wilfredo Soto's death. If he ultimately died as a result of a police beating in Park Vidal, those responsible must face justice."]