Friday, October 28, 2011

"The Murder of Laura Pollán" (Part 3)

Yesterday, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart appeared on Radio Mambi with Ninoska Perez-Castellon. He was there to talk about the recent passage of H.R. 674, but also made comments about the death of Laura Pollán. Rep. Diaz-Balart said that despite not having any evidence to prove that Pollán was murdered by the Cuban government, he still believed that she was. Lately, this has been the position of many in Miami. And, it makes for good propaganda*.

Just like Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Nancy Perez Crespo, radio show host on WWFE 670AM, made the same claim. Earlier this week on her 2pm show, Perez Crespo (photo above, lower right) acknowledged that she had no hard facts to prove that Laura Pollán was murdered, and had to rely on certain assumptions. She began to explain to listeners how Cuba is a closed society with a government-controlled press which makes it hard to find reliable and credible sources. And, she added that sometimes exiles in Miami have to rely on anonymous sources for news in order to protect those sources from government retaliation. What a bad excuse.

First, in the case of Laura Pollán, all sources of information concerning her death and allegations of dissidents being injected with a toxic substances have come from named sources. There are no anonymous sources in this case. Second, the use of anonymous sources by exiles in Miami is rare. Over the past few years, independent news sources from Cuba have become part of our online world, where it is very hard to keep anonymity for long (just ask me).

Nevertheless, despite the lack of evidence and neglect for the burden of proof, many still insist that Laura Pollán was murdered. If you attended last Friday's act of remembrance for Laura Pollán in Coral Gables you heard repeated claims (video) that Pollán was "killed" (by Sylvia Iriondo, President of M.A.R por Cuba), or "strangled by a murderous hand" (by Cary Roque, ex-political prisoner), or chanting of "murderers." Also this week, Rep. David Rivera (FL-25) of South Florida spoke about the "ruthless murder by the Castro dictatorship" of Laura Pollán on the House floor (video). (He got the date wrong saying "last Friday," but facts seem trivial at this point.)

So why do hard-liners persist on this claim?

After decades insisting (and investing into the narrative) that the Cuban government is a ruthless and evil force on the planet, after blaming tragic acts solely on the Cuban government, after years and years of propaganda, what explanation is one likely to accept? But, more precisely, what explanation is acceptable in the exile community? One that is simple and identifies the evil perpetrator, or a more complicated one that describes the complexity of a half-century conflict? For someone who identifies oneself as an "exile," there seems to be little room for a complicated story about why one has struggled for so many years "in exile."

[Video of Sylvia Iriondo's speech at act of remembrance for Laura Pollán in Coral Gables.]
[*Definition and characteristics of propaganda are described by Jay Black.]

[Part One]
[Part Two]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Murder of Laura Pollán" (Part 2)

Because Laura Pollán's death was reported late Friday evening (some believing deliberately so), it wasn't until Monday when Pollán's murder theory was presented. Roberto Rodriguez Tejera and Helen Aguirre Ferre probably heard Armando Perez Roura (Univision Radio colleague) on Radio Mambi Saturday make the bold and baseless claim that Laura Pollán was murdered, and surely they wanted to make the same claim. But, Rodriguez and Ferre are not militants like Perez Roura, and neither is their audience on WQBA 1140AM, so they knew that they had to present some kind of evidence.


"... a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis."

So, on Monday at 4pm on WQBA the show "Prohibido Callarse" (Silence is Prohibited) started by announcing a "special program" examining the death of Laura Pollán (You can listen to an excerpt here courtesy of Rodriguez and Ferre had three guests from Cuba on the phone: Carlos Rios Otero (independent journalist for Cubanet), Mercedes Fresneda Castillo (dissident), and Sara Martha Fonseca Quevedo (dissident). Rios Otero mainly spoke as a witness to dissident accounts of ailments following confrontations with Cuban officials during political demonstrations. Both female dissidents, who march alongside the Ladies in White, gave personal testimony to ailments they suffered after confrontations with Cuban officials. Both claimed that during a past confrontation they felt a prick or pierce on their body which they attributed to a toxic injection.

Both ladies also mentioned 2 other female dissidents who have described a variety of ailments following a pricking sensation during past demonstrations: Caridad Caballero Batista and Mayra Morejon Hernandez. Also, Rios Otero reported that dissident Rita Maria Montes de Oca was currently hospitalized due to ailments suffered following a possible toxic injection.

After these testimonies, without any kind of scrutiny or interrogation of them, Roberto Rodriguez Tejera claims "proof" of toxic injections against dissidents by Cuban officials, and therefore "everything seems to indicate" that Laura Pollán was also the victim of a toxic injection before her sudden death.


Unfortunately, the whole show was an example of journalistic laziness, manipulation, and lack of ethics. Rodriguez and Ferre's story is actually borrowed (without credit) from a blogger named Angelica Mora. During the time Laura Pollán was hospitalized with a serious respiratory illness, and right before her death, Mora began a two-part post [1 and 2] provoking the possibility that Pollán was secretly injected with a virus. Carlos Rios Otero, Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, Sara Martha Fonseca, Rita Maria Montes de Oca and Mayra Morejon Hernandez all appear in Mora's story.

Also the supposed pricking and ailment stories may be months or years old. Rodriguez or Ferre commit a serious lapse of journalistic ethics by not establishing a timeline of events. In the Univision clip, Mercedes Fresneda mentions getting a blood test after suffering some ailments, but never mentions the date. According to this recently uploaded interview, Mayra Morejon Hernandez was with Fresneda when she claimed to be pricked and her blood tested. It was in 2009. Sara Martha Fonseca mentions she was injected during a march with the Ladies in White, but she's not asked for a date. Fonseca has been marching with the Ladies in White as far back as March 2010 (check bio here).

Carlos Rios Otero is mentioned in the Angelica Mora story because last month he wrote a story called "Toxic Injections" for Cubanet. In the story, Otero writes that "according to reports... many dissidents [during political repression by Cuban officials] have been given injections that have provoked toxic reactions." The reactions are made up of various forms of physical ailments. But, no names of dissidents are given, and no other sources are provided, just "reports" and speculation. On WQBA Otero claimed to have conducted various interviews with dissidents, and the testimony was mostly the same: various ailments followed by alleged injections during a protest. Also, the various ailments suffered are always different from the other, and never the same symptoms.

Finally, the only testimony that seems strongest comes from Mercedes Fresneda. She claims that she received a blood test (in 2009) in response to her ailments and alleged injection. The results of the test showed a high level of lead in her blood. When Roberto Rodriguez Tejera heard this testimony he gasped.

Fortunately, next week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week and it should provide the team at WQBA and the show "Prohibido Callarse" (looking at you Roberto and Helen) an opportunity to learn more about lead poisoning, and give us a better clue about why Mercedes Fresneda may have high levels of lead in her body.

According to some basic information about lead poisoning (a "major environmental health problem" in the US), adults are vulnerable to this hazard for various reasons, such as exposure to dust from common renovation activities, especially on home structures older than 1978.

So, quite simply, Rodriguez and Ferre may have highly exaggerated their claims of "proof." And, their theory where "everything seems to indicate" that Pollán was injected by a toxic substance is still merely an allegation no different than Armando Perez Roura's.

Unfortunately for Miami, the (propaganda) damage seems to have been done.

[*Excellent link about confirmation bias.]

[Part One]
[Part Three]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The Murder of Laura Pollán" (Part 1)

If you've been listening to Spanish-language radio in Miami lately, then you might be thinking that Laura Pollán was secretly murdered by the Cuban government. Local Spanish media outlets have waged a strong campaign to convince listeners that this conspiracy is true. But, upon review, the little (if any) facts produced are not convincing. Nevertheless, it seems hard-liners won't be bothered by facts at this point and are only looking for more self-confirmation of who the real murderous enemy is: the Cuban government.

For the past few days, local Spanish news outlets have been making the case that Laura Pollán was indeed infected/murdered by some form of lethal (or near lethal) injection made through a needle, scratch or bite. The Cuban government's motive of course was that Pollán was developing into a powerful enemy of the state. And, since the assumption in Miami is that the Cuban government is only motivated by evil intentions, then it seems logical that Pollán was most likely murdered.


As I mentioned in my previous post, the allegation that Laura Pollán was infected with a near lethal virus was being spread by local Spanish news stations since last week. The sources of those allegations were mainly coming from Cuban exiles in Miami. Operating on the assumption of communism's unrelenting evil, the only explanation for Pollán's sudden illness must've been a conspiracy from the common enemy: the Cuban government.

After Pollán's death, it all made more sense allegedly. The gut reaction was that she was "murdered." At least that's how Radio Mambi's Armando Perez Roura (upper right photo above) put it the day after the tragic news broke. But Perez Roura, like other Cuban exile militants, have a war mindset. That is, when it comes to Cuba, they are more likely to view strange and difficult events as part of the battle against the Cuban government. They may have good reasons to be cautious, but looking for facts and evidence are not the priority. Instead, a gut instinct to confront the known enemy is activated.

Before you knew it, the murder allegation soon developed into a theory. Local Spanish radio station WQBA 1140AM (owned by Univision Radio) began their Monday broadcast with a "special program" aimed to convince listeners that Pollán was most likely murdered. Roberto Rodriguez Tejera (former news director of Radio Marti, left on large photo above) and Helen Aguirre Ferre (opinion page editor of Diario Las Americas, right on large photo above), hosts of the 4pm show "Prohibido Callarse" (Silence is Prohibited), introduced witnesses, testimonies, conjectures and coincidences. At the end of the show, they were convinced that no other alternative explanation existed for Laura Pollán's death.

But, their supposedly strongest piece of evidence, an official blood test, doesn't withstand a simple test of proof. Yet, inside Miami's Cuban exile community it is good propaganda.

[Part Two]
[Part Three]

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Laura Pollán (1948 - 2011)

Tragic news came from Cuba yesterday with the announcement that Ladies in White leader Laura Pollán died in a Havana hospital from cardiac arrest. Since October 7 Pollán was being treated at the Calixto Garcia hospital for a serious respiratory illness.

According to interviews by BBC Mundo reporter Fernando Ravsberg, Pollán contracted the Human respiratory syncytial virus (RVS). Recent reports indicate that Pollán's family has cremated her body, while her husband Hector Maseda thanked the doctors who "tried to save my wife's life until the last minute." Berta Soler, another member of the Ladies in White, also made positive comments about the medical treatment Pollán received saying the doctors "are fulfilling their oath to save lives, without concern over ideology."

Meanwhile in Miami, Radio Mambi's Armando Perez Roura (programming director) announced "the murder of Laura Pollán" at the top of today's noon news program "El Grande del Mediodia." Perez Roura, who traditionally introduces the top news stories, made the baseless claim which seems to be resonating inside the Cuban exile community.

(For days now local Spanish news has been spreading the allegation that Laura Pollán may have been deliberately infected with RVS in a Cuban government conspiracy. Fausto Malave for Telemundo51 spread the allegation using interviews with Silvia Iriondo from M.A.R. por Cuba and Janisset Rivero from Directorio Democratico Cubano. Rolando Napoles from AmericaTeVe spread the allegation using interviews with Dr. Julio Cesar Alfonso of local organization Solidaridad Sin Fronteras.)

Last night, upon hearing the tragic news, militant group Vigilia Mambisa made their way to Little Havana's Versailles restaurant where they made a small demonstration. But, they were mainly there to make the 11pm news, where local news stations instinctively flock to when Cuba is the headline. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knew the drill, so there she was at Versailles along with Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of another Cuban dissident who last year died in a Cuban hospital. Telemundo51 reported live from Versailles as the crowd (except Rep. Ros-Lehtinen) chanted "murderers" and "terrorists."

Telemundo51 reporter Adriana Delgado includes interviews with the members of Vigilia Mambisa alleging that Laura Pollán's death was part of a Cuban government conspiracy. Delgado also interviewed Reina Luisa Tamayo who likewise alleges that Pollán was murdered, just like she alleges her son Orlando Zapata Tamayo was murdered. Delgado then interviewed Rep. Ros-Lehtinen who immediately went into how she was "concerned" over the Obama administration's Cuba policy, clearly exploiting this tragic event for political purposes.

None of this surprises me. The most hard-line members of the Cuban exile community never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a tragic (or near tragic) event coming from Cuba. And, that's because they know well that a hard-line position can only be maintained through shocking examples like Pollán's death. Even better if the death or serious injury is linked to the Cuban government. And, when it comes to Cuba, the local news easily makes itself available to the hard-line.

Don't expect to hear in Miami the positive descriptions made by Pollán's husband, or Berta Soler quoted above concerning the treatment Pollán received. It just doesn't fit the Miami narrative against Cuba.

[Along the Malecon blog has video of Laura Pollán before her illness.]