Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Hand of Fidel

Last week, the trial of Luis Posada Carriles began and I was not surprised to read about how Posada's lawyers wanted to turn the trial around against the Cuban government. I found it typical because one thing I've noticed from my focus on militants and hard-liners in Miami is the constant blaming of the Cuban government for involvement in almost all things that go wrong. It's something that they themselves joke about, but also something that seriously borders on paranoia. In the world of militancy and the hard-line, one is naturally in constant vigilance against the enemy's possible interference in all matters. In the case of Miami, the hand of Fidel Castro and the Cuban government is constantly plotting against Cuban exiles. And, the Posada trial is yet another example of "The Hand of Fidel."

Last week, Arturo Hernandez (above), one of Posada's lawyers, demanded he be allowed to argue in court about "the Cuban government's motive to fabricate" evidence against Posada. (Some evidence collected inside Cuba will be presented in court.) Hernandez argued that this motive originates from the fact that "[i]n a long life of 83 years, [Posada] has made some very powerful enemies. None more powerful than Fidel Castro and his regime." The demand was soon dismissed by the judge as irrelevant. And, prosecutors agreed saying: "This is not the History Channel . . . The regime in Cuba is not the defendant in this case... This is not for The Miami Herald.'' (Ouch.)

[Reality is the FBI alone has gathered enough evidence to criminally charge Posada. Evidence collected from Cuba represents cooperation from two countries that should have better bi-lateral relations.]

No doubt Posada's defense was upset by the decision, but so was Alberto de la Cruz at the Babalu blog. De la Cruz called the trial a "kangaroo court trial" where the judge "has in effect banned the truth from the trial" and the prosecution has "partner[ed] up with a brutal and murderous totalitarian regime." And, no one would have noticed this gross and outrageous blunder of a post from the boys at Babalu if the Miami Herald had not published it this past Sunday.

It seems that the Miami Herald did eventually live up to the expectations of the prosecution at the Posada trial. And there's more, because the Herald managed to squeeze the Babalu commentary (which had the highest word count) in between two other comments by distinguished scholars (Julia Sweig and Peter Kornbluh) and a renowned journalist (Stephen Kinzer). Which means that, despite all the pathetic criticism the Herald gets from Babalu, the Herald has no problems disguising that obscene blog blundering as serious commentary.

That's Miami for you. Some still see Luis Posada Carriles as a hero that fought against modern-day evil, and thus worthy of some kind of defense. But, Posada's violent life and corporal sacrifice also represent something greater: self-confirming evidence proving the existence of the "Hand of Fidel," which is a threat to Cuban exiles and can only be fought with equal intensity.

- Video above of Arturo Hernandez (from local program "A Mano Limpia"), in his own words (@3:35):

"The important thing is that there can be no truthful testimony while those individuals [in Cuba] are in the hands of a dictatorship like that of Fidel Castro and Raul Castro. In other words, its not a question of whether philosophically thinking a person who cooperates is gonna tell the truth or not. No. There is no truth there [in Cuba]. The only thing that exists there is the will of the dictator."

[Related articles]
- Cuban Exile on Trial by Julia Sweig and Peter Kornbluh
- Trial of the Terrorist Who Almost Killed Me by Stephen Kinzer

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Defense of the Cuban Five [Updated Links]

It was the little billboard that couldn't. It survived only a day until enough people threatened to boycott the owners arguing that it was an offense to the community. Suddenly it was gone. I myself was surprised that this billboard was actually up in Miami, knowing well that this city, when it comes to news about Cuba, lives in an almost impenetrable bubble. You can't deny it. The very mention of the Cuban Five in Miami evokes comparisons to the worst criminals, like Hitler or Al-Qaeda. The result of course is a city that dares not confront such taboo subjects, and its citizens, without much choice, acquiesce to a propaganda message repeated in the local media.

But, Mambi Watch believes people have the right to choose their political causes, and be given the right to defend their causes in public and in the media. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Cuban Five, this right is hardly observed.


The story of the billboard, dubbed the "Billboard of Discord" by America TeVe show "A Mano Limpia," is simple to summarize: A local Miami group called Alianza Martiana (Marti Alliance) rented space on a billboard to promote the cause of the Cuban Five. They paid a month's rent to Clear Channel Outdoors and the company placed the ad on a billboard near the Alianza Martiana offices on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon it was gone because members of Vigilia Mambisa threatened to boycott the property owners where the billboard is located. The property owners, fearing a boycott from several other Cuban exile organizations called Clear Channel Outdoors and asked for the ad's removal. According to reports, the removal was negotiated just a few hours after the complaint. An official from Clear Channel responded publicly that "it was determined the material does not fit with our norms [of processing], and has been removed." The property owners fully supported the decision.

But, the billboard incident is just the tip of the iceberg. A review of how this story was reported in the media reveals how difficult it is in general to promote the cause of the Cuban Five, while the cause AGAINST the Cuban Five is constantly promoted.

Locally, none of the English-language news stations gave the billboard story any attention, which is typical. Local news in English concerning Cuba is far less frequent than in Spanish media, as if they avoid it. Univision23 and AmericaTeVe, on the other hand, kept audiences well updated on the "Billboard of Discord." But, neither one presented the cause of the Cuba Five, meaning they didn't even mention the main reasons why their supporters believe they should be free. In other words, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to silence the cause of the Cuban Five. But, in every report there was time given to speakers opposed to the Cuba Five, be it someone calling them assassins or convicted criminals. Not very balanced.


Speaking on behalf of Alianza Martiana was Max Lesnik who was given time on both Univision23 and AmericaTeVe to explain why his organization placed the Cuban Five ad (and to respond to its removal), but not to elaborate on the cause to free the Cuba Five. On Wednesday, Lesnik appeared on AmericaTeVe's 8pm talk program "A Mano Limpia" to speak at length about the billboard incident. The program began with an interview with Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa, to explain how he negotiated the removal of the Cuban Five ad. Lesnik then appeared on the show alongside an opponent of the Cuban Five, but the discussion focused on the ad's offense to the community (because the Cuban Five are undoubtedly assassins), and soon framed as Miami-vs-Cuba (asking Lesnik to help place a billboard in Cuba favoring a cause by Cuban exiles). The details over the cause supporting the Cuban Five were ignored.

Max Lesnik then appeared Thursday on the radio on WQBA (1140AM) with Bernadette Pardo. In this interview, again Lesnick had to explain the reasons behind the ad, but within the first few minutes the interview took a predictable turn: the Cuban Five were compared to Osama bin Laden. Obviously, the discussion is framed as an issue of respect towards the community, and not about the cause of the Cuban Five. The details of the case were never discussed.


So, do the Cuban Five ever get a break? Not in Miami. Last September, several American actors and artists sent a letter to President Obama requesting a review of the case of the Cuban Five. Soon, the letter was also signed by non-American artists and actors, such as Colombian singer Juanes. The local Spanish media jumped at the chance to attack Juanes.

The letter campaign was ill-described as a "political campaign of the Cuban government" by AmericaTeVe reporter Juan Manuel Cao. The news reporting was an obvious attempt to cast doubt on Juanes' honest intentions concerning his Peace concert in Cuba the previous year, while reporter Gina Romero wonders why Juanes hasn't signed a letter in favor of Cuban political prisoners. (Not surprisingly Capitol Hill Cubans had the same concern.)

The AmericaTeVe program "A Mano Limpia" followed the same attack on Juanes with a full program, including Gina Romero and other opponents of the Cuban Five. And, never a mention of the details over the cause of the Cuban Five.

Finally, when Amnesty International (AI) came out in support of the Cuban Five with a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the same thing happened. Aside from the usual silence from the local media, America TeVe program "A Mano Limpia" came out ready to challenge the AI letter. Host Oscar Haza gathered three local attorneys to argue against the Cuban Five and the AI letter which Haza described as part of a "fierce international campaign" by the Cuban government.


If any honest person takes the time to review the case of the Cuban Five, just like Amnesty International did, they may reach the conclusion that this MIGHT be a case of injustice. Or perhaps not. But, they should be given that chance to decide for themselves.

The cause of the Cuban Five has not been given fair treatment in Miami (or no treatment at all), and therefore people have not been given the opportunity to form an opinion over the case. In addition, some in Miami feel that even discussing the subject of the Cuban Five is an attack against the community. This is nothing but paranoia.

The case of the Cuban Five is a legitimate political cause that has been supported by many people internationally, and deserves to be defended. Even if you do not totally agree with it (like myself because I oppose espionage on principle), it does have the right to be heard. Especially in the media which is responsible for giving everyone with a cause a voice.

Media Sources Reviewed:
- Univision23 news reports
- America Teve news report 1 and 2
- Radio Mambi news report
- El Nuevo Herald report
- Cafe Fuerte report

Additional Resources supporting the Cuban Five:
- Amnesty International's "The Case of the Cuban Five" (October 2010)
- National Committee to Free the Cuban Five
- International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban Five
- Sting of the Wasp: The Cuban Five Connection

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"The Price of Blood"

The video above features a speech by Luis Conte Aguero, President of the Cuban Orthodox People's Party in Miami, visiting members of the Junta Patriotica Cubana (JPC) in Pomona, California on October 9, 2010.

Luis Conte Aguero, is an eloquent speaker, a local television show host and a militant. Even though he is asking the JPC to support the non-violent civil disobedience of Cuban dissidents, he can't help but also emphasize the important of "the price of blood."

[Excerpt beginning at 8:35]

"Pacifism... Pacifist enemy, very well. Whoever wants that practice, its convenient... But, complimentary to it we cannot renounce the strategy of war... Today, no one says war, as if war was unnecessary. War is an instrument of history. And, it can be constructive. And, no one can accuse me of being cruel, or much less satanic. No. But, one has to pay the price of blood. [Pay with] the blood of the enemy and one's own if you want to truly cultivate the tree of liberty so that it grows and blossoms."

[Rep. David Rivera and Florida State Rep. Erik Fresen are both members of the Cuban Orthodox People's Party.]

Why Support Posada?

So, maybe some of you might be baffled why Luis Posada Carriles, a person with such a violent history, gets so much support around Miami. Every supporter may have their own personal reason, but the general explanation seems to be that Posada is a symbolic hero of "la causa" (the collective exile mission to defeat the Castro government by any means). But, support for Posada should not be confused with support for violence (despite some Cuban exile leaders who continue to believe in the effective use of violence). Rather, aside from the militant politics he promotes, Posada also represents a politics of force without democracy: this is the hard-line.

I recently posted some reasons why the hard-line is a non-democratic idea, and it is this contempt for the public that it shares with militancy. Those who feel that violence is an effective use of force generally have no regard for public opinion. I'll present some examples. The photo above shows a gathering of Cuban exile groups at the Presidio Politico Historico Cubano, a center in Little Havana that documents past and current abuse of political prisoners inside Cuba. This gathering took place on October 2006 [PDF, Page 14] to protest the detention of Luis Posada Carriles while he awaited criminal immigration charges.

In the photo is Rodolfo Frometa (center, black beard), leader of the recently defunct group F4 Commandos (the website is down and the office has been put for rent). Frometa made it very clear to listeners of Radio Mambi that violence was necessary to bring change to Cuba. Frometa, of course, rarely appeared before any other media outlets in Miami because of the anticipated public rejection. Frometa, without the F4 Commandos, was last seen publicly among the marchers at last year's march supporting the (non-violent) Ladies in White in Little Havana.

Also, in the photo is Miguel Saavedra (center, red tie), leader of Vigilia Mambisa. Back in 2007, Saavedra and other members of Vigilia Mambisa physically attacked a small group of protesters in Little Havana after the small group held up a sign calling Luis Posada Carriles a terrorist. Saavedra is also a member of the militant group Unidad Cubana, and in 2009 was found to be an unpopular figure after a poll found a majority of Cubans (74%) in Miami opposed his protests.

Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez (center, blue shirt), secretary general of Alpha 66, also appears in the photo. Diaz was arrested in 1968 inside Cuba while attempting to "set up a base" and "infiltrate guerrillas." Diaz was released in 1991 after serving 22 years of a 40-year sentence. Alpha 66 long ago gave up its violent campaign, but now advocates the use of "sabotage" inside Cuba by dissidents. (I once heard him suggest on Radio Mambi the burning of Cuban government vehicles.)

Enrique Encinosa (front, dark glasses), also a strong defender of Posada's and news editor at Radio Mambi, was featured in a documentary defending the bombing campaign of Cuban hotels. Encinosa says: "I personally think its an acceptable method. Its a way of damaging the tourist economy. The message that one tries to get across is that Cuba is not a healthy place for tourists. So, if Cuba is not a healthy place for tourist because there's a few windows being blown out of hotels, that's fine."

The individuals and groups above represent a political idea which includes a strong disdain for the public. They don't care if you detest their use of force because for many years they have ignored the public and done as they pleased. Not just because of "la causa," but also because the public (or their representatives) never really tried to stop them. And, neither were any alternatives considered.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Important links:
- Summary of Luis Posada Case by Peter Kornbluh and relevant documents.
- Center for Democracy in the Americas press conference on Posada Case.
- The Posada Files by Ann Louise Bardach

Posada's Supporters in Miami

Luis Posada Carriles' trial over criminal immigration charges started today. Laura Wides-Munoz for the AP provides an interesting report and interview with Posada revealing deep concern at the possibility of being jailed. "If I go to jail, my life ends in jail," says Posada.

Posada was arrested by U.S. immigration officials back in May 2005. It wasn't until January 2007 that Posada was charged with making false statements on his naturalization application and interview. But, in May 2007 Posada was exonerated of these charges because the federal judge believed Posada was the victim of entrapment during the naturalization process. That ruling was later overturned in August of 2008 by a federal appeals court, and after much delay Posada is finally back in court.

[Check a list of important court documents at the Along the Malecon blog.]

Since his release in 2007, Posada has been very active throughout Miami. The main mission of course was to collect funds for his legal expenses, thus public appearances seemed obligatory. Through the years, Posada has met with several important leaders in the Cuba exile community as shown in the collection of photos above.

- Rep. David Rivera (top left) - Newly elected, Rep. Rivera showed his support for Luis Posada Carriles on December 30, 2010 at a public solidarity event [video] in front of the Versailles Restaurant. Rep. Rivera is a member of the hardline/militant organization called the Cuban Orthodox People's Party (Partido del Pueblo Cubano Ortodoxo) which is headed by Cuban exile militant Luis Conte Aguero. Conte Aguero was the main speaker at the Posada solidarity event, and is a fervent Posada supporter. Rep. Rivera showed up at the event, not just to regurgitate platitudes, but to show his solidarity with Cuba exile militancy. Also at the event were Antonio Esquivel, president of the Cuban exile organization Junta Patriotica Cubana, representing the organization's support for Posada and Nelis Rojas Morales, one of the main organizers of Posada's legal fund.

- Mayor Julio Robaina (bottom left) - Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina allowed the City of Hialeah to present artwork by Luis Posada Carriles at the Walker Community Center on November 15, 2007 (check this schedule). In the photo, Posada stands in front of the Mayor with human rights activist Armando Valladares in the back. The photo was taken during an exhibition of Valladares' artwork on September 14, 2007. (Photos of both events can be found on the City of Hialeah website here.) Mayor Robaina is hoping to become the next Mayor of Miami-Dade County in 2012.

Others in the photo include, Sylvia Iriondo (bottom middle) and Bertha Antúnez Pernet (top right). Both women work prominently with the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a hard-line human rights organization in Miami that has received money from USAID. Both Iriondo and Antúnez travel overseas to promote a hard-line policy towards Cuba while documenting the political repression inside the island. Antunez is also the sister of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, Cuban dissident whose recorded editorials now appear regularly on Radio Mambi.

Finally, there's Alex Hanna (bottom right), the traffic ticket attorney whose face appears on many billboards and bus benches around Miami. In the photo above he appears next to Posada receiving artwork by Posada during a meeting of the Cuban Orthodox People's Party where Hanna is also a member. Hanna seems to be a very successful attorney who also sponsors many programs on local station America TeVe, which regularly features hard-liners in Miami.

The photos above, mostly collected from the archives of Libre magazine, while only a few, represent the strong support for Posada in Miami. Previous posts related to Luis Posada Carriles also show local support by some Cuban exiles.

[Correction: Radio/TV Marti has reported on the start of the Luis Posada Carriles trial. They include news from EFE news agency reporting that Luis Posada was met with protesters calling him an "assassin" as he left his hotel. The report interviews a supporter of Posada saying that Posada was "verbally attacked" by the ANSWER Coalition. The Nuevo Accion blog reports that the protesters "tried to physically attack" Posada "inside the hotel," but were thwarted by Posada supporters. Nuevo Accion has a consistent record of misinformation.]

[Watch the ANSWER Coalition peacefully demonstrate before the Posada trial.]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Do You Favor Democracy?

So, as a new Congress convenes I'm getting ready to keep a good eye on our South Florida representatives, and the ambitious Senator Marco Rubio. And, boy! I thought the hard-line could not get any tougher. Now, here comes David Rivera and Marco Rubio, two known hard-liners on U.S. policy towards Cuba, and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen heading the House Foreign Affairs Committee and appointing other hard-liners as Subcommittee Chairmen. Yikes!

And, maybe some of you are wondering why being a hard-liner* is a cause of concern. Well, the answer is simple: hard-liners tend to ignore the opinion of others, namely their own constituents. Put more bluntly, they don't believe in democracy. Why am I so convinced? A quick review of public opinion concerning U.S. policy towards Cuba is a good start.

Over several years, Gallup polling has documented a strong and consistent American opinion that differs greatly with hard-liners' policy for Cuba. For several years, surveyed Americans have strongly favored (with an average of 59% since 2000) re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba if it was a key issue up for a referendum.

Ending the U.S. embargo towards Cuba has also seen strong approval in some polling. A recent online survey by Widmeyer Communications showed a majority of Americans supporting the end of the embargo by 47%, with 22% in opposition and 31% unsure. These results are similar to those reached by Gallup, and several other surveys.

So what about South Florida's opinion on the embargo? A 2008 survey from Florida International University's Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR) found a slight majority of Cuban-Americans favoring the end of the embargo, but a 2000 survey (also by IPOR) had already shown that 60% of Miami non-Cubans opposed continuing the embargo.

Of course, the local media continues to present the issue of public opinion concerning Cuba as divided. Last March, the Miami Herald (Juan O. Tamayo) reported on a BBC World News/Harris Interactive online poll showing "no clamor for change in U.S. Cuba policy." The online poll seemed to show support for the embargo (40% in favor, 36% opposed), but the questionnaire used Likert scaling (agree-disagree) on the statement "The embargo towards Cuba should remain in effect." The measurement was clearly vulnerable to bias because it implied one policy option.

Interestingly, after the Herald published this report (the only ones who reported on this poll according to a NewsBank search), another survey was conducted as a direct response. That survey was from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). The NAE conducts a monthly survey of its Board of Directors, and last March they found that 63% of evangelical leaders opposed the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. According to the NAE:

"The embargo’s impact on the poor, its failure to influence the leadership in Cuba toward greater openness and respect for human rights, and the potential benefit the lift would have on the spread of the gospel are the primary reasons evangelical leaders support the embargo’s end."

This survey by the NAE, who represent "40,000 local churches" was not reported by the Herald. In fact, according to NewsBank, it got no coverage at all.

So, when I read about South Florida hard-liners being proud over their tough stance on Cuba by supporting the embargo, all I can conclude is that they don't believe in democracy. And, all their talk about the "civilized world" seems like a joke.

And, I haven't even gotten to the part about Cuban dissident opposition to the embargo and travel restrictions!

[*A good definition of "hard-line" comes from George Mason University professor Colin Dueck.]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Suffer the Prisoners

My previous post was about last year's release of Cuban political prisoners and the possibility that they were coerced into leaving Cuba as a condition for their release. That was back in July and much has happened since. Currently, 41 of 52 Cuban "Prisoners of Conscience" (listed by Amnesty International) arrested in the Black Spring of 2003 have been released. Forty of them now reside outside of Cuba. Only one was released inside Cuba. Eleven remain jailed.

I had argued that it was likely that the 52 political prisoners were coerced into leaving Cuba based on their public statements once arriving in Spain and a BBC Mundo report from inside the island. More recently, one of the released prisoners in Spain (Omar Rodríguez Saludes) recounted how he was approached to negotiate his release, only to further support the fact that prisoners were indeed coerced.

Now, some might say that this issue is almost irrelevant given that the released prisoners are now living alongside their families (over 130 family members were allowed to leave Cuba to join the released political prisoners) and in far better conditions than a rat and roach infested Cuban jail. But, this is about principle and respect for human rights.

According to Saludes, he was contacted in jail by Monsignor Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana, on July 8th, 2010 and told that Saludes was on a list of prisoners that would "shortly travel to Spain with their family members." All Saludes had to do was accept or refuse. In my opinion this is scandalous because Saludes was never given another reasonable option, only self-imposed exile. Furthermore, the possibility of being release inside Cuba by November was never suggested, nor taken seriously after all once the deadline passed.

Being subject to exile is a violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, people incarcerated should never be forced to make such a decision, no matter how terrible their conditions. In the case of political prisoners, it only adds to their tragedy.

As for the 11 remaining political prisoners in Cuba that were supposed to be released last November, their families are hoping that the next few months will bring good news. In the meantime, the Cuban government is planning the release of other prisoners from jails (not on the list of "Prisoners of Conscience") perhaps hoping that some of the 11 will change their minds and choose self-imposed exile.

[Most recently released Cuban prisoner Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales (not a "Prisoner of Conscience") celebrated his release by joining the Ladies in White this past Sunday. He is also a member of the dissident group Cuba Independent and Democratic (CID). Last June, Egberto was reported to be in grave health conditions, the local media (Telemundo51) described him as "following the path of Orlando Zapata."]

[I want to also reiterate that self-imposed or coerced exile is not "forced exile." The latter commonly suggests the use of physical force, which was not the case here.]

Now... Where Was I?

First, my apologies to interested readers of Mambi Watch. I know you're out there and I thank you for your acknowledgment and/or support. I know some blogs have removed me from their blogrolls, but I hope to post regularly again and earn back my space on their lists.

I sorta never really went away. I've been waiting to return to blogging here again, reading the other Cuba blogs (e.g. The Cuban Triangle, Along the Malecon, the Herald's Cuban Colada, even the Babalu blog) and dying to get back to posting interesting stuff about militants and hard-liners in Miami. (And, 2011 is looking to be a busy year for hard-liners.) So, where did I last leave off...