Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Vamos a Cuba? Un paso adelante

While its just a first step, today's successful committee vote to allow all US citizens the right to travel freely to Cuba is a long-delayed and hard-won step in the right direction.

While our policy has long been misdirected only at punishing the Cuban regime, the goal of US policy should be to help the Cuban people become the agents of their own futures. Cubans need more oxygen and exposure to the outside world, not less.

And while more Yumas on Cuba's streets, bars, living rooms, and, yes, beaches, will not bring "freedom and democracy" to the island, it will send a clear signal that the main cause of the country's many problems are to be found within its borders, not with the hated Yanqui Tio Sam in Washington or Miami.

June 30, 2010

Dear Friends:

This afternoon the House Agriculture Committee voted 25-20 to report the "Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act" (H.R. 4645) to the floor with a favorable recommendation!

Passage today was an important first step toward bringing the bill to a vote on the House floor.

The bipartisan bill, crafted by Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) along with Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS), enjoys broad support from a coalition of more than 130 organizations including business (U.S. Chamber and National Foreign Trade Council), agriculture (National Farmers Union and American Farm Bureau Federation), foreign policy think tanks (Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, Brookings Institution), defenders of human rights (The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch), and many others.

"This bill, which will put more American food on Cuba's tables, and put more American visitors on Cuba's streets, will be good for our economy and provide needed support for the Cuban people," said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. "The U.S. needs a new Cuba policy, and the Peterson-Moran bill is a decisive change in the right direction."

Congratulations and thank you to advocates of opening Cuba travel for all, Cuba Central followers and everyone else who helped get this bill through the committee. With your help, we'll start pushing for a vote on the floor now!

- The Cuba Central Team
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Roll Call: Opponents of Cuba Embargo Poised for a Win

This just in regarding the Cuba Travel Bill from Anya Landau French over at The Havana Note.

For those interested in following today’s action on Cuba, here are a few things I’ve seen regarding today’s vote in House Ag on HR4645 (which would lift the travel ban and ease several restrictions on food and medicine sales to Cuba).

1) This from The Hill.

2) Attached, a letter sent by ag groups to members of the Committee opposing an amendment that would strip out the travel ban provision.

3) Story below from Roll Call:

Opponents of Cuba Embargo Poised for a Win

By Anna Palmer, Roll Call Staff, June 30, 2010

Advocates who want more U.S. travel and trade with Cuba are predicting victory today. The House Agriculture Committee is expected to pass legislation that would expand crop exports and lift a ban on travel to Cuba .

It’s the first step before the measure can be approved by the full House.

Agriculture entities such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association and National Corn Growers Association along with retired military officers in the National Security Network and pro-trade groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been pressing for such a measure for years.

And House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson says he has worked over the past month to secure the votes needed for passage.

“This bill has been needed for a long time, and I expect the committee to report out the bill,” the Minnesota Democrat said Tuesday.

Peterson’s bill is just the latest attempt by House Members to end the nearly 50-year prohibition on almost all American travel to Cuba . The embargo was put in place in the 1960s to pressure Fidel Castro’s government and spur democracy in the island country. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) has introduced a similar bill without the agriculture provisions.

The chamber’s John Murphy called the legislation’s path “the journey of a thousand miles.”

The chamber has long opposed the trade embargo with Cuba because it says it is a self-defeating policy.

“The reality is that Cuba is miserable, poor and unfree because of a half-century of Marxist mismanagement,” Murphy said. “We believe the embargo allows Castro to blame Washington for all of the Cuban people’s problems. We want to take away that pretext.”

Agriculture groups such as the National Corn Growers Association are supporting the bill because it would likely increase the amount of exports to Cuba . While corn is already exported there, the group expects the agriculture provisions in the bill to increase the amount of ethanol and other exports, such as poultry, to the country.

“We’ve long had a policy trying to increase our trade with Cuba ,” the NCGA’s DaNita Murray said. She added that some agriculture-producing states have been working on this issue for a decade.

Not everybody is hoping Peterson’s prediction of passage is accurate. The U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, which supports the embargo, has been lobbying hard against the measure.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the group, said the decision to move legislation in the Agriculture panel instead of the Foreign Affairs Committee is subverting the normal legislative process.

“The whole travel portion will not have committee consideration,” Claver-Carone said. “This leads us to a pretty dangerous state. It’s the first step to completely diminishing the power and the role of the Foreign Affairs Committee, allowing other committees to conduct foreign policy.”

Claver-Carone sent an e-mail blast last week after nearly 500 pro-democracy leaders from within Cuba sent a letter to Peterson opposing the legislation.

“The cause of liberty, and firm opposition to the oppressive totalitarian dictatorship in Havana , is so sacred that it is above all economic and mercantilist interests,” wrote the Cubans, including several former political prisoners.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC already this election cycle has contributed more than $455,000 to Members who support their efforts, including contributing $5,000 to Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kendrick Meek. Peterson is not among the recipients of the PAC’s campaign dollars.

Proponents of the bill say U.S.-Cuba PAC’s tactics aren’t going to work.

“This is not about campaign contributions,” said David Jones of Capitol Counsel. “It’s about whether or not our farmers and ranchers are going to be able to open a new agriculture market in Cuba .”

Jones is lobbying on the provision for Vigilant Worldwide Communications, which works with Utah-based agriculture entities.

Despite the measure’s expected success today, its path forward in the House and Senate is unclear. There are several hard-liners opposed to weakening the embargo, including Wasserman Schultz and Meek as well as Reps. Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More on "South of the Border"

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times even longer than Larry Rother's original review of Oliver Stone's film, "South of the Border" itself, Stone, and the film's co-writers Mark Weisbrot (co-director of the D.C. think tank the Center for Economic Policy and Research), and historian Tariq Ali, take issue with Rother's facts, question his intentions, and malign his journalistic integrity.

Here's the opening paragraph of the letter:

June 27, 2010

The following letter was sent to The New York Times:

Larry Rohter attacks our film, “South of the Border,” for “mistakes, misstatements and missing details.” But a close examination of the details reveals that the mistakes, misstatements, and missing details are his own, and that the film is factually accurate. We will document this for each one of his attacks. We then show that there is evidence of animus and conflict of interest, in his attempt to discredit the film. Finally, we ask that you consider the many factual errors in Rohter’s attacks, outlined below, and the pervasive evidence of animus and conflict of interest in his attempt to discredit the film; and we ask that The New York Times publish a full correction for these numerous mistakes.

Penultimos Dias is back (at least for now)

While the blog Penultimos Dias has been dormant for the past two weeks and a "Closed for Repairs" sign can be found hanging on the blog where new posts are usually placed, its author Ernesto Hernandez Busto, has just published this opinion article, "Los limites de la ciberdisidencia," at El Pais

The article is especially interesting given that Hernandez Busto has written enthusiastically on the topic of "cyber-dissidence" a number of previous times on his blog but now seems to be more doubtful than before about its effectiveness in combating authoritarian regimes.

In short his argument seems to be:

"The potential of bloggers and social networks to combat authoritarian regimes has been exaggerated. Examples from Cuba and Iran teach us that such systems have been able to use new information and communications technologies (ICT) to defend themselves. No regime has been overturned by ICT. Perhaps it is better to return to traditional forms of dissidence."

La Musica en Cuba (Part One) - PUNK a la Cubana - Gorki Aguila and Gil Ortiz Pla

Pull quote:
"If you don't know the inside of a jail cell,
then you're not really a punk."
What follows is the long, detailed, and quite excellent article, "Cuban punk rockers Gorki and Gil used music to take on Castro," by Erik Maza, a reporter with the Miami New Times. The article follows the peripatetic careers of two key figures from Cuba's Punk Rock scene, Gil Ortiz Pla (who now struggles in obscurity in exile) and Gorki Aguila (who recently RETURNED to Cuba after nearly a year abroad in Mexico and the US).

El Yuma was able to hear and hang with Aguila while he was in NYC last year and can report that he is as raw and uncensored as ever (and actually a really nice guy).

Here we are together having dinner in Little Italy.  Get a load of his duds!  You gotta love that tie (a la AC/DC) and the Che star sewed onto his shirt shoulder.  You can't see it in this picture, but the back of his shirt declares in bold red letters something like, "1959 - El Ano del Desastre."  And, yes, that is a pornographic hammer and sickle I'm wearing.

When Maza asked him about his recent decision to return to Cuba in March 2010, he responded:
Cuban punk rockers Gorki and Gil used music to take on Castro
"This is the really shitty question only Cubans have to ask themselves: Defect and never return, or stay and be miserable? It's really a question about being Cuban itself."
By Erik Maza
Monday, June 21, 2010

Gorki Águila filled his beat-up camo backpack with enough supplies for a weekend trip, not a four-year prison sentence. It was August 2003 in Havana, and he and his punk band, Porno Para Ricardo, were headed to the Cuban countryside for a rock music festival, a Third-World Lollapalooza a hundred miles from the capital.

The invitation had surprised him. His 5-year-old band was mostly known for having pissed off the communists by singing about masturbation and horny lesbians. Rarely on the airwaves, the group's occasional concerts were mosh pits. A year earlier, they'd taken over an abandoned theater in La Habana and thrown a rave where they all ended up naked.

A week before the concert, a government stooge had asked Gorki to change the name of the band and its repertoire — or else. "I should have gotten wise to what was coming," he says. Cuba in August is steamy, but 2,000 fans greeted him when he arrived. They weren't all there for him. There were heavy metal heads, grunge kids, and other frikis. The country's rock scene was and still is as small and insular as Fargo, North Dakota's.

The four hirsute punks walked onstage wearing dresses. Gorki looked just as he does now — with an unruly Afro and a runty stature, like a jack-in-the-box waiting to spring. They taunted the crowd before ripping into a risqué jingle about a couple of lesbians Gorki lusted after, Marlen and Tatiana.

But before finishing the song, they abruptly segued into another, where they mocked Cuban bureaucrats for sucking up to Soviet commies. The bandmates burned the T-shirt of a popular metal band, shit-talked the local baseball team, and then, as a final act of defiance, threw money at the audience. Guitarist Ciro Díaz, a balding 32-year-old who could moonlight as an undertaker, says the band had been getting progressively more provocative over the years, but the 2003 show was the "apotheosis" of their subversion. "We were as chaotic as we could be," Gorki says. "You can almost call it musical terrorism."

When the performance was over, a female fan offered Gorki dozens of little blue pills — muscle relaxants prescribed to Parkinson's patients that young Cubans use recreationally. He turned her down, but the girl insisted, so he took a couple and stashed them next to some dirty pesos in his wallet. "At that moment, I fell into their trap," Gorki says. Two days later, he was arrested for procuring and selling drugs, and his trial lasted less than an hour. He was sentenced to four years in a maximum-security prison.

Gorki's arrest was for more than just drugs. It was a continuation of "The Black Spring," an unprecedented crackdown in April 2003 that sent 75 dissidents and journalists to prisons all over the island nation. Some are still serving time, and their wives, mothers, and daughters — known as the Ladies in White — have been taking to the streets to protest the sentences.

Gil Ortiz Pla (photo to the left at Miami New Times by C. Stiles) is no stranger to violent arrests. "If you don't know the inside of a jail cell, then you're not really a punk," he says, strumming a Gibson knockoff inside a cramped converted garage in residential Flagami waiting for his band, G2 — nicknamed for the Cuban state police — to begin rehearsal.

The 41-year-old is a lanky, sinewy, dark-skinned gargoyle sporting black skinny jeans, a studded Hot Topic belt, and a perky Mohawk on a shaved head. When he smiles, a silver crown flashes at the back of his jaw. Though you wouldn't know by looking at him, idling at this residential flophouse, Gil is the godfather of Cuban punk — its Iggy Pop.

Nearly 20 years ago, as the Soviet Union was crumbling, Gil was on the 12th floor of a Havana high-rise recording an album with Canek Sánchez Guevara, Che Guevara's grandson and an aspiring music producer. Working with a rudimentary four-track recorder and off-brand guitars, he and three other guys made Jodidos y Perdidos, or Lost and Fucked Over, a four-song demo that effectively launched the country's first punk band, Rotura.

After decades when rock music was banned, Rotura tapped into the disillusionment of the children of the revolution, kids like Gil born after 1959 who were fed up with the failed promises of Fidel Castro. Their anarchic performances brought routine beat-downs from cops and nights spent in dank gulags, but they paved the way for all the punks who followed, including Gorki Águila.

In 2003, Gil faced a choice: Flee the country or stay. By then, he had become an established figure in la isla's balkanized rock scene, touring the country at least 20 times a year and helping young musicians get their acts started. But he didn't see a future. He figured he could emulate other well-known musicians who'd found success and fame in exile, such as Albita, Issac Delgado, and Manolín.

A month before Gorki was arrested, Gil and his wife boarded a plane to Miami. He carried a bag no bigger than the one Gorki brought with him to prison. It was filled with hand-me-downs, a few magazines, some press clippings, and a ratty Cuban flag signed by rockero friends.

For the rest of the article, go to the Miami New Times.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Blog on the Block: The Cuban Economy (Arch Ritter)

My good friend and Canadian colleague Arch Ritter just informed me that he has launched a new blog of his own called simply, "The Cuban Economy."

Arch has published extensively on the Cuban economy and travels frequently to the island where he has solid contacts with many local economists. Back in the 90s he also helped set up and run a joint Canadian-Cuban Masters in Economics program at the University of Havana.

I always listen when he talks!

You can check out his new blog here: The Cuban Economy

Arturo Lopez-Levy: “El diálogo Cuba-Iglesia logró lo que la presión no consiguió”

Here's a provocative interview with Arturo Lopez-Levy just published in La Jornada. Lopez-Levy, an old friend, was one of three Cuban-American participants in the dialogues sponsored last week in Havana as part of Catholic Social Week.

Photo by Gerardo Arreola

By Gerardo Arreola, La Jornada.
La Habana, Viernes, 25 de junio de 2010.

El diálogo entre la Iglesia católica y el gobierno de Cuba ha desatado una dinámica "entre actores nacionales", que está "logrando lo que ninguna presión internacional logró", afirmó Arturo López-Levy, cubano emigrado a Estados Unidos y profesor e investigador de la Universidad de Denver.

En el gobierno y en la sociedad civil de la isla "hay un sentimiento antintervencionista, dentro del cual deben ocurrir los cambios", agregó López-Levy, en una entrevista con La Jornada. "Éste es un mensaje que, por ejemplo, sería muy importante para la Unión Europea. Yo creo que países como la República Checa deberían pasar un tiempo de conversación con el cardenal (Jaime) Ortega".

Graduado en 1992 en el Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raúl Roa (la academia diplomática cubana), López-Levy se fue de la isla en 2001. En Estados Unidos ha sido becario del Diálogo Interamericano y del Centro Carter. Es de religión judía, se define como socialdemócrata y prepara el doctorado en Denver.

Ganador del concurso anual de ensayo de la no gubernamental Academia Diplomática de Estados Unidos, en 2005, López-Levy fue uno de los ponentes en la Semana Social Católica, que concluyó el sábado pasado.

–Usted participó en una mesa sobre reconciliación. ¿Cómo se entiende ese concepto en Cuba?

–No es un tema único de Cuba. Hay fracturas importantes en el tejido social cubano, hay posiciones políticas encontradas. Obviamente hay conflictos que son antagónicos y que es muy difícil de reconciliar, pero hay la posibilidad de aminorarlos, de manejarlos de una manera más civilizada. En otros casos se trata de repensar el consenso y la forma de gobernabilidad en Cuba, de manera que la pluralidad existente pueda ser reflejada. Creo que es una agenda posible de reconciliación, siempre que se entienda como proceso.

"Nadie está hablando de una maduración total" del debate en Cuba, pero hay voluntad "desde la Iglesia católica y otros sectores por empezar a reflexionar", agregó el especialista.

–¿Cómo se observa el tema desde las distintas expresiones de la emigración?

–En la emigración hay un arco de opiniones, pero hay un sector que, sin apoyar necesariamente el modelo político actual en Cuba, prefiere métodos pacíficos de diálogo, tanto con las autoridades cubanas como con la sociedad. En temas como la reforma económica o la liberalización de derechos de viaje, creo que hay espacios dentro de la emigración que reconocerían con gran interés actos de ese corte por parte del gobierno cubano y que no necesariamente tienen una actitud maximalista de todo o nada.

López-Levy cita como ejemplo una eventual entrada de capitales de cubanos radicados en Estados Unidos, mediante empresas mixtas con el gobierno o particulares de la isla, "respetuosa de la idea del Estado de bienestar, donde se mantengan (como servicio público) la salud, la educación, en lo que hay un consenso aquí".

–Una de las decisiones de Estados Unidos que más irrita al gobierno de Cuba es que haya un plan de "ayuda a la democracia", que incluye partidas presupuestales para la oposición en la isla. ¿Qué futuro tiene esta política?

–Ese programa está en discusión. El senador John Kerry ha cuestionado su viabilidad e implementación. Ese programa ha tenido más cuestionamientos que la mayoría de los programas de ayuda a la promoción democrática de Estados Unidos. Creo que está emergiendo un consenso de que lo mejor que puede hacer Estados Unidos para promover la realización progresiva de los derechos humanos es dar el ejemplo y practicar esos derechos en su totalidad. Por ejemplo, en el caso de la libertad de viaje, eliminar la prohibición (de viajar a Cuba). También sería conveniente que muchos de esos fondos que se han utilizado para la hostilidad, se usen para promover formas legítimas de interacción, que tienen impacto en la liberalización y la ampliación de las miras y posiciones dentro de Cuba.

–¿Por ejemplo?

–Programas educativos, que permitan a cualquier cubano aplicar e ir a Estados Unidos a estudiar y regresar a Cuba; o concebir diálogos sobre derechos humanos, incluso con el gobierno y las diferentes partes de la sociedad civil, incluida la Iglesia y las comunidades religiosas, con un tono respetuoso, distinta de la política de "cambio de régimen".

–Muchos gobiernos en Europa y América Latina dudan sobre cómo actuar hacia Cuba: acercarse, presionar, dialogar... ¿Cuál cree que sería la mejor política?

–Lo más importante es ser receptivo a las dinámicas internas. Han pasado dos cosas recientes, que me parecen interesantes. La primera, la carta que algunos sectores de la oposición han enviado pidiendo al Congreso (estadunidense) repensar su posición en torno a la prohibición de viajar y las ventas de alimentos a la isla. Ese es un actor interno, que desde cualquier perspectiva no puede ser acusado de estar actuando bajo presión o como agente del gobierno ni mucho menos. Es un desarrollo interesante, que los gobiernos de Europa y de Estados Unidos deben escuchar.

Autoridad moral y religiosa

Añade: "La segunda dinámica es que hay una actividad de la Iglesia católica, que es una de las instituciones con más independencia en la sociedad civil, y que está tratando de promover un mejor ambiente, incluida la liberación y el mejoramiento de las condiciones carcelarias de los presos de la primavera de 2003.

"En este caso, creo que los responsables de los gobiernos de Estados Unidos y de la comunidad internacional deberían escuchar un poco lo que dice la Iglesia sobre la forma de ayudar a este proceso y ver la forma en que esta dinámica, entre actores nacionales, está logrando lo que ninguna presión internacional logró.

"Esto es muy importante, porque entre cubanos –con el desarrollo de una importante conciencia y cultura, que cruza desde el gobierno hasta sectores importantes de la oposición y de la sociedad civil–, hay un sentimiento antintervencionista, dentro del cual deben ocurrir los cambios: según nuestra lógica interna, respondiendo a las demandas de los sectores domésticos y no a las presiones internacionales.

"Éste es un mensaje que, por ejemplo, sería muy importante para la Unión Europea. Yo creo que países como República Checa deberían pasar un tiempo de conversación con el cardenal Ortega".

–¿Y en América Latina?

–También deberían hacerlo algunos sectores en América Latina, pero el problema mayor yo creo que está en Estados Unidos y en Europa. Cuba es un país que ha iniciado procesos de liberalización y de transición a un modelo diferente, que yo estimo que va a abrir nuevas dinámicas.

"Quien quiera que piense que si ocurren cambios económicos en Cuba, y de liberalización de áreas como los derechos de viaje, no habrá otras aperturas políticas como resultado, yo creo que está equivocado, esté en el gobierno cubano o se encuentre en la oposición, o donde esté".

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Oliver Stone's Latin America in 'South of the Border', NYT by Larry Rother

The New York Times

Oliver Stone called news coverage of South America unbalanced and said his film "South of the Border" was "definitely a counter to that."

June 26, 2010

In feature films about John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush, Oliver Stone gave free rein to his imagination and was often criticized for doing so. Now, in "South of the Border," which opened on Friday, he has turned to Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's controversial populist president, and his reformist allies in South America.

"People who are often demonized, like Nixon and Bush and Chávez and Castro, fascinate me," Mr. Stone said in an interview this week during a tour to promote the film, which portrays Mr. Chávez as a benevolent, generous, tolerant and courageous leader who has been unjustly maligned.

"It's a recurring thing," he added, that may suggest "a psychological attachment to the underdog" on his part.

Unlike his movies about American presidents, the 78-minute "South of the Border" is meant to be a documentary, and therefore to be held to different standards.

But it is plagued by the same issues of accuracy that critics have raised about his movies, dating back to "JFK." Taken together, the mistakes, misstatements and missing details could undermine Mr. Stone's glowing portrait of Mr. Chávez.

Mr. Stone's problems in the film begin early on, with his account of Mr. Chávez's rise. As "South of the Border" portrays it, Mr. Chávez's main opponent in his initial run for president in 1998 was "a 6-foot-1-inch blond former Miss Universe" named Irene Sáez, and thus "the contest becomes known as the Beauty and the Beast" election.

But Mr. Chávez's main opponent then was not Ms. Sáez, who finished third, with less than 3 percent of the vote. It was Henrique Salas Romer, a bland former state governor who won 40 percent of the vote.

When this and several other discrepancies were pointed out to Mr. Stone in the interview, his attitudes varied. "I'm sorry about that, and I apologize," he said about the 1998 election. But he also complained of "nitpicking" and "splitting hairs" and said that it was not his intention to make either a program for C-Span or engage in what he called "a cruel and brutal" Mike Wallace-style interrogation of Mr. Chávez that the BBC broadcast this month.

"We are dealing with a big picture, and we don't stop to go into a lot of the criticism and details of each country," he said. "It's a 101 introduction to a situation in South America that most Americans and Europeans don't know about," he added, because of "years and years of blighted journalism."

"I think there has been so much unbalance that we are definitely a counter to that," he also said. Tariq Ali, the British-Pakistani historian and commentator who helped write the screenplay, added: "It's hardly a secret that we support the other side. It's an opinionated documentary."

Initial reviews of "South of the Border" have been tepid. Stephen Holden in The New York Times called it a "provocative, if shallow, exaltation of Latin American socialism," while Entertainment Weekly described it as "rose-colored agitprop."

Some of the misinformation that Mr. Stone, who consistently mispronounces Mr. Chávez's name as Sha-VEZ instead of CHA-vez, inserts into "South of the Border" is relatively benign.

A flight from Caracas to La Paz, Bolivia, flies mostly over the Amazon, not the Andes, and the United States does not "import more oil from Venezuela than any other OPEC nation," a distinction that has belonged to Saudi Arabia during the period 2004-10.

But other questionable assertions relate to fundamental issues, including Mr. Stone's contention that human rights, a concern in Latin America since the Jimmy Carter era, is "a new buzz phrase," used mainly to clobber Mr. Chávez.

Mr. Stone argues in the film that Colombia, which "has a far worse human rights record than Venezuela," gets "a pass in the media that Chávez doesn't" because of his hostility to the United States.

As Mr. Stone begins to speak, the logo of Human Rights Watch, which closely monitors the situation in both Colombia and Venezuela and has issued tough reports on both, appears on the screen. That would seem to imply that the organization is part of the "political double standard" of which Mr. Stone complains.

"It's true that many of Chávez's fiercest critics in Washington have turned a blind eye to Colombia's appalling human rights record," said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the group's Americas division. "But that's no reason to ignore the serious damage that Chávez has done to human rights and the rule of law in Venezuela," which includes summarily expelling Mr. Vivanco and an associate, in violation of Venezuelan law, after Human Rights Watch issued a critical report in 2008.

A similarly tendentious attitude pervades Mr. Stone's treatment of the April 2002 coup that briefly toppled Mr. Chávez.

One of the key events in that crisis, perhaps its instigation, was the "Llaguno Bridge Massacre," in which 19 people were shot to death in circumstances that remain murky, with Chávez supporters blaming the opposition, and vice versa.

Mr. Stone's film includes some new footage from the confrontation at the bridge, but its basic argument hews closely to that of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," a film the Chávez camp has endorsed. That documentary, however, has been subject to rebuttal by another, called "X-Ray of a Lie," and by Brian A. Nelson's book "The Silence and the Scorpion: The Coup Against Chávez and the Making of Modern Venezuela" (Nation Books), neither of which Mr. Stone mentions.

Instead Mr. Stone relies heavily on the account of Gregory Wilpert, who witnessed some of the exchange of gunfire and is described as an American academic. But Mr. Wilpert is also the husband of Mr. Chávez's consul-general in New York, Carol Delgado, and a longtime editor and president of the board of a Web site,, set up with donations from the Venezuelan government, affiliations that Mr. Stone does not disclose.

Like Mr. Stone's take on the Kennedy assassination, this section of "South of the Border" hinges on the identity of a sniper or snipers who may or may not have been part of a larger conspiracy. As Mr. Stone puts it in the film, "Shots were fired from the rooftops of buildings, and members from both sides were hit in the head."

In a telephone interview this week, Mr. Wilpert acknowledged that the first shots seem to have been fired from a building known as La Nacional, which housed the administrative offices of Freddy Bernal, the pro-Chávez mayor of central Caracas. In a congressional investigation following the coup, Mr. Bernal, who led an elite police squadron before taking office, was questioned about a military officer's testimony that the Defense Ministry had ordered Mr. Bernal to fire on opposition demonstrators. Mr. Bernal described that charge as "totally false."

"I did not know about that, I didn't even know it was a Chávista building," Mr. Stone said initially, before retreating to his original position. "Show me some Zapruder footage, and it might be different," he said.

The second half of "South of the Border" is a road movie in which Mr. Stone, sometimes accompanied by Mr. Chávez, meets with leaders of Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba. But here, too, he bends facts and omits information that might undermine his thesis of a continent-wide "Bolivarian revolution," with Mr. Chávez in the forefront.

Visiting Argentina, for example, he accurately describes the economic collapse of 2001. But then he jumps to Néstor Kirchner's election to the presidency in May 2003 and lets Mr. Kirchner and his successor - and wife - Cristina Fernández de Kirchner claim that "we began a different policy than before."

In reality, Mr. Kirchner's presidential predecessor, Eduardo Duhalde, and Mr. Duhalde's finance minister, Roberto Lavagna, were the architects of that policy shift and the subsequent economic recovery, which began while Mr. Kirchner was still the obscure governor of a small province in Patagonia. Mr. Kirchner was originally a protégé of Mr. Duhalde's, but the two men are now political enemies, which explains the Kirchners' desire to write him out of their version of history.

Trying to explain the rise of Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia who is a Chávez acolyte, Mr. Ali refers to a controversial and botched water privatization in the city of Cochabamba. "The government decided to sell the water supply of Cochabamba to Bechtel, a U.S. corporation," he says, "and this corporation, one of the things it got the government to do was to pass a law saying that from now on it was illegal for poor people to go out onto the roofs and collect rainwater in receptacles."

In reality, the government did not sell the water supply: it granted a consortium that included Bechtel a 40-year management concession in return for injections of capital to expand and improve water service and construction of a dam for electricity and irrigation.

Nor is the issue of water collection by the poor exactly as Mr. Ali presents it. "The rainwater permit issue always comes up," Jim Shultz, a water privatization critic and co-editor of "Dignity and Defiance: Stories of Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization" (University of California Press), said in an e-mail message. "What I can say is that the privatization of the public water system was accompanied by a government plan to require permits in order to dig wells and such, and that it could have potentially granted management concessions to Bechtel or others." But "it never got that far," he added, and "it remains unclear to me to this day what type of water collection systems would have been included."

He concluded: "Many believed that would have included some rain collection systems. That could also easily be hype."Asked about the discrepancy, Mr. Ali replied that "we can talk about all this endlessly," but "the aim of our film is very clear and basic." In "South of the Border," he added: "We were not writing a book, or having an academic debate. It was to have a sympathetic view of these governments."

Carter asks Obama to lift the embargo

Mabel Cuesta, my friend and colleague here at Baruch just forwarded me this news flash from Diario de Cuba posted on her blog: From Nueva York to Matanzas.

Carter pide a Obama que levante el embargo <>


El ex presidente de Estados Unidos Jimmy Carter. (REUTERS) <>

El ex presidente de Estados Unidos Jimmy Carter pidió este viernes al actual mandatario norteamericano, Barack Obama, que levante el embargo comercial que mantiene hacia La Habana desde casi 50 años, porque es "contraproducente" y sólo "refuerza la dictadura y continúa haciendo daño a la gente", informó Europa Press.

En declaraciones a Catalunya Ràdio, recogidas por Europa Press, Carter remachó: "No apruebo las sanciones en contra de la gente de ningún país que ya sufre bajo una dictadura".

Además, consideró que debería levantar todas las restricciones de viajes entre su país y Cuba porque contribuiría, "a la larga, a disminuir los abusos a los derechos humanos en Cuba".

Pidió también a Obama ayudar a liberar "a todos los presos políticos", como primer paso para mejorar sus relaciones con La Habana.

Asimismo, elogió a la administración de Obama por condenar los abusos contra los palestinos y especialmente en Franja de Gaza, y confió en que hay posibilidad de un nuevo acuerdo en Oriente Próximo.

En los próximos meses viajará a menudo a la zona para ayudar a Estados Unidos y a los otros miembros del Cuarteto Internacional para llegar a un acuerdo de paz, avanzó.

La Generalitat de Cataluña (noreste de España, gobierno regional) le ha concedido este año el XXII Premio Internacional de Catalunya en defensa de los Derechos Humanos y de la paz en todo el mundo.

El presidente catalán, José Montilla, le entregará el premio el 1 de julio.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Espacio Laical and the 10th Annual Catholic Social Week

Here is a link to the website of Espacio Laical, the Lay Council of the Archdiocese of Havana.

Up at the site now are the entire procedings of the "10th Annaul Catholic Social Week," June 16-20, including the papers given by Jorge Dominguez, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Arturo Lopez-Levy, Aurelio Alonso, and Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva.

No Buena Vista in BKLYN!

BRIC Arts: Bklyn announces with great regret that Thursday's (June 24) free performance by the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club featuring Omara Portuondo at "Celebrate Brooklyn!" has been CANCELLED because the group did not get visas in time for all musicians to travel to New York from Cuba. At this time, there are no plans to reschedule the performance.

The Friends of Celebrate Brooklyn pre-concert reception (6:00PM) and opening performance by flamenco dancer Nelida Tirado (7:30PM) will take place as planned, followed by a special film screening of Wim Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club.


Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club to Miss U.S. Show

HAVANA (Reuters) - The first of three U.S. concerts scheduled by Cuban band Buena Vista Social Club has been canceled because of a delay in getting U.S. visas, their U.S. lawyer said on Thursday.

The band made famous in a 1999 documentary by German director Wim Wenders was supposed to make their first U.S. appearance since 2003 on Thursday night in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, but did not get their visas in time to arrange a flight, San Francisco-based attorney Bill Martinez said.

The problem was "a timing issue," he said, not difficulties with U.S. authorities.

Martinez said they are expected to play as scheduled on Saturday in Chicago and on Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Visa applications for Cuban entertainers were routinely denied under former U.S. President George W. Bush, but generally have been approved under President Barack Obama, who has slightly improved relations with the communist-led island.

Band members told Reuters they were late in applying for visas because they had returned only recently from a European tour.

The band of aging Cuban musical legends had been mostly forgotten until they recorded a self-titled Grammy Award-winning album, "Buena Vista Social Club," in 1996, produced by U.S. musician Ry Cooder.

Wenders' documentary, also titled "Buena Vista Social Club," was nominated for an Academy Award and catapulted the band to international stardom.

After their U.S. shows, they will go to Europe to play 25 concerts.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Thanx to John McAuliff, Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, for forwarding this message.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Babes & Blogs From Manhattan to Havana

Babes & Blogs From Manhattan to Havana
New Light Foundation and Krane, Inc. Present

"Island Blogosphere" & "The Jewish Nun"


Vanessa Garcia of The Krane, Inc.  and Wendy White of the New Light Foundation, Inc. are proud to present a performance of their new play Two Islands consisting of two one-acts entitled Island Blogosphere and The Jewish Nun.

The play will take place on Wednesday, July 14 and Thursday, July 15 at GAB Studio 105 Northwest 23rd Street Miami, Florida 33127. Cocktails begin at 7:00 pm Curtain rises at 8:00 pm. The tickets are $15.00.

From the time of the Odyssey, writers have been exploring the idea of the “island” in relation to humanity. Here, we have two contemporary playwrights using an age-old technique in a new world. The two pieces (Island Blogosphere by Vanessa Garcia and The Jewish Nun by Wendy White) are connected by a walking bridge that the directors will take the audience across, so to speak.

These plays show the worlds of one Cuban-American and one Jewish-American woman. These two shows are the stories of culture clashes; the world of outsiders; and the women who strive to find themselves as they delve into the pulsing life of the two particular islands that made them: Cuba & Manhattan.

In Island Blogosphere, two sisters virtually befriend Cuban bloggers, when they are not permitted to enter the island physically due to politics and family conflicts.

In The Jewish Nun, a nineteen year old girl moves from celibacy to free-love, juxtaposing the racy lifestyle of NYC and Manhattan against a self-imposed purity.

More information about the writers and directors can be found on their websites: Vanessa Garcia and Wendy White.


Two Islands has an exciting road ahead as it will show in New York at "59e59" and, later this summer, have its international debut at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in August.

The proceeds raised from the Miami Performance will go towards getting the troupe to Scotland; covering the actors’ travel expenses and their stay in Scotland as they represent the United States, and South Florida specifically.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Cuba reports little Internet and telecom progress (Reuters, 6/18/10)

Over the weekend, I posted an article on Cuban connectivity from Reuters published on June 19 in the New York Times, "Little Progress Is Seen for Communication in Cuba."

It turns out that the UN "report" mentioned in the article is in fact the same Cuban government report that I described in a post at El Yuma here last week.  Due to faulty NYT editing or to my own misreading of the edited version of the article that appeared in the Times, I had thought the article referred to a new UN report.

The UNITU (United Nations International Telecommunications Union) does indeed publish annual reports on internet connectivity around the globe.  And Cuba is indeed consistently ranked at the bottom in terms of internet access and connectivity in the region.

The much more clear and enlightening original version of the Reuters article, "Cuba reports little Internet and telecom progress," written, of course, by the intrepid Havana-based Reuters reporter Marc Frank follows. 

By the way, I still intend to unpack the Cuban government's ICT report for readers of El Yuma later this week.

Cuba reports little Internet and telecom progress

By Marc Frank, Reuters, Friday, June 18, 2010

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans' ability to communicate with one another and the world remained well below the norm for the Caribbean and Latin America in 2009, according to a [Cuban] government report released this week.

Despite the legalization of mobile phones in 2008 there were just 1.8 million phone lines in the country, or 15.5 lines for every 100 inhabitants, which was the lowest in the region, according to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union.

Some 800,000 of the phones were mobiles.

Computers numbered 700,000 or 62 per 1,000 residents, compared with more than 160 per thousand residents in the region, and many were in government offices, health and education facilities.

There is no broadband in Cuba and the relatively few Internet users in the country suffer through agonizingly long waits to open an e-mail, let alone view a photo or video. This also hampers government and business operations.

Cuba blames the United States embargo, saying it must use a satellite system and is limited in the space it can buy.

Last year, in a move easing some aspects of Washington's 48-year-old embargo against Cuba, President Barack Obama allowed U.S. telecommunications firms to offer services in Cuba as part of a strategy to increase "people to people" contact.

While Cuba's leaders welcomed the move, they reiterated their demand that Washington completely lift the embargo and to date there has been no progress, business sources said.

The Cuban state monopolizes communications and dominates the economy.

While the National Statistics Office reported on its web page ( that there were 1.6 million Internet users, or 14.2 per 100 residents, in most cases this was to a government intranet.

In Jamaica, Internet access was 53.27 per 100 inhabitants in 2008, the Dominican Republic 25.87 percent and in Haiti 10.42 percent, the ITU reported.

Access to satellite television was also severely restricted. In Cuba, satellite TV access is illegal without special permission from the government and authorities regularly raid neighborhoods and homes in search of receptors.

Officials insist the data for individual use and ownership of computers and telephones is misleading, as priority is given to social use of telecoms technology, from health and education to government-operated computer clubs in every municipality.

Cuba and ally Venezuela have formed a joint venture to lay cable between the two countries, but completion of the project is at least a year off.

Cuba's failure to embrace modern telecoms is a major complaint among citizens under 50 years old, who cite it as one of the reasons they seek to migrate abroad.

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Doina Chiacu)

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Book: "Social Relations and the Cuban Health Miracle" - by Elizabeth Kath

My good friend and colleague from "down under," Elizabeth Kath, just informed me that her new book on Cuban health care, "Social Relations and the Cuban Health Miracle," based on extensive ethnographic research in Cuba, is now available from Transaction Publishers.

A flyer describing the book with blurbs of praise from a number of leading Cuba watchers is here.

Later, El Yuma will review a section of the book describing underground health care arrangements in today's Cuba in a post titled: "Negotiations and Love Songs: Cuban Doctors and Underground Health Care Arrangements at Home and Abroad."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Freedom and Exchange in Communist Cuba" by Yoani Sánchez

And you thought la flaca could only be sharp and witty in a three paragraph blog post.

The original Spanish version of the following essay, "La libertad como forma de pago," won a prize in the 2009 essay contest "Caminos de la Libertad," organized by TV Azteca.

It was translated from the Spanish by M.J. Porter. The full 11-page English version of the essay can be found here. The original Spanish language essay can be found at the Cato Institute's Spanish language, "El Cato," here.

It captures Sánchez's basic analysis of Communist Cuba:

"For everything the state gives it exacts a price in return."

Or as she puts it:

"Fidel Castro's socialist revolution promised to satisfy the basic needs of the Cuban people, but the price demanded was the surrender of freedoms."

The Cato Institute
Center for Global Liberty & Prosperity
Development Policy Briefing Paper #5
Published on June 16, 2010

Executive Summary
Fidel Castro's socialist revolution promised to satisfy the basic needs of the Cuban people, but the price demanded was the surrender of freedoms. The unthinking enthusiasm that greeted the beginning of the revolution helped pave the way for the disappearance of civil, political, and economic rights within a short period of time.

Instead of a brighter future, misery in Cuba is widespread and the individual is vilified. With the help of Soviet subsidies, state paternalism stripped citizens of their individual and community responsibilities, and established a sort of barter system between freedom and privileges.

The state gave out job promotions, electrical appliances, housing, vacations, and other material goods and perks as rewards for obedience and in recognition of support of the government's priorities — including participation in political rallies, membership in the Communist Party, adherence to atheism, and so on.
Cuban socialism has produced frustrated idealists and opportunists who support the system only out of a search for personal gain. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government has been buying time with the introduction in the 1990s of limited and short-lived reforms, whose reversals accelerated with the help of the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chávez.

Raúl Castro, who replaced his brother Fidel as president, has only introduced cosmetic reform. An increasing number of Cubans are disillusioned with socialism and are demanding change.

One of the tools that Cubans are now using to recover their freedom of expression and association is the Internet, which has quickly given rise to a community of cyber-dissidents, despite the Cuban government's efforts to make Internet use difficult. Now that the state is out of money and there are no more rights to exchange for benefits, the demand for freedom is on the rise.

And three excerpts:

"It might be said, although it would seem paradoxical, that the Cuban people agreed to repay the debt of gratitude they owed to their liberators with their rights. In exchange for the possessions and rights confiscated by the new government, they received promises of a bright future; payment in advance, however was required."
"To criticize had become inopportune and it was made clear that any gap in the ranks could be used by the enemy. It became common to cite the metaphor of little David against the great Goliath of the north, but the slings of the people were not permitted to launch a single stone at the cyclopean state."
"What was least expected to come to fruition could, in the end, be considered the fundamental achievement of the Cuban Revolution: achieving national sovereignty in the face of a neighbor's voracious appetite. But national security was imposed at the price of renouncing the sovereignty of the people, wherein reside precisely those rights that citizens exercise whenever the state displays authoritarian leanings."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From the Cuban Government: Information and Communications Technology in Cuba, 2009 (May, 2010)

Cuba's National Office of Statistics (ONE) just issued its 2009 Report on Information and Communications Technology (May, 2010).  Go here for the entire report on-line (or here for the full report in PDF).

The following two graphs from the report are perhaps of the most interest to readers of El Yuma as I often focus on the state of Cuban connectivity.  You don't really need to know Spanish to follow them but I will update this post later with my own explanation, analysis, and breakdown.  Go here for a PDF of the two graphs in one page (or simply click on each image to enlarge it).

Here is the original introduction to the report in Spanish (I'll see if I can translate it in my update).


En 1996, se dan los primeros pasos para el ordenamiento de un trabajo continuo destinado a impulsar el uso y desarrollo de las TIC en el país; así, en 1997 se aprueban por primera vez los Lineamientos Generales para la Informatización de la Sociedad, con objetivos generales hasta el 2000, que hasta hoy conservan en lo esencial su vigencia y en cuya consecución se produjeron avances que, aunque discretos, condujeron en enero del 2000 a la creación del Ministerio de la Informática y las Comunicaciones (MIC), con la misión fundamental de fomentar el uso masivo de las TIC en la economía nacional y al servicio del ciudadano.

Conceptualmente, la Informatización de la Sociedad se define en Cuba como el proceso de utilización ordenada masiva de las TIC para satisfacer las necesidades de información y conocimiento de todas las personas y esferas de la sociedad.

Este proceso busca lograr más eficacia y eficiencia, que permitan una mayor generación de riquezas y haga sustentable el aumento sistemático de la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos, sobre una política preferentemente orientada al uso social e intensivo de los recursos TIC, buscando extender sus beneficios a la mayor parte posible de la población y las instituciones.

Esta estrategia, como expresión del proceso revolucionario cubano, tiene al ciudadano en el centro de sus objetivos buscando elevar su calidad de vida en su desempeño familiar, laboral, educacional, cultural, social y político y en consecución del fortalecimiento y ampliación de los logros y beneficios que la Revolución le ha dado.

En esta situación de limitaciones económicas, tecnológicas y de comunicación, Cuba ha decidido adoptar como opción de desarrollo inicial el uso social intensivo de los recursos escasos de conectividad y medios técnicos.

Por otra parte, el uso masivo de las tecnologías y el acceso a Internet puede contribuir de forma importante al desarrollo de la economía nacional.

Todo esto conllevó a elaborar un Programa Rector, el cual persigue promover el uso masivo de las Tecnologías de la Información a escala nacional, teniendo en cuenta los objetivos generales estratégicos que el país se ha propuesto buscando un desarrollo coherente y una identificación precisa de los actores de la Sociedad de la Información y el mismo contribuye a dar respuesta a las metas trazadas en el “Plan de Acción sobre la Sociedad de la Información de América Latina y el Caribe”, suscrito por el Plan de Acción Regional para el año 2007, dando cumplimiento adicionalmente al Manual para la medición del acceso y el uso de las TIC en los hogares y por las empresas del año 2009, editado por la Unión Internacional de Telecomunicaciones (UIT).

Havana vs. Prague (updated)

El Yuma anda con sombrero!

The renown polemicist Christopher Hitchens visited us at the 92nd Y in NYC this week to discuss his newest book, the memoir Hitch-22, (see here and here for more).  Hitchens was accompanied by his friend, fellow polemicist, and fellow worshiper at the church of skepticism, Salman Rushdie. (Go here for a quick review of the presentation at the Upper East Side "Our Town" blog).

It was quite an exchange complete with a limrick contest between the two children of the former British empire and reminisces of alternately covering, opposing, and supporting Sandinista Nicaragua, General Videla's Argentina and the "filthy" war, as Hitchens called it (i.e., selling the children of those "subversives" you systematically kiddnapp and murder), and of course the CUBA of 1968, where a young Trotskyite Hitchens was a political tourist and coffee planter in that heady year for the international left.

In fact, in the seventh chapter of his new memoir, "Havana vs. Prague," Hitchens recounts in critical detail his internationalist solidarity visit to Cuba that year and the various heated expereinces and debates he and his fellow internationalists shared - "A chance to mingle with revolutionaries fromall over the globe."

As he tells it, three central intellectual-political concerns consumed the young internationalists when they weren't planting coffee:

(1) Was there any hope for the idea that the Cuban revolution represented an "alternative" model of socialism with a "human," tropical face as opposed to the Soviet version of state-socialism?

(2) Had Che been right in proposing that "moral incintives" should replace material ones?

(3) What line should be taken about the increasingly bitter split between the Russian and Czechoslovakian Communist Parties?

From my reading of the chapter, while Hitch could use some lessons in Spanish grammar his vivid and always sharp analysis of these three issues is clear sighted and right on - especially in terms of what should always be the chief concern of any leftist worthy of the name - human freedom.

First, he was quickly disabused of his hope that Cuba's then "young, informal, spontaneous, and even somewhat sexy leadership" would be very different from "the waxworks in the Kremlin".  He came to this realization, of course, when Castro unequivocally endorsed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on the very day he was scheduled to leave Cuba (for Prague itself, incidentally).

But, two prior personal expereinces in Cuba taught him what to expect in this regard.


"After handing over my passport, I waited awhile and, having by now heard a couple of rousing speeches of welcome, asked for it back. The hospitable internationalist grin on the face of the Cuban host contracted perhaps a millimeter or so. 'We look after it for you.' 'You do? For how long?' 'Until you leave our country.'"

And second, while staying with his commrades at Campamento Cinco de Mayo out in verdant Pinar del Rio province:

"I didn't especially like the way that uplifting music and hectoring speeches were played all the time on the camp's loudspeaker system [sounds like Jonestown to me!], but I was much more alarmed when, deciding on a hike one day to enjoy the surrounding scenery, I began to wave goodbye to the Cuban boys at the gate and was ordeered to hold it right there.  [...]  I didn't have a passport (it suddenly came back to me) [...] But the guards - as I now thought of them - pointed emphatically back up the trail to the camp.  Once you have been told that you can't leave a place, its attractions may be many but its charm will instantly be void."

Hitchens continues:

"The Cuban leadershipdeclared 1968 to be the 'The Year of the Heroic Guerrilla' and issued a call to all the schoolchildren in the country that they should live their lives 'Como el Che' or in the manner of Guevara.  It was the impossibility of following this directive that hit me first, even before the realization that the whole thing was borrowed from what Christians called 'The Imitation of Christ'."

Hitchens concludes this section with one of his sharp, classic one-liners, one that (if you know Hitchens) compares Cuban socialism with two of the things he detests most:

"So there it was: Cuban socialism was too much like a boarding school in one way and too much like a church in another."

Later, in a session with the legendary Cuban documentary film director Santiago Alvarez, hitchens made the mistake of asking the following impertinent but honest question:

"For all this lurid lapse into infantile pre-Oliver Stone leftism, old Alvarez then gave a reasonable-enough talk, and so I put up my hand and asked him a question. How did he find it, as an artist, to be working in Cuba, a state that had official policies on the aesthetic?  [...] It would not of course be possible or desirable to attempt any attacks or satires on the Leader of the Revolution himself.  But otherwise, the freedom of conscience and creativity was absolute.

I made the mere observation that if the most salient figure in the state and society was immune from critical comment, then all the rest was detail."

Hints of Hitchens gradual political disillusionment began to dawn on him as 1968 gave way to 1969, he remembers:

"People began to intone the words 'The Personal Is Political.' At the instant I first heard this deadly expression, I knew as one does from the utterance of any sinister bullshit that it was very bad news. From now on, it would be enough to be a member of a sex or gender, or epidermal subdivision, or even erotic 'preference,' to qualify as a revolutionary."

Monday, June 14, 2010

Mesa-Lago, Domínguez, & López-Levy in Havana for Church-sponsored conference

I'd also like to be in Havana at the end of the week for the 10th Annual Social Week sponsored by the Catholic Church to be celebrated from June 16-20. The event is especially notable for its inclusion of three leading Cuban-American scholars, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Jorge Domínguez, and Arturo López-Levy, all whom I consider friends and fair-minded intellectuals with rigorous standards.

The following note is taken from The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada blog.

Three Cuban-American politologists will participate in the Cuban Catholic Church's Tenth Social Week, to be held in Havana June 16-20, the e-zine Progreso Semanal reports.

They are Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Jorge I. Domínguez, and Arturo López-Levy. The conference will deal with the Church's social doctrine on the island and will be attended by the Vatican's foreign minister, Msgr. Dominique Mamberti.

Mesa-Lago is professor emeritus of economics and Latin American studies at the University of Pittsburgh. On Thursday, he will take part in the panel on "Dialogue Among Cubans."

Domínguez is professor of economics and Latin American politics at Harvard University. On Friday, he will speak during the panel on "The Economy and Society."

López-Levy, a former official of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, holds a Master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and a Master's in economics from Carleton University in Canada. He will participate Saturday on the panel on "Reconciliation Among Cubans."

For details on the other panelists, as reported by Progreso Semanal, click here.

Read more at The Miami Herald's Cuban Colada blog.

Antonio José Ponte: Arte, política y nuevas tecnologías en Cuba

If I were in Miami this week, here's a lecture I wouldn't want to miss.

I saw Ponte speak late last year at Columbia University and he has written a number of provocative pieces on new technology in Cuba. Go here for one of them.

The Cuban Research Institute cordially invites you to:

"Arte, política y nuevas tecnologías en Cuba" (PDF)

A lecture by
Antonio José Ponte

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | 7:30 pm
FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus
Graham Center, Room 243

Antonio José Ponte (Matanzas, Cuba 1964) is a poet, narrator and essayist.

Although he finished his studies in hydraulic engineering at the Universidad de La Habana, he has dedicated his life’s work to writing.

He currently lives in Madrid, where he writes for the Diario de Cuba.

He has published several works among them Las comidas profundas (Deleatur, Angers, 1997), In the cold of the Malecón & other stories (City Lights Books, San Francisco, 2000), Cuentos de todas partes del Imperio (Deleatur, Angers 2000 ), Contrabando de sombras (Mondadori, Barcelona, 2002), Un arte de hacer ruinas y otros cuentos (Fondo de Cultura Económica, México D.F., 2005) and La fiesta vigilada (Anagrama, Barcelona, 2007).

Lecture will be in Spanish
Event is free and open to the public.
For additional information and to RSVP call 305-348-1991.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Coming soon to a theater near you (or not): Oliver Stone's "South of the Border"

The following is an announcement I received today about Oliver Stone's new documentary, "South of the Border," which the blurb below refers to as "the social transformation underway in South America," (i.e., the new Latin American left).

Interestingly, and perhaps predictably for anything made by Stone, when I sent out the blurb to some of my friends I got the following two responses:

"I wouldn't miss this. Stone talked to Chávez, Evo, Correa -- no one here has done this."

"I saw the film at Havana Film Festival in December. It's awful! I wouldn't send students to see this. Waste of time and money."

Dear Theodore:

We realize that school is about to let out but we are hoping to get this film on your radar before you leave...
Oliver Stone's powerful new film, South of the Border, the first documentary by a major American director to explore the social transformation underway in South America, will be released in US theaters nationwide starting in NYC on June 25 (more

The film is the product of Oliver Stone's 2009 road trip across five countries to explore the social and political movements taking place in those countries and the mis-perceptions most people have about Hugo Chavez and other leaders in South America, mostly due to a skewed portrayal by the mainstream US media.
In the film, Stone sets out on a road trip across five countries to explore the social and political movements as well as the mainstream media's misperception of South America while interviewing seven of its elected presidents.

In casual conversations with Presidents Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Lula da Silva (Brazil), Cristina Kirchner (Argentina), as well as her husband and ex-President Nestor Kirchner, Fernando Lugo (Paraguay), Rafael Correa (Ecuador), and Raúl Castro (Cuba), Stone gains unprecedented access and sheds new light upon the exciting transformations in the region.

Stone was recently on
Larry King Live with Gov. Jesse Ventura and Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) in a fiery discussion that clearly demonstrated the biases towards our Latin American neighbors. 

Here's what people are saying :

"I think this film should be mandatory viewing for every high school student in America"
- Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota

"VALUABLE and INTERESTING CORRECTIVE to the mainstream media's often-atrocious coverage of Latin America, and a fascinating account of the rise of a new generation of political leaders."
- Andrew O'Hehir,

"LOVED THE MOVIE! Great perspective that people here in the US should see and hopefully it (will) make them understand what is going on in South America and with US foreign policy."
- Jason Smith, IMPACTO Latin News

South of the Border
Opens in New York June 25, 2010 at ANGELIKA FILM CENTER
18 West Houston St.
(@ Mercer St.)

Check for show times:
**Q&A with Oliver Stone on Friday June 25 following the main evening show!**
Group sales tickets also available at Angelika Film Center, here is how:
*  Tickets can only be purchase at the box office
* Tickets available Tuesday prior to the show's opening
* Cash and major credit cards are accepted, no checks
* Group ticket price are $7 for 25 tickets or more

Here's the trailer:

There's no such thing as a free lunch (in Cuba) (any more) AP

I wonder if this move will be accompanied by a more flexible approach toward the famed "paladares" and "puntos fijos."

I know of many enterprising Cubans who can make a mean "cajita" of local food for locals for a good price along with an essential "batido de mamey."

My favorite is on "H" between 21 and 23. Does anyone remember the name?

Cuba expands program cutting free lunches


Published: June 11, 2010

HAVANA (AP) - Nearly a quarter million Cuban workers are discovering there's so such thing as a free lunch.

The government is dramatically expanding a program that shuts workplace cafeterias while giving people stipends to buy food on their own. It is part of a larger plan to chip away at the raft of daily subsidies that have long characterized life on the island.

The Communist Party newspaper Granma reported Friday that a pilot program begun in October to eliminate free lunches for 2,800 government workers will grow to include another 225,000 as of July 1. The move will save the cash-strapped country $27 million.

The reform is being extended to state bank workers, employees at the tourism, transportation, foreign investment, natural resources and foreign relations ministries, as well as workers at the government retail giant CIMEX and the Office of the City of Havana Historian and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce.

The new  round of cafeteria closings means that in all, about 5 percent of Cuba's official work force of nearly 5 million will have to fend for themselves at lunch time, though the government will provide about 70 U.S. cents per work day to help pay for it.

The government controls well over 90 percent of the economy and almost everyone works for the state. Education through college and health care are free and housing, utilities, transportation and food are heavily subsidized, but government workers earn an average of less than $20 per month.

The reform represents a change in philosophy for the government, which has traditionally micromanaged many aspects of Cubans' lives - from monthly ration books to determining who can own a car.

Cuba's always-fragile economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and President Raul Castro, who took over from his elder brother Fidel in February 2008, has said he wants to cut costs by streamlining the stifling bureaucracy and putting a measure of decision-making in the hands of citizens.

A simple meal like a pork sandwich from a street stand costs about 25 cents, while pasta bought from a vendor may run about twice that - meaning some workers could save money.

Still, some were dubious.

"It doesn't seem good to me," said Susana Garcia, a 35-year-old who has worked in the Havana City Historian's office since 1998. "If you don't go to work or you get there late they dock you, and what you get isn't enough to buy anything - it's two packets of chicken per month."

Others affected by the new rules told The Associated Press they were called to meetings at work last weekend and informed that their free-lunch days were numbered.

Interviews Friday with six state employees who will lose them yielded only complaints, though many declined to give their names for fear of landing in hot water at work.

Some said that even if they can find a way to bring food from home - no small feat in a country where things like plastic kitchenware are hard to come by - they have no way to heat it up without access to state cafeterias. Others said they work nontraditional hours and will have trouble buying food during the times they have to eat it.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Flash Report from Cuba: Fuck the revolution?

Maria La Gorda

A good friend of mine just returned from a quick trip to Cuba where she was assessing the potential environmental impact there of the Gulf oil spill.

She has been to Cuba many times before, often working with progressive causes and always in solidarity with the Cuban people (and sometimes in solidarity with the revolution).

This background makes her note to me that follows all the more important and telling.

She has allowed me to post it here at El Yuma anonymously.

Your comments are welcome.

June 10, 2010


I've been back for a couple of days now and wanted to give you an update on the trip. Now that I'm back and objectives were accomplished, I am able to post photos on FB and the like.

The trip was wonderful for all the reasons you are aware of and painful given how things have changed since I last visited in 2002/2003. I am hoping to get your more informed opinion on my quick observations.

The younger generation seemed very disconnected to the revolution as they see that education will not yield the economic benefits they want. People have held on because they respect Fidel, but apparently there is little respect for Raul. No one could tell me what he is doing, who is in charge, and what the plan is for the future.

Everything seemed to be the same, if not better, upon first glance, with timed traffic lights, expanded Havana Vieja, some new hotels, etc., but more investigation showed that there has been a shift. Crime rates are up and the streets now have cameras everywhere.

People of all ages are complaining, but the numbers of youth who have dropped out in a "fuck the revolution" sentiment has risen. I've never seen so many rockeros and goths drunk off their asses not just along the malecon but also in large groups in other parts of the city.

On this trip I went to a reggeaton (state owned) club on the outskirts of town and watched young people buy cocaine from the bathroom attendant--maybe that was happening before but I never witnessed it. I went to another place in Miramar and thought I was in a high end club in Argentina---the sinewy, model like women in Paris/New York fashion and make up. Where did that money come from?

The introduction of the CUC currency has driven costs up so much that meat and toothpaste are inaccessible even to people who could shop in dollar stores before. Everyday another woman approached me to buy her soap or cooking oil. In the past, when this has happened, the requests were not for such staple items.

Even as we watch the results of oil spill in the Gulf, Cuba is on the verge of beginning their own off shore drilling. The freshly painted signs reading Venceremos y Hasta La Victoria have never seemed more absurd.

I'm going to hope it was all in my imagination.

Ah but the people--still able to laugh at it all, still maintaining a strong sense of community, still living in the moment despite having little control over their fate.

I was able to see Mxxxx and Sxxxx. It was Mxxxx's 60th birthday so I took them both to the fancy restaurant at the Nacional. Despite having lived just around the corner all these years, they had never eaten there before. They were like two little kids inside. We spoke of you constantly.

So we wait and see. As I head to ground zero for all things anti Castro (Miami), it will be interesting, if not horrifying to watch Cuba's history unfold.

Are my concerns warranted?

Un abrazo,