Thursday, July 29, 2010

Race in Cuba: The Eternal 'Black Problem' - Leonardo Padura

When it comes to race, Cuba is far from the utopia that black intellectuals like to think it is.

As part of The Root's series exploring the island's color complex, Cuba's best-known novelist weighs in.

By Leonardo Padura
July 27, 2010

After almost five decades of Marxist revolution, the official romantic idea was that, with the elimination of certain onerous economic and social practices that promoted racial discrimination, the last vestiges of racism would be vanquished.

Given the usual silence with which Cuban governmental institutions deal with the thornier issues in Cuban society -- as might be expected -- the deepest roots of prejudice remain embedded in time, the country's social structure and the Cuban people's very soul. Racism -- like prostitution, corruption and religion -- didn't disappear because of a socialist magical spell: Although diminished and quiet, it survived among the people, and today, in fact, in certain nonofficial circles, its incidence in the complex narrative of contemporary Cuban society is openly debated.

It doesn't seem necessary to go over the reasons that forged racism in Cuba. They're the same that, with European conquest and colonization, were imposed on the rest of the Americas with the hegemonic focus on the metropolis, which, as we know, depended for three long centuries on the importation of African slaves to sustain the economies of extensive regions in which the indigenous Amerindian populations had been or were being extinguished.

Cuban society was thus built with a strict code in which skin color placed human beings in certain social classes and even within varying degrees of humanity: Black, in many cases, was synonymous with beast.

"The black problem" is so fundamental, the matter of ethnic origin among the island's inhabitants so dramatic, and racism so persistent among those with decision and economic power that Cuba's independence from the Spanish empire was delayed by almost a century precisely because of its large number of blacks. (At certain points in the 19th century, blacks made up 60 percent of the resident population.)

They were a people who had been exploited and who, in a moment of institutional disorder, it was feared might try to vindicate their rights and their humanity, as had happened in the neighboring colony of Saint Domingue. If, as certain historians and sociologists have claimed, "the black problem" marked the Cuban political landscape at the birth of the nation in the beginning of the 19th century, its essence returned a century later when the island, having recently achieved its tarnished independence, continued its confrontation with "the black problem" by treating blacks with particular violence in a series of pogroms that took place mainly on the eastern side of the island, where the majority of the African-descended population lived.

The curious, contradictory and painful part is that various historians and sociologists also agree that the persistent "black problem" is still with us today, in the 21st century, urgently and tensely waiting for a definitive solution that never comes, in spite of laws, decrees and official edicts that paternalistically (but that are, deep down, racist) try to stipulate ethnic representation in certain affairs of state, government and the Communist Party. As if a few more dark faces in the official apparatus could really be an answer to the profound problems that have so much to do with economics and social thought and so little to do with the utopian volunteerism of our leaders who, in the end, are simply practicing politics with their "anti-discrimination" decrees.

The painful truth is that, in Cuba, the vast majority of the prison population is black or mixed-race.

The most physically ruined parts of the cities are those where most black and mixed-raced Cubans, weighed down by spiritual burdens and secular misery, have lived for generations.

They are also the ones who, in the economic and social climbing of the last few decades, are least represented ...

and let's not mention certain attitudes, repressive attitudes -- in other words, the attitude of the Cuban police, where blacks are mostly concentrated at the bottom of the pyramid -- that treat dark-skinned persons with much greater rigor ... precisely because of the color of their skin.

In its culture and idiosyncrasies, Cuba is a mestizo nation: a mix of spiritual and ethnic elements brought from Europe, Africa, China and neighboring Caribbean isles that contributed at a cellular level and can be seen on the skin, in the values and cultural expressions of Cubans.

Cubanness is mestizaje.

Nonetheless, the old prejudices live on in the minds of many people, while the social system, with its egalitarian laws, hasn't been able to liberate black people from the poorest margins of society.

Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the definitive answer to this problem demands new and more dynamic policies that, unfortunately, mostly depend on an island bereft of economic possibilities for white, mulatto and black Cubans so in need of improvements in their real and everyday life.

Leonardo Padura, Cuba's best-known novelist, is the three-time recipient of the Dashiell Hammett Award given by the International Association of Detective Writers. His most recent novel, El Hombre Que Amaba a Los Perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs), features Leon Trotsky and his killer, Ramon Mercader, as its main characters. He lives in Havana and can be reached via Achy Obejas.

Translation by Achy Obejas.
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Race in Cuba: The Politics of Power and Hypocrisy (The Root)

When it comes to race, Cuba is far from a utopia. Last year a group of black Americans, including Cornel West, wrote an open letter to Cuba decrying racism there.

As part of The Root's series exploring the island's color complex, one of Cuba's esteemed social scientists writes about the aftermath of that letter.

By Inéz Maria Martiatu Terry
July 28, 2010

The letter signed by 60 African Americans about the state of racism in Cuba, which ended decades of silence on Cuba's racial policies, was the first shot.

Naturally, certain sectors of the foreign press, representing interests that had always been racist, tried to take advantage of the situation. A good number of intellectuals on the island responded immediately, denying the accusations and the results of studies on the subject that they themselves had published -- a response provoked by the fears of criticism from abroad.

The most important internal response came a month after the letter (from African Americans), on Thursday, Dec. 21, when Cuba TV broadcast A Cuban Battle Against Racism (the title plays off A Cuban Battle Against Demons, a seminal book on national identity by Fernando Ortíz, the island's first significant post-colonial critic) on "Mesa Redonda," one of the most coveted prime-time slots.

Various specialists appeared on the show, and it was finally publicly recognized that prejudice, racism and racial discrimination persist in Cuba. This contradicted statements that had hastily been made to deny the situation.

And yet this happened on TV -- the mass medium par excellence in our country, and where the most pointed evidence of this very racism continues, especially in the lack of black actors in featured programming that frequently uses them only in police procedurals to play delinquents who practice Afro-Cuban religions.

What erroneous policies have allowed such an important issue to Cuban society to go without resolution in these 50 years of revolution?

The triumphalism that decided the problem was solved in 1962; the imposition of a single Cuban subject that did not take differences into account; and the fear that a public discussion on the matter would produce schisms before enemy threats from abroad.
These were the pretexts used to keep the dialogue and/or discussions about these and other important matters to society as a whole from ever taking place.

The exclusion of blacks from the halls of power and from the most advantageous economic sectors can be explained in part by the historical consequences of slavery and the inequalities of the black and mulatto population to whites in the first years of our socialist project, but it is no longer justifiable.

Other things -- such as the near total absence of textbooks at all levels of learning about the history and culture of Africa and of blacks in Cuba, continued emphasis of European aesthetic values, the degrading representation of black and mulatto women in touristic propaganda and police harassment -- continue to batter the self-esteem of the country's population of color.

A growing number of scholars have engaged with these questions for years, going against the tide of partisan opinions trying to put off discussion and analysis of the issue. The hip-hop movement has opened a space in which to confront matters of interest to youth, particularly black and mulatto youth. The inclusion of women in a decidedly masculine endeavor such as rap is particularly notable. Young people of color struggle against racial discrimination and patriarchal oppression.

They're interested in family, the vindication of beauty, the relationship between the sexes, violence, prostitution, drugs, the double morality/hypocrisy, corruption, racism, police harassment, conformity and the defense of diversity, including homosexuality/lesbianism. There's still much to do.

Although the answer lies in education and a strong involvement in cultural work, it's still a long ways off. The hegemonic sectors of our society that have historically benefited from this inequality will not give up their privilege after a mere bout of conscience. It will be necessary to seek the help of the courts.

If we don't keep in mind that racism is linked to the exercise of power, it will continue to play out as a consequence of its obvious economic, social and cultural benefits to the hegemonic sectors.

Inés María Martiatu Terry is a Cuban writer and cultural critic whose many books include Over the Waves and Other Stories, published in the United States. She has received various awards, including the Ministry of Culture's distinction for national culture.

Translation by Achy Obejas.
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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Latino Digital Divide - Pew Hispanic Center

The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born Lead the Foreign Born

When it comes to the use of technology among Latinos, nativity plays an important role.

Internet use and cell phone use are much higher among native-born Latinos than among foreign-born Latinos.

And among young Latinos ages 16 to 25, the native born are more likely than the foreign born to use mobile technology to communicate daily with their friends.

These findings emerge from two new analyses of a nationwide survey of Latinos ages 16 and older by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

Fully 85% of native-born Latinos go online while just half of foreign-born Latinos do so. And when it comes to cell phone use among Latinos, 80% of the native born use one, compared with 72% of the foreign born.

Results also reveal that use of a cell phone or the internet among adult Hispanics still significantly lags behind non-Hispanics. Among those ages 18 and older, only 64% of Latinos go online, compared with 78% of non-Latinos.

An ethnic gap exists in cell phone use as well--about three-fourths (76%) of adult Latinos use a cell phone, compared with 86% of non-Latinos.

These findings are in the "The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus The Foreign Born <> " report.

A second report that focuses on Latino youth, "How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age <> ," finds that Latinos ages 16 to 25 use mobile technology to communicate and socialize with their friends more than other technologies. However, the native born are far more likely than the foreign born to send texts (65% versus 26%) and to use a cell phone (55% versus 29%) to communicate daily with their friends.

Both reports are based on the 2009 National Survey of Latinos, which was conducted from August 5 through September 16, 2009 among a randomly selected, nationally representative sample of 2,012 Hispanics ages 16 and older. The survey was conducted in both English and Spanish, on cellular as well as landline telephones.
Hispanics are the nation's largest and youngest minority ethnic group.

In 2008, there were 46.9 million Hispanics in the U.S., representing 15.4% of the total U.S. population.

Among young people, Hispanics represent an even larger share. Some 18%, or 7.5 million, of those ages 16 to 25 are Hispanic.

The reports, "The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus The Foreign Born <> " authored by Gretchen Livingston, Senior Researcher, Pew Hispanic Center, and "How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age <> " authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center and Gretchen Livingston, are available at the Pew Hispanic Center's website,
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More on AZ Immigration Law from NPR

AZ Immigration Law Would Be A Challenge For Police

While many law enforcement officials support the new Arizona immigration law, others worry it will hurt relations with the community.

Published: July 28, 2010 by Alan Greenblatt

Even the people who would be charged with enforcing Arizona's controversial new immigration law can't agree on the question of whether it's a good idea. The law takes effect Thursday -- but only after a last-minute judicial ruling that blocks some of its most controversial provisions, including the requirement that officers check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws if they have reason to suspect that person is in the country illegally.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton today put that part of the law on hold while courts consider challenges to its legality. She also put on hold provisions requiring that immigrants carry their legal papers at all times and barring undocumented workers from soliciting work in public places, the AP says.

The Arizona Sheriffs' Association supports the law and the controversial provision about checking a suspect's immigration status, saying it will give deputies needed tools to combat crimes associated with illegal immigration, such as human smuggling. "If we can remove them from the community with an immigration charge, we'll do the community a favor," says Cochise County Sheriff Larry A. Dever.

But rank-and-file opinion is mixed and many police chiefs -- inside the state and around the country -- say the law would prove a costly distraction. "It drives a wedge between us and the community, where we have to get our information," says Roberto Villasenor, Tucson's chief of police.

Race As A Factor
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the law, known as Senate Bill 1070, in April, saying that the state had been overwhelmed by an influx of illegal immigrants and could no longer wait for Congress to address the issue. That is the argument numerous states have made in recent years in passing dozens, if not hundreds, of laws relating to immigration.

But none has gone so far as Arizona. The Justice Department has sued to block SB 1070, arguing that it infringes on federal authority over immigration matters. Several immigrant and civil rights groups have sued as well, saying it will inevitably lead to abuses such as racial profiling.

Supporters of the law dismiss such concerns, noting that it specifically precludes local law enforcement officers from using race or national origin as a factor in determining whether they suspect someone of being an illegal immigrant.

Police and sheriffs can't stop people to question them based solely on immigration concerns, but once they are investigating other violations they are required, if suspicious, to check. Dever, the Cochise County sheriff, says the law will aid law enforcement officers in dealing with serious criminals -- notably those who cross the border repeatedly with impunity. "This gives cops tools to get these guys off the streets," says Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports SB 1070 and stricter immigration laws in general.

"They may not be able to prove a felony just yet, but if they can get a guy off the street before he commits a crime, that works to the benefit of the community."

Breaking A Bond?
But the potential ill effect on community relations is something many police chiefs are warning about. If people come to fear the approach of law enforcement officers, they say, individuals are less likely to come forward with information about crimes.

"Any beat cop will tell you that the number one asset in preventing crimes or apprehending criminals is cooperation from the community," says Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, which conducts policy research on Latino issues. "When that bond is broken, it's difficult to recover."

The other specter that SB 1070's opponents raise concerns racial profiling. The law's potential for triggering civil rights violations has already provided fodder for lawsuits -- and will lead to more once it actually takes effect.

"Without a doubt, we're going to be accused of racial profiling on this, no matter what we do," Villasenor, the Tucson police chief, says in a training video sent to officers throughout the state. The video, produced by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board, seeks to guide officers on ways to avoid racial profiling.

But SB 1070's critics say it treads awfully close to the line anyway. "Even though the law says that racial profiling is not to take place, the reality is that it's going to be very difficult for officers to aggressively enforce the law without crossing the line," says San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon, who previously headed the police department in Mesa, Arizona.

Factors that officers may consider when enforcing the law include inability to speak English; avoiding eye contact; traveling in a crowded vehicle; and wearing layers of clothing in hot weather, which suggests chilly desert crossings at night. Dever, a sheriff whose county shares borders with Mexico and New Mexico, says that simple demographics will determine who is most likely to be charged under SB 1070.

"Most of the people we encounter in the drug smuggling and human smuggling trades are of Mexican nationality. Most of the people we arrest are going to be Mexican," he says. "Is there anything racist about it?"

Does ICE Have The Capacity?
Assuming SB 1070 works as intended and local law enforcement agencies detain more illegal immigrants, that raises the question of what will be done with them. Sheriffs and police already complain that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can barely handle the caseload it now has, leading many illegal immigrants to languish in local jails -- or be released.

ICE officials have told local law enforcement officials that, at best, they have the capacity to deport 400,000 individuals a year. Last year, they deported 387,790. "We don't always take action on every individual that's referred to us," says Gillian M. Brigham, an ICE spokeswoman.

"In a world of limited resources, we have to prioritize."

A Rock And A Hard Place
Police chiefs worry not only about how likely the feds will be to take a rising number of illegal immigrants off their hands and out of their facilities, but whether the law will prove a further drain on their resources due to the need to defend against legal challenges.

Whatever its potential benefits, it's clear that SB 1070 places local law enforcement between a rock and a hard place. The law gives any citizen standing to sue if he or she feels that local police or sheriffs are not enforcing the law with sufficient vigor. On the other hand, strict enforcement will be bait for further lawsuits alleging racial profiling.

The one thing critics and supporters of the law seem to be able to agree upon, in fact, is that it will offer a field day for lawyers. "Because of the posture of our own Department of Justice," says Dever, the Cochise County sheriff, "with the federal government threatening to file suit against officers for civil rights violations, you know there's going to be a flurry of those complaints."

[Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]
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BREAKING: Do I Look Illegal?

NPR News

Judge Blocks Parts Of Arizona Immigration Law A Day Before Its Implementation

Published: July 28, 2010

by The Associated Press

A judge has blocked the most controversial sections of Arizona's new immigration law from taking effect Thursday, handing a major legal victory to opponents of the crackdown.

The law will still take effect Thursday, but without many of the provisions that angered opponents -- including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The judge also put on hold a part of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton put those controversial sections on hold until the courts resolve the issues. Opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling and is trumped by federal immigration law.

[Copyright 2010 The Associated Press]
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Achy Obejas on Race in Cuba (from The Root) with commentary from Walter Lippmann

Race in Cuba: Yes, Virginia, There Is Racism on the Island

When it comes to race, Cuba is far from the utopia that black intellectuals like to think it is. Today, on the 57th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, The Root launches its series exploring the island's color complex.

By Achy Obejas, The Root, July 26, 2010

In 1998, when President Bill Clinton was allowing Cuban artists to travel relatively easily in and out of the United States, I invited a well-known Cuban visual artist to visit my graduate class at Columbia College in Chicago. I wanted her to show the students her work and talk a little about what it was like to create art -- such a personal endeavor -- in a society that focused on the collective rather than the individual.

The visit to Columbia, an urban school with a strong arts focus, went well until the question-and-answer session. An African-American student, eyes misty with hope, asked, "Is it true that there's no racism in Cuba?" My friend, a red-haired and white-skinned Cuban, nodded enthusiastically. "No, there's no racism," she affirmed, and there was a collective sigh in the class over the very notion that such a utopia could really exist.

Like my friend, I am also light-skinned -- white in Cuban society -- but unlike her, I didn't grow up in Havana hearing, and thus believing, in this human-relations miracle. I was born in Cuba but grew up outside Chicago in the 1960s and '70s; I'd lived through the U.S. civil rights movement and worked for Harold Washington's mayoral campaign. I'd struggled with racism all my life -- racism directed at me as a Cuban-Latina by white and black Americans, racism by Cubans and other Latinos of all colors directed at anyone darker, and, of course, my own racism. And instinctively, I rejected her assertion that racism had been vanquished on the island -- and I said so right there in class.

This didn't go over well. My students preferred her version of events -- she was the Cuban from the island and had the edge on credibility by virtue of residence -- but perhaps more importantly, they wanted to believe her. The idea of a racism-free space was intoxicating.

My friend was also upset. She felt that her credibility had been publicly assailed and I had failed to understand the real achievements of the Cuban Revolution. I had gone back to Cuba and missed the point; I had been obviously brainwashed by my years in exile in the United States.

We remained friends but agreed to disagree on this issue. She went back to Cuba and told her friends her stories about her first visit to America, including the tale of this silly Cuban-American who'd suggested that there was still racial discrimination in the homeland.

To her surprise, her black and mixed-raced friends -- including close and longtime friends -- used the opportunity to express their own misgivings about the racial situation in Cuba. My friend was flabbergasted.

Why, she asked, if the truth didn't conform to the official story, hadn't anyone ever said anything before?

Click here to read more of this story.


I also recommend anything on race in Cuba by Alejandro de la Fuente, pictured to the left (for a start on his extensive scholarship go here and here).  Also see his excellent book, A Nation For All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in 20th Century Cuba (UNC Press, 2000).

Though Walter Lippmann and I rarely agree on our analysis of contemporary Cuba, his commentary below is nuanced and helpful, as is his list of links.

"A few notes on racism in Cuba"
Posted by Walter Lippmann (
July 27, 2010

Anyone who tells you there's no racism or racial discrimination in Cuba is either ignorant or dishonest. At the same time, it's very important that people from the United States when looking at Cuba try to understand that society and its problems in the island's own historical and social context. Cuban racism isn't the same as US racism. But it certainly does exist and has long existed. At the same time, the idea that the Cuban revolution's leadership ignores the issue is disingenuous. Separately I will post an extensive list of documents to indicate a consciousness of racism as a continuing problem on the island.

Those studying this topic need to explore it in depth. Here is one example, among many others which could be cited: Whereas the United States elected its first Black president relatively recently - Barack Obama in 2008, Cuba elected its first black president long, long ago: Fulgencio Batista in 1940. And also in 1930, the head of the principal industrial trade union on the island was a black man, Jesus Menendez. And the head of the main left-wing political party, the Communist Party, was a mulatto, Blas Roca. And the Communist Party wasn't a small radical fringe group. It was sufficiently influential that it had two members of the cabinet under president Batista.

THE ROOT'S discussion of racism in Cuba raises important issues, but misses some aspects of the Cuban treatment of these complex and difficult themes. U.S. readers are likely to be unfamiliar with the considerable Cuban literature on race, racism and how they play out in Cuba today. Here in the United States of America, where racism is a central facet of the social and political culture, and where ignorance of Cuban reality is maintained through a travel ban, thats not surprising.

In my opinion, people from the United States ought to be careful to avoid thinking that the experiences and lessons of life in the US can be applied to every other country on earth without taking into account that country’s history, culture and experiences. I believe

The United States didn’t elect its first Black president until 2008, in the third CENTURY after gaining its independence from the United Kingom. Cuba, which had and continues to have racial problems of its own, elected its first black president in 1940, at a time when the island had only achieved formal and juridical, but not practical nor actual independence, from the United States of America. Actual independence, I would argue, only began on January 1, 1959, with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

Though I am non-Black, and can’t discuss racism from the same personal experience foundation that Blacks can, I’ve attempted to follow these issues for many years. I’ve traveled to Cuba and stayed for extended periods of time. In addition, I direct an Internet-based news service, CubaNews, available at http://groups. group/CubaNews/

Part of the work of the CubaNews list is to locate Cuban materials on these themes, and to make translations of them for the English-speaking public. Even as fierce an opponent of the Cuban Revolution as Carlos Moore has found himself citing my work and my personal website regarding these issues, as you can find in his recently-published autobiography, PICHON. (see the footnotes to the book)

Among the accomplishments of the CubaNews list has been locating and translating from Spanish to English articles on racism, which is a continuing problem, from the contemporary Cuban media. I’ll cite a few examples and hope that anyone interested in these matters, will take a look at what Afro-Cuban authors have had to say about them.

Thank you,

Walter Lippmann

Esteban Morales: Cuban Color

Esteban Morales: Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba:

Esteban Morales: Anti-Cuban Subversion – The Race Issue

Miguel Barnet: Preserving Memory:

David Gonzalez and Walterio Lord:
Some Quick Comments on Carlos Moore’s PICHON:

The Independent Party of Color:

The Teachings and Lineage of Walterio Carbonell:

Esteban Morales: Malcolm X – An Unyielding Revolutionary:

Fernando Martinez Heredia: Malcolm X Still Speaks to Us

Fernando Martinez Heredia: The Meaning of a Centennial

Fernando Martinez Heredia:
Social diversity is not a weakness of the nation,
but a very important element of its wealth.

Alberto N. Jones: Unmasking the Promotors of Racial War in Cuba

There are many, many more, but these are a few to get an interested reader started.

============ ========= ========= ========= ==
Los Angeles, California
Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
http://groups. group/CubaNews/
"Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

60 is the new 40! 60-year-old woman to swim 103 miles from La Habana to La Yuma

El Yuma just got off his bike after cycling 270 miles over the course of three days from Boston to New York in order to raise money for ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) research.

Lots of liquids, granola bars, and moral support kept me going strong up those hills, along with this pearl of wisdom from a fellow rider:

"Pain is only weakness leaving the body."

Let's hope Diana Nyad keeps this in mind as she crosses the probverbial "90 miles" (actually 103 miles) between La Habana and La Yuma.

From Walter Lippmann at Yahoo Group "CubaNews" (

LA TIMES: For ocean swimmer Diana Nyad, 60 represents a sea change as she prepares for Cuba-to-Florida swim (Monday, July 26, 2010)

Excerpt: Late last week, Nyad received permission from both governments to do this. She began her requests in January, and says that if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had not stepped in recently, her dream might have been drowned forever in red tape. The United States government still sees Cuba as a hot potato, and Cuba, eager for this event to take place, badly wanted Nyad to complete her swim in Havana, not leave from there.

"The Cubans don't like the implication of somebody walking out on one of their beaches and swimming away," Nyad says.

She also says she would be more than happy to make the big arrival show in Havana, but that prevailing currents in the Gulf Stream make that much more difficult.


For ocean swimmer Diana Nyad, 60 represents a sea change as she prepares for Cuba-to-Florida swim

Nyad gave up major ocean swims when she was 29, after trying (and failing) to complete the 103-mile Cuba-to-Florida trek in 1978. Now, just weeks from her 61st birthday, she aims to give it another go, in notoriously shark-infested waters, proclaiming, '60 is the new 40.'

By Bill Dwyre

Monday, July 26, 2010

Diana Nyad failed in a 1978 attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, but is now ready to complete unfinished business.

Being in your 60s means many things. It can be the joy of getting your shoes tied every morning. For Diana Nyad, it is swimming from Cuba to Florida.

That's 103 miles, and, yes, that's nuts.

But all signs point to its happening, and Nyad, a world-renowned open-water swimmer who has been landlocked for 31 years, is as determined now as she once was when setting off on record swims around Manhattan Island, across Lake Ontario and from the Bahamas to Florida.

Late last week, Nyad received permission from both governments to do this. She began her requests in January, and says that if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had not stepped in recently, her dream might have been drowned forever in red tape. The United States government still sees Cuba as a hot potato, and Cuba, eager for this event to take place, badly wanted Nyad to complete her swim in Havana, not leave from there.

"The Cubans don't like the implication of somebody walking out on one of their beaches and swimming away," Nyad says.

She also says she would be more than happy to make the big arrival show in Havana, but that prevailing currents in the Gulf Stream make that much more difficult.

Nyad, who will be 61 next month, stopped swimming when she was 29, but never strayed far from the spotlight. She is a nationally known speaker, author, travel expert and sports commentator on NPR. She was born in New York City, grew up in Florida and lives in Los Angeles.

Actually, for the last 10 months, she has lived both in L.A. and in various oceans. She would fly to spots off Mexico or a Caribbean island, do some ocean swimming, then return to tend to her professional life in Los Angeles.

"Last January, I flew to Mexico, hired a boat and swam for 6½ hours," she said. "I got on the plane to come home and suddenly knew I was going to do this, I could do this, I still had it in me."

Nyad says that encroaching age never bothered her, that 50 and 55 came and went with no thought. But 60 was different. She had a feeling of "being disenfranchised, of being no longer valued." That, coupled with the death of her mother, left her worried that her best days were behind, and she was struggling to find a way to disprove that to herself.

She went back to who she was, what she did. She quietly went to the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, then other area pools, and the work began. The long-range goal was easy. In 1978, she had attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida, struggled in huge waves for nearly 42 hours and had to give up.

At 60, she saw it as unfinished business.

Now, weather permitting, she will wade into the water in Havana in the next few weeks. She has the team and equipment in place, which is no small undertaking and no small expense. She has to house and feed boat captains, kayak paddlers, trainers, medical personnel and more until the weather is perfect.

"I'm looking for two or three days of doldrums, where the ocean is so flat you can put your breakfast plate down on it," she says.

That's exactly the weather she had July 10, when she did a successful 24-hour training swim in Florida.

There was one small hitch: At dusk, a shark surfaced close by. Her safety diver spotted it, and it went away. Nyad will swim the entire shark-infested route without a shark cage, unlike her first attempt in 1978. A similar route was accomplished by Susie Maroney in 1997, but she did it in a shark cage and some have theorized that the cage helped pull her along. Maroney did her crossing in 23 hours 47 minutes. Nyad expects to take about 60 hours.

Nyad says she will be protected by a newly developed shark shield. She said the four-pound device, dragged along by accompanying boats, emits something that keeps sharks away.

"They tested it in Australia," she says. "They put a bloody leg of a cow on a surfboard and then watched from a helicopter. Within minutes, hundreds of sharks came and just tore the thing apart. Then they did the same thing with the shark shield device. Nearly 5,000 sharks were in the area, but none touched it."

There are doubters.

"I get e-mails from people saying they are shark experts," she says. "They say I will be like a dinner bell out there. I've started deleting those immediately.

"Whether it is true that the shield works or not, I've decided to believe it will."

Although there is obviously commercial value and ego enhancement in her incredible quest, Nyad has a revealing answer to whether just a good try will be OK.

"I'm an athlete," she says. "I don't feel that way. I didn't make it the first time, and I'm sure not going to wait another 30 years."

When she does this, Nyad says, she wants people in their 60s to feel good about themselves. She likes to say that "60 is the new 40."

There will, of course, be a day or two after she finishes when she will be too stiff to tie her shoes.
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
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Monday, July 26, 2010

The general did not speak because he had nothing to say

Yoani Sanchez's analysis of President Raul Castro's non-speech today is really a gem.

Her original post in Spanish is here and in English here.

Here's my translated excerpt:

"The general did not speak because he had nothing to say, no launching of a reform package, because he knows that would be risking the power, the control, that his family has exercised for five decades. [...]

Referring to the postponed measures to address the economy and society, Machedo Ventura declared that they will be made, 'step by step at a pace determined by us.' The old confusion with the first person plural, the well-known ambiguity of the apparently consensual."

The pace, the speed, and the depth of these anxiously-awaited openings are decided by a small group which has much to lose if they apply them, and time to benefit if they delay them."

Some will say Raúl Castro’s silence is part of his strategy to avoid bluster and bravado. But, more than political discretion, what we saw today is pure State secrecy."

By saying nothing, he has sent us his fullest message: 'I owe you no explanations, no promises, no results'."

Deafening Silence from Above

This report just in from Aurelio Pedroso at Progreso Weekly

Raul Castro did NOT speak
Monday, 26 July 2010, 11:30 a.m.
By Aurelio Pedroso

Far from what was expected for the July 26 celebration, Cuban authorities did NOT announce new economic reforms and left "the study, analysis and decision-making in all sectors," to be continued.

The announcement was conveyed by Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, first vice president of the Council of State and Ministers, who served as principal speaker during the commemoration -- and not Raul Castro as many expected.

Another surprise was the absence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez currently mired in the tension of a possible military confrontation with its neighbor, Colombia. His place was taken by Ali Rodriguez Araque, Venezuela's vice president.

In Santa Clara's Ernesto Che Guevara Plaza, presided over by waving Cuban and Venezuelan flags as well as the emblematic red and black 26th of July Movement flag, Machado Ventura referred to the "unbreakable solidarity" with Venezuela, a "country which had every right to defend itself," adding, that they could "count with the firm backing of the Cuban people."

In reference to the pressing Cuban problems, Machado emphasized that the production of food, the handover of idle lands and the perfection of urban agriculture will continue as strategic projects. He also stressed the interest in saving fuel and the reduction in costs, the rationality of forces and means.

Machado made clear that actions would be without improvisations. "We will not be led by foreign media campaigns…we will proceed step by step at a rhythm decided by us," he said.

In his 25-minute speech he reiterated, "change whatever needs changing without foreign pressure." "… we will act without populist solutions, demagogic or misleading."

A great deal of the population expected the speech to be given by Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz. Many expected the announcement of certain changes to the island's economy, currently affected by low productivity, lack of capital, centralization and a bureaucratic power capable of putting the brakes on and/or halt actions that might improve it.

But Raul Castro did not speak and this silence creates certain questions amongst the island's population.
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Artists See Increase in U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchanges (NYT - Reuters)

Yanell Gómez, a Cuban actress, rehearsing "Blind Mouth Singing" in Havana this month. The bare-bones play was a rare Cuban-American production in Cuba.

July 25, 2010

HAVANA - The venue is undistinguished: a cramped theater tucked beneath a downtown apartment block.

Tickets cost just five Cuban pesos, or 23 cents. The set, for want of wood, is a beautiful creation of string. Yet in the world of Cuban theater, the production of "Blind Mouth Singing" - written and directed by Cuban-Americans - is a rare and momentous event. Only a handful of artists from the Cuban diaspora have staged plays here on the island since the United States severed ties with Cuba in 1961. "It's difficult to overstate the emotional impact it's had on me and the symbolic importance it has for relations between Miami and Havana," said the playwright, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, who was in the Cuban capital for the opening at the 182-seat Basement Theater this month.

Despite little apparent progress in diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States since President Obama took office, members of the Cuban arts community say more musicians, artists, actors and writers are traveling between the two countries than during George W. Bush's presidency. In June, Silvio Rodríguez, the Cuban songwriter, played a concert at Carnegie Hall, 30 years after his last visit to the United States; and Alicia Alonso, the legendary director of the National Ballet of Cuba, visited New York as part of celebrations for her 90th birthday. Things have picked up, too, in the theater community. Two Cuban theater groups, Teatro Buendía and Teatro El Público, are performing this month in the United States as part of theater festivals in Chicago and Miami. In March, a group of Cuban playwrights and designers attended a Cuban theater conference at the University of Miami.

The exchanges follow a lull in cultural swaps that began around 2003, when the Bush administration tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba.

Lillian Manzor, director of the Cuban Theater Digital Archive at the University of Miami, said visas for cultural purposes were flowing once more. "Cubans from the island are coming to the U.S. easier - not only musicians, but whole theater groups, and academics also," she said. "It's a cause for optimism.""Blind Mouth Singing," the play being performed here, is set deep in the fecund but ruthless Caribbean countryside.

Reiderico, the teenage protagonist, has an imaginary friend, Lucero, who lives down a well but wants to escape and live in the capital. Reiderico is bullied by his bitter mother and boorish brother, but has an ally in a sweet, restive aunt named Bolivia. The play deals with familiar Cuban themes: painful longing, fractured identity and ambivalence about leaving to seek a new life. It is dedicated to Reinaldo Arenas, the barred, gay Cuban writer who fled to the United States in 1980, and it is inspired by his first novel, "Singing From the Well," about a child who escapes the torment of his brutal family through fantasy. Mr. Cortiñas, who was born in Miami, writes his scripts in English with a poetry drawn from his mother tongue. "Blind Mouth Singing" has also been produced in New York and Chicago. "The idea of parting, of seeking new horizons, that's very Cuban," said Henry Labrada, 18, a dance student who saw the play here.

"Theater is the perfect medium for us to understand that being from here, being from there, we share the same sensibility." Ms. Manzor said collaborations like "Blind Mouth Singing" nurtured a growing consensus across the Florida Straits that the diaspora's cultural output formed part of the Cuban scene. For decades after the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power, the official canon shunned the work of Cubans who left the island. But that position has gradually shifted.
"Every work by a Cuban dramaturge, no matter where in the world it is done, forms part of Cuban theater," said Gerardo Fulleda León, head of the Havana-based Rita Montaner Theater Company, which produced the play. "

A person's transitory circumstance is not what defines their identity. The same applies with art." The process of producing "Blind Mouth Singing" began in 1999, when Mr. Fulleda invited a Cuban-American director, Jorge Luis Cacheiro, to put on a play. For years, the project stalled because Mr. Cacheiro could not get financing in the United States.

Then in 2008, Mr. Cacheiro received about $7,500 in grants for travel expenses from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Theater Communications Group and Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he teaches.

Even with the money in place, putting on the show was no picnic. The Cuban cast, which would normally spend several months rehearsing a play, had four weeks.

Two actors defected to Europe before rehearsals began, and another left. A DVD player that was part of the sound design was seized by Cuban customs. There was no wood to build the house that is the centerpiece of the set, so it was redesigned at the last minute using string that Mr. Cacheiro had brought from the United States. There was even some discussion over painting a white stool brown, because there was no paint to return it to its original color. But Mr. Cacheiro cannot wait to do it all again. "These processes are vital," he said. "For me, they're steps towards ending the embargo." He and Mr. Fulleda have plans to bring an all-American play to the Cuban capital.

He is confident that, this time, it will not take a decade. "We are living in different times, and I think projects like this will happen much more quickly," Mr. Cacheiro said. "There's a change in the wind."
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Now for something completely different: Landau and Valdes on Cuba's prisoner release

I hope readers of El Yuma will understand that reproduction of an article or opinion here does not mean endorsement.

Perhaps readers can respond to Landau and Valdes' article themselves in the comments section (or on the site where it was originally published).

Here's my two cents: while the authors are right to point to US government hypocracy regarding prisoners and double standards vis-a-vis friends and foes in the MSM, I for one reject the idea that these dissidents were working in the interests of the U.S. Instead, they were working in the interests of their country, Cuba.

However, when those interests don't coincide with those of the Communist Party, they are simply labeled mercenaries by the Cuban government and its defenders.

Mainstream media omits context and key facts on Cuba

By Saul Landau and Nelson Valdes

On July 8, the Washington Post lead story ["Cuba to release 52 political prisoners, Catholic Church says"] reported Cuba had released five political prisoners with assurances of forty-seven more to come in the near future. Cuban President Raul Castro said all political prisoners would soon be released. On July 16, another group was freed.

The Post story and its July 9 editorial "Cuba's marginal gesture" omitted facts readers would need in order to understand the significance of the prisoner release. Both pieces convey the image of a "political prisoner" who is dedicated to expressing unwelcome views -- perhaps a
poet, or a whistle blower who has uncovered corruption. But these prisoners were in jail for committing crimes that would have placed them behind bars if they were done in the United States including working for a foreign government without registering, and committing violence.

For example, Orlando Zapata, the hunger striker who died in March, was convicted of aggravated, assault -- cutting off a man's ear with a machete because the man had intervened to stop a street brawl. He developed his reputation as a "dissident" while serving his sentence in prison.

When James Cason arrived in Cuba in 2003 to head the U.S. diplomatic mission, the State Department reportedly instructed him to adopt the "ugly American" role; to interfere blatantly in Cuba's domestic affairs.

Roger Noriega, then an Assistant Secretary of State for Western
Hemisphere Affairs, recently explained on a Miami radio talk show that the motive was to induce Cuba to expel him, thus providing the Bush Administration with a pretext to end formal contacts with the island. To achieve that goal, Cason openly organized and paid Cuban "dissidents."

Rather than expel the puppeteer, however, Cuba arrested the puppets Cason had used as human instruments for his machinations. (July 1, Que Pasa, Miami, referring to May 20 interview on WQBA Miami [Univision], "Lo que otros no dicen")

The editorial also missed the fact that the United States holds more
political prisoners in Cuba (Guantanamo Base) than the Cuban government does. Of the 181 remaining Guantanamo detainees, an Obama Task Force
recommended 48 should be released since they have been cleared of criminal acts. Most of these people were kidnapped. No warrants were issued for their arrests. (July 9, Financial Times)

The U.S. government justified such arrests, post 9/11, because
Americans felt under attack from terrorists. We should thus be able to empathize with Cubans who at least issued arrest warrants for people who secretly received money from Cuba's avowed enemy. Declassified CIA
documents attest to thousands of CIA-backed terrorist raids against Cuba since the early 1960s. More Cubans died in these attacks than perished in the 9/11 horrors. Cuba also suffered substantial property damage from CIA-backed sabotage of factories and fields.

As for civil liberties, Cuba at least held formal trials for the dissidents and found them guilty of organizing at the behest of U.S.
officials as well as discussing future actions and accepting money, goods or services from U.S. diplomats. They were not charged for having opposing ideas -- although the expression of opposition ideas may have motivated the arrests. The Post editorial, like a similar sermon in the Los Angeles Times (July 10), seems to have made its judgment by using a double standard.

The U.S. media has also portrayed Ghandi-like attributes of Guillermo Fariñas, the other faster of conscience, which might have been tempered by the fact of his 1995 arrest for beating the female director of a hospital. In 2002, he attacked another woman who then needed surgery.

Zapata and Fariñas may qualify as legitimate political oppositionists,
but would the editorial have talked of George Jackson and other former Black Panthers without mentioning their criminal records?

Nowhere do the double standards applied to Cuba shine more dramatically than in the issue of terrorism. Currently, the United States harbors individuals accused of horrific terrorist acts -- sabotage of a Cuban commercial airliner killing 73 and a spate of bombings of Cuban tourist spots killing an Italian and wounding many. Instead of indicting or extraditing Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch for international terrorism -- CIA and FBI cables point to their role in sabotaging the airliner over Barbados in 1976, killing all aboard -- Washington has protected them.

The Justice Department has charged Posada with immigration fraud, a minor charge, and has allowed the case to drag on for six years.

Double standards and irony abound. Spain and the United States lecture Cuba on freedom after holding the island as a formal and informal economic colony respectively for 450 years. Somehow, both seem to claim they have a perennial right to dictate Cuban government behavior.

Saul Landau is Professor Emeritus at California State University, Pomona, and a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Nelson P. Valdes is Professor Emeritus, Sociology Department, at the University of New Mexico.

Sandra Levinson
Executive Director
Cuban Art Space/Center for Cuban Studies
Tel. 212.242.0559
Fax 212.242.1937
231 West 29 St, 401
New York NY 10001
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Alarcón dice que presos liberados pueden quedarse en Cuba y podrían ser más de 52

Alarcón dice que presos liberados pueden quedarse en Cuba y podrían ser más de 52

Según cálculos de la Comisión Cubana de Derechos Humanos, con la excarcelación de los 52 opositores quedarían 115 presos políticos en la Isla

Agencias, Madrid
Miércoles, 21 de julio de 2010

El jefe del Parlamento cubano, Ricardo Alarcón, dijo que podría haber más liberaciones de presos políticos que las 52 anunciadas y que los ex detenidos, si lo desean, pueden permanecer en la Isla, en una entrevista con la AFP el martes en Ginebra.

Alarcón recordó que en las conversaciones entre el gobierno de Raúl Castro y la Iglesia católica "quedó claro que la voluntad del gobierno cubano es la de sacar de la cárcel a todas las personas" sobre las que no pesen delitos de sangre.

"Según su Eminencia el cardenal (Jaime Ortega), en las conversaciones quedó claro que la voluntad del gobierno cubano es la de sacar a todas las personas" a condición de "que no pesen sobre ellos responsabilidades de la vida de otras personas", dijo Alarcón, que participa en Ginebra en una reunión de líderes parlamentarios de todo el mundo.

Al preguntársele si podía confirmar la posibilidad de liberar a personas que no estuvieran vinculadas a ese tipo de crímenes, Alarcón respondió: "Claro".
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rio Zaza back in the news - Reuters

No corruption by former Castro friend says his attorney

Wednesday, July 21
HAVANA (Reuters) - A lawyer for a Chilean businessman and former close friend of Fidel Castro vowed on Wednesday to prove his client's innocence after Cuba accused him of bribery, fraud and other crimes in a high-profile corruption case.

Chilean Attorney Juan Pablo Hermosilla said information would reveal "the total inconsistency of the supposed crimes" for which Chile-based magnate Max Marambio is being investigated.

"We do not doubt that if an impartial and objective investigation is carried out, it will show the total adherence to Cuban law with which Max Marambio has acted in commercial activities in Cuba," Hermosilla said in a statement.

Marambio had a joint venture with the Cuban government known as Rio Zaza that produced fruit juice, milk and other products. It is being investigated for financial irregularities.

A decree published on Tuesday in the island's Official Gazette said Marambio had been summoned to appear before Cuban investigators on July 29 or face action that lawyers say could include an extradition warrant issued through Interpol.

It said Marambio is accused of bribery, fraud, embezzlement, falsifying banking and business documents and "acts damaging to economic activity and contracting."

Hermosillo said he has been in contact with Cuban authorities, who have sent written questions to answer. The official summons was a "normal procedure in an investigation of this type," he said.

The Rio Zaza case is one of several high-profile business cases under investigation in Cuba, where President Raul Castro has ordered a crackdown on corruption.

It became public in April when Marambio's local manager, fellow Chilean Roberto Baudrand, died suddenly in his Havana home due to what Cuban authorities described as a fatal mixture of alcohol and drugs.

They have not disclosed if they have ruled the death an accident, a suicide or something else.

Baudrand had been questioned by Cuban investigators and ordered not to leave the country.

Marambio was the bodyguard of Chilean President and Cuban ally Salvador Allende, who died in a 1973 coup.

He went into exile in Cuba, where he became close friends with Cuban leader Fidel Castro as he built a business empire on the communist-led island that extended to other Latin American countries.

He eventually returned to Chile, where he now lives.

Cuban civil aviation head Rogelio Acevedo, who fought alongside Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the Cuban revolution, was sacked in March in a case widely believed linked to President Castro's crackdown on corruption and to the investigation of Rio Zaza.

"We are sure that at the end of this investigation, we will legally prove that no crimes were committed in the functioning of Rio Zaza," Hermosillo said.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Xavier Briand).
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Bob on Travel to Cuba

If you ask me, the main reason Obama is so hesitant to come out clearly in favor of ending the travel ban for U.S. citizens going to Cuba is Bob Menendez, Democratic Senator from New Jeresey.

We all know from the votes on Health Care and Fanancial Reform legislation (60-39 on both I think) that Obama can spare no votes in the Senate on his major domestic legislative initiatives.

On top of that, Menendez is key in the effort to raise money to (re-)elect Democratic Senatorial candidates and incumbents this coming fall.

While I disagree with most of Menendez's arguments below (except for his point about the deportations - emigration should NOT be a condition for release), understanding his point of view is important, given his own position in the Democratic party.

Menendez mentions Farinas' hunger strike in his statement, but says nothing about Farinas' own recent statement in favor of an end to the travel ban.

He also repeatedly declares that NOTHING has changed in Cuba as a result of the turn toward international tourism during the past 15-20 years. But, anyone familiar with Cuban daily life during this period (and Menendez is not one of them as he has not been to Cuba in a long time) can attest to MAJOR transformations within the island and within the regime since 1990, without a corresponding change of the system itself or the regime's will to power.

U.S. policy toward Cuba is a question of blind, emotional idealism (represented by Menendez's argument) vs. principled realism (evident in the recent statement in support of an end to the travel ban by 75 of Cuba's leading dissidents).

Here is his argument AGAINST ending the travel ban shared recently on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

Senator Menendez on Cuba Sanctions - July 15, 2010
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) spoke on the floor today in strong opposition of lifting tourism travel restrictions to Cuba
Mr. President, I have come to the floor many times to speak out about Cuba, and today I come to the floor once again -- this time in strong opposition to any attempt in this Chamber to pass any bill that in any way lifts or lessens the travel ban on Cuba -- any bill that eases regulations on the sale of U.S. products to the island.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I will oppose – and filibuster if need be -- any effort to ease regulations that stand to enrich a regime that denies its own people basic human rights.

Mr. President, I do not wish to obstruct the business of this Chamber, but I know my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are well aware of how deeply I feel about freeing the people of Cuba from the repressive regime under which they have suffered for too long.

The fact is the big corporate interests behind this misguided attempt to weaken the travel ban could not care less whether the Cuban people are free. They care only about opening a new market and increasing their bottom line.

This is about the color of money, not the desire for freedom.

The very fact that a travel bill has moved through the House Agriculture Committee makes one wonder why American agricultural interests would even care about travel to Cuba.

One can only assume it’s about generating increased tourism dollars for the Castro regime to buy more agricultural products.

That will serve only to enrich the regime and do absolutely nothing to bring democracy to the island.

Let’s be clear, those who believe that increasing travel will magically breed democracy in Cuba are simply dead wrong.

For years, the world has been traveling to Cuba and nothing has changed.

Millions of tourists from democratic nations have visited Havana and the Castro regime has not loosened its iron grip on its people…

…it has not ended its repressive policies…

…and it has not stopped imprisoning and brutally abusing pro-democracy forces.

Those who lament our dependence on foreign oil because it enriches regimes in terrorist states like Iran, should not have a double standard when it comes to enriching a brutal dictatorship like Cuba right here in our own backyard.

Prisoner Release in Context
How coincidental that suddenly, now that Congress is considering lifting a travel ban, the Castro regime is hoping the world will believe that it will release 52 prisoners of conscience.

Let’s set the record straight.

Many people are wrongly under the impression – reading and watching media reports – that the 52 prisoners have already been released and are free in Cuba.

The fact is only 7 have been released and forcibly deported from their country – another human rights violation – instead of allowing them to stay and peacefully advocate for change.

The remaining 47 prisoners are set to be released but not now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, but sometime during the next 3 to 4 months – or so the regime says.

According to reports in The Miami Herald, 9 of them have said they will refuse to leave for Spain if released, and the 7 who arrived in Madrid have vowed to continue their activism in exile.

They have told reporters they feel the shock of being forced to leave their country.

Omar Rodriguez Saludes told a reporter he feels “like I was still in prison. I left behind part of my family. I still feel like I have the cuffs on my hands.”

The released men said conditions in the prison were horrendous. They shared their cells with rats.

Diseases infested the prison, they said – and told of inmates trying to kill themselves or do themselves harm because of the squalid prison conditions they were forced to endure.

Julion Cesar Galvez, one of the dissidents told reporters: “the hygiene and health conditions in prisons in Cuba are not terrible – they’re worse than terrible. We had to live with rats and cockroaches and excrement. It’s not a lie.”

Galvez, a 66 year old journalist who was sentenced to 15 years in these horrible prisons said: “There were outbreaks of dengue fever and tuberculosis.”

He said there were more than 1,500 prisoners in the prison in Villa Clara – 40 prisoners to a cell measuring 32 square feet.

Another prisoner, Norman Hernandez said, “The prisoners are tired of demanding their rights…” They lose all hope. They lose their desire to live and the try to hurt themselves so they will get attended to.

These men were lucky to be released, but they will not give up. They will tell their stories and they will continue to fight for freedom for all Cubans.

Mr. President, it took the regime only one night in March to arrest these 52 people. So we might ask ourselves: Why will it take 4 months to release all of them?

It’s not a coincidence that during the next 3 or 4 months there will be members of this Chamber and members in the other body who will be looking to provide the Castro regime with billions of dollars of added tourism revenue.

It’s not a coincidence that in September the EU will once again deliberate the wisdom of its remaining sanctions.

The nagging question that lingers in my mind is: Will the 47 ever see the light of day or will they be forcibly deported from their country and another 52 arrested overnight to take their place?

It’s possible the regime will never release them, because they don’t want the world to see them because of the torture they’ve been subjected to.

Last month, a man named Ariel Sigler was released from a Cuban prison on the verge of death -- a 100 pound paraplegic who was arrested in 2003 as a 250 pound amateur boxer.

Also last month, the regime – once again – refused to let the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture visit the island which, in my view, speaks volumes about the condition of the thousands of Cubans who have been imprisoned for “dangerousness” and other trumped-up political charges.

If that is what’s happening to the 200 internationally recognized and known political prisoners, then how much worse must it be for the thousands of anonymous political prisoners who have not been reported?

According to the State Department, “the total number of detainees is unknown because the government does not disclose such information and keeps its prisons off-limits to human rights organizations and international human rights monitors.”

According to the State Department, “One human rights organization lists more than 200 political prisoners currently detained in Cuba in addition to as many as 5,000 people sentenced for ‘dangerousness.’”

Yet, in the face of this repression, some Members want to provide with its number one source of income – tourism.

Mr. President, this is not about travel.

This is about rewarding a repressive regime.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans travel to Cuba for family, educational, or humanitarian reasons.

Tourism to Cuba is a natural resource, akin to providing refined petroleum products to Iran.

It’s reported that 2.5 million tourists visit Cuba – 1.5 million from North America... 1 million Canadians… More than 170,000 from England… More than 400,000 from Spain, Italy, Germany, and France combined – All bringing in $1.9 billion in revenue to the Castro regime – that’s 765 convertible pesos per tourist.

And yet nothing has changed in Cuba except the amount of tourism dollars the regime has at its disposal…

…and while the money still comes in, he still rations food keeping Cubans waiting in long lines for a subsistence meal.

That’s an irreversible concession to a regime that, this week, arrested a Cuban-American for providing laser printers and ink cartridges to a rural woman’s opposition movement in Santiago.

He was interrogated, the head of the movement’s home raided by a dozen state security agents, the printer and cartridges confiscated.

He was subsequently released and put on a plane back.

Meanwhile an American remains imprisoned for helping the island’s Jewish community connect to the Internet – after six months in jail -- still no trial or charges.

They were looking to help the Cuban people, but the regime doesn’t want anyone helping. They want tourists to provide only one thing – hard currency.

Ladies in White – Zapata - Farinas
Visiting the beaches of Varadero and sipping a Cuba Libre – an oxymoron – provides money to continue repression but won’t let the Cuban people sip the sweetness of freedom.

It won’t change the plight of the Ladies in White – mothers and sisters who – every week – march for freedom carrying white gladiolas who are beaten and repressed.

It won’t change their fate of being imprisoned by the regime, released – only to be re-arrested over and over again.

It won’t change the tragic fate of Orlando Zapata Tamayo– deemed a prisoner of conscience Amnesty International -- who died in February after being on a hunger strike for 85 days protesting horrific prison conditions.

It won’t end the desire for freedom or change conditions in Cuba for men like Guillermo Farinas who began his hunger strike after the death of Zapata, ending it after he heard of the prisoner release, but vowing that he and other courageous Cubans would join together in yet another hunger strike if the 52 prisoners are not released and back in their own homes by November 7th.

Lifting the travel ban, allowing tourist dollars to flow to the regime will not end any of it. It will not free the people of Cuba.

It will not change the fate of the Women in White or the desire for freedom of Guillermo Farinas.

It will only enrich the regime.

Reports this week have pointed out the economic impact opening travel to Cuba will cause to the Gulf states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and our democratic neighbors in the Caribbean.

The dollars that will be transferred from those tourism economies should be for the benefit of a democratic government in a free Cuba – not to bailout the brutal Cuban regime.

The Castros don’t deserve it and the U.S. Gulf states and our Caribbean friends can’t afford it.

According to the Jamaica Daily Gleaner – “The results of various studies of the likely impact on the Caribbean of the lifting of the US travel ban suggest that Cuba’s tourism arrival would surge to full capacity at the expense of other Caribbean destinations…

“…Apart from Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands, the most heavily dependent Caribbean destinations on the U.S. and the most vulnerable should the legislation to lift the travel pass include The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, Cancun, Bermuda, Jamaica, and Belize.”

It seems to me, Mr. President, we should be promoting tourism to the beaches along the Gulf Coast -- not to the apartheid beaches of Castro’s Cuba.

Conclusion – Against All Hope
Allowing the regime to benefit from increased tourism will not change a thing in Cuba.

It will not bring democracy to Cuba.

It will not make conditions for the Cuban people any better or change the history of brutality of the Castro regime – a brutality that continues to this day.

We would do well to recall the words of Armando Valladeres, who wrote the prize-winning book Against All Hope.

He was imprisoned in the infamous Isla de Pinos in 1960 for his opposition to communism.

He lived through the hell of Castro’s jail, suffering violence, forced labor, and solitary confinement.

His writings were smuggled out, read throughout the world, and he was finally released after intense international pressure, twenty-two years after he was taken prisoner.

Here are some of his memories of captivity at the hands of Castro:
“I recalled the two sergeants, Porfirio and Matanzas, plunging their bayonets into Ernesto Diaz Madruga’s body…. Boitel, denied water, after more than fifty days on a hunger strike, because Castro wanted him dead; Clara, Boitel’s poor mother, beaten by Lieutenant Abad in a Political Police station just because she wanted to find out where her son was buried…. Officers… threatened family members if they cried at a funeral.

“I remember Estebita and Piri dying in blackout cells, the victims of biological experimentation… So many others murdered in the forced-labor fields, quarries and camps. A legion of specters, naked, crippled, hobbling and crawling through my mind, and the hundreds of men mutilated in the horrifying searches.

“Eduardo Capote’s fingers chopped off by a machete. Concentration camps, tortures, women beaten…

And in the midst of that apocalyptic vision of the most dreadful and horrifying moments in my life, in the midst of the gray, ashy dust and the orgy of beatings and blood, prisoners beaten to the ground, a man emerged…

“…the skeletal figure of a man wasted by hunger with white hair, blazing blue eyes, and a heart overflowing with love, raising his arms to the invisible heaven and pleading for mercy for his executioners.

“‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’ And a burst of machine-gun fire ripping open his chest.”

Let us remember these memories of Armando Valladeres before we think about rewarding the Cuban regime in any way.

Their sins are too great and they are not a thing of the past. The brutality and repression have been going on since 1959…

…It has never stopped. It has never gotten better. It has never changed, and it never will until Cuba is free.

When I hear my colleagues come to the floor and talk about lifting the travel ban, I’m compelled to ask: why is there such an obvious double standard when it comes to Cuba?

Why are the gulags of Cuba so different from the gulags of the old Soviet Union?

Why are we willing to tighten sanctions against Iran but loosen them when it comes to an equally repressive regime in Cuba – in effect rewarding them?

When it comes to Cuba, why are we so willing to throw up our hands and say: it’s time to forget?

Mr. President, it is not time to forget. We can never forget those who have suffered and died at the hands of dictators – whether in Iran, Cuba, or anywhere.

It is clear the repression in Cuba continues unabated, notwithstanding the embargo, notwithstanding calls by those who want us to ease travel restrictions, ease sanctions – notwithstanding calls to step back and – in affect – let bygones be bygones.…

In good conscience, I cannot do that. I cannot and will not step back.

As I said at the outset, I will come to this floor and oppose any attempt in this Chamber to pass any bill that in any way lifts or lessens the travel ban on Cuba -- any bill that eases regulations on the sale of U.S. agricultural products to the island.

As long as I have a voice I will speak out in opposition to any such legislation.

As long as I have a voice I will speak out against the Castro regime until Cuba is free.

Thank you, Mr. President, and with that I yield.

Out of Prison, Still Not Free - RICARDO GONZÁLEZ ALFONSO

Out of Castro's Prison, but Still Not Free


Published: July 19, 2010

I NEVER imagined I would be born at the age of 60, at an altitude of several thousand feet above the Atlantic. That isn't gibberish; it's what I felt when I was released from jail in Cuba and exiled to Spain last Monday.

My debut as a prisoner of conscience came early in 2003, a period subsequently characterized by the world's press as the Black Spring. I was just one of 75 Cubans imprisoned for our belief that freedom is an achievable miracle and not a crime against the state.

They say prison is a school, and it's true. I did my best to be a good student and kept back my tears. I succeeded so well that my prison companions still think me a brave man.

Within a few months I could find my way pretty well around the labyrinths of shipwrecked souls. I learned the secrets and legends of killers for hire, crimes of passion, traffickers in illicit powdery substances, would-be emigrants whose clandestine departures had been no secret to the state - even thieves who'd share their teaspoon of sugar on days of hunger.

Zoology was one class we had every day. I learned to live with rats, and even came, on certain nights of our tropical winter (which is winter, nevertheless) to stare at them with an urgency not unlike what people call appetite. I was a solitary friend to the deft spiders that sometimes freed me from the torturous buzzings and blood-shedding bites that accompanied my insomnia.

I became well versed in cosmic solitude and silence. I remember being in a cell no wider than a man with outstretched arms. I also grew familiar with fetid overcrowding and unceasing clamor. Months of unending darkness, months of eternal light.

I was only an auditor in certain courses, in which I learned that some prisoners were specializing in self-injury as a crude solution to their despair. I was witness to mutilated hands and other wounds as mortal or venial as sins. A man cut off his own penis and testicles in a desperate attempt to become a woman. Others, more radical and exhausted by perpetual existential tumult, turned to various methods of suicide, all of them extremely effective.

A large part of the program of study consisted in the defense of one's rights. There was no theoretical option, only the very Cuban practice of the hunger strike. I carried one out for 16 days, until part of my will felt satisfied with my victory. That long and voluntary fast vindicated the enforced daily fast of imprisonment.

As in any school, there were periods of leisure. Packs of cigarettes were wagered on the outcome of chess matches, card games or soccer contests. I knew sellers and buyers of recreational drugs who were very good at evading or bribing both prison guards and informer inmates.

There was no lack of expertise in armed aggression. Pitiful, decaying knives that were nevertheless sharp-edged and skillfully wielded left trails of blood and rage behind them. (But I never signed up for that class.)

I've always had an aptitude for subjects that have to do with dreams, and I dreamed of my wife and children with such fervor that I know they felt my caresses as they lay asleep. I was almost an exemplary student, and received only one failing grade: in hatred. Despite certain zones of memory, I bear no rancor against my jailers.

And now, after this senescent birth of mine, I'm contemplating the future with all the hope of the newly unveiled. Ever the optimist, I even dream of returning to a Cuba where freedom is not an impossible illusion. I know that, in the next 60 years, I won't have to be reborn again.

Ricardo González Alfonso is a journalist. This article was translated by Esther Allen from the Spanish.
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Saturday, July 17, 2010

What's Next for Cuba? 3 Videos (1 from PBS NewsHour and 2 from NY1)

"Analysts Ask: What's Next for Cuba?" (July 13, 2010)
Jorge Dominguez and Vanessa Lopez on PBS NewsHour (8:28)

MARGARET WARNER: And for more on all this, we turn to Jorge Dominguez, a professor of government at Harvard University. He returned from a trip to Cuba last month, and Vanessa Lopez, a research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. She was in Cuba in 2006 interviewing political dissidents.

"Cuba: ¿Un paso adelante y un paso hacia atrás?"
Friday, July 16, 2010 (12:23)
Carlos Lauria and El Yuma interviewed by Juan Manuel Benítez on New York One's "Pura Politica"
En Cuba, el mismo día que 52 prisioneros políticos salen de la isla rumbo a España, Fidel Castro reaparece en televisión cuatro años después. ¿Un paso adelante y un paso hacia atrás? Juan Manuel Benítez entrevistó a Carlos Lauría, del Comité de Protección de Periodistas y Ted Henken, profesor asociado de Baruch College.

Also from New York One's "Pura Politica" from October 16, 2009
"Cubana galardonada pregunta por qué no puede salir de su país"
Juan Manuel Benítez (8:16)
Varios periodistas fueron galardonados esta semana con el premio de la Universidad de Columbia, María Moors Cabot por su amplia cobertura de Latinoamérica y el Caribe. Juan Manuel Benítez entrevistó a Yoani Sánchez, una de las premiadas, quien no pudo salir de la isla a recibir el reconocimiento, y a Ted Henken, profesor de Baruch College y amigo de la bloguera cubana.

You know Big Brother, well here's Little Brother

Here's the inaugural post of the new Cuban blogger Ernesto Morales.

He has done three provocative stories since January which he describes here: one on Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death, another on the Cuban hip hop duo Los Aldeanos, and a final one a lengthy interview of Yoani and Reinaldo.

Ironically, he was recently "separated" from his job as a journalist not for "writing" but for "reading."

Quite Orwellian.

Here's the link followed by an excerpt.

"But in essence and without make-up, I was expelled for reading what I should not. For doing exactly what the overseers in the cane fields forbid the slaves to do, under threat of violent punishment. And also, what the leader of the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro once promulgated as a maxim of the process. "We do not tell the people to believe," he said back then, "we tell them: read."
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Top 10 Cuban Bloggers You've Never Heard Of - Erik Maza

In case you missed it - this was published by the Miami New Times back in April by the intrepid Erik Maza.

Yoani Sánchez is on the cover of Italian Wired this month. (Go here if you want to practice your Italian by reading the article by Alessandro Scotti). In the three years she's been online, the 32-year-old blogger has become Cuba's Arianna Huffington.

​She's now a tweeter, a blogger on the actual Huffington Post, and her blog, Generation Y, gets 14 million page views a month, according to the New York Times. Last year, she even interviewed President Obama. But there are other Cuban bloggers toiling away behind obsolete computers. Here are some you've never heard of.

1. Octavo Cerco: If Iranians used social networking sites to organize street action, Cubans use blogs. Claudia Cadelo, a young French teacher, updates hers on an almost daily basis, like a stock ticker, with the slightest political tremors en la isla. She says she's followed by secret police. A badge of honor, for sure.

2. Boring Home Utopics: La Habana is really like Great Expectations' Miss Havisham. This is the place to see it in all of its decrepit glory. Photographer Orlando Luis Pardo first took to the web when a state publisher dropped a book of his after he criticized the government online. He decided instead to publish the whole book on the blog and now runs it as photolog.

3. Penultimos Dias: When you've fallen behind on your island news, go to Ernesto Hernández Busto's blog. It's a regularly updated aggregator of all things Cuban. Published from Spain, it's probably the best written of all the blogs, with regular contributions from censured writers still living in the country.

4. Laritza Diversent: Another young blogger, Diversent advises Cubans what their legal rights are under the country's spotty, rarely adhered to constitution. Last year, she blogged on the Huff about police beatings.

5. Re-evolución: Sometimes it's easy to read these blogs and shrug them off: Depressing! But Alain Saavedra's is written in the young, pissed-off voice of the hip-hop DJ he is. In a recent post, he ragged on a youth concert sponsored by the government because it didn't include reactionary bands such as Porno Para Ricardo. Coincidentally, Saavedra was one of the people who received Porno frontman Gorki Aguila when he returned to Habana last month.

6. The Voice of El Morro: Only 11 percent of the population has access to the Internet. The government grants free passwords only to a small group, and for the other half, it's unaffordable. Think of El Morro as Cuba's digital soapbox. It's a collection of grim testimonies from random residents, such as a woman whose husband is on a hunger strike.

7. Voces Tras Las Rejas: In 2003, some 75 journalists were arrested for writing
critical stories about the catastrofuck that is daily life in Cuba. The crackdown earned the nickname the Black Spring. Most of the people arrested are still in jail, but they update this blog with stories about life as a political prisoner.

8. Desde Aquí: Of the 200 estimated blogs, some 25 have a journalistic bent, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reinaldo Escobar, who was a reporter for the state press, has been furiously covering the recent spate of protests in the wake of dissident Zapato Tamayo's death, paying special attention to Las Damas en Blanco, which inspired Gloria Estefan's march on Calle Ocho.

9. Fake Cuban News: Recent headline: "Russia's Centers for Medical Sciences Ready to Embalm Fidel When Necessary." Been reading our death-meter, have you?

10. El Auditorio Imbécil: All the blogs use the Interwebs to mock El Maximo and rail against the inadequacies of the government. But Ciro Diaz, a 31-year-old Jason Mraz-ish balladeer, does it in song.

Let Erik know what you think @:

Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology - Cuba Study Group

July 15, 2010 - Press Release

* Cuba Study Group Releases Cutting-Edge Study on Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology

(Washington, DC) - The Cuba Study Group today published a whitepaper in collaboration with the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Latin America Initiative at the Brookings Institution entitled "Empowering the Cuban People Through Technology: Recommendations for Private and Public Sector Leaders."

The document outlines comprehensive U.S. policy recommendations aimed at facilitating greater access to technology and telecommunication devices in Cuba. Over 50 IT and telecom executives and other experts contributed to the drafting of these recommendations as part of the Cuba IT and Social Media Initiative convened by the Cuba Study Group in January 2010.

The Cuba Study Group simultaneously released, "Cuba IT & Social Media Initiative: Committee Reports and Recommendations," which describes a project that was "launched to develop specific recommendations for public and private sector leaders that will help Cubans on the island gain access to information technology.

"While both U.S. and Cuban government policies impede ordinary Cubans’ access to information technology and social media networks, the promise of a window to the outside world that technology represents is not lost on Cubans.

"The goal of the Cuba IT & Social Media Initiative is to identify ways to ensure that Cubans on the island have access to the technology they need to acquire and share information and communicate with each other and the outside world."

Carlos Saladrigas, the Co-Chairman of the Cuba Study Group had the following to say about the report's conclusions: "Current U.S. regulations restrict U.S. telecom company's ability to provide cell phone and Internet services to the island. There is much that the U.S. can do to support the growth of the Internet and social media in Cuba, thus helping the Cuban people become agents of change."

Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly added: "As this report shows, even compared to other closed societies, U.S. telecom regulations toward Cuba are stuck in the past--seriously constraining the potential of individual initiative and the Internet."

"Expanding telecommunication services to the Cuban people would improve their lives in multiple ways and facilitate the confidence-building that is so badly needed between our two countries.  The Obama Administration can do more on its own and with Congress to move from a Cold War policy to a new policy of critical and constructive engagement with Cuba," said Ted Piccone, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Studies at The Brookings Institution.

In January 2010, the Cuba Study Group hosted a one-of-its-kind "Cuba IT & Social Media Summit" at the Americas Society / Council of the Americas in New York. The goal of the Summit was to identify ways to empower the Cuban people through IT and social media so that they may acquire and share information and communicate with each other and with the outside world. Following the summit, the Cuba Study Group established the Cuba IT & Social Media Initiative with four committees composed of over 50 information technology and telecommunications experts.

The whitepaper and full committee reports can be accessed online here and here.