Saturday, August 28, 2010

Better Red Than... Aroldis Chapman clocked at 105 mph

Hang onto your catcher's mitts, people. They reportedly clocked Cincinnati Reds prospect Aroldis Chapman(notes) at 105 mph Friday night.
No, not in a car, driving home from Louisville Slugger Ballpark. Chapman was pitching for the Triple-A Louisville Bats of the International League. And, Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse reports, the left-hander threw 105 mph.
Your first thought might be, "Yeah, right. Did he strike out the Loch Ness Monster on three pitches while he was at it?"
Price, who usually isn't given to hyperbole, tweeted the news.

Che and the "Original Sin" of the Intellectuals - Yoani Sanchez

Che and the "Original Sin" of the Intellectuals

August 28, 2010 - Exclusive to Huffington Post.

Photo Credit: Ted Henken, London, August, 2010
It's been said a thousand and one times: intellectuals are the conscience of society. But nearly fifty years ago Che Guevara criticized Cuba's pre-Revolution artistic and literary world, accusing them in the harshest terms: "The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin; they are not authentic revolutionaries." Published in the Uruguayan weekly Marcha, under the title, "Man and Socialism in Cuba," Guevara reminded his readers that the struggle in the Sierra Maestra had not been supported by a battle from the pages of books, nor by an offensive launched through painters' easels nor poets' stanzas. Very few writers chose to link their prose or rhymes to the pounding of the guns, although many opposed Fulgencio Batista's government and supported political changes in the country.

It's Time for Western Hemisphere Countries to Collaborate - Gov. Bill Richardson, Washington Post

By Bill Richardson
Saturday, August 14, 2010; A13

Arizona's attempt to create and enforce its own immigration policy has once again amplified -- and politicized -- the immigration debate in this country. But the fallout of that debate extends beyond our borders. The anti-immigrant push in Arizona has further alienated our neighbors throughout Latin America, who had been hoping for better relations with the United States after President Obama's election. We need to turn this opportunity to our advantage and engage with our neighbors throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Latin America has perhaps the greatest impact, in terms of trade and culture, on the daily lives of most Americans. U.S. exports to Latin America have grown faster in the past 11 years than to any other region, including Asia. Hispanics represent the biggest ethnic and most sought-after voting bloc in the United States. And nearly every country in North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean now has a democratically elected government.

The time is right to leverage our trade and partnerships and advance a more collaborative relationship with our neighbors to the south. The Obama administration should consider these five steps:

Cuba Futures: Past and Present - Bildner Center Conference, March 31-April 2, 2011

Call for Papers Registration | Program | Schedule |

See also: 

International Symposium
March 31 - April 2, 2011
The Graduate Center
City University of New York

Since the early part of the 19th century, Cuban intellectuals, political leaders, civil society organizations and institutions have created multiple visions, projects and blueprints for building an independent Cuba. External and transnational groups, including governments, have also participated in generating ways of improving society. These efforts continue in the present. Past or present, these visions can often clash with each other, fail to attract support, or much less induce change consensually perceived as desirable. However, they have generated legacies that stand and shape realities, memories, perceptions, and diverse plans for reforming Cuba.

Organized by the Bildner Center/Cuba Project (, this international and interdisciplinary conference builds on the expertise of Cuba specialists at the City University of New York and participants in past Cuba Project conferences and seminars. As in the past, we expect specialists from across the globe. The conference continues a dialogue begun at the previous symposia, "A Changing Cuba in a Changing World." 

The main aim of this international symposium is to reflect and advance excellent academic work on Cuban studies. Participants and attendees will generally come from academic and professional institutions/endeavors. We highly value academic accomplishments and expertise in Cuban studies.

If you would like to participate with a paper presentation, please send a one page paper proposal to See the link above for Call for Papers.

Preliminary Organizing Committee
Maria Isabel Alfonso, St. Joseph's College
Samuel Farber, Brooklyn College
Mauricio Font, Bildner Center and The Graduate Center
Katrin Hansing, Baruch College, CUNY
Ted Henken, Baruch College, CUNY
Ana Maria Hernandez, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY
Alfonso Quiroz, The Graduate Center and Baruch College, CUNY
Carlos Riobo, The City College of New York, CUNY
Raul Rubio, John Jay College, CUNY
Julie Skurski, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Araceli Tinajero, The Graduate and City College of New York, CUNY

*Further Details: To Be Announced*
For comments and inquiries please contact us at

Friday, August 27, 2010

U.S. Interest Section offers a free distance learning course on using the Internet

El Yuma just received a note from the Office of Press and Culture at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana announcing a new distance learning course for Cubans on how to use the Internet offered by the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

It will take place from September 21 through October 21 at the USIS. There is space for 16 students (8 in the morning class and another 8 in the afternoon).

The original Spanish announcement is below.

Here is my quickie translation:

The Office of Press and Culture is pleased to offer to our Cuban contacts another Distance Learning Course in collaboration with the University of Texas at El Paso. The course, which will last 5 weeks, will help participants acquire the necessary abilities to navigate and utilize the Internet for on-line study and research. The course will be self-taught, on-line, and in Spanish. The course is also a prerequisite for later UTEP courses offered by the USIS.

Please, share the attached brochure with friends, family, and other contacts who could be interested in taking advantage of this and future UTEP opportunities. Participants should register through the Office of Press and Culture, have completed high-school, and have some computer experience.

* * *

La Oficina de Prensa y Cultura se complace en ofrecer a nuestros contactos cubanos otro Curso a Distancia en colaboración con la Universidad de Texas en El Paso. El curso que durará 5 semanas ayudará a los participantes a adquirir las habilidades necesarias para navegar y utilizar la Internet para estudios e investigaciones en línea. El mismo será auto dosificado, en línea y en español. Constituye un pre-requisito para posteriores inscripciones en cursos de UTEP ofrecidos por la Sección.

Por favor, comparta el folleto adjunto con amigos, familiares y contactos que puedan estar interesados en aprovechar esta oportunidad y futuros cursos de UTEP. Los participantes deben inscribirse a través de la Oficina de Prensa y Cultura, debe haberse graduado de Secundaria Básica, y tener alguna experiencia en computación.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cuban blogger starts digital magazine - By Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald

You gotta love OLPL (aka, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo) for the final lines from the Tamayo interview:
Asked about the possibility that Cuban authorities will try to block him from publishing a second edition, he told El Nuevo Herald that he was optimistic.

"This is a magazine that is nowhere and everywhere," Pardo said. "Now we'll see if this yeast ferments and we can make a delicious bread."

Read on below for the full article:

Also, you also gotta love your Crackberry.

Though I'm currently on holiday in La Madre Patria -or is that La Patria de Madre? (Spain)- Tamayo managed to track me down here via e-mail and I used my handy Blackberry to send him my comments on Voces, which he kindly included the today's article.

By the way, as you can see from the end of this message, I'm posting it directly from my BB while en route to Granada - nunca fui a Granada!

Que viva la tecnologia!


* * *

Cuban blogger starts digital magazine
Friday, August 8, 2010

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo said `Voces' is `a vehicle for the rainbow of opinions in this critical moment that Cuba is going through.'


An independent Cuban blogger has launched the island's first digital magazine, with a variety of contributions from well-known authors in and out of the country but free of "any type of -isms." "It's a vehicle for the rainbow of opinions in this critical moment that Cuba is going through," said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, editor of Voces, or Voices.

"We want a more rational Cuba, without any type of -isms," the 38-year-old Pardo said by phone from his home in Havana. The magazine's debut Monday marked yet another expansion of the island's blogosphere, where Cubans are increasingly writing about everything from their frustrations with daily life to dissident activities and praise for the government.

Still fighting the Cold War

Still fighting the Cold War

August 20, 2010

IF THE impoverishing, repressive regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba has degenerated into a sad mockery of its romantic-revolutionary origins, America’s embargo of Cuba has taken on the mindless rigidity of a tribal vendetta that continues to be pursued no matter how stultifying it may be to new generations. So reports that the Obama administration is preparing to loosen some restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, cultural, and religious groups merit only tepid applause.

This adjustment to a counter-productive travel ban would merely undo restrictions that the George W. Bush administration added to Bill Clinton’s people-to-people liberalization of the draconian travel ban imposed in 1967. Obama, who has already made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit the island, can extend the exception to academic and religious travelers without a need for congressional action.

He should exercise that presidential prerogative. But he should also push for congressional abolition of the more encompassing embargo on Cuba. At this point, the embargo only serves to prolong the material deprivation of Cubans, allowing Fidel Castro, 84, and his brother Raul, 79, to go on claiming that all Cuba’s miseries are caused by the yanqui embargo. If American tourists and US products were allowed to pour into Cuba, the economic effects would be positive for the Cuban people and American businesses, and a revolution of rising expectations could be set in motion.

There are no more Soviet missiles going to Cuba. Cuban troops are no longer fighting in Angola. The Cold War has long since vanished into the mists of history. America, no less than Cuba, needs to catch up with the 21st century.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Padura toma mas "Cafe Fuerte" con Cancio

Here is another portion of the interview I mentioned in my previous post - this time Padura gives his thoughts on Obama.

My favorite line: "Without a doubt closing off space only feeds the policy of 'plaza sitiada' (seige mentality) that has been practiced in Cuba during these years."

"Obama, una ganancia enorme"

WCI: ¿Cómo evalúas estos dos primeros años de la presidencia de Barack Obama para Cuba?

LP: Te digo que en esencia soy un admirador de Obama y pienso que es en general, una ganancia enorme con respecto a lo que significó la administración Bush. Con respecto a las relaciones con Cuba se esperaban cambios mucho más significativos. Todavía las relaciones no han llegado al punto donde estuvieron en la época del 90 durante el gobierno de Bill Clinton, cuando fluyó mucho más fácilmente el fenómeno de los intercambios académicos, deportivos, culturales.

Pero algo se está moviendo al menos. Y una visión diferente, más abierta hacia la sociedad cubana, es fundamental en estos momentos. Cerrar espacios es, en definitiva, alimentar la política de plaza sitiada que se ha practicado en Cuba durante estos años. Confío en que la flexibilización de posiciones avance y se profundice.
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Leonardo Padura toma un "Café Fuerte" con Wilfredo Cancio Isla

El Yuma highly recommends the following extensive and provocative interview done by Wilfredo Cancio Isla with leading Cuban writer Leonardo Padura during his recent visit to Miami.

Go to the new blog "Café Fuerte" ( to read the full interview (in Spanish) published Tuesday, August 17, 2010.

The interview is entitled "Cuba vive un cansancio historico" (Cuba is living in an historical exhaustion), taken from the following excerpt.

WCI: Tú has contado ampliamente la realidad cubana a través de tus novelas y cuentos, pero quiero saber cómo tú describirías la situación actual de la isla no como el escritor de ficción, sino desde la perspectiva del ciudadano común. ¿Cuál es el futuro con este presente agotado?

LP: Hay un problema fundamental en Cuba del que yo hablo en mi novela La neblina del ayer (2005), y que se ha ido agudizando con los años: el cansancio histórico. Creo que Cuba es un país que vive un cansancio histórico. La gente está cansada de sentir o que se le diga que está viviendo un momento histórico y quiere vivir una normalidad.

Esto ha generado además un desgaste moral bastante serio en la sociedad cubana. En un país donde la prostitución deja de ser un oficio reprobable y se convierte muchas veces en una salvación para la economía hogareña con el beneplácito y la admiración de la familia, hay algo que funciona mal, como funcionaba mal en el reino de Dinamarca en la época de Hamlet.

Un país donde la mayoría de las personas tiene que buscar alternativas de supervivencia en los márgenes o más allá de los márgenes de la legalidad y lo hacen con total desenfado, como una actividad absolutamente normal, es un problema serio. El propio gobierno –que es el empleador del 90 por ciento de los cubanos- ha reconocido que los salarios que les paga a sus asalariados son insuficientes para vivir, lo que es un reconocimiento a que las personas tienen que buscar alternativas de supervivencia.

Y cuando alguien en Cuba, por ejemplo, espera poder resolver sus problemas con los 100 ó 200 dólares que les puede mandar un pariente desde Estados Unidos, México, España, o espera resolver los problemas haciendo un determinado negocio que está más allá de los márgenes de la legalidad, es una sociedad que tiene problemas. Y estos problemas tienen un costo social y moral que va a ser lo más difícil de poder superar en un futuro inmediato.
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Cuban blogger arrested after writing about human rights violations

Knight Center

Cuban blogger arrested after writing about human rights violations

The release of various political prisoners does not mean Cuban authorities are tolerating any type of free expression on the island.

Blogger Luis Felipe Rojas was arrested for publishing a "horror report" about abuses committed against dissidents in the eastern provinces of Cuba, reported Radio Martí and EcoDiario.

According to ABC, Rojas on Saturday posted on his blog a report denouncing 128 arbitrary arrests and 49 beatings, among other human rights violations throughout several Cuban provinces.

"There is physical torture and cruel and degrading treatment in Santiago de Cuba, Banes, San Germán and Guantánamo from the olive green government," the blogger wrote.

On his Twitter feed, Rojas explained he was released after 12 hours in the police station.
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On Fidel's Return - Ernesto, Nick, and Yoani

Here are three reflections on the return of El Caballo by Ernesto Hernandez Busto of Penultimos Dias, Nick Miroff of the Global Post, and Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y.

The Return
By Ernesto Hernández Busto
I think it is a mistake to underestimate the importance of Fidel Castro's return to the media spotlight. The comandante turned capricious foreign minister has abandoned his insignias of rank to dedicate himself to recovering an international role, one jeopardized by his younger brother following criticism of human rights violations on the island, not to mention the dullness that suffuses anything touched by Raul.

The real Cuban newspaper of today is the on-line Cubadebate. It sets the tone for the Cuban press and dictates the information priorities which are then picked up by the daily broadsheet Granma. In this sense, Fidel Castro and his advisers have understood the relative importance of Internet news versus the printed press. Fidel has launched his propaganda campaigns from Cubadebate, which has much greater resonance than many analysts have been willing to grant it.

Brookings Policy Brief on U.S. Cultural Diplomacy in Cuba

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From Emily Alinikoff, Brookings Latin America Initiative

Dear Colleague,

I am happy to share with you the link to the latest policy brief from the Brookings Latin America Initiative on U.S. cultural diplomacy in Cuba. Linked below is a brief by Dora Beszterczey, Damian Fernandez and Andy Gomez, titled "Seizing the Opportunity to Expand People to People Contacts."

This paper argues that if U.S. policy toward Cuba is to be truly forward looking it should further expand its focus away from the Castro government to the well-being of the Cuban people. This can be achieved through instituting a cultural diplomacy strategy that authorizes a broad cross-section of American private citizens and civil society to travel to the island to engage Cuban society and share their experiences as citizens of a democratic country. Recent developments on the island, including the ongoing release of dozens of political prisoners, have helped create the right political moment to take action.

The authors make the case that since 2004, when such travel was curtailed, U.S. insights about the needs, interests and organizational capacities of community groups and grassroots organizations were severely limited. Today, as Cuba's nascent civil society stretches far beyond the dissident movement to encompass the blogosphere, religious groups, youth organizations, and agricultural cooperatives, among others their objectives, too, are more multifaceted and fast evolving. At a time of change in Cuba, increased people-to-people contacts would allow a more fluid, nimble response to engage with the needs and interests of the Cuban people.

To access full article, please see:

Warm regards,

Emily Alinikoff | Senior Research Assistant
Foreign Policy at BROOKINGS
1775 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
202-797-6141 |

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

U.S. Said to Plan Easing Rules for Travel to Cuba - AP/NYT

Published: August 17, 2010

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is planning to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba, the latest step aimed at encouraging more contact between people in both countries, while leaving intact the decades-old embargo against the island's Communist government, according to Congressional and administration officials.

The officials, who asked not to be identified because they had not been authorized to discuss the policy before it was announced, said it was meant to loosen restrictions on academic, religious and cultural groups that were adopted under President George W. Bush, and return to the "people to people" policies followed under President Bill Clinton.

Those policies, officials said, fostered robust exchanges between the United States and Cuba, allowing groups - including universities, sports teams, museums and chambers of commerce - to share expertise as well as life experiences. Policy analysts said the intended changes would mark a significant shift in Cuba policy. In early 2009, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel and remittances only for Americans with relatives on the island.

Congressional aides cautioned that some administration officials still saw the proposals as too politically volatile to announce until after the coming midterm elections, and they said revisions could still be made. But others said the policy, which does not need legislative approval, would be announced before Congress returned from its break in mid-September, partly to avoid a political backlash from outspoken groups within the Cuban American lobby - backed by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey - that oppose any softening in Washington's position toward Havana.

Monday, August 16, 2010

VOCES 1 - first edition of a new independent Cuban magazine

Cuban blogger and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo just sent me the following message announcing the publication of VOCES, the first edition of a new independent Cuban magazine.

The magazine is over 60 pages long with hi-rez graphics, photography, and articles by some of Cuba's leading writers, bloggers, and intellectuals both from within the island and abroad - the list includes Yoss, Ena Lucia Portela, Wendy Guerra, Ivan de la Nuez, Emilio Ichikawa, Yoani Sanchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Antonio Jose Ponte, Juan Abreu, Jesus Diaz, and Pardo himself.

Check it out at the link below.


Desde La Habana les enviamos con gusto este primer número de nuestra revista independiente VOCES.

Ojalá sea de su agrado.

VOCES 1 también puede ser descargada en alta resolución para imprimir en:

Pueden difundirla libremente.

Se aceptan sugerencias y colaboraciones,


Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
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Monday, August 9, 2010

Freedom to Travel - Act Now!

Go here for the full version of this letter from John McAuliff.
Right to Travel to Cuba - An Occasional Newsletter August 2010

In this issue
Administration Finding Its Way
Reinforcement from the People
Congress Delays Action
Cuba Not Waiting
Obama Campaign Pledge

Dear Sir,

Several news stories on Friday suggested the White House is on the verge of announcing important changes in people-to-people travel.

This feels like a trial balloon, so it is important that the President hear at once that his initiative is broadly welcomed and that it should be as expansive as possible.

If the only voices are of Cuban American hard liners, we risk watered down reforms as took place in April 2009.

At the same time, the August recess is an ideal time to press House and Senate members to pass the agricultural trade and travel bill in September. Special attention is needed for members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where the bill faces desperate opposition led by ranking member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

John McAuliff

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Tell Obama what you think - Travel to Cuba

Seeing as I want to take my students to Cuba next January to blow their minds and turn their worlds upside down, making them question their assumptions (and perhaps challenge the Cubans to re examine theirs a bit too), let's let Obama know that Cuba needs more exposure to the rest of the world, not less.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Rumor has it that Obama is considering easing Cuba travel restrictions. Read the full story here:

If the rumor (leak) is actually a weather balloon,,,,, we need to let Obama know we've got his back!!

Here's what you can do!

1. Call the White House Comment Line 202-456-1111 and leave words of encouragement, like: PLEASE let me travel to Cuba!!! Short and sweet... remember those answering the phone are just score keepers.

2. Leave the same comment at

3. Leave a comment at the end of the Kansas City Star article listed above.

4. Sign this petition

Nos vemos el La Habana!
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U.S. said to be near easing restrictions on travel to Cuba

U.S. said to be near easing restrictions on travel to Cuba
By JUAN O. TAMAYO, Friday, August 6, 2010
McClatchy Newspapers

The Obama administration will soon ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and other sanctions following Havana's promise to free political prisoners, according to growing but unconfirmed reports.

Two persons close to the administration told El Nuevo Herald on Friday the decision has been made and will be announced in the next two weeks. Another said he's heard the reports but cautioned they could be "trial balloons."

The key change will be an expansion of educational and cultural travel, which accounted for about 2,000 visits in 2009, said two of the sources. Many academics have urged President Barack Obama to expand those visits, drastically trimmed by the George W. Bush administration.

One of them added that Obama also will restore the broader "people-to-people" category of travel, which allows "purposeful" visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

Though that category requires prior U.S. licenses for the trips, it is fuzzy enough to allow for much expanded travel to Cuba, the source added. All asked for anonymity because they did not want to be seen as pre-empting a White House announcement.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Los nietos de la Revolucion: Seremos como el Che?

Friday, August 6, 2010

The first paragraph sums up the article:

"The Cuban revolution never was nor has ever been democratic. Neither can it be called communist - not now nor before. Instead it is a vulgar and vile state capitalism called "Fidelismo."

This according to writer and graphic designer Canek Sánchez Guevara, the eldest gransdson of guerrilla Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara. Son of Guevara's eldest daughter, Hilda (Hildita) Guevara, Sánchez Guevara (30) was born in Cuba and is a citizen of Mexico where he lives.


La revolución en Cuba ''no fue, ni nunca ha sido democrática'' y tampoco es comunista, ni ahora ni antes, ''sino un vulgar y vil capitalismo de Estado llamado "Fidelismo,'' afirmó el nieto del guerrillero Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara, Canek Sánchez Guevara.

En una carta y una Autoentrevista que publica hoy el semanario mexicano ''Proceso'', Canek criticó duramente el ''mesianismo" de Fidel Castro y la pérdida de rumbo que hizo de la revolución, pasando ''del joven revolucionario al viejo tirano'' que ''falsificó'' un noble ideal.

''La revolución parió una burguesía corrupta, aparatos represivos dispuestos a defenderla del pueblo y una burocracia que la alejaba de éste. Pero sobre todo fue antidemocrática por el mesianismo casi religioso de su líder'', señaló. En sus escritos, Canek desnuda uno a uno los puntos que han ido alejando a la revolución cubana de su noble propósito original, como ''la criminalización de la diferencia,'' mediante la ''persecución de homosexuales, hippies, libre-pensadores, sindicalistas y poetas'' y la instalación de una ''burguesía socialista férrea (...) fingidamente proletaria'' .

''La revolución hace años falleció en Cuba: hubo de ser asesinada por quienes la invocaron para evitar que se volviera contra ellos, tuvo que ser institucionalizada y asfixiada por su propia burocracia, por la corrupción, por el nepotismo y por la verticalidad de la tan mentada organización: el Estado revolucionario cubano'', dijo.

Además, no dudó en calificar el régimen de Castro como una dictadura y acusó al dirigente de traicionar los ideales iniciales de la revolución, reseñó EFE.

''En efecto, Fidel liberó a Cuba de la gangsteril dictadura batistiana, pero con su obstinada permanencia sólo logró volverse, él mismo, otro dictador'', aseveró. ''Todas mis críticas a Fidel Castro parten de su alejamiento de los ideales libertarios, de la traición cometida en contra del pueblo de Cuba y de la espantosa vigilancia establecida para preservar al Estado por encima de sus gentes'', agregó.

El nieto mayor del Che Guevara señala que la represión que se vive en la isla, con la ''vigilancia perpetua sobre los individuos'' y ''la prohibición de las asociaciones que puedan hacer al margen del Estado'' no es sino ''un vulgar capitalismo de Estado'' que, según él, morirá con Fidel. ''Seamos honestos, un joven rebelde ahora, similar a como fue Fidel Castro en el pasado, en la Cuba de hoy, sería inmediatamente fusilado, y no condenado al exilio'', como lo fue él, aseguró.

Sánchez Guevara remata diciendo que el Marxismo en Cuba es ''sólo una asignatura escolar'' y que desde las ideas de Marx es desde donde ''puede verse en su conjunto el estrepitoso fracaso de un ideal totalmente falsificado' '.*

El nieto mayor del Che Guevara nació en Cuba, tiene 30 años y posee la ciudadanía mexicana.

Actualmente vive en Oaxaca y es escritor y diseñador gráfico. Su madre es Hilda Guevara, la primogénita del guerrillero.
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

La Flaca in the Washington Post

Fidel Castro, Present and Past

By Yoani Sánchez
Thursday, August 5, 2010
HAVANA - Fidel Castro's return to public life after a four-year absence provokes conflicting emotions here. His reappearance surprised a people awaiting, with growing despair, the reforms announced by his brother Raúl. While some weave fantasies around his return, others are anxious about what will happen next.

The return of a famous figure is a familiar theme in life as in fiction -- think Don Quixote, Casanova or Juan Domingo Perón. But another familiar theme is disappointment -- of those who find that the person who returns is no longer the person who left, or at least not as we remember him. There is often a sense of despair surrounding those who insist on coming back. Fidel Castro is no exception to this flaw inherent in remakes.

The man who appeared on the anniversary of "Revolution Day" last week bore no resemblance to the sturdy soldier who handed over his office to his brother in July 2006. The stuttering old man with quivering hands was a shadow of the Greek-profiled military leader who, while a million voices chanted his name in the plaza, pardoned lives, announced executions, proclaimed laws that no one had been consulted on and declared the right of revolutionaries to make revolution.
Although he has once again donned his olive-green military shirt, little is left of the man who used to dominate television programming for endless hours, keeping people in suspense from the other side of the screen.

The great orator of times long past now meets with an audience of young people in a tiny theater and reads them a summary of his latest reflections, already published in the press. Instead of arousing the fear that makes even the bravest tremble, he calls forth, at best, a tender compassion. After a young reporter calmly asked a question, she followed up with her greatest wish: "May I give you a kiss?" Where is the abyss that for so many years not even the most courageous dared to jump?

A significant sign that Fidel Castro's return to the microphones has not being going over well is that even his brother refused to echo, in his most recent speech to parliament, the former leader's gloomy prognostication of a nuclear armageddon that will start when the United States launches a military attack against North Korea or Iran. Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country, yet he turns his gaze to the mote in another's eye. This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world's environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war.

Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn't censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves. For years, so many lives and livelihoods have hung on the gestures of his hands, the way he raises his eyebrows or the twitch of his ears. Fidel watchers now see him as unpredictable, and many fear that the worst may happen if it occurs to him to rail against the reformers in front of the television cameras.

Perhaps this is why the impatient breed of new wolves do not want to stoke the anger of the old commander, who is about to turn 84. Some who intended to introduce more radical changes are now crouching in their spheres of power, waiting for his next relapse.

Meanwhile, those who are worried about the survival of "the process" are alarmed by the danger his obvious decline poses to the myth of the Cuban revolution personified, for 50 years, in this one man. Why doesn't he stay quietly at home and let us work, some think, though they dare not even whisper it.

We had already started to remember him as something from the past, which was a noble way to forget him. Many were disposed to forgive his mistakes and failures. They had put him on some gray pedestal of the history of the 20th century, capturing his face at its best moment, along with the illustrious dead. But his sudden reappearance upended those efforts. He has come forward again to shamelessly display his infirmities and announce the end of the world, as if to convince us that life after him would be lacking in purpose.

In recent weeks, he who was once called The One, the Horse or simply He, has been presented to us stripped of his captivating charisma. Although he is once again in the news, it has been confirmed: Fidel Castro, fortunately, will never return.

Yoani Sánchez is a writer in Cuba. Her awards include the 2009 Maria Moors Cabot Prize. She blogs at This column was translated from Spanish by M.J. Porter.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Translating Cuba: What, Why, How?

The folks who translate the / Cuban blogs into English (see have just launched a new blog portal entitled Translating Cuba where you can one-stop-shop for access to the English version of more than 20 independent Cuban blogs, as well as the English version (full translation in progress) of the polémica intelectual, the war of e-mails between Cuban writers and intellectuals from January-February, 2007 that was the spark that led to the creation of Generación Y in April 2007.

The site also features a page entitled What, Why, How?

So far all that's up is the "What."  Here it is:

Translating Cuba is a compilation of English translations from Cuban blogs. The bloggers included here share a number of characteristics.

  • Write from the island of Cuba.
  • Are independent, that is they are not paid by the Cuban government.
  • Write under their own names.
  • Their blogs contain material of wide general interest.
  • Their blogs are updated on a regular basis.
What they don’t share is a single point of view. Our hope is that the voices on this site will mirror the free, open, and plural society we all know that Cuba is ultimately destined to be.

The Root: Photo Essay from Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Here are three of my favorite photos from the triptych "Race in Cuba: Images of Cuban Life," 23 scenes from the lives led by black people on the island, shot by native son Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

Cruising Through Cuba
Skateboarding is a regular practice all around the Capitol building, now just a tourist area between between Central Havana and Old Havana.

Explosión Suprema
Rappers from the band "Explosión Suprema," performing at the censored Poetry Festival from OMNI-Zona Franca project (December 2010), in a private home in Alamar.

Luyano Avenue
Young boys traveling outside a full-speed crowded P1 public bus in Luyanó Avenue, an impoverished Havana area near La Virgen del Camino park.

Race in Cuba: The Root Interviews Carlos Moore

More on Race in Cuba from The Root.

Race in Cuba: The Root Interviews Carlos Moore
By Achy Obejas
July 29, 2010

Achy Obejas talks to an Afro-Cuban intellectual who says that Cuba's gotten a pass on race for far too long.

Dr. Carlos Moore is an ethnologist and political scientist specializing in African, Latin American and Caribbean affairs. Frequently controversial in his views, he is the author of Fela: This Bitch of a Life and Pichon: Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba: A Memoir, among others. Following exile from his native Cuba, Moore has lived and worked in many countries, including the United States, Senegal and, his current base, Brazil. He holds two doctorates from the University of Paris and is fluent in five languages.

The Root: Last year, you put together a declaration, called ''Acting on Our Conscience,'' which called Cuba on its racism. It was signed by more than 60 African-American intellectuals. Why did you feel the need to make this kind of statement? Why was it important to get African-American support for such a statement?

Carlos Moore: Actually, Dr David Covin, Dr. Iva Carruthers and I put the declaration together. I took the initiative and acted as the facilitator. However, it was a tripartite initiative. We agreed that, because of the mythology around Fidel Castro, socialist Cuba had gotten a pass on race for too long, contrary to most other places. We felt it was high time to call a "cat" a cat and a "rat" a rat, regarding this whole question of racism in Cuba. The blatantly unjust arrest and imprisonment of Dr. Darsi Ferrer, the human and civil rights activist, was the "drop that filled the cup." However, I am convinced that sooner or later such a declaration would have come. It was inevitable: Too many people have gone to Cuba and realized that the regime was lying to them concerning race.

TR: The Cuban Revolution has long been regarded as a bulwark against racism and as an ally of Africa. How did we get here, where African-American intellectuals need to call Cuba out about racism?

CM: The world has changed a lot since the collapse of Communism. Before the Soviet empire tumbled, Marxist regimes were considered to be off-limits for any criticism about their violation of civil rights, their trampling on human rights or their perpetration of racial discrimination. Such regimes enjoyed a sort of automatic immunity from criticism. "First World" leftist sympathizers made it their job to shield those despotic regimes from critical scrutiny, claiming that to criticize them was to be an ''agent of the CIA.''

So for decades these ideological bulldogs intimidated most people. But a time comes when people stop fearing a bulldog; that happened when the Soviet empire tumbled. On the other hand, over the years African Americans in general have gained greater knowledge about the world beyond U.S. borders, and the complexities of countries in so-called 'Latin' America. Thousands of African Americans have visited Cuba over the past 50 years. They have seen the reality and heard it, too, from the mouths of black Cubans. Many have even been discriminated there for being black and suffered humiliation. Sooner or later, the cumulative impact of all that would have produced a principled statement such as the one that was issued.

TR: But surely the Cuban Revolution has moved the issue of race forward, hasn't it? Is there any question that there have been achievements as far as race, representation, race relations and racial equality in Cuba since 1959?

CM: My perspective on race relations is perhaps quite different from that of most people in that I do not see race as being primarily a question of interpersonal relations. I see it as being, fundamentally, a question of relations of power over the distribution of resources along racial lines. And by race, I mean phenotype, not biology. Consequently, I do not analyze racial matters in terms of "betterment," "achievement," "advancement," or "representation." I view maters of race in terms of the power to distribute or deny resources.

That is why I do not see socialist Cuba as "less" or "more" racist than pre-1959 Cuba. What has shifted is the consciousness that now exist among blacks of their overall inferior position in society, despite the Revolution. No doubt because of the socioeconomic transformations brought about by the socialist reforms, blacks as a whole enjoy greater educational access today. Yet, they remain crushingly at the bottom, whereas whites continue crushingly at the top. Such is the equation of power that -- before and after the Revolution -- prevails in Cuba.

TR: What does Cuba need to do now to address racism?

CM: Although racism does create its own sustaining ideologies (Nazism, apartheid, racial democracy, etc.), it is not an ideological phenomenon per se. I believe racism to be something much more dangerous and intractable than an ideology -- for example, a historically derived, over-arching consciousness that is materially and psychologically beneficial to a particular racial segment of humankind. If racism weren't concretely beneficial to that segment, it certainly wouldn't persist in the world. Therefore, my take on race is that racism exists on at least three different and autonomous but interdependent dimensions that must be confronted simultaneously: the political, economic and judicial structures of power; the day-to-day etiquette of interpersonal relations; the social imaginary where Otherness is mythologized and re-signified through cultural attitudes and patterns, value systems and aesthetic norms.

All three dimensions act conjointly in exclusive detriment of the historically inferiorized, conquered racial segment. Hence, addressing racism implies a determination to attack it frontally in all three dimensions. That was never attempted in Cuba either before or after 1959.

TR: What, if anything, makes Cuba unique when it comes to matters of race?

CM: Absolutely nothing! In matters of race, Cuba is no different from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil or any other of the so-called "Latin" American countries. The whole premise based on what is termed "mulatto culture" or "mestizo race" relies on strictly racist assumptions. Everywhere in this hemisphere, you will find a tiny, white elite of wealth monopolizing power and resources and keeping the rest of society at bay. And despite the many social advantages brought about by the Revolution, Socialist Cuba is no exception. The idea of a "Cuban exceptionalism" based on so-called race-mixing, is a self-indulgent racial myth in itself!

Achy Obejas is an author whose most recent book is Ruins, a novel about Cuba in the Special Period. She was born in Cuba and came to the United States by boat in 1963. Since then she has returned to Cuba innumerable times. She writes about Cuba for The Root and other U.S.-based publications.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Economix 101

Take a look below at the NYT article on some fairly significant economic changes (for Cuba at least) coming to the island.

Speaking of the Cuban economy, I just got back from sunny Miami where I attended the 20th annual conference of ASCE (The Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy).

Perhaps the most interesting and enlightenning panel was on recent changes in Cuban agriculture, 'absurdly' entitled, "Waiting for Godot."

The most revealing paper presented was by the Havana-based Reuters/Financial Times correspondent Marc Frank, who shared his soundings of Cuban farmers as they assessed their experience working under Raul.

I'd say they gave him a collective C-, meaning that they have seen encouraging changes that give them much greater flexibility in planting, growing, transporting, and selling their produce. What Frank described were experiments in slowly phasing out the acopio (the requirement that farmers sell a large portion of their crop to the state at a fixed price).

While this is indeed encouraging, the downside is that for every positive development farmers can cite 2-3 continued bureaucratic or political obstacles in their way.

In other words, they appreciate the changes but point out that there's a LONG way still to go and that the government moves painfully slowly with any reforms.

I'll see if Frank shares his assessment with readers in the coming days.

Cuba to Cut Workers and Relax Business Rules

Published: August 02, 2010

HAVANA (AP) - The Cuban government will scale back controls on small businesses, lay off unnecessary workers and allow more self-employment, President Raúl Castro said Sunday, major steps in a country where the state dominates nearly every facet of the economy.

But Mr. Castro, speaking at the opening session of Parliament, also scoffed at what he said was media speculation that Cuba planned sweeping economic changes to dig itself out of a financial crisis. "With experience accumulated in more than 55 years of revolutionary struggle, it doesn't seem like we're doing too badly, nor that desperation or frustration have been our companions along the way," he said.

About 95 percent of all Cubans work for the government, a sector Mr. Castro called "considerably bloated." Those who are laid off, he said, will be retrained or reassigned.
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