Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cuba's 2nd city without power, water after Sandy

Cuba's 2nd city without power, water after Sandy
AP, Monday October 29, 2012

Associated Press= HAVANA (AP) — Residents of Cuba's second-largest city of Santiago remained without power or running water Monday, four days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall as the island's deadliest storm in seven years, ripping rooftops from homes and toppling power lines.

Across the Caribbean, the storm's death toll rose to 69, including 52 people in Haiti, 11 in Cuba, two in the Bahamas, two in the Dominican Republic, one in Jamaica and one in Puerto Rico.

Cuban authorities have not yet estimated the economic toll, but the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported there was "severe damage to housing, economic activity, fundamental public services and institutions of education, health and culture."

Yolanda Tabio, a native of Santiago, said she had never seen anything like it in all her 64 years: Broken hotel and shop windows, trees blown over onto houses, people picking through piles of debris for a scrap of anything to cover their homes. On Sunday, she sought solace in faith.

"The Mass was packed. Everyone crying," said Tabio, whose house had no electricity, intermittent phone service and only murky water coming out of the tap on Monday. "I think it will take five to ten years to recover. ... But we're alive."

Sandy came onshore early Thursday just west of Santiago, a city of about 500,000 people in agricultural southeastern Cuba. It is the island's deadliest storm since 2005's Hurricane Dennis, a category 5 monster that killed 16 people and did $2.4 billion in damage. More than 130,000 homes were damaged by Sandy, including 15,400 that were destroyed, Granma said.

"It really shocked me to see all that has been destroyed and to know that for many people, it's the effort of a whole lifetime," said Maria Caridad Lopez, a media relations officer at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Santiago. "And it disappears in just three hours."

Lopez said several churches in the area collapsed and nearly all suffered at least minor damage. That included the Santiago cathedral as well as one of the holiest sites in Cuba, the Sanctuary of the Virgin del Cobre. Sandy's winds blew out its stained glass windows and damaged its massive doors.

"It's indescribable," said Berta Serguera, an 82-year-old retiree whose home withstood the tempest but whose patio and garden did not. "The trees have been shredded as if with a saw. My mango only has a few branches left, and they look like they were shaved."

On Monday, sound trucks cruised the streets urging people to boil drinking water to prevent infectious disease. Soldiers worked to remove rubble and downed trees from the streets. Authorities set up radios and TVs in public spaces to keep people up to date on relief efforts, distributed chlorine to sterilize water and prioritized electrical service to strategic uses such as hospitals and bakeries.

Enrique Berdion, a 45-year-old doctor who lives in central Santiago, said his small apartment building did not suffer major damage but he had been without electricity, water or gas for days.

"This was something I've never seen, something extremely intense, that left Santiago destroyed. Most homes have no roofs. The winds razed the parks, toppled all the trees," Berdion said by phone. "I think it will take years to recover."

Raul Castro, who toured Cuba's hardest-hit regions on Sunday, warned of a long road to recovery.

Granma said the president called on the country to urgently implement "temporary solutions," and "undoubtedly the definitive solution will take years of work."

Venezuela sent nearly 650 of tons of aid, including nonperishable food, potable water and heavy machinery both to Cuba and to nearby Haiti, which was not directly in the storm's path but suffered flash floods across much of the country's south.

Across the Caribbean, work crews were repairing downed power lines and cracked water pipes and making their way into rural communities marooned by impassable roads. The images were similar from eastern Jamaica to the northern Bahamas: Trees ripped from the ground, buildings swamped by floodwaters and houses missing roofs.

Fixing soggy homes may be a much quicker task than repairing the financial damage, and island governments were still assessing Sandy's economic impact on farms, housing and infrastructure.

In tourism-dependent countries like Jamaica and the Bahamas, officials said popular resorts sustained only superficial damage, mostly to landscaping.

Haiti, where even minor storms can send water gushing down hills denuded of trees, listed a death toll of 52 as of Monday and officials said it could still rise. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has described the storm as a "disaster of major proportions."

In Jamaica, where Sandy made landfall first on Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane, people coped with lingering water and power outages with mostly good humor.

"Well, we mostly made it out all right. I thought it was going to be rougher, like it turned out for other places," laborer Reginald Miller said as he waited for a minibus at a sunbaked Kingston intersection.

In parts of the Bahamas, the ocean surged into coastal buildings and deposited up to six feet of seawater. Sandy was blamed for two deaths on the archipelago off Florida's east coast, including a British bank executive who fell off his roof while trying to fix a window shutter and an elderly man found dead beneath overturned furniture in his flooded, low-lying home.


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, David McFadden in Kingston, Jamaica, and Jeff Todd in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this report.

Monday, October 29, 2012

As Hurricane Sandy devastates Cuba, bloggers rise to the challenge

As Hurricane Sandy devastates Cuba, bloggers rise to the challenge

By Max Fisher, MONDAY, OCTOBER 29

Cuban bloggers are showing surprising initiative in responding to Hurricane Sandy, which has killed 11 and caused significant damage since making landfall there on Thursday. It's still not clear how costly the storm will be for Cuba, but 2005′s Hurricane Dennis caused $2.4 billion in damage, about 6 percent of GDP. This week's hurricane crisis is allowing bloggers to assert their value in a country that does not always welcome them.

It's not easy to be a blogger in Cuba. According the annual Freedom House report on Internet freedom, released last month, Cuban Web freedom is the second worst in the world, after Iran, out of the 47 nations surveyed. Bloggers can face "extralegal detentions, intimidation, and occasional beatings." The report adds, "An estimated 1,000 bloggers recruited by the government have disseminated damaging rumors about the personal lives of the island's influential independent bloggers." Only about 5 percent of Cubans have intermittent access to the Internet, as opposed to the state-run intranet.

Even the small community of Cuban bloggers has been at times divided by infighting. In May, what was supposed to be a national meeting of bloggers devolved into controversy over two admittedly difficult questions: should the pro-government "within-system" bloggers invite more critical "dissident" bloggers, and, as one blogger asked, "how can one be critical in Cuba without being considered a dissident?"

The past week, though, has seen Cuba's bloggers spearheading coverage of Hurricane Sandy's impact. Leading the charge has been Havana Times, an independent blog that says it represents "the voice of Cuban youth." It has expanded on official damage assessments and reported damage to 17,000 homes in a single northeastern province, where reconstruction work from a 2008 hurricane is still "pending," meaning that homes were especially susceptible. In an impassioned Sunday post, a Havana Times blogger praised the volunteers and government workers poring over the "trail of destruction," but bemoaned the blocked roads, still-down electric and telephone services, and shortage of drinking water. "The sight of women, elderly individuals and children sifting through debris to salvage whatever was left of their belongings was simply heartbreaking," he wrote. The post concluded by asking for help with collecting and transporting donations.

Cuban diaspora blogger Marc Masferrer is aggregating social media from within the eastern town of Santiago de Cuba, including tweets from the ground and powerful photos of the devastation.

Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez (via Global Voices) used the storm to call attention to the challenges already facing the economically depressed regions of eastern Cuba. Emphasis is mine:

Thursday morning will never be forgotten by thousands of people in Eastern Cuba. The wind, flying roofs, heavy rains and trees falling on streets and houses, will remain as permanent memories of Hurricane Sandy. Nor will they be able to get out of their heads that first night after the disaster in which, from their battered beds or rickety sofas, they found nothing separating their faces from the starry night sky.

Some people lost everything, which was not much. People from whom the gale took the modest possessions they'd accumulated over their whole lives. A human drama extended over this area already affected beforehand by material shortages, constant migration westward, and the outbreaks of diseases like dengue fever and cholera. For the victims it rains and it pours, literally and metaphorically. Nature intensifies the economic collapse and social problems of this region of the country.

She concluded by calling for action from the government and "solidarity" from citizens to push for post-Sandy reforms that would help protect from the next storm. Her proposals are strikingly free market-oriented, including reduced custom duties for food imports, reduced taxes on small businesses, and allowing privately run relief organizations to supplement government efforts. It's hard to foresee Havana allowing any of these, but maybe this is the point, as Sanchez's criticisms implicitly highlight the central government's weaknesses and inability to follow through on its revolutionary promises.

Still, even as the hurricane made landfall last week, bloggers seemed more preoccupied with the country's loosening visa laws, which will allow easier foreign travel, and with esoteric intra-activist squabbles. It's easy to see why these would be topics of particular concern for the young, Web-savvy, and often government-abused bloggers. But it's a reminder of the degree to which activist-blogger communities — including those in, say, Egypt — can end up talking mostly to one another rather than to their countries' larger, less Web-focused majorities.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Viaje al "Sueño Americano" - Sandra Ramos in NYC

The Cuban artist, Sandra Ramos -an old friend from Havana- will be in NYC this week for the opening of her new exhibition, "Viaje al Sueño Americano" at the Accola Griefen Gallery (547 W 27th St. #634). Her exhibition opens on Thursday night, Oct. 18 from 6-8 p.m. and will be up until Nov. 24, 2012.

NY Subway (Collectibles series), 2012
mixed media, 26” x 19” 

Sandra's little pionera alter-ego, Alice (as in "Wonderland") will be present through her art, dancing through the NYC subway system and across the pages of a bunch of actual reworked U.S. Passports! 

Libertad (Travel to the American Dream Series), 2012
digital print, drawing, collage, mixed media, 30” x 40” 

I'm sure glad I did not lend her mine when she asked to "borrow" it the last time she was in town.

For more info: Accola Griefen Gallery 547 West 27th St #634 NY NY 10001 Open Tues - Sat 11am - 6pm info@accolagriefen.com 646 532 3488

Friday, October 12, 2012

Unfinished Spaces - Tonight on PBS!

Watch Unfinished Spaces - Preview on PBS. See more from VOCES.

I highly recommend that you watch, "Unfinished Spaces," an unflinching and very human documentary that airs tonight (Fri. Oct. 12, 2012) on your local PBS station. I saw it at the Architectural Film Festival here in NYC last year before it conquered festivals in BOTH Havana and Miami. You can't say that about many Cuban-themed films!

It is part of the PBS series VOCES.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jorge Domínguez: "Can Cuba's leaders govern?"

Professor Jorge Dominguez delivers the Ernesto Betancourt Keynote Address at the 22nd Annual Meetings of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Miami, Florida, August 2-4, 2012. 

As I tweeted at the time, the take away of his excellent talk for me was this:

While Fidel Castro may have had many cockeyed economic ideas that led to periodic unrealistic all-or-nothing mobilizations that often ended in disaster, when that "Comandante-en-jefe" gave an order, it was followed.

Under Raúl, Domínguez argued, economic policies are much more pragmatic, realistic, and potentially beneficial, but due to what Domínguez called a pernicious "bureaucratic insurgency" there is an epidemic of foot dragging with Raúl's economic "updating" policies.

That is, under Raúl Cuba's "bureaucratocracy" fails or refuses to implement his policies, thus significantly weakening the state

Professor Jorge Dominguez delivers the Ernesto Betancourt Keynote Address from Asce Web Presence on Vimeo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

@OLPL on confirms detention of Yoani Sanchez

Follow this link to hear Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo confirm via "Hablalo Sin Miedo" that he received a call early this morning from Teo Escobar Sánchez, son of Reinaldo Escobar and Yoani Sánchez, saying that his parents had indeed been detained in Bayamo yesterday around 6 p.m. while attempting to cover the trial of Spaniard Angel Carromero.

Update: Sánchez narrates some of the key events during her 30-hour under arrest at Huffington Post and on her blog Generation Y.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Venezuela, Oct. 7: The possible, the probable, and the preferable

By Armando Chaguaceda

Hugo Chavez. Photo: Venezuelan presidency
HAVANA TIMES — It's been 14 years since Hugo Chavez burst into the Venezuelan presidency, and with him his project known as the "Bolivarian Revolution."
Weariness with the corruption of the Fourth Republic and the exclusion of the poor (who were suffering the impact of neoliberal policies) led to the establishment of an electoral front that put forward the lieutenant colonel, who won by a large margin over the other candidates, especially the representatives of the traditional parties.
From that moment on, the new government faced stiff resistance from those parties, as well as from an alliance of the media and the urban middle and upper classes, which in 2002 and 2003 turned to strategies of destabilization, including a failed coup. The new government managed to weather the storm, reconstructing a framework of domestic and international legitimacy in successive elections from 2004 to 2006.
The process, in an attempt to overcome the deficits of the Fourth Republic, expanded citizens' participation in Venezuela and put the social agenda in the center of the debate. Public policies grew, generating processes for including the marginalized – thanks to revenues generated by oil.
These elements — certainly positive — joined the redefinition of the regulatory framework (with a new constitution and the passage of new laws) with the recuperation of the role of the state as an active agent in national life, as it delineated the main features of the project that was (self) identified as Bolivarian.
But the democratizing effect of the new government was gradually tinged, starting in 2006, by increasing personal ambitions and political bureaucratization with the emergence of a hyper-presidential regime, a dominant political organization (the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV), and the development of participatory mechanisms (community councils) that operated as instruments of political control and mobilization.

Tonight in Miami, USA: U.S. Cuba Policy and the Cuban-American

The Center for International Policy 
in collaboration with the Department of Global 
and Sociocultural Studies, 
Florida International University (FIU) 
& the Greater Miami Chapter of the ACLU 

Invite you to a discussion of

U.S. Cuba Policy 
and the Cuban-American

Thursday, October 4, 2012
4:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Tower Theater
1508 S.W. 8th Street
Miami, Florida

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

La Gran Familia: TONIGHT Corina Matamoros on Raúl Martínez

Guess who will be on hand to interpret for this event at The 8th Floor tonight?  Yours truly.  A little Cuban culture before the first presidential debate!!

TONIGHT Corina Matamoros on Raul Martinez

Please Join Us
for a special presentation by author and curator

Corina Matamoros Tuma
Contemporary Cuban Art Curator
National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana, Cuba

in celebration of the seminal monograph
Raul Martinez: La gran familia
Wednesday, October 3rd 6-8 pm

Lecture 6:30 Reception to follow

Books for sale at special reduced price $40
All payments accepted, administered by the Bronx Museum

RSVP info@the8thfloor.org

The 8th Floor
17 West 17th St
New York City

Co-hosted by The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation and the Bronx Museum of the Arts