Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cubans hitch their wagon to a pink camel

The big, lumbering pink vehicle is known as a Camello, or Camel. These boys hitched a ride behind the Camello as it traveled west toward Havana.
Camellos, which can carry hundreds of passengers, were a fixture in Havana for many years. Chinese buses replaced them, but you can still find Camellos in some of the provinces outside Havana.
Cubans joke that Camellos have everything you find in an R-rated movie: Sex, violence and foul language. That's because men grope the women, thieves pick pockets and purses, and passengers swear like crazy.

U.S.-Cuba hold unannounced talks. Relations warming?

The Associated Press reports that State Department official Bisa Williams met with Cuban officials during a six-day trip to Cuba this month.
AP quoted a U.S. official as saying:
We were going over ground we haven't gone over for a long time. Each side was taking advantage of the opportunity to size each other up.
Williams is the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. She met with Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez on Sept. 17. News of that visit was public.

Source of photo: Facebook. This photo is tiny. Anyone have an official State Department photo of Bisa Williams? C'mon, don't be shy. Send it along.
What the AP revealed is that Williams stayed an extra five days, visited the western province of Pinar del Rio and toured a government agricultural facility.
CNN also reported the news, here.

Dagoberto Rodriguez. Photo credit: BBC World

Ginger Thompson of the New York Times said Williams was "the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Cuba since 2002; in 2004, the Bush administration ended twice-a-year migration talks with Havana."

Thompson's story said:
The Obama administration restarted those talks this year, hosting a Cuban delegation in New York. President Obama has also lifted Bush administration limits on remittances and travel for Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island.
Among other small but significant gestures, United States officials turned off an electronic sign that streamed anti-Castro messages on the windows of the United States Interests Section, the diplomatic complex Washington maintains in Havana. In return, Cuban officials lowered dozens of large black flags they had raised to block the view of the sign.
Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the Times that these are important steps toward improved U.S.-Cuba relations. She said:
Look at the momentum; look at the pace of these steps. It’s a departure from many, many years of practice.
Link:
An April 2009 Along the Malecon post on Dan Restrepo, Jonathan Farrar and Bisa Williams - three U.S. officials who are key players in American policy toward Cuba.

Harass Congress Day

Danny Glover meets a young Cuban fan, a boy who was chomping on a sandwich when the Hollywood star walked out of the Parque Central Hotel and stepped across the sidewalk to board a tour bus in Havana.

Wanna end the ban on travel to Cuba? Anyone can take part in a national campaign to pester, hound, harangue, harass and even annoy your representative in Congress.
All you have to do is call a member of Congress on Wednesday September 30. The number for the congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121.
Now if you're not quite sure what to say, scream or yell, the Latin America Working Group has come up with some talking points. They are:
* All Americans should have the RIGHT to travel to Cuba
* A MAJORITY of Americans, a majority of Cuban Americans, and Cuban political dissidents want the travel ban to end
* Major religious and human rights groups say ending the travel ban will help the Cuban people
* After 50 years, it is time to CHANGE our policy toward Cuba – starting with ending the travel ban for all Americans
The Latin America Working Group, founded in 1983, organized the call-in campaign, called CubaGo!
The working group is a coalition of dozens of organizations. You may recognize some of the groups - Global Exchange, Oxfam America and the American Friends Service Committee.

Supporters include Danny Glover, who said in YouTube video:
On Sept. 30, call your congressman, call your friends to call their congressman. CubaGo, to end the ban on Cuba, for all travelers, not just artists, all travelers. It's an important step in creating the atmosphere for creating the foundation for normalization of relationships with Cuba. Thank you.
Lethal Weapon star is pushing for end to travel ban

For more information, check out the CubaGo! site and download a tool kit containing all you'll need to help end the travel ban.

Rapper given "injection of fear"

Aldo Rodriguez Baquero. Source of photo: Telerama

Silvio Rodriguez helped free rapper Aldo Rodriguez Baquero after he was detained Monday for the peculiar crime of "illegal possession of a computer," blogger Yoani Sanchez says.
I've always seen Rodriguez as a pro-revolution entertainer, so it's interesting he would help an anti-establishment rapper. But maybe this was camaraderie among musicians.
Sanchez suspects that Cuban authorities detained the rapper to frighten him. She wrote:
...Maybe they're administering an injection of fear... But that doesn't work like it did before.
Cuban authorities face a difficult fight. The more they persecute rappers and other members of the counterculture, the more notoriety and support these anti-establishment figures gain.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cuban diplomat: Nothing new from Barack Obama

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Photo credit: ISMAEL FRANCISCO, PRENSA LATINA / AP PHOTO

Obama administration measures to loosen economic sanctions against Cuba have been "extremely limited and insufficient," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla told the U.N. General Assembly on Monday.
Barack Obama's election in November 2008 raised expectations of change, Rodríguez said.
It seemed that a period of extreme aggressiveness, unilateralism and arrogance in the foreign policy of that country had come to an end and the infamous legacy of the George W. Bush regime had been sunk in repudiation.
Rodríguez said an early Obama speech carried messages of "change, dialogue and cooperation..." But, he said,
Unfortunately, time goes by and the speech does not seem to be supported by concrete facts. His speech does not coincide with reality.
Link:
Cuban Foreign Ministry
Wikipedia trivia: Rodríguez was born in Mexico, not Cuba

Two onions, a head of lettuce and a dash of freedom

Aldo Rodriguez Baquero. YouTube video

Cuban rapper Aldo Rodríguez Baquero was detained Monday morning and freed later in the day on suspicion of "illegal possession of a computer," blogger Yoani Sanchez said via Twitter.
Havana blogger Claudia Cadelo spread word of the rapper's detention early Monday. Bloggers outside Cuba quickly rallied around Rodríguez, calling for his release. Musicans and writers who learned about the rapper's troubles on Facebook and other social networking sites soon joined in, CubaEncuentro reported.
Rodríguez has certainly been on the socialist government's radar. He began as an underground rapper in February 2003, but in recent years has made it clear he is pushing for social and political change. He told the New York Times in December 2006:
We are not in agreement with any political system, the one here or the one you have. We want liberty and freedom.
From one of the group's music videos, a place called "Restaurap"

Rodríguez Baquero and a friend, Bian Rodríguez Gala, lead a group called Los Aldeanos, or The Villagers. Rodríguez told the Times:
What we sing, people can't say. They think we are crazy. We say what they only whisper.
Those loyal to the socialist government have tried to bring rappers into the fold, asking that they join a rap agency, the Agencia Cubana de Rap. But most have declined. Rodríguez told the Times:
We don't want to be in any agency. It's the same as slavery for us.
Production costs for the Restaurap video, according to the group: Three tomatoes, two onions and a head of lettuce
Link:
Emetrece Productions, the rappers' representative
Along the Malecon's Yoani & other bloggers page

Cuba analyst to Barack Obama: Go ahead. Roll the dice

Cuban officials say U.S. economic sanctions hurt ordinary Cubans, including children. Embargo supporters say the sanctions are needed to force the socialist government to adopt democratic reforms and respect human rights.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a research center in Washington, D.C., urges Barack Obama to pursue normalized relations with Cuba even if it means taking political risks. In a piece published Monday, the council said:
President Obama has not taken any decisive steps to veer away from Washington’s benighted, near half-century trade embargo against Cuba. By refusing to take advantage of the opportunity to reject a longstanding and morally-bankrupt policy, which has achieved very few successes and which has been based on hypocrisy, double standards, and inconsistencies, President Obama has turned his back on the possibility of a new beginning for U.S. policy towards Latin America based on constructive engagement.
If Obama is to remain a worldwide emblem of hope and change, he will have to undertake the some political risk that is necessary to break with an old paralytic habit, by ushering in a new generation of Cuban-U.S. relations.
Sophia Weeks, a research associate at the council, wrote the piece.

Airborne along the Malecón

A kid jumps into the water along the Malecon. Or, for you literary types, call it a human cross suspended in midair
Leap of faith
Feet first

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New report recommends improved ties with Cuba

Checking the menu

Improving relations with Cuba best serves long-term U.S. interests, the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a September 2007 report.
U.S. outreach to Cuba aimed at improving the everyday lives of Cubans and modest confidence-building measures with the Cuban government can help set the stage for a more productive longer-term relationship. Eventually, Cuba will transition to a form of government more in keeping with the democratic model of the Americas, and the United States must underscore its commitment to supporting democracy on the Island.
A reorientation of U.S. policy toward engagement with the Cuban people and government by no means implies losing sight of this goal—only a shift in approach toward reaching it.
Waiting, watching

The CSIS report, Cuba Outlook: Raúl and Beyond, is based on 2008 panel discussions by Cuba experts from Canada, the United States and Europe. Its key points include:
* Cuba is currently fixed in a holding pattern. The transition from Fidel to Raúl Castro is still incomplete, given Fidel’s lingering presence, which remains an impediment to Raúl’s full exercise of power.
* Prospects for the creation of a credible opposition to the government remain highly limited. Older generations of Cubans are either pro-regime or fearful that change could result in still further economic privation. Younger generations are the most highly dissatisfied with the regime but are apolitical or looking to migrate.
* The state of the Cuban economy remains the greatest vulnerability of the regime. Raúl Castro’s early reforms have been focused on enlarging food production, but these steps are insufficient in addressing the problem. Food security is a national security issue for Cuba and one that the administration must address or it risks greater popular discontent. Anger and resentment are growing due to the difficult economic times.
* Without doubt, Cuba’s economic future would be much brighter if relations with the United States were normalized. Even with current limitations, the United States is Cuba’s fifth-largest trade partner and the leading source of agricultural imports. Were restrictions to be lifted, Cuba’s economy would receive an enormous lift from investment and trade with the United States, and the tourist industry could be expected to boom.
The report also says that Raúl Castro has not met expectations of change. "Continuity remains the key theme of his regime," the report said.

When it comes to Cuba, you could say pretty much the same thing about Barack Obama. True, there have been some changes, but important pillars of U.S. policy remain. They include:
* the Helms-Burton law
* the U.S. demand that Cuba make democratic reforms before economic sanctions are loosened or lifted
* pro-democracy programs aimed at toppling the Cuban government.
The author of the CSIS report is Peter DeShazo, former director of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Another way to search for nuggets about Cuba

Missiles in Cuba, 1962

Docstoc is yet another place to find photos and reports about Cuba. The Web site, launched in November 2007, contains a searchable database of more than five million public documents.
I found the aerial photo, above, on the site. There are also PowerPoint presentations, Excel and Word documents and more.
You can upload your own documents and earn money based on the number of times other users download the material.
Documents on the site include, for instance, a 2007 report on the demand for tourism in Cuba.

Nightfall outside the Great Theatre of Havana

Along Paseo del Prado, Havana

The Great Theatre of Havana opened in 1838. The original building was demolished in 1914. Headquarters for the Cuban National Ballet is in the current building, shown in the photo.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Juanes concert supporters outnumbered anti-Castro activists

A video clip shot in Miami shows that supporters of the Juanes "Peace without Borders" concert outnumbered foes by a margin of 5-to-1.

Cuba - so close, yet so far away

Havana Bay Tunnel

A curious piece on the Web site Changing the Times describes a tunnel linking Key West to the town of Hershey, Cuba.
It's just a fantasy, of course. The author of the piece is listed as Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who died in 1512. And the old town of Hershey isn't called that anymore. It's Camilo Cienfuegos.
But wouldn't it be great if it were easier to travel to Cuba?
Armando Ruiz, 72, has been dreaming of a better way to get to the island for the past decade. His idea: A ferry service from Miami to Havana.
A ferry linked the two cities for years before it was shut down in 1962. Ruiz wants to launch such a service again and has started a company called Florida Ferry International, according to a Sept. 12 story in the New York Times.
The U.S. ban on trade with Cuba and other laws stand in the way right now, but Ruiz is optimistic his plan could eventually succeed.
He told the New York Times that he could charter a $23 million, 600-cabin cruise-ferry from a dealer in Lithuania. He also needs investors to pay expenses to operate the ferry - some 300,000 to $1 million per month, he figures. But he believes the service would make money once U.S.-Cuba relations are normalized.
I like the idea of a ferry and I'm sure it will eventually happen. But it's impossible to say when.
Foes of the plan said they believe Cuba needs to improve its human rights record before any kind of deal is reached.

Inside the Havana tunnel

P.S. A final offbeat detail - A Key West blogger spotted a man with a Key West-Havana Tunnel Authority logo on his truck. Pretty strange...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Author says she was kicked out of Cuba for writing about Fidel Castro's personal life

Without Fidel on Amazon

The Daily Beast has published another excerpt from Ann Louise Bardach's new book, Without Fidel. Here it is, a look at Fidel Castro's personal life:

Gossip is the national pastime of Cuba, followed by baseball and sex (although the order could well be reversed). However, speaking out of turn about Castro’s personal life guarantees banishment. “He was always very private and reserved about his personal life,” his sister Juanita told me in 2002. "The personali[ties] of Fidel and my father are very similar.” Castro’s private life is so forbidden that it was not until 2003 that state-run television offered its first glimpse of Dalia Soto del Valle, Castro’s spouse and the mother of five of his sons—just after Talk magazine mentioned her decades of being off-camera. An unparalleled master of media and public relations, Castro reads every news item about him and his country and responds accordingly.
When Fidelito mishandled Cuba’s nuclear-power program, Castro had him fired. “There was no resignation,” Castro declared. “He was fired for incompetence. We don’t have a monarchy here.”
I learned firsthand the degree of Castro’s sensitivity when I got the boot at Jose Marti Airport in Havana last year when I arrived for a visit. A senior official explained the reason a few months later. “Fidel no le gusto su libro,” he told a mutual friend. “Fidel did not like her book,” he said, referring to Cuba Confidential. Curiously, Castro was disturbed not so much about its political content, he said, but rather by some revelations in a chapter entitled Castro Family Values. “Porque unas cosas personales,” the official said. “Because of the personal things.” What is standard-issue public information for any other Western leader, is decidely off-limits in Cuba.

Continue, here

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Juanita Castro promises to tell all in new book

My Brothers

Fidel Castro's sister, Juanita, has written a book about her famous brothers. It's scheduled to be out on Oct. 26 and will be published by Santillana USA.

The Associated Press says that journalist Maria Antoineta Collins co-wrote the book. The AP said Juanita Castro left Cuba in 1964 and settled in Miami.
...she has kept a low profile and for years could be found behind the counter of the small pharmacy she owned. She retired in 2007.
According to a Santillana news release, Castro dictated the story to Collins a decade ago but refused to publish until now.
That's intriguing. We'll see what she says.

A tormented Juanes cried before huge concert

Juanes: "We're very upset!"

Colombian superstar Juanes and more than a dozen others, including Spanish singer Miguel Bose, Puerto Rican Olga Tañón, Cuban Silvio Rodríguez and the legendary group Los Van Van, performed on Sept. 20 before hundreds of thousand of people at the Plaza of the Revolution.
A new video clip raises the possibility that the concert was in danger of being cancelled just hours before it started. Juanes and some of other musicians are shown in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional. Juanes says:
Tell me what we should do? Should we leave Cuba? We're very upset! We're very upset!
Here's the Miami Herald version of the events:
MIAMI -- During his historic concert in Havana, Colombian pop star Juanes was all smiles.
But hours before, he threatened to call off the event, angered over constant monitoring by Cuban handlers and rumors police were blocking people from the concert.
In an exchange recorded by journalists at the Hotel Nacional in Havana on Sunday morning, Juanes pointed to an individual apparently from Cuban state security.
"I just realized a little while ago that since yesterday, the guy who's bringing me breakfast, the guy who is accompanying me, then I see him in the concert, and now I see him sending messages," Juanes shouted.
Moments later, Juanes raised concerns that police were letting only certain individuals into the concert area and prohibiting those not wearing white shirts symbolizing peace.
Juanes cried hours before the "Peace without Borders" concert.
"We can't permit that normal people aren't allowed in the show, that a person who has not brought a white shirt isn't allowed in," he told fellow performers Miguel Bose of Spain and Olga Tañón of Puerto Rico.
Eventually, Bose, his voice breaking, consoled a weeping Juanes, while Tañón tried to convince both men to go on with the concert for the sake of the Cuban people.
Cuban officials had no immediate comment regarding the incident.
I'm interested in hearing Cuban officials' take on the video. I read somewhere some speculation that Cuban handlers shadowed Juanes at least in part because they wanted to protect him. In the weeks before the concert, he evidently got death threats from anti-Castro activists in the United States.

Fidel Castro called it an "extraordinary concert." Young people in Cuba showed that "even in the midst of a brutal economic blockade unimaginable obstacles can be overcome," he wrote in a column that focused mainly on global environmental problems.

Link:
An article with more detail about the controversy over the video is here, in Spanish.

Red alert: Brazen new smuggling technique

A friend just sent me this e-mail:
The United States Border Patrol is asking citizens to keep on the look out for a red 1951 Chevy that they suspect is being used to smuggle illegal immigrants across the border of Mexico and into points along the U.S. border. If you see the vehicle pictured below and have reasons to believe that it is the suspect vehicle, you are urged to contact your local police department or federal government authorities.
Foot-powered Chevy

It looks like the photo came from a Cuban art exhibit and was superimposed on a picture taken at a crossing at the U.S.-Mexico border.

I posted a few photos from the exhibit in August 2008. They are reproduced again below. I shot them at the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña in November 2003.



I wonder what artist created the foot-powered Chevy and where the car chassis is now. It is an original. And it's amazing that a photo of it has morphed into a joke that's now circulating on conservative Web sites such as this one.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now where are those Cohibas?

Ricardo Alarcon, head of Cuba's National Assembly

California lawmaker Barbara Lee invited Ricardo Alarcon to Washington for an event that begins Thursday, but the State Department denied him a visa.
My guess is that Alarcon didn't expect a visa and didn't even pack for the trip. He was expecting a rejection all along. This kind of thing is routine.
Whatever the case, Capitol Hill Cubans applauded the Sept. 21 visa denial.
"Kudos to the State Department," the blog said today. "...U.S. diplomats in Havana are not allowed to lobby or even engage with Members of Castro's National Assembly."
But Cuban diplomats in Washington are free to lobby members of Congress, the blog said. "Cuban 'diplomats' are even permitted to leave gifts of value in Member's offices."
So it wouldn't be fair, the reasoning goes, to let Alarcon travel to Washington.
All that makes sense if you agree we ought to continue playing this tit-for-tat diplomatic game. I'd prefer a different approach, one involving stepped-up diplomatic contact and more people-to-people exchanges.
That issue aside, after reading the Capitol Hill Cubans' post, I am left wondering about one point: the foreign gifts.
How often do Cuban diplomats give U.S. lawmakers gifts? Is it common? And what are Cubans giving to Americans?
I was curious about that, so I checked LegiStorm.com and saw that not a single U.S. lawmaker had reported a gift from Cuba.
There were gifts from such countries as China, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Russia and Yemen, but nothing from Cuba. No boxes of Cohibas, no seven-year-old Havana Club.
And I'm not terribly surprised. I've known a lot of Cuban diplomats over the past 15 years and I've never seen them passing out armloads of gifts. A book or video, maybe, but nothing fancy or expensive.
It's not that ordinary Cubans aren't generous. They are. But when it comes to diplomacy, I think the scarcity of foreign gifts has to do with both protocol and money.
Cuban diplomats don't make a lot of money. They don't have a ton of cash for gifts. And neither does the socialist government.
So even if Alarcon had gotten his visa, he probably wouldn't have arrived with a suitcase full of vintage rum. Instead, he'd probably have a few changes of clothes and some DVDs about the Cuban Five.
Lee had invited Alarcon to attend the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 39th Annual Legislative Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. According to the PR Newswire, more than 15,000 people are expected to attend the four-day conference. It will feature:
...dozens of policy forums, general sessions, exhibits, a job fair, book signings and networking opportunities. It ends with a star-studded awards dinner. Registrants include elected officials, business and industry leaders, celebrities, media, emerging leaders and everyday Americans.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New poll reveals generational shift among Cuban-Americans

Members of Vigilia Mambisa burn a t-shirt to protest the Juanes concert. Photo credit: EFE

Cuban-American opinions on the Sept. 20 Juanes concert in Havana were sharply divided along generational lines, a new poll shows.
Older Cuban-Americans opposed the concert while many young people favored it, according to an August phone survey of 400 Cuban-Americans.

Miami-based Bendixen & Associates conducted the poll for the Cuba Study Group, a Washington, D.C., organization that favors "peaceful reunification of the Cuban nation leading to a free and open society with respect for human rights, the rule of law and a market-based economy."
Anti-Juanes protests hurt the image of Cuban-Americans, the survey showed.

In Miami, pro-Juanes demonstrators outnumbered members of Vigilia Mambisa, a conservative group that burned a black t-shirt and destroyed Juanes CDs to protest the concert. Carlos Miller wrote:
The pro-Juanes Cubans had the bigger flags. They also had the numbers.
And they had youth.

And in the end, they had Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho, long a
stronghold of hardline, right-wing politics in Miami.

When it was over, the aging Cuban exile population that arrived in
Miami in the early 1960s and established itself as one of the most
influential political forces in the history of Miami was pigeonholed
to a street corner across Versailles where they were surrounded on the
other three street corners by screaming, chanting and taunting Cubans
who fully supported Sunday’s Juanes concert in Havana.

All the aging exiles could do was destroy blank CDs that had been
scrawled with Juanes' name in magic marker to show their disgust for the
Colombian singer, who had performed for hundreds of thousands of Cubans
in Havana earlier that day.

Perhaps the CD-stomping gesture was meant to be symbolic.

“They have no voice anymore,” said Alfredo Martinez, a 29-year-old Cuban
immigrant who arrived in Miami during the early 1990s.

“This is our time now. We don’t believe in Castro but we believe in
Juanes. He did more for Cuba in one concert than they have done in 40
years.”

A Cristal and Cachito sunrise

Still waters reflect the pinks and purples of a sunrise along the Malecón.

A spot the trash collector hadn't quite reached.

Cuba: Embargo has caused $96 billion in damage

Palau, an archipelago of islands in the Pacific, voted last year to support U.S. sanctions. Photo credit: Len R
For the 18th year, the United Nations will soon vote to condemn U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. Last October, the vote was 185 to 3. The only countries supporting economic sanctions were the United States, Israel and Palau.

The United States has given Israel $114 billion in direct foreign aid since 1949, according to the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs. Just a hunch, but I'd say Israel likely would not exist in its current form without U.S. economic and political support.
Palau, east of the Philippines, also relies on U.S. aid. It does not have a military and counts on the United States for its defense.

Dancers in Palau. Photo credit: David Sanger Photography

Palau from the air.

We'll see which countries support the U.S. embargo this year. Cuban officials describe the sanctions as "genocide." According to a 2009 Cuban government report:
...there has never been such a wide-ranging and brutal embargo against a people like the one the US is maintaining against Cuba. ...this classifies as genocide by virtue of Section c of Article II of the Geneva Convention of 1948 on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and, on the other hand, as an act of economic war, according to the stipulations of the declaration regarding Maritime War adopted by the 1909 London Naval Conference.
Cuban officials claim that the U.S. embargo has caused more than $96 billion in damage to the island over the past 50 years.
In current dollars, the 2009 report said, that "figure that would reach 36 thousand 221 million dollars..."
OK, this is where I get a little lost, but I think that means $362,210,000,000 or $362 billion. Is that right? Math isn't my strong suit...
No doubt, economic sanctions have hurt Cuba. Even so, Cuban officials would boost their credibility if they told people how they came up with that number.

U.S. lawmaker: Regs favor veggies, not people

Habana Libre Hotel

U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., told Bloomberg a bill allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba might pass before the year's end. The proposal has 181 votes in the House and needs 218, he said.

Current U.S. law makes it illegal for most Americans to travel to Cuba. But agricultural exports to the socialist nation are allowed. Said Farr:
If you are a potato, you can get to Cuba very easily. But if you are a person, you can’t, and that is our problem.
Crafts market on La Rampa

Monday, September 21, 2009

Were there really more than 1 million people in Revolution Square?

Here's a beautiful aerial of Sunday's Juanes concert from Juventud Rebelde. Photo credit: Geovani Fernández

Juventud Rebelde said more than a million people packed Revolution Square. Spanish singer Miguel Bose was more precise, announcing that the crowd size was 1.15 million, the Associated Press reported.
Is that possible? How many people does Revolution Square hold? And how do you figure out crowd size anyway?
There are three key questions, according to Clark McPhail, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois:
* What is the square footage of the public space?
* How much of that space is occupied?
* How tightly are people packed into the space?
So let's start with the size of Revolution Square. Wikipedia says it measures 72,000 square meters. That's 775,001 square feet, according to an online converter at Easysurf.
Now let's figure out how many people can fit in each square foot. Evidently, this number can vary quite a bit.
Let's assume there was a very dense crowd at the Juanes concert, say, one person for every 1.35 square feet.
That was the figure used in one calculation of the crowd that saw Barack Obama's inauguration. So if you divide 775,001 square feet by 1.35, that's 574,075 people.
Figure there were another 75,000 people on side streets near Revolution Square. That's 649,075. But Miguel Bose announced a crowd size of 1.15 million.
So where are the other 500,925 people? Is my calculation way off? I don't pretend to be an expert on crowd counts, but the numbers don't add up.
Can you fit more than one person into 1.35 square feet? Is Revolution Square actually bigger than 775,001 square feet? Or did organizers exaggerate the number of people at the Juanes concert?
I don't know. I wasn't there. And neither was Clark McPhail. But in an interview published before Barack Obama's inauguration, the University of Illinois professor said crowd counts are usually “guesstimates,” and often hugely inflated.
McPhail has been studying crowd behavior and crowds for decades and is the author of “The Myth of the Madding Crowd.”
He says the ego of organizers, along with errors in calculation, often lead to inflated crowd counts.
I'll bet there is computer software out there that can take a digital image and estimate how many people are in the crowd. That might answer some of these questions.

Sunday, September 20, 2009