Friday, February 26, 2010
This photo appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
Photo credit: Ricardo Stuckert/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Photo credit: Ricardo Stuckert/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Thursday, February 25, 2010
From the wires:
Will the tragic death of Zapata turn into a huge political problem for the Cuban government? Will it fuel civic unrest?
Security agents detained dissidents across Cuba Wednesday to prevent protests at the funeral of a leading dissident whose death in a prison hunger strike has sparked international outrage, an activist said.
Orlando Zapata, 42, was to be buried in his hometown of Banes, 830 kilometers (500 miles) east of Havana, after a wake at the home of his mother...
Will the tragic death of Zapata turn into a huge political problem for the Cuban government? Will it fuel civic unrest?
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Cuban President Raul Castro said Wednesday he is sorry about the death of prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died Tuesday after a hunger strike lasting more than 12 weeks.
Castro said Cuba wasn't to blame for the jail inmate's death and defended Cuba's judicial system, saying:
There are no torture victims, there have not been any torture victims nor have there been any executions.Castro's foes blame the Cuban government for Zapata Tamayo's death.
That sort of thing happens at the base at Guantanamo.
The Cuban Democratic Directorate said the dissident began the hunger strike on Dec. 3, 2009, and died 82 days later, not quite 12 weeks.
A Democratic Directorate report cited on at Marc Masferrer's Uncommon Sense blog alleged that prison employees:
- Beat Zapata Tamayo in October 2009, causing a head injury that required surgery.
- Denied Zapata Tamayo drinking water for 18 days after he had begun the hunger strike, triggering kidney failure.
- Transferred the inmate to a hospital, where he "was left to languish nearly completely nude under intense air conditioning, causing him to contract pneumonia."
Zapata Tamayo’s death will not be in vain. It will illuminate the path of Cuba’s civic resistance until the Cuban people achieve their freedom.
With the December arrest of U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross, Raul Castro has "effectively forced the suspension USAID's operations in Cuba," former State Department official Phil Peters says.
The Obama administration ought to "slash or scrap USAID's Cuba program," Peters writes in Foreign Policy magazine.
USAID can't expect to have any success as long as it openly tries to undermine the government in a country with such a formidable state security apparatus, Peter says. USAID is in an impossible position, he writes, trying run a pro-democracy program "with the absurd hope that the local government will not notice."
Peters, creator of the Cuban Triangle blog, writes:
Stranger still, the program is overt in the United States -- in 2006, there was an open call for proposals for "high tech communication devices to facilitate communications between activists on the island" -- and attempts to be covert in Cuba.Link:
That might work -- and Gross might be a free man today -- were it not for the fact that Cuba has a world-class intelligence service. At the Havana airport, passengers and baggage are scanned entering Cuba. Carry a laptop, and you can expect to answer a few questions. Carry several, and you can count on being watched. If you visit the U.S. diplomatic mission, Cuban guards see you coming and going. If you go there to pick something up -- the State Department reports that in some months, up to 75 percent of shipments to that mission come from USAID's grantees -- then the mission's 250 Cuban employees, all of whom can be counted on to be informants or employees of Cuba's Interior Ministry, will see that too.
Foreigners who phone or visit dissidents can expect to be observed. Moreover, "dissidents" aren't always who they seem -- indeed, Cuba's Department of State Security (DSS) not only monitors anti-government activists, but also manufactures some. Agents pose as opponents of the regime and infiltrate opposition organizations. When 75 dissidents were jailed after lightning trials in 2003, the DSS happily unmasked 12 of its phony dissidents, publishing interviews and then a book about their undercover exploits.
Along the Malecon's U.S.-Cuba relations page
Orlando Zapata Tamayo is shown above, center.
Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the hunger striker who died Tuesday, dedicated his life to the pro-democracy movement in Cuba.
He appears, in the background, in photos I took of dissidents in March 2003. At that time, he joined dissidents who were staging a hunger strike to try to pressure the socialist government to release prisoners. But then many of these protesters later wound up in jail themselves.
The story I wrote about the hunger strikers back then is here.
There are expressions of outrage and sadness over Zapata Tamayo's death throughout the blogosphere. These include Orlando Luis Pardo's wrenching tribute - no words, just page and page of solid black images.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
here for details.
A woman is shown reading Cuba Confidential on Yoani Sanchez' Generacion Y Web site. Photo credit: Orlando Luis Pardo
Cuba Confidential was published in 2002. The author, Ann Louise Bardach, wrote:
Check out the photo - and the book she's reading- on Yoani's site! wow, la chica sure knows how to send a message...
Bardach says her new book, Without Fidel, published in October 2009, is also circulating in Cuba. She says she figures Yoani Sanchez doesn't have a copy yet "though copies are circulating in Havana on black market at primo prices..."
Along the Malecon's Yoani & digital revolt page
At work in standard uniform - shorts and sandals
Two former correspondents in Cuba have written books about their experiences on the island.
Isabel García-Zarza, a former reporter for Reuters, wrote La Casa de Cristal - Diario de una corresponsal en La Habana. (House of Glass - Diary of a correspondent in Havana). And Vicente Botín, who worked as a journalist for Televisión Española in Cuba, wrote the second book, Los Funerales de Castro. (Castro's Funerals).
I was in Miami a few weeks ago and saw La Casa de Cristal at Ediciones Universal, a bookstore on Calle Ocho. I flipped through it and wanted to buy it. Then I saw the price: $49.99. And I decided that was too much for a 210-page paperback.
I wanted to read the Botín book, too, but it was $49.
Geez, what happened to decent book prices?
Anyway, I wound up buying a wonderful, fat, colorful 256-page book called Havana Before Castro by Peter Moruzzi. And it only set me back $30.
But back to the two new books, out at the end of 2009. Juan Tamayo, former foreign editor at the Miami Herald, just wrote a story about them and, more generally, what it's like to work as a correspondent in Cuba.
His story, in Spanish in the Feb. 21 issue of El Nuevo Herald and in English in the Feb. 28 issue of the Miami Herald, brought back memories of my time in Cuba.
I started traveling to the island in 1994 and was based on the island from 2000 to early 2005. People often ask me what it was like. I can tell you this: I didn't want to leave.
I grumbled about the obstacles that foreign correspondents face in Cuba. I complained about the pressures I felt in a country where the government controls most of the press.
I sometimes vented while visiting my boss at the Dallas Morning News in Texas. He was sympathetic to a point. But then he'd shake his head, smile, look me in the eye and ask:
Just what the heck are you complaining about, son?I mean, I wasn't chained to a desk. I wore shorts and sandals almost everywhere I went. I rarely had to wrap a tie around my neck. I lived near the beach, practically on it. People were friendly. The climate was fabulous. There was very little crime. I had a dream job. That was all true.
So what was I complaining about?
Don't crash. That would be embarrassing.
Officials at Cuba's Foreign Ministry asked similar questions in 2003 when Reporters Without Borders published a report called, "Foreign Journalists Under the Regime's Microscope." (PDF is here).
The 17-page report was based on interviews with seven correspondents from "French and British news agencies, four from French, British and Spanish newspapers and a correspondent for the Spanish TV station TVE. The report said:
Getting the simplest official information is much like going into battle, they said. The obsessively secret and distrustful regime is very anxious to closely monitor all information destined for Cubans and people abroad. And relying on third-hand sources, after laborious cross-checking, exposes journalists to the risk of being used or else endangers those who agree to talk to reporters, even anonymously.
On a personal level, working in Cuba was considered trying, to say the least. The regime, in its great concern about its foreign image, uses an array of continual and carefully graded psychological pressures, ranging from mild rebukes about a story to being summoned by the authorities and even denunciation in the official media. The drastic step of expulsion from the country has become rarer in recent years with a stricter visa policy that makes it less necessary. The constant police surveillance, though fairly discreet, extends to journalists' private lives and pushes even the sturdiest people to the brink of paranoia and schizophrenia.
To do their job according to normal journalistic rules, foreign reporters in Havana - especially those working for news agencies - have to play a cat-and-mouse game within ever-changing parameters, including the regime's moods, the international situation and other not always evident factors. But some things never change, as the experiences related here show.Cuban officials criticized the Reporters Without Borders report and said it was inaccurate and politically motivated.
I remember one Cuban official telling me something like:
Well, I don't see any of the foreign correspondents leaving. It must not be all that bad.And it wasn't. But we're all human. And sometimes people just have to complain.
It's hard to describe in a few sentences or paragraphs what it's like to work in Cuba. Juan Tamayo called me while reporting his story. He asked if reporters censor themselves in Cuba. I told him that they do. I admitted I sometimes practiced self-censorship myself. There were times when I held back because I worried about possible repercussions.
Times have changed since then, I think. Self-censorship still exists, for sure. But people in Cuba talk more openly now about ideas and topics that were politically sensitive or even taboo. Cuban bloggers and others have helped fuel a more vigorous and open debate. And I think many Cuban officials are more tolerant of critical views of the socialist government.
My goal when I opened the Dallas Morning News bureau in 2000 was to provide balanced coverage of Cuba. I don't know that I always succeeded, but I tried.
I also wanted to cover the news in Cuba as the country evolved. I figured it wouldn't do the Morning News any good if I were blacklisted or kicked out of the country.
I know some journalists disagree with that approach. I've heard some say that if they had the chance to run a news bureau in Cuba, they'd write about nothing but human rights abuses and prison conditions until the Cuban government kicked them out. Scorch and burn. Then they'd make a heroic exit.
For better or worse, I didn't take that approach. That doesn't mean I haven't - or won't - write critical stories. Samples of those are here, here and here. But I've always wanted to write about Cuba over the long haul, not just for a few years.
I tried to maintain relationships with Cubans of all political persuasions, from government officials and press spokesmen to activists who don't agree with the government.
I sought out those who have had enough of the Castro brothers, including U.S. officials, diplomats and Cuban-American activists.
While in Cuba, I also tried to write about all kinds of things, not just politics. But I ran into Cold-War politics everywhere I turned.
Ordinary Cubans on the street were often eager to talk about politics. As many of them saw it, I somehow represented the U.S. government, which has tried for decades to topple their government. So they had questions, and they often had something they wanted to get off their chest.
I sometimes grew weary of all the politics. Some of the most innocuous stories, it seemed, touched a political nerve.
Despite that, Cuban officials never told me what to write. They were always respectful, even when I wrote stories that upset them.
In 1994, the Dallas Morning News announced the closing of the Havana bureau. I left in early 2005.
I had expected - and hoped - to be in Cuba for at least several more years. Despite my grumbling, Cuba was where I wanted to be. And I'm grateful I had the chance to work there.
At the beach. Pretty oppressive, isn't it?
Looking back, I had a pretty good life on the island, though I may not have always appreciated it. I had friends in and out of the government. I made enough money to eat at restaurants and buy food at the dollar stores. I had wheels - not just an SUV, but a motorcycle, too. Some days I spent just exploring.
Sure, Cuba has problems. A lot of countries do. But like Roberto Robaina once told me:
We're not as good as we want to be, but we're not as bad as people say, either.
I believe that about Cuba. It has many problems, but it's not the hellhole that some people describe.
Cuba is a complicated place. I know that we journalists only cover a tiny fraction of what goes on. We skim the surface. We write about the people who have the most extreme views, but fail to talk to those in the middle. We write about blacks and whites, not the subtle tones of gray.
It's journalism - history in a hurry. And it sure isn't perfect.
Hasta luego: This was no ordinary island - a place that is both strange and special, stirring and sad. Feature story about what it was like to work in Cuba.
Rey Lear Editores, where La Casa de Cristal lists for 19,95 € or about $27, plus shipping.
Another link to Tamayo's story
Monday, February 22, 2010
The children of Chernobyl.Cuban doctors say that for some children, the best therapy is Cuban culture - dance and music - along with Caribbean sun and sand.
While working in Cuba, I lived in Tarara, a seaside community east of Havana. One of the curious things about Tarara back then was that hundreds of Ukrainians were being treated there for radiation-related illnesses.
Below is a story I wrote about it during the summer of 2001.
TARARA Cuba - They laugh and prance along the beach, toss their towels onto the sand and rush toward the turquoise-blue water, all the while chattering away - not in Spanish, but in Ukrainian.
These children's light-hearted mood belies the dark legacy that they share, that of Chernobyl, the world's worst nuclear accident. They didn't see Reactor No. 4 spew tons of toxins into the air in 1986. Many of them hadn't even been born. But most have radiation-related illnesses believed to be linked to the disaster.
Now they are in Cuba to get well. To feel whole. To endure.
It's been more than a decade since Cuba's chief sponsor, the Soviet Union, cut off about $6 billion per year in aid. But the Cubans have been treating Chernobyl victims nonstop since 1990 and will soon hit a milestone: the 20,000-patient mark.
They say they carry on to show the world that much can be accomplished with meager resources and creative approaches - such as using shark cartilage and human placenta to cure many ills.
Patients' families at the Cuban treatment center in Tarara, east of Havana, say they are grateful.
"After my son's hair began to fall out, we tried traditional medicine. But that didn't work," said Lena Melanchenko, 34. "Here we are already seeing some improvement."
Maxim, 7, suffered hair loss and other effects related to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
Explosions ripped through Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, nearly destroying Reactor No. 4 and releasing at least 200 times more radiation than the atomic bombs dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
Thirty-one people died outright. Many others - the estimates vary widely from 4,000 to 200,000 - have since died of radiation-related illness. And millions - 17 million by one estimate - suffered some degree of contamination.
"It was very difficult. It was like a war," said Zinaida Shovkova, whose son is being treated at Tarara.
'I can't describe'
Ms. Shovkova, 45, sat in the living room of her temporary home. Sun streaming from a window shone on her face. She wiped away a tear.
"I can't describe with words all the suffering, the pain."
No doubt, the Chernobyl nightmare weighs heavily on the minds of many patients at Tarara, although some marked this year's 15th anniversary of the disaster not with tears, but with song and dance.
Music, art, sun and sand - for some patients, at least - are as important as careful medical treatment, said Julio Medina, director of the hospital 12 miles east of Havana.
"Group therapy," he calls it.
It is also important is to treat Chernobyl patients as ordinary youngsters - even if they lose their hair or have skin problems, he said.
"A lot of the kids arrive wearing baseball caps and long-sleeved shirts," Mr. Medina said. "They're ashamed of how they look. But usually after two or three weeks, they take those off. They see that Cubans don't discriminate against them. We don't make fun of them. We teach them that there are more important things than looks - things like intelligence."
During the first three years of the program, patients arrived from Russia, Armenia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. The Soviet Union broke up, and now only Ukraine sends patients to the hospital.
Cuban doctors say they have found that the patients suffer from a double whammy of sorts - not only are most of them sick, they have also had to endure the Soviet empire's fall, which brought with it economic trouble and declines in medical care.
One consequence is that many arriving patients have health problems that have nothing to do with Chernobyl - from cavities to gastritis and parasites, Mr. Medina said.
The chosen ones
A Cuban specialist in the Ukraine selects which patients will journey to Tarara. The patients' families must pay airfare. Once in Cuba, the medical care is free.
The hospital is just blocks from a long stretch of sand that before the 1959 revolution drew some of Havana's more affluent families. After Fidel Castro took power and many of the rich fled to Miami and other cities, Tarara was turned into a youth camp where boys and girls were schooled in revolutionary ideals.
Now the youth camp is gone, and the government is renovating the homes at Tarara and renting them to cash-carrying foreigners, some of whom are wealthy. One recent visitor was the Prince of Monaco. He and members of his entourage played volleyball on the beach, where three-time Cuban gold medalist and volleyball champ Mireya Luis joined them.
The children of Chernobyl frolic on the same beach almost every day. They also attend classes, put on cultural shows and learn to dance.
Since 1990, more than 80 percent of those treated at Tarara have been children. About 3 percent of the patients are very ill and stay an average of nine months to a year; 17 percent are less sick but must be hospitalized upon arrival; 60 percent can be treated as outpatients; and the rest appear to be healthy but are checked for symptoms of radiation-related sicknesses, doctors say.
Thyroids to tumors
Patients' health problems range from thyroid disorders to tumors. Doctors using medicine made from human placenta and shark cartilage say they have managed to cure up to 99 percent of some types of skin problems.
Parents of Chernobyl children say they are hopeful, but not all are convinced that success rates are quite so high.
Ms. Shovkova, an engineer, said she traveled to the island because she had heard stories of Cuban medical prowess and wanted to help her son, Nicolai, 7, whose hair has been falling out.
"I came to Cuba because people said it is the first country to be able to treat these problems with great success," she said through a Ukrainian translator.
But so far, she doesn't see much change in Nicolai's condition.
Adjusting to life in Cuba, which has economic troubles of its own, has also been difficult, she said.
"Here we eat rice and beans. I can't get used to this food. In Ukraine, we ate much better."
Like many of the children, Nicolai has picked up some Spanish. Buenos dias (Good morning), Como esta? (How are you?), and Hasta manana, (Until tomorrow) are among his favorites. But he is homesick and misses his father and grandfather back home.
"All I like about Cuba is the beach," he grumbled.
Then he remembered one other thing he likes: "The canonazo," he said. At 9 p.m. daily, men in 18th-century military outfits fire a cannon from a fort overlooking the Bay of Havana.
Lena Melanchenko said her son, Maxim, 7, is happy. And Cuban medicine is working, she said.
Cuba's warm ocean waters, "sun and climate could be helping him, too," she added. "He likes the beach, and he has started to swim."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Photos: AFP/Pedro ARMESTRE
Cuban activist César Alexander Cozar Rivera stripped off his clothes and protested naked and in handcuffs in front of the European Union building in Madrid.
He said he represented dissidents in Cuba and protested human rights conditions on the island, Noticias 24 reported.
Along the Malecon's Dissidents, Ladies in White page
A filing can contain one or more documents. The number of pages in a filing can range from one to dozens.
I counted only 23 public filings of documents in the case since Jan. 1. All the rest have been secret filings.
I fault Cardone for failing to handle the case in a spirit of openness and transparency.
Along the Malecon's Anti-Castro activists page
U.S District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone gave no explanation and did not set a new trial date.
A status conference to determine new jury selection and trial dates was set for 9 a.m. May 20 in U.S. District Court in El Paso.
Prosecutors requested the delay in a sealed document. Cardone found that the government's argument - which is secret - "is well-taken and should be GRANTED," according to a one-page document filed Friday.
How can the public know whether such secrecy is justified if the prosecutors' request for a delay is sealed?
The public has a right to know more.
Delays have plagued the trial. Posada Carriles was arrested in May 2005 and the legal wrangling began.
He was indicted on perjury, immigration fraud and other charges in January 2007. A trial was set for May 11, 2007, but there was a delay, then another...
Five years will have passed from the time of his 2005 arrest to the status conference - unless, of course, there's another delay.
Along the Malecon's Anti-Castro activists page
Forty-eight years ago, CIA counterinsurgency specialist Edward Lansdale presented Operation Mongoose, a program of political warfare, intelligence gathering and sabotage.
Lansdale detailed his plan in a top secret Feb. 20, 1962, document. The goal was to trigger an anti-Castro revolt in Cuba by October 1962.
The document is interesting because it reveals the CIA's mindset at the time. It reads, in part:
Time is running against us. The Cuban people feel helpless and are losing hope fast. They need symbols of inside resistance and of outside interest soon. They need something they can join with the hope of starting to work surely towards the overthrow of the regime.
Americans once ran a successful revolution. It was run from within, and succeeded because there was timely and strong political, economic, and military help by nations outside who supported our cause. Using this same concept of revolution from within, we must now help the Cuban people to stamp out tyranny and gain their liberty.
A vital decision, still to be made, is on the use of open U.S. force to aid the Cuban people in winning their liberty.
When the popular movement is holding meaningful territory in Cuba, it should form a provisional government. This should permit open Latin American and U.S. help, if requested and necessary. A military government situation will exist for the initial period and we must insist upon realism in this interim period preceding reasonable civilian control.
Operation Mongoose also called for psychological warfare that would "create atmosphere of a 'crusade' for human liberty" and "set the deeply moving tone and motivating force for the liberation of Cuba."
Excerpts from the document:
This means maximum use of spiritual appeal (such as the prayer for Cuba by Bishop Boja Masvidal who has a genuine Cuban revolutionary background), recapturing the ideal of Marti by taking use of his memory away from the Communists (even to issue of commemorative U.S. stamp), and popularizing songs by commercial recordings. (USIA and CIA responsibility.)
In March, commence visits of prominent U.S. and Latin American personalities to Cuban refugee camps in Florida.
PURPOSE: To demonstrate concern for plight of refugees, particularly parentless children.
CONSIDERATIONS: Mrs. Kennedy would be especially effective in visiting children refugees. (One camp near Miami has about 1,000 children who came out without their parents.) Her impact upon Latin Americans on the recent Presidential visit to Venezuela and Colombia suggests this. (USIA responsibility.)
ACTIVITY: Publicity for selected defectors from Castro team.
PURPOSE: To demonstrate Cuban regime's failure to live up to promises of original 26th of July movement.
Along the Malecon's U.S.-Cuba relations page
Along the Malecon's Spy vs. spy page
Kyle calls Fidel Castro
The U.S. government spends millions of dollars trying to force a transition to democracy in Cuba.
Kyle Broflovski did it with a simple phone call to Fidel Castro in the Dec. 13, 2000, episode of South Park.
Episode 64 is called "The Wacky Molestation Adventure." Wikipedia describes it as:
a parody of Stephen King's Children of the Corn, Logan's Run, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" and the Star Trek episodes "Miri" and "And the Children Shall Lead."In brief:
Cartman has four tickets for a Raging Pussies concert and the boys all want to go, but Kyle asks his parents if he can go, and, of course, his parents forbid him from going. When he tries to negotiate, Kyle's mom says (sarcastically) that Kyle can go if he cleans out the garage, shovels all the snow from the driveway and brings democracy to Cuba, all of which Kyle does.
Fidel Castro reads Kyle's letter
Of course even though he completed this impossible task, which left Mr. and Mrs. Broflovski speechless when they saw Kyle being given credit on the news, Kyle's parents still won't let him go to the concert, explaining he wasn't supposed to do it, as it was supposed to be impossible.
In his fury, he questions his parents' authority and shouts out his wishes of not having parents as he leaves the house, shocking his parents. While hanging with the guys at Kenny's house, Kyle tells of his wishes that he didn't have any parents to his friends, who agree with him. Cartman suggests that he call the police and tell them that his parents have been "molestering" him, which will make them go away for a while (a trick he played on his mother's ex-boyfriend). Kyle does this and the police take his parents away.
If only things were that simple...
Alan and Judy Gross. Credit: Washington Post
Judy Gross, wife of the U.S. subcontractor jailed in Cuba, says she's been married to him for 40 years, "his daughters miss him terribly" and "we need him home."
Gross said she hopes that the U.S. and Cuba will negotiate her husband's release in talks that begin today in Cuba.
Cuban authorities jailed Alan Gross in early December. In a video posted on the Washington Post's Web site, Judy Gross says she and her husband have spoken briefly three times and the State Department has visited him twice.
Here's Judy Gross in the video posted on the Washington Post Web site.
She said he is a development worker who "loves other cultures" and has worked in more than 50 countries. He went to Cuba to help Cuban Jews connect to the Internet, she said. She said:
Alan has done nothing wrong and we need him home. We're hoping you can help us find a way to get him back to the U.S.
Photo credit: Washington Post
Link: Along the Malecon's U.S.-Cuba relations page
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Alan P. Gross
Jailed U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross has "never been involved in any way with any intelligence agency whatsoever," his wife told Reuters on Thursday.
Judy Gross said she hopes U.S. officials will somehow secure her husband's release after the U.S.-Cuba migration talks that begin Friday in Havana.
Cuban President Raul Castro and other officials have accused Alan Gross of distributing satellite communications gear to dissidents and they've suggested he may be a spy.
Judy Gross told Reuters via e-mail that her husband "is simply a professional do-gooder who works on development projects in emerging countries." Reuters said:
Anyone who knows Alan at all knows that his work around the world is humanitarian in nature. He loves to help people.Judy Gross is a psychotherapist who works at a Washington-area hospital. She told Reuters:
I hope and pray that Alan will be freed soon. He has done nothing wrong.