Monday, November 30, 2009

Havana miniatures

Trick photography

Recognize this scene? It's from Havana's Plaza de Armas, where old books are sold. But the people look almost like miniatures, don't they?
I created the effect using tilt-shift photography. You can make tilt-shift photos in Photoshop or use an online tilt-shift maker, like the one here.

A bride and groom cruise along the Malecon.

Along the Malecon's Art & photography page

Cuban fighters on horseback

Along the Malecon's Pro-government marches & rallies page

Saturday, November 28, 2009

At the top of Marti memorial

Jose Luis Ponce
During much of the time I was based in Cuba, Jose Luis Ponce was the director of the International Press Center in Havana.
I first met Ponce in around 1995 when he worked as a press attache at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. U.S. officials expelled him in 1996 in retaliation for Cuba's removal of Robin Meyer, an American diplomat who had been meeting with dissidents in Cuba.
Reporters based in Havana liked Ponce, I think. He handled a difficult job with grace, intelligence and humor. He went on to become the Cuban ambassador to the Bahamas.
Here's the view from the top of the 358-foot Jose Marti Memorial.

I took these photos during a mass rally held to demand the return of boat-wreck victim Elian Gonzalez in 2000.

Along the Malecon's Pro-government marches & rallies page

10-year anniversary of rescue of Elian Gonzalez

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, the father of Elian Gonzalez, stood next to Fidel Castro during this rally in the year 2000.
Elian's mother and 10 other people died trying to reach Florida. Fishermen rescued the boy in November 1999, just over 10 years ago.

Along the Malecon's Pro-government marches & rallies page

Flashback: Mass rally for Elian's return

Revolution Square, Havana

In 2000, Cuba staged mass rallies and parades demanding the return of shipwreck victim Elian Gonzalez. Here are photos from one of those rallies.

Along the Malecon's Pro-government marches & rallies page

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Raul Castro: "Rivers of sweat" better than blood

CBS video on YouTube

Barack Obama promised a new beginning in U.S.-Cuba relations. Cuban leaders aren't convinced the U.S. has given up trying to topple the socialist government and are carrying out large-scale military exercises this week.
The Bastion military exercises began in 1980 and have been held in 1983, 1986 and 2004, according to CUBAPOLIDATA, a blog dedicated to Cuba's military and political affairs.
The best way to avoid war is to be prepared for it, Division Gen. Leonardo Andollo said during a Cuban television program explaining the military exercises.
Or, as Raul Castro has put it:
It's better to spill rivers of sweat than rivers of blood.
The exercises end Saturday, just before National Day of Defense on Sunday.

U.S. government policy toward Cuba is to promote regime change and American officials are spending tens of millions of dollars toward that end. But I don't believe U.S. military forces have any intention of invading Cuba.

Cuban officials, I suspect, want ordinary people to think that an American invasion is a real possibility. That makes it easier for them to whip up nationalistic support and distract people from their daily troubles.

Along the Malecon's Raul Castro, military & domestic affairs page

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ramiro Valdes is a member of Raul Castro's inner circle

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Yoani Sanchez and other Cuban bloggers have become more confrontational in recent months as they demand change from the socialist government.
An important figure likely working behind the scenes to keep the bloggers in check is hardliner Ramiro Valdes, one of the original commanders of the Cuban revolution.
Valdes, named a vice president of the Cabinet earlier this year, is a former communication minister.
He has called the Internet one of America's "tools for global extermination." It is "the wild colt of new technologies" and it "can and must be controlled," he has said.
Valdes, nicknamed Ramirito, was a "key player in crushing Cuba's counterrevolution by the mid-1960s, and all other subversive activities in the late '60s and early '70s," according to former Cuban intelligence officer Domingo Amuchastegui.
Valdes was also a major player in three crucial moments of the Cuban revolution: He took part in the 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks, marking the start of the revolution. He was among the exiled Cuban rebels who returned to the island on a yacht known as Granma in 1956. And he was with the insurgents as they fought their way from the Oriente in eastern Cuba to the central province of Las Villas, Amuchastegui wrote in CubaNews.

Valdes is at left in the black-and-white photo. I don't know who took this picture. I shot the color picture, top, in July 2009.
Who's Who of Cuba, leadership chart, April 2009

Welcome to the Inspection House

Presidio prison on Isla de Juventud in Cuba has a Panopticon design, which allowed guards to observe without prisoners knowing it. Photo credit: Wikipedia
Mind control prison. It was built from 1926 to 1931 and held 6,000 prisoners, Wikipedia says.

Fidel Castro was jailed on the Isla de Juventud after his failed attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953. He stayed at the Presidio prison, designed so that prisoners can't see if they are being watched. An English philosopher and social theorist named Jeremy Bentham created this design in 1785. He called it a new way to get "power of mind over mind."

The prison is now a museum.
Photo credit: Google Earth. Or see it in Google Maps.

Bentham wrote that his design was useful no matter the purpose of the building
whether it be that of punishing the incorrigible, guarding the insane, reforming the vicious, confining the suspected, employing the idle, maintaining the helpless, curing the sick, instructing the willing...

... in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose X of the establishment have been attained.
Guards can't observe inmates "during every instant of time," Bentham wrote, but prisoners should believe they are being watched at all times.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Real and virtual mobs clash in Cuba

Reinaldo Escobar is shown just above the woman who is shouting. Photo credit: Associated Press
The blogosphere is the Cuban government's worst nightmare.
No matter how hard authorities try, they will not be able to tame the passionate and furious masses roaming the blogosphere.
But on the streets of Havana, it's a different story - at least for now.
Reinaldo Escobar found that out Friday when a hoard of Castro loyalists swallowed him up and spit him out.
And yes, they spit on him, too.
Escobar is the husband of Yoani Sanchez, the Cuban blogger who is now so influential that when she sent a letter to Barack Obama, he actually answered it.
Escobar, a journalist who is three decades or so older than Sanchez, wanted to talk to a security agent who roughed up his wife on Nov. 6. So he posted a note on his blog challenging him to a "verbal duel."
But dozens of government supporters showed up instead, surrounded Escobar and screamed at him, according to the blog Penultimos Dias. Videos showing the action are here and here and here. A man with a megaphone yells "Down with the worms!" and calls the dissident bloggers "sellouts."
Government supporters chanted:
* Cuba is socialist!
* Cuba sí!
* Raul is present!
* Long live Raul!
* Long live Fidel!
* This street belongs to Fidel!
* This country is Fidel's!
Snapshots of the chaotic scene

The Associated Press said some of the Castro loyalists hit and slapped Escobar:
Escobar was waiting with at least two companions when he got into an argument with another man. What appeared to a prearranged group of government supporters then moved in, screaming obscenities. They hit him and slapped him in the head and pulled his hair and shirt, but never knocked him down.
Soon, Escobar and the others were surrounded by men thought to be state security agents who protected them as they walked about two blocks. All around, Cubans pushed and screamed "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!" and "Get out worm!" slang for Cuban-American exiles.
I don't know that the men really were state security agents, as the AP reported. In an interview after the incident, Escobar thanked some friends for shielding him from the crowd. He said he was not hurt and he said he had no anger toward the people who yelled at him, saying they, too, are "victims" of the socialist government.

Reinaldo Escobar is helped awayAlign Center

Castro loyalists likely see this as a victory, a rejection of not just of Escobar, but of Yoani Sanchez and independent bloggers in Cuba.
But the bloggers aren't going away. The Internet has changed the world forever and it's changing Cuba.
No one owns the blogosphere.
No one controls it.
No one tells it how think or what to do.
Blogs - and other stations in cyberspace - help level the playing field. Almost anyone can publish words or share photos and video anytime, anywhere. That is beginning to transform Cuba, but has already changed much of the world.
One by one, the masses have flocked to the Internet. Consider the numbers: some 300 million people are on Facebook, 50 million are LinkedIn, more than 100 million Americans have blogs.
More Americans now read blogs than print newspapers. And all those souls sitting at their computers have the power to sway public opinion.
This so-called "smart mob" of Internet users can make or break corporations. The mob can help launch the careers of aspiring singers, models and actors. It can expose corruption and wrongdoing in government.
The mob tears down walls, says Jeff Jarvis, author of the book, What Would Google Do? It values transparency. It puts collaboration ahead of ownership. And no big company or government can control it or hide from it.
The only answer, I think, is to be a part of it.
That way, you can turn your worst enemy, your nightmare, into your best friend.
Or if you're sure you've got the answer and you've got the support, then give everyone Internet access and let the virtual mobs fight it out.
Instead, Castro loyalists try to discredit and intimidate the bloggers. They call Sanchez a foreign-paid "mercenary" fabricated abroad, for instance, and say she faked injuries after her run-in with security agents.
I'd consider another approach, including these steps:
* Stop treating Cuban bloggers as adversaries,
* Start listening to what they say,
* Work to solve some of the social, economic and political problems that give bloggers a steady supply of material.
That said, I am not in a position to know what happened to Sanchez on Nov. 6. I don't know if she faked or exaggerated any injuries. Nor do I know if a foreign government or organization is behind her. She has told me they are not. Cuban officials say they are not so sure.

Along the Malecon's Yoani & other bloggers page
A phone interview with Reinaldo Escobar after the incident

Friday, November 20, 2009

High-profile spy case ends with plea bargain

When they were free

Walter Kendall Myers, a former State Department employee also known as Agent 202, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage and other charges as part of a plea deal today. He'll get life in prison.
Prosecutors said the 72-year-old agreed to cooperate in U.S. investigations of criminal and intelligence activity.
His wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, 71, also agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities. She pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count and agreed to a jail sentence of no more than seven and a half years, Bloomberg reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney General David Kris said:
For the past thirty years, this couple betrayed America’s trust by covertly providing classified national defense information to the Cuban government. Today, they are being held accountable for their actions.
Kendall Myers must also pay $1,735,054, according to a court document filed today. Federal authorities will seize the couple's Washington apartment, their money, car and 37-foot yacht to pay the debt.
Before his arrest, Myers had told an undercover officer that he spied on behalf of Cuba for ideological reasons. You'd think that a man with such strong convictions would have preferred to go to trial so he'd have a platform to air his views.
Instead, his case came to a quiet, anticlimactic end.

Along the Malecon's Spy vs. spy page

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hugo Chavez invites el Comandante to event in Cuba

Whose house is this anyway?

Hugo Chavez over the weekend invited Fidel Castro to an event to be held in the former Cuban president's own country.
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, ALBA by its Spanish initials, plans to hold a summit in Havana on Dec. 13, the trade bloc's fifth anniversary.
Castro could have easily invited himself - or just dropped by - since he helped create ALBA. But Chavez, the president of Venezuela, didn't give him the chance. In his usual blustery fashion, Chavez said:
We are publicly inviting Fidel to the ALBA summit, which will be in Havana in December.
Castro is in firm control of his mental and physical faculties, Chavez went on during a public appearance in Venezuela.
Nobody should believe that Fidel couldn't be sitting here. He could stand here and talk for an hour, two hours, in a tone of voice similar to mine.
One time in Europe, they asked me, 'Tell us the truth. Did Fidel go crazy? Is he in an insane asylum?'
No, Castro is not in mental institution, Chavez said. Castro is healthy, he said.
Fidel is my father. I feel like a son of Fidel...

Campaign contributions prompt some lawmakers to support embargo against Cuba

Money makes Washington go 'round

A political action committee gave more than $10 million to congressional campaigns, prompting 18 lawmakers to suddenly decide that they favor U.S. sanctions against Cuba, a study released late Sunday said.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Campaign tracked how often "lawmakers changed their position on Cuba-related issues within months of receiving funds," the Associated Press said. The AP quoted Public Campaign's David Donnelly:
Perhaps it's the age-old story of money and politics, but 18 members switched their votes on the subject, some in very close proximity to when they got donations.
When an issue is not in the front view like health care, our campaign finance system sets up a situation in which the members are more interested in the money than deciding a rational, reasoned approach to politics, regardless of what the outcome.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, told the AP it is "exercising its constitutional right to political participation." He said:
For some of these folks, it's OK for unions to support pro-labor members. It's OK for trial lawyers to help elect pro-litigators. It's OK for the Jewish community to help elect pro-Israel. But somehow it's not OK for the Cuban community to help elect members and candidates that help and support conditioning business and tourism with the Castro regime with human rights and democratic reforms.
Miami Herald's story on the report

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Documents filed and sealed in Posada Carriles case

Click to see log showing the filing of secret documents and exhibits
The government and the defense filed documents last week in the Luis Posada Carriles case. All the documents are sealed and so it's impossible for most people to know what's going on in the case.
Both sides will try to use secrecy to their advantage.
- The government will likely push to keep documents sealed if they disclose details about Posada Carriles' past connections to the government, if they reveal government efforts to assist or cooperate in attacks on Cuba, or if they reveal investigative techniques and methods.
- The defense would want to seal any documents that incriminate Posada Carriles. I wonder if the defense has been able to force the government to make secret certain documents that while incriminating Posada Carriles also expose past U.S. government collaboration with the accused anti-Castro bomber.
Will we ever know details of what went on behind-the-scenes in the Posada Carriles case?

U.S. Interests Section photo contest

I thought these were some of the most interesting and unusual photos from the U.S. Interests Section's photo contest for Cubans on the island.
You can browse all 165 photos submitted here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Former drug czar and former Interests Section chief to testify

Havana sunset

The date of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs meeting on Cuba has been changed from Nov. 18 to Nov. 19. Witnesses have been added.

Topic: Is it Time to Lift the Ban on Travel to Cuba?
Location: Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Date: Thursday, November 19, 2009
Time: 10 a.m.


* Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey
President, McCaffrey Associates, LLC

* Ignacio Sosa
Executive Board Member, Friends of Caritas Cubana

* Berta Antunez
Sister of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, the pro-democracy activist better known as Antunez

* James Cason, former Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Electronic warfare

In case you ever wondered what the U.S. Interests Section's old electronic message board looked like, here are a few pictures of it.

In this sequence, the message began:
"People of Cuba, our commitment to a government of transition..."
The message continued, giving assurances to the Cuban people that in the post-Castro era, the U.S. government would not take away such benefits as free schooling and universal health care in Cuba.

U.S. officials operated the message board from January 2006 to July 2009, the Voice of America said in this report. In response, Cuban authorities put up a field of flags to block view of the board.
Many of the electronic messages spoke of human rights and democracy, but others simply passed along the latest news about such baseball teams as the Houston Astros.
The tone of some U.S. outreach efforts has changed since Barack Obama took office. One example of the Interests Section's approach: A photo contest entitled "What I like best about my neighborhood."
Officials announced winners on Nov. 4. Browse all the photos submitted here on the Interests Section's Facebook page.