Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spam, bulging bikinis and stinky sewer pipes

A Cuban beachgoer poses on a sand dune east of Havana.

I confess straight up that this post has nothing to do with the photo above. I would like to pass along a brief message. Friends tell me spammers or some sort of evil cyber creatures have been sending spam from my Yahoo! address.
Below is an example of the bogus e-mails that have been going out:
----Original Message-----
Sent: Thu, Sep 16, 2010 5:28 am
Subject: Re: it's been so long

Hi boss, it's been quite some time now. Since times are hard as hell we need to rely on the internet to save us... I found a solution and I wanted to tell you about it. This page changed my life... I quit my job because I make more money online now. Sounds silly but check out this 7 article about it here goes, View the news paper p6m8
So if you get a strange e-mail like that from me, please disregard it. I didn't send it and I'm not trying to antagonize anyone, no more than usual, at least.
I have changed passwords and taken other measures to eliminate this problem, described here in Yahoo!'s help section. I'm sorry for any inconvenience these messages cause and may spammers spend eternity with their lips firmly attached to the most ancient, mierda-encrusted sewer pipes found in all of Old Havana.

"No lo hice. I was not responsible for the spam attack," this bikini-clad Cuban said.

Florida manatees ignore travel ban, swim to Cuba

The top photo was taken of a manatee in Cuba. The bottom two photos, taken in Florida, show the same scars. Credit: Aquatics Mammals.

A Florida manatee and her calf have been spotted in Cuba, more than 400 miles from their usual habitat, in the first documented case of Florida-to-Cuba migration, scientists say.
The adult manatee, known to scientists as CR131, was first photographed in the Crystal River on Florida's northwest coast in 1979.
Scientists continued seeing and photographing the same manatee through July 2006. The animal had distinctive scars - probably from a boat propeller - on its back.
A manatee with those same scars appeared in January 2007 at the Camilo Cienfuegos Power Plant in Santa Cruz del Norte, a town east of Havana. The animal was traveling with her calf, according to an article in the June 2010 issue of Aquatics Mammals. The six-page article said:
This is the first report of manatee use of a power plant canal in Cuba and the first documented case of movement by manatees from Florida to Cuba.
Florida manatees often seek refuge - and warmth - in the canals of power plants. The Aquatics Mammals article said CR131 and her calf may have gone to the Cuban power plant to escape "exceptionally rough seas."

The manatees journeyed some 700 kilometers (434 miles) to reach Cuba, according to the authors, Anmari Alvarez-Alemán, Cathy A. Beck and James A. Powell.
Powell first photographed CR131 in the Crystal River in December 1979. The article said:
The last documented Florida sightings of this female were in Crystal River on 22 January 2005, then in the Wakulla River, further to the north, on 4 July 2006, with a small calf.
Based on the photographic documentation from January 2005 and July 2006, the overall body condition of CR131 appeared to be good.
When seen in Cuba, the calf was estimated to be about 1.5 to 2 m long or between 6 to 9 mo old, based on size-age ratios of Florida manatee neonates. Judging by the relative size differences of the calf between the July 2006 and January 2007 sightings, it was assumed that these sightings were of the same calf that CR131 traveled with from Florida to Cuba.
Just why the adult female ventured south is unknown. The article said:
It is uncertain whether CR131 swam to Cuba deliberately...; was accidentally displaced; or moved with the currents from the Gulf of Mexico, fortuitously reaching Cuba.
Whatever the case, the scientists reported:
Exchanges of individuals between Florida and Cuba may have important genetic implications, particularly since there appears to be little genetic exchange between the Florida manatee subspecies with populations of the Antillean manatee subspecies in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Manatees are considered endangered in both the United States and Cuba, "but little is known about the status of the species in Cuba," the article said.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Put a sock in it, Berman!"

Coming to America, 1988. Photos: movie screenshots

Cuba analysts continued Wednesday trying to figure out why Howard Berman postponed a hearing to consider a proposal to loosen the travel ban.
Berman said Tuesday he delayed the hearing because today would be the last day Congress was in session and it was "increasingly likely that our discussion of the bill will be disrupted or cut short by votes or other activity on the House floor."
The California lawmaker pulled the plug as anti-embargo forces were gaining momentum, said Anya Landau French, editor of The Havana Note. She wrote:
Unfortunately, Berman simply ran out of time. Which is all the more disappointing when you take into account the leviathon coalition put together by the bill's main sponsor, Collin Peterson, and then expanded by Berman in the months following Peterson's June markup of the bill. In the 48 hours before the expected vote alone, supporters were everywhere at once.
These supporters included:
  • The National Security Network, made up of retired U.S. military officers.
  • The National Farmers Union.
  • Amnesty International.
  • Human Rights Watch.
The Hill had a different take:
Lacking the votes necessary for passage, a House panel has postponed action on a bill that would lift travel restrictions to Cuba....Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has been trying to secure 24 votes on the 47-member panel to approve the bill, but an analysis by The Hill shows only 16 members have publicly committed to it.
John McAuliff, a pro-embargo Cuba watcher, disputed that report:
No evidence contained in the Hill article sustained the reporters' opinion that the mark-up was postponed because travel reform proponents faced defeat.
Members of the Committee who had not cosponsored travel legislation were prepared to support it in mark-up, among them Gary Ackerman of New York.
McAuliff cited a New York Daily News report that said:
"Berman told me he would not bring the measure up to lose," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, L.I.), "but that with my vote, the measure would pass."
Ackerman, who always voted against easing travel restrictions, said this time is different.
"After giving it a lot of thought, I have changed my position," he said. "I plan to vote in favor."
McAuliff added that he believes Berman was telling the truth when he said he didn't think there was enough time to discuss and vote on the bill. McAuliff said:
On its face Chairman Berman's explanation is credible.
McAuliff, along with Landau French, know these issues intimately. I take their opinions seriously. And they may be right in their analysis of Berman's decision.
But I wonder about Berman's explanation. He is a veteran in Congress. He's the big-shot chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations. If he wants to put the issue to a vote and put a time limit on debate, he can do that, can't he?
After all, he runs the committee.
His failure to act reminds me of a scene from "Coming to America."
King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda, wouldn't allow his son, Prince Akeem, to pick his own wife because that would break with royal tradition.
Queen Aoleon told him he could change the rules because he was, after all, the king.
When the king argued, the feisty queen shot back:
Put a sock in it, Joffe. The boy's in love!
Related story
Press release: Senator asks Barack Obama to loosen Cuba sanctions

Anti-embargo lawmaker took pro-embargo cash

Howard Berman, a California Democrat who says he wants to lift the ban on travel to Cuba, accepted a $7,000 donation from a political action committee that favors economic sanctions against the socialist government, records show.
Berman, chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, announced Tuesday that he was postponing a Sept. 29 hearing on a measure aimed at loosening the travel ban.
In 2010, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC contributed $7,000 to Berman, according to, which touts itself as a "nonpartisan guide to money’s influence on U.S. elections and public policy."
OpenSecrets said the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC contributed to $380,000 to federal lawmakers in 2010, based on records submitted to the Federal Elections Commission on Sept. 13.. That included:
$235,500 to Democrats in the House
$81,000 to Republicans in the House
$40,000 to Democrats in the Senate
$24,000 to Republicans in the House.
I don't know. Is this money talking, or what?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fidel Castro speaks on 50th anniversary of controversial neighborhood watch committees

Photo credit: Roberto Chile and Ismael Francisco. Source: CubaDebate

Fidel Castro spoke Tuesday at a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, or CDRs by their Spanish initials.
CDRs are active throughout Cuba. They were founded on Sept. 28, 1960, primarily to defend against external threats aimed at toppling the socialist government.
Today, there is a CDR practically on every city block in Havana and other cities. Castro has called the committees "a collective system of revolutionary vigilance."
Their goal, he has said, is to report:
Who lives on every block?
What does each do?
What relations does each have with tyrants?
To what is each dedicated?
In what activities is each involved?
And, with whom does each meet?
Critics say CDRs may have started as a way to fend off foreign intruders, but have since evolved into a way to keep tabs on Cubans.
Human rights activists say that CDR members spy and inform on their neighbors, and sometimes harass people who think differently. An article that explains CDRs in detail and is critical of them is posted here.
Despite these criticisms about domestic surveillance, CDRs can help Cubans spot potential foreign threats, such as the Central Americans sent to Havana in the '90s to plant explosives in hotel lobbies and discos.

New Mexico scholar: Let Cuba evolve at its own pace

Nelson Valdes.  Photo credit: U. of Denver

I don't think the American government ought to interfere in the internal affairs of another nation unless that country poses a clear and imminent threat to the United States.
We should worry first about pressing and unresolved problems at home.
But if I were someone who wanted to change Cuba, and if faced with only two choices - economic sanctions against Cuba or engagement - I'd choose engagement.
With that in mind earlier today, I wrote,"If you really want to change Cuba, flood the place with people, money and ideas."
That drew a thoughtful response from Nelson Valdes, the retired New Mexico sociologist who has studied Cuba for many years.
His suggestion: Let Cubans handle their own problems without any outside interference.
Referring to the idea of flooding Cuba "with people, money and ideas," Valdes wrote:
Although I am sure that was written with the best of intentions, it is wrong. One should go to Cuba because it should be a learning experience and an enjoyable one for the person who is visiting. I doubt that a visitor to any other country goes with the colonialist mentality of changing "the other." Besides, that would be the ultimate narcissistic enterprise.

Which leads me to note:

There are TWO positions on the matter of changing Cuba. One claims that isolating the island and not trading with Havana and limiting travel will eventually put an end to the regime or force it to become "democratic." Another position says: let there be travel, let there be trade, and the Cuban regime will then change and become democratic.
BOTH positions are wrong on a number of counts:
  1. Whether opening or isolating the island does not necessarily lead to the SPECIFIC change that those engaged in the debate ASSUME will occur. Although "change" will take place that the scope, direction or speed of that change is something that neither forecaster nor sociologists or futurists can know. There are just too many variables involved.
  2. Both sides seem to claim that what they wish to have as an end result is "democratization." Thus, different approaches are supposed to produce the same result. That is odd as well as weird.
  3. The definition of democratization or "opening up the economy" seems to be based on a peculiarly American framework. Yet, no one seems to be aware that the island of Cuba has its own historical tradition and narrative, it has its own social/economic/political players. And, last but not least, Cubans are different from Europeans or north Americans.
Indeed, what everyone ought to do is to say: it is up to Cuba's internal dynamics to determine what is best for its own people and there should not be interference from anyone outside the island.

Berman must not have had the votes

Queremos, but it ain't gonna happen, at least now now

News services and blogs, including Capitol Hill Cubans, are reporting that U.S. Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., has postponed Wednesday's hearing on a proposal to loosen the Cuba travel ban.
Berman's statement said:
For a very long time, I have either led or supported efforts to repeal restrictions on the freedom of Americans to travel. The current prohibition on Americans traveling to Cuba is the last obstacle to the full enjoyment of this right. I strongly support H.R.4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which would eliminate the Cuba travel restrictions.
The Committee had been scheduled to consider this legislation tomorrow, but it now appears that Wednesday will be the last day that Congress is in session before an extended district work period. That makes it increasingly likely that our discussion of the bill will be disrupted or cut short by votes or other activity on the House floor. Accordingly, I am postponing consideration of H.R. 4645 until a time when the Committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves. I firmly believe that when we debate and vote on the merits of this legislation, and I intend for it to be soon, the right to travel will be restored to all Americans.
It now appears that lawmakers will consider H.R. 4645 during a special session of Congress after the November 2010 elections, according to Sarah Stephens, a Cuba specialist at the Center for Democracy in the Americas.
Stephens called that "a shame." She said in a statement:
Chairman Berman has exhibited great leadership on issues relating to Cuba for three decades, and we appreciate his willingness to fight to repeal the travel ban later this year.
I think it’s a shame that when real economic and political changes are taking place right now in Cuba that neither the President nor the Congress is able to acknowledge them until after the November elections.

Dancing under the moonlight

A performance in Old Havana

Want regime change in Cuba? Send money, people and ideas

Riding toward Havana, into the sunset

The House Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday is expected to consider a bill that would loosen the ban on travel to Cuba.
Supporters of economic sanctions say now is not the time to reward the Cuban government. Lifting sanctions will only prolong the socialist regime, they say.
It's true that easing the travel ban will benefit the socialist government. State-run companies will take in more tourist dollars. But I believe the U.S. ought to pursue normal relations with Cuba. U.S. economic sanctions only hurt ordinary Cubans.
Most Cubans struggle to get by. They don't have time or energy to worry about trying to change the political or economic system. They're busy trying to put food on the table.
If you really want to change Cuba, flood the place with people, money and ideas. Sure, the socialist government will get some of that money. But ordinary people who aren't to blame for their government will also benefit.
Any American who doubts that ought to get on a plane for Havana and check it out.
Then again, that would be illegal, wouldn't it?

Retired officers: Lift travel ban, engage Cuba

El Morro

Nine retired U.S. military officers signed a letter asking lawmakers to lift the ban on travel to Cuba. The letter says:
We call for this change because our current policy limits Americans’ freedom of movement while also undermining our national security, and prevents our nation’s best ambassadors – the American people – from engaging directly with the Cuban people at a time when such contact would serve our nation’s interests and goals.
By increasing people-to-people contacts with Cubans, the United States will not be doing the Castro regime any favors; we would actually be doing the opposite. What the Castro regime fears most is a thawing of its relations with the United States, and in particular, allowing its citizens to have direct contact with the American people.
The officers include retired Army Col. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He has an interesting background. In 1966, he dropped out of college and volunteered to fight in Vietnam. He was a helicopter pilot and logged more than 1,100 combat hours.
He went on to become deputy director of the Marine Corps War College at Quantico and was later an advisor to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
After retirement, Wilkerson criticized the planning and execution of the Iraq War.
In an interview that aired on the PBS news magazine Spring 2006 Wilkerson claimed that the speech Powell made before the United Nations on February 5, 2003, laying out a case for war with Iraq, included falsehoods of which Powell had never been made aware. He said, "My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council."
Given his willingness to challenge the status quo, it's not surprising that Wilkerson would oppose the ban on travel to Cuba.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Confessions of a Cuba junkie

Cuban knickknacks

Up front, I confess that I’m a Cuba junkie. I’ll quit tomorrow, I tell myself. But I never manage to do it.
This sickness extends into my office where vintage cigar boxes, ceramic replicas of old Chevrolets and miniature Che Guevara statues are on display.

Jinetera at home

These Cuba mementos also include a three-foot wooden statue of a woman wearing tight jeans and no top.
She looks suspiciously like a jinetera, which is Cuban slang for prostitute. In my house, she wears a bandana around her bare chest for modesty's sake.
Not all my Cuba paraphernalia is quite so risque. There are books, of course, including “After Fidel” by former CIA analyst Brian Latell and “Without Fidel” by investigative journalist Ann Bardach.

 Titles aim for post-Castro era

I wonder what books will be next. By now, I imagine some writers are having trouble coming up with new titles about the post-Castro era.
Some of the best titles are already taken.
Andres Oppenheimer snapped up “Castro’s Final Hour” in 1992.
He wrote:
Cuba's socialist experiment had long been in bad health. Now, it was under intensive care. ...its death was near. The Comandante would be able to muddle through and stretch his final hour for a few months, perhaps even a few years, but his socialist dream was doomed.
Almost 20 years after “Castro’s Final Hour” came out, the Comandante is still kicking.

Cuba is a hard place to predict.
In 2006, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told the Washington Post that Fidel Castro was very ill and close to death. He said:
Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer . . . months, not years.
This year, such predictions continued. Newsweek said:
Fidel Castro has been ailing for years, and 2010 looks to be his last year on earth.
Castro had intestinal surgery in 2006. He dropped out of sight for four years and admits now that he was near death.
Now 84, he resurfaced in July and has been making speeches wearing those familiar olive-green fatigues.
Castro’s refusal to follow a predictable path has sent me scrambling more often than I care to admit.
When I was a correspondent for the Dallas Morning News, we went on high alert anytime it seemed Castro was near death.
I wrote Castro's obituary in advance - Then we waited. And waited. And waited.
I was the Dallas Morning News bureau chief in Havana from 2000 to early 2005.
After my first trip to Cuba in 1994, I had become the point man in the newspaper's efforts to open a bureau in Havana.
At the time, only two American news organizations - CNN and the Associated Press - had bureaus in Cuba.
In November 1999, the Cuban government gave us the green light, along with the Chicago Tribune and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
All three of the newspaper bureaus have since been shuttered. Fidel Castro outlasted them all.
The newspapers were betting that Cuba was on the verge of change.
U.S. officials also expected a transition. The American government even named a transition coordinator.
A U.S. government commission also issued a big, fat nearly 500-page report. It said Uncle Sam was prepared to help a free Cuba learn how to do such things as clean waste water, screen airport baggage and keep trains running on time.
American officials were planning Cuba's future down to the last detail.
Then-President George Bush said he was getting ready for:
the happy day when Castro's regime is no more...
Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said:
The United States.....will not accept a succession scenario.
But there was no transition to democracy. Cuba's socialist system endured.
Castro has now outlasted 10 American presidents. Barack Obama is the 11th.
Wayne Smith, the former top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, once told me:
There really is no other country of Cuba's size that has had such a profound impact on our foreign policy and that has so bedeviled us.
This is partly due to Cuba’s proximity. But Smith said:
it also has to do with the U.S. perception throughout history that Cuba was strategically vital and that it really should be controlled by the U.S.
Even today, U.S. officials are determined to influence Cuba's future.
Since 2007, the State Department has spent at least $93 million to promote democracy in Cuba.
According to the State Department:
Cuba is the only non-democratically elected government in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the most politically repressed countries in the world....U.S. assistance for Cuba aims to empower Cuban civil society to advocate for greater democratic freedoms....
As for the future, I won't try to predict how long the socialist system will last. Cuba is a country of institutions. I’d argue that the socialist government isn’t as fragile as some people might think.
The armed forces control most of the economy and will certainly play a commanding role in the future.
My sense is that change in Cuba, at least for now, will continue to be painful and slow. But it’s impossible to predict what will happen.
Long term, I am optimistic that the lives of Cubans will improve. I say that not because I have extraordinary faith in any government, but because I believe in the strength, wisdom, determination and heart of the Cuban people.
But then, as I wrote in the beginning, I have a thing about Cuba.
Cubans are special to me. They don’t hesitate to open their homes to strangers.
Many are generous and unselfish, even though they may not have many possessions themselves.
I found that out one day when a Cuban artist knocked on my door in Tarara, east of Havana.
I had met him at a market in Havana a few months earlier. We talked. I showed him some family pictures, including one of my dog. I bought some of his art (all of it fully clothed, mind you).
Then suddenly, out of the blue, he’s at my door with a box.
“Open it,” he says.
Inside was another sculpture, of my dog and I.
He would not take a penny for his work. It was an unexpected, unsolicited act of kindness.
And it says a lot about Cuba to me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Will money influence lawmakers on Cuba vote?

The hearing begins at noon Wednesday in Washington

What is a congressman's vote worth these days? $3,000? $10,000? $100,000?
We may get some insight into that on Wednesday when the House Committee on Foreign Affairs considers H.R. 4645, also known as the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.
More than half the committee's members get money from political action committees, or PACs, that oppose loosening Cuba travel restrictions, according to the U.S. Cuba Policy & Business Blog. The blog described lawmakers' thinking:
...Why should I vote to lift the ban when in the end, the people who want to keep the ban in place are the ones who are actually supporting my re-election?
It is a political and self serving calculation that has gone unchallenged session after session. So what is going to unfold now is a high stakes political poker game. Will the members listen to the constituents...or will they listen to their anti-travel handler$?
In November 2009, a non-profit group called Public Campaign released a report on the influence of money and Cuba legislation. It said:
Since the 2004 election cycle, a network of Cuban-American donors and political action committees (PACs) has donated in excess of $10 million to more than 300 federal candidates in order to thwart any changes in the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Recipients are Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate members, rank-and-file members and party leaders. Contributions are sometimes coordinated and mutually reinforcing. These donations were often targeted to members of Congress who changed their positions on U.S.-Cuba policy to align them with opponents of change, sometimes within days or a few weeks of making the switch.
With support growing for reforms of U.S. policy toward Cuba, including lifting the ban on travel by all Americans to the island, and with congressional hearings on travel to Cuba about to take place before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the question is whether reasoned policy or old-style politics driven by the corrosive influence of campaign donations will prevail.
Public Campaign listed lawmakers who had received the most money from PACs and Cuban-American donors who want to maintain economic sanctions against Cuba. Five of those lawmakers are on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Here they are, along with the amount of money they had received at that time:
  • Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla. - $103,500.
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla. - $240,050.
  • Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J. - $52,150.
  • Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla. - $50,700.
  • Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y. - $33,450.
Some lawmakers on the committee began to shift their vote on easing relations with Cuba after they began receiving money. These include:
  • Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. - $22,050.
  • Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C. - $14,500.
  • Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill. - $3,000.
Most of the lawmakers on the House Foreign Relations Committee have never been to Cuba.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wanted: Female Contortionists Gallery

Speaking of blue's a photo of a blue swimsuit I posted in May 2009. The post sparked a debate over whether the person is a man or a woman. She looks like a woman to me, but some readers thought otherwise after looking at her bikini bottom.

One of my favorite Cuba blogs is Here is Havana. Conner Gorry created the blog. I ran into her this summer at the International Press Center in Havana. I was anxious to meet with over coffee to talk about Cuba, but things got so hectic our encounter never happened.
Anyway, Conner's latest post includes some of the search terms people have used to reach her blog. It's a funny post and worth reading. In fact, her entire blog is worth reading. Conner writes some of the best original stories from Cuba.
She got me thinking about some of the funny and strange search terms people have used before landing on my blog. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here are the most recent search terms people used, ranked in order of popularity.
The list shows number of hits, at left, then the percentage and the search term.
Aren't some of them pretty weird? I see people are interested in everything from "male models testicles" to "teen in blue swimsuit kitchen."
WTF is that all about?
  • 9      13.85% along the malecon
  • 5      7.69% beach buns
  • 4      6.15% john stanley bank robbery
  • 3      4.62% alpha 66
  • 2      3.08% f tv beach havana sexy photos
  • 2      3.08% cuba youtube
  • 2      3.08% norberto fuentes
  • 2      3.08% sauce for chicken el aljibe
  • 2      3.08% bisa williams ambassador
  • 1      1.54% N49RJ
  • 1      1.54% santeria: cups of water
  • 1      1.54% Ceiba acuban tree
  • 1      1.54% photo gallery
  • 1      1.54% Michael Douglas in Cuba
  • 1      1.54% castro fidel speech im wrong
  • 1      1.54% windsurf from Cuba to Florida
  • 1      1.54% what is malecon?
  • 1      1.54% lost city cuba
  • 1      1.54% photos of men with bikinis on
  • 1      1.54% along malecon
  • 1      1.54% danny glover on cubans
  • 1      1.54% spy seks rum
  • 1      1.54% mr. burns, I think we can trust the president of Cuba
  • 1      1.54% i want to see a black man that has a tatoo
  • 1      1.54% lost city near cuba
  • 1      1.54% "men in bikinis"
  • 1      1.54% photo gallery MALE models testicles
  • 1      1.54% Fugitives Pictures of the Wanted ALBUQUERQUE NM
  • 1      1.54% malecon
  • 1      1.54% gUABANCEX
  • 1      1.54% jose antonio roche cuba
  • 1      1.54% alan gross cuba september
  • 1      1.54% cunan males
  • 1      1.54% blacklisted vessels Ofac
  • 1      1.54% macdonalds cuba
  • 1      1.54% teen in blue swimsuit kitchen
  • 1      1.54% el che
  • 1      1.54% atelier lennon park havana
  • 1      1.54% how to turn mom's old blouse into a momento
  • 1      1.54% Brazil Carnival Women
  • 1      1.54% blacklisted vessel liste
  • 1      1.54% soledad cedro noticias 41
  • 1      1.54% female contortionists gallery

Fidel Castro offers trade: Cuban cigars for Stroh's beer

First Coca-Cola, now this. Fidel Castro, well, a voice actor playing the former Cuban president, says he can't get any good beer in Cuba, so he wants to trade Cuban cigars for Stroh's.

OTI's Cuba program designed for fast action, minimal red tape

Screenshot of budget document

I wonder what's going on with the Office of Transition Initiatives' Cuba program. The OTI is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development. The organization's website says it:
supports U.S. foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance peace and democracy in priority countries in crisis. Seizing critical windows of opportunity, OTI works on the ground to provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs.
Budget documents show that OTI started a Cuba program in 2007. Its mission was to:
Connect non-traditional groups with other democratic actors in the region and support youth-led, independent media initiatives.
OTI's budget for Cuba was listed as $174,000 for 2009 and $200,000 for 2010, according to this budget document (see the 92nd page of the 396-page document; it's marked Page 74).
The document does not list an estimated budget for 2011.
The U.S. government started a Cuba program at OTI in 2007 because officials thought Cuba was ripe for change.

Private contractors, like the one that sent Alan Gross to Cuba to distribute high-tech communications gear, carry out much of OTI's work.
A government document I obtained in 2008 described some of OTI's thinking at the time:
With President Fidel Castro’s resignation after 49 years in power and the recent selection of Raul Castro as his successor, Cuba is, at the very least, undergoing a symbolic transition that might signal a broader democratic political transition in the near future. Since Raul assumed the presidency, the Cuban people have publicly indicated that expectations for reform are very high and a “business-as-usual” approach to this succession would be a tremendous disappointment. Raul Castro’s administration has at least publicly supported a process called “debate critico” as an officially-accepted channel to speak more openly about issues within the current system. For the current Castro regime, the process so far has informed the government of perceived reform priorities at the grassroots and has provided some space for the government to begin implementing gradual and cautious political and economic reforms.
From a political development perspective, the “debate critico” may be creating an important political opening for the people of Cuba and for USAID/OTI engagement. There is evidence that this process is already allowing space to debate the current system. The BBC recently aired a video from a computer science school in Cuba that showed students peppering the head of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, with questions about restrictions on ability to travel and access to hotels as well as lack of transparency in candidate selection for the recent national assembly elections. As a result, the Cuban government has announced reforms to allow access to hotels and the purchase of a broader array of consumer goods including cell phones. There have also been numerous recent articles that point to a growing discontent among the younger generation (the so-called Generation Y) that grew up during the economic downturn and later reforms in the 1990s. Youth advocates have proven to be a different type of dissident—less focused on opposition to the Castro government and more focused on areas where their opportunities for advancement are negatively impacted by specific policies. This political space for dissent, while still nascent, represents a window of opportunity for USAID/OTI to support a peaceful democratic transition.
OTI contractors must often move quickly to take advantage of fleeting windows of opportunity. Speed is of great importance, and contractors are allowed to cut corners when it comes to getting permission for expenses.

The 2008 document said the OTI country representative was allowed to spend up to $100,000 without getting permission from Washington.
An OTI officer in Washington had authority to approve expenses of $100,000 to $250,000. Expenses above $250,000 required the approval of a contracting officer in Washington.
If anyone has any additional information on OTI operations in Cuba, feel free to leave a comment. You may also send a private e-mail to my address: Thanks!

Fidel Castro drinking Coca-Cola

Is it real or a fake?
Update: I'm told the photo was taken in Chile

Rare Cuba photos on display in New York

Photos by Lee Lockwood. Source: The Center for Cuban Studies

This collage contains photos taken by Lee Lockwood, a photographer who died in Florida earlier this year at age 78.
Lockwood's New York Times obituary said:
Mr. Lockwood’s best-known book was the one born of his marathon interview with Mr. Castro, which unspooled over a full week in Cuba in 1965. The discourse ranged over Marxism, the Cuban missile crisis, American race relations, sex, prostitution and much else.
It was vital, Mr. Lockwood believed, that American readers be given a full portrait of a man known here as a cipher at best, a demon at worst.
“We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears,” he wrote in the book’s introduction. “Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.”
The Center for Cuban Studies this month is paying tribute to Lockwood. The center is also display the work of another photographer who made a name for himself in Cuba.
Constantino Arias was the house photographer at the Hotel Nacional. He captured photos depicting such vices as gambling and prostitution, but these pictures were never published because of censorship during the rule of then-President Fulgencio Batista.
Now, though, a collection of Arias' photos is on display at the Center for Cuban Studies. A collage of Arias' work appears below:

Photos by Constantino Arias. Source: Center for Cuban Studies

The center's press release on the Arias exhibit is below:

Constantino Arias, The Years Before: 1945‐1958
In association with Arpad A. Busson and The International Art Heritage Foundation
Constantino Arias (1920‐1991) was a free‐lance photographer whose photos provide a rare and what is probably the most complete black and white picture of Havana society in the 1940s and 50s.
On September 16, the Center for Cuban Studies will open a month‐long exhibit of 38 Arias images at 231 West 29th Street in Chelsea.
Arias struggled to make a living in pre‐revolutionary Cuba where his only regular job was as house photographer for Havana’s Hotel Nacional from 1941 to 1959. The
hotel was a hangout of mostly U.S. tourists and inside the hotel Arias photographed the casinos and shows, the tourists at play; on his own time, he photographed ordinary Cubans at places like the Rumba Palace Bar, the terrible poverty (some of it just outside the doors of the hotel) and the growing political unrest. Arias, a slight quiet man, moved quickly through the streets, photographing anything and everything, mostly in hopes of selling his photographs to the glossy magazines, so he could give away the political photographs to magazines unable to pay. However, most of his photographic images of the gambling, prostitution and politics were never published because of censorship.
With the Revolution, Arias’ life changed. He graduated from the School of Journalism at the University of Havana in 1961 and worked in the photographic laboratory of Bohemia magazine. His early photographs and negatives were stored in boxes in the home he shared with wife Fina and their daughter. The Center for Cuban Studies first heard of Arias from the great cinematographer and photographer Mario Garcia Joya (Mayito) whose photographer wife Marucha (Maria Eugenia Haya) had begun collecting Arias’ photos in the 1970s. As a historian and critic, she found Arias’ photos the most complete picture of Havana society in the 1940s and 50s, quite unlike what was usually published of Havana before the revolution. (His archive consisted of approximately 10,000 negatives). Arias himself was no longer interested in printing, so Mayito began to print from many of Arias’ negatives so that people would see his incredible work. As a result, between 1972 and 1980 he received several prizes given by the Cuban Journalists’ Union for his historical reportage.
In 1985, with the help of Mayito and Marucha, the Center for Cuban Studies organized its first photography exhibit, a survey of 40 years of Cuban photography, at the Ledel Gallery in New York. The show included many of the images In the current exhibit. Arias and Fina, Mayito and Marucha were all able to come to New York then.
Now, 25 years later, the Center is giving Arias his much‐deserved one‐man show, thanks to the generosity of Arpad A. Busson and The International Art Heritage
Foundation, which has acquired most of the Center collection. (More of Arias’
photographs can be seen in the forthcoming exhibit “Cuba in Revolution” opening
September 24 at the International Center of Photography.)
The Center will also pay homage to its founder, photojournalist Lee Lockwood, who died July 31 at the age of 78. Lee began photographing the Cuban Revolution from the first day, January 1, 1959 and the 20 photographs the Center will show from its extensive collection of his work continue Cuba’s story from where Arias leaves off. The photographs are from the first decade of the Cuban Revolution.
For further information or to obtain images of either the Arias or Lockwood photographs, contact the Center.
CONTACT: Sandra Levinson
212.242.0559 or 917.224.0578

American prisoners reportedly visits beach with his wife

Sunrise east of Havana.

It is remarkable that Cuban authorities allowed Alan Gross to spend time with his wife at the beach.
Gross is the U.S. subcontractor who has been in prison in Cuba since December.
On Thursday, Reuters said:
The couple reportedly spent time together at the beach in their first meeting since his arrest at Havana airport in early December.
If true, the report underscores just how coveted a prisoner Gross is for the socialist government.
I've never thought that Cuban authorities will release him without getting something in return.
He is too valuable. As Cuban officials see it, Gross is a living, breathing example of U.S. officials' efforts to undermine the Cuban government.
Gross has tremendous symbolic value. I think Cuban officials also see him as a bargaining chip in their efforts to free five Cuban agents held in American prisons.
If the Reuters report is accurate and Judy Gross was allowed to not only visit her husband, but go to the beach, it shows the Cubans are taking extraordinary measures to take care of Alan Gross.
Wouldn't it be something if Gross developed Stockholm syndrome and began to develop positive feelings about the Cuban government?
No doubt, Alan Gross will have quite a story to tell once all this is over.
The Cubans will have a story of their own. And I'll bet they'll have video, too, including footage from the beach visit, something to tuck away and perhaps use at some point to contrast their handling of Gross with the U.S. treatment of the Cuban Five.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ex-president: Cuba is stuck in the past

Oscar Arias

Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias called Cuba "a great disappointment" tonight, citing the country's failure to make democratic advances.
In September, Fidel Castro told an American reporter that Cuba's economic model didn't work. Arias said some observers were gratified to hear that admission, thinking it signaled that reforms might follow.
"But then he said he meant capitalism," Arias told me.
"Cuba is stuck in the Sierra Maestra. Cuba is the only country in the world that's still in the Sierra Maestra."
Fidel Castro operated out of a rebel hideout in the Sierra Maestra while waging war against the government of Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s.
Arias, who turned 70 earlier this month, served two terms as Costa Rica's president. He gave the keynote address at the Hemispheric Freedom Symposium in Baton Rouge. The title of his presentation was "Prospect for Freedom in Latin America."
He mentioned Cuba only once during his speech.
"With the sole exception of Cuba, Latin America is entirely democratic today," he told the audience.
After his talk, I asked Arias to elaborate. He said he'd rather not grant an interview and gave me only a the brief Sierra Maestra comment.
In his speech, Arias expressed concern about ongoing threats to democracy in Latin America. Among them:
  • The resistance to change.
  • Fragility of the commitment to democracies.
  • Excessive military spending.
  • An absence of confidence and trust.
"Governments are experts at creating pretext but not delivering results," he said.
Arias was president from 2006 to 2010 and from 1986 to 1990. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1987 for his efforts to bring peace to war-torn Central America in the 1980s.