Thursday, October 28, 2010

Breaking news tip: Voice of America to stop shortwave broadcasts to Cuba

Frank Calzon, director of the Center for a Free Cuba, sent out this alert earlier today:
The Center for a Free Cuba has learned that Voice of America has begun to alert its listeners in Cuba that their Spanish-language shortwave broadcasts will end on October 31. The USAID-funded programs to overcome the Castros’ censorship and propaganda programs are based, to a great extent, on tens of thousands of shortwave radios which the Center for a Free Cuba was able to distribute inside Cuba .
Suggesting to the Cubans that they can listen to American broadcasts on the internet ignores the fact that Cuba is one of the countries in the world with the most limited access to the internet. Senator Richard Lugar and Congressman Howard Berman sent staffers to Cuba more than a year ago. They reported that Cuban authorities suggested for the United States to end its radio broadcasts in order to have better relations with the island.
The Cuban dictatorship and the regimes in Vietnam and China will celebrate. These cuts, at a time when the image of America around the world continues to deteriorate, undermine President Obama’s efforts to inform international public opinion about the real nature of the United States and its contributions to development, peace, and freedom around the world.
The Center has been unable to confirm if the appropriate congressional committees have been informed about this drastic action.
We call on Secretary Hillary Clinton to review carefully the impact of these cuts on American efforts to provide information to millions of people who suffer censorship under tyrannies of various ideologies.

Cuban blogger is also an artist

Claudia Cadelo is a French tutor, a blogger, a friend of Yoani Sanchez and, now I learn, an artist, too. She posted these samples of her work on her blog, called Octavo Cerco.
I think they're great.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

David Rivera sticks to his story

Candidate's pledge: To create jobs even if he has to make them up himself.

The Miami Herald said Wednesday:
MIAMI -- In the final days of one of the nation's most closely watched House races, South Florida Republican David Rivera faces serious questions about his claims to have received numerous contracts funded by the federal government's U.S. Agency for International Development.
That is a direct, yet understated lead. It's a conservative approach, really. Other papers might have gone with something like this:
David Rivera is hiding something. He's probably lying. And he could be making stuff up.
Welcome to Congress.
Rivera claimed on financial disclosure forms that his company carried out contracts for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.
Rivera said the company was called InterAmerican Government Relations.
USAID said it has no record of such a company.
The company did not exist in Google until the controversy erupted a few weeks ago.
The Associated Press went to company's listed address in Puerto Rico. The people at the address - a San Juan condo - had never heard of Rivera or the InterAmerican Government Relations.
Rivera is probably counting on this thing to blow over. And maybe it will.
Judge Jerald Bagley this week threw out a lawsuit to remove Rivera from the ballot.
Miami New Times reported:
Bagley didn't try to hide his skepticism over the suit, which was based almost entirely on recent reports by the Miami Herald. "What's reported in the news media ... is not always true, and secondly it's not evidence. You know that," Bagley said.

The suit, filed last Thursday by Democratic backer William Barzee, argued that Rivera should be tossed off the ballot for violating Florida's rules requiring full and honest financial statements.

Although Rivera for the last seven years has listed USAID as his primary employer, the government agency had no record of him or his company, the Herald found. Rivera then claimed that he'd instead been working for USAID subcontractors, but refused to name them.
So what's going on here? If Rivera's company had a USAID contract, why not just hand over the records? Why not clear up any suspicions?
If Rivera's company was doing work that was classified or sensitive, he should just explain that. People would understand.
Instead, Rivera sticks with what looks like a BS story.
I wonder:
Did InterAmerican Government Relations ever exist?
Was it a shell company? A cover for something illegal?
Was it a way to hide money? Was Rivera evading taxes?
What's going on here? Voters deserve to know. And by refusing to tell them, Rivera is showing disrespect and disdain for the people who pay the salaries of our politicians.
Rep. Juan Zapata told the Herald that Rivera had claimed to work for USAID, but he never knew what Rivera did. Zapata said:
He's always unclear about things, and if you ask him too much, he'll just laugh.
And Rivera could be our next congressman. The New Times said Rivera had "a healthy 7-point lead" over Joe Garcia "and looks ready to cruise to Washington, wherever his personal cash is coming from."
Garcia is the former director of the Cuban American National Foundation.

Faces and places of Cuba

People and places

Here is another collage of photos that have appeared on Along the Malecon. This diverse selection shows everything from soldiers and Ladies in White protesters to the Castro brothers, award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez and fans at a rock concert.
Links to more collages below:

English translation of Cuban foreign minister's Oct. 26 speech to U.N.

Speech delivered by H.E. Mr. Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla at the United Nations General Assembly

Mr. President;

Serious and imminent dangers threaten the existence of our species. In order to preserve human life we need to preserve peace. The use of only a negligible part of the world’s enormous nuclear arsenal will mean the end for the human species. The only guarantee that the nuclear weapons would not be used by any State or any individual would be their complete destruction, that should also include the entire generation of conventional weapons of a similar lethal power developed of late. Disarmament is the only solution.

In order to survive it is indispensable for humanity’s awareness to take a leap, which would only be possible through the dissemination of truthful information about these issues which are hidden or ignored by most politicians, not published by the press, and found by people so horrible that seem to be unbelievable.

We are living through a new era and, in our opinion, this General Assembly, as has been ceaselessly asked for by Fidel Castro, should lead, with utmost urgency, a world mobilization to demand respect for the right of all human beings and peoples to live.

Let us create a new world order; let us found a collective ethics based on human solidarity and justice; let us find a solution to conflicts through dialogue and cooperation. Let selfishness and plundering conducive to war and the use of force cease. In the face of a serious danger, let us rid ourselves of whatever pits us against each other or divide us and let’s get together to save peace, the planet and the life of future generations.

Mr. President;

Especially under the present circumstances, the US policy against Cuba is devoid of any ethical or legal grounds and lacks credibility and support. So it has been evidenced by the more of 180 votes cast at this United Nations General Assembly which during the last few years have been calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade.

In the Secretary-General’s report made available to us, more than 180 countries and specialized agencies of the United Nations system have documented their opposition to that policy.

Latin America and the Caribbean have vigorously and unanimously rejected such policy. The Summit of Unity held in Cancun in February 2010 resolutely stated the same. The leaders of the region have conveyed this feeling directly to the current US President. It could be assured that the express rejection against the blockade and the Helms-Burton Act, characterizes, as very few other items do, the political heritage of the region.

Equally unequivocal views have been endorsed by the Non-Aligned Countries Movement, the Ibero-American Summits, the European Union and Latin American and Caribbean Summits, the African Union, the ACP Group Summits and virtually any other group of nations abiding by International Law and the observance of the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter.

There is a broad and growing consensus within the United States society and the Cuban emigration in that country against the blockade and in favor of a change of policy towards Cuba. According to recent polls, 71 per cent of American citizens favor the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States, while 64 per cent of them and a similar percentage of Cuban residents in South Florida oppose the Cuba travel ban, which infringes upon their citizens’ rights.

Mr. President;

As it has happened with other issues, two years after President Obama pledged to seek “a new beginning with Cuba”, facts confirm that nothing has changed, nor has the President resorted to his ample prerogatives to relax the blockade.

The sanctions against Cuba remain intact and are fully implemented.

In the course of the year 2010, the economic siege has been tightened and its everyday impact continues to be visible in all aspects of life in Cuba. It has particularly serious consequences in areas so sensitive to the population such as health and food.

Cuban ophthalmologic services can not make use of the Transpupillary Thermotherapy, with the use of a surgical microscope, to treat children suffering from a tumor called retinoblastoma, that is, cancer of the retina, because it is impossible to buy the equipment required to apply this treatment, since they can only be bought from the US company Iris Medical Instruments. Without that technology it is impossible to treat retina tumors and preserve the affected eye.

Cuban children have no access to a medicine called Sevofluorane, the most advanced general inhalation anesthetic drug, that is, an anesthetic to operate on children, because its manufacturer, the American company ABBOT, is not allowed to sell its products to Cuba.

Cuba cannot purchase either the Optical Coherence Tomographer (OCT) to examine the retina and the optical nerve, manufactured by the German company Carl Zeiss, because some of its components are provided for by the US company Humphrey.

The onerous and discriminatory conditions that dominate the purchase of American foodstuffs, which are allegedly covered by a humanitarian exemption, while all other international trade standards are violated, resulted in the dramatic reduction of these operations last year. This reality not only affects our people but also American farmers. It would be untruthful of anyone here in this room to describe once again as a “trading partner” a country to which Cuba can not sell a single dose of medicine or a single gram of nickel.

Although Washington has very selectively authorized some cultural, academic and scientific exchanges, these are still subject to severe restrictions; many of these projects could not materialize due to the denial of licenses, visas and other permits. It is hardly known that Cuban artists are forbidden to receive any payment for their performances in this country. The persecution against Cuban properties and assets as well as commercial and financial transfers to and from Cuba or those involving institutions or individuals based in our country has intensified.

The fines imposed by the Treasury and Justice Departments on American and European entities during the last year for their transactions with Cuba, among other States, have totaled more than 800 million dollars.

The US government, in an obvious escalation, has also appropriated the transfers made by Cuba in other countries’ currencies, as the Euro. The confiscation of a transfer of more than 107 thousand Euros that belonged to the Cuban company Cubana de Aviación, which was made through the Banco Popular Español from Madrid to Moscow, was a theft.

The direct economic damage caused to the Cuban people by the implementation of the blockade during the last 50 years is worth more than 751 billion dollars according to the present value of that currency.

Mr. President;

Despite the universal rejection against this policy, some high officials of the US government have reiterated that this policy will remain unchanged. On September 2 last, President Obama himself ratified the sanctions against Cuba, claiming it was within the US alleged “national interest”. However, everybody knows that the White House continues to pay more attention to the well-funded “special interests” of an exiguous minority that has turned the policy against Cuba into a very profitable business.

It is obvious that the United States has no intention whatsoever to lift the blockade. There is not even a sign showing that its government is willing to dismantle the most irrational aspects of what is already the most comprehensive and long-lasting set of sanctions and coercive measures ever applied against any country.

Traditionally, whenever the pretexts used as alleged obstacles to the lifting of the blockade against Cuba have crumbled, they have been replaced by new excuses to justify the continuation of a policy that is, from every angle, unsustainable.

According to several news agencies, very recently, on October 19, President Obama described all the processes that are currently taking place in Cuba as ‘insufficient’ and conditioned any new step by his government to the internal changes they would like to see in our country.

The President is wrong to believe he has the right to interfere and qualify the processes that are taking place in Cuba today. It is regrettable to realize he is so misinformed and ill-advised.

The transformations Cubans have embarked upon today are a result of the aspirations of Cubans and the sovereign decisions adopted by our people. They are aimed at updating and increasing the efficiency of our economic model, perfecting our society, expanding our culture and developing our socialism. They are not intended to quench the desires or satisfy the interests of the US government, which until today have always been contrary to those of the Cuban people

The superpower will find any process that is not conducive to the establishment of a regime subordinated to its interest to be insufficient. But that is not going to happen because many generations of Cubans have offered and continue to offer the best of their lives to defend the sovereignty and independence of Cuba.

Besides, the US government has ignored the many declarations and proposals submitted by the Cuban government, both in public and in private, which ratify our willingness to establish a serious and constructive dialogue under conditions of equality and with full respect for our independence.

No response has been given to the new cooperation projects proposed by the Cuban government in the course of the year 2010, aimed at making progress in areas of common interest such as the combat against drug-trafficking, the protection of the environment, the prevention of natural disasters and even to cope with possible accidents that may derive from the oil exploitation in the Gulf of Mexico. An opportunity to advance in areas of mutual benefit for our peoples is once again missed.

Quite on the contrary, the US government has continued with its arbitrary practice of adding Cuba’s name to spurious lists, including the list of States that allegedly sponsor international terrorism, produced by the State Department to qualify the behavior of other nations. That country has no moral authority to draft such lists. As a rule it is its name that should appear at the top of them all. There is no reason whatsoever to include Cuba in any of those lists.

The US government likewise upholds the unjust conviction imposed on the Five Cuban Antiterrorists who have been imprisoned for more than twelve years in US prisons. Their cause has aroused a broad solidarity within the international community.

Cuba, which has been and still is a victim of State terrorism, calls for that government to put an end to double standards and the impunity enjoyed in its own territory by the confessed authors of terrorist actions which were organized under the auspices of the anti-Cuban policy of that country that was conceived to destabilize our country during the 1960’s by resorting to sabotage, kidnapping, assassinations and armed aggressions. That will be a true contribution to the international combat against this scourge.

Mr. President;

It is both outrageous and surprising to realize that the blockade and subversion policy applied by the United States against Cuba continues to be guided by the logics contained in the memorandum drafted by the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Lester Mallory, on April 6, 1960 that was declassified a few years ago, which reads, and I quote:

“The majority of Cubans support Castro […] There is no effective political opposition […] The only foreseeable means of alienating internal support [from the government] is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.

Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life […] denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation
and overthrow of government.” End of quote.

This is about a cruel and aggressive policy, absolutely contrary to International Law, that this government insists on maintaining knowing that it causes harm, hardships and violates the human rights of an entire people.

This is not a bilateral issue, as is commonly repeated by the US representatives. Its remarkable extraterritorial character has been endorsed by some laws and there are plenty of examples of the implementation of coercive measures against citizens and entities from third countries.

The blockade, given its own essence and scope, qualifies as an act of genocide under Article II of the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948, and also as an act of economic warfare according to the Declaration concerning the Laws of Naval War adopted in 1909.

It is a hostile and unilateral act that should be ceased unilaterally.

Once again, on behalf of the people of Cuba, I ask the representatives of all the countries gathered here, to vote in favor of the draft resolution I am honored to present under the title “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”

Mr. President;

We Cubans feel proud of our work. If this economic warfare, although causing hardships, has not taken a toll on human lives or managed to provoke generalized traumatic damage to our people, is because of the efforts and sacrifices made by Cubans and the willingness and determination of its government.

Although the economic harassment has been the main obstacle hindering the development of our country and the improvement of the living standards of our people, Cuba can show undeniable results in the eradication of poverty and hunger, in the fields of health and education -which have become a world referent-, the promotion of gender equality, freedom and equitable well-being for all Cubans, social consensus, democratic participation by all citizens in the country’s decisions, the reversal of environmental degradation and the development of international cooperation with a hundred countries of the Third World.

A few weeks ago Cuba was able to declare here it had largely and exceptionally complied with the Millennium Development Goals. These results achieved by Cuba are still a utopia for a large segment of people in this planet.

We Cubans face our historical destiny with optimism, commitment and creativity. We are inspired by the feelings of peace, justice and solidarity that have characterized our people and the friendship with which the world identifies itself with our free and rebellious Island.

Cuba will continue to be ready to establish peaceful and respectful relations with the United States, as it has with the overwhelming majority of the international community and the entire hemisphere.

Cuba will never cease to denounce the blockade; it will never cease to demand its people’s legitimate right to live and work for its social and economic development under conditions of equality, in cooperation with other nations, without any economic siege or external pressures.

Cuba conveys its gratitude to the international community for its firm solidarity with our people, convinced that, some day, justice will be served and this resolution will no longer be necessary.

Thank you, very much.

Source: Radio Havana Cuba

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

UN vote: 187-2-3

Breaking news:
The UN General Assembly asked the U.S. to end economic sanctions against Cuba.
Click here to see real-time Cuba-related Tweets.

The U.N. votes today on U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba

The United Nations today is expected to condemn U.S. sanctions against Cuba. The Cuban government's resolution opposing sanctions is posted here, in Spanish.
Link to the live webcast is here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Exclusive: Q&A with USAID

Several interesting developments have emerged in the Alan Gross case. Reuters reported on Sunday that Judy Gross wrote a letter to Raul Castro in August and apologized for her husband's work. The letter said:
To the extent his work may have offended you or your government, he and I are genuinely remorseful.
The New York Times followed the story and said the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, was was taking a less aggressive approach toward Cuba:
In an effort to win Mr. Gross’s release, administration officials and Congressional aides said Usaid had quietly changed the way it administers its programs in Cuba, shifting the focus from those intent on ‘regime change’ to those that support educational exchanges and the growth of small businesses.
Phil Peters, a former State Department official who writes the Cuban Triangle blog, said he wants to know more. He asked:
...why doesn’t the Obama Administration explain in public how it has put its own stamp on the program?
It is true that many details of USAID's work in Cuba have not been disclosed. One official told me that the U.S. government can't reveal all that it does to protect the dissidents it is trying to help.
I am working on a series of freelance stories about civil society in Cuba and U.S. government programs aimed at promoting democracy. The Pulitzer Center in Washington, D.C., helped finance my latest trip to Cuba. See details here.
I have been inquiring about USAID and other U.S. government programs that operate in Cuba. USAID today sent me a statement in response to my initial questions.
I welcome additional information, opinions and ideas from government employees on both sides of the Florida Straits, Cuban bloggers, exiles, dissidents, experts, scholars and others. Feel free to send in your thoughts about pro-democracy programs in Cuba.

The Q&A is below:

Eaton: Can you make any general statements about the status of U.S. pro-democracy programs in Cuba ? The arrest of Alan Gross had an impact on these programs, I understand. Have things gotten back to normal?

USAID: The U.S. Government continues to try to reach out and engage with the people of Cuba, as we do with most other countries in the world. Naturally, the arrest of Alan Gross, a dedicated international development worker, prompted a review of our ongoing efforts with Cuba . Such a process is part of a continuous/evolving effort to shape and refine our assistance programs to better reach the citizens of Cuba and develop closer links between our people and societies. We feel strongly that such interaction benefits both of our countries.

Eaton: Can you cite any success stories these programs have had over the past year or two?

USAID: As with all development efforts around the world, the most notable successes have resulted from concentrated efforts over a longer period. For example, we have trained hundreds of journalists over a ten year period whose work has appeared in major international news outlets. We have facilitated information sharing into and out of Cuba as well as within Cuba . In a place where communication is so limited, basic access to information is an important achievement. In addition, we have provided critical humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression.

The news of the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo -- which inspired international outrage and condemnation of the human rights situation in Cuba -- was immediately disseminated outside of the island thanks, in part, to an increased ability to provide information out of Cuba .

Eaton: Have any of the goals or priorities changed since Barack Obama took office? I've read about the QDDR. I don't know what impact that has, if any, on Cuba programs, as I wrote here.

USAID: The QDDR is still underway and the results have not yet been finalized.

U.S. assistance to Cuba will continue to promote self-determined democracy in Cuba and greater communication with the people of Cuba. Funds will be used to provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression; advance human rights; strengthen independent civil society organizations; and support information sharing into and out of Cuba.

Eaton: My understanding is that the USAID is spending $15 million on pro-democracy programs this fiscal year. Can you say anything - specifically or generally - about where that money is going?

USAID: In fiscal year 2009, U.S. Government was appropriated $15.62 million for assistance programs on Cuba to provide humanitarian assistance to political prisoners, their families, and other victims of repression; advance human rights; strengthen independent civil society organizations; and support information sharing into and out of Cuba.

Eaton: How much of the money from, say, $15 million reaches the hands of dissidents, pro-democracy activists and other aid targets in Cuba?

USAID: The vast majority of this money is intended for individuals on the ground in Cuba. Our objective is to maximize the amount of support that benefits Cubans on the island. Since the $15.62 million in fiscal year 2009 funds has recently been programmed, it is too early to have a precise figure at this point, but the overall goal is to have the funds directly benefit Cubans on the island.

Eaton: Can you say anything about the challenges of trying to help dissidents in a country like Cuba, where dissident and human rights groups appear to be heavily infiltrated? Several dissident leaders I interviewed in Havana told me about state security agents who had moved in to apartments or homes right next door to them to keep tabs on them 24 hours a day.

USAID: It is sad and unfortunate that those with differing political perspectives and defenders of human rights are still being persecuted by their government. We admire their courage, however, and take all precautions possible to ensure that we don’t do anything that would further endanger the recipients of our foreign assistance programs or our implementing partners.

Eaton: How much input do targets of the aid have in how the pro-democracy funds are spent?

USAID: We draw on a wide range of experts to design our programs. We also work to carry out programs that are demand-driven and responsive to the needs of targeted beneficiaries.

Eaton: Some dissident leaders in Cuba have told reporters that they disagree with U.S. policy toward Cuba. Some of them say pro-democracy money only gives the Cuban government a pretext to arrest them. Others don't believe the U.S. government ought to be trying to influence internal matters in Cuba. Do U.S. officials take into account any of these views?

USAID: We acknowledge that there are varying views within Cuba and around the world regarding efforts to reach the Cuban people, and we certainly respect these differing views and take them into account. Clearly, no one is required to accept or take part in any USG programs if they don’t want to. There are many groups and individuals inside and outside Cuba who believe the funds are useful in supporting their ability to carry out their activities and promote fundamental freedoms -- freedoms, it should be noted, that are engendered in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and democratic norms throughout the world. Experience in Cuba and in other closed-societies shows that such programs play a positive role in empowering those who work towards positive change and the promotion of fundamental freedoms.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Black ops mission: Assassinate Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro

Frustrated CIA conspirators are in luck. A new video game evidently includes a mission aimed at assassinating Fidel Castro.
The Call of Duty Black Ops episode reportedly takes gamers on a mission to "take out a high-value target," says JustPushStart, a videogame publication.
Gamers can get 15 points if they "use a single round to bring down Castro."
JustPushStart asks an important question:
Do you think it is right to kill someone in a game who is still alive in the real world?
Thoughts? Is it ethical to target a foreign leader in a video game?

Photo found at Cuba Journal

New Havana travel guide debuts

Beast of a taxi

CubaNews spotted a cool, new website for travelers. It's called Wonderful Havana. The site's creators say they started the site because they weren't happy with mainstream travel guides to Cuba. They say:
The Havana most visitors never see is a living, breathing city rich in culture and character. It is a constant revelation, with stunningly cheap yet excellent restaurants, little-known places to see and things to do; extremely cheap accommodation; semi-secret bars and clubs, and a vitality that almost defies belief given the adverse social and economic conditions people have to face.
When we first visited Havana in 2007, one thing struck us more than anything else: how badly represented one of the most colourful and exciting cities in Latin America is. The Havana we discovered, during the time we have since spent visiting and living there, does not feature in any outrageously misleading guide book or brochure-style website. We decided to form a team of people who live in Havana, and to compile a guide to the city, an online magazine that gives an independent, accurate and realistic insight into what Havana has to offer. The culmination of our efforts, three years later, is
The site's editor is Eddie Lennon, described as "an experienced journalist with Irish and British national newspapers, and former editor of a leading magazine."
Wonderful Havana's staff writer is Julie Napier, "a translator and travel writer. She has spent most of the past two years living in Havana, where she has been working as a translator and content editor with a Cuban news agency."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Crayon Art: "Woman Explorer"

On exhibit in Cuba

Third-grade student Rocio Oliva Alvarez created this masterpiece, called "Woman Explorer."

Fundraiser for James Cason in Texas

More photos of signs at the Interests Section are here

James Cason, the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, has supporters in Texas, where a fundraiser for his Florida mayoral race is scheduled for Sunday.
Emilio Martínez-Paula and Celso Alonso organized the fundraiser with support from Casa Cuba, a Cuban-American group in Houston.
A Casa Cuba announcement recalls that Cason posted a sign at the Interests Section in support of the 75 dissidents, pro-democracy activists and others arrested in the March 2003 crackdown. The announcement says Cason:
Maintained solidarity with men and women who carry the dignity and decorum of an entire people.
The fundraiser will be held at 3 p.m. at a Houston bookstore - the Libreria Amigos, 5401 Bissonnet St., Houston. For information, call 713-667-7772. A James Cason for mayor website is here.

The Coral Gables mayor's race looks competitive. Don Slesnick announced on Oct. 18 that he was running for a fifth term, the Miami Herald said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

At the beach: A beer bottle toy, big muscles and tuKola

There's the can of tuKola.

Man pushes cargo along Havana street


Predicting Cuba: Uncharted territory

Havana Bay

Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, is one of America’s foremost Cuba experts.
In 2003, he outlined 21 future scenarios, along with the probability of them taking place within the next two or three years. Among those scenarios:
  • Fidel dies and his brother Raúl takes over in an orderly fashion - 80%.
  • Fidel and Raúl both die, and the Cuban military takes over - 60%.
  • Refugees flood U.S. base at Guantánamo, sparking violence - 30% to 40%.
  • Cuba undergoes peaceful transition to democracy - less than 20%.
  • Violent demonstrations in Cuba bring down Castro regime - less than 20%.
  • Cuba's military stages a coup d'etat - 10%.
  • The United States sends the Marines into Cuba - less than 5%.
  • Fidel is assassinated - less than 5%.
After I posted these percentages, one reader wrote:
Is it possible to know how he got these forecasts?
Another had a similar reaction, telling me in a message:
How did Jaime Suchlicki arrive at the percentages? Why an 80% chance instead of, say, 77%?
Or, what is the name of the crystal ball store where he bought his predictive powers?
Or, "98% of all statistics are made up. ~Author Unknown"
I confess I don't know how Suchlicki came up with those numbers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Soldier on a cycle

Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, or FAR

Maid service includes elephant

Not yet an endangered species, this towel elephant at a cozy Havana hotel has eyes made of shampoo bottle caps

Cuban soldier ready for some R&R

Soldier on the streets of Havana

Here's some ropa vieja you can't eat

Ropa Vieja clothing

For most Cubans, the words 'ropa vieja' mean a tasty dish of shredded meat. But the words also mean 'old clothes,' and that's the name Alejandro Medina and his partner, Adrian Perez, chose to name their company.
Ropa Vieja's website explains:
Growing up in heavily Cuban environment, we were both exposed to the culture, and culture change of people from Cuba living in America. This world has always been a breeding ground of visual and cultural inspiration. From the food to the music to the "slanguage", the ideal behind Ropa Vieja was born.
I saw something else on the company's website that Cubans can identify with:
...we know what it's like to get hit by a chancleta!
A chancleta is a sandal and it's often the first thing a lot of Cuban moms grab when they need to give their children a little tough love.
The company is based in New Jersey. A few more samples of Ropa Vieja clothes are below:

Guillermo Fariñas reacts to news of prize

Guillermo Fariñas

Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas today told Euronews he accepted the Sakharov prize on behalf of all Cuban exiles, dissidents and political prisoners who are fighting to make Cuba free and democratic.
Euronews quoted Fariñas as saying:
I have to interpret this news with modesty, but also in a spirit of peaceful resistance. Modest because it’s a prize that even if given to me personally I accept on behalf of all Cuba’s exiles, political prisoners and dissidents. As I speak they are fighting for a free and democratic Cuba.
The reporter's voice-over makes it difficult to hear the entire interview. The translation says Fariñas interprets news of the award "in a spirit of peaceful resistance."
But when you listen to the recording of the phone interview, you hear Fariñas say, "in a combative way."
Maybe he said both things - "peaceful resistance" and "combative way."
Or maybe the translation needs a little work.
Not a big deal, but I'd be interested to hear exactly what Fariñas, not an approximation.

Fidel Castro again speaks out against nuclear war

Fidel Castro's Oct. 15 message on dangers of nuclear war is now on YouTube

Slideshow: "This photographer's heart is in Cuba"

I just discovered an impressive series of black-and-white photos taken in Cuba. Miami photographer Roy Llera's slideshow is here and his website here. He writes:
This photographer's heart is in Cuba in much the same way as the heart of Henri Cartier Bresson is in Paris, or Richard Avedon’s in New York.

Huge honor for Cuban hunger striker

The three finalists are shown above

The European Union today awarded its 2010 Sakharov human rights prize to Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas.
Past recipients include South African Nelson Mandela and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Sun Kyi.
Fariñas was one of three finalists this year. The other two are Ethiopian politician Birtukan Mideksa and an Israeli NGO called Breaking the Silence. The award includes a monetary prize of 50,000 Euros, or $70,105 U.S.
Other past winners include Cuban human rights activist Oswaldo Paya in 2002 and the Ladies in White group in 2005.
Wikipedia says:
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament as a means to honor individuals or organizations who had dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedoms.
The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually on or around 10 December, the day on which the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, also celebrated as Human Rights Day.
The list of winners since 1988 is here and the official web page for the award here.
Frank Calzon, head of the Center for a Free Cuba, believes that the selection of a third Cuban individual or group as this year's recipient "indicates the growing concern among European leaders about the Cuban situation."
He says:
Next week the European Union is supposed to look again into the Common Position on Cuba , and it is not certain, now that Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has been replaced, how vigorously Spain will insist on the lifting of European sanctions against the regime.
A few days ago, friends of the Center in Central European capitals told us that unless something significant happens in Havana , they do not expect the Common Position to be changed. In a sense the Europeans are saying, just as President Obama did earlier this week, that the changes announced in Havana are not significant enough to merit a change of European or American policy toward the island.
Ironically, statements made by Cuban political prisoners recently released who have travelled to Brussels and other European capitals have made it more difficult for those who would like to lift the sanctions to achieve their goal. Europeans were shocked to learn that the prisoners were released on the condition that they would go immediately into exile in Spain . Their relatives, including children had their passports stamped indicating they are expelled from Cuba “indefinitely.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Candidate's company is a Google ghost

David Rivera. Photo credit: David Rivera campaign website

The Miami Herald today reported today:
Republican congressional candidate David Rivera has amended his state financial disclosure forms to erase any mention of consulting work for the U.S. Agency for International Development -- days after USAID officials said they had no records showing Rivera worked for the agency.

In his original disclosure forms, Rivera, a four-term state representative from Miami, said he worked as an ``international development consultant'' for USAID for seven years, through a company called Interamerican Government Relations, which Rivera founded in Puerto Rico. But USAID officials told The Miami Herald that they had no record of Rivera or his company.
OK, now search for "Interamerican Government Relations" in Google. None of the search results are more than a week old.
All this raises questions:
  • How is it possible that Rivera ran a company that was a ghost in Google search results up until a week ago? Google is saying: This company did not exist.
  • So what's going on? Was it some super secret company? Did it exist on paper only?
  • Is the company a fabrication? Is Rivera making all this up?
  • And now that the door's open, what kind of work was Rivera doing for USAID anyway?
The Herald said:
Rivera's attorney, Richard Coates, told the Florida Commission on Ethics in an Oct. 15 letter that Rivera was ``not required'' to disclose any additional income from the lawmaker's consulting work from 2003 to 2009.
I wonder what Rivera hiding? Why not just disclose all income? What is Rivera afraid of?
His opponent is Joe Garcia, former head of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami.
Garcia posted the Herald story on his Facebook page and wrote:
This is deeply troubling.
That's Joe near the truck's window.

Rivera's biography states:
On November 5, 2002, David Rivera was elected to the Florida House of Representatives from Miami-Dade County representing District 112; a position to which he has subsequently been re-elected three times. Currently, Representative Rivera serves as the Chairman of the House Full Appropriations Committee. This committee oversees the state of Florida’s budget in areas such as education, transportation, housing and economic development. As a representative he helped balance the State of Florida’s budget eight times.

As a member of the Florida House, Representative Rivera helped secure long sought after medical and law schools for his alma mater, Florida International University. Rep. Rivera also brought much-needed insurance reform to the state, in the wake of a number of catastrophic hurricanes. Rep. Rivera also helped overhaul the property tax system in Florida, easing the burden on hard-working Florida taxpayers. Rep. Rivera helped strengthen the laws against child predators and gave greater protection to these innocent victims. Rep. Rivera also gave our working families a much-needed sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping.

Prior to being elected to the Florida House, Representative Rivera worked with Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB). OCB was managed under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and was responsible for administrative and management oversight of Radio and TV Marti, the official U.S. government broadcast services to Cuba. Previous to his services at the U.S. Information Agency, Mr. Rivera worked as Public Affairs Director for the Washington-based Valladares Foundation. The Valladares Foundation, an international human rights watch-group, was headed by Ambassador Armando Valladares, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).

Prior to his work with Ambassador Valladares, Representative Rivera served as a writer and researcher with the Washington D.C. offices of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF). While with CANF, Representative Rivera researched and wrote on such issues as human rights, terrorism, political-economy, Soviet-Cuban relations, and international trade. He came to the CANF after serving as a legislative assistant to United States Senator Connie Mack and as Political Director for Miami-Dade County, Florida, during Senator Mack’s successful 1988 campaign. Previously, Representative Rivera was South Florida Political Director for Jack Kemp’s 1988 presidential campaign. In 1996 he served as the Dole-Kemp campaign manager for the southern region of Florida.

Representative Rivera has also served as a public affairs, legislative, marketing and management consultant for various political and business organizations. He is currently the chairman of the Republican Party of Miami-Dade County.

Representative Rivera graduated with honors from Florida International University (FIU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Master of Public Administration. He has served as an adjunct professor in FIU’s School of Policy and Management. His articles on US-Cuba relations have been published in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Representative Rivera has appeared before organizations and the media to provide commentary on issues of concern to the South Florida community.

Born in New York, N.Y., Representative Rivera has resided in Miami, Florida for 35 years. He is a member of several civic, community and professional organizations, including the Association of Hispanic Public Administrators. Representative Rivera is fluent in the Spanish language and during his tenure at the U.S. State Department he held a Top Secret National Security Clearance from the U.S. government.
I wonder how Rivera will handle this mess. Maybe he'll fall back on his Top Secret security clearance and say that he can't talk about his supposed former company because it's a state secret.
That would be a convenient excuse.

Cuban diplomat: Stop sports poaching in developing nations

A Cuban baseball fan

Rodolfo Benitez, Cuba’s acting top honcho at the United Nations, complained about "the sports talent poaching" earlier this week in New York.
He also touted Rio de Janeiro as a prime spot for the 2016 Olympics.

Analyst: Cuba is changing. Washington is MIA

Paseo del Prado

The teaser for an Oct. 19 article in Foreign Policy magazine reads:
President Obama promised to reach out to Cuba, in hopes it would encourage reform. But now that the Castro brothers are actually following through, Washington is missing in action.
Anya Landau French writes:
In the high-stakes world of international diplomacy, bluffing is a seldom-seen practice -- the stakes are simply too high to risk getting called out. But, that's precisely what seems to have happened with the Obama administration's stated policy of détente toward Cuba. Havana is making concessions, but Washington seems incapable of responding in kind. The United States may be fumbling away its best chance at influencing Cuba in the way that it has claimed to have wanted for decades.
Obama defended his approach to Cuba, telling reporters Tuesday at the White House:
I think that any release of political prisoners, any economic liberalization that takes place in Cuba is positive, positive for Cuban people, but we've not yet seen the full results of these promises.
Cuban authorities arrested 75 dissidents and pro-democracy activists in 2003. In July, they agreed to free the remaining 52 who were still in prison.
Capitol Hills Cubans' applauded Obama for "keeping caution" and said the socialist government hasn't changed:
...this is simply another ploy by the Castro regime to ease international pressure, then turn around and arrest a new batch of political prisoners to use as pawns.
At least four of the political prisoners have refused to leave jail if it means they must leave Cuba. Some opposition leaders in Havana likely believe that the dissidents must stay in jail to keep the international spotlight on Cuba.
The Obama administration doesn't want to appear weak. U.S. officials are avoiding making any concessions while any Group of 75 prisoners are still in custody.
The case of U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross only complicates things. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez discussed the case during a United Nations meeting in September. That's progress. At least they're talking.
My guess is that Cuban officials will resist freeing Gross as long as the Cuban Five are in jail.
And don't count on Obama to rescue the agents. He doesn't dare pardon the Cuban Five. That would only give his critics new ammunition as they brand him a left-wing "socialist" and watch his poll numbers plunge.
Cuban authorities can't release Gross because his case is intimately tied, at least symbolically, to that of the Cuban Five.
Cuban officials have made the Cuban Five a centerpiece of their political strategy. The agents are the public face of the revolution. They are larger-than-life heroes in Cuba. They are key to the socialist government's domestic and international agenda. They represent strength, defiance and nationalism.
Cuban officials can't afford to give up that cause.
Fidel and Raul Castro have vowed, "They will return." Wisely, they never said when.
So it's gridlock, once again, in the stubborn saga of U.S.-Cuba relations.
Without a presidential pardon, the soonest any of the Cuban Five will leave prison is Oct.  7, 2011.
That's when Rene Gonzalez is set to be freed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Supporter tells Orlando Bosch: "Everyone loves you"

Screenshots of YouTube video

A Miami exile group on Oct. 12 honored Orlando Bosch for his decades-old fight to topple Cuba's socialist government.
A YouTube video shows Bosch making brief remarks after the Institute of the Cuban Historical Memory Against Totalitarianism introduced him, praised his vision in fight Fidel Castro early on and gave him a plaque.
Bosch accepted the award and went to the podium. He spoke briefly about finishing his memoirs and said something about his past activities. It's unclear to me what he was talking about.
Age has evidently taken its toll on Bosch. He's 84, five days younger than Fidel Castro.
In the video, a woman asked Bosch to get closer to the microphone so people could hear him. He looked up, appearing slightly confused. At that point, the institute's vice president, Enrique Ruano, comes to his rescue, telling him:
Everyone knows you. Everyone loves you. Everyone respects you.
Hearing that, Bosch shuffled back to his seat.
Bosch, a former pediatrician, is a hero to some exiles. He once headed a group that the FBI described as "an anti-Castro umbrella terrorist organization."
He has been linked to murder and bombings, including the 1976 downing of a passenger plane, which author Ann Louise Bardach described as "the worst act of airline terrorism in the hemisphere prior to 9/11."
Bardach interviewed Bosch for her 2009 book called "Without Fidel." She asked Bosch if he regretted that his attacks killed civilians. He replied:
We were at war with Castro. And in war, everything is valid.
Bosch has been warring with the Castro government for decades.
According to "Without Fidel":
In September 1968, police arrested Bosch for firing a 57-mm bazooka into a Cuba-bound ship at the Port of Miami.
Authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison. He got out in 1972.
Four years later, Bosch founded the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations, CORU by its Spanish initials. Its goal, Bosch told Bardach, was "to fight Castro's friends and minions."
In the years that followed, Bardach wrote, "CORU took responsibility for hundreds of bombings, kidnappings, and killings in Latin America, Cuba, and the U.S."
These acts included the Oct. 6, 1976, bombing of a Cubana passenger plane that killed 76 passengers. The CIA had advance knowledge of the bombing, according to declassified documents posted in 2005.
Bosch lives in a suburb west of Miami. I went to his house to try to talk to him earlier this year. His wife, Myriam, told me wasn't well enough to grant an interviews.
Love him or hate him, Bosch is an important figure in the history of the battle over Cuba. It's clear he has supporters in South Florida. The podium where he spoke last week was draped with a banner from the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
I look forward to Bosch's memoirs.