BBC: New York Times on a Cuban Crusade

Obama Shaking Raul Castro's Blood-soaked Hand

I noticed…

From the BBC, who also noticed:

Cuba clearly is on the minds of the editors of the New York Times.

In the last month the paper has published five weekend editorials in English and in Spanish asking the US administration to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba.

In the pieces the Times has asserted that the US trade embargo on Cuba is “senseless” and should be dismantled, and it has criticized the administration’s “stealth efforts to overthrow the government” in Havana.

In addition, they have suggested that the White House should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organisations and should propose a prisoner swap that would see the release of Alan Gross, the American development contractor who has been in a Cuban prison for nearly five years.

“Washington should recognise that the most it can hope to accomplish is to positively influence Cuba’s evolution toward a more open society,” says the most recent editorial, published on Sunday. “That is more likely to come about through stronger diplomatic relations than subterfuge.”

There’s more…

When a Close Relative Dies in Cuba


You can’t grieve with the rest of the family, you can’t call and sometimes you don’t find out for days. If you live here, you can’t really travel there overnight.

Last week my uncle on my mother’s side died in Cuba. Last night it was my aunt on my father’s. The older generation is dying off.

Justo and Maria Teresa. I had not seen either one of them in over thirty years. I remember their sweetness and their apolitical nature. These two belonged to the family faction that continued talking to us, even after my parents announced their plans to apply for an exit visa to go North. On my Dad’s side, Maria Teresa was the exception. Even though she was married to a military man, my aunt kept coming around and we continued visiting her.

My Mom’s side of the family was less involved in the Castro government. They were less “political,” so not much changed between us, even after our status was degraded from typical citizens to counter-revolutionary worms on account of our political preferences and our travel plans.

Whenever I hear that someone in my family has died, I always picture the reunion on the other side with those that left before. These must be happy reunions, I imagine, because before the Castro brothers decided to impose their brand of paradise on our little paradise, our family got along just fine. The split in the family started showing in the early Sixties, right around the time that the Cuban Revolution was hijacked by a bunch of hoodlums.

Right around that time, the effects of the new socio-political order tore up the work that previous generations had done to keep us together.

Each time a relative dies over there, I’m reminded of the first time it happened after we had settled here in 1970. I was when my grandfather died.  It was in 1976. We heard about it from a cousin in Florida. It was a very painful experience for my father who adored Grandpa Baldomero. Somehow he managed to find out the name of the funeral home in Havana where the service was being held. He called, desperate to connect to his mother, older brother and three sisters. He asked for his older brother by name, when the funeral director answered the phone. He waited for any member of the family to come to the phone.

A few minutes the director was back on the phone. There was no one there by that name, he informed my father — even after he agreed originally to go get one of his relatives.

I remember Dad’s cries filling our railroad apartment in Union City after he hung up the phone. The sight of a crying father really impresses a teenager. I never forgot it.

We didn’t talk about it afterward but we all knew what had happened. My uncle was the national director of some Communist ministry. He didn’t want to appear to have a relationship with anyone who had renounced the Revolution that he so valued. A call from the United States, even if from a grieving brother, could compromise your revolutionary standing. My Dad eventually, if not instantly, forgave my uncle. He understood his blind, political fanaticism. Me, I’m not so sure.

Families members on different sides of a political — and physical — gulf. The reality of life in exile.

Congress to Castro: Release Alan Gross


Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)

Today Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) joined 40 Members of Congress, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), on a bipartisan letter to urge Cuban officials to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross, a U.S. citizen from the Eighth District of Maryland, was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009 while doing work pursuant to a U.S. government contract. The text of the letter is below:

Mr. Jorge Bolanos
Chief of Mission
Cuban Interest Section
Embassy of Switzerland
2639 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Dear Mr. Bolanos,
We wish to convey our serious concern regarding the arrest and continued imprisonment by your government of an American citizen, Alan P. Gross.  We urge the Cuban Government to immediately release Mr. Gross from custody and return him to his family in the United States.
Mr. Gross was arrested in Havana on December 3, 2009.  It is our understanding that at the time of his arrest, Mr. Gross was in Cuba to help the Jewish community improve their ability to communicate with Jews, both in Cuba and overseas.  He was working pursuant to a U.S. government contract.  Mr. Gross’s work in Cuba emanated from his desire to make a positive impact for others of his faith on the island.

The rest of the letter is here…

Internet Technology to the Rescue


From today’s New York Times, good news for oppressed societies yearning to — use the internet — be free:

Seeking to exploit the Internet’s potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a senior administration official said Sunday.

On Monday, he said, the Treasury Department will issue a general license for the export of free personal Internet services and software geared toward the populations in all three countries, allowing Microsoft, Yahoo and other providers to get around strict export restrictions.

Here’s the (imperfect) translation, for my Cuban blogger friends:

Buscando tomar ventaja del potencial del Internet para abrir sociedades cerradas, la administracion del Presidente Obama permitira a compañias tecnologicas exportar servicios de internet como mensajes instantaneos, chat y compartimiento de fotos a Iran, Cuba y Sudan, un representante de la administracion dijo el Domingo.

Hoy Lunes, el Departamento de Estado aprovara una licensia de tipo general para la exportacion de servicios gratuitos y software (?) dirijido a los ciudadanos  de estos tres paises, permitiendo a Microsoft, Yahoo y otros provedores evadir las estrictas restricciones de exportacion.

There’s more (en ingles)

Hey! That There Book is “THE” Communist Manifesto!


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That was my reaction when, as an 18 year-old, I spotted the Little Red Book at my college library. My reaction had everything to do with the indoctrination I had received as a child growing up under communism.

Because I never found a copy of the U.S. Constitution in my Cuban hometown library — or any other “subversive” works, for that matter — I assumed that my adaptive country would behave the same way. No work or information on the opposition.

Imagine my shock when I discovered the there was a Communist Party, active and legal, with it’s own nominee running in the national elections!

That was one of the reasons I fell in love with this country. We’ve never being afraid of different points of view. That’s not entirely true. Republican administration seem to be very sensitive to this. They appear to have a propensity for quelling dissent and ignoring the constitution, but that’s material for another post entirely.

I recently thought of my encounter with the Communist Manifesto all those many years ago because of the Cuban musicians visiting and touring the States.

It occurred to me that anyone of them could sing a communist-inspired song anywhere here and it would not cause one eyebrow to rise. No one would be arrested. No news would be made.

An American musician visiting Cuba would not have the same priviledge or consideration. The weak have trouble accepting criticism.

There are some major differences between the two systems of government. I never forget that.

Musical Diplomacy


Why not? We’ve tried everything else and it’s still not working.

When one of Cuba’s best-known musicians landed in the United States, his first appearance was not onstage, but on Capitol Hill.

Carlos Varela, often referred to as Cuba’s Bob Dylan, had come to remix an album with his good friend Jackson Browne. But he also hoped to help reshape relations between the United States and his homeland.

So before going to Hollywood to work on the album, he stopped in Washington early this month for meetings with legislators and a lunch with a senior White House official. Later he held a jam session in the House Budget Committee meeting room.

Almost everywhere Mr. Varela, 46, went during his weeks here, including at universities and policy institutes, small talk about music gave way to pressing, albeit polite, questions on policy.

“I don’t represent any government or political party,” he said. “But perhaps that’s why governments and politicians might be willing to listen to what I have to say.”

There’s more

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


Yoani Sanchez, Generacion Y, Cuban Blogger
Cuban-based blogger Yoani Sanchez

Yoani Sanchez interviews President Obama. Here’s the NY Times take:

In what seems like one step forward for freedom of expression on the island of Cuba, on Wednesday a blogger in Havana named Yoani Sánchez has published President Obama’s replies — in Spanish and English — to seven questions she put to him on relations between their countries.

Ms. Sánchez explained on her blog, “Generación Y” (the English-language version of site is “Generation Y“), that it took a while to set up the exchange: “After months of trying I managed to send a questionnaire to the American president, Barack Obama, with some of the issues that keep me from sleeping.”

And here’s the full interview