Monday, December 31, 2007

A Happier New Year

Grapes and pots at the ready, I await the New Year. In New York my American friends always got a kick out of eating twelve grapes at midnight, and they thought throwing out a pot of water was a hoot. As I go off to the festivities, I'd like to take a moment to thank my readers and all those gifted, committed, and generally wonderful people out there who fight the good fight, whether in English or Spanish, in the US or Spain or Sweden or Australia. We don't always agree, but I respect each and every one of you. God bless.

I have a toast ready for this eve: Next year in Havana! May it only be so.

New Year's Possibilities

That's what IBD call their version of predictions for the coming year. There are 8 of them, one forecasts rough weather ahead for Cuba. Take their description of current conditions:

The lights are going out for Fidel Castro, and the likelihood of unrest is growing. A destitute population and a corrupt party elite desperate to defend its privileges could be a powder keg. The 81-year-old Cuban dictator ceded power to his brother, Raul, 76, last year. The transition may look smooth enough, because the latter already can project power, leading Cuba's military, which controls 60% of Cuba's enterprises.

Another concerns the Bush legacy:

If the economy does skirt recession and strengthens in the second half, expect a grudging, Trumanesque reappraisal of the Bush presidency. But as with the erosion of the global-warming consensus, it'll probably take years for an objective verdict on Bush to come in. The economy itself should stand as a hallmark of success. After inheriting a recession and the after-effects of a stock crash that in many ways was worse than 1929, he moved decisively to cut taxes and, though he gets little credit for it, eschewed cuts in federal spending to ensure that stimulus would not be diluted.

A bit of reading for those house bound on this evening.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Reads: Miami Noir

After reading Havana Noir, I just had to check out the Miami version. Besides, Miami is one of those cities which loom large in my imagination. You would think that after all the time I have spent there, it wouldn’t. But no matter how many luxury condos they build, and how they try to tame it, there is something beautiful and bawdy and real about the city. This quality is admirably captured by Les Standiford’s selections.

The stories here are not as literary as the ones in Havana Noir, but they are also not as bleak. Obviously, there is sex, murder, and betrayal, but in much smaller and less graphic quantities- only two cases of incest that I can remember. The protagonists are shady characters and PI’s of sorts who function in a murky world of moral relativism. Yet it is a world where morality is trampled, as opposed to one without moral boundaries. The bad guys, for the most part, get their due.

Perhaps I enjoyed it so much because some of my favorite Miami mystery writers are among the authors: James W. Hall, Barbara Parker, and Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, who has the distinction of having stories in both anthologies. I particularly enjoyed her story which is one of the only ones with a significant Cuban character. Surprisingly enough, few Cubans figure in these tales. Set in the fringes of the city and of society, the tales portray the drop outs, the retirees, people with a past and no future. One exception is the last and most powerful story in the anthology, “The Swimmers,” which centers on the experiences of four Haitians trying to make it into the United States in a smuggler’s boat.

I have given a lot of thought to the differences between Miami and Havana Noir, and perhaps I am wrong or I’m just discovering the Mediterranean, but I think practitioners of the Noir genre in Cuba express the anger bred by their environment in disaffection, which if I can remember that far back is a technique of satire in which the author seeks to repel the reader. In any case, both are worthy of a read.

Sunday Shorts

War Lit 101. Newsweek's Evan Thomas has an interesting piece on Elizabeth Samet, whose new book, A Soldier's Heart, chronicles her years teaching English at West Point. It begins with one of the shortest, yet most powerful, of war poems. I particularly liked the side trip he took to lament the passing of the true liberal education, which survives at the military academy. Read it here.

Weird Medicine. Call me macabre, but I love disease stories and the like. Fox News has an end-of-the-year recap of the twelve oddest medical stories, which includes the tree man, the girl who had a ten lb. hairball removed, and the guy with the mother of all hangovers.

Death Notice. Also from Fox comes word that Time Warner is going to let Netscape Navigator wither away. I can remember when access to the internet was young and Explorer was not even a glint in Bill Gates' eyes. Netscape Navigator was the only way to go. Farewell, my old friend. For article, here.

Paradise Lost. Despite my complaints about the powers that be in Sarasota, it is still blessed with lots of beauty. The New York Times is running this slide show entitled, "Weekend in Sarasota." By the bye, the Ringling is the location of both the photo and Cuba Avant-Garde exhibit.

My apologies for the late edition. Forgot it was Sunday. Hope I remember to go to work tomorrow.

Literary Interlude: Poema de la Despedida

Anytime is a good time for José Ángel Buesa. It is amazing to me that just about any Cuban senior citizen I know can recite huge chunks of his poetry.

Poema de la Despedida

Te digo adiós, y acaso te quiero todavía.
Quizá no he de olvidarte, pero te digo adiós.
No sé si me quisiste... No sé si te quería...
O tal vez nos quisimos demasiado los dos.

Este cariño triste, y apasionado, y loco,
me lo sembré en el alma para quererte a ti.
No sé si te amé mucho... no sé si te amé poco;
pero sí sé que nunca volveré a amar así.

Me queda tu sonrisa dormida en mi recuerdo,
y el corazón me dice que no te olvidaré;
pero, al quedarme solo, sabiendo que te pierdo,
tal vez empiezo a amarte como jamás te amé.

Te digo adiós, y acaso, con esta despedida,
mi más hermoso sueño muere dentro de mí...
Pero te digo adiós, para toda la vida,
aunque toda la vida siga pensando en ti.

Very Rough Translation:

The Farewell Poem

I bid you goodbye, and perhaps I still love you,
it may be I will not forget you, but I bid you goodbye just the same.
I don’t know if you loved me…I don’t know if I loved you…
or whether we two loved too much.

This feeling, plaintive, and passionate, and crazed,
I seeded in my soul in order to love you.
I don’t know if I loved you much…or if I loved you little;
but I do know that I will never love this way again.

I am left with the memory of your sleepy smile,
and my heart tells me that you I will not forget;
Alone, and knowing what I have lost,
I may begin to love you as I never loved you before.

I bid you goodbye, and maybe with this leavetaking,
my most gorgeous dream dies within me…
But I bid you goodbye for life,
although my whole life I may continue to think on you.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

You Can Vent...maybe

But you can't make a difference. I've been holding on to this one for a few days:

Havana, Dec 26 (IANS) Cuba will continue with a single party system with wider scope to accommodate dissent and differences of opinion, acting President Raul Castro has said even as rights groups point out scores of dissidents are still in jail.

'If we have a single party and that represents the interests of all the people, it's good,' Castro was quoted as saying Tuesday by Spain's EFE news agency Wednesday.

You gotta read the thing. I must take virulent exception to one major falsehood in the article.

according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation, several dozen political prisoners have been freed since Raul stepped in some 16 months ago when his elder brother Fidel was stricken with a serious intestinal illness.

To the best of my knowledge, the political prisoners released had served their terms or were given medical releases because of the precarious state of their health, something which was never mentioned in the article.

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


Let's add another to the topsy-turvy society file. This column by Jed Babbin is scary. The gist is this. Rachel Ehrenfeld, a scholar, wrote a book entitled “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed, and How to Stop it.” Although published in the US, a few copies were sent to the UK.
Khalid Salim bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker, who is described in the book as having funded terrorism, filed suit, not in the US where the book was published and where he would have had to prove the falsity of the claim, but in the UK where the author is forced to prove the truth of same. He won a symbolic default judgement against Ehrenfeld. She refused to defend herself, standing behind our right to free speech. What's scary is the chilling effect this has had here in the United States. No publisher will touch her new work.

The same banker was mentioned in another book put out by the Cambridge University Press. In that case, the threat of a lawsuit resulted in the book being withdrawn. In both cases, the more stringent UK libel laws were used to stifle free speech. As Babbin writes:

Under assault by Muslims and multiculturalists, free speech and freedom of the press are dead in Britain. The same sorts of people who killed them in Britain are killing them in Canada. They and their allies are using the British and Canadian courts and tribunals to bury our First Amendment rights in America.

Muslims -- individually and in pressure groups -- are using British libel laws and Canadian “human rights” laws to limit what is said about Islam, terrorists and the people in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who are funding groups such as al-Queda. The cases of Rachel Ehrenfeld and Mark Steyn prove the point.

I don't agree with the use of the term Muslims, as if it were all adherents of the religion. Rather I see it as a segment of the Muslim population. Unfortunately, the continued silence of the mainstream population implies consent and lends credence to Babins' assertions.

Hey, I wonder if us greedy, grasping, hard-line, intransigent, Batistiano, Miami mafia types could do the same? Seems to work for them.

Friday, December 28, 2007

¡Inocente! ¡Inocente!

Today is the Día de los Santos Inocentes, the Spanish equivalent of April Fools. For a more thorough explanation of the custom observed throughout the Spanish-speaking world, click here. The actual day is rooted in religious observance.

Humanitarian Crisis and The Blame Game

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the waters off Florida and Cuba has been in the news lately:

Forty who fled Cuba from the town of Perico have not been heard from in a month and are feared dead.

Last week, a boat carrying thirteen capsized, killing two who were fleeing Cuba.

This week, word that only three survived out of twenty eight on a boat heading to the United States.

Not surprisingly, the press has parroted the Regime claim that it is US policy which encourages people to flee. Not a single news report that I can find makes mention of conditions on the socialist paradise as the prime motivator for the exodus. Oh, well, you can count on some things not to change.

The single most insensitive comment comes from the Coast Guard, a branch of the military that is slowly sinking in my estimation.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil, public affairs officer for district in Miami, criticized South Florida migrant smuggling operations and what he said was "the tacit or direct protection of the local community." Here for the article.

Would he have the community turn their backs on those pitiable refugees, their brothers, sisters, cousins, who run the gauntlet of the Cuban patrols, the Gulf, and the Coast Guard? This is the community that has half an idea what they are fleeing. What about those who land in other areas? Not too long ago, refugees were put ashore at Boca Grande. They weren't pelted with stones. Members of the anglo community brought them blankets, soup, a translator, etc....

The reason people are fleeing Cuba is not our policies; it is the oppression, political and economic, of their own government. To tighten our policies would do no good. Being illegal has not stopped Mexicans from crossing the border. As long as current conditions exist in Cuba, there will be boatloads of people willing to risk their lives to flee them. So don't blame the US.

If we are to criticize the US, it is to say that our present policy, the infamous Wet foot/Dry foot is immoral. Any policy that results in the Coast Guard firing on unarmed refugees is just plain wrong. I understand that there are political considerations in play here, but another approach is needed. One of the most novel I've read is to turn Guantanamo into a model city, a propaganda tool against the regime. Not a bad idea.

Pump Up the Volume

I've added a sidebar notice in Spanish until January 8. It is a call to protest. This time to avoid the massive repression that results whenever Cubans get out of line, the protest is a more anonymous one. Organizers are asking ordinary Cubans on the island to raise the volume of TV's, radios, parties, etc... at 8:00 on the 8th of January, ringing in the sound of protest. If the public will get the message, if they will dare to "signal" themselves is a question. But as always, the sentiment is there.

Here's the translation:

Secretos de Cuba is asking all websites related to Cuba and who are in favor of freedom to publish this message on the front page. In Cuba, on January 8 at 8PM raise the volume on your music, the TV, the radio. It doesn't matter what you are putting on, nor what type of music it is, the news, even if it's Mesa Redonda, whatever, raise the volume. If you have a party that day, so much the better.

If you are afraid, be quiet and listen at your window at how others will do it.

The only thing we ask of those who have blogs, forums, etc... is to publish this message prominently until January 8 at 8PM.

Be heard. Join up. We want changes to benefit the people. Better salaries, more rights than the tourists, Freedom.

It is we, the people, who have to take back our rights.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tales from the Dark Side: Press Coverage of Cuba

I can't decide whether it's sheer imbecility or part of a more sinister undertaking, but lately, the MSM media seems even more moronic than usual in its coverage of Cuba. During the Petrocaribe summit, it seemed that every day there was a a headline about deepening ties between Venezuela and Cuba, the same story cloaked in different guises, written and published daily.

Then over the holidays, there was the coverage of that intellectual giant and all around philanthropist, Naomi Campbell. The headline that stopped me short was "Naomi Campbell turns Mrs. Claus in Cuba." Where do you start on that one? Based on her past history, it would seem Ms. Campbell would be more accurately compared to Cruella DeVille. And just what did she do, hand the keys to one of the 100 humble houses, built with Venezuelan money to house workers at the site of the plant just refurbished to process their heavy crude, to a young couple? Was there any mention in the coverage of the dire straits of Cuban housing, any acknowledgement that this little spit in the bucket is meaningless in terms of the numbers of people whose homes are crumbling around and on top of them? Of course not, that wouldn't be in the regime talking points.

I've saved the best for last, though. Try this introductory snippet from the AP article about Max Lesnick making the rounds of press outlets.

No longer an exile, Castro's friend is at home in Cuba and Florida

HAVANA - He fled Cuba in 1961, but still calls Fidel Castro his friend. He can't stand communism, but bitterly opposes the U.S. embargo. He lives in Miami, but travels regularly to Havana, even appearing on state-run television.

Anyone with even the tiniest bit of understanding knows that this is impossible. Ask any of fifo's former "friends" in Miami, the ones who have survived his friendship, as that seems to have been a singularly perilous position, if they can return with impunity. That it is possible for Lesnick raises a whole line of possibilities. The writer here, however, buys the whole spiel- hook, line and sinker- and parrots it around the globe. If its propaganda arm is the regime’s only success, it is because the media has been there to collude with them every step of the way for nearly half a century. For the article.

For an excellent post on the same subject and a great cartoon, go here.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Tis the Season

In Sarasota, that means a lot of things. It’s when our population more than doubles for the winter, when our roads get congested, our coffers fill, and cultural venues go into high gear. And for the past four years, the entire town gets treated to a first class sculpture exhibition. Substantial pieces adorn the side of highway 41 where it adjoins our Bayfront Park, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots on the West coast of Florida. So if you happen to be in town, don’t miss it. You can always head to O’Learys and indulge in some libations while you take in the scenery.

About a third of this year’s “Season of Sculpture” exhibit consists of new works from returning artists. They are artists whose work I enjoyed last year, but which seem reminiscent this year: The white box has mirrored silver slivers instead of red pieces dangling, the Venetian-like figures are in different groupings and poses. And as is usual with me, if I need to read an explanation to understand the piece, it is lost on me. The most interesting work had to be “La Devine Proportion” by Jean-Francois Buisson, which resembled a cross between a futurist and a post apocalyptic version of Leornardo’s study of the human body, only the warmth of sepia has been replaced by harsh black metal, draped in an intricate fretwork, which looks like puzzle pieces, tattered lace, and mechanistic moss at the same time. The elegance of the figures themselves is interrupted by the occasional bolt, or old piece of metal, an interruption in the organic flow of the human form.

I’ve included a picture of local sculptor Jack Dowd’s installation, “Happy Birthday, Andy” because of its sheer fun. Here Dowd subjects Warhol’s figure to the same treatment the late artist applied to others. I didn’t like or appreciate every piece, but I am grateful I had the opportunity to see an exhibit of such quality. It is there, open and free to the public. Oh, and did I mention the giant tooth or the dancing cars?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Dinner from Dickens

I've always loved this scene from Dickens' Great Expectations. Makes my relatives look tame. Read it and notice Pip's brother-in-law with the gravy.

Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn't robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn't want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain. No; I should not have minded that, if they would only have left me alone. But they wouldn't leave me alone. They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and stick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate little bull in a Spanish arena, I got so smartingly touched up by these moral goads.

It began the moment we sat down to dinner. Mr. Wopsle said grace with theatrical declamation,--as it now appears to me, something like a religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard the Third,--and ended with the very proper aspiration that we might be truly grateful. Upon which my sister fixed me with her eye, and said, in a low reproachful voice, "Do you hear that? Be grateful."

"Especially," said Mr. Pumblechook, "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand."

Mrs. Hubble shook her head, and contemplating me with a mournful presentiment that I should come to no good, asked, "Why is it that the young are never grateful?" This moral mystery seemed too much for the company until Mr. Hubble tersely solved it by saying, "Naterally wicious." Everybody then murmured "True!" and looked at me in a particularly unpleasant and personal manner.

Joe's station and influence were something feebler (if possible) when there was company than when there was none. But he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.

A little later on in the dinner, Mr. Wopsle reviewed the sermon with some severity, and intimated--in the usual hypothetical case of the Church being "thrown open"--what kind of sermon he would have given them. After favoring them with some heads of that discourse, he remarked that he considered the subject of the day's homily, ill chosen; which was the less excusable, he added, when there were so many subjects "going about."

"True again," said Uncle Pumblechook. "You've hit it, sir! Plenty of subjects going about, for them that know how to put salt upon their tails. That's what's wanted. A man needn't go far to find a subject, if he's ready with his salt-box." Mr. Pumblechook added, after a short interval of reflection, "Look at Pork alone. There's a subject! If you want a subject, look at Pork!"

"True, sir. Many a moral for the young," returned Mr. Wopsle,--and I knew he was going to lug me in, before he said it; "might be deduced from that text."

("You listen to this," said my sister to me, in a severe parenthesis.)

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Swine," pursued Mr. Wopsle, in his deepest voice, and pointing his fork at my blushes, as if he were mentioning my Christian name,-- "swine were the companions of the prodigal. The gluttony of Swine is put before us, as an example to the young." (I thought this pretty well in him who had been praising up the pork for being so plump and juicy.) "What is detestable in a pig is more detestable in a boy."

"Or girl," suggested Mr. Hubble.

"Of course, or girl, Mr. Hubble," assented Mr. Wopsle, rather irritably, "but there is no girl present."

"Besides," said Mr. Pumblechook, turning sharp on me, "think what you've got to be grateful for. If you'd been born a Squeaker--"

"He was, if ever a child was," said my sister, most emphatically.

Joe gave me some more gravy.

"Well, but I mean a four-footed Squeaker," said Mr. Pumblechook. "If you had been born such, would you have been here now? Not you--"

"Unless in that form," said Mr. Wopsle, nodding towards the dish.

"But I don't mean in that form, sir," returned Mr. Pumblechook, who had an objection to being interrupted; "I mean, enjoying himself with his elders and betters, and improving himself with their conversation, and rolling in the lap of luxury. Would he have been doing that? No, he wouldn't. And what would have been your destination?" turning on me again. "You would have been disposed of for so many shillings according to the market price of the article, and Dunstable the butcher would have come up to you as you lay in your straw, and he would have whipped you under his left arm, and with his right he would have tucked up his frock to get a penknife from out of his waistcoat-pocket, and he would have shed your blood and had your life. No bringing up by hand then. Not a bit of it!"

Joe offered me more gravy, which I was afraid to take.

"He was a world of trouble to you, ma'am," said Mrs. Hubble, commiserating my sister.

"Trouble?" echoed my sister; "trouble?" and then entered on a fearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, and all the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all the high places I had tumbled from, and all the low places I had tumbled into, and all the injuries I had done myself, and all the times she had wished me in my grave, and I had contumaciously refused to go there.

I think the Romans must have aggravated one another very much, with their noses. Perhaps, they became the restless people they were, in consequence. Anyhow, Mr. Wopsle's Roman nose so aggravated me, during the recital of my misdemeanours, that I should have liked to pull it until he howled. But, all I had endured up to this time was nothing in comparison with the awful feelings that took possession of me when the pause was broken which ensued upon my sister's recital, and in which pause everybody had looked at me (as I felt painfully conscious) with indignation and abhorrence.

"Yet," said Mr. Pumblechook, leading the company gently back to the theme from which they had strayed, "Pork--regarded as biled --is rich, too; ain't it?

Monday, December 24, 2007

There is always a Santa Claus

And now for the holiday portion of our program.....
With Noche Buena around the corner- that's Christmas Eve- I thought I'd reprise the 1897 editorial from The New York Sun, written in response to a little girl's question as to whether there is a Santa Claus.

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except (what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. It is real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The R Word

What is it Dylan once wrote? Something like "You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows." For me, it didn't start with gasoline prices, although I'm convinced speculators have amplified the increases (Think Enron). These although huge were bearable, and there are ways to cut back on driving. It started with ethanol. The emphasis on green and renewable fuels sent corn prices skyrocketing. They had a ripple effect on all sorts of products. Wheat prices seemed to go up in sympathy with corn, although I'm assured it's just supply and demand. Next thing you know just about everything in the supermarket is up. Seriously, over two dollars for a baguette?

Then in plein Christmas shopping season, the stores were empty. That spooked me. So I got to thinking that the definition of a recession is two straight quarters of decline in the GDP. In other words, it'll take six months for the economic powers that be to announce that we've been in a recession for the past six months. And all of this is occurring against the backdrop of the mortgage and housing debacle with its effects on the markets.

I came home from Christmas shopping that day and announced to Packrat that it would be a lean Christmas, just in case. I hope we don't wind up in a major recession, but it doesn't hurt to be prepared. To this amateur observer, the barometer seems to be falling.

Sunday Morning Rolls Around

Gored Again. Don't miss Pat Sajak's amusing read, "Gore Files Lawsuits Against Time" in which he envisions the perennial also-ran as accusing Time of "voting irregularities" on the word of eyewitness "Chad."

Don't That Beat All. Ran across this article which makes it seem as if 2 million South African tourists visited Cuba in 2007. Closer inspection reveals that the figure was the number of tourists from around the world. In any case, I'm guessing here that the South African vactioners, whatever their number, are not residents of Soweto Township, so I suspect that Apartheid might be something they're used to.

Revolting. I find the concept of revolt and a new society decreed by a few unnerving. Much of the current anti-immigration sentiment is a cover for bigotry and the like. But it's worth reading this column from townhall for its social criticism.

Happy Holidays to all! I'll be posting some old favorites for the next few days!

Updated: Numbers that Make My Head Hurt

Update: According to Carlos Lage in a report dated December 24, the number of healthcare workers is 31,000. Also in the article is the statement that bilateral trade will hit $7 billion. It might more aptly be stated that Venezuelan donations to the regime will total that amount. Oh, yeah, forgot the indentured servants.

Here’s a BBC article about “the oil and politics” at the Petrocaribe summit this week. We already know about the oil-for-bananas deal Chavez offered. But some of the article reminded me of a post this week on Primera Generación this week in which Cuban banker focuses on just how much Chavez is taking away from his own less-than-affluent people, which lead me to wonder about the actual figures involved.

Here is the deal for the 17 nations:

They can defer payment on 40% of their oil bill for up to 25 years, with interest of only 1%.

The terms for Cuba as they are usually described:

Cuba has long received all its Venezuelan oil for free, in exchange for thousands of doctors who help treat the country's poor.

Doesn’t sound like that bad a deal, really, unless you take into account that the doctors and health workers are human beings being treated as a commodity. But take a look at some statistics:

$2.6 million the amount of oil given Cuba in this exchange in 2007.

$184.00 monthly paid to doctors/regime by the Venezuelan government in addition to the 2.6 million in oil paid to the regime (2005 figure).

$25.00 monthly the salary paid to the doctors in Venezuela by the regime and consequently the value they place on the services provided.

20,000 the number of Cuban doctors and health workers in Venezuela.

Do the math, if you have more zeroes in your calculator than I have, and it doesn’t look like that rosy an economic deal for Venezuela. On the other hand, I guess there is a premium to be paid for having an army of chattel who can be forced to work anywhere in the country under any conditions.

Friday, December 21, 2007

You Give 'Em Hell, Pops!

Remember this elderly gentleman, Alfredo Guillemas, from the Human Rights demonstration? Well, there’s a coda to his story. Apparently, the regime sensed it was a PR faux pas to manhandle a senior citizen in front of cameras. So three days after the demonstration on December 13, Mr. Guillemas received a visit from State Security, ordering him to stay in his home or face another beating.

To this stick, they added a carrot. If he would renounce his activities, they would provide him economic and medical assistance. Taking umbrage, he threw the descarados, or shameless ones, out of his home and vowed to work until his dying day for the democratization of Cuba.

*Source: a report by independent journalist Lamasiel Gutiérrez here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It Takes a Firm Hand

Signature from Penultimos Dias. Don't know where he got it.

Wow! Have you ever seen such a signature! Maybe, I'm just one of those cynical boomers, but how many ailing 80 year olds have you seen with such strong handwriting?

Some Clarity from Cuba

From ex-political prisoner Antuñez at Misceláneas de Cuba, there is no call to hold back from demonstrating:

Let this document ratify our ceaseless and sacred call to the internal opposition to continue taking to the streets, for these are the most appropriate places for struggle and resistance.

We suggest to our brothers in exile to read the call carefully and turn deaf ears to any ill-intentioned interpretation of the same.
The full text in Spanish

Let's Beat on the Press!

  • you be surprised to learn that reporters are held in the same low regard as undertakers and insurance salesmen.... and only slightly higher than politicians?
  • Did you know that two-thirds of the public believe reporters are no more ethical than the politicians they report on?
  • Would it perplex you to learn that the press itself has precisely the opposite view.... two thirds of them maintain they are more ethical than the public officeholders they cover?

So begins a "Frontline" report on a survey of American attitudes towards the press. I ran into this a while back and hadn't had a chance to post it. My favorite part, but of course, the boomers again:

Analysis of the survey revealed that middle-aged people - the Vietnam-Watergate generation - were more cynical than younger people and older people. This generational pattern was apparent in both the public survey and in the survey of the press as well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Read All About It! A Scandal

In the how low can you go department, at least if the Enquirer is telling the truth... I know, I know. The paper is out with a story of a secret affair John Edwards supposedly carried on while his wife is battling for her life. If it weren't for Elizabeth Edwards, I'd be laughing. Okay, so maybe I am enjoying it a trifle. Read it here

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Keeping it Russian

This next bit comes from the Telegraph. A Russian general is threatening to target the European bases to house the missile defense shield. His comments shed light on the Russian perspective. Still, I have difficulty understanding the strident tone coming out of Moscow. I understand that to a certain extent Putin plays to nationalist pride, pride badly damaged after the fall of the USSR. But why the continued harsh cold war rhetoric and obstructionism? It's really getting dangerous out there.

And speaking of Putin. Since he can't be President any more, he's going to be Prime Minister. Huh?

Cuba: A Russian Perspective

Don't know what to think of this piece on the RIA Novosty by political commentator Pyotr Romanov. He seems to think fifo's health is improving (I beg to differ). While he hits some of the usual, the mafia and vice ridden past and the wrongness of the embargo...

This blockade is not only inhuman but also stupid, if only because it conceals better than any Cuban propaganda the main reason for Cuba's economic trouble - inefficiency of socialist economy.

Mr Romanov as a Russian knows a little something about failed socialism. It's really fascinating, and much of his analysis of the Cuban people is on target. Besides, anyone who writes:

Judging by all, Fidel is slowly getting better. Nevertheless, the best option for Cuba would be not his return but his final departure that would pave the way to reforms. If 75 year-old Raul retired together with his older brother and started cultivating roses like good old pensioners, the likelihood of serious change would only increase. Regrettably, this is too good to be true and more in the nature of wishful thinking. But the longer the reforms are delayed the harder it will be for Cubans.

It's a mixed bag, but worthy of a read. Fascinating.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Moment of Sanity

Or so writes Rick Aristotle Munarriz about the decline in the price of CUBA, not the country, the stock symbol for the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund, the value which skyrocketed with the news of castro’s ill health. Investors flocked to the fund thinking it would benefit from the lifting of the embargo and travel restrictions. Well, we all know what didn’t happen, so they’ve apparently lost faith. Read the article on Motley Fool. But if you don’t, I’ll share this snippet with you:

I am a Cuban-American living in Miami. I raise my cafecito to the elder politicos in town who dream of a free Cuba. I just never saw the logic in paying an 80% premium for a basket of stocks that I could duplicate at face value.

We are everywhere.

Cross-posted at Babalublog

A Manifesto of Sorts

I don’t know about you, but my head is spinning. First, Fidel’s dead. Then he’s not. Then according to the MSM he’s “running” for office. Now in today’s news, he’s hinting at retirement. Personally, I like the life in death option. Anyway, Raul’s in charge. Or maybe Raul’s not in charge. Marta Beatriz Roque, noted dissident, calls for dissenters to unite but put off any marches for like two years while they run around consciousness raising, including telling ordinary Cubans how bad it is? Antuñez, another noted dissident with stronger bona fides, signs on, but then maintains he didn’t know about the hold on demonstrations. If Elizardo Sanchez, another noted dissident, was really spying on his confreres for the regime, why the sudden attack today in the press, where they call him a mercenary in the pay of the US government?

Maybe I’m confused because I just watched The Bourne Ultimatum, but maybe it’s because Cuba is as Churchill once described the USSR: “a riddle wrapped inside an enigma.” I am a simple person. I know, having had experience with at least one cunning and amoral acquaintance, that I am no match for same. You see, no matter how smart you are; if you can’t think like they do, you cannot outwit them.

So what’s an honest, well-intentioned soul to do? What’s the right course? Whom do you support? What stance can you take? Should you bother? After all, the vitriol hurled at us by some in our community makes it all too easy to turn and say, “I don’t need this grief.” Heck, I’m an American. Only I am, but then I’m not. I am Cuban. No, I am not Cuban like the poor souls who live and toil on the island. But for an amazing act of foresight by my father, I could have been. Yes, I grew up in the United States and went to bed with a full belly every night. I paid a smaller price, growing up as a second class citizen, never knowing what it was to belong, never meeting close relatives, or walking the Malecon, and always the sense of loss. I’ve earned the Cuban in front of that American, and no one is going to take it away from me.

For every attack on the Cuban American community by the MSM media, the apparatchiks, or even some of our own, there are any number of pleas coming from the island to make their stories known. So I speak for those who cannot, for those who have been silenced by the jackboot, who must live the proverbial lives of quiet desperation. I do not believe I have the corner on knowledge, or that I have the only, or any, answers.

In the end, neither speculations nor divisions matter. If I was granted the privilege of being born in, or even just living, in a free society, then I bear the responsibility of doing all I can to help those left behind. So, it doesn’t really matter who the players are, whether the coma andante is alive or dead, or how we feel about each other. My responsibility, my God-given task, is to bear witness.

And if you don’t think it makes a difference. When was the last time, the MSM paid attention to a demonstration of twelve dissidents? When did any manifestation of any size, other than the officially sanctioned ones get any press, even if it was at the end of the articles about the regime's magnanimity in signing accords (it has no intention of keeping) in two years? It is not something for which I take any credit. I am the flea on the butt end of the camel industriously making its way into that tent. But in my little space and as far as my words reach, I will attest to the truth. And no matter what they put out or the MSM picks up, in this small space I will call them on their lies.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Morning PseudoScience

The Theory of Relativity. A Christmas card arrived at Bernice Martin's home this year, 93 years after it was mailed. No one knows what caused the delay. Unfortunately, Edith Martin to whom the card was addressed was no longer alive to receive it. Brief article here.

Origin of the Species. Ever wonder where punctuation marks came from? Well, wonder no more! Learn all about the question mark, dollar sign, even the Olympic rings. Read it here.

Law of Unintended Consequences. This one is not quite so silly. On January 1, any business in Arizona hiring an illegal worker is faced with the prospect of losing the same. Passed in an effort to stem the tide of illegal immigration into the state, a first offense results in a temporary suspension of the business' license to operate. A second offense leads to a permanent loss. The new law is having a chilling effect on businesses in a state with a 3.7% unemployment rate. For the article.

Balancing the Equation. Eunice Lopez was arrested for running a cottage industry of sorts. Between 2002 and 2006, Lopez, who arrived from Cuba in 2002, married 10 men and divorced none. Despite the irregularity, Ms Lopez's marriage for papers business was not discovered until somebody tipped off the authorities. Read it here.

and from Cuba....

The regime announced that it will spend $2 billion on its transportation system. Does that mean that the powers that be are going to take a cut on their part of the skim? Or, maybe, it's that prodigious growth rate they keep announcing but ordinary Cubans are missing.
H/T Henry Gomez at Babalublog

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Literary Interlude: Home Thoughts by Carl Sandburg

How about a melancholy romantic poem for this week?  
Home Thoughts

The sea rocks have a green moss.
The pine rocks have red berries.
I have memories of you.
Speak to me of the drag on your heart,
The iron drag of the long days.

I know hours empty as a beggar's tin cup on a rainy day,
empty as a soldier's sleeve with an arm lost.

Speak to me...

Friday, December 14, 2007


This poster is making the rounds. Let's shame these fine specimens of humanity. A horse-whipping would not come amiss, either. For a readable version, click on the thumbnail, go to Babalublog or Cuba Watch.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Call to Unity by Dissidents

From Cubaencuentro, known dissident, Marta Beatriz Roque, has called for a "United Front" among dissident groups. According to the article, her reasoning is thus:

...the announcement [that the regime is going to sign to allow human rights monitoring in a year] is a change in "tactics" by which "the dictatorship is trying to stall for time, doing this or that to distract the world and using new methods of disinformation."

If they've changed their tactics, so should the dissidency, she posits. They should work to form a concerted internal opposition. She also asks for continued support from the exile and international community, the one constant in all opposition communications from the island.

The full text of the letter, co-authored with Antuñez, is accesible in Spanish through Penultimos Dias, one of my daily stops. It seems they advocate spending the next year informing the Cuban public and then trying to march en masse so as to avoid the goon squads.

What has to be a thought, not only for Roque but for others, is that for what seems to be the first time- in a context other than being arrested or rounded up- the opposition garnered international press coverage. I have to wonder how many more marchers would have tipped the balance, making them the lead-in in MSM coverage.

Then there's this on La Nueva Cuba. It seems the names we all know- Paya, Roque, Elizardo Sanchez, and more- were all in attendance at the US Interests Section Chief's home to commemorate Human Rights Day. The gathering seems to have taken place on the 12th(?). A name I did not note was Darsi Ferrer's. A significant omission, one would think.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


After the events in Havana on Monday, much armchair quarterbacking has been done. And rightly so. It would seem that too much was risked for too little gain. Dissidents did not seize the moment. Their only hope would have been in numbers. Alas, numbers they did not have. The fractured groups have not learned that in unity is strength. Because although we in the C/CA blogosphere followed the march, any number of small observances were held.

That written, I am not on the island. It is not my life and well-being in jeopardy. I have not lived my life gaming the system. I do not know what constitutes a victory. So I take my cue from them. If they feel some small measure of protection from international publicity, I will do what I can to make their plight known. They are in a position to know best.

Still, they may wish to rethink their strategy. What if, as someone suggested in a column, they had ambush demonstrations, a low tech flash mob? The locale could be a closely held secret until the last minute. Passersby and park goers could turn into marchers. They could infiltrate the mobs sent to harass them. In my dream scenario, they would ambush that one obnoxious specimen of humanity who appears in all the pictures. But I'm getting a bit physical here. Smaller gestures, safer, but more widespread could be an option. I suppose all sorts of variants are possible.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Take a look, these young ladies, mostly from Spain, who joined the ladies in white, are the heroines of this weekend, along with Manuel Benito del Valle Ruiz, a Spaniard who undertook the gauntlet/march with Dr. Ferrer on Monday. The true heroes are, of course, the Cuban men and women who take their lives into their own hands and face down a brutal regime. But for the first time I can remember, instead of reposing on their lounge chairs, sipping mojitos, or attempting to make a buck off the backs of the oppressed masses, foreign nationals have stood in solidarity with the Cuban people. Although the potential repercussions they faced were considerably less than those of the Cuban nationals involved, excepting the beating Manuel took, their actions took courage. And I applaud them for it.
A number of thoughts arise. Out of all of the millions around the world who have visited the island, these are the only tres gatos who gave a damn about the people? What if all those wonderful social justice types stopped serving as shills for the regime, what if the scales fell from their eyes? What if Pastors for Peace stood in solidarity with the Cuban people and not with their oppressors? Can you imagine if the do-good wing of activists were unleashed? Where were those who willingly served as human shields for Saddam? Why was there no cordon of well-meaning peace lovers interposing their bodies between the faux mob and Darsi?
*Pardon the line, but blogger is deconstructing itself as it periodically does.

State of the Union: Dismal

And I'm not talking politics here. I've posted before on my bete noire-the boomers- and the America they have wrought. This morning, I woke up to the news that smoking is banned on all Sarasota beaches. So now they will write $97.00 tickets to normally lawabiding citizens, while addressing none of the social ills in this town. You see, modern morality consists of not smoking, wearing your seat belts, and getting flu shots for your children. Any violation of the same is now pursued with the same zeal once reserved by the Puritan fathers for adulteresses.

So it is with real appreciation, I've come across conservative columnists who are feeling the same thing about a world gone horribly astray. Each has a different perspective and a different aim in writing. But read all three, and you will pick up the sense of wrongness that pervades all.

Last week, I came across Dennis Prager's column in which he feels the boomers owe the succeeding generations an apology for the world they've created. Then a week or so ago, I ran into this column by Michael Medved, which comments on the mechanism that helped create this mess, namely, the Vietnam War, and its societal consequences. Although Medved is a lot more optimistic than I am, he also sees the civic decay.

I also read this column about the problem of "selling morality to an amoral public." Here the author discusses the political ramifications of a culture where vulgarity is the norm. The columnist begins her recent experiences with current entertainment. She reminds me of a situation that came up with my mother. Recently, my mother has taken up reading again. I get her Spanish language books from the library. Not knowing any but literary types, I rely on well-know authors. Time after time, she tells me she is shocked by the frequency, graphic detail, and, shall we say, unusual nature of sex acts. And she is no prude.

In the end, although repulsed, I will not be tainted. But what will happen to the children?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

In honor of election season. Here's a quote from a former CIA man:

To my dismay, I would find that the tentacles of big oil stretch from the Caspian Sea to the White House. And to my anger, indeed to my rage, I would see how money, not lives or national security, skews so much of what takes place in the very places most charged with protecting us all.
from See No Evil by Robert Baer

You think it's the Bush White House, huh? Nope. Try the Clintons.

They've Done it Again!

As far as I can tell, there are only two things at which the regime in Havana has excelled: oppression and propaganda. Both were in evidence yesterday. The first we have been witnessing for weeks. And yesterday's pictures tell that story. Their other strong suit is reflected in the reports filed by the MSM reporters.

Weeks ago we heard of the arrangements the Capos in the capital were making to counter the march. One stratagem involved staging their own newsworthy item at the same time as the march. How successful were they? Here are some headlines. You be the judge.

The New York Times: Cuba: U.N. Rights Pacts to Be Signed
BBC News: Cuba makes human rights promise
Newsday: Cuba says it will sign civil rights accord
Reuters: Cuba to allow U.N. human rights monitoring

Each of these articles makes reference to the march. I suspect the Michael Corleone moment was impossible to ignore. Even as they made the announcement, thugs were manhandling and hectoring the protestors. The headlines, however, went to the regime.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Faces of Oppression: More from Today

top two images from Los Miquis de Miami. The last from Henry Gomez at Babalublog.

The Faces of Oppression: Today

Pictures from Penultimos Dias. Some appear in other sources.

The Faces of Oppression: Yesterday

Top: from Babalublog, Cuban soldier citing Darsi to military headquarters. Taken a few days ago.

Middle: from Babalublog, two security operatives maintaining surveillance at the Ferrer home.

Bottom: Reuters photo of group assailing the Ladies in White at their demonstration yesterday.

The Faces of Oppression

Much as we like to blame leaders like the Castros, systematic governmental oppression is impossible without the active cooperation of legions of ordinary folk. It is these armies of the night that terrorize their fellow man. For them, there is no excuse, and they will have to answer to their maker if no one else.

It is my editorial policy to refrain from using other people's pictures. In this instance I am making an exception in the interest of our shared goals. I will try to give credit where it is due.

Updated: News of the Moment

Update: Henry, who has been doing a yeoman's job of getting the word out, at Babalu has posted the phone conversation with Darsi in Spanish. Darsi hints that many others were taken up before they could reach the park. He also says that press and diplomatic representatives witnessed the events. Let's see if we hear more from that. Here for the recording.

Here is what I have been able to piece together from various sources. More as the information becomes available.

Their campaign of pre-emptive intimidation having proven successful as usual, a mere dozen or so dissidents made it to the park in Havana this morning. They were accosted and were advised that they would be killed if they entered. A Spaniard who was with Darsi Ferrer and the demonstrators was encouraged to leave and later whisked away. Word has reached the states that they were then beaten by a group of 200 or so armed with clubs and crow bars. This is the ugly face of tyranny. The next post will include more of these.

Read accounts in English at The Real Cuba here.
And in Spanish at Penultimos Dias here.
Babalublog is working on getting audio from Dr. Ferrer. Check here.

From The Real Cuba

A quote from Dr. Darsi Ferrer in a post on The Real Cuba today:

"My home is surrounded by state security security forces. The entire neighborhood has been under siege since Saturday.

Our neighbors, who sympathize with the cause of a free Cuba and are concerned for out safety, have helped identify several of the officer who are participating in this operation.
The headquarter for the state security officers has been set up about three blocks from our house. There are abut 4 dozen officers in there.

Neighbors have also reported that they have seen trucks carrying troops of the so called "special forces" wearing camouflage uniforms and others with soldiers wearing civilian clothes.

This is the situation we are facing. We are determined to exercise our rights no matter what happens.

May God bless our nation. Dr. Darsi Ferrer"

Latest Info from Cuba

10 Dissidents picked up yesterday, including Antuñez, who released earlier this year from 17 years in prison has continued his activities and has been hauled in on a number of occasions- including Dec.6 when he was beaten, held for 8 hours, and released. This time he was arrested as he was leaving the demonstration held by the ladies in white.

Speaking of the ladies in white. They were joined yesterday by about 15 young European women, mainly Spanish tourists. Today, word comes that immigration officials were waiting for them when they arrived back at their hotel. They were taken away and could be deported today. For the story, including why the ladies in white march, read here.

In addition to preemptive arrests, the figure has to approach a hundred if not surpass it, word is that the homes of known dissidents have been surrounded by groups of as many as 50 thugs to prevent them from attending the march.

More as I come across it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


AP article via The Baltimore Sun. They're at it again. This gushing article about the largesse of Cuban authorities in including American films, a number of "experimental" films and a couple of films by Hollywood types, in their film festival has to be deliberately cynical. The two films highlighted in the article are the Man of Two Havanas about Max Lesnick and Redacted. For the uninitiated, Lesnick has been much vilified in the exile community and a film about him would be a natural fit for the regime types. And Redacted, which casts American soldiers as rapists and murderers, well, I'm not going to get started on that one.

In the "I can't believe they could be this disingenuous" department, the article would have us believe that it is the US that limits films going to Cuba.

But the U.S. government makes it difficult for American directors to present their work on the island.

Sure it does, since the Cuban government doesn't limit all forms of media access. Gee, so that's why Andy Garcia's The Lost City hasn't played in Cuba! It's those Americans again.

Tell Everyone You Know and Update X's 2

IMPORTANT: Reminder, if you are going to send to anyone involved in any way in any country in opposition to the Cuban regime, make sure to use the blind copy feature in your e-mail. Otherwise everyone's address will appear.

Update: It works. I'm already getting positive responses back.

Below is a copy of an email I sent to everyone in my address book. I would ask that my readers do the same, as far as they feel comfortable doing, that is. I get untold bad jokes and cutesy articles daily in my inbox. Let's give them something else to read. Copy mine or write your own. I think it is particularly important to get the word out to our American friends.

Tomorrow, December 10, 2007, dissidents in Cuba will attempt a peaceful march to commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights and protest silently the apartheid system under which they live. I use the term "attempt" because the regime has released a wave of intimidation to forestall the march since November 21. Dr. Darsi Ferrer, who has called for the protest, has been threatened with death by an official of the state. When the threat failed to intimidate him, he was summoned to military headquarters an hour before the event. The regime has also put in place measures to make sure that no one can reach the venue.
I ask your prayers for those who will attempt it. I also ask that you spread the word among your acquaintances. The greatest protection dissidents have is notice of the international community.

Sunday Snippets: Odds of Ends

Memoirs of a Geisha? Reuters article on the disappearing world of the Geisha feautres Kokin, the world's oldest at 98, who reminisces about the glory days and laments the passing of her world. Geishas, it seems have fallen on hard times, forced lift their exclusivity and (shudder) perform for tourists. Karaoke?

The Name of the Continent. Library of Congress is displaying the 1507 Waldseemuller map that labeled the continent America. Seems a later version of the same map, omitted the name. In another map by the same monk, created in 1516, North America is labeled "Terra de Cuba."
Read it here.

Pride and Prejudice. The New York Times got around to reviewing The Boys from Dolores by Patrick Symmes. Guy Martin gets it right in the main about the tome, although the heavy insistence on privilege is a bit superfluous. And we weren't "gallegos," as he maintains, despite having been descended from them. Remember, you read about it here first! Now you can read about it there.

Gone with the Beards. A write-up of the "Masterpieces of Cuban Painting" exhibit in Daytona. Laura Stewart's take seems to be that its scale, both physical and emotional- she uses the word bombastic to describe a painting- conveys a "mythic" Cuba. Of course, that means I'll probably like it just fine. She makes me want to undertake the five hour car ride to see it.
Read it here.

Oh, and here are this morning's headlines about Cuba:

"Cuba allows foreign firms to pay in hard currency" from Reuters. Isn't that nice? The regime is now going to allow Cubans to get paid in something other than the near worthless currency the rest of Cuba has to use. Before you get all weepy at their munificence, they are doing it so they can tax the earnings. No word on whether the employees can now be paid directly or whether the powers that be are still going to absorb 80% or so of the same salaries.

"Cuba apologizes for police raid on Catholic church," another entry from Reuters. They said they were sorry to the church. Still awaiting an apology are the twenty plus, not seven as the report indicates, dissidents who were pepper sprayed, beaten, and hauled off.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Literary Interlude: An Excerpt from “Shield of Achilles” by WH Auden

Reading Havana Noir this week brought this poem to mind. Although it uses a scene from the Illiad to comment on war, particularly WWII, I think it really touches upon the dehumanizing effects of brutality, especially the last verse I’ve excerpted. You can easily get the complete poem on the internet or at your library.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.

I have come to the conclusion that blogger hates poetry. I can't tell you what I go through. The beginning of some of the lines is idented. I've tried to rectify it twice. I hope it goes through as entered this time.

Friday, December 7, 2007

FLAMUR's Call to Women in Exile

Having submitted their petition with 10,738 signatures demanding that they be allowed to use the currency in which they are paid in any establishment in the country, and in effect end the current two tier apartheid system, FLAMUR, the organization of rural women behind the "Con la Misma Moneda" campaign asks a question. Why have they not received support of Cuban women living in free countries?

What starts out as something of a challenge at the beginning of their communiqué ends on a plea for help, reminding us that they are from the interior of the country where there is no international press, there are no diplomatic offices. Their only protection lies in the notice we in free countries can bring them. These brave women with the help of young people have been collecting signatures throughout the country for months, and whatever shelter my poor words can offer, I will gladly give.

For the entire article in Spanish at Misceláneas de Cuba, click here.

Lost Time in Miami

Recently in a post about an upcoming art show, I mentioned a Cuban museum that is part of MOAS in Daytona. Immediately, I received a comment like "isn't that the artwork Batista stole?" Then in response to the recent publicity about Eusebio Leal, blogs have featured his role in stripping Cuba of its cultural patrimony, most notably an open letter written to the King of Spain by well-known author Armando Valladares this April. In this letter, he basically tells the King that the painting gifted him by the regime, through the auspices of Leal, is stolen from the Cuban people.

Finally yesterday, you may have noticed, I didn't post. That's unusual, because I have a compact with my readers. I feel that if you are gracious enough to pay us a visit, I promise to have timely and interesting, as far as my and Lou's humble talents allow, material for you to read. I didn't post because I was in Miami, a trip that involves a considerable amount of driving. At lunchtime, I paid my very first visit to the Versailles. In all these years, I had never gone. I've been to the original La Carreta across the street many a time. I'm a sucker for the cart thing they have going on there, as well as the food. But, never, the Versailles. And I can't tell you how I would like to be there this morning.

As is usual, I am told, the place was packed. I looked around the room at all those beautiful, well-scrubbed Cuban faces, and in addition to that twinge of pride I always feel on the rare occasions when I am in a large gathering of Cubans, I experienced a moment of epiphany. Of all that Cuba has lost, of all that it has been stripped by those abominations masquerading as men, here was the greatest theft of all, in these people: well-groomed, with open hopeful faces, so obviously prosperous, most seemingly there on a lunch break. I thought back to the Miami of 1965 and how it had grown and been enriched by the presence of these people, of their parents, and grandparents, and I felt Cuba's loss all the more keenly.

All this drive, all the obvious optimism about the future, this prosperity rightly belonged in Cuba. And to me, these people were representative of the millions on the island whose initiative, drive, and ingenuity, subverted by an illegitimate regime, has been reduced to scoring some facsimile of a meal for the day by whatever means at hand. Can you imagine what they could do, if they were unleashed? I can.

Ambivalence About Lending

President Bush came out yesterday with a "compassionate" proposal to ease the mortgage woes of millions of Americans. It wasn't a bad political move, either. I would like to be a big person. I would like to be noble and say, "How Wonderful!" But I'm not.

Having once, way back in the 80's, lost everything, having been forced by a lender unwilling to work with us into selling our home at a considerable discount, a lender who then turned around at the closing and slapped us with punitive “fines” which ate up our substantial down payment, as well as the extra thousand towards the principal we had paid for years, leaving a grand total of $494.00 out of the nearly hundred thousand in those two items, I have a skewed perspective on the matter.

For years in Florida I have watched people, twentysomethings in particular, who would have scoffed at the ramshackle four room Cracker home we bought later- the one with a mortgage the size of a motorcycle payment- buy large faux Mediterranean homes with price tags they could not possible afford. Snug in my now quaint cottage, I watched an impending train wreck.

But now, it seems I was wrong. There are so many of them that letting them learn the hard lessons we were taught could torpedo the economy. The situation reminds me that not long after our financial collapse, Donald Trump found himself in a similar situation. Of course, they didn’t take him to the wall, they way they did to us. They helped bail him out. It’s kinda like that commercial where the big banks use the little guy as a matchbook to prop up a wobbly table. Oh, well, one of the things you learn early on is that life isn’t fair.

For a more positive take, read this column at Townhall.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Roll of the Detained in Latest Wave of Repression

Here is a compilation of the new wave of arrests by Cuban authorities that started about November 21. If there is nothing next to the name, it does not necessarily mean he or she has not been released. Information is sketchy.

Date Not Specified:
Rita Montes de Oca Chirino- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Antuán Clemente Hernández- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Rancés Calzada Coba- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Vladimir Alejo Montes de Oca- threatened with jail and released hours later.
Leosdán Alejo Montes de Oca- threatened with jail and released hours later.

November 21: All arrested with Bermúdez Toranzo.
Juan Bermúdez Toranzo- still in custody at last report.
Georbis Ferrer Plana
José Luis Rodríguez Chávez
William Cepero García
Omar Osmany
Varván del Pino

November 27:
Manuel Pérez Soria- former political prisoner after hunger strike to protest gov't's failure to provide identitypapers; arrested for lack of documentation; still in custody at last report.
Vladimir Alejo Miranda- interrogated, threatened for 6 or 8 hours and released.

November 29: All three student leaders were part of the University student petition press conference.
Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina- still in custody at last report.
Eliécer Consuegra Rivas - deported to provinces Dec 4.
Gerardo Sánchez Ortega- deported to the provinces Dec.4.

November 30:All arrested outside the Lawton police station where they were peacefully protesting the arrest of Juan Bermúdez Toranzo.
Yusniel Basterechea Quintana
Miguel López Santos- held 24 hours and released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Arisnay Rodríguez Cruz
Juan Alberto de la Nuez Ramírez- held 24 hours and fined.
Yunier Piedraita Santa Cruz -held 24 hours and fined.
Alejandro Gabriel Martínez- held 24 hours and fined.
Yuris Barreras Sánchez- held 24 hours.
Carlos Michael Morales- held 24 hours and fined.
Raúl Pérez Gavilá- held 24 hours and fined.
Rogelio Hernández Mill
Aramis Sainz Sánchez
Tania Maceda Guerra- released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva- released at Km 17 on the national highway.
Jesús Cordero Suárez.

December 3: in Guantanamo
Juan Carlos Hernández Hernández
Salvador Benavides

December 4: Political Police broke down the doors of a church and using tear gas arrested 20(?) dissidents who were praying for the release of political prisoners after a march of 18 blocks

December 5: At the train station where they were accompanying Gerardo Sánchez Ortega.
Juan Carlos Hernández Hernández
Yorleinis Duvergel
Unnamed others

Source: Reports by Luis Esteban Espinosa, Tania Maceda Guerra, and Álvaro Yero Felipe at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Different Origins, Different Creeds, One People: Judaism in Cuba Today

The sound of wooden footwear clacking on cement as he chased them figured prominently in my mother's childhood tales of tormenting the Chino who ran a laundry. I used to ask myself, "what was a Chinese guy doing in their back of beyond small Cuban town?" The question was answered later when I discovered that the Chinese constituted one of the largest minority groups in Cuba. Still later I learned, they were lured in under harsh conditions of near indentured servitude to replace newly freed slaves. Unusual.

Then there were the Polacos. I'm not sure I'm even spelling it right. Growing up I knew people like "Joseito, el Polaco." Although I could never tell any difference between him and the other Cubans I knew, I thought it meant he was somehow from Poland. Again, I was to find out that Polaco denoted anyone from Eastern Europe or descendants of the same. In one case it extended to a guy reputedly from Syria or Lebannon. His origins are shrouded in the mists of time. Seems if you were foreign and looked European and weren't Gallego, you were Polaco.

Similarly, although the majority of Cubans were Roman Catholics, I learned there was a sizeable contingent of Presbyterians, at least around Matanzas. Nowadays, there are still Seventh Day Adventists. Didn't fifo attend the opening of their new church, or something like that? Growing up in the needle trades, I also knew quite a few Cuban Jews. So it was with interest that I read this NY1 article about Judaism in Cuba today.

I don't espouse, nor do I presume to judge, their having invited fifo to Hannukah. Who knows, he could have potentially been "enlightened." Whatever your political sensibilities, however, you have to appreciate the Cuban minyan: Seven men and three Torahs. Cubans are nothing, if not adaptable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Reads: Havana Noir

Havana Noir, edited and translated in the main by Achy Obejas is one in a series of anthologies set in different metropolitan areas. Since I’m a fan of Chandler and Hammet and more recently Padura, it was with anticipation I cracked open the book. By midnight, after a few straight hours of reading, I was ready to slit my wrists. Havana here is a bleak, desolate metropolis, a landscape bereft of love, honor, softness, and most especially hope. The city depicted in these stories is a cesspool of moral depravity. As my mother would say, “Que despretigio.” Add to that the abject misery of life in Cuba, amplified for the form.

I was commenting on the same with my film school student daughter when she reminded me that’s characteristic of noir: alienation, violence, sex. Duh. But, wait, something is different here. To begin with there is only one detective in the whole collection, Alex Abella’s Jason Blue, who doesn’t do divorces or children because “I’ve got two of each and they’re not experiences I particularly want to relive.” Therein lies all the resemblance to the stories and movies of yesteryear. Random copulation, pederasty, you name it, all are fodder for the authors here. The world has changed.

Yet the stories in this book, each set in a different part of the capital, are “real.” They demand deliberation. Despite my disaffection, I found myself mulling the symbolic diminution of the cross-eyed narrator in the first entry, the symmetry of staring at the sun in Padura’s and the definition of Cuban in Obejas’ story, to name a few.

And then, there’s always one in every bunch, or siempre hay alguien que lo tiene que cagar. Despite Obejas’ use of the term “blockade’ for embargo in her intro, her selection was notable for its inclusionary nature, and political criticism, if any, was directed at the regime… except for Lea Aschkenas’ story, that is. Hers is the only one that has a group hissing at President Bush on TV and calling exiles "terrorists." In fact, her plot centers on the latter. I did some preliminary research, and her familiarity with Havana seems to devolve from having spent ten months there and having fallen in love with a Cuban, which experience she has already parlayed into a book.

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book. I almost didn’t finish it. At the same time, I can’t highlight a story or two, because there were so many I did enjoy reading. There’s the pathos of Medina’s protagonist in his relentless, yet heartbreaking, quest to get to La Yuma, the charming local color of Arango’s story, the fascinating inner monologue of Correa’s, and many I don’t have room to mention. I recommend reading a story or two at a time, curled up in an arm chair, sipping a glass of red wine. I’ll be heading out to get Miami Noir and see how it compares. Could be I’m just a relic from a bygone era.

Where's the Coverage?

On December 1 at the University of Miami, an all day seminar was held, entitled "Cuba: What to Expect." Participants included some pretty notable figures in the field. You can view the program here. Inquiring minds would like to know what was discussed, what the participants had to say.

There is very little coverage to be had. There should be something in the Herald, but despite numerous searches, I could find nothing. The few articles I managed to unearth focus on Commerce Secretary Gutierrez's comments on our policy and, you guessed it, the embargo, the gist of which is our policy will not change, nor the embargo be lifted, unless there is change in Cuba.

In response to a questioner, doubtless interested in the old "we trade with China" argument for the lifting of the embargo, he reflected that in China and Vietnam have shown an interest in having good relations with the US and have made settlements of claims. Their people have some rights to travel, choose a job, start small businesses. A more accurate parallel, he indicated would be North Korea.

To read scattered quotes from the other participants, read the Palm Beach Post article here and the Nuevo Herald article here.
I guess it wasn't news.

Hold the presses! Found another one in the UK's Financial Times, strictly devoted to Gutierrez's remarks here.