Saturday, December 6, 2008

More Embargo Speak

As I posted over on Babalu, this week's New York Times Magazine carries a beautiful article on the end of the revolution by Roger Cohen. Of course, some of the material is objectionable, most notably the call for a new approach to US/Cuban relations. It is a call echoed by the author of Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba when pressed for his views in an NPR interview.

The calls for the lifting of the embargo et al are reaching a critical mass. Misled by ill-informed and/or ideologically motivated academics and "journalists" the American public wants to make money(Ha) and benefit from a cheap vacation in the land time forgot like the rest of the world. Labeled as a "hard-line,""intransigent" "Mafia" of would be "Ahmed Chalabis," those of us who have witnessed or felt the impact of the evil of the Castro regime seem to be losing the PR war.

Thus, my crystal ball says there will be an attempt made to normalize relations. I write attempt because every time the US has attempted to thaw relations the Cuban regime has thrown a spike in the works. Ask Jimmy Carter. The truth is that the thugocracy needs the embargo, because it needs an excuse for the decimation of an country. In any case, it behooves us to regroup, to frame the discussion on our terms if we are to avoid handing murders, thieves and liars a blank check to continue looting and oppressing. And I am not exaggerating when I use those words.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Embargo and the Enablers du Jour

The calls to end the embargo multiply daily. One might almost think they were orchestrated. In today’s installment a number of business organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation and Grocery Manufacturers Association, urged the President to be to lift the embargo, as these commercial potentates feel qualified to make foreign policy judgments. Lifting the remittances is fine by them, but could you please scoot over and leave a bit more room for that persistent camel.

Their motivation, only partially cloaked by altruism, is greed. Now greed is not necessarily a bad thing, but stupidity is always. If I’ve got this correctly, they wish to be free to do business with a government that has made an avocation of not paying its debts to the tune of 60 billion and five decades with a citizenry so impoverished that it can not afford American goods. (After all there are limits to even Tia Lola’s largess.) Maybe the thinking is that the ability to sell cigars, rum, and quack remedies to the American public will enrich the coffers of the Havana Dons thereby releasing rivulets of Cuban Class B currency to the populace, enabling a citizen to buy, say, one Nike sneaker a year. If these are our great business minds, it is not surprising that the heads of the big 3 are in DC on bended knee.

Of course, they could be positioning themselves for the day when Cuba once again rejoins the world of functioning economies, a prospect set back that much further by supplying an economic lifeline now. They seem to have forgotten the little matter of the unpaid millions, 2 billion approx, owed American companies and private citizens for expropriated property. I won’t mention the poor, benighted political prisoners. No one else does.

Mark my words; by the time this lunacy runs its course, Obama will be lifting the embargo by public acclaim. But then, heck, what do I know?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cuban Music and Change

As I'm reading Time magazine, I come across it. "The Sound of Change: Can Music Save Cuba" blares the headline. Of course, the accompanying article devotes little to that topic. Actually, here a few of the more notable observations made by Thornburgh:

1. Music in Cuba, as well as the island itself, is changing. Movements from outside the country like reggaeton and techno are infiltrating. Musicians are fleeing the country.

2. People are feverishly hopeful of change, pinning their hopes on the Obama administration.

3. There are a number of "Ahmed Chalabis" in Miami waiting to take over should the government fall.

4. The big, bad United States lures with the "murderous enticement" of Wet Foot/Dry Foot.

5. Younger generations of Cubans on both sides of the Gulf are more willing to forgive and forget.

The value of the article is in the slice of life about Cuba. Mr. Thornburgh to his credit goes beyond the facade of the socialist paradise and writes about real people. He demonstrates a certain familiarity with the reality of life in Cuba. Unfortunately, he presents a one-sided view of the United States' role, and there really is no need to guess which side. Yet more evidence the regime has trashed a nation but won the propaganda wars.

The Blogger and the Bad Man

In the past two days, Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez of Generación Y was summoned to the Police Station in Vedado where she was read the riot act and told in no uncertain terms that a proposed blogger meet up was to be cancelled. She was further threatened that she had transgressed all limits. With incredible courage and characteristic insouciance, Yoani asked for it all in writing, laughingly calling her wouldbe intimidators "cowards" at their failure to do so.

Her situation, however, is no laughing matter. The Cuban government's apparatus of intimidation is putting her on notice. They are watching and will act. Publicity provides her only protection, such as it is. In the interest of providing as much information as possible, I've translated her last two entries. Read them and spread the word as much as possible.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Fowl Story

One of the rituals at holiday family gatherings invariably involves the “do you remember the time that…?” It was in this context that my father-in-law raised a European trip we took in the early 80’s. We met up in Rome and traveled to Yugoslavia. Even as we argued about the city: was it Split? Srebenica? Zadar? I knew where he was heading.

“Yes,” I replied. It was Split, I think. We arrived in the city, and there was literally no room at the inn. A visit to the local tourist bureau procured us lodgings in private homes. My father-in-law drew the 50’s vintage ranch house on the outskirts of the city. My husband, sister-in-law, and I found ourselves in front of the massive wooden door to a townhouse in the starigrad, or old city, read that medieval walled city. I swear that door swung, whisper silent, of its own accord. Standing there awaiting us, beckoning us in with a red manicured digit was a tall, spare, austere-looking, middle-aged woman who spoke English hesitantly and with an accent like that of a female Boris Karloff. Her jet black hair was drawn back in a bun; her thin lips, outlined in bright red. There was something terribly witchlike about her.

Despite our initial misgivings, she turned out to be a very nice, if unnerving, woman. We were renting a room in her apartment which consisted of the top floor of the building and a rooftop/garret/pigeon coop. At some point during our brief stay, she told me, “This was all ours once. It was one house. It belonged to my father. But they took it away and left me with this,” indicating the flat crammed with family heirlooms. This I understood. Suddenly, I had visions of that scene in Doctor Zhivago when Omar Sharif returns to find the rabble inhabiting the old homestead and his family barricaded in a few rooms.

“She got that back, now, you know.” My father-in-law interrupted. “They all got that back.” Apparently, the property that had been appropriated by the government was returned when Yugoslavia broke up and the resulting Republic opted for democracy. How wonderful, I thought. The balance of that woman’s universe had been restored. It made me sad, too, because I couldn’t foresee such an ending for Cuba. It’s not about property, as much as it’s about the acknowledgement that a wrong had been committed, a patrimony stolen. As Anita Snow revels in her opinion that Obama is free to collaborate with the Havana Dons, I wonder whether it's an acknowledgment we’ll ever get or whether we are expected to collude in the denial of our own reality.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Not Quite Sunday Not Quite Information

Storing it. A long, long time ago when I was in college, I was taught a few things like the answer to energy needs was nuclear fusion which was just around the corner in the next twenty years. That's what they're still saying. Ditto for batteries. The discussion of the limitations of same in this Newsweek article by Keith Naughton seem awfully familiar. Lots of "green" technologies depend on batteries- from alternative fuel cars to solar collection. Good news, they're working on it.

Selling it. For the first time ever, online shopping seems primed to drop this holiday season, according to this Wall Street Journal article. If online business follows the brick and mortar variety, I suspicion it may yet show a resurgence. Call me an optimist.

Stealing it. From comes "The Spam Report" in which Will Sturgeon answers the perennial question of what would happen if it you bit into one of those Nigerian-come-into-money scams. The story of his correspondence with Mr. Madu Frank is an amusing one. Not amusing are the poor unfortunates who fall for it. Read it here.

Losing it. The emasculation of our society may be more than figurative. Came across an article, which I lost, that the number of males is declining. Suspected are toxins in the environment. Seems the Canadians are going to run a documentary on "The Disappearing Male" this month. The rest of us will have to wait with bated breath for more info.

Leaving it. Burt Prelutsky waxes eloquent on the topic of public libraries, singling out Andrew Carnegie for endowing them. Given that the guy was not only a philanthropist but saved the economy on at least one occasion, he must've been a pretty nice guy for a robber baron. As to libraries, Prelutsky mentions his own experience as a boy; Colin Powell has shared his. There are numerous testimonials to their value. So why are they the first cut when budget shortfalls threaten?