Maggie Alarcón

Archive for the ‘Blockade’ Category

Ya es hora

In Blockade, Cuba/US, Cuban Embargo, Travel, US on October 21, 2015 at 2:59 pm

hourglass

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

Era de esperar, la Habana lentamente se vuelve el lugar del momento en este hemisferio. Al igual que el ritmo de las olas de los mares, la Habana es un contínuum, un todo compuesto de muchos momentos en la historia; juega un papel – similar al de un actor – con el fin de entretener, hacer un planteamiento y crear una ilusión a la vez que permanece inmóvil.

En este caso la ilusión ha sido creada por personas que están bajo la impresión de que las cosas en la isla mágicamente han cambiado luego de los sucesos del 17 de diciembre de 2014 y que esa es la razón por la cual tantos vienen de visita a la isla.

Semanalmente desde principios de este año 2015, desde que se produjeron las primeras rondas de conversaciones bilaterales, miembros del cuerpo de la prensa, del Congreso, del Senado, a distintos niveles de gobierno, de las artes, el mundo de la ciencia, intelectuales, hombres y mujeres de negocio andan por toda la ciudad contemplándola boquiabiertos en un estado absoluto de fascinación.

Esto no debería sorprender a nadie. Era de esperar. La Habana históricamente ha sido un lugar mágico desde la época de Humphrey Bogart y Lauren Bacall o cuando el Buick del 56¨ era el carro del año. Por tanto, ahora que está en boga y resulta tan fácil llegarse a Cuba, ¿por qué no hacerlo?

No quiero que me malinterpreten. Estoy feliz de que tantos procedentes de los EEUU estén dando esos primeros pasos y se anden montando en aviones y viniendo de visita. Lo que me resulta simpático es como todos creen que ahora de repente “no hay problemas” con venir cuando lo único que ha cambiado en la isla es que la bandera estadounidense ondea delante del Malecón habanero luego de 56 años de ausencia. ¡Eso es todo! En lo que a lo demás respecta, el cuartico está igualito!

Así que recomiendo que la próxima vez que se pregunten algo respecto a Cuba y la Habana, no se vayan pensando que las cosas han cambiado en la isla y que es por eso que ahora pueden viajar de visita libremente y ver por uno mismo.

No estaría mal que se aseguren que en los próximos 15 meses se den pasos para garantizar que esos viajes puedan continuar, digamos que hacienda algo como eliminar el bloqueo estadounidense contra Cuba, ¿no creen que ya sea hora?

El tiempo pasa….

Step by Step

In Blockade, Cuba/US, Economics, Politics on October 20, 2015 at 3:38 pm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaritta-alarcon/step-by-step_2_b_8339920.html

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

Last century, I took off for my summer vacation in New York City. Upon arrival, I remember my mom telling me my father was over at the Mission on 38th, so I headed downtown to see him.

It was early summer, beginning of July; days were getting longer and night’s warmer in the City.

After entering the building over on Murray Hill I bumped into Abelardo Moreno, then Councilor at the Mission (Permanent Cuban Mission to the United Nations), in one of the halls on the way to catch the elevator leading to the Ambassadors office. Abelardo was in a hurry with a mound of papers in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, I quickly said “hi” and as we were both travelling up to the top floor I asked: “what on earth are you doing so late in the day on a Saturday? Has somebody else decided to invade yet another sovereign state?!” Abe, said, no and then went on to explain, it was summer, and the gulf war was no longer on the table for Cuba as we were no longer members of the Security Council and since it was summer and no one was going off on vacation to the Caribbean, my father was bored and when he got bored he would find something for them to do. He said all of this in his classic ironic fashion with just the right amount of “Im loving every minute of this.” But what was this excess work load in the middle of the lethargic summer heat? Well, that´s the funny part, or the punch line of the joke. He along with the Minister Councilor, the second Ambassador, and two younger 3rd secretaries were gathering all the information my father was requesting in order to prepare a document that he would present to the General Assembly the first week in September, and would entitle: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.

It was the summer of 1992, and so it all began.

Back in 1992 when this issue was first put forth it “won” a majority of 71 abstentions ,  3 votes against and 59 votes in favor of the resolution. We are now going on the 24th year that the United Nations General Assembly puts this resolution up for a vote. Since 1993, the balance flipped and votes in favor went in the triple digits, and abstentions in this century remain steady in the single digit margin, primarily 1, 2, 3. The one thing that has remained the same, just like the song, has been the votes against. Invariably swaying from 3 or 4 to sometimes 2 and then back to 3 or 4 again.

Come the morning of October 27th of this year 2015, the UN will once again hear a speech from Bruno Rodriguez Cuba´s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It will then hold the vote and a large screen will light up with the results.

What if this year there were to be an unprecedented surprise? The United States of America has in its Constitution something which provides for a very specific and clear separation of powers. Three branches of government such that no one person or group of peoples could ever again subject the nation to any form of tyranny. You have the Congress which is the legislative power that makes the laws, the Presidency which is the executive power which carries out the laws, and then the Supreme Court which evaluates the laws. Three groups that don’t necessarily have to be in sync and as it turns out, next October 27th, they won’t be.

Since the end of last year, President Obama has been stating on camera, where ever he goes, whenever asked about Cuba and the US, when he spoke at the State of the Union, he´s probably mentioned it to his cook at the White House: the US Congress should do away with the Embargo against Cuba. His reasoning has less to do with the atrocity that the Embargo has been, subjecting the Cuban people to depravations and hardships that go beyond reason; the Embargo has been qualified by many as the longest form of warfare against a sovereign nation in the history of the world. Granted, these have not been the arguments used by the President he adheres to Einstein’s definition of insanity. Yet whatever the case, whether you do away with it because it’s insane or inhumane, the gist is to do away with it.

Now, will the US break with its forefathers system of government or should I say, put it to the test of true democratic principles of decent? Will this presidency actually prove to the world that real democracy can actually happen? Will the executive instruct its Department of State to instruct its Ambassador to abstain during the vote next Tuesday?

It would be a first and definitely a vote, if not a political step,  in the right direction.

 

Published in The Huffington Post and End the Travel Ban

The times they are a changin´… or are they?

In Blockade, Cuba/US, US on October 15, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

It was to be expected, Havana is slowly turning into the “in spot” of the hemisphere. Like the rhythmic movement of the waves in the ocean, Havana a continuum, a whole in history made up of many parts; it plays a roll, not unlike a theater production, to entertain, make a statement, and create illusion, changing while yet remaining the same.

The illusion in this case, has really been created by others who are under the impression that magically things, after December 17th of 2014, have changed in the country and that is the reason why everyone is visiting.

On a weekly basis since the beginning of the year 2015, ever since the first bilateral talks began, members of the press, the Congress, the Senate, all levels of government, the arts, sciences, intellectuals, business men and woman are prancing around town in awe.

This is not something that should shock anyone. It was to be expected. Havana had always been a sort of “private getaway” since back when Bogie and Bacall were the ¨in couple¨ and a 56´ Buick was the car of the year. So, now that it’s chic and above all, easy peasy to come down to Cuba, why not do so?

Don’t get me wrong, I am very happy actually ecstatic that so many people from the United States are taking those first baby steps and getting on flights to visit, see, scout about, gaze in awe and wonder and then go back home. I just find it funny, how suddenly it’s “ok” to come down, when the only thing that has changed on the island is technically and practically the fact that there is a US flag waving on the Malecón after 56 years. That’s it! Everything else is exactly the same.

So next time you wonder about Cuba and Havana, don’t go off thinking that things changed on the island hence making it easy for you to get there, think that things changed –somewhat- back home and now you can travel -sort of – freely down to Cuba and check the scene out.

Might be a good idea to make sure the next 16 months include steps that guarantee you make those trips as often as you desire by say eliminating stuff like, I dunno, the US Embargo against Cuba, maybe?

Tic toc Clarice

 

Also published in Latino Voices Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaritta-alarcon/the-times-they-are-a-changin_b_8306176.html

Cuba and the United States: a new era?

In Blockade, Cuba/US on February 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

On December 17, by freeing the five Cubans imprisoned for more than 16 years in the United States, President Barack Obama put an end to an excessively prolonged injustice and, at the same time, gave a change of direction to history.

By recognizing the failure of the anti-Cuban policy, restoring diplomatic relations, abolishing all restrictions within his reach, proposing the complete lifting of the blockade and the beginning of a new era in relations with Cuba –all in one speech– he broke all predictions and surprised everyone, including the brainiest analysts.
The hostile policy established by President Dwight Eisenhower(1953-1961), before the current President was born, was the rule applied–only with secondary sharing s– by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. It was eventually codified in the Helms-Burton Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996.

In the early years they practiced it quite successfully. In 1959, at the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the US was at the zenith of its power and exercised unchallenged hegemony over much of the world and especially the Western Hemisphere. This allowed it to secure the exclusion of Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS) and granting the almost total isolation of the island. Cuba could count only with the help of the Soviet Union and its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), formed by the Warsaw Pact countries.

The collapse of “real socialism” created in many the illusion that this would bring the end of the Cuban revolution.

They anticipated the advent of a long period of “uni-polar” dominance. Drunk with victory, they failed to assess correctly the depth of what was happening: the end of the Cold War opened up new spaces for social struggle, and presented capitalism with increasingly difficult challenges.
The fall of the Berlin Wall prevented them from seeing that, at the same time, in February 1989, Venezuela was shaken by a social uprising called “el Caracazo“, a sign  indicating the start of new era in Latin America.

Cuba managed to survive the demise of its former allies and its resistance was instrumental in the profound transformation of the continent. Years ago it became obvious that the policy designed to isolate Cuba was a failure. Such a policy ended up isolating the United States as its current Secretary of State, John Kerry, has recognized.

A new relationship with Cuba was indispensable for Washington. It needed to rebuild its ties with a continent that is no longer in its backyard. Achieving this is crucial now because, despite its power, the US cannot exercise the comfortable leadership it had had in times gone by.

There is still much to achieve with this new relationship. First of all, it is necessary to completely eliminate the economic, commercial and financial blockade as demanded with renewed vigor by important sectors of US business.

But normalizing relations would especially imply learning to live with the differences, and abandoning old dreams of domination. It would mean respecting the sovereign equality of states, a fundamental principle of the United Nations Charter, which, as history shows, is not liked by the powerful.

Regarding the release of the five Cuban prisoners, all US presidents without exception, have widely used the powers exclusively granted to them by Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution. This has been so for more than two centuries without anything or anyone being able to limit them.

This constitutional paragraph empowers the President to suspend the enforcement of sentences and grant pardons in cases of alleged crimes against the United States.

In the case of the Five there were more than enough reasons for executive clemency. In 2005, the panel of judges in the Court of Appeals quashed the process against them –defining it as “a perfect storm of prejudice and hostility”– and ordered a new trial.

In 2009, the full meeting of the same Court found that this case had nothing to do with espionage or the national security of the United States. Both verdicts were adopted with unanimity.

Regarding the other main charge of “conspiracy to commit murder”, made only against Gerardo Hernandez, his accusers acknowledged that it was impossible to prove this slander. They even tried to withdraw the accusation in May 2001 in an unprecedented action, taken by none other than the prosecutors under President George W. Bush (2001-2009).

For five years, Hernández had been expecting some response from the Miami court. He had made repeated requests for the court to release him, or review his case, or order the government to present the “evidence” used to convict him, or agree to hear him, or ask the government to reveal the magnitude and scope of the official financing of the massive media campaign that had created the “perfect storm”.

The Court never responded. Nothing was said by the mainstream media about the unusual legal paralysis. It was obvious that this was a political case and could only be resolved by a political decision. No one but the president could do it.

Obama showed wisdom and determination when, instead of just using his power to release any person, he courageously faced the underlying problem. The saga of the five was the result of an aggressive strategy and the wisest thing was to end both at the same time.

Nobody can ignore the significance of what was announced on 17 December. It would be wrong, however, to ignore the fact that there is still a road to travel that can be long and tortuous.  It will be necessary to move forward with strength and wisdom.

 

 A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
http://www.walterlippmann.com/docs4281.html

“Crime” & un-just Punishment

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Culture on September 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Years ago Vanessa Redgrave used the podium of the Oscars on Oscar Night to demand the rights of the Palestinian people. I remember how my mother pointed out to me that there stood a gutsy woman with principles who wasn’t going to allow an opportunity like that one pass. It was back in the early 1970’s and many more like her followed suit using the podium to voice their opinions on political and social matters.

Not that long ago, during the Bush Jr.  administrations invasion of Iraq, the Academy having learnt its lesson, prohibited any artist-presenter from using Oscar night to say anything other than what appeared on the teleprompter. This brought about an appearance of ribbons of peace on the lapels of those who were against the invasion and ribbons in red white and blue donned by those who supported the idea and or the troops.

People in the US have learned that certain podiums are simply considered inappropriate for certain outburst s of opinions.

Is this correct?

Well, no. Not everyone is in favor of establishing guidelines regarding freedom of speech. But there is an issue of ethics in the Amy Vanderbilt sort of way. One would never expect it to be appropriate to shout out in favor of the use of condoms and abortion rights in the middle of a televised wedding for example, although your right to express yourself should never be prohibited.

Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the imprisonment of 5 Cubans, known in Cuba as Heroes and incarcerated in US federal prisons wrongly accused of acts that garnered them sentences from two life sentences to 15 years.

The Cuban government organized a live concert at an open air esplanade where over 30 artists performed honoring these men and demanding that they be set free. People in attendance had yellow ribbons tied to their wrists, around their necks as scarves or on their lapels.  Ribbons were also tied to the many flag posts that separate the esplanade from the US Interest Section in Havana. Yellow ribbons indicating as they do in the US that Cubans want the Cuban Five back home where they belong.

Nearing the end  of the concert was a performance by one of Cuba’s foremost musicians, Robertico Carcassés who is the director and pianist of Interactivo (Interactive) a jazz fusion band which by all accounts is the Suma Cum Laude of musical and artistic excellence.

During the presentation, Carcassés stepped aside from his piano and began to improvise lyrics. During this improvisation he turned around and faced the US Interest Section and requested the Cuban Five be released. He also demanded an end to the 50+ year embargo the US has against Cuba and the internal embargo Cuba has against Cuba. He requested freedom of information on the island, facilitation rights in order to acquire a car and direct voting rights in order to elect a president. He also requested freedom for  “Maria”. (Street term for marijuana).

All of this is really not news to most Cubans. The internal blockade as many refer to it on the island has been an issue that goes back in time. It speaks against red tape, stupidity, and restrictions. A change to the electoral system is something that some, not that many in reality, also have issues with. In my personal opinion, the idea is beautiful but was only good on paper and stone, it died along with the Greeks as have the many columns they once built; true democracy simply doesn’t exist – at least not for now – anywhere in the world. But again, he has the right to dream.

The following day he and his band mates were called to the Cuban Institute of Music and were informed that Carcassés actions the night before had been inappropriate, self serving and were not in line with what the concert had been designed for.  This may or not be true, and it definitely is a matter of opinion. He was then informed that he would not be allowed to perform live till further notice.

Going too far?

If one agrees that a live concert honoring Five Cuban men who have dedicated the better part of their lives to protecting their home land against acts of terrorism,  is not the place for one individual to voice concerns ranging from authorization to buy a car to changing the voting process in Cuba, one also has to bear in mind that prohibiting an artist from performing goes beyond inappropriate, it is downright insane.

Yes , he could have chosen a different place to voice his opinions, yes,  some of those opinions may not necessarily be the most important issues that are wrong with the Cuban Revolution. But in the end, when you come right down to it, the punishment doesn’t  fit the “crime”.

Roberto Carcassés is a 41 year old musician not a politician. He is a man with an enormous following inside and outside of the island, he is living proof that the system of musical education in Cuba is as good as any anywhere in the world, and last week, he not only voiced his personal opinion on aspects within the country that he believes need be mended, he also turned around faced the US Interest Section in Havana and called for an end to the embargo and the freedom of the Cuban Five.

In my book,  when  someone like him does what he did,  and gets the word out on issues that are close to the Cuban peoples hearts, he doesn’t deserve a reprimand, heck! he deserves a medal.

… to err os human, to forgive divine http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2013-09-18/cuban-troubadour-singers-concert-ban-lifted

Breaking down Barriers

In Arts, Blockade, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, Politics on April 12, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

I truly love New York. I was there when the City was christened with the term “The Big Apple” and way before the t-shirt and mug craze of the heart everywhere.

The thing is though, that my love for the City stems from its pulse. It´s magical and I don’t mean the hustle and bustle of endless lines of bright yellows and the tallest MTA buses ever known to mankind. In my case it’s the people. New York City has a magic that comes from the people that inhabit the City. They are, well, just different. Ruder and cruder than those from the Midwest, faster and blunter than the South, more fashion obsessed and obsessive than the West Coast; they are difficult and easy in the same proportion depending on your perspective. Putting it simply, a New Yorker wants it when they want it because they want it.

I guess it is precisely because of this that it had to take a native from Brooklyn  to start a commotion that has blown away all other news on Cuba this past week. When Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z came down to Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary it took little time for people on the island to find out, in spite of the fact that not a single Cuban news outlet gave word of the event till it was just unstoppable.

It wasn’t a tough guess that the Cuban American congressional lobby was going to lash out at this with all its might. And it did. Representatives Mario Diaz Balart and Ileana Ross Lehtinen both voiced concerned over the trip and began demanding that the Treasury Department inform if the couple had travelled legally (under an issued licence) or not. Normally what would have happened, as it has in the past, would have been a statement by the couples press rep in a public press conference or directly to both members of Congress and that would have been that.

Not this time.

For years I have been personally waiting for someone, anyone, of a certain social public clout to come down to Cuba, have a good time, and then go back to the US and make a shtick about it.

Well,  Jay Z did it. He not only came down with Beyoncé on a valid OFAC licence but he went all out and responded to anyone interested by writing a rap on the whole issue.

It took a New Yorker,  a hip hop artist in the true sense of being a New Yorker, to start the ball rolling and get everyone involved.

In the words of Cheryl Contee published today in The Guardian “Jay-Z’s rap struck a chord because America is ready to drop the Cuba embargo. Let’s hope President Obama is listening.”

Cuba and the Beyonce Effect

In Blockade, Politics on April 9, 2013 at 10:10 am

By Arturo López-Levy

Published originally in the  Huffington Post 

Every once in a while something happens to remind us just how far U.S.-Cuba relations have deviated from what they should be. Last week, superstars Beyonce Knowles-Carter and Jay-Z strolled through Havana, engulfed in a sea of people. The couple went to Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary but could not pass through the city unnoticed like they may have wished. They are at the peak of their artistic careers and my adolescent niece Sophia, to whom I have tried to explain the poetry of Bob Dylan, cannot believe that I don’t know any Beyonce songs.

The fact is that for some reason, probably associated with the cultural and people-to-people exchanges, promoted by the Obama administration, Beyonce and Jay Z went to Habana Vieja, a World Heritage site, and visited with young Cubans at schools of art and dance. The couple dined in a privately-owned restaurant “La Guarida,” where the famous 1990s movie Strawberry and Chocolate, with a clear anti-homophobic message, was filmed. The privately-owned restaurant represents a new era in Cuba, with a growing non-state economic sector and an environment much more tolerant of social and religious diversity, still under a single party system.

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View from balcony at La Guarida crowds gather in anticipation of a glimpse of the couple.

Reactions in the U.S. were immediate. What should merely be a trip abroad, a right protected by the U.S. constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has become a political kerfuffle. Mauricio Claver-Carone, the chief pro-embargo lobbyist in Washington, lashed out against the trip accusing Beyonce of being a tool of “Castro propaganda,” because her trip to Cuba this week “stole” the spot light from opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez, on tour in the United States. As he commonly does, speaking about a Cuba he had never visited, Claver-Carone wrongly declared that the restaurants in which the couple ate were all owned by Cuban government officials. Can he tell us which particular high government position Enrique, the owner of “La Guarida” for the last fifteen years, holds?

Miami Herald columnist Myriam Marquez, who hosted Yoani Sanchez’s visit to the Freedom Tower, denounced the Cuban government for “the calibrated juxtaposition of BeJay’s arrival in La Habana late last week with Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez’s departure from Little Havana.” As Cuban-American blogger Alejandro Barreras satirically writes:

“So the Cuban regime, in all their devilish cunning, planned five years ago for Beyonce and Jay Z to marry on a certain date, so that their fifth anniversary would coincide with a visit to the United States of an opposition blogger who was just starting to obtain international acclaim, thanks to travel reforms that nobody back then could have seen coming. (Don’t laugh, it is called quinquennial planning).”

Not to be left out, Cuban-American U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart requested information about the trip from the Treasury Department, suggesting a possible violation of the U.S. policy to isolate Cuba. How has the policies of a great democratic power like the U.S. fallen into the hands of such a paranoid and intolerant bunch?

Meanwhile adolescents ask their parents where Cuba is and why can’t they go to this country with such good music and beautiful people and beaches if it’s only 90 miles away. If the U.S. is not a communist country, why does it restrict the rights of its citizens to travel? Most people in the U.S. would be shocked by the irrationality of U.S. policy toward Cuba, anchored in the cold war.

The Beyonce effect is a call to take a fresh look at the U.S. policy toward Cuba with the candidness of an adolescent. It is difficult to defend a policy that stomps on the same rights it preaches. Since the migratory reforms made by Cuba in January, that eliminated most of the restrictions on travel from the totalitarian period, Cubans, under a communist regime have fewer legal impediments to visiting the U.S. than U.S. citizens have to visiting Cuba.

It is time to align our policies with our principles. As President Kennedy said before the Brandenburg Gate at the climax of the Cold War, “Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us” and as his brother Bobby wrote in a memo to Secretary of State Dean Rusk on December 12, 1963, urging an end to the travel ban, the freedom to travel “is more consistent with our views as a free society and would contrast with such things as the Berlin Wall and communist controls on such travel.”

If Beyonce and Jay-Z visit President Obama in the future, they should remind him that he himself called the embargo an irrational policy that “only hurts the innocent people of Cuba.” At the very least, Obama should listen to a growing group of U.S. Congress members, lead by Representative Sam Farr (D-Calif.), who are again asking him to allow all categories of non-tourist travel to be carried out under a general license. This would remove bureaucratic obstacles that currently prevent many Americans, who are interested in people-to-people engagement, from visiting the island. Interacting with Cuba should not be a privilege exclusive to celebrities.

Thank you Beyonce and Jay-Z. Welcome to the club of those anathematized and cursed by the McCarthyism of the embargo supporters. The travel ban is against the interests of the U.S. and is an affront to its democratic values. Thank you for your unintended clarion call to the conscience of your fellow citizens about a policy that is irrational, and anti-American.

Cross Cuba off the blacklist

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Fidel Castro Ruz, History, Politics, US on March 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

The nation has long since changed the behavior that earned it a U.S. designation as a sponsor of terrorism.

Editorial in todays Los Angeles Times

Washington has for three decades kept Cuba on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, even though it has long since changed the behavior that earned it that distinction. By all accounts, Cuba remains on the list — alongside Iran, Sudan and Syria — because it disagrees with the United States’ approach to fighting international terrorism, not because it supports terrorism. That’s hardly a sensible standard.

The State Department says it has no plans to remove Cuba from the list. But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who recently led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Havana, is urging President Obama to consider a range of policy changes toward Cuba, including delisting it, which would not require congressional approval. Designation as a state sponsor of terrorism carries heavy sanctions, including financial restrictions and a ban on defense

None of the reasons that landed Cuba on the list in 1982 still exist. A 2012 report by the State Department found that Havana no longer provides weapons or paramilitary training to Marxist rebels in Latin America or Africa. In fact, Cuba is currently hosting peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and President Juan Manuel Santos’ government. And Cuban officials condemned the 9.9/11 attacks on the United States.

Moreover, keeping Cuba on the list undermines Washington’s credibility in Latin America. During last year’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, presidents from the hemisphere expressed frustration that the U.S. remains frozen in its relations with Cuba, enforcing an embargo that dates to the Kennedy administration.

Cuba is not a model state. The government often fails to observe human rights. Its imprisonment of Alan Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who was sentenced to a 15-year jail term in 2009 after bringing communications equipment into the country, has prompted repeated visits to the island by U.S. officials seeking to secure his release.

The list, however, is reserved not for human rights violators but for countries that export or support terrorism. Clinging to that designation when the evidence for it has passed fails to recognize Cuba’s progress and reinforces doubts about America’s willingness to play fair in the region.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

A walk in the Park

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, Blockade, CAFE, Cuban 5, Cuban Embargo, US on December 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm

 

 

Margarita Alarcón Perea

 

I loved growing up in New York City. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island each borough has its own appeal. You didn’t even have to leave the island to enjoy life at the fullest and for very little money.

My mother used to take me to Little Italy for fresh canolli and then expect me not to be fat. She would romp around with me over on the Lower East Side hunting for good material to go and sew in Queens over at a fiends home.

Central Park was the place to ride a bike in the spring and summer on Sundays and Shakespeare in the Park was the way to end the days, learning about Tragedy and Comedy and Love through the minds and the voices of some of the greats, was the main course after throwing a Frisbee all afternoon and stuffing our faces with the best hot dogs in town.

School was easy. It was a drive down the FDR in the morning and a stay by the water. It was a time where gum and Marlboros were the forbidden fruits at UNIS (our Alma Mater back then). Where running in the halls was a mayor “no, no” and water fights in the stairwell could get you expelled. Metal detectors weren’t  part of the scenario back then. Ironically, Punk Rock and the rise of Heavy Metal were.

I still miss those days and had always been dreaming of someday having a child and being able to have him or her relive my life back then.

I have the child, he is in grade school. He lives with me here in Havana. I tell him about UNIS, and Central Park, and Shakespeare and the hot dogs on 5th Avenue. He wants to visit my home town, I think he somehow knows how close the City is to me. What he doesn’t know is that my dream of having him there is slowly slipping away.

Cuba is a place full of problems and troubles. It is a small island with hardly any natural resources to speak of. It has been enduring a fifty year old economic blockade which has made life very difficult for everyone on the island. Especially children. Schools don’t have the best food for lunch and snacks, teachers often have to create impromptu teaching materials, uniforms don’t come easy. Even a pencil can be a thing to worry about. The school buildings are in much decay for the most part. At times, playing in the yard can be more of an obstacle race against holes and torn down fences than anything else.

It is also a country where children and Jose Martí are taken very seriously. Marti once said that children were born to be happy, and in Cuba this is a maximum that at times can be almost infuriating. You can’t scold your child on the street without expecting to someone to come up to you and softly intervene, at times simply hoping that your anger will subside with the tone of the persons voice. Kids are often seen running amok anywhere in town and far from being reprimanded, someone will always be at hand to say, “forgive them, they are young!”

Yet,  it is still a country where many parents fear for how well they are feeding their children, how good an education they may be getting, how far in the world they will actually go.

For all of the troubles we go through, there is one thing we have as a guarantee: Cuban mothers will never ever have to go through what those families in Newtown Connecticut are going to have to deal with.

I’m not sure how much Cuba could teach the US on this and other issues, but something tells me there are more cards on the table than meets the eye.

Gross Accepted Project in Cuba Without Knowing Risks, Lawyer Says

In ACLU, Alan Gross, Blockade, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, US on December 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Risky business…

By Maria Peña WASHINGTON –

The U.S. subcontractor Alan Gross, a prisoner in Cuban since 2009, was no James Bond, just someone who undertook a project without knowing what the risks were, but convinced that if any problems should arise, the United States and the company that contracted him would come to his aid, his lawyer, Scott Gilbert, told Efe. Now 63, Gross was detained in Havana three years ago in possession of satellite communications equipment he was planning to distribute among Cuba’s Jewish community under a contract with a firm hired by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Gross and his wife Judy filed a $60 million lawsuit last month against USAID and contractor DAI for allegedly failing to inform Alan of the risks associated with the mission or provide him with protection.

―The State Department has said publicly in the press that they knew that Alan was being sent to Cuba with devices that were illegal in Cuba … how can the U.S. government send a civilian to Cuba knowing that?‖ Gilbert said during an extensive interview at the offices of his Washington law firm.

Havana says Gross was illegally aiding dissidents and inciting subversion on the Communist-ruled island. Last August, Cuba’s highest court upheld the 15-year jail sentence imposed on the American five months earlier. U.S. officials and the Gross family demand his unconditional release, insisting that Gross did nothing wrong and is a humanitarian worker dedicated to Jewish causes.

Gross made five trips in 2009 – he was arrested during the last one on Dec. 3 – and according to the lawsuit, in his reports on the third and fourth trips he had started sounding the alarm about what a high-risk mission this was. ―I can tell you categorically that Alan Gross did not expect to be apprehended or detained in Cuba or spend one night in custody,‖ Gilbert said. ―For Alan, it’s been a Kafka-like experience every step of the way.‖ ―When Alan raised concerns about the trips they essentially said to him either you finish this project or we’ll find somebody else to do it,‖ the Gross family attorney said. ―Alan believed they (USAID) were looking out for him and that they would never let him get into a situation where direct harm would come to him,‖ Gilbert added. ―I believe that Alan is a very idealistic individual, idealistic to the point of being even potentially somewhat naive,‖ the lawyer said, insisting that ―USAID and DAI never should have approved this project in the first place.‖ ―

They violated their duties to Alan (and) their own rules,‖ Gilbert said of the defendants in the suit. In parallel to the lawsuit, another Gross attorney, Jared Genser, is collaborating with public relations efforts and a campaign to pressure the U.S. and Cuba to sit down and negotiate a solution. The Gross family is asking President Barack Obama to designate a special envoy with full authority to negotiate with Cuba. EFE