Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘Cuba US relations’

The Post-Castro Era Is Today

In Asamblea Nacional/National Assembly, CAFE, Fidel Castro Ruz, Politics, US on January 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

 

By Julia E. Sweig 

First published in Portuguese in Folha de Sao Paulo.

 

The post-Castro era in Cuba has arrived. But its main architect is Raul Castro. His reform agenda does not have the formulaic recitations of a political science textbook or the guidelines of an IMF structural adjustment program. No multiparty elections. No Starbucks, Walmart, or Burger King. Not much independent media. But little by little Cuba is undergoing a significant transformation in the basic expectations Cuban citizens have of the state, and vice versa. Lula’s visit this week may focus on Venezuela, but all around him Cuba is becoming a freer, more open, and yes, more democratic society.

Earlier this month, a new law took effect that eliminates restrictions on travel for almost everyone: Cubans no longer need pay exorbitant fees or await the “tarjeta blanca”—state permission—to travel. Now, they need only a visa, like the rest of the world. And if they want to live and work abroad, Cubans will no longer lose their property or residence status: a big step forward for freedom and human rights, and a potential economic boon as well.

Business and profit are no longer dirty words. Senior officials project that with new laws and regulations empowering small businesses, within five years fully 50 percent of the economy will be in private, non-state hands. Under the new rules, individuals and cooperatives can now hire employees, obtain bank financing, procure inputs from wholesale markets, and turn a profit. There are myriad problems for sure: but these are increasingly of a practical, not ideological nature, more about the need to build capacity and experience, whereas before the private sector was viewed as a necessary evil. Now this new space has legitimacy and legality.

A progressive tax system is also taking shape. This is not a mere technical adjustment. With the new decentralization, state and municipal government will raise and spend their budgets from tax revenue collected at the base, with the federal government paying a much reduced slate of costs—mainly education, health and defense. Cubans are used to getting everything for free. The notion that they will work, pay taxes, and receive health, education and a pension but not much more, represents a radical political shift.

Next month Raul Castro begins his second and very likely final five-year term as president of the Cuban republic. The slate of candidates represents a big demographic and political step forward. Some 67 percent of the candidates for 612 seats are completely new picks, and of these, more than 70 percent were born after 1959. Women comprise 49 percent of the candidates and Afro descendants 37 percent. Cuban voters will be asked to check yea or nay from this new list, so it’s not a direct competition. But if you want to understand where the successors to the post post-Castro era may come from, I’d look at this new group.

Is Obama Acting Pragmatically in the Alan Gross Case?

In Alan Gross, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Politics, US on January 22, 2013 at 1:16 pm

 

Professor López-Levy offers irrefutable proof that the situation in the case of Alan Gross has no other option than serious negotiation by the governments of Cuba and the United States. Prisoner exchange may be the only viable option, even when the two cases, that of Mr Gross working as a paid contractor violating Cuban law and that of the Cuban Five infiltrating paramilitary groups aiming to wrought violence against Cuba, are no  where close to being similar. -MAP

 

By Arturo López-Levy

This article was originally published at Sharnoffs Global Views 

 

The worst managed issue between Cuba and the United States during Obama and Raul Castro’s first terms has been the detention of USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned in a Cuban military hospital since December 3, 2009. Shirking the first requirement of pragmatism, namely “facing the facts,” the Obama Administration has created its own fictional narrative that contradict even its own documents now available to the public.

Gross is an American international development expert who entered Cuba as a non registered foreign agent. As a USAID subcontractor, his mission was to create a wireless Internet satellite network based on Jewish community centers that would circumvent Cuban government detection. The USAID program was approved under section 109 of the Helms-Burton Act, a law committed to regime change in Cuba.

Gross’s actions were covert. He never obtained the informed consent of the Cuban government or the Cuban Jewish community, which has always expressed opposition to the Helms-Burton law, particularly its attempt to politicize religious communities as tools to promote opposition groups. Mr. Gross did not know Cuba and did not speak Spanish. He loved Cuban music but that is hardly a qualifier for the type of covert mission he received from Development Alternatives Initiatives (DAI), a contractor for the US government.

All this is well-known, but Washington maintains that Gross did humanitarian work in Cuba. The US insists that the international community simply misunderstands the Helms-Burton law; it doesn’t violate Cuba’s sovereignty. USAID claims that Cuban civil society, religious groups and even dissidents who criticize the Helms-Burton approach are mistaken. The Helms-Burton law helps them; they just don’t realize it.

A new declassified document of a USAID task force associated with Gross indicates a pattern of consistent misinformation. At the head of a list of go-to-sources of information on Cuba, the program recommended Babalu blog, an irrelevant website managed by rabid pro-embargo elements.

Babalu blog does not focus on Cuba but on spreading baseless accusations and insults against Obama and his administration’s policy towards Cuba. According to one of the less insulting posts, Obama is a “Marxist tyrant” along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry and any Cuban-American or American who disagrees with Babalu Blog writers’ McCarthyism. The fact that USAID Cuba program recommends Babalu Blog as a reliable source of information is in itself a call for closing the program until some adult guidance is guaranteed.

A message from Planet Earth to the Obama Administration

Every day Gross spends behind bars is an embarrassment for the American government. If anybody wonders why Havana is opposed to USAID plans to create Internet connections that circumvent its capacity to monitor traffic should read David Sanger’s new book Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power. “Olympic Games” was the code name for Stuxnet, a cyber worm that caused major disruptions in Iran’s nuclear program. According to Sanger, it was “the most sophisticated, complex cyber-attack the United States ever launched.”

But should Americans participating in USAID programs in Cuba worry about this? Cuban government officials don’t read capitalist newspapers. Oh, wait, sure they do! A team in Havana analyzes US publications, alerting their superiors of potential threats to Cuba’s national security. Although Mr. Sanger’s book was published after Gross was arrested, Cuban officials have already read and analyzed it.

But, Cuba is not Iran. Havana is not a nuclear proliferator and everybody in Washington knows that Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism is a sham. The use of the Stuxnet cyber worm against Iran was justified. The Iranian nuclear military program is an existential threat to Israel and a game changer of the balance of power in the Gulf against the United States and its Arab allies. Iran has lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its facilities and programs.

So why would Cuban leaders fear a US cyber attack? A pragmatic approach calls for looking at how Cuba’s government views the issue. The Castros didn’t get where they are without studying Washington’s treatment of Cuba over the years. It turns out that declassified US documents reveal that efforts to overthrow the Cuban government have at times been more sophisticated than what even communist propaganda denounced. Everything has been on the table, including using the mafia to kill Fidel Castro. Washington might consider the USAID Cuba project peaceful. But any hope of Cuban accommodation to its current regime change design is unrealistic.

Time for a pragmatic approach

The Obama Administration’s cordial attitude towards the Cuban-American old-guard is a bizarre ideological commitment to those who did everything possible to prevent his reelection. Hard-liners’ insistence on rejecting negotiations in the Gross case is a transparent attempt to torpedo Obama’s overall dialogue approach with our adversaries, even when it clearly serves American national interests.

Whether American diplomats realize it or not, the Obama Administration’s fixation on Cuba’s unilateral release of Gross is making US policy looks amateurish. Even if Washington considers it unreasonable for Cuba to link Gross to the five Cuban agents arrested in Florida, it makes no sense to put on hold constructive proposals for better relations in other areas. Obama’s legacy in the hemisphere will suffer if he wastes his second term flexibility to improve US-Cuba relations because of unrealistic expectations. Incidentally, the probability of releasing Gross will improve as general relations do.

A central characteristic of pragmatism is the analysis of every challenge on its own merits without attempting to litigate, once again, yesterday’s battles. Continuing to operate our Cuba policy under an old and failed “regime change” strategy ignores the fact that the regime will soon change organically. Moving toward a comprehensive policy of engagement now is in the national interest of the United States, and is certainly in the best interests of Alan and Judy Gross.

Changes in Cuba met with ‘Buts’ from the US

In CAFE, Cuba/US, US on January 18, 2013 at 10:46 am

By Fernando Ravsberg

Original Spanish version in Cartas desde Cuba

 

President Barack Obama has just announced that US citizens will be allowed to freely travel to Cuba. The measure was adopted in response to the immigration reforms implemented by Havana on January 14.

Actually this news isn’t true, but it could be if there were serious attempts at rapprochement. It wouldn’t be bad policy to take simultaneous steps, especially since it’s been proven that only one side demanding changes doesn´t work.

Even if complete understanding isn’t finally achieved, at least there would be gains for the two peoples – for Cuban’s (who now have the right to travel abroad) and for Americans (who would regain the freedom to visit Cuba without having to seek special permission from Washington).

In few countries do visitors from another one feel so much at ease. Culturally, Miami is almost a province of the island, it’s a place where Cuban visitors feel at home, while Cuba has become one of the safest countries for US citizens.

Despite the historical bilateral political confrontation, on the island itself,  there are none of the  anti-American sentiments that abound in other countries. “Yumas” (“Gringos”) are treated with warmth and can walk the streets without any fear.

The arrival of John Kerry to the State Department could be a good omen. People continue to note that this American politician, a Vietnam veteran, was one of the promoters of restoring and normalizing relations with that Asian nation.

In the case of Cuba, he requested investigations into the funds that Washington grants to Cuban exiles to overthrow Raul Castro. He even dared to question the multi-million dollar federal government funding of TV Marti, a station that no one on the island can watch.

I imagine this isn’t a case of Kerry supporting Cuban socialism; rather it seems he’s bothered by seeing so much of taxpayer’s money being spent on programs that produce the opposite effect of what is actually intended by Washington.

Apparently the Democratic senator believes that isolation isn’t an effective tool for affecting change on the island. On the contrary, he believes that visits by millions of Americans could eventually bring about more openness.

The visit to Cuba by a retired Americans couple would hardly cause an uprising, but its upshot could be the expansion of internal debate on the island.It’s hard to know if he’s right, but after 50 years of a failed policy, it wouldn’t hurt to try new methods. I really don’t think gringo tourists will serve for political proselytizing, but putting an end to foreign aggression would contribute to expanding internal debate in Cuba.

Undoubtedly the confrontation with the US is one of the factors that has prevented debate in Cuba. Few people on the island are willing to join Washington’s positions. Some don’t want to be accused of being mercenaries, but others stand opposed to the US purely out of nationalism.

The Cuban Revolution is not the cause but the result of Washington’s policies toward Cuba for centuries (i.e. the “ripe fruit” doctrine, the exclusion of the mambi independence fighters from the declaration of independence, the Platt Amendment, military invasions, etc.).

Ironing out these rough edges will take more than a visit to Havana by a retired couple from Michigan. What will be needed is the both  countries approach one another step by step, with each making small concessions, with each advancing  without expecting the other to be the only one that comes closer.

It’s true that Obama lifted the restrictions that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had applied regarding travel to the island by emigrants; he also made it easier to send remittances. But no other steps have been taken,  meanwhile Cuban society continues  bringing about transformations.

The United States is missing opportunities. Cuba’s economic opening (with self-employed workers, the redistribution of land, access to foreign capital for agricultural development, etc.) deserved a response  that could have been some sort of easing of the embargo.

Likewise, the mass release of political prisoners was received without a response from Washington, though for years the release of these prisoners was one of the main public demands made by the White House.

Now Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, simply recognizes immigration reform as positive,and then in the same sentence immediately disqualifies the island by stating “Cuba remains one of the most repressive countries in the world.”

Each new change weakens Washington’s arguments in its confrontation with Havana. The arrival of Kerry could lead to rapprochement, or at the very least a fresh batch of  “buts” questioning reforms with a bit more originality.
—–

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

A Glimmer of Hope Obama, Cuba and United States

In Alan Gross, Blockade, CAFE, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on November 14, 2012 at 11:27 am
 
 By Benjamin Willis
Originally published in CAFEPROCUBA

Although most progressives would agree that last Tuesday’s elections did little to resolve the overwhelming list of challenges that faces our nation there is a glimmer of hope that the United States is inevitably moving towards a policy of engagement and normalization with Cuba.  Barack Obama and the Democratic party showed that they were able to listen to voices within the Cuban American community crying out for a new stance towards the island of their families and heritage over the din of distorted hysteria projected by the historical Cuban exile community of southern Florida. As a result, Obama took a record amount of the Cuban American votes in Miami-Dade County and Democrat Joe Garcia easily beat the hapless Republican incumbent David Rivera for Florida’s 26th congressional district.

These victories for candidates who have demonstrated a clear intention to work towards a more “normal” policy with Cuba reflect the desire for both political parties to acknowledge the raw statistics of public opinion polls in both Florida and across the United States concerning current policy towards Cuba. For decades voters flocked to Republican politicians who were willing to cozy up to criminals such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles in order to project a hard-line approach. Now, it seems as though the Cuban Americans of Miami are abandoning their blind support for the policy of economic strangulation that is the United States embargo towards Cuba.

Outside of Florida, gains in the senate by Democrats in races that were all but gift-wrapped for the Republicans just three months ago bode well for what will eventually be a long slog through both houses in order to finally dismantle the Helms-Burton Act, the codification of the odious embargo that was universally denounced in the UN this past Tuesday, November 13th.

Obama and his legacy

For the short term, an Obama re-election may be exactly what proponents of engagement with Cuba need. Even though it will take a persistent campaign designed to eventually repeal Helms-Burton there are several things that Obama can do to improve our relations with the island through either executive order or through good old-fashioned diplomacy.

If Obama could have run on his record of pursuing a different policy with Cuba he might have been able to convince even more Americans to vote for him.  In contrast to the empty promises he gave his supporters concerning tackling global-warming, pursuing peace, and rebuilding America’s manufacturing base with “green” jobs, his success at re-drawing the “line in the sand” between the U.S. and Cuba has been a positive step towards redefining America’s policy towards the communist nation.

Obama’s decision to scrap George W. Bush’s policies of allowing Cuban Americans to travel to the island only once every three years was an easy, yet necessary step.  He changed regulations in favor for open travel to the island by Cuban Americans in 2009. Remittances were also allowed to be sent and have helped family members on the island to set up private businesses in Cuba’s nascent mixed economy that has resulted from the economic reforms that the Cuban government has implemented in the past few years.  All of these decisions have been applauded throughout the Cuban American community.  Unfortunately, Cuban Americans have had to defend these inalienable rights, not privileges, because elected politicians from their own community like David Rivera, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Marco Rubio have attacked such actions as “appeasement”.  Their visceral hate for the Castros has been put in front of the rights of their own constituents to be able to reconnect with family members and their own heritage and culture.

Obama not only helped to open travel for Cuban Americans but also re-implemented the “people-to-people” policy in 2011 that allows for special licenses to be granted to any American citizens in order to visit Cuba for academic, cultural, religious, and some commercial endeavors.  Such licenses allow for American citizens to see first-hand the realities of Cuba that often don’t mesh with the spurious claims of Marco Rubio and his cohorts.

When the issuance or renewal of said licenses were halted in August there was a warranted amount of skepticism that this program would not be continued until after the election. Surprisingly, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Accounts Control (OFAC) began issuing licenses in October. In previous years such a gesture would be seized upon by the Cuban exile community of Miami and magnified into scandalous proportions. This was not the case and Obama obviously reaped the benefits of not kowtowing to such extremists in this election.

Cynics will point out that Obama has disappointed in almost every way possible and that he is not interested in implementing real change in U.S. foreign policy. As far as Cuba is concerned, he may have no choice. This year’s Summit of the America’s the POTUS found out exactly how frustrated the rest of the hemisphere is with this nation, especially in regards to our refusal to recognize Cuba’s rightful participation in the summit. Several nations have vowed to boycott any further summits until the issue of Cuba is addressed. The rest of Latin America looks upon the U.S. with resentment because of decades of imposed colonial imperialism and our continued hostility towards Cuba is just another reminder to all Latin Americans of our continued arrogance and hubris.

Obama and the American political class need to see the writing on the wall. No positive result can come from continually denying Cuba its proper place at the international table.  Engagement with Cuba is simply better business than Uncle Sam’s archaic embargo and Obama is just pragmatic enough to understand this. There are some key issues that need to be addressed and proponents of normalization hope the president acts swiftly.

First, Cuba’s placement on the State Sponsors of Terrorism is unnecessary and Obama could change that.  The designation of Cuba as a country with a profile that fits this description was always dubious. Cuba exported revolution, not terrorism, and it has been almost thirty years since Cuban trained revolutionary forces were inflicting heavy damages on U.S.-backed mercenary forces in Africa, Nicaragua, and other areas of conflict during the Cold War. At no point did these forces use tactics that could be construed as terrorism.

Hardliners point to Cuba’s asylum to members of the FARC and ETA as examples of aiding and abetting terrorists, even though these organizations designation as terrorists obfuscates the truth about either movement. The Basque separatists are actually there at the urging of the Spanish government and the officials of the FARC and Columbian government have agreed to meet for the first formal talks in ten years in La Habana later this week after preliminary talks in Norway in October.

What kind of State Sponsor of Terror nation holds peace negotiations?

Cuba’s continued appearance on this list trivializes the very real threats of terrorism that our nation faces and negates the opportunity for the U.S. and Cuba to cooperate on important matters of regional security that correspond to both nations.

Secondly, Obama could dramatically open up diplomatic ties between the two countries.  Two major cases have been obstacles that have stood in the way of progress between the two nations.

One is Alan Gross. The other is the Cuban five.

While there are calls for a direct exchange between the two parties for these prisoners the best course of action would be to solve either case according to its own merits.  In both cases an increased amount of diplomacy will be needed and Obama could order a high level official to meet with representatives of the Cuban government in order to facilitate some end to the impasse that these cases have caused. Until now, Senators, congressmen, and civil servants with years of negotiating, like Bill Richardson, have been sent to La Habana. It’s time for the Secretary of State, whomever that may be, to make a historical trip and see if they can earn their paycheck.

This past week it was announced that Obama would be visiting Myanmar. The list of human rights abuses by the leaders of that nation makes Cuba look like Sweden. There is no excuse for not reaching out to a country like Cuba if we are planning on forgiving Myanmar for its sins long enough to visit them.

Thirdly, a broader interpretation of “people-to-people” licenses will be the best way for Americans to see for themselves that we have nothing to fear from the Cubans and everything to gain from a reciprocal relation with the island. The travel ban, or more precisely, the violation of the fundamental constitutional right of Americans to travel, is something that the president can ease if not completely do away with.  Cuba has recently made bold reforms in immigration laws that were designed to avoid “brain drain” during the Cold War. Gone are the requisite for an exit visa and other laws that made leaving Cuba almost impossible. Now, the only restriction for travel is that of the United States towards its own citizens.

These steps could help in the battle to eventually bring about real change. The exceedingly low-hanging fruit that Cuba represents would be easy to pick for Obama and would do wonders for a president seeking to try and secure his legacy. Presidential first terms are all about getting re-elected. Second terms are about leaving something behind that people will remember you by.

Miami’s Changing of the Guard

Exit polling in Miami-Dade County illustrates how the tide is turning in Cuban American political affiliation. Obama nearly split the votes with Romney among Cuban Americans across the county by taking between 48% and 53% (depending on which poll you want to believe) of the votes.  This is a monumental gain since 2000 when Bush carried over 75% of the Cuban American vote in Miami-Dade.

Joe Garcia’s election speaks volumes as to how the demographics of Cuban Americans, especially in Miami, are changing. This turning of the tide can be attributed to many factors but, most importantly, it appears as though Cuban Americans who have arrived since the Mariel boatlift are becoming increasingly involved in the political process. While most of the Cubans who arrived shortly after the revolution consider themselves political refugees, the newer generations often had to leave because of economic reasons.  These newcomers lived in Cuba during both good times and bad and are unwilling to accept the hardliners positions which are often articulated out of fear, ignorance, and loathing. The recalcitrant old-timers have had years to intimidate anybody who even suggested that Cuba should be spoken about in a respectful, positive manner. Their message is that of hysteria, hatred, and that killing innocents is perfectly acceptable. Hopefully, their time of controlling the narrative has come to an end.

The largest impediment for normalizing relations with Cuba has always been Miami Cubans.  It was ludicrous for any presidential to criticize our backward policy towards the island because it was thought that such a mistake would cost him the all important electoral votes of the “swing state” of Florida. If the Cuban American community can prove that it is indeed a diverse group of ideas and opinions and that the majority does not support the embargo and our retrograde position towards Cuba then politicians will be able to express what they truly feel about such a policy without the fear of a backlash that could sink their campaign.

It should be said that Garcia was president of the Cuban American National Foundation, an organization that has lobbied for the embargo and for strict measures against the Castro government. He is not anti-embargo, per se, but he has taken a positive stance on travel and remittances to the island and has challenged the status quo on bringing about change in Cuba. His maturation on several issues reflects the Cuban American community’s evolving stance on the same issues.

Regardless of his positions on the minute details of our policy with the island his election is part of a monumental sea change that is happening in Miami that is bigger than him or his electoral victory. Hopefully, he will provide a counterbalance to the Cuban American congressional cabal that lost a congressman but gained a senator in Ted Cruz from Texas.

Gaining ground

Last Tuesday’s elections proved to be a massive failure for the Republicans. Mitt Romney may never have had more then a puncher’s chance at gaining the white house but his party seemed poised to take a majority in the Senate. However, the American public decided that candidates who understand rape to be “God’s way” of ensuring that the human race procreate should not be given the task of making important decisions that affect the entire nation. Victories by Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin were unexpected but welcome to those who wish this country to make serious changes towards adopting reasonable policies for working class people. Hopefully, they will have a more intelligent stance on foreign policy as well.

For proponents of engagement with Cuba it is understood that in order to repeal the Helms-Burton Act there will have to be a concerted effort to win votes in the House and prevent a filibuster in the Senate by either Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, and possibly by newcomer Ted Cruz. The fact that the Democrats gained seats instead of losing their majority is crucial in the long term.

Another gain in the Senate was that of Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Flake has been a vocal opponent of the embargo and has spoken out against our policy from Cuba. In order to repeal the embargo it will be necessary for Republicans to be on board. Flake’s election is a victory for change in U.S.-Cuba policy.

Finally, another event has happened that will be beneficial for those wanting change with Cuba. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the representative of Florida’s 18th congressional district in Miami, has reached her term limit for serving as the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congress may not have term limits but at least committee appointments do and her position of chair on that committee always ensured that any discussion about Cuba would be tabled.  Ros-Lehtinen, known in Cuba as la loba feroz (the big, bad wolf), has proved to be one of the most reactionary politicians within the Cuban American congressional cabal regarding Cuba and her relinquishing of that post may allow for more discussion and dialogue for engagement and normalization.

 

The whole world is against us………literally.

Yesterday marked the 21st annual vote by the United Nations to condemn the U.S. embargo against Cuba. What started out as an attempt to rebuke the U.S. for its policy of economic strangulation of the island has turned into an yearly denouncement by the entire planet.

The final vote was an almost universal drubbing of the United States’ embarrassing policy: 188-3 with the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstaining.

Of course, the U.S. was supported, as always, by Israel. The perennial random Pacific island nation that chose to hitch its wagons to unwavering imperialism this year was Palau. Makes you wonder if the FBI has some emails of Palau’s president.

It is ironic that even though Israel does not denounce the embargo it still allows its citizens to travel to Cuba freely. For a nation so paranoid about terrorism this seems to be a curious stance. Do they know something that Washington doesn’t?

The usual suspects within the supine American and worldwide media morass decide to just go with the AP story. ABC, CBS, FOXNEWS, the CBC, SkyNews and countless other news regurgitation webbies ran the same story which quoted Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, as saying that the embargo was “inhumane, failed and anachronistic.”  He continued by saying that perpetuating the policy was “not in the national interest of the United States. Quite the contrary, it harms the interests of its citizens and companies- especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment.”

The main reason why so many “news” organizations ran this story was because it had the obligatory quote from a U.S. senior official defending this albatross around the neck of U.S. foreign policy as “one of the tools in our overall efforts to encourage respect for the human rights and basic freedoms to which the United Nations is committed.”

This after that same body unanimously decried the implementation of this “tool”. How can the US remain so tone deaf?

Here is what some of our partners, allies, and adversaries have said about this “tool” in the UN’s official press release of General Assembly 11311:

            “MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that the embargo against Cuba contravened the fundamental norms of international law, international humanitarian law, the United Nations Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States.  Furthermore, its continued imposition violated the principles of the sovereign equality of States and of non-intervention and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.”

Joseph Goddard of Barbados represented the Caribbean community (CARICOM) and stressed Cuba’s camaraderie with member States and articulated the importance of “mutually beneficial programmes of cooperation and trade in several key areas including physical education and sports, accounting, natural sciences, humanities, economy, special education, health and medicine.”

“OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile) said on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that the commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba was contrary to the letter, spirit, principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and international law.  The Community was concerned about the extraterritorial effects of the embargo that affected the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation.”

“MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), speaking on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Group had been founded on the principles of interdependence and good neighbourly relations.  Alongside its Latin American neighbours, MERCOSUR showed respect for the sovereignty of States and for international law, and it viewed that the embargo ran contrary to the principles of the Unite Nations Charter and international law.  In particular, she said, it violated the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other States.  The embargo also ran contrary to the principles of justice and human rights, limited and delayed social and economic progress and inhibited the achievement of the Millennium Goals and other development targets.“

These were just a few of the statements issued by a number of subgroups within the UN. Once again, the entire world took a moment to make it perfectly clear to the United States that the embargo is completely unfair and deleterious to the Cuban people while becoming more and more counterproductive for U.S. citizens.  Obama could do himself and his legacy a favor if he would just stop and listen to what the international community is urging him and the United States to do- abandon the embargo and allow Cuba make its own future without further interference.

(An earlier version of this article was published in Counterpunch digital magazine at http://www.counterpunch.org http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/14/obama-cuba-and-united-states/)

Benjamin Willis is a musician who lives in Queens. He is a founding member of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement). Contact him at benjamin@cafeporcuba.com.

 

The political handicap

In Alan Gross, CAFE, Cuba/US, Cuban 5, Politics on October 3, 2012 at 9:21 am

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Judy Gross, paid a visit to her husband Alan a couple of weeks ago. She saw her husband three times. After these encounters and upon her return to the US she made public statements through her lawyer alleging that her husband was in very poor health and that he should be freed on humanitarian grounds due to his health.

Alan Gross, a diabetic with high blood pressure, has lost much weight since his imprisonment. He resides in a military hospital in the City of Havana and shares his space with other such inmates (all Cuban). He has a controlled diet and is monitored constantly by the hospital physicians.  His loss of weight is most likely due to two factors: a strict diet to treat his diabetes and high blood pressure and the obvious emotional affectation that being held in a state of imprisonment must mean to anyone.

Gross has publicly said that his situation is easily turned around if the United States and Cuba do what Israel and Palestine did last year: exchange 1000 for one prisoner. He has openly stated that his release is in the hands of exchanging himself for the Cuban Five.

The Cuban government has been slow to openly promote such action and what it does is speak to the possibility of holding open conversations with the United States regarding a “solution” to the situation.

Cuban Director of the US Office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Josefina Vidal,  said last week that Cuba has sent multiple messages to the State Department requesting a conversation and offering a solution to this dilemma. The US has since responded in the press that “it does not believe that Cuba wants to talk about anything regarding Alan Gross.”

During a live radio interview, Judy Gross said that the US government should be taking its “moral responsibility” for sending her husband to Cuba. (Arturo López–Levy)

Yet the response from the US Department of State is nil and what we see in the news is a reaction from members of Congress,  demanding Alan Gross’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

This ploy to both undermine any possible course of action and to diminish the chance of actually reaching a consensus between both nations on the issue of bettering bi-lateral relations is part of why day by day it becomes more and more evident that the ball is in the US court and they just don’t want to play.

President Raul Castro, has practically been yelling at the four winds that his government is willing to sit down with the US and hold talks; all issues involving both nations would be on the table, no restrictions, no quid pro quo. Again, as in the case of Alan Gross, the response from the US has been nil, zilch, silence.

The reality is this, on the one hand we have Alan Gross who came down under contract to bring in equipment that is illegal in Cuba. He did this because this was the job he was being paid to do by US AID which in Cuba’s case pretends to promote democracy. Here’s  my question: Who asked the US to export their form of governance to the island? Was it the natives and I missed the boat to the meeting? Was it the UN? The Security Council? Nope. Its mainly the Cuban American lobby which unfortunately has the upper hand when it comes to US Cuba policy.

On the other hand Cuba has five men unjustly imprisoned in the United States. They were not spies, nor were they trying to overthrow the US government. They were simply protecting Cuba from violent criminal acts against their homeland (Cuba) which were being perpetrated by individuals living in the US, specifically in the South of Florida and New Jersey.

Does everybody see the difference, or is it just me and Alan and Judy Gross?

The United States has a history of liberating prisoners who have done more harm to the nation than the Cuban Five.  Unfortunately, all eyes point towards that impossibility during an election year.  Unless a tidal wave of national and international support for both cases comes about, Gross and the Five will become a greater handicap than the embargo in the conflict between Cuba and the US.

Open Letter to Republican and Democratic National Committees / Carta Abierta a los Comités Republicano y Demócrata

In CAFE, Cuba, Cuba/US, Cuban Americans, Cuban Embargo, Politics, US on August 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

 

To the Republican and Democratic National Committees:

In light of both the upcoming Republican and Democratic conventions we, as Cuban Americans and American citizens, urge both parties to not fall into the trap of viewing our community as a monolithic voting bloc that is in favor of the United States’ embargo on Cuba.  During these conventions the platforms for each party will be decided upon and put into action. For the past fifty years, a strategy of blind support for the embargo has become the norm for political candidates from both parties in order to garner the support of Cuban Americans. We would implore all candidates to not look upon our demographics as one that unanimously supports this failed policy of hostility. Rather, we are a diverse body of voices with a majority that favors a policy of engagement, and ultimately, normalization of relations between the two nations.

Numerous polls of the Cuban American community in southern Florida and throughout the nation demonstrate that a majority of these citizens favor the policies that the Obama administration put in place in 2009 and then expanded in 2011.  These moves have eased the process of reunification of Cuban families by allowing Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba more frequently and send more remittances to loved ones on the island. Overwhelmingly, Cuban Americans have voted with their feet and pocketbooks by traveling to Cuba, sending money, and acting as ambassadors for our great nation.  As Cuban Americans we feel that we are not any better than any other American citizen and would hope that the U.S. government takes steps to eliminate the travel ban placed on all American citizens.

We ask Mitt Romney, the presumptive candidate, and the Republican Party to abandon the Cold War rhetoric. Easing the embargo is not an act of “appeasement”.  It is our hope that Paul Ryan will remain consistent to his well-documented stance against the embargo. We urge all candidates to consider the vast support among congressional Republicans who represent the Midwest and many other districts across the country to end the embargo in order to open up a potentially dynamic market for agricultural and other manufactured goods made in the USA.

True conservatives cannot defend our policy towards Cuba. The travel restrictions violate American citizens’ individual right to travel. Also, our government’s stance towards Cuba is an absolute contradiction to free market capitalism. Furthermore, it is our hope that the GOP will understand the historic ties that Tampa, the host city of their national convention, has with Cuba. The majority of the Cuban American community there favors normalization of relations with Cuba. We reject any attribution of Cuban American congressional members of the Republican Party from southern Florida such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, David Rivera, and Mario Diaz-Balart to speak on behalf of Cuban Americans as a whole within the state, let alone throughout the nation.

The inclusion of Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism is counterproductive. This designation undermines American national security because it eliminates the possibility of working in concert with Cuban leaders on important matters of regional security.  Our policy towards Cuba is also looked upon with derision by most of our allies in Latin America and this also compromises our position of influence in the hemisphere. Finally, the embargo effectively denies the very real potential of sustained gains in various sectors of the economy that would result from the opening of a very close market that yearns for American goods and services.

President Obama and his administration are well aware of these circumstances and have encountered opposition from our partners in the western hemisphere regarding such policies. We welcome a proactive response to deal with these challenges.  Regardless of the outcome of the elections in November we would hope that liberals and progressives within the Democratic Party continue to work to bring about a relationship that is more beneficial for both the Cuban people and the American populace.

In closing, we reiterate to all political candidates of both Republican and Democratic parties that Cuban Americans represent a plurality of views pertaining to U.S.-Cuba relations. Any posture by any politician that insinuates that we are all in favor of the embargo is misleading.  It is our desire that the members of the American political class resist the urge to repeat the same tired lines about Cuba and the embargo from past campaigns.  Such an attempt to pander to a community whose grasp of the issue of U.S.-Cuba relations is quite sophisticated and nuanced could cause negative results at the ballot box.

Respectfully,

Members of the Board of Directors of CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement) and from the Executive Committee of FORNORM

Dr. Maria Isabel Alfonso, New York, NY. CAFE

Dr. Romy Aranguiz, Worcester, MA. CAFE

Dr. Eduardo Araujo, Boulder, CO. CAFE

Alejandro Barreras, Miami, FLA. CAFE

Isidro Borja, Miami, FLA. former President of FORNORM

Ernesto Cabo, Alexandria, VA. CAFE

Amaury Cruz, Miami, FLA. Vice President of FORNORM

Elena Freyre,  Miami, FLA. President of FORNORM

Arturo Lopez-Levy, Denver, CO. CAFE

Andres Ruiz, Worcester, MA. CAFE

Dr. Julio Ruiz, Miami, FLA. Secretary of FORNORM

Benjamin Willis, New York, NY. CAFE

Antonio Zamora, Miami, FLA. former President of FORNORM

 

Contact: Benjamin Willis

benjamin@cafeporcuba.com

(786) 529-5123

 ***PLEASE, CONSIDER ENDORSING THIS LETTER HERE: http://www.change.org/petitions/republican-and-democratic-national-committees-understand-that-cuban-americans-do-not-unanimously-support-the-embargo-2?utm_campaign=share_button_modal&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=1550975#

 

A los Comités Republicanos y Demócratas:

En el marco de las próximas convenciones Demócrata y Republicana, nosotros, ciudadanos cubano-americanos y americanos, urgimos a ambos partidos a no caer en la trampa de ver a nuestra comunidad como un todo monolítico en favor del embargo de Estados Unidos a Cuba. Durante estas convenciones, serán analizadas y puestas en acción las plataformas de cada partido. Por los últimos 50 años, la norma seguida por los candidatos de ambos partidos ha estado trazada por una estrategia de apoyo ciego al embargo, con el objetivo de obtener apoyo de ciertos cubano-americanos. Rogamos a todos los candidatos que no nos vean como un todo que unánimemente suscribe esta fallida política  de hostilidad. Que vean que, por el contrario, somos un conglomerado de voces que en su mayoría, favorece una política de intercambio y normalización de las relaciones entre ambas naciones.

Numerosas encuestas dentro de la comunidad cubano-americana del Sur de la Florida y en toda la nación, demuestran que la mayoría de estos ciudadanos apoya las medidas implementadas por Obama en el 2009, extendidas al 2011. Las mismas, han facilitado el proceso de reunificación de las familias cubanas. De forma abrumadora, los cubanos han correspondido, viajando a Cuba, enviando dinero, y actuando como embajadores de nuestra gran nación. Como cubano-americanos, sentimos que no somos mejores que ningún otro ciudadano norteamericano y esperamos que el gobierno de los Estados Unidos tome pasos hacia la eliminación de la prohibición de viajar, haciéndola extensiva a todos los norteamericanos.

Pedimos a Mitt Romney y al Partido Republicano, que abandonen la retórica de Guerra Fría hacia Cuba. Disminuir algunas de las restricciones del embargo no es un acto de “apaciguamiento”. Esperamos que Paul Ryan sea consistente con sus públicamente conocidas proyecciones en contra del embargo. Urgimos a todos los candidatos a que consideren el vasto apoyo de los congresistas republicanos del Midwest de los EEUU, y de muchos otros distritos del país, a poner fin al embargo y a iniciar una potencial dinámica de mercadeo agrícola y de otros bienes manufacturados en los EEUU.

Un verdadero conservador no puede defender nuestra política hacia Cuba. Las restricciones de viaje violan los derechos individuales de viaje de los norteamericanos. También la posición de nuestro gobierno contradice las bases del capitalismo y del libre comercio.

Esperamos que el Partido Republicano sepa ver los lazos históricos que Tampa, la ciudad anfitriona de su Convención, tiene con Cuba.  La mayoría de la comunidad cubano-americana allí favorece la normalización de las relaciones. Rechazamos cualquier atribución de los congresistas cubano-americanos del Sur de la Florida, como Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, David Rivera, y Mario Diaz-Balart, a hablar en nombre  de la comunidad cubano-americana como un todo. Menos, aún, en nombre de todos los que vivimos en otros estados de la nación.

La inclusión de Cuba en la lista de países terroristas es contraproducente. Tal designación, socava la seguridad nacional norteamericana, puesto que elimina la posibilidad de trabajar con Cuba en importantes renglones de seguridad regional. Nuestra política hacia Cuba está también en pugna con la de nuestros aliados de América Latina, lo cual compromete nuestra posición de influencia en el hemisferio.

El presidente Obama y su administración están al tanto de las circunstancias que han encontrado oposición por parte de nuestros aliados regionales del hemisferio occidental. Esperamos una respuesta proactiva a estos retos. Más allá de los resultados de las elecciones de noviembre, esperamos que liberales y progresistas dentro del Partido Demócrata continúen trabajando en aras de un mejoramiento en las relaciones Cuba-EE.UU.,  la cual beneficiaría tanto a la población cubana como a la norteamericana.

En resumen, reiteramos a todos los candidatos de los partidos Republicano y Demócrata, que los cubano-americanos encarnamos una pluralidad de puntos de vista en cuanto al tema de las relaciones Cuba-EE.UU. Cualquier postura ostentada por cualquier político, que insinúe que todos estamos a favor del embargo, está basada en falsos presupuestos. Esperamos que los miembros de la clase política resistan la presión de repetir el mismo estribillo sobre Cuba y el embargo, de las campañas presidenciales anteriores. Tal intento de paternalismo hacia una comunidad cuya visión de las relaciones Cuba-EE.UU. es sofisticada y llena de matices, pudiera traer resultados negativos en las urnas electorales.

Respetuosamente,

Miembros del Comité Ejecutivo de CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement) y del Comité Ejecutivo de FORNORM (Foundation for the Normalization of the US-Cuba Relations).

Dr. Maria Isabel Alfonso, New York, NY. CAFE

Dr. Romy Aranguiz, Worcester, MA. CAFE

Dr. Eduardo Araujo, Boulder, CO. CAFE

Alejandro Barreras, Miami, FLA. CAFE

Isidro Borja, Miami, FLA. former President of FORNORM

Ernesto Cabo, Alexandria, VA. CAFE

Amaury Cruz, Miami, FLA. Vice President of FORNORM

Elena Freyre,  Miami, FLA. President of FORNORM

Arturo Lopez-Levy, Denver, CO. CAFE

Andres Ruiz, Worcester, MA. CAFE

Dr. Julio Ruiz, Miami, FLA. Secretary of FORNORM

Benjamin Willis, New York, NY. CAFE

Antonio Zamora, Miami, FLA. former President of FORNORM

Contacto: Benjamin Willis

benjamin@cafeporcuba.com

POR FAVOR, CONSIDERE INCLUIR SU FIRMA AQUI: http://www.change.org/petitions/republican-and-democratic-national-committees-understand-that-cuban-americans-do-not-unanimously-support-the-embargo-2?utm_campaign=share_button_modal&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=1550975#

Cuba and Fidel Castro: Beyond his 86th Birthday.

In CAFE, CENESEX, Cuba, Cuba/US, Fidel Castro Ruz, LGBT, Miami/Cuba, Politics, US on August 15, 2012 at 2:20 pm
By Arturo Lopez-Levy 
Originally published in The Havana Note
Regardless of how long he lives, Fidel Castro has had an influential role in shaping the political discourse in Cuba. Fidel skillfully mixed Marxism and nationalism and made a revolution that changed the history not only of Cuba but also of the whole Western hemisphere. He was the most popular leader in a generation of Cubans, a political giant who reached world dimensions during the Cold War. As professor Jorge Dominguez from Harvard University said, If there  had been competitive elections in the early 1960’s, Castro could have won them all. He didn’t have the chance. In the most difficult moments of the Cold War, the United States, as the hegemonic power in the Americas, didn’t have tolerance for a nationalist leader who aspired to an independent neutralist course not to mention a socialist one, no matter how popular Castro was among his people.
On the other hand, Castro was not a misunderstood liberal democrat, but a realist politician with strong nationalist and socialist ideas ready to remain in power and implement his revolutionary program by democratic or undemocratic means.  He learned from the experience of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala and fought the Cuban Civil War of the 1960’s with every conceivable alliance and political weapon  available to him. Political opponents of Castro’s program were treated as enemies of the nation, they suffered financial and property losses, harassment and long prison sentences. Fidel created a new Communist party under his nationalist authoritarian leadership and remained in power for almost five decades. In 2006, he retired undefeated. No leader in Cuba could speak; bring enthusiasm to his followers, and plant fear in his enemies as Fidel Castro did. His charisma was no doubt an important source of the communist party’s legitimacy but he also attracted many Cubans due to his writings, ideas and speeches.
In analyzing how Cuba moved forward after the revolution a completely Fidel centered approach was always insufficient because it is impossible to trace how much of Fidel’s policies were the result of his own views and how much his campaigns were the result of influences by different interests within Cuba’s power structure. But when Fidel was committed to a policy, he was the minimal winning coalition. Politics at the strategic government level consisted of guessing what could help Fidel’s grand strategy. This limited the feedback on policy and the information flows of the system.
Fidel’s style hardly ever consisted of leading from behind. That is why the “Fidel in command” model truly ended when he fell ill in 2006.   Fidel is no longer the decisive force in the political survival of the PCC rule. In part by design and in part by default, the institutionalization of the party rule and the economic reforms proposed in the “Lineamientos Economicos y Sociales” (Social and Economic Guidelines) of the PCC imply a partial withdrawal of the communist state from social spaces and the economy. Fidel’s charisma and leadership style were cardinal obstacles for these two long overdue processes. The supreme leader of the revolution deployed a striking anti market bias all throughout his career.
Fidel was not only the main creator of institutions in post-revolutionary Cuba but also the charismatic leader who reduced their importance at his pleasure, sometimes unconsciously. In his statements, Fidel Castro  was a constant advocate for “democratic centralism” and “collective leadership”, not for cult of personality, but in practice, his charisma and political dominance prevented the institutionalization of a legal-rational bureaucratic rule. The government was wherever he was; its priorities were his priorities. The recently approved term limits were unthinkable under his aegis.
Now, there is a new situation. Raúl Castro’s commitment to economic reforms and institutionalization is opening venues for the discussion of new ideas within the power structure and the general political discourse. Propositions in favor of a gradual expansion of the role of the market in the economy, the diversification of the property structure, and the expansion of the role of law and rules in how government and the party work are openly discussed. This is not part of a transition to a multiparty democracy but embodies the relaxation of information controls; it improves the feedback mechanisms and the expression of pluralistic interests within the Cuban elites and society. Public discourse is breaking away from the homogenous path of previous times, not only in the publications of the Catholic Church or reform oriented magazines such as Temas, but also in the core publications of the system. Newspapers and radios on the provinces, and even Granma, the Communist party newspaper, are talking about the need for separating the party from the government, and economic changes.
One ideological factor that is emerging in post-Fidel Cuba is an increased emphasis in a nationalist narrative. During Fidel Castro’s leadership, particularly before 1989, the PCC promoted Marxist ideas, and a feeling of belonging to the international communist bloc. Internationalism, not nationalism, was the central ideological principle of Cuba’s foreign policy. Raúl Castro’s recent speech in Guantanamo on July 26 demonstrated how this feature is changing. The emphasis on the revolution as a solution to a history of national humiliation is becoming predominant and issues such as national unity, economic growth and public order are emerging more forcefully in the official discourse. The struggle against the U.S. embargo is becoming again the strongest unifying ideological factor in the elite and between the PCC and the population.
When Fidel’s health forced him to step down , the community of Cubans in Miami Florida reserved the Orange Bowl for the anticipated celebration of his death.  In other parts of the world, such as the Southern Cone of Africa where Cuban troops were key allies in the struggle against Apartheid, there was sorrow. What would happen in Cuba when Fidel Castro dies? A funeral.   Fidel Castro’s death will speed up the processes of economic reform and institutionalization but it is important not to exaggerate his current impact in Cuba’s policymaking. He is a retired head of State.
Fidel Castro is not Cuba. Rather than focusing on an 86 years old revolutionary patriarch, the international community, particularly the United States, should look at the general trends operating in Cuba’s politics and economy. A central question is whether Raul Castro’s economic reform can alter the political dynamics and the distribution of power not only in Cuba but on the Cuban American community and U.S. debate about the embargo.  Everything else being equal, a market oriented Cuban economy, with a vibrant non-state sector, would create a virtuous cycle of pressures to end the U.S. sanctions that would also strengthen the appetite for more economic opening in Cuba. It is also worth noting that the antipathy generated by Fidel among some segments of the American public and the Cuban American community is not transferable to any other leader, not even his brother Raúl.
That is the gift Fidel Castro has given all of us to contemplate on this, his 86th birthday.

The unexpected curve

In Blockade, Cuba, Cuba/US, Culture, History, Politics, Sports, US on May 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

Major League Baseball is not my forte but I have been a fan since childhood thanks to my maternal grandmother and her intent on making sure I grew up as knowledgeable as possible about her favorite sport.

I was in New York then, so it was only logical that my “team” would be the Yankees. I have later learnt that “blue” is not exclusive to the Yanks, it is also the color of Cuba´s current “Yankee” equivalent, Havana´s Industriales team who like their predecessor Almendares, also wear blue.

During his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visit to Cuba last month, Andrea Mitchell of NBC was in Havana from where she graced the cities Cathedral with live shots for her daily television news show. Each live feed from Havana was produced with information on the Popes activities in Cuba and spiced with interesting aspects of today’s life on the Island and each aspect was accompanied by a healthy dose of US Cuba relations.

Andrea is a brilliant journalist who has a long standing relationship with the island and a woman of great savoir faire; she is also a baseball enthusiast who knows much about the sport, how important it is in Cuba and how entwined the United States and the Island are in it´s midst’s. It is because of this that I had the opportunity to meet a legend and I will forever be in her debt.

Cuba and the US are so close regarding baseball it could well be the greatest of all ironies. It is the national sport of the two historic enemies in the hemisphere. Granted, Cuba´s relationship to baseball stems from the beginning of the previous century when the island was nothing more than a neo-colony of the US, but in spite of this and of half a century of having to hear from detractors that this is something that separates us from the rest of Latin America, Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 didn’t dream change the fact that baseball knows no politics when it comes to passion. Eliminating the sport from revolutionary Cuba would have provoked a revolution within the Revolution. So, it´s here to stay.

That is not the irony. The irony is actually embodied in a petit man who reached the ripe age of 101 this April 25th.

Conrado (Connie) Marrero, formally of the Havana Almendares is alive and well living in Havana.  He has lost his eyesight over the years but not his spunk or love of the game. He is lucid and well and can still spend hours talking baseball.

Marrero was one of Cuba´s and the US´s best pitchers of the day. He pitched curve balls to Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. He knew just how to pitch to Ted Williams who could see a ball coming a mile away.  In spite of his advanced years Marrero still recalls moments that for him are memories but for us they are an experience to cherish for a lifetime. As he recounted, “I was pitching a game against the Yankees and DiMaggio came up to bat. After a few really good pitches, some of my best, he hit one out of the park.”  Connie recalls “I went up to him after the game and said ¨Joe, you were really great today!´, and he responded, “Nah, Connie, I guess I was just having a good day.¨ and I said, ¨You crazy Joe?! ALL your days are great!” But when asked who he considers the all time best, Marrero didn’t skip a beat and responded, “They were all great! But the best of the best, in my opinion, was Babe Ruth.”

Marrero signed with the Washington Senators at the ripe age of 39 and given his 5 feet 7 inch 158Lbs frame, one can well understand why the then owner of the Senators, Clark Griffith, registered the unlikely “rookie” as being six years younger. He had his debut with the Washington Senators on April 21 of 1950 and took part in 118 games during five championships; he has been qualified as the oldest living former United States Major League player and he is a Cuban living in Cuba, today.

Conrado Marreros first MLB contract with the Washington Senators.

…therein lies the gist.