Maggie Alarcón

Posts Tagged ‘US’

Un Quijote del Siglo XX

In Politics, Social Justice on September 16, 2016 at 11:35 am

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Por Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

El lunes 12 de septiembre a los 96 años de edad falleció en su hogar de California Stanley K. Sheinbaum. Quiero sumar estas líneas al tributo que seguramente habrá de recibir de muchos en todas partes. Pese a su edad avanzada y los quebrantos de salud sus amigos jamás hallarán consuelo a su partida. Porque Stanley pertenece a la categoría de los que Bertolt Brecht llamó los imprescindibles los que luchan toda la vida.

Desde su infancia neoyorquina bajo la Gran Depresión hasta la era de la dominación global de la plutocracia norteamericana recorrió un largo camino que lo llevó no sólo a atravesar su país sino también a conocer el resto del mundo. Aprendió a interesarse, como pocos compatriotas suyos, por los conflictos y problemas de los demás y a involucrarse y tomar partido, “tratando de crear un poco de paz y justicia en este injusto mundo” como escribió en sus Memorias publicadas hace cinco años (“A 20th Century Knight’s quest for peace, civil liberties and economic justice”)

Descubrió en 1959 que el programa que dirigía en la Universidad Estatal de Michigan era una actividad encubierta de la Agencia Central de Inteligencia y se convirtió en la primera persona que denunció públicamente las acciones ilegales de la CIA dentro de Estados Unidos.

En los años Sesenta articuló la campaña para la liberación de Andreas Papandreu encarcelado por la junta militar en Grecia. Encabezó el movimiento para la recaudación de los fondos necesarios y la defensa de Daniel Elsberg arrestado en 1971 por revelar los llamados Papeles del Pentágono sobre la agresión a Viet Nam, emblemática pelea con la destacada participación de Leonard Boudin y su discípulo el joven Leonard Weinglass, ambos brillantes defensores de los derechos humanos y las libertades civiles. Si no hubiera sido por Stanley, según el propio Elsberg “el juicio hubiera terminado, Nixon permanecería hasta el final de su mandato y la guerra habría continuado”.

Impulsó las labores de la Unión Americana de Derechos Civiles en el sur de California para poner fin a la segregación racial en las escuelas y luchar contra los métodos represivos de la policía de Los Ángeles mientras dirigía los esfuerzos contra el régimen del Apartheid de Sudáfrica.

En 1988 organizó un grupo de dirigentes judíos norteamericanos que el 6 de diciembre se reunió en Estocolmo con Yaser Arafat para iniciar un proceso hacia el entendimiento y la paz en Palestina. El gesto le ganó no pocos enemigos. “Por un tiempo fui el judío más odiado en Norteamérica…por otros judíos” anotó en su Autobiografía.

Asumió un papel valeroso en el enfrentamiento a la brutalidad policial y la golpiza de Rodney King. Lo hizo desde su responsabilidad en la Comisión de la policía de Los Ángeles y en las calles de la ciudad. “Era”, en palabras de la Congresista Afroamericana Maxine Waters, “un ser humano extraordinario”.

También se ocupó de Cuba. Nos visitó aquí y mantuvimos comunicación a la distancia hasta el final. Se opuso al bloqueo, luchó por la normalización de las relaciones y fue decisivo en la batalla por la liberación de nuestros Cinco Héroes antiterroristas cuya situación ayudó a divulgar en Estados Unidos. Lo que fue anunciado el 17 de diciembre de 2014 era también fruto de su empeño solidario que no siempre trascendía a los grandes titulares mediáticos.

Al final de su vida pudo afirmar: “Aun me intereso, aun me involucro, aun creo que el mañana será mejor. Y por eso sigo siendo muy optimista. Si algo he aprendido a lo largo de los años es que no es tan importante si ganamos o no las batallas lo que es realmente importante es que continuamos librando las batallas por la justicia, por la igualdad, por la equidad”.

Stanley sigue cabalgando.

Notes of A Veteran Fidelista

In Politics on August 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm
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Ricardo Alarcón and Fidel Castro Ruz, Popular University Program, circa 1960-

Photo: Liborio Noval.

 

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

On  March 10, 1952, with a door slam, a chapter of Cuban history came to a close. Fulgencio Batista –who, two decades before, had introduced a harsh dictatorship– seized power once again with a handful of his former collaborators had liquidated the revolutionary government of just one hundred days which had emerged in 1933 after the fall of Gerardo Machado. The new coup took place without major setbacks and thus ended Cuba’s brief experience with “representative democracy”. This had lasted for only two terms of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Autentico), which had governed for little more than seven years.

The “Autentico” Party presented itself as heir to the Revolution of 1933, in which its leaders had had played an outstanding role, but did not go beyond national-reformism, creating some necessary institutions and showing an independent foreign policy on some important issues at the UN and the OAS. Its work was, however, hampered by government corruption which invaded almost all branches of the administration. Besides, its adherence to McCarthyism led to the division among the trade union and popular movement, and the assassination of some of its main leaders.

The prevailing dishonesty caused the split in the “Autentico” Party and the emergence of the Cuban People’s Party (Orthodox) which raised the slogan “Vergüenza contra Dinero [Shame against money]” as its main banner. Among its founders was a recently graduated lawyer named Fidel Castro Ruz.

The general elections scheduled for June 1952, brought face-to-face, according to all polls, two candidates: the “orthodox”, headed by a respected university professor [Roberto Agramonte], and the government official, led by an “autentico” whose honesty was beyond doubt. A third candidate, Batista, supported by reactionary groups, appeared in a distant last place and no one gave him the slightest chance of winning in the polls. Everyone in Cuba knew this, including Batista who, for that reason, prevented the people from deciding.

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Fidel Castro, Victor Rabinowitz, Juana Vera and the author, Havana.

The coup and its immediate aftermath deeply wounded Cuban society. Batista received immediate support from the big property owners as well as from the conservative political forces and corrupt trade union bureaucracy. Political parties –the ones close to the government as well their opponents– were trapped in inaction and inconsistency. Authenticism and orthodoxy were divided into contradictory trends and new parties emerged from them; some willing to collaborate or compromise with the new regime. These and all other parties engaged in endless controversies unable to articulate a path against tyranny.

Resistance found refuge in the universities. Out of these came the first demonstrations and acts of protest. Among the students there was a growing awareness of the need to act and to do so using methods different from those of the politicians who had failed miserably. There was talk of armed struggle, but nobody knew how to wage it or had the resources to undertake it. There were some isolated attempts while rumors spread about plans led or linked to the president overthrown on March 10.

For those of us who were still in secondary education, the assault on the military barracks in Santiago de Cuba (Moncada) and Bayamo (Carlos Manuel de Cespedes), on July 26, 1953, was a complete surprise. We knew nothing of an event that would change our lives forever.

The news highlighted the name of someone previously unknown to us: Fidel Castro.

The political crisis deepened. The tyranny became even more aggressive. The Communist Party (Partido Socialista Popular [Socialist People’s Party]) was banned and its publications closed, while increased repression against the student movement became the norm. Batista’s accusations against the Communists sought the sympathy of Washington, but had nothing to do with reality. The PSP was not only alien to those events, but rather condemned the action of the young revolutionaries as did the other opponents to Batista, almost without exception.

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With Puerto Rican Independentists, Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Oscar Collazo, Havana 1979.

Once again it fell to the students to replace the parties that had proved incapable of fulfilling their role. The Federation of University Students (FEU) sympathized with the attackers of the Moncada garrison and called for a campaign for their release. This soon acquired a national dimension and forced the dictatorship to grant them amnesty in 1955.

That same year, Fidel founded the July 26th Movement. Along with the survivors of the initial action, it counted especially on young people who, in neighborhoods and study centers, identified themselves with that heroic deed against tirades and criticism from Tiryns and Trojans.

Their ranks were filled with youths, no few of them teenagers, who rebelled amid frustration, inertia and division, inspired by a feat that had shaken the tyranny and its opponents as well. Antonio López (Ñico), who had led the attack on the barracks in Bayamo, was responsible for organizing the youth brigades of the M-26-7 until he went to Mexico to return with Fidel and die fighting in the Sierra Maestra. He was replaced in Havana by Gerardo Abreu (Fontán), a black man of very humble origin, who had not completed primary school. He managed, on his own, to acquire a broad cultural background and a poetic sensibility that caused astonishment among us college students who had the privilege of fighting under his leadership. Ñico and Fontán –both from the Orthodox Youth– knew Marxism, shared socialist ideals, and were profoundly anti-imperialist. They were determined to create an organization that would massively bring in the new generation. They succeeded. Their followers were identified with a single word: “fidelistas”.

The presence of the Brigades was felt quickly by sending their message directly to the people. While the press and politicians criticized Fidel and the Moncada action, everywhere, in every corner of the capital –on walls and facades– using very modest resources, Brigade members painted a brief slogan which everyone understood: M-26-7, or a name that others wanted to silence: Fidel.

In view of the hostile environment which made it impossible to wage open political struggle, Fidel went to Mexico in order to organize the return to carry out the battle that would end the tyranny. He proclaimed it openly, undertaking a historic commitment: “In ’56, we will be free or we will be martyrs” thus challenging the followers of inaction and despair once again. And also their jokes: a government newspaper carried on its front page every day the number of days which had elapsed that year without the defiant promise being kept. epa00601693-cuban-president-fidel-castro-r-and-cubas-national-assembly-fh10p0

Well into November, the propaganda against the Moncadistas intensified. Demonstrations, organized by the FEU and the newly created Revolutionary Directorate, climaxed and led to the closure of the university. The last day of the month, to support the landing [of the Granma expedition], the M-26-7 carried out an uprising in Santiago de Cuba. Two days later Fidel and his companions arrived at the eastern shores aboard the yacht Granma, in what Che described as a “shipwreck”.

Scattered and persecuted by the Army, a small group finally managed to reunite in the Sierra Maestra. Many members of the expedition died fighting, or were assassinated.

Among these, as the US news agencies reported, was its main leader. Fidel’s death was reported on the front page of every newspaper. Anguish and uncertainty remained until after a passage of time that seemed endless. Gradually and by clandestine channels, the truth came to be known.

The last two years of the dictatorship were rife with crimes and abuses in the urban areas while the initial guerrilla force grew to become the Rebel Army.

“Fidelismo” reached massiveness. On the night of November 8, 1957, one hundred simultaneous explosions rocked Havana, each in a different neighborhood and distant from one another. They were practically heavy firecrackers –rather homemade devices– that only made noise. No one was injured and no one was arrested by the police who went around frantically from one place to the other. It was sound evidence that the “26th” was everywhere and showed the youth brigades’ efficient organization.

The murder of Fontan, on February 7, 1958, sparked a students’ general strike which lasted until May. It paralyzed all education centers, including private universities and academies, and led to the consecutive resignations of two of Batista’s Education Ministers of Batista.

Never before had such a movement occurred in Cuba to such extent and for so long. For three months, all attempts, violent or “peaceful” to end it failed. The student walkout continued, even several weeks after the movement suffered in its most painful and bloody defeat in Havana.

The failure of the attempted general strike by the workers, on April 9, was a very severe blow. It decimated urban militancy, almost completely destroyed the underground structures, and allowed the dictatorship to mobilize thousands of troops to launch what it thought would be the final battle in the Sierra. Once again everything depended on Fidel and his leadership.

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PHOTO Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez, at the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Moncada assault.

Batista’s offensive proved a complete failure. The Rebel Army –well-established in the East– sent two columns led by Che and Camilo Cienfuegos, which crossed half the island and won many battles in its central region. The rebels were close to liberating the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Santa Clara. The last day of December, the dictator arranged his escape and –in close coordination with the US Ambassador– left behind a military junta in Havana that would have been the continuity of his regime. To thwart the maneuver, Fidel called for a general strike.

In the early hours of the first day of the New Year, the people took over the streets in the capital. The youth brigades –almost totally unarmed– occupied all police stations without meeting resistance from the demoralized and nervous troops of the regime. However, in other parts of the city, armed paramilitary groups of Batista henchmen had to be confronted. The strike continued until the total collapse of the tyranny. On January 8, Fidel rode triumphantly into a city that was already and finally “Fidelista”.

The victorious Revolution would have to face more powerful obstacles and even greater risks for over half a century: Political, diplomatic and propaganda aggression, armed attacks, subversion and sabotage, and the economic blockade that is still ongoing and is the longest genocide in history. Another blow was the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the disappearance of allies and trading partners plus the complete isolation of the island. It has been a long and stormy path that the people have weathered under Fidel’s guidance.

Ninety years of age has now come to the man who had to face more than six hundred assassination plots against his life and whose death has been announced countless times by imperialist propaganda. Maybe someday his enemies will have to admit that they were never able to kill him. This is because Fidel and his people are one and the same. And that people, largely thanks to him, is invincible.

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A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

Puerto Rico: la hora de la verdad

In Cuba, Elecciones, History, Politics, Puerto Rico, US on July 22, 2016 at 12:23 pm

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Por Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

A mediados del pasado siglo la diplomacia estadounidense se anotó uno de sus mayores triunfos. Hizo creer al mundo que Puerto Rico había dejado de ser una colonia para transformarse en un ente extraño al que nombraron “Estado Libre Asociado (ELA)”. Se dijo entonces que la isla después de alcanzar plenamente su autonomía decidió suscribir con su antigua metrópolis un pacto libremente convenido entre iguales.

En su momento el engendro fue presentado como punto de referencia, como modelo a seguir por otros. El territorio fue invadido por capitales norteños que se beneficiaron de privilegios y exenciones impositivas y exhibió índices de crecimiento notables. Se hablaba incluso del “milagro” económico puertorriqueño.

La realidad profunda iba por otros caminos. Las producciones autóctonas -la agricultura, la industria, los servicios- fueron aplastadas por las del poderoso “socio”. Para muchos emigrar a Estados Unidos fue la única salida mientras su tierra se extranjerizaba sin remedio. El incesante éxodo muestra cifras elocuentes, quedan en la isla alrededor de 3 millones de habitantes mientras ya son 5 millones los que malviven en la Norteamérica que los discrimina y desprecia.

Para imponer ese modelo Washington persiguió con saña a los nacionalistas e independentistas. La “vitrina democrática” negaba al pueblo su derecho inalienable a la libertad y para ello recurrió a todos los métodos entre los que no faltó la violencia represiva

Los patriotas no cesaron nunca en su lucha por la independencia y se empeñaron por desenmascarar la farsa colonial y alcanzar la indispensable solidaridad internacional. Lo hicieron con tenacidad admirable en la Organización de Naciones Unidas desde que la ONU, en 1960, proclamó el derecho de todos los pueblos a la autodeterminación e independencia. Consiguieron desde 1973 que el Comité de Descolonización favoreciera su reclamo año tras año.

Entretanto el diseño económico del ELA entró en una crisis cada vez más profunda y encara hoy la bancarrota y la insolvencia. Las autoridades locales -el Gobernador y la Asamblea Legislativa- trataron de encontrar soluciones imaginando que tenían potestad para hacerlo y que podrían contar con el apoyo de quien se suponía era su “socio”.

La verdad, sin embargo, se impuso de modo sorprendente y brutal. En pocos días, casi al mismo tiempo, el Tribunal Supremo de Estados Unidos, el Congreso Federal y el Presidente Obama lo dijeron alto y claro para que todos lo entiendan: Puerto Rico carece de soberanía propia, no es más que un territorio colonial y está completamente sometido a las decisiones de su dueño. Y para que nadie se confunda promulgaron una ley creando la Junta de Control Fiscal. Sus siete miembros, designados por Washington, se encargarán de administrar y dirigir la colonia.

La indignación generalizada estalló con fuerza este verano en la sesión del Comité de la ONU. Allá fueron decenas de representantes de todas las tendencias y todos los sectores de la sociedad incluyendo al Gobernador García Padilla.

El Comité además de aprobar una vez más la Resolución que sostiene el derecho a la independencia de Puerto Rico, dio un paso adelante y por unanimidad decidió encargar a su Presidente que promueva un diálogo entre Washington y los boricuas para lograr la descolonización de la isla. De ese modo se ofrece una salida constructiva que Obama debería aprovechar. Habiendo reconocido que engañó al mundo y que Puerto Rico es aun la principal colonia del planeta, Estados Unidos tiene la obligación ineludible de poner fin a una situación violatoria del Derecho Internacional que ha durado ya demasiado tiempo.

 

Publicado originalmente en Por Esto!

December 17th and the Voice of Reason

In Cuba, Cuban Americans, History, Politics on December 17, 2015 at 5:01 pm

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Margarita Alarcon Perea

December 17th marks the anniversary of the first year of the release of Alan Gross, the return of three Cuban prisoners unjustly jailed in US prisons and for the first time presidents from both Cuba and the United States live on their respective television networks speaking about the same thing and both on the same page.

Last year Raul Castro and Barack Obama got their acts together and decided to do something that for far too long had been silenced, they gave voice back to reason and spoke of restoring relations between their two countries.

Since that day, which on all accounts was joyous albeit an enormous surprise, much has happened in the form of restoring the diplomatic side of the relations, but not much else. Watching the debate the other night I fear much more needs to be done before November of 2017. Yet I am hopeful.

At least Cuba wasn’t mentioned openly. So maybe the two pseudo Cuban contenders for their party’s nomination have since figured out that siding with irrationality by actually bolstering the notion of how they would turn back all that has happened since last year’s televised speeches or the less Latino hopeful candidates criticizing the current President of the United States for having “given so much in exchange for nothing” or ranting about how if he were to come down to the Caribbean’s largest island before leaving office might be indicative of nothing less than …say, treason? Of course, this is an exaggeration on my part, but heck, he was accused of not being “American” enough for almost two straight years!

In any case, it’s been a year already. The secretary of State has opened the long closed Embassy, the Stars and Stripes waves every day, morning, noon, and night. US tourists are coming down nonstop, Cuban Americans are devising ways of investing on the island in the most intuitive and inventive fashion ever. So I guess, Cuba won’t be part of the debates in the near electoral future.

Maybe the candidates have figured out that the voice of reason silenced for so long is now the shout of logic that just won’t keep quiet, lest they lose those historically beloved 28 electoral votes.

 

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

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

Cuba: So Close You Could Almost Swim There

In Cuba/US, History, Sports on January 29, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Diana Nyad

The Cuban Revolution happened when I was a nine-year-old living in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Literally overnight, thousands of exiles flooded into my town. We were suddenly eating Cuban food, dancing salsa in my new friends’ living rooms. The mystique ran deep. Already a little swimmer, I was standing on the beach at that time and I asked my mother, who had danced salsa many times with my father at the fabled Hotel Nacional in Havana:

“Mom. Where is it? I know it’s out there, but I can’t see it.”

And my mother took my arm and pointed it across the sea.

“There. Out there. It’s right over that horizon. It’s so close, you could almost swim there.”

The story I first knew of Cuba was from the exile side. Good people forced out of their homes, given 24 hours to gather of few possessions and cash out at the bank. Their houses, their clothing, their cars, their boats, many of their friends and family never to be seen again.

Then there was the Fidel side. It reads a noble story. Fidel and his comrades in justice Che and Camilo, ride stealth one night on horseback from the mountains into Havana, to save the people from the dictator regime of Batista, where the rich were vastly rich and the poor were desperately poor, with no middle ground. The famous, defiant face of Che has been plastered to millions of young persons’ bedroom walls through the years. Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos — soldiers of and for the people.

I have learned the hard way not to take either side, not to speak of the politics of Cuba. Socialism, in its bare bones definition, every individual entitled to the same material necessities, can be interpreted as a just way to manage a nation. On an anecdotal level, I can say that in the dozens of times I have visited Cuba, since my first try to swim from country to country back in 1978, I have never once seen a homeless person. I have found a population of educated, polite, intelligent, fit, musical, athletic, compassionate, philosophical, seemingly happy people. So there was a time that I defended Fidel’s original vision, that I joined many who touted his success in taking the majority from third world to second world.

The one thing I could never explain, understand, or defend about the Fidel regime was that Cubans weren’t allowed to leave the island. If you love your country, love the life you live there, why is there such fear that a trip anywhere abroad would convince you never to return home?

Clearly, in recent years after the Soviet Union’s collapse and withdrawal, Cuba has devolved toward a deeper and nearly tragic state of poverty. Goods have always been hard to come by, but it’s been a long time since asthma medicine, cooking oil, and a decent loaf of bread have been on the market shelves.

A couple I have stayed with in Old Havana, both highly educated, with a daughter who has asthma, stand outside the hospital ER in the middle of the night, begging any worker leaving to go back inside and find them an inhaler. Every two weeks they stand in a line to receive one chicken, six eggs, and a few staples. They invite visitors to their “Casa Privada” for dinner, stretching those staples into creative meals so that travelers can tell the tale of eating in a private home, and then they pare back their own family meals to the bare minimum.

Again, just a layman’s anecdotal evidence, but it used to be that to discuss a rapprochement with an average Cuban citizen was to encounter tears standing in his eyes, the loyalty to Fidel was so fierce. The giant painted faces of Fidel and Che and Camilo around the city, slogans such as “Viva El Socialismo!” in vivid red below, spoke volumes to the national esprit of having been freed from colonial oppression.

But we are almost six decades past Batista now. The days of the Bay of Pigs are also long-ago history. There is nothing to fear from each other. No reason to further punish each other.

My swim from Cuba to Florida, aside from the personal challenge to make endurance history across a wild, epic ocean, was always meant to also make a statement of hopeful reconnection between our two beautiful nations. Too many, on both sides, have wanted for too long to know each other, to enjoy the colorful Cuban culture, to help the Cubans restore economic stability.

Our Team was invited to Havana this past Labor Day, on the anniversary of our successful crossing from Havana to Key West, September 2, 2013. It was the first time in thirty years that the American and Cuban flags were flown together in an official government building in Havana. The first time the American National Anthem had been played at an official event in thirty years. We wept with pride. And so did the Cubans. We all wept because this Swim was a universal message of will, to Never Ever Give Up. But we wept in part because our two countries understood the magic of the endeavor and the Cubans helped us through every step. We wept because we all want a better life for these good people, our friends and neighbors.

I can tell you our Team was very emotional a few weeks ago, when both President Obama and Raul Castro announced the new era of rapprochement between us.

A personal note: This series for Huff Post carries with it a tag line: 90 miles.

To be perfectly accurate, it is 103 miles, the closest distance between Cuba and Florida. A long time ago, the nautical measurement of 90 was assigned, a measurement used by only large ships at sea. We measure distances across the sea between countries in statute miles. For instance, it is 28 miles around Manhattan Island. That’s statute miles. Trust me, it’s 103 miles to Cuba. I should know.

One more personal note, to my mother, no longer with us. Mom, it’s so close, Cuba, that somebody has actually swum there.

This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called “90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations.” The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-nyad/cuba-so-close-you-could-a_b_6571342.html?1422545987

If you’d like to contribute your own blog on this topic, send a 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.com (subject line: “90 Miles”).

Ending the Cuba Travel Crisis

In Politics on December 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Time Travel - twisted clock

By Tom Hayden

There is an opportunity for President Barack Obama to begin rolling back our Cuba sanctions policy by finding a bank willing to do business with Cuba so that hundreds of thousands of Cubans can spend the holidays with their families. The main reason the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC cannot process visas and passports is because no bank is willing to handle the financial transactions. The reason the banks are afraid is the US sanctions policy and Cuba’s listing on the global terrorism list. So the irrational US policy has come full circle: Obama’s policy of expanding and normalizing purposeful travel to Cuba is prevented by Obama’s embargo policies. It’s an opportunity to begin lifting the embargo, but chances are the administration is too timid, for now, to fully undo its own senseless policy.

Notice, however, the tantalizing convergence between Cuban and American rhetoric on the main issue:

John Kerry, Secretary of State has said, “Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans visit Havana, and hundreds of millions of dollars in trade and remittances flow from the United States to Cuba. We are committed to this human interchange, and in the United States we believe that our people are actually our best ambassadors. They are ambassadors of our ideals, of our values, of our beliefs.”

Ricardo Alarcon, former foreign minister and retired president of the National Assembly said, in relation, “In terms of changing Cuban society, the most effective ambassadors are the Cubans coming back, somebody living on the corner bringing gadgets from Miami. When they are in their dining rooms they probably are not pretending to mislead. They will say work is harder in the US. They can bring some different element here, maybe in fashion or music. So you will get a mutual influence. I don’t really see a problem with that. They have been coming back for years. So? It’s a two-way influence. For Cubans, they get a broader view of Miami, and it challenges the mentality of those Cuban-Americans who think everyone from Cuba is a terrorist. What free travel permits is a better understanding of Cuba’s realities and some benefits for the visitors, like cheaper medicines for example. For decades we have had millions of tourists from Western Europe and Canada, and they haven’t changed the country, they just come to enjoy life and relax.”

President Obama said November 8, “We have to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born.”

Ricardo Alarcon continued, “Now we have Esteban Laso as head of our National Assembly. He was a boy, a sugar cane cutter, in the Batista period. A little boy then; now he’s in his sixties. The misperception is that the Cuban system has been the same from the very first day; that the people who attacked Moncada are still around. Yes, a few are, but they are octogenarians. When Raul said he was getting out in five years, nobody here said, well, that’s the end.”

Alarcon said emphatically, “The main goal of immigrants is to come and go. The discussion is over.”

This irreversible process already has destroyed the argument of right-wing Cuban politicians, including Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, that no one should travel to Cuba, nor spend money in Cuba, because they are subsidizing a dictatorship. Even many of Cuba’s US-supported dissidents have concluded that the blockade no longer makes sense.

If the “Cuban exiles” community is itself a dying band of octogenarians, what beyond inertia is propping up the US policy? Alarcon predicts that, “The day you don’t have a Castro, they will get into trouble because of their Helms-Burton law,” which prohibits US diplomatic recognition without the disappearance of the Castro regime and installation of a market economy. “In a few years the Cuban government will be led by other persons with other last names. But I don’t think the [passing of the Castros] will create an immediate process towards normalization. The reasons and forces behind the current policy are stronger than that.”

But, Alarcon observes, “If the anti-Castro people can go back and forth, it’s the end of the political exile movement.”

Article originally appeared on tomhayden.com (http://tomhayden.com/).

Medal of Friendship for Saul Landau

In Cuba/US, Cuban 5, US on August 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

 

 

Saul Landau together with Fidel Castro, Havana.

 

Remarks by Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada at the Award Ceremony of the Orden de la Amistad de la República de Cuba [Medal of Friendship].
Havana, August 7, 2013

Saul Landau deserves this recognition and much more. He has given our people a sincere, unlimited, authentic friendship all his life. In his early youth he embraced revolutionary ideas and never abandoned them. He always upheld these ideas far from dogmatism, bureaucratic or sectarian distortions. He has been a loyal friend since the long gone times of Ramparts Magazine and Studies on the Left to Progreso Weekly, and his intense participation in the struggle for the liberation of our five compañeros unjustly punished for fighting against terrorism.

In 2008, Saul received the important Bernardo O’Higgins decoration granted by Chile for his defense of human rights. He also holds the gratitude of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas and Central America, of the Palestinians and the Arabs, of the enslaved in sweat shops, and of the immigrants, the poor, the discriminated and persecuted among the peoples of North America.

His intellectual creation is vast and varied. He has written fourteen books, including one of poems, and his novel Stark in the Bronx will soon see the light. He has published thousands of articles and essays. Of his making are forty documentaries on different conflicts and social, historical and political problems that include his report on Fidel in the 1960’s and his most recent one, dedicated to the Five, about anti-Cuban terrorism. His voice has been heard in countless conferences, acts and interviews; always fighting for truth and justice; the speaker for the oppressed, the neglected and the humble.

An admirable work, enlightened by the style of a true artist, a sharp researcher of lucid thinking; independent, but deeply committed to the betterment of human beings. Thanks to him, the world could listen to Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo exclaiming for justice from his solitary confinement in the desert prison where Saul has visited him so many times. Each visit has been transformed into brilliant journalistic works that push forward the battle to liberate the man to whom he is now bound by a close friendship.

Professor Emeritus of California State University in Ponoma and Vice-Chair of the Institute for Policy Studies, his works have received awards and distinctions. Among these the Letelier-Moffit for Human Rights, the George Polk for Investigative Reporting, and the Edgar Allan Poe for his Murder at Embassy Row, where he clearly reveals the murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit. He also received an Emmy for his documentary “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang”; a Golden Apple for “The Sixth Sun: Mayan Uprising in Chiapas”; the Roxy for “We Don’t Play Golf Here”, and received first prizes in many film festivals for his works on Fidel Castro, Salvador Allende and Subcomandante Marcos.

His links with Cuba go back to his student days. He collaborated with C. Wright Mills in 1960 in the preparation of Listen Yankee, a memorable text that made millions of people aware of the truth about the Cuban Revolution. He stood by his teacher until the end of his days in the midst of the hatred and threats that the Empire and the Batista mafia unleashed against Mills and his work. From those years until “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up” and his frequent trips to Victorville prison to interview Gerardo and rescue him from oblivion, Saul has been a superlative example of solidarity and altruism.

Gore Vidal said of him: “Saul is a man I like to steal ideas from.” Great has been his contribution in the struggle to defeat the media tyranny that spreads ignorance and misinformation everywhere.

But his work was not only from an office, and his risks were not just those of a journalist who reports conflicts. Saul goes far beyond that. He is a real combatant with no other weapons than his talent and his intellectual integrity.

With these weapons he challenged Batista’s terrorists and, half a century later, used them against the butchers of Operation Condor. With these weapons he unmasked the murderers of Orlando Letelier and did not hesitate at the announcement that he would be the next victim.

He’s never lost his joy, his joviality, his youthful spirit. For Saul, the Sixties never ended. The idealism and rebelliousness of that decade live on with him. This, above all, deserves our eternal gratitude. There will be no farewell. We will stay with him and he will live in our hearts hasta la victoria siempre.

 

 

 

 

Note from the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba issuing the Medal of Friendship to Saul Landau

Note from Saul Landau

Yesterday I was informed that ICAP, by Agreement of the Council of State, has granted me the Medalla de la Amistad [Medal of Friendship]. I have no way to express properly my appreciation for the decision to give me such a prestigious medal.

The Medal of Friendship and ICAP represent the virtues of the Cuban Revolution as in 1959, when I began supporting the solidarity movement as President of the Students Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Then, Cuba represented, as it does now, justice and equality as a force for global progress toward peace and the end of oppression. These values deserved universal support in the beginnings of the Revolution, in the same way they deserve it in 2013.

I feel deeply honored and touched by this recognition.

With friendship

Saul

The Cuba Lobby

In Politics, US on April 12, 2013 at 10:53 am

 

The most powerful lobby in Washington isn’t the NRA. It’s the Castro-hating right wing that has Obama’s bureaucrats terrified and inert.

BY WILLIAM M. LEOGRANDE | 

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/04/11/the_cuba_lobby_jay_z?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full

 Jay-Z and Beyoncé are discovering that fame provides no immunity from the Cuba Lobby’s animus for anyone who has the audacity to act as if Cuba is a normal country rather than the heart of darkness. After the pop icons’ recent trip to the island to celebrate their wedding anniversary, the Cuba Lobby’s congressional contingent — Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart — castigated the couple, demanding that they be investigated for violating the half-century-old U.S. embargo. (As it turned out, the trip had been authorized by the U.S. Treasury Department as a cultural exchange.) Still, celebrity trips to Cuba make headlines, and condemnation by the Cuba Lobby is always quick to follow. But what seems like a Hollywood sideshow is actually symptomatic of a much deeper and more dangerous problem — a problem very much like the one that afflicted U.S. policy toward China in the 1950s and 1960s. Then, as now, an aggressive foreign-policy lobby was able to prevent rational debate about an anachronistic policy by intimidating anyone who dared challenge it.

 “A wasteland.” That’s how W. Averell Harriman described the State Department’s Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs when he took it over for President John F. Kennedy in 1961. “It’s a disaster area filled with human wreckage.… Some of them are so beaten down they can’t be saved. Some of those you would want to save are just finished. They try and write a report and nothing comes out. It’s a terrible thing.” As David Halberstam recounts in The Best and the Brightest, the destruction of the State Department’s expertise on Asia was the result of the China Lobby’s decade-long assault on everyone, from professors to Foreign Service officers, who disputed the charge that communist sympathizers in the United States had “lost China.” The China Lobby and its allies in Congress forced President Harry Truman and President Dwight Eisenhower to purge the State Department of its most senior and knowledgeable “China hands,” while continuing to perpetuate the fiction that the Nationalist government in Taiwan was the “real” China, rather than the communist government on the mainland — a policy stance that persisted long after the rest of the world had come to terms with Mao Zedong’s victory. The result was a department that had little real knowledge about Asia and was terrified of straying from far-right orthodoxy. This state of affairs contributed directly to the debacle of Vietnam.

Today, U.S. relations with Latin America are suffering from an equally irrational policy toward Cuba — a policy designed in the 1960s to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government and which, more than 50 years later, is no closer to success. Like U.S. policy toward China in the 1950s and 1960s, policy toward Cuba is frozen in place by a domestic political lobby, this one with roots in the electorally pivotal state of Florida. The Cuba Lobby combines the carrot of political money with the stick of political denunciation to keep wavering Congress members, government bureaucrats, and even presidents in line behind a policy that, as President Barack Obama himself admits, has failed for half a century and is supported by virtually no other countries. (The last time it came to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly, only Israel and the Pacific island of Palau sided with the United States.) Of course, the news at this point is not that a Cuba Lobby exists, but that it astonishingly lives on — even during the presidency of Obama, who publicly vowed to pursue a new approach to Cuba, but whose policy has been stymied thus far.

Like the China Lobby, the Cuba Lobby isn’t one organization but a loose-knit conglomerate of exiles, sympathetic members of Congress, and nongovernmental organizations, some of which comprise a self-interested industry nourished by the flow of “democracy promotion” money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). And like its Sino-obsessed predecessor, the Cuba Lobby was launched at the instigation of conservative Republicans in government who needed outside backers to advance their partisan policy aims. In the 1950s, they were Republican members of Congress battling New Dealers in the Truman administration over Asia policy. In the 1980s, they were officials in Ronald Reagan’s administration battling congressional Democrats over Central America policy.

At the Cuba Lobby’s request, Reagan created Radio Martí, modeled on Radio Free Europe, to broadcast propaganda to Cuba. He named Jorge Mas Canosa, founder of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), to chair the radio’s oversight board. President George H.W. Bush followed with TV Martí. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) authored the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, writing the economic embargo into law so no president could change it without congressional approval.

Founded at the suggestion of Richard V. Allen, Reagan’s first national security advisor, CANF became one of the most powerful ethnic foreign-policy organizations in the United States and was the linchpin of the Cuba Lobby until Mas Canosa’s death in 1997. “No individual had more influence over United States policies toward Cuba over the past two decades than Jorge Mas Canosa,” the New York Times editorialized. In Washington, CANF built its reputation by spreading campaign contributions to bolster friends and punish enemies. In 1988, CANF money helped Joe Lieberman defeat incumbent Sen. Lowell Weicker, whom Lieberman accused of being soft on Castro because he visited Cuba and advocated better relations. Weicker’s defeat sent a chilling message to other members of Congress: challenge the Cuba Lobby at your peril. In 1992, according to Peter Stone’s reporting in National Journal, New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Torricelli, seduced by the Cuba Lobby’s political money, reversed his position on Havana and wrote the Cuban Democracy Act, tightening the embargo. Today, the political action arm of the Cuba Lobby is the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which hands out more campaign dollars than CANF’s political action arm did even at its height — more than $3 million in the last five national elections.

In Miami, conservative Cuban-Americans have long presumed to be the sole authentic voice of the community, silencing dissent by threats and, occasionally, violence. In the 1970s, anti-Castro terrorist groups like Omega 7 and Alpha 66 set off dozens of bombs in Miami and assassinated two Cuban-Americans who advocated dialogue with Castro. Reports by Human Rights Watch in the 1990s documented the climate of fear in Miami and the role that elements of the Cuba Lobby, including CANF, played in creating it.

Today, moderate Cuban-Americans have managed to carve out greater space for political debate about U.S. relations with Cuba as attitudes in the community have changed — a result of both the passing of the old exile generation of the 1960s and the arrival of new immigrants who want to maintain ties with family they left behind. But a network of right-wing radio stations and right-wing bloggers still routinely vilifies moderates by name, branding anyone who favors dialogue as a spy for Castro. The modus operandi is the same as the China Lobby’s in the 1950s: One anti-Castro crusader makes dubious accusations of espionage, often based on guilt by association, which the others then repeat ad nauseam, citing one other as proof.

Like the China Lobby before it, the Cuba Lobby has also struck fear into the heart of the foreign-policy bureaucracy. The congressional wing of the Cuba Lobby, in concert with its friends in the executive branch, routinely punishes career civil servants who don’t toe the line. One of the Cuba Lobby’s early targets was John J. “Jay” Taylor, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, who was given an unsatisfactory annual evaluation report in 1988 by Republican stalwart Elliott Abrams, then assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, because Taylor reported from Havana that the Cubans were serious about wanting to negotiate peace in southern Africa and Central America. “CANF had close contact with the Cuban desk, which soon turned notably unfriendly toward my reporting from post and it seemed toward me personally,” Taylor recalled in an oral history interview. “Mas and the foundation soon assumed that I was too soft on Castro.”

The risks of crossing the Cuba Lobby were not lost on other foreign-policy professionals. In 1990, Taylor was in Washington to consult about the newly launched TV Martí, which the Cuban government was jamming so completely that Cubans on the island dubbed it, “la TV que no se ve” (“No-see TV”). But TV Martí’s patrons in Washington blindly insisted that the vast majority of the Cuban population was watching the broadcasts. Taylor invited the U.S. Information Agency officials responsible for TV Martí to come to Cuba to see for themselves. “Silence prevailed around the table,” he recalled. “I don’t think anyone there really believed TV Martí signals were being received in Cuba. It was a Kafkaesque moment, a true Orwellian experience, to see a room full of grown, educated men and women so afraid for their jobs or their political positions that they could take part in such a charade.”

In 1993, the Cuba Lobby opposed the appointment of President Bill Clinton’s first choice to be assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, Mario Baeza, because he had once visited Cuba. According to Stone, fearful of the Cuba Lobby’s political clout, Clinton dumped Baeza. Two years later, Clinton caved in to the Cuba Lobby’s demand that he fire National Security Council official Morton Halperin, who was the architect of the successful 1995 migration accord with Cuba that created a safe, legal route for Cubans to emigrate to the United States. One chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba told me he stopped sending sensitive cables to the State Department altogether because they so often leaked to Cuba Lobby supporters in Congress. Instead, the diplomat flew to Miami so he could report to the department by telephone.

During George W. Bush’s administration, the Cuba Lobby completely captured the State Department’s Latin America bureau (renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs). Bush’s first assistant secretary was Otto Reich, a Cuban-American veteran of the Reagan administration and favorite of Miami hard-liners. Reich had run Reagan’s “public diplomacy” operation demonizing opponents of the president’s Central America policy as communist sympathizers. Reich hired as his deputy Dan Fisk, former staff assistant to Senator Helms and author of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. Reich was followed by Roger Noriega, another former Helms staffer, who explained that Bush’s policy was aimed at destabilizing the Cuban regime: “We opted for change even if it meant chaos. The Cubans had had too much stability over decades.… Chaos was necessary in order to change reality.”

In 2002, Bush’s undersecretary for arms control and international security, John Bolton, made the dubious charge that Cuba was developing biological weapons. When the national intelligence officer for Latin America, Fulton Armstrong, (along with other intelligence community analysts) objected to this mischaracterization of the community’s assessment, Bolton and Reich tried repeatedly to have him fired. The Cuba Lobby began a steady drumbeat of charges that Armstrong was a Cuban agent because his and the community’s analysis disputed the Bush team’s insistence that the Castro regime was fragile and wouldn’t survive the passing of its founder. The 2001 arrest for espionage of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top Cuba analyst, Ana Montes, heightened the Cuba Lobby’s hysteria over traitors in government in the same way that the spy cases of the 1950s — Alger Hiss and the Amerasia magazine affair — gave the China Lobby ammunition. Armstrong was subjected to repeated and intrusive security investigations, all of which cleared him of wrongdoing. (He completed a four-year term as national intelligence officer and received a prestigious CIA medal recognizing his service when he left the agency in 2008.)

When Obama was elected president, promising a “new beginning” in relations with Havana, the Cuba Lobby relied on its congressional wing to stop him. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the senior Cuban-American Democrat in Congress and now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vehemently opposes any opening to Cuba. In March 2009, he signaled his willingness to defy both his president and his party to get his way. Menendez voted with Republicans to block passage of a $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill (needed to keep the government running) because it relaxed the requirement that Cuba pay in advance for food purchases from U.S. suppliers and eased restrictions on travel to the island. To get Menendez to relent, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had to promise in writing that the administration would consult Menendez on any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Senate Republicans also blocked confirmation of Arturo Valenzuela as Obama’s assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs until November 2009. With the bureau managed in the interim by Bush holdovers, no one was pushing from below to carry out Obama’s new Cuba policy. After Valenzuela stepped down in 2012, Senator Rubio (R-Fla.), whose father left Cuba in the 1950s, held up confirmation of Valenzuela’s replacement, Roberta Jacobson, until the administration agreed to tighten restrictions on educational travel to Cuba, undercutting Obama’s stated policy of increasing people-to-people engagement.

When Obama nominated career Foreign Service officer Jonathan Farrar to be ambassador to Nicaragua, the Cuba Lobby denounced him as soft on communism. During his previous posting as chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, Farrar had reported to Washington that Cuba’s traditional dissident movement had very little appeal to ordinary Cubans. Menendez and Rubio teamed up to give Farrar a verbal beating during his confirmation hearing for carrying out Obama’s policy of engaging the Cuban government rather than simply antagonizing it. When they blocked Farrar’s confirmation, Obama withdrew the nomination, sending Farrar as ambassador to Panama instead. Their point made, Menendez and Rubio did not object.

The Cuba Lobby’s power to derail diplomatic careers is common knowledge among foreign-policy professionals. Throughout Obama’s first term, midlevel State Department officials cooperated more closely and deferred more slavishly to congressional opponents of Obama’s Cuba policy than to supporters like John Kerry, the new secretary of state who served at the time as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. When Senator Kerry tried to get the State Department and USAID to reform the Bush administration’s democracy-promotion programs in 2010, he ran into more opposition from the bureaucracy than from Republicans. If Obama intends to finally keep the 2008 campaign promise to take a new direction in relations with Cuba, the job can’t be left to foreign-policy bureaucrats, who are so terrified of the Cuba Lobby that they continue to believe, or pretend to believe, absurdities — that Cubans are watching TV Martí, for instance, or that Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. Only a determined president and a tough secretary of state can drive a new policy through a bureaucratic wasteland so paralyzed by fear and inertia.

The irrationality of U.S. policy does not stem just from concerns about electoral politics in Florida. The Cuban-American community has evolved to the point that a majority now favors engagement with Cuba, as both opinion polls and Obama’s electoral success in 2008 and 2012 demonstrate. Today, the larger problem is the climate of fear in the government bureaucracy, where even honest reporting about Cuba — let alone advocating a more sensible policy — can endanger one’s career. Democratic presidents, who ought to know better, have tolerated this distortion of the policy process and at times have reinforced it by allowing the Cuba lobby to extort concessions from them. But the cost is high — the gradual and insidious erosion of the government’s ability to make sound policy based on fact rather than fantasy.

Through bullying and character assassination, the China Lobby blocked a sensible U.S. policy toward Beijing for a quarter-century, with tragic results. When Richard Nixon finally defied the China Lobby by going to Beijing in 1972, the earth did not tremble, civilization did not collapse, and U.S. security did not suffer. If anything, U.S. allies around the world applauded the adoption — finally — of a rational policy. At home, the punditocracy was surprised to discover that Nixon’s bold stroke was politically popular. The China Lobby proved to be a paper tiger; the Red Scare fever of the 1950s had subsided, robbing the movement of its political base.

Likewise, the Cuba Lobby has blocked a sensible policy toward Cuba for half a century, with growing damage to U.S. relations with Latin America. When a courageous U.S. president finally decides to defy the Cuba Lobby with a stroke as bold as Nixon’s trip to China, she or he will discover that so to the Cuba Lobby no longer has the political clout it once had. The strategic importance of repairing the United States’ frayed relations with Latin America has come to outweigh the political risk of reconciliation with Havana. Nixon went to China, and history records it as the highlight of his checkered legacy. Will Barack Obama have the courage to go to Havana?

 

 

Dos para el baile

In CAFE, Cuba, Cuba/US, Politics, US on January 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Margarita Alarcón Perea

El cambio radical y necesario llevado a cabo durante la presidencia de Raúl Castro, finalmente ha llegado. A los cubanos en la isla se les permite salir sin necesidad de obtener el diabólico “permiso de salida”.

Si sacamos cuentas de las ventajas de esta medida, vemos que contrario a lo que piensa la mayoría, de los cubanos que estarán haciendo viajes al exterior, la mayor parte de estos, regresará.

Cuba nunca fue realmente una cárcel como tantos han pretendido hacer creer. Era una isla bajo condiciones extremas intentando subsistir y de hecho aun lo sigue haciendo. Aun así, la idea de tener que solicitarle al gobierno autorización formal para salir del país era algo que pasadas las primeras décadas de la Revolución, comenzaba a resultarle inadmisible a la población y a la larga iba en detrimento de lo que el sistema estaba tratando de lograr: una isla colmada de justicia social. La población simplemente no podía comprender porque se les obligaba a pedirle permiso al gobierno para poder  salir y volver a casa. Y en esto justamente yace el quid de la cosa, no solo podrán salir los cubanos libremente, sino que se les permitirá permanecer fuera (aunque considere que esta restricción debería variar) por un periodo máximo de 24 meses, y podrán volver a casa, a la isla, a Cuba. Ya no vivirán más la angustia de tener que decidirse entre “aquí” y “allá”.

El asunto ahora recae en obtener la visa de entrada para los países hacia donde los cubanos quieran viajar. No solo hacia los EEUU por cierto. Canadá, España, México y otras serán las naciones que verán sus consulados llenos de cubanos solicitando permiso de entrada desde la Habana. Y no solo se hace necesario que los cubanos entiendan el fenómeno que regula el mundo del viajero. Por lo que he leído últimamente, hay blogueros por ahí a los que no les vendría mal un curso intensivo en el tema:

                      “Aun se necesita una visa para entrar en prácticamente cualquier país al que desee viajar un cubano. Hay una lista corta de países a los cuales el gobierno permitirá que viajen sus ciudadanos sin visa: Malaysia, Hungría, Rusia, Liechtenstein, Ucrania, Bielorrusia, Eslovaquia, Barbados, Granada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vicente y las Granadinas, Moldavia, Kazakstán, Kirguistán.

El autor de este escrito o bien tiene problemas con la gramática y no supo ubicar correctamente el sujeto de la oración, o debería aprender sensatamente sobre leyes internacionales de viajes e inmigración antes de meterse a escribir sobre el tema. El gobierno de Cuba, quiera o no, carece del DERECHO LEGAL de plantearle a otro gobierno que le permita la entrada de sus ciudadanos sin necesidad de una visa, salvo que estableciera convenios al respecto. Hasta donde tengo entendido este tipo de convenio existe con muy pocas naciones, de manera reciproca bilateral y se restringen a pasaportes oficiales (de trabajo) y diplomáticos.

Tenemos el otro tema que involucra directamente a los EEUU. En el pasado, un cubano deseando viajar hacia los EEUU estaba sujeto a una serie de restricciones, una de las cuales era, el permiso de salida, la carta de invitación y otra sarta de papeles más. Ahora, del lado cubano, solo se necesita un pasaporte válido y un pasaje  y bueno por supuesto, la visa de entrada hacia los EEUU que emite el Departamento de Estado de ese país

En otra publicación reciente, vemos que entrevistando a cubanos de a pie, la respuesta resume un tanto el presente y futuro de la situación:

                      “Me gustaría viajar y compartir con mi familia,” nos dice María Eugenia Jiménez, quien estaba despidiendo a la hermana que vive en         Miami.  “Ellos (los EEUU) me negaron la visa porque dicen que soy una inmigrante potencial… ahora el problema es con los demás países, no con Cuba.”

El análisis final tiene que ser que la posibilidad de viajar fuera de la isla y regresar, le dará a los cubanos la posibilidad de ver por si mismos  lo que hay más allá de las aguas que los rodean. Verán con sus propios ojos. Y a su regreso, podrán mejor entender lo bueno que hay en su isla y cuáles son los aspectos que necesitan mejorar verdaderamente dentro de la sociedad y el sistema de gobierno tal de producir cambios validos.

Tengan en cuenta que durante más de 50 años, los Estados Unidos han sido “la fruta prohibida” para la mayoría de los cubanos. Han idealizado esa nación a través de la familia que se fue, las películas que han visto, la música que han oído y bueno, la no poca propaganda que les ha llegado a través de las no pocas administraciones presidenciales en los EEUU,  intentando socavar los intentos de soberanía e independencia de la isla desde 1959. Al final de la jornada, esa imagen pintoresca del arcoíris con la cazuela de oro a sus pies, cobrará otro matiz. Incluso, olvídense de los EEUU. Pregúntenle a cualquier cubano y verán que tienen una idea muy distorsionada del concepto de lo que es la vida fuera de su pequeña isla caribeña. Ahora, tendrán la oportunidad de ver por sí mismos, y será un golpe de alarma para muchos.

Si la situación política, diplomática y económica entre Cuba y los EEUU cambiara para mejor, muchos de estos mismo cubanos podrían establecer un puente de entrada y salida entre ambas naciones que significaría cambios positivos tanto para Cuba como para los Estados Unidos.

En cambio, lo que tenemos ahora es un embargo impuesto por los EEUU que sigue inamovible, seguimos con la Ley de Ajuste Cubano y las restricciones de viajes contra los ciudadanos norteamericanos cuando de viajar hacia Cuba se trata. Todo esto tendrá que cambiar tarde o temprano. Mientras Cuba sigue dando pasos hacia adelante,  EEUU insiste en permanecer estático. Hacen falta dos para bailar un tango.