Breaking the status quo

Hey, hardliners…

September 28th, 2012 | Posted by Alex in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

…can you call yourselves conservatives if:

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- You believe the government should tell American citizens where they can travel,

- You believe the government can determine who among your family members is really family, and how often you can visit them or how much money you can spend supporting them,

- You believe the government should use our tax dollars to fund ineffective programs whose only result is providing patronage jobs for the politically connected,

- You don’t believe the example of capitalism can be a game changer in a totalitarian society,

- You don’t support independent entrepreneurs in said totalitarian society, who are trying to shake off decades of dependency on the state,

- You don’t believe Americans can be a shining proof of the benefits of our freedoms and rights.

Just saying.


Don’t miss this terrific summation of the ongoing “Made for Showtime” saga that is David Rivera’s short and zany career as a the most corrupt member of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Thank you David for once again making our community the laughing stock of the nation.

Bad Girl Alliegro & Gangster Rivera

The current discourse on travel to Cuba is in a sorry state, if you judge by this HuffpoLive video.

Wild conjectures, politicized “facts”, mutual accusations of character assassination, and of course, a round of Grossball. For the record, I’m friendly with both Henry and Giancarlo, but  have no idea why they were invited to talk about people-to-people contacts when neither one of them have been in one of those trips or conducted a poll or audit, and are just –because they are my friends, I’m going to be nice– advancing a hypothesis without a smidgen of proof that those trips are only “mojitos and beaches”. This line of thinking has been made up out of whole cloth by people like Marco Rubio, without any data or polls to confirm it, with no evidence other than seeing lines of Cuban Americans at the airport with lots of bags (and if you think this is exclusive to Cuba, take a walk around the Miami river and see how many packages are shipped to Haiti, or look at the lines of airline passengers going to any poor Caribbean or Latin American country) and a few Facebook photos, and out of that they have indiscriminately classified those trips as “abuses” and want to eliminate them.

Hogwash. Every time I hear anybody talking about “drinking mojitos” or “dancing salsa” I can’t help but laugh at how pathetic this argument sounds. As if you could participate in a cultural contact without playing music together, or watching a dance performance, or the simple act of drinking a beer was a slap to the face of a dissident. Never mind that the typical itinerary is filled with conferences, visits to museums or art studios, and in-person witnessing of the transformations happening in today’s Cuba.

It’s a reductive and reactionary argument, and would be laughable except that there are real consequences to letting this line of thinking to go unchallenged. By now, Senator Rubio has more or less succeeded in branding the trips “abuses”, the Obama administration gave in to his kidnapping of important nominations and now has OFAC tightening regulations and the number of licensees is decreasing. This can’t be allowed to continue, because it’s an ineffective response that doesn’t put pressure on the regime but instead plays right into its hands by making the U.S. the one banning travel, and because it’s against American values to tell free citizens where they can travel.

So let’s be clear what’s a fact and what is misinformation:

Fact: most Americans and most Cuban Americans want open travel to Cuba.

Fact: most dissidents –the people suffering the brunt of the repression inside Cuba– want more contact, not less.

Fact: Cuba can’t control the actions or movements of every traveler, or paint a pretty facade in front of every pair of eyes (There are many personal accounts of how partcipants in these trips do meet with dissidents –Tomas Bilbao gives a great example with the case of Harold Cepero, who was not involved with the dissident movement until he met people who went on these trips, including several members of Roots of Hope with whom he had a close relationship.)

Fact: every Cuban inside Cuba who interacts with a participant on these trips becomes more connected, more informed and less dependent of the regime to survive. On that score alone, people-to-people contacts have brought more benefits than 50 plus years of embargo.

I know by personal experience that more contacts with the Cuban people help them be more free and less dependent on the regime. Below the fold I’ve posted a piece I wrote for my old blog “Stuck on the Palmetto”, about how the mindset of the Cuban people changed after the mid 80s, when tourism from Western countries was allowed. It was and continues to be a big change, and the Cuba of today bears little resemblance to the Cuba of the Cold War years. No, travel hasn’t changed Cuba to the extent the hardliners want, but it has done more for the Cuban people than the isolationist policies they have imposed for more than fifty years. It’s incredible to me, as somebody who grew up in a country where one of the primary policies of the regime was to keep us isolated from the outside world, to hear supposed “freedom lovers” plea to keep Cubans isolated. Doing away with people-to-people contacts will only serve those who want to continue churning the anti-Castro machine in Miami.



I really enjoyed Jose Luis Marantes’s op-ed for HuffPost Miami on our community’s blind allegiance to the Republican Party, born out of support for a hardline stance during Cold War, and our current need to consider “other choices”:

Growing up, I sometimes felt I wasn’t Cubano enough because I didn’t blindly buy into my families political choices. You see, a lot of Cuban Americans were brought up to have unquestionable loyalty to the Republican party. That loyalty was in part born out of the perceived loyalty of Republicans to the cause of Cuban freedom during the Cold War. That loyalty has lasted almost as long as the Castro regime.

He describes the impact that Cristina Saralegui’s appearance at the DNC had on him:

That is why when Cristina spoke in front of the DNC, it was as if I was listening to the voice of a new generation, my generation. What she spoke about was so simple: the need for Cuban Americans to have “other choices.” As simple as it was, it nearly moved me to tears. Her words were about much more than President Obama and the Democrats — they were about our community. You see, I love Cuba and I want libertad (liberty) for my uncles and cousins that my forbearers left behind. Every year we demand freedom for the Cuban people from both parties and see no results. But I also have a one-year-old son that was born here who deserves a better life too: affordable health care, a quality education… a better future. We can never have that better life if any politician or party takes our vote for granted.

And his comparison of the Romney/Ryan voucher plan to the Cuban “libreta de cupones” is priceless:

A Libretes de Cupones is a hated memory for a lot of Cuban refugees. In Cuba, it is a voucher-style book that the regime gives you for your basic necessities. But when you actually go to the half-empty store in Cuba to redeem your coupon, you find yourself having to choose between necessities. For example, if you need clothes, you often have to choose between getting a shirt or a pair of pants; or socks instead of shoes. In many ways Cristina is right: most health care proposals coming from the party my family has been loyal to force me to choose between my health and my son’s health. That doesn’t feel like a real choice to me. As I write this, my son is suffering from a high fever and serious congestion. In the Romney/Ryan, the children’s hospital I took him to last night would be out of reach for my family.

Read the rest of this wonderful piece here.

We commend the the 44 U.S. Senators who sent a letter to Raul Castro today urging him to release Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds.

The letter concedes that his continued detention is “a major obstacle to any further actions to improve our bilateral relations.”

As I argued last week, raising obstacles against better relations with the U.S. is exactly the game the Cuban regime wants to play.  By keeping Gross behind bars, the regime advances three objectives: (1) throw cold water on any effort by the U.S. to substantively change its Cuba policy while Raul and gang figure out how to resuscitate their economy without losing control; (2) hope his detention will cause the United States to cut funding of USAID programs designed to topple the Cuban government, and (3) hold on to its last shred of legitimacy by continuing to brand the U.S. as an agressor whose “blockade” is the cause of all of Cuba’s problems, economic or otherwise.

By predicating further changes to our failed Cuba policy on Gross’s release, we are (once again) playing right into Castro’s hands.  For the sake of the Cuban people and our own national interests, both of these objectives should be pursued concurrently.

The Miami Herald reports that Justin Lamar Sternad has confessed to the FBI that U.S. Representative David Rivera was the secret investor behind his fraudulent run for Florida’s CD-26.

Looks like it’s only a matter of days before Rivera gets roped on conspiracy charges.

And in case you missed it, here’s the Herald’s juicy expose on the “Conservative bad girl” who brokered the whole scheme between Rivera and Sternad.  Proof it’s hard out there for a chonga.

Carl Hiassen’s next novel seems to be writing itself.

Picture courtesy of Pedro Portal / EL Nuevo Herald

Paul Ryan made the requisite campaign stop at Miami’s Versailles Restaurant yesterday, sipped a cafecito with Jeb and Ileana, hugged the young Cuban waitresses (poured into those tight green uniforms), and stumped for his ticket before a roomful of jubilant GOP supporters.  As the Miami Herald reported, Ryan claimed his Cuban-American counterparts in Congress have reset his thinking on US-Cuba policy:

“They’ve given me a great education — lots of us in Congress — about how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime,” Ryan told supporters at the Versailles restaurant.

“…“We will not keep practicing [Obama's] policy of appeasement,” Ryan said. “We will be tough on this brutal dictator.”

Nevermind that Obama’s policy has done more to stir the forces of change inside the island than anything achieved under W, Clinton, Poppa Bush, and Reagan combined, but that’s a post for another day.

The New York Times reported that Ryan told the crowd at Versailles he learned about the brutal Castro regime ”from friendships”, which suggests he was either (a) inexplicably unaware that Cuba was run by a dictatorship when he opposed the embargo; (b) would change his pro-trade position on China if Chen Guangcheng were to have him over for dinner; or (c) is fudging the truth about his position for political gain.

There are two ways to interpret what really happened at Versailles yesterday:

1) Paul Ryan, once a strong anti-embargo advocate, has since been enlightened on the effectiveness of this policy by the Cuban-American congressional delegation, and is now an ardent anti-Castro hardliner himself, who happens to be on this years GOP presidential ticket.

Meanwhile, the Cuban-American community – which stands UNITED on the embargo, and is known for its forgiving nature – genuinely believes Ryan has been rehabilitated, has absolved him of all past transgressions, and wholeheartedly embraces his candidacy thanks to his anti-embargo bonafides.


2) Paul Ryan continues to believe the embargo is a failed and unproductive policy.  As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported:

A decade ago, Ryan was clear in his opposition to the embargo.

“If we think engagement works well with China, well, it ought to work well with Cuba,” Ryan said in a 2002 interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The embargo doesn’t work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it’s become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo.”

Ryan said at that time that the “more we have a free exchange of people and ideas and customs, the more the people of Cuba will be exposed to the values of freedom and liberty.”

Ryan acknowledged in the 2002 interview that Cuban-Americans “have their reasons” for supporting the embargo “and they’re very passionate about their reasons, I just don’t agree with them and never have.”

Ryan did vote against easing trade sanctions on Cuba in 2007.

However, in a 2008 interview with the Journal Sentinel, he returned to his earlier rhetoric, saying, “if we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?”

Keep in mind that today the vocal opposition inside Cuba is louder and stronger than ever. There are less political prisoners in Cuban jails than anytime since Castro took power. As of 2010, Cubans can now buy and sell their homes and cars, and even start their own private businesses – many of these transactions financed by their relatives in Miami and abroad.

So it would seem like an odd time for Ryan to trade in his pro-engagement stance on Cuba for an isolationist one.

But Ryan’s Cuban-American “friends” in Congress coaxed him into renouncing his long-held position or else risk losing the Cuban-American vote.  Their effort was joined by former representative and Fidel Castro nephew Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who retired from Congress in 2010 to start his own Cuban political party in exile, The White Rose, and the delegation’s lobbyist lackey Mauricio Claver Carone, whose salary is paid by Leopoldo Fernandez-Pujals, a Cuban exile businessman who once told a German newspaper that he intended to use the proceeds from the $360 million sale of his pizza company to topple the government of Fidel Castro and become the next president of Cuba.

To assuage the small but affluent donor base of Mr. Claver-Carone’s PAC, as well as elderly Cuban voters, Lincoln and posse have repeated over and over that Ryan is “good on Cuba”, even though there is little proof to support this claim beyond his talking-point-heavy, substance-free pandering at Versailles yesterday.

Meanwhile, Cuban-American voters – like any sensible people – don’t buy that Ryan has renounced his long held beliefs on the embargo. But since the bulk of them have lost faith in hardline Cuba policies, the Republican ones quickly fall in line behind Ryan in support of his conservative fiscal and social positions, while refusing to call him out on Cuba so their abuelitos will also vote for the guy.

Tell us, which version do you think is more likely?


Who is afraid of Vicente Feliu?

September 21st, 2012 | Posted by Alex in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Another day, another myopic missive from a Cuban American legislator decrying a visa given to a Cuban artist. This time is Ileana Ros Lehtinen, who has sent a letter to Secretary Clinton urging her among other things, to “suspend all educational and cultural exchanges with the Cuban regime”.

Yes, Vicente Feliu is part of a propaganda tour sprinkled with not very good music, advocating for the liberation of the five Cuban spies, and attended by the usual suspects. And Vicente Feliu –besides being an unpopular and mediocre representative of La Nueva Trova, with only one good song to his name– has acted despicably inside Cuba. So what? How is that “undermining our foreign policy and national interests”? Dissent and protest are American values, as precious to the functioning of our democracy as any other. The beauty of living in a democracy is that the citizens can be informed and make up their minds about who to believe, and can separate art from propaganda without a member of Congress telling them what is what.

I have no issues with the congresswoman sending press releases or picketing every concert if she wants. In fact, I wish that instead of writing letters, she would go on the media in New York and San Francisco and expose how Feliu has made an opportunistic late career revival out of standing for the repression of peaceful dissidents in Cuba. What I have a big issue with is making political hay out of this, and exerting her influence to ban any other Cuban acts from coming. (Ironically enough, under her views Pablo Milanes, whom Feliu excoriated over his declarations critical of the Cuban government while in Miami, would have been denied entry.) And also with her puerile interpretation of national security, that presumes that a singer wailing to cuatro gatos is a grave threat to our country, and by extension the valuable cultural exchange programs should be eliminated.

Let the Cuban government be the one who bans singers from concerts and the airwaves, Congresswoman. Unless you are ready to be considered as their equal in intolerance, don’t be afraid to enter into a war of ideas with Vicente Feliu or anybody. Don’t you believe we are demonstrably better?

You can choose to be misinformed about Cuba by reading the farcical fantasies published in Babalu and other hard-line propaganda outlets, where every Cuban American traveler is a mula, every American a neocolonialist dolt looking for mulatas and mojitos or a leftist dupe and every Cuban a prostitute or a jinetero, ready to scam every last penny out of you, while the communist snitches watch your every move, ready to deport you or throw you in jail at whim.

Or you can read this harrowing, touching, beautifully written first-person account of his visits by John Jeremiah Sullivan in the New York Times Magazine. It’s one of the best articles ever written about what it’s like to visit a country so full of contradictions, so endearing and strange, so close and so far at the same time. Part travelogue, part memoir, part deft political analysis, whether it’s making the case for removing the embargo:

You can’t understand the transnationally dysfunctional, mutually implicated relationship between Cuba and Miami, that defies all embargoes and policies of “definitive abandonment,” until you realize that the line often cuts through families, almost always, in fact. People make all sorts of inner adjustments. I told the man I hated the embargo (the blockade, as they call it) and thought it was stupid, which was both true and what he wanted to hear. He gave me a manly clap-grasp. I didn’t go on and say, of course, that I disliked the embargo most because it, more than anything, has kept the Castros in power for half a century, given them a ready-made Goliath for their David. Thanks to the embargo, when the Castros rail against us as an imperialist enemy, they aren’t really lying. We have in effect declared ourselves the enemy of the Cuban people and done it under the banner of their freedom, hitting Cuba in a way that, after all, makes only the people suffer, and far from punishing those in power, rewards them and buttresses their story.

or succinctly refuting the myth that all interactions with Cubans are controlled by the state:

The things he said, which I had heard many times before — that you can go to prison for nothing, that there’s no opportunity, that people are terrified to speak out — are the reason I can never quite get with my leftie-most friends on Cuba, when they want to make excuses for the regime. It’s simply a fact that nearly every Cuban I’ve ever come to know beyond a passing acquaintance, everyone not involved with the party, will turn to you at some point and say something along the lines of, “It is a prison here.”

it’s a glorious read that will grip you from the first paragraph –and the first photo– and leave you at the end daydreaming of a trip to the island, to see with your own eyes, and have your own Cuban adventure of discovery.

Incredible but true: lawmakers in newly reformed Burma have been teaching themselves democracy by studying old episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s political drama The West Wing.

Message to Raul Castro: Oye pipo, I know your guys are reading this. First of all, no one here really talks that way. But more importantly, if you ever wanna watch the show, hit me up. I’ll gladly send you my copy of Season 1 via VaCuba. Don’t worry, shipping’s on me.

Here’s hoping the Miami-based Directorio Democratico Cubano is using part of that measly 4% it actually spends on humanitarian aid in Cuba (from the millions they receive in federal funding) to smuggle old TWW DVDs into the island.