Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cuba is leaving Cuba

Leave my country was a painful decision based in a long road of desperation and disappointments. Usually, immigrants arrive to their foster countries with dreams of a brilliant future and a better life. In their pockets carry dreams, expectations, frustrations and fears. Sometimes they carry money, valuables and some precious keepsakes. In my case, I stepped on Pearson Airport with $60.00 in my pockets, a desperate journey of anguish and pain, and nothing but hopes in my heart.Cuba is leaving Cuba

I gave up dreams and convictions, and I truly knew my life could be change forever in so many ways. I reached the point where I couldn’t live in my country anymore, and I left behind love ones to whom I would have to take care. They were in my mind in first term when I took the decision to leave and walked on Canada’s busiest airport.

We had heard this story over and over. Every Cuban who leaves his country is carrying a trunk of broken dreams and many stories. The majority of them only wish a better life with no political involvement. The beautiful little island has been the source of the most incredible and outrageous attempts to get out the country.

A story that began in 1959 and until now, Cuba’s youth is leaving. The reasons had changed through the times.

The first waves of immigrants begun with the escape of political opponents and the wealthiest in Cuba’ society, and sooner turned a twist in the earlier 70’s when the first exiles were allowed to visit their relatives. They brought dollars, gifts to their relatives and many personal stories about dreams come true.

In the brisk, Cuban society opened their eyes to their peer’s achievements, and the long journey abroad began again after an impasse of few years in the latest 60’s. The young generation was especially stroke and they are the most important source of immigrants after the “Maceitos”, named after that brigade  of exiles named “Maceo”.

For Cubans, reach US soil is the ultimately achieve. America is the closest and the most important place in which close relatives and friends have being living, and to where they focus their dreams. This actual fact has a history behind.

Between December 1960 and October 1962, 14 000 Cuban children left their country alone to go to US in an unusual act, after their parents feared they will be send to the Soviet Union to be indoctrinated by the Castro regime. The operation was named “Operation Peter Pan”. Let me say: an act that a few of them had regretted today, but the majority are proud of what their parents did.

In 1966, the US Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act, in which they support and give aid to the Cubans refugees. That law backs every Cuban dream to reach America over immigrants of other countries included Cuba’s neighbours.

As many know, 1980 was the year were the incidents in Peru’s Embassy happened and brought an estimated of 125 000 Cubans to US land with the Mariel boatlifts. With them, the government of US acknowledged an estimated of 25 000 criminals and mentally ills as a result of a dirty operation folded by the Cuban government, who opened its prisons for those who wanted to go in the adventure.

Mid 90’s, US lawmakers implemented what it is known as “The wet foot, Dry foot” law, what it means any Cuban immigrant who steep on American soil is guaranteed his residence. That law, with the increase of economic problems thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Socialist block in Easter Europe, created the best conditions to improve the massive escape of Cubans to US.

Today, Cuba is leaving Cuba as we can say. The youth doesn’t have any expectation inside our country. Their dream is to reach mainly America or any other place. Cubans authorities laugh out loud about it, but they know it is true. And it is easy to show the true with actual facts and statistics.

There is the fact that when US installed for first time the lottery to immigrate to US, in recent years in Havana, 2 million of Cubans inscribed their names on it. Is it not enough prove of it?

If you consult the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2008 published by the Office of Immigration Statistics of the Department of Homeland Security of US government, you could see that the numbers are speaking themselves:











14 019

18 960

27 453

28 182

9 262

20 488

36 261

45 614

29 104

49 500

Officially, between 2000 and 2008, there had been 264 824 entrances in US territory admitted by the government, and when you compared with decades before, even when 2009 is not still in the statistics, the increase is significant and there is no Peru’s embassy incident involve. It is just a wave of massive escape from the country. If you calculate all the totals since 1959, the amount surpasses the million. For an island of only 11 million, the statistics are overwhelmed.

What respect to Canada, even when it is not significant and comparable with the US, the amounts are increased. I add here the numbers obtained from Statistics Canada:


















1 044

1 338

1 296

The real story is our youth is leaving and the future of our country is in stake. Any country couldn’t sustain any secure future if its youth is giving up any possible future in their premises. And this is not any spooky speculation, it is for real.

I experienced myself, and here and there when you speak with our fellows you will find the same story again and again. Recently, a cousin of mine is walking the same well-known track of any of us: he is leaving Cuba for the best. In his email to my he told me:

“There is not politic matter involve. It’s just I can’t live here anymore, I don’t have a future for me and for my family.”

And I am quoting him.

Wherever you look, wherever you go and ask our folks, the answers are the same: Cuba is leaving Cuba. The island is just hanging gloves and it is not betting for the future: there is no future, it already left the country for the best.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The spirit of the music in the dance

It was September 1978, a humid and dense afternoon in Havana. Through the entire day the weather was miserably, a rainy day. But the Garcia Lorca Theatre was full of people and excitement. At 5:00 pm, the lights were turn off slowly and the silence fell over the audience.alicia alonso-zaida del rio

Suddenly, from the orchestra pit the first notes of the well-known music began to float. Center stage the famous figure in red advanced defiantly flamed with passion and flare, flanked and surrounded by dancers in tall seats staging a bullring. The atmosphere was electrifying: Alicia Alonso was dancing Carmen. She was Carmen.

I was in University of Havana when I first saw Alicia dancing the second act of Giselle. It was beautiful. I don’t have any other word to describe how she was. Years later I read how Anton Haskell described her: eerie, haunted and sublime. But I will describe her as the critic Doris Hering did: “a dancing body performing as a glorious and natural extension of music”. She was the spirit of the music in the dance.

These memories come to my mind after read that the Cuban National Ballet is coming to Hamilton, Ontario, to perform The Nutcracker. And the Cuban Ballet is Alicia.

If Fidel Castro is iconic in politics and the emblematic figure of the Cuban Revolution; Alicia is the embodied incarnation of the dance. Both are controversial and flame the opinions of Cubans here and there. Both are portrayed as tyrannical and fussy. But both are irreplaceable in Cuba’s landscape. You can’t speak about Cuba if you don’t mention Castro.

But you can’t speak about ballet if you don’t speak about Alicia. She belongs to the elite and she shines there as unique.

We can condemn her filiations and support to the Castro’s regime. We can even feel her political opinions are despicable, and despise her involvement in a Revolution that ended in a tyranny. I guess the spirit of Giselle that I saw in the University came across the ballet and was installed in her mind in a long scene of madness all along these years.

But when the lights are off, the curtains are open and she appears on stage, the magic takes control of your soul, and you see the fragile farmer girl snatching the sword and running around the stage, and you know you had found Giselle.

That afternoon of September, I saw Carmen with Alicia Alonso and I was trapped in her charms. You could feel the vibrations floating across the audience. And the red figure was full of passion, indomitable and seductive. That ballet was especially ordered by Maya Plisetskaya and created for her, but Alicia Alonso owned from the very moment she came out on the bullring on the stage, with the furious rage you always imagine in the character from Merimee’s roman.

For decades, many Cuban dancers had deserted the Cuban Ballet everywhere. Last year, six of them left the company in Hamilton the last time they were there, and crossed the border with US. Many of them had talked about her despotic manners and discriminations inside the Cuban troupe. Some had criticized the Cuban Ballet School, and particularly its general director, Alicia Alonso, for being ruled with an iron fist.

Her long time partenaire, Jorge Esquivel, is living in Argentine after left the Company for many of these reasons. Brilliant ballerinas like Rosario Suarez and others left the country, and now there are living and working successfully elsewhere. All of them blamed Alicia’s character, her strong will, her hardships. But when they come to Alicia as an artist, they also agree she was and will be one of the greatest ballet dancers of all times.

There is that scene in the first two minutes of Carmen when Alicia, after cross the stage side to side, turns to the audience and moves forward with her arms moving back and up to her shoulders and the music grows in a dramatic crescendo, her face looks far forward to the audience, defiant, her red attire and body move with a mixture of seduction and fierce and her feet “en pointe” is moving swift, with sharp strides. That Carmen stays in my memories as the closest human incarnation of the character in Ballet History. And you feel the music is on her, it is part of her, it is her.

I am not a ballet fan; I am not even a mediocre connoisseur. I was only the young man who knew Alicia was one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, and I wanted to be there, to see in flesh the legend, to be part of that magic moment.

Sometimes, I would rather say many times, life is contradictory, and some questions haunted you years after years. We don’t have to catalogue artistry achievement as we do with politicians and estate’s officials. I must say, we have to overpass the small creature inside the artist to reach the genius.

We have to overpass Alicia partisanship with Castro to reach her artistry lineage, which is what made her a masterpiece in Ballet and what it is her will to the eternity.

The generations to come will remember her as one of the greatest dancers of all times. All the other tiny things will fade away with the past. Today and tomorrow, she is what she is: the spirit of the music in the dance.

Bicitaxis in Havana

Since the collapse of the Socialism in Eastern Europe, the public transportation system in Havana has been a disaster. It doesn’t mean necessarily it was a perfect system in the past, but at least it worked more regularly and with a better scope. But the Socialism in Europe banished, and the bulky pocket of the Cuban government was empty at the end of 1989 with no solutions for what it was a nightmare: move people around the capital city, Havana.bicitaxis

For decades, Havana has been in need of a more dynamic and diverse solution for the transportation of their citizens, but Cuban authorities only bet to one of the kind system: a network of crowded buses, which in Cuban slang is known as “guaguas”.

With a population of 2 and a half million, Havana was in need of diversity and extension. In their long scale dreams, Cuban authorities even published a plan to build the first subway. A dream so far away from the real Havana than people smiled with the idea and made funny jokes about it.

We never had infrastructure and electric power to move one single line of subway. With well-known blackouts in the country-side of the island, and even in some parts of Havana, the question popped up people’s mind every day: how it could be possible to build a subway with blackouts and a power system only based in fossil fuel generation?

Then, the Special Period came, and the public transportation system collapsed. The government took a step to appeal to the public for the use of bicycles and sold them massively along the country. In the other hand, Cubans took a step forward and Bicitaxis appeared on stage.

As always has been, the authorities responded with prohibition and repression, imposing high fines and expropriation. The bicitaxis’ owners didn’t show up fear. They protested one Saturday night on the streets of Centro Habana district, the blocks surrounded by Galeano and Zanja, an important intersection in downtown Havana. The bicitaxis’ won.

Since then, they are living in a semi-legal status, they are not completely legal, but their activities create another local attraction to the tourism and the authorities took advantage of that. The “cocotaxis” were born as a governmental alternative to the bicitaxis. The name of cocotaxis is after the coconut shape of them (coco is coconut in Spanish).

The war between the bicitaxi’s “industry” and the Cuban authorities proves how the local government responds always to the private sector: repression, monopolization and ultimately leniency when the official’s efforts to crush the activity could lead to unrest.

The fragile estate of the nation in the late 80’s and in the beginnings of the 90’s with the crisis in Europe and the collapse of the Socialism worldwide as a system, joined with the economic crisis and the lack of any single service in Cuba made the confrontation with the bicitaxis so dangerous that the government chose to allow that private sector to grow, and reluctantly incorporated that idea with the parallel appearance of the cocotaxi’s industry. The official response at what was a thriving activity in the touristic sector. Since then, they are running around together with no more disturbances.

The cocotaxis grew up and nowadays is an activity that crosses the line between the private sectors to become public. The allowance, nevertheless, is a brilliant example of how the civil society in Cuba could be a winner if the effort of the Cuban people matches up with one immediate objective.

The civil society has to look after that advance to achieve a victory. The crisis in the transport system created the natural conditions to surge the self-employment in terms of transportation, and both appeal to the general public who expressed sympathy with the bicitaxis’ owners in their confrontation with the government.

Cuban authorities had handled very careful any possible confrontation that could be bust the Revolution. Bicitaxis made history in the early 90’s. Today, they are part of the Cuba’s landscape and nobody remembers their bumpy beginnings.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Two leaves

I arrived to Canada a cold night of September in 2000, leaving behind a long travel through a life of deceit and broken dreams. The last picture of my country was the thin and long seashore of Varadero. From the air, the stunning beach looked like a bubbly line of sand and water. The sun was shining and through the thickest window of my plane I took a last glance of my little island in my way out.dos hojas

My eyes were covered in tears, and my heart was falling in pieces. At that point, I didn’t know when and how I would touch the soil of my homeland again. I was leaving, my heart was leaving and with both, my identity was fading away into the dark.

Three years later I became a Canadian citizen. Meanwhile I was chanting with others the Canadian national anthem, my memories were in their travel back to that moment when I was watching the transparent and sapphires waters of Varadero, and the feelings were the same: a mixture of sadness and joy. I became a Cuban-Canadian in November of 2003, and I travelled to Cuba in my new identity four months later.

It’s hard our pace through life, especially when you left someone you love behind, and you miss your friends, the day-to-day sounds, the smell of the rain hitting the sidewalk, those little things you never noticed before and now become significant.

Visiting our native soil becomes a surrealistic trip to our origins. Cuba doesn’t allow double citizenship, and meanwhile you already are proud to be Canadian, Cuban officials decry your status as “Cuban-foreigner”: you are an enemy, someone who deserted the Revolution, someone who betrayed Fidel.

You have to pay a Cuban passport which probably is the most expensive passport in the whole world. Every year you have to pay $80.00 to update a stamp attached to that passport which is your legal permission to enter to your own country. And with it, you have to keep your mouth shut, your real opinions and feelings restrained and endure humiliations, despair and anger every time you show up at the Cuban embassy.

They squeeze your pockets, but in the public speeches we are “the enemy”. They need our money, but we are “agents of the Capitalism”.

Then, when you reach the customs in any Cuban airport, they examine your documents, your eyes; they stroll every inch of your face looking for the culprit behind your skin. After all, we are the exiles; we committed a crime against our forefathers. And if your fault is not too big to crush your wings to fly into your own country, you get 21 days to enjoy the luxury to walk hand to hand with your folks.

But you are tangled between two nationalities in one person: you are Cuban, but you are not. You have the magic currency that open any door in Cuba for only 21 days, but you also know you are walking a fine line in which every move is watch. After all, when you applied for your stamp you declared where you are living in Canada, what you are doing, all your personal information, where you are going to stay in Cuba, with who and why.

I wonder if it is too hard to understand, by Canadians and people in general, the deepest violation of your identity and rights as citizen of your own country that Cubans have to suffer for.

In other words, you became Canadian, but to enter to your native country you have to pay for your own passport as Cuban. Then when you face the window in the customs you are not Cuban, but you have to feel the same fist stretching your neck like every common Cuban when it’s your time to leave: again you have to present the Canadian passport as an opening key to return to your adoptive homeland.

So, at the end, who are us: Cubans or Canadians?

For the pockets of the big brother, we are Canadians.

For the fist of the big brother, we are Cubans.

Every time I touch Cuban soil I feel a mixture of joy and sadness, as I said before, and It comes to my memories the first night in my new country, Canada. Every time I hold out my two passports to the official dressed in green in Cuba, I feel my heart split in two pieces, and I can’t reconcile my feelings.

We are the two leaves of the same tree, but deep inside us the roots are missing. It is the wound committed by the Cuban Revolution: a divided family; a divided country; a divided identity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The mob and the citizen

The last chapter in terms of repression in Cuba has been an escalated attack to the blogosphere, and more personally to Yoani Sanchez, who is the most popular blogger within the island. Last Friday, her husband was confronted and swept away from downtown Havana after a massive act against him by followers of the governments. An act that started with revolutionary consigns and ended with violence and kidnapping.58972522

The bloggers have been absent from any form of personal repression since their impact is only in internet. In the case of Cuba where only 2.1 % of inhabitants have access to internet, blogs are not representing a risk for the totalitarian position of the regime.

Despite other places where bloggers have been mobilizing people around a cause, associations and civil society; in Cuba, bloggers are more reporting Cuba’s day-to-day life. Moreover, they had refused to claim and identify as dissidents, may be because the majority of them belongs to a new generation with a savvy taste for technology. That generation found its niche in internet.

The Cuban blogosphere is appealing more to the outside world rather than claim a political position within Cuba's traditional dissidence, and its effort has been paid off with the involvement of President Obama with the iconic figure of that movement: Yoani Sanchez and her blog Generation Y.

The attempt to reach Cuba was what brought the Cuban blogosphere to the center of the last wave of repression that traditional dissidents have been suffering. In that chapter is where we can locate the incidents surrounding the blogger Reinaldo Escobar, spouse of Yoani Sanchez last Friday.

For Canadians, for whom I am speaking in first person, it could be odd the fact that a simple opinion would bring such a violence and commotion. We are all use to access internet and have favourite’s web sites and blogs, and even participate with our own opinion in some of them. After all, we are living in a Democracy.

The question is: Could it be possible that the government of Canada organize a mob just to crush a personal opinion?

There is another essential point: It is impossible that the mob who screamed, slapped and pushed at the blogger knew about Reinaldo, and even what he posted in his blog. There is no access to his blog and his spouse’s blog in Cuba, it is blocked; and as I said before, only 2.1% of Cubans access to internet and none of them could review their web pages.

So, for those who are questioning the victims and supporting the culprit, how is possible that the mob who slapped, pulled his shirt and hear and screamed obscenities knew him and more important, knew what was the purpose of his presence there?

Reinaldo posted two weeks before in his blog a request to the state agents who attacked his wife to go to the well-known intersection in Havana to discuss and debate. With no internet, no media reporting the request, and the ignorance about the bloggers for the majority of Cubans the question is: how those Cubans recognised the blogger, and more important what did they know about Reinaldo?

The answers are clear: they knew nothing; they were a gang organised by the government to punish an unknown person with opinion. And I stop there: with opinion. Those who cried revolutionary slogans didn’t have any personal opinion. When opinions are formed based in information, knowledge and understanding, what opinions could they have?

So, how is possible that they were in the proper place, at the proper moment and facing the proper person?

Those people belonged to groups organized and prepared by the security forces to suppress any disturbance of any kind; they are selected from the Communist Party, or the Association of Youth, or even recruited from groups who practice karate and judo and have been showed the highest devotion to the regime. They are organized by municipalities in a military structure, and directed by an official of the security forces commonly named G2 (see my post about BCI).

At the same time, there are the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), the Rapid Response Brigades, the Union of Communist Youth and the Communist Party of Cuba, plus the veterans of the old militia and even simple workers from any workplace close to the place where the incident happened. Those were the crowd shielding the agents, the cover up.

In the other hand, It is futile to challenge any security estate agent in Cuba: they won’t face a challenge like the one posted by Reinaldo in his blog. In their place, these forces are going to be sent. This is the scheme of repression in Cuba: the mob against the mob; people against people; Cubans against Cubans.

The security forces will remain only to pull the threads behind the mob and check that everything is moving according to a script very well written in the highest seat of Cuba.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The fault is the culprit

It is not a joke, but what it is really a joke is an article in GRANMA, the dinosaur of all the newspapers in this world (probably, I guess, with the exception of those in North Korea), in which some obscure journalist in that daily garbage said that nobody in the king of censorship in the Cuban media had prohibited the access to reporters and journalists to information of any kind, and start blaming intermediate officials for censorship of any kind.culpable

Is this person living in Cuba or in which planet of our universe?

Just let me give her the chance of a doubt. Let me say she never heard Fidel Castro ranting and raving about movies like “Alice in a Wonderland Town” and witnessed how the movie disappeared from the theatres the next day. Or his complaints about all the Russians magazines during the Glasnost, especially “Moscow News”, and suddenly all the Russians publications were banned in Cuba. Better, she was born after the Congress of UNEAC where his majestic again rebuffed against the intellectuals who are living abroad. UNEAC is the National Association of Writers and Artists of Cuba, for those who are not familiar with the Cuban nomeklatura.

I am afraid that if I continue I won’t have enough space to finish this post. In my last post about Franco and Castro, I remarked the huge similarities between each of them. Censorship at every level is one of the stamps of both regimes.

It is ridiculous, but you can learn about the history of this matter reading this daily garbage GRANMA through all this 50 years of Cuban Revolution. There big names in arts and literature banned from the pages of this libel: Lezama Lima, Virgilio Pineira, Jorge Mañach, Cabrera Infantes, Reynaldo Arenas, etc.

The list would be too long and endless. Today, many of these names are breaking the pages of that newspaper laughing and pocketing at the scribbles of this obscure journalist or reporter or whoever she is. But it is a comedy with a tragedy in background. Many of those intellectuals were ignored, attacked and vilify from the pages of GRANMA.

Who is going to trust in a journalist blaming intermediate bureaucrats and never pointing to high levels in hierarchy?

Are they the responsible for ignoring any mention in that newspaper of the Varela Project?

Are they the ones we need to blame for never publish or mention names like Osvaldo Paya, Yoani Sanchez or Ladies of Whites?

Are they to whom refused to publish the pictures of the Tugboat Massacre of July 13, 1994?

You have to be too ignorant, abstruse and ridiculous to try to sell that story. Those pages are running in Cuba to other courses and are designated to other more basics body functions. But it is essentially a mystical item in a newspaper use to mystify dinosaurs with articles like “Journalism with phobias”.

If there is any phobia in GRANMA, it could be its fear to tell the truth.

I would suggest to Katia Siberia to be free of any phobia and look up there and ask to those who are nameless in her article. They are information that Cubans need to know, I would ask her only two questions:

· How much cost our bureaucrats, especially the Castro’s clan?

· How much cost the army, the associations in charge of the repression and the security forces shielding Castro and company?

I hope those questions won’t be catalogued as “military and state secret” by the resolution of Politburo as she quotes.

I will hope the best for you in that quest, but I have no hope.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Two Faces

History always strikes twice: the first as a tragedy, the second as a comedy. But sometimes History strikes twice as a tragedy leaving comedy behind.doscaras

Francisco Franco was in power for almost 40 years dying peacefully in bed. He established a dictatorial regime characterized by a strong sense of Spanish nationalism, Catholicism, anticommunism and traditional values. For 40 years all the civil society in Spain remained in silence: the opposition was quashed by censorship, coercion, the imprisonment of ideological enemies in concentration camps throughout the country and the use of heavy prison and death penalty.

Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and his resume includes almost the same trajectory of his old reference in his ancestral second homeland but ideologically oppose. Castro regime has been anticlerical by excellence, communist by definition and opportunism and intolerant with old democratic values. For 50 years Cuba has remained in silence: the dissidence has been swept out by censorship, coercion, imprisonment of enemies and the same use of death penalties en heavy prison.

The result has been different in both. Meanwhile Franco is despised from leftists, liberals and even conservatives; Fidel Castro is venerated by almost the same audience. There are even some religious leaders who had expressed their sympathies for him.

Carisma, an outstanding capacity for long speeches, an extraordinary photographic memory and charming personality made of Fidel Castro a masterpiece of tyrant. Holding a nation under his foot with iron fist, Castro whips against capitalism, autocracy, injustice and violence: the same weapons he uses against his own people.

As Franco did Castro established the well-known UMAP to imprison all the spectrum of possible dissidence: homosexuals, political enemies, people with different opinion and well-known intellectuals and artists with an independent vision about the reality.

Castro brought to the third world a populist image in which he obtained a status of leader for the revolutionary movement in Latin-America, Africa and Asia. At the same time, He tried to export his ideology supporting those movements with weapons, guerrilla and political support from the Soviet Union. You could find his shadow in places and conflicts everywhere: Algeria, Angola, El Salvador, Viet Nam, Chile and Colombia.

Still today every time you hear about a guerrilla or a leftist association you can hear the name of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Cuban Revolution and Socialism. A double standard: one for his own people; one for the outsiders.

Cuba is a place where his influence is overshadowing any possible solution to divided families, disillusion and marginalism. His regime brought intolerance in a country where all the political components of the Cuban society brought one of the most advanced Constitutions in America in 1940.

He advocated for a Democratic country in 1953, crushed a democratic revolution in 1961 and institutionalized a leftist tyranny in 1976. Since then, Cuba is under his boot, and evidently it won’t be any solution possible until he dies.

The shadows of internet

It is remarkable the way people approach to our reality in Cuba and the fact that our country is politically out of sync. For western standards, Cuba is a curiosity out of this planet in his own system. For leftists groups, our country is a reference point, but it is not.internet shadow

There is no Socialism in Cuba, and there is no Revolution. The actual fact is the Cuban Revolution extinguished long time ago when Castro ripped off one and every one of his ideas in his own program “History will absolve me”. I guess He understood Democracy is opposed to Socialism in his particular point of view.

As soon He reached up there, He realized the presidential seat couldn’t be retained for too long if he didn’t abolish free elections, opinions and sources of information. Since then, dissidence is a crime and any existence it is overshadow with a doubt.

For too long, the world ignored Cuba at so many levels that dissidents had to find their refugee in America. When the US Interests Section in Havana was settled with Jimmy Carter, America brought support. The Deputy Chief of Mission met dissidents, offered information, resources and moral support.

That led to Castro overshadowed dissidents as spies and members of the “Cuban Mafia of Miami” in his rhetoric. That rhetoric approach is out there, worldwide, and every time you read a leftist website you are pretty much hitting your head, literally, with those appellatives.

When internet appeared the US Interests Section gave to Cuban dissidents the only opportunity to reach the network and appeal to the general public, which in other ways are almost too impossible for them.

Dissidents and civil society don’t have any opportunity to express their opinion freely in Cuba: there is no internet, no newspapers, no radio and TV station who are allowed to bring their opinions. It is the policy of silence that the Cuban government apply to any form of opposition.

My question is: is this new in this world? No, the American independence had the solidarity and support of France. Is it hard to remember?

Today, there is the blogger’s phenomenon in Cuba. They appeared in a more savvy and fresh layer of the Cuban society, a generation who grew up with the first appearances of internet, cell phones and computers. The most notorious bloggers tried to keep some distance from the well-known dissidents for reasons completely understandable but unfair.

As soon you declare you are a dissident, you have all the heavy machinery of Castro’s regime over you. Second, I think they tried to say they don’t have a political platform well defined; they are only citizen with opinions to share with world as everyday happened with the westerners and internet.

They are right, but at the same time they are wrong. As soon you express a different opinion you are a dissident in the eyes of the officials in Cuba. And they treat them in the same way. That is what it is happening now with the bloggers. They are suffering for first time what the dissidents have been suffering for years.

Meanwhile bloggers didn’t try to reach the Cuban opinion or make them know in Cuba, nothing would happen. It is the fine line Castro has been playing since he took power in 1959.

In the other hand, dissidents like Martha Beatriz or Osvaldo Paya belong to the old wave of opposition and they are completely isolated for the vigilant estate. I think there is a bit of salt here and there, and that is why some of them refuse to give any credit to the bloggers.

At the end, all of them are dissidents and sooner or later, they need to joint their effort to bring democracy. They have to acknowledge each other and move on. I would say it could be smart if the bloggers open the door voluntarily as a gesture with people who have been fighting a cruel and intolerant regime.

It is important, in the other hand, to be a little more open-minded and refuse the simplistic temptation to dangle an appellative or a doubt to anybody with no actual facts. The existence of Cuban blogs doesn’t mean they are suspicious of any support of the Cuban government, but at the same time I have to say it is possible.

It happened in the past. Well-known “free journalists” were agents of the Castro regime. The shadow of the doubt is dangling to everyone. It is the consequence of 50 years of Cuban Revolution: intolerance, espionage and control.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Embargo and Immobilism

Once again, The Us Congress and Cuba is engaged in an endless balling game. As usual, the well-known heavy machinery of both sides is throwing foam balls against each other and the central issues are the embargo and the lift of travel by American citizens.roger_wood

In the US Congress, the Cuban-American artillery threw the old litany. The well known dinosaur Ileana Ross-Lethinen (see my post about this congress person) conspicuously without any blink said:

“The majority of European tourists have been going to Cuba for rum, for music, for sex, for cigars for sun, for years. Have they brought about any change in government practices?”

Yes, Mrs Ross-Lethinen, there are no big changes in Cuba. In the other hand, my dear, 50 years of embargo and travelling ban haven’t brought any change in Cuba either, but more repression, more poverty, and more isolation to dissidents, civil society and Cuban people in general. Also, those reasons had added more immigrants to US, legally and illegally, and more death in the Florida Straits.

But, of course, Ross-Lethinen didn’t stop there, she added:

“If American wants sun, they should vacation in Florida”

Now, we are talking right now. This personage is just a Florida vacation sell-person in the Congress of US, no doubt about it. But in the other side of the aisle, President Obama said in an interview via e mail to Yoani Sanchez about this topic:

“We have already initiated a dialogue on areas of mutual concern – safe, legal, and orderly migration, and reestablishing direct mail service. These are small steps, but an important part of a process to move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new and more positive, direction. Achieving a more normal relationship, however, will require action by the Cuban government.”

Again, the entire road headed to a dead end.

For what depend of Cuba, the choices are clear: no choice. The government of Cuba doesn’t have any particular interest in develop any engagement with US. In fact, for 50 years all the efforts have been blocked by many manoeuvres of Fidel Castro. We can’t forget the incidents in the embassy of Peru in 1980 and the massive exodus to Florida of thousands of Cubans achieved the triumph of Ronald Reagan, who closed all the doors opened by his predecessor Jimmy Carter. And the key factor there was Fidel Castro.

Now, Castro is not visible in power anymore, but he is behind closed doors pulling the threads to close the doors again.

Now and then, both sides of the Florida Straits are remised to move on. I will say that a huge slap in Castro’s face would be lifting the embargo and the travelling ban. There are many things Americans can achieve with that. But the first would be showing without a shadow of a doubt that America does care about Cuba more than its leaders.

Being more lenient and more courteous with the Cuban people will show who are their friends and who are the enemies.

We can not forget that with the American dollars would be travelling freedom, democracy and concepts unknown by Cubans.

When two nations talks face to face, all the walls lifted by years of isolation and misunderstanding will come down.

The silence of the Press

I would like to parody the well-known book about Hannibal Lecter, but that’s not my actual intentions here. I rather just remark how the Canadian press is lacking absolutely about news from Cuba, even when Cuba is one of the most important destinations for Canadians (see my post “Canada in Cuba”).harper 2

It looks to me Canada would have to show a little more of attention at what’s happening there, don’t you think. But it is not.

Sometimes it is eye-opening to make a little research around internet; it is a very useful tool when it comes to approach to some issues like this one. In the list of the Canadians newspapers by circulation, you will find out that the top three are:

  1. Toronto Star              – 2 349 760
  2. The Globe and Mail      – 1 996 582
  3. Le Journal de Montreal – 1 577 987

Others newspapers like The National Post and Toronto Sun are making the fifth and sixth in the list. Meanwhile, Toronto Star makes the top of the Canadians around the world. So, putting together those two starting point you have to agree with me that our Canadians press have to dig a little bit more in our Cuban reality on behalf of their own citizen who are travelling constantly to Cuba. Wrong again!!!

Back to internet and you’ll find that the last news about the Caribbean island is dated in November 18, and it is in The Toronto Star: a short resemblance about the last report of The Human Rights Watch about Cuba which is nothing new at this height.

It is very frustrated when you know the last two weeks have been plenty on news about Cuba, and I only listing a few:

  • A well-known blogger assaulted by the policy in Havana.
  • US Department of State condemning that assault.
  • President Obama responded 7 questions from the same blogger through internet.
  • A massive repressive act against another blogger in downtown Havana.
  • A heated discussion in the Congress of US about the embargo.

All those news had made headlines around the world, but in Canada. My question is: WHY?

Why the Canadian government is not speaking about the big amounts of money retained by Cuban’s banks in debts to Canadian’s companies?

Another question, more suggestive: is it possible Canada doesn’t want the embargo lifted in order to keep the Cuban market at any cost and that’s why Harper is lip-sailed?

The silence of the Press is the same silent of the lambs in the famous book of Thomas Harris. We are not a big community here in Canada, but there are Cubans living in many parts of this beautiful country. We deserve a little more attention from our government in a more engaging way with the Cuban society, not only with the Cuban government.

Cuba is not only Castro, Cuba is not only the officials; Cuba is not only the embassy in Ottawa. We need more signs from the Canadian government addressing the situation with the civil society inside the little island.

We are still waiting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Panfilo strikes again

There is another video of Panfilo circulating in internet, this time with more outrageous behaviour in what looks like a bar or a public space with tourists surrounding him. Again, the singular character is completely lost in alcohol, but this time it is not about food what the drunkard is misbehaving, it is about Raul Castro.panfilo again

Panfilo jumped to the world when in one of his well-known drinking feast broke surprisingly a street interview and started to ask for “Jama” (the slang word for food). The video was watched around the world in few hours, and captured the special attention in YouTube, escalating in popularity when it reached TV news channels like CNN and many of the Hispanic TV stations in Florida.

At the beginning it was a sort of joke that showed the actual picture of what it is Cuba nowadays. A funny beginning turned into a tragedy, when the Cuban authorities send the poor lad to jail. Suddenly, Panfilo became more a victim of the system installed in a country with surrealistic dimensions.

Today season of Panfilo’s, as we can say, it is not funny anymore. I posted the original and first video, this time I won’t posted the new one. It is macabre, disgusting and completely despicable for so many reasons, at so many levels.

First, it is very questionable the intentions hiding behind the video. You don’t see other faces rather than Panfilo’s, the few others are blurred and that speaks a lot about the authors of the video. They don’t have the nerve to show their faces, they don’t have the nerve to show their real identity.

Second, at this time everybody around the world knows that the poor guy is in real danger for the foulest reason of all: he is a drunkard and doesn’t know anything when he starts to talk. The people seated there watching him knows what they are doing; they are provoking him and using him for second reasons. They don’t have the courage to say what he is saying, but they want somebody else to say it. Pretty sneaky behaviour, don’t you think?

Third, Panfilo used one of the older rumours circulating in Cuba and in the world about some apparent sexual preference of Raul Castro. He called Castro: “Maricon” (what it is a very vulgar Cuban slang to name gays).

The Cuban culture is pretty macho style and gays are still very harassed and discriminated. The use intentionally of the video slamming Raul Castro in that way is more despicable, not because slammed Castro, but because it is showing a biased and prejudiced vision about homosexuality in a country where we all need a more open mind in every aspect of our reality.

It is also despicable, because rather than slam Raul Castro it is slamming those who are fighting with honesty and courage without any sort of prejudice or bias. It’s not insulting the way you thrown a tyrant.

But, the most important reason of all, it is a coward attitude to show a drunkard saying something despicable meanwhile the real face is hiding behind the camera.

Get the nerve and show who you are, or turn off the camera!!!!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The face of Repression

When the news tackle any angle of the repression in Cuba, we usually hear to talk about the Rapid Response Brigades and how they isolate and assault some dissidents or any sort of civil resistance in any city of our country.the face of the war

Those brigades are the face of the repression and the handy tools that the Cuban authorities handle to suppress any act they consider hostile to the government. And in Cuba the line between dissension, counter-revolution and treason are almost inexistent.

For the general public, especially reporters and international media, those brigades were founded in the earlier 90’s, but that is not completely true. There was another Brigade before those we all watched in front of Vladimiro Roca’s house recently. In fact, since the Cuban Revolution took power, Castro established many forms of associations and organizations to repress any surge of dissidence.

The famous CDR (Committees for the Defence of Revolution) was the first attempt by Castro to create neighbourhood block associations to inform and control, but that organization was losing his power and scope especially with the younger generations in the 70’s.

The late 70’s was the moment that the CDR started to fade in the communist system and the signs were visible with the surge of a new wave of dissidents and people who was completely sceptical about the Revolution.

But the turning point in the history of repression in Cuba was the incidents in the Embassy of Peru at the beginning of 1980. It was in that moment when the Cuban Intelligence Service (more known G2) created what later was named Brigade of Counter-Intelligence (BCI) headed by an obscure captain whose name is Osvaldo Casays.

That Brigade still exists but it has changed along all these years. Its first settlement was in an institution called “RIO”, a group of buildings belonging to the Ministry of Interior in the west side of the Almendares River in Havana. Amazingly, the BCI was created under the shadows of the CDR but it was only its cover up, that organization belonged and was part of the Counter-Intelligence Department of the G2.

Their initial members were selected mostly from schools of karate and judo, and more important they had to show special commitment to the regime of Havana without any trace of doubt.

The BCI is the real heart from the beginnings of the 80’s of the repression against the dissidents and the idea was took from Poland in their fight against the Trade Union “Solidarity”. Dissidents like Ricardo Boffil and Maria Elena Cruz Varela could remember those brigades shouting and screaming revolutionary slogans in front of their houses in Havana, or the incident inside the Church “Las Mercedes” in the earliest 90’s.

In the 90’s, Castro announced a more bigger effort to face the dissidence, probably because with the crisis in east Europe and the lost of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost its economic and financial support and the civil society started to grow. It was in that moment when the Rapid Response Brigades were founded.

Of course, the original BCI continued to be the heart of the war against the dissidence. The Rapid Response Brigades were only a cover up, mostly for the necessity to incorporate the crowd to the fight against the opposition who was gaining in power.

In all these years, the BCI has been in every incidents between the elements of the Cuban civil society and the authorities: in massive acts against dissidents, in personal aggression against a well-known outspoken intellectual and even in more secrets activities against western and pro-western embassies.

There are too many things to talk about the BCI, especially because in every single article, blog or magazine the report or analysis of the repression in Cuba the journalists confuse the Rapid Response Brigades with elements of the BCI and viceversa. They usually ignore the fact that it is the BCI who really had articulated the repression and the other brigades are only the crowd to cover the actions of the original and most important repressive group.

I only want to add just for today some of the places where the BCI has been settled:

  • West Side of River Almendares, Vedado district.
  • B Street between 15 and 17, Vedado district.
  • 15 Street and J, side by side Arcos Bernes’ House (well-known dissident), Vedado district.
  • San Francisco and Jesus Peregrino, close to Carlos III Avenue, Centro Habana district.
  • Lately, 22 Street between 23 Street and Zapata Avenue, Vedado district.

The BCI is the arm and the fist of the repression in Cuba, an association many times ignored, probably unknown or even misunderstood. It is the face of the repression, the face of war against any form of independent opinion in Cuba.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Saint Lazarus

I remember when I was living in Havana and Castro was in the mood to bring those of his endless speeches, how he overwhelmed us with mountains of statistics data about the most insignificant detail in his rhetoric of the moment. cine duplex-rex

No matter what, every 26 of July in the province of the moment we knew he will be ripping off every single detail about the statistics of the province: health care data, endless numbers without any real meaning for the common Cuban, and even the enthusiastic draw of the future of the province and Cuba.

At the end of the day, and when every person was leaving the premises many simple questions flamed the minds of all of them, but essentially, there was one who touch the common sense of every one: if the revolution was creating so many good things and developing too many plans, why we were in the same point than the last year, or even looked as we were more behind year after year?

There is no better witness than our capital city: it looks like a city that has been bombarded. There are so many building in ruins, movies theatres and public places that it is impossible to remove from the historic memory of the city.

When I arrived to Havana I was 21 year old and I could see how the proliferation of too many little parks was overwhelming the capital city. At that time, it was already known that if a building collapsed there would be a new little park with two or three benches, any sort of children entertainment equipment, very rustic by the way, and a few trees to bring some discreet shadow to the place.

But the destruction didn’t stop, and where yesterday was a comfortable double theatre facility Duplex/Rex in the heart of Havana (San Rafael and Amistad), today is a surrealistic place only frequented by rats.

Today’s Havana is a city that can’t hide its wounds, and there are no more little parks to hide the frequently collapsing of buildings and monuments. Even the boulevard in Old Havana shows its scars here and there, and don’t dare to talk about municipalities like “Diez de Octubre”.

But if you read the endless speeches of Fidel Castro, it looks like our nation is an extraordinary paradise in construction projects. It is the Orwellian hypnotism every tyrant shows: Big Brother talked and what it is not true, now become true.

For the tyranny, those statistics don’t exist. They never publish those numbers, and when they dare to publish one of them it is in company with plans and future endless projects. It is such a true that any single building hasn’t been finished and it already starts its own process of deterioration.

Nowadays, there are places where I don’t even remember what was built, and I saw myself how collapsed. I went to watch too many movies in Duplex or Rex, and I remember when the roof collapsed and some constructions workers blocked with some boards the entrances and the windows. Today, I forgot the last time I watch a movie there. And it is so sad, and so disturbing.

Sometimes, when I go to Havana and walk around and see those places in ruins or those little parks almost without any sign of life, but definitely witnesses of a glorious past, it comes to my mind the figure of Saint Lazar and I think our great Havana looks like our old great friend with his crutches.

My dear Saint Lazar, my dear Havana!

Monday, November 16, 2009

John Lennon in Havana

I was a teenager when The Beatles broke as a group. I have no recollection of the moment, I never heard on the radio any news or bulletin or headline telling that the British group, who made history changing the face of the pop and rock music, was on the verge of disappear from the music horizon forever.john lennon

I think it should be a shock for the young generation who grew up listening to their music, the same generation in the center of the storm in Cuba who saw how the young revolution broke from the past and swept all the face of my country: politics and politicians, social organizations, government structure and even old customs.

My parent’s generation was the generation who grew up with The Beatles in music, but without The Beatles as we can say it. Their music was the one who couldn’t be heard in any Cuban radio station, or broadcasted in the two national TV channels: it wasn’t officially prohibited, but it was something that everybody knew it couldn’t be on TV or in the radio. American music belonged to the imperialism, capitalism and to the past. Cuba was creating a new future..., but The Beatles were from UK, I wonder...

The late 60’s were obscure years in Cuba’s history, especially in the arts. I have no recollection of American music rather than the one my mother played in her record player: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and even The Beatles. I have no idea how my mother found those records. There weren’t any of them in my country, neither in libraries nor in stores.

And that was it. I learned about American music and John Lennon and Paul McCartney thanks to my mother’s record player. I still have some of them, and I keep them as treasures of the past, but also as witnesses of an era of social cataclysm in Cuba.

John Lennon died in December 8, 1980, thirteen years later my grandfather would die in the same date. In December 8, 2000 there was unveiled a statue of John Lennon in Vedado district in Havana, seating on a bench and looking how people is passing by. More cynically, it was unveiled with the presence of Fidel Castro, the same and the only one who could order the ban against The Beatles and American music in the 60’s.

It is not a coincidence; it is a pact with the fact than John Lennon will be passing to History for good. Another significant detail: on a marble tile there is an inscription reading: “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one”.

I guess the artist who designed and created the statue wanted to tell Mr. Castro, with a clever smile, there are more dreamers in this world, NOT ONLY ONE.

Very Clever!!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dissidents vs Bloggers

Today is one of those occasions when Cuban dissidents made some headlines in a few news channels, specifically CNN. The worldwide broadcaster showed a timid chronicle about some dissidents in Havana holding a hunger strike in protest. According to CNN, Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, in a telephone interview said: “We are demanding our rights as Cubans”.marta-vladimiro roca

It is pretty rare to find any reference about very well known dissidents in news channels like CNN, usually more leaned to credit bloggers like Yoani Sanchez. Bloggers are a more recent phenomenon and some of them had reached special prominence in web sites and worldwide broadcasters, may be for the impact of internet nowadays, or because internet is a handy tool to reach locals in a more casual way without compromise news personal accredited in places like Cuba.

In the other hand, Cuban bloggers are a new source of headaches to Cubans officials who don’t know yet how to confront that problem in a country where dissidence and civil society is almost unknown.

Obviously, civil dissidence is well known for the Castro regime, and they have their repressive engine well oiled to confront them. It is happening right now with those who are holed up. Usually Cuban authorities set up a perimeter from the place and never allow anyone to approach, especially reporters and news crew.

In addition, Castro had used in the past, and even in this case, crowds of government-supported demonstrators to humiliate, shout revolutionary consigns and even attack them. It is the usual way Castro confront dissidents. It happened in the past with standoffs, it is happening now.

In the case of bloggers, the authorities are lacking in new initiatives because actually a blogger is not a public demonstrator in a country without internet. They only have an impact in the free world, inside Cuba they are more unknown than the usual dissidents, but they had found more recognition and faster than the old guard of dissidents against Castro regime.

All those factors had made some of them to refuse acknowledge popular bloggers like Yoani Sanchez, one of them has been Vladimiro Roca who is the owner of the house where those dissidents are holed up.

At the same time, it is fair to say than many of the most prominent bloggers never had acknowledged those dissidents who are in the fight against Castro for more time than them. I guess it is a little bit embarrassing this confrontation between dissidents and bloggers, and it is a little bit prejudiced in both fields.

Some of the bloggers, included Yoani, don’t want any recognition as dissidents. My question is: why?

They don’t want the baggage that dissidence is carrying for too long in Cuba. But the truth is that the Cuban authorities recognise all of them as dissidents without any discrimination. And the evidence is the attack against Yoani a few days ago.

So, I think it is time to everybody in Cuba who is opposed to Castro to take a clear politics position and be honest. In fact, everyone who speaks out publicly and in blogs against Castro is without any doubt a dissident.

It is time to share their hands and move on, folks.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Canada in Cuba

This is a blog focussed in opinions about Cuba and its issues from a Cuban-Canadian perspective and I want to remark that, but today, I would rather let facts and numbers speak for me. I will leave to you to crunch those numbers, all the data I compiled through web pages, documents, reports and news. canadian fidel

There is no doubt that Canada is the country from which the most tourists visit Cuba and, according to Peter Kent, Canadian Minister of State for the Americas, the commercial exchange between Cuba and Canada registered a 15% growth in the first nine months on 2009.

In numbers that means: $ 1 423 million of dollars in commerce, especially in tourism; and also, 729 860 Canadians visitors in the present year until September.

But before I go mor further, I would like to share what the government of Canada shows in its web site about the bilateral relations, and I am quoting:
Canada supports a future for Cuba that fully embraces the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Canada’s approach is to engage with all elements of Cuban society, including both government and civil society, with the objective of advancing democratic values and a liberalization of the economy.
What concerns about economic approach with Cuba, we have a lot to talk about and not precisely as “a liberalization of the economy”, as it was said.

Cuba was the third overseas destinations for Canadians after UK and France, and without any doubt it was the source of Canada’s biggest culture goods trade surplus in 2002. That surplus arose due to a $ 1.4 billion in exports, of this $ 1.2 billion can be accounted in publishing and printing exports, traced to a project to provide textbooks to Cuban students funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Statistics Canada provides a truthful and detailed list in how Canada had been involved with Cuba. For instance, another prominent cultural export include DVDs and Compact discs, especially Cuban music labels such as EGREM have used Canadian disc-pressing plants to mass-produce the works of popular musicians.

Overall, according to Statistics Canada, our fellows Canadians spend an estimated $ 103 a day in Cuba. Moreover, there is an increase of Canadians travelling to the island if we compare same time frames: 607 thousands in the first quarter of 2009 against 504 in 2008, what means an increase of 20.4 percent. And Cuba has been the second most important destination for Canadians in the current year 2009.

But the partnership between both nations doesn’t stop there. According to CIDA:
Since the renewal of Cuba’s official development assistance (ODA) eligibility in 1994, CIDA has provided more than 136 million in ODA to Cuba by way of bilateral, multilateral and partnership initiatives.
If you want to dig more in these numbers, I would recommend you to visit CIDA website, it could be of great interest.

But, there are more to crunch especially in the private sector, boomed by the official policy of the government of Canada toward Cuba. Canadians companies have been investing and making business, taking serious advantage of their American competitors thanks to the embargo.

Based on what Maclean’s Magazine published not too long ago, roughly 40 Canadians companies have opened offices in Cuba since 1991, being Sherritt Inc the first of them. The Canadian Embassy in Havana has counted more than 17 joint ventures signed, and more than 20 under negotiations.

I can mention a few of them: York Medical, who was a pioneer in this business with Sherritt; Wilton Properties Ltd signed joint-venture with Grand Caribe (a Cuban hotel developer) to build 11 hotels throughout the Caribbean country.

Other companies like Pizza Nova, a Torontonian franchise and Delta Hotels and Resorts of Toronto, mining companies like Holmer Gold Mines Ltd., MacDonald Mines Exploration Ltd., and Caribbean Resources Inc signed joint-ventures with the government of Castro.

By its own, Sherrit invested $ 1.5 billion in Cuba’s nickel industry and in coastal oil and gas production. I would like to submit you to Sherritt’s website and you will find that only in gas and oil, the Canadian company had spent until September an amount of 31 million and has a projection of 59 million until the end of this year.

As you can see, and these are basic numbers, the most visible and I could say the tip of the iceberg in Canadian investment in Cuba, the numbers are escalating higher and higher every year. I just invite you to do the same little research on your own.

Of course, I am not questioning the legality and morality of any investment in Cuba, but said that I argue that it has to be accompanied with an effort to push Cuba toward the establishment of a democratic and transparent government.

My question is:

Is the government of Canada doing something in that direction?

Again, I would go back what the website of the government of Canada is claiming:
Canada takes every opportunity to make clear to the Cuban regime our serious concerns about human rights practices on the island. We consistently call on the Cuban government to release all political prisoners and to dismantle the limits on freedom of expression.
Is that true? And how can we know our Prime Minister is pushing in that direction?

As Cuban, I would appreciate a little more of attention in that matter, Mr. Harper. I command you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Elian Saga

It was a conflict that separated two families in geographical latitudes and political attitudes. The protagonists were unknown people, prominent politicians, and two countries in permanent gunfire. The price was a little boy who lost everything: his mother, his home and his natural surroundings.

Elian Gonzalez made headlines around the world in 2000. Elian fled Cuba in the arms of his mother Elizabeth without his father’s knowledge. In their way, the small boat failed and drawn claiming the life of ten people and Elian’s mother. The little boy was rescued by fishermen.

The Elian story is typical of how a simple family business becomes a circus when the Cuban-American disagreement is involved.

I was in Cuba when the tragedy happened and from the beginning my opinion always was that the boy had to be with his father. There is no question about it. All those who challenged the natural law were backing a monstrosity: refusing to give all the rights to his father means that people who are living in totalitarian regimes don’t have the rights to have children and any estate in the world could challenge their paternity as parents.

From the beginning, the polls showed how the sides handled the case. The Cuban-American community in US backed almost entirely that Elian should stay in Miami. Meanwhile, two-thirds of Americans thought Elian should be returned to his father.

The case showed overwhelmingly that the Cuban-American community in US was biased by political issues about the Castro regime, instead of being concerned about what was essentially the case.

It was a ridiculous circus, a line up of politicians covering Elian with an American Flag. Remember, my dear Ros-Lethinen? The media coverage around the house of Elian’s relatives, the tearful tragicomedy of some of them in national television, the long standoff of the old bunch of Cuban “patriots” protesting, the police, the lawyers, even the attempts to make Elian an American citizen made the whole situation a typical picture of a Banana Republic anchored in the heart of Florida.

I just want to ask a couple of questions:

Why the American government didn’t act more expeditive and return the little boy immediately to his father in Cuba?

• What would have happened if the little boy had been from Haiti rather than Cuba?

There is no question that the Castro component played a role in the drama. It was the darkest moment in the history of the Cuban-American community in US. They set themselves in the wrong side of the story, letting Castro to stand alone and tall in that moment, and he played brilliantly his role.

The most damaging moment was when a group of exiles burned an American flag in the streets of Miami. That moment showed to the American people at what length that community went.

November 21 was the day when Elian was wandering in the sea. In a few days there will be 10 years since then and still the syndrome of Elian is floating in the Cuban-Americans, especially in some anti-Castro groups and politicians.

Remembering those days I would like to share what I read about this case in The Washington Post, written by Richard Cohen:

Elian and Juan Miguel Gonzalez, son and father. The former is an innocent child, the latter a man whose boy was taken from him. Elian has behaved like a typical 6-year-old, Juan Miguel like a typical father. And most of the politicians like typical fools
Outstanding truth.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bananas is my Business

Usually we address our problems in Cuba charging against the heart of the storm: the system’s bureaucracy and its hardliners. But there is another side of our story and that side is fundamentally settled in Florida and the group of Cuban-American legislators whom had made their living lobbying in the Congress of United States against the people of Cuba.

Ileana Ros-Lethinen is the most prominent legislator of the triad representing our community in US. She is also a member of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus and one of their most conservative members. Ros-Lethinen is also a republican although she had supported some issues about gay’s rights in company with democrats.

In all her job in the Congress of US, Ileana Ros-Lethinen had gained prominence as one of the hardliners against Castro, but also against the people of Cuba. She had been the greatest supporter figure against ending the embargo. Let me don’t forget, she was an iconic figure in the standoff of Elian Gonzalez in Miami, leading to the great fiasco in that case, but remarking the monstrosity of a politician who embarks in any crusade even at the cost of the rights of a father. The only fault of this father was he was born in Cuba.

Ros-Lethinen never had stopped at nothing in order to defend the will of the old owners of Cuba against the common people living in the island. She had sponsored and co-sponsored legislations detailing how a foreigner country has to proceed in the internal affairs of another country.

The politicians in Miami had been legislating for more than 40 years thinking in the old owners of lands, businesses and properties in my country, and they dangled in congressional laws topic sabout how to proceed in a democratic Cuba, how the congress of US have to supervise and controls the democratic process and how Cuba has to fulfil a long list of requirements in order to lift the embargo.

Let’s put apart the fact that in Cuba we have a totalitarian regime. Just the idea of a foreigner democracy is establishing rules and fulfilments to another country it’s not only an anachronism in this XXI Century, but a totalitarian indictment by itself.

In a recent letter send to President Obama and signed by the legislator in March 25 she, amongst others, said:

Any easing of sanctions, without demanding any concessions lessening the oppression of the people by the regime, will serve to strengthen the dictatorship and demoralize the Cuban people.

For more than 50 years that piece of crap had been doing nothing but demoralize the President of US, the Congress of the bigger democracy in the world and keeping taxpayers to support legislator like Ileana Ros-Lethinen.

Ask to any of the dissidents in Cuba how much money this congresswoman had sent to them.

I guess none of the CNN reporters’ adventure to make any point about this. The embargo only benefits the totalitarian regime in Cuba in the entire spectrum: politically, morally and judicially.

We all witnessed in UN recently, and in every single occasion Castro and his company are endorsing any problem in the name of the embargo. In fact, the embargo is nowadays the only reason Castro could be mention with authority and we have to admit he is right.

It causes damage to the image of the US Presidency, endangers any solution in our country, and the worst is the only who are suffering the embargo is the people of Cuba, those Cubans to whom this politician is trying to serve, according to her.

Unfortunately, meanwhile the state of Florida chose Barack Obama as President of US, at the same time the estate of Florida chose to keep our Banana Republic team anchored there, especially in Miami with specimens like Ros-Lethinen.

God, save our souls!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

After Castro

All we have a dream to see the moment where our country will be definitively free. The people of Cuba thought that moment was in January, 1959. But the dreams didn’t go too far, it was a ghost ship sinking a few weeks later.

Faces changed, names changed, words changed. We lived the dream but the dream left our country in a boat, in a plane, over a raft. We had been living as an orphan surrounded by democracies. And today, we are alone.

Three years after Castro banished from our TV screens, the world is still wondering about promises, openings and fantasies. We thought we are the only ones dreaming. But the whole world is dreaming every time when they are asking for the changes of the “new Castro” era.

We are not in POST CASTRO's, we are still in Castro's era. It’s the same story of 1959. There are no changes, only a few gadgets dangling like trophies for the speculations and hopes. A mockery long lasted hold by a few enthusiastic reporters and analysts who filled headlines in their newspapers and earn a few dollars.

After Castro, another Castro took over and we are living a second hand of the same tyranny with different first name. But like in English, the last name describes the person and nothing had been changed. The "legacy" is still on.

We all have the dream of the real change, when the doors of our beautiful country will be open without any restrictions for every one. We have your dream, Mr Castro, a dream you spoke in self-defence in 1953:

Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom... There were political parties, radio and television debates and forums and public meetings. The whole nation pulsated with enthusiasm... They felt confident that no one would dare commit the crime of violating their democratic institutions... All their hope was in the future.
We feel the same, Mr Castro, just you are not in our future because you were a deceitful dream. We innocently believed in false prophecies, and we trusted that such a past could not return, again.

But it returned. We don’t want an AFTER CASTRO with Castro. We want a change, a progress, and all this is in our hands. We are the future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Berlin Wall

Yesterday was a day of celebration in Europe, and in many parts of the world: it marked the 20 Anniversary since Berlin Wall’s fall. In Germany, the three leaders at the center of the storm praised the people of Berlin: George Bush senior, Helmut Kohl and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Especially remarkable was the German Chancellor Angela Merkel when addressing to Gorbachev said: You made this possible. Today, all the media around the world is fussing about the events and the words of Merkel, with the also remarkable exception of Cuba.

You won’t find a word about such extraordinary celebrations in any of the official media in Havana. It looks like Cuba doesn’t have to celebrate the freedom of the people of Germany, or maybe it is too dangerous for the authorities of the island the simple fact that any wall could be collapsed sooner or later. Especially when we have our inner hiding wall.

In 1959, the people of Cuba also celebrated the triumph of the revolution. They didn’t have to bring down any wall, but they were full of enthusiasm and joy for their future under the new heroes from Sierra Maestra. 50 years later, it is questionable if somebody would celebrate voluntarily that date in our history.

It is also a symbolism. 20 years later the German people remember with joy and tears that moment and recall the events. In Cuba, a deep and dark silent marked the celebration. There are too many parallelisms and similarities. They can’t celebrate freedom of a new era under capitalism showing the joy for the moment in Germany. They can’t recall the remarks of the German Chancellor about Gorbachev. It could mean they have to bring down the wall that the Cuban authorities had built around our own people.

There, the fall brought freedom and prosperity. Here, in Cuba, the few moments of joy became too soon a long journey to the dark. Like in the eastern Berlin, Cubans are escaping to the world. They don’t cross any wall, they cross a sea, jump into the dangerous water of the Caribbean to find what they lost 50 years ago.

Today was a day of remembrance. Bush senior praising Gorbachev said: Through it all he stood firm, which is why he'll also stand tall when the history of our time in office is finally written

The same thing we can say about Fidel Castro with a different meaning: Through it all he stood firm, but he won’t stand tall when the history of his time would be written. Gorbachev helped to unify a country artificially divided. Castro divided himself our people and he will be remembered for that.

Yesterday was a day in history than many would like to recall in generations to come. It wasn’t remembered in Havana: the bells are sounding too close to an end.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In a Police Station

It was November 1999 and was coming home from my girlfriend house after an unfortunate night that ended with our relationship of two years. The night was warm and I was wearing probably my best clothes. I was walking down “Monte”, a dark avenue at 1.30 am, almost reaching “Cuatro Caminos”, a very important intersection in Havana when, trying to avoid a huge water leak coming from a Clinic nearby, I stepped over the sidewalk. With the dark and my mind fussing about the break up, I didn’t notice that behind the huge columns of the portal, three guys were watching my moves.

It was in a blink of an eye. One grabbed me from my neck, the second hold my legs and the last one beat me on my stomach and my face, breaking my nose. They threw me over the sidewalk, pulled my watch, my wallet (in which I only kept 10 dollars, my keys and my ID, nothing else) and a silver bracelet I was wearing, an old gift from my grandfather, the most valuable item they robbed me I would say.

The assault was fast and furious (that is a movie, but it wasn’t in my case). They kicked me everywhere and tried to get whatever valuables items I was in possession that doomed night. Fortunately for me, a group of people were approaching and they had to let me go. Well, to say it more properly, they let me there on the floor: covered in blood, dizzied and confused.

As soon I was recovered, I turned to home as soon as possible, remembering that in their possessions were my keys and my ID, with which they could enter my house and assault my mother. Next day, upset with myself I went to the next police station settled in “Zanja” and “Dragones” to report my assault. It was a day that changed definitely my vision about how police behave in Cuba.

By the way,I don’t know for what reason every police station in Havana has an architecture imitating a small little castle, with towers, arches and all those characteristics details that identify them.

The station was full of people, and probably because it was early morning the tempers were a bit high. In the desk I asked to the police seated there how to report an assault. The police, who was probably not in his better mood, asked me which kind of report, where it was the assault and how I didn't have any visible sign of it.

All the questions were asked in a blow with a subtle anger and when I explained a bit, he turned his eyes to me for the first time and asked me upset and disturbed why I waited so long and how it was possible there wasn't any police on my way home that night.

A bit cynical and a bit angry with his questions and doubts I added: “You guys after midnight go to bed; there is no police at night in Havana”.

I remember counting myself minutes before I received his answer, but he thought twice and told me I had to go to the police station in “Infanta”, because the assault had happened in their territory, and that was it. He turned around and walked out from the desk and, of course, I left the place more mortified than how I arrived.

The next step was to go to “Infanta”. That police station is once again another kind of little faked castle with a high stairs in his front porch. The sensation, funny to say it, is like you are climbing to see a king, but you find a huge emptied and colder space at the end of which there is a huge desk with the usual police seating behind the desk (reading some papers, again).

I repeated my unfortunate story again with bit more of patience and relaxed this time. The guy was cal and almost bored, just when I finish my tale he added I had to have a seat and wait for someone who had to call me. I remember looking around the room and trying to figure out where to go. That room was huge, in the door there was a police standing there, to his left there were two benches, on his right another two benches. It seems Orwellian how symmetrical are the police stations in Cuba.

Anyway, the place was empty except for one skinny young guy, no more taller than me, and no more skinny also, a mulato kind of guy, no more than 19 year old who was seated in one of the benches of the right, and I went to have a seat there, close to him. For some reason, I felt more comfortable close to someone who was waiting like me. As soon I was seating the young man asked me what happened to me and I explained him. I can’t forget how extraordinary and remarkable was the fact that he told me that I couldn’t walk too late at night for those places on the sidewalk. I had to agree to that remark.

And I was in the move to ask him why he was there, when the police behind the desk almost shouting told me that I had to get a seat in the others benches across the room, because I was seating in “the benches of the accused”. Suddenly, in that very moment, I found out that the guy was handcuffed and behind us there was a sign saying: “ACUSSED”.

Smiling, I crossed the room to the seats with the sign of “VICTIMS”. I was discovering a whole new world, like the little prince of my favourite book: police stations are places where everything is labelled, and everything is in its proper place.

It was after 10 minutes when a strong police approached to the desk and started talking to the other one behind when, suddenly, in a quick move he noticed my “friend” from the bench: the ACCUSED side kind of guy. What happened then it is in my memory with red letters, I won’t forget for the rest of my life.

The police ran to the guy, grabbed him for the collar of his shirt and started to swear like a demon telling how awful he was, how miserable little rat, etc. Of course, I am being a little bit decent here, but you can image what he was telling. That’s not my point here.

In just a blink of an eye, he was punching the guy on his face, his chest, his stomach like a maniac, yelling and swearing at him. What I can’t forget is the face of the guy and his attitude: he was bleeding from his lips and grasping the air with spasmodic moves every now and then when the police allowed him between every punch from his fist.

Suddenly, I saw myself standing there, watching in a police station how a police was beating a young man who wasn’t doing anything, telling anything, nor even watching him, and I was horrified. You can guess why: I was there to file a complaint for an assault, and I was witnessing an assault myself from the police to a guy handcuffed, immobilized, inside a police station.

My recollections from that point are confused, and I only remember the guy was sent to jail after the beating. I did all the procedures to denounce the assault. They even tried to change the charges for other sort of charges, which I complained and protested. They wanted to change for something less important, more trivial, in order to decrease the amount of reports, I guess, filed in the same category that day (Even now, I don’t get the point, especially when you know in Cuba those numbers are unknown by the public and the media).

At the end, I remember arriving home shocked, disturbed and depressed. I just had witnessed myself how an authority was abusing his power against someone who was defenceless.

There are no words to describe the fact. Of course, you can say that the little guy was there for something he did.

It doesn’t matter. As soon he is there quiet, tranquil and peaceful, there is no reason in this world to beat a human being. A police, an authority, can’t abuse of his power to assault anybody with no reason and cowardly.

I never was in a police station before, but I had heard many times those stories, and for some reasons I couldn’t believe them.

Since November 24, 1999 I believe that the Cuban police is abusive, cruelly repressive and coward.

I hadn’t step in a police station again, but I know that facts like that one are happening day after day in my country and today, I have no doubt whatsoever.