Suggested Books

Articles, Opinions, and Papers

September 2018
Cuba’s street vendors are bringing back the pregon, the art of singing humorous, rhyming ditties with double entendres about the goods they are selling, with some modernizing the tradition by setting their tunes to reggaeton.
Children in Havana use them as slingshots. At birthday parties and concerts they are makeshift balloons. Women use them to secure their ponytails. Drivers use lubricated ones to shine the dashboards of their vintage Chevys. Revellers sneak them into nightclubs, filled with rum. Fishermen use inflated ones as floats. Winemakers stretch them over the necks of large glass bottles, which they use instead of oak casks. An erect one means fermentation is still producing carbon dioxide; a deflated one means that the process is complete.
August 2018
St. Thomas University baseball coach Jorge Perez traveled to his ancestral home of Cuba for the first time last month, and his trip filled him with a number of emotions — and sadness was chief among those feelings.
July 2018
Five Evangelical churches in Cuba say they oppose same-sex marriage because the ideology of gender is totally foreign to Cuban culture or “the historic leaders of the Revolution.”
May 2018
Forty years ago, almost to the day, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba made its American debut at the Kennedy Center Opera House. On Tuesday, the company landed on the same stage, marking its 70th anniversary with a U.S. tour.
A delegation of LGBTQ leaders from the United States, including Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith and Freedom to Work founder Tico Almeida, last week visited Cuba to join fellow activists for pride events on the island.
HAVANA — Salsa music blasted through the streets of Havana's Vedado neighborhood on Saturday as hundreds of people danced and waved rainbow flags during a march to mark the 11th annual Cuban Campaign against homophobia.
Gonzálo Naranjo can close his eyes and return to his childhood in the La Vibora neighborhood of Havana. Now 84, he still remembers playing “four corners” with a rag baseball, never thinking he would one day play for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A blast of Cuban art is hitting the Kennedy Center this month. The “Artes de Cuba” festival kicked off at the Eisenhower Theater on Tuesday night with an exuberant cornucopia of music offering a foretaste of two weeks of performances — from a jazz quintet that offered one number a cappella, with only hand-clapping as accompaniment, to an 87-year-old chanteuse, Omara Portuondo, who coquetted with the audience, sang three songs with heart and engagement, and lifted the curtain, after it had come down, to offer a last enthusiastic goodbye.
HAVANA — Mariela Castro, a Cuban lawmaker and daughter of Communist Party chief Raul Castro, says she will push for gay marriage to be included in a constitutional reform process expected to begin in July.
Despite the frost on U.S.-Cuba relations, the biggest Cuban cultural extravaganza ever held in the United States will get under way next week at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ever since President Trump tightened travel restrictions to Cuba last year, many Americans who would like to see the island nation’s verdant landscapes and vibrant arts scene have been waiting for more favorable political winds. In the meantime, you can dust off your guayabera shirts and salsa-dancing shoes, because the Kennedy Center is offering a little piece of Cuba in the capital.
March 2018
Tourists are lured to Havana by the ruin porn: the capital’s decaying, pastel colonial architecture, its 1950s-era cars and the fading faces of its founding revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. But when photographer Greg Kahn was on assignment in the city in 2012, he stumbled on a scene that gave him a glimpse of a different Cuba: a plaza full of young Cubans partying as a DJ played contemporary electronic dance music.
HAVANA (Reuters) - After dusk in Havana, an ice-blue neon sign illuminates the faded facade of the Cine El Megano, one of many abandoned movie houses in the Cuban capital, lighting up a once vibrant corner at the heart of the Caribbean city that had gone pitch black in recent decades.
February 2018
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban comedian Luis Silva, better known as his popular television character Panfilo, denounced discriminatory policies against Cubans in their own country in a Facebook post on Friday, in an unusually strong, public criticism of the government.
Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera is back in the news with the opening of her “Untitled (Havana 2000)” installation at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), showing through March 11.
January 2018
HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. supporters of improved relations with Cuba joined the top leadership of the Caribbean country on Sunday to inaugurate a replica of a New York statue of its independence hero Jose Marti.
The Malecon, a historic esplanade stretching along Havana’s coast, comes alive at sunset. The whole city comes together to chat, drink and listen to music, as Soviet-era Ladas and Chevrolets rattle past, ferrying tourists from one side of the city to the other.
December 2017
He wears two or three gold chains around his neck and Nike sneakers cover his feet. He holds up a bundle of cash so that it shows on the photo with his big new car. He is Cadenaman — Chainman — one of the characters on the Instagram page Cubalseros, created by a Miami Cuban American to poke fun at recent arrivals from his native homeland.
November 2017
When Havana-based designer Idania del Río runs out of ink for silk-screen printing T-shirts, it’s likely the rest of Cuba has too. When she needs to buy buttons, she scours 10 different stores to find enough. And when she wants to send an email, she has to walk one mile from Clandestina, her independent design shop, to the nearest public wifi hotspot. And yet, despite the shortage of materials and scarce internet access – the ordinary strictures of operating a business under the country’s socialist regime – Clandestina has become the first Cuban brand to launch an online store shipping anywhere in the world – including the US.
Armando Hart, a leading figure during the Cuban revolution who oversaw a literacy campaign that tried to ensure that all Cubans could read and write and spent much of his career as culture minister, died Nov. 26 in Havana. He was 87.
When President Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States would be restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba, the members of Major Lazer knew they wanted to be a part of it.
When the housing rental company he was working for asked him to take pictures for their website, Santiago Barreiro dutifully set off, armed with a one-megapixel camera and no photographic training.
On September 29, 2017, the US State Department ordered a partial closure of the US Embassy, resulting in a complete shutdown of operations in the consular section. All visa processing services were indefinitely suspended. The justification for the decision was based on unexplained health incidents affecting US diplomats and spies serving in Havana over the last year. Despite opposition from both sides, including opposition from the American Foreign Service Association, the US embassy in Havana effectively suspended over half of its services indefinitely.
October 2017

Cuban Art Outshines Politics

October 24, 2017

Cuba is like a giant Ping-Pong, caught in the cross hairs of United States foreign policy. One minute President Obama is relaxing restrictions, making it easier for tourists in the United States to visit the tiny island. Blink, and President Trump is rolling back some of the administration’s changes. Another blink, and the state department is advising Americans not to travel to Cuba after mysterious medical attacks on diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana.
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba unveiled a replica of a New York statue of independence hero Jose Marti on Friday, putting a gift from the hometown of U.S. President Donald Trump on public display at a time of heightened U.S.-Cuba tensions.

The equestrian statue depicts Marti moments before his death in a cavalry charge in 1895, during the fight against Spanish colonial rule.
The U.S. premiere of Ludi Teatro has been canceled after the Cuban theatre group faced difficulties in visa approvals.
August 2017
HAVANA — The graffiti of alien-like beings and balaclava-clad men appearing on Havana's dilapidated walls strikes a contrast with the upbeat political slogans and effigies of Cuban revolutionaries.
Miami’s Cuban music scene has a new, younger face that cares little — if any — about politics.
July 2017
MIAMI--President Donald Trump's effort to reverse a historic opening between the U.S. and Cuba is raising tensions in South Florida's exile enclave, where wealthy patrons and institutions have sought to unify Cubans on both sides through unprecedented art exhibits.
Visiting Cuba is always an emotional journey for poet Richard Blanco.
MIAMI — Leaders of the Jewish community in Cuba have sent an open letter today to their “brothers and sisters” in the U.S. expressing concern that reversing policy towards the island could have an impact on religious institutions, which have benefited from increased ties between the countries.
Carlos Tabares, known as the Derek Jeter of Cuban baseball, is hanging it up this year at 42 after 20 years competing in Serie Nacional, the interprovince league that represents the best of baseball in a proud but grimly challenged country that still reveres the game.
June 2017
As President Trump announced the administration’s new policies on Cuba, I worried that Afro-Cubans would be the main losers. They have been losing for some time. The timid economic reforms implemented by the Cuban government in the past two decades have resulted in a growing gap between those with access to capital and those without it.
The new American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora is striking in its architectural resemblance to the grand colonial houses of Havana, yet has a modern Miami flair. From the imposing stairwell to the natural light that bathes the halls and bounces off sparkling white marble floors, The Cuban is a jewel.
May 2017
A delegation of American LGBTQ advocates met Saturday in Havana with “leaders of Cuban civil society” who are demanding that the government there recognize marriage for same-sex couples and create legal protections for transgender Cubans.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome May 24, as part of the president's first trip abroad. No specific agenda has been announced, but the last time a U.S. president stopped by the Vatican to see the pope, much of their discussion centered on Cuba.
For decades belonging to a religion and being anything but heterosexual was stigmatized in Communist-ruled, macho Cuba, making the Mass held by three transgender pastors in the western Cuban city of Matanzas all the more groundbreaking.
The first Cuban chef with a Michelin star, and the chef — and owner — of the private paladar where former President Barack Obama dined during his trip to Cuba, have something more in common than love of cooking: Both represent snippets of success that Afro-Cubans can find in the emerging private sector on the island.
April 2017
Cuban farmer Pascual Ferrel says his favorite fighting cock's prowess was "off the charts," so after it died of illness he had the black and red rooster preserved and displays it on his mantelpiece beside a television.
CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS--More than 30 Cuban activists, writers, academics and entrepreneurs, mostly of African descent, gathered at Harvard University for an unprecedented meeting to celebrate the achievements of the Afro-Cuban movement on the island and set the course for future work.
HAVANA — Aerial photographs of soccer fields in Cuba were once enough to sound the alarm.
Cuba may still be under embargo with little access to the internet, but that technology deficit hasn’t stopped some of the country’s artists from venturing into computer animation.
March 2017
YOU CAN’T VISIT Cuba and not hear reggaetón. The eclectic mix of salsa, hip-hop and electronica blasts from shops, cars and bike taxis. And despite government censorship and limited internet access, the genre exploded in popularity thanks to “el paquete,” a grassroots distribution system that relies on nothing more than hard drives, thumb drives, and old-fashioned hand delivery.
HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro's government sent the Rev. Juan Francisco Naranjo to two years of work camp in the 1960s for preaching the Gospel in a Cuba where atheism was law and the faithful were viewed as suspect. For years, Naranjo's church was almost abandoned, with just a handful of people daring to attend services.
NORBERTO MESA, a 66-year-old grandfather, stands in the hot sun 11 hours a day, six days a week, guiding cars in and out of the parking spaces in front of a bustling farm stand. The 4,000 Cuban pesos ($170 at the official exchange rate) he earns each month in tips is more than ten times his monthly old-age pension of 340 pesos. Without it, the retired animal geneticist could not afford fruit and meat, or help his children, who work for low salaries, to feed his four grandchildren.
A Cuban film based on repression against homosexual writers in the early years of the Revolution, which was recently shown at the Miami Film Festival, has been banned from an awards competition for an upcoming festival in New York.
February 2017
HAVANA (AP) — Cuban men have won more Olympic boxing medals than fighters from any other country. Now a group of up-and-coming female boxers on the island have their eyes on the gold.
January 2017
The second half of the Bronx Museum of the Arts’s long-planned exchange of artworks with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba will not take place as expected, after Cuban officials declined to allow works to travel to the United States, the Bronx museum’s executive director, Holly Block, said.
The Cuban modern dance troupe Malpaso has lived a kind of dizzying artistic fairy tale since relations between the United States and Cuba opened up two years ago. They’ve worked with top U.S. choreographers and performed at the most prestigious venues in this country, receiving mostly glowing reviews. They’re sponsored by the Joyce Theater Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the famed New York theater — an enviable position for any ensemble.
The Abakuá is an all-male, Afro-Cuban secret society that originated in Nigeria and gained traction in 19th-century Cuba, where African slaves would covertly participate in the mysterious rites and rituals as means of protection and forging community.
December 2016
The first time a pope ever set foot in Cuba was in 1998, when John Paul II traveled to the Communist state. The visit was the result of a thaw between the Vatican and Cuba’s president, Fidel Castro, who banned religion in 1959 when he seized power. Cuba’s majority-Catholic population welcomed the pontiff with great excitement; several hundred thousand people, including Castro, attended the Mass led by the pope in Havana. Meanwhile, a small number of other Cubans drew their own conclusion from the regime’s growing tolerance of religion: Perhaps soon the state would increasingly accept Islam too.
The Associated Press is returning its Caribbean base of operations to Cuba.
After more than half a century’s absence, Hollywood returned to Cuba in 2013, though in a slightly roundabout way. “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” a film about the American writer, was shot on the island as a Cuban-Canadian-U.S. co-production, requiring elaborate permissions from both Washington and Havana.
The trickle of Cuban baseball players filtering into the majors has grown into a torrent, with their numbers increasing to an all-time high of 30 last season.

Cuba, in Clothes

December 13, 2016

Deep in Bauta, a sleepy Cuban town 17 miles southwest of Havana, past rows of billboards painted with portraits of national heroes and narrow streets lined with colorful Spanish colonial houses, sits an abandoned factory on a plot of lush, overgrown farmland.
November 2016
Is a Cuba without one Castro a more open place for artists? Before anyone could get the question out this weekend, Cuba was already answering.
October 2016
HAVANA (AP) — Like so much else in Cuba, shopping for clothes isn’t easy.
BOSTON – U.S. and Cuban officials and scholars are meeting in Boston to discuss joint efforts to preserve artifacts at Ernest Hemingway's former Cuban estate.
September 2016
CIENFUEGOS, CUBA--Throughout the day, the artists come and go from a crumbling mansion that sits across from José Martí Park.
CIENFUEGOS, CUBA--Residents of this small city on Cuba’s southern coast awaken every other Thursday to the Fathom Line’s MV Adonia looming in the bay, but the 704-passenger cruise ship’s visit is fleeting.
August 2016
Despite achievements in gender equality, emancipation and representation at the highest levels of government, women in Cuba still face problems related to domestic violence and sexism, according to the secretary general of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
July 2016
Throughout the Cold War, as the United States and Cuba clashed over the Soviet Union and Cuba’s export of revolution, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History and their Cuban counterparts continued to collaborate on scientific research.
Thanks to the thaw in relations with the U.S., Cuba since January has become a Hollywood destination, attracting shoots like “Furious 8,” “House of Lies,” and the latest “Transformers.”
More than half of the Cubans who use the island’s Nauta internet service provided by the national telecommunications monopoly ETECSA, have to travel up to three miles to get to a wifi spot.
SANTA CLARA, Cuba — As summer kicks off on this communist island, tall transvestites in short sparkling dresses and high heels line up at El Mejunje night club, a ruined hotel that turns into a sanctuary on Saturdays for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.
June 2016
LITTLE FALLS, N.J. — In a private interview after a news conference in which only baseball-related questions were requested, Higinio Vélez was asked one that veered well outside the preapproved lines.
The United States is staging a Shaq Attack on Cuba.
La revolución will be televised.
A new study on Cuban consumers finds that their purchasing power is about 25 percent higher than official statistics indicate, but they still spend a high percentage of their income — 50 percent — on basic needs such as food and clothing.
April 2016
A group of American cultural officials and a dozen entertainers and other artists returned Thursday from a four-day cultural diplomacy mission to Cuba that was sponsored by the U.S. government and billed as the first of its kind since the thaw in relations between the United States and Cuba.
Rene Lecour remembers feeling like an outsider as a teen until he found a place in what he calls the “punk rock BMX skate culture.” But during a family skate trip to Havana in 2010, he learned that creative outlets for young Cuban kids who feel the same way are few and far between in the communist country.
U.S. President Barack Obama's historic March visit to Cuba has not fixed all of the thorny issues between the two countries, but it did spark hope among Havana residents that closer ties with the United States will improve their lives.
HAVANA — Cubans sometimes joke that of all the lessons living under three generations of communism has taught them, by far the most important is learning how to wait.
“I wonder how the Castros are doing. They've had a rough week,” whispered a woman in the crowd at the Rolling Stones concert in Havana. “First Obama and now this,” she said of the concert by a band that was banned in Cuba only some decades ago.

Cuba After Obama Left

April 1, 2016

In the first hours after President Barack Obama’s address to the Cuban people last Tuesday, which he delivered on the main stage of Havana’s impeccably restored nineteenth-century Gran Teatro, several Cubans I know told me how moved by it they had been
March 2016
Gregory Elias finished his pitch, paused, and waited for the little beep-beep-beep in his ear that would signal that the party on the other end of the telephone —Jayne Smyth, the manager of the Rolling Stones —had hung up after realizing that he was a madman.
Historians hailed U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Cuba as the beginning of a new relationship between the two countries. But for hundreds of thousands of Cubans, the real thrill this week was the visit of some prominent Brits: The Rolling Stones.
HAVANA — For decades, Cuba and the United States have framed their relationship as a conflict of opposites: Communism vs. capitalism; Cuban loyalists vs. Cuban exiles; the state vs. the individual.
When Carlos Carnero's rock band Los Kent plugged in guitars and drums to play Rolling Stones covers on Cuba's Island of Pines in the 1960s, soldiers stopped the gig at gunpoint in minutes and marched the musicians onto a boat heading back to the mainland.
As of 3 p.m. local time Thursday (March 24), Rolling Stones fans had not yet been let into the concert grounds for the British rock band's historic outdoor free concert on Friday in Havana, Cuba.
HAVANA — Shouts of “U.S.A.!” and “Obama!” echoed over the stone plazas as President Obama and his family made their way around rain-slicked courtyards in Old Havana on Sunday evening, savoring the adulation of Cubans welcoming him warmly despite a driving rain as he began a history-making visit.

MLB makes move in Cuba

March 17, 2016

Major League Baseball is looking to secure a safer travel pathway for aspiring Cuban players as President Obama works to restore diplomatic ties with the island nation.
HAVANA — “I know you’ve been waiting a long time for a party like this,” the D.J. and producer Diplo called out to a sea of pulsating young Cubans here on Sunday evening, during a free concert by his Caribbean-influenced electronic group, Major Lazer.
HAVANA — Cuba’s communist government is trying an unusual diplomatic tool to crack the economic trade barrier with the United States: baseball.
In the past, when a Cuban athlete vanished during a sporting event abroad, news about the defection would spread by word of mouth back home. There would be no official acknowledgment or mention in the state-run press.
Los Angeles (AFP) - Major League Baseball is in discussions with the US government to try and alleviate human trafficking associated with Cuban athletes defecting to play baseball in the United States.
Hello, Cuba! The Rolling Stones will play a free concert in Havana on March 25. Dubbed the “Concert for Amity,” the show will take place at the Ciudad Deportiva de la Habana.
HAVANA, Cuba — The producers of Showtime's dark comedy "House of Lies" had $3 million and a mission: to film the first scripted American TV show in Cuba in more than 50 years.
President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba later this month will include some baseball diplomacy, the White House said Tuesday.
The Rolling Stones are set to play Cuba this Easter, it has been announced. Although when we say “announced”, we mean “announced by Cuban cultural officials”. According to Billboard sources close to the band, the deal is yet to be finalised.
February 2016
Bent in concentration beneath the vaulted ceiling of his Old Havana studio, Mauro Coca draws a tropical bird in blue ink down the length of Julivic Marquez's arm.
Havana (AFP) - As deacon at a Cuban cemetery, Miguel Pons has the difficult task of consoling the bereaved -- and calming their anger when the coffins break.
HAVANA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As warming relations with the United States bring new money and tourists to Havana, some black Cubans like Miguel Campuzano Perez say racial inequalities are widening and they are being left out of a potential capitalist boom.
January 2016
About a year ago, I went to Cuba for the first time, and I took some time to appreciate the famously still operating 1950s American cars on the streets of Havana. I was impressed.
Waiting for my 2:30 p.m. charter flight from JFK to Havana—aboard the somewhat unnervingly named Xtra Airways—I consider the small flock of mottled facts that are the sum total of everything I know about Cuba.
Since President Obama expanded authorized travel to Cuba a little over a year ago, U.S. travel to the island has increased by over 77 percent. Many of the approved travel providers that operate people-to-people trips have designed a variety of tours that highlight the country's rich culture, history and people.
An American TV show is making history in Cuba. Showtime's "House of Lies" is the first scripted American TV show to shoot on the island since the Cuban embargo began more than 50 years ago.
MIAMI — The United States and Cuba have forged all kinds of new ties over the past year, from re-establishing diplomatic relations to new business deals. Now, a New York-based group is about to export another U.S. specialty to the communist nation: the music festival.
Don Cheadle’s Showtime comedy “House of Lies” will film one episode of its fifth season in Havana, making it the first U.S. scripted series to film in Cuba since the countries’ diplomatic relations were restored last summer.
To be an amateur boxer in Cuba is something to be proud of – not so much for the monetary compensation, as none of the athletes have achieved affluence through their fame, but for the widespread recognition as the whole country cheers the achievements of its players.
December 2015
Up a winding flight of stairs at a beachside Havana home, Camila Lopez Rivas lies on the tile floor, smiling mischievously into a video camera circling overhead.
La Fabrica del Arte Cubano is the place foreign tourists go to see a younger, edgier, emerging Cuba. Or it's the place teenagers who don't have a lot of money can go dancing at 2 a.m. for a $2 cover charge.
Major League Baseball is asking the U.S. government for special permission to sign players in Cuba, handing the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama the opportunity to try some baseball diplomacy while dealing a setback to human traffickers.
HAVANA - Little over a year since the United States and Cuba began restoring diplomatic ties, the Christmas spirit is sweeping through Havana.
In the wake of restored and thawing relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, ambassadors from Major League Baseball have gone to Havana to promote and celebrate the game.
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre and Dave Winfield will be leading a baseball goodwill tour of Cuba this month. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association said Thursday the Dec. 15-18 trip will include children's clinics and a charity event.
November 2015
More than a month before Secretary of State John Kerry presided over a flag-raising ceremony in Havana, two men carrying U.S. and Cuban flags rapidly skated down the Malecon, followed by more than 100 other skateboarders.
October 2015
ISLA DE LA JUVENTUD, Cuba — Some places are blessed by geography, with a deep harbor, mighty river or abundant natural resources.
Like the complex microclimates surrounding any process of defrosting, Cuba and the United States are entering a new environment in which traditionally frozen actors have been set afloat, some now clinging to the status quo, while others row furiously toward a new horizon.
HAVANA- Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler, Havana’s city historian, is leading an architectural renaissance in this former capital of the Western Hemisphere.
For the first time in more than 50 years, a musical band based in Cuba is set to perform at the White House.
September 2015
There will certainly be many stories in the next days and few weeks from those who joined Archbishop Thomas Wenski on the pilgrimage to receive the Holy Father in Cuba. It was an emotional trip for many reasons.
HOLGUIN, Cuba — In this quiet city in eastern Cuba, families know how ideology can divide. After Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, Olga Maria Saladrigas' family decided they disagreed with the country's new socialist system and fled to Miami.
HAVANA-A few years ago, Adela Dworin noticed a tall stranger in a worn T-shirt looking around the Beth Shalom synagogue in Havana’s Vedado section.
July 2015
Havana's El Patinodromo ("The Skatepark") is 20,000 sq. feet of metal ramps, rails, and low, concrete steps. To Cuba's burgeoning skate scene, it's an oasis -- the only skatepark on the island where skaters can grind, kickflip, and catch some air without getting ticketed by police officers.
As the U.S. and Cuba restore diplomatic ties, artists in Cuba continue to face censorship by a socialist government. When artist Tania Bruguera attempted to stage a performance art piece in December in response to the announcement of a reopening of diplomatic relations with the U.S., she was stopped and detained. She had no problem organizing the same performance in 2009.
June 2015
Discovery Channel is revving up for its new auto series “Cuban Chrome,” set to premiere July 13. Produced by Pilgrim Studios, the docu-series is the first American television series to be filmed entirely on location in Cuba. Plans for the series were under way even before President Obama made the decision in December to restore diplomatic relations with the Communist country.
Miami developer and arts patron Jorge Pérez, chairman of The Related Group, recently returned from the Havana Biennial art festival. It was his second trip to the island.
Devoid of art supplies, Internet, and a connection to the international art market, contemporary Cuban artists have been making some of the most innovative work the world has yet to see.
April 2015
MEXICO CITY — The vast majority of Cubans welcome warmer relations with the United States, holding high expectations that closer ties pledged by the two countries will shake up the island’s troubled economy, according to a new survey of Cuban citizens. But they are doubtful that the diplomatic detente will bring political reforms to their Communist country.
March 2015
With fake-diamond studs lining his lips and ears, and a tattoo carved under his dreadlocks, Omar Sayut is hard to miss. His version of Cuban hip-hop is what you might call hard to miss too."Down with Raul! Down with Raul!" he chants in a video performance, referring to the president of Cuba, Raul Castro.
Sunday marks the start of the Major League Baseball's spring training in which the league's 30 teams play a month's worth of exhibition games to determine the composition of their final rosters. All of this year's games will be played in Florida and Arizona, as is the case every year. Soon, however, spring training might expand to a surprising destination: Cuba.
December 2014
“We talk about them here every day,” Hernandez, 48, said as he tried to repair a 35-year-old Soviet harvester in a field in Rodas, Cienfuegos province. “How did they arrive? How well are they looking? What are they eating?” Two hundred kilometers away in the Miramar House of Music in Havana, the reaction was very different.
With glasses raised, some Cuban have kept up the ritual toast “Next Year in Havana” as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. It has gone on for decades, ever since the 1959 Cuban Revolution brought Fidel Castro to power. Now, for the first time in a long time, things may be quite different in their homeland in the coming year — just not in the way many expected. For some, it will hardly be a cause for celebration. They had envisioned a joyous, triumphant party as the dictator died, democracy returned to the island, and the U.S. and Cuba once again became friendly neighbors...
HAVANA (AP) — For more than two years, a U.S. agency secretly infiltrated Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
HAVANA (AP) — Panfilo, the elderly protagonist in a weekly show on Cuban state television, has a broken water pipe in his house. When the city repair worker says it'll take six months to fix, Panfilo bribes her with a bottle of shampoo and the repair is made the following day.
November 2014
Nov 13 (Reuters) - They have already earned a place in the firmament of the world's best chefs. Now Basque chef Andoni Luis Aduriz and Mexico's Enrique Olvera have set their sights on one of the world's toughest markets: communist-run Cuba. The island has seen a restaurant boom in recent years, fed by market-style reforms enacted under President Raul Castro, though ingredients can be scarce.
October 2014
MIAMI – Of all the politicians, lawyers, doctors and businessmen who have graduated from my high school, the most intriguing name on the alumni rolls has always been Fidel Castro.
HAVANA — Daymarys Gonzalez’s first attempt to have a child ended with an ectopic pregnancy at age 31. She stopped trying to conceive after a miscarriage the following year.
14ymedio, YOANI SANCHEZ, Havana, 28 October 2014 - Some cities have a subterranean life. Metros, tunnels, basements... the human victory of winning inches from the stone. Havana no, Havana is a surface city, with very little underground. However, on the roofs of the houses, on the most unthinkable rooftops, little houses have been erected, baths, pig pens and pigeon coops. As if above the ceilings everything were possible, unreachable.
The former editors of one of Cuba's few non-government controlled media outlets have quietly restarted efforts to spur debate about the nation's future, launching a series of public forums and plans for a new journal addressing the island's most urgent problems.
September 2014
MIAMI — A third annual conference on Cuban reconciliation is taking place in Miami. The conference Friday at Miami Dade College will feature academics and U.S. diplomats.
(Reuters) - Cuba's experiment with free-market reforms has unintentionally widened the communist-led island's racial divide and allowed white Cubans to regain some of the economic advantages built up over centuries.
July 2014
A friend sent me photos of a demonstration in the streets of Vienna in support of the Palestinians. I also received--from all over the world--images with signs of solidarity or rejection of one or the other of the parties implicated in the conflict in Gaza. Many take sides and demonstrate it, be it a tweet, a way of dressing, a shout or a public protest. In Cuba, however, only the official press and institutions may speak in headlines and statements. In the 14 days of the latest bloody confrontation between Israel and Hamas, no spontaneous demonstration on the subject has taken place in our public spaces.
April 2014
In a country where Fidel Castro once proposed breeding mini-cows for pasturing in backyards, it should be no surprise that Cubans have become masters of improvisations and inventions in the face of their myriad scarcities.
Boxers from the U.S. and Cuba have gone glove-to-glove on Cuban soil for the first time in 27 years in a semipro World Series of Boxing clash that in many ways resembled a big-time Las Vegas bout.
February 2014
HAVANA -- Yanitse Garcia has spent three decades correcting people on the pronunciation and spelling of her first name. So when her firstborn came into the world three years ago, Garcia decided to save her daughter a lifetime of grief by choosing a simple name that everyone knows and which flows off the tongue: Olivia.
Miguel has earned a lot of money this week. He managed to sell almost one hundred pirated copies of the Cuban movie Conduct. Although the film is showing in several of the country's theaters, many prefer to see it at home among friends and family.
KEY WEST, FLA. (AP) – Sandra Ramos has never wanted to emigrate from Cuba, but in her more than four decades on the island, she has seen many people leave.
January 2014
Washington, DC - The Cuba Study Group issued the following statement today in reaction to passing of Cuban Catholic intellectual and essayist Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes:
For the first time in memory, New Year’s predictions issued by three groups of Cuban Santeria priests — two in Havana and one in Miami — have agreed: The communist-ruled island faces an “optimistic” year.
November 2013
Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been replaced as vice president of the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops, fueling speculation that Pope Francis will soon appoint his successor in the communist-ruled nation.
October 2013
Statements by Cuba’s minister of justice that prostitution is not a social problem on the island and that cases of child prostitution are “minimal” are evidence the government is turning a blind eye on the serious problems, a dissident Havana lawyer says.
NEW YORK (AP) — Oscar Hijuelos, a Cuban-American novelist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 novel "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" and whose work often captured the loss and triumphs of the Cuban immigrant experience, has died. He was 62.
HAVANA (AP) — Some say it could be something in the water. Others point to a tree with mystical significance for locals. Maybe it's just chance.
September 2013
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Saul Landau, an American documentary filmmaker best known for his expose on atomic bomb testing and films on Cuba, has died from cancer, the Institute for Policy Studies, where Landau was a fellow, said on Tuesday. He was 77.
BUENOS AIRES — It's among the few things that many Cubans and Americans can agree on: Baseball should return to the Olympics.
Diana Nyad, a 64-year-old endurance swimmer, became the first person to swim to Florida from Cuba without a shark cage.
August 2013
HAVANA — Cuba’s first English-language bookstore offers a selection that would just about stock the lobby of an average Vermont bed and breakfast. Next to what’s available in English elsewhere in Havana, it might as well be the Library of Congress.
Cuban-born jazz legend Arturo Sandoval was named by President Barack Obama Thursday as a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
HAVANA (AP) — Some call Che Pando the godfather of Havana's skateboarding scene, and the 40-year-old tattoo artist can still recall how tough things were in the 1980s when he and a handful of other pioneers first started shredding in public squares.
July 2013
HAVANA (Reuters) - Seven Cubans have died and more than 40 have been hospitalized, eight in critical condition, after drinking wood alcohol, or industrial methanol, they thought was rum, the public health ministry said on Wednesday.
Comedian and radio host Guillermo Alvarez Guedes -- famous for his “ño!” and for crafting stand up routines that drew heavily on the day-to-day experiences of South Florida's Cuban exile community -- died on Tuesday in his Miami home at the age of 86, the Miami Herald reports.
HAVANA — There was a time, Alexi remembers, when life in Cuba was simpler. People dressed properly. Children respected their elders. Stealing was stealing.
In most parts of the world, artists struggle to make a living. In Cuba, they're part of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population. Two quirks of fate have led to an explosion of well-paid artists on the island: an exception to the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods that allows Americans to spend money on Cuban art, and an accident of Cuban history that lets artists keep the money they earn.
HAVANA — Cubans got to watch something on their television screens this week that this baseball-crazed island hasn’t seen in more than half a century: a Major League Baseball game broadcast in its entirety on the open airwaves.
June 2013
HAVANA (Reuters) - With favorable weather predicted and a team of scientists on her side, Australian Chloe McCardel will set out on Wednesday to become the first person to make the 103-mile (166-km) swim between Cuba and the Florida Keys without a shark cage to protect her.
Jose Conrado Rodriguez, a Cuban priest who has been highly critical of the communist government and the Catholic Church hierarchy, confirmed Sunday he will be moving from Santiago de Cuba to a parish in Cienfuegos.
May 2013
It was late October 1995 when renowned Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan performed at the Vatican wearing an elegant and sober black dress in a recital celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s ordination as a priest.
HAVANA – Gays were persecuted for decades after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, sometimes sent to grueling rural work camps along with others considered socially suspect by the Communist government.
They look the same as everyone else: small, restless, ready to play and joke, like any child. But something distinguishes them beyond the neighborhood where they live or the family they belong to.
The idea came from a comedian, but it’s far from being a joke. Some of the best baseball players who have donned the Industriales uniform will visit Miami at the end of July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most loved and hated team in Cuba’s National Series, an unavoidable reference that in the history of the island’s baseball many called the “Yankees of Cuba.”
Five decades after Fidel Castro ordered Cuba's golf courses to be closed down because he considered them "elitist", the island's communist government has approved the construction of a luxury golf resort, complete with an 18-hole course.
HAVANA (AP) — About 500 people have marched through the Cuban capital to the rhythm of conga drums in an early celebration of the international day against homophobia.
April 2013
HAVANA — Cuba is breaking a five-decade ban on professional boxing and joining an international semipro league. Fighters will compete for sponsored teams, box without protective headgear and earn $1,000 to $3,000 a month.
Pitbull is firing back at the elected officials who have vehemently criticized Jay Z and Beyoncé for visiting Cuba. The Cuban-born rapper wrote his own “Open Letter,” which was produced by veteran music executive and producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, Rolling Stone Magazine is reporting.
NEW YORK - Jay-Z is defending his recent trip to Cuba in a new song.

The rapper released "Open Letter" Thursday after two Florida Republican lawmakers critical of the trip questioned if the rapper's visit to Havana with wife Beyonce, which coincided with their fifth wedding anniversary, was officia

3D Finally Comes to Cuba

April 9, 2013

HAVANA — Beyonce and Jay-Z caused a big stir in Havana as they marked their fifth wedding anniversary Thursday. R&B's power couple was mobbed by dozens of well-wishers at the renowned restaurant La Guarida on Wednesday night, and police had to step in to keep the crowds at bay.
March 2013
Yoani Sánchez's historic visit to New York last week thrust political debates about Cuba into the public arena, exposing their invariably polemical character. During the famed Cuban blogger's visits to university campuses, the only venues that offered public access to Sánchez, she encountered fans who read her blog Generation Y, Cuban exiles who admire her temerity, and a small but ardent band of protestors.
MIAMI — In the year since then-Pope Benedict XVI visited Cuba with a message of "reconciliation," change has come to Cuba but even greater change has come to the Roman Catholic Church.
Bebo Valdés rehearses at the Latin Grammy Awards in 2004.

One of the giants of Cuban music, pianist and composer/arranger Bebo Valdés, died Friday in Switzerland due to complications from pneumonia, according to his wife and manager.
MADRID (AP) - Renowned Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, a composer and bandleader who recorded with Nat "King" Cole, was musical director at Havana's legendary Tropicana Club and a key participant in the golden age of Cuban music has died in Sweden at age 94.
HAVANA (AP) - Cuba has made great strides in gender equality, but still has work to do in eradicating macho attitudes and supporting opportunities for women in business and leadership, according to a new report from a U.
February 2013
If it weren't for me, Barack Obama would not be president.

This might seem like an overstatement, and perhaps I'm exaggerating just a little bit, as the United States is a complicated union, after all.
Havana - It was a little before 10 p.m. that February night in 1898 when a fiery explosion roiled the normally calm waters of Havana Harbor, blowing out windows in the city and sinking the USS Maine to the bottom of the bay, just the mast and some twisted metal wreckage left to poke above the waves.
HAVANA - Members of a U.S. wrestling delegation to a tournament in Cuba say they are in shock over the International Olympic Committee's decision this week to drop the sport from the 2020 Games.
HAVANA - It was a little before 10 p.m. that February night in 1898 when a fiery explosion roiled the normally calm waters of Havana Harbor, blowing out windows in the city and sinking the USS Maine to the bottom of the bay, just the mast and some twisted metal wreckage left to poke above the waves.
HIALEAH, Fla. -- Somewhere on the streets of Havana is a cherry-red Lada car rebuilt almost entirely with parts that arrived from Miami in a visitor's suitcases. A year ago, the 20-year-old Russian-made automobile – a boxy but remarkably durable model – was in dire need of repair. The door handles were rusting, the tires on their last mile, the inner workings shot.

Before the Waves, the Hurdles

February 13, 2013

HAVANA — Eduardo Valdes peered out over the tin-roofed apartments of Playa, past the midcentury embassies of Miramar, to the glimmering royal blue of the distant Straits of Florida, searching for a hint of white rolling eastward from the Marina Hemingway.
Pope Benedict XVI's stunning resignation could set the stage for the Vatican's first Latin American Pope in history. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday he will resign on February 28th.
Havana - The daredevil climber nicknamed "Spider-Man" is famous for scaling some of the world's tallest skyscrapers without a safety line. Now Alain Robert has his sights set on a slightly less imposing edifice that nonetheless offers its own challenges - and plenty of symbolism.
January 2013
HAVANA — Sebastián Miló barely had enough money to put gasoline in the aged bus that ferried his crew to the set each day, let alone to pay actors a salary. But Mr. Miló, a 33-year-old Cuban filmmaker, had a Canon 5D digital camera and a story to tell.
The Ladies in White and the Cuba Patriotic Union delivered toys that were donated by Cuban exiles who live in Miami.
December 2012
Baragua looks like a typical town in rural Cuba. Its streets are lined with once brightly coloured low-rise houses and crowded not with cars but with bicycles, horses and carts.
It is almost a century since hundreds of people headed for Cuba from British territories in the West Indies, looking for work in the country's sugar industry.
The occupation of the protestant temple in Havana lasted 16 months.
As they do every year, thousands of Cubans flocked Monday to the Havana sanctuary of El Rincon in a massive show of faith to venerate and give thanks to St. Lazarus with their penance, pledges and offerings.
BACURANAO, Cuba - Three Guatemalan sages burned wood resin, seeds, fruits and flowers on a beach outside Havana on Thursday in a ceremony marking the end of a Mayan calendar cycle that some have wrongly interpreted as a prediction of a looming apocalypse.
November 2012
Havana - Tucked in a remote corner of the city's sprawling Parque Metropolitano, Yojany Pérez and other skaters are gathered on a hazy and humid afternoon at the bottom of a dried-up, concrete lakebed.
Forget about politics, this time, dog lovers are getting their chance to take center stage in Havana. Hundreds of people from all over Cuba and several other countries came to a scruffy field near Revolution Plaza this past week to preen and fuss over the shih tzus, beagles, schnauzers and cocker spaniels that are the annual Fall Canine Expo's star attractions.
HAVANA - A woman elected as a local government delegate has become the first known transgender person to hold public office in Cuba.

Adela Hernandez is a biologically male Cuban who has lived as a female since childhood.
HAVANA, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Cubans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday over U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election victory and expressed hope he might still bring a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba that many expected after he won his first term in 2008.
They travel in two buses, with an espresso machine on board to supply Cuban coffee as they drive to engagements in Kansas City; Buffalo, N.Y., and Ames, Iowa.
HAVANA (AP) - In a country where money is perennially tight, it might seem a fantastic gift: A celebrity ballet star pledges to raise millions of dollars to rescue the ruins of an architectural masterpiece abandoned in mid-construction five decades ago in his native Cuba.
October 2012
Puerto Rican singer Jose Feliciano said he would like to perform for his fans in Cuba, where he has never appeared and was not allowed to sing by the Cuban government in the 1970s.

Cubans Love Apple

October 20, 2012

The sign is colorful, well designed, and announces repairs for mobile phones, especially iPhones. Outside people are waiting in line with their favorite toy in their hands.
September 2012

Reconciliation Reconsidered

September 28, 2012

“Reconciliation” is a word that many Cuban are leery of—and with good reason. It can come from people who do not understand what victims have suffered. When conflicts drag on for a long time, our ideas often follow deep grooves that have been set in the landscape. It becomes hard for us to think otherwise.
Cuba's 2012 Census, whose phase of compiling data ends Monday, will be submitted to random sampling in order to check the quality of the Communist-ruled island's first population count in a decade.
The March 2012 visit to Cuba of Pope Benedict XVI focused attention on the emergence of the Catholic Church as an influential actor in the island nation. While the 1998 visit of Pope John Paul II was heralded as a watershed in church-state relations in Cuba, the more recent visit reflected the increasing influence of the church at a crucial time in the country’s history.
August 2012
Last week the BBC ran a story, by reporter Sarah Rainsford, claiming sources within the dogmatic and unyielding Cuban state-run radio had declared that previously forbidden Cuban-American musical performers such as Willy Chirino, Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz have been stricken from the censored list and will now be played over the island radio waves.
Change could be about to hit Cuban radio. After five decades, the government has done away with a blacklist of musicians and singers that had seen dozens of artists banned from the nation's airwaves.
(Reuters) - The Cuban government has closed a privately run cultural center, causing consternation among artists and intellectuals in what is shaping up to be the latest test of President Raul Castro's loosening of controls over everyday life.
April 2012
Havana (CNN) - Rafael Villares is a talented Cuban artist who appears to work effortlessly in mediums such as painting and sculpture.

But for years, he has had an even more ambitious project in mind, one that seems like a fantasy from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.
HAVANA - Nobody thinks the beautiful game is about to run baseball off this Caribbean island, although it's indisputable that Cubans have developed a near-fanatic interest in Messi and Ronaldo, Kaka and Xavi.
Varadero, Cuba (CNN) - Decades navigating the roads in Cuba have left deep scars on Sergio Morales' jet black 1947 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

The Harley's frame is a battlefield of craters and gashes.
ON THE CARRETERA CENTRAL, Cuba — "Subanse," climb aboard, I said repeatedly, pulling the right wheels of my eight-seat van off the dangerous two-lane highway that snakes hundreds of miles across an island considered off limits to most Americans.
March 2012
Pope Benedict will say mass in Havana's Revolution Square on Wednesday, the final event in his three day visit to Cuba.

He has used the occasion to call for 'renewal' on the island, but a senior government official said that while the Cuban economy is opening up there will be no political reform.
The Pope is to visit Cuba after ending his stay in Mexico by giving an outdoor mass to an estimated 300,000 people.

His visit to Communist Cuba is being seen as a chance for the church to revive the flagging faith of the people - and perhaps to increase its influence as an institution.
HAVANA, March 23 (Reuters) - For years at Havana's historic Cristobal Colon cemetery, Communist Party members refused to enter the Roman Catholic chapel there for funeral services.
February 2012
In fall, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba will begin its first U.S. tour since the Castro revolution, visiting 17 cities, including a chamber music performance at Tampa's famed Cuban Club, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
As she was born in 1885, Juana Bautista de la Candelaria Rodriguez had to spend more than half her life without electricity or running water.

In the year of her birth Cuba was still a Spanish colony, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York harbour and the first automobile was patented.
January 2012
(Reuters) - The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre is a gold-clothed, doll-like figurine which, according to Cuban legend, three fishermen found floating in a bay as Spain colonized the region with the sword and the cross.
This January seems like an October, a July, a November, anything other than the first month of the year. If anything characterizes beginnings it is making plans, projecting what is to come, outlining proposals even later if they aren't completed. But because we grew up among so many slogans forecasting the future, today we resist talking about tomorrow. Exhausted from imagining a distant future that could be delayed five years or a decade, we no longer want to even predict the coming week. So we focus on this minute, on an immediacy that doesn't allow us to raise our sights to look ahead. We live in the moment, because for too long they made us wish for a far off time that existed only in their speeches, in the pages of their books.
December 2011
Thousands of Roman Catholics in Cuba have gathered for an open-air mass to mark the end of a 16-month tour of a statue of the island's patron saint.
HAVANA - Cuban faithful celebrating Christmas say they have plenty to cheer this year as they prepare for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, the first visit by a pontiff to the Communist-run island since John Paul II's historic tour nearly 14 years ago.
HAVANA - Cuban faithful celebrating Christmas say they have plenty to cheer this year as they prepare for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI, the first visit by a pontiff to the Communist-run island since John Paul II's historic tour nearly 14 years ago.

Zombies in Havana

December 17, 2011

Movie poster for Juan of the Dead

The nothingness, the apathy, the wall at the corner to sit on, forever wasting time. The hero of the film Juan of the Dead was already acting like a corpse before the zombies invaded Havana, a city in fact shrouded and dead.
HAVANA - The hottest ticket in Havana is a gory, campy zombie flick with a wicked sense of humor about Cuba's obsessive relations with the United States, one that revels in islanders' knack for making the best of things even when everything around you - buildings, streets, human limbs - is falling t
HAVANA - The Cuban boy who survived a raft journey and became a flashpoint for troubled relations between the U.S. and Cuba during the 2000 presidential campaign is now an adult.
October 2011
Help Soviet-era Ladas still populate the streets of Cuba, serving a role as taxis, ambulances and police vehicles, as well as private cars. Figures say 250,000 Ladas are on the roads, providing an enduring link between Russia and Cuba..
September 2011
PINAR DEL RIO, Cuba - A traveling exhibition of art donated by a U.S. philanthropist is giving Cubans outside the capital a rare chance to see works from masters such as Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol that would normally hang in world-class galleries instead of sleepy provincial cities..

A taste of Cuba is a click away

September 15, 2011

As the adage goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

That’s often the case for thousands of Cubans who have settled outside of Miami. As summer draws to an end, Miami-bred students get a taste of that experience, heading off to colleges far away from doughy Cuban bread, pastelitos and black beans.
HAVANA, Cuba — On this island of constant shortages and scarcities, the latex condom has uses that stretch far beyond the bedroom.
An evangelical pastor and about 60 followers holed up in a Havana temple for more than three weeks are praying for “a new Cuba,” the group’s spokesman told journalists Monday.
Never before had 30,000 Cubans gathered outside the island.

Yet on the night of Sept. 8, 1961, they came by the thousands to then Bobby Maduro Stadium in Miami to commemorate the annual day of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Charity).
After attending a screening of the documentary The Tenth Inning at the University of Pennsylvania last October, Adrian Lorenzo, then an outfielder for the university’s baseball team, was taken aback by scenes of poor Dominican children playing baseball with old, worn-out equipment.
Cuba's capital, Havana, has good public safety and terrible public transportation. That has led to a curious form of travel, especially for young women in the city: urban hitchhiking.
August 2011
Cuban singer-songwriter Pablo Milanes’ most famous composition is not one of his many revolutionary ballads, but a love song, Yolanda. When he sang it from the stage of the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday night, this pean of undying adoration and need in the face of pain and betrayal became a shared duet with the audience. “I love you,” they serenaded each other, “I love you eternally.”
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Almost immediately upon his arrival in Cuba for the first time, American photographer Michael Dweck was swept up in a cultural bohemia reminiscent of 1930’s Paris salons. His unprecedented (and unrestricted) access to this hidden society of keenly observant artists, writers, musicians and glamorous models had never before been experienced by anyone in the West and is still not acknowledged within Cuba itself.
Her son pulled on her skirt asking for candy, while the guard demanded the ticket from the cash register and someone asked, insistently, for the purse-check ticket. In the midst of all this madness, she made the mistake of not checking her change for the purchase, a little over 6 CUC that had to last until the end of the month. When she got home she discovered that hidden among the coins was one with the face of Che Guevara, who, with his majestic gaze, tried to make himself pass for a one convertible peso coin.
For anyone who has followed the tumultuous politics of Cuban music in Miami over the past 15 years, Cuban singer Pablo Milanés’ concert Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena brings on a powerful sense of déjà vu.
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's version of the New York Yankees, the powerhouse Industriales, won the country's 2010 baseball championship with lights-out pitching by Armando Rivero and Joan Socarras and stellar hitting from Leguim Barroso.

Capturing Cuba's TV Culture

August 19, 2011

There were some fascinating developments in the living rooms of Old Havana. Many of the sets that I saw in 2000 — 1980s Russian models and mid-century TVs from the U.S. — had been replaced with shiny new imports from China. The cheap, new TVs were surrounded by the same vintage fans, rickety ornaments and faded family photographs. It seemed the only thing that had changed was the TV itself.
MIAMI (Reuters) - Cuban singer Pablo Milanes has not yet played a note of his planned August 27 concert in Miami but the event has already drummed up unharmonious debate among Cuban exiles between opponents and supporters of the event.
Small scoop, but on October 6th, the Cuban Interests Section (aka, the Cuban Embassy if we ever get back to normalizing relations) will launch a clever bit of public diplomacy by opening "Hemingway's Bar."
MIAMI (Reuters) - One of Communist-ruled Cuba's best-known singers, Pablo Milanes, said in quoted comments he would like to see more freedom to protest on the island as he prepared for a controversial concert this month in Miami.
HAVANA — The hair and accents were wrong, but the audience cared about just one thing: the house band was singing the Beatles, here, in a new bar called the Yellow Submarine, in Cuba, where such an act might have led to arrests in the mid-1960s.
July 2011
With 11 bishops, 70 priests and 1,200 faithful in attendance, Miami’s Cuban community held a funeral Mass Monday for Pedro Meurice Estiú, archbishop emeritus of Santiago de Cuba, who was remembered for his prophetic voice against a social ideology that attempted to silence the voice of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
Miami, FL — Organizers of the independent Cuban mega-music festival, Rotilla, denounced the Cuban government for hijacking this year’s concert series which expected to draw a crowd of more than 20,000 attendees. Rotilla organizers Michel Matos and Matraka Productions issued a statement condemning the Cuban authorities for “kidnapping, stealing" the festival, originally scheduled to take place August 5-7, often referred to as the “Cuban Woodstock.”
In the summer of 1989, U.S. yachtsmen sailed the Black Sea Regatta after the Soviet Odessa Sports Club had participated in the Liberty Cup Yacht Race around the Statue of Liberty. The exchange was one of hundreds of sports-related exchanges between the Cold War enemies that included hockey, tennis, baseball and diving before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
HAVANA — Want some paprika-infused chorizo sausage? How about a bit of buffalo mozzarella?

Or maybe you just need more cooking oil this month, or a homemade soft drink you can afford on paltry wages. Perhaps you are looking for something more precious, such as an imported air conditioner or some hand-rolled cigars at a fraction of the official price.
HAVANA — Over the past half-century, Fidel and Raul Castro have ensured — through exile, purges and execution — that no political figure or generation has emerged as their obvious successors. Time and again, the brothers have stacked the ruling Cuban Communist Party with gray hard-liners nearly as old as they are, determined to preserve their revolutionary legacy.

The Cuban Grapevine

July 13, 2011

Somehow I’ve ended up helping to cater a party in Havana, and a burly, jovial architect called Rafael is asking me whether I’ve heard of Radio Bemba.

Basically it’s the Cuban grapevine: “Bemba” is a slang word for big lips, and the expression has its origins in the way Fidel Castro communicated with his men in the 1950s when they were holed up in the Sierra Maestra building the revolution. Today, in a nation where the only official media are state-controlled, Radio Bemba has become shorthand for the word-of-mouth information network, which is by far the quickest (and often the most reliable) way to find out about anything from baseball chat to celebrity gossip to news of the latest defection to the United States.
A transgender woman has quit her job at a government-run sex studies center headed by the daughter of Cuban ruler Raúl Castro, alleging that Mariela Castro accused her of disloyalty because of her relationship with a gay opposition activist.
HAVANA — About 16 percent of Cubans are online in some capacity with access to email, the island’s intranet or the worldwide Web, a government agency says.
The number of Cubans using cellphones has risen sharply two years after the government lifted restrictions on mobile telephones, but few people have a personal computer or access to the Internet, according to a report released on Thursday.
On June 23, South Florida Congressman (and Appropriations Committee member) Mario Diaz-Balart successfully added an amendment to the 2012 Financial Services Appropriations Bill that would nullify recent steps by President Obama to ease travel restrictions and money transfers to Cuba. The move—which would disproportionately affect constituents in Mr. Diaz-Balart’s own district, many of whom regularly visit family in Cuba—is the latest attempt by hardliners in Congress to block people-to-people contact and prevent Americans from traveling or sending money to Cuba.
Friday night rush hour included many curious Angelenos inching their way to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Los Angeles Music Center to experience the acclaimed Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The legendary Cuban Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso choreographed the lively rendition of Don Quixote.
Cuba’s leading dissident, Oscar Elias Biscet, said he “was shaking with happiness” as he learned Thursday that rock star and social activist Bono had sung his praises during a jam-packed U2 concert in Miami.
June 2011
ST. PETERSBURG — The Florida Orchestra often tiptoes between performing crowd-pleasing classics and offering contemporary music that could alienate its more traditional patrons.
WASHINGTON The Cuban government will soon cast a media spotlight on the issue of racism on the island, although some programs to improve the lives of black Cubans had to be cut because of economic restraints, a Havana official said Thursday.
May 2011
Washington’s famed Cosmos Club (incorporated 1878) counts among its members some of the city’s greatest minds. I don’t go there much anymore (my late father-in-law was a member), but I remember there was one wall devoted to members who had won Nobel or Pulitzer prizes and another devoted to members who appeared on postage stamps. That’s the sort of achievement we’re talking about.
Black Cubans, already with the worst jobs and lowest salaries, will need “affirmative action” as the government tries to slash its inflated payrolls, a black Havana economist and former Communist Party member wrote Wednesday.
New York will host hundreds of Cuban artists this spring for a three-month festival. Some South Florida communities have moved to stop such cultural exchanges.
January 2011
Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Rene Lecour's plan started out simple: Take his son on a skateboarding trip to someplace "epic." While he and his son, Kaya, were searching the internet, they saw videos of Cuba's skateboarders making do with beaten-up and jerry-rigged boards. Economic shortages and the U.S. embargo make it difficult to get most sporting equipment there. For skateboarders, it was nearly impossible.
December 2010
The streets of Bayamo, Cuba, are blocked by horse-drawn carriages, whose drivers for two days have protested a fivefold increase in taxes.
November 2010
HAVANA — Kevin McKenzie, artistic director of American Ballet Theater, stood by a fluted pillar in a lofty studio at the National Ballet School here on Friday, keeping time with his hands as a group of male students practiced jetés in a circle.
October 2010
The New York Philharmonic canceled a trip to Havana last year because the United States government refused to allow its wealthy patrons to go along, saying they would essentially be tourists. That violates sanctions banning most travel to Cuba.
When Colombian rocker Juanes staged a concert in Havana last year, two undercover film crews weaved through the massive crowd asking the youths what they thought of Cuba and its future.
September 2010
HAVANA — The elimination of 500,000 public sector jobs in six months is worrying Cubans who have known only the state as an employer, although some see an opportunity to start a small business with the government's blessing.
August 2010
August 30th, 2010 - On Sept. 8, 1961, 30,000 exiled Cubans crowded Miami Stadium to attend their first celebration outside of Cuba to honor the nation's patron saint, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre. The parishioners were in for a great surprise -- the arrival, on that same day, of a famous image of the patron saint from their homeland. ``This symbol helped them relive their motherland's history with all its joys and sorrows,'' said Monsignor Agustín Román, chaplain emeritus of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, also known as Ermita de la Caridad in Miami. ``The exiled community received the sign of love that would unite them in the future.'' JUBILEE PLANS A novena to the Virgin -- nine consecutive days of prayer -- begins Monday, culminating with the start of yearlong festivities to honor that 1961 event. It will be celebrated during the 2011-2012 Jubilee Year, when many Cubans everywhere will celebrate four centuries of the Virgin's first apparition in Cuba's northeast seas. The parish, which has 57,000 members, plans an active program of evangelization during the year with the goal of reaching every believer. The program is called ``Family Night'' and aims to unite families in prayer and joy. ``Since charity is love, the parish wants to begin waking up love within the family,'' said Román, 82. ``In the current environment, families do not have the time to communicate or know each other; they are strangers living in the same house.'' In this fraternal spirit, the Jubilee Year will be celebrated in Miami from Sept. 8, 2011, to Sept. 8, 2012. After the apparition of the image in the 17th century, faith in the Virgin spread rapidly throughout the island, even though communication then was very limited. In 1916, Pope Benedict XV proclaimed Cuba's patron saint in response to the request of hundreds of veterans who had fought for the country's independence. With the Virgin's arrival to the exile community, devotions to the saint began to increase among the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Miami, under the sponsorship then of Archbishop Coleman Carroll. That eventually led to the construction of the Ermita, a national sanctuary next to Biscayne Bay that attracts a half-million faithful every year. GOSPEL SINGER Iraida Yocham-Añorga, a Cuban gospel singer, attended the Sunday evening Mass at the Ermita, which has a majestic mural of the Virgin's image, together with Cuba's patriotic symbols, Cuban historic heroes and remembrances of the island's geography. She was expected to sing and register for the novena, which will end at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 with the Festivity of the Virgin at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami. ``The Virgin's image is a Cuban symbol of the motherland, which helps us unite us to our people in intercession before God,'' Yocham-Añorga, 66, one of the organizers of the vigil, said before the festivity. The ceremony will include a serenade of songs and poetry. Following tradition, the event will end at midnight with the entrance of mariachis singing to the saint.
Latin Americans are in an upbeat mood. Most (78 percent) feel that they and their families are moving in the right direction, even if their countries (45 percent) and the world (41 percent) are not. Still, in 2003, fewer Latin Americans saw their country (30 percent) and the world (27 percent) as being on the right track, while rating their own standing a bit lower (72 percent). Since 1995, Latinobarómetro -- a respected public-opinion think tank in Santiago, Chile -- has issued annual reports on democracy and other topics based on interviews with Latin Americans in 18 countries. Their views on globalization and international relations, however, have only twice been the subject of in-depth surveys: in 2003 and in September-October 2009, the latter results presented in June 2010 report. In Brazil (91 percent), Venezuela (86 percent) and Costa Rica/Uruguay (tied at 84 percent), citizens see themselves and their families as strongly on the right track. At the other end, those in Ecuador (70 percent), the Dominican Republic (68 percent) and Nicaragua (62 percent) registered the lowest satisfaction with their lives, albeit with majorities in all three countries still satisfied. When pollsters asked how their country was doing, Brazilians (75 percent), Chileans (65 percent), Salvadorans (63 percent), Uruguayans (59 percent) and Panamanians (58 percent) nodded their approval. In all others -- from Bolivia (49 percent) down to last-place Argentina (19 percent) -- a majority see their countries moving in the wrong direction. Mixed reviews The gap between Latin Americans' perception of their prospects and those of their countries could partly be a function of confidence in government. In Venezuela, crime and corruption are major problems which, for example, Hugo Chávez can't or won't stop. In Peru, however, only 32 percent see their country on the right track in spite of solid economic performance. Citizens in four countries -- El Salvador (62 percent), Brazil (61 percent), the Dominican Republic (55 percent) and Guatemala (53 percent) -- hold favorable views of the world. Founded on a booming economy, Brazilian optimism needs little explanation; the other three do. Though none is a middle-income country, all are in CAFTA-DR, the Central American-Dominican free-trade agreement with the United States. Salvadorans, Dominicans and Guatemalans may well be expressing their hopes for the future. While most don't see the world on the right track, Latin Americans have positive opinions of specific countries or powers: the United States (74 percent), Spain (65 percent), Japan and the European Union (tied at 63 percent), and Canada and China (both at 58 percent). These approval ratings -- especially for the United States and Spain -- are encouraging: Most of the region's citizens are looking forward to improving their lives, not backward nursing historical grievances. Argentines once more fall at the opposite end of the spectrum: At 61 percent, they express the least positive views of the United States. Two caveats are in order. • Given the legacy of Juan Domingo Perón -- Argentina's strongman and precursor of today's anti-American populism -- it is perhaps a marvel that a majority holds the United States in high regard. • The crisis of 2001 coupled with Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández's policies have reinforced the Argentine proclivity to blame outsiders for their problems while shortchanging their own responsibility. Perspectives on Cuba On average, 40 percent of Latin Americans view Cuba positively. In only four countries -- El Salvador and Guatemala (each at 54 percent), Nicaragua (53 percent) and Paraguay (51 percent) -- does a majority give the island high marks. Land-locked Paraguay is usually a Latin American outlier. The other three countries likely see Cuba through the Cuban doctors who tend to the neediest and are rightly appreciative. What's striking is how two country blocs view the United States and Cuba. Central America and the Dominican Republic are the most pro-American: the DR (91 percent), El Salvador (89 percent), Nicaragua (75 percent), Honduras (81 percent), Costa Rica (86 percent) and Guatemala (67 percent). Nicaragua aside, populism in Venezuela (43 percent), Bolivia (46 percent) and Ecuador (40 percent) hasn't won Cuba much favor. Across the region the poor give Cuba the lowest approval. Rhetoric doesn't put food on the table or keep citizens safe from crime. Latin Americans generally reward good -- or good enough -- government that manages the economy with competence. Though the recent crisis has bolstered the place of government, 47 percent (versus 51 percent in 2003) said their well-being depends on their own efforts. Latin Americans manifest remarkable good sense. I wish I could say the same of their politicians.
Juan Hernández says his hopes for change in Cuba soared when he saw hundreds of people shed tears as a tiny statue of the country's patron saint was carried through his neighborhood in the city of Santiago. ``The fear of the government that people have is in their bones,'' Hernández said. ``Our spirituality, our Church -- because we're all devoted to the Virgin of Charity -- is our only hope.'' The statue's first nationwide public procession since 1952 is part of a long string of events to mark the 400th anniversary of the Virgin's appearance in Cuba, and it is raising hopes that the Roman Catholic Church will strengthen its role in the communist-ruled country. ``Through this peregrination the Church can achieve a more active and profound presence among the people,'' said Dagoberto Valdés, a leading lay activist and former editor of the Catholic magazine Vitral. The anniversary events for Our Lady of Charity, who is said to have appeared Sept. 8, 1612 to three fishermen amid a storm in the Bay of Nipe, began in2008 and will climax on Sept. 8, 2012. The celebrations may give the Church the same kind of shot in the arm it received from Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998. Baptisms, church weddings and attendance spiked around the visit but have trailed off in recent years. ``It also will fortify the hopes for the changes toward freedom and democracy that we all want, and the union of the two parts of the Cuban nation -- those in the island and those in the diaspora,'' Valdés added. Church officials are more cautious, with Santiago Archbishop Dionisio García saying the celebrations are part of ``the evangelizing mission of the Church'' -- to spread God's word. ``It's the same Church message as always, so that our people know the truth of the gospel,'' García told El Nuevo Herald. ``Our religious culture has suffered much, and the church works toward a Cuba that is always improving.'' García said large crowds have turned out for the statue's processions so far, and Church officials say they are expecting one million people will participate in all the events, including an increased number of Cuban American religious and lay activists. ``I told them if they can find me a place to stay, I'll be there'' for the final events in 2012, said Consuelo Arostegui Isaccson of Boston. She heads Friends of Caritas Cubana, which supports Catholic charity works on the island. The Catholic Church, the largest independent organization in Cuba, was long tightly controlled by a communist government that was officially atheist until the early 1990s. Its private schools were seized and scores of priests and nuns were expelled in the 1960s. But regard for the Church has grown since the Raúl Castro government agreed in July to free 52 political prisoners following talks between Castro and Cardinal Jaime Ortega. Half have been released so far. The crowds turning out for the statue's procession ``show the fervor, the yearning, the need for change that Cubans have,'' Hernández, a dissident journalist, said by phone from the eastern city of Santiago. He said he watched earlier this month as the statue was carried from the Los Desamparados church to the Cristo Rey temple, both near his home in Cuba's second-largest city. ``It was marvelous. Three city blocks full of people, hundreds, thousands, crying and singing canticles,'' he said. ``It was something truly inspiring, something that raised my hopes tremendously.'' That original statue is now enshrined in the Basilica of El Cobre near Santiago. The statue on the nationwide peregrination is a copy known as the Virgen Mambisa that is usually kept at the Santo Tomás church in Santiago. Its processions began at El Cobre Aug. 8 with a mass broadcast by Cuban state television -- an occurrence for a religious event. The procession will end in Havana on Dec. 10, 2011. Church activists expect the celebrations will spark an increase in the steady but low-key visits to the island by Cuban-American Catholics and U.S. church officials that began a decade ago. Many small ad-hoc groups and individuals are expected to make the visits, which are allowed by U.S. regulationsthat make exceptions forreligious and humanitarian travel. Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski has made several visits to Cuba, and each September and October, small groups of lay activists from Cuba and the Miami archdiocese exchange visits. ``The traffic is constant. Cuban priests are arriving here often, and people from here are going there to support the work of the church there,'' said Dora Amador, a Cuban-born lay activist in Miami. ``And there are people already planning to increase the flow.'' The Miami archdiocese said none of its officials plan to be in Cuba for a major celebration in Havana scheduled for Sept. 8 because the archdiocese will be having its own celebration in Miami that day.
March 2010

Cubans starting to see leaders as suspended in time

March 22, 2010

Myriam Marquez, Miami Herald

For commie spin in six languages, check out Prepare to be sucked up in a time warp of such dimensions that you'll be ducking and covering, holding your breath for the big one to hit. Because in Cuba, the regime's propaganda for 51 years hasn't evolved past one scare tactic: that the ``imperialist monster to the north' is gearing up to attack. We're used to that old script in South Florida, where exiles suffer our own Cold War mentality. For good reason. You don't pal around with Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and every other power-hungry maniac, as Cuba's Fidel and Raúl Castro have done since 1959, for nothing. They're plotting from Venezuela to Iran, with the Cuban script at hand. Many Americans think Cuba's just a poor island with nice beaches and want to go there because -- as one told me a few years back -- hey, there are no McDonald's. How quaint! MOVING IMAGES The world doesn't know Cuba's history past the images of a young Fidel entering Havana with adoring hordes embracing regime change. They excuse the firing squads as a relic of another century and consider today's political prisoners in Cuba unfortunate pawns in the U.S.-Cuba drama, but nothing to lose sleep over. Then political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo went on a hunger strike for more than 80 days and died last month protesting prison conditions while the regime did nothing. The world suddenly opened its eyes to today's Cuba, which is to say yesterday's Cuba. The same old place that preaches social justice with rapid squads of wild-eyed thugs whose response to a peaceful march of women down Havana streets is to punch, kick and drag them to the back of the bus. We have our sorry history, but even in the worst days during the 1960s civil rights battles, the courts delivered color-blind rights, laws changed, and, slowly, so did American hearts. There are still racists among us, but no one can say we're a racist nation and explain the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the land. No matter how much Raúl and Fidel try to argue that Obama is a 21st century Uncle Tom, it rings hollow to most Cubans, a majority of them black or of mixed race. And that's what scares the Castros. CHICKEN LITTLES Cubans look to their leadership and see cranky old white guys holding on to a destroyed country with the Chicken Little pretext that U.S. bombs are about to fall. They see the regime-controlled ``news' programs call Zapata a common criminal and hear on the street and read in blogs that Raúl uses a racist slur equivalent to the N word to describe the latest hunger striker -- independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas -- and they smell desperation. As in Iran, Cubans are using technology to put the regime on notice even as Cuba has outlawed satellite dishes, from which people get real news, and the ``counter-revolutionary use' of computers and cellphones to bypass the regime's closed Internet and its snooping on land lines. It's why bloggers like Yoani Sánchez are harassed by Cuban security. It's why a peaceful march by the Ladies in White gets treated to violent revolutionary goons. We've had other such moments when events in Cuba seemed to be propelling the people to demand their rights, moments when exiles held our breath -- not expecting U.S. bombs to drop, but for Cubans to seize what the revolution promised 51 years ago and failed to deliver: freedom.
December 2009

Florida International University concert features songs about Cuba

December 3, 2009

Paradise Afshar, Miami Herald

Emilio Cueto has a deep passion for history, especially when it comes to his native Cuba. ``I collect and research things about Cuba and, among the things I collect is music that foreigners have written about Cuba,' said Cueto, 65, a Washington, D.C., attorney. For the second year in a row, he is sharing some of the music he has collected with music students at Florida International University. The music is part of the Cuban Research Institute's annual Christmas concert on Saturday evening. Last year's theme focused on war; this year's concert, titled Classically Cuban: The World Sings to Cuba, has a more international flair. ``I am very excited about it because it is a way to share with people what we are about,' said Cueto. ``There is so much more that we don't know [about Cuban culture] and the university is a manifest setting to explore it.' The concert will include songs from 22 countries, four continents and seven languages that were written during the 19th and 20th centuries. ``Cuban music is well known and well researched and that's all well, but fewer people know that foreigners have written songs about it,' said Cueto. ``They have been inspired by the country's women, palm trees or by taking poems from Cuban poets,' he said. Japan, Australia, Germany and Brazil are among the nations that will be represented. Performers such as vocalist Ernesto TresPalacios are happy to see that the concert will have such an international flair. ``I welcome everyone to come and take part. It's a concert that will warm the heart of anyone who has a love for the Cuban people and Cuban culture,' said TresPalacios, 38, of Coral Gables. TresPalacios is a classically trained opera singer who will be singing several songs in English, French, Italian, Spanish. Although the Cuban-American has never been to the island, he sees the allure. ``It's a very laid back culture. They don't even say their R's and S's because they don't have the time and it's too hot,' he jokes. FIU music professor Armando Tranquilino is the director of the show. He will perform as well. ``It's amazing that so many counties have written about this tiny island,' said Tranquilino. ``A lot of this music hasn't been played in God knows how long.' This is the second year that Tranquilino and Cueto have collaborated on the concert. Cueto contacted the CRI last year because he had found songs about the Cuban war of independence. FIU then connected him with Tranquilino. With the number of countries represented, Tranquilino said it was only fair that they play the music in alphabetical order by country, so no bias is shown. The last song played will be I'll See You In C-U-B-A, by U.S. composer Irving Berlin. ``The song was written in the '20s during [the U.S. Prohibition era]. If you wanted to have a good time, you'd go to Cuba,' said Tranquilino, who noted there will be a ``nice surprise' at the end of that song. ``The topic is Cuba. The people of Cuban origin who come will be gratified to hear others sing songs about the country, and people from other counties will be gratified to know that their country sang to Cuba.' .

African-American group challenges Cuba on race

December 2, 2009

Juan Tamayo, Miami Herald

A group of prominent African Americans, traditionally sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, have for the first time condemned Cuba, demanding Havana stop its ``callous disregard' for black Cubans and declaring that ``racism in Cuba . must be confronted.' ``We know first-hand the experiences and consequences of denying civil freedoms on the basis of race,' the group declared in a statement. ``For that reason, we are even more obligated to voice our opinion on what is happening to our Cuban brethren.' Among the 60 signers were Princeton professor Cornel West, actress Ruby Dee Davis, film director Melvin Van Peebles, former South Florida congresswoman Carrie Meek, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of President Barack Obama's church in Chicago, and Susan Taylor, former editor in chief of Essence magazine. NEW VOICES The declaration, issued Monday, adds powerful new voices to the chorus pushing for change on the island, where Afro-Cubans make up at least 62 percent of the 11.4 million people yet are only thinly represented in the top leadership, scientific, academic and other ranks. ``This is historic,' said Enrique Patterson, an Afro-Cuban Miami author. Although predominantly white Cuban exiles ``tried to approach these people before, they lacked credibility. Now [African Americans] are listening.' A news release accompanying the statement acknowledged that ``traditionally African Americans have sided with the Castro regime and condemned the United States' policies, which explicitly work to topple the Cuban government.' But more African Americans traveling to Cuba have been able ``to see the situation for themselves,' said David Covin, one of the statement's organizers and former president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. The growing number of Afro-Cuban activists complaining about racial discrimination and casting their struggle as an issue of ``civil rights,' rather than ``human rights,' has helped to draw the attention of African Americans, said Victoria Ruiz-Labrit, Miami spokesperson for the Cuba-based Citizens' Committee for Racial Integration. ``The human rights issue did not make a point of the race issue, and now we have an evolution,' she added. ``Cuban blacks moved closer to the term `civil rights' because those are the rights that the movement here in the U.S. made a point of -- the race issues.' Alberto González, spokesman for Cuba's diplomatic mission in Washington, said it was ``absurd' to accuse of racism a Cuban government that ``has done more for black Cubans than any other in all areas, including health, education and welfare.' The African Americans' statement was ``part of a campaign of subversion against Cuba,' he added, designed to impact the administration of the first African-American president of the United States. `HARASSMENT' The four-page statement demands that Raúl Castro end ``the unwarranted and brutal harassment of black citizens in Cuba who are defending their civil rights. We cannot be silent in the face of increased violations of civil and human rights for those black activists in Cuba who dare raise their voices against the island's racial system.' The statement also demanded the immediate release of Darsi Ferrer, a well-known Afro-Cuban physician and activist jailed since July while under investigation on charges of illegal possession of two sacks of cement. The statement called Ferrer a political prisoner. While the African American signers support Cuba's right to sovereignty ``and unhesitatingly repudiate any attempt at curtailing such a right,' the statement added they ``cannot sit idly by and allow for peaceful, dedicated civil rights activists in Cuba, and the black population as a whole, to be treated with callous disregard.' ``Racism in Cuba, and anywhere else in the world, is unacceptable and must be confronted,' their statement declared. A ``briefing sheet' issued with the statement noted that Afro-Cubans make up 85 percent of the prison population and 60 of the 200 political prisoners, but only 20 percent of the Havana University professors. AUTHOR'S CRUSADE The statement was largely driven by Carlos Moore, a highly regarded Cuban author and black rights activist living in Brazil who has long criticized racial discrimination in Cuba. Moore persuaded Abdias Nascimiento, a founder of Brazil's black movement and longtime Castro supporter, to send Raúl Castro a letter earlier this year denouncing racism in Cuba, then appealed to friends and contacts in the African-American community to add their support. Jamaican-Nigerian author Lindsay Barret, who confessed he had been ``an almost uncritical supporter' of the Cuban government, also added his voice to the chorus of attacks on Cuba with a column he wrote for Nigeria's The Sun newspaper. ``It is . both disappointing and distressing for me at this point to have to acknowledge that . Carlos Moore's challenging assertions are beginning to ring true fifty years after we allowed ourselves to be enchanted by the glamour and courage of the Cuban insurgency,' Barret wrote.
November 2009

Cultural exchange a one-way policy

November 23, 2009

Myriam Marquez, Miami Herald

Willy Chirino, Pedro Pan kid turned Cuban-American salsero, has an offer for Raúl. Yeah, that Raúl, Fidel Castro's little brother now running that prison paradise across the Florida Straits. ``We have on many occasions proposed to the Cuban government a real, honest `cultural exchange,' ' he tells me on a recent evening, energized from the controversy swirling after Colombian singer Juanes sang at Havana's Revolutionary Square. ``Let them pick and choose a bunch of their artists, the ones that represent the revolution the most . and come here to this city in the place they choose for a concert in which they express exactly what it is they want to express. Freedom for the five spies or whatever,' Chirino tells me, taking a dramatic pause for effect. In exchange, he notes ``let us Cuban artists who live outside the island, Gloria Estefan, my wife Lissette [Alvarez], Marisela Verena, Amaury Gutierrez, Albita [Rodriguez], just to mention a few' hold a concert in Cuba with Cuban punk rockers like Gorki Aguila, rappers like Silvito El Libre and other artists who ``really have the courage inside the island to be able to use their music as a way of communicating the real struggle.' Wouldn't you start a riot? I ask him. Nope, he sighs. Chirino's songs about every man's longing for freedom, about Consolación del Sur, the little town he grew up in Pinar del Rio's tobacco country, his crooning about the jinetera prostituting herself in Havana to help her family survive -- all ring true for Cubans on the island. Nuestro Día Ya Viene Llegando (Our Day Is Coming) touches on his life as a Cuban refugee in Miami, an anthem of solidarity for exiles everywhere. And so, like Gloria, Willy bridges both cultures. But can he bridge the great U.S.-Cuba policy divide? So much has happened since I sat at his bayside Miami home just a few weeks ago to talk about his concert challenge to Havana. Generación Y blogger Yoani Sánchez and other brave Cuban bloggers were beaten on a Havana street on their way to a peace demonstration, then she scored an Internet interview with President Barack Obama and became the star of a U.S. House committee Thursday considering dropping the travel ban on American tourists wantingto go to Cuba. (She supports it.) Two reports came out last week on Cuba's ever-dismal human rights record, making clear that nothing has changed since Fidel got sick and Raúl was put in charge 40 months ago. And on Friday Kendall Myers, a retired State Department analyst, and his wife pleaded guilty to conspiracy for spying for Cuba for 30 years. But still, there's this offer. Send your Che Guevara-loving commies to sing here and let our proud gusanos, the ``worms' that Fidel called us exiles, sing there. ``This is what would happen,' Chirino tells me. ``Cubans are not able to express themselves publicly, honestly. They're afraid of what's happening around them. If the Cuban people learn to express themselves in a crowd, really, that's what's going to change things inside Cuba.' As Congress debates the travel ban, the politicians should ask why cultural exchanges that allow Cuban artists like Chucho Valdes and Omara Portuondo to attend the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas would deny Chirino, Gloria et al in Havana. Because what we have is a one-way policy. The Cuban regime gets to pick and choose who can travel to Cuba while we offer a virtual open door to their government-approved artists. Doesno one see the contradiction? ``We don't incite violence in our songs. We don't ask people to leave the island illegally. We are utilizing our music to tell our truth,' Chirino noted. ``That's all. My guitar doesn't shoot bullets.It shoots musical notes. What are they afraid of?' Just ask the fearless Yoani.

Poll: People disenchanted with life in Cuba

November 16, 2009

Lesley Clark, Miami Herald

WASHINGTON -- Any goodwill Raul Castro enjoyed as Cuba's new leader has dissipated, according to a new poll indicating that more than four out of five Cubans surveyed inside the country are unhappy with its direction. The survey, conducted by the International Republican Institute, also found that one in five Cubans named food scarcity as their biggest worry, and 82 percent said life in Cuba was going ``so-so, badly or very badly.' That was up slightly from 80 percent in November 2008, the last time the study was conducted. ``Cubans are as frustrated and pessimistic as they've ever been,' Alex Sutton, the institute's Latin American program director said. He noted that earlier surveys suggested the younger Castro enjoyed a ``small bump' in confidence when he took over for his brother Fidel in February 2008. But now, ``A vast majority of Cubans, if given the opportunity, would vote for fundamental political change. Cubans are dissatisfied. They want change -- politically and economically,' Sutton said. The institute, which receives funding from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and private donations, has been surveying Cubans on the island since 2007 to support its work promoting democracy, Sutton said. Though Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain chairs the institute's board, Sutton said the institute -- like its Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs -- is nonpartisan. The poll had to be conducted surreptitiously on the island, and was done by a Latin American polling firm that the institute won't name, citing the ability of the firm to keep working in Cuba. The interviews with 432 Cuban adults, ages 18 and over, were conducted face-to-face from July 4 to Aug. 7 in 12 Cuban provinces. The poll carries a margin of error of 5 percentage points. Fernand Amandi, a pollster with Miami-based Bendixen & Associates, which has polled in Cuba, said he wasn't familiar with the institute's poll -- which will be released Tuesday -- but suggested general caution in interpreting results from the country. ``That culture has institutionalized suppression of one's true feelings and, as a result, you have to always consider that whenever discussing studies that are done in Cuba,' he said. None of the questions involved U.S. policy toward Cuba, though 8 percent of those surveyed in Cuba volunteered that ending the U.S. embargo against Cuba would help improve Cuba's economy. There was little unanimity on the question of how to improve Cuba's economy: 20 percent suggested changing the political system; 15 percent cited ending the practice of requiring two forms of currency; and 10 percent said changing the economic system. The survey also indicated that, if given the chance, 75 percent of those surveyed would vote for democracy -- an increase from 63 percent in November 2008. Support is highest among those 40 to 49 years old, with 82 percent saying they'd vote for a democracy. Of those 60 and older, 64 percent said they'd vote for democracy -- an increase of nearly 20 percentage points from November 2008. The poll, which was conducted after the Obama administration announced it would allow U.S. companies to offer cellular roaming services, satellite TV and radio and fiber-optic cable to the island, shows that most Cubans -- 57 percent -- still have no access to the Internet or e-mail. But the poll found the number of Cubans who make cell phone calls increased 10 percent since November 2008, while the number of Cubans sending and receiving e-mail grew by 23 percent. The biggest complaint about Cuba remained low salaries and a high cost of living, though complaints about food scarcity increased. The number of Cubans citing lack of freedom in the political system, however, declined from 18 percent in October 2007 to 10 percent. Just 15 percent of those surveyed said they believe the current government will succeed in solving Cuba's biggest problem in the next few years. About twice as many said they believed the government could solve problems in November 2008.
July 2009

Three hundred Masonic lodges work in Cuba

July 10, 2009

Interfax, Miami Herald

Moscow, July 9, Interfax - About 29 thousands Cubans are members of more than 300 Masonic lodges in various cities of the country and at the same time are actively involved in public work, humanitarian and charitable projects. Ethnic composition of Masonic lodges is very diverse as well as Cuban population in general. Majority of "Freemasons" - over 9 thousand people - live in Havana. Masons act freely, each person can confess that he is a Mason of his own free will, the Tribuna paper has cited Grand Secretary of Cuban Masons Alberto William Rojas Aguilar as saying on Thursday. Masonic lodges crept over all Cuban provinces in the late 18th century, representatives of elite mostly joint them. Role of Masons was especially significant in the Cuban liberation movement. Before socialism, Masons actively participated in the government, though according to the Grand Secretary, today there is no masons in executive power of Cuba. "Freemasons" donated money to construct the main Masonic church in Havana in 1955. After the revolution, Masonic property was partly nationalized, the number of Masons abruptly reduced. However, the Masonic church was not closed, offices of several ministries are located there.
May 2009
HAVANA -- (AP) -- President Raúl Castro's daughter led hundreds of Cuban gays in a street dance Saturday to draw attention to gay rights on the island. Participants formed a carnival-style conga line around two city blocks to beat the of drums, accompanied by costumed stilt-walkers. Events also included educational panels and presentations for books, magazines and CDs about gay rights and sexual diversity. 'We're calling on the Cuban people to participate . so that the revolution can be deeper and include all the needs of the human being,' said Mariela Castro, an outspoken gay rights advocate who directs Cuba's officially sanctioned Sex Education Center. Attending the program's opening, Parliament speaker President Ricardo Alarcón said that Cuba has advanced in recent years in the area of gay rights. The communist government discriminated against homosexuals -- even sending some to work camps -- in the early years of the 1959 revolution led by Mariela Castro's uncle Fidel. But tolerance of homosexuality on the island has grown in recent years. Duan Mena, 29, said it was great to celebrate his homosexuality in public without fear of censure.

U.S.-Cuba thaw in full swing in arts world

May 8, 2009

Esteban Israel, Reuters

HAVANA (Reuters) - The U.S. and Cuba governments have taken the first, tentative steps toward ending 50 years of hostilities, but the thawing of relations is already in full swing in the arts world. After being largely absent in recent years, U.S. gallery owners, museum directors, curators and collectors are returning to the island to view and buy the work of Cuban artists. Hundreds showed up for the just-ended Havana Biennial arts festival that was a regular stop for art buyers before a Bush administration travel crackdown earlier this decade. Their presence reflected both newly relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba under President Barack Obama and a U.S. hunger for Cuban art. Obama offered to "recast" Washington's relationship with its Cold War-era enemy last month and granted Cuban Americans the right to freely travel and send remittances to Cuba. The United States was prepared to move further toward normalized relations, he said, if Cuba extended its hand. All of this has been music to the ears of Cuban artists glad to see the well-heeled gringos back in town. "Cuba has been sort of the forbidden fruit for some years because it has been so hard to travel here," said Cuban-born Ben Rodriguez-Cubenas, chairman of the Cuban Artist Fund, which promotes Cuban art, and also collector and program director for the New York-based Rockefeller Brothers Fund. "There has been this pent-up interest. Cuba is in the news. The interest is there," he said. Art is exempted from the 47-year old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, but sales dropped off when President George W. Bush toughened restrictions on U.S. travel to the Communist-run island and limited cultural exchanges in 2004. Buyers from other countries kept prices lofty. U.S. investors now eyeing paintings, drawings and photographs for appreciation will be welcomed with wide-open arms but will have to open their wallets wide, too, artists said. 1,000 AMERICANS The strong American presence at the Biennial means U.S. demand for Cuban art is on the rebound, said Pamela Ruiz, an American art curator based in Havana. "My guess is that there were at least 1,000 Americans walking around and 95 percent of them were here because either they wanted to buy work or because they were curators or (worked for) nonprofit (organizations)," she said. For the past few years only a handful of collectors were able to come legally by obtaining licenses from the U.S. government. Others violated U.S. law by traveling through a third country -- risking thousands of dollars in penalties. Under Obama, they said the licensing process has become less arduous and there is less fear of making the Cuba trip illegally because they view prosecution as less likely. And things would change dramatically if the U.S. Congress passes pending bills that would lift the ban on Cuban travel for all Americans, a move the Obama administration has said it would not oppose. American interest in Cuban art flourished in the 1990s, when the island's socialist system was shaken by the implosion of the Soviet Union, Cuba's biggest benefactor for three decades, and artists started to reflect the woes of a drifting society in their work. U.S. collectors swooped in, smelling what they thought was a good buying opportunity, said Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa. "Those were pretty strange, crazy times," he said. "People were waiting for the Cuban revolution to end any minute and so they were buying art thinking prices could rocket up." Interest peaked at the 2000 Biennial, when U.S. buyers were believed to have spent over $1 million buying Cuban works. "Americans came on a shopping spree with their Texan hats and money stuck in their belts," Garaicoa said. It all ended abruptly when Bush came to power and his administration severed incipient cultural links to the island just 90 miles from Florida. Before the Bush changes, Americans made up about 60 percent of Cuban art buyers, but fell to about 40 percent afterward, according to various estimates. Garaicoa missed the opening of his own exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 2005 after the U.S. government denied him a visa. NO BARGAINS But things are changing. During this year's Biennial, painter Damian Aquiles turned his run-down, century-old Havana home into an improvised gallery where curators from U.S. museums and arts organizations came to view the collages he makes with recycled cans and canvases. "This is starting to happen. After this Biennial it will all start," says Aquiles, 37, whose work has been shown at exhibits in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. "There is a general interest regarding Cuba, its art, its politics. Cuba is fashionable and that curiosity helps us," said the artist, who's married to Ruiz. Americans visiting the island will find lots of the vibrant, colorful art that Cuban artists favor. But one thing they will not find is bargains. Pre-Bush interest drove prices up to international standards and they have not come down. Anyone coming to Havana should expect to pay between $750 and $5,000 for photographs, $1,500 to $45,000 for drawings and $2,500 to $30,000 for a painting, collectors said. If the U.S. Congress lifts all travel restrictions, prices would likely go higher as more Americans visit. But the effect could be blunted by the world financial crisis. Garaicoa said that, due to money issues, he already has postponed two exhibits lined up for this year, one in Tampa, Florida, and another in Dublin's Irish Museum of Modern Art. But the crisis will eventually pass and as Americans return to Cuba, Cuban artists should benefit from the new political climate both in commercial terms and increased cultural contacts with the United States, said American curator Ruiz. "This is a very important point" in time, she said. "Only good will come out of this." (Reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Philip Barbara) .

People restless as Cuba digs in

May 3, 2009

Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Throngs of people who gathered in front of the government headquarters for the annual May Day celebration sent a clear orchestrated message Friday: The Cuban government isn't planning to go away anytime soon. Cuban leader Raúl Castro, in a guayabera and straw hat, did not speak -- he let the event do the talking for him. The unspoken message was that no matter the hype about increased talks with Washington, the hemisphere's last communist government has no immediate plans for change. 'Let us raise our flags and voices so that -- from one pole to the other on this planet, from one continent to another -- the unwavering decision of these extraordinary and combative people to build socialism under the direction of the Communist Party of Cuba, of Raúl and Fidel, will resound,' said Cuban government labor union leader Salvador Valdés, the only official speaker at the International Worker's Day parade. But as Valdés, other top officials and 2,000 international guests assembled with tens of thousands of people at the Plaza of the Revolution, a photo taken from the crowd roared perhaps even louder: A beaming young woman in dark sunglasses went to the Cuban May Day parade waving an enormous U.S. flag. Cubans on the island, widely considered supporters of President Barack Obama, applaud his recent decision to let U.S. residents visit and send cash to relatives on the island as often as they wish. Friday's May Day celebration took place amid weeks of speculation that Washington and Havana could begin to bury their 50-year-old hatchet. When Obama lifted long-standing restrictions that kept people from visiting relatives on the island, he let Castro know that if he expected more moves like that one, Cuba had to make the next move. Both Castros have rejected that notion. 'Never should the adversary be under the illusion that Cuba will surrender,' former dictator Fidel Castro wrote in his regular newspaper column, 'Reflections,' published Friday. 'Today they are willing to forgive us if we resign ourselves to return to the fold, as slaves who after experiencing freedom once again accept the whip and the yoke,' he said. `` . There are still some who believe that peoples can be manipulated like puppets.' At a meeting of non-aligned nations Wednesday in Havana, Raúl Castro said Obama's move was too small. 'Cuba is not the one that needs to make gestures,' he said. ``Cuba is not the one that stops its country's businessmen from doing business with ours. Cuba is not the one punishing financial transactions by U.S. banks.' Several Cubans interviewed in Havana said Friday's parade seemed out of touch with the bitter daily reality of a country where the monthly wage is about $20. 'The way things are, I don't think this is the right time,' said Yovanni, 28, a bicycle taxi driver. ``Those who need to work don't have time for parades.' The Cuban government reported that more than 2,000 people flew to Cuba from 70 different nations to attend the event. Granma, the Communist Party's newspaper, included more than a dozen articles on its web site about the annual gathering, and featured photos of people like the daughter of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. Internationally known Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote in a web posting last week that she planned to use the occasion to hold a nighttime pot-banging rally to protest Cubans' inability to travel freely. The protest, known as a cacerolazo, was scheduled for evening, but it was not known Friday if it took place. Polo, 60, traveled 400 miles from Las Tunas to Havana so people at work would not be suspicious of him missing the government-promoted event. Laborers are given the day off to attend but Polo was not enthusiastic. 'The revolution doesn't sing in your ear anymore,' he said. ``Sometimes, I don't even have one peso to buy tobacco. The crisis has spread to the whole world, but it has always been in Cuba.' Leaning on a concrete wall covered with posters of Fidel and Che Guevara, Polo said he hopes for better times. His words and gestures contrasted with the nearby singing of a group of young men from the La Corona cigar factory, who improvised ribald lyrics. Unwilling to join them was Lázaro, 70, a psychologist who worked in schools and universities as long as he could. He said that he no longer has the faith or the energy to celebrate May Day. 'There was talk of changes, and so far -- nothing,' he said. ``Under those circumstances, it's hard to wait.' Lázaro believes that a solution is attainable but that the obstacle is 'upstairs' -- the government, where few officials accept the reality of the times. 'It's as if everything were decomposing,' Lázaro said, adding that the hand of the authorities in Havana is not doing what it should. 'It has turned,' he said, ``into a closed fist.' This story was written by Miami Herald staff writer Frances Robles with contributions from an El Nuevo Herald correspondent in Havana whose name -- as well as the surnames of those interviewed -- were withheld because the reporter lacked the journalists' visa required by the Cuban government..
April 2009

Many Cubans temper hopes for improved US relations

April 20, 2009

Will Weissert, Miami Herald

HAVANA -- Cubans have heard talk about improved U.S.-Cuba relations before, and many are not buying it this time around - at least for now. Some wonder if vested interests - anti-Castro Cuban-Americans or Cuban government bureaucrats - are ready to change, others aren't sure the two countries can overcome 50 years of mistrust. Still others question whether any of it will improve the lives of ordinary islanders. "Things are getting really interesting, but I'm not waiting for anything spectacular immediately," said Raul Sarduy, a 72-year-old retiree in the capital's Miramar neighborhood. The U.S. erased restrictions on Americans who want to visit or send money to relatives in Cuba and President Barack Obama said at the Summit of the Americans that "the United States seeks a new beginning" with this country, though he said Sunday that the communist government should release political prisoners, afford greater freedoms and reduce official fees on money sent here from the States. Likewise, Cuban President Raul Castro said he would be willing to negotiate everything with the U.S. - including such thorny issues as freedom of the press, human rights and the roughly 205 political prisoners that rights observers say Cuba holds. "I'm hopeful. Can't you see the smile on my face?" office worker Rogelio Cardenas asked Sunday as he walked in western Havana's well-to-do Playa district. Upon further reflection, however, his grin began to waver. "Actually, I'm not too optimistic," said Cardenas, 50. "I don't know if we're really prepared for normal relations with the United States because here there's a whole layer of the population that has a stake in nothing changing." Thousands of Communist Party members and top government officials who make comfortable livings fueled by official animosity toward the United States - and they may not be ready to give that up, Cardenas said. "I'm not talking about Fidel or Raul" Castro, he said. "I'm talking about a whole mediocre class. Bureaucrats." Plenty of people in the U.S. - including the anti-Castro lobby in South Florida - also have a vested interest in strained relations. But both nations are now trading their warmest words since Washington broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961. Even Raul Castro's fiery older brother Fidel, who stepped down as president due to illness 14 months ago but has chided Obama through columns in state newspapers, failed to formally rebuke any notion of reconciliation with the "Yankees." But Fidel Castro, 82, once more criticized the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in writings posted on a government Web site late Sunday night. "The cruel embargo against the Cuban people has cost lives, caused suffering and also affected the economy, which sustains the nation and limits its possibilities to offer medical services, education, athletics, energy efficiency and the protection of the environment," Castro wrote. The Obama administration has said it has no plans to lift the embargo, which bans nearly all trade with Cuba. The island's government blames those sanctions for frequent shortages of food, medicine, farming and transportation machinery and other basics that plague daily life here. Embargo aside, many Cubans say it will be hard for their country to ignore decades of mistrust. Retiree Chula Rodriguez said she supports negotiations, but "I hope (the U.S.) doesn't try to impose anything." The 70-year-old said she was not surprised to hear Raul Castro mention human rights and political prisoners since Washington has committed such past atrocities as helping overthrow Latin American governments. "They toppled states in Guatemala, in Panama ... and we don't even have to mention Giron," she said, referring to 1961's disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion at Playa Giron, or Giron Beach, on Cuba's southern coast. Obama says it is up to Cuba to embrace some reforms before bilateral relations can improve. But there has been no move to loosen government limits on free speech or assembly, or to open access to the Internet and other information sources not clouded by communist propaganda. More than political freedoms, many Cubans say they would like the government to loosen its controls on the economy - allowing pockets of free enterprise that could help ordinary citizens pull themselves out of poverty. The state dominates more than 90 percent of the economy and pays workers an average of $19.70 a month. "Let the United States come and discuss things with Cuba, but I don't see how that is going to help my life," said Juan, a 63-year-old retiree. He was sitting Sunday in a park in Havana's historic district, a tourist-friendly enclave of restored colonial buildings and open-air cafes a world apart from the crumbling infrastructure of much of the rest of the country. Juan, who shook his head when asked to provide his last name, said he needed a few quiet minutes away from home - a three-room apartment he shares in nearby but desperately overcrowded central Havana with two of his sons, their wives and two grandchildren. "There's no money, no space even, to live," he said. "Obama can't affect that." .

Cuba Begins to Answer Its Race Question

April 13, 2009

Eugene Robinson, El Pais

HAVANA -- Maria del Carmen Cano, a scholar at the Cuban Institute of the Book, studies race in Cuba. For years that was an obscure and lonely task, but now people are beginning to pay attention. To illustrate why, she tells a story about her husband. He is tall and very dark-skinned. Not long ago, on a day off from work, he was making his way through a downtown Havana neighborhood in shorts, tennis shoes and T-shirt, a bulging knapsack slung over his shoulder--he was taking the family's computer to be repaired. Approaching from the opposite direction was a white man, also in sneakers and T-shirt and shorts, also toting a full knapsack. They crossed paths right in front of one of the policemen who stand, sphinxlike, on Havana's busy street corners. The officer stopped Cano's husband and demanded to see his identity papers, letting the white man pass without a second look. When the policeman learned that he had just detained a lieutenant colonel in the Cuban military, he was effusively apologetic. "But from then on," Cano says, "my husband had a greater appreciation for my work." Breaking a long-standing taboo on discussing Cuban society in racial terms, scholars and even officials here are delving into issues of race, racism, racial stereotypes and stubborn patterns of discrimination. They have found, as Cano says, that "it's unrealistic to assume that a good communist or a good revolutionary can't also be a racist." Black Cubans, by any material or educational measure, have made great advances in the past four decades, their progress often cited by officials as one of the signal accomplishments of President Fidel Castro's revolution. As one example, officials report that in this country of 11 million people, there are more than 13,000 black physicians; by comparison, in the United States, with a black population four times as large, the 1990 census counted just over 20,000 black doctors, according to the leading U.S. association of black physicians. Intermarriage between whites and blacks is commonplace in Cuba. Race relations, especially among individuals, are much more relaxed and amicable than in U.S. neighborhoods--and unlike in the United States, virtually all Cuban neighborhoods are racially integrated. But many young Afro-Cubans--those too young to remember what things were like before the revolution--contend that a form of structural racism exists in Cuba, and that it is getting worse. The Cuban version of the "New Economy" is based not on computers or the Internet but rather on tourism, which is growing by leaps and bounds while the rest of the Cuban economy languishes. Young blacks say they are underrepresented on the staffs of the big new five-star hotels and the ancillary service businesses springing up around Havana, the Varadero beach resort and other major cities. In today's Cuba, with the economy substantially "dollarized," those with access to tourists--and the dollars they spend--form a kind of new elite, and this elite of waitresses, doormen, tour guides and cab drivers appears much whiter than Cuba as a whole. The government's position, famously expressed by Cuba's independence hero Jose Marti, is that race does not matter, that "we are all Cubans." But to scholars, including those who remain fully committed to the revolution, some worrisome racial issues have become self-evident. Academics say that black Cubans are failing to earn university degrees in proportion to their numbers--a situation to which Castro has alluded publicly. The upper echelons of the government remain disproportionately white, despite the emergence of several rising black stars. And while perceptions are difficult to quantify, much less prove true or false, many black Cubans are convinced that they are much less likely than whites to land good jobs--and much more likely to be hassled by police on the street, like Cano's husband, in a Cuban version of "racial profiling." Even the most outspoken critics of the way the government has handled, or ignored, the issue of race in Cuba do not believe the racial problems here are as acute or widespread as in the United States. They share the worry of Cuban officials that foreign observers will oversimplify the situation, seeing it in stark terms of black and white when the more appropriate image is a spectrum of beiges and browns. Several black Cubans interviewed for this article were especially anxious that reports of Cuba's racial problems not be seized on by the Cuban American community in Miami, which is overwhelmingly white--and which was founded by a core of people who made up much of Cuba's pre-revolution white elite. Many here question whether there would have been such hubbub in Miami over Elian Gonzalez had the boy been black instead of white. "There is a feeling that to talk about this issue is to divide the unity that is necessary to face American imperialism," said Tomas Fernandez Robaina, senior researcher at the Jose Marti National Library and a preeminent scholar on race. But he added, "In many places, blacks have more problems getting a job than white people. I'm not telling you a secret." Recently Castro has acknowledged lingering traces of racial discrimination, using a speech last year to pin the blame on racist attitudes introduced during the U.S. occupation of Cuba following the Spanish-American War. His brother, Vice President Raul Castro, the second most powerful man in Cuba, tackled the subject in March, in a speech that black Cubans still remember and parts of which they cite verbatim. He used a more down-to-earth example that people could relate to their everyday lives: If a hotel denies entry to a person because he is black, he said, then the hotel should be shut. When black Cubans gather, the topic of racism readily emerges. But the government does not permit clubs, associations or movements based on race; there is no NAACP in Cuba, nor would one be allowed. Cuban race relations are thus conducted on the individual level, and because of cultural factors they lack the element of confrontation. This is a nation where a man can refer to his dark-skinned girlfriend as "mi negra," or "my black woman," without giving it a thought or raising any hackles. It is a society where friends can tease each other about how dark their skin is and no one takes offense; where a tan-skinned woman can casually say of a party she attended, "Oh, there were a lot of negros there, so I left," and no one seems uncomfortable or embarrassed. Cubans love to laugh, love to employ their well-developed sense of irony. "There is an important difference between our two countries," said Alexis Esquivel, an artist who has helped organize groundbreaking exhibitions here on the theme of race. "In the United States, you can't joke about race, not at all, but you can talk about it seriously. Here in Cuba, you can joke about race all you want. But you can't talk about it seriously." Cuba's Racial History Cuba has a familiar history of slavery and emancipation, but also a history of widespread intermarriage. The result is that racial lines are not nearly so clearly drawn, or so immutably fixed, as in the United States. There has not been a census since 1980-81, and at that time a majority of Cubans identified themselves as white. Most Cuban scholars discount that result, estimating that the Cuban population is between 60 percent and 70 percent black or mulatto (mixed-race). They also question the usefulness of official government statistics on race that are based on that census. Cubans reserve the term "black" for people with very dark skin and kinky hair. Many African Americans who consider themselves black would be called mulatto in Cuba, and some--with light skin and straight hair--would be called white. The pre-revolution racial hierarchy put whites on the top, blacks on the bottom and mulattos somewhere in between; the revolution ended all official discrimination, but as in virtually every country with a history of slavery, traces remain. "The economic crisis has taken the lid off," said researcher Cano. "Now there is new space for racist attitudes to exist." She referred to the implosion of the Cuban economy following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, which ended a lifeline of subsidies and eliminated the only viable markets for Cuban goods. The early 1990s were desperate years in Cuba, a time when people accustomed to a reasonable standard of living were suddenly hungry, when gasoline was in short supply and power outages were a daily occurrence. The government calls it the "Special Period"--and although the situation has greatly improved, Castro has not yet declared it at an end. The crisis exacerbated tensions, and many black Cubans began to feel that in this egalitarian society, they were getting the short end of the stick. After Castro made it legal to possess and spend dollars, remittances from overseas relatives eased the pain for some Cubans. But since so many of the Cubans in Miami and elsewhere who could afford to send money home were white, the relatives on the receiving end in Cuba also tended to be white. During the leanest years there were episodes of unrest. The worst came in the summer of 1994 along the seafront in Central Havana, a neighborhood that happens to have a high percentage of black residents. Crowds took to the streets and police officers came under attack. It did not qualify as a race riot, but arguably was the closest thing post-revolution Cuba had seen. The turmoil prompted Castro to allow a limited safety-valve exodus of rafters to set out for Florida--the first mass departure in which there were substantial numbers of blacks as well as whites. The conventional wisdom to that point had been that blacks were among Castro's most faithful and avid supporters--beneficiaries of both concrete benefits and memorable gestures, from Castro's legendary choice to stay in Harlem during his first New York visit to his decision to send thousands of Cuban troops to faraway wars in Africa. Shortly after the 1994 disturbances, the government accelerated a move to promote young, activist black officials to key posts, even inviting them into the inner circle. The Communist Party leader in Havana city, Esteban Lazo, is black, as is the party leader for Havana province, Pedro Saez. Blacks also hold the top party posts in Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city, and Camaguey, as well as leading positions in several other party organs. It is unclear, though, the extent to which these brash, can-do officials have convinced black Cubans that the government is addressing their concerns about race. In Santiago, a young black man named Lazaro--he did not want his last name used--spoke of how he admired black leaders in the United States, like Jesse L. Jackson. Asked who were the black leaders in Cuba, he gave a sardonic smile. "Look, man," he said. "In Cuba, there's only one leader." Carving Cultural Space "The first thing you're accused of when you do work like this," said artist Alexis Esquivel, fingering his long dreadlocks, "is that you're doing something to damage the image of Cuba." "Work like this" means the exhibitions that Esquivel, 31, and a group of Cuban artists, black and white, organized on the theme of race in Cuba. The first was called "Keloids," a reference to the raised scars that form when African skin is wounded. One artist, Manuel Arenas, showed two paintings that dealt with black Cubans' experience in the streets--one titled "Look Out, There's a Black Man," and the other titled "ID Card" and showing a black man, set against the national emblem, opening his identity card as if to show it to a policeman. Another artist, Rene Pena, played against the stereotype of the Cuban black man as sexually voracious with a photograph of a black man's nude torso in which the penis is replaced by a knife blade. Esquivel's work in this show, mounted at the Center for Development of the Visual Arts, centered on the soga--a rope that was used long ago at dances and other functions to separate blacks from whites. The soga is a theme he returns to again and again, sometimes installing a rope high in a gallery so that only the observant notice it, sometimes using the rope as a barrier, sometimes tying rope tightly around his face like a horse's bridle--or an instrument of bondage. To Esquivel's surprise, the exhibition was reviewed in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma. The review was generally positive, if somewhat cool, but the significant thing was that the show was acknowledged at all. Esquivel went on to help mount a second "Keloids" exhibition. Esquivel's own history is instructive. A mulatto by Cuban standards, he grew up in a small town in the interior. His artistic talent was recognized and he was sent to another province, Pinar del Rio, to attend a special school. Almost all of his classmates were white, and to hear him talk of the experience is like listening to a young black man talk about how he felt going to St. Albans or Sidwell Friends. "I had to suppress my musical tastes," he said. "I liked traditional music, music you could dance to, but my friends were all into rock. I was conflicted." "People would say something like, 'Those blacks, they're horrible.' Then they'd turn to me and say, 'Oh no, Alexis, we're not talking about you, you're fine.' Imagine what that does to a person." He recalls the moment of his radicalization: For an assignment in school, he read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." From that point, he identified himself as black. "I remember going home on a visit," he said, "and telling my mother not to use hair straightener anymore." Esquivel's partner in putting on the exhibitions was a Cuban art historian, Ariel Ribeaux, who wrote the manifesto for this gathering movement of black-themed art. Ribeaux's award-winning essay was entitled "Neither Musicians Nor Athletes." That title was a comment on the space that blacks traditionally occupied in Cuban society, praised for their athletic prowess--Fidel Castro himself went out to the airport to greet Cuba's returning Olympic athletes, most of whom were black or brown--and their contributions to broadly defined Cuban "culture," especially religion and music. Black Cubans have begun to use that cultural space to express racial pride and to comment on their position in the society. The Afro-Cuban religion that most Americans know as santeria, but that most believers in Havana call "the Yoruba religion," recently was allowed to open a cultural center in an airy downtown building near the pre-revolution capitol. Rafael Robaina, a researcher at the Center of Anthropology who specializes in the religion, calls it "the only black organization that we have in Cuba." Antonio Castaneda, president of the Yoruba Cultural Center, says the building, with its museum devoted to the Afro-Cuban saints, is "a bastion in defense of black people, a source of pride." Castro helped fund the $2 million project by instructing banks to lend the necessary money for construction. In music, meanwhile, young Cuban songwriters slip in sly lyrics about skin color, about unemployment, about racism. At a recent performance by the popular group NG La Banda, for example, the singer added a line about a black man being stopped by police on the street. In a bit of commentary that would do Richard Pryor or Chris Rock proud, the singer, who is black, used the Cuban slang word that most closely approximates "nigger." Walking While Black That is the one concrete, on-the-ground issue that almost all black Cuban men, especially young men, can relate to: being halted by police and made to produce their documents. To foreigners, the officers are unfailingly polite--even if, for example, the foreigner happens to be barreling the wrong way down a one-way street. But when they are not just standing and watching, generally they are stopping young men and asking to see their papers. Anecdotally, but also in the universal opinion of black Cubans, the men being stopped are more likely to be black than white. Recall the case of Maria del Carmen Cano's husband, who was stopped in Havana while an identically dressed white man was allowed to breeze by? According to Cano, her husband was so indignant that he demanded to know why he had been singled out. "We were looking for someone with physical characteristics like yours," the policeman replied. A few days later, Cano says, she and her husband went to a party where there were a number of black couples, and he told the story. Everyone laughed. "Four or five black men there had had the same thing happen to them. And they had been told the same thing--'We are looking for someone with physical characteristics like yours.' " She goes on, "My husband was even more angry. He said, 'If you're going to lie to me, at least be original.' " .
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Hip hop is one U.S. commodity that has made it past the trade embargo to Cuba. Cuba has developed a homegrown rap movement, inspired by the sounds and fashions of U.S. hip hop. But what makes Cuban rappers different is that rather than celebrating bling, girls and guns, their lyrics address social issues in a country where free speech is tightly controlled. Cuban rap began to surface in the 1990s, a grassroots affair, with songs recorded in rappers' bedrooms and distributed on cassette tapes. The island's fledgling hip hop scene was given a boost in 1999, when it was endorsed by the government as "an authentic expression of Cuban Culture." In the following years the government set up the Cuban Rap Agency (CRA) to promote the scene, as well as a record label, "Asere Productions," and a rap magazine called "Movimiento." Government approval helped Cuban hip hop emerge from the underground, but some see that endorsement as a gilded cage. Formed in 1996, rap duo "Doble Filo" ("Double Edged") have been part of the Havana scene since the beginning and work with the Cuban Rap Agency. But rapper Irak Saenz admits there are contradictions in being part of the system. "It does limit our creative freedom," he told CNN. "The CRA has an agenda that goes with the government's agenda. It doesn't limit me but it does force me to be creative in how I express my ideas." Along with fellow Cuban rap duo "Los Aldeanos" ("The Villagers") "Doble Filo" work with U.S. hip hop audio/visual label, Emetrece Productions. But "Los Aldeanos", who formed in 2003, are part of a younger generation of Cuban rappers. They don't belong the CRA, and nor do they want to. They are defiantly underground and outspoken. "Hip hop is an art form speaks the truth about how people are living," says Aldo Rodriguez, one half of Los Aldeanos. Their track "Niñito Cubano" is about a young boy growing up during Cuba's "special period", when the fall of the Soviet Union brought hardship to the island. Their forthright lyrics about life in Cuba don't make them any friends among Cuba's authorities, and that limits their opportunities on the island. "Our lyrics don't always go with the standard Cuban rhetoric and often that won't get airplay," says Rodriguez. "I can be famous in other countries, but here they won't let me play a concert in a theater." Doble Filo's Saenz has performed the U.S. with fellow Cubans "Obsesion", a tour that included playing on the same bill as U.S. rap stars Kanye West and The Roots. He says that where his generation of rappers was forced to limit the way it talked about the realities of daily life, the new generation is bolder with its lyrics. Bian Rodriguez, also known as El B, the other member of "Los Aldeanos," says hip hop gives voice to the concerns of ordinary Cubans. "People tell me they need this music, not just because they can identify with what we are saying, but because they feel that maybe we can say things they might be afraid to say publicly," he told CNN. Like most other Cuban rap groups, "Los Aldeanos" aren't yet in a position to make a living from their music. El B has won Cuba's Red Bull freestyle rapping championship three years in a row, but he still has a day job as a primary school teacher. A lack of funds and equipment means the island's hip hop producers have to use a certain amount of ingenuity when it comes to recording their music. Doble Filo's producer Edgaro explains that in the group's early days, he would make tracks by looping the last few bars of songs on cassette tapes. These days, Edgaro produces songs on his PC, but the software is pirated from copies brought into the country and circulated on the streets. It simply isn't available in the stores. As the scene develops the groups are getting more ambitious. Doble Filo are now incorporating live musicians into their sound, weaving in elements of traditional Cuban music, and they are set to release their debut album "Despierta" ("Wake up") through Emetrece Productions. Emetrece is run by Melisa Riviere, a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department at the University of Minnesota. More than just promoting good music, she says Emetrece is trying to educate, and to challenge the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Like Cuba's rappers, she sees hip hop as a tool for social change. As El B puts it, "I think one of the things people take from the music is the idea that we can do anything, we can change anything, we can be anything we want." .
March 2009

50-Year Streak Ends as Cuba Fails to Reach Final

March 19, 2009

Alan Schwarz, New York Times

SAN DIEGO — One of the most remarkable streaks in modern sports ended at cold and foggy Petco Park late Wednesday night, as Japan beat Cuba 5-0 in the World Baseball Classic, eliminating Cuba before a major international tournament’s final game for the first time in 50 years. Three years ago, on the same diamond, Japan stunned Cuba in the 2006 W.B.C. final. But this loss, with a berth in the W.B.C. semifinals on the line and the loser going home, made history: Cuba had reached the final of all 50 major tournaments they had entered since 1959. Winning 43 of those established Cuba the most feared team in international baseball, a status in legitimate question now. Japan will join Korea, Venezuela and the United States in the W.B.C. semifinals Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles. Japan and Korea will play Thursday night in San Diego to determine the matchups. “It was a very special game — the reason was because we had to win,” Japan manager Tatsunori Hara said. “That had great meaning for us. For Team Japan and the baseball world of Japan, it meant a great deal.” The loss had even more meaning for the Cubans, who went home as the their nation’s most disappointing team in half a century. “They were much better than us, and that’s why they deserved the victory,” Cuba manager Higinio Velez said in a statement. “They do deserve to go on to the finals. So the only thing left for us to do is to continue to fight for our great game, baseball.” Japan starter Hisashi Iwakuma handcuffed Cuba from the start, just as Daisuke Matsuzaka did on Sunday when Japan also shut out Cuba 6-0 in the bracket opener. Iwakuma, coming off a 21-win season in the Japanese majors, used his precise fastball and darting changeup to leave Cuban hitters all but helpless. What they could muster mattered little — all five hits Iwakuma allowed came one to an inning, and all with two out. Toshiya Sugiuchi replaced Iwakuma to start the seventh and retired all nine batters, leaving Cuba looking even worse than they had against Iwakuma. Through the early innings, Japan hadn’t exactly been battering the ball either. Through the third inning, 18 of their 19 hits in their two-plus games here had been singles, their only double a fly ball that the Cuban right fielder lost in the sun. That changed in the fourth, when Japan’s first legitimate double, from designated hitter Atsunori Inaba, put runners on second and third and set up the game’s pivotal play. With two out, Japan first baseman Michihiro Ogasawara crushed a pitch from Yunieski Maya to deep center field. Yoennis Cespedes pivoted to his right and ran full speed into one of the deeper portions of Petco Park to meet the ball in stride at eye level, but upon hitting the center of his glove the ball popped out for a two-run error. Cuba never recovered. The error recalled a crushing Cuban mistake from 10 years ago. In the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, Cuban outfielder Yasser Gomez — who defected last December but has not signed with a major league team — dropped a fly ball to allow the winning run to score in the 11 th inning of the gold medal game. Coming early in the game, Cespedes’ error was almost worse. Cuba appeared with each passing inning as if it knew what hadn’t happened for 50 years was about to happen to them. Japan added superfluous single runs in the fifth, seventh and ninth while Cuba either struck out, flew out meekly or had their few line drives go straight into Japanese gloves. “Today of course I had pressure,” Iwakuma said afterward. “If we lost today, that was the end of it.” Instead it was the end of something larger — 50 years of Cuban dominance, and one of the most remarkable streaks in baseball history.
February 2009

In Obama, Afro-Cuban sees a revolution he can believe in

February 9, 2009

Jack Chang, Miami Herald

WASHINGTON -- For more than five decades, Carlos Moore, a Cuban-Jamaican writer who's considered one of the world's leading experts on the history of racism, has been at the heart of his era's most dramatic moments. Shortly after Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Moore returned to Cuba to support Castro's budding communist state. Years later, after Moore fell out of favor with Cuba's leadership and fled, he worked with African independence movements fighting to break countries around that continent from colonial rule. With that record behind him, the 66-year-old knew he wanted to be in the U.S. for what he considered one of the greatest turning points of recent history: the election of Barack Obama. Moore left his home in Salvador, Brazil, to spend the last months of Obama's presidential campaign in the eastern U.S., where he was promoting his new memoir, Pichon. Election Day fell on Moore's birthday, and he watched in Miami as Obama declared victory. For Moore, Obama's election was a landmark moment in a story that began thousands of years ago when racism and slavery made their first ugly appearances in North Africa, India and elsewhere. As a black man who grew up in the poorest areas of Cuba, Moore said seeing a fellow black man rule the world's most powerful country was nothing short of revolutionary. Moore said he was particularly impressed that Obama won with the support of tens of millions of white Americans. 'Now, those generations of whites are joining the generation of blacks,' Moore said. ``There is no question this is a step forward for the whole world. It's not just a step forward in America.' Moore is also speaking out about his native Cuba, as that country celebrates the 50th anniversary of its fabled revolution amid political and economic pressures. Moore wrote a widely publicized letter in December appealing to Cuban leader Raul Castro to attack institutional racism on the island or risk being overwhelmed by the country's black majority. 'Power in Cuba is white,' Moore wrote. ``Racial discrimination against black Cubans is strengthening day by day and becoming more pervasive.' While speaking recently in Washington, Moore said that Obama's election presents a new threat to the Cuban government. ``In Cuba, they're saying if Obama can become president in a country where blacks are 13 percent of the population, why can't (blacks) become president in a country where 70 percent of the population is black?' Moore grew up in the poor town of Lugareno in the Cuban hinterlands before moving with his father and siblings to New York as a teenager. That's where he became politically active and met black luminaries such as poet Maya Angelou and jazz drummer Max Roach. It's also where he became an ardent supporter of the Cuban revolution. Moore's Cuban ties, however, were strained in 1961 when he returned home only to have the government he loved so much imprison him for denouncing what he said was its attempts to ignore racism on the island. Moore fled Cuba two years later and didn't stop running. The island's communist government denounced and pursued him for more than three decades around the world. In Pichon, Moore even tells of an apparent attempt by Cuban officials to kidnap him in Tanzania. Moore writes that he only returned to Cuba in 1997 after the regime dropped its pursuit and gave him back his Cuban passport. The Cuban interests section in Washington didn't respond to requests to talk about Moore's accounts. Moore's wife, Ayeola, said her husband is still recovering emotionally from those dangerous decades. 'Everything he did, he did it like the end was near because of Castro or the Cuban government,' she said. ``Once, he said he even wanted to kill himself.' With those dark days behind him, Carlos Moore now writes and reads in his sunny Salvador house in between book tours and research trips. The evocative strains of salsa music fill the house, as do piles of books and art he's picked up around the world. Moore has long angered people across the political spectrum by speaking his mind and denouncing injustice wherever he saw it, be it in the U.S. or in Cuba. That outspokenness has turned Moore into one of the most original and influential black scholars. His appearances draw crowds in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and New York alike. 'He came out of a country like Cuba where this idea of racial democracy and harmony was so strong and he criticized the revolution's treatment of the issue because he saw through that mask,' said Brazil-based race scholar Elisa Larkin Nascimento, who's known Moore for more than three decades. ``He paid the price for that.' He hasn't stopped stirring controversy. At a book reading he gave in Washington, several protesters angrily heckled him before being forced by the bookstore's employees to leave. People have also turned up at other public events on Moore's book tour to shout him down or even physically threaten him over his comments about Cuba's government. Moore said he's faced worse, and he decided long ago to never stop speaking truth, no matter the consequences. ``If I had made a decision to shut up, I would have stayed in Cuba. My whole life has been one in which I've resisted the government. I've denounced and resisted and I've paid the price. I knew the price could be my life, and I accepted that.' .
January 2009

Disenchanted With Castro's Revolution

January 28, 2009

The Wall Street Journal

On Jan. 8, 1959, 50 years ago this month, Fidel Castro rode into Havana on a column on tanks to mark the triumph of the Cuban revolution, cheered on by throngs of flag-waving Cubans and heralding what many hoped would be a new dawn for the island, the hemisphere and the world. It was a day that would forever mark Carmen Vallejo's life. The story of Carmen Vallejo and her family is, in many ways, the story of the revolution itself and its legacy over the past half century. Like many other Cubans, the Vallejo family strongly supported the revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and brought Mr. Castro to power. But the ensuing years brought disillusionment, disappointment and despair. Today, Ms. Vallejo, 56, feels trapped by the events of 1959. She can't travel outside Cuba or hold a prominent job, the result of a failed attempt to defect in 1981. Desperate to find meaning in their lives outside of politics, she and her husband, Rey, have dedicated the past 19 years to helping Cuban children with cancer. But even that mission is met with hostility from a government that never forgives those who question it. "Having a totalitarian system means total control. They don't like it when someone else tries to resolve problems for people," she says. Such talk is rare in Cuba, where most people are afraid of getting jailed for speaking out against the government. But Ms. Vallejo has spent her life coming to terms with her country, her family's role in helping the revolution, and her fate. Her favorite poet is Anna Akhmatova, a Russian who lived under Stalin and wrote about the despair of totalitarianism. Ms. Vallejo has underlined the following lines from one of the poems: "I am not one of those who leave my country. I am, unfortunately, where my people are doomed to be." Ms. Vallejo's family had an unusually distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Her father was a prominent Cuban physician named Rene Vallejo, who served with the Third U.S. Army in postwar Germany, running a hospital that cared for the sick and war wounded. There, he met a Ukrainian nurse who had been in a Nazi forced labor camp and passed herself off as Polish to avoid being sent to the USSR. The couple married before returning to Cuba. After about a decade in Cuba, Mr. Vallejo left a successful medical practice and took his two brothers to join Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains to topple the Batista regime. Later, he rose to the rank of commander and became Mr. Castro's personal doctor, aide de camp and close friend. Mr. Vallejo's wife, Maria Witowska, also helped the cause, using her home to hide rebels and send supplies to Mr. Castro during the revolution. After the revolution, she became his personal secretary. A picture of her taken by Alberto Korda, the photographer who took the iconic portrait of Che Guevara, still hangs in Carmen Vallejo's Havana apartment. During the first few years after the revolution, Mr. Castro remained so close to Rene Vallejo that the comandante often spent the night at Mr. Vallejo's home, staying up for hours discussing politics. "I never liked Fidel because every time he would come to our house, I was rushed by my father into a bedroom and told to be quiet," says Carmen. But the Vallejo family slowly fell out of favor with the revolution. Her father, having spent time with the Americans in World War II, encouraged Mr. Castro to make amends with Washington. He was heavily involved in a then-secret attempt to re-establish U.S.-Cuban ties in 1963, according to Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the Washington-based National Security Archive, a nongovernmental research institution. That effort, which had President Kennedy's blessing, ended with the president's assassination. Ms. Vallejo thinks her father simply ended up being too much of a free spirit for Mr. Castro to fully trust. "He had respect for every person, for every individual, and the regime does not care about individuals," she says. Whatever the cause, after Mr. Vallejo's death in 1969, he was largely airbrushed out of Cuban history, and today few Cubans know of his role in the revolution. Ms. Vallejo's mother, Maria, meanwhile, became suspect for her Catholic beliefs. She gave her daughter a first communion ceremony in 1960, raising eyebrows among Communist Party officials. Soon, she was demoted from Mr. Castro's personal secretary to translator. She grew increasingly disillusioned about having survived Stalin and the Nazis only to end up with another totalitarian regime. Before her death in 1990, Maria Vallejo wrote a letter to her dead mother: "My life is wrecked. I ask myself: What am I doing in this land? .... What sentence do I have to pay and why? Why do I have to suffer like this? …. Must I always, always have to suffer? Will they keep humiliating me? Why? What did I do that was so wrong? …. Mother, come, don't leave me alone. Why didn't you tell me the world and its men were so cruel?" Carmen Vallejo suffered the privations of ordinary Cubans, despite her family's prominence in the revolution. A lack of vitamins during her college years left her with damage to her left eye. In 1981, with the blessing of her husband, Ms. Vallejo used an opportunity of a trip to Finland to get eye treatment to take a ferry to Sweden to try to defect. But Sweden's then-socialist government of Olaf Palme handed her back to the Cubans, who swiftly exacted revenge. Her husband and mother both lost their jobs, and they began to be constantly harassed by party officials. On the door of their family home, someone spray-painted "Gusanos," or "Worms," the Cuban words for counterrevolutionaries. When Ms. Vallejo would run across teachers at the university, they would spit in her path. Ms. Vallejo and her husband sank into a depression that lasted until 1988, when Mother Teresa visited Cuba to open up one of her charity's missions. Because Ms. Vallejo was active in the Catholic church, she served as Mother Teresa's interpreter. During the visit, the late sister befriended Ms. Vallejo and told her God had a mission for her: To care for Cuban children with cancer. "After our first visit to the children's ward (in Havana's main oncology hospital), I cried and prayed to God that I wouldn't have to do this," says Ms. Vallejo. "But, somehow, Mother Teresa knew exactly what we needed." For the next 15 years, Ms. Vallejo and her husband visited the children in the cancer ward several times a week, organizing parties, bringing presents and trying to cheer them up. Children with cancer in Cuba get free treatment courtesy of the state, but they also face additional horrors in addition to their disease, including a lack of the latest treatments, clean sheets, air conditioning and even basic food. Aimee Linares's son Nelson, 7, had a malignant tumor in his intestines. During bouts of chemotherapy, the only food the boy seemed able to digest was apples, which the hospital couldn't provide. His mother would walk the streets until her feet blistered looking for a single apple for sale. Ms. Vallejo and her husband's group began attracting attention from foreign diplomats stationed in Havana, and soon got donations from abroad, mostly from Europe and the U.S. A hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., began a program to send chemotherapy medications that were unavailable in Cuba, and bringing Cuban cancer specialists for monthlong stays to learn the latest treatments. But in 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cuba arrested scores of dissidents and threw them in jail. The European Union broke diplomatic relations. The following week, the children's ward ended visiting hours, making it impossible for Ms. Vallejo to carry on her work. Ms. Vallejo says she learned from the hospital staff that party officials were punishing the group for their contact with foreign enemies. The couple convinced a local priest to let them organize a cancer support group at the church held every Saturday. Parents with children at the oncology hospital come and meet with former patients who survived or children who still have cancer but are living at home. During a recent Saturday, the children were busy drawing with crayons (a luxury in Cuba) while the adults talked with Sergio Davila about his four-year-old son Brian, who has leukemia. "I feel like crying when I see him, but I know the thing he needs most is for me to be strong, and smile," said Mr. Davila, 47, who is from another city and has been living in Havana since his son entered the hospital. He sleeps in the hospital corridors. Despite the altruistic nature of the group's work, the Cuban state still interferes, throwing up bureaucratic obstacles and harassing the children's mothers. Recently, some Western diplomats were going to throw a Christmas party for the kids, many of whom had never seen a Santa Claus. Secret police turned up at the homes of several parents and told them not to send their kids to the party because it was being held by the enemy. "I told them that I didn't care what country someone was from as long as they could put a smile on my little boy's face," says Ms. Linares. Ms. Vallejo says the group has given her life meaning again after she lost all hope of ever leaving Cuba and building a normal life. Looking back on 50 years of the revolution and her family's role in it, she has only one thing to say: "No more revolutions, please. My life has taught me that change should be gradual. No more revolution. Never again." .

In Cuba, Pinning Hopes on Obama

January 7, 2009

William Booth, Washington Post

HAVANA -- Vicente González says that although Barack Obama is no Karl Marx -- "he is a capitalist and likely an imperialist" -- he has high hopes that the new president could begin to warm the relationship between Cuba and the United States, which remains frozen in a Cold War time warp. "It is time," the Havana barber said, perhaps unwittingly repeating the Obama slogan, "for a change." The world has numerous expectations of the incoming president, but many Cubans, who live on state salaries that average $20 a month, seem to possess an outsized hope that Obama will somehow transform their lives. All along Neptune Street, a chaotic, dusty, crowded avenue that runs through the heart of central Havana, people in ration-card shops, state-run cafeterias and crumbling hallways spoke relatively openly about their desire to see the new U.S. president do something -- almost anything -- to help end the official hostilities between the two countries. Alejandro Rodríguez, who repairs toasters for a living, just wants to visit his relatives in Miami. "This is a problem between governments, not between people," he said. "Yet we suffer." He was turned down for a visa. Raymundo Quirino, a sculptor, would not mind seeing a few cruise ships from the United States dock in Havana's harbor. "Good for business," he said. "And for the exchange of ideas, thoughts, dreams." Yvonne Portuondo, a hairdresser, would like to see an end to the decades-long trade embargo, which restricts imports of food and medicine and forbids most Americans from traveling to Cuba. "The embargo should have nothing to do with letting people see their families," she said. Perhaps sensing that unmet expectations might lead to popular frustration, or even anger, Cuban President Raúl Castro on Friday sought to pour some cold water on the prospect of big changes in the relationship between the Communist-run island and the country 90 miles to the north. "There is now a president who has raised hopes in many parts of the world," said Castro, who assumed the presidency when his ailing older brother Fidel resigned in February and has made a few small changes, such as allowing Cubans to own cellphones and stay at tourist hotels. "I think they are excessive hopes because, though he may be an honest man, and I think he is, and a sincere man, and I think he is, one man cannot change the destiny of a nation, much less the United States." "Hopefully I'm wrong about that and Mr. Obama has success," Raúl Castro said, speaking on state television last week, the day after he celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution and warned his country to resist the "siren's song of the enemy," meaning the United States. He reiterated a willingness to meet Obama but was not effusive or concrete. "Gesture for gesture, we are ready to do it whenever it may be, whenever they may decide, without intermediaries, directly," Castro said. "But we are in no rush, we are not desperate." During his campaign, Obama promised to quickly and unilaterally take two steps: to allow Cuban Americans to travel as often as they like to visit relatives in Cuba and to allow them to send family as much money as they want. Currently, under a policy initiated by the Bush administration to further squeeze the Cuban government, Cuban Americans are permitted to visit the island only once every three years to see immediate family and to send only up to $300 in cash remittances every three months. Gift packages are restricted to food, medicine, radios and batteries. Americans without family in Cuba are generally forbidden to visit the island. The Bush administration also tightened the screw on visits by academics, students and religious groups. Naturally, there are ways around the restrictions. U.S. visitors often fly through Mexico or another country and ask Cuban immigration officials not to stamp their passports. Also, Cuban Americans visiting the island often bring in envelopes stuffed with cash. One Cuban American businessman from Miami, staying at a hotel in the Miramar neighborhood, said last week that he had brought in $25,000 to pass out to relatives and friends. "I'm Santa Claus," he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The Castro government has long pointed to the U.S. embargo as a main cause of Cuba's economic struggles. But many Cuba experts in the United States suggest that the Castro government uses the embargo as an excuse for failures of the socialist-run economy. Legally, for example, U.S. farmers shipped more than $430 million in food to Cuba in 2007, despite the embargo, making the United States the largest supplier of food to Cuba. And many modern products desired by Cubans -- cellphones, sneakers, MP3 players, cars -- are not made in the United States but in nations such as China, which has a friendly relationship with Cuba and has extended it an $800 million line of credit. The Cuban government also severely restricts travel by its citizens -- for fear that they may not return. All of this is understood by the residents on Neptune Street. Many said they understood that Cuba was probably far down on Obama's list of priorities. They cited the world financial crisis and the war in Iraq as more pressing problems. Still, they clung to the hope that Obama might help open up their lives a bit. "If he does everything he promised, I'm in favor of him," said Enriqueta Martinez, a cafeteria worker at a state-run company on Neptune Street. Co-worker Digna Curbera said, "We all know nothing will happen in a day. These things take time. But he could make the world a better place." Along the street, people said they were impressed -- and many said they were surprised -- that the United States elected a person of mixed race as president. About 60 to 70 percent of Cubans are thought to be black or of mixed race. "In Cuba, we are a big mix, so it is no big deal for us. But for the United States? I think it is very important. I think the Americans voted for him not because of the color of his skin but for his ideas and his character," said Portuondo, the hairdresser. "That was impressive for us. We talk about it." The residents of Neptune Street did not openly criticize their government, not on the record to a reporter from Washington, though several offered biting criticism of the state, as many Cubans will do, quietly. About half of the people approached for interviews declined to give their names. "People say it is going to be better. But we don't know that, do we? There's an anti-Cuba mafia in Miami, who control the whole thing, so maybe he can't make many changes," said Yodelkis Gutiérrez, speaking of the Cuban exile community in South Florida, which has dominated policy toward the Castro government for 50 years. Gutiérrez described himself as "just like everybody, a worker." He said, "Most of the time, presidents make a lot of promises. We'll see. We're all told what our governments want us to hear, you know what I mean?" Lázaro Rodríguez, a history teacher, said he understood Americans were wary of Cubans, too. "We're a socialist country, a communist country," he said. "But we're trying to adapt ourselves, too, to the new realities, the global economy. We don't want to change our system but to perfect it. And why not have better relations with the United States. It's time." At a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in Brazil last month, Castro offered to meet with Obama. In November, he told actor Sean Penn during an interview for the Nation magazine that he would be willing to meet Obama on "neutral ground" and suggested the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, saying that Obama could return the land to Cuba and that he would give Obama the American flag to take home..

Obama's victory gives Cubans cautious hope about relations

January 3, 2009

Palm Beach Post- Mike Williams,

HAVANA — Like many Cubans, Yamilka Vibora, 31, has always believed that race relations in the United States were dismal, a constant theme of the Cuban propaganda machine. Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. presidential election has left the hotel housekeeper - who, like the incoming American president, is of African descent - confused, but also hopeful. "I thought that your country was racist and that blacks were never given equal treatment," she told an American visitor. "I was surprised that he won, but I hope it means that he'll be more open to changes than Bush was." Across Cuba, Obama's win has unleashed a wave of optimism that the newly elected Democrat may bring big changes to the long-festering relations between communist Cuba and its nemesis neighbor. "I think it could lead to an end of the U.S. embargo," said Fernando Portal, a fisherman. "Obama seems likely to make some concessions, and with those on the table, the Cuban leadership will be obligated to make concessions, too." But whether Obama will go so far as to completely dismantle the four-decade economic embargo against Cuba remains to be seen. He has promised that he will quickly remove restrictions on Cuban-Americans traveling to the island, along with limits on how much money they may send to their Cuban relatives in the form of remittances. The remittances are vital to huge numbers of Cubans, most of whom survive on salaries that average the equivalent of about $20 per month. By some estimates, Cuban-Americans send about $1 billion per year to their families on the island of 11 million. During his campaign, Obama signaled that he is willing to open a dialogue with the Cuban government and might even meet with Cuban leader Raul Castro. On a recent trip in Latin America, Castro surprised many by offering to free some jailed Cuban dissidents if the U.S. would release five Cubans who are serving long terms in American prisons. "Let's make a gesture for a gesture," he said, a proposal dismissed flatly by the Bush administration. In a recent interview with American actor Sean Penn, Castro also suggested that he would like to meet Obama on "neutral ground," suggesting that the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay on the island might be an appropriate setting. But the Cuban leadership insists any such meeting must be without pre-conditions. Obama has said he would not consider lifting the U.S. embargo until Cuba releases political prisoners and moves toward democracy. At the very least, Raul Castro's proposed prisoner swap appears to show the Cuban leadership is hopeful of striking some sort of deal with the new administration. And the Cuban people remain hopeful. Under the Bush administration, the embargo was tightened. "Obama has said he'll let Cuban-Americans visit when they please and send more money to their families here," said Alejandro Gomez, 26, Vibora's boyfriend. "That is very important. Cuba is a poor country and this money helps many of our families." With a severe economic crisis and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq already crowding his agenda, though, Obama may have little time to delve deeply into relations with Cuba. He also will continue to face pressure from the powerful Cuban-American lobby, which has pushed to strengthen the embargo and opposes any concessions as long as the Castro brothers remain in power. "We shouldn't give up the embargo for free," said Jaime Suchlicki, a respected Latin American expert and Cuban exile who teaches at the University of Miami. "The Cubans are saying they will open a dialogue with Obama, but it's not serious. This is the same line they've taken for 50 years.".
December 2008

Race-based clubs see revival in Cuba

December 29, 2008

Liza Gross, Miami Herald

author Pedro Pérez Sarduy still remembers the dances. He and his friends would dress smartly in white linen guayaberas and black bow ties to attend balls at La Bella Unión (Beautiful Union), a social club in his hometown of Santa Clara, Cuba. At these matinés, they danced cha-cha-cha and flirted with girls. 'The matiné went from 1 until 5 with a local orchestra for the kids,' Pérez Sarduy said. ``After that, the dance for adults had a good orchestra because this was important for the prestige of the club.' Known in Spanish as sociedades de color, these and similar clubs fell victim to Fidel Castro's drive, shortly after he seized power, to eliminate any aspect of Cuban society that emphasized racial exclusivity. But their spirit and mission have been enjoying a renaissance over the past decade. And the same revolutionary government that once opposed them now seems to welcome their comeback. In prerevolutionary Cuba, where blacks and poor, uneducated whites were denied access to good jobs and ritzy outings, the clubs served as centers to socialize and promote black racial progress. Many had libraries and offered night classes and sports instruction. Above all, the sociedades sought to dispel any negative stereotypes of blacks. Author and activist Carlos Moore says that members of Amantes del Progreso (Lovers of Progress), the club in his hometown of Lugareño, went as far as forbidding dances that they felt demeaned blacks. 'Dancing huahuancó was not allowed because whites considered it a savage dance,' Moore said. The clubs patterned themselves after similar organizations catering to other communities, such as Spaniards and Chinese. They also existed alongside institutions reserved for affluent white Cubans, like the Havana Yacht Club. Cuba boasted more than 200 Afro-Cuban sociedades in 1949. Most had inspirational names, like Fraternal Union, Progress or New Era. Castro's revolution moved quickly to force integration, opening up private clubs and other facilities to all races and socioeconomic classes. It also dismantled the sociedades, both black and white, decreeing them obsolete in the new class-color-blind Cuba. Some survived into the first years of the revolution but were eventually disbanded. LOSS OF AUTONOMY While Afro-Cubans enjoyed unprecedented opportunities in education and social advancement after 1959, with the disappearance of the sociedades they lost 'an autonomous position in Cuban society and politics, given that the revolutionary government took control of everything,' said Frank Guridy, who teaches history at the University of Texas. The regime's actions not only deprived Afro-Cubans of a unique platform to air grievances but also erased a significant part of their heritage. 'The cultural history of Afro-Cubans was lost, too,' Guridy added. ``The folkloric representations are well-known. But the younger generations have no idea of the existence of these clubs.' In the euphoria that followed dictator Fulgencio Batista's ouster, many blacks supported doing away with the sociedades in exchange for the promise of a better future, said Alejandro de la Fuente, author of Race, Inequality and Politics in 20th Century Cuba and a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh. According to de la Fuente, the reputation of many sociedades had become tarnished because of their association with pre-Castro governments. The Club Atenas of Havana, for example, had built its headquarters on land given by President Ramón Machado, and some clubs had been close to the Batista regime. Still, in 1959 and 1960, a group of black leaders defended sociedades 'as the best form to advance their interests. But others said they had outlived their usefulness,' de la Fuente said. Their abolition was a blow to Afro-Cubans because the sociedades 'played an important role in keeping race in the middle of Cuban life,' he said. For Moore, his local sociedad was crucial to his childhood. 'I grew up in that club,' Moore said. ``I went there after school, and black instructors helped us with our homework. They also taught us the history of blacks, something we did not get at school.' 'It was a place of pride for black people,' he added.``Destroying them was a monstrosity.' The best-known and most elite sociedad was Club Atenas in Havana, founded in 1917. Among its 68 founding members were lawyers, engineers, civil servants and teachers. In addition to dances and cultural activities, it organized trips around the island and abroad, including one in 1954 to the Roosevelt estate to present former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt with a bust of Cuban patriot Antonio Maceo. The club also honored writer Langston Hughes and other black Americans. In 1961, Club Atenas was taken over by the government and the building became a children's center. With the sociedades closed, their records destroyed by the state or lost and many of their buildings repurposed, Afro-Cubans lacked an organized voice to dissent from the official position that the revolution had solved the country's racial problems. The government's policy was to deny the existence of racism, arguing that communism's egalitarianism made discrimination based on race an impossibility. Any contrary opinion was considered counterrevolutionary and slanderous. ``The issue was not part of the discourse because they were not hearing this, and they were not hearing this because they had closed the sociedades,' de la Fuente said. In reality, more than 1.2 million Afro-Cubans remained underrepresented in the circles of power and overrepresented among prisoners. They were also clustered in the more dilapidated sections of urban areas and continued to face discrimination in the workplace. The economic meltdown after the fall of the Soviet Union and a growing interest by Cubans in getting back in touch with their roots led to a resurgence of the sociedades. And not just for blacks. Groups for whites and Chinese are back, too. 'After 40-plus years of trying to homogenize the society, we see groups trying to assert their uniqueness and the state allowing it,' Guridy said. The government also needed the revenue from tourism. 'Groups want to see a santería ceremony or a cultural experience, and the government needs the money and it is more tolerant,' Guridy said, pointing to the success of the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club. OPPOSITION TO RACISM In 1998, a group of Afro-Cuban activists founded the Cofradía de la Negritud (Fraternity of Blackness). 'We pick up the purpose of the sociedades, but we are going further,' said Norberto Mesa Carbonell, one of the founders. ``We meet not only to carry out activities specific to the society of color, but to actively fight against racism.' The fraternity's goal is to focus on the condition of Afro-Cubans because 'the government has not managed to solve the race problem,' said Mesa Carbonell, an engineer. The fraternity's manifesto includes calls to narrow the income gap between whites and blacks, to give more visibility to Afro-Cuban achievements, and to respect the rights of Afro-Cubans. It also tells black Cubans that advocating for progress should start with them. Mesa Carbonell said the government first pressured him to give up his efforts. But the fraternity persisted, and it now participates openly in government-sponsored events. Recently, Mesa Carbonell spoke at the ceremony to observe the 100th anniversary of the first black political party in Cuba. The organization has 50 members in Havana and recently opened a branch in Pinar del Río, which now has 16 members. Mesa Carbonell said the sociedades were instrumental in fighting discrimination against Afro-Cubans and should not have been abolished. 'If the revolution had allowed them to continue operating,' he said, ``we would have made more progress on the issue of race.'.

Differences about race found in Cuban survey

December 1, 2008

Juan Carlos Chavez, Miami Herald

Cubans believe the island's black population is restricted from obtaining better jobs and say the possibility of a black man someday governing the nation is unlikely, according to a study published this week. The study, by the independent academic project known as Cubabarómetro, was conducted in Havana in September and October and focused on monitoring perceptions of racial differences and the way individuals define themselves in the current context of Cuban society. Among the most revealing findings: Cubans believe that blacks live primarily in the nation's public housing developments and improvised tenements, while whites are believed to live in the better established and more comfortable neighborhoods. Similarly, 82.8 percent of those interviewed for the study believe that blacks predominate among the island's prison population. The study found that most Cubans believe there is no chance that a black person will ever govern the island in the near future. When asked if a black man could be elected president after the current administration's term is over, the overwhelming majority answered no (80.7 percent); while 7.05 per cent believed it possible. The remaining 12.2 percent had no opinion. The study, entitled Perception Regarding The Nation's Racial Situation, was conducted by interviewing 425 people who were subdivided by gender, race and age. 'The study reflects profound social differences regarding race or skin color,' reported the Cubabarómetro study, led by Dr. Darsi Ferrer. ``There is coincidence in perceiving and pointing to blacks as the most discriminated group, both in the general results and in the analysis of different variables.' Another part of the analysis found that whites and not people of color benefit from the most competitive jobs in the travel sector, foreign investments and diplomatic missions. When asked about who occupies the jobs that offer the best economic opportunities, 86.8 percent replied that white people do and 51.8 per cent responded mestizos. Only 1.18 per cent believed that black people are widely represented in advantageous economic positions. The study concluded that despite 50 years of the revolution, racism continues to exist, due in part to legislation that has ignored the mixed composition of Cuban society and done little to correct inequalities or defend civil rights. 'It is necessary to change the course of the situation by searching for real solutions, departing from the implementation of a legal framework that guarantees recognition and protection of the rights of all citizens,' the study noted. Cubabarómetro also observed that, ``People of the white race naturally accept the predominant racial problematic, mestizos demonstrate a behavior that attempts to distance themselves from blacks and tie into the white group, while blacks arrive at the point of possessing a negative view regarding themselves.' Among the study's other findings: • 81 percent of Havana's population has no doubt that whites predominate in Cuban movies and television; 11 percent believe it is mestizos; and 2 per cent replied blacks. • 82.8 percent of those interviewed believe that police raids and harassment are racially motivated toward black people, while mestizos were said to be targeted only by 5.41 percent and whites by 1.18 per cent. • 81.2 percent believe that black people commit crimes more frequently, while 5.41 replied mestizos and only 1.18 singled out whites. Last month, Cubabarómetro published four studies regarding Cuba's public opinion on healthcare, education, access to tourism facilities and the deregulation of cellphones..
November 2008

Sube tasa de natalidad en Cuba

November 25, 2008

AP, El Nuevo Herald

La natalidad cubana creció un 8,8% entre enero y octubre de este año en relación al mismo período precedente, un indicador que las autoridades consideraron positivo pues la isla enfrenta una baja histórica de esa tasa. "Es una agradable sorpresa que de mantenerse pudiera revertir el futuro demográfico del país", comentó la Agencia de Información Nacional (AIN). Durante el mencionado periodo de este año nacieron 7.996 niños más que el periodo correspondiente de 2007, lo que se constituyó en un nivel comparable al 2005, según un reporte de la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas. Todas las provincias incrementaron su natalidad, pero de manera más notoria lo hicieron Guantánamo, Ciego de Avila, Granma y Holguín; los menores indicadores se registraron en La Habana, Pinar del Río y Cienfuegos. "El documento refiere que la tendencia podría continuar en lo que resta de año y en los primeros meses del 2009 hasta junio. Posteriormente será de difícil pronóstico, porque repercutirá en la natalidad las consecuencias sufridas por numerosas familias afectadas por fenómenos climáticos", expresó AIN. Al cierre del 2007, la población cubana era de 11,2 millones de personas, con una proporción equitativa entre hombres y mujeres. Cuba enfrenta una situación demográfica singular en América Latina, pues su pirámide poblacional es similar a la de los países europeos con un fuerte envejecimiento de sus ciudadanos, pese a ser una nación del tercer mundo. Expertos suelen señalar como la causa del fenómeno a las políticas de promoción de empleos para las mujeres, un notable incremento de su escolaridad y la legalización del aborto, entre otros..
HAVANA -- Even before Hurricane Paloma unleashed more than 140-mile per hour winds along Cuba's southeastern coast, many Cubans joked they already knew the sequence of the storms that battered the island in the past three months -- first came Gustav, then Ike and now No Hay, Spanish for ``there isn't any.' No hay plantains. No hay pineapples. No hay sufficient amount of construction supplies to dole out for all those looking to rebuild and repair their homes. So what exactly is left? 'We still have our sense of humor,' quipped Carlos Humberto, a silver-haired man in his 60s who rents rooms to tourists. Despite the good-natured attitude, Cubans continue to struggle after three hurricanes walloped the island in three months, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage. Adding to what was already a housing crisis: More than 500,000 homes have been destroyed across the island since August. Thousands of families still find themselves housed at night in school halls and classrooms in more affected provinces like Camagüey in central Cuba and Holguín in the northeastern region. Nightly television news reports from the University of Camagüey show some 1,000 people still sheltered at the school after Paloma's path of destruction along the beachside town of Santa Cruz del Sur. 'We will rebuild, but logically we will not build so close to the water,' President Raúl Castro told the afflicted residents during a recent visit to the university. ``What's the point of rebuilding next to the water if we're going to have to rebuild with the next storm?' Still, promises of reconstruction are hampered by limited supplies of wood and metal sheets for roofs. Building supplies have been in such high demand, that government officials have called on the population to report anyone found to be buying more supplies than deemed necessary, several residents told The Miami Herald. 'It's a good thing,' said Maria Luz, who makes extra money by braiding hair for tourists in Old Havana. ``It protects us from people who want to buy up all the supplies to resell it for higher prices.' After Hurricanes Gustav and Ike swept the country in August and September, flatbed trucks stacked with green plantains were dispatched to bring food to storm-ravaged residents. At the time, residents joked that they would be eating plátanos for weeks. Now, with almost one third of the country's crops destroyed during the first two storms, plantains are hard to find. Even tourists hoping to score plantain dishes from restaurants are told to choose another dish on the menu. 'We're able to get malanga but plantains are hard to come by,' said Duniel, 23, who shuttles tourists around on a bicycle taxi throughout the Old Havana neighborhood. ``If you get some, they are all black, overripe.' Also hard to come by are various kinds of fruits, especially pineapples. Many of the agricultural fields where they grow also were destroyed by the storm. Carlos Humberto, the man who rents rooms to tourists, is used to providing his guests with fruit salad for breakfast each morning. Now, he apologizes for only serving a few slices of pineapple. 'Even to get the pineapple, I had to ride my bike from market to market,' Carlos Humberto said. Even though the United States has offered as much as $6 million in aid on five separate occasions after the storms, Cuban leaders have rejected the money, stating the economic embargo should be lifted instead. On the streets of Havana, many Cubans still are hopeful for eventual U.S. assistance -- energized by the news of Barack Obama's election to the presidency. 'We are hopeful that he will change relations with Cuba,' said Francisco Mora García, 43, sitting on the steps of Havana's aging and mold-ridden Capitolio building. ``Isn't he known among Americans as a man of change? We hope so.' Mora García, who said he fled the island during the 1980 Mariel boat exodus and once lived in California before he was deported six years ago after an arrest for a violation he called minor, also was looking for change on the streets of Havana. He begged for spare change, shampoo, soap or any else tourists were willing to hand over. 'It's a hard life here and it's not getting easier,' he said.
June 2008

Cuba's 1st gay pride parade is scrapped

June 26, 2008

Chicago Tribune

HAVANA—Cuba's first gay pride parade was abruptly canceled Wednesday, moments before it was to begin. The unofficial march, organized with Florida's Unity Coalition, was not sanctioned by Cuba's National Center for Sex Education, which is headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro. Activist Mario Jose Delgado said two organizers who were to deliver a set of demands to the Justice Ministry were detained Tuesday. "Mariela Castro's work is good ... and we're not criticizing it," Aliomar Janjaque, one of the detained leaders, said last week. "But we believe they should do more.".

Cuba's first Gay Pride parade to be held in Havana today

June 25, 2008

Sun Sentinel- Tal Abbady and Ray Sanchez

Economic reforms in Cuba have trickled out since February. Today, Cuba's gays are planning some reform of their own. Working with Florida's Unity Coalition, activists in Cuba have organized the island's first Gay Pride parade. Members of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam and other groups will participate in the march, according to Unity. They will meet in Havana's Don Quixote park at 10 a.m. and march to the Ministry of Justice to deliver a series of demands. Marchers seek an apology from the government for its past repression and, in some cases, incarceration of openly gay citizens, and the inhumane treatment of prisoners with AIDS, according to Unity. In Havana, gay activist Aliomar Janjaque said that despite some progress on gay rights, discrimination against homosexuals continues in Cuba. He said people are still passed over for jobs, prevented from gathering in certain places and, in some cases, jailed because of their sexual orientation. "Mariela Castro's work is good and valid and we're not criticizing it," said Janjaque, 31, a psychology student who is president of the Foundation LGTB Reinaldo Arenas in Memoriam. "But we believe they should do more." Mariela Castro, Raul Castro's daughter, heads the island's National Center for Sex Education. In May, she led a public rally against homophobia that briefly brought gay activists out of the shadows. Earlier this month, Cuban officials announced they were allowing free sex-change operations. In South Florida, Cuban natives like Pembroke Pines resident Arturo Alvarez, who co-owns Club Azucar, said the government's recent measures don't go far enough. "We'll see with this parade if openness has really been achieved," said Alvarez, 44, an internist by training who deserted 20 years ago while on a medical mission in Namibia. Alvarez traveled to Cuba in May to attend Mariela Castro's rally and is cautiously hopeful about signs of change on the island. As a gay teenager in Havana, he was barred from Communist youth groups and experienced withering rejection. "You couldn't have the slightest gay mannerisms. You could show no trace of who you really were," said Alvarez, who has organized gay pride parades in several Latin American cities, including the first in Montevideo, Uruguay, last year. For decades under Fidel Castro, Cuban gays were subject to widespread antipathy and government crackdowns, Alvarez and others said. But the community has seen a growing level of tolerance since the 1990s and a lively gay social scene has for years thrived in Havana. Janjaque said organizers hope an orderly, peaceful march would draw attention to their concerns. "We want to raise awareness but we don't want to provoke a wave of repression against the gay community," he said. "If there is a hostile reaction from the government, we will stage a much larger demonstration. We will take to the streets." Ray Sánchez contributed to this report from Havana..

In Rare Study, Cubans Put Money Worries First

June 5, 2008

New York Times- Marc Lacey

MEXICO CITY — A rare study conducted surreptitiously in Cuba found that more than half of those interviewed considered their economic woes to be their chief concern while less than 10 percent listed lack of political freedom as the main problem facing the country. “Almost every poll you ever see, even those in the U.S., goes to bread and butter issues,” said Alex Sutton, director of Latin American and Caribbean programs at the International Republican Institute, which conducted the study. “Everybody everywhere is interested in their purchasing power.” The results showed deep anxiety about the state of the country, with 35 percent of respondents saying things were “so-so” and 47 percent saying they were going “badly” or “very badly.” As for the government’s ability to turn things around, Cubans were skeptical, with 70 percent of those interviewed saying they did not believe that the authorities would resolve the country’s biggest problem in the next few years. The study, to be released on Thursday, was conducted from March 14 to April 12, after Raúl Castro officially took over the presidency from his brother Fidel, who led the country for nearly half a century. Since taking office, Raúl Castro has rolled out a variety of changes, lifting longstanding restrictions on the sale of cellphones and consumer items, access to tourist hotels and renting cars, among other things. The survey did not specifically ask Cubans about those changes. Conducting surveys in Cuba is difficult. The institute, a nonprofit democracy-building group affiliated with the Republican Party that strongly opposes Cuba’s Communist government, did not seek the required permission from the authorities. For the study, Latin American interviewers talked to 587 Cuban adults face to face across all of Cuba’s provinces. A telephone survey was not considered because large segments of the population, especially in rural areas, do not have phones. In 2006, the Gallup Organization conducted a survey in two major cities — Havana and Santiago — that found that more Cubans approved of Fidel Castro’s leadership than disapproved of it. The previous Gallup poll, in 1994, found that Cubans considered the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power more of a success than a failure. Most Cubans in that survey also attributed their economic woes to the American trade embargo, an oft-repeated refrain of the Cuban authorities. The International Republican Institute conducted its first Cuban study last October and plans regular interviews with a cross section of Cubans to gauge trends. The study to be published Thursday found that young people were much more critical of Raúl Castro’s government than their parents and grandparents were. Nearly 70 percent of Cubans 18 to 29 years old said that if given a chance they would support a democratic system that gave them multiparty elections, freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Among those 60 or older, those who said they would vote for such a change dropped to 44 percent. Cubans of all ages supported an overhaul of the economy. More than 80 percent of Cubans said they backed a market economic system that included the right to own property and run businesses. The island’s problems were ranked this way: low salaries and high cost of living, double currency standard, lack of political freedoms, embargo and isolation, food scarcity, lack of medicines, poor transportation infrastructure and lack of housing or dilapidated conditions. Given an opportunity to rate Raúl Castro from zero to 10, with zero being “very bad” and 10 being “very good,” the average of the Cubans’ responses was 5.55.
May 2008
HAVANA (AP) — Cuba's gay community celebrated unprecedented openness — and high-ranking political alliances — with a government-backed campaign against homophobia on Saturday. The meeting at a convention center in Havana's Vedado district may have been the largest gathering of openly gay activists ever on the communist-run island. President Raul Castro's daughter Mariela, who has promoted the rights of sexual minorities, presided. "This is a very important moment for us, the men and women of Cuba, because for the first time we can gather in this way and speak profoundly and with scientific basis about these topics," said Castro, director of Cuba's Center for Sexual Education. Mariela Castro joined government leaders and hundreds of activists at the one-day conference for the International Day Against Homophobia that featured shows, lectures, panel discussions and book presentations. A station also offered blood-tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Cuban state television gave prime-time play Friday to the U.S. film "Brokeback Mountain," which tells the story of two cowboys who conceal their homosexual affair. Prejudice against homosexuals remains deeply rooted in Cuban society, but the government has steadily moved away from the Puritanism of the 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuals hid their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed, fired from work or even imprisoned. Now Cuba's parliament is studying proposals to legalize same-sex unions and give gay couples the benefits that people in traditional marriages enjoy. Parliament head Ricardo Alarcon said the government needs to do more to promote gay rights, but said many Cubans still need to be convinced. Things "are advancing, but must continue advancing, and I think we should do that in a coherent, appropriate and precise way because these are topics that have been taboo and continue to be for many," Alarcon told reporters. Some at the conference spoke of streaming out into the streets for a spontaneous gay-pride parade, but others urged caution. The gay rights movement should be careful not to "flood" Cuban society with a message that many are not ready to hear, physician and gay activist Alberto Roque cautioned. And Mariela Castro said gay activists should opt for more subtle ways to chip away at deep-seated homophobic attitudes. Defending equal rights for Cubans, of all sexual orientations, is a key principal of the Cuban revolution led by her uncle Fidel Castro, who overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, she said. "The freedom of sexual choice and gender identity (are) exercises in equality and social justice," she said..
March 2008

Over Internet, Cuban youths offer rare insights

March 24, 2008

Miami Herald- Alfonso Chardy

The young men and women sitting around a living room somewhere in Havana laughed and talked as if they were guests at a party. But what they were telling their counterparts in South Florida was serious business. They railed against 'tyranny,' the persistent 'repression,' the potential for a 'social explosion,' rumors of a new rafter exodus and their annoyance that the media is not recognizing the efforts of younger dissidents. Witnessed by reporters in Miami, via Internet video phone, the Havana living-room chat with five University of Miami students opened a window into a little-known dimension of post-Fidel Castro Cuba. Last week's exchange occurred as Cuban officials and Cuban émigrés friendly to the regime met on the island to discuss easing rules restricting travel. MOVEMENT BREWING? To some Cuba experts, the unvarnished assessments offered by the young men and women in the Havana living room reflect embryonic unrest -- perhaps sparked by Raúl Castro himself when last year he encouraged debate about the problems of the Cuban revolution. 'There may be a cause and effect here, with Raúl's encouragement of open discussion in the island,' said Brian Latell, a former CIA analyst on Cuba and Latin America and now senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, which organized the Havana living-room chat. Latell added that while Cuban youths are becoming more outspoken, their complaints may not amount to a movement. 'I don't see anything organized, yet,' Latell said. ``But there may well already be an incipient youth unrest.' One example was an episode in November at the Universidad de Oriente campus in Santiago when an unusual student protest allegedly occurred following a report of a female student's rape in September. According to accounts from human rights groups reporting information from independent journalists in Cuba, a group of angry students prevented the university rector from leaving her office when they concluded she was not interested in improving security and other conditions at the campus. To the young men and women in the Havana living room last week, Cuba's young people represent the tip of the spear for change -- one that may strike peacefully or violently. Organizers said the location of the living room and the Cubans, ages 18 to 25, could not be identified in order to protect them from Cuban government reprisals. UM students addressed the Havana youths via a telephone call linked to the live video image projected on a large screen. One of the first topics was what kind of change Cuban youths want. 'We, the youths of Cuba, want change,' said one of the young men, adding that 'structural, political change' was necessary. He said the problem is generational -- aging people in power and powerless youths in the urban centers. ``The gerontocracy is in power and on the other side is youth, each time more powerful.' The young man went on to say that the generational conflict will ``shatter the regime, and this has us very hopeful.' A 25-year-old man jumped in to explain that the current generation of Cuban youths could not identify with the older people in power because experiences were different. 'Our generation was formed after the fall of the Berlin wall and after the transition to democracy in eastern Europe,' he said. ``So we have not shared the hard struggle of those in power, who fought against [former Cuban dictator Fulgencio] Batista, who fought against a tyranny which in the end led to another tyranny.' He went on to say that perhaps the greatest threat to the Cuban government is not a potential U.S. invasion, as Havana officials often claim, but angry youths. 'There is a generational conflict which also includes a political conflict,' he said. ``Thus, the generation today does not feel committed to the same ideals of the Cuban revolution or anything of the sort. They are hollow words.' In answer to a question on whether Cuban youths will wait for change or take action, the Havana group laughed nervously. Then one young man said: ``Well, in Cuba it is not logical for that to happen, but it could happen some day in the same way as in Venezuela or Burma.' He added: ``Young people here are tired that their rights are violated, that their right to life is crushed and they may no longer accept it and there could be a social explosion.' The conversation took an unexpected turn when Vanessa López, 21, of the UM group, asked why dissident groups mostly feature older people. MEDIA COVERAGE Several in the Havana group quickly rejected that notion, but acknowledged that there is a perception that only older people are dissidents because the media focus on longtime leaders. He cited an example. 'On March 10, a group of young people went to lay a floral wreath at the grave of a fallen brother,' the young man said. ``We were arrested and taken to a police unit. There we saw one of the legendary leaders of the opposition, [Jorge García Pérez, known as] Antúnez, and the media only spoke about Antúnez. But they did not mention the five young people who were there, too.' One of the women identified herself as a member of a gay rights group and spoke of discrimination against homosexuals. 'Our work is aimed at defending the homosexual, discriminated against both by the authorities as by society itself,' she said. Andy Gómez, the UM assistant provost who moderated the discussion, said the Havana youths were a mixture of students and former students expelled from schools for being dissidents. At least two were women. The UM students were members of CAUSA: Students United for a Free Cuba, a group linked to a broader Cuban exile advocacy organization known as Raices de Esperanza or Roots of Hope. Toward the end of the conversation, one young man commented on the recent defection of Cuban soccer players, noting rumors in Havana of a possible new rafter exodus similar to the one in 1994 that brought 37,191 to South Florida. 'If there is a small opening toward the shore, not one Cuban will remain in Cuba,' he predicted.

Cuban quest for soccer notoriety

March 11, 2008

Miami Herald- Michelle Kaufman

Think Cuban sports, and you automatically think baseball and boxing. Wrestling, judo, and track and field might also come to mind. But soccer? Nah. At least not yet. The Under-23 Cuban national team would like to change the perception that there is only one brand of pelota on the island nation, and a win Tuesday against the United States in a 2008 Olympic qualifier would be a giant step. The match is at 8 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It is the first time a Cuban soccer team will play in Florida since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Eight teams from the CONCACAF region are divided into two groups of four, and the two finalists advance to the Summer Olympics in Beijing. The U.S. is favored to win Group A, which includes Cuba, Honduras and Panama. Mexico is the heavy favorite in Group B against Haiti, Guatemala and Canada. Nobody knows a whole lot about the Cuban team because their players are required to stay in the domestic league, which gets little to no exposure beyond Cuba's borders. Cuba is No. 71 in the FIFA world rankings, and played in just one World Cup (1938) and two Olympics -- 1976 Montreal and 1980 Moscow -- both times as replacements for teams that withdrew. But there have been signs the Cuban soccer program is improving. Despite finishing last in the 2007 Gold Cup, Cuba played respectably in a 2-1 loss to Mexico and a 2-2 tie with Panama, before being overwhelmed 5-0 by Honduras. Cuba advanced to this stage of the Olympic qualifying tournament by beating Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico, Grenada, and Trinidad and Tobago. 'At this level there isn't much difference between teams because all the players are the same age,' Cuban coach Raul Gonzalez Tiana said. ``None of the players have great international résumés. Our team is fit and ready to put in a good performance. We come in optimistic and calm. I feel we made a statement in the Gold Cup, showed that Cuban soccer has advanced. Hopefully, this week we can move on to the next level.' UNSURE EXPECTATIONS Tiana said he knows 'practically nothing' about the U.S. team and isn't sure what to expect. Freddy Adu, the Ghanaian-American teen phenom, is the most publicized player on the U.S. squad. Other top players are Jozy Altidore, a Haitian-American who grew up in Boca Raton and starred for Major League Soccer's Red Bulls, and Maurice Edu, the 2007 MLS Rookie of the Year. All of the players on the U.S. roster play professionally, and the team has extra motivation because four years ago, the U.S. failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics. The U.S. lost to Mexico in the semifinals. In addition to worrying about their formidable opponent, Cuban officials surely must be concerned about the possibility of defections, though it's a subject that is never discussed. In 2002, Cuban players Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado defected during the Gold Cup tournament in Southern California. Martinez wound up with the Rochester Rhinos of United Soccer Leagues. SCARY JOURNEY In 2005, Maykel Galindo sneaked out of the team's Seattle hotel during the Gold Cup, hopped on a city bus with $1,000 stuffed in his Cuba sweatsuit pocket and rode to freedom. 'I was very scared,' Galindo said. 'It was cold, nobody spoke Spanish, I knew nobody and I started thinking of my family back in Cuba, my abuelita [grandmother], my parents, all the friends I might never see again. My plan was to go to Miami, but I didn't know how. When I finally got into the back seat of the police car, the policeman -- a very nice man I will never forget -- turned around, smiled and said, `Welcome to USA.' That was the first time I breathed a little easier, and thus began my new life.' Galindo now plays for MLS club Chivas USA in Los Angeles, where he was a regular starter last season. GOING FOR GOLD In June 2007, Cuba's all-time leading scorer, Lester More, and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso defected during the Gold Cup in Houston. 'They went for the gold, I hope they don't end up with thorns,' Tiana told The Houston Chronicle at the time. More, 28, was signed last Friday by Charleston Battery of United Soccer Leagues. Alonso has trained with Chivas USA and is trying to secure an MLS roster spot for the 2008 season. 'I'm very happy with everything that has occurred,' Alonso told El Nuevo Herald. ``Little by little, I will adapt to the speed of American soccer, and I have high hopes I will someday play in MLS.' The 18-man Cuban Under-23 team was due to arrive in Tampa on Monday night, and remain in Tampa through the weekend. Security around the squad is expected to be tight..

Cuba's population falls 2 years in a row

March 11, 2008

Miami Herald- Wilfredo Cancio Isla

For the second consecutive year, the population of Cuba decreased in 2007, according to the government's National Statistics Office, in a trend the experts say is expected to continue until 2025. The latest report from the statistics office showed that Cuba's population in 2007 was 11,237,154, nearly 1,900 less than the 11,239,043 that were counted in 2006. The last year of population growth was 2005, when the island had 11,243,836 people. Cuba has not experienced a similar drop since the 19th century, when the population shrank as a result of the 1833 cholera epidemic, the Ten Year War of 1868-78 and the final war of independence from 1895-98. Government estimates predict a decrease of 77,000 people in the next 20 years, or a 0.7 percent drop from current figures. A recent report by the Cuban government's Center for Population Studies and Development suggests that some of the factors in the decreasing population are families having fewer children, out migration 'and an increased rate of mortality' affecting both the young and people over 60 years of age. Birthrates are at their lowest levels of the past 100 years, at 10.1 per thousand inhabitants. The fertility curve in Cuba quickly descended to 1.44 per thousand during the economic crisis of the 1990s and has remained more or less stable until 2007, when it hit 1.49. 'It seemed that the entrance into the 21st century would be marked by the recovery of this indicator, but up to the present there is no evidence in this respect,' said the report, titled Cuba: Population Projections, 2007-2025. The demographic crisis is also a product of emigration. Some 450,000 Cubans have left the country since 1994, according to the Cuban statistics office. U.S. estimates are that 191,000 Cubans have arrived in the United States since 2000, 77,000 of them in the past two years alone.