Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: March 25, 2013

About Leaders and Responsibilities / Cuban Law Association, Lic. Rodrigo
Posted on March 25, 2013

In the newspaper Granma, an article published with the title "About
leaders and responsibilities", by Félix López, makes it clear that a
well-known old Cuban proverb "the rope breaks at the weakest point"
would be ideal for this article.

How many of us who have always been subordinates have carried the blame
for something which we had nothing to do with? And I say subordinate
because whenever we have a superior, we are inevitably subordinate.

Say to yourself crime, contravention or indiscipline, they categorise
and describe actions in this way because they are gathered up in legal
regulations, but what's for sure is that as a general rule, when
regulations go unobserved, and are breached, usually the weight of the
law falls on or breaks the weakest point: the "subordinate".

Is it the workers who designate or choose their bosses? That's as untrue
as the belief that in the Management Board of any Employment Centre, the
chief feels he is subject to the same conditions as his employees. Going
to any Management Council is like being in the presence of a contract of
adhesion "take it or leave it" – and to tell you the truth, we can
understand even better than the people who work there that the chief has
his entourage, incapable of or prevented from disagreeing with the
decision of the supremo, except in rare circumstances, which are always
viewed with disapproval and in terms of whingeing, trouble-making or out
to make problems.

What can you say when a chief takes disciplinary measures against a
subordinate and the latter complains to the Employment Law Authority
(OJLB)? It would be a bit awkward if the worker were to leave victorious
after the confrontation, because both he and the OJLB are employees and
who would think of going against the wishes of the chief they will ask
themselves. "Who will guarantee my employment if we let the worker win?"
Because although the regulations say that the Authority has to comply
with the law when carrying out its functions, when the function of
delivering justice gets to the decision, will they continue being employed?

When you get to a work location trying to work and experiencing
difficulties, you will find out who is the Chief, Manager, Director,
Administator… perhaps you will be lucky enough to see him and hear him
from a distance at a meeting, but you also learn that this individual
has been shifted out … how is this person supposed to know about the
activities he has been asked to run? How are things going to operate?
There are lots of unanswered questions, and anybody who is able to
answer them does not do so.

Translated by GH

23 March 2013 Continue reading
Cuban blogger "citizen Yoani" takes the UN / Maria C. Werlau
Posted on March 25, 2013
By Maria C. Werlau

She came in through the visitors' entrance after passing the security
check. When she pushed through the revolving door into the grand hall,
standing there alone, I greeted her with pretended formality: "Welcome
to the United Nations." The hall was packed with Model UN students. A
distance back, an unofficial "welcome committee" stood by: Tuyet Nguyen,
correspondent for a German news agency, who had come to escort us in on
behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA), and
three guests. Two media crews filmed her entry; no one seemed to notice.

yoa un 2She was delayed from filming a last-minute CNN interview, so I
was anxious to rush her through the next steps. Passes were secured at
the information desk –she used her Cuban passport as ID and was
photographed like any other visitor. We hurried downstairs and through
the basement parking lot to the Library building where journalists' and
UNCA offices are located during the main building renovation. As we
walked fast and through successive security points, I told her the Cuban
government had blocked our plan and we would have to improvise. We
agreed it did not matter, she was at the UN and she was going to speak
regardless. Just minutes before, I had read on my phone that the tantrum
had played out at the highest levels; Cuba's Ambassador had filed an
official protest asking the UN Secretary General to call off the "grave

Cuba is very influential at the UN, it has one of the largest and most
active representations. China, Russia, Iran, and the likes are strong
supporters, plus it exerts great influence over many other governments
⎯many host Cuban medical missions opportunely or share "revolutionary"
sympathies, others just want to avoid trouble. Cuba's diplomats are
known for expertly working the UN bureaucracy and rules. The room change
was the least of my worries. At any moment, I feared, we could be
stopped at a security check, escorted out of the building, or attacked
by Cuba's diplomat-thugs. These things have actually happened at the UN
in New York and Geneva.

The briefing was planned weeks earlier for the Dag Hammarskjold Library
Auditorium, a large and elegant venue with the necessary audio
equipment. But, the day before, the UNCA liaison mentioned "certain
problems." The auditorium would not be available and we would not have
equipment for the simultaneous interpretation. I imagined great pressure
was at play. Fortunately, with a few UN battles under my wing, I had
asked that this be kept from Yoani's official schedule until the
invitation had been sent out. It would be harder to dismantle an event
announced to UNCA members, 200 correspondents from all over the world.

Cuba had complained that UNCA was being "manipulated by spurious
interests," but the truth is much less sinister. I represent a tiny
human rights' group with the most meager of resources; most of our work
is volunteer. Familiar with UNCA (, I knew it hosts
press briefings with newsworthy sources and freely decides who to
invite. So, when I asked them if they would like to host Yoani Sánchez,
they immediately answered yes ⎯I assumed because she is a world-famous
blogger and journalist. After details were agreed on, I contacted the
person handling Yoani's schedule (a mutual friend volunteering his
efforts). Once a time was agreed, I sent UNCA her biography and
suggested media advisory. Then, I hired an interpreter. It had all been
simple and transparent.

yoa un 3The briefing would now be at "UNCA square" within the
journalists' temporary area during the remodeling. To my dismay, when we
arrived we found it was just an opening within a hallway surrounded by
offices. Immediately next to a large copying machine was a tiny table
with three small chairs crammed behind it. To the side, another small
table had refreshments. In the middle, there were no more than ten
chairs. Most people had to stand in the hallway and adjoining offices.
We looked at each other puzzled, so I pointed Yoani and the interpreter
to the chairs, leaving the third one for the UNCA host. Though the
designated moderator, I stepped aside ⎯there was no room and no need for
another person. Having seen her over the previous days in New York and
Washington, I knew all we needed was to let Yoani speak.

yoa un 4A few film crews and correspondents from news agencies and
several countries were there. Italian journalist Stefano Vaccara
explained to me that no biographical commentary was needed, as everyone
knew who she was, and proceeded with a heartfelt introduction. She
delivered her remarks with no notes, as usual, her voice strong despite
no microphone (unfortunately not the interpreter's). Orlando Luis Pardo,
the Cuban blogger/photographer traveling with Yoani, Mary Jo Porter, the
Seattle engineer who founded a volunteer translating service to support
Cuban bloggers, and I, sat on the floor ⎯there was no space elsewhere.

Yoani began by saying she was proud that her first time at the U.N. was
"with my journalist colleagues." Though clarifying that she came as a
citizen and joking about being used to working in small spaces, she
pulled out all the works. She called on the United Nations to support
human rights in Cuba and declared it was time it "came out of its
lethargy and recognized that the Cuban government is a dictatorship."
She asserted: "Cuba is not a government or a political party and much
less the fiefdom of one man." Further, she called for UN support of an
international investigation of the suspicious death of Cuban dissident
Oswaldo Payá. (See 3:30 min video clip in Spanish here.

During the Q & A, the correspondent for Cuban news agency, Prensa
Latina, asked two questions. Unsurprisingly, they were from the "40
questions for Yoani" that Cuban regime supporters have trailed her with
wherever she goes. He sounded pretty silly and he must have known it, as
his hands were shaking. She dispatched them quickly, ably, and with
aplomb. When it was all over, she filmed a quick interview with The New
York Times and rushed to the airport for the next leg of her trip. We
left the building relieved to find no hecklers or attackers on the street.

It's remarkable that a 37 year-old petite and unassuming woman blogger
took to the United Nations headquarters in defense of fundamental rights
bearing no more than her determination and the strength of her word. The
poised and eloquent "little person," as she calls herself, made a mighty
military dictatorship of over five decades run scared to stop her from
speaking. Forced into a cubicle, she could not be silenced. Word spread
quickly throughout the world not only of her message, but of the vicious
will to stop it. This story captures the exhaustion of a regime whose
tactics become futile before the force of a peaceful rebellion that will
not be stopped.

Only five hours after the briefing, a Google search produced four pages
of links to news stories from around the world in Spanish alone ⎯all
highlighted the Cuban government's bully tactics. The regime had
actually generated the lead to a great story, made themselves look like
fools, and allowed Yoani to shine brighter!

Recapping the event with Carmen Rodríguez, UNCA member from Radio Martí,
she recalled José Martí's words: "A just cause coming from the bottom of
a cave is more powerful than any army." At the UN, Yoani had given it a
singular twist: "If we were holding this meeting in the bottom of an
elevator shaft, we would have more freedom than in Cuba." From start to
finish, her UN foray could not have been more perfect or poetic.

Maria Werlau is Executive Director of Cuba Archive
(, a New Jersey based non-profit organization.

All rights reserved, Free Society Project, Inc.
Reproduction and redistribution of this material
is authorized as long as its source is cited. Continue reading
The Unreality of a Slogan / Fernando Damaso
Posted on March 25, 2013

The slogan of the Cuban Workers Union (CTC) for their gathering to
celebrate May 1 is "United for a Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism."
It seems there are different types of socialism, and the one with which
we are familiar is that of the ration book, which is neither prosperous
nor sustainable. Furthermore, I believe that all the former socialist
countries — most notably the now defunct Soviet Union — have more or
less had a similar experience with it too, and in general have rejected
it. In spite of the difficulties and problems associated with the
transition to capitalism, none of them want a return to the former system.

To call for this new type of socialism after more than fifty years of
failed socialism is not only ridiculous, it is not even serious. Do the
CTC and its political and ideological directors really believe that
anyone will believe their new narrative? The unhappy experience of
poverty, lack of productivity, squandering of resources, poor services,
absence of freedom, impositions, restrictions and other tragedies that
Cubans have endured have made us deeply incredulous about the prospect
of a new luminous future within the next fifty years. The problem is
that those who are proposing this are the same ones who proposed it more
than fifty years ago, even though some of them have different faces. We
are not about to trip over the same stone twice. Once is quite enough.
And, besides, we have already paid and continue to pay a very high price
for it.

At any rate, with or without the slogan, the parades through the
different plazas will be massive, happy and colorful, as befits a
well-organized society — one sealed with signed promises and checklists
of accomplishments — in which civic inertia, fear, and concerns over
employment and education are common. Turnout will be high, though
privately most of the participants will care little about the celebration.

In short, the workers — "with all their material and spiritual needs
satisfied" — have only to applaud and give thanks to their government
and its leaders "for the goods they have received."

24 March 2013 Continue reading
Cuba: The Serious Issue of Machismo
March 25, 2013
Veronica Vega

vega1HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, the partner of a friend of mine
started beating her up in the middle of the street in the presence of
several other people they knew. I wasn't there at the time, but I
learned that my husband was the only person who ran over to defend her.

Why didn't those other people take action? This was because of the
notion here in Cuba that "no one should get in between a husband and
wife." People feel that if you defend the woman, she might end up
getting back together with her husband, which means you would have
gotten involved for nothing.

Given men's physical advantage (evident in the case of my friend's
partner), a basic issue of injustice apparently becomes blurred when a
sexual relationship is involved. The sense of compassion slows down. It
becomes cloudy, paralyzed.

Since I read about how the rape of women is common in India, and about
the recent scandal involving the death of one victim (raped by several
men in a moving bus), I wondered what causes this tacit conspiracy, that
internal collapse that enables such brutality and shame.

I doubt whether such a level of violence could be reached in Cuba. I
think that culturally the status of women here is somewhat higher. I say
"somewhat" because the self-concept of the object of (sexual) value
among ordinary Cuba women — through which they hope to solve their
economic problems — is a discredit as a human being.

Here on the island, at least we have the advantage of not being dragged
along by absurd fundamentalist burdens that have nothing to do with true
religion. Instead of providing knowledge, these only contribute to worse
forms of ignorance and suffering.

Nevertheless, I've touched and sensed a macho substrate in our society
too. It poses itself as a dangerous potential in the present as well as
a future legacy. Of course the generations to come — with models
established by reggaeton whereby they've "liberated" women by confining
them to the role of object — are ideal disciples of machismo.

What can a woman aspire to if — as stated in the popular song "Quimba pa
que suene" — "it" (their sexual organ) "is the nicest thing you have."

What laws don't solve

I recently learned that another female friend of mine was physically
assaulted by her brother-in-law. With the evidence of the crime all over
her body, she went to the police station and reported him. The case was
processed and the assailant went to trial. What was his sentence? …a
one-hundred peso fine (about $4 USD).

Paradoxically, the writer Angel Santiesteban's five-year prison sentence
for domestic violence was recently upheld. Undoubtedly, the
controversial author of the blog "Los hijos que nadie quiso" is not
serving time only for exhibiting remnants of machismo.

The same rigor of exception was shown in the case of the young man who
died on a hunger strike in Santiago de Cuba. He was also accused of
domestic violence against a dark background with political overtones.

An acquaintance who was a social worker referred me to a very
representative case. This involved a girl who went to school with clear
signs of sexual abuse on her body. The wall of impunity consisted of
there being no complaints by the family or any action taken by the
police to investigate the situation. The matter was diluted amid rumors
of disapproval.

Fortunately, here in Cuba we don't see as much explicit violence against
women as that suffered in distant India, the Middle East or in nearby
Mexico, where shameful rates of female murder are accumulating. But we
mustn't forget that machismo is a monster that's too close to home.

I myself knew a girl who tried to report her father, who was sexually
abusing her. The authority's response was that this was a "family problem."

I have friends who have been raped and didn't report the crime because
they had had a relationship with the aggressor. Is the boundary that
establishes consent (the yes or the no in that act) pointless to the law?

Others renounce that idea out of the mere shame of making the matter
public, the bureaucratic treatment expected and a general lack of faith
in the viability of justice.

How we conspire with machismo

For some time, being an involuntary viewer of telenovelas that people
rent, I've noticed that these are full of recurring rape scenes.

It's obvious that they proliferate because of the demand for them. This
doesn't surprise me, because even apparently sensitive male friends have
confessed to me of being excited over some rape scene (of a beautiful

I reply to them that what triggers their fantasies isn't like what
happens in real life.

One time, years ago, in the middle of the night, I was awakened by the
cries of a girl being raped in a particularly painful manner. I yelled
out the window to alert more people, but the only ones who came outside
to help her were my partner at that time and me.

She was a teenager who was with two men and another girl in a dark side
street. We immediately knew she was the victim from the look of fear on
her face and her evident pain (she was having problems walking), as well
as the aggressive reaction by the group.

My partner and I couldn't do much by ourselves. I could never understand
why none of our neighbors joined us. Were they all really asleep? The
teenager walked away in the darkness with her aggressors, though I
didn't know if she was being threatened. Nor do I know if the dreadful
act was completed further away, in an even more isolated place where no
one could hear her screams.

Yet those sounds remained in my subconscious for months, with the full
weight of her horror and despair. No film has ever caused that same
effect in me.

The mass media condition much of how we interpret the world. I'm of the
opinion that pornography contributes miles of bad for yards or blocks of
relativist freedom.

I don't know who said it, but there's a powerful phrase that goes:
"Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice." In most cases of
sexual psychopaths I've seen on the TV program CSI, the murderers are
consumers of pornography and Viagra.

The myth of sexuality as an unmistakable and irreplaceable source of
happiness — far from creating peace and understanding — alters the
entire biological and social order.

The result isn't only these sexual predators. Men and women when feeling
the inexorable weight of age become depressed and therefore seek
momentary palliatives, fictitious extensions of youth.

Given men's physical advantage (evident in the case of my friend's
partner), a basic issue of injustice apparently becomes blurred when a
sexual relationship is involved. The sense of compassion slows down. It
becomes cloudy, paralyzed.

I'm not criticizing alternatives such as surgery and other methods if
these are needed (and one can afford them). I'm talking about how
despite this, change continues to occur, yet there's no implant,
face-lift or pill that will allow one to accept the emotional and real
weight of time. This is a serious problem.

Young people also fall victim to this with their archetypes of
prefabricated beauty and even prefabricated molds of sexual behavior.

It's curious that in many reggaeton posters, the male singers appear
between two (always stylish) women, while these guys — without complexes
— tend to be a little overweight. Simplified: the man can be whatever,
but the women — to be desirable — can't be fat.

Being "desirable" is a double-edged privilege. I've seen reggaeton
videos (including the popular Calle 13), in which the subliminal visual
treatment of females isn't much different from a punch, "a whack over
the head," a rape.

Our responsibility

I've always said that machismo only survives thanks to women. Mothers
raise their children to be sexist, girlfriends and wives hold on their
delicate shoulders an empire that would collapse if they would just take
a step outside the circle.

I always think back to those words of Marti: "Rebel, oh, women, against
these shameful seductions, behold, before giving yourself, if someone
want to acquire you like an orange, to be enjoyed or thrown away, or if
they love you sweetly, penetratingly, spiritually and tenderly, without
shock, without domination or obsessions of desire, if someone seeks in
you more than just the beautiful beast…"

Saying that current-day education inculcates respect for women is
official fanfare that goes against a high percentage of media
propaganda. But machismo, as we know, condemns both sexes equally,
although the most obvious victims are women.

The Tao says:

A great kingdom must be like the lowland toward which all streams flow.

It must be the point at which converge all things under heaven.

It must represent the role of the female in dealing with all things
under heaven.

The female, through her calmness, overcomes the male; because of her
calmness she is situated below.

"Calmness" here isn't passivity or weakness, but serenity and balance,
as opposed to the virile impulse that sexist heredity interprets as
strength but which is really slavery. That which dominates us can't be
called power. Power is something we control.

This mean we should "control" but not "repress." Repression has nothing
to do with calmness as there's an internal movement of resistance.

In Cuba, through ignorance and/or idiosyncrasy, people confuse desire
with vigor, and anger with courage. This is also immature and it has
serious consequences.

When I think about the sad incident my friend experienced, again and
again I come to the same conclusions:

1. The excuses of those who refused to help her are all masks of the
same face: machismo? Cowardice, laziness, selfishness.

2. Respect for women's bodies ends when they're interpreted as sexual
objects. And here begins another form of violence. The boundary between
the physical and sexual aggression is less than a millimeter.

3. Those who don't come to the aid of woman being beaten by a man
because she's his partner are assuming that his sexual right over her
potentially involves risk. They consider this natural.

Fortunately, here in Cuba we don't see as much explicit violence against
women as that suffered in distant India, the Middle East or in nearby
Mexico, where shameful rates of female murder are accumulating.

But we mustn't forget that machismo is a monster that's too close to
home. It breathes along with all of us and feeds on not only acts and
omissions but also on any form of indifference.

And let's not forget that most violence occurs within our four walls,
victims rarely appeal to justice, and even the recorded statistics of
these crimes aren't published here in Cuba. Continue reading
US celebrates Yoani, but not her message
March 24, 2013
By Saul Landau and Nelson P. Valdés (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES -Liberal and conservative Americans alike have celebrated
Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez. She's become the new "resistance to
communism" heroine, a world-renowned troublemaker inside Cuba.

Yoani also acquired semi-princess status in Western Europe thanks to the
wide Internet circulation of her weekly Generation Y blog. (Cubans of a
certain era got names beginning with Y.)

She spins her columns, descriptions of daily life in Cuba, supported by
unverified rumors, to badmouth the Cuban government. They appear in the
Huffington Post, El País, Die Zeit and other prestigious journals.
Inside Cuba, few read her blog; nor would most Cubans have heard her
name. Very few would recognize her face if they saw her.

Last week, Yoani, after visiting Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, she
stopped in New York, Washington DC. Her highlights came in the nation's
capital, including a much-publicized talk with Members of both Houses
and White House staff. She had just come from presenting her case to the
legislatures of Brazil and Mexico where she made important points about
U.S.-Cuba relations, points she repeated in Washington.

"My position is that the blockade should end," she said, "because it's
an interventionist stance, in which one country wants to change the
internal situation of another." She added: "it hasn't worked. If the
original idea was to create popular unrest so the people would take to
the streets and change the totalitarian government, it has not worked;
even as a pressure method it failed. It should end as quickly as
possible because it's the reason given by the Cuban government to
explain its economic failure."

She had already registered her opposition to the U.S. travel ban on its
citizens traveling to Cuba. "If restrictions on coming to Cuba are
lifted," she wrote to Congressman Howard Berman on November 19, 2009,
"Americans would enjoy a right that has been infringed in recent years –
that of traveling freely to any latitude without penalty."

When asked about her position on the U.S. military base in Guantanamo,
Cuba, Yoani responded: the U.S. should withdraw from the base, because
"I am a 'civilist,' a person who respects the legal system, and I could
not agree with occupying a space, which shows the occupier doesn't
respect the law." Which law or whose law? She didn't clarify.

In Brazil, she answered a question on the Cuban 5, members of the
Ministry of Interior now in U.S. prisons. The U.S. should free them
because of "the amount of money my country's government is spending in
this world-wide campaign with plane trips around the world. Occupying
space in the press and the hours wasted in schools talking about these
five prisoners," she explained.

She trivialized her explanations of desired policy changes. In
discussing the Cuban Five, Yoani banalized the nature of the Cuban
agents' task. Cuba sent agents to south Florida in the early 1990s to
help prevent bombings. The agents infiltrated violent Cuban exile groups
who had targeted Havana tourist spots. Cuban Intelligence then
re-circulated their agents' data to the FBI, who on one occasion used
the information to seize a boat docked on the Miami River filled with
arms and explosives and destined for Cuba.

In 1998, the FBI arrested the Cuban spy ring members. They got charged
with conspiracy to commit espionage, but not with espionage. Gerardo
Hernandez, their coordinator, also got charged with conspiracy to commit
murder on the false assumption he had provided Havana with the flight
schedules of Brothers to the Rescue planes that invaded Cuban airspace
and got shot down killing two pilots and two co-pilots.

The government had no evidence to back up its charges. Indeed, Jose
Basulto, leader of the Brothers group, had announced the flight
schedules. But a Miami jury convicted Gerardo, and the judge sentenced
him to two consecutive life terms. The other four also received long
prison terms. As Cuba decried the five's false political imprisonment,
Yoani offered a trite pretext for freeing them.

The irony of Yoani's U.S. appearance, getting crowned by the U.S. media
and Congress as the virtual Queen of Dissidents, is that she made the
very points the Cuban government has reiterated for a decade plus. But
neither government officials nor the press corps acknowledged them. The
media focused on occasional interruptions of her speeches by angry
leftists instead of reporting the contents of her talks. Members of
Congress and the White House staff celebrated the visit of an important
person, paying scant attention to the coincidence of her policy points
and those of the Cuban government.

Not one mainstream story caught the irony of Cuba's leading dissident
stating the case the Cuban government has been presenting: End the
embargo, release the Five, allow Americans to travel to Cuba, and
withdraw from Guantanamo. The media also missed points Yoani did not
acknowledge. Cuba allowed her to travel abroad and meet with sworn
enemies of the Cuban regime.

She also failed to acknowledge reforms that have recently taken place in
Cuba like political spaces granted to religious institutions to publish
openly critical magazines and journals. Moreover, Cubans prohibited from
returning to visit Cuba can now do so.

The U.S. media has positioned her the dissident representative of
technology's age of communication. She sends her weekly Internet column
from Cuban hotels, or by flash drive from the U.S. Interests Section and
other embassies. She spins each column as an attack on the Cuban government.

The princess of digital communication made her triumphant debut. But
apparently no one in power or in mainstream media cared about what she
said. The Cuban government should, nevertheless, be proud of her. She
used different language to state their case, to Congress, the White
House and the public. Alas, eyes saw, but ears closed. Did anyone hear
that besides the critiques of the Cuban government she asked Washington
to change its Cuba policy?

available on DVD from Nelson Valdes is Professor
Emeritus at the University of New Mexico. Continue reading
Cuba remains trapped between isolation and revival
March 24
The Kansas City Star

HAVANA — Ten years ago, on my first journey to Cuba, I listened as a
friend drove around Havana and spoke about the challenges of the
"special period." That phrase seemed a choice piece of Orwellian
euphemism for the hard times that had beset Cuba since the collapse of
the Soviet Union a decade earlier.

The Russians had unplugged the cord that powered the Communist-led
island nation for so long, tightening the economic clamp imposed by the
perennial U.S. trade embargo.

It seemed obvious, in my travels around Havana then, that many Cuban
people were unemployed or underemployed or struggling to get by with a
ration book for staples and a monthly salary of about 18 U.S. dollars.
The decayed beauty of this city of 2 million — endless colonial
streetscapes of faded pastels, peeling paint and mold — was overwhelming.

Fast-forward to mid-February 2013. Cuba remains a land of — pardon the
cliche — mystery, where everyone seems to be waiting for better times
ahead. Yet Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is in a Havana hospital, and when he
dies of cancer a few weeks later, back home in Caracas, speculation
arises that his friendly economic largesse toward his mentor Fidel
Castro's Cuba will come to an end, prompting perhaps an even more
special period.

But that's all background context. To the casual traveler, the
foreground experience — seeing Havana on foot and by tour bus — involves
mostly pleasurable encounters with people and with what seems like a
newly efficient travel economy. The Cubans seem to have figured out that
the only real revenue stream they can count on is tourism. So the
Europeans, Americans (North and South) and Asians who travel here have
more refurbished and freshly scrubbed hotels and a wider array of
restaurants to choose from, many of them operated by an arm of Havana's
city government. The food was certainly somewhat better than we had 10
years earlier. And the music, as it always has, seemed to erupt
everywhere. The downside to this new-and-improved tourism effort could
be the loss of authenticity: A once-scruffy waterfront bar and grill
called Dos Hermanos has recently been prettified, surely beyond
recognition by the ghosts of patrons past, who purportedly included the
likes of Ernest Hemingway, Marlon Brando and one of Cuba's great
writers, Alejo Carpentier.

Around the edges of the central city, daily life of Cubans seems as
unclear as ever. The dreary old buses we saw packed with commuters 10
years ago have been replaced by newer models, though diesel-spewing
jalopies and who knows what else still perfume the air when you take a
morning stroll. Cubans who have managed to accumulate savings have been
given new opportunities to buy their own homes, and private enterprise
has become an option for those engaged in dozens of fields and various
types of businesses.

The tour I'd joined was oriented toward art and artists, and we were
somewhat surprised to learn that in the upper echelon of the art world,
among those who have a global footprint or show their works in the U.S.
and elsewhere, artists make more money than just about anyone else. They
are not subsidized, one artist told me, they pay taxes on their income,
and they are free to travel where and when they need to. Of course, now
it seems as if every young person thinking about college wants to be an

You can stand in the Museum of Decorative Arts, a palace filled with
French, English and Italian antiques, and wonder why the revolution
didn't stash this bourgeois stuff in a warehouse decades ago. You will
learn, though, that Cubans seem to enjoy showing off these treasures as
a kind of cultural patrimony. The sculptures and paintings and opulent
torchieres remain in place here because the wealthy family who once
occupied this mansion, like everyone else with money, took off after the
rise of Castro. They expected the revolution would be over in a couple
of months and they'd come back, one of our guides told us. That was 50
years ago, of course. "They're still waiting," she added.

U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba legally on licenses issued by the
Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control. Professional
researchers, including academics, can obtain a general license for
individual travel. Most people travel under a license issued to tour
operators for "people-to-people" journeys with humanitarian, religious,
educational or cultural missions. Our group flew to Havana on a charter
flight from Miami. According to our tour operator, about 350,000
Americans went to Cuba under such programs in 2012, and this year that
number is expected to double.

Bits of Cuban history and other factlets emerge in encounters with
historians and others. Christopher Columbus may have "discovered" the
island in 1492, but the Taino people preceded him, and most perished not
long after. The French arrived in Cuba after the Haitian revolution and
after Napoleon sold Louisiana territory to Thomas Jefferson's United
States in 1803; they started coffee plantations in the hills and kept
slaves, 12 to a stone-walled room no larger than the double-wide cubicle
in which I'm now writing. Slavery in Cuba ended in 1886, more than two
decades after the U.S. Civil War. The Partagas cigar factory makes five
of the best-known Cuban brands — Cohiba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta,
etc. — each a product of a secret blend of five different kinds of
leaves of varying character and quality; depending on the finished size,
a veteran roller in the plant turns out an average of 80 to 120 cigars a

I walked with my significant other, who'd lined us up with this
painter-led tour, down the Calle Obispo, a pedestrian spine of Habana
Vieja, toward a group dinner one night. I stopped to peer into a
bookstore window, and was soon joined by a woman who sneered, in
English, that nobody reads books any more. "They can't afford it," she
said. I don't know whether she was trying to get my goat or lure a coin
from my pocket, but I let it slide and sauntered on. Down the way, the
Plaza de Armas is lined most days with vendors selling used books and
old movie posters. I'd swear I saw the very same books 10 years ago —
the many biographies of revolutionary hero Ché Guevara, the faded
Spanish translations of "The Old Man and the Sea." Maybe the woman had a
point; maybe the Cubans are bored with the same old books.

One must be patient on a packaged tour, especially one that, to satisfy
two antagonistic governments, requires your attendance at all events,
including forced marches through tchotchke land. (My first experience of
this was in Russia, after the putsch in 1991, where, in my memory, our
strict, gray-haired-matron of a tour guide wouldn't let me skip the
opportunity to browse yet another display of matryoshka dolls.) Habana
Vieja is dotted with souvenir vendors, many of whom sell the same Ché
T-shirts, wooden trinkets and Havana street-scene paintings. We were
impressed by a visit to the Taller Gallery and Studio, where a dozen or
so printmakers were at work, turning out a higher level of art than you
tend to see on the streets or that we saw at the Mercado, an indoor mall
of art, souvenirs and bric-a-brac.

We did manage to play hooky one morning to make a visit I'd arranged to
the Finca Vigia, the longtime home of Ernest Hemingway. It's in San
Francisco de Paula, a village about 12 miles southeast of Havana's
center. Someone lined us up with a driver, who'd agreed to take us out
there, wait a couple of hours, and return us to our hotel for the
equivalent of $25. Deal. When I noticed the baseball bat on the floor
next to his seat, I asked, stupidly, whether he played, and when I saw
his awkward smile in the rear-view mirror, I quickly realized why he had
it. Even a Lada is worth protecting when you need to.

The Cuban government has owned and operated Hemingway's house as a
museum for half a century. It is filled with Hemingway's library of
thousands of books, artworks, locally made furniture, big-game trophies,
bull-fighting posters and other personal effects the writer and his wife
left behind, circa 1959, in the wake of Fidel Castro's revolution. After
Hemingway's suicide in 1961, his widow, Mary Hemingway, was allowed (by
the Cubans and the Kennedy administration) to return for a few days to
retrieve manuscripts, correspondence, some paintings and other items,
most of which are now housed in the Hemingway Collection at the John F.
Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. But everything else remained, and
the trays of liquor bottles, the racks of magazines, the typewriter, the
record player and Hemingway's collection of Bach and big band music
speak to a leisurely way of life.

We had toured the house 10 years ago, not long before it was closed for
a much-needed restoration project. Most visitors can see it only through
an open front door and windows, which these days stay closed except when
the humidity cooperates. A onetime guest house is awaiting a renovation;
a conference center is under construction nearby; and Hemingway's
refurbished 34-foot Wheeler fishing boat, the Pilar, sits in drydock on
the grounds. The museum's director, Ada Rosa Alfonso, is looking forward
to the day when the museum can display one or more of the Buicks and
other vehicles that Hemingway drove while living in Cuba in the 1940s
and '50s, longer than anywhere else he lived.

Alfonso had sent us inside the house with a staff member and translator,
Tatiana Mena, who gave us a room-by-room, item-by-item tour. When we got
back to the museum office, we were trailed by a quartet of Argentinian
tourists who had concluded, as we emerged from inside the Finca, that I
was a VIP of such significance that they wanted to have their pictures
taken with me. Go figure.

As we left, we were surprised by the rumble of a couple of dozen
motorcycles coming up the Finca Vigia's drive. It was a tour group, from
the U.S., of course, and the bikers were spending two weeks riding from
one end of the island to the other. One of them told us of her daily
chore required by their "people-to-people" license: she had to keep a
journal. Wink.

Is Cuba on the verge of serious change? Will Raul Castro serve the
entirety of his last five-year term as el jefe? Will his successor open
the door to warmer relations with the evil empire to the north? How and
when will the U.S. reverse its policy toward Cuba and its people? What
is the statute of limitations for the revolution's nationalization of
private property and corporate? When will Cuban agriculture expand
enough to supply the nation's people and restaurants with adequate
supplies of fresh produce? (I saw one tour bus with a sign indicating
its occupants were involved in urban agriculture. Who would be learning
from whom?) How eager are American corporate interests to help redevelop
the Cuban landscape? How soon before Habaneros get used to a Starbucks
and McDonald's on every block? In Cuba, there are, of course, more
questions than answers. And waiting is a special way of life.

To reach Steve Paul, senior writer and editor, call 816-234-4762 or Twitter: @sbpaul. Continue reading
Editorial: Repression in Cuba
Monday, March 25, 2013
(Published in print: Monday, March 25, 2013)

When Yoani Sanchez talks about "alternative means of communication" in
Cuba, she speaks with authority. Her blog Generacion Y has become a
beacon of democracy and freedom on the island, where the news media are
still held in the tight grip of the Castro regime. Producing a blog
hasn't been easy; Internet access is spotty. But she reports that
alternate networks are throbbing with information that the government
wants to suppress.

When the dissident Oswaldo Paya and activist Harold Cepero were killed
in a car wreck in Cuba's eastern province of Granma on July 22, Cubans
learned of it through these alternative channels. Sanchez, visiting
Washington last week, told us that Cubans sense that "the government
seems to be hiding something" about the Paya and Cepero deaths and there
has been a "manipulation of facts."

The suspicions are well founded. On The Washington Post pages recently,
Angel Carromero, a Spanish politician, said that the car he was driving
and in which Paya and Cepero were riding was hit from behind by a
vehicle with Cuban government plates and that he was threatened and
intimidated by the authorities in an attempted coverup. Sanchez said
that an independent, international investigation should be carried out
as soon as possible, before the government manages to erase every last
bit of evidence. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has just written to U.N.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, asking him to appoint a panel for such a
probe, saying that Paya's family, the Cuban people and the international
community "all deserve to have the truth."

Truth is not a currency well respected by Fidel and Raul Castro. Ten
years ago this month, they launched a crackdown known as the "Black
Spring," in which 75 dissidents, independent journalists and human
rights activists were imprisoned. The authorities also crushed the
Varela Project, Paya's 2002 petition drive for guarantees of freedom;
many of his colleagues were jailed. But Paya was not imprisoned.

Sanchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of
authoritarianism. "It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have
never been one," she said. "They have their own logic. One of the most
paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature."
While not in jail, Paya had no peace. According to family members, he
was threatened repeatedly with death. The threats were often quite
direct: You will die before the Cuban revolution does.

Cuba has lately seen some economic reforms and liberalizations; one of
them allowed Sanchez to travel freely abroad for the first time. But she
told us the real change in Cuba today is not from the top but rather
from below. "People are losing their fear, moving from silent to open,
from wearing a mask to showing their real face in public," she said.

Sanchez stands at the cutting edge of this change yet sees a long road
still to be traveled. Cuba has not yet relinquished a stranglehold on
individual liberties.

The Washington Post Continue reading
'Poor conditions in Cuba bring students home'
March 25 2013 at 11:13am
By Bongani Hans

Durban - When Shanice Moodley left KwaZulu-Natal for Cuba to study
medicine through a Department of Health programme she had high hopes for
a bright future.

But they were dashed within two months, at which point she gave up her
studies and returned home because, she claims, of the treatment students

Moodley, 20, from Gingindlovu, Zululand, was among 20 students who
quit the government's skills development programme in Cuba and returned
home last month.

She said students had not been told before they left South Africa about
the difficulties they could face in Cuba.

The Mercury reported on Friday that the Department of Health had
withdrawn six other students from the six-year-long project after they
had been involved in a protest to demand more pocket money and better
food. Two of them, Zakhele Khoza and Londa Gumede, were also from
KwaZulu-Natal. The department is aware of the students' concerns.

"During orientation before leaving, (Dr Sanele) Madela, who obtained his
medical qualifications in Cuba, did not tell us about what was waiting
for us. He only told us about the high quality of doctors produced by
Cuba and how lucky we were," said Moodley.

Moodley joined the programme when she was unable to secure a place at
local universities.

Moodleys' parents want the department to refund them R25 000, which they
paid as a deposit for their daughter's first year. The Cuban government
gave 100 percent bursaries to students who had no- one employed in their

However, Moodley's studies were partially subsidised since her father
Govindasamy Moodley earned a salary from a sugar mill. Her family was
required to contribute R49 800.

But the South African government gave a 100 percent subsidy for her
accommodation and meals - about R40 000 a year.

She was unhappy to find she shared a "small" room with 10 girls. The
set-up in their residence was "a torture, unhygienic and disgusting".
She shared a toilet and bathroom with 60 girls in their block.

"When we used toilets we were not allowed to flush down toilet paper, to
prevent sewerage blockages. We would throw the… paper in a bucket, which
was collected once a day."

She said they had to take "ice cold" showers, even in the "freezing"
weather as there were no geysers.

She said the food was "awful" and they had to use part of their
government-provided R1 600 monthly pocket money to buy "better food".

"On several occasions we were served leftovers which we had left in our
places the previous day. This food would be collected from the tables
and stored in the fridge," she said.

She said Deputy Health Minister Gwen Ramokgopa visited the Cuban
university in December to listen to the students' grievances.

"She met us at the campus and refused to visit our residence."
Afterwards "she said we should work hard like previous students and
left", she said.

Ramokgopa's spokesman, Khutso Rabathata,

said: "The department is interviewing students and meeting stakeholders
to investigate the complaints ," he said. Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 03.24.13

Bill Nelson: U.N. must investigate Oswaldo Payá's death

Like so many of her followers, we've been watching Yoani Sánchez's
international speaking tour. Just this month, the well-known Cuban
opposition blogger came at my invitation to our nation's capital, where,
in a rare appearance, she shared her views on life inside today's Cuba.
During her hour-long visit, she met with members of Congress from both
sides of the political aisle.

And her message was bell-clear: The Cuban people are still struggling
for freedom and democracy — and, they need our help.

Despite Cuba's incredibly restrictive laws governing free speech and
freedom of the press, Yoani has found a way to stay connected with the
world, via the Internet. Millions of people now follow her on Twitter
and read her blog, Generation Y.

She's illustrative of how the social media are slowly overtaking the
repression and control of authoritarian regimes everywhere, including
communist Cuba. Sánchez fittingly summarized the situation last week,
saying: "It took me a full 10 years to see images from the fall of the
Berlin Wall. But my son was able to witness the images from Tahrir
Square almost exactly as they were happening."

Still, we must remember that some of her fellow dissidents have been
silenced — some forever.

It was just 10 years ago this month that the regime conducted one of its
severest crackdowns of democracy activists and journalists, known as
Cuba's "Black Spring."

And, of course, there's still one of our own — Maryland native [and
USAID worker] Alan Gross — languishing in a Cuban jail for nearly four
and a half years now. We must remain unrelenting in our calls for his
release and safe return home.

More recently, new details emerged in The Washington Post regarding the
death last summer of popular Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá. From
the safety of his native Spain, Ángel Carromero, the driver of Payá's
car the day Payá died, finally gave his version of events leading up to
the mysterious crash that killed Payá and fellow Cuban activist Harold

Their vehicle, according to Carromero, was being followed by another car
with government plates, before it was suddenly hit with a "thunderous
impact from behind" and run off the road. Payá, the man who had
orchestrated the largest democratic petition drive in Cuban history, was
killed. Carromero's detailed account of the July 22 crash matches that
of other witnesses.

Given this new information, and my discussion with Yoani Sánchez, I have
now asked the head of the United Nations to direct a thorough
independent investigation of the events leading up to Payá's death. Such
an investigation should begin immediately.

Payá will forever be remembered as one of Cuba's best known dissidents.
But the causes that he championed — freedom of speech, press and
enterprise — continue to elude the Cuban people. That's why this
investigation is critical. Without it, further reform is easily
undermined or avoided, altogether.

Meantime, Yoani's visit to the United States is a welcome development
that indicates some seeds of change are beginning to take root on the

On an 80-day world tour of a dozen countries, after a decade of being
barred from leaving Cuba, Sánchez next plans to visit Miami. On April 1,
she'll speak at the iconic Freedom Tower — significant because that's
the site where many Cuban exiles were processed upon their arrival in
the United States.

I'm planning to join her there in support of her call for democratic
reforms in Cuba. These, I believe, must include the release of Gross and
the investigation into Payá's death.

Bill Nelson is Florida's senior U.S. senator. Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live