Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 1, 2013

Yoani Sanchez To Speak At Freedom Tower, FIU
April 1, 2013 9:02 AM

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Internationally acclaimed Cuban blogger will speak
Monday afternoon at Miami-Dade College's Freedom Tower.

As part of her three month tour of dozens of countries in the Americas
and Europe, Sánchez will be in Miami this week for a string of public
appearances and a family reunion.

During her appearance at the Freedom Tower, Sanchez will take part in a
discussion on Cuba with community leaders and students. She'll also be
presented with the Miami Dade College Presidential Medal for championing
human rights. Past honorees include Lech Walesa, Mikhail Gorbachev,
President Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright.

Through her blog, Generación Y, the 37-year old has become a powerful
player in the binary guerrilla struggle against Cuba's communist rule.
Generación Y blog gets well over 15 million hits a month and is
translated into 20 languages. Her Twitter account has nearly 500,000
followers, and Fidel Castro as well as Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela,
took the time to criticize her, according to CBS4 news partner The Miami

Sanchez arrived in Miami Thursday. Her first stop was the Shrine to Our
Lady of Charity in Coconut Grove.

"I just got here from Amsterdam and it feels great to be in Miami,"
Sanchez said after visiting the shrine to Cuba's patron saint. "I plan
to spend the next 48 hours reuniting with my family and catching up on
the last two years that we have not seen each other."

Sanchez tweeted photos of herself sitting on a seawall along Biscayne
Bay and pictures from inside the shrine. When she's in Cuba she uses
social media to shed light on life on the island and the plight of those
who oppose the government. Her first impression of Miami was that it's
much like Cuba.

"I feel respect and liberty in the air in Miami," she said. "I feel like
I'm in Cuba but with freedom. This is what Cuba would be like if we had

Sanchez was given permission to leave Cuba in February after a new law
was enacted easing travel restrictions for Cubans. While she's in South
Florida, Sanchez plans to speak out about democracy on the island and
about Cuba's relations with Miami's Cuban-exile community.

"This is the most important part of the trip for me emotionally,"
Sanchez said. "I am glad I can see Miami with my own eyes and I am
especially happy to be with my family."

Sanchez is scheduled to make an appearance at Florida International
University on Monday night.

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed to this report. Continue reading
Rick MacInnes-Rae: Cuba's economy at mercy of Venezuela's voters

Post-Chavez election threatens Cuba's subsidized oil
By Rick MacInnes-Rae, CBC News
Posted: Apr 1, 2013 5:16 AM ET

In Cuba, state restrictions have loosened in the past year or so. One
result: private cars acting as taxis for tourists and other visitors,
like here in downtown Havana. In Cuba, state restrictions have loosened
in the past year or so. One result: private cars acting as taxis for t

It is not just Venezuelans who are looking anxiously at their post-Hugo
Chavez future.

Cubans, too, have much to lose if Venezuela's government changes after
the April 14 election, and they're not happy about it.

In campaign speeches, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles is
threatening to axe the long-time lifeline Venezuela has been providing
to Cuba in the form of heavily discounted oil.

For 13 years, the small Caribbean state has depended on Venezuela for
nearly 100,000 barrels a day of petroleum — to light Cuba's homes and
the hotels that underpin its tourist economy — at discount prices that
amount to an estimated $6-billion subsidy over the six-year life of the
current agreement.

"The giveaways to other countries are going to end," Capriles told a
student rally in Zulia recently. "Not another drop of oil will go toward
financing the government of the Castros."

The market-friendly Venezuelan governor is no fan of the radical
socialism of the late president Hugo Chavez who viewed Cuba's Fidel
Castro as a mentor. And his message is getting through to Cuban loud and

"The opposition is talking about cutting off the oil and if they do
we're in big trouble," says Tina (not her real name), a tour guide in
the northern province of Mattanzas.

Trouble is not something Cuba needs any more of, particularly now.

"After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Cuba became an upside-down
pyramid. Labourers at the top. Professionals at the bottom," says Tina,
her own life being a case in point.
Surviving on tourists

Tina is a multilingual, university-trained interpreter/translator in her
late 20s who found no work after graduating. So she became a teacher,
and found there was no money in that.

Her teacher's salary equalled $25 Cdn a month. Almost enough to buy four
kilograms of pork to feed her extended family, providing she bought
nothing else that month.

But she's a smart woman. She speaks Spanish, English, German and
realpolitik. So, like Cuba after the collapse of its Soviet sponsor in
the early-1990s, she stopped what she was doing and turned to tourism.

Cuba's been turning out joint-venture resorts as fast as it can drain
the swamps of Varadero, building a new economy on the hard currency of
foreign visitors to the tune of almost $2.5 billion a year, according to

Tourists are flocking to the pastel-colored, all-inclusive,
air-conditioned bubbles of blue water and white rum that could be
anywhere in the Caribbean since they portray so little of Cuba or Castro
or the political tensions that litter the country's past and present.

For those willing to leave the bubble, Tina will guide them where they
want to go for a daily fee that's small to them, but eight times what
she used to make in a month.

Most of her customers are Canadians ("So nice!") and Russians ("Not so
nice."), since the ongoing 53-year-old U.S. embargo pretty much keeps
Americans out.

The departures and arrivals board at Varadero Airport reads like a
survey of cold weather capitals, with flights from Toronto, Montreal,
Quebec City, Edmonton and Saint John coming and going all day long.
Still shortages

But while there are plenty of Canadians and Russians (even a few Chinese
nationals) basking in sun and cheap rum, there are shortages of other
things, despite the much trumpeted "triumph of the revolution."

Earlier this month it was butter. Before that, toothpaste. And before
that, a shortage of shampoo.

The U.S. embargo against the Castro regime compels Cuba to pay for the
things it wants in cash, and hard currency is hard to come by.

That is also where Venezuela helps out. Along with the subsidized oil,
it also invests billions of its hard-earned petrodollars directly in
Cuba's aging infrastructure.

Still, despite the help, Cuba can't afford everything, all the time. So
it constantly runs out of all kinds of stuff.

"Cubans get by on tips," Tina tells me. A bartender in a tourist resort
trousers more in a day than a teacher will in a month.

Times are tough, but not as tough as they once were in the mid-1990s
when some 50,000 state-owned cows suddenly vanished into many thousands
of pots when Cubans were going hungry.

There's emigration, of course.

Cuba has famously had two kinds. "Wet" and "dry." Wet means finding a
boat, or lashing a few inner tubes together and trying your luck on the
tides to Florida, 144 kilometres to the north.

Dry meant going to someplace like Venezuela, then travelling north over
land through Mexico by rail to the U.S. A little more expensive, and
fraught with risks of its own.
Raul Castro greets Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at Havana's airport in May
2011. The Venezuelan leader had been in Cuba undergoing treatment for
the cancer that would eventually claim his life two years later.Raul
Castro greets Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at Havana's airport in May 2011.
The Venezuelan leader had been in Cuba undergoing treatment for the
cancer that would eventually claim his life two years later. (Reuters)

Passports have become easier to come by since January, when Cuba lifted
the burdensome restrictions that were once designed to prevent people
skipping out.

But like the easing of restrictions on buying and selling cars and
houses over the past two years, it sounds better than it is.

As Tina says, you have to be able to afford these things, and not many can.

She likes to say that Cuba has no important natural resources, which is
why it is so tourist-dependent. But she's wrong about that. Cuban has
resources all right. Human resources. It exports people.

Tens of thousands of doctors, health professionals, teachers and sports
coaches are dispatched on contracts all over the developing world, but
particularly to Venezuela, where over 30,000 Cuban doctors and dentists
are based, part of a doctors for (subsidized) oil program that the
Castros set up with Chavez.

Human chattel, whose talents are part payment for the oil lifeline many
are worried about losing.

Were the oil exchange to end, there'd be little waiting for these
professionals back at home, beyond slinging mojitos to surly Russians.

But the first major poll of the Venezuelan campaign has the party of
late president Chavez in the lead. Its victory would ensure the oil
keeps flowing to Cuba, at least for the short term. Continue reading
And Before CIMEQ…
Posted on March 31, 2013

On our small island many have felt the need to emigrate. Most do it out
of disillusionment, others out of desperation, some looking for comfort,
and a few rare specimens simply to be different, out of morbid fascination.

When the hirsute insurrectionists came down from the mountains hungry
for promiscuity — which certainly did not go unrequited — they were very
young and the only diseases they could contract were venereal. In such
circumstances they could not go to ordinary hospitals.

It was to provide care for these people with very unique profiles that a
small clinic and laboratory were set up in a house (on East Street
between 37th and Park in Nuevo Vedado) belonging to then comandante René
Vallejo, whom everyone respected because, in addition to being an
extraordinary doctor and wonderful conversationalist, he was an
excellent spiritualist.

With Vallejo they could kill three birds in one shot, as the saying
goes. "The first hospital for revolutionaries" was a little rough. It
started off very small, but Cuban leaders were procreating with the
agility of claria,* unlike the broader population who were desperately
emigrating from the east to the west, and from the west to Miami. They
needed to expand this health care center for the elite, so it was moved
to Miramar.

Two lavish mansions which occupied the corner of 34th and 43rd streets
were transformed into a clinic. It included a pharmacy, hospital
admissions, emergency room, operating rooms and a physiotherapy center
in the basement. This initially was the facility that some now refer to
as the 43rd Street Clinic, the Council of State Clinic, or the Kohly
Clinic, named for the district where it was originally located.

The country's most senior leaders, their friends and family members are
not the only ones treated there; bigwigs from Africa and Latin America
are also its patients

Within a short time the little clinic grew like an empire, taking over
the houses in front and later those on the side. They added a delivery
room, neonatology, surgery, and dentistry departments, a spa and all the
rest. It was a full-service hospital for the criminal jet set, run by an
on-duty medical colonel, always under the supervision of the invisible
but much feared Dalia Soto Del Valle.**

At the time, "according to Raul Castro," Nuevo Vedado was becoming a
vulgar neighborhood where the rabble-rousers lived, while Miramar was
taking in a new caste of people — those who seemed rich but were not. By
practicing the type of fraud that can be hidden within legal loopholes,
evictions were carried out in several homes and a new ghetto was created
quite a bit to the east. There are luxurious houses in Siboney that
share the same level of inaccessibility.

The leadership got older and, although a doctor, ambulance and
experienced nurses accompanied each of the most senior officials,
ailments and ongoing emergencies were beginning to be a problem. The
clinic was far away and too exposed, which meant that rumors about one
leader or another often leaked out.

With this in mind they were hurriedly transferred to CIMEQ, where they
could be looked after in the mysterious and impenetrable Objeto 20.***

Politics in Cuba is like a wall behind which something dirty and unknown
is always hiding. In this case it is Aesculapius — the god of medicine —
dressed as transvestite.

Translator's notes:
*Claris is an invasive species of catfish introduced into Cuba from Asia.
** Fidel Castro's current wife.
*** A private area within the CIMEQ complex for exclusive use by Fidel
Castro and his closest family members.

21 March 2013 Continue reading
Oswaldo Payá's death must not be squelched
By Editorial Board, Published: March 31

WHAT WAS it about a simple petition drive more than a decade ago that so
frightened Fidel Castro? Cuba's constitution provides that a law may be
proposed by citizens if 10,000 people or more sign a petition. The
dissident Oswaldo Payá and others gathered 11,020 signatures by May 2002
on the petition of the Varela Project, what Mr. Payá said was "a
citizens' movement for peaceful change," demanding guarantees of
political freedom in Cuba. Then Mr. Castro's state security went into
overdrive. In what was called the Black Spring in 2003, some 75 of Mr.
Payá's friends and colleagues were rounded up and imprisoned, including
29 journalists. Many served years in squalid jails before being released.

They suffered for a document that is elegant and logical on its face but
that profoundly threatened the Castro regime. First, the petition
demanded guarantees of free speech and association. It declared, "These
rights and all human rights existed before anyone formulated them or
wrote them down; you and all your fellow men have these rights because
you are people, because you are human. Laws do not create these rights,
but they must guarantee them." Next, the petition called for amnesty for
political prisoners. A third section authorized private enterprises. Mr.
Payá understood that economic and political freedom went hand in hand.
Lastly, the petition called for competitive elections and candidates
elected directly by popular vote, breaking the hold of the one-party state.

In the end, Mr. Castro squelched the Varela Project. But the timeless
goals of the petition are still relevant in the search for truth about
the deaths of Mr. Payá and activist Harold Cepero last July in a car
crash in eastern Cuba. To read the Varela document again today is to see
that Mr. Payá struck where the regime is most vulnerable: at its
legitimacy to rule from above. Mr. Payá insisted that legitimacy came
from below, from "the participation of citizens in the political,
economic and cultural life of the country as free people." Perhaps that
is why, although not imprisoned, Mr. Payá had been subjected to death
threats for so long.

The suspicious circumstances of the deaths of Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero
demand an investigation that won't be tainted by the Cuban authorities.
That investigation must address serious questions about whether the car
in which the men were riding was rammed from behind by a vehicle with
government license plates, as the car's driver, Ángel Carromero, said in
a recent interview published on the opposite page.

On Thursday, the United States joined calls for such a probe, which have
also been made by 10 U.S. senators and Mr. Payá's family. State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "The people of Cuba and the
families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of
the events that resulted in their tragic deaths." The next question is
who will have the principled courage of Mr. Payá and lead an
investigation to extract the truth from Cuba. Continue reading
New Breed of Cuban Dissident Finds Changed Miami
Published: March 31, 2013

MIAMI — Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban dissident whose trenchant blog and
Twitter posts have made her a cause célèbre for democracy on the island,
lingered on the edge of the sea wall at La Ermita de la Caridad, Miami's
shrine for Cuban exiles, and looked toward home.

"Me siento como en Cuba pero libre," said Ms. Sánchez, summing up her
first day in Miami last week. "I feel like I'm in Cuba but free."

With that, Ms. Sánchez officially cemented her bond with the old guard,
the city's Cuban exiles.

On Monday, despite her anticipated return to Cuba and her opposition to
the economic embargo, Ms. Sanchez will take the stage at the Freedom
Tower downtown — a haven where hundreds of thousands of Cubans in the
1960s and 1970s were first processed as refugees and handed slabs of
industrial cheese and Spam. Among those expected to greet her will be
veterans of the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion — standard-bearers of
the dwindling hard-line generation — and the newest Cubans, those who
see increased contact with the island as a path to progress.

It was not too long ago that Cuban-Americans here rolled out the red
carpet only to defectors who disavowed their homeland and stayed in
America. But Ms. Sanchez, a journalist who will return to Cuba to join
her husband and son, has offered up an alternative narrative for both
the disenchanted in Cuba and the hopeful in Miami, one forged over the

"This is transcendent," said Eduardo J. Padrón, the president of Miami
Dade College, which is sponsoring the event, recalling his own arrival
at the Freedom Tower as a 15-year-old. "There is incredible agreement
here that she symbolizes the voice of a free Cuba. Her visit has proved
that all of us can agree, regardless of the means, on the ultimate goal."

Ms. Sanchez said in an interview Friday that the warmth of the welcome
she has received here has exceeded her expectations. "I am finding Cuba
outside of Cuba," she said, in Spanish. "I was raised in Cuba and
indoctrinated that the exiles were the enemy, that they had betrayed the
country. And here I am, seeing Cubans preserving Cuba, preserving the
culture, the history, the music."

Working from her Havana apartment, Ms. Sanchez, 37, has spent years
writing dispatches on the island's stifling contradictions, the
absurdities of everyday life under the Communist system and the lack of
freedom and human rights. The Internet and the USB drives that Cubans
use to share information have been her chief ally.

She named her blog Generación Y, a nod to Cubans her age who were given
names beginning with Y at a time when the Soviet Union held greater sway
over the island. The blog receives millions of hits a month, the vast
majority from people outside the island because Cuba restricts Internet
access. She also has 459,000 Twitter followers.

Ms. Sanchez has been arrested, detained, beaten and harassed for
speaking out against prohibitions on freedom of expression and freedom
of the press. She is fond of saying that the rights of citizens are not
gifts from the government but, as the phrase makes clear, "rights" that
are inherent.

For five years, Ms. Sanchez tried to obtain permission to travel outside
of Cuba but was denied until now. President Raúl Castro recently
eliminated travel restrictions for many Cubans and the government chose
to grant her permission to travel, too. Her 80-day tour has brought her
to three continents, where she has given speeches and received a string
of awards and recognitions.

Rosa de la Cruz, one of Miami's most prominent art collectors, said that
two years ago she dedicated a room in the museum-like building that
houses the de la Cruz Collection to videos of Ms. Sanchez. The
collection also hands out copies of Ms. Sanchez's book, "Havana Real."

"She is a positive person, not a negative one," said Mrs. de la Cruz,
who supports the economic embargo but also views the push for human
rights in Cuba as paramount. "And it's important to be positive. It has
been very difficult for her to do this in Cuba. And she has said if she
had to do it again, she would do it again."

Natalia Martinez, the communications director for Roots of Hope, a
network of 4,000 young professionals who work to help young people in
Cuba, said Ms. Sanchez spoke often about the need for a diversity of
opinion and emphasized the importance of empowering Cubans on the island.

Technology is one way to punch a hole, Ms. Sanchez says often. So she
asks for a flood of cellphones and USB sticks and other devices.

"She addresses the fact that there is a lot of hurt, a lot of pain,
associated with the Cuba issue, and she doesn't dismiss it," Ms.
Martinez said. But, she said: "Cuban-Americans have more opportunities
to be involved in Cuba now than they had before, and Yoani has come to
symbolize some kind of joint agency between them. That resonates here."

Ms. Martinez added, "She is focused on building a narrative about the

Over the weekend, though, Ms. Sanchez grappled with a far less ambitious
agenda: She spent time in Miami with her sister, her brother-in-law and
niece. It has been two years since her sister left Cuba for Miami.

"For two years I haven't been able to hug them," she said. Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

While in Miami, Yoani Sánchez tweets at record pace

Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez spent Easter Sunday in South Florida
explaining her motivation for speaking out against the Castro government.

She didn't do it on the radio or on television, fittingly she took to
Twitter, her weapon for free expression.

Starting at noon Sunday, Sánchez responded to every inquiry on the
social media venue posed by both supporters and haters, writing over 130
tweets at her handle @yoanisanchez.

At 6 p.m., she was still going strong.

Scores of people engaged the Cuban blogger in conversation. She
responded to all, even vigorously arguing back and forth with her
critics. Sanchez is currently on an 82-day tour of the Americas, U.S.
and Europe.

"I will not shut up!" she tweeted after one heated exchange.

On Monday, Sánchez officially begins her speaking tour of Miami with an
8:30 a.m. meeting with the Miami Herald editorial board. If you have
questions for Sánchez, send them to The meeting
with Sanchez will be livestreamed on newspaper's home page.

At 2 p.m. Monday, Sánchez will speak at Miami Dade College's Freedom
Tower, an iconic building for Cuban exiles, where she will be
interviewed – Actor's Studio-style – by Miami Herald Editorial Editor
Myriam Marquez.

Besides well-wishes and criticism, Sánchez's visit has also stirred an
urge by historic Cuban exiles to explain themselves to Sánchez, in the
hopes she will take back to the island the real version of events they
took part in the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Bay of Pigs veterans, who invaded the island in April 1961 to overthrown
Fidel Castro, last week issued a welcome to Sánchez and offered to meet
with her to explain why they took part in the invasion. Castro has
always referred to the Bay of Pigs participants as CIA operatives and

Some Operation Pedro Pan children also want to give their side of the story.

Eloisa Echazabal, of Miami, has written a letter she will try to pass on
to Sanchez explaining why her parents sent her to the U.S. during the
mission that brought 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to Miami.

"The island's communist government loses no opportunity to say that it
was all a plot by the CIA and that our parents were deceived and the
children became pawns in the political game with the U.S. This is far
from the truth. Our parents sent us to the U.S. as soon as they realized
that their right for free expression — and to raise and educate their
children as they wished— was disappearing."

Sánchez has several other events planned in Miami the rest of the week.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Monday, 04.01.13

Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez to speak in Miami
The Associated Press

MIAMI -- One of Cuba's most renowned dissidents is speaking in Miami.

Blogger and activist Yoani Sanchez will speak Monday at the Freedom
Tower, where thousands of Cuban exiles were processed after fleeing the
1959 communist revolution.

Sanchez has gained thousands of followers worldwide for her candid
descriptions of modern life in Cuba on her blog Generation Y. In 2009
she was named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by
Time magazine.

Sanchez is currently on a world tour after being allowed to leave the
communist island for the first time in nearly a decade. She has traveled
to Europe, Latin America and the United States.

She arrived in Miami on Thursday and has described this stop as the most
emotional of her journey.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez to meet the public in Miami on Monday

After a quiet weekend with her family, Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez
returns to the public stage Monday with a full agenda that takes her
from The Miami Herald editorial board to institutions of higher education.

It will be a day of questions and accolades for Sánchez, an independent
journalist and author of the Generacion Y blog, which chronicles daily
life in Cuba and is translated into 20 languages. She also reaches more
than 460,000 people around the world via her Twitter account.

She'll start the day with an 8:30 a.m. meeting with editors and
reporters from The Miami Herald and then appear before some 800 people
at a 2 p.m. event hosted by Miami Dade College at the Freedom Tower, a
former processing center for Cuban refugees.

Miami Herald Editorial Page Editor Myriam Marquez will lead a public
conversation with Sánchez, who also will be receiving the MDC
Presidential Medal for championing human rights. The conversation will
be live-streamed on the college website.

At 7 p.m., she's scheduled to deliver a lecture on "Can Technologies and
Social Media Accelerate Cuba's Democratization?" and receive the FIU
Medallion of Courage, a prize awarded to an individual pursuing a noble
cause at personal cost.

The event will be broadcast live on Univision America radio stations,
including 1140 AM in Miami, and live-streamed at in English and Spanish.

All tickets for the Monday events have already been distributed.

Monday also could be a day peppered by protests against the 37-year-old
blogger who left Cuba for the first time in a dozen years in February
after Cuba changed its travel policy and issued her a passport. So far
her worldwide tour has taken her to Latin America, Europe, New York and

While she has attracted crowds of supporters, detractors also have tried
to disrupt some of her appearances, pelting her with fake dollar bills
and accusing her of being in the employ of the CIA.

She has taken the criticism in stride, saying she looks forward to the
day when people in Cuba are as free to protest and express their opinions.

The past few days in South Florida, which has the highest concentration
of Cubans outside Cuba, have been a time of discovery for Sánchez.

"I am really very happy,'' she said when she arrived in Miami Thursday.
"I feel in the air and in the people a lot of respect and freedom. I
feel like I'm in Cuba but free. This is like Cuba but with democracy.''

In Generaciün Y, she noted: "Our diaspora, our exile is preserving a
Cuba outside Cuba.''

Sánchez spent the weekend catching up with her sister Yunia, who lives
in Miami with her husband Jose Antonio Garcia and daughter, taking
photos and, as usual, tweeting.

But after announcing her arrival via Twitter and chronicling her reunion
with her family and a visit to La Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre, the
Coconut Grove shrine dedicated to Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady of
Charity of El Cobre, the tech-savvy Sánchez went silent Friday.

On Saturday, she resumed her Tweets from Key Largo and posted a photo of
the ocean ("It's the same sea, the same").

It is the first time Sánchez has seen her older sister since Yunia and
her family left the island in 2011 after winning a spot in the U.S. visa
lottery, which allows around 20,000 Cubans a year who don't qualify for
refugee status or family reunification to settle in the United States.

"Yunia was always very lucky in games of chance, so I knew what to
expect from the outset,'' Sánchez wrote of her sister's departure. "…
this island seemed too narrow to contain the good fortune of my older
sister. And more than twenty years ago she reached the same conclusion
as the majority of my compatriots: How can one set down roots in a
country where so few can bear fruit?"

In an interview with Radio Nederland, she said that her sister bought
her plane ticket to Miami after saving for two years.

Although many have tried to cast her as a potential political figure in
Cuba and Sánchez met with Ricardo Zúñiga , presidential advisor for the
Western Hemisphere, at the White House and had meetings with Republican
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New
Jersey, both Cuban-Americans, Sánchez has said that her future lies in
journalism and as a teacher.

She has said she wants to launch a digital newspaper with some of the
money she has won from international prizes and teach more Cubans how to
speak up via the Internet.

Despite her large international following, Sánchez's voice is relatively
unknown in Cuba.

"She's a very good writer, a very smart blogger but she doesn't
represent a political movement,'' said Jorge Dominguez, a Cuba expert at
Harvard University. "She has behaved for the most part as a journalist.
The closet thing we might have in the United States would be an op-ed

Sánchez is expected to depart Miami Thursday for her third trip to
Europe on this tour, and to return to Cuba in mid to late May.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

Yoani Sánchez: An effective voice against the Castro dictatorship

Yoani Sánchez visits Miami. It is the most difficult stop in her long
tour. Everywhere, like a bullfighter hailed after a good afternoon, she
has been carried on the shoulders of the crowd. She will also triumph in
Miami, but her task will be a bit harder.

I get the impression that a huge majority of Cubans like her and respect
her — I count myself among them — but there's no shortage of those who
oppose her for various reasons, often totally irrational.

Yoani has made dozens of appearances, granted hundreds of interviews and
has successfully confronted the mobs of supporters sent by the Cuban
dictatorship in every city where she has been invited to speak.

In more than half a century of tyranny, nobody has been more effective
in the task of dismantling the regime's myths and exposing Cubans'
miserable living conditions.

It is a paradox of life that, somehow, the rude and vociferous attitude
toward Yoani shown by these aggressive bullies — though unpleasant
during the incidents themselves— has served to feed the interest of the
communications media and foster the support of notable political and
social sectors.

These maniacs, accustomed to the Cuban environment, where no vestiges of
freedom exist, don't understand that trying to silence Yoani, insulting
and slandering an independent journalist, a fragile young woman shielded
only by her words and her valor, is counterproductive.

Yoani's weapons have been sincerity, a crushing logic, an innate ability
to communicate, and her own attractive personality. That is, the same
features that gradually attracted, first, the curiosity of the major
media and institutions — Time, El País, The Miami Herald, Foreign
Policy, Columbia University — and later the admiration of millions of
readers throughout the world who found in her chronicles a balanced
description of the impoverished madhouse called Cuba.

The regime of the Castro brothers, convinced (or at least intent on
convincing others) that behind every criticism lurks the hand of the
United States, capitalism or dark economic interests, tried
unsuccessfully to demonstrate that Yoani was a puppet of the CIA., the
Prisa Group or some artificial manufacturer of prestige.

None of that. As usually happens, Yoani's talent, unpredictable luck and
the attacks from the dictatorship made her the focus of the major
information distribution centers. One result was that, by the time the
journalist was extremely famous, President Obama himself answered a list
of questions for him that appeared on her blog.

That could have happened to other notable bloggers inside Cuba — Claudia
Cadelo, Iván García, Luis Cine, among other good writers — but it was
Yoani on whom international public opinion concentrated, aware of the
harassment and mistreatment by the regime.

Throughout that never-ending tyranny, Huber Matos, Armando Valladares,
Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, Gustavo Arcos, Ricardo Bofill, María Elena Cruz
Varela, Reinaldo Arenas, Marta Beatriz Roque, Laura Pollán, Raúl Rivero,
Oswaldo Payá, now his daughter Rosa María, and other brave Cubans have
found a platform and sounding board for their denunciations as a result
of the abuse to which they were subjected.

If the first time that Yoani Sánchez received an invitation and a visa
to travel abroad, the dictatorship had allowed her to exercise her right
to leave and reenter the country freely, she would not have gained the
huge celebrity and weight she now enjoys.

Why didn't the government do it? Because of a mixture of arrogance and
stupidity. Because it believed that it could crush people without any

Fortunately, that's not true. The people's voice is the strong voice of
the weak. "A just principle from the bottom of a cave is more powerful
than an army," José Martí wrote.

Welcome to freedom, Yoani!

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Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

Yoani Sánchez visit invites debate on U.S.-Cuba policy
By Ricardo Herrero

Shortly after Cuban blogger and pro-democracy advocate Yoani Sánchez
visited the White House last week, she was asked by a TV Martí reporter
whether she supported an unconditional lifting of the Cuban embargo. She
responded, "I am not in favor of that. I think it is clear that there
should be conditions, and moreover I believe a long process of debate
must exist beforehand. We are already taking the first steps, but I
believe we must keep expanding that."

The second part of her response is the most refreshing. It echoes
statements she has made in both New York and Washington D.C., where she
has called for negotiations on the Cuban embargo with representatives
from the U.S. government, the Cuban government, Cuban civil society, and
the exile community sitting at the table. However, hardliners would have
you believe that the key line of her response is that there should be no
unconditional lifting of U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

Talking about the Cuban embargo has always been a tricky enterprise. It
is all too easy to fall into three treacherous traps that always steer
the debate into stasis.

The first is calling for an unconditional, unilateral lifting of the

The second is using the blanket term "embargo" when referring to
specific sanctions or legislation. Finally, there's the catch-all phrase
that saves its speaker from having to engage in thoughtful discourse:
"It's Cuba that needs to change, not the United States".

Defenders of the status-quo are all too aware of these traps in logic,
and employ them repeatedly to discredit critics of U.S.-Cuba policy and
torpedo any meaningful debate on how to take a more proactive approach
toward Cuba. They prefer to frame the conversation as a false choice —
"Should the embargo be unconditionally and unilaterally kept or lifted
while the Cuban communist party remains in power?" — because they know
that as long as these are the only two options, business will remain as

Not surprisingly, it is how both the Cuban government and hardliners in
the United States insist on framing the debate.

It's unfortunate, because as Cuba's next door neighbor with its largest
exile population, the debate we should be having is, "What can we do
today to help empower the Cuban people and advance the interests of the
United States?"

Arguing whether the United States should unconditionally and
unilaterally lift the embargo is false choice because it ignores the
possibility of replacing the failed "all or nothing" approach of
Helms-Burton with one that specifically targets the abusers and empowers
the victims, as opposed to blanket sanctioning both.

The term "embargo" is one that is often tossed around but few
understand. Many argue that there is no embargo, since, subject to many
restrictions, Americans can fly to Cuba, send money to friends and
family in the island, and even sell foodstuffs and medical supplies to
Cuban import services. In a purist sense, these people are right. What
we have is not a true embargo, so much as a 50-year old morass of
executive orders, sanctions, restrictions and legislation, many of which
are redundant in purpose and have far outlived their shelf-life.

This framework has provoked more political entrenchment than change
inside the island, and has resulted in multiple market anomalies that
make all dealings with Cuba highly inefficient: exorbitant fees charged
by a monopolistic charter flight industry; abuse of "people-to-people"
programs by certain nonprofits enamored with the Revolution; and
federally-funded civil society development programs that operate under
the stated purpose of "regime change," thereby branding its Cuban
beneficiaries as mercenaries of the U.S. government.

Those who argue for conditionality often say "the embargo is the last
negotiating chip we have to demand political and economic reforms in
Cuba." The problem is that Cuba sanctions cannot be used as bargaining
chips under Helms-Burton, since it conditions the suspension of any and
all sanctions on congressional recognition of a democracy in Cuba and
the absence of the Castro brothers from power.

This "all or nothing" approach effectively places U.S. policy in the
hands of the Cuban government, making it easier for Cuban officials to
resist political reform and dictate the degree of American influence on
the island. The worst part is that this policy isn't even necessary to
maintain sanctions on Cuba, since such sanctions could be managed on an
individual basis by the Executive Branch, as it does with other
adversary nations.

All Helms-Burton does is tie the hands of the U.S. government, denying
it the flexibility to to respond intelligently to developments in the
island. The clumsiness of this law cannot be overstated, yet it remains
the bedrock of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

It is almost impossible to influence events in Cuba without having a
presence in Cuba. While we waste time debating whether or not to
"unilaterally lift the embargo", countries such as Iran, Russia, and
China are strengthening their economic footholds in the Island. Now more
than ever, the inflexibility of U.S. policy has the ironic effect of
hurting and delaying the very democratic changes it seeks to produce by
continuing to strengthen the hand of reactionaries and opportunists,
rather than reformers, within the Cuban government.

Yoani Sánchez's visit to Miami next week presents an opportunity to
embrace a sober debate on the current and future relationship between
the United States and Cuba, and question the value of a policy that has
failed to facilitate change for 55 years. A comprehensive review of
existing legislation, particularly the counterproductive Helms-Burton
Act, and calling for greater dialogue among the U.S. and Cuban
governments, Cuban civil society, and the exile community, would be a
good place to start.

Ricardo Herrero is deputy executive director of the Cuba Study Group
( He lives in Miami.

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Posted on Sunday, 03.31.13

Caribbean nations search for oil amid spill fears
Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- The turquoise waters that have long brought
treasure seekers to the Caribbean now are drawing a new kind of explorer
as countries across the region increasingly open their seas to oil

From the Bahamas and Cuba down to Aruba and Suriname, international oil
companies are lining up to locate potentially rich offshore deposits in
the Caribbean. The countries hope drilling could lead to a black-gold
bonanza, easing demand for imported oil and diversifying their economies.

It's a longstanding dream for many. As the Dominican songwriter Juan
Luis Guerra once sang, "If petroleum sprang from here, oh but there
would be light and hope."

So far, the twin-island nation of Trinidad & Tobago is the only major
hydrocarbons producer in the Caribbean, and its waters are crowded with
offshore platforms. The country sits just about seven miles (11
kilometers) off the coast of Venezuela, which has the world's largest
proven oil reserves. It's pushing hard into deep-water drilling and has
signed production-sharing contracts with British oil company BP for new
exploration blocks.

A growing number of other Caribbean nations are also authorizing or at
least aggressively pursuing offshore exploration.

The Bahamas recently announced it would try offshore exploratory
drilling and said it should have enough information by late 2014 to
decide whether it can move forward with production. A voter referendum
would first have to decide the matter. Bahamas Petroleum Company CEO
Simon Potter said a rig will drill to subsea depths of roughly 22,000
feet (6,705 meters) in some 1,600 feet (488 meters) of water adjacent to
Cuba's offshore territory.

Barbados and Jamaica have also been seeking well exploration in their
seas, while the Anglo-Dutch group Shell announced in December it was
preparing to sink its third offshore well in nearby French Guiana, an
overseas French department, with other companies also exploring in deep
waters there.

"What once was a trickle is fast becoming a stream in the Caribbean,
with new announcements of expanding deep-water exploration lease
offerings and drilling permits being issued," said Lee Hunt, a
Houston-based consultant who retired last year as the longtime president
of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

The push for exploration has been fed partly by worries that Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez's nearly two-year-long cancer fight and March 5
death would affect a Venezuelan aid program called PetroCaribe that
sells petroleum to 17 Caribbean countries on preferential terms.

PetroCaribe provided $14 billion worth of Venezuelan oil to the region
last year, with Cuba being the principal beneficiary. Chavez's successor
Nicolas Maduro hasn't said he would stop the aid, but his challenger in
April 14 elections, Gov. Henrique Capriles, has pledged to cut off
subsidized oil to Cuba and reevaluate the PetroCaribe program if elected.

Keeping the oil flowing is crucial. Caribbean countries generate nearly
all their power from imported oil although the region is blessed with
solar, wind and other alternative energy opportunities.

Nonetheless, many people across the region fear their famed clear water,
fringing reefs and white-sand beaches could end up a casualty to any
future oil boom, threatening the tourism bonanza that many countries
already depend on. Even with the possibility of a windfall still
distant, regional officials have begun to discuss how they would
cooperate in the event of a major accident, such as the 2010 Deepwater
Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"First, we have to prevent any kind of spill. And second, if something
happens, we have to make sure everyone is working together," said
Ernesto Soberon Guzman, the Cuban ambassador to the Bahamas, during
regional talks about oil spill preparedness in the Bahamaian capital of
Nassau this month.

Ocean currents practically assure that a big spill in one Caribbean
nation would significantly affect neighbors, possibly even the U.S. East
Coast. Many Gulf communities are still recovering from the Deepwater
Horizon accident, the country's largest offshore oil spill.

"If oil rises to the surface and gets to the surface currents, it would
start flowing towards our waters and our shores," said Capt. John
Slaughter, chief of planning, readiness, and response for the U.S. Coast
Guard's Miami-based 7th District. "We're going to take every action we
can to prevent that from happening."

Adding to complications, the overall Caribbean region, with the
exception of Trinidad & Tobago, is still an uncertain frontier for
offshore oil and gas, said Jorge R. Pinon, a Latin America and Caribbean
energy expert at the University of Texas in Austin.

Cuba, for example, authorized exploratory drilling for ultra-deep
deposits estimated to hold 5 billion to 9 billion barrels of oil, but
its dreams were put on hold last year when three initial exploratory
wells were unsuccessful and the massive platform that drilled them
sailed away, with no scheduled return date.

"Lots of work remains to be done in seismic studies to really understand
the complexity of the region's geology and to see if the possibility of
commercial hydrocarbon reservoirs exists," Pinon said.

Such doubts, however, have mostly been cast aside in the face of oil
prices topping $100 a barrel. And Caribbean governments are trying hard
to lure more oil companies to take the expensive gamble of dispatching
offshore drilling rigs, which can cost up to $500,000 per day to operate.

In Guyana and Suriname, officials are busy licensing deals and offering
concessions in a long-ignored basin the U.S. Geological Survey last year
estimated to have "significant undiscovered conventional oil potential."

Exploratory drilling in deep waters has already begun off Guyana, where
last year an international consortium moved to cap a high-pressure well
at a subsea depth of 16,000 feet (4,876) meters over safety concerns.
Several oil companies still believe the area is promising, and Spanish
energy company Repsol and the U.K.'s Tullow Oil PLC are negotiating new
licenses, according to Guyana Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud.
Exploratory wells also were sunk last year in waters off the Caribbean
coast of Colombia.

"I can tell you now that the basin is getting very, very crowded. But we
have some unused blocks to give," Persaud said.

With so many countries hoping to strike it rich, Hunt forecasts interest
by major oil companies only will be growing.

"The Caribbean is no longer kind of the forgotten basin," he said. "I
think it is going to become a prominent player in deep-water drilling."


Jeff Todd in Nassau, Bahamas, and Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to
this report.

David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter/com/dmcfadd

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