Human Rights in Cuba

Time To Change

Waiting for help
Waiting for help

Daily Archives: April 8, 2013

Jay-Z and Beyonce Blasted for 'Ignorant and Insulting' Cuban Vacation

Jay-Z and Beyonce are clueless about the tortures happening in Cuba, and
it's insulting they chose to visit the communist country for a
celebration ... so says a Cuban rights lobbyist.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the D.C. director for the US-Cuba Democracy PAC
-- a group committed to fighting for democracy in Cuba -- tells TMZ the
A-listers should've educated themselves about what's really going on
there before taking photo ops.

Jay and Bey were photographed Thursday in Havana -- reportedly to
celebrate their 5th wedding anniversary -- but have since come under
fire from some Cuban-American groups.

US citizens are still technically banned from traveling to the island
purely for tourism ... and are supposed to obtain a travel license from
the US government.

Mauricio says he's disappointed the superstars chose to vacay in Cuba
because, "There are women getting beaten on a daily basis, women who are
being jailed for no reason ... people are fighting for their freedom.
It's extremely insensitive."

We reached out to Beyonce and Jay-Z for comment. So far ... nada back. Continue reading
Is Eliecer Avila Frustrated?
April 8, 2013
Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — A while ago, someone I think highly of said to me: "Yeah,
that student (Eliecer Avila) had the courage to ask those questions to
(National Assembly President) Ricardo Alarcon, making the official look
ridiculous, and the student himself even became a popular figure. But
what did he achieve with all that? Today he can't work in his field and
all the doors are closed to him in this country."

Although I disagreed with that incisive conclusion, it was hard for me
to explain — instantly and concisely — everything I thought. Firstly,
because I don't believe doors open with the wrong keys. I think the keys
are what that each of us forges.

A few days after that conversation, I learned that Eliecer Avila had
traveled to Europe. This was despite him having ridiculed Alarcon
(involuntarily) by merely showing the absurdity of the official's theory
of aerial gridlock; despite him having been "discreetly" relegated from
the active sector of the Young Communist League (UJC).

This was also despite him having been sent to work in a government
computer club, out in the middle of no where, where he was expected to
relent in the pit of anonymity and (probably) of repentance.

Far from this, the young man just initiated an alternative press project
"1 Cubano +," freely expressing on camera his ideas about issues such as
the role of journalism. His comments were passed from USB to USB, as
were the red-hot "Razones ciudadanas" and many other opposition
materials that we'll never see in the official media.

Worse for them, right? Reality always manages to prevail. It's
inevitable. But what bothered me about my friend's reflection was its
cult of fatalism, his buying into the fraudulent infeasibility of truth,
which many young people in Cuba preach…and practice.

Convinced of the inescapable weight of the farce that we've helped
build, they're confined to the role of beggar, even when knowing they're
potentially capable of being independent. They resign themselves to the
coercion, to crumbs, to intermittent hope.

Antoine de Saint Exupery once said: "No destiny attacks us from outside.
But, within him, man bears his fate and there comes a moment when he
knows himself vulnerable; and then, as in a vertigo, blunder upon
blunder lures him."

The "blunder" can tempt us in the form of a more lucrative job (where
the greatest profit doesn't come directly from one's salary), or the
possibility of attaining another status (no matter how much we have to
sacrifice what we think or feel), in the form of a car or a little trip
that makes it unwise "to stand out", even though we're already marked
with the stigma of the lie and the rot inherent in immobility, or rather

We suffer the asphyxia of a lack of freedom…the underutilization of our
physical, moral, intellectual capacities.

But if in their youth (the age of questioning, of not unreserved
acceptance, of rebellion) a young person decides to accept this
inevitable fate, concluding that having the courage to tell the truth is
a mistake, that seems even sadder to me.

Is Eliecer Avila frustrated for having posed a few questions of crushing
logic to a high-level Cuban official, someone who failed to respond with
reasonable arguments simply because he didn't have a believable answer?

I don't think so. But if something can be derived from Eliecer's
example, it's not exactly that the truth gets us in trouble, but that
the truth opens up real doors, not the phony ones that let us pass
through coercion, without them ever giving us the key and always keeping
us under degrading scrutiny. Continue reading
When Fidel Castro Wanted to Break Up the Dissident Movement / Ivan Garcia
Posted on April 8, 2013

2003 was an incredible year. Harassment, arbitrary detentions, acts of
repudiation and verbal assaults against the opposition by the government
were rising.

There was an escalation by the government against peaceful dissidents
and independent journalists. Castro called a referendum to shore up his
olive-green socialism. It was a response to the Varela Project petition,
which had been submitted to the National Assembly by the opposition
figure Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas. The petition was backed up by more than
ten thousand signatures and, following procedures enshrined in the
constitution, called on the legislature to undertake constitutional reforms.

In 1999 Castro had promulgated Article 88, a legal hodgepodge that
mandated sentences of more than twenty years for dissidents and
independent journalists under the pretext they were undermining the
status quo.

Fidel Castro himself appeared on television and read a list with names
of opposition figures who allegedly had contact with diplomats from the
United States and the Czech Republic.

One could see that something was brewing in the sewers of power. The
regime's attacks in the media were missiles specifically directed at
opposition leaders Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Martha Beatriz Roque, Oscar
Elías Biscet, and the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.

Months before the raid on dissidents, a furious Fidel Castro threatened
the opposition in a speech at the Karl Marx Theater. "Don't say later
that you were not warned," he told them. "We will not allow mercenaries
to carry out their work with impunity, though we won't kill butterflies
with cannon fire."

On March 18, 19 and 20, 2003 violent lightning raids were launched on
the homes of more than eighty dissidents across the island, marking the
beginning of surgical detentions intended to destroy the opposition.

It was a well-designed move. The international press corps was lining up
to go to Iraq, where all signs indicated that war was imminent.
According to Castro's calculations, the administration of George W. Bush
would soon be bogged down in a costly and exhausting war with the
dictator Saddam Hussein.

It did not happen that way. In a devastating offensive lasting little
more than a month, troops from the United States and its allies pulled
down a statue of the tyrant in Baghdad. In spite of the clamor of war,
the imprisonment of dozens of the island's opposition figures did not go
unnoticed by the world's press.

International criticism was considerable. The government in Havana had
not anticipated such a reaction. Some of Castro's friends such as
Portuguese writer José Saramago and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano
criticized the detentions. Saramago's reaction was extreme. "This is as
far as I go," he said, abandoning ship and the fellow travellers who
supported the bearded Cuban.

Initially up to a hundred dissidents were detained. Later the number was
reduced to seventy-five. Settling accounts like an old wine merchant,
Castro's calculations were based on the assumption that the Bush
administration would negotiate the release of 'his mercenaries' by
exchanging them for the five Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States.

To Castro this seemed like a reasonable exchange — fifteen "wretched
worms" for each spy. Perhaps he was thinking back to 1961 when Kennedy
exchanged baby food and cereal for more than two-thousand anti-Castro
fighters imprisoned on the island after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

The move came back to bite him. It was a crude political error. World
leaders demanded the dissidents' freedom, and the United States and the
European Union further tightened the screws on the economic sanctions
against Cuba.

Castro upped the ante. Taking advantage of the case of three Cubans who
had commandeered a transport vessel, he decided to send a message to
frighten the population. At the time, in their eagerness to reach the
Florida coast, people were escaping any way they could. At a summary
trial three black youths, who were living in poor neighborhoods of
Havana, were sentenced to death.

It was bad. Dissidents and ordinary Cubans alike thought Castro had lost
his mind. Meanwhile, dissidents and independent journalists like us
lived in a constant state of anxiety. I walked around with a spoon and
toothbrush in my back pocket.

I felt that at any moment I could be arrested. Luckily, this did not
happen, though the phone was cut off for several days. We were all
afraid. I still remember a distressed Blanca Reyes, wife of Raúl Rivero,
describing his arrest and subsequent detention.

The evidence against him consisted of his articles and poems, an
Olivetti typewriter, books by universally acclaimed authors and photos
of his children, friends and family members. He was arrested in his
apartment in La Victoria, where he had lived since his wedding. It is a
rough neighborhood, a breeding ground for hookers, pimps and hustlers.
People with no future who do not enthusiastically applaud Castro's
rants. It was in one of these poor central Havana neighborhoods where
the disturbances of August 1994, known as the Maleconazo, the Malecon
uprising, broke out.

On the afternoon of March 20, when Raúl Rivero was arrested, the street
was filled with neighbors and onlookers. When he was put into a Russian
car, his hands shackled as though he were a terrorist, some outraged
neighbors began to shot "abusadores" and "libertad."

Ten years after the Black Spring, efforts to destroy opposition groups,
independent journalists and alternative bloggers have increased. Those
of us who have worked for democracy and freedom of expression press on.
Here we are.

Iván García

Photo: Neighbors from the block where Raúl Rivero lived — on Peñalver
between Franco and Oquendo streets in Central Havana — witnessing the
arrest of the director of Cuba Press, an agency for independent
journalism established on September 23, 1995. Among its founders are
Iván García and Tania Quintero.

6 April 2013 Continue reading
Quarter of Cubans suffer from hypertension 2013-04-08 10:38:08

HAVANA, April 7 (Xinhua) -- Over 25 percent of Cubans suffer from high
blood pressure and the number is increasing, especially among the young,
the Health Ministry said Sunday.

The data released by the ministry showed that more than 2.8 million
Cubans, out of a total population of 11.2 million, are afflicted with
the condition, which coincided with this year's World Health Day on
April 7 dedicated to hypertension.

A recent research among children and teenagers shows a growing incidence
of high blood pressure among these groups, basically among children who
are obese or whose parents have the disease.

Hypertension is considered the leading cause of emergency room care in
the island country, and an important risk factor for cardiovascular and
cerebrovascular diseases, heart strokes, renal inadequacy and retinal

At the same time, hypertension is the main cause of disabilities in
Cuba, and the health problem that puts the most financial burden on the
national healthcare system.

Hypertension is considered the leading cause of death worldwide,
affecting about 1 billion people globally. Continue reading
The Doctors' Lament
Posted on April 7, 2013
By Julio Cesar Alvarez | Havana | From Diario de Cuba.

Demands by doctors to receive remuneration for hospital shifts were not
accepted by the Government when it was developing the draft Guidelines
for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party.

The response the doctors received from the authorities was in the nature
of an order and command that the healthcare union has not dared to
question: "Assessing these criteria, it is determined that hospital
shifts are an activity inseparable from the exercise of medical practice
and an essential principle in the training of all health professionals,
for which there should not be an additional payment. "

According to the Government leadership, "The conditions for applying a
general increase in wages still do not exist."

However, after the refusal, the Government decided to authorize a
controversial payment for night work for doctors and dentists, and to
extend it to nurses and other workers in the system.

Let them eat cake. Thus, the government has applied to some doctors a
new provision authorizing the payment of two Cuban pesos (8 cents U.S.)
per hour for night shifts.

In many cases the response is resignation before the fear of reprisals
for publicly questioning a government decision, or the impossibility of
Cuban workers going on strike to force the government to give way before
their just demands.

In others, and although no one is willing to come out publicly, the
decision is considered a mockery and a hypocrisy on the part of the
government, especially considering the high salaries and pensions paid
to military personnel. Many of those wages far exceed what any
healthcare professional receives, even without considering the
"gratuities" — the other tangible benefits — given to everyone in
uniform, and especially to those of higher rank.

"'There's no money to augment the salaries,' is a hypocritical
statement. How can there not be the conditions to increase the salaries
of doctors for hospital shift duty, if every member of the armed forces
(FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) earns more than we do?"
complained one of the doctors who was asked for an opinion and who
requested anonymity.

"You can see any of those nobodies of the Armed Forces riding around all
day in the new Chinese cars they give them. It seems that the air
conditioning and the tinted windows make them forget that what Cuban has
is an excess of heat and a lack of public transport. I know colleagues
of mine — surgeons — who don't even have their own apartment. They have
to live with their in-laws. To get to work, they use the old tactic of
putting their white coats over their arms and standing at the stoplights
so someone will give them a ride to the hospital. Nevertheless, any
child of the Government leaders, without earning it in any way or having
any kind of training, travels in a modern car paid for with the people's

Two kinds of doctors

"In Cuba doctors are highly appreciated by the people. It's paradoxical,
but it is precisely the people, the great majority of whom have nothing,
who sometimes take the little they have to give it to the doctors at the
hospitals or the clinics where family doctors practice. One patient
brings a banana, another some sweet, or a soft drink or a packet of
coffee. My clinic sometimes looks like a farmers market," says Carlos, a
doctor who claims to be a revolutionary but is one hundred percent in
agreement with his colleagues' complaints about the amount of money paid
for hospital shifts, which is barely a pittance.

On the other hand, Paulino, an ophthalmologist who served on a foreign
mission with his wife, in a country where they doctors are allowed to
receive donations for patients, isn't very interested in the issue of
payment for hospital shifts, at least for now.

After serving more than five years on the foreign mission, his wife was
given the opportunity to buy an apartment, and the government gave him
permission to buy a car. He bought a Hyundai. That mission opened two
doors that remain closed even for many doctors: a roof and
transportation. In that sense healthcare personnel believe there are two
castes of doctors in Cuba: those serving on foreign missions (that is,
traveling to get money), and those who do not travel.

And following simple logic, many wonder how it is possible that you can
not compensate physicians for working the hospital shifts, when it is
precisely the services of Cuban doctors to other countries, along with
other exports of human capital trained on the island, that bring into
the country the Government's primary source of foreign exchange*.

*Translator's note: Cuban doctors and other personnel working on
"missions" earn considerably more than doctors working in the country,
but are only paid a tiny portion of what foreign governments, such as
that of Venezuela, pay the Cuban government for their services; the
national treasury pockets the remainder.

Translated from

5 April 2013" Continue reading
Fundamentalism and Oppression
Posted on April 7, 2013

Fundamentalism and oppression. Both are ingredients essential to
dictatorships and cause fear and immobility and societies.
Fundamentalism, whether religious or ideological, is the banner of
totalitarian regimes and the quintessential seasoning of the armies and
police of oppressive governments. They are the two drugs that produce
the group's eternal dream of remaining in power, to the detriment of the
sociopolitical, cultural and economic development of the whole country.

Worth comparing, for example, to what Japan was before and after 1945
and how it exchanged futons for beds, har-kari for mea culpas, and how
it evolved from feudalism to be one of the major economic powers of the
world. The Korean case is even more illustrative. A people divided by
two different government systems: the north, abusive and a violator of
people's fundamental rights, evidence of a manipulated egalitarianism
and fictionalized uniformity, while in the south, citizens go on strike,
demand their rights, elect governments, produce …

I think of Cuba and what we have and what we will become — if God lets
me live — and I feel more optimistic. And so, some time ago I started
moving and exercising my right to think, speak and act with freedom of
conscience, despite the fifty-year dictatorship that oppresses us, nor
do I rest in planting the seeds. Now we are beginning to see the positions…

4 April 2013 Continue reading
How Did Oswald Payá Really Die?
New evidence about the car crash that killed a noted Cuban dissident
points to a coverup.

When someone is killed in a civilized country and police slap around a
witness and suppress evidence it is known as a cover-up. In Cuba it's
called "reform." Viva Orwell.

Cuba's "ministry of truth" wants the world to believe that the Castro
brothers are abandoning the use of state repression to maintain power.
The Jay-Z-Beyoncé glam-tour of Old Havana last week was designed to help
with the effort. But new details of the events surrounding theJuly 2012
deaths of prominent pacifist Oswaldo Payá—the winner of the European
Parliament's 2002 Sakarov prize—and another dissident, Harold Cepero,
suggest the opposite.

The U.S. press has reported on the March testimony of Ángel Carromero,
the Spaniard who was driving the car that the two dissidents were riding
in just before they died. Mr. Carromero was released from a Cuban prison
in December and returned to Spain. He says that a red Lada had been
tailing him and that the crash occurred because their car was rammed by
another vehicle. He also claims that when he told this to Cuban
authorities, they struck him, more than once.

But that's not the half of it. In an interview on Thursday at the
Journal's offices, Payá's daughter, Rosa Maria, told me: "I must say
that when I talked to Ángel, I didn't learn anything new. He confirmed
things we already knew. We had the text message. We already knew that a
car hit them from behind intentionally."

What she knew came straight from the mouth of Cuban police Capt.
Fulgencio Medina, who took testimony from witnesses and read it aloud at
the hospital in the eastern city of Bayamo where the victims were
brought from the crash. Payá family friends were there, identified
themselves as the family's representatives and reported by telephone
back to Havana.

But the family was then denied access to that police report. The family
was also denied the right to an independent autopsy, and they were told
that all refrigeration chambers at all the hospitals in the area had
broken down, so an autopsy had to be done immediately.

Doctors who were friends of the family were not allowed into the Bayamo
hospital to inspect the body. The Payá family was denied a request for
seats on a flight from Havana to Bayamo. The family has also been denied
a copy of the autopsy report.

Putting Mr. Carromero on trial and hushing up the rest seemed like a
tidy resolution. But the problem for the regime, says 24-year-old Ms.
Payá, is "that in Cuba everyone talks."

The family has many friends in the Bayamo area and a few of those
friends managed to get inside the hospital before the military locked it
down; other sources who told them things seem to work there. "Our
friends in the hospital talked a lot with the police in those first

Ms. Payá says that the government never officially notified her family
of the death of her father. But at the hospital Capt. Medina read the
witness statements "in front of my friends and other cops and nurses,

The witnesses told of a red Lada, the same make and color of a
suspicious car that Mr. Carromero described. They described seeing the
occupants of the red Lada taking the foreigners [Mr. Carromero and
Swedish politician Aaron Modig] out of their car almost immediately. The
Spaniard was saying "Who are you? Why are you doing this to us?"

The statements did not say if Ms. Payá's father was "dead or alive," Ms.
Payá told me. "But the witnesses said Harold [Cepero] was asking for
help. I don't know if out loud or with his hands but they said he was
touching his chest. So we know he was alive and conscious." Why then,
Ms. Payá wants to know, did hospital personnel tell her family's friends
that he was "brain dead," when they saw him lying on a gurney in a
general area not receiving any form of intensive trauma care?

There is something else interesting about Capt. Medina's report of
witness testimony, according to those who heard him read it: There was
no mention of the car being smashed against a tree. This jibes with the
testimony of the foreigners, who both have said that there was no crash
with a tree.

Ms. Payá says that a journalist permitted to observe the trial on
closed-circuit television told her that Capt. Medina testified against
Mr. Carromero and never mentioned the red Lada or the questions
witnesses had heard him ask as he was taken from the car.

This was supposed to be an open and shut case, with the emphasis on the
shut. But now that the contradictions have become public knowledge, the
regime's story is taking on a distinct odor. This is bad for the
ministry of truth. Eight U.S. senators led by Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and
Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) have called for an investigation. Ms. Payá,
who will return to Cuba next week, is worried about the safety of her
family, and probably for good reason.

Write to O'

A version of this article appeared April 8, 2013, on page A17 in the
U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: How Did
Oswald Payá Really Die?." Continue reading
Cuba: Economy In Motion
By Latinamerica Press -- (April 7, 2013)
By Lídice Valenzuela

Two years after the reforms to the Cuban socioeconomic model began, one
must ask: have substantial changes to the life of this Caribbean nation
of 11 million people been observed? What is missing for the economy to
be able to advance in the accelerated manner that is demanded by a
population mostly worn down by the U.S. economic, financial, and
commercial embargo, internal errors, and the dependency on other nations?

To avoid creating false expectations, President Raúl Castro warned at
the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, or PCC, in April
2011: "We will act with no hurry, but without pausing," which means that
the period of improvising and economic chaos has ended — at least

In that context, opening up to private initiative is directing national

It is still recent history that during the so-called Special Period of
the economy — established to face the crisis triggered after the fall of
the socialism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s — the return to
private enterprise was sought, albeit having been limited to two
sectors: home rentals and the opening of mini-restaurants called
Paladares, most of which ended up closing because of state obstacles
that indicated more of a political contradiction than an economic one.
Now they once again proliferate in all cities.

In 2011, following the Sixth Congress' guidelines, private work
reappeared to drive the semi-paralyzed economy, although there are still
inherent obstacles because of an internal resistance to change by some
state officials.

A year before, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security put into effect
Resolution No. 35 that liberalized 181 activities, including careers and
professions of different ranks that range from professors of different
educational levels to barbers and domestic workers. Some 400,000 people
take part in this strategy.

Even with a small contribution to the gross domestic product — around 10
percent — the private sector frees the state from providing small
services and tries to reverse the tense agricultural situation, which
offers no solution to the feeding of the people, an issue Castro
considers "of national security."

Currently, there are many forms of private businesses that stand out:
home rentals, cargo and passenger transportation, food manufacturing,
and mobile vendors of agricultural products. Land leasing with usufruct
rights to some 176,000 farmers also has a vital role. These farmers
still do not achieve high production levels for reasons attributed in
large part to official deficiencies, such as the guarantee of work
tools, transportation for the harvests, and low prices for the products.
Tax obligations

The national economy was the sole main issue discussed by the delegates
to the Sixth Congress of the PCC. The debate resulted in the approval of
the "Economic and social guidelines of the Party and the Revolution" –
the guiding document for all of the changes, consisting of more than 300
reforms and previously discussed and enriched by the people.

However, Marino Murillo, vice president of the Council of Ministers,
told the press in March 2012, "[We] must continue to perfect the
implementation of the guidelines," given the previously identified

Although the people understand the official needs, they are dissatisfied
with the high prices imposed by the so-called "self-employers." There
are very costly alternatives for the average state employees, who earn a
daily average of 10 pesos (one of the two official currencies, along
with the CUC, the Cuban convertible peso). Among them are the taxi
services, the Paladares, the clothing industry, and home products.

Another delicate situation occurs when wholesale providers cannot
steadily deliver products to private businesses. The latter are forced
to buy from the retail market which supplies to the population, thus
hoarding products which are for family consumption. For almost three
years now, basic food products are sold outside of the so-called ration
card, such as eggs, pork meat, bread, cheese, or tomato puree.

In the middle of this diverse landscape, some experts link the process
of labor reorganization in the state sector, started in October 2011 and
which left 340,000 workers as available labor force, with the emergence
of private business.

"The reappearance of private [enterprise] lacks a link to the labor
reorganization, a process on its way to greater efficiency in the labor
force, which considers the employment peculiarities, conditions, and
alternatives of the different territories. The relocation of the
available labor force happens in the state sector itself, and at a lower
rate in the private sector," said Ariel Terrero, specialist in economic
issues, to the Cuban television.
Experiences in the private sector

Karelia Sopena leases a room in her house in the Nuevo Vedado
neighborhood since 1997, when the tax system took its first steps in Cuba.

"Taxes were exceedingly high," she tells Latinamerica Press. "Then, they
charged me more than 200 per month although I did not have clients. With
the Tax System Law of this year," she comments; "now I pay 35 CUC each
month, while I charge 35 CUC a day for my room."

In the flower shop "Angélica," an establishment leased from the state in
the municipality of Playa, six contracted individuals work 12 hours in
alternating days. They pay two monthly taxes: a work license to be part
of the private sector and social security for retirement. For vendor
Indira García, this kind of job "is harsh but positive," for her salary
is higher than that of a state employee's. Although she is not the owner
of the shop, she understands the internal management and says that
obstacles to their business come from lacking a state supplier.

In the municipality of Central Havana, Manuel Pedroso owns a formal food
and light food cafeteria. He pays some 1,000 pesos per month in taxes,
but his daily income is about 2,000 pesos. His employers make 100 pesos
a day in 10-hour alternating shifts. "Obtaining the supplies is
difficult, but it's worth the sacrifice," he points out.

In an informal analysis, it is observed that more adjustments to the
state-private management relationship are still necessary, but the
balance is positive if the essential economic movement is considered.

2013 promises socioeconomic novelties. The Cuban first vice-president,
Miguel Díaz Canel, informed last March that "the actualization process
is starting its most important and complex stage because of the
decisions to be taken and their importance in the future development of
the country, seeking greater economic and productive efficiency within
the socialist system with the ongoing transformations." Continue reading
Posted on Friday, 04.05.13

Glimmer of Cuban reconciliation in activist's trip
Associated Press

MIAMI -- For 50 years, Felice Gorordo's grandmother and great uncle did
not speak. She fled Cuba after the 1959 communist revolution and never
looked back. Her brother fought with the revolutionaries and remained on
the island.

Today, they not only communicate but have reunited during trips to Miami.

"It's as if, I don't want to say the last 50 years never happened,
because obviously there's still pain there," said Gorordo, co-founder of
Roots of Hope, a group that connects young Cubans in the U.S. and on the
island. "But we've been able to move past that pain and find what still
brings us together."

There have been no truth and justice commissions. No transition to
democracy after more than five decades of communist rule. And the U.S.
economic embargo against Cuba remains firmly in place. Yet in small but
important ways, a reconciliation has already started to occur among
Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.

That was firmly on display when Cuba's most well-known dissident,
blogger Yoani Sanchez, visited Miami this week. She called on Cubans on
the island and in the diaspora to be one community again.

"I like the metaphor of the mirror," she said at an event Wednesday.
"It's as if the Cuba inside the island and outside were approaching and
watching one another. We look at each other and think it is someone
else, but when we get close we see it is our own reflection on the other
side. We are the same."

Cuban-Americans from generations new and old responded with an
enthusiastic applause.

In the not too distant past, talk about reconciliation and dialogue were
taboo subjects in the Cuban-American community. If anyone traveled to
Cuba to visit family on the island, they did so quietly, and against the
wishes of many friends and family. Those feelings have not entirely
disappeared, but they have been tempered.

Ten years ago, the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in a car
accident last year, visited Miami and received a very different response.

Paya was the lead organizer of the Varela Project, a signature-gathering
drive asking authorities for a referendum on guaranteeing rights such as
freedom of speech and assembly in Cuba. The initiative was seen as the
biggest nonviolent campaign to change the system Fidel Castro had

Instead of welcome and applause, Paya was largely criticized and
attacked by the Cuban-American media in Miami. Critics chastised his
ideas because they created a path for change within the existing
political structure. His call for reconciliation and unity among Cubans
was denounced as well.

Some exiles in Miami criticized Sanchez when, during her trip to Brazil,
she ironically suggested that the U.S. should let five Cuban men
convicted in 2001 of attempting to infiltrate military installations in
South Florida free because of all the money Cuba could save and spend on
more important matters than campaigning for their release. She's also
been criticized for her stance against the U.S. embargo, which many
Cuban-Americans still support.

Yet when she visited Washington, Sanchez received a warm welcome from
Cuban-American politicians like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who strongly
supports the embargo. There were less than a dozen demonstrators outside
her event at Miami's Freedom Tower on Monday, and even they hesitated to
call themselves protesters.

"She has accomplished what very few other Cubans have been able to
accomplish," said Carlos Saladrigas, co-chairman of the Cuba Study
Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates for political and
economic change on the island. "She really began to build a huge bridge
between Miami and Havana."

Part of the reason Sanchez's message resonated in Miami, unlike Paya's,
has to do with the ways the exile community has changed - in particular,
the increased amount of interaction between Cubans on the island and
abroad. Many newer arrivals make frequent trips back to visit family.
Last year, more than 300 Cuban-Americans made a pilgrimage to Cuba
during Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit.

"Visits like Yoani's here are significant," said Roman Catholic
Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who led the Cuban-American pilgrimage. "The
visit of these Cubans who went back to Cuba for the pope's visit was
also significant. These are small steps, and hopefully bigger steps will

Wenski noted that bishops and the Catholic church in Cuba have been
talking and making steps toward reconciliation for many years.

Saladrigas was among those Cuban-Americans who traveled to Cuba during
the pope's visit last year. He once was adamantly against any engagement
with Cuba and even led a successful campaign to stop a cruise ship from
traveling from Miami to Havana during Pope John Paul II's trip in 1998.

But as he watched television footage of the pope's visit, he realized he
made a mistake. The image of Cubans on the island and from Miami praying
together would have been extraordinarily powerful, he said.

Saladrigas recalled how on one trip to Cuba with his family they went to
see the woman who was in charge of the Committee in Defense of the
Revolution on the block where his wife once lived. The committees were
established after Castro took power to monitor resident activities, and
have created a sense of mistrust among many Cubans.

"It was heart wrenching to see the two of them embrace, kiss and just
reconcile in a powerful, personal, emotional way," Saladrigas said.

This process has certainly come easier for younger Cuban-Americans, many
of whom were born in the U.S. For others, particularly older
Cuban-Americans, reconciliation can only come with political change that
has not occurred.

"Ultimately for people to be reconciled, you do need the rule of law and
civil liberties," said Marifeli Perez-Stable, interim director of the
Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University,
and the author of a report on Cuban reconciliation.

Maria Werlau, executive director of the Cuba Archive Project, which
documents cases of human rights abuses on the island, said she has
attempted to establish a truth and reconciliation commission. But a
group that has organized such commissions to expose abuses in other
countries told her that is not yet possible.

"They said Cuba is not in a transition," she said. "We cannot work on a
country to achieve reconciliation until they are in that transition phase."

On the island, the official discourse is still one that pits Cubans on
the island and those who have left as enemies. Since the early years of
the revolution, those who fled or expressed dissent were known as "worms."

But it isn't an attitude of fear and confrontation that Cubans who
travel back have found, and less and less the Cuban artists, musicians
and families that visit Miami. Gorordo said his family in Cuba welcomed
him without prejudice. When it came to politics, they simply didn't
discuss it, and didn't need to, either.

"Reconciliation happens person to person, one family at a time," Gorordo
said. "No government can stop that."

Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live