Monday, January 21, 2013

Facts and Fiction Follow Cuban Reforms (As Usual)

Don't Be Told How or What To Think About Cuba
(In the Age of Google, Decide for Yourself)
      Cubans in the past week, since the government announced massive new travel regulations, have excitedly discussed (as abovethe opportunities to now leave the island to visit or remain in foreign counties and, if they desire, freely return to Cuba. {The next five photos are also by Raquel Perez}
     When not discussing and debating the new travel rules on every main street on the island, Cubans gather to read government postings delineating the changes. So, that's a typical sight above.
     Colonel Lambert Fraga, the Deputy Chief of Cuba's Immigration Department, is among the key government officials using the media to try to explain the new rules to Cuba's anxious population. He told journalist Fernando Ravsberg, "The vast majority of citizens can travel without having to ask permission from their government." Colonel Fraga explained, as in other nations, Cuba will have some national security restrictions. For example, the island presently has a shortage of teachers so highly trained teachers will not be allowed to depart en masse. Colonel Fraga said he has been told "to minimize the number of people who will not benefit from the reform to the lowest possible." He also said that his office is busy "handling the daily repatriation of an average of 20 emigrants seeking to return."
    But, indeed, the new rules are very lenient. The two young Cubans above are filling out documents that will allow them to leave the island to work in Mexico. They can return to the island if and when they want to, needing only the consent of both countries to travel back and forth freely.
     Avon, the Cuban mother above, is excited about her teenage daughter being allowed to visit relatives in Miami and then return to the island when she and Avon want her to come back home.
       But there was no mad rush to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana during the first week Cubans embraced the new travel rules. For one thing, there is paperwork. For another, many Cubans cannot afford the price of tickets at the moment. And for yet another, many foreign countries are alarmed they, suddenly, might be overwhelmed by an influx of Cubans.
      Take, for example, Evo Morales -- the democratically elected President of Bolivia since 2006 (Uh, yes, poor people are now allowed to vote in Bolivia}. President Morales idolizes Fidel Castro and is one of Cuba's dearest friends. However, the island's new travel rules frighten him because he does not want a tsunami of Cubans to flood his country. Thus, Bolivia quickly established its own rules: Cubans coming to Bolivia will not get a Visa if they cannot prove they have the financial means in Bolivia to care for themselves in regards to health, education, and possible incarceration. Morales said, "No longer are foreigners robbing Bolivia blind but we still struggle to take care of our own poor people." 
       Of course, Victoria Nuland -- chief spokesperson for the U. S. State Department -- was quick to belittle Cuba's new travel rules because, after all, the U. S. would need the permission of a handful of visceral anti-Castro Cuban exiles to do anything other than denounce anything Cuba does. So, this week the official comment from the U. S. State Department, via Victoria Nuland, was: "The Cuban government has not lifted the measures implied by their responsibilities, job or industry." Whatever those disingenuous words mean, it is for sure that they satisfy a handful of Cuban exiles while -- as always -- confusing, ignoring, and demeaning the majority of Cubans, Cuban exiles, Americans, and citizens all around the world. That, we respectfully presume, is precisely what Ms. Nuland intended.
        U. S. President Barack Obama will soon have a new Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry, during his second and final four-year term. Both are sincere, capable men who have -- all their political lives -- supported decent, intelligent, and sane pro-American relations with Revolutionary Cuba. However, they have been extremely frustrated that a mere handful of self-serving Cuban exiles, and their sycophants, have ruled America's Cuban policy since the overthrow of the U. S. - backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in 1959, a colossal event that, among other things, quickly resulted in the reconstitution of that dictatorship on U. S. soil. The vast influx of Cubans plus enormous amounts of money in 1959 overwhelmed the Mafia havens of Miami, Florida, and Union City, New Jersey, and from those two bases soon overwhelmed the United States Congress.
      While neither the U. S. government nor the U. S. media, for various reasons, have properly related the story of the flight of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship from Cuba to South Florida beginning on New Years's morning in 1959, such venues as the 1983 movie "Scarface" have, quite graphically and rather honestly, filled in the void. Al Pacino {above} starred as Tony Montana; the director was Brian De Palma; and the writer was Oliver Stone. The movie still airs almost nightly on cable television. In the opening scene Stone and De Palma used actual black-and-white footage to show Cuban exiles arriving in Miami in 1980 during the Mariel Boatlift in which Fidel Castro allowed some 125,000 Cubans to flock to Miami. In the script, Pacino (Montana) was seen setting foot in Miami for the first time.
        Soon, the young Tony Montana {above} was the ruthless drug kingpin of Miami, replicating the Mafia's dominance of the drug trade during Batista's Cuban dictatorship in the 1950s. Tony Montana's thugs totally overwhelmed the authorities in Miami and took extreme advantage of the Cuban exiles' ongoing closeness to the U. S. federal government, leaving the locals quite helpless.
      The history of the Mariel Boatlift is well known. Between April 15th and October 31, 1980, it brought about 125,000 Cubans to America, mostly to Miami. Many were decent Cubans seeking more freedom. But many were like Tony Montana. History registers the fact that Fidel Castro in 1980 raided Cuban prisons and mental institutions to include the likes of Tony Montana among the Mariel Boatlifters, apparently as a means of hurting America in retaliation for America's continuously hurting Cuba. But the best historians are also quite aware of the underlying reason for 1980's Mariel Boatlift of Cubans to the U. S. The truth about that, too, needs to skirt the restraints of political correctness.
       Celia Sanchez, the one person Fidel Castro has idolized and capitulated to during his long life, died of cancer on 01-11-1980 at age 59. As the prime decision-maker in Cuba, with Fidel's blessing and support, she had been frustrated with the U. S. government permitting Miami-based Cuban exiles to "always be stirring up and financing dissidents on this island!" When she died, Fidel simply threw up his hands and proclaimed, "Alright! Any Cuban that wants to go to Miami can do so from the port of Mariel!" And, yes, he made sure some misfits -- ala Tony Montana -- were provided free escorts from prison to Port Mariel. So, that's the way it was, minus the usual sanitizing by the U. S. media.
     The Celia Sanchez connection to the Mariel Boatlift, like most of her other gigantic connections, have been self-servingly ignored or discounted by the Cuban-exile chroniclers of Cuban history but not by the best historians. When she died, in addition to concocting the Mariel Boatlift, Fidel Castro was suicidal for days, as depicted in Georgie Anne Geyer's seminal Castro biography "Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro." Much of that untold story revolves around the dominance of Celia Sanchez in the Cuban-U.S. conundrum, apparently based on the belief of visceral Cuban exiles that the macho Fidel could easily and conveniently be demonized but not the angelic, child-loving Celia although, truth be known, she remains the prime reason the Batistiano-Mafia rule of Cuba ended on January 1, 1959. Otherwise, the Batistianos would be ruling the island to this very day.
      All of which brings us back around to re-focus on today's Cuba, where tonight as every night young Cubans will cuddle, snuggle, and make love on the famed concrete walls fronting the 4-mile oceanfront Malecon Boulevard. If the rest of the world passes them by, or misunderstands them, well...Cubans have proven they adjust to just about anything. In a word, they are resilient.
       Powerful U. S. Senator Robert Menendez is among the handful of anti-Castro zealots who will try to make sure that Americans do not adjust to positive changes in Cuba, such as the new travel rules. Born in New York City to parents who fled Batista's Cuba in 1953, Senator Menendez grew up in Union City, New Jersey, where he became Mayor prior to his becoming a member of the U. S. Congress from 1993 till the present day, moving from the House of Representatives to the very safe seat in the Senate in 2006. Monolithic anti-Castro zealots with enormous power within the U. S. government or incredible influence on the U. S. government, politically or economically, have controlled the U. S. relations with Cuba since 1959. That year the U. S. love of foreign dictators came home to roost.
      Mauricio Claver-Carone is one of the dire countless influences on the U. S. government who have become rich and powerful with their anti-Castro zealotry -- often, many believe, at the expense of everyday Cubans and everyone else forced to abide by Cuba-only American dictates. Claver-Carone's many enterprises include the U. S. - Cuba Democracy PAC, Editor of the Capital Hill Cubans project, etc. You may never have heard of them but, I assure you, you have paid for them unwittingly and you have been restrained by them endlessly.
      Frank Calzon, via his "Center for a Free Cuba" and its historic and sometimes scandalous alignments with the Bush political dynasty, has for many years savored his stupendous power lobbying against Cuba in Washington, which is essentially controlled by lobbyists. At the moment, Calzon is lobbying hard against anything that might remotely be construed as a Cuban positive, such as President Obama's solid choice as the next Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel.
      Chuck Hagel, while he was representing Nebraska in the U. S. Senate from 1997 till 2009, strongly advocated a sane, decent, logical, pro-American U. S. policy towards Cuba. That, of course, makes him a pariah in the eyes of the incredibly powerful anti-Cuban lobby, which also now must worry about the post-Castro changes already underway in Cuba to mark the twilight days of the very frail, 86-year-old Fidel Castro, long a meal-ticket for Menendez, Claver-Carone, Calzon, and many, many others.
       And so...Cuba ending its travel ban is a lot easier and lot less complicated than the U. S. ending its travel ban or, in fact, making any changes to its universally maligned, self-inflicted wound otherwise known as the U. S. Cuban policy. You see...Senator Menendez, Claver-Carone, Calzon, etc., still hold the upper hand in the United States when it comes to Cuba, even as bright lights brighten previously dark tunnels on the island. And the U. S. democracy has been gored by that burr under its saddle for over a half-century now. Our best friends worldwide ask, "Why, America? Why? Why...?"
       Even as Cubans and Cuban dissidents are now allowed to fly to America or any other agreeable country, Americans still must essentially ask someone like Mauricio Claver-Carone for permission to fly to Cuba and experience the enchanting tropical island and its people for themselves.
        I think you can understand why I believe that Latin American expert and Denver Post editorial writer Penelope Purdy {above} coined the defining quotation that perfectly describes the U. S. policy regarding Cuba: "For all these decades the U. S. policy towards Cuba has been conducted with the IQ of a salamander." I think you agree there is no one who can dispute that salient quotation. However, I believe the quotation, while being very fair to us Americans, is not entirely fair to salamanders.
      Salamanders, like the little guy above, have been smart enough, decent enough, ingenious enough, and courageous enough to have survived in a hostile environment for centuries. Those who have conducted and mandated the U. S. policy regarding Cuba since back in the 1950s are not as smart, as decent, as ingenious, or as courageous as that little salamander who feasts on harmful insects. The salamanders Penelope Purdy so aptly described feast on less powerful human beings. P.S.: The salamander above is probably thinking: "I'm way down in the swamp minding my own business. So, how in the hell did I end up in the middle of a discussion about the U. S.-Cuban quagmire?" My answer to Joey (Yes, I call him "Joey") is: "Your beef is not with me, Joey. It's with Penelope Purdy!"   
In other words: Americans who want to see Cuba for themselves, should have the freedom to do so.
      But, you know what? The Caribbean is still there...and so is Cuba, 90 miles due south of the Florida Keys. And Cuba, because of its size and its location and its unleashed but long-stifled potential, may be in the proverbial cat-bird seat. To the West, Mexico has drug problems foreign to Cuba. To the North, the Bahamas are beset with crime foreign to Cuba. To the Southeast, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and especially the U. S. Territory of Puerto Rico are over-run with crime that is foreign to Cuba; and due South the island of Jamaica is ravaged by crime that is foreign to Cuba. And Cuba is the one island in the Caribbean not shackled by a few extremely rich individuals lording it over the majority poor. Take for example....Jamaica!....the beautiful island due South of Cuba.
       The above cartoon in today's Jamaican Observer newspaper (Jan. 21-2013) depicts a man who is making an "$8 million salary" telling the poor, skinny, over-worked peasant to hang in there and be "positive" so, of course, the rich guy can continue to make his $8 million dollar salary. That's sort of the way it was in Cuba in the 1950s. And that's sort of why the Cuban Revolution has survived against all odds for all these decades and now, in the year 2013, has a chance to re-invent itself yet again. 


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