Cuba and the Helms-Burton Act

A Continuing Violation of International Law
{Thursday, January 9th, 2014}
    The photo on the left was taken on January 1, 1959 in Santiago de Cuba. It shows Fidel Castro making his first declaration of victory over the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship. The guerrilla movement had remained alive in the Sierra Maestra Mountains and its foothills when as few as 30 rebels out-witted vastly superior Batista armies. By the time he made this victory speech, Fidel's rebel army numbered just over 9,000 -- many of them defectors from Batista's army. The decisive battle -- the Battle of Jigue -- lasted ten days in July of 1958 when about 300 rebels, brilliantly led by Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez, defeated a 14,000-man Batista army that had warplanes and tanks the rebels could only dream about. After the Battle of Jigue, the Batista commander and his troops were provided water, food, cigarettes, and medical help instead of being shot. Thus, the commander and many of his men "switched sides" and fought the rest of the war with, not against, Castro. While Fidel and Celia Sanchez secured Santiago and the Sierra Maestra region, a rebel army led by Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara raced far to the west with orders to capture Santa Clara. They did. On New Years Eve 1959 Batista was hosting a party when word came that Santa Clara had fallen. Fearing the advance of the rebels, Batista and his cronies already had five getaway airplanes and a plethora of ships and boats loaded and ready to flee. They did, although Camilo Cienfuegos would later say, "I was hoping as we raced from Santa Clara to Havana that the Batistianos would stand and fight us." {Top reference for this: "Revolutionary Cuba" by Terrence Cannon}
      The photo above shows Cuban President Raul Castro on January 2, 2014 making a speech in Santiago de Cuba commemorating the 55th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. He spoke in the very same building in Cespedes Park where his brother Fidel had first announced the defeat of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship. In this speech {January 2, 2014} Raul made headlines by stating that Cuban intelligence had learned of "renewed subversive activity to undermine our island. These subversives are attempting to bring neo-colonial and neo-liberalistic thinking into Cuba. A global power is introducing new strategies. It's been 55 years of constant struggle against the plans of 11 U. S. administrations that, with varying hostility, have not stopped in their goal to recapture this island on behalf of two generations of Batista and Mafia exiles. We and those that follow us must remain vigil. We may not hold off Goliath forever but it is my hope we can for 55 more years."
This 1958 photo shows Fidel and Camilo Cienfuegoes the day Camilo left the Sierra to capture Santa Clara.
       The photo above shows Fidel Castro in the thrall of victory 55 years ago this week. The bespectacled Fidel chose to hold this spontaneous news conference in front of a mural depicting the ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista astride a horse. By the time this photo was taken Batista had flown in a getaway airplane to the Dominican Republic where his friend, the brutal U.S.-friendly dictator Rafael Trujillo, ruled. Meyer Lansky and other Mafia figures in the Batista-Mafia dictatorship had fled to South Florida, where Lansky, Batista and others of their ilk already had mansions. Caribbean and South American magazines, as well as Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times, had already reported that the "top 21 officials" in the Batista regime each had Swiss bank accounts exceeding $1 million {in 1950s dollars} and it was presumed that the bulk of their Cuban loot -- from lucrative gambling, drug, prostitution and kick-back operations -- had been forwarded to banks in the Mafia havens of Miami and Union City, New Jersey. Of course, they would later say they fled Cuba "penniless."  
     This week -- January 1, 2014 -- marked the 55th anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution, a monumental event in the history of Cuba and the United States. The photo on the right shows Fidel Castro speaking at the UN on October 12, 1979. While Revolutionary Cuba is now 55-years-old, Fidel himself is 87. The U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship that he ousted on Jan. 1-1959 fled and regrouped, still with U. S. support, on U. S. soil, mainly nearby Miami. In the past 55 years, Fidel personally has survived a record number of assassination attempts orchestrated by the individual or combined forces of the Cuban exiles, the CIA, and the Mafia. Moreover, the Cuban Revolution has survived the Bay of Pigs attack in 1961, the U. S. embargo that has been in effect since 1962, and other nefarious attempts to recapture the gorgeous, alligator-shaped island. In fact, both Fidel Castro and Revolutionary Cuba have miraculously even survived The Helms-Burton Act, an omnipotent piece of Cuban exile-directed legislation that has amassed, since the 1990s, the full power of the United States, the world superpower, to specifically eliminate Fidel Castro and overthrow Revolutionary Cuba. With that being the intent of Helms-Burton, it is amazing that Fidel Castro and Revolutionary Cuba are still alive in the new year of  2014. It is even more astounding that the United States democracy has allowed Helms-Burton to mangle America's reputation in the eyes of even its best friends all around the world but particularly throughout Latin America. So, let's examine Helms-Burton and try to determine how it came about and why it remains an unscathed, undemocratic cancer festering within the bowels of the United States democracy.
   The Helms-Burton Act, crafted and designed to benefit a handful of visceral Cuban exiles while harming everyone else, has been an entrenched United States law since March 12, 1996. It personifies America's nefarious entanglement with the richest and most powerful remnants of the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba, which was overthrown by the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959. And because it sates the revenge and power motives of a few Cuban exiles through two generations, the U. S. democracy has been forced to embrace Helms-Burton although it defies all aspects of International Law and, for going on two decades now, has grossly angered all of America's best world-wide friends. The Helms-Burton Act was immediately condemned by the Council of Europe, the European Union, Britain, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and all other U. S. allies. Everyone of these governments have argued strenuously that Helms-Burton is contrary to international law and sovereignty. Unbiased sources agree that Helms-Burton was primarily authored by a tiny foreign-tinged minority strictly for their benefit and against the best interests of Cubans, Americans, and citizens of the world. So how did Helms-Burton become a steadfast law in the world's most powerful democracy? And why has it been allowed to remain such an indelible anti-democratic, anti-decency image for the United States of America? The answers attest to the power of a government-in-exile. It also reveals why the Cuban Revolution says more about the United States than it says about Cuba.
    President Bill Clinton very reluctantly signed Helms-Burton into law on March 12, 1996. At the ceremony {right} benefactors -- Menendez, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, etc. -- hovered over President Clinton much like scavengers. Earlier in 1996 President Clinton had indicated his intention to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba and easing the U. S. embargo against the island that has been in place since 1962, much to the chagrin of all other democracy-loving countries. So, what brought President Clinton to that signing ceremony that all of his astute political and humane instincts opposed? Cuba and the other nations who oppose the embargo clearly remembered that a previous Democratic President -- John Kennedy in November of 1963 -- had, like Clinton, decided to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. Kennedy's efforts ended, coincidentally or not, with his assassination and, later, with the "mysterious" death of Lisa Howard, the beautiful journalist who had courageously brokered Kennedy's decision to normalize relations with Cuba. Thus, in 1996 when President Clinton was attempting to normalize relations with Cuba, it was anticipated that something major might be in the works to derail it. Those anticipations were soon realized. A series of events in the Florida straits between Miami and Havana thwarted President Clinton's plans and gave birth to Helms-Burton.
   Jose Basulto was born on August 8, 1940 in Santiago de Cuba. Along with Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Rafael Diaz-Balart, Jorge Mas Canosa, etc., he was among the most vehemently anti-Castro exiles to emerge in Miami after the January, 1959 overthrow of the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba. Like Posada, Canosa, etc., Basulto was extensively trained by the U. S. government in the bid to overthrow Cuba's new revolutionary government. Basulto, in fact, was in Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs attack in April of 1961 to commit acts of sabotage to soften the island for the attack. He has recounted how, once the U. S. warplanes began bombing the island, he scrambled over the fences at the Guantanamo Naval Base. With the revolutionary government still in charge of the island, Basulto founded Brothers to the Rescue in 1991 and described it as a humanitarian organization with airplanes intent on locating, assisting and rescuing raft refugees emigrating from Cuba. From the outset, Cuba considered Basulto a terrorist and Brothers a terrorist organization, using the humanitarian aspect as an excuse to antagonize the island.
The above is a sanitized depiction of Jose Basulto and Brothers to the Rescue from his own book.
    Basulto's airplanes operated out of Miami into the Straits of Florida but supposedly didn't violate Cuba's territorial waters or the island itself. At the start of 1996 Cuba was loudly protesting harassing flights deep into its territorial waters, which by international law extended 12 miles out from its shores. {Note the line just above the word "Havana" to designate Cuba's territorial waters}. Cuba believed the excursions were designed to provoke a confrontation that would prevent the rumored intentions of the Clinton administration to ease or end the embargo and begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba. The Cuban government complained bitterly about the overflights to the U. S. State Department, but to no avail. Then Cuba complained bitterly to the United Nations, but again to no avail because the U. S. has a veto vote in the UN. Meanwhile, what Cuba considered gross, purposeful violations of its sovereignty continued unabated. The Cuban complaints to the State Department and the UN were mocked on radio talk shows in Miami. One particular taunt that kept resonating in Havana was the assertion that all Cuba could do was "whine" because it didn't have either the courage or the means to do anything about the overflights by Brothers to the Rescue planes. The people publicly airing those taunts knew they had the firm backing of the U. S. government.
    The map on the right shows the line that indicates Cuba's 12-mile territorial limit extending out north of Havana. It has been documented that not only did Brothers airplanes violate that space but on January 9th and 13th Brothers planes even dropped leaflets that fell on the island and scared Cubans who were well aware that other small planes from Miami had often strafed tobacco fields and coastal dwellings with cannon fire! Later, one of the brothers pilots bragged that 50,000 leaflets were dropped from his plane on January 13th. It was talk radio in Miami that alerted Cuba to the fact the violations were designed to lure Cuba into a reaction that would scuttle President Clinton's plans to normalize relations. Revolutionary Cuba has not survived all these decades by providing the superpower U. S. pretexts or excuses to launch an all-out military attack on the vulnerable island. Yet, Cuba felt -- after repeated protests to the U. S. and the UN were ignored -- that it had to defend its sovereignty.  On February 24th, 1996, three Brothers planes headed toward Cuba. Cuban radar showed the planes were just north of the 24th parallel when Cuba scrambled a MIG-29 and a MIG-23. The Cuban pilots were identical twin brothers -- Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The map above shows U. S. and Cuban radar that marked partial flights of the three airplanes, which were Cessna 337 Skymasters. Basulto himself was piloting one of the planes. The Perez-Perez brothers shot down the other two planes killing Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., Mario de la Pena, and Pablo Morales. Basulto's plane turned and made it safely back to Miami. The incident was investigated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, which concluded that Cuba had warned the U. S. and the UN about the overflights and the ICAO also confirmed that at least on one occasion, on January 13th, a Brothers plane had indeed dropped leaflets over Havana. The ICAO also found that America's FAA had earlier warned Basulto about the possibility of getting shot down and that he replied, "You must understand that I have a mission in life to perform." It was also obvious that the U. S. radar closely monitored the Cessnas and the two MIGS on February 24th and even after two Cessnas were shot down no U. S. F-15s were scrambled from the nearby Homestead Air Force Base, apparently because the U. S. government had warned Basulto and perhaps the U. S. had determined Cuba was within its right. In any case, the U. S. chose not to challenge the  MIGs.
    Prior to the shoot-down of the two Brothers airplanes, President Clinton had, at least privately, expressed some admiration for and fascination with Fidel Castro. {Even as a kid growing up in Hope, Arkansas Clinton's fascination with world leaders resulted in a youthful Clinton shaking John Kennedy's hand}. Thus, at the UN as President he went out of his way to meet and shake the legendary Cuban's hand {left}. Also, unlike most U. S. politicians, President Clinton admitted that the Batista-Mafia dictatorship Castro booted out of Cuba was not exactly a "wholesome group of saints!" And he also clearly understood that the prime leaders of the exiles in Miami didn't qualify as saints either. Therefore, President Clinton at the start of 1996 fully intended to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, starting with an easement of the embargo on the path to dismantling it. He believed he had the political currency to defy the powerful Miami exiles. And he did -- right up until the shoot-down of the two Brothers airplanes on February 24th, 1996. Even after that incident, quite aware of the warnings Basulto had ignored, President Clinton didn't alter his plans until the U. S. media pounded one-side of the two-sided issue, the side that loudly proclaimed that Cuba had, out of pure meanness, shot down two harmless, unarmed little airplanes that were merely in the Florida Straits to seek and rescue rafters -- nothing else. Within days, President Clinton comprehended that the shoot-down had staunchly weakened his hand and strengthened the self-serving aspects of the anti-Castro zealots in Miami, just as Cuba had suspected. Instead of ending the embargo and normalizing relations with Cuba, by the end of February, 1996 President Clinton realized that Jorge Mas Canosa, by far the richest and most powerful anti-Castro exile since his adornment by the Reagan-Bush administration back in the 1980s, was now in a position to drastically strengthen the embargo and totally destroy any hopes of normalizing relations with Cuba. Jorge Mas Canosa, not Clinton, had become more presidential than Clinton as far as Cuba was concerned. And Clinton knew it!
      In South Florida there is an army of lawyers eager to represent Cuban exiles in lawsuits against Cuba. It's somewhat like shooting big fish in a small barrel because the defendant, Cuba, is not represented and city, county, state, and federal judges in South Florida tend to be anti-Castro. So, for sure, Jose Basulto {right} and a plethora of others sued Cuba in friendly Cuba-exile courts over the shoot-down of the two Brothers airplanes. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been easily won in such lawsuits although, of course, unrepresented Cuba itself doesn't pay up. The U. S. government, according to numerous unbiased sources, often helps the collectors by dipping into the U. S. treasury or procuring "frozen Cuban assets" that are routinely turned over to lawsuit winners. The families of the four Brothers pilots who died in the shoot-down collected vast sums of money. Even Jose Basulto was awarded a $1.7 million judgment. Money, for sure, was a prime motivation for the Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba in the 1950s and, since 1959, has been a prime motivation for Cuban exiles, especially in South Florida. However, the twin motives of revenge and the burning desire to re-claim Cuba from the Castro brothers rival financial concerns. And that's what the Helms-Burton Act was and is all about.
   Jesse Helms of Helms-Burton fame was born in the little town of Monroe, North Carolina in 1921 and, reportedly, became a good policeman and fireman. He was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1973 and stayed for thirty years, five terms, until 2003. An ultra-conservative...some say right-winger...his longevity made him a power in the Senate where his influence was enormous nationally and not just on behalf of his constituents around his hometown of Monroe. While Helms is the first name in Helms-Burton, he had little to do with crafting the calamitous law...except for his selling out to a higher power, an even more ultra-conservative Cuban exile.
       Dan Burton of Helms-Burton fame was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1938. Since 1983 he has represented that area in the U. S. House of Representatives although, at age 75, he has announced his retirement. Like Jesse Helms, his ultra conservative/right-wing power in the United States Congress is based on his longevity thanks to the voters around Indianapolis. And like Jesse Helms, he had very little to do with crafting the calamitous Helms-Burton Act...except for selling out to a higher power, an even more ultra-conservative Cuban exile.
       Jorge Mas Canosa was the architect of the Helms-Burton Act and to this day his indelible stamp dominates the negativity related to U.S.-Cuban relations. He was born in Santiago de Cuba on September 21, 1939 to a well-to-do family that sent him to North Carolina for schooling. After the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship by the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Mas ended up in Miami in 1960. Like his friend Luis Posada Carriles and other vehemently anti-Castro Cubans, Mas graduated from Fort Benning's infamous Army School of the Americas and became a major participant in the multiple attempts to overthrow and eliminate Fidel Castro forever. Before he died from lung cancer at the young age of 58 in November of 1997, Mas had been anointed by the Reagan-Bush administration as the leader of what amounted to the Cuban government-in-exile.  After being advised to copy Israel's ultra-powerful Political Action Committee, Mas founded the ultra-rich-and-powerful Cuban American National Foundation that quickly in the early 1980s took over dictation of the U. S. belligerence toward Cuba. He founded Radio-TV Marti that has captured massive amounts of tax dollars to send anti-Castro broadcasts to Cuba and those tax dollars continue flowing to this day to Radio-TV Marti in Miami although Cuba continues to easily block the signals. Like most ultra-powerful Cuban exiles, Mas reportedly left Cuba "penniless" and quickly emerged as a multi-millionaire in South Florida. He and his wife had three sons in Miami and his company, Miami-based MasTEC, is today a multi-billion-dollar telecom powerhouse. The ascendancy and the legacy of Jorge Mas Canosa -- Jorge Mas Canosa Middle School is just one of his numerous  memorials in and around Miami -- define the current status of U.S.-Cuban relations as well as the aftermath of having an overthrown U.S.-backed dictatorship in Cuba quickly {permanently?} reconstituting itself on American soil.
       Perhaps the most definitive summation of Jorge Mas Canosa's remarkable life was written by Larry Rohter and published on November 24th, 1997 by the New York Times. It began with these words and remains readily available Online: "Jorge Mas Canosa, who came to the United States as a penniless refugee from the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and built the Cuban American National Foundation into one of Washington's most effective lobbying groups, died this afternoon at home. He was 58. Mr. Mas died of lung cancer. From the moment he arrived in Miami in 1960, Mr. Mas dedicated himself to seeking the overthrow of Mr. Castro, first as a conspirator in various armed plots and then for the last two decades in the halls of Congress. His organization was generous in its donations to office-holders willing to endorse its objectives. Many critics of Mr. Mas considered him the principle architect of an American policy they regarded as excessively rigid. Every significant piece of legislation on Cuba since 1980 has borne his imprint, from the establishment of Radio-TV Marti to last year's Helms-Burton Act tightening the economic embargo of Cuba. But his many detractors in the United States and abroad saw in Mr. Mas the same dictatorial streak, relish for power and intolerance of opposing views that characterized Mr. Castro's rule. Mr. Mas repeatedly questioned the patriotism of those who disagreed with him and threatened, in some cases, to ruin their lives or careers." {Larry Rohter; NY Times; Nov. 24-1997}
      This is perhaps the most definitive photo of Jorge Mas Canosa's career. It shows him as a 2nd Lt. graduating from the infamous Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. He then, of course, became a part of Brigade 2506, South Florida's most vehement anti-Castro group about to be trained for the Bay of Pigs attack. In the 1950s when the U. S. began supporting dictators -- like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, for instance -- the U. S. Army clandestinely created the School of the Americas to train selected soldiers from U.S.-backed dictatorships and then send those soldiers back to their countries to protect those dictators. Beginning in 1959 when the Cuban Revolution overthrew Batista the School of the Americas took on a new role -- training Cuban exiles to overthrow and/or assassinate Fidel Castro. The most zealous anti-Castro exiles, like Jorge Mas Canosa, were perfect fits for the School of the Americas. The true role of the School of the Americas was not revealed to the U. S. public until the 1990s, after which President Clinton held a news conference to at least apologize for it.
And after that Clinton news conference, the School of the Americas got a new name!
      Of course, like Jorge Mas Canosa, Luis Posada Carriles also graduated as a 2nd Lt. from the Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning and then went on to join Brigade 2506 among his other infamous anti-Castro/CIA adventures. In a famous New York Times interview conducted by Ann Louise Bardach, Luis Posada Carriles said Jorge Mas Canosa sponsored some of his most nefarious terrorist bombing activities. He told Ms. Bardach: "Jorge controlled everything. Whenever I needed money, he said to give me $5,000, give me $10,000, give me $15,000, and they sent it to me." Posada at age 85 remains a heralded citizen of Miami after his rich political friends got him out of prisons in Venezuela and Panama and finally to the safe haven of Miami. Posada will forever be tied to such terrorist acts as the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in 1976 that killed all 73 on board.

        Next to Jorge Mas Canosa's 2nd Lt. photo, this is the most definitive photo of his career. It was taken the night President Ronald Reagan, at the behest of Vice President George H. W. Bush, anointed Canosa the leader of the anti-Castro exiles. For the rest of the 1980s and right up until his death in 1997, no one -- including Presidents and members of the U. S. Congress -- challenged Canosa when it came to America's Cuban policy. If, indeed, Canosa came to Miami "penniless" in 1960, the fact that he left his three sons a multi-billion-dollar company is more of a tangible fact than whether or not he had a "penny" when he arrived in the United States.
      Jorge Mas Canosa's omnipotent power, like that of most ultra-powerful Cuban-exiles, depended on first being anointed by the Bush political dynasty. De-classified U. S. documents {see Peter Kornbluh's U. S. National Archives} reveal that George H. W. Bush's tight alignment with Cuban-exile extremists began in the early 1960s, not just in the mid-1970s when he was CIA Director or later when he was Vice President and then President. Of all the Cuban exiles who benefited from associations with the Bush dynasty {George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush}, Jorge Mas Canosa, from a political and economic standpoint, was easily the shrewdest and ultimately the most powerful. And that's why, as Larry Rohter of the New York Times and others have pointed out, Mas's "imprint" to this day dictates America's Cuban policy as exemplified by such ongoing controversial and unpopular acts as Helms-Burton, Radio-TV Marti, the U. S. embargo of Cuba, etc., etc.

 The Bush dynasty and anti-Castro zealots have had a wildly beneficial mutual admiration society.
The rest of the world just meekly Pays the Piper.
But Jorge Mas Canosa {above} also dictated Cuban policy to Democrats like President Bill Clinton.
      The above photo reflects the fact that the Cuban exile domination of America's Cuban policy has now extended into a second generation. Thus, when President Barack Obama travels to South Florida now he must {above} check in for his marching orders with Miami's rich and powerful Jorge Mas Santos, the son of the late rich and powerful Jorge Mas Canosa. Jorge Mas Santos is Chairman of ultra-rich MasTek and also Chairman of the ultra-powerful Cuban American National Foundation. The Cuban Revolution and its aftermath weakened the U. S. democracy to such an extent that, beyond Jorge Mas Canosa and Jorge Mas Santos, a third generation will likely inherit that mantle because, after all, the awesome combination of money and nepotism rules supreme.
The continuation into 2014 of such anti-democratic cancers as Helms-Burton proves two things:
#1: The world's most powerful democracy should not install or support dictators.
#2: If a U.S.-backed dictatorship is overthrown, it should not resurrect itself on U.S. soil.
For further insight on Mas, Basulto, Posada, Helms-Burton, etc., these sources are excellent:
1 -- Ann Louise Bardach's book "Cuba Confidendial."
#2 -- Julia E. Sweig's book "What Everyone Needs to Know About Cuba."
#3 -- Jerry A. Sierra's History of Cuba at historyofcuba.com.

      The photo above {AFP/Yamil Lagewas taken in Havana this week -- Tuesday, January 7, 2014. It shows Netherlands Foreign Minister Frank Timmermans {leftand Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signing a series of documents finalizing agreements between the two countries related to social, political, and economic issues. The Netherlands, like all nations in the world, takes pride in its sovereignty and prefers that it, and not a foreign power, predicates how it conducts its affairs. The Helms-Burton Act -- designed to benefit only a few rich and powerful Cuban exiles -- outrages all nations around the world because it dictates that the superpower United States punishes foreign nations and companies that do business with Cuba. Helms-Burton reminds the world of imperialism, past and present. Helms-Burton creates sympathy for Cuba, enmity for America.

So...in Havana this week, the Netherlands shook hands with Cuba, defying the Helms-Burton Act.
And by the way..........
This AFP/Adalberto Roque photo was taken Friday, January 3rd, 2013 in Havana.
It shows Cubans staring at new and used cars that now can be bought and sold in Cuba.
But the prices are so astronomically high that purchases are out of the question.
This photo shows Cubans {January 3, 2013} stunned by the high prices of the cars.
Oh, well! The U. S. also experienced growing pains with, uh...capitalism.
        29-year-old Monica Spear {above} was Miss Venezuela in 2004. She and her 39-year-old British husband Thomas Berry and their 5-year-old daughter Maya lived in the United States but were vacationing this week in Venezuela. Monday night they were driving between Merida and Caracas when a 5-man gang stopped their car. Monica and Thomas were shot dead and Maya was wounded in a robbery. Venezuela has one of the world's highest murder rates. The murder of Monica, the classic Venezuelan beauty and a successful actress, has verily stunned Venezuelans. Her death has even resulted in a meeting between President Micolas Maduro and fierce opposition leader Henrique Capriles in a mutual effort to launch a new war against rampant crime.


Cuba: The Old and the New

It's Well Worth A Peek
{Friday, December 27th, 2013}
Cubans got great news Christmas day, 2013!
    This magnificent 1200-passenger ship will now make weekly circles around the gorgeous coasts of the alligator-shaped island. The ship is owned by Cristal Cruise of Canada. The ship will dock in major Cuban ports, including Havana and Mariel, which has undergone a billion-dollar refurbishing 28 miles southwest of Havana. The ship's passengers, in addition to enjoying the Cuban vistas, can watch Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games on giant video screens while they indulge themselves on prime Alberta steaks washed down with Canadian beer. Dugald Wells, the Toronto entrepreneur, owns Cristal Cruise. Wells and his partner, Craig Marshall, say they are very interested in taking advantage of Cuba's burgeoning entrepreneurial class. Marshall specializes in building nice homes and condominiums. 
    On Monday, December 23, 2013 General Mikhail Kalashikov -- the inventor of the famed AK-47 rifle -- died at age 94. For the past 60 years most revolutionaries -- including Cuba's Fidel Castro {above} -- have used the AK-47 as their prime weapon.
      Even democratically elected Presidents have used the AK-47 to fight to the death in attempts to avoid having their legitimate government's overthrown. History's greatest example of that occurred in 1973 when Chile's President Salvador Allende died at his La Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile, trying to ward off the U.S.-backed coup of the murderous General Augusto Pinochet. President Allende died fighting with the engraved AK-47 that Fidel Castro had given him as an inauguration gift. The photo above shows Fidel with President Allende on the balcony of La Moneda Palace shortly before Allende died. The AK-47, like these two men, will forever be enshrined as a salient part of world history -- as will the AK-47's inventor, General Kalashnikov.
Fidel Castro and President Allende at La Moneda Palace.
This photo was taken when President Allende summoned Fidel Castro to discuss rumors of a CIA coup.
President Allende using his AK-47 to defend his Chilean Presidency.
He died using the AK-47 Fidel Castro had given him.
     The photo above vividly registers the fact that the 1973 CIA-backed coup that killed Chile's democratically elected President Salvador Allende resonates loudly today in Chile and all across Latin America. After Allende was killed, the U. S. - backed Augusto Pinochet was Chile's brutal dictator for the next 17 years. Among the thousands of innocent people murdered by the Pinochet terror was the father of Michelle Bachelet. She is shown above with her dear friend Fidel Castro. Michelle Bachelet was democratically elected President of Chile in 2006 and left office with an approval rating of 84% in Chile, the nation that has the highest per capita income, by far, in Latin America. Chile's constitution does not allow for consecutive terms so Bachelet worked for the UN for three years before recently being re-elected as President of Chile! Like all Latin Americans and Chileans, she remembers the 1973 CIA-directed coup that killed Chile's democratically elected President Salvador Allende to pave the way for the killer-dictator Pinochet. And so does Fidel Castro.
  The photo on the right, taken this week at Cuba's National Assembly session, shows the old and the new in Cuba as the new year of 2014 dawns. That's President Raul Castro listening to his heir apparent/designated successor Miguel Diaz-Canel. The transition-to-come has been mandated by Revolutionary Cuba, not by a foreign superpower. The move reflects the fervent desire of the elderly Castro brothers, 82-year-old Raul and 87-year-old Fidel, to prolong both the island's sovereignty as well as the sacred Cuban Revolution, still their pride and joy.
   Miguel Diaz-Canel is both a true believer in the revolution and an advocate for modernizing the Cuban government. He has ridden his motorcycle to some remote villages and urged the citizens to complain when they feel they are being abused or left out of government affairs. "If you do that," he says, "I promise you that I will listen and abide."
  The new Cuba, of course, was revealed earlier this month when Cuban President Raul Castro and American President Barack Obama actually shook hands and greeted each other warmly at the Nelson Mandela Memorial service in South Africa. Raul said, "Mr. President, I'm Castro." Barack replied, "Good to see you looking well." Raul said, "We need to act civilized, your country and mine." Barack said, "I agree and I'm working on it."  Then, as registered by this photo, President Obama cocked his eyes toward to the lady standing beside President Castro. She, of course, is President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, the Latin American superpower. President Obama is acutely aware that President Rousseff these days is much fonder of Cuba than the U. S. and, we imagine, that too is something he will "work on." Recently she very angrily canceled a scheduled visit to the White House.
  Upon his arrival back in Cuba from South Africa, President Raul Castro was tasked this past week with leading the two-day Cuban General Assembly session. When the photo on the left was taken, Raul stood up and, punctuating his remarks with fist pumping, shouted, "Long live Fidel! Long live Fidel's combative spirit! Long live the revolution!" The man in the white shirt is heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel. The two army generals behind them are Alvaro Lopez Miera and Leopoldo Cintras Frias. Raul Castro had chosen this moment to remind the Cuban General Assembly that his older brother, 87-year-old Fidel Castro, will always remain the "Heart and the soul of sovereign Cuba!"
   Latin America's two richest nations -- Chile and Brazil -- now have female Presidents -- Michelle Bachelet and Dilma Rousseff -- that are dear friends of Cuba and sharp critics of America's imperialist past. At one point in their young lives both of these remarkable women were imprisoned and tortured by brutal U.S.-backed military dictatorships in their countries. The redolent and magnificent democratic elections that have replaced those U.S.-backed dictatorships now resound throughout Latin America, as personified by Presidents Bachelet and Rousseff! President Rousseff, Latin America's economic superpower, has lavished economic assistance on Cuba. President Bachelet, whose nation has by far the highest per capita income in Latin America, is sharply critical of the past U. S. domination of Cuba and the "present effort to keep Cubans in the stone-age."
  This is still a common scene in Cuba -- a farmer using oxen to plow his field. Presidents Rousseff and Bachelet -- and most of the rest of the world -- blame the 51-year-old U. S. embargo of Cuba, an embargo largely written, mandated, and maintained by a handful of Cuban-exile extremists that, for two generations, have sought political and economic power in the U. S. while seeking revenge against their ouster by the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Presidents Rousseff and Bachelet are outraged that the U. S. embargo punishes other nations for dealing with Cuba, "with imperialist fines and other abominations" according to President Rousseff. President Bachelet says, "The resilience of the Cuban people, and not just their leaders, to U. S. and exile belligerence is what the rest of the world, outside the United States, is now respecting."
    The resilience of this young Cuban woman is what President Bachelet meant. This young lady in Havana -- Photo courtesy AP/Ramon Espinosa -- has survived on the island long enough to take advantage of Cuba's new entrepreneurial rules. She opened a food stand and it is thriving, as indicated this week by the lines of Cubans and tourists who were anxious to buy her speacialty -- empanados. "The resilience of the Cuban people, not just their leaders," is in stark contrast to a handful of two generations of exiles who who have depended on the power and might of the United States to exact their revenge against what is still the Cuban Revolution's desire for sovereignty.
      This AP/Ramon Espinosa photo taken this week shows a Cuban bride-to-be and her flower girl being driven to her wedding in style -- in an old but exquisitely maintained convertible! Those of us who have been to Cuba have seen scenes like this that attest to the Cuban spirit and resilience. Most Americans are prohibited from visiting one place on this planet -- Cuba. That un-democratic law sates the appetite of a few Cuban exiles but incurs the wrath of democracy lovers around the world who believe Americans should have the freedom to judge the island for themselves as opposed to being told how to judge it. Cuba being the one place in the world most Americans cannot visit is viewed as yet another price Americans pay for America's Cuban policy being set by a few revengeful Cuban exiles who, two generations ago, fled the Cuban Revolution.
  Speaking of cars, Reuters used this photo this week to point out that Cubans and tourists will soon be seeing much newer cars on the island. Cubans can now buy and sell either new or used cars. American dealers, of course, won't benefit but car dealers in other nations will. Sarah Rainsford of the BBC says about 60,000 American cars from the 1950s still operate in Cuba along with Soviet-made Ladas and Moskvich cars but "mint-condition Cadillacs, Chryslers, and Oldsmobile from the 1950s" remain the crown jewels. Now more modern autos, vans, trucks, and motocycles will gradually emerge on the island. China, especially, is primed to take advantage.
    AP photos from Cuba often say a thousand words or more about what is happening on the island. However, for topical and unbiased articles from Cuba one has to depend on major international sources, such as the BBC or Reuters. For example, on Sunday {Dec. 22-2013} Sarah Rainsford and London's BBC used this handshake photo in a major article that revealed the message President Castro conveyed to President Obama: "our two countries should be civilized with each other for everyone's benefit." Unlike much of the U. S. media, Sarah Rainsford and the BBC are not obligated to report only unflattering, Cuban-exile promoted details about Cuba. The "handshake" is an example. Raul, by the way, spoke to President Obama in English although both he and his brother do not like to speak English in public situations because of their nationalistic beliefs. But President Obama does not speak Spanish.
        On Sunday, Dec. 22-2013 Sarah Rainsford and the BBC reported that President Castro, at the Cuban General Assembly session, also explained to both "the assembly and to heir apparent Miguel Diaz-Canel" that "Cuba and the United States must begin to act civilized toward each other for the benefit of the majority, not a select few." According to the BBC, Castro said to the legislators and to Diaz-Canel: "We do not ask the United States to change its political and social system, nor do we agree to negotiate ours. If we really want to make progress in bilateral relations, we have to learn to respect each other's differences and get used to living peacefully with them. Otherwise, no. We are ready for another 55 years like the last." It is obvious that the 82-year-old Raul and the 87-year-old Fidel have chosen Miguel Diaz-Canel to continue, at all costs, Cuba's sovereign path as outlined by the revolution. And, just as interesting, Raul reminded the Cuban legislators and Diaz-Canel that it is Fidel's imprint and Fidel's legacy that will guide Revolutionary Cuba in the future.
  So soon, the 53-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel will be speaking for Cuba. In the meantime, he is usually seen sitting next to President Raul Castro or riding his motorcycle in remote areas around the island reminding Cubans he wants them to be "polemical." In other words, he wants them to voice their objections to their government and then gauge governmental reaction. In that vein, Granma, the state newspaper, has begun publishing anti-government Letters-to-the-Editor. Those letters quickly revealed a hatred of the two-peso monetary system that favored those with access to dollars. Then -- WOW! -- Cuba, quickly reacting to all those letters, announced it will go back to a one-peso system.   
     And, oh yes! Take note of the young man walking directly behind Raul Castro as the Cuban President walked to the podium to conclude the two-day General Assembly session this week. The young man is Guillermo Rodriguez Castro. He is Raul's grandson, personal assistant and, some say, his primary bodyguard. Guillermo, by the way, has no political ambitions and both Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel, do not want a Cuban monarchy. Thus, the next leader of Cuba will certainly not be a Castro. This is in keeping with a promise long espoused by Fidel even as he maintained that his loyal brother Raul would succeed him.
    This photo shows the Castro brothers in 1959 in the very early days of Revolutionary Cuba. Raul was in his 20s, Fidel in his 30s. They were in their primes. They are now deep into their 80s. Time marches on. Soon, it will be their legacies, not them, that will influence whatever lies in Cuba's future. This month when he was visited by the Franco-Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet, Fidel said: "When Raul and I are gone it will be up to a younger generation of real Cubans, not Cubans propped up by a foreign power, to keep this island sovereign. That will be my everlasting hope."
   In 1959 Celia Sanchez, the most important Cuban revolutionary, was also in her prime. It was that year when she first laid down the most amazing proclamation related to Revolutionary Cuba: "The Batistianos will never regain control of Cuba as long as I live or as long as Fidel lives." No one believed her then because the ousted leaders of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship had quickly regrouped in South Florida and still had the unmatched power of the United States behind their efforts to recapture Cuba. But despite all that, and with the dawn of 2014 just over the horizon, everyone believes her now. Undoubtedly, if she were alive today, Celia would be over-joyed that Fidel has reached age 87 and, of course, that the Batistianos have not, after all these many decades, "regained control of Cuba."
   The child-loving Celia Sanchez's outrage about the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship reached a pivotal crescendo when she learned that young Cuban boys like William Soler were being murdered as warnings for Cubans not to resist the dictators. That revelation inspired Celia to become the most daring and the most effective anti-Batista urban recruiter, as best depicted by respected Cuban historian Pedro Alvarez Tabio. But it was when Celia learned that young Cuban peasant girls like Maria Ochoa were being kidnapped to be used in Mafia-run hotel/casinos to lure rich foreign pedophiles that Celia was transformed into the greatest female guerrilla fighter in history, all 99 pounds of her! Therefore, it would not be incorrect to conclude that the fate of 10-year-old Maria Ochoa was the biggest mistake Batista, the Mafia, and the United States ever made on the island of Cuba.
    Lest it be forgot, it was brave Cuban mothers like these who took to the streets to protest the murders of their children that started the Cuban Revolution, not macho men like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Beyond doubt, the powerful Batista dictatorship backed by the powerful Mafia and the powerful United States could never have been overthrown except for these outraged women. If that historic fact doesn't correlate with your understanding of the Cuban Revolution, then it is because much of the American history concerning those years has been written quite conveniently by rather biased and revengeful Cuban exiles.
The banner above says: "Cease the assassinations of our sons and daughters. Cuban mothers."
  Since the overthrow of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba in January of 1959, Cuban exiles have primarily dictated the narrative in the United States regarding anything and everything Cuban. That narrative has convinced many Americans that the Castro rule of Cuba since 1959 has been possible only because the Castro brothers have eliminated, incarcerated or otherwise done away with all opposition. That's not exactly true. In February of 1959 rebel heroine Celia Sanchez mandated a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution on each and every block. To this day those committees have been the primary Defense of the Revolution. The REUTERS/Enrique de la Oso photo {above-right} was taken on December 10, 2013. It reflects a common event in Cuba this month and every month since 1959. The pro-Castro marchers above were hastily organized CDR members shouting down an anti-Castro march by the Ladies in White. The lady in the orange blouse holding the Fidel Castro poster is shouting, "No one is paying us a peso! How many dollars are you ladies being paid by the CIA?" Most anti-Castro demonstrations in Cuba to this day are met with counter pro-government demonstrators. Whatever the percentage of anti-Castro Cubans, there are many more who are anti-foreign domination. The Castro brothers are defined as local domination. This is significant on an island in which a long line of its heroes -- such as Antonio Maceo and Jose Marti -- died on battlefields fighting foreign domination. Also, the marchers above acutely remember the aforementioned anti-Batista marchers that ignited the successful anti-foreign-domination Cuban Revolution. To ignore the above two photos is to ignore reality.
   Before macho men like the Castro brothers, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Che Guevara ever set foot on Sierra Maestra battlegrounds, Celia's recruitment of rebels and supplies and even her anti-Batista war was well underway. Fidel Castro's lifelong worship of Celia began during 1953-1955 when he was in a Batista prison and heard about Celia's exploits fighting, recruiting, and organizing the long-shot rebel movement. As a guerrilla fighter, as a rebel and armaments recruiter, and as a strategist, Celia Sanchez was the soul of the Cuban Revolution. Before Fidel had joined her in the Sierra Maestra, Batista had already put a $75,000 bounty on her head.
    Even after the macho men arrived in the Sierra Maestra, Celia Sanchez remained the most important anti-Batista strategist. A prime reason for that, of course, was because her idolater, Fidel Castro, made sure Celia's decisions and opinions remained supreme. If any rebels, including Camilo and Che, objected to that feminine prominence, they were put in their places as important but secondary rebels. From the moment Fidel laid eyes on Celia in the Sierra Maestra in the closing days of 1956, he has worshiped her...and he will till the day he dies. Celia was responsible for the success of the Cuban Revolution and, speaking topically, she is, for sure, responsible for the fact that the Batistianos have not "regained control of Cuba."
 In Revolutionary Cuba, Fidel -- who usually spent his nights at Celia's modest 11th Street apartment in Havana -- could relax to his heart's content because Celia, who never relaxed, was the decision-maker. His job was to support her, which he unfailingly did. His seminal U. S. biographer, Georgie Anne Geyer, correctly stated that Celia "over-ruled Fidel" whenever and wherever she chose. Cuban insider Roberto Salas, in his book, stated: "Celia made all the decisions for Cuba, the big ones and the small ones." Pedro Alvarez Tabio, the Cuban historian, cogently wrote: "If Batista had managed to kill Celia Sanchez anytime between 1953 and 1957, there would have been no viable Cuban Revolution, and no revolution for Fidel and Che to join."  
    This is one of the last images of Celia before she died of cancer at age 59 on January 11, 1980. Fidel Castro and others who would know say she was the most important figure in Cuba's Revolutionary War and in Revolutionary Cuba. The Cuba exiles who have mostly written the self-serving history of the Cuban Revolution claim the child-loving doctor's daughter from Media Luna was a non-factor. Why? Well, I believe the answer is...Fidel is a lot easier to demonize and vilify than Celia. But she covered and honed the arc and the epicenter of Fidel's life. His trepidations, as both Salas and Tabio point out, were mollified by her. Motivated by the fates of children like Maria Ochoa and William Soler, she was the ravenous rebel that doomed Batista.
   In 1955 Marta Rojas {left} was an enterprising young journalist in Havana. She was trusted by Dictator Fulgencio Batista who thought she was, uh, kinda pretty. But Marta was a lot of things, including an anti-Batista rebel. She had frequent access to the imprisoned Fidel. When she exited his cell she would always have, in her bra, notes Fidel had written to his rebel idol, Celia Sanchez. In a similar manner, Marta transported notes from Celia to Fidel. After the triumph of the revolution, Marta became the island's top journalist and author. One of her very best books -- "Tania: The Unforgettable Guerrilla" -- was first published in America by Random House.
    Now Marta {Photo courtesy: Tracey Eatonwould easily qualify as the world's greatest expert on Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro, and the Cuban Revolution. She is also an internationally acclaimed journalist, author, and historian. In a 2005 email Marta told me: "Since Celia Sanchez died of cancer in 1980, Fidel has ruled Cuba only as he precisely believes Celia would want him to rule it." Considering Marta's insight as a prime Cuban insider, and the fact that Fidel's brother Raul and the soon-to-be post-Castro leader of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel are both Fidel disciples, it seems that Celia's influence on the island will extend from the 1950s till well into the future, as it should. If you want to know about Celia Sanchez, Fidel Castro or the Cuban Revolution, check with Marta Rojas on the island of Cuba. She is much more informative and a lot less biased than the Cuban exiles and their acolytes.
     To comprehend the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba, one would need to study this photo. It was taken by the incomparable war photographer Dickey Chapelle and is copyrighted in her native state by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It shows the two immeasurably important female guerrilla fighters -- Celia Sanchez, the studious one, and Vilma Espin, the gay one. This was during a lull in the fighting in the Sierra Maestra. By the time this photo was taken, Fidel Castro's lifelong worship of Celia was already deeply embedded; and Raul Castro had already proposed to Vilma. Later, in Revolutionary Cuba, these two women would be the two prime decision-makers in all areas except the direct military defense of the island. If you have been told differently, you have been conveniently misinformed.
   In fact, these three women -- left to right: Vilma Espin, Celia Sanchez, and Haydee Santamaria -- were more vital as a trio to the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba than any three men. That includes the Castro brothers, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Che Guevara. Fidel Castro, to his dying day, will vouch for that statement. These three women were do-or-die guerrilla fighters and later Cuba was theirs to shape and to form. Haydee, after the revolutionary victory, mostly devoted her energy to the literary organization she founded. Celia and Vilma were much more brash as decision-makers and the Castro brothers weren't about to over-rule them.
   This photo shows the rebels regrouping and winding down in camp after a guerrilla attack against a Batista unit. That's Vilma standing in the middle of the photo. She always had a smile on her face. That's Haydee sitting on the stump and Celia sitting on the ground. Batista had a lot more soldiers and much more powerful armaments but his forces never matched the motivation of these women. That feminine motivation began with the aforemention street protests by mothers whose sons and daughters had been killed. These three women merely fanned the flames of those protests.

  This photo shows Vilma Espin and Raul Castro being driven in a stolen jeep to attack a Batista unit in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra. Vilma was always smiling -- before, during, and after battles. At night around campfires she sang and played the guitar. All the rebels fell madly in love with her. Raul married her within days in 1959 after the improbable revolutionary victory. 
    In Revolutionary Cuba Fidel anointed Raul's wife Vilma as "Cuba's First Lady" after the exceptionally modest and private Celia declined the offer. At sessions like the one depicted in this photo Fidel would say a few words and then introduce "our First Lady." Vilma dutifully fulfilled that role from 1959 till she died of cancer in 2007, the mother of Raul Castro's four children.
   But in Revolutionary Cuba Vilma Espin was much more than just Cuba's First Lady and the wife of Raul Castro. In reaction to what she termed the Batista dictatorship's "damnable" treatment of the island's women and children, Vilma founded the Federation of Cuba Women. From 1959 till she died in 2007, anyone who mistreated women or children on the island answered to her. And while she lived, no women took to the streets to protest the "asesinatos de nuestros hijos" {"the murders of our boys and girls."}. And because of Vilma's Federation of Cuban Women, which was strongly endorsed by Celia Sanchez and Haydee Santamaria, beginning in 1959 all women and children on the island were guaranteed food, shelter, free health care for life, and free educations through college. As she was dying of cancer, on a last visit to her beloved Santiago de Cuba, Vilma said, "The U. S. embargo, the exile attempts to recapture the island...these things have hurt us. Yet, we have done so much too. I am very proud of us. I am proud of Vilma Espin Castro."
Vilma Espin: Cuba's First Lady.
Vilma Espin
April 7, 1930 - June 18, 2007
Celia Sanchez: guerrilla fighter, decision-maker.
Celia Sanchez
May 9, 1920 - January 11, 1980
   Lastly, the photo on the left captured an important ongoing event in Cuba this past week. It shows the three FARC leaders holding a news conference. Cuba is receiving plaudits, from the UN and even from the U. S., for trying to broker a peace in Colombia where for decades thousands have died in warfare between FARC guerrillas and the U.S.-backed Colombian army. The two men in the photo are top FARC commanders. So, who is the lady? Her name is Laura Villa. She has been such a renowned guerrilla fighter that now she is the head of all the guerrilla operations.
        This photo shows President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela visiting Fidel Castro Saturday, December 21, 2013. Maduro said he and his wife Cilia Flores -- the second most powerful person in Venezuela -- made an unscheduled visit to Havana to discuss "international and regional issues" with "the Commander."

cubaninsider: "The Country That Raped Me" (A True Story)

cubaninsider: "The Country That Raped Me" (A True Story) : Note : This particular essay on  Ana Margarita Martinez  was first ...