Friday, June 6, 2014

Cuba's Best Friend

And Why She's Vital To Cuba's Future
But first............
      This AP/Franklin Reyes photo reflects what has dominated the news in Cuba this week. Recognizing that fact, the top Associated Press correspondents in Havana -- Peter Orsi and Andrea Rodriguez -- have both written major articles about it. This photo shows students at the pre-university Jose Marti School in Old Havana diligently studying for exams. Eight people -- including five teachers and one person at the Education Center's printer's office -- have been arrested in a scandal that involves selling copies of the exams. Thus students across the island were forced to re-take the exams. The diligent 18-year-old twin sisters above -- Lili and Rocio Garcia -- had to take the exams over after Lili scored a perfect 100 and Rocio had a 99 on the first exams. The re-taking was tougher, dropping Lili to 99 and Rocio to 91. Lili told the AP, "It was right to repeat the exams, but they should have done it in the whole country. It was not something that should have gone unpunished." Rocio disagreed, telling the AP, "It was not fair to punish everyone for the transgressions of a few." The AP's Andrea Rodriguez wrote: "Education, which is universal and free including the university level, is considered sacrosanct as one of the pillars of Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution." The island is very proud of students like the twins, Lili and Rocio.

     This has been another sad week for 92-year-old Alicia Alonso, the legendary director of Cuba's National Ballet. For decades, she has selected very young Cubans and turned them into the best ballet performers in the world. Many of them have defected to become highly paid performers for top ballet troupes from San Francisco to New York to London to Paris and elsewhere. This week Alicia had her stars performing in Puerto Rico, which is legal United States territory. Eight defected, taking easy flights to Miami via the still-burgeoning anti-Cuban pipeline.
       Alicia Alonso is quite aware that, coupled with the financial motivation, in recent years a shady but lucrative cottage industry has been built in the U. S. to create pipelines for Cuban defections in ballet, baseball and even among the thousands of doctors that Cuba sends to foreign nations. And Alicia knows that, along with the lure of money, the incentive is merely to hurt Fidel Castro and revolutionary Cuba.
     Alicia Alonso is one of the prime players in the history of the Cuban Revolution. She was born 92 years ago in Havana. Like most Cubans, she was displeased with the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in the 1950s. When the above photo was taken in 1955, Alicia was the top ballerina in America while living in New York. When Batista was overthrown by the Cuban Revolution in January-1959, she returned to Cuba as an admirer of Celia Sanchez, Vilma Espin and Fidel Castro. In March of 1959, Fidel Castro himself knocked on her door and offered her $200,000 upfront if she would take charge of the Cuban National Ballet. She accepted and she has held that position ever since, establishing herself as ballet's all-time greatest instructor and choreographer.
Since 1959 Alicia has remained Fidel's dear friend.
      And over the years since 1959, Fidel Castro has bestowed on Alicia Alonso all the honors and medals Cuba could provide her. She has been legally blind since her youth. But she is nonpareil as a ballerina and choreographer. However, she will be remembered most for scouring the island since 1959 in search of Cubans as young as five that she could mold into world-class performers, many of whom defected to greener pastures. The eight who defected this week in Puerto Rico continue that trend, perhaps more painful than most of the others because, for the first known time, earlier this year Alicia, with tears in her eyes, commented, "For all those years, the lure of money took my most talented children. Now the primary lure is the pipeline mostly constructed to hurt Cuba. My children were cheered for their performances. Now they are cheered by unsavory people for their defections."  
Now back to "Cuba's Best Friend":
     Considering the totalities, firepower, and determination of its nearby enemies, the island of Cuba is indeed fortunate that its best friend, Dilma Rousseff, is also the most powerful person in the history of Latin America. She is the President of Brazil, the Latin American superpower that now wields a trillion dollar economy. The above photo was used to highlight a major New York Times article this week written by Simon Romero. As he interviewed her in the spacious presidential office in Brasillia, Mr. Romero noted that Ms. Rousseff was calmly "sipping Orange Juice and nibbling cashews." The insightful article reveals precisely why she is Cuba's best friend and is so vital to the continuation of revolutionary rule on the island. Simon Romero of the New York Times pointed out that President Rousseff's recent largess included a $900 million upgrade of Cuba's Mariel port as well as a generous contract that has brought thousands of Cuban doctors and nurses to work in Brazil's poorest areas. She told Mr. Romero: "We are betting much more on a policy of investment than a blockade." Like Cuba, she calls the U. S. embargo of Cuba a "blockade" and Mr. Romero pointed out it has existed since "1960." And she told Mr. Romero, "Overhauling Cuba's economy requires the application of more market forces, not less." The New York Times and Simon Romero also astutely stated: "Helping Cuba to open its economy also reflects on Brazil's, and Ms. Rousseff's, political evolution since military rule ended in Brazil in 1985. While Brazil now has a president who was a Marxist guerrilla in her youth, it stands out among its neighbors for a law under which perpetrators of rights abuses during the dictatorship are shielded from prosecution. Brazil's highest court has upheld the amnesty law, meaning that Ms. Rousseff's torturers remain free even as a commission examines the politically motivated crimes of that era. Ms. Rousseff said that, as president, she respects the law despite her personal views. 'I don't believe in vindictiveness but I also don't believe in forgiving,' she said. 'It's extremely important for Brazilians to know what happened because that will mean it won't happen again.'"
       The BBC this week used this photo to illustrate its major article on Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's Cuban-loving President. As with the New York Times, the BBC queried Ms. Rousseff about Brazil hosting soccer's World Cup starting June 12th. Brazil has spent billions of dollars preparing to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics. The expenditures have resulted in anti-Rousseff demonstrations fueled by Brazilians who feel the money should have been spent on the country's poor people. That anti-Rousseff sentiment has been fanned by wealthy Brazilians teaming with wealthy Americans, especially hardcore Cuban exiles in Miami who use their representatives in the U. S. Congress to assail pro-Cuban leaders throughout Latin America. Brazil has a presidential election upcoming in October and her opponents are well funded, including millions of U. S. dollars. Yet, she is expected to be re-elected. The New York Times this week pointed out that her "anti-poverty projects have pulled millions of Brazil's people into the middle class." And even in Latin America's economic superpower, there are more poor people than rich people. Moreover, unlike the era of foreign-backed military dictatorships that unmercifully tortured the young guerrilla Dilma Rousseff, now Brazil is a democracy and its poor people can actually vote! That's why Dilma Rousseff, who opposed the foreign-backed dictators, will be re-elected President of Brazil in October.
      Dilma Rousseff was born on December 14, 1947 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. When this photo was taken, no one could have predicted that she would grow up to be the most powerful person in the history of Latin America. That incredibly audacious journey is one that Americans in particular should study as a means of understanding the vagaries of Latin America on its perilous pathway to June of 2014. As both the NY Times and the BBC pointed out this week, Dilma's remarkable journey parallels or replicates Cuba's remarkable journey from the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in the 1950s right up to and beyond 1959's triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Dilma entered the 1950s as a toddler {above} and thus had nothing to do with either the Batista dictatorship in Cuba, the Cuban Revolution or the U.S.-backed military dictatorship in Brazil. But she would grow up to have a profound effect on Brazil's transition to democracy and on the ongoing survival of pugnacious, revolutionary Cuba.
 As a beautiful teenager in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff was appalled that her nation was being robbed and brutalized by a foreign-backed military dictatorship. The peaceful girl shown here relaxing on the edge of a Brazilian river became a guerrilla fighter in the Palmares Armed Revolutionary Vanguard. Her inspiration had been the Cuban Revolution that had amazingly triumphed over a U.S.-backed dictatorship in 1959, and in 2014 it remains her inspiration.
      In 1970 Dilma Rousseff was arrested by Brazil's military dictatorship and became Prisoner #3023. For the next three years while at the military prison in Sao Paulo, she was unmercifully tortured on a daily basis. In 2000 the UN documented that torture and asked her for a detailed personal report, which she dutifully and painstakingly provided. But over the years she has rarely discussed her imprisonment. "Only when it is really, really necessary," she says.


   Before she was led into the courtroom for her show-trial, Dilma Rousseff was severely beaten in places -- her stomach, back, and legs -- that wouldn't show under her clothes. And her glasses, which she badly needed, were stomped on. The UN noted that "her sheer bravery infuriated her torturers even more." In this photo, without her glasses, Dilma is staring down her prosecutor as he called her "the lowest form of traitor Brazil has ever seen."
      The New York Times this week eloquently discussed "the evolution" of Dilma Rousseff and how her evolution has so profoundly impacted the world -- particularly Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. The toddler {"Dillie"became a beautiful teenager {"Dilma"who didn't like living in a foreign-backed dictatorship. As a guerrilla fighter she tried to replicate the Cuban Revolution but was brutally tortured for three years as a captive in a military prison. But she survived and today is the democratically elected President of Brazil, the Latin American superpower.
 Dilma Rousseff's mentor and predecessor as President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, calls her, "The type leader Brazil and all nations need. Wealth in the hands of a few is the biggest curse facing the world's 7 billion people. Dilma fights for and cares about poor people like no one I have ever imagined. She is a Godsend for the world's majority."
    President Dilma Rousseff's abiding affection for Cuba's guerrilla icon Fidel Castro and his watershed Cuban Revolution is something Americans are not supposed to comprehend, except in a negative manner. But she, like many other current democratically elected Latin American presidents, was inspired by the Cuban Revolution that proved that even small countries could overcome foreign-backed dictatorships, an inspiration that surely expedited the waves of democracy that eventually spread across Latin America. In the above photo, sitting in the 87-year-old Fidel Castro's living room, President Rousseff is telling him about Brazil's mammoth efforts prior to hosting first the World Cup and then the Olympics in 2014.
    All the world leaders, including United States President Barack Obama, recognize Brazil's dominance of Latin America. Thus, world leaders try to patronize President Rousseff. Last fall she canceled a return visit to the White House when she learned that America's National Security Agency was spying on her emails and phone calls. However, she told the New York Times this week that her sour reaction to the spying is "thawing" and she wants to improve relations with the United States. Next week, she told the NY Times, Vice President Joseph Biden will be in Brazil for the World Cup and she "hopes to meet with him." Indeed, she loves Cuba and tolerates America.
    Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil, is very close to Cristina Fernandez, the President of Argentina. Ms. Rousseff last month was irked when members of the U. S. Congress from Miami urged U. S. sanctions against Argentina, which has Latin America's third largest economy. Vividly irritated, President Rousseff said, "A U. S. government whose Latin American policy is captive to or even influenced by Miami Cubans is one that should embarrass Americans. I keep wondering why it doesn't."
       The three most powerful Presidents in Latin America today are all females. And they have something else in common: They love Fidel Castro and tolerate a hostile America. In the above photo that is Brazil's Dilma Rousseff on the right. Chile's Michelle Bachelet is in the middle. Argentina's Cristina Fernandez is on the left. Brazil is Latin America's economic superpower. Chile has Latin America's highest per capital income. And Argentina has Latin America's third largest economy. 
     Despite their presidential duties in their own countries, Michelle Bachelet, Cristina Fernandez and Dilma Rousseff -- left to right, above -- regularly make time to visit their idol, Fidel Castro, in his Havana home. More reluctantly, all three of them have also visited President Obama in the White House. The American people, as Ms. Rousseff points out, since 1959 have gotten Cuban news and opinions from anti-Castro zealots in Miami and Washington. She thinks other sources are needed.
     Perhaps it is time -- in June of 2014 -- that Americans learned the story of Dilma Rousseff. It's a rather compelling story. Inspired by the Cuban Revolution, she became a guerrilla fighter to try to overthrow a U.S.-backed military dictatorship in her country. She failed and paid dearly for the attempt. But she persevered to become the democratically elected President of Brazil and the most powerful leader in Latin America's storied history. She is aware, as she faces re-election in October, that millions of dollars will flow from Miami-to-Washington-back-to-Miami-and-then-to-Brazil to try to unseat her. She thinks such foreign interference in Brazil is wrong, just as she believed foreign support of dictators in Brazil was wrong. Today Americans need to realize that she was right in 1970 and she is also right in 2014. And the proof of all that is this: She is the democratically elected President of Brazil in 2014!

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