Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Cuban Tug-of-War Takes Flight

The First Big Volley Was Fired Yesterday!!
ESSAY UPDATED: Wednesday, December 31st, 2014
      Yesterday -- December 30th -- Cuba's most famed dissident Yoani Sanchez fired the first major volley in what will be an ongoing collaboration between Cubans and Americans to thwart President Obama's plans to normalize relations between the two countries. Ms. Sanchez and her associates announced an "Open Mike" demonstration yesterday at the Plaza of the Revolution. Then, the media-savvy Sanchez took to Twitter and other social outlets to announce that she and her husband Reinaldo Escobar were detained, arrested, hand-cuffed, etc., outside their Havana home, presumably on the way to the Plaza. As she planned, by the afternoon the top international news groups -- including Reuters and CNN -- were informing the world of her detention. That's Success #1 for Yoani. If and when videos or photos surface of her being abused in any manner, that would be Success #2, the biggest of all. The campaign that started yesterday will be unending, at least until something emerges that would force President Obama to abandon his hopes and plans to normalize relations with the island, a process that would, for sure, mitigate against Cubans and Americans who gain fame, fortune, and revenge from the U.S.-Cuban belligerence that has been in vogue since the 1950s and might prevail for another six decades or so. As Yoani Sanchez and her well-funded colleagues demonstrated yesterday, Cuba is wedged between a rock and a hard place. Whatever it does to survive as a sovereign nation will be used -- by foreign-backed dissidents on the island -- to restore a Batista-type rule. A Revolution to overthrow the Cuban Revolution is underway.
       This photo {taken by Pete Souza for The White House} shows President Obama on the phone talking with Alan Gross on December 17th as Mr. Gross was flying from Cuba to the United States. The swap of prisoners was one of the key factors in the delicate negotiations that led to the Presidential announcement that he would do all he could to normalize relations between the two neighboring nations. Americans should realize that it might not happen; powerful forces benefit from the ongoing hostilities. It should be remembered, for example, that in November of 1963 President Kennedy had the same plan and so did President Clinton in March of 1996. Historic events -- one in Dallas and another in the Florida Straits -- thwarted those efforts. On the eve of the new year -- 2015 -- the same obstacles that confronted Presidents Kennedy and Clinton now confront President Obama. That's why, since the 1950s, the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba say a lot more about the United States than they say about Cuba. 
      This AP/Desmond Boylan photo illustrated a major article this week {December 29th} written by Associated Press journalists Michael Weissenstein and Andrea Rodriguez, who are stationed in Havana. The article was entitled: "Cuba-U. S. Detente Upends Life For Cuban Dissidents." No kidding! Anti-Castro zealots in Miami, Washington, and Cuba are upset -- maybe "upended" -- because of the U.S.-Cuban plans to begin normalizing relations. Like most countries, Cuba, for sure, has legitimate dissidents. Also, more than most, Cuba is forced to defend itself against a legion of people -- both on the island and in America -- who will continue to benefit if the efforts to normalize relations between the two neighbors do not succeed. Monday's aforementioned AP article from Havana referenced the fact that mammoth anti-government demonstrations would begin in Cuba Tuesday. The article also pointed out that pro-government Cubans on the island stood ready to oppose the demonstrators, often depicted by Cubans as being sponsored by and from anti-revolutionary elements in the nearby United States. Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs, Josefina Vidal, is mostly concerned with what she considers an indelible historic fact: The Miami-based tactic anytime it appears the U. S. is about to soften its belligerence toward Cuba is to provoke the island into doing something that will be used to blunt any such effort. Ms. Vidal as well as historians remember when President Clinton planned on doing much of what President Obama is doing now. Then Brothers to the Rescue airplanes from Miami taunted Cuba, even dropping leaflets over Havana. For days Cuba begged the U. S. and the UN to do something to stop the provocations. Cuba eventually sent up two jets and shot down two of the Brothers' planes, killing four people. Instead of continuing his plans to ease sanctions against Cuba, President Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which drastically hardened the sanctions against Cuba and provided special privileges to anti-Castro Cubans, such as the Wet Foot/Dry Foot policy that benefits only Cubans as well as a plethora of tax-funded efforts to undermine the Cuban government. Josefina Vidal believes that starting the last week of December concerted efforts will be conducted in attempts to provoke the Cuban government into doing something that can be caught on video and used against Cuba to help prevent any chance of normalizing relations with the U. S.
      This photo shows President Bill Clinton signing the Helms-Burton Act into law on March 12, 1996. The lady looking over his right shoulder is Havana-born Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has represented Miami in the U. S. Congress since 1989. Standing just to President Clinton's right is Bob Menendez, still entrenched in the U. S. Congress from Union City and now the Chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee. At the far left is Jesse Helms, the famed right-wing Republican Senator for whom the law is named. Second from the right is Havana-born Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the first of two sons of former Batista Minister Rafael Diaz-Balart who have represented Miami in the U. S. Congress. The Helms-Burton Act codified and greatly strengthened U. S. sanctions against Cuba. Additionally, the law to this day severely punishes even U.S.-friendly nations and companies that do business with Cuba. It is the most extreme aspects of Helms-Burton that President Obama is trying to mollify or eliminate in the New Year of 2015. He may not succeed.
   
      Tania Bruguera is an artist who divides her time between Chicago and Havana, according to Wikipedia. She was born in Havana in 1968. She flew to Havana this week to conduct a well-advertised and highly orchestrated "Open Mike" anti-Castro demonstration in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. The social media suggested that lots of beer would be available for those who attend. The Cuban government hopes the event will be peaceful. Many believe such hopes will be in vain. This is Test #1. More will follow.
       As reported by Cubanet.org, this was the scene Tuesday afternoon at Revolutionary Square in Havana where Tania Bruguera, a close ally of Yoani Sanchez, was to have headlined an anti-revolutionary demonstration beginning at 3:00 P. M. Eastern. She was a no-show, apparently detained or arrested.
       Before the sun had set on Cuba Tuesday, Daniel Trotta of Reuters was reporting that Marco Rubio, the Senator and presidential candidate from Miami, had issued this exact statement: "The Castro regime's latest acts of repression against political dissidents in Cuba make a mockery of President Obama's new U.S.-Cuba policy." Yesterday's orchestrated actions to provoke the Cuban government will continue unabated, as Senator Rubio well knows, as long as President Obama holds out any hope of normalizing relations with Cuba. That fact has been well known since noon on December 17th when the President officially announced his plans. Rubio knows he has the upper-hand because President Obama cannot possibly counter all the grenades that well-funded, well-orchestrated "dissidents" will hurl at him and Cuba.
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       This Lisa Nipp/AP photo shows the entrance to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Because the U. S. and Cuba have not had friendly relations since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, and officially not since 1961, the two neighboring nations, for far too many decades, have not had an exchange of embassies or ambassadors. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington is located at the Switzerland embassy building. But Cuba will soon have its own embassy in Washington for the first time since 1961.
       This AP/Desmond Boylan photo shows the U. S. Interests Section in Havana on a cloudy day just before sunrise. It is a 7-story building that currently employs 50 American staffers and some 300 Cuban workers. It overlooks the famed seaside Malecon boulevard in that area of Havana. It presently is the largest U. S. diplomatic mission in the region and it will soon be a U. S. Embassy instead of an Interests Section.
  Roberta Jacobson is President Obama's first choice to become the new U. S. Ambassador to Cuba. As a Cuban expert and as one of America's best diplomats, she is imminently qualified for that position. Since March 30, 2012, Ms. Jacobson has been Assistant U. S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and has served that post brilliantly. She has also served as Coordinator for Cuban Affairs within the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Next month, January, Ms. Jacobson will be in Havana representing the U. S. in continuing to formulate the seismic changes President Obama has outlined for America's new relations with Cuba. If all goes well, Roberta Jacobson will soon have a new title -- America's Ambassador to Cuba. 
     Senator Marco Rubio since December 17th has been on every network television news program on the planet, not just right-wing Fox News. As an anti-Castro zealot from Miami, young Mr. Rubio rides a one-trick pony named "Cuba" but he plans on being elected President of the entire United States as soon as 2016. In the meantime, he has personally vowed to thwart President Obama's plans to normalize relations with Cuba. He is bragging about becoming the next Chairman of the Senate's powerful Western Hemisphere Committee and, of course, both Cuba and Roberta Jacobson are in the Western Hemisphere. Rubio plans to block any funding necessary for the opening of a U. S. Embassy in Havana. He plans to block anyone appointed by President Obama to be the U. S. Ambassador to Cuba. In other words, he plans to continue a primary blight on the U. S. democracy that has existed virtually since the day the Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba was overthrown by the Cuban Revolution in January of 1959, and that blight has to do with a few Cuban exiles and their easily acquired right-wing sycophants in the U. S. Congress demanding that they alone be permitted to dictate America's Cuban policy, which has been a disaster for Cubans, Cuban-Americans, Americans, Caribbeans, Latin Americans, and -- as reflected by the yearly UN vote -- for America's best friends around the world. President Obama has executive authority as well as the support of most sane democracy-lovers worldwide, so if he maintains his grit he can resist most of the self-serving insanity Senator Rubio will hurl at him. With Rubio the incoming Chairman of the Senate's Western Hemisphere Committee, it will be interesting to see how Roberta Jacobson, the Assistant U. S. Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, stands up to him when it comes to Cuba -- the island, not the pony.
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      This AFP/Adaberto Roque  photo shows two tourists relaxing on a Cuban beach as an entrepreneur tries to interest them in some of his wares. Tourism is very important to Cuba, as famed terrorist Luis Posada Carriles reminded everyone with the deadly bombing of Hotel Copacabana in 1997 and, incredibly, during a demonstration in Miami right after the Dec.17-2014 announcement by President Obama that he would try to ease the harsh embargo and other hostilities against Cuba. In the past year, Cuba has had about three million tourists. Americans, thanks to dictates of Cuban-exile extremists since the early 1960s, are the only people in the entire world who are not freely allowed to visit Cuba. At the same time, Americans, even within the framework of their famed democracy, are also not supposed to think that their being the only ones in the world who can't freely visit Cuba is unusual. Of course, USAID and other U. S. tax-funded programs saturate the island with recruits intent on undermining the Cuban government and stirring up dissent, hopefully caught on a video Smart-Phone for maximum impact. If President Obama is successful in allowing Americans to freely travel to Cuba, it is estimated that additional millions will do so right away.
      If Americans, like the rest of the world, are freely allowed to travel to Cuba, it will greatly benefit many businesses in the U. S. as well as the emerging entrepreneurial class on the island. And also, it would remove a blight on America's image that the rest of the world abhors. Yet, to benefit a handful of self-serving Americans and Cuban-Americans -- Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez, the Diaz-Balart Brothers, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, etc. -- there is fierce determination to keep in vogue a failed, archiac Cuban policy that harms the rest of the world except two generations of an elitist few. On Christmas day, America's top newspaper, USA Today, featured a full-page article written by Nancy Trejos and entitled "Cuba's Time: Best Reasons to Visit." Another sub-headline that went from one side of the page to the other stated: "History-rich Island Nation Offers Would-be Travelers From the USA White-sand Beaches, Steamy Music and Architectural Wonders." I have traveled all over the island on a research mission via legal permission from the viscerally anti-Cuban George W. Bush administration. Therefore, nothing in the article by Nancy Trejos surprised me. But I would advise the millions of Americans banned from visiting Cuba to read that full-page article posted on Christmas day in USA Today. You know, in a democracy it is better to have a chance to judge something by yourself rather than having a self-serving presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, and his right-wing colleagues in the U. S. Congress, telling you what to think.
       Within hours of President Obama's December 17th announcement in Washington, President Castro's announcement in Havana, and the Pope's announcement in Rome that an effort would be made to normalize relations between the U. S. and Cuba, Jeb Bush was in Miami headlining an anti-normalization rally that quickly raised $200,000 to fight the consensus world hope to end the cruel, five-decades-old embargo and continuous deprivation of Cubans on the island to benefit a few Cubans and their U. S. sycophants off the island. In an American democracy that increasingly has become vulnerable to special interest money, Jeb Bush is well-defined as an expert. He will need in excess of $1.5 billion to campaign for the Presidency in 2016, and he has that amount in his back pocket. The $200,000 he quickly raised in Miami is merely a start of what he will muster to fight President Obama and the rest of the world that wants to see sanity and decency applied to America's Cuban relations. Jeb Bush believes his last name entitles him to a free ride to the U. S. Presidency in 2016 and 2020. Unfortunately, it might happen. Propagandized and proselytized Americans, over the course of the past five decades, have never questioned the Bush dynasty's self-serving alliances with the most extremists Cuban exiles. Even now, with such easy research tools as Google, that is not likely to change because Jeb Bush appears confident that the majority of Americans have neither the concern nor the patriotism to do anything other than to be influenced by self-serving propaganda, which is not exactly DEMOCRACY.
    George Prescott Bush, Jeb's son, has just been elected to a powerful position as Land Commissioner in Texas. I presume, like his father and others in the Bush clan, George P. feels entitled to a free ride to the U. S. presidency. Surely, as with his first major campaign in Texas, money will never be a problem. So, after another two-term Bush presidency, his father Jeb's, George P. has every reason to believe his own two-term presidency will begin in January of 2024. It's anyone guess, however, which Bush will feel entitled to succeed George P. in 2032, but for sure whoever it is will have the billions necessary to triumph in a democracy that simply is not as strong as it was prior to the Batista boondoggle that inflicted Cuba in the 1950s and has inflicted America since.
       I admire this lady because I believe she personifies what democracy is all about. Her name is Sarah Stephens. She is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas. She was in Cuba on Dec. 17-2014 when President Obama and President Castro simultaneously told their people via television addresses of their plans to normalize relations. Ms. Stephens understands the plight, hopes, and moods of the Cuban people better than almost any other American. She, of course, hailed the announcement that portends better lives for the 11.2 million Cubans on the island even if it means less of a piggy-bank and punching-bag for a handful of Americans and Cuban-Americans. Ms. Stephens was not too happy Jeb Bush quickly flew to Miami to begin raising money to fight President Obama's Cuban plans. And she was not pleased that Luis Posada Carriles, of all people, led an anti-Obama demonstration in the streets of Miami. Ms. Stephens each Friday on the excellent Center for Democracy in the Americas website writes the "Cuba Central" segment. On December 26th she wrote: "Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban-born CIA asset who orchestrated the 1976 bombing of Cubana Flight 455 that killed 73 people, lives freely in Miami, where many hard-line Cuban-Americans consider him a hero." Note that Ms. Stephens did not use the word "alleged" regarding the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 in which two dozen male and female teenage Cuban athletes were among the victims. Left to Ms. Stephens, Cuba would be left alone to choose its own course and America would be a better democracy. But...she understands there are people who oppose her ideals. 
      "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana," the great book by Ann Louise Bardach, best delineates the Posada role in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455, the first civilian airplane to be bombed out of the sky by terrorists in the Western Hemisphere. And on pages 180-223 of this classic book Ms. Bardach details Posada's role in the series of deadly hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 -- Hotel Copacabana, Chateau Hotel, Mehia Cohiba Hotel, Triton Hotel, etc. In fact, Posada seemed proud of the publicity Ms. Bardach afforded him. He gave her a famous interview for the New York Times in which he admitted his reason for orgainzing all the hotel bombings in Havana was to discourage tourism. Amazingly, in December of 2014 Posada was leading a demonstration in Miami demanding that President Obama not be allowed to let Americans freely travel to Cuba! Also, in December of 2014 presidential candidate Jeb Bush flocked to Miami to collect $200,000 in one fund-raiser as the start of a massive campaign to thwart the will of the President and the world when it comes to Cuba. The mainstream U. S. media, of course, has neither the courage nor the integrity to question the motives of either Luis Posada Carriles or Jeb Bush. But, thankfully, great and brave journalists/authors such as Sarah Stephens and Ann Louise Bardach do.
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     On Christmas day, 2014, the world was aware that Pope Francis played a pivotal role in what is now at least the beginning of the end of the decades-old hostilities between two neighbors -- Cuba and the United States. Pope Francis is a Latin American; he was born on December 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In his still-young Papacy he has stamped himself as the world's most important advocate for the poorest and most vulnerable people on this troubled planet. He fully understands that wars, conflicts, poverty, and the vast disparity between the haves and the have-nots breed constant and seemingly endless suffering. Thus, it is not surprising that this greatest of living men put Papal pressure on President Obama of the U. S. and President Castro of Cuba to try to bring at least a degree of sanity to their relationship for the benefit of the masses, not for just a self-serving few who wallow in the animosity. Thus -- Christmas day -- there was tangible evidence that the seeds Pope Francis has sewn are bearing fruit. The evidence is a new chain fence in Havana.
    That chain-link fence in Havana now surrounds the dilapidated building on the right. {Photo courtesy: AP/Ramon Espinosa} It is a special and historic building -- the once magnificent Saint Thomas de Villanueva symbol of the Catholic Church in Cuba. It came upon hard times during the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s. The military forces of Dictator Fulgencio Batista stored weapons and ammunition in the building when the plan was to defend the capital city against the rebel forces led by Fidel Castro. But after the rebels captured Santa Clara in the last two days of December, 1958, the leaders in Havana fled to safer havens off the island. It began a tumultuous period between the new revolutionary government in Cuba and the Catholic Church. Since the early 1960s, economic missteps on the island exacerbated by a still massive embargo, imposed by the ultra-powerful U. S. government on behalf of two generations of Cuban exiles, has resulted in the gradual decay of Saint Thomas de Villanueva and many other once-proud buildings in Cuba. But thanks to Pope Francis, the rehabilitation is underway. Andrea Rodriguez, the excellent AP correspondent in Havana, penned a Christmas day article entitled "Cuba Relations With Catholic Church At High Point." Ms. Rodriguez added: "A new chain fence surrounds the building {Saint Thomas}, protecting it for a future that once seemed unimaginable." That future portends a bright day for Saint Thomas de Villanueva and for Cuba. The awesomely wealthy Catholic Church will rebuild Saint Thomas to resemble its former glory. Ms. Rodriguez also points out that the ruins of major Catholic Church properties are also indelible sights, and blights, around the island -- especially in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city located on the alligator-shaped island's eastern tip. Also, the cities of Cienfuegos, Manzanillo, and Bayamo have the remnants of former magnificent buildings owned by the Catholic Church. It is presumed that Pope Francis is well aware of all that, and that is a very hopeful sign....in a discombobulated world sorely lacking in hopeful signs.
    I am not a Catholic but I recognize that Pope Francis is the greatest and most influential person in the world today. It is a world torn asunder by conflicts, greed, the lust for power, and the disparity between the rich and the rest. So, Pope Francis will succeed only in making dents into massively insurmountable obstacles to the well-being of human-kind. But those dents are precious, including the one he has made in U.S.-Cuban relations. But that dent also returns to the surface the determination of a few Cuban-Americans and their always corroborative Republicans in the U. S. Congress {and sometimes, unfortunately, in the White House} who benefit from U.S.-Cuban turmoil. {I am a lifelong conservative Republican but, as you might note, I am not a right-wing Republican}. And so, in the age-old battle between good and evil, I'm rooting for Pope Francis across the board, including his overtures relating to the island of Cuba.
       Study this Cuban map. In all the cities and towns depicted above, there are dilapidated buildings, including some 200,000 not properly rebuilt after the twin-perils of back-to-back hurricanes devastated the island years ago. The Catholic Church decision, with Cuba's concurrence, to rebuild Saint Thomas de Villanuerva to its former glory is a huge start. That one building has already put some people to work. Now think about how many people would be provided gainful employment if buildings all across the island, the largest island in the Caribbean, received similar treatment. Investments in that endeavor from foreign nations, including a more sensible United States, would be well rewarded. For years, every U. S. port in America has wanted to do business with Cuba, including those in nearby Florida. Every farm bureau in America for years has wanted to do business with Cuba. Every company in America that produces building products would love to do business in Cuba. It should be allowed to happen. Every Cuban-American and every American who thinks otherwise should be reminded that the United States of America is still, and always will be, a democracy that serves the majority, not a Banana Republic that caters to a few. Cuba has long been a U. S. negative. It could be a U. S. positive.
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