Cuba-U.S. Diplomacy Advances

But Cuban-exiles Still Rule
Sunday, March 1st, 2015
      This Getty Images/Yahoo.com photo and the two that follow were taken yesterday -- Saturday, February 28th -- in Cuba, the day after the second round of diplomatic meetings were held in Washington aimed at normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. This is a Cuban farmer working his impressive potato field. Money-strapped Cuba -- which provides free education, health care, shelter, and food to its people -- spends more than $2 billion a year to import food and blames much of its shortfall on the U. S. embargo that has existed since the early 1960s, or shortly after the Cuban Revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship. Cuba needs more access to farm equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. In the next couple of months, anticipating an easing of the embargo, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and at least three other American governors will visit Cuba in hopes of increasing trade with the poor but potentially wealthy island. All U. S. ports, including those in Florida, desire business with Cuba, as do all farm bureaus and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. But a few Cuban-exiles dictate a different path. This potato farm is just outside the town of Gabriel. Cuba is trying really hard to increase food production.
     This is a produce salesman in Havana shown waiting for customers yesterday, the last day of March in the year 2015. He has lived all his life on the island and all his life he has been under the umbrella of the embargo, which severely harms Cubans on the island and powerfully helps Cuban exiles in the U. S. with a litany of special laws that support the unpopular and undemocratic dichotomy -- harming this man because he stayed on the island while special U. S. laws also would greatly benefit him if he defected. His aged countenance and his determined eyes reflect the fact that he knows all about such things as...Batista, Castro, the U. S. exiles, and the embargo.
     This photo was also taken yesterday, February 28th, as Cubans on the island mulled how their lives would change if the diplomatic sessions that have now taken place in both Havana and Washington come to fruition. These two waitresses are shown waiting for customers at a roadside restaurant on the edge of Havana. There are some people...in fact, a lot of people...who believe it is indecent for a foreign nation, especially one that caters to Cuban exiles, to punish these two young Cuban women all their lives...and the same sentiments could be directed at the potato farmer and the produce salesman depicted earlier. But that is not the way the world works in 2015 despite all the lessons learned from the multitude of vile imperialist-backed dictatorships that roiled Cuba and many other Caribbean and Latin American nations beginning in the 1950s. Cuba's potato farmer, the produce salesman, and these waitresses should not be eternally punished because they have not been enticed to leave the island by U. S. exile-fueled laws that punish them while powerfully benefiting only Cuban exiles. Sane and decent people, someday, might realize that this is not the way revolutions or democracies were meant to work. 
     This Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images photo shows this week's {Friday's} second round of diplomatic meetings in Washington between the U. S. and Cuba aimed at normalizing relations between the two nations. The first round was a two-day event in Havana on January 22nd and 23rd. In both sessions the two primary participants at center-stage were Roberta Jacobson of the USA and Josefina Vidal of Cuba.
      Vidal and Jacobson are two decent human beings who also happen to be excellent diplomats. Left to their own devices as prime representatives of their countries, they would assure that these steps towards normalizing relations would be a done deal. But U.S.-Cuban relations are not quite that simple. Vidal, as a top decision-maker in Cuba, has the advantage over Jacobson, who must strictly adhere to her two bosses -- President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. So, Jacobson's diplomatic parameters are far more rigid than Vidal's because the Cuban can make off-the-cuff responses while Jacobson must abide by a strict format. Nevertheless some progress was actually made in Washington on Friday, February 27th.
            Jacobson and Vidal actually like and respect each other. They converse amicably even when they meet in hallways. Both agreed Friday's session "made progress" toward a prime objective -- opening U. S. and Cuban embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time in half-a-century. After Friday's session, Jacobson said: "I think we did make progress on a number of issues today. Some of them, quite honestly, are close to resolution. I do think we can get them done in time for the Summit of the Americas." The Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama on April 10th and 11th. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro will be there. President Obama is very, very, very tired of attending such international gatherings and being embarrassed by the universal condemnation of America's Cuban policy. Thus, as both Jacobson and Vidal realize, prior to April 10th President Obama wants to show the other nations in the "Americas" that the U. S. is trying to normalize relations with Cuba. After Friday's diplomacy in Washington, Vidal said: "Removing Cuba from the U. S. State Department's Sponsor of Terrorism list is very important to us." Yet, to the surprise of many, Vidal added, "But the terror listing is not a pre-condition to re-opening embassies." That latter comment surprised me because, heretofore, removal from the terror list was where Vidal had drawn a red line. It's still a line but she erased the red. She is, after all, a negotiator. Jacobson assured her that the U. S. is moving ahead with President Obama's plans to remove Cuba from the tiny terror list, which incredibly includes only three other nations. Thus, accepting Jacobson's assurance, Vidal indicated she is willing to allow President Obama to open his embassy in Havana so he can show the Summit of the Americas in April in Panama that the United States is indeed seriously progressing towards normal relations with Cuba.
        In addition to Vidal's advantage over Jacobson because she is a Cuban decision-maker, Vidal has another advantage: Every Caribbean nation, every Latin American nation, and every member of the United Nations supports her four core points, which are {1} removing Cuba from the Sponsors of Terrorism list; {2} ending or greatly relaxing the embargo against Cuba; {3} beginning the process of returning Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owner, Cuba; and {4} ending or greatly relaxing America's dozens of lushly funded programs designed to create and support dissidents on the island who otherwise would practically be non-existent. Vidal is an absolutely brilliant diplomat. She will bend but not break. If the U. S. is not willing to negotiate the four points listed above, she will reluctantly accept another half-century of antagonism with a neighbor that happens to be the world's economic and military superpower. In Havana and in Washington, where she lived from 1999 till 2003 as the head of the Cuban Interests Section, Vidal has made this non-negotiable point: "Cuba, since 1959, has been a sovereign nation, not a colony dominated by Spain, America, or any other foreign power. We will stay sovereign, complete with a do-or-die attitude to back up that resolve. Independent Cuba cannot be pressured into doing anything. We negotiate as sovereign countries or we don't negotiate. Both my friend Roberta and I study the polls. The world supports us. The majority of Americans support us. The majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami oppose things like the embargo and keeping Cuba on the terror list. Therefore, allowing only a few Cuban-American extremists to dictate America's Cuban policy is our problem but please understand it is also America's problem too. What does that, for example, say about America's democracy? If Roberta or if President Obama or if Secretary Kerry can name one independent nation that supports the U. S. policy regarding Cuba, then they should name that country...if they can do that."
   The Center for Democracy In The Americas is based in Washington and is a powerful democracy-loving organization that strongly supports the efforts of Josefina Vidal in her negotiations with her American counterpart Roberta Jacobson. The CDA founder and Executive Director, Sarah Stephens, each Friday writes the "Cuba Central" update posted on the informative CDA website. That is where Americans should go for the best, fairest, and most unbiased news related to U.S.-Cuban relations. Unfortunately, Americans, since 1959, depend too heavily on the intimidated, biased or incompetent U. S. media for their news related to Cuba, thus Americans do not factor in such things as the top Miami Cuban-American journalist, Emilio Milian, being car-bombed for trying to fairly report Cuban news or the top columnist for the Miami Herald, Jim DeFede, being fired for his column that excoriated Miami members of the U. S. Congress -- Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers -- for their astounding support of the most famed anti-Cuban Cuban-American terrorists running free in Miami. The CDA website on Friday, February 27th explained yet again why and how a few Cuban-American extremists in the U. S. Congress have far more to say about U.S.-Cuban relations than the combined opinions of President Obama, top diplomat Jacobson, Secretary of State Kerry and 315 million Americans combined. The CDA website, referencing Friday's diplomatic session in Washington, pointed out and named the Cuban-Americans in the U. S. Congress who had fired off their obligatory scathing/warning letters to Obama and Kerry prior to the diplomatic session in Washington. Earlier the CDA had reported on the scathing/warning letters fired off by Cuban-Americans in Congress to the President of Panama for inviting Cuba's President to the Summit of the America's in April, the Summit in which President Obama badly wants to display U. S. decency towards Cuba. Good luck, Mr. President!!
    The fair-minded Reuters news agency used this photo of Union City's Cuban-American U. S. Senator Robert Menendez on Thursday, the day before the diplomatic session in Washington. He was holding a news conference to demand that the U. S. keep Cuba on the very short Sponsors of Terrorism list. Friday's Center For Democracy In The Americas website blasted Menendez for that news conference and the Menendez, Ros-Lehtinen, etc., letters to President Obama and Secretary Kerry. Of course, neither the mainstream U. S. media nor the American public are supposed to have either the guts or the integrity to challenge Cuban-exile extremists regardless of what they do or say when it comes to Cuba, an island that very reasonably does not want a return of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship that the Cuban Revolution expelled, all the way to Miami and Union City, way back in 1959. Menendez, as always, expects to win. if so, democracy loses.
        This recent AP photo of Josefina Vidal, I think, depicts the stoic determination of a brilliant woman as she represents Cuba in diplomatic negotiations with the United States aimed at normalizing relations between the two neighboring countries. Vidal understands that she has the support of the Cuban people as well as the support of Americans, Cuban-Americans, all the Caribbean nations, all the Latin American nations, and all of the 183 independent countries that belong to the United Nations. She also realizes that democracy-loving organizations such as the Washington-based Center For Democracy In The Americas strongly supports her. Sadly, she also realizes in her heart of hearts that all that universal support is useless when it comes to normalizing relations between her country and the United States. She knows that a handful of Cuban-Americans and their easily acquired sycophants have firm grips around America's Cuban policy. For example, she understands that keeping Cuba on America's Sponsors of Terrorism list since the 1980s enables Cuban exiles to score major points -- revenge against Cuba, stifling Cuba's chances to have normal international banking, and it allows Cuba to be successfully sued for actual U. S. dollars in Miami courtrooms in which Cuba is not even represented. Thus, Vidal should perhaps be forgiven for wondering if those state and federal courtrooms in Miami will ever allow Cuban families to sue Miami residents for such things as the bombing of Cubana Flight 455, which killed 73 innocent souls including two dozen teenage Cuban athletes. And Thus, no matter what is written or pundited in regards to the ongoing diplomatic relations between her island and the northern superpower, Josefina Vidal will end up the loser. That's too bad. But that's in keeping with what Americans have been told since 1959: The bad Cubans are still on the island and all the good Cubans are in Miami or Union City, or at least trying to get there." That, of course, is not so but very little about what Americans know about Cuba has any relationship to either truth or fairness. And so, that's why Cuba says a lot more about the United States than it says about Cuba. Josefina Vidal vs. Robert Menendez is a David-vs.-Goliath fight that Josefina Vidal cannot win. The fact that she is still trying to win speaks volumes about her and her island. And, yes, that opinion is from a conservative Republican democracy-loving American in the USA. In regards to U.S.-Cuban relations, there is no single American that Josefina Vidal could not out-negotiate one-on-one. However, 315 million-to-one odds are a bit lopsided, even for her. And that, in essence, is where things stand.
         This Getty Images photo shows the U. S. Interests Section building in Havana that President Obama wants to convert into the U. S. Embassy in Cuba. The brown 7-story structure is in a strategic spot overlooking the famed Malecon seawall. Josefina Vidal also wants this to become the U. S. embassy in Cuba. She, however, wants some assurance that it will not also be a hotbed for cultivating dissent on the island. The Cuban exile-directed U. S. Congress routinely passes bills providing millions and millions of tax dollars to support Cuban dissident movements, including 32 recent such bills according to respected investigative reporter Tracy Eaton. President Obama wants Congress to fund restoration of this U. S. Interests Section building that has deteriorated sharply over the years. For example, the roof leaks badly.
This Getty Images photo shows the famed, refurbished Hotel Nacional in Havana. 



The Vidal Doctrine

How It Shapes U.S.-Cuban Relations
Friday, February 27, 2015
   Today in Washington two outstanding and sincere diplomats -- America's Roberta Jacobson and Cuba's Josefina Vidal -- will have a second round of discussions aimed at normalizing relations between the two neighboring nations. Millions of good people have sincere hopes that the meetings will finally bring a degree of sanity and decency to the relationship. Some changes will evolve in the coming months but the real possibility of achieving the primary goal is hopeless.
     On the eve of today's second round of the Jacobson-Vidal diplomatic discussions, USA Today -- America's largest newspaper -- previewed the event with a major article written by Andy Gomez. Gomez is an anti-Castro zealot based in Miami. He is USA Today's top columnist and expert when it comes to Cuba. His preview of today's diplomatic session in Washington, of course, included only the views of other anti-Castro zealots -- James Cason, Vickie Huddleston, Frank Mora, etc. The so-called mainstream U. S. media has neither the guts nor the integrity to do otherwise in regards to the Cuban issue that so hugely affects the U. S. image. Andy Gomez illustrates that unfortunate and undemocratic fact in the printed media.
    Jose Diaz-Balart is the best example of America's mainstream electronic media being totally dominated by anti-Castro zealots regarding the Cuban conundrum. Jose has a one-hour anti-Castro program every morning on MSNBC. He is also the top anchor on Telemundo and is the top Cuban expert on NBC. There are never disclaimers pointing out that Jose's father was a key Minister in Cuba's Batista dictatorship in the 1950s and later one of the richest and most powerful anti-Castro zealots in Miami. Therefore, with Jose Diaz-Bazart's telephonic saturation, with few if any countering opinions, many democracy-loving Americans are left to believe the anti-Cuban propaganda served up on America's television screens.
    The U. S. Congress is composed of 535 members. That includes four Cuban-Americans from Miami. Democracy-lovers believe that even one-trick-ponies from Miami should be allowed to participate in the crafting of laws and policies that are important to Americans. However, there are some brave Americans who believe that four members of Congress from Miami should not have more input on America's Cuban laws and policies than 315 million Americans, the majority of whom want changes in those Cuban-related laws, policies, and actions. Unfortunately, that won't happen.
      Josefina Vidal is Cuba's highly respected Minister of North American Affairs. Considering that America is Cuba's lone enemy and also is the engine that drives North America, that means that Cuba entrusts her with its sovereignty. Today -- Friday, February 27th -- Vidal represents Cuba in the second round of diplomatic meetings. The first round was in Havana on January 22nd and 23rd. The talks continue today in Washington. She yearns for normal relations with the United States. She also understands why such sanity will not happen: A few powerful Cuban-Americans and their associates are allowed to dictate America's Cuban policy to sate their revenge, economic, and political motives. All the basic Vidal Doctrines are supported by all the Caribbean and Latin American nations but none are supported by the North American superpower. Vidal's Doctrine #1 is that America treat Cuba with respect; Vidal's Doctrine #2 is that the United States remove Cuba from its very short list {far too short} of nations that sponsor terrorism. Josefina Vidal has lived as Cuba's top diplomat in America and she since then has been Cuba's top diplomat on all things American. She knows America. She is stymied and astounded that the world's greatest and strongest democracy is willing to have its image distorted so profoundly by an imperialist policy against an island nation that mounted a revolution in the 1950s to rid itself of a vile foreign-backed dictatorship. Remarkably, in her opinion, two generations of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship that fled the island to U. S. soil have, for almost six decades, dictated America's Cuban policy. Regardless of the Vidal Doctrine, that will not change during the diplomatic discussions currently taking place.
      President Obama has a lot on his plate these days as he confronts powerful right-wing elements in the U. S. Congress and the U. S. media that disrespect both him and the Office of President. That particularly pertains to his plans to normalize relations with Cuba. He hopes that today's diplomatic session in Washington will help expedite a key element -- the creation of U. S. and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington. He wants to be able to make that a reality before he attends the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10th and 11th. President Obama is tired of being embarrassed at international gatherings that unanimously denounce America's Cuban policy. He fears that will happen again in Panama in April because between now and then it is highly unlikely that his plans to remove Cuba from the Sponsors of Terrorism list will be accomplished before April 10th.
      Josefina Vidal is Cuba's Minister of North American Affairs. That's a lofty title, especially considering that North America includes America, the world's superpower that insists on holding a huge imperialist umbrella over the tropical island. But her title underestimates the real power Ms. Vidal has on the over-matched but pugnacious island. Unlike American diplomats whose input and output are tightly tied to the President that appointed them, Vidal can speak for Cuba, officially or off-the-cuff, without having to check with or get clearance from any superior. That was apparent at the first round of diplomatic negotiations in Havana on January 22nd and 23rd in Havana aiming at normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. Unbiased news outlets -- the BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, the Washington Post, etc. -- all referenced the basic fact that Vidal out-performed her American counterparts in the first round of diplomacy in Havana in January. She will likely do the same today in Washington. Yet, as bad as she wants normal relations with the United States, Vidal will not capitulate on her core beliefs and therefore these heralded diplomatic overtures are destined to end in failure. Vidal's core beliefs are: {A} She wants Cuba removed from the U. S. State Department's incredibly short list of nation's that sponsor terrorism; President Obama can and will do that because Congress can not prevent it but even the procrastination is irksome to Vidal. {B} She wants the U. S. to cease spending huge sums of money supporting and creating dissidents on the island. No American elected or appointed official -- including Barack Obama and Roberta Jacobson -- has the power to meet her halfway on ceasing or decreasing the U.S. Congress-inspired attacks on what she feels are assaults on Cuba's sovereignty. Thus, attempts to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations are more show than substantive.
       As she arrived in Washington this week for the second round of diplomatic relations with the United States, Josefina Vidal was well aware of the impossibility of normalizing relations with the United States. However, she believes it is a worthwhile forum for Cuba, in the international spotlight, to express a viewpoint that she believes has been denied Americans. In exasperated moments such as the recent one depicted above, she has addressed in fluent English questions concerning "the hopelessness" of an island pitted against the world's superpower. "Damn, what a question!" she once exclaimed to an inquiring Reuters journalist. "For over two centuries this island has been pitted against imperialist superpowers -- Spain in the 19th century and the United States since the start of the 20th century. A do-or-die struggle for independence and sovereignty is imbued in our psyche...except, of course, for Cubans who will sell out to rich foreigners. The question was posed by an unwitting journalist from England. The diplomatic sessions that brought you across the ocean pit Cuba against the world superpower. We won't win but we do have the support of the Caribbean, Latin America, and the world at our backs. So, what does that say about democracy? It says, I believe, that little countries and big democracies are no match for an army, and in this case a Congress, that has more guns and endless rounds of ammunition than their weaker opponent. In Cuba we have made many mistakes since gaining our independence in 1959. But most of those mistakes have evolved from having to defend that independence against unsavory exiles embedded with imperialist crooks who have the financial and military support of the world's superpower, and especially what I perceive as an entrenched Congress that answers to its bank accounts but not to the American people, who seem powerless in a money-crazed system to change it. It was not Cuba that aligned with Cuban criminals and the American Mafia to rape and rob this island. It was America. Thus, we are left with two choices -- surrender or fight. We choose to fight. You seem to think it is hopeless. You are probably right. But, in my opinion, it is the best of the two choices we have."


"Why Are Cubans So Special?"

Why Are Americans So Gullible?
Updated: Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
    The title of this essay -- "Why Are Cubans So Special?" -- is borrowed from Ann Louise Bardach. That was the title of a recent major article in the New York Times penned by Ms. Bardach. The sub-title of this essay -- "Why Are Americans So Gullible" -- is mine. When it comes to the U.S.-Cuban conundrum, Ms. Bardach is the world's best source. She is the most knowledgeable and the most unbiased journalist/author on that topic and, also significantly, the bravest when it comes to revealing true but dangerous U.S.-Cuban facts. Considering the vast and deleterious impact the Cuban conundrum has had and is having on the image of the United States and democracy, Ann Louise Bardach is easily one of America's and democracy's most valuable assets.
       Unfortunately, since 1959 Luis Posada Carriles and his supporters in Miami and the U. S. Congress have had far more influence on America's Cuban policy than unbiased experts such as Ann Louise Bardach. Beginning in 1959, after the Cuban Revolution ousted the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in Cuba, the most zealous counter-revolutionaries, such as Posada, were sent to the then secretive Army of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, where they graduated as acclaimed and well-paid 2nd Lieutenants who were then sicced on Revolutionary Cuba. Years later, in a famous New York Times article penned by Ann Louise Bardach, Posada bragged about a multitude of terrorists acts against Cuba, such as the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 {later recanted} and the deadly bombings of Cuban hotels {never recanted) to dissuade tourism to Cuba. Now 87 and freed from prisons in Venezuela and Panama by his friends in Miami, Tallahassee, the U. S. Congress, and the White House {primarily George H. W., George W., and Jeb Bush allies}, Posada today is a free and heralded man in Miami, much to the chagrin of every Caribbean and every Latin America nation. On Dec. 18-2014 -- the day after President Obama announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba -- Posada was featured on newscasts demonstrating in the streets of Miami and urging his followers to do whatever they could to dissuade tourism to Cuba, Posada's consistent theme since 1959. Americans, since 1959, have been persuaded to ignore facts presented by Ann Louise Bardach and support or at least tolerate Posada -- from his days at Fort Benning to his anti-Obama street demonstration on Dec. 18-2014 in Miami. {Posada was born on February 15, 1928 in Cienfuegos, Cuba, so he turned 87 last week}.
       The images of the United States and democracy have taken severe hits in the region and on the world stage since 1959 because Americans, for the most part, have gotten their U.S.-Cuban news from Posada supporters and not from unbiased experts. Ann Louise Bardach is the most important such expert. Her seminal book -- "Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana" -- was published by Random House in 2002. In 2004 Penguin published her follow-up: "Cuba Confidential: The Extraordinary Tragedy of Cuba, Its Revolution, and Its Exiles." In 2009 Scribner published her classic "Without Fidel: Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington." Americans who have not read those three books by Ann Louise Bardach have most likely gotten their U.S.-Cuban news from supporters of Posada Carriles. And that, in essence, is the "Extraordinary Tragedy of Cuba, Its Revolution, and Its Exiles" that Ann Louise Bardach has delineated better and fairer than anyone else. Thus, it is her input that should prevail.
         Next month -- March of 2015 -- Ann Louise Bardach will make speeches and hold seminars at Yale University in America and at prestigious universities in London, Rome, and elsewhere. Democracy-loving Americans, Britons, Italians, etc., are keenly interested in the ongoing efforts by President Obama to bring sanity to U.S.-Cuban relations. But so are the ultra-powerful Cuban exiles and their subservient sycophants who benefit so much, economically and politically, from continuing a U. S. policy towards Cuba that shames democracy as well as America's best friends around the entire world.
     It is a sad commentary on the U. S. media, especially cable news, that the views of Posada Carriles supporters will continue to overwhelm those of unbiased experts such as the brilliant Ann Louis Bardach, whose journalistic inspiration and perspiration regarding Cuba is unparalleled. I comprehend the intimidation factor propping up five decades of one-sided propaganda. I also understand that middle-of-the-road outlets such as CNN side with the Batistiano faction believing that to be the politically correct approach. In other words, CNN, which is capable of balanced presentations, seems to believe that Americans have been bombarded for five decades with the Batistiano viewpoint and to present even factual data that differs from entrenched and inaccurate viewpoints would only confuse their viewers. That's why on CNN you'll see the likes of Miami-based counter-revolutionary lobbyist Ana Navarro as CNN's ubiquitous "Cuban expert." And to this day many people seeking true perspectives of U.S.-Cuban relations depend on sources such as CNN to counter the unabashed right-wing propaganda of, say, Fox News. Such dependence is futile unless you can point out that mainstream news sources such as CNN balance out their avalanche of Posada Carriles supporters with the sane, reasoned, unbiased assessments of someone like Ann Louise Bardach.
      All of which brings me back around to two major recent articles written by Ann Louise Bardach for the New York Times, which still has a reputation for presenting both sides of two-sided stories. One article is entitled "Wet Foot, Dry Foot...Wrong Foot" and explains the harm -- to the U. S. and to democracy -- that has been caused by allowing a handful of anti-Castro zealots and a few Congressional sycophants concoct U. S. laws that benefit only Cuban exiles while harming everyone else. Of course, only the misinformed or the completely intimidated can disagree with Ms. Bardach on that score. Her other recent article in the New York Times was entitled "Why Are Cubans So Special?" She began that article with these exact words: "Every Cuban knows the 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' drill: Risk fleeing to the United States and get caught at sea, and you will be sent back to the island; but if you wangle just one toe onto dry land, you're home free. From there, typically, it's a fast track to permanent residency, and eligibility for all manner of benefits, from green cards to welfare, then citizenship -- all compliments of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966." Then she added: "Indeed, for almost a half century, Cubans have been the most privileged immigrants in the United States. Are Cubans more deserving than, say, refugees fleeing death squads or drug cartels? Another is its enabling of a veritable crime syndicate..." 
           And so...heading into the final week of February-2015, that's where U.S.-Cuban relations stand -- firmly in the hands of a U. S. Congress whose Cuban policy is firmly dictated by eight Cuban-American members of Congress where they, when it comes to Cuba, can easily defy the will of the majority.
        On Friday of this week, a second round of face-to-face meetings will take place in Washington designed to further President Obama's goal of "Restoring Diplomatic Relations" between the United States and Cuba. It is a commendable but fruitless effort. The U. S. democracy, still the strongest and greatest in the world, is not strong enough or great enough to fulfill President Obama's goals in regards to Cuba. As Ms. Bardach has so eloquently pointed out, that reflects "the extraordinary tragedy of Cuba, its revolution, and its exiles." It also reflects the fact that Cuba says a lot more about the U. S. than it says about Cuba.
        Cuba, for sure, is the largest and most prominent island in the Caribbean. But its huge prominence on the international stage relates to its contentious relationship with a neighbor that happens to be the world economic and military superpower. The U. S. wrested dominance of Cuba from Spain after an easy victory in the fabricated Spanish-American War of 1898, after which the U. S., among other things, laid claim in perpetuity to one of Cuba's finest ports -- Guantanamo Bay. But the prime U. S. targeting of Cuba occurred in 1952 when America, the most respected democracy in the world, teamed with the Mafia to back the vile, thieving Batista dictatorship, which was actually a stratagem concocted in South Florida by a former Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and his best friend, the Mafia kingpin Meyer Lansky who famously wanted "the Mob to own its own country." With the help of the United States, Lansky got his wish...for eight brutal and voracious years. In the wee hours of January 1, 1959, the Cuban Revolution chased the Batistiano-Mafiosi leaders back to South Florida from whence they came. But within weeks the Batistiano-Mafiosi regime was resurrected on U. S. soil, with the continued support of the U. S. government and with the fervent desire to regain control of Cuba, an effort that has consumed almost six decades of time while also usurping tons of America's former worldwide esteem. So, it is highly appropriate in February of 2015 that America's top Cuban expert, Ann Louise Bardach, asked the pertinent question to headline a major article in the New York Times: "Why Are Cubans So Special?" From the prism of the United States they are, of course, so special for this reason: The resurrected Batistiano-Mafiosi dictatorship in the U. S. has made innocent Cubans on the island special by unmercifully punishing them; and the resurrected Batistiano-Mafiosi dictatorship in the U. S. has made Cuban-exiles special by dictating laws in the U. S. Congress that grossly favor them while harming everyone else. Meanwhile, starting Friday of this week in Washington a second round of diplomatic discussions will strive to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. It is a worthwhile endeavor, but a futile one. A handful of rich and powerful benefactors within the bowels of the U. S. Congress have firm grips on America's Cuban policy, and Cuba is too much of a cash cow and ego trip for them to give up control of America's skewered relations with the island. Democracy lovers are left to ponder the weaknesses in the American fabric that allows this to happen. The ordinariness of revenge and greed can indeed punch gaping holes even in a strong democracy. That's how the confluence of bullying and callousness triumphed over what is best for the majority of people in Cuba and in the United States.
 Wait!! We interrupt this essay for breaking news!!
       Senator Marco Rubio at a lavish fund-raiser in Miami has just made two astounding predictions: {#1} He will block all efforts to normalize relations with Cuba; and {#2} he will be Commander-in-Chief when he is elected President of the United States in 2016!!!!!!!!!!!! And now we return you to your regularly scheduled essay.
        Unfortunately for America and for democracy, most of the 535 members of the U. S. Congress are either bought off or scared off by the small but ultra-powerful Cuban-exile lobby when it comes to formulating America's Cuban policy. But that situation does not include Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar.
            The photo above shows anchor Jamie Yuccas {the blond} at WCCO-TV {the CBS station in St. Paul} reporting on U. S. Senator Klobuchar's summit meeting yesterday {Monday, Feb. 23rd} at the University of Minnesota. At that session Senator Klobuchar pointed out the insanity and cruelty of the 50-year-old embargo against Cuba. She stressed how much Cubans on the island as well as the farmers and businesses in Minnesota would benefit if the embargo, which sates the revenge and political motives of a few Cuban-Americans, was lifted. Last week Senator Klobuchar led a Senatorial delegation to Cuba. Her bravery and her concern for Cubans, Minnesotans, and Americans should be known to Americans who are constantly bombarded on national newscasts with the self-serving views of a few Cuban-exile zealots. For democracy's sake, the views of Senator Klobuchar, which correspond to the views of most Americans, should at least occasionally be shown on network news shows. The fact Rubio and his ilk, with their minority views, command saturation coverage reminds some of  what happens in Banana Republics.
       This photo is courtesy of David Lansing.com. It shows the view looking out from the 6th floor of Havana's Saratoga Hotel. Cuba's Capital Building and Capital Square are spotlighted. Last week Nancy Pelosi and eight other members of the United States Congress spent two nights at the Saratoga Hotel.


Cuba For Cubans

Not For Floridians!!
       Rebecca Barger, one of America's top Wedding Photographers, was in Cuba this week. She said she wanted to be there to take photographs, like the one above, before the island changed. She specifically mentioned "before Starbucks" and other American elements took over the island. Ms. Barger and many others have bittersweet feelings about the ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the U. S. and Cuba. Yes, the island badly needs sane relations with its superpower neighbor. And, yes, the U. S. needs to refurbish an image that has been so dastardly shattered, at least outside the U. S., by its dastardly treatment of Cuba, starting after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and particularly after the world's most famed democracy teamed with the Mafia to support the brutal, thieving Batista dictatorship beginning in 1952. The fleeing Batistianos and Mafiosi resettled mostly in South Florida and, from 1959 till today, have mostly dictated the Cuban narrative in America, overwhelming far more decent and much less-biased sources such as...Sarah Stephens at the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas.
       Sarah Stephens is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas. Instead of being incessantly bombarded by Cuban propaganda from the likes of Marco Rubio and Maurcio Claver-Carone, Americans need to get the other...and truer...side of the two-sided story. Sarah Stephens, the democracy-lover, is a good place to start. Each Friday her CDA "Cuba Central" website provides the best chronicling of that week's Cuban conundrums. Her latest posting on Feb. 20-2015 once again referenced the fallacy of Americans relying on politicians and lobbyists such as Rubio and Claver-Carone for their Cuban information. Ms. Stephens, for example, believes it is undemocratic and anti-American for a few well-heeled people in the U. S. Congress and on Capital Hill to be able to endlessly punish innocent Cubans on the island in the guise of hurting Castro and regaining control of Cuba.
     Marco Rubio, Miami's ubiquitous one-trick-pony contribution to the U. S. Senate, thinks he will make it all the way to the White House, as early as 2016, as long as Americans continue not to associate Cuba with Fulgencio Batista, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Santo Trafficante Jr., Luis Posada Carriles, and other Mother Teresa-like angels who populated Miami either before or after or both before and after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Heaven forbid if Americans wondered if a return of the Batistianos would be good for Cubans on the island. Senator Rubio seems intent on making sure such wonderment continues to be blunted. He also doesn't want Americans to wonder why some of his top aides recently took an all-expense-paid trip to China while he insists average Americans not be allowed to travel to one particular place -- uh, Cuba!
   Online, on television, on radio, in print, on Capital Hill, in Congress, and in the corporate world, Mauricio Claver-Carone personifies a vast cottage industry that  benefits from an American Cuban policy that the rest of the world deplores. That's why Americans are not supposed to know about such things as Cubana Flight 455 and such unbiased modern-day Cuban experts as the democracy-loving Sarah Stephens. 
       This week Netflix, the movie and television streaming giant, launched service in Cuba. Also, no less than five American airlines applied for licenses to add flights to and from Cuba. Such renewed interest, even in their nascent stages, spawned this crowded airport scene this week on the fast-changing island of Cuba. Burgeoning crowds of people and off-loaded Sony electronics are becoming commonplace. 
       This Joe Raedle/Getty Images photo shows a standing-room-only Business Forum in Miami this week casting covetous, non-hostile eyes at the nearby island of Cuba. Such forums are proliferating all over South Florida as American entrepreneurs want to participate in the reconstruction of Cuba, which will require billions of dollars to repair an infrastructure that has deteriorated alarmingly largely due to a U. S. economic embargo put in place in 1962 for the purpose of starving and depriving Cubans on the island to entice them to rise up and overthrow Fidel Castro. In February of 2015 Fidel Castro is 88-years-old and living out his life in a modest home in western Havana while thousands of anti-Castro benefactors throughout South Florida, through two generations, have luscious mansions, yachts, airplanes, and multitudes of expensive cars. Thus, after all these decades, this photo is quite interesting. It reveals hordes of business people in Miami hoping to partake, legally and decently, in the reconstruction of the island. And it proves again that resilient, pugnacious and wily little Cuba will never cease to fascinate.
       As those of us who have been to Cuba can attest, the island has eleven million of the friendliest people in the world, as well as many of the world's most beautiful and most pristine beaches. This is the beach at Cayo Largo. Cuba is a peaceful country and perhaps the safest place in the world for tourists. The wedding photographer, Rebecca Barger, said she wanted to take photographs around the island before "Starbucks" and other commercial entities invaded with a tsunami-like frenzy. It is easy to understand her feelings for the island that Columbus, back in 1492, said was "the most beautiful place my eyes have seen."
        Rebecca Barger's wedding photo in Cuba reminded me of this Getty Images photo. This American soldier, Jason Hiser, was stunned as his unit tried to protect the innocent civilians in war-torn Al Rasheed, Iraq. A little Iraqi girl bravely walked out into the street. She wanted the "noise" to stop. He knew the iraqi word for "noise." She touched his heart as she offered him an Iraqi flag, apparently in hopes that the all-consuming war would let up, at least long enough for her to have at least the semblance of the type of life that every little girl deserves. Jason Hiser and other well-meaning soldiers and photographers are seeing cities around the world totally destroyed by ultra-modern weapons with the most innocent, like this little girl, caught in the middle. This little girl made Jason Hiser cry. The rest of the world should cry with him.
       The photo of the little Iraqi girl reminded me of this little Cuban girl. This photo was taken by Cuba's greatest photographer, Alberto Korda. This child's name was Paula Maria. She had the misfortune to be born in Sumidero, a little town in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province. At the time of her birth, the lush island of Cuba was a gravy train and piggy-bank for the Batistianos, the Mafiosi, and American businessmen. And they didn't leave anything for the majority peasants, like Paula Maria's family. But she was a little girl who wanted a doll, a doll her parents could not afford. So, as many children have to do, Paula Maria improvised. She pretended a block of wood was her doll. Alberto Korda took many of the 20th Century's most famous photographs. Before he died in 2001 in Paris, he said, "The Che photograph made me famous but the little girl clutching the block of wood and pretending it was her doll changed my life, my way of thinking about life."
       The Korda photograph of the little girl clutching the block of wood reminds me of this photo. In 2015 Cuban schoolchildren are the most photographed subjects by tourists on the island. The Cuban Revolution -- which replaced the Batistianos, the Mafiosi, and the American businessmen on the island in 1959 -- has made mistakes. But unlike its predecessor, it should be applauded for the way it has protected, educated, sheltered, and cared for its children, including free and readily available health care throughout their lives. If I have judged them correctly, photographers from Alberto Korda to Rebecca Barger have wondered -- both silently and aloud as vividly expressed by their brilliant photos -- whether a return of the Batistianos accompanied by "starbucks" would be good for the children on the island. Yes, we know it would be good for gluttonous criminals and businessmen, but would it be good for Cuba's children? Based on history, I doubt that it would. And history, while not infallible, is a good yardstick Americans should keep in mind when they are constantly inundated and bombarded with incessant anti-revolutionary propaganda from the likes of well-greased politicians and lobbyists such as Marco Rubio and Mauricio Claver-Carone.


U.S.-Cuban Friendship

Obstacles Outweigh Hope
Friday, February 20th, 2015
         Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U. S. Congress, has spent two days this week in Havana. She is shown above in a friendly conversation with Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Ms. Pelosi led a 9-member delegation of Democrats to the island. Almost every Democrat in Congress, except, of course Bob Menendez of Union City, desires some sanity in America's relations with Cuba. Menendez and four Republicans from Miami will not allow it to happen. Americans, of course, are not supposed to consider that undemocratic. In my opinion, Nancy Pelosi, a good and compassionate person, is not primarily concerned with a superpower punishing everyday Cubans on the island for another 55 years, nor is she campaigning to roll back congressional laws that favor, enrich, and empower only Cuban-Americans and their sycophants. But Nancy Pelosi, as a democracy lover, is direly concerned about the image America's Cuban policy presents to the region and the rest of the world, which is a discriminatory policy that harms Cubans on the island and everyone else. 
Good people have hope but, sadly, it is mostly in vain.
      This Joe Raedle/Getty Images photo was taken this week -- Wed., February 18th -- at the Doubletree Airport Hotel in Miami. The Cuban images were flashed on a huge screen at a standing-room-only forum that attracted entrepreneurs very, very interested in participating in the massive reconstruction of Cuba, which is anticipated after President Obama's announced plans to normalize relations with Cuba. If the process comes to fruition, it will cost many billions of dollars and put many thousands of people to work. The U. S. embargo since shortly after the overthrow of the U.S./Mafia-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959 has helped create and hasten the deterioration of the island's infrastructure. The whole world, including most Cuban-Americans in Miami, long for the day when the embargo will end and more normal relations between the two neighboring nations can be established. However, for two generations since the early 1960s a handful of visceral Cuban-Americans, assisted by Republican administrations and the U. S. Congress, benefit from the embargo and other hostilities against Cuba. And that's precisely why forums such as this one in Miami are not only premature but a waste of time and effort. Democracy, decency, and the majority bedamned! It's been that way for over a half-century and it will not change, at least not substantially. Democracy is strong, but not quite that strong.
     This Ramon Espinosa/AP photo shows an American flag and a Cuban flag fronting the Saratoga Hotel in Havana this week. That's where three U. S. Senators -- Mark Warner of Virginia, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- are staying. The three Senators informed Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and the island's Minister of North American Affairs, Josefina Vidal, that the second round of diplomatic negotiations between the two countries will take place Friday, February 27th in Washington. The first round was held in Havana on January 22nd and 23rd. Senators Warner, Klobuchar, and McCaskill are among the members of Congress trying desperately to exude hope that sanity and decency will replace a half-century of indecent insanity tied to America's Cuban policy that continues, decade after decade, to be dictated by elements of the Batista dictatorship that was ousted way back on January 1, 1959. That entrenched fact is too much to overcome.
     Roberta Jacobson, shown here during last month's diplomatic sessions in Havana, will again represent the U. S. in next week's second round of meetings in Washington. Jacobson's State Department announced yesterday -- Wednesday -- some parameters prior to the resumption of talks. The United States says it direly wants to move ahead with the openings of embassies in Havana and Washington; the U. S. says it is anxious to remove Cuba from its very, very short list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Very nice but very veiled diplomacy. Such overtures are predicated on exacting concessions the U. S. fully knows Cuba will not accept. The U. S. is demanding that Cuba allow total freedom of travel for U. S. diplomats in Cuba and the U. S. is demanding that Cuban dissidents be allowed to freely visit the proposed new U. S. embassy in Havana. In other words, the U. S. State Department is merely making a show of desiring normal relations with Cuba. The U. S. knows that Cuba is tired of the U. S. Interests Section in Havana being used to foment, stir up, and fund dissident actions on the island, trying to create havoc and turmoil injurious to Cuba. Thus, Cuba wants some assurances that the proposed U. S. embassy in Cuba will not be a continuation or enhancement of providing tools and encouragement for dissidents at the expense of the other Cubans on the island. The U. S. will never give that assurance; Cuba will thus never surrender that demand. So, diplomacy ends there.
      Just as she did in Havana last month, Josefina Vidal will show up in Washington next week to represent Cuba in the ongoing diplomatic negotiations. Although she keenly desires normal U.S.-Cuban relations, neither the Obama administration nor the John Kerry-led State Department are capable of meeting Vidal's basic demands. Thus, as in Havana last month, the diplomatic sessions in Washington next week are primarily for show. The State Department can easily remove Cuba from the terrorism list and President Obama can easily open a U. S. embassy in Havana and allow Cuba to open one in Washington. And that's where things will end in these last two years of Obama's two-term presidency. Vidal will insist that the U. S. cease using its current Interests Section and its future embassy in Havana as "cesspools" designed mostly to support and recruit dissidents on the island; but the U. S. cannot even negotiate such things because of laws and policies dictated by a U. S. Congress in which a handful of members from Miami and Union City dictate America's Cuban policy. Therefore, in Washington next week the U. S. negotiators will mainly attempt to out-maneuver or intimidate Josefina Vidal. And that will not happen. Thus, normalizing relations will not happen. To think otherwise is being naive about relevant reality.
     This map and a contaminant comment by Josefina Vidal epitomize the impossibility of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. Note the extremely close proximity of Havana to Key West and Miami. Josefina Vidal is abundantly cognizant of this geographical fact. Between last month's diplomatic session in Havana and next week's meetings in Washington, Vidal has fielded a litany of questions. Perhaps the most pertinent was proffered by Reuters:  "Ms. Vidal, are these diplomatic overtures really a charade?" After a significant reflective pause, she replied: "I believe you are suggesting that it is impossible to negotiate a change in U.S.-Cuban geography and that it is impossible to negotiate a change that, for decades, has seen a few benefit so substantially from continued hostility between two neighboring countries." She paused significantly again, gazing off to the right. When she looked back at the reporter, she said, "If that was what you were suggesting, I think you are correct. Yet, on behalf of a lot of good people, I think trying as hard as we can to accomplish the impossible is worth the effort. And truth be known, I sincerely believe that my dear friend Roberta Jacobson agrees with me on that colossal issue."
The U. S. democracy is still strong,
but not that strong.
By the way..............................................
       ....................this handsome guy is a Baltimore Oriole. Yes, he inspired both the name and the colors for the Major League baseball team. This photo was taken by Sherry Nicholson and is used courtesy of my favorite magazine, Birds & Blooms.

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