Cuba: Now and Then

Forever Fascinating Then and Now
Updated: Tuesday, August 26th, 2015
         Yesterday -- Tuesday, August 25, 2015 -- the very influential Israeli media force -- "The Times of Israel" -- used the above AP photo at the top of an incredible article written by Raphael Ahren. The article, picked up by other international media outlets, was entitled: "Obama left Israel In the Cold When He Revived Ties With Cuba." Among a truly astounding litany of weird sentences was this one: "Israel was caught totally off guard by the American about-face." The article mentioned that Israel was/is the only nation in the world that supports the U. S. embargo in the UN vote each October. Mr. Ahren was fair enough to admit that the stand-alone Israeli vote in the UN is tied to the incredible financial and military support the U. S. provides Israel yearly. It is also well known, even if the U. S. and Israel refuse to admit it, that AIPAC, the ultra-rich-and-powerful Israeli lobby, dominates the U. S. Congress pertaining to any issue that concerns Israel. BUT CUBA? It's a delusion...or at least it should be...for Israel to believe America's Executive Branch, which is separate from Congress, has to get permission from Israel before it conducts foreign policy that really doesn't directly concern Israel. Cuba is in America's backyard, not Israel's. The U. S. President, even beyond Congress and certainly beyond foreign nations, is responsible for setting U. S. foreign policy. Cuba is a foreign country. Yes, an incredible article but not all that surprising because, now and then and then and now, Cuba has a role on the international stage far out of proportion to its size or its population.
      Cuba, Jamaica, and all the other nations in the Caribbean have often, over the decades, been devastated by hurricanes. But global warming and warm El Nino waters have changed things, creating major drought conditions. The Jamaica Observer is the best at chronicling the Caribbean with brilliant cartoons, such as this one begging Hurricane Danny this week not to pass them by because even a drenching from a hurricane would alleviate some of the dire drought conditions.
        Cuba, the largest and most populated island in the Caribbean, is being plagued by the twin evils of the U. S. embargo and a devastating drought. The embargo has been in effect since 1962 for the purpose of depriving the Cuban people to entice them to overthrow their Revolutionary government. The drought has been acute since 2004. The Cristobal Herrera/AP photo above shows citizens of Holguin having their buckets filled up by what are now ubiquitous tank trucks as the government tries to provide water needed for drinking, cooking, bathing, and other necessities. Holguin is a city of 300,000 located 435 miles southeast of Havana. The current drought has adversely affected Cuban cities and farms all across the island, severely testing the citizens and the government. So the drought is both then and now for Cubans, and so is the much longer duration of the U. S. embargo. Here are some more then and now highlights.
        Of course, the most devastating then and now in U.S.-Cuban relations remains the pernicious U. S. embargo of Cuba, a plague since 1962 on both the island and on the image {aboveof the United States.
The Batistiano-contaminated U. S. Congress wants to continue the embargo forever.
         In the 1920s right up until the Cuban Revolution victory on January 1, 1959, America's top mobsters loved Cuba. This photo was taken in 1930 and is courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. That's Al Capone, the all-time most famous Mafia kingpin, in the middle flanked by Havana mayor Julio Morales and lawyer J. Fritz Gordon. Capone owned mansions in Havana and Varadero Beach, Cuba, as well as Miami, Florida.
         In 1946 Lucky Luciano, the all-time most powerful Mafia kingpin, called a famous Organized Crime Conference in Havana. It was held at the famed Hotel Nacional, then a veritable beehive of Mafia activity.
Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner celebrated their honeymoon in Havana in 1951.
Frank Sinatra famously adored Mafia kingpins.
        In the 1950s during the U.S.-backed Batista/Mafia dictatorship, Cuba was a playpen for rich and famous Americans, including Hollywood elite, who flocked to the island. This photo is courtesy of The International Center of Photography. Sloppy Joe's Bar in Havana was a prime watering hole. At the bar above is Barbara Stanwyck, a superstar actress in her prime. To her right is Robert Taylor, a superstar actor in his prime.
       This photo, also courtesy of The International Center of Photography, was taken in 1959. In the Havana Cubanas uniform is Camilo Cienfuegos. Camilo was just 27-years-old and his popularity rivaled Fidel Castro's as one of the most heralded Revolutionary Commanders that had overthrown the Batista-Mafia dictatorship in the first week of 1959. Camilo had commanded the rebel unit that captured Santa Clara, the last major battle, before they raced to Havana only to discover that the Havana-Mafia leaders had fled.
            This photo shows the well-armed Camilo Cienfuegos and Fidel Castro after capturing Havana, with Camilo seeming to be quite puzzled and disappointed that the Batistianos had fled instead of fighting. 
        This photo is courtesy of Andrew Moore/Yancy Richardson Gallery, New York. For decades Cuban baseball teams dominated international competition in both the Olympics and the Pan-American Games.
       In recent years, a more determined and better greased pipeline has resulted in the U. S. Major Leagues siphoning off Cuba's unique abundance of baseball talent. This photo montage shows Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban-born lefty for the Cincinnati Reds. The backdrop depicts the latest mansion Chapman has purchased in South Florida. A plethora of Cuban defectors have recently signed huge baseball bonus contracts exceeding $70 million, with all the money guaranteed whether or not they ever make the Major Leagues. Similarly talented American players would receive bonuses of only about $3 to $5 million because they would be drafted and only the team that drafts them can sign them. But all Cubans in the U. S. have had special benefits since the Cuban Revolution chased the Batista dictatorship to U. S. soil in January of 1959. All 30 Major League teams get to bid on Cubans, accounting for their exorbitant bonuses. Then if they are good Major Leaguers, the salaries, not to mention the endorsements, become really exorbitant, bordering on obscene. Giancarlo Stanton, a 25-year-old outfielder for the Miami Dolphins who has been injured much of the past two years, recently got a guaranteed $325 million added to his already multi-million-dollar contract...in a country in which one in five children have hunger problems. The vast disparity between the rich and poor is strikingly apparent to all the defecting Cuban baseball stars.
         Yoenis Cespedes is a 29-year-old Cuban outfielder with the New York Mets. A few nights ago he had five hits, including three homers, in one game. Players like Cespedes not only make huge salaries in the U. S., they often make far more from endorsements. Note the Nike swoosh on Yoenis's undershirt. The influx of Cuban defectors means Cuba is no longer the dominant baseball nation in international competition. But an all-Cuban team of U. S. Major Leaguers could beat the nationals of any other nation, including the U. S. and the Dominican Republic. Off the top of my head, this is my current All-Cuban Baseball Team:
1B -- Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
2B -- Adeiny Hechavarria, Miami Dolphins
3B -- Yunel Escobar, Washington Nationals
SS -- Jose Iglesias, Detroit Tigers
LF -- Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
CF -- Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
RF -- Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
Catcher -- Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
DH -- Kendrys Morales, Kansas City Royals
Starting Pitcher -- Jose Fernandez, Miami Dolphins
Relief Pitcher -- Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
       Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes reuniting in the U. S. as multi-millionaire American superstars. Cuba then and now, now and then, and forever will always be tied to the United States, for better or for worse. Baseball is just one example.

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