Cuba's Pivotal New Year

Massive Changes In 2016
         For a couple of decades now, Robin Wright has been the best and most honored American writer as an astute and incisive Foreign Affairs analyst. She has reported from 140 countries for a plethora of the most respected news organizations in the U. S. and UK. A brilliant journalist and author, Robin Wright is a must-read for both her analyses and her extraordinarily adept use of the English language. Robin Wright recently visited Cuba to observe how the island's geriatric revolutionary government, aged but not ageless, and its increasingly restive citizenry are preparing for the pivotal New Year of 2016!!
      The esoteric New Yorker is one of America's most influential media sources, especially among those who admire brilliant writing. Yesterday, December 30th, the top article in the New Yorker was penned by Robin Wright. It was entitled "CUBA AND IRAN: MELANCHOLY TWINS." If you missed it, be sure to check it out online. 
Photo courtesy: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
     Robin Wright's article in yesterday's New Yorker was illustrated by the above photo. Her update was clearly anti-Cuba but it was also fair and insightful. This was her first paragraph:

                         "The first thing that struck me during a trip to Cuba this month was how much it reminds me of Iran. Despite divergent ideologies -- Communist, Islamic -- the aging revolutions emit the same cranky melancholia. Rhetoric is still defiant, but public zealotry has atrophied. The graffiti of rebellion, once vibrant, has faded."

         The triumphs of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979 have always intrigued Robin Wright. And that's good because her intrigue has resulted in the best analysis of how the two mind-boggling, anti-American revolutions have so mightily affected the United States and the world, especially after overthrowing U.S.-friendly dictators -- Batista in Cuba and the Shaw in Iran. Ms. Wright's musings about what the New Year portends for Cuba in 2016 were particularly interesting. She wrote:

                  "In Cuba, the ailing Fidel Castro will be ninety in the new year; his brother Raul...is eighty-four. Speculation about successors include Raul's outspoken daughter Mariela...and First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel. But few have a clue about what's likely to happen."

       Ummmm? Coming from Robin Wright, highlighting Mariela and Miguel as post-Castro leaders of Cuba is a prognostication that is well worth pondering.
        During the Cuban Revolution, two of the prime guerrilla fighters -- Raul Castro and Vilma Espin -- fell madly in love even as they fought Batista's soldiers.
        In 1959, right after the Cuban Revolution shocked the world by overthrowing the Batista-Mafia dictatorship, two weddings paired four of the prime guerrilla fighters. Raul Castro married Vilma Espin and Che Guevara married Aleida March.
    Aleida Guevara was born 79 years ago in Santa Clara, Cuba. She is the mother of Che's four children and still a very prolific supporter of the Cuban Revolution. In this Wikipedia photo, she was with Che in 1961. Aleida's biography -- "Remembering Che" -- remains one of the best first-hand accounts of the Cuban Revolution.
       In Revolutionary Cuba beginning in 1959, this was the Big Four as far as power and decision-making was concerned. Left to right is Vilma Espin, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Celia Sanchez. With Fidel's concurrence, the prime decision-maker was Celia Sanchez till she died of cancer in 1980 at age 59. Vilma died of cancer in 2007 at age 77. Fidel turns 90 on August 13, 2016, and Raul turns 85 on June 3, 2016. While this listing of Revolutionary Cuba's Big Four is conveniently disputed in the U. S., it nevertheless is known to be accurate by revolutionary insiders on the island. And that, in fact, is one reason the Big Four posed for the epic photo listed above.
       Vilma Espin and Raul Castro had four children: Mariela, Alejandro, Deborah, and Nilsa. The rebellious Mariela, twice-married and a devoted mother, is the most famous of the quartet because of her high-profile advocacy of homosexual rights. It is interesting that Robin Wright, in yesterday's insightful New Yorker article, listed Mariela, along with Miguel Diaz-Canel, as a likely potential future leader of Cuba.
       Mariela Castro is well-liked on the island of Cuba and she also has a large international following because of her defiant and provocative support of Civil Rights. Now 53-years-old, Mariela Castro Espin is an effective and passionate speaker but she has no desire to succeed her father Raul as the President of Cuba.
     This montage shows Mariela on the left and her sister Deborah Castro Espin. Of the two, the lesser known Deborah is far more likely to be a future leader of Cuba.
       Deborah is extremely close to her father Raul. Also, both Deborah and her husband have long been key advisers to Raul, especially on economic matters. If the Fidel-Raul successor is another Castro, the best bet is...Deborah Castro Espin!!
       But don't count out Alejandro Castro Espin, the 50-year-old son of Raul and Vilma. Alejandro is ambitious and he has a distinguished military rank as well as a strong influence on the economy. Moreover, recently Alejandro has represented Cuba on important international missions, as if foreshadowing his future leadership.
       In addition to Mariela Castro Espin, the 55-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel was the only other Cuban mentioned by Robin Wright as a likely potential leader of Cuba.
      President Raul Castro, in fact, has already named Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor. If the next leader of Cuba is a non-Castro, it will be Miguel Diaz-Canel.
     But with all due respect to the predictions this week by the sage Robin Wright, I believe Deborah Castro Espin will emerge as the leader of Cuba succeeding her uncle Fidel and her father Raul. In late 2017 or early 2018, Miguel Diaz-Canel will likely be the upfront leader of Cuba. But, I believe, Deborah and her husband Luis Alberto Rodriguez will be the two powers behind the throne for a time before the mantle is officially bestowed unto them. The post-Castro transition in Cuba will result in some jockeying at the top involving non-Castros such as Miguel Diaz-Canel and Josefina Vidal pitted against Castros like Alejandro and Deborah Castro Espin. I think Deborah will win because of two things: {1} Her closeness to her father Raul; and {2} her ultra-powerful husband Luis Alberto.
       Cuban President Raul Castro is extremely close to his oldest daughter, Deborah. Vilmita, named for her grandmother Vilma and shown above with her grandfather Raul, is Deborah's beautiful daughter, whom Raul verily adores. Vilmita, who relishes visits to the U. S., is now easily the most Americanized of  the fourteen children of Fidel and Raul -- except for Fidel's two daughters, both of whom live in Miami.
      And speaking of Fidel, when Cuba is the topic -- past, present, or future -- it all comes back to him. And, via his legacy, it will always be that way. Yes, he is ill. Yes, he turns 90 in 2016...if he survives till August 13th. Regarding the post-Castro leader of Cuba, Fidel prefers that it not be a Castro. In addition to his two daughters in Miami, Fidel has eight sons, all of whom are very loyal to him but have no desires to be future leaders. Fidel would like for Cuba's next leader to be a woman, and his choice is Josefina Vidal because she reminds him of...Celia Sanchez, his revolutionary soul-mate. But regardless of how it shakes out, the Cuban Revolution, Revolutionary Cuba, and post-Revolutionary Cuba will always be Fidel Castro's.
      And speaking of Josefina Vidal, she indeed would be the ideal post-Castro leader of Cuba. Yet, it's an island where things are always intriguing but seldom ideal. And anyway, she is Cuba's greatest defender but has no desire to be its next leader.
And by the way:
         This photograph was taken by Tomas Murita for the New York Times. The New York Times wisely selected it as "one of the year's most riveting photographs" for 2015. The girl in this photograph loved the little baby she is holding. And the rest of the world should too. But 2015 taught us much of the world doesn't...love babies.




The Lure of Cuba

Reaching New Heights
{Updated: Wednesday, December 30th, 2015}
        The London Daily Mail -- one of the digital world's best and most visited sites -- used the above photo to highlight an insightful article on Dec. 28th-2015 on tourist destinations for Brits in 2016. The caption for this photo read: "Next year Spain will reign as the number one holiday spot for Britons. But other countries are increasing in popularity, with Cuba, Colombia and Iran all tempting bucket-list additions."
          Monday's London Daily Mail article used this photo of the Havana Cathedral to illustrate the renewed lure for Brits to travel to Cuba in the New Year -- 2016!! The caption stated: "Cuba comes in from the cold: It's now easier for Americans to visit Cuba and the country is allowing its population to run private restaurants for the first time ever, which is good news. Cuba is increasingly popular with all travelers at the moment, to the extent that many hotels and tours are already sold out for 2016." Tourism in Cuba boomed following President Obama's Dec. 17-2014 announcement that he hoped to normalize relations with Cuba.
       Throughout 2015 Cuba used money generated by increased tourism to renovate many buildings in Old Havana, including El Capitolito. This famous capital building, modeled after the one in Washington, was closed for months while the renovations were taking place. Visitors to Cuba in the promising New Year of 2016 will notice the improvements made to El Capitolito and other historic structures around Havana.
And speaking of the Lure of Cuba:
      The U. S. Congress has mandated a plethora of laws designed to lure Cubans to emigrate to the United States. The purpose of the infamous Wet Foot/Dry Foot law, which dates back to 1966, is to hurt Cuba and sate the revenge motives of extremists Cuban-Americans. It is one of many discriminatory, undemocratic U. S. laws that favor Cubans at the expense of all non-Cubans. Any Cuban who touches U. S. soil is home-free, with instant benefits courtesy of the U. S. tax-payers. Fearful that President Obama's normalization plans might end Wet Foot/Dry Foot {which Congress will keep in place}, a tsunami of Cubans headed to the Mexican border on their way to touch U. S. soil has resulted in chaos. The above photo shows some of the 8,000 Cubans stranded for weeks at the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border because Nicaragua has blocked their passage. At the moment, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc., are frantically trying to solve the dilemma and get these Cubans on their way to the U. S. where, beginning when their front foot touches U. S. soil, they instantly become legal residents with instant financial benefits. All others -- including children from crime-infested areas of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador -- would instantly be subject to incarceration and deportation. In other words, President Obama, in this fast-fading year of 2015, has created two gigantic lures: {1} to visit a fast-changing Cuba; and {2} to encourage Cubans to migrate quickly to U. S. soil JUST IN CASE Wet Foot/Dry Foot Cuban-only incentives end. Panama, by the way, is complaining about 1,000 Cubans in its country trying to join the 8,000 stuck in Costa Rica!!
       In this OLD year of 2015 and in the NEW year of 2016, your best source for getting accurate and insightful news from inside Cuba is Marc Frank. He is the great journalist for Reuters. His year-ending article yesterday updated Cuba's economy, which expanded by 4% in 2015 but the projection for 2016 has been halved to 2%. Frank reports that tourism is booming but the island's four main exports -- nickel, sugar, oil, and service professionals in other countries -- "have all fallen significantly." The newly attained and very firm control of the Venezuelan Congress by anti-Cuban, pro-U. S. politicians sharply impacts Cuba, which receives over 100,000 barrels of oil each day from oil-rich, cash-poor, inflation-roiled, and crime-infested Venezuela. According to Frank, Cuba in return has "30,000 doctors and nurses, plus another 10,000 professionals" working in Venezuela. Frank says the Venezuelan oil is vital to Cuba, "some of which it refines and sells." Also, Venezuela in addition to the oil pays Cuba cash for those 40,000 professionals but that "is tied to the oil prices," which are drastically low. Venezuela's Cuba-friendly President, Nicolas Maduro, is barely holding on against powerful U.S.-friendly opposition forces. Frank reports that is why Cuban President Raul Castro yesterday {Dec. 29th} told the year-end-session of the Cuban National Assembly that the island in 2016, despite the boom in tourism, will be faced with "financial limitations associated with the fall in earnings of traditional exports." So, in 2016 just like in 2015, Cuban-watchers can depend on Marc Frank of Reuters for the most accurate news emanating day-by-day from the island.  


Cuba-China-USA: Small World

Neighbors Near and Far
{Updated: Tuesday, December 29th, 2015}
           An Air China Boeing 777 took off from Beijing this week, Sunday, and landed in Havana on Monday, December 28th. The flight took 19.5 hours with a stopover in Montreal for refueling. It was an historic flight, the first one between China and Cuba. It's also the first direct flight linking China and the Caribbean. China has the world's second largest economy and is the world's top source for tourists, mostly to Europe and Southeast Asia. But in the past year Chinese tourism has increased 27% to Cuba. The two countries have had political and cultural ties for decades. Now China is hoping that Cuba can serve as a gateway for more Chinese investments in the Caribbean and Latin America. In the jet and digital age, the world is intertwined and faraway China wants to be neighborly with the Caribbean and Latin America.
Photo courtesy: Chicago Tribune.
       Rahn Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago since 2011, was on a ten-day family vacation to Cuba when he got a dreaded phone call Christmas weekend: He was told that yet another police shooting had killed a 19-year-old college student who was brandishing a baseball bat and a 55-year-old mother of five who was a neighbor and happened to be in the home trying to help with a domestic dispute after the father called 911 saying his son was threatening him. Mr. Emanuel, President Obama's former Chief-of-Staff, needed the extended vacation in Cuba. Police shootings in Chicago, coupled with recurring gang violence, already had marred his tenure as the Mayor of Chicago, America's third largest city. His extended vacation in Cuba included his wife, Amy Rule, and their three children. They were accompanied to Cuba by a group of other families that regularly vacation with the Emanuels. When Mayor Emanuel left for Cuba, he was leaving behind demonstrations in Chicago and other cities demanding his resignation because of police shootings of black citizens, and this was compounded by the Chicago-to-Havana phone call that informed him of the latest two deaths. Cuba, as Mayor Emanuel discovered, is not all that far from Chicago.
        This photo, courtesy of Politico, shows Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reacting briskly and angrily earlier this month when he was being interviewed by Politico's Mike Allen. Mr. Emanuel was caught off guard when Allen asked him live on-air about his upcoming trip to Cuba, which the Mayor had confided privately to Allen prior to the interview. But he blasted Allen for revealing the news "to everybody." He wasn't apologetic about visiting Cuba but he merely wanted the vacation "to be private and peaceful."
     The distance from Key West {USAto Cuba is a mere 90 miles with the separation bridged by the Florida Straits. But geography is one thing, politics quite another. Columbus discovered both Cuba and the U. S. in 1492. The largest and most populated island in the Caribbean has never had a democratic government, unless you consider a few Spanish-friendly or American-friendly rulers that sometimes masqueraded as popularly elected Presidents. After the American Revolution loosened imperialist England's iron grip,  the United States became a world-class democracy in 1776. After the Cuban Revolution loosened America's iron grip on the first day of 1959, leading rebels Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro, contemplating democracy, made a 12-day trip to the U. S. in April of 1959 to explore a U.S.-approved democratic possibility {and that was the only reason for such a trip so soon after shedding their guerrilla uniforms}. Their rationale was simple: For the Cuban Revolution to be viable and meaningful, they would need to be on friendly terms with the economic and military colossus just off their northern shore. Fidel, instructed by Celia, intended to tell President Eisenhower that the U. S. could closely monitor Cuba's democratic elections in the fall of 1959, and that neither Fidel nor Che nor proxies for them would be up for election. {Celia would have supported vibrant young rebel commander Camilo Cienfuegos; he accompanied Celia and Fidel on the U. S. trip in April of 1959 but died in a coastal plane crash later that fall}. But that seminal mission on the 12-day visit, to ponder U.S.-brokered democracy on the island, unraveled quickly. The promised Fidel meeting with Eisenhower, a promise that predicated the trip, never happened. Celia negotiated the trip via phone calls to the U. S. State Department and the U. S. Society of Newspaper Editors, with both institutions assuring her that Fidel, then a revolutionary hero in both countries, could have the face-to-face meeting with President Eisenhower, the famed World War II general whom she admired. However, Vice President Richard Nixon's wing of the White House maneuvered the decent but malleable Eisenhower out of town. That's when Celia discovered that more than just 90 miles separated Revolutionary Cuba from America.
        In April of 1959 Vice President Richard Nixon was not yet known to Americans as "Tricky Dick." Yet, his face-to-face meeting with Fidel, so soon after the revolutionary victory over the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship, was the last thing Celia Sanchez wanted. She was aware that three powerful right-wingers in the Eisenhower administration were Revolutionary Cuba's primary enemies. They were: Vice President Nixon, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, and CIA Director Allen Dulles. From her vantage point in Cuba, mostly as a guerrilla fighter in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra Mountains on the island's southeastern tip, Celia -- who had revolutionary contacts in Miami, Fort Benning, and Washington -- believed that Nixon and the Dulles brothers had led the Eisenhower administration astray, such as teaming with the Mafia in 1952 to support the Batista Dictatorship in Cuba and in 1953 beginning to overthrow popularly elected Latin American presidents to install U.S.-friendly dictators. So, rest assured, Celia would not have arranged for Fidel to travel to the U. S. in April of 1959 if she had known Nixon, not Eisenhower, would meet with the newly famous revolutionary hero. After the double-cross, Nixon -- instead of listening to what Fidel's thoughts at the time were -- boldly informed Fidel that the Cuban exiles and the U. S. would "be back in control of Cuba within a few weeks, a few months at the latest." The words still resonate today.

     Nixon's threat and warning hurled at Fidel mostly impacted the mindset of Celia Sanchez, whose decision-making exceeded Fidel's, with his approval, from 1957 till her death from cancer at age 59 in 1980. The photo on the right is copyrighted by Yale University and it shows Celia exiting a New York hotel room after a post-Nixon session with Fidel. Marta Rojas, the still-living legendary journalist/author who worked closely with Celia and Fidel during and after the revolution, had intimate discussions with Celia, both as a journalist and as an idol. That's how we know Celia's reaction to Nixon's threat, and hers was the reaction that counted: "Dammit to blazes, Fidel, we tried. Thank you for agreeing, finally, to come. If we discover that a man like Nixon has the power to represent the United States in its dealings with revolutionary Cuba, this trip was my mistake. We'll go home now. And just like in the Sierra Maestra, we have two choices -- surrender or die fighting. And for us, surrender will never be an option. We fought a guerrilla war that is now an upfront war."
    When Celia Sanchez led Fidel Castro back to Cuba after 12 days in the U. S. in April of 1959, she was, with his full blessing, the prime decision-maker in Revolutionary Cuba. Her first choice was to be friends with the United States. Nixon convinced her that was not possible. She knew, at the time, there were two competing world nuclear super-powers -- the U. S. and the Soviet Union. She decided to take advantage of that competition. If the nearby superpower was intent on recapturing Cuba, maybe the other superpower would believe it was in its interest to prevent it. The rest is history -- multiple assassination attempts against Fidel beginning in 1959, the Bay of Pigs attack in 1961; the closing of embassies in Havana and Washington in 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the embargo from 1962 till this very day, etc. All the while, somehow, Revolutionary Cuba survived.
      If you disagree with this synopsis that sets the stage for today's U.S.-Cuban relations, I believe it's because the Cuban narrative in the U. S. since 1959 has mostly been dictated by two generations of the Cubans and Mafiosi who fled the Cuban Revolution. They, for example, wouldn't want you to know of Celia Sanchez's significance...or Marta Rojas's...because they were female pillars of the revolution. That's Marta in the above photo introducing Fidel in December of 1959 for his very first televised address to the nation. As a top journalist in Batista's dictatorship, Marta worked in the urban underground on behalf of the rebellious Celia and Fidel. After the revolutionary triumph in 1959, Marta remained intimate with both Celia and Fidel. She also emerged as a brilliant, internationally renowned journalist, author, and historian.
     Marta Rojas today knows more about Celia Sanchez and Fidel Castro than any living soul. Moreover, her encyclopedic revolutionary knowledge is internationally respected from a journalistic and historic standpoint. Her documented views and experiences collide majestically with the images of the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba as portrayed in the United States by the remnants of the Batista-Mafia dictatorship that fled the victorious revolution in January of 1959. But for the non-propagandized and un-intimidated, Marta Rojas's historic and insightful remembrances have stood the test of time.  
            In case you have trouble reading the exact quotation above by Celia Sanchez, here is precisely how she summed up the struggles of the Cuban Revolution and Revolutionary Cuba against supposedly overwhelming odds: "We rebels...get far too much credit for winning the revolution. Our enemies deserve most of the credit, for being greedy cowards and idiots." Rather strong words, but she would know.
      In 1973, in the 14th year of Revolutionary Cuba's survival, the famously gregarious Fidel Castro also uttered a pertinent and prescient quote related to the antagonistic David vs. Goliath relations between the U. S. and Cuba. As you can see above, in 1973 Fidel said: "The US will come to talk to us when they have a black president and the world has a Latin American Pope." Wow!! He said that in 1973!!
       Lo 'n behold!! In March of 2015, America's FIRST black President, Barack Obama, met at the Vatican in Rome with the world's FIRST Latin American Pope, Pope Francis from Argentina. And...lo 'n behold!!!!...the Latin American Pope and the black President discussed normalizing relations with Cuba as a top priority for both men.
 Pope Francis in 2015 visited the 89-year-old Fidel in his Havana home.
In April of 2015 President Obama actually shook hands with President Raul Castro.
         After that ground-breaking, earth-shaking handshake in Panama, Presidents Castro and Obama have continued talking, both in person and on the phone. Of the last eleven U. S. presidents, Mr. Obama is the only one to display such guts. And most Cubans, most Americans, and most citizens of the world genuinely appreciate his courage, WHICH WILL BE ENGRAVED FOR ETERNITY ON HIS PRESIDENTIAL LEGACY.
Celia in Revolutionary Cuba and Celia in the Cuban Revolution.
Because of her, the revolution lives on in Cuba.
      Of course, in these closing days of 2015, U.S.-Cuban relations are not nearly as rosy as the cheeks of this little Cuban girl. The embargo remains, as do other nefarious aspects mandated by a Batistiano-dictated U. S. Congress. But, thanks to Obama, little Cuban girls on the island have a brighter future. That would please Celia Sanchez. She detested Richard Nixon. She would like Barack Obama. She fought a revolution to brighten the futures of little Cuban girls on the island...like this one.
       Or this one. Famed Cuban photographer Alberto Korda took this photo of the little Cuban girl lovingly clutching a block of wood, pretending it was a doll. Alberto Korda and millions of other caring people believed this little girl deserved a real doll.
     Penny Pritzker is a caring person. An American billionaire, she is President Obama's Secretary of Commerce. This photo is courtesy of Ramon Espinosa/AP. It shows Secretary Pritzker, in the left-front, in Cuba back in October. She went out of her way to show Cuban children that, as an American, she cared about them.
Celia Sanchez, the child-loving doctor's daughter.
         These Cuban schoolgirls were on hand to celebrate Celia Sanchez's birthday, which was May 9th. Celia's revolutionary fervor was based on a simple belief that Cuban children were more important than dictators, politicians, or greedy business moguls. Of course, there were many who disagreed with her, then and now.
           As the pivotal year of 2015 dwindles down to a few days, Cubans who have lived under the yoke of the U. S. embargo since 1962 have hope thanks to good people like President Barack Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker resisting dictates of a recalcitrant U. S. Congress. This photo, courtesy of Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images, perhaps serves as a metaphor for the upcoming year of 2016. From a balcony that shows side-by-side U. S. and Cuban flags, this Cuban offers a thumbs up to the New Year.
         Yesterday -- Monday-Dec. 28 -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel continued his extended 10-day family vacation to Cuba even as demonstrators back home called for his ouster after even more controversial police murders in his city. It's a reminder that all major cities...Chicago, Havana, etc....have problems.
         Monday, Mayor Emanuel's spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn, said that he will return to Chicago Tuesday, Dec. 29th, and cut short his family vacation in Cuba. She said, "He will continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department." He had planned a ten-day stay in Cuba.

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

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