Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Revolutionary Evolution

Cuba Overwhelmed
        This AP photo reflects the new entrepreneurial spirit that has weaved its way into the evolution of Cuba's famed Revolution from the 1950s till today. The two gaily dressed Cuban women were paid for posing with the male half of a tourist couple in Old Havana Square as his wife snaps photos to show back home. Thanks to U. S. President Barack Obama's positive overtures to Cuba, the island is overwhelmed with visitors to the extent that some popular hotels are booked full for the rest of the year and rooms for rent in private homes are doing robust business, as are the in-home restaurants known as paladares.
      And then on Sunday U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama will arrive in Cuba for an historic three-day visit, the first by an American president since Calvin Coolidge arrived on a warship in 1928. The presidential entourage aboard Air Force One will include dozens of lawmakers, including Republicans, and dozens of business executives seeking commercial ties with Cuba.
        President Obama's brotherly approach to Cuba {"Nuestros Hermanos Cubanos" means "Our Cuban Brothers"} has achieved far more toward sanely normalizing relations with Cuba than ten previous U. S. presidential administrations managed since the 1950s. The recurring themes of hostility since the Cuban Revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed Batista-Mafia dictatorship in 1959 has included multiple assassination attempts, the Bay of Pigs military attack in 1961, the closing of embassies in 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that almost resulted in a nuclear holocaust, the U. S. embargo of Cuba that began in 1962 for the purpose of inducing Cubans to overthrow Fidel Castro, repeated terrorist acts against Cuba that included the bombing of the civilian Cubana Flight 455 in 1976, etc.  Obama has bravely and astutely confronted Cuban-American extremists and a Batistiano-directed U. S. Congress to try to end the hostilities. He has also amazingly sliced markedly into many Congress-mandated anti-Cuban laws, which prior to Obama prevented everyday Americans from visiting Cuba and U. S. businesses and even foreign businesses from dealing with the island. Circumventing Congress with pertinent Executive Orders, Obama has paved the way for Americans to visit Cuba and for U. S. businesses to engage in commerce on the island. For decades only special charter flights from the U. S. have flown to Cuba. Now Obama and Cuba have agreed to 110 daily commercial flights to Cuba by major airlines such as American and Delta, and this week Obama has even arranged for individual Americans, and not just groups, to fly to Cuba. Needless to say, all that brotherly love from Obama showing compassion for the Cuban people has infuriated powerful Cuban-American extremists who -- for decades prior to Obama -- easily dictated America's Cuban policy as well as the anti-Cuba/pro-Batistiano rhetoric/narrative in the United States.
       Bob Menendez -- a 62-year-old Cuban-American -- has been entrenched in the U. S. Senate from New Jersey since 2006. His Wikipedia bio includes this note: "On April 1, 2015 Senator Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges in the United States District Court..." He and four Miami Cuban-Americans in the U. S. Congress believe they should dictate America's Cuban policy, and prior to Obama similar situations for decades were never seriously challenged. This week, apparently incensed anew when Obama paved the way for U. S. individuals to visit Cuba, Menendez rose on the Senate for an interminable tirade against the President. I warn you it was exceedingly long but you can read the entire transcript on such viciously anti-Cuban websites as Capital HIll Cubans. Menendez suggested anew that Obama's latest actions "set the stage for legal action." He began that long, long vitriolic denunciation of Obama with these words: "I rise in memory of all Cuban dissidents who have given their lives in the hope of Cuba, one day, being free from the yoke of the Castro regime." Freshly angered over Obama's trip next week to Cuba, Senator Menendez strongly suggested that the President should "meet with Berta Soler, at her home, in her neighborhood."
       Berta Soler was born 52 years ago in Matanzas, Cuba. She is now one of Havana's highest-profile anti-Castro dissidents, and therefore a prime favorite of the Capital Hill Cubans in Washington and the hard-line Cuban-Americans in Miami and New Jersey. The Miami Herald photo above was used on February 5th, 2015 to highlight Ms. Soler's anti-Castro tirade on Capital Hill in concert with a parade of other Cuban dissidents. Using strong congressional contacts, dissidents have fired off letters that have reached Obama demanding that he visit them in Havana next week. A typical such letter is posted on Tracey Eaton's Along the Malecon website. In the U. S. media, there is invariably just one side of the Cuban dissident movement that sees the light of day. But there is another side that Americans have a right to know.
      Cristina Escobar is a Cuban. She is just as opinionated as Berta Soler. But Escobar is not a dissident. Therefore, Americans are not supposed to know her views and, for damn sure, Escobar is not going to get a congressional invitation to speak on Capital Hill. Yet, she is a brilliant speaker, in Spanish or English. She is also Cuba's and the region's top television news anchor. Beyond all that, at age 28 she is the leader of a young-adult generation of Cubans on the island who are determined to shape Cuba's post-Castro future. Regarding dissidents, Escobar says, "We have very few and we would have even fewer if the U. S. tax dollars were not used to support them and encourage them. And speaking of bullies, I wonder how the United States would feel if big boys like China or Russia were openly financing anti-U. S. dissidence on American soil?"
     This image is taken from a recent videotaped interview U. S. journalist Tracey Eaton had with Cristina Escobar in Havana. Excerpts are posted on various outlets, including two on YouTube, one that is just over 3 minutes with an English translation and one just over 15 minutes in Spanish. You can see and hear her say, "I don't want the U. S. to bring me democracy. That is a project for Cubans on the island, not Cubans in Miami and Washington." Her fierce determination to back up that declaration is insightful and gripping.
       Josefina Vidal is Cuba's Minster of North American Affairs. Every step of the way, she has brilliantly represented Cuba in President Obama's efforts to normalize relations with the island. More than two years ago she let Obama know that Cuba would cooperate "but I have one line you must cross first." That line concerned Cuba's being on the U. S. Sponsors of Terrorism list. When Obama complied and erased that line, Vidal kept her word. Four diplomatic sessions with her American counterpart Roberta Jacobson finally led to a myriad of advancements, including the opening of embassies in Havana and Washington for the first time since 1961. And now, prior to Obama's visit to the island next week, travel and trade agreements have reached heights never imagined prior to Obama's astute and brave overtures in the face of still-dangerous opposition from powerful sources in Miami, New Jersey, and Washington. Yet, like Cristina Escobar, Vidal has pertinent thoughts on some more lines in the sand. The three major ones concern "the continuing U. S. support and funding of dissidents on this island, the continuing U. S. support and funding of regime-change schemes, and the continuing occupation of Cuba's Guantanamo Bay that the U. S. stole." 
      There is no one on this planet who knows more about U.S.-Cuban relations than Latin American expert Julia E. Sweig. Unfortunately for Americans, the U. S. media -- pretending Ms. Sweig doesn't exist -- prefers using the likes of Senator Menendez, Berta Soler, and the Capital Hill Cubans to dispense Cuban news.
       For example, anyone unfamiliar with Julia Sweig's seminal book "CUBA: WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW" is also unfamiliar with how a handful of Cuban-American extremists aligned with a handful of right-wingers in the U. S. Congress concocted such indelible anti-Cuba/pro-Batistiano laws in the U. S. Congress such as...the embargo, Helms-Burton, Torricelli, The Cuban Adjustment Act, Wet Foot/Dry Foot, etc., etc. In the 1980s, two decades after the embargo was in place, the Reagan-Bush administration anointed anti-Castro zealot Jorge Mas Canosa as the leader of the Cuban-Government-In-Exile. Canosa soon became a billionaire in Miami and the all-time most powerful Cuban-American. At his anointment, as explained by Julia Sweig in the book depicted above, Canosa was advised to study and replicate AIPAC, the ultra-powerful lobby that essentially dictates Israeli policy to the United States Congress. Canosa took that advice and created CANF, the Cuban lobby that, essentially, replicated AIPAC's legendary hold on Congress. Thus, in the crafting of bills like Helms-Burton, lawyers were skilled enough to make sure Congress dictated Cuban laws that would supposedly be totally and forever immune to a Democratic president...such as Obama. Thus, to this day the U. S. democracy is shackled with an array of laws designed to hurt Cubans on the island in the guise of hurting Castro while also greatly empowering or enriching Cuban-Americans via money pipelines from Washington-to-Miami to fund such things as the lush and ongoing Radio TV-Marti propaganda machine, money pipelines supporting dissidents and regime-change schemes, and immigration laws such as Wet Foot/Dry Foot that grossly favor Cubans and grossly discriminate against all non-Cubans. How all that came to pass, is something Americans are not supposed to know. But Julia E. Sweig knows, as vividly revealed in "CUBA: WHAT EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW." 
        As Fidel Castro approaches his 90 birthday, and as post-Castro Cuba is in sight, Americans have every right to know both sides of the U.S.-Cuban quandary that has so drastically shaped the worldwide image of both nations. The mainstream U. S. media is neither capable nor willing to provide both sides of those issues, so if {as above} you catch Julia Sweig on C-SPAN expertly predicting the "Future of Cuba," consider yourself lucky. Or get even luckier by attending a Julia Sweig lecture or read her books, essays, and articles. U.S.-Cuban relations began in earnest in 1898 when the USS Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, killing hundreds of young sailors, and was used as the pretext for the brief Spanish-American War. Since then, on many vitally important issues, only one side of two-sided stories have emerged. That's why unbiased experts like Julia Sweig should be widely displayed by the mainstream U. S. media, not muffled or ignored. If Americans only get one-side of the Cuban issue, they are getting seriously short-changed.
       And now -- after that circuitous but necessary detour to stress the side of the equation represented by Escobar, Vidal, and Sweig -- back to President Obama's historic three-day trip to Cuba next week -- March 20-22. Obama will make an important speech in Havana that will outline his visions of greater freedoms and more economic opportunities on the island. He will explain that the U. S. should not try to dictate Cuba's future but that the U. S. "should create the space for Cuba to change on its own." So far, so good. Cuba plans to televise Obama's speech live to its people unless it determines it is slanted too much in favor of dissidents on the island and their U. S. supporters. Obama will meet Cuban President Raul Castro at the Palace of the Revolution. He will also attend the March 22nd baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and a Cuban national team. The Obama family -- Barack, Michelle and their daughters Sasha and Malia -- will tour Old Havana. Cardinal Jaime Artega will host the Obamas at the Havana Cathedral. Obama will lay a wreath at the memorial to Jose Marti. He will meet with Cuban entrepreneurs to help boost the island's nascent private-sector economy. He will meet with dissidents but Cuba has been assured it will not be highlighted as an insult to the Cuban government. And Mr. Obama will be honored with a state dinner.
      And speaking of state dinners, this was the scene at the White House last week when the Obamas hosted Canadian President Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie. In the front center, all in beautiful gowns to accentuate the very festive occasion, are the Obama women -- daughters Malia and Sasha and mother Michelle. Right behind Sasha and Michelle is President Obama escorting President Trudeau and his wife.
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