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Daily Archives: April 11, 2007

The Buena Vista Sisters’ Club

From The TimesApril 7, 2007The Buena Vista Sisters' Club

This is the extraordinary story of Anacaona, a glamorous all-girl orchestra which stormed to success in Thirties Cuba and became the toast of Old Havana. The 11 sisters took their exotic 'son' rhythms across the world before fading into obscurity after the Cuban Revolution. Here, in an extract from a new book, saxophonist Alicia Castro, now in her eighties and one of the surviving four, recounts how it all began

"Rum is a Cuban's life blood," says my sister Ada, and she's right. Without rum, how would we cope with life – with the daily grind, with growing older? We three sisters, living here in our parents' house in Lawton, a district in Havana, have reached that happy age at which one may, indeed must, relax and enjoy life. Even skinny Ondina, who hardly eats anything (and at every meal acts as if we're just trying to tease her by giving her an especially large serving), pushes her glass over for a top-up. A little glass or two at lunchtime is a must.

I like my rum with a couple of ice cubes. I leave it just long enough to get nice and cold, then down it quickly before the ice melts in the midday heat and dilutes it. That would be a shame, even with the ordinary rum you can get anywhere now, after years when it was hard to come by. On almost every street there's a family selling it from big plastic containers. Only Ondina protests that it's not up to standard. "I'll have a dry martini. And don't forget the olive," she shouts to me in the kitchen. That's her way of bragging about the fact that she used to move in the best circles in Paris.

Ada, unlike Ondina, is not at all particular. Rum, as life, she takes as it comes – with ice or without; a double or, if rum is in short supply, with lime juice and sugar. She takes everything in good humour. After all, she's a child of the Twenties, the boom years when Cuba's soared and nobody had to worry about the future.

Lawton is the old tobacco workers' district. It's only a quarter of an hour by along the Calzada 10 de Octubre (the broad shopping street formerly known as Jesús del Monte) to the heart of Old Havana. From the hill nearby you get a fantastic view of the turquoise sea and the Malecon, the famous ocean-front promenade. The shining white dome of the Capitolio, the former seat of the government, rises up majestically above the weathered roofs of the surrounding buildings. The aires libres used to be directly opposite. These open-air cafés were the beating heart of Havana in the Thirties. It was there that my ten sisters and I caused a sensation with our Orquesta Anacaona.

The whole family – 11 sisters, two brothers – used to sit together here at the long mahogany table in the high-ceilinged dining room of our father and mother's house. Ada, Ondina and I are the only ones still sitting here. I'm the youngest and I'm over 80 years old now. Ada teases me because I don't hear so well any more. But we all have our ailments: Ada is quite forgetful and Ondina can hardly see a thing because of her cataracts. Never mind – together we make a good team.

By the time I start mixing cocktails in the midday heat, Ada has already done the basic shopping. We're only waiting for Ondina now, so we can clink glasses. She's always doing something around the house. When our morning chores are complete, we have earned a break. I lean back in my rocking chair with a glass of cool rum and enjoy the fresh breeze coming through the open door to the courtyard. So why on earth does the doorbell have to ring now?

Ondina strides down the long hallway. "Who's there?"

"Pardon me, my name is Gutierrez. I'm a and would like to interview you for an article about the all-female band Anacaona." Somehow the stranger eloquently succeeds in convincing Ondina that he is harmless. One by one she unlocks the three deadbolts.

"Come in, young man. Ziomara has to come over right away. I hope she's home."

Our little sister Ziomara is used to telling our story to the press. She lives with her husband, Enrique, only two blocks away. Fifteen minutes later she steps into our living room, impeccably dressed, made-up and coiffed. "Quiet please! Recording!" As the tape starts rolling, Ziomara begins.

"It was Cuchito, our second oldest sister, who had the idea of forming the all-women Orquesta Anacaona. That was in the early Thirties, when the Machado was tyrannising the people with a bloody fist. Gradually all 11 sisters joined the band; most of us were still minors at the time. George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Nat King Cole? all the great musicians who travelled to Cuba would come to our performances in the aires libres, the open-air cafés. That's how we were discovered.

"Do you want me to tell you how we girls from Lawton ended up on the Champs-Elysées in Paris? One day, when we were performing in one of the aires libres?"

As soon as Ziomara mentions the trip to Europe Ada can no longer keep quiet. "Señor , we travelled to on a luxury liner. There was every imaginable variety of on board – vast buffets with eight kinds of ham, beautifully arranged on silver platters. And the cheese!"

"For God's sake, Ada," Ziomara interrupts her, "do you really think that Señor Gutierrez has nothing better to tell his readers than what we had to eat on the ocean liner?"

Ziomara resumes. "When we started out at the open-air cafés, we were earning a mere pittance. In order to bring more money in for our family, I had to pitch in at the tender age of seven. I would go from table to table and offer the tourists, wealthy Americans, promotional postcards with our picture on it. Those were hard times indeed under the dictator?" And so she carries on for an hour and a half.

The reporter is barely out of the door before Ondina protests, "Ziomara, why do you keep saying that? It's just not true. Nobody ever forced you to work at night in the aires libres when you were a child. It was only because you harped on and on so much that we finally brought you along with us and, since you were too small to play an instrument, we sent you around with the postcards."

Ondina, Ziomara and Ada all start talking at once.

"That's not true!"

"Oh, yes, it is!"

"I should know, I was there!"

I leave them to argue among themselves, although I'm the one with the best memory. I would have told the reporter that, for me, there was nothing I enjoyed more than going every evening from humdrum Lawton to the vibrant nightlife of Old Havana; or that initially father was dead against us performing in the open-air cafés, saying there was no way his daughters were going to work at night near the sleazy bars and brothels. I would also have mentioned that we stood our ground in the face of male chauvinists, who believed that a woman's place was in the home by the stove, or working in a brothel. But unfortunately my sisters won't let me get a word in.

After cocktails and lunch, Ada and Ondina take their siesta. Ondina above all needs the break, because every other day – during the few hours that Lawton is supplied with running water – she gets up before seven and busies herself with our cistern.

Ondina has never been afraid of anything. As a child she would race so fast on roller skates along the paths in the park across the street that sparks would fly. And at 13 she took to the stage. Her teacher Lazaro Herrera, the great trumpet player, had talked her into it. He recognised her talent and knew that she was ambitious, fearless and self-confident, all the qualities you need to become one of the best. With only three months of trumpet lessons under her belt she walked on stage, unflinching, to join the musicians of the Septeto Nacional – then the most successful son septet in Cuba – and let rip. Ondina was soon one of the best trumpet players in Cuba.

While Ada is out tending to her transactions and Ondina is busy somewhere in the house, I rummage through the little chest in the dining room where we keep the sheet music. Cuchito transcribed many pieces of music by hand; as our director she was always on the lookout for the newest arrangements. The little chest with its treasure trove of musical inspirations accompanied us everywhere, from Broadway almost as far as Tierra del Fuego, to Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, to the Copacabana in Rio and into the snowy mountains of . Just looking at the yellowing pages is enough for me to hear the music again.

After lunch, while my sisters are relaxing, I take out one of the songs. Playing the clarinet or the saxophone, I let the spirit of the music move me. I like playing in the dining room best; there's always a little breeze blowing through the courtyard door. Siboney, my favourite piece, was written by Ernesto Lecuona. In my opinion he is the best composer Cuba has given to the world. We worked with the maestro many times. I'm the only one of us sisters who still practises regularly. When Ada retired, she gave in to the pleading of younger musicians and sold all her instruments.

But there are still plenty of instruments left in the house to be able to have a jam session. Just a few days ago there was a knock at the door. Ondina hurried to get it and let out a yell when she saw Frank Emilio Flynn and his wife standing there. "We just thought we'd look in on you muchachas from Anacaona." That's what he always says? They live just a few blocks away. We're always happy when Frank visits. He's blind, but refuses to let that stop him, and even today he is the greatest jazz pianist in Cuba.

As soon as Frank sat down he coaxed perfect melodies from that out-of-tune instrument, as only a great master can. And Ondina? Instead of sitting still and listening, she hurried to call Pedrito Soroa, one of our musician friends who was a member of the Orquesta Riverside. Half an hour later he and his brother were at the front door, with their conga drums piled on a wheelbarrow.

Frank Emilio gave his all to one piece after another: bolero, son and jazz. Pedrito and his brother Yolanda played the drums. At last Ondina was happy. She ran a wooden spoon up and down a potato grater to accompany the improvisations. All at once it was like the old days: passers-by, parents, children and lovers stopped on the street and peered in at us through the french doors, as if looking across all the decades we had practised and played in that living room.

Every now and then we're invited to award ceremonies, because our Orquesta Anacaona, which played together for more than five decades, was declared part of the "cultural heritage of Cuba" in 1989. I appreciate the honour, but now I find it too exhausting to travel to Old Havana just to be lauded. The young musicians who played with us at the end of our career continue with new colleagues, still using the name Anacaona. When our successors, the "new" Anacaonas, performed not so long ago on Cuban TV, Ondina was quite beside herself. "Look at them! They're running around half-naked," she said indignantly. "I thought it was about playing music!"

"Ondina, times have changed," I said. Let's be honest, even we started our career with a scandal.

In the Thirties, son was regarded in Havana's better circles as the vulgar music of the common people. When, all of a sudden, we young girls began playing these electrifying songs, with their suggestive lyrics, it shocked many an upright citizen.

Even though many of us are now single, or were only married for a short time, we have never lacked for charming companions, even today. It's a blessing that we've been able to count such excellent musicians and wonderful people as our friends all these years. I'm thinking of Lazaro Herrera in particular: the legendary trumpeter visited us every month until only a year ago. Even at the age of 96 he would still take the bus, and walk in the midday heat from the bus stop on the Calzada to our house, and back again after a few cocktails and a couple of hours of telling stories. Unfortunately he hasn't been well lately and has had to take to his bed.

That made me think. A short time later our niece Ingrid showed up and started pestering me with questions, and it seemed to me like a stroke of fate. Ingrid's mother, Millo, was once the star of the orchestra. She played percussion, conga and bongos, and she was my favourite sister. She left the band in 1953, when she got married, and later moved to , but she visited us whenever she could. Millo came to Havana for the last time in 1981, when she was very ill. Three days later we carried her to her grave. After that, Ingrid came to Cuba more often. I made sure she knew what an exceptional percussionist Millo had been. And the more I told her, the more she wanted to know.

We would often retreat to one of the rooms upstairs. I sometimes felt as if I were confessing to a priest. And I know why, too: it's not pleasant to stir up painful memories. Some things are better left undisturbed. If I don't speak candidly now, how will anyone understand what we did and why we did it? That's why I want to tell our story. I want to talk about how we moved back and forth between simple living and luxury, between moments of heady success and times when it felt impossible to go on. About our daily lives and how each of us had to find her own way, on her own, without any fuss, and prove her mettle. After those long conversations my niece and I always treated ourselves to a glass of rum: Havana Club, the seven-year-old king of rums. You drink it neat. Without ice, lukewarm in the palm.

Now listen to Anacaona, Cuba's forgotten girl band

Print off an exclusive Times Online CD cover for your free Anacanoa tracks

Anacaona by Alicia Castro, as told to Ingrid Kummels, is published by Atlantic and available from BooksFirst priced £13.49 (RRP £14.99), free p&p, on 0870 1608080;

Cuban girl band roars up charts 70 years on

April 11, 2007Cuban girl band roars up charts 70 years onBen Hoyle, Arts Reporter

The six rollicking songs may have been recorded 70 years ago by a forgotten Cuban girl band but in the past four days nearly 50,000 people have downloaded them from Times Online.

Yesterday they sat in 26th position on the iTunes podcast chart, sandwiched between the best of Chris Moyles Radio 1 show and the second series of Doctor Who.

Anacaona was made up of 11 sisters from a working-class family who became a sensation in the nightclubs and cafés of prerevolutionary Havana.

George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Nat "King" Cole were among those who went to hear them play their frenzied son dance music, and they toured to Paris and New York at the end of the 1930s.

Like the much better-known musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club, they then faded into obscurity after sealed Cuba off from the rest of the world.

Alicia Castro, 80, the youngest surviving member of the band, has written their story in a book entitled Anacaona.

Don’t Lift the Cuba Travel Ban

Don't Lift the Cuba Travel Ban By Jaime | April 11, 2007

There are a number of reasons the Cuba travel ban should not be lifted at this time:

* American tourists will not bring democracy to Cuba. Over the past decades hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more democratic today. If anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the state and its control apparatus having been strengthened as a result of the influx of dollars. * The assumption that or trade will lead to economic and political change is not borne out by empirical studies. In Eastern Europe, communism collapsed a decade after tourism peaked. No study of Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union claims that tourism, trade or investments had anything to do with the end of communism. A disastrous economic system, competition with the West, successive leadership changes with no legitimacy, anti-Soviet feeling in Eastern Europe and the failed Soviet war in Afghanistan were among the reasons for change. * There is no evidence to support the notion that engagement with a totalitarian state will bring about its demise. Only academic ideologues and those interested in economic gains cling to this notion. Their calls for ending the have little to do with democracy in Cuba or the welfare of the Cuban people. * The repeated statement that the embargo is the cause of Cuba's economic problems is hollow. The reasons for the economic misery of the Cubans are a failed political and economic system. Like the communist systems of Eastern Europe, Cuba's system does not function, stifles initiative and productivity and destroys human freedom and dignity. * As occurred in the mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms. Cuba's limited economic reforms were enacted in the early 1990s, when the island's economic contraction was at its worst. Once the economy began to stabilize by 1996 as a result of foreign tourism and investments, and exile remittances, the earlier reforms were halted or rescinded by Castro. * The assumption that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments is at best naïve. * Money from American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the Castro government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro, Fidel's brother. * American tourists will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban resorts are built in isolated areas, are off limits to the average Cuban, and are controlled by Cuba's efficient security apparatus. Most Americans don't speak Spanish, will have limited contact with ordinary Cubans, and are not interested in visiting the island to subvert its regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from receiving publications from tourists. * While providing the Castro government with much needed dollars, the economic impact of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited. Dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most. * Tourist dollars would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc., produced by state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned partially or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal shuffling tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by the Cuban military. Carlos Lage, the czar of the Cuban economy, reiterated that the economic objective of the Cuban government is "to strengthen state enterprises." * Once American tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would restrict travel by Cuban-Americans. For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends and relatives on the island, and to influence their views on the Castro regime and on the United States. Indeed, the return of Cuban exiles in 1979-80 precipitated the mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel in 1980. * Lifting the travel ban without any major concession from Cuba would send the wrong message "to the enemies of the United States": that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United Sates; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and eventually the United States will "forget and forgive," and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid. * Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, and constitutional government. Under Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries. The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the will of the people in free elections. While the U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. A normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent. * Supporting regimes and dictators that violate human rights and abuse their population is an ill-advised policy that rewards and encourages further abuses. * A large influx of American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating effect on the economies of smaller Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Florida, highly dependent on tourism for their well being. Careful planning must take place, lest we create significant hardships and social problems in these countries. * Since tourism would become a two-way affair, with Cubans visiting the United States in great numbers, it is likely that many would stay in the United States as immigrants, complicating another thorny issue in American domestic politics. * If the travel ban is lifted unilaterally now by the U.S., what will the U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to encourage changes in the island? Lifting the ban could be an important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide irreversible concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms. * The travel ban and the embargo should be lifted as a result of negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful political and economic concessions or when there is a democratic government in place in the island.

Three Cuban gold-medalist defectors to fight in Germany

Three Cuban gold-medalist defectors to fight in

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — Three Olympic boxing champions who defected from Cuba last month will make their professional debut in April.

Heavyweight Odlanier Solis, super bantamweight Yuriorkis Gamboa and flyweight Yan Barthelemy will fight in Hamburg on April 27, their promoter First Artist and Arena said Wednesday.

The trio of gold medalists from the 2004 Athens Games left their while training in for the upcoming Pan American Games and obtained U.S. visas after passing into Colombia.

Each fighter signed a three-year contract worth at least $1 million with the Hamburg-based company.

14 Cubans flee detention

14 Cubans flee detentionBy Brent Fuller, [email protected] 10th April, 2007 Posted: 17:10 CIT (22:10 GMT)

More than a dozen Cuban migrants escaped from the Immigration Detention Centre in George Town last week as the total number of detainees housed at that facility swelled to 50.

Eleven of the 14 migrants that escaped were caught the same day, 5 April.

One of the three migrants who had remained on the loose turned himself in this weekend, according to immigration officials.

The last two, who officials said were husband and wife, had not been found as of press time Tuesday.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson said the large numbers of detainees at the centre may have played a role in the escape.

"We normally keep it to 15 or 20 people," Mr. Manderson said. "There were some delays in the cases of people who were scheduled to leave."

The incident came two weeks after some Cubans being kept at the centre held a demonstration they said was in protest of living conditions there.

Officials at the Department of Immigration and Customer Service said that protest was held after a failed escape attempt in which detention officers seized several items from migrants they said were planning the get–away.

Those items included a knife, screwdrivers, wrenches and a .

Mr. Manderson said an investigation is under way to determine how the detainees got those items, which are prohibited to anyone housed at the centre.

It's unclear whether any of the people involved in the 22 March protest also took part in last week's escape.

The last escape from the Immigration Detention Centre occurred on Christmas night last year when 25–year–old detainee Lester Camejo Suarez ran away from the centre during routine outdoor exercises. He was caught three days later without incident.

On the same day Mr. Suarez was recaptured, another Cuban man being kept at the centre attempted suicide. He was hospitalised and was later put under watch at the Central Station.

The detention centre is not operated as a full–security . It is used by the Cayman Islands Immigration Department to temporarily house migrants who are being held here awaiting repatriation to their homeland.

Mr. Manderson has previously said total staff at the centre fluctuates between 10 and 12 people who work different shifts keeping watch on the migrants.

Cuban bishop says Holy Week came at time of more church-state harmony

EASTER-CUBA Apr-10-2007

Cuban bishop says Holy Week came at time of more church-state harmonyBy Catholic News Service

HAVANA (CNS) — Holy Week in Cuba was marked with processions, a Way of the Cross through the streets of Old Havana and official permission to broadcast radio messages to the faithful.

The celebrations came at a time when relations with the socialist government have been characterized by "a process of greater understanding," said Auxiliary Bishop Juan de Dios Hernandez Ruiz of Havana.

For the third time in recent years, a Cuban government television channel also broadcast the Good Friday Way of the Cross from Rome, led by Pope Benedict XVI. The April 8 news program aired on all local TV channels showed images of the papal Easter Mass and part of the pope's Easter message.

"After difficult times, the Cuban government is beginning to understand the role of the church," Bishop Hernandez told journalists shortly before leading the Way of the Cross on Amargura Street in Old Havana. He was referring to the confrontations between the Catholic Church and the government following the revolution in 1959, when the island's leaders officially declared Cuba a socialist country.

On April 6, hundreds of people wound through the streets from the Havana cathedral to the Church of Cristo del Buen Viaje (Christ of the Good Journey).

A group carried statues of Jesus and Mary and a huge wooden cross through the streets on their shoulders, while followers sang and prayed. Two announcers with megaphones described each station, while residents watched the procession from the balconies or doorways of their houses.

Catholic processions were prohibited in Cuba from 1961, shortly after came to power, until Pope John Paul II's historic visit to the island in January 1998.

Bishop Hernandez said now was a time "of dialogue" in the country.

"We are in a process of greater understanding. I believe that is positive. It is a journey, and as with any journey we expect that rather than obstacles we will find paths along which we can walk more quickly," he said. "For Cuba's Catholic community, this is important. It is a way of normalizing the life of the church. I think we are making progress."

The bishop said that church-state relations had not changed during the last eight months under the administration of Defense Minister Raul Castro, who has been acting as president since July 31, while his brother, the president, convalesces from intestinal surgery.

"Everything is the same. There are no substantial changes," Bishop Hernandez said.

In the future, the bishop said, any changes in the country will require "great understanding by the international community and dialogue that will enable us to move ahead in a civilized way."

He added, "Insofar as possible, we hope that the life of the church and its mission of evangelization normalize, and I think that is also the government's wish."

Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino said in a late-March interview with the Spanish daily El Pais that at this moment in history Cuba needs "dialogue, not pressure."

Unlike some other countries in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba does not recognize the days of Holy Week as holidays, and people go to work and as usual.

"We grew up knowing that Holy Week is a time to go to Mass and that sort of thing, and not a time to go on vacation or take trips outside the city," Francisco Perez, 40, told Catholic News Service.

One Havana priest, Father Fernando de la Vega, said it was "a disadvantage that the days are not holidays, because we had to hold all the liturgies at night." However, he noted that many young people participated in the liturgies.

Maria Teresa Quiala, 84, still remembers the day long ago when she received her first Communion in her hometown of Santiago de Cuba. For her, she said, Holy Week is "the most beautiful time there is, because it is a great spiritual help. I keep the traditions. I don't eat meat, just eggs and fish."

Thais Gonzalez, who grew up Catholic, said Holy Week was "an incredibly beautiful time, even though we are not all Catholic."

"We learn a great deal, especially to forgive and to live in the peace that we so need, because there is much confusion in the world, much , and many people who are doing the wrong things," he said.

While awaiting the arrival of the Way of the Cross procession, Gonzalez added: "The Cuban people were always very religious. We have a spirituality from birth. Children must grow up in a climate of peace, harmony and respect for the Ten Commandments."


Los vitrales rotos de Pinar del Río

Los vitrales rotos de Pinar del RíoPablo Alfonso

La noticia llegó por . Fue un mensaje electrónico recibido desde Cuba el día de Viernes Santo. La revista Vitral, órgano cívico cultural de la Diócesis de Pinar del Río, sería clausurada. No habían mayores detalles.

Crucificada, pensamos algunos amigos. Hoy reitero el término: crucificada y sacrificada. Orden ejecutada por el recién estrenado Obispo de Pinar del Río Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez, quien sin duda será de triste recordación para los católicos cubanos y los pinareños en particular.

Ya sé que son palabras duras pero es el momento de llamar a las cosas por su nombre, sin tratar de ganar tiempos y espacios con frases diplomáticas vacías de contenido y realidades.

Desde hace mucho tiempo Vitral y el Centro Cívico Religioso de Pinar del Río, que inspiró y fundó su director, Dagoberto Valdés Hernández, ha estado en la mirilla de la dictadura cubana. Vitral y el Centro, también han sido "motivo de honda preocupación" para la cúpula dirigente de la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Cuba, por los cursos de doctrina social, conducta cívica, actividades culturales y contenido editorial que durante más de una década fueron "haciendo camino al andar" por el estrecho surco de libertades que permite la dictadura.

Siempre celosa de guardar un difícil equilibrio que le garantice la paz litúrgica, la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Cuba, ha sacrificado en más de una ocasión el mensaje profético de denuncia de las injusticias a que está llamada la Iglesia, bajo el pretexto de no caer en manipulaciones políticas. Es una posición cómoda.

Ese es justo el caso de Vitral y de su director, Dagoberto Valdés. Sacrificados y crucificados en el justo tiempo litúrgico. Sólo que, para los que mantenemos la esperanza de la resurrección, ese es un glorioso para quienes lo asumen y para quienes lo cometen, una afrenta inolvidable.

Fue la firme postura del Obispo José Siro González Bacallao, resistiendo todas las presiones, lo que mantuvo la existencia de Vitral y el apoyo a su director, hasta que por razones de edad, renunció el pasado mes de diciembre. Su sucesor en el cargo no ha tenido esa actitud; porque tampoco cuenta con las vivencias de una Iglesia que se mantuvo en Cuba a golpe de compromiso y sacrificio en "los años duros de la revolución".

Serpa, de 65 años, ingresó a los 17 en el Seminario habanero del Buen Pastor y en 1961, salió al extranjero. Ordenado sacerdote en Bélgica en 1968 no pudo regresar a Cuba y durante 30 años prestó servicios en Colombia. Finalmente hace apenas siete años regresó a Cuba y comenzó un meteórico ascenso, bajo la sombra del Arzobispo de La Habana, Cardenal, Jaime Lucas Ortega Alamino: Primero Vicario de la Arquidiócesis, Administrador del Seminario y por último su rector hasta que recibió la ordenación episcopal el pasado mes de enero y asumió la jefatura de la Diócesis de Pinar del Río.

Fue una ceremonia, cargada de presagios en la que su antecesor José Siro, le recordó la críptica frase de Juan Pablo II durante su visita a Cuba. Su obligación de "cuidar la cola del caimán". No lo ha hecho.

Detrás de la decisión de Serpa está la mano de Ortega; y detrás de ambos, las notas que van y vienen desde Roma a La Habana, entre la Secretaría de Estado del Vaticano y su representante en la capital cubana . Monseñor Luigi Bonazzi

Mala cosa para la Iglesia Católica en Cuba, volver a los viejos tiempos en que la pastoral eclesial, su misión profética y su caminar entre el pueblo de la Isla, estaba enmarcada por la política diplomática de la Santa Sede. Para quienes conocemos las interioridades de esa historia, no es una novedad reconocer las tensiones generadas entre la jerarquía católica de la Isla y los diferentes representantes del Estado Vaticano a lo largo del último medio siglo.

No hay espacio en una breve columna para ahondar más en el asunto. Pero como me propuse al principio de este comentario llamar a las cosas por su nombre, no podía dejar de lado el tema de esas complejas relaciones. Es necesario apuntar que no siempre los intereses de las iglesias locales coinciden con las estrategias, visiones e intereses del Estado Vaticano. Es una de las grandes contradicciones con las cuales tiene que navegar la nave de San Pedro.

Imagino que a estas alturas, Caridad Diego, la Secretaria de Asuntos Religiosos del Consejo de Estado de Cuba, estará de plácemes.

Mucho ha tenido que ver en todo esto, su diligente capacidad de prometer y cumplir a medias; sus acercamientos a la nueva generación de episcopables cubanos, algunos de los cuales ya tienen el cetro en sus manos y los micrófonos que logró medio abrir para que algunos entusiastas obispos leyeran un breve y didáctico mensaje de Semana Santa, en tres o cuatro estaciones provinciales de radio. Todo un triunfo de la apertura y la reconciliación!

Hace algunas horas he recibido el último editorial publicado en el último número de la revista Vitral. Como la primera versión de la noticia fatal, llegó por Internet. Hay una nota que aclara con humildad: Por falta de recursos Vitral dejará de publicarse.

Si, en efecto, "por falta de recursos", pero también por falta de otros "recursos" no necesariamente económicos, agrego yo.


PERO SEREMOS LIBRES2007-4-11Por Miriam Leiva.

Los cubanos arrastramos el enorme lastre de ser isleños, lo cual significa que estamos enclaustrados por las fuerzas del mar y las armas, y para escapar del encierro tenemos que arriesgar nuestras vidas en el Estrecho de la Florida, procurar un pariente que nos reclame desde algún país, una ciudadanía por herencia o un matrimonio con extranjero, o ir a la cárcel.

Se nos niega la libre información para que continuemos creyendo que este es el mejor de los mundos posibles, aunque ya la mayoría lo duda por la precariedad de la vida cotidiana. Ni radios de onda corta, ni televisión extranjera, ni teléfonos móviles, ni equipos de fax, ni , catalogada de un peligro para la humanidad. No amigos extranjeros y pocos turistas.

Caudillos hemos tenido a lo largo de la historia como buenos latinoamericanos, dignos herederos de los españoles. El pueblo fue alegre, bullicioso y emprendedor, pero apacible y crédulo. Tuvo grandes ilusiones con una revolución que en 1959 le ofreció el Edén, si se sacrificaba por corto tiempo y creía ciegamente.

Cuba tuvo una metrópoli, España, que gozó del privilegio de la insularidad, el garrote y la reconcentración de Valeriano Weiler para retener la ¨Joya de la Corona¨, última gran colonia en sublevarse y finalmente desgajarse a fines del Siglo XIX. Contó con un vecino en el Norte, hacia el que miraron con admiración los criollos ansiosos de emanciparse, unas veces añorando la anexión y finalmente la independencia. Fue el principal socio comercial desde entonces. Pero las circunstancias en primero no permitían asimilar un nuevo estado esclavista, e iniciadas las guerras de independencia cubanas retrasó los esfuerzos, unas veces con amenazas a la metrópoli, otra con colaboración contra los barcos con armas para los mambises. Finalmente, lanzó la guerra que produjo la intervención norteamericana. Pero los cubanos tuvieron una república en 1902 que poco a poco se despojaba de la tutela. Por desgracia, en 1952 llegó la tiranía de Fulgencio Batista.

Estos isleños iniciamos el Siglo XXI atenazados por confrontación entre los gobiernos de Estados Unidos y Cuba, y la llegada de España con sus empresarios apresurados para que los yankis no ocupen nuevamente su lugar.

Poco antes de que la Unión Europea analice nuevamente su posición hacia Cuba, el 2 de abril, arribó el Sr. Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de España, escoltado por su embajador en La Habana. Aduce que debe haber un diálogo crítico para que Cuba se abra y que la política de la , después de la represión a 75 opositores durante la Primavera Negra del 2003, fue un error. Claro que fue un error levantar las medidas de la UE sin nada a cambio, sólo el canto de sirenas del astuto cubano. Ahora el dislate puede ser mayor. No nos llamemos a engaños, el gobierno español en el que muchos tuvimos serias esperanzas, apuesta por el petróleo cubano, más hoteles, todos los negocios. Conoce el peligro. Ya en Washington los legisladores se mueven para levantar las prohibiciones a sus empresas y ciudadanos, mientras enfrentan a los obstinados en mantener un absurdo ya prácticamente inexistente, utilizado como pretexto para reprimir a los cubanos.

Indudablemente muchos españoles han aprendido con creces. Ya no son los emigrantes de boina y alpargatas que llegaban a Cuba sin un céntimo, y eran acogidos por este noble pueblo. En los últimos 32 años han logrado el desarrollo y entrar a América Latina con sus capitales. No recuerdan que ellos tuvieron la dictadura del Franco. Otros españoles sufren ante tanto egoísmo.

Los cubanos que se resignen. Seguiremos siendo rehenes de los intereses de allende los mares y de los omnipotentes del totalitarismo tropical que asfixia a un pueblo merecedor de salir de la miseria material y espiritual; no tener prisioneros de conciencia y políticos pacíficos en sus terribles cárceles; ni soportar a los empresarios españoles o de otro país que le extraiga la sangre en contubernio con los explotadores locales.

Señores extranjeros continúen riendo las gracias a los gobernantes de Cuba; sigan llamándose grandes amigos, pero no engañan a los cubanos con sus cuentos de que también han hablado sobre respeto de los derechos humanos y los prisioneros. Pamplinas. No se han preguntado a cuantos entrarán aún en las cárceles y cuantas mentiras urdirán las autoridades para mantener al pueblo cubano oprimido e impotente ante la represión. Así no se contribuye a la democratización.

La Habana, 10 de Abril de 2007

Miriam LeivaPeriodista Independiente

Bills that affect Cuba policy

Apr 09, 2007

Bills that affect Cuba policyBy BILLY HOUSEMedia General News Service

WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican members of Congress who want to change U.S. policy toward Cuba aren't just focusing on lifting and trade sanctions in place for more than 45 years.

Cuba-related measures introduced this session also range from a bill to allow U.S. oil and natural gas companies to work with the Cuban government to drill in Cuban waters to legislation to lift immigration restrictions for Cubans to play professional baseball in the United States.

Most of these bills — like those that would increase travel or trade — are unlikely to survive Bush's veto threats. None claims any Florida members of Congress as sponsors or co-sponsors.

Still, these bills reflect the interest from lawmakers outside of Florida toward relaxing sanctions against the island country, perhaps boosted by speculation that may never return to power.

Here's a quick rundown:

•S.875: Known as the Security and Fuel Efficiency Act of 2007, this bill would allow U.S. oil and natural gas companies to work with the Cuban government to drill in Cuban offshore fields already being explored by joint ventures involving companies from , , Norway and elsewhere. The main sponsor is Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. It has one co-sponsor.

Florida GOP Sen. Mel Martinez has responded with his own bill (S. 876) to impose sanctions on individuals or entities that invest $1 million or more to develop Cuba's oil and natural gas resources, and to deny U.S. visas to foreign agents that contribute to that development.

•S.721: This bill would end all travel restrictions on American travel to Cuba. The main sponsor is Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. It has 14 co-sponsors.

•H.R. 1026: The Export Facilitation Act of 2007 would end the requirement that the Cuban government pay cash for shipments before the shipments leave U.S. ports. The main sponsor is Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. It has nine co-sponsors.

•H.R. 757: The Cuban-American Family Rights Restoration Act would allow U.S. nationals and permanent residents to visit family members in Cuba. The main sponsor is Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. It has 22 co-sponsors.

•H.R. 654: The Export to Cuba Act would allow all travel between the United States and Cuba. The main sponsor is Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. It has 89 co-sponsors.

•H.R. 624: The Free Trade with Cuba Act would lift the U.S. trade with Cuba and remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism subject to agricultural and medical export restrictions. The main sponsor is Rangel. It has 35 co-sponsors.

•H.R. 217: This bill would repeal the embargo placed upon all trade with Cuba. The main sponsor is Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y. It has eight co-sponsors.

•H.R. 216: This would waive prohibitions with respect to Cuban nationals coming to the United States to play professional baseball. The main sponsor is Serrano. It has four co-sponsors.

Billy House is the Washington correspondent for the Tampa Tribune.

Cubans fret over pesos before politics

Cubans fret over pesos before politicsTue Apr 10, 2007 8:24 PM EDTBy Catherine Bremer

HAVANA (Reuters) – Martha, a Cuban pensioner, has enough to eat with her ration book and a monthly stipend equivalent to about $10. The government has sent her a mattress on credit and she is on the list for a new Chinese-made fridge.

Yet, even after selling fried plantain snacks on the side, she can't save enough for the $7 bags of cement she wants to patch up her leaky wooden house on the edge of Havana.

"We can't think about luxuries. From the moment a Cuban wakes up he must think about food, and that's all," she says, rocking on her porch.

While the outside world watches 's slow recovery from stomach surgery and speculates about Cuba's future, talk in Cuba is still more about the daily battle to stretch one's income than the politics behind it.

Older Cubans get tearful at the idea of a post-Castro Cuba. Younger Cubans say they are tired of living in a time warp.

But in a country with no public opinion polls and a state-run media it's hard to measure what Cubans really think, and there is a long-held reluctance to criticize the one-party communist system to foreigners.

"We don't have extreme poverty in Cuba. But we have to be inventive. We don't have time to think about politics," said Martha, 59, who withheld her last name.

From the fuller menus in family-run snack joints to the Chinese-made clothes in once-bare government stores, Cuba is visibly better off than a decade ago, when it was recovering from the economic dive caused by the Soviet Union's collapse.

But for government employees, from teachers to doctors, a pair of jeans still costs two month's wages.

Since Cuba began issuing small business licenses in the 1990s, to cushion the blow from losing Soviet aid, a sliver of society earns above the roughly $15 monthly state wage doing things like filling cigarette lighters or selling books.

But they still have their heads down, focused more on making ends meet than on whether their 80-year-old leader's long absence from view means Cuba is on the cusp of a change.


In crumbling Old Havana, Estrella is an economics graduate but works cutting hair in her windowless front room, struggling to make enough pesos to buy U.S.-priced hair products.

"All the debate is going on outside. Here, things are quiet," she said, then changed the subject to ask for help getting a modern hair trimmer from abroad.

The state-run is in better shape than in years, thanks to exports of medical services, , high nickel prices, Chinese loans and generously financed Venezuelan oil.

With a nod to its free education, housing and healthcare, the United Nations ranks Cuba 50th out of 177 nations on its 2006 human development index, a measure of living standards, beating Jamaica, Mexico and socialist ally .

Yet Cubans can't buy or sell cars or houses and hardly any have mobile phones or computers. Even accountants hitchhike.

Many Cubans rely on remittances from relations abroad to buy imported goods, which are priced in "convertible pesos," roughly equivalent to dollars.

Some get coveted jobs in tourism or work unofficially as tour guides, salsa teachers or escorts for romance-seeking tourists. In back streets, others hawk factory goods.

"I can't do anything with my pay," said Ricardo, who said he rolls 100 luxury cigars by hand each day, earning the equivalent of a U.S. cent for each one, and makes extra hawking a few to tourists.


At home, Cubans stretch meat portions over several meals. Parents who can afford disposable diapers wash and reuse them.

Many dream of the end of the U.S. trade and an economic opening that could bring a new world of fast food and shopping.

Yet they also fear a sudden change that would threaten their free schooling and hospitals. The state-run media paints a bleak picture of life under capitalism, and many Cubans see the outside world blighted by violent crime and wealth divides.

"We have a big advantage over other countries. Whatever happens with Fidel, no one wants what we have to be taken away," said Vincent Valdez, 52, as he fished off Havana's Malecon sea wall for something fresh for supper.

Living in a strange silence that was until recently filled by the long speeches of their leader, Cubans say what they fear most is instability.

Cuban emigres in Miami danced for joy when news broke of Castro's problems. But any notion that Cubans at home might topple communism in the streets has long faded.

"Many people are angry. It's a bit like a pressure cooker," said one Havana resident. "But nobody wants chaos."

Meanwhile, analysts abroad wonder whether signs that Castro has recovered enough to take a more active role might limit designated successor Raul Castro's ability to engineer Chinese-style reforms.

"Though Cubans have a good amount of admiration and respect for Fidel they are tired of revolutionary rhetoric. They are ready for Raul to start meeting the significant pent-up pressures for a better standard of living," said Frank Mora, a Cuba expert at the National War College in Washington.

"Legitimacy of the system will be based less on what Fidel offered and more on what material well-being Raul can deliver."

Cuba is calling

Cuba is callingA look at the rich cuisine and culture of the forbidden island that many never forgot


During the eight months since Cuban became ill and transferred power to his brother, Raul, speculation has centered on what a post-Fidel Castro Cuba might be like.

Cuba — an island 90 miles off the coast of Florida — is likely to be more open to Americans, possibly even eventually returning to being a popular weekend destination offering the five mainstays of any Cuban feast (roast pork, black , white , fried plantains, and yuca with lemon, olive oil and garlic) and croquettes, empanadas, fritters and tamales.

Hot-hot-hot Cuban eateriesWhether you're in the mood for a simple cubano or a full-on meal of ropa vieja, these Cuban eateries have you covered.

While U.S. citizens have not been prohibited from traveling to Cuba, the Trading With the Enemy Act prohibits U.S. citizens (journalists, cultural exchange program participants, scholars and humanitarians are exempt) from spending money in Cuba. With tourists needing to pay for and accommodations, the U.S. edict has amounted to a ban.

Former Chicagoan Beverly Cox, co-author of Eating Cuban: 120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $37.50), learned firsthand that Cubans warmly welcome Americans to their soil and have no restrictions on U.S. visitors.

"Cubans were very nice to us," says Cox, who legally visited Cuba twice while writing the cookbook, assuming the role of consultant with a U.S. delegation of food exporters.

"At first, Marty [cookbook photographer Martin Jacobs] and I said, 'Maybe we should say we're Canadians' when Cubans asked our origin. When we said 'Canadians,' the Cubans were disappointed. When we said we were from the United States, oh my gosh! They loved that! Almost everyone told us about at least one relative in the U.S."

Cubans were very willing to share their rich culinary history that reflects the influences of Native American, Spanish, African, Chinese and French immigrations, Cox said. They also were willing to share their recipes built around the staples of rice and beans, pork, chicken, fried or broiled root vegetables — often flavored with onions, garlic tomatoes and spices — though many Cubans have difficulty finding and/or affording some of the ingredients.

"Thankfully, the creativity is still there," Coloradoan Cox acknowledges.

Asked about the quality of food visitors to Cuba could expect to experience, Cox is blunt: "The place for good food is not in Cuban hotels or the government restaurants. Instead, it's from street vendors who make their own fritters and croquettes or at paladares, the private restaurants, which can be elegant or a simple takeout window."

In a nod to free enterprise, the Cuban government has permitted a limited number of homeowners to convert a section of their dwelling into a family run ; seating is limited to 12. Paladares are most common in larger areas such as Havana.

WBBM-Channel 2 news anchor Antonio Mora, a native of Havana, is hopeful that the availability of great food in Cuba will improve as Cuba opens up. Mora, who left Cuba with his parents in 1960, would like to take his wife, Julie, and children, Clara, 10, and Antonio, 7, to Cuba to experience the aroma — a combination of onions, tomatoes, bay leaves, garlic and other spices cooking in olive oil — he cherishes.

Mora's favorite Cuban meal is beef picadillo — a hashlike dish with ground beef, onions, green peppers, pimento-stuffed green olives and raisins served on white rice with sides of black beans and fried plantains. His favorite cocktail is Ernest Hemingway's daiquiri, invented at El Floridita Bar in Havana.

Minnesotan Glenn Lindgren who, with native Cubans Raul Musibay and Jorge Castillo, co-authored Three Guys from Miami Celebrate Cuban: 100 Great Recipes for Cuban Entertaining (Gibbs Smith, $29.95), points out that the popularity of Cuban food has meant an increase in Cuban restaurants – especially in cities such as Miami, Tampa, New York and Chicago — and wider availability of Cuban products in local groceries or online.

"You can create the perfect Cuban party with good food, good friends, good conversation, and a good drink or two," Lindgren advises. "All you need to add is Cuban music: anything from Celia Cruz to Willy Chirino and Gloria Estefan."

Sandy Thorn Clark is a Chicago-based freelance writer.,FOO-News-cuba11.article

Idaho busca participación en exportaciones agrícolas EEUU a Cuba

Idaho busca participación en exportaciones agrícolas EEUU a Cuba10 de abril de 2007, 06:19 PM

LA HABANA (Reuters) – El gobernador de Idaho, Butch Otter, llegó el martes a Cuba para promover las exportaciones agrícolas de su estado en la isla de gobierno socialista.

Cuba importó en el 2006 unos 340 millones de dólares en productos agrícolas estadounidenses como pollo, trigo, maíz, o soja, transformado a su enemigo ideológico en su mayor proveedor extranjero de alimentos.

"Vamos a continuar construyendo una buena relación con nuestros amigos en Cuba," dijo a su llegada Otter, un republicano, quien encabeza un grupo de 35 funcionarios y representantes de productores de lácteos, granos y patatas.

"Todos ellos esperan la oportunidad de negociar y hacer negocios con Cuba," añadió.

Otter ha visitado en el pasado tres veces La Habana como legislador y firmó en el 2004 un acuerdo según el cual Cuba se comprometía a comprar productos de Idaho. Sin , pocos negocios se materializaron.

Desde que el Congreso de aprobó en el 2000 una excepción a su embargo comercial de 45 años, Cuba se ha convertido en el 34 mayor mercado para los productos agrícolas estadounidenses.

Sin embargo, las importaciones cubanas desde Estados Unidos cayeron ligeramente en los últimos dos años debido a un endurecimiento de las condiciones de pago introducido por el George W. Bush en la medida que Cuba goza de créditos y subsidios de y .

Varias propuestas de ley fueron introducidas en el Congreso de Estados Unidos para suavizar el embargo y también las restricciones de viaje a la isla con el apoyo de gobernadores y legisladores estatales.

Una de las propuestas es permitir transacciones bancarias directas con Cuba para pagar las importaciones agrícolas. Según expertos, esto facilitaría nuevas ventas.

Otra busca permitir que petroleras estadounidenses puedan participar en la exploración de crudo en aguas cubanas del Golfo de México. Uno de los patrocinadores de la propuesta es el legislador republicano de Idaho, Larry Craig.

Cuba descubrió petróleo en cantidades no comerciales en el 2004 y un consorcio de empresas españolas, indias y noruegas piensa comenzar a explorar otra vez el próximo año.

Otter es el segundo gobernador republicano que visita Cuba en un mes.

El gobernador de Nebraska, Dave Heineman, estuvo en la isla a fines de marzo para firmar acuerdos comerciales por unos 60 millones de dólares.

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