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Daily Archives: September 20, 2009

Apartheid protesters got it right

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09Apartheid protesters got it rightBY U.S. REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART

Diaz-Balart, a Republican, represents the 21st district of Florida.

Twenty-four years ago, in order to counter the South African Apartheid regime's attempt to lure musicians to a resort known as “Sun City,'' numerous world-famous musicians (including Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Miles Davis, Lou Reed, Jackson Browne, and many others) came together to record an album with a title song by the same name, Sun City.

The song's lyrics read:

It's time to accept our


is a privilege nobody rides for free

Look around the world baby it cannot be denied

Somebody tell me why are we always on the wrong side,

Ain't gonna play Sun City.

Our government tells us we're doing all we can

Constructive Engagement is Ronald Reagan's plan

Meanwhile people are dying and giving up hope

Well this quiet diplomacy ain't nothing but a joke

We're gonna say

Ain't gonna play Sun City.

The Sun City recording and the solidarity it manifested helped tear down the wall of silence around apartheid for a generation of young people. Horror was exposed, and many artists, musicians and athletes refused to set foot on South Africa until it was free.

Today, a new U.S. administration wants to “constructively engage'' another tyranny, the one that oppresses Cuba. A singer known as Juanes says his upcoming concert in the Castros' private fiefdom will not be political, despite his plan to sing alongside despised dictatorship spokesmen such as Silvio Rodríguez. Juanes also says he hopes the concert will “lessen the tension between Cuba (meaning the totalitarian regime which oppresses Cuba), the exile community, and the United States.'' To confuse Cuba with the oppressors of the Cuban people is an inherently political act.

Even if one were to believe Juanes' repeated professions of apoliticism and “neutrality,'' he should read Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel's words: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.''

I will always stand with those who resist the brutality of the Castros' totalitarian nightmare, such as the leader who is a voice of Cuba's conscience, who spent 17 years as a political for his nonviolent opposition to the dictatorship, and is a winner of the 2009 National Endowment for Democracy's “Democracy Award'' — Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez). With regard to Juanes, Antúnez said: “For Cubans with dignity, the Juanes concert, appearing on stage alongside a specimen-troubadour of the tyranny, Silvio Rodríguez, will be a grotesque spectacle.''

Some defenders of the upcoming spectacle have engaged in the despicable in order to provide political cover for Juanes, announcing that they have “polled'' political prisoners inside the Castros' gulag who “support the concert.'' How do they have direct access and what exactly are they telling the political prisoners they “poll''? A tragic reality of today's Cuba is that even immediate family members of Cuban political prisoners cannot see them at will to “consult their opinions.''

In the film made during the Sun City recording, one of the participating musicians, Jackson Browne, explained why he and so many others got involved. “Sun City's become a symbol of a society which is very oppressive and denies basic rights to the majority of its citizens. In a sense, Sun City is also a symbol of that society's `right' to entertain itself in any way that it wants to, to basically try to buy us off and to buy off world opinion.'' Browne and the other musicians vowed never to perform at Sun City because to do so would be to condone apartheid.

Browne was right then.

Juanes is not.

Apartheid protesters got it right – Issues & Ideas – (20 September 2009)

Wheeling west from Havana, two Americans find that while the embargo remains, bicycles own the road.

CubaWheeling west from Havana, two Americans find that while the remains, bicycles own the road.

By Emma Brown and Jacob FenstonWashington Post Staff Writer and Special to The Washington PostSunday, September 20, 2009

We were coated in a slick of sweat, diesel exhaust and sunscreen when we coasted up to a man wearing just-shined shoes and drinking rum from a plastic cup. He squinted at our crinkled map, nodded, told us we wanted to go south to the beach at San Luis and walked off as we tried to explain that we were headed north.

Next we tried an older woman, who donned her huge reading glasses to examine the map. She held it upside down and agreed that San Luis was probably where we were headed. Her nephew chimed in: Nothing up that other road but mountains and rivers. "Do what you want," he said, exasperated. "But you won't get there before dark."

It was Day 3 of our self-guided biking tour of Cuba. We were lost, and everyone — including a baseball team playing by the side of the road — was trying to help.

We had arrived in Cuba on a late-night flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, staying that first night in the home of a friendly, fast-talking couple who rented us a room in their bright blue Havana apartment and kindly stored our bicycle boxes until our return seven days later. Pedaling west out of the city, along its famed seaside promenade, we had passed apartment buildings hung with laundry, crumbling grand hotels and nationalist slogans ("¡Viva Castro! ¡Patria o muerte!") scrawled on pieces of wood and nailed to telephone poles.

Now we were somewhere in Pinar del Rio province, the country's tobacco capital. We'd taken a wrong turn and were trying to find a shortcut back to our route, where our guidebook said we'd find a small guesthouse that had a tendency to fill up fast.

We didn't have reservations or a phone number, but we crossed our fingers, turning down a dirt road that didn't appear on the map. The sky, which had been darkening all day, cracked open, unleashing bolts of lightning and sheets of rain. We hunched our shoulders, pedaled faster and — what else could we do? — laughed.

Traveling on two wheels in Cuba, we were discovering, means being exposed to the weather. But it also means being exposed to the country – its hidden valleys, its roadside fried-chicken vendors, its tucked-away-in-a-courtyard music — in a way we might not otherwise be.

Soaked and shivering late that rainy afternoon, we finally rolled up to Finca la Guabina, a horse ranch that doubles as an eco-. A young woman who seemed to operate the place by herself offered us a luckily vacant room in the high-ceilinged converted farmhouse, where a flier beside the bed boasted such attractions as horseback riding, cockfighting and crocodile-breeding.

We opted instead for hot showers and cold mojitos and fell into bed exhausted, listening to the occasional shriek of a peacock that made its night home on a trellis outside our window.

* * *

When the Soviet Union fell nearly two decades ago, Cuba scrambled to make up for lost subsidies, and tourism became one of the country's most reliable sources of hard currency. President Fidel Castro legalized the U.S. dollar and eased restrictions on foreign ; hotels mushroomed and Cubans started renting out rooms in their homes. Now, despite the U.S. embargo that prohibits most Americans from spending money here, Cuba is the Caribbean's second most popular destination (after the Dominican Republic), with picturesque spots flooded with vacationing Europeans and Canadians.

Cubans we met were curious about these two Americans on bikes, and they had lots of friendly questions about baseball, Barack Obama, the economic crisis and hip-hop. ("Wow, I never met an American guy," said a man with dreadlocks whom we met in a Havana cafe. "Do you like Tupac?")

With a license from the Treasury Department, it's possible to travel to the island legally for journalism, academic research or professional meetings. Otherwise, going to Cuba requires patience with the layers of inconvenience that come with skirting the embargo. We saw no other Americans during our week-long trip.

We traveled for a full day, flying from Washington to Houston to Costa Rica — where we spent a seven-hour layover — and finally to Havana.

Bringing bikes in cardboard boxes made the journey even more of a hassle. But we thought it would be worth it: Touring the island by bike would give us a measure of independence. And it would give us a sort of behind-the-scenes look at this country, where cars are a rare luxury and workers commute by foot, horse-drawn wagon, , bici-taxi or bike.

Cuba's embrace of non-motorized transit is no , and it's fairly new. At the same time that Castro was building hotels in the early '90s, he was also buying bikes: Fuel imports had crashed with the Communist bloc, buses had stopped running, and people needed a way to get around. The country imported 2 million bikes from China and sold them at subsidized prices. Local factories churned out 150,000 bikes a year, and bike lanes appeared in cities and towns across the country.

But as tourism has grown and the has rebounded, cars and buses have begun edging out bicycles again. And already, President Obama has signaled that he is open to reestablishing diplomatic ties, loosening travel restrictions for Cuban Americans and allowing them to send more money to family. Should the embargo be lifted, the number of tourists visiting the country would double, according to the International Monetary Fund. This might be the perfect time to go biking in Cuba, before cars take back the streets.

* * *

The next morning, our lonely-seeming hotelier served us a hefty plate of fresh mango and pineapple for breakfast and told us not to worry about the chunks of dried mud our bikes had shed in her lobby. We pedaled away from the ranch in the slanting light of sunrise, flanked by galloping horses (and perhaps, slithering just out of view, breeding crocodiles).

A long day lay ahead: Our circuitous, took-a-wrong-turn route meant that we had covered a mere 12 miles the day before. That left us with nearly 100 miles to our next destination, Maria la Gorda, a white-sand beach at the island's western tip.

We rolled through valleys past mountainous rock formations called mogotes, and through tiny towns in the hills where we snacked on eight-cent strawberry ice cream.

In a tiny, cramped store selling an assortment of imported goods — shampoo, juice, one bicycle tire — we waited to buy bottled water in a slow-moving line that snaked toward a counter manned by a sole cashier. The line was full of women who seemed at first not to notice the sweaty, spandex-clad foreigners impatient to get back on the road. But then an older woman with kind eyes turned toward us.

"It's boring for us, too," she said. A younger woman near the front of the line took pity on us and pushed us up to the counter ahead of her, where we scored our cold water.

Cuba is a cyclist's paradise: Many roads are empty, and even on the busiest highways, drivers are used to sharing with bikes, pedestrians, horses, mules and anything else that can roll or walk.

After lunch it felt more like a cyclist's hell: hot, flat and unending, with not a spot of shade for miles.

The monotony of the parched western end of the island was finally broken when we entered Guanahacabibes National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve where a dense, humid forest surrounds the narrow road. Land crabs scuttled in leaves at the pavement's edge, and we dodged thousands that had bravely ventured out onto asphalt — shrieking, we admit, when they raised their little claws as if to grab our tires, wrangle us to the ground and pluck out our eyeballs.

The forest broke suddenly into beach, and we caught our first glimpse of the Caribbean Sea, as gloriously blue as postcards promise. We rode another hour, tracing the coast until the road ended at a sleepy, palm-studded resort. Inside the thatch-roofed lobby, a clerk greeted us in perfect British English, gave us our room key and told us that the all-you-can-eat buffet was already open for dinner.

There's something undeniably lovely about sleeping late and lounging in the sand and giving saddle sores a chance to heal; we had been looking forward to it for days. But in what is perhaps an unhealthy reaction to the chance to relax, we grew antsy. Surrounded by pink Germans and Dutch marooned on white plastic beach chairs, we realized that there's a fine line between lounging and languishing.

After a day of sun, sea and sand, we headed back toward Havana. We didn't have time to ride, so we bungeed our bikes to the roof of a taxi. As we sped past homesteads carved out of the tropical forest, with pigs and goats tied in front, we asked the driver whether Cubans resent Americans for the hardships caused by the 49-year-old embargo.

"No, no, not at all," he answered. "It's a thing between two governments – it's not the people's fault." In fact, he said, Cubans want more Americans to visit.


"Because they bring a lot of money."

He earned the equivalent of $12 a month working for the state-run taxi company, he said. With salaries like that, everyone in Cuba has to hustle to get by.

Traveling by bus or taxi is different from biking. You're protected from the elements — the rain and the mud, and also the small-time entrepreneurs trying to sell you a cigar or a pineapple — but missing those things seems to be missing Cuba itself.

Back in Havana, our hosts Humberto and Kary pulled out our bike boxes, and we disassembled the filthy machines. We asked Humberto where we could buy more packing tape. He said it's hard to find; in Cuba, you can't just go out and buy something when you need it. But he insisted on getting it for us. Hours later, there was a new roll of tape in our room. He'd spent much of the afternoon hunting it down.

For our last night, we thought we might splurge on dinner and followed our guidebook to a described as "one of the most romantic settings on planet earth," in a plaza next to a baroque cathedral. It was pretty and overpriced, with chewy fish and a waitress who seemed tired of tourists.

We thought back to our nights after biking — our huge appetites, and the home-cooked meals provided by people from whom we'd rented rooms. Our best dinner — and best room — was in a town called Cabanas, which has no government-sanctioned (i.e., tax-paying) place to stay. The only way to find one is to show up and wait. We sat on a cement bench in the town plaza for three minutes before a man in a baseball cap and tank top approached. He led us up the hill to an idyllic little place where a couple and their young daughter gave us they'd grown on their neighboring farm.

In the morning, our taxi to the airport honked, and Humberto held the door open as we lugged our bike boxes down two flights of stairs. He shook our hands and wished us a good trip home. "And may you have 40 more years of cycling," he added, making cranking motions with his hands.

Emma Brown is a Washington Post intern. Jacob Fenston is a freelance based in Oakland, Calif.

Cuba Undertakes Reforms in Midst of Economic Crisis

Cuba Undertakes Reforms in Midst of Economic Crisis

New America Media, Commentary, Roger Burbach, Posted: Sep 20, 2009 Review it on NewsTrust

Editor's Note: Hit by the global economic crisis, a drop in and the price of nickel, Cuba desperately needs to implement agricultural reforms, writes NAM contributor Roger Burbach.

Carlos picks me up with his dated Soviet-made Lada at the Jose Marti International on a hot sweltering day in Havana. It's been eight months since I've seen him, last January to be precise, when I came to the island on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. "How's it been?" I ask him as we begin the 20 minute drive to central Havana. With a scowl, he replies: "Not so good, nothing seems to get easier." He goes on to say that foodstuffs are as difficult as ever to come by, necessitating long waits in line for rationed commodities.

I am not surprised, as I had been reading in the international press that Cuba has been compelled to curtail its imports. Hit by the global economic crisis, spending by tourists dropped off while the price of nickel, Cuba's main mineral export, fell by more than half. This meant that Cuba has no choice but to cut agricultural imports from its main supplier, the United States. Credit purchases are not an option, as the U.S. legislation in 2000, opening up agricultural sales to Cuba, requires immediate payment in hard currency.

To add to its woes, devastating hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008, decimating some of the country's sugar plantations, as well as its production of vegetables and staple foods. The only bright light in the midst of this food crisis is the implementation of reforms in the agricultural sector under , who took office from his brother, Fidel, in February last year.

I am particularly interested in knowing how the distribution of 690,000 hectares of idle lands to 82,000 rural families, in process when I left Cuba in January, has affected the domestic supply of fresh produce. On my second day, I go to one of the open markets in Havana where I talk to Margarita, who is selling undersized tomatoes. She says they come from her father's new farm. "We started cultivating tomatoes, as well as other vegetables," she says. "We even hired workers, which is now allowed. But then, as the crops began to mature, we got very little water from the state-owned irrigation system." Fearing the worst, I ask her if the state is discriminating against the new producers. "No" she says, "the wells and the irrigation system simply didn't have any gas for the pumps."

Later in the day, I meet with Armando Nova, an agricultural economist at the Center for the Study of the Cuban . I had also talked with him in January and he had then been optimistic about the coming year. I ask him what's gone wrong and he says, "We're caught between the effects of the global economic crisis and the difficulties of implementing the reforms." He goes on to say that there has actually been an increase in fresh produce since the beginning of the year, but it is hardly noticeable in the markets because of the increased demand, a result of the drop in international imports.

As to the economic reforms, Nova says: "The top leadership around Raul is committed to a fundamental shake up of the economy, but change is slow because of bureaucratic obstacles." The very process of distributing idle lands requires 13 steps of paper work submitted to different agencies. And while the government is committed to providing the new farmers with the inputs needed to start up production, many of them are not delivered because they are simply not available due to the economic crisis.

Nova's view that reforms are inevitable is reinforced in a special report on the economy released by Inter Press Service (IPS), which is affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Relations: "There is an ever broadening consensus about the necessity of a profound transformation of the Cuban economic model. … It is recognized that the future strategy should include non-state forms of property — not only in , but also in manufacturing and services." The publication asserts, "Fifty years of socialism in Cuba have to be re-evaluated," particularly the role of the state and the need to use market mechanisms.

To facilitate this transformation, the government is opening up a 45-day public discussion that includes union centers, schools, universities, community organizations and the base of the Cuban Communist party. According to materials sent out to orientate the discussions, the participants should "not only identify problems, but also suggest solutions…The analysis ought to be objective, sincere, valiant, creative, … carried out in absolute liberty with respect for discrepant opinions."

According to Orlando Cruz of the Institute of Philosophy, whom I met at a conference in Havana on social movements, "socialism is to be re-founded in Cuba. We have to totally discard the Soviet model that so badly served us." I ask whether Cuba will now move towards the Chinese model. Like others in Cuba in the party and the government I have asked the same question. He responds somewhat curtly: "We respect the Chinese model, but we have to follow our own process and history. is a totally different country." Cruz makes clear that there will be meaningful democratic participation in the new Cuba: "We will not allow the formation of a petit-bourgeoisie to control or distort the process. We want to construct an authentic democratic socialism. It will be deeper and more participatory than that of the social democracies of Europe."

I first went to Cuba in 1969 and have visited the country every decade since then. There have been many challenging moments in the revolution's history, and now we are witnessing another one, as the country embarks on an endeavor to free the economy from the shackles of its bureaucracy. The fate of this move depends on the ability of society at the grass roots to exert a greater role in the country's economic and political institutions. If this effort succeeds, the Cuban revolution will be opening a new path for socialism in the 21st century.

Roger Burbach is the author of "The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice," and the Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley, Calif. He is working on a new book with Gregory Wilpert, "The Renaissance of Socialism in Latin America."

Cuba Undertakes Reforms in Midst of Economic Crisis – NAM (20 September 2009)

Is Cuba Ready for U.S. Tourists?

Cuba and Is Cuba Ready for U.S. Tourists?Sep 18, 2009

At first glance, Cuba's business potential looks as pretty as its postcards: A nearly five-decades-long embargo has made the island just 90 miles from Florida's coast hungry for nearly every good and service a U.S. company might provide.

But the flip side tells a different story about the most populous country in the Caribbean: that of a cash-strapped state with crumbling infrastructure and an in the stranglehold of an authoritarian government.

Those conflicting realities, however, are not stopping entrepreneurs from planning for the day when the embargo is lifted — or from taking advantage of business opportunities already permissible under the embargo.

Tourism and telecom firms have been energized by recent regulations promising greater access; port operators and oil drillers are gearing up for a rush; and lawyers and consultants are lining up for a piece of the action.

"Every sector is going to be important," said Richard Waltzer, the chairman of the Havana Group, a consulting firm that helps U.S. businesses lay the groundwork for the day sanctions are lifted. "This is an island that really hasn't developed."

But in the short term, Waltzer said, the "building of hotels and tourism infrastructure is going to be the new economy for Cuba."

The Tourism Draw

With its broad beaches, stunning colonial architecture and world-class artists, it's not hard to imagine the island as a mecca.

For Cuba, more foreign visitors would provide access to the quick cash that it needs to jump-start the economy.

The island received 2.3 million visitors in 2008, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

If the U.S. government dropped its travel restrictions entirely, rather than just for Cuban Americans — and Cuba proved as big a draw for American tourists as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, or Cancun, Mexico – the island could expect more than one million additional visitors a year.

Mere curiosity — seeing '58 Oldsmobiles and giant Che portraits on buildings — could lure many, said Damian Fernandez, a longtime Cuban policy expert and provost of Purchase College State of New York.

"Post-embargo, the biggest, fastest impact would be in tourism," he said.

But it's unclear if Cuba could handle the influx. The island has about 50,000 rooms, about as many as Miami-Dade County, according to a report released by the Cuba Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

And while it is making improvements, its phone system, electricity and water-supply infrastructure are struggling.

Cuba's Old World feel is part of its charm, but many visitors are also looking for modern amenities, said Mark Watson, 30, a tourist from Canada who recently visited the island.

Compared with other Caribbean tourist destinations, he found the island's mediocre, prices expensive and his hotel, the Tryp Habana Libre, where rooms start at $168 a night, outdated and shabby.

"I'm not sorry I came here," he said. "But I will never be back."

The infrastructure woes may not only scare away visitors but stunt the growth of other tourism enterprises, said Tim Gallagher, vice president for public relations at Carnival Cruise Lines.

"You can take people to the islands, but you have to have a way to them once they are there and have tours for them," he said from the company's Miami offices. "Whenever Cuba does finally open up, it will take a while to put all that into place."

Gallagher said Carnival will develop a Cuba strategy if and when visiting the island is viable. "It has been so many years that people have been saying that Cuba will open up, but no one really knows when that will happen," he said. "At the time they do, then we are certainly interested."

The infrastructure challenge is not easily overcome.

"It's a chicken-and-egg problem," said Jorge Pinon, a longtime Cuba analyst. "Cuba needs the infrastructure to attract investors, but it can't pay for the infrastructure until it gets the investors."

Retirement Haven?

One way to skirt the issue is to look at businesses that might be created in self-sufficient compounds, said Leo Guzman, founder of the Guzman and Co. bank and a former board member of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp.

Cuba's mild weather, proximity to the United States and surplus of trained doctors and nurses could make it ideal for Cuban-American retirees and those requiring long-term medical care, he said.

Such enclaves might also be more likely to win approval from the Cuban government, he said.

Cuban authorities would "want the Cuban Americans in a community as opposed to interspersed in the community, to lower social friction," he said. "And from a political perspective, [retirees] are the kind of people that the Cuban government would want, i.e. too old to cause problems."

Telecom Outlook

Rebuilding the island's infrastructure is where many see the money.

Under regulations issued by the Treasury Department on Sep. 3, U.S. companies can now offer cellular roaming services; satellite TV and radio; and fiber-optic cable to the island.

Sprint and AT&T would not comment on Cuba's potential, saying they were still studying the rules, but there are a number of telecom companies actively seeking licenses to do business in Cuba.

It's unclear what kind of opportunity this represents for U.S. companies, said Phil Peters, a Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute.

Cuba's ally is already laying a fiber-optic cable to the island. And Cuba routinely blocks radio and TV transmissions from the United States, which would make U.S. firms unlikely contenders for that market.

"It's not clear where the U.S. would fit into their plans," Peters said.

But the island also has one of the lowest telephone-density rates in the region. According to Cuba's National Office of Statistics, the island has one fixed or mobile telephone line for every eight people. The United States, by comparison, has 1.4 phones for every person.

In addition, the Cuban government already has roaming agreements with European carriers, which make the prospect of U.S. deals more likely, he said.

But, once again, the demand for phones, or any other service, is no guarantee that it's a market opportunity, said Pinon: "It's a two-way street. Cuba needs practically everything. But the first question is how much the Cuban government would allow. The second is how much could it afford."

Export Potential

In the absence of foreign investment, another avenue for Cuba to finance its development would be to sell products to the United States. But there, too, complications exist. Tobacco and sugar could bring in quick cash, but exporting sugar would require the United States to drop sugar quotas. And while Cuba is thought to have as much as a third of the world's nickel reserves, much of it is locked up in a deal with Canada's Sherritt International.

Pharmaceuticals and biotech are another possibility, particularly products developed by the Center of Molecular Immunology (Centro de Immunologia Molecular), which has created some potential cancer vaccines and treatments.

Washington recently allowed U.S. clinical trials of Cuba-developed nimotuzumab, a cancer treatment that is already approved in some nations.

If the embargo were lifted, some believe U.S. pharmaceutical companies would be more likely to hire Cuba's best biotech scientists rather than to purchase rights to Cuban drugs. But as long as the Castro government remains in power, top scientists might not be able to leave the country easily.

Gulf Gold Prospects

Perhaps the biggest wild card in the Cuba equation is the prospect of crude.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there are 4.6 billion barrels of untapped oil off northern Cuba, some of it just 50 miles from Florida's coast.

While drilling has been hampered by the global slowdown and Cuba's cash crunch, companies are moving in, including 's Repsol YPF, Brazil's Petrobras, PetroVietnam and Russia's Zarubezhneft. Venezuela's PDVSA has said it will begin exploring in 2010.

It's not surprising, then, that U.S. companies are eager to have a piece of the action in their own backyard, said Eric Smith, the associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute in New Orleans.

If and when the sanctions are lifted, "Americans will be all over the place," Smith predicted. "But they'll also be playing catch-up."

Lifting the embargo could also speed the pace of current operations, as producers would suddenly have the United States — the world's largest energy consumer — as a nearby buyer.

"Those wells are fairly expensive to drill, and [investors] will have to be convinced that they will have access to the market to monetize the oil," Smith said.

However, it might not be the bonanza some expect. Pinon, who is also the former president of Amoco Oil Latin America, calculates that the island uses 150,000 barrels a day, with 93,000 barrels coming from Venezuela.

A typical foreign oil deal would give Cuba 40 percent of output. That implies that new oil fields would need to produce more than 230,000 barrels a day just to replace the Venezuelan contribution — and only after that could Cuba consider selling oil overseas.

A Willing Partner?

All of these scenarios assume not only that Cuba wants to do business with the United States, but that the end of sanctions would come with other changes on the island.

"The lifting of the embargo does not change an iota of Cuban law," Guzman said. "Just because the embargo is lifted, you are not going to have property rights, labor rights, the rule of law and other guarantees."

Indeed, one of Guzman's fears is that U.S. citizens will be so enthusiastic about buying property in Cuba that they might turn a blind eye to those issues. "Obviously, that scenario becomes ripe for abuse," he said.

While the United States has control over if and when it lifts the embargo, it takes two partners to do business.

"Suppose there is a pipeline between the American economy and the Cuban economy," said Jorge Sanguinetty, president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. "It has two faucets. The United States controls one faucet, Cuba the other."Source: Hispanic Business

Cuba embargo and tourism Is Cuba Ready for U.S. Tourists? – (18 September 2009)

Concert `without borders’ not without politics

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09NEWS ANALYSIS | CUBAConcert `without borders' not without politicsAfter weeks of controversy, pop star Juanes performs Sunday in a country where even entertainment has becomea great divider.BY FABIOLA [email protected]

Colombian rocker Juanes will strap on his guitar to command the stage at 2 p.m. Sunday at Havana's historic Plaza of the Revolution, but the show has been sounding a discordant political tune for months.

Juanes has repeatedly stated that his “Peace Without Borders'' concert “is not political.'' But the event is highly charged with the political baggage that comes with Cuba's 50-year-old regime and its ever-growing exile community. And once again, a seemingly cultural event becomes a window into the role the arts and artists have historically played in promoting the Cuban government's agenda, and, in some cases, challenging it.

“Cuba is a country divided, and everything is affected by politics,'' says Cuba culture watcher Alejandro Ríos, who runs the Cuban Film Series at Miami Dade College. “Juanes himself is political. His songs speak of social causes and issues — he's no Britney Spears and bubble-gum pop.''

The event, expected to attract 500,000 people to the plaza where Pope John Paul II appeared in 1998, is a classic study in how the Cuban government uses the island's cultural elite to discredit dissidents, portray Cuba as a respectful, peace-loving nation and paint Cuban exiles in Miami as war hawks.

In La Jiribilla, a government-sponsored online cultural bulletin read around the world, a series of interviews with artists and combative essays from writers miscast the reaction in Miami to the concert.

To the casual reader, La Jiribilla can seem simply a cultural magazine. But its articles are laced with political invective delivered by intellectuals as they are interviewed about their artistic careers and the concert.

In its latest issue La Jiribilla follows Puerto Rican singer Olga Tañón on a visit to the 100-year-old Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán and quotes her: “Cuba is more alive than ever.''

Tañón, who will sing at the concert Sunday, says she never had a like the conservatory growing up and that she has been crying since she arrived in Havana because she's so happy she “withstood the pressure to cancel'' her appearance.

In another a headline, La Jiribilla claims that Cubans in Miami “are breaking Juanes' records with hammers.''

“What do they fear?'' the headline says.

Fact: Only the leader of a tiny activist group, Vigilia Mambisa, broke some Juanes CDs in front of television cameras.

“That a concert for peace ignites so much war for the simple reason that it is celebrated in Cuba is totally absurd,'' one of Cuba's top actors, Jorge Perugorría, is quoted as saying in the same issue.

Perugorría's comments have raised eyebrows among those who know him.

He rose to fame in the 1995 Oscar-nominated movie Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry & Chocolate), a groundbreaking film in which Perugorría plays a gay man who openly criticizes 's government for persecuting gays. Many of the film's stars are no longer in Cuba, including the other protagonist, Francisco Gattorno, who played a faithful Communist student. He has lived in Miami for years.

“Why would an artist of Perugorría's stature need to submit himself to something like that? Well, in Cuba defending the government is always rewarded with some goodie,'' Ríos says.

Surely, the concert has commanded headlines since Juanes reportedly mentioned it on Twitter back in June when he was visiting Havana, and has since been the subject of talk shows on radio and television.

But Cubans in Miami and throughout the United States have displayed a wide range of opinions on the concert, including widely favorable views.

“It's significant for them to have this major performance happen, to have their country on people's radars in any way, shape or form,'' says of Miami religion professor Michelle González-Maldonado, born in Miami of exiled Cuban parents. “In part, it opens their world and it opens the world to them. In Miami, Cuba is always with us, but when I traveled and lived in other parts of the world, it's not a daily presence as it is in South Florida, so anything that draws attention to the island reminds individuals of the Cuban community and their struggles.''

War in Miami?

Not quite, but there's been plenty of debate, criticism, analysis — and support.

“The Cuban exile community in Miami has been a diverse one for quite some time,'' says Lillian Manzor, coordinator of a theater exchange program with Cuba. “It's generational and also has to do with the different waves of exiles and with the Cuban exiles who leave Miami [to live elsewhere and to visit Cuba] and return.''

Manzor left Cuba with her parents in 1968, when she was 10 years old, and has visited the island.

“There have always been and there should always be voices that are not in favor of cultural exchanges nor any kind of dialogue,'' she says. “But opinion has been far from monolithic, and yet the press has for years been focused on only the discordant voices of exile as representative of the majority of exile.''

If anything, the concert already is making history in Miami with unprecedented input from Cuba in the exile media coverage.

For weeks a popular nightly talk show, A mano limpia with Oscar Haza on América TeVé Channel 41, has been discussing the concert with a diverse panel of guests — those who favor contact with Cuba and those who believe nothing short of a militant stand against a totalitarian regime is acceptable, as well as guests with a complex view of the concert and Cuban reality.

“We are going to present and discuss all points of view as is done in a democratic society,'' Haza says.

In an appearance Tuesday night, Amaury Pérez Vidal, a chief coordinator of the Juanes concert and one of Cuba's singers invited to perform, joined the discussion via telephone from Havana.

Pérez said he frequently watched A mano limpia, thanks to a television antenna he bought in Mexico “when it wasn't popular to do so.'' He added that he thought all Cubans should have free access to information. He also said that Pánfilo, a Cuban man for saying Cubans were hungry, should not be in . Cuban authorities sentenced Pánfilo, — whose appearance on a video posted on YouTube asking for jama, Cuban slang for , has been has close to a half-million hits — to two years. (Panfilo was reportedly released the next day and sent to a psychiatric facility for alcohol treatment).

After Pérez's appearance, Haza noted: “We'll now see what happens to him. His presentation in the concert has already been limited to two songs.''

The next night, another guest asked if Peréz had lost his antenna yet. Minutes later, Pérez sent an e-mail to the show's producer so that it could be read on-air, telling Haza that he was watching and still had his antenna. He added that he wanted to make sure people understood that he was defending the right to access information not just for himself, but “for all Cubans.''

It was most remarkable since Pérez and the other concert organizer and participant, Silvio Rodríguez, have been staunch backers of the Cuban government, even when it has cracked down on independent journalists and dissidents. Both signed a document supporting the firing-squad shooting of three men trying to flee Cuba by hijacking Havana's Regla ferry in 2003.

And despite the appearance of openness, the Cuban government continues to crack down.

Four days before the concert, as the stage was being erected and some pinned their hopes that music would lead to positive change — and supporters, including Juanes, spoke of “reconciliation'' — the Cuban government arrested Yosvany Anzardo Hernández, a promoter of access in Cuba who created Red — Liberty Net — an independent e-mail service on the island.

Those who witnessed the arrest described it as “brutal.''

Concert `without borders' not without politics – Cuba – (20 September 2009)

Cuban rocker Gorki Aguila: Juanes concert will be manipulated

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09CUBA | JUANES CONCERTCuban rocker Gorki Aguila: Juanes concert will be manipulatedCuban musician Gorki Aguila weighed in on the controversy over the Juanes concert in Havana with a press conference in Miami.BY JORDAN [email protected]

Gorki Aguila is that rarest of Cuban creatures, an independent and dissident musician.

It is a lonely thing to be, whether sitting in jail in Cuba, as Aguila once did for more than two years, or playing and recording secretly, with his raucous punk band Porno Para Ricardo, in warehouses and back rooms in Havana.

Or appearing by himself in Miami — albeit before a phalanx of media at a press conference Friday — as Cubans on the island and their counterparts in Miami geared up for Juanes' gigantic Peace Without Borders concert in Havana on Sunday. When word of the Juanes event leaked earlier this summer, many in the Cuban exile community asked why Aguila, whose politically provocative and often obscene songs openly attack the Cuban government, was not invited to perform.


Aguila, who is visiting Miami, New York and Washington D.C. to promote his group's fifth album, El Disco Rojo (desteñido) (The Red Album [faded]), shrugged off the significance of the Juanes event. “It seems to me that this concert is going to be manipulated by the Cuban government,'' Aguila said. “I think Juanes' intentions are very ingenuous, to be pretending to do a concert for peace, if you're not going to talk about the problems in Cuba. The evil in my country has a name, and it's .''

However, Aguila withheld judgment on whether the Juanes-sponsored show, which includes 15 musicians from six countries and is expected to draw more than half a million people to Havana's Plaza de la Revolución on Sunday, would have its intended effect of easing tensions between Cuba and the world. “We'll see,'' he said. “If that happened I'd be very happy. But the Cuban government always finds a way to manipulate things.''


The 40-year-old singer, who wore a red T-shirt saying “59 — The Year of the Mistake'' referring to the year Castro took power, has been living in Mexico with his mother and sister since April. In August 2008 he was in Cuba for the second time and charged with “social dangerousness'' and “subverting Communist morality,'' but pressure from international press and groups helped get him released.

His visit to the United States is being sponsored by the Global Cuba Solidarity Movement, a Washington, D.C.-based group which seeks to raise awareness of human rights violations and the pro-democracy movement in Cuba.

A Miami press conference is usually the first step toward defection for a Cuban musician, but Aguila said he planned to return to Cuba, to be with his 13-year old daughter and to continue agitating with his band. “I want to return — if they don't let me in, that's the responsibility of the Cuban government,'' he said.


But he said he was not intimidated by the possibility of reprisals for his visit to the U.S. or his outspoken comments.

“Everything I'm saying here I say in Cuba,'' he said. “I'm always afraid — in Cuba you're always afraid. In Cuba they don't let me speak. But I speak. I consider myself a free man.''

Maintaining his and Porno Para Ricardo's independence is difficult, but essential, he said.

“We've had to renounce all the things the system offers, being on radio, on TV, in festivals,'' he said. “I have my weak moments,'' Aguila said.

“Sometimes I feel like Christ on the cross — `why did you abandon me' . . . But if I don't do what I'm doing I'd lose much of the sense in my life.''

Cuban rocker Gorki Aguila: Juanes concert will be manipulated – Living – (20 September 2009)

Juanes concert supporters show changing paradigm

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09Juanes concert supporters show changing paradigmBY JORDAN [email protected]

Levin covers the arts for The Miami Herald.

Enrique Santos, popular radio personality on 98.3 FM, is no fan of Fidel Castro. Once, to exile Miami's amusement, he punked the Cuban , calling him on the air and pretending to be Hugo Chávez.

But Santos thinks that Colombian singer Juanes has a right to perform in Havana today.

And he objects to being vilified for expressing that view.

“Many in this community have said I'm not a good Cuban,'' he says. “Just because I think differently than you . . . Why am I considered a bad Cuban?''

Santos had Juanes on his show in August, during which he called for “respect for Juanes, for Cuba.''

Reaction on the radio show was divided. But Santos said he's been inundated with negative comments on his Facebook page. One person wrote “Miami made you, Miami will bring you down.''

To Santos, that anger is counter-productive. “When something like this happens the exile community reacts the same way it always has,'' Santos says. “There's millions of Cubans in that island who are subject to that tyranny for so many years. If we have an opportunity to talk to them, why shouldn't we?''

The Juanes Peace Without Borders concert has brought out the frustrations of a growing segment of Cuban Miami, many of them young, who are weary of the notion that equates any outreach toward the Cuban people with support for the Castro regime.

To them, this hardline approach has contributed to a 50-year stalemate.

“We continue the , we ban our artists from performing and exhibiting there. It's like keeping the blinders on the community about Cuba,'' says artist Damien Rojo, 46, who came to Miami from Cuba with his parents in 1971. Rojo avoids discussing Cuba or the Juanes concert with them, because he says it always leads to fights.

“Unfortunately the thing that gets the buzz here [in Miami] are the people who are against,'' the Juanes concert, or changes in the relationship towards Cuba, says Juan Carlos Zaldivar, 42, an artist and filmmaker whose documentary 90 Miles looked at the attitudes of different generations of Cuban-Americans towards the island.

“The people who support the concert don't get as much airplay — the only airplay they get is that they're going against the grain. What bothers me is the way it's framed. It's sexier to talk about the controversy than about change. . . . The way the dialogue is framed there's no room for discussion. That's why it never gets beyond confrontation.''

Juanes has said repeatedly that he hopes the concert, which includes 15 artists from six countries and takes place from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, will not only be a moving musical experience for the over half million people expected to attend, but might help change attitudes and ease the tense standoff tensions between exiles and the Cuban government.

“We have to be positive about the future,'' he told The Miami Herald in August. “We have to change our minds, but not just the Cuban people. No, we all have to change our minds.''

Some commentators on exile television and radio have attacked Juanes as a communist, or as a pop musician clueless about issues and problems in Cuba, whose efforts would be used as propaganda for the Cuban government.

A poll on TV station America TeVé asked whether the Colombian singer was ignorant, a dreamer, or an accomplice of the Cuban government. Paparazzi stalked his Key Biscayne home, and he received a death threat on his Twitter feed that prompted to patrol his house.

Hugo Landa, director of, a website that publishes stories by independent journalists on the island (including articles both supporting and criticizing the concert), believes that while the discussion has been emotional and divided, it has been fair. “Everyone has had the opportunity to express what he or she feels,'' Landa says. “If you want to go with the flow and not be disagreeable, that's your personality. But the fact that a large amount of people disagree with you doesn't mean you are threatened.''

But others say that criticism of those who propose a different approach to Cuba still reaches such a high emotional and political pitch that it puts anyone favoring a different stance on the defensive, and forces the discussion away from the issue of Cuba and onto the legitimacy of the person advocating change.

“There are a lot of people in the community who are younger or who immigrated more recently who are really frustrated, and think we need to find a new paradigm to look at the Cuba issue,'' says Manning Salazar, who produced several Miami concerts by Cuban groups in the late '90s, during a period of unprecedented cultural exchange between the island and the United States.

“People who don't see Juanes' concert as an overtly political event in the way they see it here, as something that will prop up the Cuban regime — we don't see it that way, but we're forced to address it that way because of the very vocal and powerful people here who do.''

Yet there are signs that the Cuban paradigm has changed. Older exile leaders like Carlos Saladrigas, co-founder of the Cuba Study Group, and younger ones like Miguel Arguelles, who graduated from Harvard with the support of the Cuban-American community, have supported the concert — as has the group Raices de Esperanza, an organization of young Cuban-Americans who favor dialogue. A small demonstration by the group Vigilia Mambisa, in which they destroyed Juanes cd's and T-shirts, broadcast on TV and widely cited in stories on exile reaction to the concert, was rejected three to one as an embarrassment in a poll of Cuban Americans.

Even Francisco “Pepe'' Hernandez, the 73-year-old co-founder and president of the Cuban American National Foundation, a Bay of Pigs veteran who once worked for a military overthrow of the Cuban government and lobbied the U.S. government to maintain and stiffen the embargo, now advocates limited dealings with the island. He favors the Juanes concert.

“For 50 years we have measured everything on whether it helps or hurts the Castro regime,'' Hernandez said. “I think that we have to start thinking about whether it helps or hurts the Cuban people. Yes, I know the Cuban regime is gonna use [the concert] to get propaganda out of it. But I think the Cuban people are going to enjoy it a lot more.''

“If we want to build a future for Cuba we have to stop hating and looking in the rear view mirror, and look forward,'' Hernandez says. “I think there are a lot of people, even in my generation, that are realizing this now. Whether it's because of frustration or because of age or because they realize their time is short, the reality is even these people are changing.''

Whatever people's opinions on the show, interest in South Florida is high. Both America TeVé and Channel 23, the South Florida Univision affiliate, will broadcast the concert live, as will a number of websites, including

Hernandez plans to watch in his office. He thinks most of Cuban Miami will be watching with him. “To some extent we all here in Miami are going to be united with the people in Cuba,'' he says. “Isn't that great? That's what we want, the ability to communicate with our people there.''

Juanes concert supporters show changing paradigm – Issues & Ideas – (20 September 2009)

Hunger, unsated

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09PANFILOHunger, unsatedBY MIRTA OJITO

Was it the song? Jama y . Food and , croons Boris Larramendi.

The Madrid-based Cuban songwriter wrote the tune as part of the campaign to free Pánfilo, imprisoned last month in Cuba after he drunkenly declared in a YouTube video that there is hunger on the island.

Pánfilo was reportedly released Thursday night and sent to a rehab program for 21 days. Then, the government says, he is free to go home, which is not the same as being free.

Veteran activists have long maintained that publicity and pressure work, even in Cuba, one of the few places in the world where a man can go to for announcing in an 81-second YouTube video that he is hungry. A campaign to free Pánfilo,, was launched on August 26, about three weeks after his arrest, by a group of Cuban exiles with no experience as human-rights activists.

More than 3,000 people — from Paris to Havana and from New Jersey to — signed a letter urging the Cuban government to free Pánfilo and to respect the right to basic freedoms for all its citizens. The letter was delivered Thursday in Miami to a representative of Juanes, the Colombian singer who is scheduled to perform in a pro-peace concert in Havana Sunday.

Was it Juanes? It wouldn't do to have a Latin American star in a government-sponsored concert in La Plaza de la Revolución, while Pánfilo sat in a cell and the international campaign raged on.

We may never know why he was released. What is now apparent is that the Cuban government has quickly — quicker than ever before — rectified a grievous mistake. That is, if Pánfilo is treated as an alcoholic and not as a mentally disturbed patient.

“It must have caught the government by surprise,'' said Enrique Del Risco, a writer and lecturer in New York, and one of the organizers of the campaign. “It was too quick. It moved too fast for them and there was a lot of enthusiasm around. Some people asked me, `Why Pánfilo?' and my answer was, `Why not Pánfilo?'''

Juan Carlos González Marco, 48, who calls himself Pánfilo, became a YouTube sensation in late Spring, when he walked in front of a camera to state a simple but fundamental truth: What we need is food, only he said “jama,'' [pronounced HA-ma], using Cuban slang.

Pánfilo quickly went from being the archetype of the town drunk to a symbol of all that ails the Cuban people. In June, in a second video, a sober Pánfilo asks to be left alone. If it was possible for some people to laugh with the first video, it was impossible not to be moved by the second. You can't ignore the fear in Pánfilo's eyes. He is a man afraid of the state.

And then there is the third video. The spontaneity of the first video is gone, and so is the soberness of the second one. In their place is a grotesque performance of a shirtless drunk ranting about hunger and the police.

Days after the third video was posted on YouTube, on July 28, Pánfilo was arrested and charged with “dangerousness,'' a draconian concept which means that he has the potential of committing a crime, but hasn't yet. He was sentenced initially to two years in prison, which was cruel, short-sighted and absurdly out of step with the modern world.

For years Cuba has reacted to outside pressure to release political prisoners. European presidents, members of the U.S. Congress, famous writers have all interceded on behalf of political prisoners, such as Armando Valladares, Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, and Angel Cuadra, who were brought to their attention by campaigns orchestrated by a handful of human rights activists. Still, it took decades to free most of them.

That was pre-. Pánfilo is a different story. He may have been both doomed and saved by the Internet. His YouTube video was seen by more than half a million. But so was the news of his sentence and imprisonment and, more important, a quick thinking campaign that incorporated the best that technology has to offer.

It took days to collect more than 3,000 signatures on his behalf. Back in the '60s and '70s and even the '80s, when activists like Frank Calzon, now with the Center for a Free Cuba, were campaigning to free political prisoners, communication between Cuba and Washington could take months.

“First we had to hear about the case from someone who brought it to our attention,'' said Calzon. “Pánfilo was known to the world before he was imprisoned.''

He was also the perfect victim. Pánfilo was not a human-rights activist, a or an intellectual. He is, simply, a man. A black man who is hungry and drinks too much. Therein lie his power and his weakness.

The government has always been intolerant of dissent, but it is particularly vicious when the dissenter is black. The most recent victims of execution in Cuba were three young black men attempting to steal a vessel to escape the island six years ago.

Pánfilo has escaped that fate. He's never said he wants to leave Cuba. What he wants is food. What he needs is food, rehab and freedom. But when he walks out of rehab, Pánfilo will still lack food. And freedom.

Mirta Ojito is an assistant professor at Columbia University's Graduate of Journalism in New York.Hunger, unsated – Other Views – (20 September 2009)

Let him sing, but it’s not apolitical

Posted on Sunday, 09.20.09Let him sing, but it's not apoliticalBY DAMIAN PARDO

Pardo is a founder of SAVE Dade, a gay rights organization, and has served on many local boards, including the Dade Community Foundation and the Crisis Network.

As a Cuban American I have closely followed the ongoing debate regarding the Juanes concert in Havana.

I appreciate strong positions on both sides of the issue.

In the end, for many this conflict is less about an actual concert taking place and more about the undertow of Cuban politics.

I understand how a concert in Havana might bring awareness, hope and needed solace to families and people downtrodden and repressed by an arcane and barely tolerable system of government.

I further appreciate how people and families who have been prohibited from returning to their homeland, persecuted for speaking their mind, and suffered loss of property and life are outraged by the event.

Perhaps the issue might be less stinging had the concert been staged somewhere other that the Plaza de la Revolucion — the very same plaza where many families were required to turn in the titles to their homes and properties before departing Cuba.

If we step back a minute and consider the debate, we can analyze a similar thread through this concert as with many other events, including our participation in the Olympics when hosted in countries with notorious violations.

The debate in my view is: Should arts/sports/music be disassociated or above politics?

When I was younger I certainly thought so. Then one day I visited the Holocaust Museum.

In a dimly lit stall a reel was running depicting the head of the U.S. Olympic Committee answering calls from the U.S. Jewish community to boycott the Olympics. The protagonist eloquently explained how sport (like art) was above politics and the games would build bridges.

The next shot in the reel was of a beautiful little girl with golden locks handing a large crown of roses to Adolf Hitler in the middle of a packed, crowded stadium hailing the Fuhrer in Berlin.

In the backdrop of the shot, the U.S. Olympic team waving our flag marched behind his image.

Clearly unintentionally, our participation in some way furthered the Nazi agenda of promoting the image of a peaceful, tolerant at a time when Germany was “anything but.''

This subject and debate is not limited to the Cuban community. We have seen the same theme time and time again in conflicts involving East/West Germany, Israel and the Soviet Union. The vast majority of the Cuban community has debated this issue publicly and privately, peacefully and with respect.

Many newer arrivals from Cuba, who were raised in the communist system and have little understanding of the use of such images as the ones in Germany in 1936, associate the debate with opening minds in Cuba and promoting dialogue among the Cuban people.

By contrast, many Cuban Americans focus on an erroneous message, much like that given in the 1936 Nazi Olympics, of supporting the Cuban government's campaign to promote the image of a peaceful, tolerant Cuba at a time when Cuba is “anything but.''

Consequently, the concert is seen by some as a symbol of disrespect to many families and their ancestors who suffered and struggled at the hands of the Cuban government.

I find it striking that the one event closely associated with the fall of another arcane and dysfunctional system — the East German government – was Ronald Reagan's speech at the Berlin Wall demanding Mr. Gorbachev “tear down this wall.''

It was an indignant message calling for greater morality and justice, as well as a decisive call to action. It was not a concert with government-endorsed artists joining hands in Red Square.

Unfortunately, the only victims here, as usual, are the Cuban people. They will have one or two nights of anticipation, excitement and possible hope, only to return to the same oppressive, hostile world where they spend every day trying to survive or escape.

The concert will feed their passive addiction to hope with no real change as has occurred so often in the past amounting to nothing more than cultural exploitation.

I suppose the only “winners'' will be the recipients of the free publicity and the significant corporate interests hoping to expand into new markets.

Those of us (but especially Cuban Americans) who live in Miami will once again feel the burden and darkness of a great divide that while only spanning 90 miles from Key West has lasted longer and is much more impenetrable than the Berlin wall.

As for the “rah rah go concert'' faction and the “stop the concert yesterday'' crowd, I say let the concert go on, but with eyes wide open.

Let him sing, but it's not apolitical – Issues & Ideas – (20 September 2009)

Adiós le pido

Publicado el domingo, 09.20.09Adiós le pidoBy MERCEDES SOLER

Juanes no merece mis aplausos. Será un artista extraordinario. Tendrá buenos sentimientos. Le cantará a la paz. Su canción titulada: Paz Paz Paz rezará: “Somos los niños que cantan por la paz y la esperanza / vamos todos a soñar con la paz''.

Pero es que, para Juanes, soñar no cuesta nada. Actuar, tanto en el escenario de la Plaza de la Revolución, en La Habana, como en la tarima de una sociedad libre, sí tiene consecuencias. Y pretender ser apolítico tras adjudicarse tales compromisos es ser hipócrita. Toda acción se basa en una opinión. La política no es más que la expresión de nuestras ideas.

Al llevar a cabo su concierto de hoy en Cuba, Juanes ha asumido una responsabilidad que considera su misión de vida. Una misión concienzudamente calculada. Un Cantaré Cantarás con él como Mesías. Su aseveración de que Cuba debe compartir su misión, pronto debería llevarlo a comprometerse con otros pueblos igualmente despojados de “paz'', como los guerrilleros de las FARC en Colombia, los escuálidos norcoreanos o el recién pisoteado electorado iraní. Por lo pronto, eligió a Cuba. Porque, entre otras razones banales, siempre admiró al cantautor profeta oficialista Silvio, que lo acompañará en el escenario.

Juanes espera que su voz truene con razón y esperanza en el corazón del pueblo cubano esta tarde. Espera que al pedir paz para un país que lo que reclama son derechos y , el Caribe se abrirá en dos, surgirá un puente de dos vías hacia la tierra prometida y su concierto pasará a la historia reivindicado, como una especie de Woodstock tropical que marcará a una generación. Sus detractores, imagina, entenderán por qué él, Juanes, mueve montañas cuando entona su A Dios le pido.

Iluso. El Papa Juan Pablo II, con una línea quizá más directa al Todopoderoso, una base de fanáticos incuestionablemente más formidable y con intenciones probablemente más puras también lo intentó –hace once años– y tras cinco días de culto todo quedó igual. En “paz''.

La idea de Juanes no es novedosa. Decenas de celebridades han mariposeado por La Habana en busca de su rebelde-sin-causa interno. Desde Oliver Stone, Robert Duval, Bill Murray, James Caan y Benicio del Toro recientemente, hasta Oscar de León en los 90. Ninguno, sin , se comprometió a quedarse a vivir en Cuba, a sufrir las vicisitudes que enfrenta día a día un cubano cualquiera. Los únicos que se quedan en Cuba son los prófugos de la justicia. Porque la isla es para ellos una prisión más fácil de soportar que el sistema penal de los países democráticos. Es cómodo ser apolítico detrás de un micrófono y una cámara, sin tener que enfangarse en las trincheras de una política fracasada.

Al igual que Juanes, todos esos figurones estaban en su derecho de viajar adonde quisieran, de vocear sus opiniones. Inclusive de gritarle un “tú mientes'' al de los EEUU durante una transmisión de televisión en vivo, sin el peligro de ser arrestados al siguiente día, enjuiciados sumariamente y, en el mejor de los casos encarcelados, o ejecutados. Todos gozaban del privilegio de la libertad y, en protesta por quienes no la conocen desde hace 50 años, estos artistas debieran prescindir de sus excursiones ególatras.

De acuerdo con el meticuloso trabajo del Archivo Cubano, un proyecto de investigación que documenta la verdad y la memoria del gobierno castrista, más de 100,000 personas han muerto como consecuencia directa de oponerse al totalitarismo cubano, incluyendo a decenas de miles de ahogados tratando de huir en balsas. Cada uno de estos casos está avalado por dos testigos, oculares o testimoniales. Fueron seres humanos cuyas decisiones se interpretaron políticamente.

Alrededor de 300 presos políticos no podrán ir al concierto de Juanes. Pánfilo, el callejero alcoholizado que pidió jama () desinhibidamente ante una cámara y acabó privado de su libertad por dos años, tampoco. Celia Cruz no recibió autorización para ir a Cuba, ni siquiera para enterrar a su madre. En honor a ella Juanes debería recordar la canción que escribió titulada Lo que importa, que dice: “No hay fe / no hay nada en qué creer / no hay nada que soñar / pero eso no importa''. Por lo menos no a Juanes.

MERCEDES SOLER: Adiós le pido – Columnas de Opinión sobre Cuba – El Nuevo Herald (20 September 2009)

Poco entusiasmo en taxistas por licencias

Publicado el domingo, 09.20.09Poco entusiasmo en taxistas por licenciasBy JAVIER OTAZU / EFELA HABANA

El de viajeros en Cuba puede haberse vuelto un poco más fácil, pues desde hace poco el gobierno ha vuelto a entregar licencias a automovilistas particulares de La Habana, si bien la medida no parece haber despertado un desmedido interés.

El transporte de pasajeros es una de las quejas recurrentes de los cubanos: no hay más que ver los paraderos de autobuses repletos de viajeros que pugnan por abrirse un hueco en los vehículos que ya llegan abarrotados.

Así que algunos optan por “pedir botella'' (hacer autoestop), y otros prefieren pagar a los taxis, legales o ilegales, que se dedican a “botear'' o coger pasajeros.

Parar a un taxi en La Habana e indicarle al lugar al que uno va no es tan sencillo, pues depende de un montón de variables como las clases de vehículos, la nacionalidad de los viajeros y los tipos de monedas.

Y es que en Cuba conviven dos monedas desde 1993: el peso cubano, con el que el Estado paga sus salarios, y el peso convertible (CUC, con valor de menos de un dólar), con el que se compran la mayoría de bienes de consumo. La existencia de las dos monedas es otra de las quejas más repetidas por el cubano de a pie.

Hay taxis que sólo admiten CUC, otros, generalmente vetustos modelos prerrevolucionarios, que únicamente aceptan a viajeros nacionales, otros que no pueden abandonar determinadas rutas prefijadas y finalmente los que se saltan todas estas prohibiciones pero viven bajo la amenaza perpetua de una sanción.

Así, Miguel Angel, cocinero en una embajada, “botea'' en sus horas libres con un Lada soviético, haciendo flashes con las luces de su coche cuando ve a un potencial pasajero, evitando siempre las rutas por donde merodea la policía: “si me cogen, me multan con 1,000 pesos; me compensa, porque yo saco 2,000 al mes con mi carro'', comenta.

A Miguel Angel no le interesa la entrega de nuevas licencias porque, al igual que otros taxistas clandestinos, las condiciones le parecen muy restrictivas: están ligadas a un vehículo y su propietario, y este tiene prohibido ceder su coche a un familiar o amigo.

Según cifras de la Unidad Estatal de Tráfico, sólo en La Habana se han entregado 3,330 permisos en lo que va de año, una cifra cercana a los 3,486 que existían en el país antes de diciembre del 2008, cuando el Gobierno de Raúl Castro reinició su concesión tras nueve años de suspensión.

Los primeros meses del año trajeron un inusitado interés de los choferes que desbordó las capacidades del Ejecutivo, tanto, que la Unidad de Tráfico habanera tuvo que cerrar sus puertas en agosto y hasta el día de hoy. Sin , la reapertura de las licencias no se ha traducido en ninguna avalancha.

“Mira, a mí me ha costado tres meses de papeles'', dice un flamante taxista que prefiere no revelar su identidad porque compatibiliza su trabajo con un empleo oficial, mientras que, a su lado, un tal José desprecia la licencia porque dice llevar seis años transportando viajeros sin permiso y sin mayores problemas.

“Me saco 15,000 pesos al mes y me han cogido decenas de veces, pago los mil pesos de multa y en paz. No olvides que la licencia cuesta 450 pesos mensuales, casi la mitad que la multa, y si me cogen una segunda vez, me decomisan el carro, pero sería mala pata que me pare un mismo policía'', bromea.

Lo más parecido a un taxi, con sus contadores y sus autos nuevos, lo tiene la estatal Cubataxi, con una flota de vehículos Hyundai o Peugeot, pero se pagan en CUC, lo que los hace prohibitivos para la mayoría de cubanos, y además es casi imposible encontrarlos en la calle.

En el otro extremo está el bicitaxi, versión cubana de lo que en otros países americanos es el mototaxi: sufridos jóvenes se pasan el día pedaleando con dos pasajeros detrás, y también ellos necesitan unas licencias que se entregan con cuentagotas.

Poco entusiasmo en taxistas por licencias – Cuba – El Nuevo Herald (20 September 2009)

Un concierto desafinado por la política

Publicado el sábado, 09.19.09Paz sin FronterasUn concierto desafinado por la políticaPor FABIOLA [email protected]

El rockero colombiano Juanes se colgará su afinada guitarra a las 2 p.m. del domingo en la Plaza de la Revolución en La Habana, pero desde hace meses el concierto ha provocado una fuerte desafinación política.

Juanes ha repetido, una y otra vez, que su concierto Paz sin Fronteras "no es político'', pero la presentación arrastra toda la carga política de una dictadura de 50 años y su siempre creciente comunidad exiliada. Y, una vez más, un evento aparentemente cultural se convierte en una ventana sobre el papel que las artes y los artistas han jugado históricamente en promover la agenda del gobierno cubano y, en algunos casos, cuestionándola.

"Cuba es un país dividido y la política lo afecta todo'', afirmó Alejandro Ríos, observador de la situación cultural en Cuba y director de la Serie de Películas Cubanas del Miami Dade College. "El mismo Juanes es político, sus canciones hablan de problemas y causas sociales''.

El concierto –al que se espera que asista medio millón de personas y que se realizará en el mismo lugar donde el papa Juan Pablo II dijo misa en 1998– es un clásico estudio de cómo el gobierno cubano usa la élite cultural de la isla para desacreditar a los disidentes, presentar a Cuba como un nación amante de la paz y a los exiliados cubanos de Miami como guerreristas.

En La Jiribilla, un boletín cultural en patrocinado por el gobierno cubano, se han publicado varios artículos y entrevistas con artistas que tergiversan la reacción al concierto en Miami.

Para el lector casual, La Jiribilla parece una simple revista cultural. Pero sus artículos están llenos de invectivas de intelectuales entrevistados en relación con sus carreras y el concierto.

En su número más reciente, La Jiribilla sigue a Olga Tañón, la cantante puertorrriqueña durante una visita al Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán y le atribuye haber dicho: "Cuba está más viva que nunca''. Tañón, que cantará el domingo en el concierto, dice que nunca tuvo una como ese conservatorio cuando era niña y que ha estado llorando desde que llegó a La Habana porque está muy feliz de haber "resistido la presión para cancelar'' su presentación.

En otros titulares, La Jiribilla alega que los cubanos de Miami "están rompiendo los discos de Juanes con martillos''.

"¿A qué le temen?", pregunta el titular.

Estos son los hechos: El único que ha roto discos de Juanes frente las cámaras de televisión fue el líder de un pequeño grupo de activistas llamado Vigilia Mambisa.

"Que un concierto por la paz provoque tanta guerra por la simple razón de que se hace en Cuba es totalmente absurdo'', afirmó Jorge Perugorría, uno de los principales actores cubanos, en el mismo número.

Los comentarios de Perugorría han sorprendido a los que lo conocen.

Se hizo famoso con la película Fresa y Chocolate, por la que fue nominado para un Oscar en 1995 y en la que encarna a un homosexual que critica abiertamente al gobierno por perseguir a los homosexuales. Muchas de las estrellas de la película ya no están en Cuba, entre ellos el otro protagonista Francisco Gattorno, que hizo el papel de un fiel estudiante comunista. Gattorno vive en Miami desde hace años.

"¿Por qué un artista de la estatura de Perugorría tiene que someterse a algo así? Bueno, en Cuba defender al gobierno siempre tiene sus recompensas'', indicó Ríos.

Por supuesto, el concierto está en el centro de la atención desde que Juanes lo mencionó en un mensaje de Twitter en junio mientras visitaba La Habana. Los medios de comunicación han estado reportando todas sus incidencias desde entonces.

Pero los cubanos de Miami y de todo han tenido opiniones muy diversas sobre el concierto, muchas de ellas favorables.

"Es significativo que ellos [en Cuba] tengan este concierto, tener a su país en el radar de la gente de la forma que sea'', comentó Michelle González-Maldonado, profesora de la de Miami, que nació aquí de padres exiliados.

"En parte abre su mundo y le abre el mundo a ellos. En Miami, Cuba siempre está con nosotros, pero cuando viajo y vivo en otras partes del mundo, no es una presencia diaria como en el sur de la Florida. Cualquier cosa que llame la atención sobre la isla le recuerda a la gente la comunidad cubana y sus luchas''.

González-Maldonado, profesora de Religión, añadió: "A los artistas se les debe permitir viajar a la isla y viceversa''.

¿Guerra en Miami?

No, por supuesto, pero muchas discusiones, análisis y críticas. Y también apoyo.

"La comunidad exiliada de Miami es muy diversa desde hace bastante tiempo'', aseguró Lillian Manzor, coordinadora de un programa de intercambio teatral con Cuba. "Comprende varias generaciones y tiene que ver con las diferentes olas de exiliados y con los que se van de Miami [para vivir en otras partes y visitar Cuba] y regresar''.

Manzor se fue de Cuba con sus padres en 1968, cuando tenía 10 años, y ha visitado la isla.

"Siempre ha habido y siempre habrá voces contra los intercambios culturales y de cualquier tipo de diálogo'', amplió. "Pero las opiniones no han sido unánimes. Sin , a través de los años, la prensa se ha concentrado en las voces discordantes del exilio y las han presentado como representativas de la mayoría''.

El concierto de Juanes ya está haciendo historia en Miami con una información sin precedentes desde Cuba en los medios de comunicación del exilio.

Un popular programa nocturno, A Mano Limpia, de Oscar Haza, que se trasmite por el Canal 41 de América TeVé, ha tocado el tema del concierto desde hace semanas con un diverso panel de invitados: los que están a favor de los contactos con Cuba y los que creen que sólo es aceptable una posición militante contra un régimen totalitario, así como invitados con una visión más compleja sobre el concierto y la realidad cubana.

"Vamos a presentar y a discutir todos los puntos de vista como se hace en una sociedad democrática'', declaró Haza.

Amaury Pérez Vidal, cantautor cubano, uno de los organizadores del concierto de Juanes y también invitado a participar, se sumó a la discusión por teléfono desde La Habana.

Pérez Vidal confesó que ve con frecuencia A Mano Limpia a través de una antena parabólica que compró en México "cuando no era popular hacerlo''. Añadió que pensaba que todos los cubanos debían tener acceso a la información y agregó que Pánfilo, un cubano de a pie arrestado y condenado a dos años prisión por decir que los cubanos tenían hambre, no debía estar encarcelado. Se ha informado que Pánfilo fue enviado el viernes a un tratamiento de rehabilitación contra el alcoholismo de 21 días en el Siquiátrico de La Habana, conocido como Mazorra, y cuando lo concluya sería liberado.

El video de Pánfilo en YouTube pidiendo "jama'' () ha tenido casi medio millón de visitas.

Tras la conversación con Pérez Vidal, Haza observó: "Veremos que le pasa. Su presentación en el concierto ya ha sido limitada a dos canciones''.

A la noche siguiente, otro invitado se preguntaba si Pérez Vidal todavía tendría su antena parabólica. Minutos más tarde, Pérez Vidal envió un mensaje electrónico al productor del programa para que pudiera leerse en el aire, diciéndole a Haza que lo estaba viendo y que todavía tenía su antena. Añadió que quería estar seguro que la gente comprendiera que estaba defendiendo el derecho a la información no sólo para él, sino ''para todos los cubanos''.

El incidente fue muy notable porque Pérez Vidal y el otro organizador y participante del concierto, Silvio Rodríguez, han sido persistentes defensores del gobierno cubano, incluso ante la represión de periodistas independientes y disidentes. Ambos firmaron un documento apoyando el fusilamiento de tres hombres que trataron de escapar de la isla secuestrando una embarcación de las que hace el recorrido entre La Habana y el pueblo de Regla en el 2003.

Y pese a la apariencia de apertura, el gobierno cubano sigue reprimiendo.

Cuatro días antes del concierto, mientras se lavantaba la plataforma y algunos confiaban en que la música llevaría a un cambio positivo –y los partidarios, entre ellos Juanes, hablaban de "reconciliación''– el gobierno cubano arrestaba a Yosvany Anzardo Hernández, quien defiende el acceso a la internet en Cuba y es creador de Red , un servicio independiente de electrónico en la isla.

Los que presenciaron su arresto lo describieron de "brutal''.

Un concierto desafinado por la política – Cuba – El Nuevo Herald (19 September 2009)

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