Donan jóvenes miamenses artículos de béisbol a Cuba
Dos jóvenes descendientes de cubanos emprenden un proyecto de donaciones, al sensibilizarse con las carencias de los jóvenes amantes del béisbol en la isla.
martinoticias.com 02 de septiembre de 2011
Más de mil bates y 250 pelotas, entre otros artículos de béisbol, planean donar a Cuba jóvenes miamenses, en solidaridad con quienes practican este deporte en la isla rodeados de carencias, reportó el periodista Julio Menache en el diario El Nuevo Herald.
Los universitarios Adrián Lorenzo y Derek Vigoa, descendientes de cubanos, crearon la iniciativa llamada Go to Bat for Cuba, con el propósito de recolectar equipos de béisbol para ser enviados a los jóvenes en la isla.
El éxito inicial generado por el proyecto entre sus colegas de la Universidad de Pennsylvania, facilitó que se decidieran a extenderlo a nivel nacional y pasaron su semestre de otoño del pasado año contactando amigos y entrenadores a lo largo de todo el país.
Según cuenta se cuenta en el artículo, "al principio la respuesta fue algo lenta, pero entonces Vigoa supo que el entrenador del equipo de béisbol de Georgetown, Pete Wilk, quería donar 87 bates a la causa."
"Conozco la historia del béisbol cubano. Pensé que podríamos lograr un gran impacto en un país pobre", dijo Wilk.
Después el grupo lanzó la iniciativa en su página Facebook, lo que ayudó a que el proyecto se diera a conocer. Dos semanas luego de haber sido creado, el grupo cuenta con más de 200 seguidores. El grupo ha colgado fotografías de las donaciones más recientes hecha por personas o equipos, explica el periodista Julio Menache.
El costo del envío de los artículos a Cuba oscila entre 30 mil y 40 mil dólares, a través un servicio de correos, utilizado anteriormente con efectividad por la Fundación de Derechos Humanos (FHR).
El grupo organizará eventos de recaudación de fondos para conseguir las contribuciones monetarias, se auxiliará de las organizaciones sin fines de lucro, FHR y de la UCH, y pedirá la colaboración de otros grupos de la comunidad de exiliados cubanos, dedicados a ayudar a los jóvenes en Cuba.
Los jóvenes cuentan con el apoyo de Danny La Fuente, ex alumno de Penn, y gerente de donaciones de la Fundación de Derechos Humanos, y fundador de UC-CANF, la rama universitaria de la Fundación Nacional Cubano-Americana para enviar los útiles de béisbol a Cuba.
"Creemos que esto es algo en lo que todos pueden ayudar", dijo La Fuente.
Posted on Thursday, 09.01.11Miami-Dade
Belen, Columbus alumni look to send baseball equipment to Cuban youth
A pair of University of Pennsylvania students from Miami-Dade are collecting baseball equipment to send to Cuba.By Julio Menache
After attending a screening of the documentary The Tenth Inning at the University of Pennsylvania last October, Adrian Lorenzo, then an outfielder for the university's baseball team, was taken aback by scenes of poor Dominican children playing baseball with old, worn-out equipment.
Lorenzo, a graduate of Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in West Miami-Dade, knew that the Dominican Republic received numerous donations of baseball equipment from around the world, but wondered why something similar hadn't been done for another island nation that takes great pride in the sport.
"You never hear of massive sending of baseball supplies to Cuba," said Lorenzo, who is of Cuban descent.
The next day, Lorenzo spoke to teammate Derek Vigoa, who was also Cuban-American and graduated from Christopher Columbus High School, about the lack of awareness brought to the plight of young Cuban baseball players.
After a few days of brainstorming, Lorenzo and Vigoa started Go to Bat for Cuba, an initiative that looks to collect baseball gear to send to Cuban youth on the island.
The two players soon set up a collection box in their team's locker room for baseball equipment.
They later collected more than 100 bats, as well as baseballs, gloves, uniforms and helmets.
After seeing the success of the initiative in the University of Pennsylvania, Lorenzo the two players wanted to see if they could expand the project nationally.
"Once we started at UPenn we wanted to see if there was any room to grow," said Lorenzo.
New bat rules
Lorenzo and Vigoa said they started the project knowing that many college baseball programs would soon have an excess of metal bats they could donate to the cause.
Last January, the NCAA adopted a new bat standard, which meant that schools across the country would have hundreds of bats lying in storage that don't meet the new regulations.
"Since there was such a surplus of bats we thought why not send them to people who need them?" said Vigoa.
Lorenzo and Vigoa later spent the fall semester contacting various coaches, players and friends from across the country asking for donations.
The response was slow at first, but then Vigoa heard back from Georgetown baseball coach Pete Wilk, who offered to donate 87 bats to the cause.
Wilk says he knew Vigoa through some of his players who played summer baseball with him. After Georgetown's equipment manager told Wilk's they needed to get rid of some bats, he contacted Vigoa and asked if he'd be interested in taking them.
"I'm aware the history of Cuban baseball. I have a layman's education about the economics of Cuba these days. I thought we could make a pretty big impact on an impoverished area," said Wilk.
After Georgetown's generous donation, Vigoa's summer league team, the Woodstock River Bandits of the Valley Baseball League, donated more than 15 dozen baseballs.
The group later launched its own Facebook page, which helped get the word out. Two weeks after its creation, the group has more than 200 followers. The group posts pictures of recent donations by teams or individuals.
Vigoa estimates that the group has collected 150 bats.
Getting to Cuba
In the beginning stages of the project, Vigoa and Lorenzo spoke to Penn alumnus Danny La Fuente, program and grants manager for The Foundation for Human Rights and the founder of UC-CANF, the university arm of the Cuban American National Foundation about sending the baseball equipment to Cuba.
La Fuente offered to help the group send the goods to Cuba.
The FHR has used a courier service to send goods to Cuba, such as cell phones, laptops, medicine and clothes, to the island legally since 1992. La Fuente says that the FHR has never had an issue with the courier they use to send goods in the 20 years they have been sending things to the island.
"This isn't something the Cuban government will stop. We knew that wouldn't be an issue," said La Fuente. "You can guarantee it's going to the right people."
Yet, with the amount of supplies the group wants to send — Vigoa says the group's goal is 1,000 bats — La Fuente estimates that it might cost between $30,000- $40,000.
"The courier service charges per pound and baseball bats are heavy. Plus, we also have 250 baseballs. It's just a significant amount of weight," said La Fuente.
Because of the costs, the group will be looking to hold fundraisers in order to look for monetary contributions. It is also looking to reach out to other groups in the Cuban exile community focused on helping the youth in Cuba, such as Raices de Esperanza. The group will raise money through FHR and UC-CANF, both of which are nonprofit organizations.
"We feel that this is something everyone can help with," said La Fuente.
The two Penn sluggers also reached out to their alma maters for guidance.
And while the two boys-only Catholic high schools are rivals — their football teams are set to play each other in much anticipated game on Sept. 9 at FIU's south campus — both schools' instill in their students a mission to help those in need.
'The only real difference," said Belen principal Father Guillermo 'Willie' Garcia-Tuñon, "is that one is run by Jesuits and another by the Marist brothers."
Publicado el lunes, 10.25.10Con honor todo es posible
Los han calificado de intransigentes, de línea dura. Incluso les han dicho dinosaurios. Pero no importa, aceptan de buena gana la caracterización, a mucha honra.
Son los miembros del Consejo por la Libertad de Cuba (CLC), que se separó de la Fundación Nacional Cubano Americana (CANF) después del fallecimiento de su fundador, Jorge Mas Canosa. La CANF tomaba una posición más moderada sobre la política estadounidenses hacia Cuba de la que querían sus miembros más antiguos. Entonces los miembros de línea más dura se separaron y formaron el Consejo.
Les han dicho lamebotas de Obama. Traidores. Incluso comunistas. Pero no importa, aceptan su caracterización, a mucha honra, porque su meta es honorable.
Son Emilio y Gloria Estefan, nuestros muchachos pródigos, nuestras superestrellas que tomaron una decisión pensada en abril cuando el presidente Obama les pidió que fueran los anfitriones de una actividad de recaudación de fondos en su casa de Star Island. No son demócratas y no contribuyeron un centavo; su meta era que el Presidente conociera más sobre el horrible historial de derechos humanos del gobierno cubano.
No importa. Eso causó un gran alboroto entre algunos de los exiliados más viejos, que se sintieron usados después de haber marchado con los Estefan por la Calle Ocho sólo dos semanas antes para abogar por los derechos humanos en la isla.
La marcha, en la que participaron más de 100,000 personas de todas las edades, nacionalidades y posiciones políticas, fue un momento definitorio. Todos se concentraron en una meta: lograr que los líderes mundiales prestaran atención a las atrocidades que se cometen en Cuba. Sucedió después que Orlando Zapata Tamayo falleciera tras una prolongada huelga de hambre que comenzó en prisión. Después las Damas de Blanco fueron apaleadas por turbas gubernamentales en La Habana. Después que otro prisionero político, Guillermo Fariñas, comenzó una huelga de hambre y prometió no comer hasta que los Castro liberaran a todos los presos políticos.
La semana pasada, Fariñas, que puso fin a su huelga de hambre este verano cuando Cuba comenzó a liberar a los presos políticos y a enviarlos a España, recibió el prestigioso Premio Sajarov por la Libertad de Pensamiento del Parlamento Europeo.
Desde su humilde vivienda en Villa Clara, el ex soldado que se convirtió en un agente de cambio pacífico recibió llamadas de reporteros. Alabó a los Estefan y a los exiliados de todo el mundo por haber unido multitudes en defensa de los derechos humanos para todos los cubanos.
Y el sábado, el Consejo homenajeó a los Estefan como “Héroes de la Libertad'' en el Hilton del downtown de Miami, donde 500 personas asistieron para presenciar la entrega del premio, otorgado anteriormente a personalidades como Vaclav Havel, de la República Checa, y la bloguera cubana Yoani Sánchez.
¿Le sorprende? No debería. El historial Gloria y Emilio en levantar la bandera de la esperanza en defensa de los derechos humanos es larga y transparente.
“Si uno sigue la carrera de ellos se da cuenta que todo ha sido para beneficiar al pueblo de Cuba'', me dijo el viernes Ninoska Pérez Castellón.
Lo mismo ante el Papa, a quien pidieron que orara por la libertad de Cuba, que durante un concierto en Argentina, donde Gloria pidió a Cuba que pusiera fin al embargo contra su propio pueblo, los Estefan han tratado de crear conciencia sobre una dictadura que ya dura 51 años y que aplasta el espíritu humano.
Y a pesar de toda su “intransigencia'', el Consejo ha recibido de buena gana a todos los que con diferentes posiciones contribuyen a ayudar a los cubanos a conseguir la democracia. A Yoani le entregaron el premio en ausencia, porque el gobierno cubano no le permitió salir de la isla, aunque ella apoya la apertura de Cuba a los turistas estadounidenses, una posición que el Consejo no comparte.
Para Gloria y Emilio, el premio es agridulce porque los cubanos todavía no disfrutan de la libertad. Pero mucho se ha logrado en seis meses, una lección que Emilio aprendió de Mas Canosa, antiguo amigo de Santiago de Cuba. “Jorge fue un gran ejemplo. Hablaba con un presidente y otro. Yo sabía que a largo plazo, al celebrar el evento en esta casa podíamos enseñarle al Presidente el dolor de nuestro pueblo''.
Con honor todo es posible.
Posted on Sunday, 10.24.10Goal of liberty crosses lines of partisanshipBy MYRIAM [email protected]
They've been called intransigent. Hard-line. Even dinosaurs. No matter. They proudly accept the characterization — a mucha honra, as we say in Cuban, with much honor.
They are the members of the Cuban Liberty Council, which split with the Cuban American National Foundation after the death of CANF's founder, Jorge Mas Canosa. CANF was taking a more moderate approach to U.S. policy toward Cuba than older members wanted. The hard-liners bolted and formed the council.
Two other Cuban Americans have been called Obama boot-lickers. Traitors. Even communists. No matter. They proudly accept the characterization — a mucha honra.
They are Emilio and Gloria Estefan, our local kids done good. The politically independent super stars made a calculated move in April when President Obama asked them to host a Democratic Party fund-raiser at their Star Island home. They aren't Democrats and didn't contribute a penny; their goal was to get the president's ear on Cuba's awful human rights record.
No matter. It caused a firestorm among some older, predominantly Republican exiles who had marched with the Estefans on Calle Ocho just two weeks earlier.
The march, which attracted more than 100,000 people of all ages and political persuasions, was a defining moment. All sought to get world leaders to pay attention to Cuba's atrocities. It happened after Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 83-day hunger strike in prison. After the Ladies in White were beaten by mobs in Havana. After another former political prisoner, Guillermo Fariñas, went on a hunger strike and vowed not to end it until the Castros Crazy released all political prisoners.
Last week, Fariñas, who ended his hunger strike this summer after Cuba began releasing prisoners, was awarded the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. From his humble home in Villa Clara, the ex-soldier who became a peaceful change agent took calls from reporters. He praised the Estefans and exiles throughout the world for coming together to defend human rights.
And on Saturday, the Cuban Liberty Council honored the Estefans as “Heroes of Liberty'' in downtown Miami, where 500 people came to see them accept an award given in the past to such luminaries as Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez.
Surprised? No one should be. Gloria and Emilio have a long history in defense of human rights.
“If you follow their careers, you realize that all that they have done has been to benefit the Cuban people,'' said Ninoska Pérez Castellón, a founder of the council. Whether before the pope, asking that he pray for Cuba's freedom, or during a concert tour in Argentina, where Gloria asked Cuba to end the embargo against its own people, the Estefans have sought to build conscience about a 51-year-old dictatorship that quashes the human spirit.
And for all of their “intransigence,'' the council has embraced those with different approaches to helping Cubans secure democracy. Yoani was awarded her prize even though she supports opening Cuba to American tourists.
For Gloria and Emilio, the award is bittersweet as Cubans still aren't free. Yet so much has been accomplished in just six months — a lesson Emilio learned from Mas Canosa, a childhood friend in Santiago.
“Jorge offered a great example. He spoke to any president who would listen. … I knew that in the long term, having us host the fund-raiser would give us the opportunity to help the president learn about Cubans' pain.''
With honor, anything is possible.
Posted on Friday, 08.06.10TRAVEL TO CUBAU.S. could ease restrictions on `purposeful' visits to Cuba
The Obama administration will soon ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and other sanctions following Havana's promise to free political prisoners, according to people close to the administration.
Two people told El Nuevo Herald on Friday the decision has been made and will be announced in the next two weeks. Another said he has heard the reports but cautioned they could be “trial balloons.''
The key change will be an expansion of educational and cultural travel, which accounted for about 2,000 visits in 2009, said two of the sources. Many academics have urged President Barack Obama to expand those visits, drastically trimmed by the George W. Bush administration.
One of them added that Obama also will restore the broader “people-to-people'' category of travel, which allows “purposeful'' visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.
Though that category requires prior U.S. licenses for the trips, it is fuzzy enough to allow for much expanded travel to Cuba, the source added. All asked for anonymity because they did not want to be seen as preempting a White House announcement.
The people-to-people category was established by the Clinton administration but was closed in 2003 by Bush, both because of his more aggressive policies toward Cuba and complaints that too many people were abusing it for tourist trips.
An estimated 150,000-200,000 U.S. travelers visited the island in 2001. The figure dropped to 120,000 during Bush's last year in office, but rebounded to 200,000 in 2009 after Obama lifted nearly all restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island.
Another change will be permission for U.S.-Cuba flights from all of the approximately 35 U.S. airports that have top-level security arrangements, according to two of the sources. Cuba flights are now approved only for Miami, Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport in New York.
Obama also will make it easier to pay in the United States for telephone and other services rendered in Cuba, the sources added, in hopes of increasing communications between the island and Cuban exiles.
Francisco “Pepe'' Hernandez, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, told El Nuevo Herald he could not confirm the reports but noted that CANF opposes U.S. tourism in Cuba but favors easing the travel restrictions.
“For a long time we have been making an effort with the [Obama] administration to extend the licenses and spectrum of people-to-people travel because we believe this is a proactive measure that is going to help to provide people in Cuba with the support they need,'' he said.
Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said only that the Obama administration “will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future.''
But the reports drew quick condemnations from opponents of easing sanctions, who all noted that U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross and at least 30 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba.
“This is not time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime. They have made no significant concessions that should be rewarded,'' said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Cuban-American and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, a powerful post in an election year.
“Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations,'' Menendez added in a statement.
Said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.: “Concessions to tyrants like Fidel Castro simply embolden them in their ruthless brutality. History teaches that lesson. . . . But President Obama continues to err.''
U.S. regulations allow only 12 categories of travel to Cuba, including family reunification, official U.S. government business, journalism, professional research and meetings, educational and religious activities, and performances or athletic competitions.
Some fall under “general licenses'' that do not require prior U.S. approval, but most require applications for “specific licenses'' issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The “people-to-people'' travel, if it is restored, would require specific licenses, but the president has the power to change it into general license, said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who follows U.S. sanctions on Cuba closely.
Congress has been considering a bill that would lift all U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. Its backers insist it has a good chance of passing, though congressional staffers monitoring the bill say it's short of the needed votes.
One of the three sources said the easing of the travel and other restrictions is the Obama administration's “calibrated response'' to the Raúl Castro government's promise to free at least 52 political prisoners by September. More than 20 already are free.
Because the changes will be the result of presidential decisions, rather than changes in the maze of U.S. laws regulating relations with Cuba, Obama “can backtrack if it all goes bad,'' he said.
One Democratic Party operative in Miami said, however, that any decision to ease the restrictions would not be a reply to the Castro promise, but rather a continuation of the Obama policy of doing whatever he believes benefits U.S. interests in Cuba, no matter what Castro does.
The operative said he was not worried that Cuba might complain that the Obama changes would be a too-meager response to Castro's promise to free the 52 political prisoners — the biggest such release since 1998.
“The last thing we want is Cuba saying, `Thanks, Obama,' '' said the man, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on Obama policies.
Why is Cuba releasing 52 political prisoners?
Cuba says it will start releasing 52 political prisoners – the biggest release in more than a decade – today. Spain conducted the negotiations, but some Cuba analysts expect the US to respond by easing the American embargo on Cuba.By Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer / July 8, 2010Mexico City
The dramatic decision by Havana to release 52 political prisoners – a third of all those currently held – has raised expectations that a reciprocal move by the US could begin to more quickly improve relations between the US and Cuba.
The announcement was made Wednesday, after a meeting between Cuban President Raul Castro, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana Jaime Ortega, and Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos. It is the largest single release of political prisoners since 1998, when a visit by Pope John Paul II prompted a large-scale prisoner release.
According to a statement on the website of the Archdiocese of Havana, five of the prisoners will be released in the coming hours and sent to Spain. Six will be moved immediately to prisons closer to their homes. Those remaining are to be freed within the following three to four months.
"This opens a new era in Cuba with hope of putting aside differences once and for all on matters of prisoners," the Spanish Embassy said in a released statement.
But William LeoGrande, Cuba expert at American University in Washington, says that the deal on its own will have more significance for Cuban-European relations than the US, which has listed Cuba´s human rights record at the center of its demands before relations can be normalized.
"In some ways you might see this as Cuba testing the sincerity of the US, doing something dramatic that the US demanded, to see if the US responds positively," he says.
Other than the easing of US travel restrictions and remittances for Cuban Americans, little has changed in the bilateral relationship between the US, which has implemented an embargo for nearly 50 years against Cuba, since Barack Obama and Raul Castro became heads of their respective nations. Mr. LeoGrande says Obama could respond to the prisoner release by easing rules for medical exchanges or issue more commercial licensing in areas of mutual cooperation.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US views it as a welcome advance. "We think that's a positive sign. It's something that is overdue but nevertheless very welcome," she said Thursday.
The Archdiocese of Havana said that at the center of their negotiations with the Cuban government has been the political activists and journalists who were arrested in March 2003, what Cuban dissidents have dubbed the Black Spring. A group of wives and relatives have protested each Sunday ever since. Prior to now, some of the Black Spring prisoners have been released for various reasons, including health issues.
The Catholic Church has taken a more prominent role lately in negotiating with the Cuban government, viewed as a good sign by Cuba observers in the US.
"We see this as a very positive signal from the Cuban government that perhaps they will be willing in the future to permit or use other independent institutions such as the Catholic Church to somehow intervene in negotiations for the release of prisoners and perhaps other issues of importance to the Cuban people," says Francisco Jose Hernandez, the president of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) in Miami.
"In the past, the Cuban government has been totally against outside interference pressuring them to act on any specific issue, especially issues that may have some political involvement."
The announcement comes too late for hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo in February, whose death brought worldwide condemnation from human rights workers. But another hunger striker, Guillermo Farinas, who is reported to be gravely ill from a strike he launched in February over the situation of political prisoners in Cuba, will end his hunger strike with the release of the 52 prisoners, according to a spokeswoman.
Posted on Thursday, 02.25.10Encourage change from withinBY FRANCISCO “PEPE'' HERNANDEZ
These are days of profound reflection for the Cuban-American exilecommunity. Two days ago the brave prisoner of conscience, Orlando ZapataTamayo, died in Castro's notorious prisons, a victim of the regime'sbrutality and its disdain for human life.
Wednesday, we commemorated another anniversary of that dark day whenfour defenseless Brothers to the Rescue pilots were mercilessly killedby Castro's henchmen while flying over international waters on ahumanitarian rescue mission. Feb. 24 also has been designatedInternational Day of the Cuban Exile.
These events, the remembrance of the pain and suffering endured for morethan 50 years, give us the opportunity to renew the promise many of usmade when we embarked on the journey to freedom: to help restoredemocracy for the Cuban people. We have a duty to look introspectivelyat our own actions and how those actions have, thus far, failed to meetthe challenge of supporting real change on the island.
Today, after long and arduous efforts, most of us have arrived at aconsensus that change will come only from the direct action of the Cubanpeople firmly, albeit nonviolently, demanding their rights.
In addition to increasing purposeful people-to-people andfamily-to-family interaction, which is essential to the overall effort,we must demand of the U.S. government the immediate and effectiverestructuring of two of our strongest vehicles for helping Cubans topromote change on the island: Radio and Television Martí (Office of CubaBroadcasting, OCB) and the U.S. Agency for International Development'sCuba Democracy Program.
Rather than focusing on the mission of effectively transmitting news andinformation to the Cuban people and hiring qualified personnel able toutilize modern technology and messaging, OCB's decision-making has beenruled by nepotism and political cronyism the past several years. As aresult, Radio and Television Martí are failing to meet their mandate ofproviding objective news and information to the Cuban people.
OCB has virtually eliminated programs that incorporated theparticipation of Cuban dissidents and has done away with full televisionnewscasts, opting to transmit novelas. Apparently Spanish-language soapoperas hold transformative powers we don't know about.
Delays in Washington's distribution of funds to USAID's Cuba Program canbe attributed in large part to the agency's need to find ways to preventthe rampant misdirection of funds allowed to perpetuate for over adecade. The lack of clear rules allowed some of USAID's grantees tospend 95 percent of the millions of dollars they received to coversalaries, office overhead and attend international conferences, whileCuba's dissidents were left with crumbs.
Many of those USAID grantees had funding automatically renewed withoutthe benefit of competition or an assessment of the impact their programswere having on the ground in Cuba. Nearly all have failed to meetUSAID's cost-share requirement, instead relying solely on U.S.
So here we are, at a crossroads, in need of some urgent decision-making:
Do we focus our individual and collective efforts in providing robustsupport for those brave voices inside of Cuba fighting for change?
Will we take the responsibility of salvaging Radio and TV Martí?
Do we demand that our elected leaders fight for the transparency andoversight needed to make the USAID Cuba Program work?
Our answer should and must be a collective Yes.
Francisco “Pepe'' Hernandez is president of the Cuban American NationalFoundation.
Encourage change from within – Other Views – MiamiHerald.com (25February 2010)http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/02/25/1498902/encourage-change-from-within.html
Posted on Saturday, 09.12.09Cuban-American leader seeks new pathBy LAURA WIDES-MUNOZAssociated Press Writer
MIAMI — Francisco Jose Hernandez points to the boarded windows in his secretary's third floor office. Days before, a drive-by shooter peppered the glass with bullets.
The Cuban American National Foundation co-founder and president shrugs off the attack.
"I've seen it all before," his piercing black eyes seem to say.
And he has. Few living Cuban-Americans personify the exile experience better than the 73-year-old Hernandez, known as "Pepe." His journey from anti-Castro Bay of Pigs insurgent to outspoken supporter of limited re-engagement with the communist island provides lessons on both the human capacity for change – and its limits.
Hernandez is hardly alone in arguing Cuban exiles must cease to dwell on the past, but he speaks from a unique platform. While steadily working to topple Fidel Castro's government, he also popped up, Forest Gump-style, in the midst of the war in Angola, the fall of the Soviet Union and even the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Within months of taking office, President Barack Obama eased family travel to Cuba and is reviewing other foundation recommendations.
Friends call Hernandez a man of action. Although he denies ever targeting innocent people in his long battle against Castro, he is cagey about whom or what he did target. A former close associate says as late as the 1990s, Hernandez ran a secret "war group" funded by the foundation.
It would be a stretch to say Hernandez has done a 180-degree turn in his golden years. He opposes a wholesale lifting of the United States' nearly 50-year embargo, and it's unclear whether he regrets his own actions or those of friends. But he is ready to move on.
Of toppling Cuba's government, he says now: "It's not that I wouldn't like to do it. It's that I'm smart enough, and I have enough experience in these things, to know that that is not possible, and that it's counterproductive at this time because the Cuban people don't want that, and we don't have enough resources."
His words come at a key time in history, as an ailing Castro has ceded power to his brother Raul, providing the first major change in Cuban leadership in half a century. And they provide some cover for Obama among the older generation of exiles as the president seeks to reopen dialogue with the island for the first time in more than a decade.
Still, to those on the left, Hernandez remains a hard-liner not to be trusted. To those on the right, he is a traitor. It is, at times, a lonely place to be.
To understand Hernandez' journey, one must start at the beginning.
He was 16 when Castro and his band of rebels launched their failed 1953 uprising against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Although the son of a career military officer, Hernandez also opposed Batista and became a leader of a Roman Catholic student youth group seeking to restore democracy.
In 1958, the rebels achieved a key victory in the central city of Santa Clara – and it was Hernandez' father, Col. Francisco Hernandez Leyva, who surrendered the garrison to Castro's comrade, Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Hernandez's father was given safe passage home in exchange for his retirement, but when he later refused to testify against commanding officers charged with human rights abuses, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Then overnight, before his son could appeal, he was re-sentenced and executed.
Hernandez still rarely mentions his father's death, and stumbles as he reads from a 1962 account by the independent International Commission of Jurists in Geneva.
"Right there, I started to change my mind about many things," he says.
Hernandez began moving between the U.S. and Cuba, arming anti-communist rebels in the mountains with help from the CIA.
In January 1961, he and hundreds of other Cuban exiles were sent to Guatemala to train for the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion. The operation was a disaster: The U.S. failed to provide sufficient air cover, and a promised popular uprising inside Cuba never developed. Hernandez and more than 1,000 others were captured and spent 18 months in Cuban prison.
Upon release, Hernandez and a cadre of other exiles redoubled their efforts to overthrow the Castro government while also serving the U.S., their new country.
Hernandez headed to officer training at Fort Benning, Ga., along with Jorge Mas Canosa, who would later serve as the public face of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Luis Posada, who would be accused in the bombing of a Cuban airliner, hotel explosions in Havana and other plots on Castro's life.
Hernandez became a Marine captain, working intelligence during the Vietnam War. The men also trained for missions to destabilize the government of Cuba and gather intelligence on the Russian presence there. They practiced in the eastern edges of the Everglades, before that wild swamp – like their dreams of returning home – slowly gave way to a quiet, suburban way of life.
Like many in his generation, Hernandez worked hard to establish roots in his new home. He helped raise four children with his wife Ana, earned a masters in economics at Duke and a doctorate at the University of Florida, and built multimillion-dollar businesses in construction, animal feed and communications.
He also provided cover for CIA missions in the Middle East and in Africa, he says, and describes hiding for six hours in a broom closet in the Nairobi Hilton Hotel during Kenya's failed 1982 coup.
In the early 1980s, Hernandez and others established the foundation. From the Reagan through Clinton administrations, it reigned as one of the most powerful, single-issue lobbying groups in Washington, funneling millions of dollars to politicians across the country.
The foundation brought Reagan to speak in Little Havana in 1983, helping to link the Cuban-American vote to the Republican Party for decades to come.
Hernandez recalls grasping Reagan's elbow at a 1985 gala so Mas Canosa could question him on why U.S.-run radio broadcasts to Cuba had been approved but not launched. The move earned him an elbow jab from a nervous Secret Service agent. A photo of the three from that night shows them all grinning.
"Pepe's not a guy who likes giving speeches. Pepe's much more a guy of action," said Joe Garcia, a former foundation president.
The foundation persuaded Congress to repeal a law prohibiting federal aid to paramilitary groups in Angola, the African nation where forces trained by the Cubans and Soviets were fighting one of the Cold War's most high-profile Third World battles. Mas Canosa, Hernandez and others flew there and set up a radio station to help the anti-communist side.
There, Hernandez found a certificate given to an Angolan fighter by his Cuban trainers emblazoned with a Che Guevara quote: "….a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine. Our soldiers must be thus; a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy."
It was then, Hernandez says, that he began to question how long Cuban-Americans could "keep fighting with the same arms, with the same killing and revenge."
The fall of the Soviet Union made Hernandez hope that Cuba would follow the lead of the Eastern Bloc countries and take its first steps toward democracy. World leaders fueled his thinking, treating him and the other foundation leaders as if it were a question of time until they were heading a new Cuban government. Russia invited the CANF leaders to attend the official Christmas Day 1991 dismantling of the Soviet Union. Then the Czech government called on CANF to negotiate the future of Cuba's debt to its national bank.
"At that time everybody came to the conclusion that things in Cuba could change if there were just a spark," says Hernandez.
But who would light it?
According to a former foundation director, Tony Llama, Hernandez was selected in 1993 to head the group's secret war group, which authorized Llama and others to buy several boats, a helicopter and weapons to help destabilize the island and assassinate Castro.
Hernandez says the so-called war group was a joke, that the men merely wanted "a contingency plan" in case that match was struck. He maintains the foundation has always been dedicated to nonviolence.
Llama was arrested in 1997 along with several members of the group off the coast of Puerto Rico on charges they were on their way to assassinate Castro during a summit in Venezuela. Hernandez' high-powered rifle was found on the boat, and the FBI listed him as a person of interest, even fingerprinting him. But he was never charged, and the rest were acquitted.
Hernandez says he bought the rifle to help those attempting to extract Cuban dissidents from the island defend themselves, but he is vague about how it ended up on the boat.
In 1997, hotel bombings in Havana killed an Italian tourist. In an interview the following year, Posada, a former CIA operative, claimed responsibility and said foundation directors had funded his activities for years; he then recanted both statements. Today, Posada lives in Miami, awaiting trial on immigration fraud charges. He is still wanted in Venezuela for allegedly masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73.
Asked about Posada, Hernandez' steady gaze falls and the occasional stutter returns. He repeats that Posada denied implicating the foundation.
"What world public opinion pictures as a terrorist, he's not that," Hernandez says. "He has had, much as I have had, my mind very set on trying to get rid of a government and a regime in Cuba but not to terrorize the people in Cuba."
The foundation's members began to splinter and its power to wane after Mas Canosa's death in 1997. A few years later, the Elian Gonzalez case made clear how much had shifted.
The Cuban boy was found lashed to an innertube off Fort Lauderdale on Thanksgiving 1999, his mother and others having drowned when their boat sank in an attempt to reach Florida; his father in Cuba asked that he be returned. When the U.S. Cuban community's mobilized to try to keep the child here, many Americans reacted with outrage.
Old assumptions about public support no longer applied. Meanwhile, new immigrants from Cuba lacked the earlier generation's thirst for revenge. They wanted to help their families back on the island.
To remain relevant, leaders like Hernandez had to change. One example: He joined the Cuba study group of the left-leaning Brookings Institution.
"He's had a remarkable transformation from being Mas' right hand to a man of dialogue," said journalist Ann Louise Bardach, who has written critically of the foundation. "I do believe he is sincere, maybe not pure – but who is in the Cuba War?"
If the shooting in his secretary's office was a skirmish in that war, Hernandez says he's is ready to let it go.
He speaks of what he has learned and refers to the younger generation, including his own U.S.-born children. "Instead of imposing, I have to try to convince, or I have to show examples of where I have made mistakes and how not to make them. This is what our generation must do with Cuba.
"If we want to do something for the Cuban people, it has to be something that our children also recognize as something of value, not simply trying to destroy."
Cuban-American leader seeks new path – Cuba – MiamiHerald.com (12 September 2009)http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/v-fullstory/story/1230301.html
Posted on Wednesday, 06.03.09ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATESOAS' Cuba move touches off outcryA decision to retract the Organization of American States' 1962 suspension of Cuba was met with swift calls by some U.S. lawmakers to cut off funding.BY LESLEY CLARK AND FRANCES [email protected]
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Furious members of Congress on Wednesday threatened to cut off funding for the Organization of American States after top diplomats gathered here for its annual assembly repealed Cuba's suspension from the hemispheric group, ending a decades-old remnant of the Cold War.
''The OAS is a putrid embarrassment,'' declared U.S. Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans, in a joint statement.
The lifting of Cuba's 1962 suspension was the result of weeks of back-room brokering, plus an hours-long private meeting in San Pedro Sula with foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It ended Wednesday with the OAS' leftist bloc accepting a paragraph that refers to Cuba abiding by ''practices, purposes and principles of the OAS,'' words that Cuba's allies had just the night before flat-out rejected, sources close to the negotiations said.
In the end, representatives on both sides gathered here declared victory, although Cuba's rejoining the organization will not be automatic.
Cuban-American members of Congress blasted the move as a betrayal.
''Far from strengthening the OAS, today's resolution flies in the face of the organization's founding charter,'' Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also a Miami Republican, said. “No U.S. taxpayer funds should go towards supporting this sham of an organization that once prided itself on its historic commitment to democracy and human rights.''
Retracting Cuba's suspension does not mean the hemisphere's last communist country automatically rejoins an organization that prides itself in being the region's leading promoter of human rights and democracy.
The resolution lifting Cuba's suspension says Cuba has to take the next step by initiating dialogue with the OAS and its participation would be ''in conformity with the practices, purposes and principles of the OAS,'' a key paragraph that Washington lobbied to include.
But sources close to the talks said that, faced with pressure from Cuba's allies, the U.S. State Department was forced to drop its appeal to include a specific reference to the OAS's 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, which calls for its member states to embrace democracy.
The United States said the decision was a solid step in the right direction, and credited Clinton for helping craft an agreement that just weeks ago would have contained no references to OAS core values.
''Today's resolution was an act of statesmanship,'' said Thomas Shannon, the State Department's top diplomat in the hemisphere, who was recently named ambassador to Brazil. “Today, we addressed and bridged an historic divide in the Americas while reaffirming our profound commitment to democracy and the fundamental human rights of our peoples.''
Clinton added in a statement: “I am pleased that everyone came to agree that Cuba cannot simply take its seat.''
Cuba has publicly reiterated that it has no interest in joining the OAS, which it considers a tool of the U.S. ''empire.'' After weeks of blasting the organization, the Cuban government was mostly silent on the matter Wednesday.
The Paraguayan media quoted the Cuban ambassador Héctor Igarza as saying the nation has no intention of returning.
''A truly authentic organization would be one where Latin Americans and Caribbeans could discuss, debate and look for solutions to their problems without intrusion from external actors of the OAS,'' he said.
Senior White House advisor Daniel Restrepo told The Miami Herald that the next move is Cuba's.
''The OAS is a very uncomfortable place for Cuba because it's an instrument that stands up for words like democracy and human rights,'' he said. “That's an uncomfortable environment for this Cuban government. So the onus is on them. Do they want to be really part of a system that defends and promotes those values, or does it not want to do that?''
Restrepo was among a team of top Washington officials who came to San Pedro Sula to persuade Latin American neighbors to include references to democracy in the resolution taken Wednesday.
Washington had long opposed Cuba's reentry into the organization, because of the 2001 charter. But as the clamor to allow Cuba back regardless of the 2001 charter became louder, it became increasingly clear that Washington would not be able to block Cuba's readmission.
So the advisors went to work instead persuading countries to push for conditions, saying that without them, they risked making a mockery of the OAS. A special task force of 10 foreign ministers from the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Belize, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Argentina negotiated until late Tuesday and again Wednesday.
Groups that call for engaging Cuba said Obama made the right move.
Dissidents on the island had mixed reactions, with hard-liner Martha Beatriz Roque saying it “meant nothing.''
The fact that the United States was even willing to discuss Cuba's reentry — inconceivable under the George W. Bush administration — persuaded a number of countries to side with Washington, sources said.
''Our good will generated good will,'' one senior U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. “That helped move the thing and avoid a meltdown.''
Just Tuesday night, a deal was struck at about 7 p.m. It collapsed about four hours later after Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia ran the deal past their bosses, sources close to the talks said.
The next morning Cuba's allies realized they were outnumbered and agreed to accept the document as it was worded.
One of the Senate's only two Cuban Americans decried that language, with New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez calling it ''weak'' and “absurdly vague.''
Menendez said the agreement ''allows for loose interpretation of what should be a clear set of fundamental democratic principles and standards regarding human rights.'' He warned Wednesday that Congress would now debate “how much we are willing to support the OAS as an institution.''
The OAS gets about 60 percent of its funding from the United States.
''The Cold War has ended today in San Pedro Sula,'' Honduran President Manuel Zelaya said.
Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.
OAS' Cuba move touches off outcry – South Florida – MiamiHerald.com (3 June 2009)
50 Years Later, Who Wins and Who LosesBy Ann Louise BardachSunday, January 11, 2009; B03
On New Year's Day, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul celebrated their golden anniversary — marking a half-century since they brought revolution to Cuba. On Jan. 20, Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States. But to the Castros, who have struck out the previous 10 occupants of the Oval Office, he will simply be the 11th batter to step up to the plate.
In 2009, the 50-year, high-stakes showdown between Washington and Havana is likely to culminate not in a final glorious duel but in resignation born of fatigue. And there will be indisputable winners and losers — mostly losers — as the Obama administration wades into the troubled waters of the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Here's a look at who ends up where.
Fidel Castro. He's the Cuban Marathon Man, refusing to surrender, retreat or die. Mortally ill with intestinal disease, he hasn't been seen in public since July 26, 2006. His illnesses and botched surgeries would have felled any other mortal, but through sheer grit and vengeance, he lives on.
Raul Castro. While Fidel remains the wizard behind the curtain, Raul is front and center as Cuba's new head of state, and it will be under his watch that the five-decade U.S. embargo enters its death spiral. Right off, Obama has promised to lift the Bush administration's restrictions, imposed in 2004, on Cuban Americans traveling and sending money to the island. Next on the agenda will be allowing more Americans to visit and leaving it up to the Cubans to be the heavies in keeping troublesome exiles and pesky reporters like me away.
Although the Obama administration is neither able nor inclined to rescind the embargo entirely, it can encourage its allies in Congress to begin the process of dismantling it. With a new Brookings poll showing an unprecedented majority (55 percent) of Cuban Americans opposing continuation of the embargo, and 79 percent viewing it critically, the administration will have the wind in its sails to act.
Russia and China. These two U.S. rivals have the entree to reestablish a beachhead and, no doubt, a listening post in our backyard. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese leader Hu Jintao have both been feted in Havana recently, and all manner of trade deals are in the works.
The anti-Castro cottage industry. The eight years of the Bush presidency were the golden goose for a cadre of ideologically hardline entrepreneurs and their organizations. Although most exiles are motivated by genuine conviction and human rights concerns, a segment has also benefited richly from the protracted antagonism between the United States and Cuba. In 2008 alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department doled out a whopping $45 million of taxpayer largess to groups charged with fostering democracy in Cuba, such as the Center for a Free Cuba and the International Republican Institute.
Among the losers here is Felipe Sixto, a former special assistant to President Bush and the White House's liaison to exile leaders, who could now be looking at a stretch in the pokey. Sixto was forced to resign last March amid allegations that he had stolen nearly $600,000 of USAID grant money while chief of staff at the Center for a Free Cuba and during his later stint at the White House. In late November, Sixto was charged with stealing from a federally funded program, and on Dec. 19, he pleaded guilty and repaid $644,884.60 to the center, which had reported the theft.
There was more startling news in a 2008 report by the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the largest exile organization in the country, which has moved to the political center from its former perch on the right. According to the report, just 17 percent of the funds given to exile groups between 1996 and 2006 actually made it to the island. The other 83 percent was spent on salaries, travel and administrative expenses.
Last summer, USAID intermittently halted some of its funding for Cuba programs while it investigated the embezzlement at the Center for a Free Cuba and suspicious credit-card spending at the Miami-based Grupo de Apoyo a la Democracia (Support Group for Democracy), two leading beneficiaries of government funds. But according to a 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), USAID renewed payments of the frozen funds to both in September. That means that the Grupo de Apoyo has hauled in about $10.9 million since 2000, according to the GAO and USAID, while about $7.2 million has been doled out to the Center for a Free Cuba since 2005.
Although the Bush administration has requested another $20 million to fund Cuba programs for 2009, the Obama team will presumably slow the gravy train or review its contents and recipients.
Radio and Television Marti. The International Broadcasting Bureau spends around $35 million in taxpayer funds annually on these two stations, which transmit Spanish-language broadcasts to Cuba. In 2006 and 2007, the GAO found all manner of funny business at the Martis, which have received roughly half a billion dollars over the past 20 years. Known in Miami as "botellas" — slang for pork-barrel sinecures — the stations have long operated as gift baskets for Miami's political elite. For a period, the fathers of Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, who champion funding for the stations, had their own shows on Radio Marti.
Because the Cuban government jams both stations' transmissions, Congress approved $10 million in 2006 to buy TV Marti its own airplane from which to beam its signal. Nevertheless, according to recent studies, listener- and viewership have declined as the Martis' programming has become progressively more shrill since their 1996 move from Washington to Miami. Cubans are keen for uncensored news of the world and their country, but they get all the screeds they need homegrown.
The 2007 GAO report found that the Martis had awarded more than $1 million in contracts to Miami's TV Azteca and Radio Mambi, renowned for its deep bench of anti-Castro bloviators, to aid transmission, bypassing federal contract-bidding procedures. More dubiously and perhaps in contravention of the Marti charter, the two stations have been running Marti's programming locally.
Bets are on that Obama's team will compel the Martis to professionalize their content and their bidding practices. They may also choose to bring the stations back under the umbrella of the Voice of America, to keep a closer eye and ear on them.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. The Miami Republican does most of the heavy lifting and horse-trading in Congress to ensure that anti-Castro programs are amply funded. He has been a lifelong satellite around Planet Fidel: The two share a birthday, and Diaz-Balart is Castro's nephew by marriage, his most ardent foe and his would-be successor. As George W. Bush's quarterback, Diaz-Balart has dictated virtually all policy and staffing regarding Cuba. That will not be the case come Jan. 20.
The Cuban Liberty Council. This fiercely hard-line organization will no longer be arranging the place settings at the White House on Cuban Independence Day. Replacing it will be the CANF and the Cuba Study Group, an exile organization led by conservative but pragmatic Cuban-American businessmen.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is likely to see its Cuban sails trimmed. OFAC's chief mandate is to enforce sanctions against countries harboring terrorists. But a 2007 government study found that 61 percent of the office's investigations since 2000 had been aimed at just one target: Cuba. Between 2000 and 2005, OFAC penalties for violations of the Cuban embargo represented more than 70 percent of all the penalties the office imposed. In 2004, a congressional hearing revealed that tax dollars earmarked for the war on terrorism were spent on tracking unauthorized travelers to Cuba. At the hearing, OFAC acknowledged that it had just four employees searching for the funds of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, as opposed to more than 20 full-time investigators charged with hunting down suspected violators of the embargo. American taxpayers had picked up the tab for OFAC's prosecution of a 75-year-old grandmother from San Diego who took a bicycling trip to Cuba, an Indiana teacher who delivered Bibles and the son of missionaries who traveled to the island to spread his parents' ashes at the site of the church they'd founded 50 years before.
Luis Posada Carriles. The new year isn't looking especially bright for the fugitive bomber and would-be Castro assassin, who has enjoyed safe haven in Miami for the past year. The Obama Justice Department might actually move on the evidence collected by the FBI and a federal grand jury — seated for almost three years at a cost of millions of dollars – reportedly tying Posada to a string of bombings in Cuba in 1997.
Carlos Valenciaga. Fidel Castro's secretary and longtime faithful aide, who solemnly announced Castro's health crisis on television in 2006, has fallen out of favor — and out of a job.
La Revolución. Although a significant deposit of oil was discovered last year in Cuban waters, the country, one of the world's last Marxist outposts, is still struggling to pay its bills. And until dividends begin to trickle down to the kitchen table, the island will continue to hemorrhage young people, who have despaired of seeing promised reforms. An estimated 80,000 Cubans — many of the country's best and brightest – have left for the United States since 2005.
That's why Havana's premier dissident blogger, Yoani Sanchez, thinks that the revolution itself falls into the loser category. "Revolutions don't last half a century," she wrote in a December posting. "They always expire, trying to make themselves eternal. . . . Nothing will manage to raise it from the tomb and bring it back to life. Let it rest in peace."
Ann Louise Bardach is the author of "Cuba Confidential" and the forthcoming "Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Washington and Havana."
Posted on Tuesday, 11.18.08CUBACuba won't let our kids leave, medical workers sayFormer Cuban doctors are contemplating taking their quest to get their kids out of Cuba to an international court.By FRANCES ROBLES AND CASEY [email protected]
Inside her bedroom on Cuba's Isle of Youth, 7-year-old Daviana González prays to be reunited with her mother after more than five years, relatives say. In Camagüey, Marta Daniela Batista, another little girl separated from her parents, is said to suffer from mental health problems.
The girls are children of Cuban medical professionals living in Miami who deserted their posts in various nations where the Cuban government sent them to help spread ideology and earn income for their cash-starved homeland.
But the price for desertion was higher than the families believed possible: The Cuban government is denying the little ones permission to leave, even though they have U.S. visas that would allow them to come here.
''Marta isn't to blame for what her parents did, and yet they punish her,'' said her mother, Melvis Mesa, 42. “She's just a child, and children have a right to be with their parents. What the Cuban government is doing is a terrible abuse.''
Mesa and Daviana's mother — Yaisis González — are among more than a dozen Cuban health workers working with the Cuban American National Foundation, or CANF, on a campaign to get their children back. CANF representatives plan to file complaints against the Cuban government with international organizations, such as the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations.
A press conference is planned for Tuesday morning to call for other Cuban medical professionals in the same situation to come forward and join their cause.
The Cuban government is ''holding the children hostage'' to punish those who leave official missions, López said.
AFRAID TO SPEAK OUT
Many Cuban medical professionals who have deserted their posts over the years and are struggling to be reunited with their children have remained silent until now in fear that speaking out would further jeopardize their children's release.
''It's the normal mindset to stay quiet. But after a while, when they realize they're not getting anywhere with that attitude, they figure if they make a lot of noise, they might get results,'' said Omar López, CANF's human rights director. “With the Cuban government, contrary to what most people believe, the more you talk, the more chance you have of getting results.''
González, 34, is a nurse who came to Miami in January 2007 after working three years in Qatar. She compared her separation from her daughter Daviana to the 1999-2000 case involving Elián González [no relation], the Cuban migrant boy returned to his father despite a protracted attempt by his extended family in Miami to prevent it.
''It's basic human right that parents should be with their children,'' she said. “My child is my child.''
A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch said the Cuban government regularly denies exit visas to medical professionals, children of defectors and relatives of Cubans living abroad legally. Cuba uses the exit visas as a tool for revenge against the disloyal and as leverage to force the return of Cubans who have government permission to live abroad temporarily, the report said.
The report blasted both Cuba and Washington for violating people's “freedom of movement.''
Experts say taking the issue to an international court would be at best a legal long shot, but would be worth it — if just for sometimes helpful international publicity.
''There's tremendous symbolic value in proceeding before international tribunals, because of the moral force that such proceedings can create,'' said former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey, who was part of the legal team that represented the Miami family in the Elián case.
''And moral force combined with consensus of support throughout the hemisphere could be meaningful, but ultimately it would be a verdict that could not be enforced by a judge's gavel,'' Coffey said. “Ultimately the question is: What tribunal can enforce an order against the Castro government if the Castro government refuses to comply?''
José Cohen, a former Cuban intelligence agent who in 1994 began his fight to get his three children off the island, said he went to Geneva, to U.S. members of Congress opposed to the embargo and everywhere else he could think of, to no avail.
''I never took it to an international court, because I did not have the money, and Cuba does not respect international laws anyway,'' said Cohen, who now lives in Miami Beach. “But at least it's a public denouncement. They should do it. They should struggle every way they can.''
Cohen's youngest son still lives in Cuba; his daughters, now 20 and 24, left the island on a fast boat to Mexico this year and now live in Miami.
González said she has learned to parent by phone. Her daughter lives with her grandmother on the Isle of Youth.
''She already thinks she's a little woman,'' González said, adding that Daviana often asks for shoes and stylish tops as gifts from the United States.
In their daily conversations, Daviana recites math equations — ''two-plus-two-equals-four!'' — and reads passages out of her text books to show her mother the progress she's making in class.
''She does it to show me that she deserves all the gifts she's asking for,'' said González. “Anything she asks me for, I give her, because it's the only thing I can do for her.''
Mesa, 42, often weeps when she speaks of her daughter in Camagüey.
Mesa and her husband, both physical therapists, said the couple deserted from a medical mission in Venezuela last March and came to the United States through Colombia a short time later.
Doctors in Cuba say their daughter Marta's mental health is suffering because of the separation from her parents.
Sensitive and intelligent — she's at the top of her elementary class — Marta cries constantly for her family.
'Sometimes it's hard to even speak on the phone, because she says over and over, `Mama, when are we going to be together?' '' Mesa said. “It tears up your heart.''
Posted on Sat, Sep. 27, 2008
Pride keeps storm aid from CubaBy MYRIAM [email protected]
Pride, it's the sin of sins, the one that caused an angel named Lucifer to turn against God and want to run things himself. It's been downhill ever since.
I don't mean to preach religion. This is about the politics of pride.
We live it here in South Florida every day. And after the devastation that back-to-back hurricanes Gustav and Ike caused in much of the Caribbean — Cuba and Haiti, in particular — we're still witnessing how pride can harm suffering people.
For all the Bush administration's political posturing over how best to help Cuba — initially requiring an emergency team to check on the damage before sending substantial aid — our government has tried to do right by the people of Cuba. The U.S. Agency for International Development was poised to send $6.3 million in construction materials — zinc roofs, nails, lumber — along with food and medicine. Light shelter kits would give a temporary home to 48,000 of the hundreds of thousands left homeless.
No strings attached.
But no, once again, Cuba's communist leaders put pride ahead of people's needs.
In one of his published ''reflections,'' Fidel Castro blasted USAID last week as a CIA front and sniffed that Cuba doesn't need aid from the imperialists.
The USAID surely has not done as good a job as it should over the years monitoring groups sending aid to Cuba.
The U.S. government's own auditors have pointed out that much of the money stays in South Florida.
This year, the Bush administration started to change the way it awards contracts to end the abuse.
But on emergency aid after a natural disaster, USAID has done a lot of good in a lot of places.
In an island facing $5 billion-plus in damages, with an estimated half-million families homeless, the Cuban regime prefers to ignore a $6.3 million U.S. offer.
That's one-fifth of what Cuba has received from its leftist allies.
Cuban leaders want the U.S. embargo suspended, so they can ''buy'' goods on credit.
Except the regime has a long record of defaulting on payments to its friends. Imagine the payback planned for Castro's half-century-old enemy.
At least $1.78 million of U.S. government aid is reaching Cuba through nonprofits and other nongovernment groups working with USAID, but the U.S. approach also has been contaminated by the politics of pride.
LICENSE TAPPED OUT
In two days, the Cuban American National Foundation tapped out its U.S. license issued for hurricane relief that allowed Cuban Americans to help extended family and friends.
Hitting the $250,000 limit on the license, CANF applied to the U.S. Treasury for another humanitarian assistance license.
This time, the U.S. government reverted to the Bush rules, restricting such direct aid. The new license only allows aid to go to dissidents and civil society groups, which CANF has done for years but can only go so far.
Dissidents already are getting pressured by Cuban security officials to not hand out even $10 to their needy neighbors.
While Cuban officials harass dissidents, CANF has 400 applications — it has stopped accepting more until the license issue is resolved — from Cuban Americans hoping to send money to an aunt or a former neighbor.
''This is a real necessity, a moment of crisis,'' said CANF spokeswoman Sandy Acosta Cox. “It's not the time to limit the ways people can help.''
No it's not, but the politics of pride — here and mostly there — keeps making a mockery of Cubans' true suffering.