Google Adsense


Freedom to paint: From artist to rafter to artist

Posted on Thursday, 01.27.11

to paint: From artist to to artist

Almost two decades after fleeing Cuba on a raft, a Coral Gables artist works to build a career in South Florida.Get Adobe Flash player

* Photos

Upload and share your own.

You can share related videos and photos.

Submit: Video Pictures StoriesBy Ines MatoSpecial to The Miami Herald

In the early 1990s, Henry Ballate hung a noose at the entrance of his art gallery to show that Cuba's communism represented death.

The regime was not amused. The authorities had Ballate's art removed from public galleries, and the artist was tossed in jail for six months.

When he was released, Ballate and six of his friends set out on a raft for Miami, where their survival depended on their precarious raft and the current.

"We didn't know the route, we just hoped that the current would take us somewhere," Ballate said.

Not certain how long the journey would take, they rationed their meager supplies of cheese, bread and water, Ballate said.

But on their seventh day, the current took them to Key Largo, where they were rescued by nearby residents.

From that moment, Ballate worked hard to adjust to a new country, but never lost his vision of pursuing his career in art.

In 2002, he attended La Academia Italiana, in Florence, where he studied drawing and painting. The academy inspired him to study new forms of art, and in 2004 he enrolled in Miami International of Art & Design to get his bachelor's and master's degrees in Fine Arts.

Ballate has participated in expositions such as the Miami's Independent Thinkers, Arte America, Solo Art Miami, San Jose's National Gallery, National Art Gallery in Dhaka and Bangladesh for the 3{+r}{+d} Friendship Art Exhibition.

After years of practice and hard work, Ballate, 44, presented his thesis exhibition called "Fragments and Passion" on Thursday at the MIU's gallery.

Ballate takes classical paintings and pictures as models, transforming them into provocative and sensual pieces of art.

He said his inspiration starts when he sees a painting that draws his attention. Then he analyzes it and remakes it in his own style, he said. By using his computer and oil paints, he recreates the image.

The result is a piece of art composed of separated fragments that form an image.

Ever since Ballate left Cuba, he realized that his life wasn't about portraying politics in his art. Instead, he chose to reproduce sexual paintings, including some depicting genatalia.

"It's more sexy — the naked art than a naked person," he said. "The painting is divine and eternal, and the person is mortal and ordinary."

Manny Manzano, a friend of Ballate's and owner of the Madrid near Miami International , said that he respects Ballate for his dedication and talent.

One of Manzano's favorite pieces is "The Kiss," which imitates the famous kiss of Britney Spears and Madonna in the MTV Movie Music Awards.

"I like it because it shows sensuality and freedom," he said.

Macia Gomez, MIU's public relations director, said she admires Ballate's bravery.

"He left Cuba risking it all, and he became a great artist," she said.

He now lives in Coral Gables and works for MIU as a graphic designer, while creating new pieces, hoping that someday his art will be displayed at a famous museum.

"I live an ordinary life, but when I'm working in my art, I'm transported to a superior level," he said.

Cubans stage rallies, test new openness,

Posted on Thursday, 12.02.10Cubans stage rallies, test new openness

In separate actions, ordinary citizens in Cuba are increasingly protesting everything from high taxes to poor services. Activists say civil unrest could result.BY FRANCES [email protected]

The streets of Bayamo, Cuba, are blocked by horse-drawn carriages, whose drivers for two days have protested a fivefold increase in taxes.

Monday, hundreds of students in Santa Clara erupted in when the Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer match they had paid three pesos to watch at the Camilo Cienfuegos Theater was replaced by a documentary.

And in the past month, bicycle taxi drivers in Las Tunas and truckers in Granma have refused to work until their various demands are met, say activists.

The protests mark a significant departure for Cuba, where rallies are rare and repressed. As the country's economic crisis worsens, a new trend appears to be bubbling: Ordinary citizens are daring to speak out against the government.

Experts say that could become a critical threat to the Raúl Castro regime, which fears spontaneous protest far more than organized activism. While few Cubans are interested in politics, issues over transportation and could serve as a lightning rod for a fed-up populace eager for change, experts say.

“These are regular people, real people,'' Yoandri Montoya, a youth movement leader in eastern Cuba said Wednesday from his cellphone while “hundreds'' of horse-drawn carriages abandoned their passengers. “People are taking to the streets because they are waking up to the new reality.''

He said the protest began 6 a.m. Wednesday because drivers were furious that their monthly license fee rose from 120 pesos — $5 — to 571, or roughly $24.

The taxes are part of a vast overhaul of the Cuban , which includes plans to lay off some 500,000 workers in the coming months.

But when horse-drawn carriage drivers were forced to double fares to cover the increased tax, passengers complained, so the drivers stopped working, Montoya said.

“Everybody is in the street,'' he said. “This is just the beginning.''

Weeks earlier, truckers who routinely people on the back of their flat-beds also went on strike to protest high gas prices they must pay with Cuba's dollar-based currency.

Two weeks ago, about 35 bicycle taxi drivers in Puerto Padre stopped working, because they were not allowed to pick up passengers in areas where tourists walk, said former dissident Magdelivia Hidalgo.

On Tuesday, dissidents in at least six cities across the country held a “pots and pans'' protest.

The turn in strategy toward day-to-day issues is considered critical because the Cuban government in the past months released dozens of political prisoners, taking the wind out of the sails of one of the leading dissident groups, the Ladies in White. With their husbands freed, many of the “Ladies'' now live in .

Hidalgo, now a reporter for U.S.-funded Radio Martí, founded a women's group in Cuba that stages protests at cafeterias: the women eat and refuse to pay in the dollar-based currency known as “cucs.''

“People are daring to speak out in ways I have never seen before,'' said Hidalgo, who left Cuba in 2000. “When I called Cuba in the past, the person who answered the phone would whisper and say, `please hold.' Now they say, `Oh God, you wouldn't believe how bad things are!' — knowing full well that if a call is coming in from Radio Martí, someone from the Cuban government is listening in.''


While the Cuban government routinely stops dissident protests in their tracks, it has largely caved in to the demands of the civil rights protests, activists said. After the women's group protests, the government has signaled that it will eliminate dual currency. Already, construction and agricultural supplies stores began accepting national pesos, a major concession.

When a video of students at the Superior Institute of the Arts protesting lousy food went public last year, the government quietly went in and improved the menu, said former political Manuel Vazquez Portal.


On Wednesday, the Cuban government kicked off a public debate over its historic plans to loosen rules over private business. The debates, similar to public gripe sessions that took place shortly after Castro took over the presidency in 2008, will be held from December until February.

The state-controlled newspaper Granma said Cubans will be encouraged to voice their opinions and disagreements on the proposed changes through party organizations, union meetings and workplace sessions.

“At stake is the future of the Cuban nation,'' Granma said.

But the government has only fueled discontent with layoffs, high taxes and closing workplace cafeterias, Vazquez Portal said.

“One of these days, you're going to have 50 people from some workplace show up at a pizzeria at the same time as 50 workers from another place on a day that there is no pizza,'' Vazquez Portal said. “That's when you're going to have a big social explosion.''

The economic crisis of the early 1990s led to a massive protest on Havana's seaside boulevard, dubbed the “maleconazo.'' responded by letting anyone who wanted out to leave, unleashing the rafter crisis of 1994.

But Cubans, Vazquez Portal said, know that the economic situation in South Florida is as bad as Cuba's, so people are resigned to fixing their problems at home.

“Now what you see is that people would rather take the risk of facing off against the government over facing off against the sharks and the sea,'' he said.

Social movements that topple regimes often begin when people suddenly feel orphaned by a paternalistic government, said Bronislaw Misztal, chair of the sociology department at Catholic of America in Washington, D.C.

For Cuba's scattered protests to gain momentum, a large group such as teachers, young people or the unemployed need to join in, followed by a group formerly loyal to the government, he said.

“If it reaches a critical mass, then it may be a process that's very difficult for the authorities to stop,'' said Misztal, who is from Poland and has studied Cuba. “The question is: What will make the Cubans tick? It may be something that surprises us, and then it will be like fire in a bush.''

Exodus of Cubans slowing

Posted on Tuesday, 10.05.10CUBAN MIGRANTSExodus of Cubans slowing

For the third consecutive year, fewer Cuban migrants have left or attempted to leave their island nation for the United States.BY ALFONSO CHARDY AND JUAN [email protected]

In a reverse of a years-long trend, the number of Cubans interdicted by the Coast Guard or arriving from Mexico is down — way down.

Figures compiled by El Nuevo Herald from the Homeland Security agencies that track Cuban migrants show that fewer than 7,000 undocumented Cubans were interdicted or arrived at the border during the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30 — a huge drop from the peak of almost 20,000 in 2007.

The principal factors for the decrease appear to be the U.S. economic crisis, which makes it tougher for relatives to pay smugglers' fees, and more efficient Coast Guard and Border Patrol methods.

Other possible reasons: Cuba also has reportedly stepped up its patrols to prevent departures, Mexico has toughened immigration rules for Cubans and South Florida law enforcement agencies have cracked down on migrant smugglers. At the same time, Cubans have found it easier to to other countries, such as Ecuador and .

Victor Colón, assistant chief patrol agent for the Border Patrol's Miami sector, said the U.S. economic downturn and more effective coastal patrolling have made it much more difficult for Cubans to reach South Florida by sea.

“Federal and local agencies use their assets to collectively patrol smarter,'' Colón said.

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Brown said that one of the most important deterrents may be the more aggressive of migrant smugglers. “We have had hundreds of indictments against hundreds of defendants,'' said Brown.

In Cuba, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who writes a about Cuban life, said he believed part of the drop was due to increased Cuban patrols looking for illegal departures.


Havana activist Elizardo Sánchez said he had seen no evidence of increased patrols, however. Besides the tighter U.S. interdiction at sea, he said, some Cubans may have decided to stay on the island hoping for major improvements under Raúl Castro, who succeeded his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

While no one mentioned it, Cuban exiles now can more easily travel and send money to Cuba after Barack Obama eased restrictions last year.

The principal routes that undocumented Cubans have used to reach the United States in recent years have been across the Florida Straits and the Yucatán Channel, which separates Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula from western Cuba.

The Florida Straits remained the most widely used route from the time seized power in 1959 to the early part of this decade. But after the Coast Guard tightened interdiction methods in the area in the aftermath of 9/11, many Cuban shifted their escape route to the Yucatán Channel.

From landing sites in Cozumel, Cancún and Isla Mujeres, the Cuban migrants — largely with the aid of smugglers — make their way to the U.S. Once in the United States, they can stay under the so-called wet-foot/dry-foot policy.


Over the last half century of Castro rule, the island's migrant flow has undergone several major milestones, including the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought more than 125,000 refugees to the United States and the 1994 crisis that brought another 37,191.

While the number of undocumented Cuban migrants who were interdicted or arrived by land and sea hit nearly 20,000 in fiscal year 2007, the annual totals have been dropping every year since 2008.

In that year, the number hit 16,260. In fiscal year 2009, the total dwindled to 8,113.

During the 2010 fiscal year that ended last week, the number was about 6,855, though the Border Patrol has yet to release its final figures for the one-year period.

Fidel Castro’s lash against Israel a calculated move

Posted on Saturday, 06.19.10's lash against Israel a calculated moveBY MYRIAM [email protected]

In another example that the Cuban regime likes U.S.-Cuba relations just the way they are, Fidel Castro issued one of his reflections:

“The hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the one-and-a-half million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis,'' Castro sneered in a statement released by Cuban officials at the ill-named U.N. Human Rights Council last week. “It would seem that the Fuhrer's swastika is today Israel's banner.''

To understand why Castro remains in charge of Cuba after 51 years (the wizard behind the iron curtain that dictates what brother Raúl may do) think in opposites.

Say one thing, mean another. Add one plus one and get zero.


For Castro's “reflection'' on Israel's investigation into its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla of agitators armed with bats was intended to create a tsunami of debate on U.S.-Cuba policy just as Congress once again takes up the ban.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz set Cuba straight: “These outrageous anti-Semitic comments are an insult to the millions of Jews who were systematically killed or tortured by the Nazis. These aren't just the comments of some doddering anti-Semite who is losing his faculties. These malicious comments were officially distributed by Cuba's government. . . . This is yet another glaring example of why we should not expand relations with the Cuban government.''


Thank you, Fidel.

Just as Miami's Cuban exiles passionately debate a letter signed by 74 dissidents in Cuba calling for Congress to allow American tourists to the island, Fidel drops his anti-Semitic bomb, ensuring that any politicians on the fence about the U.S. travel ban would stay put.

It's always been about timing with Fidel. Ask Bill Clinton, who tried an opening and got the crisis and the shoot-down of the Brothers to the Rescue planes. When Jimmy Carter opened relations, Castro dumped his crazies and criminals on us in the Mariel boatlift to smear the image of legitimate political refugees.


All of those plots and conspiracies acknowledged, we still have this nagging fact: It's to the Castro brothers' advantage to keep the United States at bay. To not have Cubans working at hotels and talking with Americans who haven't been screened for revolutionary purity. To not have relationships form between people that the government can't control.

So now we're in the “dueling dissidents'' stage of this 51-year arc of tyranny.

After the Cuba Study Group released the letter signed by 74 dissidents, defenders of the travel ban released their lists.

First, it was a couple of hundred former political prisoners who left Cuba. Then Cuban-American members of Congress hit a gusher of hard-line discontent inside the island: 494 dissidents signed a letter penned by former political Jorge Luis García Pérez, AKA Antúnez — who some call the “Nelson Mandela of Cuba'' — calling on American tourists to stay at home until the two Castros are gone.

In the middle of the dueling dissidents, the name-calling and the accusations of communist spies in Miami, are the Cuban people. Still standing in line with their little card in search of meager rations, waiting for well-paying jobs they can't have because the time's still not right. The wizard has spoken.

Mariel boatlift tested Miami’s strength, then made it stronger

Posted on Saturday, 04.24.10THE MARIEL BOATLIFT

Mariel boatlift tested Miami's strength, then made it strongerThirty years later, South Florida government leaders and others recall the Mariel boatlift — a life-changing experience.Mariel Memories: Cesar OdioCesar Odio, who was Miami Assistant City Manager during Mariel, talks about the difficulties the city faced with the wave of immigrants that came in.BY ALFONSO [email protected]

This is part of an occasional series that will run through September to mark the 30th anniversary of the Mariel boatlift.

Cesar Odio was at his office at Miami City Hall one morning in late April 1980 when his desk phone rang.

A top federal immigration official was on the line asking Odio's help in locating a big enough place to hold dozens of Cuban refugees who had just arrived in Key West aboard a crowded boat.

It was one of the first boats laden with refugees boarding vessels in large numbers from the Cuban port of Mariel, 20 miles west of Havana.

It was also the beginning of the Mariel boatlift, which brought more than 125,000 Cuban refugees to U.S. shores between April and September 1980.

Thirty years after the biggest refugee exodus from Cuba, local officials who played key roles in the crisis recalled the historic events in interviews with El Nuevo Herald.

While many local officials and private citizens were involved in handling the refugee flood, only a handful came to be widely associated with the boatlift mainly because media attention then fell on them as veritable first responders to the unfolding crisis.

They are people like Odio, then an assistant city manager; Maurice Ferre, then Mayor of Miami; Merrett Stierheim, then Dade County manager and Sergio Pereira, an assistant county manager.

Private citizens whose names remain linked to the exodus include Lula Rodríguez, sister-in-law of then Hialeah mayor Raúl Martínez, who worked as a volunteer in the refugee processing camps, and Siro del Castillo, a activist who helped Mariel refugees at the Krome detention center.

For all, Mariel was an unforgettable experience.

“It simply changed my life,'' said Rodríguez, now doing consulting work on corporate communications in Miami.

She says that the plight of many Mariel refugees remains seared in her memory and that the exodus made her realize just how terrible the Castro regime was.

“I saw people who were taken from mental hospitals,'' Rodríguez recalled in a recent interview. “Many of them were dazed. They asked questions like `when is the doctor going to see me?' They were not even aware that they were in another country. That's when I realized the monstrosity of .''

While many top South Florida officials came to deal with Mariel, Odio is perhaps the one whose name is more closely linked to the event.

That's because he ran the Orange Bowl refugee shelter and the tent city under Interstate 95. To this day, thousands of Mariel refugees recognize Odio on the street and stop to thank him for his help.

When Odio talked to El Nuevo Herald recently at La Carreta in Key Biscayne, the waiter who took the order remembered Odio from the time he arrived in Miami as a Mariel refugee himself.

At the time, Odio was a young official, recently hired as assistant city manager during Ferre's administration. Odio had been in that position for four months when Mariel erupted.

It was his baptism by fire.

The boatlift exploded in Odio's life during one morning in late April 1980 when the first wave of boats began unloading refugees at Key West.

The federal immigration official who called Odio was desperate to find out where the refugees could be held while they awaited processing for formal admission into the United States.

“The call came just before lunch,'' Odio recalled. “Immigration called and said `we have a problem.' ''

Odio said the immigration official told him that many Cuban refugees were coming aboard boats and that authorities did not have a big enough space to hold them. He advised that they be taken to the Manuel Artime Community Center in Little Havana, named after the civilian leader of the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

“I picked that place because it was in Little Havana and the refugees were Cuban and their relatives probably lived nearby,'' Odio explained. “I went there to receive the refugees and from that moment my life changed. I worked literally 24 hours a day on the issue.''


When Odio arrived at Artime, a crowd had gathered outside — mostly relatives of the arriving refugees. The large number of relatives calmed his fears that the refugee wave would swamp city resources.

But Odio's initial optimism faded when he saw some of the passengers on the first boats.

“It was an example of what Fidel Castro was sending us,'' Odio said. “Criminals and crazies, who had no families here. I began to worry.''

As more boats arrived, Artime was swamped.

“We immediately started looking for another place,'' Odio said.

He and his county counterpart, Pereira, got together and Pereira moved the refugees to the grounds of the Dade County Youth Fair in west Miami-Dade.

“We responded admirably despite having a 10 percent increase in the population in just 31 days,'' Pereira recalled.

Ferre, then Miami's mayor, telephoned the White House and asked for an appointment with then- Jimmy Carter.

Ferre was told Vice President Walter Mondale would receive him.

The next morning, Ferre was on a plane to the nation's capital.

“I sat for over an hour waiting for the vice president who was meeting with senior officials on Mariel in the Roosevelt Room of the White House,'' Ferre said.

When the meeting broke up, Mondale approached Ferre and told him a National Security Council aide would see him instead.

“My question to federal officials was `what are you guys going to do?' '' Ferre recalled.

U.S. officials told Ferre they were prepared to stop the exodus by preventing exiles from leaving Florida for Mariel to pick up relatives.

Ferre said he urged federal officials to use caution, and argued in favor of admitting the Mariel refugees.

“I said `you have to be very careful,' '' Ferre said. “And I also said, `I think you ought to let these people in.' ''


Meanwhile, back in Miami, local officials were growing alarmed because the Carter Administration did not seem to be reacting forcefully.

“The federal government was totally unprepared,'' Stierheim said recently. “As a result, local governments really had to step in and relieve the problem.''

While Stierheim remains upset about the federal response, he praised the reaction of the Cuban exiles. “The community showered us with tons of donations in supplies for the arriving refugees,'' he said.

Though the days of the boatlift were “very dark indeed,'' in the end “our county emerged stronger from the experience.''

Stierheim and Ferre said Miami and Miami-Dade County worked closely together to deal with the exodus. Both remembered setting up a city-county executive crisis committee on which various officials worked together to respond to the exodus.

“We met periodically to assess the situation and needs,'' Stierheim said.

Local officials received substantial help from Cuban exiles, particularly young Cuban-Americans eager to welcome the refugees.

Among the young volunteers was Rodríguez, a of Miami sociology student who later became a senior State Department official under former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Rodríguez served at some of the main refugee processing sites including Opa-locka and Krome.

At Opa-locka, she was assigned to interview arriving refugees and gather basic information from them.

She had a lot of empathy toward the arriving refugees because she herself had fled Cuba with her sister and brother under the Pedro Pan program that brought 14,048 unaccompanied Cuban children to the U.S. mainland 50 years ago.

She was also hoping to see her mother, who had stayed behind in Cuba, among the arrivals. She never did. Her mother died in Cuba last year.

Her most memorable moment came when a young boy sneezed as she interviewed him and his relatives.

“I said `Jesús,' to the boy, which in Cuba meant `bless you' after someone sneezes, and the boy turned to me and said, all serious, `My name is not Jesús, it's Carlos,' '' Rodríguez recalled. “Then the mother reminded him about how back in Cuba they used to kneel and pray at night and he was not supposed to talk about it.

“That stayed with me because it shed light on the oppression and fear people in Cuba suffered under the regime.''

After Opa-locka, Rodríguez went to work for the Public Service, which established a clinic to check arriving refugees. By the time the exodus wound down, Rodríguez had become director of the PHS clinic at Krome.

A closed Cold War missile basis, Krome was reopened as a processing and detention center as Mariel unfolded. Siro del Castillo became Krome camp commander at some point working for the State Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“After 30 years, the legacy of Mariel is everywhere in the Cuban community in the United States in all fields, economic, cultural, social,'' Del Castillo said recently.


“Also, today there is no more talk of the “Marielitos'' as a separate and distinct class of Cuban refugees. Today they are assimilated into society, like all immigrant groups in the past. They are doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, fully integrated.''

As more and more refugees arrived, it became obvious that a big place was needed to hold them.

On May 2, the Orange Bowl stadium opened as a temporary refugee shelter. Refugees housed there were bused in from Key West and then to Opa-locka Airport where immigration officials formally processed them, releasing those who had relatives.

By then it was clear the exodus was unstoppable, that it was going to continue for weeks or months. It went on until Sept. 26, when the boatlift officially ended.

In July, Miami began emptying the Orange Bowl of refugees. The city formally shut down the stadium as a refugee shelter on Aug. 10 to make way for football season.

Many of the refugees were then relocated to the tent city under I-95, where Odio became a fixture in media interviews.

Odio said the I-95 tent city was a deliberate effort to send a message to the rest of the nation that Miami needed help.

The site opened on July 29, days before the Orange Bowl was vacated.

Eventually, unsponsored refugees were taken to other sites, including Krome, as well as military bases and prisons elsewhere in the country.

Mariel was traumatic for South Florida, Odio said — but it also prepared the community to deal more efficiently with future crises, including the exodus of 1994.

On balance, Odio and other former officials said, Miami and Miami-Dade benefited from Mariel because the majority of the refugees went on to become successful citizens.

“Mariel was very bad in the beginning, but it was very good in the end,'' Ferre summed up. “The vast majority of these people were honest, decent, hard working, industrious people . . . who are now doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs and who really uplifted the community.''

Cuban rafters Remember Tugboat Massacre

Cuban rafters Remember Tugboat MassacreBy Pam McLennanEpoch Times Staff Jul 13, 2009

OTTAWA—To commemorate the 15-year anniversary of the infamous Tugboat Massacre, Juan Carlos brought a makeshift raft to Parliament Hill on Monday similar to the one he had used on the open sea to escape from Cuba in 1994.

Carlos is a "," one of thousands who fled Cuba in 1994 after Fidel Castro declared that people were free to leave the country without reprisal. He used a combination of innertubes and wood to cobble a raft that would take him to the United States and escape what he saw as Castro's oppressive regime.

Speaking on the Hill, Carlos, a resident of Guelph, said that at 17 he was badly beaten for using a public washroom that was designated for use by tourists only.

"From that day on I have been very angry. I wonder how Canadians would feel if they were beaten for using a public washroom in their own country but which foreign people are allowed to use. I won't welcome in my country until the Castro government is over. I would like to tell the Canadian people that the only thing you are doing by going to resorts in Cuba is hurting the Cuban people."

Carlos languished in Guantanamo Bay along with 32,000 other expatriate Cubans, awaiting their fate while Castro and then- Bill Clinton took nearly a year to negotiate a revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act, the outcome of which was the "dry foot wet foot" policy of May 2, 1995.

This policy states that Cubans who flee to the U.S. will be accepted if they make it to dry land. If they are stopped while on the waters between the U.S. and Cuba they will be sent back.

Eventually Carlos was sent to Spain. He subsequently lived in the U.S. and then , where he married a Canadian woman.Tugboat Massacre

In the Tugboat Massacre that occurred on July 13, 1994, 41 people died, nine of whom were children, the youngest a 5-month-old baby called Hellen Martinez Enriquez.

The small wooden vessel left the port of Havana and was about seven miles out to sea when it was ambushed by four state-owned boats. The larger metal-hulled boats encircled the tug. Two of the boats stopped the tug and repeatedly rammed its hull until it split and began taking on water.

In the meantime the other two boats, which were equipped with firefighting hoses, were spraying the people on deck, driving many overboard and others to flee to the cargo hold.

Witnesses claim that the four boats then repeatedly drove around the sinking vessel at high speed to create a whirlpool that sucked those floundering in the sea under the water and to cause the tug to sink even faster, while continuing to spray both the people and the boat with high-powered jets of water.

No attempts were made to help the people on board the tug or to rescue those who were in the water despite the presence of a government Coast Guard cutter. Only when a Greek liner happened upon the scene did the Coast Guard start to pull people from the sea.

The old tug, named 13 de Marzo (13 March), sank and in the end, of the 72 people that were on board, only 31 survived. No bodies were returned to their families as the Cuban government refused to recover the victims' bodies.

The incident has been recounted by the survivors and investigated by numerous agencies including Amnesty International and the UN Rapporteur on Cuba.

The Cuban government claimed that the tugboat sank because of an accident that occurred as the state-owned boats tried to stop a fleeing stolen vessel, and that there was no deliberate attempt to sink the tug.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights however, saw it differently.

"The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to life of the 41 people who were shipwrecked and perished as a result of the sinking of the tug 13 de Marzo … for violating the personal integrity of the 31 persons who survived the sinking of the tug … as a consequence of the emotional trauma it caused," stated a report by the commission.

"The Cuban State is responsible for violating the right to of movement and the right to a fair trial of the 72 people who attempted to flee Cuba…"'Canada has huge leverage'

Asdrúbal Caner, a representative of the Social Democratic Party of Cuba, is also a rafter. It took Caner four days during stormy weather to cross from Santiago to Guantanamo Bay in August 1994. Without or water for most of the trip, he weighed just 45 kg (100 pounds) when the U.S rescued him.

Caner says that while about 800,000 Canadian tourists visit Cuba each year, tourism doesn't benefit the people of Cuba much. The money mainly goes to the Cuban government to support the armed regime and keep the people oppressed.

One family of expat Cubans attending the event were from Switzerland. Miguel Figuerola, his wife Susana Gonzalez, and their son Dennis Figuerola left Cuba when Miguel got a job with the U.N.

They said the Canadian government is in some ways complicit in the difficult life that Cubans live, as Canada is Cuba's second highest trading partner and has invested in Cuban businesses including Sherrit International (nickel and oil).

Despite the fact that Canadian businesses create jobs for Cubans, Figuerola says that the people aren't paid directly by the companies. The monies are collected and distributed by the Castro government, which use it to support the .

Toronto resident Lazaro Gonzalez's father was a rafter as well. His father was sentenced to 28 years in jail in the 1960s for speaking publicly against the communist regime. After 18 years in Castro freed all prisoners and allowed them to leave the country. His father boarded a raft and was never heard from again.

Gonzalez said he was fired from his job as a professor of economics at Havana when it was discovered that his father had been a political .

Nelson sol Taylor, the Ottawa representative of the Cuban Canadian Foundation, said that Canada is the biggest in Cuba and he would like to hear the Canadian government publicly denounce the Castro regime as murderers and thugs, and to have a similar policy of sanctions against the Cuban government much like the U.S. has.

"We think that Canada is a very important country to change what is happening in Cuba, as Canada has huge leverage that they could apply to Cuba. People ask why is Canada not doing anything," he said.

"We would like Canada to publicly state support for the Cuban dissidents. Some are in jail as prisoners of conscience, recognized by AI, and we would like Canada to officially and publicly recognize the Cuban Opposition movement in the same way that Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is supported. That would really encourage the Cuban people."

As for Carlos, he said he plans to keep returning to the Hill each year on the anniversary of the Tugboat Massacre.

"My plan is to do this every year at this time until the Canadian government allows us to testify in front of the Canadian parliament and say what we have witnessed as survivors of the genocide the Cuban government has been committing for the past 50 years."

Epoch Times – Cuban 'rafters' Remember Tugboat Massacre (13 July 2009)

Cuba going gray

Cuba going grayShrinking population, long life expectancy may be demographic time bomb.

HAVANA — This country reached a tipping point in 2006. It wasn't any one event in particular, but according to Cuba's Office of National Statistics, the island's population of 11.2 million stopped growing that year, and dipped slightly. And it has been falling ever since.

Cuba's population is projected to decrease by 100,000 by 2025, and the arithmetic behind that decline is a simple matter of subtraction: More and more Cubans are leaving the island, and Cuban mothers are having fewer children. The country's fertility rate of 1.4 children per woman ranks as the lowest in Latin America.

The statistics highlight a risky demographic experiment that has been developing here for years.

While Cuba's socialist care system takes good care of the elderly and has prolonged life expectancy rates, the island's lousy — squeezed by U.S. trade sanctions and its own inefficiencies — is driving young people to emigrate, while limiting family size.

As a result, senior citizens will be one of the fast-growing sectors of Cuba's population in the coming decades. Life expectancy in Cuba is now 75 years for men and 79 for women, roughly on par with the United States, where those figures are 75 and 80, respectively, according to United Nations statistics. By 2025, according a recent article on the topic in Cuba's communist newspaper Granma, 26 percent of Cubans will be 60 or older — the highest percentage of seniors in Latin America.

This, according to Granma, should be viewed as a success, rather than a burden: "Analysts agree that the aging of country's population shouldn't be seen as a negative thing, but as an achievement of the political, economic, and social systems that provide longer lives and better quality of life."

Cuba's health care system provides generally high-quality care for free, and government social workers organize exercise groups and other activities for Cuban seniors. Their morning calisthenics sessions are a common sight in Havana's parks.

But the presence of many elderly Cubans selling goods on the streets or doing odd jobs is a reminder that Cuba's pension and social security system fails to provide for many who reach retirement age here.

"I've got no other choice," said Antonio, an 80-year-old retired butcher selling plastic bags, cigarettes and government-rationed toothpaste at an outdoor market in one of the capital's more run-down neighborhoods. He said his social security payment from the government was 200 pesos a month, or about $9. "It's not enough to live on," said Antonio, fanning himself with a piece of cardboard on a sweltering morning.

The 200 pesos didn't last him a week, he said. "A pound of lemons is 10 pesos," he said. "A mango costs 7 pesos. A papaya is 15."

Under Cuba's socialist system, Antonio's , utilities and other basic needs are all subsidized by the government. But with the island's population declining, there will be fewer working-age adults whose labor can support such a system in the future.

Cuban families are generally small, partly as a result of the country's low wages and persistent housing shortages. But the social and cultural advancements of Cuban women in recent decades are another reason that the island's birthrate is on par with that of many European countries. Birth control and abortion services are free and widely available, and despite generous maternity benefits, many Cuban women are professionals who choose to delay childbirth.

Women accounted for 65.6 percent of the island's professional and technical workers in 2007, according Cuba's state-run media.

Concerned by these demographic trends, the Cuban government has created a task force to promote larger families, but unlike some European countries with similar programs, it can't afford to offer much in the way of material incentives.

Then there is the other major drain on the island's workforce: An increasing number of Cubans, many of them young people, are leaving.

The number of Cubans who emigrated in 2008 reached 36,903, according to Cuba's National Statistics Office, the highest one-year total since the 1994 crisis.

The actual figure may be even higher, as some 49,500 Cuban immigrants became U.S. permanent residents last year, and significant numbers of Cubans are also going to and other Latin American countries. So many Cubans have arrived in Ecuador recently that the country changed its laws to screen out the fraudulent marriage arrangements that have been used by thousands to gain residency there.

The brain drain of many of the country's best-educated and most productive workers is a phenomenon has likened to "brain theft," and the government tries to stem the process by requiring Cubans to apply for permission to outside the country. But with the island's anemic economy further weakened by the global recession, the outflow is likely to continue.

Cuba going gray | GlobalPost (8 July 2009)

Medicare crooks like Cuba — why?

Posted on Thursday, 02.05.09OPINION | MYRIAM MARQUEZMedicare crooks like Cuba — why?BY MYRIAM [email protected]

What would make Darvis Lázaro Leal think he could get back to Miami after skipping out to Cuba while under investigation for healthcare fraud?

Leal, 30, returned last week from Cuba via Costa Rica. He was immediately at Miami International on a warrant issued last year on an indictment under seal on charges of operating a pharmacy in 2006 that filed $425,000 in false Medicare claims for medical supplies that were never prescribed by doctors or used by patients.

What would make Jorge Ramirez, a former owner of a Miami clinic that treated blood disorders and was charged with defrauding Medicare of — gulp — $42.2 million, think he could get back here after taking off for Cuba?


Ramirez, 41, was allegedly working with others the FBI believes are back in Cuba after defrauding — big gulp — $420 million from Medicare. The phony claims involved 85 medical equipment companies that never provided a wheelchair, a respirator or any other life-saving equipment to a single patient. Ramirez was arrested at the airport on Dec. 12 and his case is pending. His two co-defendants are — where else? — in Cuba.

As Miami Herald reporter Jay Weaver's Medicare Racket series exposed last year, at least half of South Florida's Medicare fugitives are believed to be back in Cuba. There are at least 60 Cuban scam artists believed to have collectively bilked more than a billion dollars from taxpayers through medical businesses that helped no one. They took off to Cuba when the government started to put 2 and 2 million together.

That it took so long to figure out that clinics weren't treating patients and equipment companies weren't selling equipment is another example of the federal bureaucratic maze that strangles us with skyrocketing insurance fees and Medicare costs. Without targeting sufficient federal money to investigate medical companies and healthcare providers at the front end, we end up chasing after fat-cat crooks once they've cashed in their government checks.

It's lunacy.

The most notorious are the Benitez brothers — Carlos, Luis and Jose — who are accused of filing $119 million in false claims for infusion therapy, a treatment that's questionable at best and no longer standard practice. They were living the good life in the Dominican Republic — all on the backs of taxpayers who actually work and pay our taxes.

When the feds went after them in Santo Domingo, they ran off

to — conga drums, please –



So what would make these folks — most of them who arrived in

the 1990s — think they can break the law and then fly back like


It's a question that nags because Cuba is a closed society. Leaving it, legally at least, isn't easy. Ask any poor who made it out alive. There are thousands in Cuba who have U.S. visas, but the Cuban regime has yet to issue exit papers.

Leal allegedly got $260,918 in Medicare payments. That's a lot of money to spend in Cuba, where the average salary is $20 a month. He supposedly was a clothing salesman, selling goods to and from Cuba and Costa Rica. Uh-huh.

Sure, call it just another exile conspiracy theory. But after 50 years of Castro rule, after dozens of American felons and murderers have been welcomed with open arms in Havana, it's not far-fetched that Medicare scammers would

be living the high life in Cuba

with a nod from the Castro


Festival will commemorate anniversary of Cuban American National Foundation’s Exodo

CUBAN EXILES | EXODOFestival will commemorate anniversary of Cuban American National Foundation's ExodoFESTIVAL HONORS PROGRAM THAT BROUGHT THOUSANDS OF CUBANS TO THE U.S.Posted on Sun, Sep. 21, 2008BY ALFONSO [email protected]

Marcial Rodríguez was 15 when his parents made a fateful decision.

They sent him alone to another country to spare him conscription in the Cuban military.

As Marcial approached military age, he was put on a plane to Panama.

He never returned to his homeland.

Instead, Marcial stayed in Panama and eventually resettled in Miami — one of more than 10,000 Cubans living in third countries who were brought to the United States under the Cuban American National Foundation's Exodo program.

Voyages like that of Marcial Rodríguez will be recalled Sunday when foundation officials will mark the 20th anniversary of the program during a six-hour festival starting at noon at Tropical Park, 7900 SW 40th St. Price is $5 per person with children 12 and under free. Proceeds will go to victims of hurricanes, according to the foundation.

''Exodo exceeded our expectations,'' said Francisco ''Pepe'' Hernández, the foundation , who signed the accord that created the program in 1988 with Alan Nelson, then Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner.

Initially conceived to bring about 1,500 Cubans, Exodo ended up transporting about 10,200 during a four- to five-year period, Hernández said.

In the aftermath of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, and before the advent of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, Cuban refugees in third countries were generally barred from entering the United States without documents. Those who made it across the Florida Straits were rescued from rafts and other vessels and brought ashore.

It wasn't until the Clinton administration negotiated new migration accords with Cuba to end the 1994 crisis that wet-foot/dry-foot emerged. It enables undocumented Cubans to enter the United States and stay as long as they touch U.S. soil.

Most of those interdicted at sea are now returned to Cuba.

The third-country escape route had its genesis in the start of the Mariel boatlift when more than 10,000 Cubans occupied the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking asylum.

Eventually, most of the embassy Cubans were allowed to leave for Peru and other countries while more than 125,000 other Cubans headed to the United States on boats.

Soon, the Cubans in Peru and other countries discovered they could not to the United States without immigrant visas.

Hernández said that after foundation officials visited a tent city in Lima, Peru, where Cuban refugees lived in squalor, the group began pressuring the Reagan Administration to grant visas to third-country Cubans.

Four years after the Lima trip, Hernández said, the Exodo accord took effect following a White House ceremony.

''We signed an agreement with the immigration department to provide for , employment and two years of insurance for the refugees,'' said Hernández, alluding to the program's chief goal of ensuring that Exodo participants not seek welfare payments or stamps.

Hernández said none of the Exodo participants became a public charge during the existence of the program.

The foundation found sponsors among relatives and others in the community who agreed to provide newly-arrived refugees with jobs and private subsidies.

The first Exodo refugee, a cancer patient in Panama, arrived Sept. 3, 1988 — four months after Hernández and Nelson signed the accord.

Eventually more than 1,000 Cuban refugees stuck in Panama arrived, including Marcial Rodríguez, who landed at Miami International on April 10, 1990 — about 10 months after leaving Cuba.

''My parents decided I had to leave Cuba in 1989,'' Rodríguez, now 35, said in a recent interview. “I left on May 30, 1989 and went to Panama, alone. I was 15.''

It was an emotional farewell at José Martí International Airport in Havana.

''My mother was kissing me goodbye and crying,'' he recalled. “My father was crying and my sister and I, and even a neighbor who had a car and had taken us to the airport was crying. We were all crying and hugging before I got on the plane and I kept crying as the plane took off.''

Rodríguez said the reason his parents wanted him out of Cuba was because he was approaching military age and would have been barred from leaving the island until he turned 22.

''There was a chance to send me away then and they didn't want me to miss it,'' Rodríguez recalled.

Rodríguez moved in with a family in Panama City who were related to an aunt.

He missed his parents terribly at first — but was eventually more excited about being out of Cuba for the first time.

''I called them once a week and cried every time I talked to them,'' he said. “I missed them because it was the first time I was away from them, not living with them. It was the first time outside Cuba. First time in a new country. First time for a lot of things, but all of that also gave me a sense of adventure. It changed my life for the better.''

It was also a tense time in Panama as the United States stepped up pressure on the country's leader, Manuel Noriega, to step down. When Noriega refused repeated demands to quit, U.S. forces invaded.

''I was still in Panama when the fighting broke out,'' Rodríguez recalled. “I saw combat. I heard gunfire. I saw looting, a complete disaster.''

Months after Noriega was toppled and calm returned, Rodríguez joined a group of more than 30 Cuban children stranded in Panama and on that April day in 1990 the contingent boarded a plane to Miami.

The arrival of the children evoked memories among Miami exiles of the Pedro Pan operation in the 1960s when more than 14,000 Cuban children were secretly spirited out of Cuba by their parents so they would not grow up under communism.

The next day, El Nuevo Herald recorded the arrival on the front-page.

'Applause and screams of `there they are!' and 'they've arrived!' reverberated throughout the airport when the Eastern Airlines plane taxied to the building,'' El Nuevo reported.

Among the other youths who arrived on the same plane was 18-year-old Yurizán Herrera who had not seen her mother, Grisel, in 10 years.

The second Grisel spotted Yurizán she ran to kiss and hug her daughter who fainted after the embrace, according to the account in El Nuevo.

''Enthusiasm overcame her and she fainted,'' Joaquín del Cueto of Metro-Dade Fire Rescue was quoted as saying.

Once here, Rodríguez enrolled at South Miami High — but dropped out to start earning money.

Initially, he worked a series of odd jobs from roof repair to a dairy plant. Today, Rodríguez drives a truck.

He is the father of two children, ages 4 and 12. His parents arrived in Miami two years after he arrived from Panama.

''All of us are now together,'' he said.

Cubans caught in the eye of political storm

Cubans caught in the eye of political stormPosted on Sun, Sep. 14, 2008BY MYRIAM [email protected]

More than a half-million homes destroyed. Three-hundred bridges collapsed. Six-hundred municipal water wells wiped out. Almost a third of Cuba's population without electricity.

Bananas, sugar, yams, vast fields of — all gone.

After getting battered from one end of the island to the other by back-to-back hurricanes, Cubans are crying out for help. The risk of water-borne diseases, bacterial outbreaks, viruses and malnutrition is mounting.

But their leaders and ours keep going in circles, sizing up one another to see how they can gain the political advantage out of hurricanes estimated to have done billions of dollars in damage.

And there the Cuban people are: hungry, tired, yearning to be free — propelled into the eye of this latest political storm.

The U.S. government quickly approved $10 million in aid to Haiti and sent planeloads of supplies as one million were left homeless there from recent hurricanes. And more U.S. aid is coming.


But for communist Cuba the Bush administration offered a paltry $100,000 quick hit, dangling the carrot of millions of dollars in aid if a U.S. emergency relief team were allowed into Cuba to assess the damage.

Cuba's response was to call for the end to the decades-old U.S. . No surprise there. Cuba can't get credit lines from U.S. companies under current law, so the regime has to pay in cash for those goods. Good thing, too, because Cuba is infamously bad about paying its debts. Ask Russia, Japan, , Italy and on and on.

For decades, Cuba has mismanaged its and conveniently blamed the U.S. embargo. Make no mistake: The crumbling buildings wiped out during Gustav and Ike were a product of 50 years of the Castro brothers' neglect, exacerbated by wind and water.

So that's the lousy history, and we all know it. The question is: Why do we keep repeating it?

Because while the two governments are pointing fingers and the exile community keeps arguing over who's right on how to end the dictatorship, millions of desperate people are being held hostage to hunger and homelessness.

Cuba's foreign ministry pooh-poohed the U.S. aid offer as one more example that the U.S. government “behaves cynically. . . . They lie unscrupulously.''


Well, yes, tit for tat. Apparently Cuban officials are fretting that American emergency aid experts would be checking out the Cuban countryside. What are they hiding? Old Soviet missiles unearthed by the storms?

It's not unusual for governments helping others to send assessment teams.

But there's nothing usual about U.S.-Cuba relations. It's bitter and nasty, and the Castros thrive on it.

So let's call the regime's bluff.

Already religious charities are scrambling to assemble shipments for Cuba and Haiti. They know from past assistance efforts that Cuba's militant regime has the structure — beginning with those spying block committees — to get basic aid, food and medicine to the masses quickly.

What's another option? Starve the Cubans until they somehow, after five decades of revolutionary propaganda, rise up and free themselves using scraps of lumber and metal from their demolished homes as their weapons?

Think U.S. national security. If this war of words escalates and aid to Cuba from other countries likely falls short, we can expect another crisis.

And once again, the Castro brothers will have released the escape valve and saved themselves.

Cubans continue to cross Straits despite many dangers

Cubans continue to cross Straits despite many dangersRay Sanchez | Direct from HavanaJune 29, 2008HAVANA

Marta and 14-year-old son Anselmo packed a navy-blue knapsack with bottled water, cheese, crackers, hand towels, sugar, sunscreen and a miniature ceramic Our Lady of Charity, Cuba's patron saint.

"She'll protect us," said Marta, a 47-year-old medical lab technician who asked that her full name not be used for fear of reprisal. "Anything happens, I'm with my son."

"Nothing can go wrong. We're going to El Yuma," said Anselmo, using Cuban slang for the United States. His confidence gave away their inexperience. It was their first attempt to leave Cuba by sea.

New tragedies on the Florida Straits do little to deter other mothers and sons from packing a bag and heading into the tropical night. U.S. officials said the number of Cubans trying to cross the Straits is rising.

In fiscal 2007, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 2,868 Cubans at sea, the highest total since the crisis in 1994, when more than 37,000 left the island. Since Oct. 1, 1,733 Cubans have been interdicted, compared with 1,547 a year earlier.

In April, Cuban reggaeton artist Elvis Manuel, 18, perished at sea when the smuggling vessel carrying him, his mother and other migrants overturned near the Florida coast. His mother, Irioska Maria Nodarse, survived and, in anguish and shock, returned to Cuba on an American Coast Guard vessel.

On June 16, Vivian America Sanchez Cabrera and her 10-year-old son, Jorge Luis Nunez Sanchez, sat side-by-side on a rowboat packed with Florida-bound migrants. Their vessel was rammed by a smuggler's speedboat. The rowboat overturned. Sanchez Cabrera lost sight of her only son, whose body was recovered beneath the capsized vessel.

"I wanted to leave because of him," said Sanchez Cabrera, 44, back in the rural community of La Sierra in Villa Clara province after being rescued by the Cuban coast guard. "I wanted only a better future for him. I waited for him to get a little older to make this trip."

U.S. diplomats said 70 percent of the migrants are young people between 18 and 35 years old. They said the figures show Cubans have little faith life would improve under , who officially succeeded ailing brother Fidel as in February.

Havana accuses the United States of encouraging Cubans to risk their lives at sea by granting residence to those who reach American soil. Visa applications can take between three and seven years. Thousands of Cubans who left over the years still have wives, husbands and children on the island.

"I love my father and I want to be close to him as soon as possible," said Abel Lazaro Gonzalez, 16, who survived the June 16 smuggling attempt that killed the 10-year-old boy and Yudersi Rosabal Rodriguez, 19, of the central city of Sagua la Grande.

Gonzalez, whose father lives in Miami, stood at the bedside of his mother, Julia Maria Santana, a 41-year-old nurse. She was recovering at a in Sagua la Grande, a three-hour drive east of Havana, from arm and leg injuries suffered in the escape attempt. Both left open the possibility of another try.

In Havana, Marta and Anselmo took their knapsack and boarded a Russian-made sedan for the drive to Sagua la Grande.

From there, smugglers would take them to a departure point on the northern coast of Cuba. In northern New Jersey, relatives they haven't seen in years were waiting.

"We know the danger," Marta said. "Anything happens, we'll be together.

Ray Sánchez can be reached at [email protected].,0,5788239.column?track=rss

Cuban migrant interdictions exceed 1,000 so far this year

Cuban migrant interdictions exceed 1,000 so far this year

The number of Cuban migrant interdictions so far this year by the U.S. Coast Guard has exceeded 1,000.

Figures posted by the U.S. Coast Guard on its website – show that as of Tuesday at least 1,093 Cuban migrants had been picked up by the Coast Guard since Jan. 1.

While the figure does not set a record, it illustrates the ongoing departures from Cuba of undocumented migrants hoping to reach U.S. soil. About 1,005 Cuban migrants were picked up by the Coast Guard during the first five months of 2007.

Since took ill in July 2006, the number of Cuban migrants leaving the island has steadily increased – though no mass exodus has occurred.

If another 1,000 Cubans are interdicted in the Florida Straits in the next six months, the total for the year will be somewhat similar to the total number of interdictions in 2006 when 2,293 Cuban migrants were stopped at sea.

The 3,197 Cuban migrants stopped at sea last year was the highest number of interdictions in a single year since the 1994 exodus when at least 37,191 migrants were spotted in the Florida Straits.

Under the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, undocumented Cuban migrants stopped at sea are generally returned to the island while those who make it ashore are allowed to stay.

– Alfonso Chardy

June 10, 2008 in Emmigration

Google Adsense


July 2011
« Jun    
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Google Adsense