An Artful Visit to Cuba Made EasyBy Dan Saltzstein
For those looking for a cultural taste of Havana, the Katonah Museum of Art, in Katonah, N.Y., is offering a week-long, art-themed package trip starting Jan. 17. Reservations are being accepted through Oct. 19. (The museum expects a maximum of 60 people.)
Though the Obama administration has eased restrictions for American citizens with family members in Cuba, and some agencies offer package trips through Mexico or Canada, a visit to the island is still a difficult proposition for the average traveler.
The museum’s package, which was organized with the help of Project Services, an organization that coordinates humanitarian-based trips and has secured the visas for this program, costs $4,400 per person for a dual-occupancy room, and $4,600 for single-occupancy. A donation of $700 to the museum is included in that cost, as are entry visas, rooms at the Parque Central hotel and airfare from Miami to Havana (you’ll have to get yourself to Miami, though).Highlights of the trip include a walking tour of Old Havana, visits to the studios of local artists, and a side trip to the village of Cojimar, the location of Ernest Hemingway’s one-time estate, Finca Vigía.
Yesterday in Havana, Juanes and more than a dozen other artists from within and outside Cuba played to an audience of hundreds of thousands of Cubans gathered in the Plaza de la Revolucion (not to mention those throughout Cuba who watched the concert live on television) for a daylong Peace Without Borders concert. The popular Colombian singer just wanted to advance the cause of peace, he said.
True to form, there were some in Miami who criticized the concert - but there were quite a few who supported it. One anti-Juanes group, Vigilia Mambisa, brought out a steamroller with which to crush CDs with Juanes' name on them. In Miami and Washington, the media rushed to cover the concert “controversy”. And it got so whipped up that Univision's Jorge Ramos asked in his one-on-one interview with the President this weekend if the concert had his "blessing."
Juanes is a good musician, the President demurred, but the United States is not a concert promoter.
And then he said this: "I think what's gonna be more important is, as we have now opened up travel restrictions and remittance restrictions to Cuba. What I'd really like to see is Cuba starting to show that it wants to move away from some of the anti-democratic practices of the past."
That statement was shockingly out of touch with the reality of U.S.-Cuban relations today.
First, a technicality – and a big one. The President said we have “opened up” travel and remittances restrictions to Cuba. That of course is only a true statement for Cuban Americans, who make up less than half of one percent of Americans across this country. You can’t exactly call that “opening up” travel and remittances to Cuba.
But the President’s remark suggests he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the Cuban government considers the loosening of travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban Americans to be a gesture aimed not for diplomatic engagement with Havana, but to score political points in Little Havana. Raul Castro has also made it clear he’ll talk about anything with the United States; but that Cuba’s internal affairs are not negotiable.
So what exactly, if anything, does the President really expect to gain by calling on Cuba to reciprocate –with democratic reforms – a non-gesture from the United States?
The United States can and should try to dialogue with Cuba about opening greater economic and political freedom and opportunity for the Cuban people. But let’s not harbor illusions about how to advance the cause. Dialogue starts with really listening to the other actor – not making public demands we know won’t be met under present circumstances. The more the President sets lofty expectations for Cuba, the more he undermines them.
Frankly, it’s foolish to expect that the Cuban government will take any real risk it doesn’t need to without a real shift in U.S. policy on the line. Where’s the shift? Current restrictions on Cuba are still tougher than they were when Mr. Obama’s predecessor took office eight years ago.
What possible incentive does Raul Castro have to respond to a President who hasn’t even rolled back most of President Bush’s new restrictions – whether it’s the ongoing ban on people-to-people exchanges, continued harassment of third country banks that accept Cuban dollars, or this Administration’s gratuitous adherence to the single strictest U.S. agriculture export policy toward any other country on earth?
After fifty years, Cuba has learned to live without us. At the rate this Administration is going, we might just be here another fifty.
Source: The Havana Note
The picture above shows an emotional Maria Elvira after handing Olga Tañon a bouquet of flowers and thanking her for Sunday's performance [video]. Maria Elvira is immediately overwhelmed by emotions, crying and thanking Tañon "because you mentioned Miami, because you mentioned el exilio." She also gave thanks on behalf of her mother, a Cuban exile.
For weeks Maria Elvira Live! has produced an endless amount of programming analyzing the Peace without Borders concert. It was typical to see on her show some of the most hard-line figures in Miami opposed to the concert, but at some point Maria Elvira herself began seeing beyond the rhetoric, and saw hope. Hope that Cubans (exiled or not) would enjoy a wonderful concert, and maybe decide that it was time for change.
Time will tell what change brings.
Another very interesting thing also happened last night. Maria Elvira again interviewed Miguel Saavedra, leader of Vigilia Mambisa who organized a protest in Miami on Sunday, where they destroyed music CDs by participants of the Peace without Borders concert.
Saavedra was on the defensive [video]. He mentioned that it was not time for Cuban exiles to change, that they need to stay militant, and it is the others ("the leftists") that need to change. Saavedra even believed that the Peace without Borders was nothing special because hundreds of thousands of Cubans would have gone to any other concert held in Cuba. According to Saavedra, Cubans have "nothing else to do" and would pack a concert festival because "its the new thing."
Saavedra is revealing his great ignorance here. There was another large music concert not long ago in Cuba in 2005 by the rock band Audioslave. That concert was described as "historic" gathering about 50-60 thousand young Cubans, but if we go by Saavedra's logic, then that concert should have gathered a similar number of concert-goers as Sunday's concert because Cubans have "nothing else to do" and "its the new thing." I personally believe Saavedra revealed his utter contempt for the people of Cuba.
Anway, despite Saavedra being constantly on the defensive (taking many opportunities to describe Maria Elvira as a communist, or a friend of communists), near the end of the interview Saavedra actually proposes the idea of changing the tactics of Vigilia Mambisa! He says that instead of smashing CDs, they should maybe consider aerial banners. Maria Elvira loved the idea. And, I give her a lot of credit for trying to explain to Saavedra how his protests continue to give the Cuban exile community a very bad image in the media.
But, I'm sure Saavedra knows that he needs to change his tactics, especially becuase of recent pressures, such as last month's Bendixen/Cuba Study Group poll [PDF] showing 74% of Cuban-Americans disapproving of Vigilia Mambisa smashing CDs, disapproval (but not condemnation) from leaders within the Cuban exile community, and Sunday's counter-protest from young Cubans at the Versailles Restaurant.
Also, Saavedra most likely knows how poorly Miami has viewed his recent protests. Here's a good video (in Spanish) showing random interviews with Cubans in Miami (two male adults, two female adults, one young woman) all showing their satisfaction with Sunday's Peace concert, one saying that it "shut up" those who opposed the concert, and two saying that those who smashed CD's (Vigilia Mambisa) might be (to put it nicely) a few card short of a full deck.
Now, the big question is: can Maria Elvira get Armando Perez Roura to change?
"Amigos, Ahmadinejad and Gadhafi--You chumps! I go up there and I'm: "The Toast of Manhattan!" Ha-ha!"
Both Ahmadinejad and Gadhafi got many New York doors slammed in their face this week.
"The sorry chumps!" Castro's sides must be hurting as he ponders the scene. "My poor bumbling amigos, Ahmadinejad and Gadhafi! Pull up a chair and lemme tell you how they treat ME up in New York!"
"And remember what my dearly departed little poodle admitted: “If the Missiles had remained, we would have shot them against the very heart of the U.S., including New York city.” (Che Guevara to Sam Russel of the London Daily Worker in November 1962.)
Also remember what that reactionary swine, J. Edgar Hoover nixed just as my fuse neared impact:
"On November 17, 1962, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI cracked a terrorist plot by Castro-Cuban agents who targeted Macy's, Gimbel's, Bloomingdale's and Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. The holocaust was set to go off the following week, the day after Thanksgiving.
"The Hottest Ticket in Manhattan!" read a Newsweek story in Nov. 1995 as Fidel Castro visited New York for the UN's 50th anniversary festivities. The headline hailed the social swirl that engulfed Castro. After the mass-murderer's whooping, hollering, foot-stomping ovation in the General Assembly, he was feted by the New York's best and brightest, hob-knobbing with dozens of Manhattan's glitterati, pundits and power brokers. First, there was dinner at the Council of Foreign Relations. After holding court there for a rapt David Rockefeller along with Robert McNamara, Dwayne Andreas and Random House's Harold Evans, Castro flashed over to Mort Zuckerman's 5th Avenue pad, where a throng of Beltway glitterati, including a breathless Mike Wallace, Peter Jennings, Tina Brown, Bernard Shaw and Barbara Walters all jostled for brief tryst, cooing and gurgling to Castro’s every comment. All clamored for autographs and photo-ops. Diane Sawyer was so overcome in the mass-killer's presence that she rushed up, broke into that toothy smile of hers, wrapped her arms around Castro and smooched him warmly on the cheek.
"You people are the cream of the crop!" beamed the bearded Cuban man of the people to the smiling throng that surrounded him.
"Hear-hear!" chirped the delighted guests while tinkling their wine glasses in appreciation and glee.
And the mass-murderer had barely scratched the surface of his fan club. According to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on that visit, Castro received 250 dinner invitations from Manhattan celebrities and power-brokers.
Fidel's reception at the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 was no less rapturous.
"The trick, amigos Ahmadinejad and Gadhafi, is you gotta have tried to NUKE New York, to INCINERATE THOUSANDS of New York Holiday shoppers!
Then you visit and VOILA! You're feted as: "The TOAST of MANHATTAN!!!" by the very people you indeed tried to Toast!!! Ha-ha!
'You boys gotta lot to learn!"
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
California lawmaker Barbara Lee invited Ricardo Alarcon to Washington for an event that begins Thursday, but the State Department denied him a visa.
My guess is that Alarcon didn't expect a visa and didn't even pack for the trip. He was expecting a rejection all along. This kind of thing is routine.
But Cuban diplomats in Washington are free to lobby members of Congress, the blog said. "Cuban 'diplomats' are even permitted to leave gifts of value in Member's offices."
So it wouldn't be fair, the reasoning goes, to let Alarcon travel to Washington.
It's not that ordinary Cubans aren't generous. They are. But when it comes to diplomacy, I think the scarcity of foreign gifts has to do with both protocol and money.
So even if Alarcon had gotten his visa, he probably wouldn't have arrived with a suitcase full of vintage rum. Instead, he'd probably have a few changes of clothes and some DVDs about the Cuban Five.
...dozens of policy forums, general sessions, exhibits, a job fair, book signings and networking opportunities. It ends with a star-studded awards dinner. Registrants include elected officials, business and industry leaders, celebrities, media, emerging leaders and everyday Americans.
Source: Along the Malecon
Duvall needs funds to make a film in CubaActor-producer Robert Duvall told the Spanish newspaper Público this week that he "was in Cuba two months ago, looking for locations for a film about some fellows who return to Cuba 50 years later to reclaim something."
Fifty years after what? The revolution? To reclaim what? A business? Land? Their youth?
In Spain to promote his latest film, "Get Low," the 78-year-old Duvall was coy and hazy about his Cuban project, dropping tantalizing tidbits here and there.
To the newspaper Ideal, he told the project involves actors James Caan and Al Pacino. Movie buffs may recall that all three appeared in the 1972 classic "The Godfather." That movie's 1974 sequel, "The Godfather: Part II," had Cuba as one of its settings.
The script is ready; all that's missing is money to produce it, Duvall told all his interviewers. If the movie has a working title, he didn't reveal it.
One final question: If the money is found, will Washington allow the project to proceed?
(For background, read our July 30 blog item "High-profile film figures travel to Havana.")
–Renato Pérez Pizarro.
September 22, 2009
Moscow nixed Castro bid for nuclear attack on U.S. during Cold War, new study revealsIn the coldest days of the Cold War, Fidel Castro asked the Soviet Union to stage a nuclear attack on the United States, The New York Times reported Tuesday, citing a newly released historical study.
But "Moscow dissuaded him by patiently explaining how the radioactive cloud resulting from such a strike would also devastate Cuba."
The Russian Army's general staff "had to actively disabuse him of his view, by spelling out the ecological consequences for Cuba of a Soviet strike against the U.S.," says The Times. "That information changed Castro's position considerably."
The revelation appears in a two-volume study, "Soviet Intentions, 1965-1985," prepared in 1995 by a Pentagon contractor and based on long interviews with former Soviet military officials. To read The Times' account, click here.
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Reports Without Borders has more on Anzardo's arrest:
Yosvani Anzardo Hernández
Cuba's independent journalists and bloggers are at the vanguard of the movement for freedom in Cuba. Overcoming political and technological obstacles, the bear witness to the reality of Cuba today.
Which is why, like what happened to Yosvani Anzardo Hernández, they are sometimes arrested by the Castro secret police.
More than a week after his arrest, Anzardo, editor of the Candonga digital magazine, remains in jail.
Read about him here.
Two bloggers, Luis Felipe González Rojas and Yosvany Anzardo Hernández, were arrested and beaten by police in the eastern city of Holguín on 10 September and their computers were confiscated. González was released after four hours but Anzardo is still being held. His detention brings the number of detained journalists in Cuba to 26.
The interview González recently gave to Miami-based Radio Marti was the probable reason for his arrest. He also keeps a blog called Animal de Ancatarilla (www.cubaencuentro.com).
Anzardo is the editor of Candonga (www.candonga.org), an online newspaper for Cubans in Cuba that is currently inaccessible. He has also been reporting for the Miami-based website Payo Libre for more than three years. Payo Libre editor Pablo Rodriguez Carvajal said Anzardo has not been able to communicate with his family since his arrest.
“The authorities are going out of their way to stifle any online expression of the civil society that is emerging in Cuba,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This censorship reflects the government’s refusal to accept the current and future changes on the island, which are escaping its control.”
Be sure to read the whole Reporters Without Borders report, which also details some of the barriers to Internet access on the island.
Source: Uncommon Sense