Tuesday, November 24, 2009

LPP Updates...

Time to Change the Channel?

My Grandfather's Zenith Radio

Earlier this year the GAO issued a set of recommendations for the Office of Cuban Broadcasting's efforts, among them that the Board "should conduct an analysis of the relative success and return on investment of broadcasting to Cuba, showing the cost, nature of the audience, and challenges--such as jamming and competition--related to each of OCB's transmission methods." Given that even President Obama is monitoring the results of an announced increase in Cubans' access to the internet through post offices--and looking for ways to "support the free flow of information within, from, and to Cuba--this review is very timely. Even in Cuba, to quote from a song that is almost as old as our embargo, the times they are a'changin'.
But according to Senator Russ Feingold, the verdict is already in. He resurrected his legendary predecessor William Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award this week (Sen. Feingold calls his effort Spotlight on Spending). And the inaugural winner of a new generation of projects that fleece the public out of their tax dollars: Radio and TV Marti.
But the failure of Radio and TV Marti is not news, the programs that support them having been derided as "pork barrel sinecures." Today, the Washington Post indicates that some of Radio/TV Marti's studio space may be commandeered to support an expansion of Spanish-language Voice of America broadcasts in Central and South America.
Sen. Feingold expects that this issue will be raised during the consideration of President Obama's nominees for the Public Broadcasting Board of Governors, presumably early in the new year. Given the age of some of the nominees, they may want to keep the discussion focused on the future, rather than the past. Not bad advice when considering Cuba, in any case.

In Cuba, a Jobless Person Is a ‘Dangerous’ Person

Laborers work on a building in Havana's old quarters.Desmond Boylan/Reuters Laborers work on a building in Havana’s old quarters.

A report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch on the human rights situation in Cuba takes the government of President Raúl Castro to task for, among other things, jailing those without jobs. The report cited the cases of dozens of people charged with “dangerousness” for being unemployed.
“A person is considered to be in a state of dangerousness due to antisocial behavior if the person … lives, like a social parasite, off the work of others,’’ the report quoted Cuba’s Criminal Code as saying.
Joblessness can be illegal in Cuba but, at the same time, losing one’s job is sometimes used as a punishment by the government, said the report, titled “New Castro, Same Cuba.’’ Those regarded as enemies of the state, the report said, are routinely fired from jobs, denied other employment and levied with fines, all of which put a significant financial burden on their families.
Cuba did not give Human Rights Watch permission to visit the island to investigate the report and has branded it and other similar groups as “mercenaries’’ that engage in “clown acts.’’ (The rights group said it sent investigators to Cuba for a fact-finding mission anyway, however.)
On at least one point, however, the New York-based human rights organization and the Cuban government agree: the need to end the American trade embargo on Cuba.
While Cuba considers it a cruel policy by an imperialist government that makes its citizens suffer, Human Rights Watch called it ineffective in pressuring the Cuban government to change its ways and successful only in imposing even more hardship on everyday Cubans.
Source: New York Times

Opening arms and ears to Cuban Music

Published: November 18, 2009
The Cuban band Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro can legitimately claim to be inventors of salsa. But it last played in the United States when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and there was no telling when it might be able to return — until the very slightest hint of a thaw in cultural relations between the United States and Cuba quietly brought the band to New York early this month.

Julieta Cervantes for The New York Times
Eugenio Rodríguez, in hat, the lead singer for Septeto Nacional, with the band at Guantanamera in Midtown.

The early years of Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Piñeiro, the band that coined the term salsa.
State Department officials said Septeto Nacional’s presence in the United States, on a “cultural exchange” visa that lets the group perform but not take home earnings, represented only a return to a literal interpretation of existing laws, not a shift in policy. But even that narrow opening, they acknowledged, should make it possible for other artists living in Cuba to visit the United States without having to break with Fidel Castro’s half-century Communist dictatorship, which was the de facto ideological litmus test that existed during the recent Bush administration.
“We are neither actively promoting nor actively impeding these artistic exchanges,” said a State Department official, who asked that his name not be used because of department rules and the volatility of the subject. “This is a regulatory rather than a political process.” He added that as long as Cuban artists and performers comply with immigration regulations, “the visas are generally approved.”
Last month the singer Omara Portuondo, 79, who is hardly a dissident, having praised Che Guevara in one of her recordings, also received a visa. That allowed Ms. Portuondo, the only female member of the Buena Vista Social Club, to do two shows in California and attend the Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas on Nov. 5, where her solo CD “Gracias” won for contemporary tropical album.
“Apparently we’re going back to the situation that existed under Clinton,” said Wayne Smith, a former head of the United States’ diplomatic office in Havana who now directs the Cuba Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington and is critical of the United States embargo on Cuba. “I have a very strong impression that the guys in the State Department really are bending over backwards to give visas to respectable cultural types, but we’ll have to see how far this goes. There are limits, but it is an opening.”
Founded in 1927 by the bass player and songwriter Ignacio Piñeiro, Septeto Nacional performed at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and is now composed of a fourth generation of musicians. The word salsa as a name for music from the Spanish-speaking Caribbean derives from a song that Mr. Piñeiro wrote in the 1930s and that the group still uses to open many of its shows: “Échale Salsita,” which means “Throw a little sauce on it” or “Spice it up a bit.”
Septeto Nacional arrived in the United States on Nov. 7, played a concert at Hostos Community College in the Bronx that same evening; did a show the next night at a club in Nyack, N.Y.; spent most of last week performing in Puerto Rico; and then returned to New York on Monday. On Thursday night the band is scheduled to play at S.O.B.’s in the South Village, and then will travel to Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles for additional engagements.
“Our mission is to preserve the songs and the legacy of Ignacio Piñeiro,” who died in 1969, said Eugenio Rodríguez, the group’s lead singer and, at 68, the oldest member of the band both in age and years of service. He spoke between sets at the Guantanamera restaurant and club in Midtown on Monday night. “The contribution of the fourth generation has been to bring some new vigor and energy to that sound, which increases our enjoyment and that of our audience,” he added.
The genesis of the current tour dates to 2003, when Cuban performers dominated nominations for the Latin Grammy in the traditional tropical album category. Some of Septeto Nacional’s members wanted to attend that awards ceremony, but were refused visas for reasons they said they still did not understand.
“Maybe they thought we were terrorists and not musicians,” said Frank Oropesa, the band’s bongo player and an arranger. “You know, Ignacio Piñeiro played at the Apollo and recorded at Columbia Studios in the 1920s, and we have always been eager to see those places. So we were disappointed when we couldn’t come.”
For both fans and performers of Latin music in the United States, Septeto Nacional’s return after 76 years has been treated as a historic event and extraordinary opportunity. Contemporary stars like Eddie Palmieri, Cheo Feliciano, Gilberto Santa Rosa and El Gran Combo have attended the band’s shows, and Septeto Nacional’s seven musicians were invited to give a master class at a conservatory in Puerto Rico.
“It’s good for them to know us, and good for us to know them,” Mr. Oropesa said of American musicians. “We hope this kind of exchange can continue, because if you want to be a good musician, it is important to be exposed to as many styles and genres as possible.”
The group’s tour is being organized by Leo Tizol, a Dominican-born promoter who worked previously with Septeto Nacional on a DVD. During the 1990s, under the Clinton administration, Mr. Tizol brought numerous Cuban groups to the United States, including Los Van Van, Orquesta Aragón and Los Papines, but that activity ceased once George W. Bush became president.
“The door shut completely, and every effort to open it was frustrated,” Mr. Tizol said. “So I stopped trying. But when we heard the rumors it was again going to be possible” — after the Obama administration eased restrictions on travel, remittances and communication links to Cuba in April — “we decided to try again, and here they are.”

So far, though, the flow seems to be all in one direction, from Cuba to the United States. Last month the New York Philharmonic, which had been invited by the Cuban government to perform in Havana, canceled its trip there because the United States government barred orchestra patrons from going along, citing Treasury Department regulations prohibiting American citizens from spending money in Cuba or visiting as tourists.
A State Department official minimized the political significance of the new situation, saying, “Rather than evaluating these exchanges from a political point of view, we are simply processing them according to their merits under the immigration statutes.” He added that future cultural exchanges were also contingent on the Cuban government’s allowing creative artists there to travel freely, permission that is not always granted.
The blogger Yoani Sánchez, for example, has twice been refused permission to travel to receive prizes in the United States and Spain for her writing. A spokesman for Cuba’s quasi-embassy in Washington, Alberto González, said his government has “always been open to all types of cultural exchanges” with the United States, but added one caveat: “Our interest is in healthy exchanges, without provocations, where both sides can learn, independent of ideology, but with respect” and not “part of a media war against Cuba,” his description of Ms. Sánchez’s activities.
Members of Septeto Nacional said that they knew that they were breaking ground on their current tour, and added that they were glad to at last be able to “follow the trail of Ignacio Piñeiro.” But when Ricardo Oropesa, their tour manager, was asked if the group was also here as ambassadors, he seemed eager to steer clear of any political entanglement.
“We are representatives of a people and a style of music, not of a system,” he said. “We have represented Cuban culture in the world for 82 years, and we play Cuban music anywhere that there are Cubans or other people who like our sound, even those who think differently.”
                                                     Source inside report

Bedside reading

There’s something that should be cleared up about the case of Walter Myers and Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, the Washington couple who admitted to serving as spies for Cuba when they pleaded guilty to espionage and other charges last week. (Washington Post coverage here.)

The “factual proffers” presented in court give details of their 30-year spy careers (his here and hers here, pdf), and includes the fact that they had in their apartment “a sailing guide for Cuban waters, a travel guide for Cuba, and books entitled The Spy’s Bedside Book and On Becoming Cuban.

That could give the impression that On Becoming Cuban is some kind of how-to identity conversion manual.

In fact it is a great, richly illustrated work by University of North Carolina historian Louis Perez about the formation of Cuban national identity and how it was affected by Cuba’s “encounter with the North” from the mid-19th century until the 1950’s – American tourists, missionaries, technology, movies, consumer culture, baseball, political meddlers, everything.

Say what you will about this pair, they knew how to pick a good history book.

Cuba’s own Minority Report (Updated)

“Security measures can be ordered to prevent the commission of crimes or as a result of their having been committed. In the first case they are called pre-criminal security measures; and in the second, post-criminal security measures.” Cuba Criminal Code, “Dangerousness” Law, Chap. III, Art. 76, Sec. 1
El País, Spain’s center-left daily, published an editorial today on repression in Cuba, referencing the “dangerousness” law of the Cuban criminal code that is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s futuristic short story The Minority Report, which describes Precrime, a system which punishes people with imprisonment for crimes they would have committed.
Students of power and international politics will find Donald Kagan’s (Yale professor of classics and ancient history) new tome Thucydides: The Reinvention of History of interest.  He delves into re-examining Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War. Here are two reviews from Barnes & Noble and the Wall Street Journal.
20091122 at 1115 by AFM3 | Permalink
Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, center, is taking away by unidentified men in Havana. (Image: AP)
Reinaldo Escobar, center, is taken away by unidentified men in Havana. (Image: AP)
Reinaldo Escobar, the husband of acclaimed dissident Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez, was punched and shouted down by a pro-government mob Friday after he challenged the presumed state agents who earlier roughed up his wife to a street corner debate. (AP)

Message to Yoani Sanchez

at 8:29 AM
You are undoubtedly a heroine, not to mention the future of Cuba.

Regardless of any disagreement that we may have regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba, we certainly respect your right to voice that disagreement, as we're confident you respect our right to disagree.

That is the diversity of our views (and the roots of a future democracy).

Yet, any disagreement is minimal within the context of our fundamental agreement that the human rights of the Cuban people must be respected; that an end to the Castro regime's brutal dictatorship is imminent; and that a process of democratic change must take place.

That is the unity of our purpose.

Such diversity of views, in furtherance of this united purpose, make our Cuban family stronger.

So within our family, please indulge us with the following recommendation:

When you were abducted and assaulted by the Castro regime's thugs on November 6th, not one of the current 178 Members of Congress that have co-sponsored legislation to unconditionally lift tourism sanctions towards Cuba -- nor its advocates -- raised their voice in concern or condemnation.

Similarly, Friday's physical attack by the regime's thugs against your husband, Reinaldo, did not seem to disturb the conscience of those Members of Congress, nor their advocates. It was, once again, met with disturbing silence.

Yet, the same people that urged you to weigh-in on behalf of their views during last week's Congressional hearing on US policy towards Cuba, have left no stone unturned, exerting all of their energy and efforts, to exploit your views for their political gain.

Simply put, they seek to take advantage of our family's diversity, in the hopes of hindering our united purpose.

Therefore, we respectfully ask:

Make sure to hold them accountable for their silence.

In the meantime, we will continue working hard to do so.