Dissident artist Tania Bruguera talks leaving Cuba: ‘I would not let them make me a paranoiac’

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Artist Tania Bruguera spent eight months in Cuba after being detained just prior to the new year. She is now back in the U.S. after having her passport returned — but says she will return to Cuba in the future. (Tania Bruguera / #YoTambienExijo)
For months, the case of Tania Bruguera has been a protracted drama that has played itself out on the international stage. The artist — a Cuban national — was detained in Cuba just prior to the New Year, for attempting to stage a performance about freedom of expression in Havana’s Revolution Square. And while she was soon released, Bruguera had her passport confiscated, and was later detained on various other occasions. All of this was happening during a historic political moment — when the U.S. and Cuba were coming to a rapprochement.
Bruguera, who works primarily in the U.S. and Europe, is now back in the U.S. She landed in New York last Friday, after getting on a flight without previously alerting friends or family. Her return puts an end (for now) to an eight-month-long political and artistic drama that, for a time, appeared as if it might go on indefinitely.
The artist is currently in New Haven, Conn., participating in the Yale World Fellows program, where she will be working on a new project (yet to be determined) and participating in various activities at the university.
She took time to chat via Skype on Wednesday to discuss her whole Cuba experience. (“I am still digesting everything,” she said.) In our conversation, which has been edited for flow, the artist said she would return to Cuba. But first, there are a number of projects that will keep her in the U.S. for the time being — including one that will bring her to L.A. and the California Institute of the Arts.

You left Cuba very quietly. In fact, I understand that you only let friends and family know you were leaving once you were in the air. Why the secrecy?
I have been surveilled for eight months. At one point, I thought, “No, I’m being paranoid. Of course they don’t care about me anymore.” But in the meanwhile I suspected that someone very close to me was one of the informers. So I didn’t tell anybody that I was leaving. I did tell that person the night before. And then in the morning I did normal stuff, like I’m not leaving. I go to the house. I go here. I go there. And immediately in the morning, I have five people — friend and friends of friends — calling me saying, “When are you leaving?”
And I arrive at the airport and [a pair of Cuban state security officials], Javier and Andrea, arrive — literally, 10 minutes after I get to the airport. They couldn’t do anything because I was leaving. But [one of the officials] asks me what happened with this conference in Puerto Rico. It was this conference of dissidents. He says, “What did you hear?” I said, I didn’t know because I didn’t go.
He said to me, “Can you give me your number in the United States?” I said, “Thanks to you I don’t have a phone anymore because I lost my line.” And he said, “Can I have your address?” And I said, “Well, I lost my apartment too” — my apartment in Corona, Queens [in New York]. He said, “I might be there in September.”
It’s like until the last minute they want to mess with your head. They want to make you paranoid. At one point he said, “Someone close to you works for us.” I said, “You’re not going to make me a paranoiac. I’ve been here for eight months and I am not a paranoiac.” I understood they were watching me. But I would not let them make me a paranoiac. That’s what they do, they make you paranoid, they isolate you.

What did it feel like as your flight took off for New York last Friday?
The first thing I was like, there’s Internet! Free Internet. That really was almost a shock. It was very intense not to be able to communicate freely with anybody you trust. I made drawings of where all the public telephones were located. (While I was in Cuba, I started drawing again.) You could use a public phone, but only once, because then they would be monitoring. Or you’d have someone stand right next to you and they would [be listening in]. So I drew where all the phones were and which ones I used.

At one point, you said that you would not leave Cuba until you had a written guarantee from the government that they would let you back into the country. Were you able to get such a confirmation?
I didn’t get exactly what I asked for. But I did get a letter that says that they’ve closed the case. The lawyer I worked with said it was the first time they’d seen something like this. The thing is that [state security does] things and then there is no record. They ask you to sign papers, two copies of papers and then they keep both copies. You have nothing. So this is extremely good.
I also had my things returned. Everyone is very impressed they gave me my computer back. I’m going to use it as an artwork now. The one thing I learned is that [the Cuban government] gave a different meaning to my work. That’s fine. My work is about that. Setting the scene and seeing what happens. The government was the one who wanted to participate. I was fighting for the authorship of my piece with the government! [Laughs.]

Continue reading Dissident artist Tania Bruguera talks leaving Cuba: ‘I would not let them make me a paranoiac’

Marco Rubio explains why he opposes Obama’s Cuba policy

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From an interview by John Harwood of CNBC

HARWOOD: You’ve been very strong in saying it was disgraceful that the president re-established relations with Cuba. Does it give you any pause to know that the pope has a different view and was part of that opening?
RUBIO: No. The pope has a different job than I do. The pope’s job is to be the spiritual leader of the Catholic church, and to always call us to unity and brotherly love, and I understand that. And we all have that calling to some extent. But I’m a U.S. senator, and my job is to serve the national interests of the United States. I do not believe it is in the national interest of the United States to have a one-sided agreement with an anti-American, communist tyranny 90 miles from our shores.
I’m not against all changes to U.S. policy towards Cuba. I just think they need to be reciprocal. If we’re going to provide more travel to Cuba, the Cubans are going to have to make some changes on the island.
John Paul was fiercely anti-communist, very involved in his homeland of Poland. I want the Cuban people to have what the Polish people had, which is the opportunity to free themselves from the yoke of the tyranny that they live under. I don’t criticize what the pope is doing. I understand what his calling is. One of his things he’s trying to achieve is more space for the Catholic church in the island, to be able to carry out its mission of saving souls.
HARWOOD: Does it give you any pause to know that your parents left 60 years ago, and you’ve never set foot in Havana? Doesn’t that make you question the vehemence of your views?
RUBIO: No. Because I interact with people all the time that have just come from there, dissidents that come here and go back. I’m not operating in a vacuum, and I’m not operating out of things I read in a book. I’m dealing with people, I’m dealing with dissidents that come to the U.S. and speak to us about what’s happening. I have that benefit of that interaction combined with the benefit of understanding U.S. policy towards Cuba, and understanding the history behind it, and the nature of this regime.
Most Americans don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. And most of the public policy leaders in our country don’t know a lot about the true nature of the Castro regime and what’s happening there. And what’s happening there is very simple: Raul Castro is transitioning that government eventually towards a succession that will involve his son as the leader of that country. What they’re looking for is enough revenue to allow that system of government they have in place to sustain itself for the long term. And this opening, this one-sided opening will make it easier for him to achieve that goal. And that means the Cuban people will never have freedom.

Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

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Rename 16th Street for a dissident who died under mysterious circumstances.
Raising the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14 was a historically symbolic act, but equally symbolic were the absence of dissidents and the failure to talk about Cuba’s repressive regime at this public moment. The 45-minute ceremony illustrated everything that is wrong with Washington’s Cuba policy.
Americans and Cubans who have wanted for decades to hold the island’s dictatorship accountable for its human rights crimes absorbed a tough blow. But if the Obama administration won’t give them the right Cuba policy, Congress can award them an important and symbolic concession: Rub a reminder of the regime’s brutality in its face, every day, by renaming the street where its embassy stands in D.C. after one of its victims, the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Payá.
We all want a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba at peace with the United States. But this is not what Fidel and Raúl Castro want. Raul has made it clear that Cuba will remain under the control of the Communist Party and will not change the nature of the regime. As Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, put it: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda.” This is why the Cuban government refused to offer any meaningful political or economic reforms that might loosen its stranglehold on power, such as democratic elections or the release of all prisoners of conscience.
Despite good intentions, the U.S. policy shift morally and financially bolsters the Communist Party and disheartens people — both here and in Cuba — who have fought for freedom and prosperity. America’s recognition of the Castro regime legitimizes the party’s rule and makes continuity of party control more, not less, likely after Raul’s retirement or death. Victims of the Castro regime feel they have lost their staunchest ally, the United States. During an audience with Congress, dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez — commonly known as Antúnez — said the majority of Cuba’s dissidents consider the negotiations between Washington and Havana a betrayal that threatens Cuban people’s aspirations for freedom.

Continue reading Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

Over 700 Cuban doctors working in Venezuela have fled across to Colombia

Yaneisy Perez, left, and fellow Cuban doctors, show their diplomas during a protest to draw attention to their plight to get U.S. visas at the Banderas square in Bogota, Colombia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Dozens of health workers who defected while serving on aid missions in Venezuela fled to Bogota expecting to swiftly get visas to the United States under the 2006 Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, designed to help Cuban medical mission deserters find refuge in the U.S., but many complain they have been waiting for months without a response. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
Yaneisy Perez, left, and fellow Cuban doctors, show their diplomas during a protest to draw attention to their plight to get U.S. visas at the Banderas square in Bogota, Colombia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Dozens of health workers who defected while serving on aid missions in Venezuela fled to Bogota expecting to swiftly get visas to the United States under the 2006 Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, designed to help Cuban medical mission deserters find refuge in the U.S., but many complain they have been waiting for months without a response. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Deteriorating conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States under a special US program launched in 2006 that expedites their applications.
For geographical reasons, neighboring Colombia is a favored gateway for Cubans fleeing Venezuela, who’s a populist government, is struggling to rein-in runaway inflation, widespread shortages of goods and services and rising social unrest.
On Saturday, the exodus reached critical mass when about 100 Cuban doctors, who deserted a medical mission in Venezuela and have been stranded in Colombia for months awaiting entry into the US, staged a protest to draw attention to their plight.
Brandishing their diplomas, the Cuban health professionals congregated in a plaza in Kennedy, a working-class neighborhood built in the 1960s with funds from John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.
Several described how punishing working conditions and widespread shortages of food and basic necessities, compounded by meager pay and mistreatment in Venezuela is leading many to sneak across the border seeking a new start in the United States.
While they say conditions in Colombia are better than Venezuela, the cost of living is higher, and many say they have had to borrow money from strangers and have been surviving on a single meal a day.
Apparently health care professionals say they fear the delays in processing their visa requests under the 2006 program could be a sign that President Barack Obama is seeking to end the incentive as part of his campaign to normalize relations with the communist island.
The 2006 US program was designed to lure Cuba’s medical talent and deprive President Raul Castro’s family government of an important source of foreign revenue.
Cuba has not made public how much it pays doctors on foreign missions, though it is believed to be a small fraction of what it collects from the nations where they serve.
Cuba, which prides itself on a comprehensive healthcare system and has long exported doctors and nurses to friendly states, currently has more than 50,000 healthcare professionals in some 66 nations as part of the international outreach program dating back to the 1960s.
The majority, thought to number about 10,000 persons, work in Venezuela, which sends Cuba some 92,000 barrels of oil a day worth about US$3.2 billion a year in exchange.
In Colombia, authorities said that 117 Cuban doctors are currently in the country processing visa requests with the United States. A total of 720 have arrived this year so far, although 603 have been deported because they exceeded the 90-day safe-conduct granted by Colombia in order to solicit a US visa.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said last week that while Cubans regularly voice their concerns about the program, it’s not part of bilateral talks taking place between the two governments and there are no plans to eliminate it.
“It is not at all related to our new policy with respect to Cuba,” he said. “There’s no tie, no connection”.

MercoPress

Critics, watchdogs question stealth Cuba lobbying campaign

Opponents of the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba and some ethics watchdogs are questioning the lack of transparency behind a million-dollar advocacy campaign that pushed for the historic thaw.
Two articles — one that was published in the September/October issue of Mother Jones, and another in the January edition of The Nation — detail the back-channel negotiations and behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign leading up to President Obama’s December rapprochement to change five decades of U.S. policy and renew ties with the island nation.
Both reports also give a Denver-based progressive government relations firm, the Trimpa Group, credit for an elaborate behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign that helped press the administration into action on Cuba.
But there are no lobbying disclosure records on Congress’s searchable database on the Trimpa Group’s Cuba campaign, according to a Washington Examiner review of the files.
For two years leading up to the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba, opponents of the policy heard rumors of various lobbying and public advocacy campaigns taking place on the issue, but could never track the funds or identify who was orchestrating it.
“All we want is a level playing field,” said Jason Poblete, a lawyer and registered lobbyist representing 10 American families pressing the Obama administration to recover billions of dollars in seized assets the Castro regime took after the country’s 1959 revolution.
“Americans who were injured by the communist regime in Cuba deserve justice,” he said. “The U.S. government and elected leaders need to speak for them and defend their interests.”
Several ethics watchdogs interviewed for this article say lobbying disclosure is based on self-reporting, and there are so many loopholes and so little enforcement that it’s difficult if nearly impossible to tell if firms are breaking the spirit or the letter of the disclosure law.
Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center, said it’s conceivable that the Trimpa Group did nothing legally wrong in failing to file lobbying disclosure reports. But she also said that doesn’t make it right.

Washington Examiner

Why is the Obama administration keeping Cuban doctors out while letting unskilled illegals in?

Yaneisy Perez, left, and fellow Cuban doctors, show their diplomas during a protest to draw attention to their plight to get U.S. visas at the Banderas square in Bogota, Colombia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Dozens of health workers who defected while serving on aid missions in Venezuela fled to Bogota expecting to swiftly get visas to the United States under the 2006 Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, designed to help Cuban medical mission deserters find refuge in the U.S., but many complain they have been waiting for months without a response. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Yaneisy Perez, left, and fellow Cuban doctors, show their diplomas during a protest to draw attention to their plight to get U.S. visas at the Banderas square in Bogota, Colombia, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. Dozens of health workers who defected while serving on aid missions in Venezuela fled to Bogota expecting to swiftly get visas to the United States under the 2006 Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, designed to help Cuban medical mission deserters find refuge in the U.S., but many complain they have been waiting for months without a response. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

A group of about 100 Cuban doctors who fled to Colombia, and who are entitled to visas to enter the US, are being stalled by the Obama administration, even as open border policies permit unskilled laborers to flood in. Yesterday, they held a protest in Bogota to call attention to their plight.
The Cuban doctors had been stationed in Venezuela under a program dating to the 1960s in which Cuba sends medical professionals overseas as a moneymaking and political influence-buying mission. The doctors are paid very little by Cuba, which collects fees from the host countries for their services. Venezuela sends Cuba 92,000 barrels of oil a day, worth $3.2 billion a year, for instance. This is the very definition of exploitation, of course.
To counter this Cuban program, the US in 2006 created a program to issue visas to Cuban doctors and thus deprive the regime of crucial funds, while addressing the looming domestic shortage of medical professionals. But the Obama administration, perhaps in an effort to improve relations with Cuba has stalled in issuing visas to the Cuban medics. Camilo Hernandez of AP writes:
About 100 Cuban doctors who deserted a medical mission in Venezuela and have been stranded for months in Colombia seeking entry into the U.S. staged a protest Saturday to draw attention to their plight.
The health care workers say they fear the delays in processing their visa requests under a 2006 program aimed at luring Cuba’s medical talent could be a sign that President Barack Obama is seeking to end the incentive as part of his campaign to normalize relations with the communist island.
Wearing white doctor’s coats and brandishing their diplomas, the Cuban medical workers gathered in a plaza in Kennedy, a working-class neighborhood built in the 1960s with funds from John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Several described how widespread shortages and mistreatment in Venezuela is leading many to sneak across the border seeking a new start in the United States.
With many doctors retiring to avoid entanglement in the red tape and financial penalties of Obamacare, the US faces a serious doctor shortage. But it looks like the Obama administration values kowtowing to a communist dictatorship over the needs of the American people, and the existing regulations.

American Thinker

Obama’s New Cuban Partners, My Old Jailers

By Armando Valladares in The Wall Street Journal

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The regime was built on the blood of dissidents like those the U.S. now avoids acknowledging.
All Rosa Maria Payá wants is a copy of her father’s autopsy report. All her father wanted before he was murdered by Castro’s thugs was free elections. These are simple requests that those of us living in freedom enjoy without issue.
But not in Cuba.
In Cuba, to ask for man’s basic rights is to ask for intimidation, incarceration, torture and death. This persists, despite any fanciful ideas that Americans may have about warming relations with the world’s oldest dictatorship. So it’s a tragedy that our own secretary of state was in Cuba on Aug. 14 and failed to make the simplest of requests for the people of Cuba: freedom of speech and religion.
Thousands of Cubans have died fighting for these rights that Americans so freely enjoy. The right to build a church and preach without fear of harassment and secret recording by government hooligans. The right to protest without wondering if your friends will be carted off, never to be seen or heard from again. The right to criticize your government leaders in the opinion pages of a newspaper without fear of being hauled away at gunpoint in the night.
I experienced the latter in Cuba not for what I said, but for what I wouldn’t say: “I’m with Fidel.” I spent eight of my ensuing 22 years in Castro’s jails naked and in solitary confinement because I refused to wear a prison uniform. I was a conscientious objector, and the regime wanted to mark me as a common criminal.
The final cries of my friends at the execution wall that drifted through my cell window, when I had one, became a sort of refrain for the Castro regime, until the government realized that gagging and silencing them before they died sent a more powerful message. I saw countless friends tortured and executed for protesting a government that still crushes the people of Cuba under its boot. A government that our government is treating as a negotiating partner.
The U.S. Embassy opening on Friday, Aug. 14, was little more than fanfare to placate journalists and complacent diplomats in the international arena. Dissidents were excluded. Though many dissidents walk the streets of Cuba, keeping them away from the public eye erects a different sort of prison.
It’s a prison that contains the truth in a sanitized box to protect the Castro brothers’ carefully crafted image that they are reasonable. The purpose is to legitimize their dictatorship, which has not held elections in 50 years and is built on the blood of former prisoners like myself, like Antonio González Rodiles; like Martha Beatriz Roque; like Héctor Maseda; like the father of Rosa Maria Payá, Oswaldo, who was killed in a suspicious car crash in 2012; and like all the dissidents still suffering in Cuba who were kept away from Friday’s celebrations.
As Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio said when he wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 11 asking that dissidents be invited to the embassy ceremony: Dissidents “among many others, and not the Castro family, are the legitimate representatives of the Cuban people.”
For decades, many have protested the Cuban government’s position that rights come from the state, that they are a gift from Fidel that he can revoke as quickly as he grants. America is founded on the principle that rights come from God, they precede the state, and they cannot be usurped. If America begins to cede that principle, it will be signing its own death certificate.
I spent 22 years in jail for the principle that it’s what we do not say—in my case, not wearing the state’s uniform—that can count as much as what we say. Our government, if it is to stand on the principles on which America was founded, has an obligation to speak the truth and demand from the Castro regime the rights that the Cuban people are entitled to by their very humanity. To fail to so do is to say, without saying, “We are with Fidel.”

Mr. Valladares is the author of “Against All Hope,” which was first published in 1986. From 1987 to 1990, he served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Woman who married Cuban spy suing JPMorgan for $57M for hiding country’s cash

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A Miami woman who was married to a Cuban double agent wants JPMorgan Chase to pay through the nose for allegedly hiding Cuban cash.
Ana Margarita Martinez won a $7.1 million judgment against the Cuban government for “emotional distress” in 2001, after she found out her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, wasn’t the man she thought he was.
She’d met Roque in 1992, after the former Cuban Air Force major made headlines for allegedly braving shark infested waters to swim to Gitmo seeking political asylum in the U.S.
They dated for three years before getting hitched.
Unbeknownst to Martinez, Roque was an FBI snitch – and an undercover Cuban agent who’d been sent to gather intel on the Cuban exile community in Miami. She found out both after he snuck out of their home one night in 1996, and then appeared on CNN in Cuba a few days later crowing about his accomplishments.
Adding insult to injury, when asked what he missed about Miami, he said just one thing: “My Jeep.”
Martinez, who’d been born in Cuba, said she’d been completely duped. “She believed that Roque shared her anti-communist ideals,” court papers say.
Roque was an FBI snitch – and an undercover Cuban agent who’d been sent to gather intel on the Cuban exile community in Miami.
A federal judge in Florida found Cuba liable for Roque’s actions, saying he was “especially offended that Cuba – a country that disregards human rights – has callously trampled the rights of one of our own citizens on our own soil in furtherance of a vile criminal conspiracy.”
Martinez, 55, tried to collect on her judgment by getting orders against banks that might have been holding some of the country’s assets when the country was designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the US.
JP Morgan Chase told her in 2007 it didn’t have many Cuban assets – but the suit notes that in 2011, the bank struck a deal with feds agreeing to pay $88 million in fines for having handled $178 million in wire transfers involving Cuba and Cuban nationals between 2005 and 2006.
The suit seeks a total of $57 million in damages from the banking big.
A rep for JP Morgan Chase declined comment.

Daily News

Sen. Bob Menendez: Obama administration’s Cuba policy is ‘one-way street’

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Sen. Robert Menendez took aim at what he sees as velvet-glove treatment of the Castro regime in Cuba by the Obama administration, saying that all the U.S. overtures toward the communist nation have made zero difference in how oppressed its citizens are.
Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Union City, New Jersey, was raised on stories about the suffering of people who stayed behind in. And like many Cuban exiles and the children they raised with those stories, the Democratic senator has little tolerance for any move toward being amiable with Cuba’s leaders.
Late last year, both presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced a deal to re-establish diplomatic relations, including easing U.S. trade and travel restrictions. But that agreement, he said in an interview with Fox News Latino, “is a one-way street.”
“Cuba said, ‘You want to have a relationship with us? Well, we want our three convicted spies back,’” Menendez said. “Including one who was convicted of conspiracy to commit the murder of three United States citizens.”
In the last few weeks, the two nations re-opened embassies in each other’s capitals. Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Havana to raise the American flag in front of the U.S. embassy.
Extending an olive branch to Castro while requiring him to make no meaningful changes in return, is an affront to human rights and the United States moral authority in the world, Menendez maintains.
“We send them the spies back, we get an innocent American – who should never have been held hostage in the first place – in return,” he said. “We don’t send spies back in the world. Anywhere. This is like a whole new [world] order.”

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