The Musician Calling BS on the ‘Cuba Libre’ Lies


Jorge Gomez has always fallen afoul of the Cuban authorities—and now he’s planning a musical about growing up under Castro’s dictatorship.

Growing up in Cuba, Jorge Gomez would sneak up to his roof with a metal coat hanger late at night and fashion it into a makeshift antenna, desperate to pick up sound waves from Miami radio stations.

The fuzzy, clipped beats and melodies that crossed the ocean were unlike anything he’d heard in the streets of Cuba—and forbidden in Castro’s police state.

They niggled him while he labored over Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms in Havana at La ENA, Cuba’s only music conservatory. He never dreamed that he would one day arrive on the shores of Florida and listen to this music on his own static-free radio, with the volume dialed all the way up.

Having fled Castro’s dictatorship twenty years ago, Gomez, 44, is a pianist, songwriter, and the founding member of Tiempo Libre, which bills itself as “the first authentic all-Cuban timba band in the United States.” (Their sixth album, Panamericano, comes out on Tuesday.)

Arriving in the U.S. in 2000, Gomez settled in Miami and reunited with childhood friends whom he studied with at La ENA. Within a year, he convinced six of them to start a timba band and bring Cuban dance music to the States.  Music producers were convinced timba would never take off in the U.S.

“People would say I needed to play Mexican or Country music to sell albums,” Gomez tells me in his heavy Spanish accent. “But I didn’t come to this country to sell albums. I came to play my music. I came to be happy with what I do and who I am.”

They were wrong about timba: U.S. audiences loved its unique sound of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and jazz harmonies infused with funk and contemporary R&B beats. And Gomez did sell albums, three of which have been nominated for Grammy awards, including Bach in Havana (2009), which earned Tiempo Libre respect from the classical community.

That same year, they collaborated with renowned violinist Joshua Bell on his album, At Home With Friends, and performed with him on The Tonight Show. Fusing Baroque and Afro-Cuban music was an innovative passion project for Gomez and the other Tiempo Libre bandmembers who were forbidden to play anything but classical music at the conservatory.

Gomez’s life in Cuba couldn’t have been more different from the affluence displayed in T magazine several weeks ago in a story a provocatively titled “Cuba Libre.”

It featured a recently restored, pre-revolution Havana mansion, where an American woman, Pamela Ruiz, lives with her Cuban husband, the artist Damian Aquiles.

Ruiz immigrated to Cuba in the mid-90s after meeting Aquiles while scouting locations there for an American ad campaign. (Critically, Ruiz maintained her U.S. citizenship and, with it, her savings and income.)

Several years after arriving, Ruiz began a nine-year process of acquiring a dilapidated,100-year-old estate from an old woman. Ruiz and Aquiles have hosted a slew of rich and famous Americans since completing renovations last year, including Will Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith, and fashion designer Proenza Schouler.

Six months after President Obama lifted the 50-year embargo against the island, restoring diplomacy between the two countries, the magazine’s glossy feature of Ruiz and Aquiles’ “cultural salon” offers a utopian vision of a new Cuba: wealth in the form of art deco furniture instead of capitalist monstrosities like McDonald’s and Starbucks, and Cuba’s rich culture not just preserved but revitalized.

But outside the confines of Ruiz and Aquiles’ Havana villa, there is no “Cuba Libre.”

“It’s very easy to talk about things you don’t really know. You have to live it,” says Gomez, “Tourists go to Cuba and stay in hotels where they have everything they need. If you’re Cuban, you have nothing.”

After Gomez graduated from the conservatory at age 18 in 1990, his limited future was dictated by the Cuban government: he could either continue studying classical music for another five years or spend two years in the army.

“My heart was in Cuban dance music, not classical, so I joined the army,” Gomez tells me.

The Berlin Wall had fallen a year earlier, precipitating the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been subsidizing Cuba since the mid-’60s.

Gomez spent his first year in military service training for combat. His musical talent allowed him to trade his gun for a piano during his second year, when he traveled to different military bases entertaining disheartened Cuban soldiers.

He earned 7 pesos a month—roughly $1—during his two years of service.

He returned home in 1992 to find his house as decrepit as Castro’s Communism: crumbling walls, a busted plumbing system, a collapsing ceiling.

Gomez worked as many tourism jobs as he could during the next three years, pocketing enough money in tips to incrementally rebuild his family home. But the reparations did not go unnoticed by the government.

“They said to me, ‘Where are you buying those materials? You know it’s illegal.’ I said, ‘Yes, I know, but if I don’t fix my home I’m going to die!’”

They threatened to throw him in jail if he continued.

“You support Communism, and then they put you in jail for fighting for your life. You think, ‘Wait a second, there’s something really wrong here.’”

Cuba had also plunged into famine, so Gomez and his mother were surviving on a diet of potatoes and white rice. He weighed only 90 pounds when he fled Cuba for Guatemala in 1995.

Gomez’s service in the military would prove crucial to his escape: the government gave him and his mother permission to visit family in Guatemala for several weeks. He arrived at the airport in Havana with one bag, knowing that anything more would betray his plan to leave Cuba for good.

“I left my whole life in that house,” he says. “Pictures, two pianos, my car—everything.”

Throughout Gomez’s life, the Castro regime had drummed into his head that Cuba was “the best country in the world,” he tells me, wide-eyed.

Guatemala was wracked by crime, but its people were free.

He recalls going to a Guatemalan street kiosk the first day he was there and seeing “meat” all over the menu.

“In Cuba, I would have gone to jail for thirty years if I was caught eating meat! I was afraid to eat it.”

That same day, he put an ad in the newspaper offering piano lessons in exchange for computer and web tutoring. Two days later, he landed a job writing 30-second jingles for Coca-Cola.

Rubbing his hands, Gomez leans towards me as if to confess a secret or recount a horrible memory.

“I made more money in eight hours living in Guatemala than I did my whole life in Cuba!” he says with a smile.

Gomez has returned to Cuba twice since he fled 20 years ago, but his old friends don’t want to hear his stories of opportunity—of meat and money and freedom.

It’s not uncommon for people in Communist and ex-Communist societies to be skeptical of entrepreneurial ambition.

They associate it with corrupt upward mobility and a willingness to work for one’s oppressors, unable to recognize their own oppression.

It’s understandable then that Gomez’s friends in Cuba—where there’s been a maximum wage for decades; where less than 5 percent of citizens have heavily-monitored Internet access; where literacy rates are high but they can only read propaganda; where healthcare is free but the country lacks basic medical supplies—are skeptical of his fortunes and freedom.

So while Americans on the left, nostalgic for a dystopian fantasy of authentic Cuba, whinge about the prospect of McDonalds and mini-malls wiping out Cuban culture, Gomez (and many analysts) say they don’t have to worry about that.

“If they put a Starbucks in Cuba, no one will touch it,” says Gomez. “People in Cuba will still drink Cuban coffee.”

Cubans may be desperate for free speech and an end to food rations, but according to analysts, they’re not exactly dreaming of McDonalds’ golden arches. Even if there is political change within the country, the shift will likely be towards socialism.

Never mind that after Raul Castro made a deal with President Obama, he told his people that he would welcome U.S.-Cuban diplomacy “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”

Unless those principles are dramatically different from the totalitarian ones that the Castro regime has forced on its people since 1959, restless Cubans (and T magazine) can kiss their hopes of a “Cuba Libre” goodbye.

Meanwhile, Gomez is gearing up for his own ‘Cuba Libre.’ That’s the title of a Broadway-bound musical Tiempo Libre will be performing on stage in Portland, Oregon come October. “It tells the collective stories of Tiempo Libre’s band members growing up in Cuba under Castro’s dictatorship.”

“A lot of musical theater only shows the good parts about Cuba,” says Gomez. “I know people prefer to see Spiderman than a musical about Communism, but I want to tell the real story. And I don’t want to tell people they have to know and see this story. I want them to want to see it, to be drawn in by the music.”

The Daily Beast

Cardinal Sins – A Castro cleric brings disgrace


Have you heard about the awful Cardinal hack scandal? It brings shame and obloquy upon a respected organization which has spent many years building up its good name. How could moral myopia prevail at such a critical time? What manner of insensitivity and obtuseness would lead to such unconscionable behavior?
What’s that you say… the Saint Louis Cardinals hacking into the Houston Astros scouting reports…?
Oh, no, no, not about baseball at all. I was referring to the Cardinal of Cuba, Jaime Ortega, revealing himself to be a shameless political hack. Yes, it is true. The cleric, in Spain for a conference, was asked by reporters about the conditions of political prisoners in Cuba. His response: THERE ARE NO political prisoners in Cuba. Mercifully he stopped right there and did not treat us to a treatise about the exemplary democracy of the island nation, thriving merrily under the avuncular gaze of those benevolent Castro brothers.
So, I suppose, Yippee! Castro’s prisons are empty now, leaving extra space for other uses. Perhaps they can open more of those wonderful medical schools Michael Moore featured in his documentary. A Castro Convertible, as it were.

his whole Cuban business is thoroughly disheartening. A formerly thriving country had its kleptocracy replaced by a theocracy, the theology in this case being Communism. In the old days the government made out like bandits and the people made out like people. Instead the government is a bunch of superannuated sanctimonious creeps and the people are a mass of penniless hostages. Greed has been replaced by need: how lovely!
All this happened over half a century ago. The United States expressed its moral disapproval in the form of an economic embargo. The result has been a pathetic standoff where we do not buy their cigars nor sell them our cars. None of this has fazed the Artful Codgers who run the place like a failed experiment. If political science is a form of science (questionable premise) then Cuba is a dysfunctional world out of political science fiction.
Along comes President Obama to point out that the policy has not “worked” and it is time to try a new approach. That sounds great for the five seconds requisite to withstand TV news scrutiny. Naturally the “new approach” turns out to be moral abdication. This reminds us of the famous remark by an elderly gentleman in the 1960s: “This New Morality sounds to me a lot like the old immorality.”
Of course the old approach has not “worked” if working is limited to complete success in restoring the island nation to normalcy. However, the policy has worked very well indeed at achieving its moral objective. It has left Cuba isolated as a moral pariah, a cautionary tale, a stink bomb. When we lift the embargo we lift the white flag of moral surrender.
“We are beginning a new relationship with the people of Cuba,” intoned our trend-setting President, thereby committing the Sobran Fallacy. The late Joseph Sobran was the first to identify this rhetorical trick of the Left. They speak of their fraternization with the captors as if it is a form of communion with the captives. If, say, we initiate friendly talks with Boka Haram in Nigeria, is that a way of beginning a new relationship with the schoolgirls they have kidnapped? No way! Sucking up to the Castros is not a way to reach out to the people of Cuba.
Here in South Florida the media are happy to be the mouthpiece for this drivel. We hear a steady drumbeat of cheerful echoes supposedly emanating from the island. Yes, Cubans are excited! They are ecstatic! They are upbeat! They are hopeful! Then the propaganda is upended by that pesky bugaboo of the left; namely, reality. A few days ago Hallandale Beach bathers were startled to be joined by four desperate rafters. Apparently they still like their chances better broke and barefoot in Florida than basking in the Communist paradise.
Which brings us back to the pathetic hack, Cardinal Ortega, who went to Spain and ran with the bulls***. His congregants look to him in vain for guidance along the pathways of conscience. If businessmen have sold out, if politicians have sold out, our last slender hope reposes in the hardy souls of our clergy. When they betray that hope, the tyrants own us outright.  American Spectator

Andrés Oppenheimer: Maduro’s campaign strategy: a border war with Colombia?


Eager to divert attention from a world-record inflation rate, massive food shortages and other self-inflicted economic problems that could lead to an opposition victory in the Dec 6 legislative elections, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is pulling a trick of last resort for embattled demagogues: reviving a dormant territorial controversy to stir nationalist passions.

It seems too crass, too obvious. But Maduro, whose popularity has plummeted to about 20 per cent, seems to have concluded that resurrecting an old border controversy with neighboring Guyana and, more importantly, a border conflict Colombia, will change the conversation in Venezuela away from the shortages of meat, milk and coffee, or from the sky-high inflation rate, which according to a new Bank of America report is likely to reach 172 per cent this year.
Maduro’s previous political excuses, including blaming Venezuela’s economic disaster on an alleged “economic war” by US-backed oligarchs, are no longer working. After 15 years in power, during which much of Venezuela’s private sector has been decimated and corrupt pseudo-revolutionaries have become immensely rich, it’s becoming increasingly harder for Venezuela’s radical leftist regime to blame others for the country’s collapse.
Earlier this week, Maduro announced that he will call for a “civic-military union” to confront an “international manoeuvre from the right to provoke Venezuela with border problems.” The alleged “manoeuvre” was led by ExxonMobil and Guyana, which announced a significant offshore oil find in a bid called by Guyana in ‘disputed’ waters in the Caribbean, Maduro said.
Shortly after ExxonMobil’s announcement, Venezuela issued a decree on May 26 claiming the Caribbean waters where the oil discovery took place as its own. But Maduro’s decree went a step further: it announced four “operational defence areas” to defend Venezuela’s sovereignty in several disputed areas, including an area that is claimed by both Venezuela and Colombia.
That, in turn, led to a formal protest by Colombia, whose president, Juan Manuel Santos, said that Maduro’s decree amounted to a “violation of Colombia’s rights,” and demanded that Venezuela immediately “rectify the content” of its decree.
Many political strategists speculate that Maduro might find an eager sparring partner in Santos. Colombia’s president, who made his mark by improving relations with Venezuela during his first term, might profit politically from escalating border tensions with Venezuela ahead of Colombia’s October elections for governors and mayors, they say.
“Santos is politically weak right now, and could benefit from playing the nationalist card,” says Mauricio de Vengochea, a Miami-based political consultant who advises politicians in Colombia and Venezuela. “We can’t forget that there is a big anti-Maduro sentiment in Colombia.”
In addition, Santos no longer needs Venezuela as much as in the past to reach a peace agreement with Colombia’s FARC guerrillas. Unlike late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Maduro doesn’t have as much leverage with the guerrillas, which allows Santos to take some distance from Venezuela without endangering his peace negotiations with the FARC, some argue.
A border skirmish between Venezuela and Colombia in coming months, most likely started by Venezuela, is not unthinkable, political insiders in both countries tell me.
Less than 30 years ago, on Aug 9, 1987, the two countries almost went to war when the Venezuelan frigate Libertad confronted a Colombian navy ship over disputed waters. Maduro’s May 26 decree that included disputed waters under Venezuela’s “operational defense areas” amounted to a similar Venezuelan provocation, many Colombians say.
My opinion: Maduro’s electoral strategy to win the Dec 6 legislative elections — in addition to a dubious election process in which he will monopolize television time, keep opposition leaders in jail under phony charges, and prohibit European Union and Organization of American States observers from watching the vote — will be to escalate border tensions with Guyana and Colombia.
Venezuela’s neighbors and Washington should not allow one single life to be lost over these artificially resurrected border conflicts. When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff visits Washington next week, President Barack Obama should cite the danger of a senseless border war in her neighborhood as one of his major arguments to convince her to step up Latin American pressure on Maduro to stop behaving like a tropical, 19th-century tyrant.
Inflating a dormant border conflict to stir nationalist passions is the oldest trick in the demagogues’ manual. But it has worked before, and Maduro is showing that, now that his blame game against the “US-backed oligarchy” has lost steam, he will use it as his main strategy to retain absolute power.

Stabroek News

Antonio Castro bodyguards attacked photographers filming him having dinner at a luxurious restaurant in Turkey

Lea la noticia en español: Martí Noticias

Antonio Castro, one of the sons of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, got upset when reporters in Turkey were taking photographs, while he was having dinner with a group of friends at a restaurant in Turkey.

Three of his bodyguards attacked photographers from a news agency for filming the younger Castro during his millionaire vacation in Turkey’s resort district of Bodrum on Wednesday, according to the Doğan news agency.
Castro had dinner at a restaurant in Bodrum with 12 friends, including some Turks, on Wednesday night.
As Castro left the restaurant at around 11 p.m., he noticed that he was being caught on camera by a Doğan reporter and went back inside in a rage, according to Doğan.
Castro went hiding in the restaurant’s kitchen for about a half hour before he went out and left the premises in his car, which was brought to the front of the restaurant.
After Castro left the area, a Turk and two Cubans, who were reportedly his bodyguards, punched and threatened the Doğan photographers, attempting to take their cameras.
One of then, Yaşar Anter, sustained a minor injury as a result of being punched.
While the two Cuban bodyguards fled the scene, the Turkish bodyguard, H.K., was briefly detained by the police.
A group of people who accompanied Castro at the restaurant also left in a van.
Castro recently came to Bodrum aboard his multi-million dollar 165 foot yacht from the Greek island of Mykonos and booked five suites at a luxury hotel for himself and those accompanying him.
And there are still ignorant people who think the Castrobrothers made a ‘revolution’ to help the poor!
While the slave workers in Cuba make an average of $20/month, the Castros live a luxurious life comparable with that of the world’s richest billionaires.
And all their money comes from dealing in stolen properties, drug trafficking, money laundering and slave trading of Cuban professionals for hard currency.

The Castros use Cuba as if it was their own farm and the 11 million Cubans as their peons.

Watch the video:

Another people-to-people-trip: Chemistry teacher on a private school trip to Cuba ‘caught having drunken sex with a diving instructor’

Hayley Dimmock, 28, is banned from teaching indefinitely for getting drunk at a party and failing to make sure pupils were safely back in their rooms


A chemistry teacher on a school trip to Cuba had drunken sex with a diving instructor whilst supposedly looking after pupils, a conduct hearing was told.
Hayley Dimmock, 28, who taught at £9,000-a-term Bedford School, also allowed a male pupil to run his hands up her ankle and inner thigh, touch her bottom and put her iPod in the front pocket of her shorts.
The “young and inexperienced teacher” then drank at a party and went to a diving instructor’s room for sex instead of making sure pupils were safely back in their rooms.
However two members of staff passing the room were able to see what was happening through a gap in the curtains and had to stop pupils walking past.
Despite being given four formal warnings about her behaviour on the trip in July 2014, on returning to the Bedford School Ms Dimmock spent half an hour alone with the pupil at his home.
Ms Dimmock started work at the school in September 2012 but was fired in November last year after an investigation by school’s head of science who had been on the trip.
He found Ms Dimmock and the pupil who was beside her all the time had “too much physical contact”.
He considered that from the way the pupil and Ms Dimmock had been acting she had been “intimate with him for a while.”
A biology teacher also “witnessed Ms Dimmock undertaking ‘intimate whispers’ and private conversations and general touching with the pupil.”
She added “the relationship with the colleagues deteriorated” and had spent most of her time with pupils and dive staff but the “liaison” with the instructor had left her “embarrassed.”
Banning her the panel added: “By Ms Dimmock’s own admission she spent the night in the diving instructor’s room and therefore could not be supervising students.
“The panel found that Ms Dimmock’s conduct was a clear failure to safeguard and supervise students under her care. Having sexual relations whilst she was meant to be supervising students was a failure to adhere to professional boundaries.
“In addition, Ms Dimmock staying overnight in a room that was located close to students’ accommodation was also a clear failure to act within or adhere to professional boundaries, as it was possible that Ms Dimmock could have been seen or heard by students.”
Her drinking and having sex “could have led to students being exposed to or influenced by her inappropriate behaviour in a harmful way.”
It ruled she had overstepped her “professional boundaries.”
She was banned indefinitely but can apply to be reinstated on the register in three years.

The Telegraph

Venezuelan Paramilitaries Wreak Havoc with Cuban, FARC Support


Studies Reveal Colectivos with 10,000 Active Members
Studies released by the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami have revealed that the Cuban regime is training Venezuelan paramilitary groups, including Los Tupamaros, La Piedrita, Simón Bolívar, and Alexis Vive. These groups have killed more than 25 students during protests, and injured over 300.
These studies show that for years the Venezuelan government has sent regime supporters to Havana to learn repression tactics in order to help their leaders stay in power. Furthermore, there is evidence that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a group designated as a terrorist organization by the US government, also trains these groups on Venezuela’s border with Colombia.
Since 1999, and Hugo Chávez’s rise to power, Venezuela has maintained a close political and economic relationship with Cuba. Even today, in the midst of economic crisis, Venezuela continues to send oil Havana, while the Castro regime continues its unconditional political support for Venezuela. Around 7,000 members of Cuba’s Interior Ministry are scattered throughout Venezuela, but studies suggest that the figure rises to 40,000 when counting the medical personnel and staff from other areas.
Since Chávez’s time in office, Venezuela has sent hundreds of supporters to Havana to learn the tactics of the Castro regime that are used today in Venezuela by militant groups called “colectivos.” These groups are heavily armed and travel by motorcycle, and have been widely criticized by the international community for their abuses.
They have also been witnessed helping the National Guard suppress peaceful student protests in recent years, an issue that various NGOs in the country have reported and denounced.
Uberto Mario, a journalist and former Cuban intelligence agent, has attested to the training of colectivos in Cuba. He has openly stated that the Venezuelan Tupamaros, for example, were trained how to kill on the island, in the Cuban provinces of Pinar del Rio and Havana.
He says Cuban generals provided Los Tupamaros a Marxist-Leninist education, with courses that last up to three months. It’s in these training sessions, Mario contends, that the members of these paramilitary groups learn how to attack and defend, as well as how to provide escort and security to Venezuelan mayors and governors of the ruling party.+
According to the ICCAS studies, General Raul Castro currently has several high-ranking officers providing strategic and tactical training to these groups. His instructors include General Leonardo Ramón Andollo, second in command of the Ministry of the Armed Forces (Minfar), Commander Ramiro Valdés, head instructor of Cuba’s Interior Ministry (Minint), and General Carlos Fernández Gondín, deputy commander of the Interior Ministry.
Colectivos Do the Regime’s Dirty Work
Jairo Libreros, a Colombian security expert and international analyst, explains that the only way Nicolás Maduro can stay in power is through the actions of these groups.
“Maduro is aware that the only way for him to stay in power as a representative of Chavismo is through repression, and for this to be effective he needs units that are not directly linked to the Bolivarian Armed Forces,” he says. “The logic behind the repression on the streets has one purpose: to guarantee his power, even against democracy and human rights.”
While these groups are self-appointed as “guardians of the Venezuelan socialist revolution,” the ICCAS studies demonstrate that they are in fact endorsed by the government, which provides them the weapons and training they use to attack “rebel” citizens.
“Cuba has even created a contingency plan in case there is a change of government in Venezuela. They have prepared groups that are ready for action to prevent that change in politics,” lawyer and researcher Pedro Roig asserts.
“Tupamaros” brandish their weapons on the streets of Venezuela.
Roig says Cuba cannot afford to lose the oil they receive from Venezuela — around 50,000 barrels per month, and roughly 100,000 before the economic crisis — and that is why they train these Chavista groups.
“Cuba needs to protect the oil that comes from Venezuela. For Cuba, this is vital, and they are doing what they need to do in order to keep it,” he adds.
The ICCAS estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 young Venezuelans have been trained by members of the Cuban regime. However, colectivo members do not need to travel to the island to receive their training, given the many “sanctuaries” within the country, especially along the Colombian border.
Guerrilla Lessons
In 2011, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, on behalf of the Colombian Defense Ministry, conducted an independent analysis of the computers of Raúl Reyes, a member of FARC’s Central High Command who was killed in an ambush in 2008. The investigation revealed important intelligence material on the guerrilla, including information that linked senior members of the Venezuelan army with drug trafficking.+
The IISS also found evidence of that the FARC had trained Venezuelan colectivos in exchange for the campgrounds Hugo Chávez allowed the guerrilla to establish on the border.
“There is clear evidence that on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, where the main authority is not the state but the FARC, they have been involved in the formation of these colectivos,” says Libreros.
According to the IISS study, it is through this tacit agreement between the Venezuelan government and the FARC that the guerrilla trains these groups in terrorism tactics and asymmetrical warfare, given their expertise in these areas.


Cuban activist’s daughter in Tampa pushing for referendum


Rosa Maria Paya, one of Cuba’s best-known young dissident leaders, has a message for those who stand on both sides of the major question facing the communist island nation: Will normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba hasten real freedom for its people?
“They both want to help the Cuban people,” said Paya, 26, who is visiting Tampa this weekend. “I’m sure they agree what is best for the Cuban people is for them to decide on their own destiny.”
Paya’s organization, Cuba Decides, is urging the international community to pressure the Cuban government for a plebiscite — a direct vote of the populace on matters of national importance.
The question she wants answered: Do you want free multiparty elections covered by news organizations without government interference?
She will present her case at 11 a.m. Saturday at the headquarters of Casa de Cuba, 2506 W. Curtis St. At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, she will attend Casa de Cuba’s 25th anniversary celebration at La Giraldilla Hanley, 8218 Hanley Road.
This will be her first U.S. presentation of the plebiscite campaign, centered at the website
“Everyone needs to help us exert pressure and spread the word that Cubans have the right to choose their government,” Paya said. “No matter your party or political affiliation, this is about supporting real change in Cuba.”
Those in Tampa who support the move by President Barack Obama to normalize relations with Cuba after five decades of isolation may consider the site of Paya’s local presentation to be enemy territory.
Casa de Cuba advocates for continuation of the Cold War-era embargo, arguing it’s the only way to topple the Castro regime and bring democracy to Cuba. Obama says engagement now will improve the lives of its people.
Paya hopes those on both sides of the debate can put their differences aside Saturday.
Everyone is welcome to her presentation, said Ralph Fernandez, the Tampa lawyer who represents Casa de Cuba.
“Her message has universal acceptance,” Fernandez said. “Casa de Cuba does not want to divide the audience.”
Tampa was chosen for Paya’s first U.S. audience for three reasons.
First, because of its Cuban-American population, the third largest in the U.S.
Second, because it is the U.S. city most associated with José Martí, the Cuban freedom fighter who inspired the island nation’s successful war of independence from Spain in the 1890s.
It was from here that Martí raised money for the war and wrote the order for the battle to begin.
Tampa also has the José Martí Trail — a tour of spots linked to the freedom fighter — and in October will become the first U.S. city with a branch of the José Martí Cultural Society. The society has chapters in more than 90 countries.
“Tampa understands Martí’s dream for Cuba,” Paya said. “So they should understand what we need to do now.”
Finally, Tampa was chosen because it has sounded the call for normalization.
The Tampa City Council passed resolutions seeking to host a Cuban consulate and the signing of any documents restoring relations. The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce supports trade with Cuba.
And U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has led the normalization efforts.
Paya would consider it a victory to win support for a plebiscite from among the people of Tampa.
“Tampa’s city council … should show solidarity with the democratic demands of the Cuban people,” said Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, who challenges the Cuban government in the magazine “Voces,” published in the U.S. and available as an Internet download in Cuba.
Tampa Councilwoman Yvonne Capin, who introduced the Cuba resolutions, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Castor said she welcomes Paya to Tampa and encourages her constituents to join Saturday’s discussions.
“America’s new policy of engagement is intended to empower the Cuban people and encourage the Cuban government to go further and faster,” Castor said in an email to the Tribune. “I support Ms. Paya’s right to call for a plebiscite and believe that the Cuban people and indeed all people around the world should have the political freedom to petition their government for change.”
Another supporter of Paya’s measure is Albert Fox, founder of the Tampa-based Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, which lobbies for the end of the Cuba embargo.
“My opinion has always been that it is not for me or the U.S. government to tell the Cuban citizens what form of government they should have,” Fox said. “That is for them to decide, and that is important to me.”
Neither Castor nor Fox plans to attend Saturday’s event, citing prior commitments.
Cuba holds elections to decide representatives in municipalities, provinces and its National Assembly.
The president, however, is chosen by the National Assembly. A presidential term is five years, and there is no limit on the number of terms.
The Communist Party is the only party allowed under the constitution, but a candidate can run without an affiliation.
Up to 40 percent of the National Assembly members are people without a party, said Ted Henken, professor of Latin American studies at the City University of New York’s Baruch College.
Still, decisions of all elected officials must be in line with the platform of the Communist Party.
And most decision-making power lies with the president and his Council of State, both appointed by the National Assembly.
“The plebiscite is the first step,” Paya said. “Before we can have freedom of elections, we need to decide if we want to make the necessary changes in the system to move us in the right direction.”
The constitution does not require the government to accept the results of a plebiscite, but Paya said the international community would know the wishes of the Cuban people.
Even if the result favors the status quo, she said, she welcomes the chance for Cubans to make their choice.
“This Cuban government has never been selected by the people,” Paya said.
A poll of 1,200 Cuban citizens conducted by Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International showed 39 percent are satisfied with the political system, 58 percent rate the Communist Party of Cuba negatively and 48 percent are dissatisfied with Raul Castro’s leadership.
Cuba has about 11 million people.
“Obama has said isolation has not worked and this new policy will empower the Cuban people,” said dissident Cuban writer Pardo Lazo. “But the Cuban people are not participating in these discussions, and they will not be allowed to under the current form of government. Those who really say they support Obama because they care about Cuba will support this plebiscite.”
Paya’s work continues the legacy of her father, the late Oswaldo Paya.
He began speaking in favor of more civil rights in Cuba in the 1980s and acquired international fame in 2002 when he presented Cuba’s legislature 11,020 signatures calling for a referendum on safeguarding freedom of speech and assembly and ending one-party rule.
A year later, he delivered an additional 14,000 signatures.
A clause in the constitution requires a national referendum if 11,000 signatures are gathered.
For his efforts, Paya was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the European version.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cuba to endorse his cause.
But no referendum was held on his questions.
Instead, the Cuban government scheduled a referendum declaring the socialist system untouchable. The government said more than 8 million voters supported it. The measure was added to the constitution.
Just as her father did, Paya seeks to bridge the debate with her message.
He opposed Fidel and Raul Castro but also the embargo, saying it gave the brothers cover for their economic failures.
Fox, of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, recalls attending cocktail receptions welcoming Paya’s father to the U.S.
Attorney Fernandez supported his petition for a referendum from Tampa.
These two men, who rarely agree on anything about Cuba politics, share respect for his work.
Paya died in a car crash in 2012.
Cuban law enforcement said the vehicle veered off the road accidentally and hit a tree.
Dissidents say witnesses saw another vehicle push it off the road. They contend state security was behind the death.
“Since then Rosa has become a very important figure in Cuba,” said Henken, of Baruch College. “Her last name means something in Cuba. Her father was long heralded for his peaceful resistance to the government. And she has earned credibility through her intelligence and eloquence.”
Paya says she was forced into political exile two years ago by opponents who harassed and threatened her.
She has spent some time in Miami, she said, but stopped short of calling any U.S. city her home.
In May, she returned to Cuba and invited everyone she met to work for a plebiscite.
She said she is not advocating for violent overthrow. Rather, she wants people to have a voice and sees opportunity in the current political climate.
As the U.S. and Cuba renew relations, the eyes of the world are fixed on the island nation.
With the eyes of the world watching, pressure is on the Cuban government, she said.
“People in Cuba want change. This is the moment that can lead us to success.”

The Tampa Tribune

Some Remain More Equal than Others in New US-Cuba Policy

Democracy the First Victim of Champagne Diplomacy by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A revolutionary rumor in Washington, DC, can be filtered through congressional offices the same way it can from the dozens of Castroist NGOs that exist in the capital. It’s the sort of rumor that leaves no room for doubt: later this month, or in early July, the Cuban embassy in the United States will reopen at 2630 16th Street NW.
Countless state security agents who work at the Cuban “consulate” spent an entire week digging a hole for a flag pole in the mansion’s garden. It’s a residence that the Castroists stole from the republic’s treasury and the Cuban people. In practice, however, there never was a “consulate,” since the building has always functioned as one of the most important embassies in DC.
Once finished with the flag pole, the diplomatic police sang the Cuban national anthem. It wouldn’t surprise me if the song ends up on the Billboard Top 100 or featured on MTV. On December 17, 2014, US President Barack Obama said “we are all Americans” when he announced his policy shift towards Cuba. However, the real corporate trend in the United States is that “we are all Castroists” now, beginning with certain sectors of the Cuban exile community.
Roberta Jacobson, the ever-smiling US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has negotiated with Cuban spies Gustavo Machín and Josefina Vidal, among other diplo-criminals. Both men are members of the Cuban Interior Ministry and were caught red-handed and expelled from the United States in 2002 and 2003, respectively, for their links to Havana’s espionage network within academic institutions in the United States and the Pentagon.

They gathered at a DC bar called The Partisan, and over drinks and selfies sealed their secret deal with the Castro regime: no pro-democracy Cuban activists will be invited to the opening of the new embassy. To ensure this, the US State Department will keep the launch date secret, and the FBI will keep a close eye on the entire block. They’ll do all they can to prevent any demonstration against this “New Deal.”
Congressmen from both yanqui parties made their way to the pub like flies at a marketplace. The crème de la crème of the pro-communist lobbyists in the US Congress were joined by representatives of the recently launched anti-embargo (read: pro-dictatorship) coalition Engage Cuba. And at the head of the table sat the chief of the Cuban Special Interests Section in Washington, José Ramón Cabañas, who way before December 17 was traveling the country — from Pittsburgh to Tampa, and back to New York — asking for foreign investment and credit in exchange for the island’s slave labor.
The Cuban magnate Carlos Saladrigas, member of the executive committee of the Cuba Study Group and the man who is expected to succeed Raúl Castro, has summarized his allegiance to the regime with a slogan as wise as it is cynical: “For Cuba, China is better than North Korea.”
This is the real United States of America: a country on the verge of executive tyranny, whose leaders and achievers tend to be resentfully anti-American, conspiring against their own country — whether they know it or not — and harming the nation’s reputation as a superpower and example for the world. They may finally achieve this during the current administration.
For pro-democracy activists both on and off the island, the war is no longer against the dynastic and despotic regime of Revolution Plaza, but against the indifferent and indecent establishment of the White House and State Department.
Like the last supper in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the executioners in green “Hecho en La Habana” guayaberas and their accomplices in “Made in Washington” suits join together to celebrate their post-Castroism future.
The apostate giggling of Roberta Jacobson and Josefina Vidal are suddenly interchangeable masks. There is no doubting the transformation of their faces. George Orwell could have summarized this as well, but only 50 years before: “The Cubans outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


Castro and the Pope: A Real Conversion?

National Review

VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - MAY 10:  President of Cuba Raul Castro and Pope Francis meet at the Paul VI Hall private studio during a private audience on May 10, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. This is the first visit of the Cuban leader to the Vatican, twenty years ago his brother Fidel Castro had met John Paul II prior to his visit to Cuba.  (Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

The evidence, please. “. . . they only heard it said, ‘He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’. . . .” – Galatians 1:23

Has Cuban president Raúl Castro, once described by a senior Vatican official as a man with a soul “like a stone,” had a Damascus Road experience like Saint Paul, such that he’s now preaching the kind of politics he had long tried to destroy? Fidel Castro’s little brother and political heir was certainly suggesting as much, in remarks to the press after his May 10 visit at the Vatican with Pope Francis.

The pope “is a Jesuit, and I, in some way, am too,” Raúl said; “I always studied in Jesuit schools.” And when Pope Francis comes to Cuba in September, just before his visit to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, “I promise to go to all his Masses, and with satisfaction.” And then the money line: “I read all the speeches of the pope, his commentaries, and if the pope continues this way, I will go back to praying and go back to Church, and I’m not joking.”

Well, perhaps not. One can always hope. But Raúl Castro, no fool, is certainly spinning. And rather more is going to be required of him if his protestations of having taken an “important step” by allowing religious believers some role in the governing Cuban Communist party — which he’d like the Church and the world to believe is the first step in a break with totalitarianism — are to be taken seriously.

What might the evidence of a genuine “conversion” on the part of Raúl Castro and the totalitarian regime he leads look like?

• The Cuban government immediately releases all political prisoners, including the hundreds arrested on political charges in the months since the regime’s rapprochement with the Obama administration.

• The Cuban government disbands the neighborhood-based Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — the tentacles of a nationwide network of surveillance, betrayal, and repression reminiscent of life under Hitler or Stalin.

• President Castro publicly apologizes to the Ladies in White — the brave women who protest every Sunday against the imprisonment of their relatives and who are regularly beaten up by Castroite goons — and invites Berta Soler, the Ladies’ leader, to sit in a place of honor at the pope’s Mass in Havana.

• The regime closes the Museum of the Revolution in Havana and disposes of the burlap bag that once carried the corpse of Che Guevara; the museum displays the bloodstained bag in a glass case, an obscene, sacrilegious imitation of the Shroud of Turin.

• The Cuban government withdraws the internal-security “consultants” it has seeded throughout Latin America in support of repressive regimes in places like Venezuela and Ecuador.

• The Cuban government ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and amends the Cuban constitution so that it no longer subordinates basic civil rights to the leading role of the Communist party.

• The regime opens access to the Internet for everyone.

• The Cuban press, print and online, is liberated; writers and editors are no longer subjected to harassment and imprisonment for criticizing the government.

• The government permits newspapers and magazines from around the world to be openly distributed throughout Cuba.

• Workers in enterprises owned by foreign businesses receive their wages directly from their employers, rather than through the government, thus eliminating the government’s (substantial) cut.

• Entrepreneurs running small businesses like restaurants, cabs, and other tourist services are no longer required to fork over large sums of money to the government on a regular basis.

• Religious communities and institutions are allowed to live their lives by their own standards, openly propose the truths they profess, build new facilities, and work without hassle with co-religionists from abroad.

• Cubans may travel freely inside and outside their country.

• Pro-democracy nongovernmental organizations from around the world are welcome to work in Cuba.

• The government announces a national roundtable at which all interested parties will meet for several months to discuss Cuba’s political and economic future; the safety of all participants is guaranteed, and foreigners from long-established democracies are invited to observe and even offer counsel.

The list could go on and on, but perhaps these minimal benchmarks of a genuine “conversion” illustrate the point: It will take a lot more than references to the Jesuit Old Boys’ Club to persuade any reasonable observer that, thanks to Pope Francis, Raúl Castro is a changed man who wants to spend his remaining days repairing the colossal damage he, his brother, and their accomplices have done to the physical, social, and moral fabric of Cuba.

And until those steps are taken, it would be prudent for all concerned to work on the assumption that the Castros and their allies have not fundamentally changed, except to become a bit more clever. The transition they now seem to imagine has elements of post-Communist Russia and post-Mao China in it: The Russian angle involves the continued role of the internal-security services in maintaining the regime during a period of economic liberalization; the Chinese side involves the party and military as principal economic actors, thus ensuring that the fruits of any economic liberalization redound to the benefit of those currently in power. None of this has anything to do with the free and just society envisioned by Catholic social doctrine, or by Pope Francis.

Raúl Castro’s promise to attend Francis’s Masses in Cuba in September calls to mind January 1998, when John Paul II visited Cuba and celebrated Mass in, among several other places, Santiago de Cuba, the principal city in the old Oriente province and, as home to Fidel and Raúl Castro, the romantic heart of the Castro revolution. It was a blazing hot day, but a vast crowd had gathered for the open-air Mass, both to pray with John Paul and to venerate Cuba’s national icon, Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, whose statue was going to be publicly displayed for the first time in decades. Raúl Castro, evidently concerned by the outpouring of affection that the pope had already received in Havana, Santa Clara, and Camagüey, unexpectedly showed up and sat in the front row, arms crossed and a scowl on his face.

At the beginning of Mass, Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiú welcomed the pope on behalf of his people and lambasted the “false messianism” of those who had “confused the fatherland with a single party, the nation with the historical process we have lived through during the last few decades, and culture with an ideology.” John Paul’s homily lifted up those Cuban cultural and political heroes who had chosen “the way of freedom and justice as the foundation of the people’s dignity” and made a strong plea for a Church that, by defending religious freedom, “defends the freedom of every individual, of families, of different social units, which are living realities with a right to their own sphere of autonomy and sovereignty.” The throng responded with cries of Libertad! Libertad! Raúl, looking decidedly unhappy, returned to Havana, as did John Paul, who spent the evening at a prayer service held in a leprosarium. As for Archbishop Meurice, the electricity in his residence mysteriously disappeared for some days after the pope’s visit to his diocese.

Will Pope Francis bring a similar message to Cuba in September: a call to national renewal through a reclamation of Cuba’s authentic history and culture, traduced for half a century by Communism? Like John Paul, Francis will almost certainly call on Cuba to open itself to the world, and the world to open itself to Cuba. It would be a splendid gesture of solidarity if the Holy Father met with the Ladies in White. And in his discussions with the bishops of Cuba — who are often thought of as analogous to the Polish bishops under Communism, but who are in fact in a far more difficult situation, given the weakness of Cuban Catholicism — I’d expect Francis to challenge the Church to both build and resist: to rebuild its institutional strength while pressing the regime for genuine civil, political, and economic liberties.

Such a strategy would make for a steady, constant testing of the extent of Raúl Castro’s “conversion” — and the testing would take place under the patronage, and protection, of a pope whom Raúl clearly wants in his corner, for whatever reasons.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.