Monthly Archives: April 2016

Change? What Change?

Everleny Perez
Everleny Perez

Associated Press

One of Cuba’s most renowned advocates of economic reform has been fired from his University of Havana think tank for sharing information with Americans without authorization, among other alleged violations.

The dismissal of Omar Everleny Perez adds to a chillier mood that has settled over much of Cuba as the country’s leaders try to quash the widespread jubilation that greeted President Barack Obama’s historic trip to the island last month.

The Cuban Communist Party’s twice-a-decade Congress ended Tuesday after four days of officials issuing tough warnings about the need to maintain a defensive stance against what they called the United States’ continuing imperialist aspirations. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described Obama’s visit as an “attack on the foundation of our political ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” President Raul Castro described the U.S. as an “enemy” seeking to seduce vulnerable sectors of society, including intellectuals and members of Cuba’s new private sector.

While that was going on, Cuban academics began sharing the news that Perez had been dismissed from his post at the Center for Studies of the Cuban Economy on April 8, less than three weeks after Obama’s visit.

Perez is one of the country’s best-known academics, an expert in developing economies who served as a consultant for Castro’s government when it launched a series of market-oriented economic reforms after he took over from his brother Fidel in 2008. Perez made dozens of trips to universities and conferences in the U.S. and frequently received foreign visitors researching the Cuban economy.

Reached by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Perez confirmed his dismissal by center director Humberto Blanco for having unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions and informing “North American representatives” about the internal procedures of the university.

The dismissal letter described Perez, 56, as “irresponsible” and “negligent” for continuing to engage in unauthorized activity after warnings from his superiors. It also accused him of receiving unauthorized payments for a study of the South Korean economy and said he was barred from returning to work for at least four years.

Perez said he believed Cuban authorities were seeking to make an example of him not because of the allegations in the letter, but because of his critical writings about the slow pace of economic reforms.

“Sometimes they don’t like what you write or think,” he told the AP.

Perez was one of the first state economists to begin publishing in non-government publications, including several run by the Catholic Church. In 2010, he became a key consultant in reforms implemented by Raul Castro that include the legalization of hundreds of new types of private businesses, a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment, the opening of a real estate market and the handing of unused agricultural land to small farmers.

“I’m still a revolutionary and a nationalist and I believe in many of the reforms that Raul Castro is undertaking,” he said.

Cuba’s system is based on the communist government’s total oversight of virtually all elements of society, including the press, arts and academia.

While room for debate has grown somewhat under Raul Castro, and Cubans openly criticize the government in private conversations, intellectuals who publicly offend official sensibilities have found themselves losing their state jobs and other privileges.

“His call to speed up the reforms and make them coherent may have served to frighten some of the forces of immobility in the bureaucracy,” said Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political scientist based at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico. “It’s a terrible message to economists that will affect the government’s own capacity to hear feedback about its reforms.”

Political scientist Esteban Morales was expelled from the Communist Party in 2010 for two years for denouncing corruption. Sociologist Roberto Zurbano lost his job at a state cultural center after discussing racism in Cuba in an editorial published in The New York Times. In 2013, musician Roberto Carcasses was temporarily barred from cultural institutions after criticizing the government during a concert, and director Juan Carlos Cremata was prevented last year from putting on a production of Eugene Ionesco’s “Exit the King,” a play about a once-powerful dying leader.

Pavel Vidal, a former colleague of Perez now working in Colombia, said the University of Havana was taking limits on academic work to an extreme.

“The public work of academics has been coming under increasingly greater control,” he said, even as Castro’s reforms make it more urgent for the country to have “new ideas and an open and honest debate about the future of the country.”

Paquito D’Rivera update

More than a week after writing a personal letter to President Obama, after an invitation to perform at the White House was withdrawn, and not receiving a reply, Paquito D’Rivera decided to make the letter public.
Two hours after the letter was published in several newspapers and in social media, the Cuban-American musician received a new communication saying that he was re-invited to participate in the upcoming International Jazz day Event on April 30.
No reasons were giving for the original invitation withdrawal or today’s re-invitation.

Martí Noticias

Paquito D’Rivera vetoed from participating in a performance at the WH due to his opposition to Cuba’s dictatorship

paquito

In Cuba Today

Multiple Grammy-Award winner Paquito D’Rivera has penned a letter to President Barack Obama questioning whether the decision to “veto” his participation in an upcoming performance at the White House is due to his stance against the Castro regime, now that relations between Cuba and the United States have been restored.

In the letter dated April 11, 2016, D’Rivera — who has previously played at the White House — says he fears that his exclusion is the result of his long-standing stance against oppression in his native Cuba, that he is concerned the decision was made without the Obama’s knowledge and as a form of manipulation by the Cuban government and that as a citizen of a free nation he feels a duty to bring the matter to the attention of the most powerful man on Earth.

Here is the full text of the letter.

Dear Mr. President:

A few months ago, the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute informed me that they had proposed that I participate in International Jazz Day, an event organized by UNESCO that will take place at the White House on April 30th, and will have you, Mr. President, and First Lady Michelle Obama, as hosts. This concert will feature many loved and admired colleagues of mine such as Chick Corea, Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Heath, Dave Holland, Al Jarreau, Diana Krall, Christian McBride, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter, Esperanza Spalding, Sting, and even my former Cuba-based colleague Chucho Valdés. I was delighted and put the rehearsal schedule and dates on my calendar.

I regarded this invitation as recognition of my contribution to American culture that, throughout the years, has earned me the appointment as NEA Jazz Master, honorary doctorates from Berklee School of Music and University of Pennsylvania, , Kennedy Center Living Jazz Legend, and the Presidential Medal of the Arts, among other awards. So imagine my surprise when, a couple of days ago, I received a phone call from the Monk Institute informing me, without any further details, that my participation did not pass the vetting process by the White House. That is all the information that was given.

If the matter at heart here were my cultural contribution to Jazz and American culture, I wouldn’t take the time to write you this letter, Mr. President. I have played the White House before. However, I fear that this “not passing the vetting process” may have to do with my decades-long vocal position against the dictatorship that oppresses Cuba, my country of birth, and my support of human rights and democratic values that you defended so well a few weeks ago in Havana. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have suffered discrimination instigated by the Cuban dictatorship, due to my democratic convictions, even in the United States. And still, this occasion strikes me as particularly troublesome, given that it is an event in which you, Mr. President, will be the host. You, who just a few days ago defended in my native-land the principle that “citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully,” and praised the accomplishments of the Cuban exile, of which I am a proud member.

Mr. President, I write to you because it concerns me that your genuine goodwill gestures towards the Cuban people could be understood as a call to be complacent towards the demands of the dictatorship that oppresses it; that these gestures may be taken as a pretext to marginalize, even on American soil, Cuban exiles who defend the right of the Cuban people to express freely and to decide their destiny democratically. It is telling (and I pray that I’m wrong) that if the Cuban regime is willing to exert this level of spite and pressure against a public figure in another country — and not just any other country, but the United States — one can only imagine the level of impunity with which the Castro regime acts against Cuban private citizens at home.

It concerns me, that if this is an act of political discrimination against me, it will take place in your house — which is the house of all Americans, given its symbolic weight. It concerns me because it is easier to bear individual discrimination against my person — no matter how painful and humiliating it may be — than the idea that in the name of coexistence with other governments, regardless of their repressive nature, there will be a violation of the basic principles of free speech that so many generations of Americans have fought for over centuries — principles that are a model and a beacon of hope for a considerable part of humankind.

I suppose that this decision to “veto” my presence was made without your knowledge, but my exclusion from the show will be made public. It is my civic duty as a citizen to warn you that even an event celebrating a musical genre that embodies the aspiration of freedom could be used precisely to do the opposite. Because of my respect towards you — which has only increased recently due to your performance in my native country — I believe it is my duty to inform you that your status as host is possibly being manipulated by the very people who deny the very principles that allowed you to become the President of this country, and which allow me to address the most powerful man on Earth with absolute freedom and without fearing repercussions.

Most respectfully,

Paquito D’Rivera

Why even Google can’t connect Cuba

Finally, an article by someone who really knows what he is talking about! 

googlecuba

Computerworld, by Mike Elgan

Reports say Google intends to help wire Cuba and bring the island into the 21st century. But that’s not going to happen.
When President Obama said in Havana last month that Google would be working to improve Internet access in Cuba, I wondered what Google might do in Cuba that other companies could not.

Today, Cuba is an Internet desert where only 5% of trusted elites are allowed to have (slow dial-up) Internet connections at home, and a paltry 400,000 people access the Internet through sidewalk Wi-Fi hotspots. These hotspots have existed for only a year or so. Also, some 2.5 million Cubans have government-created email accounts, but no Web access.

I spent a month in Cuba until last week, and I was there when the president spoke. I’m here to report that those government Wi-Fi hotspots are rare, slow and expensive. While in Cuba, my wife, son and I spent about $300 on Wi-Fi. In a country where the average wage ranges from $15 to $30 per month, connecting is a massive financial burden available only to a lucky minority with private businesses or generous relatives in Miami.

And this is why I think the possibilities of what Google might accomplish in Cuba are misunderstood.

It’s not as if Cuba would have ubiquitous, affordable and fast Internet access if it just had the money or expertise to make it happen. The problem is that Cuba is a totalitarian Communist dictatorship.

The outrageous price charged for Wi-Fi in Cuba can’t possibly reflect the cost of providing the service. The price is really a way to restrict greater freedom of information to those who benefit from the Cuban system.

The strange Wi-Fi card system is also a tool of political control. In order to buy a card, you have to show your ID, and your information is entered into the system. Everything done online using a specific Wi-Fi card is associated with a specific person.

The Cuban government allows people to run privately owned small hotels, called casas particulares, and small home restaurants, called paladares. The owners of these small businesses would love to provide their guests with Wi-Fi, but the Cuban government doesn’t allow it. Nor does it allow state-owned restaurants, bars and cafes to provide Wi-Fi.

Google is connected to the global Internet through satellite networks. Cuba is connected to the Internet by an undersea fiber-optic cable that runs between the island and Venezuela. The cable was completed in 2011, and it existed as a “darknet” connection for two years before suddenly going online in 2013.

So here’s the problem with Google as the solution: The Cuban government uses high prices and draconian laws to prevent the majority of Cubans from having any access to the Internet at all. The government actively prevents access as a matter of policy. It’s not a technical problem. It’s a political one.

In other words, Cuba doesn’t need Google to provide hotspots. If the Cuban government allowed hotspots, Cubans would provide them.

Continue reading Why even Google can’t connect Cuba

They Can’t Blame the Embargo: Yellow Water, Dirty Air, Power Outages: Venezuela Hits a New Low

yellowwater

Bloomberg

The tap in her apartment yields water only every two weeks. It comes out yellow. Her 8-month-old granddaughter is ill. And as Yajaira Espinoza, a 55-year-old hairdresser, made her way down the halls of Caracas university hospital on Friday, Zika cases evident in the rooms around her, a dense ash-filled smog enveloped the city.

“I am so sorry for my daughter, because I know she suffers silently,” she said. “This situation is hard.”

It has been an exceptionally painful year for Venezuelans, suffering from violent crime, chronic shortages, plummeting oil prices on which they depend, declining health and fractured government. Yet this past week it seemed to reach a new low. A kind of resigned misery spread across a city that had once been the envy of Latin America.

A sudden combination of natural disasters joined man-made failures. The smog, called calima, is a meteorological phenomenon that involves ash and dust clouds fairly common for this time of year. Meanwhile a prolonged drought blamed on El Nino and related forest fires has arrived. Levels at the Guri dam in the south, which produces 40 percent of the country’s electricity, fell to a record low of 242.33 meters on Monday.

The lack of public order means attempts to alleviate the problems are going poorly. Water trucks dispatched to help reduce suffering from the drought, for example, are being routinely robbed.
“Two or three times a week a water truck we send out is robbed,” said Tatiana Noguera, a water official. “The trucks get stopped by gangs who make the driver change the route and discharge the water in an area they control.”
More than 3,700 cases of respiratory illness related to calima have been reported at state health centers around Caracas since March, said Dr. Miguel Viscuna, an epidemiologist. Medicine — like toilet paper, chicken and other basic goods — is increasingly hard to find.

“The water is coming out very yellow, very bad quality,” said Ana Carvajal, an infectious disease specialist at the Universitario Hospital in Caracas. “We’re seeing an uptick in different illnesses, especially diarrhea. The lack of clean water is causing skin problems like scabies and folliculitis. There’s no medicine. All we can do is prescribe sulfur soap.”

Continue reading They Can’t Blame the Embargo: Yellow Water, Dirty Air, Power Outages: Venezuela Hits a New Low

Carnival finally did the right thing!

Thanks to everyone who got involved and asked the company to stop following discriminatory orders from the Castro dictatorship against US citizens who were born in Cuba.

USA Today

carnivalok

Cruise giant Carnival Corp. on Monday said it would delay the launch of new Cuba voyages if the island nation sticks to a rule barring Cuban-born Americans from the trips.

Carnival has come under fire in recent days for not allowing Cuban-born Americans to book the voyages, which will be operated by the company’s new Fathom brand and are scheduled to begin May 1. The line had said it was complying with a longstanding Cuban rule forbidding Cuban-born Americans from traveling to Cuba by ship.

In a statement issued Monday, Carnival said it was continuing discussions with the Cuban government to change the rule to allow Cuban-born Americans to sail on the cruises. The voyages will be the first cruises from the USA to Cuba in more than 50 years.

Carnival Corp. also said that, effective immediately, it is accepting bookings for the voyages from passengers born in any country, including Cuba.

The change of policy at Carnival Corp. comes less than a week after the company was sued in federal court by two Cuban-born Americans who were turned down when they tried to book one of the Cuba sailings. The lawsuit claimed the inability of a group of Americans to participate in a public activity violates the Civil Rights Act. It asked for the May 1 cruise to Cuba to be stopped.

Carnival Corp. also faced protests and heavy criticism in its home town of Miami. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez requested an official opinion to see whether the Fathom brand would be violating county code by banning passengers based solely on their national origin. Fathom operates out of PortMiami, which is in Miami-Dade County, and Gimenez asked if the restrictions on Cuban-born Americans would represent a breach of contract or warrant penalties.

Pressure on Carnival to change its policy grew on Thursday after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN en Espanol that “Carnival needs to not discriminate.” Kerry had been asked whether the Fathom trips should be postponed until Cuban-born Americans were allowed to travel to the island by sea.

Carnival on Monday said it was confident the Cuban government would change its policy, noting the country already allows Cuba-born Americans to travel to Cuba on chartered aircraft.

“While optimistic that Cuba will treat travelers with Fathom the same as air charters today, should that decision by Cuba be delayed past May 1, Carnival Corporation will delay the start of its voyages to Cuba accordingly,” the company said in the statement.

A visit to Cuba is like a trip to prison

cubajail

Observer-Dispatch

You say you would like to go to Philadelphia for the Fourth? Do you have permission to leave your home town? You do? Then do you have permission from Philadelphia to visit?

Oh, you also want to go to Cuba in September? In other words, you want to go to jail?

This is how I react when people rave to me about Cuba. Maybe they have visited. Maybe they have read propaganda from Cuba.

And this is how I think when I read about the Pope’s visit to Cuba. And when I see stuff about the president’s visit and schmoozes with the Castros. And when I see anything from anyone who cozies up with anything to do with communism.
Sure, Cuba has its charms. Sure, many Cubans enjoy many things about life there. And how about those cigars? Don’t forget the cool music.

Ahh, but those who sing Cuba’s praises overlook a simple sobering fact: Cuba is a type of prison. The prisoners are most of the Cuban people.

This is true of China as well, although China has certainly loosened its controls over its people over the last few decades.

If you feel like shooting off to Bermuda, you can. Book your flight today. Fly next weekend. If you happen to be Cuban you cannot shoot off to Bermuda. Try to and there may be another type of shooting — with you as the target.

The Cuban government owns you. It imprisons you. It tells you whether you can leave Cuba. And by the way, it also tells you who your leader is. You have no voice and no choice in this. One man has chosen himself to be your leader since the late 50’s. He decided a few years ago to let his brother be your leader. Nice of him.

Imagine being owned by a government. Imagine if Obama told you today he has decided to remain as your president for the next 30 years. After that he will let his wife rule you.

Imagine that if you managed to escape this country the family you left behind would suffer. They might get booted from their homes or demoted in their jobs.

This is what happens when Cubans risk their lives to sail to Florida on jury-rigged rafts and boats.

In China in the 80’s people needed permission from authorities to leave their town or city to visit Mom in another city. They needed permission from authorities in Mom’s city to enter.

Those who sing the praises of countries under communism ignore such. They tell us the hotels were modern. They tell us the people are so friendly and so happy. You should learn about their healthcare, they tell us.

You should learn about their jails, I suggest. That is where Cubans and Chinese land if they try to exercise what we regard as basic freedoms.

Ronald Reagan had the courage to cry out for the prisoners of communism. He called the Soviet Union an evil empire. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” he demanded. I call this courageous. Because his advisers insisted he not say such things. Leaders and critics around the world attacked him.

I call this courageous because neither the Pope nor President Obama dares say the same today. Imagine how inspiring either could have been in Havana if he had sung out “Mr. Castro, open the gates of this prison!”

For years much of the world censured and isolated South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) because whites subjugated blacks in those countries. Today the same countries approve of the slavery in Cuba. Cuba is a slave state, pure and simple.

By not speaking out about the slavery, President Obama and the Pope give tacit approval. Leaders around the world are just as guilty. It is pitiful that speaking up for the most basic freedoms requires such courage. Yes, pitiful.

Tom Morgan is a veteran columnist whose column appears weekly in the Observer-Dispatch. Contact him at tomasinmorgan@yahoo.com.

Carnival’s Cuba cruise discriminates, lawsuit says

Carnivalnofreecubans

CNN

When Carnival Corp. announced plans for a cruise ship from its Fathom line to sail from Miami to Havana in May, Francisco Marty jumped at the opportunity to surprise his kids with a trip back to their native land.

But Marty, who’s cruised so many times that he’s a Platinum VIP in the company’s rewards program, was shocked when a representative told him he couldn’t go on the inaugural trip because of where he was born: Cuba.
Now, as travelers get their bags ready for the first cruise to Cuba in more than 50 years, Marty is part of a new class-action lawsuit claiming that Carnival is discriminating against Cuban-Americans looking to travel to their homeland.
The lawsuit, filed by Marty and fellow traveler Amparo Sanchez, alleges that the company is violating federal civil rights laws and discriminating against Cubans by denying them tickets.

‘A Cuba decision’

A spokesperson for Carnival responded to the lawsuit in a statement, writing, “This is not a decision by our Fathom brand, but rather a Cuba decision.”
The statement cites a Cold War-era Cuban law that does not allow Cuban-born individuals to enter the country by ships, only via plane.

Carnival said the company requested a change in the regulation and has been working with the Cuban government on the issue for months.
But for Marty, that isn’t enough.

Attorney Robert Rodriguez said his client has health issues that keep him from flying to the island.

Marty took part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and had been hoping to return to the beach he landed on to take “before” and “after” photos for an exhibit at a Miami museum, Rodriguez said.
Then, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed on board.

“They said, ‘Sorry, you can’t go because you’re Cuban,’ ” Rodriguez said. “That’s just not the American way. You were given permission to sail to Cuba, not break the laws of the U.S.”
Rodriguez said he plans to file an emergency motion early Monday, aiming for an immediate hearing, hoping that a judge will hear the case within the next week.
“I hope that Carnival cooperates, in terms of getting this litigated before the first cruise,” Rodriguez said.

The weeklong cruise is set to sail to Havana on May 1, also making stops in Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. Tickets start at $1,800 per person, excluding other costs, such as Cuban visas.

Do similar cases set a precedent?

Rodriguez said he’s confident the suit will succeed. One reason: the U.S. government has weighed in on similar situations in the past.
Miami-based civil rights attorney John de Leon says there are at least two similar cases in recent history.

According to de Leon, Kuwait Airways had a policy banning Israeli citizens from traveling between JFK and London’s Heathrow airport.
“The Department of Transportation came out very strongly. … They said they would not allow discrimination for anybody who is leaving an American port,” said de Leon.
The airline eventually suspended the flight altogether.

In a similar case, Norwegian Cruise Line canceled all port calls into Tunisia after the Tunisian government refused to allow entry to a group of Israeli citizens.
“The cruise ship had to balance its commercial interest verses its interest not to discriminate,” said de Leon, who is Cuban-American.
“If they do the right thing, they are going to say, ‘We are not going to discriminate against the Cubans in Miami, who have been loyal customers for years and generations.’ ”
Kerry: ‘Carnival needs to not discriminate’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry weighed in on the controversy last week during a visit to Miami-Dade College, telling the Miami Herald: “Carnival needs to not discriminate.”

“The United States government will never support, never condone discrimination. And the Cuban government should not have the right to enforce on us a policy of discrimination against people who have the right to travel,” Kerry told CNN en Español.
“We should not be in a situation where the Cuban government is forcing its discrimination policy on us. So we call on the government of Cuba to change that policy, and to recognize that if they want full relations and a normal relationship with the United States, they have to live by international laws, not exclusively by Cuban laws,” he said.

A spokesman for the State Department later clarified Kerry’s remarks, explaining that Kerry “in no way meant to convey that Carnival is supporting policies that are discriminating against Cuban-American travelers.”

Thanks to Obama’s new Cuba policy, the Castros are increasing their exports

panamdrug

Fox News Latino

401 kilos of cocaine found on Cuban ship; Diaz-Balart: Castro regime ‘caught red-handed’

Panamanian authorities seized 401 kilos, about 882 pounds, of cocaine on a ship headed to Belgium from Cuba on Thursday.

The cocaine was found camouflaged among tanks of cane-sugar syrup, according to the country’s National Police (PN), part of operation Caña Brava. The PN did not elaborate further on the raid.

Despite the lack of details available, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) fired off a press release blaming the Cuban government and the Castro regime for trafficking cocaine.

“The Castro regime has once again been caught red-handed violating international law and norms,” Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, said. “This time, it reportedly was caught red-handed sending hundreds of kilos of cocaine to Belgium. This is only the latest in the Castro regime’s long history of links to narcotrafficking.”

Diaz-Balart pointed to a 2015 case in which Colombian authorities discovered a hidden shipment of weapons from Cuba on a Chinese ship and a 2013 case in which Panamanian authorities caught the Castro regime smuggling 240 tons of military weaponry, including MiG-21 fighter jets, to North Korea.

The congressman has opposed U.S. President Barack Obama’s overtures to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist regime and has that the initiative has only served to “embolden” the Castro regime and “escalate its illicit activities.”

The bust took place in Colón, Panama, an official source told EFE.