Catholic archbishop in Cuba criticizes government
August 30 - In an unusual
gesture for a member high in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in Cuba,
the Apostolic nuncio Bruno Musaro spoke openly about Cuba’s “extreme
poverty and human and civil degradation.”
Musaro made his controversial remarks while on vacation in Italy after
holding a Mass in the San Pio de Pietrelcina park, in the Italian
municipality of Vignacastrisi.
The Cuban people are “victims of a socialist dictatorship that has kept
them subjugated for the past 56 years,” Musaro said, according to the
Italian newspaper, Lecce News24.
“I’m thankful to the pope for inviting me to this island, and I hope to
leave once that the socialist regime has disappeared indefinitely,” said
Musaro, a Vatican ambassador living in Cuba since 2011. “Only liberty
can bring hope to the Cuban people,” he said.
The Italian newspaper said his remarks were “a cry for help, a call to
the weapons of conscience and common sense” made by the diplomatic envoy
from the Holy See, who also said regarding Cubans, “The only hope for a
better life is to escape the island.”
The monsignor compared the realities of his native Italy and Cuba and
warned Italians that they should make note of the fact that “in Cuba, a
doctor makes 25 euros a month, and to live with dignity, some
professionals go work as waiters during the night.”
“In Cuba, everything is controlled by the state, even milk and meat.
Eating lamb is a luxury, and whoever kills one to eat it is arrested and
taken to jail,” he said. “Half a century later, and people are still
talking about the revolution. It is praised. Meanwhile, people don’t
have work and don’t know what to do to feed their own kids,” the
Masuro was born in Andrani in the Lecce region, nearby to Vignacastrisi,
where he officiated the Mass. He was named a Vatican representative in
Cuba in 2001 after a long career within the Catholic Church.
He was ordained as a priest in 1971 and began his diplomatic service in
1977. He was previously designated apostolic nuncio in other Latin
American countries such as Panama (1994), Guatemala (2004) and Perú
According to a source of the Apostolic branch in Cuba, he is currently
“on vacation” in Italy and isn’t expected back until three weeks from
The source claimed to be unaware of the comments made by Masuro and
denied that his mission in Cuba had ended, although other media outlets
suggested it had.
The archbishop’s comments were given in Polish and on Vatican Radio on
its website. They were not given in Spanish or in English.
Masuro’s declarations could bring tension to an era in which the
Catholic Church has improved its relationship with Raúl Castro’s
Monsignor Felix Perez, adjunct secretary of the Conference of Catholic
Bishops, recently told the Italian news agency ANSA that Cuban
authorities have approved plans to build two new churches in Santiago de
Cuba and Pinar del Río.
The frank nature of Masuro’s criticism contrasts with the caution that
high members of the Catholic Church uphold when it comes to topics of
politics and social well-being on the island.
The Christian Liberation Movement quickly welcomed the archbishop’s
From Havana, activist Luis Alberto Marino said on Radio Martí that
Masuro’s words “give a lot of hope to those of us on the inside and
those on the outside who believe that another Cuba is possible.”
The Miami Herald
Sunwing flight to Cuba forced back to Toronto after disruption
August 27 - A Sunwing
Airlines flight headed to Cuba was forced to turn back to Toronto’s
Pearson airport Wednesday after an apparent disruption by two
A NORAD spokesperson confirmed to CTV News that two Canadian fighter
jets escorted the passenger aircraft back to Toronto’s Pearson
Earlier reports suggest the plane was near Florida when it had to turn
Police said two female suspects were arrested.
Sunwing Airlines Flight 656 that was bound for Manzanillo Airport. On
Flighttracker.com, it’s listed as “diverted.”
Cuba's Official Press: Triumphalism, Blacklisting and Censorship
August 26 - The phone rings
and it's a friend who works for a government publication. She's content
because she's published an article that attacks bureaucracy and
corruption. The young woman finished college two years ago and has been
working in a digital medium that deals with cultural and social issues.
She has the illusions of a recent graduate, and she believes she can do
objective journalism, close to reality, and help to improve her country.
My friend has had some luck, because she exercises this profession at a
time when the national media is trying to more closely reflect the
problems of our society. The official journalist exists in a timid
Glasnost, 25 years after a similar process in the Soviet Union. If that
attempt at "information transparency" was promoted through Perestroika,
on the Island it's been pushed by the Sixth Communist Party Congress
Guidelines. In this way, a more objective and less triumphalist press is
pushed--from above. The same power that helped create laudatory
newspapers, now urges a shift from applause to criticism. But it's not
The original sin of the official press is not the press, but propaganda.
It emerged to sustain the ideological political-economic model and it
can't shed that genesis. The first steps in the creation of the current
national media always includes an act of faith in the Revolution, It is
also funded entirely by the Government, which further affects its
editorial line. It's worth noting that the official media is not
profitable, that is, it doesn't generate income or even support its
print runs or transmissions. Hence, it operates with subsidies taken
from the national coffers. All Cubans sustain the newspapers Granma and
Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the Cubavision channel or Radio Reloj
(Clock Radio)... whether we like it or not.
Moreover, the official press is structured so that nothing can escape to
the front page of the newspapers or to the TV and radio microphones that
hasn't been previously inspected. They are characterized by their strict
elements of supervision.
Architecture of Control
My friend is facing at least four strong mechanisms of censorship she
must deal with every day and which she rarely manages to successfully
evade. Cuba has come to have one of the most sophisticated methods of
monitoring information anywhere in the world. At the highest point of
this architecture of control is the Department of Revolutionary
Orientation (DOR), an entity belonging to the Central Committee of the
Cuban Communist Party. A group of people--designated for their
ideological loyalty--analyze all the journalistic content published in
the country, and, from these observations, follows certain topics and
The DOR is also responsible for drawing up the so-called "thematic plan"
in which it programs the issues the Cuban press will address in a
specified time period, and with what intensity it will do so. Right now,
for example, just looking at national television we can see that there
is a marked intention to speak optimistically about the Port of Mariel,
foreign tourism and agricultural production.
Not only political issues or international relations pass through that
filter. Control is also exerted over the music broadcast on radio
stations and the music videos, soap operas, and science programs aired
on television. The so-called black lists of singers or banned authors in
the national media come entirely from the DOR. This so painful and
prolonged phenomenon has been losing ground in recent years, more from
social pressures than because of a sincere process of self-criticism
among the censors.
The heads of the press organs must meet regularly with "the comrades
from the DOR" to ensure that the plan of topics decided from above is
carried out. But the influence of this entity does not end there. The
directors of the newspapers and the heads of specific pages or
specialized pages will only be appointed with the consent of this
department, which in many cases is the person who placed them in their
positions. This extends to the national and provincial organs, the
municipal radio stations and the specialized magazines. The Journalism
School at the University of Havana also receives direct attention from
the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which controls its
curriculum and involves itself in the process of choosing new students.
Nothing moves in the Cuban press without this watchtower of censorship
knowing about it.
Promote the positive results
Another control mechanism that grips the official press is that imposed
by the institutions and ministries. From the departments overseeing
these entities, journalists are encouraged to promote the sectors they
cover. Only with the authorization of these State organs, can the
reporters access offices, files, review meetings, press conferences, the
interior of a factory, or a cultural center or school.
This second control filter placed on institutions gives birth to a kind
of journalism that has done a great deal of harm to Cuban society. One
full of triumphalism, inflated figures, and "everything is perfect."
This pseudo-information has been so abused that popular humor is full of
jokes about it. Like the one about when the news comes on and people put
a bag under the TV to collect the food that appears in the reports, but
that never show up in reality. This practice fosters opportunism, as
well as making reporters think, "I'd better not get in trouble, if it's
good for me here." There are sectors that are very attractive to cover,
like tourism, because they include gifts, invitations, eating in hotel
restaurants, and even all-expense-paid weekends at resorts.
Cuba cracks down on Christians
August 26 - Cuba’s communist
government has increased its oppression of religious institutions,
according to a Christian watchdog group, with reports of religious
liberty violations almost doubling in the last six months.
According to a new report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW),
there were 170 religious freedom violations from the start of 2014
through mid-July. In 2013, there were only 180 incidents documented.
This year’s violations included government authorities beating pastors
and lay workers, dragging politically dissident women away from Sunday
services, and enforcing arbitrary detentions, church closures, and
demolitions, CSW said.
Todd Nettleton, with Voice of the Martyrs, agreed that government
persecution is on the rise in Cuba.
“It does seem like the government is paying more attention to the
churches and making much of a concerted effort to control religious
expression in Cuba,” Nettleton said. Although the government has not
given a reason for the crackdown, Nettleton suggested President Raul
Castro could be more hostile to Christianity than his brother, or more
aware of it. The government might also be looking at the church and
sensing a need to assert control.
While the government of the once-atheist country is communist, Cuba’s
constitution claims to allow religious freedom: “The State recognizes,
respects, and guarantees religious liberty.” But that right, as well as
others, are ignored if the government claims they conflict with
communism, CSW said.
Article 62 of the Cuban constitution declares: “No recognized liberty
may be exercised against the existence and aims of the socialist State
and the nation’s determination to build socialism and communism.”
The Cuban Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) has authority over all
religious groups in Cuba and it has a “consistently antagonistic
relationship” with many of those groups, CSW notes in its report.
Roughly 56 percent of Cubans identify as Christian, according to
CSW said most of the cases of women being detained and forced to miss
church were Roman Catholics and Ladies in White, a political dissident
group made up of women related to political prisoners.
Churches also are often pressured and threatened by the government to
expel congregants the government considers political dissidents.
Churches that resist “are under constant and intrusive government
surveillance,” CSW said. Roman Catholic priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez
Alegre’s refusal to shun individuals the government wants to keep
socially isolated led to the state installing video cameras to watch his
home and church. His email accounts have also been blocked.
CSW said protestant leaders are often threatened with having their
churches closed if they refuse to expel and shun certain people.
Government reprisals also have included frozen bank accounts, harassment
Cuban Christians live with the daily threat that everything, including
their educational opportunities and employment, could be taken away,
Nettleton said. Students could be kicked out of school without cause,
flunked even if they have straight A’s, or be refused the diploma they
earned. They are constantly pressured to leave the church and follow the
government, Nettleton said.
Since 1959, the Cuban government has planted informants within churches
and religious groups to report anything critical of the state or deemed
British tourist receives compensation for nightmare at a Cuban hotel
August 22 - A Redditch man
who suffered ‘horrendous’ illness that ruined his dream holiday has been
given £17,000 ($28,200) from tour operator Thomas Cook.
Paul Hughes says he has been left too worried to eat out in restaurants
after falling ill with severe sickness and diarrhoea at the four-star
Iberostar Daiquiri Hotel in Cuba, during a two-week trip with his wife
in January 2011.
After being appalled at the hygiene conditions he faced at the hotel,
which Iberostar describes as luxury, the 52-year-old instructed
specialist travel lawyers at Irwin Mitchell.
The tour operator admitted liability for Paul’s illness shortly after
the issuing of proceedings.
But Irwin Mitchell had to proceed to a trial on the level of
compensation to be paid after Thomas Cook refused to agree a settlement
which reflected the severity of Mr Hughes' condition.
This culminated in a trial in Birmingham in June where a judge agreed
that the tour operator must pay more than £17,000 compensation.
Mr Hughes said: “Upon falling ill I suffered severe sickness and
diarrhoea and extremely painful stomach cramps, it was horrendous.
“Three months after we came
home, my symptoms still hadn’t gone so I saw my GP who provided me with
advice as to how to deal with my symptoms.
"My bowel habits still haven’t returned to normal and it feels like I’ve
been left with a permanent reminder of the awful trip. It has been very
hard to get used to this.
“I used to eat out a lot with my family but tend not to anymore as I’m
too worried about suffering anything similar to what I had to go through
He added: “Nothing can turn back the clock but I am relieved the legal
battle is now over. I just hope that my case acts as a reminder to those
in the travel industry about the importance of following good hygiene
practices so no one else has to go through a similar ordeal.”
Clare Comiskey, from Irwin Mitchell, said: “It is disappointing that we
had to issue court proceedings and then take Paul’s case all the way to
trial in order to secure justice for him.
"This is particularly unfortunate given the ordeal he has already been
through, but we hope that the settlement draws a line under this chapter
of his life and allows him to begin to move forward.”
Redditch and Alcester Advertiser
No one wants to invest in partnership with the Mafia
August 22 - According to this
article by Reuters, the Castro brothers are having trouble finding
investors willing to do business with criminals like them:
Cuba has yet to attract
new foreign investors despite launching two major initiatives in the
past year, a sign of the lingering caution over doing business with the
communist government and its own hesitancy to follow through on
Cuba last November opened a China-style special development zone,
including a new container terminal at Mariel Bay. It also passed a new
foreign investment law in March, saying it needed more than $2 billion a
year in foreign direct investment to spur growth.
But despite cutting taxes and lowering customs barriers in line with
other investment regimes in the Caribbean, Cuba has yet to overcome the
disadvantages associated with the U.S. economic embargo as well as its
"Cuba has a ways to go in learning how to react with agility to business
opportunities," said Pedro Freyre, who heads the international practice
at the Miami-based law firm Akerman LLP, which closely follows the
reforms under way on the island.
The new foreign investment law, which took effect at the end of June,
cut the tax on profits in half, eliminated a labor tax and granted new
investors an eight-year exemption on a profits tax.
Though potential investors welcome the tax cuts, some remain wary over
Cuba's legal regime, especially after the recent jailing of a handful of
foreign executives and the seizing of their businesses over corruption
Investment proposals under negotiation, which still must be approved at
the highest level of the Cuban government, include projects in light
manufacturing, packaging, alternative energy, pharmaceuticals and
warehouse shipping logistics, according to officials.
Consumer goods giant Unilever , which left Cuba in a dispute over who
would have the controlling stake in a joint venture with the government,
is said to be negotiating a return to Mariel.
Two other companies considering operations in Mariel, according to
diplomats, are in joint ventures with the Cuban government: French
beverages company Pernod Ricard and cigarette maker BrasCuba, part of
the Brazilian subsidiary of British American Tobacco.
Cuba's economy is
stagnating despite a raft of market-oriented reforms initiated by
President Raul Castro in 2008. Cuba reported growth of just 0.6 percent
in the first half of this year and revised downward its full-year growth
forecast to 1.4 percent from 2.2 percent.
Castro has proposed moving 40 percent of the state labor force to a new
non-state sector made up of farms, small businesses, cooperatives and
joint ventures, and state-run companies have been granted more autonomy.
Bringing in more investment is seen as crucial to the economy. Castro
recently told the National Assembly that Cuba needs to attract a minimum
$2.5 billion per year to reach annual growth targets above 5 percent.
But eying such a quick pace of growth might be overly ambitious.
Omar Everleny, an economist who specializes in foreign investment,
estimated in a recent paper that just $5 billion had been invested in
Cuba over the last 20 years.
The government had hoped foreign companies would build factories or new
import-export installations at Mariel, some 28 miles (45 km) west of
Havana. The special economic zone, covering 180 square miles (466 square
km), drew some interest from potential investors, most of whom had
existing business ties with Cuba.
But they discovered a paucity of infrastructure in and around the port.
Land and utility prices had not even been established. No wage policy
was set. Lacking such basic information, companies delayed negotiations
and the feasibility studies needed for approval.
Likewise with the new foreign investment law, the promised lists of
investment opportunities by government ministries, from agriculture and
industry to food processing and pharmaceuticals, have yet to be drawn
"Cuba's foreign investment law and its Mariel development zone are
emblematic of most of the recent reforms on the island. Many of the
changes are in the right direction, but not happening fast enough," said
Peter Schechter, director of the Latin American program at the
Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Still, one Western diplomat predicts a number of ventures will be signed
by the end of the year.
"They have absolutely no choice but to change," the diplomat said. "They
need investment in all sectors to survive."
Cuban photographer asks world: 'Do you recognize this girl?'
August 18 - Twenty years
after taking a photo of a girl on a makeshift raft, William Castellanos
seeks to identify those he saw fleeing the island.
In this 1994 photo made by
William Castellanos, a young girl looks out of a wooden raft. Thousands
of Cubans built makeshift rafts after then-President Fidel Castro said
anyone who wanted to leave could flee. Photograph: William Castellanos/AP
In the photo, a girl crouches on a wooden raft, surrounded by solemn
men. Her large brown eyes stare intently at the camera. A few wisps of
her dark hair float in the breeze.
In a moment, she will be pushed out to sea.
William Castellanos snapped the black and white photo in August 1994
when he was an art student in Havana, capturing the moment when 35,000
Cubans took to the sea in makeshift rafts.
Twenty years after President Fidel Castro encouraged a mass exodus from
the island, the images still trouble Castellanos.
Did the rafters make it, or did their flimsy vessels break apart in the
turbulent, 90-mile Florida Straits?
Do they have busy lives and jobs and families now? Or are his
photographs the last testament of their existence?
“For me, this is a very difficult photographic record,” Castellanos
said. “Maybe I have the only, or maybe the last, picture of that
Especially, he wondered about the girl.
Cuba’s communist economy was in crisis in August 1994. The Soviet Union
had collapsed, and the only way to get supplies was on the black market.
He had just two rolls of black and white film left. But when he saw his
neighbors carrying a raft to the sea, he rushed home to grab his Nikon
“I told myself, ‘I have to make pictures of this,’” he recalled. “I have
to make a document.”
He captured a group of young men wading into the water on inner tubes
covered in tarps. Childhood friends and neighbors building boats with
thin slabs of wood and nails. Men and women carrying their boats out to
sea on the tops of old Chevrolets, or balanced on outstretched arms
above their heads.
And then the girl – staring back unflinchingly from a large raft of
He thought of his daughter, the long hours they would spend staring at
each other when she was a baby, how she looked curiously into his eyes
and at his camera.
They exchanged no words. He felt like he was intruding.
He took the photo and left.
For two months, Castellanos could only see the negatives. Printing paper
was too expensive. A friend at a cartography institute later scrounged
up some material. He dropped the paper into the developing tray, and the
The girl with brown eyes gazed fearlessly at him again.
Castellanos eventually left Cuba and became a photographer in Argentina
and the US. He lives now in Miami. For years, he was reluctant to show
Then he realized that the only way to learn their fate would be to put
them on display.
People began approaching him.
One identified a blonde woman, smiling as she sold peanuts in paper
cones to the rafters, as her sister – alive and well in Cuba, she said.
Castellanos created a website, including numbered close-ups of the 85
people he is trying to locate.
Five others were identified as people who were rescued after their raft
collapsed 11 miles from shore. They remain in Cuba today. A woman
photographed waving goodbye to the rafters found her picture online, and
wrote to say she lives in Spain. Two others, photographed in a truck,
helped the rafters but didn’t join them. One is in Cuba and the other in
The girl remains a mystery.
“Maybe today she is a woman,” Castellanos wonders. “Maybe she has
children. I don’t know where she is just now, but this is a face that
Cuba: A country where toilet paper is rarer than partridge
August 17 - Years after the
collapse of the USSR, Cuba remains a bastion of communism, central
planning... and shortages of basic goods. Anyone returning from a trip
abroad therefore takes as many of these as they can carry - even if they
are flying from Moscow.
The bright orange bottle of cleaning fluid was probably the oddest item
stuffed into my suitcase this time, wedged in beside the tennis shoes
for one friend and pile of baby clothes for another. It's a ritual I've
grown used to: every time you leave communist-run Cuba with its
centrally-planned economy and sparsely-stocked stores, you go shopping.
But as I packed my bags last week to head back to Havana, I did a
double-take. I was in Moscow, heading home from a work trip, and as
usual carrying as many presents and supplies as I could. And yet it
wasn't so long ago that I'd stock up in the same way for trips to
I was a student there in the early 1990s as the country emerged - very
painfully - from seven decades of communism. The shops then were
My friends and I would head out each day with empty bags to scour the
shelves of gloomy, musty stores. We got used to buying whatever there
was, not what we wanted - pickled tomatoes, perhaps, or canned fish on a
But the new Moscow I visited last week is chock-full of shopping malls,
its streets lined with global brands and coffee chains. My closest
friend there, Natasha, now makes most of her purchases with a few taps
on her iPad.
When I told Natasha about my mad shopping dash for Cuba, we remembered
her own first trip abroad, to Britain, a year before the Soviet Union
My mother had taken her out one day for the weekly food shop. "I
remember there were all these different cheeses and 10 types of
everything." Natasha laughed, recalling her first encounter with a
Western supermarket. At first I was excited - then I started crying my
"We've forgotten what things used to be like here," she admitted, as we
stood chatting close to a branch of McDonald's and a mobile phone shop.
"We definitely take all this for granted."
In Natasha's childhood, it was Soviet subsidies that kept Cuba's economy
afloat: this tropical island was Moscow's ideological ally, right on
America's doorstep. But in the post-Soviet 1990s, after that subsidy
lifeline was severed, Cubans suffered badly.
A friend in Havana told me she wound up in hospital once. There was no
fuel for public transport and she was eating so little she collapsed
trying to pedal her bicycle to work.
In today's Cuba - if you have money - you won't go hungry. A series of
economic reforms that began as a post-Soviet survival mechanism have
slowly expanded. People are now free to run small businesses - creating
a growing number of private cafes and restaurants.
And as farmers no longer have
to sell everything they produce to the state, those restaurant owners
can now get supplies straight from the source - bypassing a state
distribution network that's notorious for its inefficiency.
Yet, despite Cuba's proximity to the US, Washington's 50-year-old trade
embargo - which was designed to squeeze this island's communist
government from power - means there's no American investment here.
There's no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.
Some might see that as a good thing. But they might not find shopping
for essentials quite so quaint. I once approached my big local
supermarket full of optimism. I now know I'm likely to find a mixture of
half-bare shelves and ones stacked with a single product: cheap ketchup,
say, or adult incontinence pads.
Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills.
For weeks there was no toilet paper or cartons of milk. Now even the
delicious local coffee is "lost," as Cubans say - "esta perdido".
Mind you there's plenty of "partridge in brine," should anyone fancy
that. I've seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years
at $25 apiece. Perhaps a central planner ticked the wrong order box.
But partridge aside, overseas
travel can become one frantic shopping-run. There's so much demand for
everything here, that travellers known as "mules" will carry all sorts
of goods into Cuba for sale - though the government has begun
cracking-down on this illicit shuttle trade.
On a smaller scale, having family and friends who can shop abroad has
become a vital resource for many.
When I told our cameraman I was off to Russia he laughingly suggested I
bring him back some spare parts for his ancient car, a Lada. Apart from
the battered, beautiful American classics of 1950s, the boxy Soviet-made
Lada is still the most common sight on Cuba's rutted roads.
U.S. sees surge in rafters fleeing Cuba
August 16 - One early morning
this April, Dairon Morera climbed onto a raft of aluminum tanks with 22
other people, revved up a Volvo car motor and pushed off the Cuban
shore, joining a never-ending stream of islanders desperate to reach the
“The biggest dream a Cuban has is to leave,” said Morera, who was
frustrated by government limits on his pizza business. He had no money
for airplane tickets or smugglers, so decided to risk his life at sea.
Morera’s journey was so turbulent that many people vomited, but all made
it alive in just 20 hours. They ran ashore in the Florida Keys, hugging
each other and shouting “Libertad!”
The number of Cubans trying this perilous journey is up sharply this
year, with nearly 3,000 picked up by U.S. authorities so far, double
last year’s pace.
The special status Cuban migrants have thanks to U.S. efforts undermine
their communist government is a constant pull. While illegal U.S.
immigrants fleeing poverty or violence in other countries are deported,
Cubans are welcomed.
The trip can take two or three days if all goes well. But storms, strong
currents, sharks and jellyfish abound. Without navigational tools or
powerful engines, people can be swept far from any coast, running out of
water and dying in the merciless sun.
“If we don’t find them and they don’t land, their chances of survival
decrease every day they are out there,” said Capt. Mark Fedor, the Coast
Guard’s enforcement chief in Miami.
Twenty years have passed since Fidel Castro eased political pressure on
his communist government by telling Cubans they were free to leave. His
declaration in August 1994 launched a sudden exodus of 35,000 islanders.
Thousands were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and spent months behind
barbed wire at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba’s eastern edge.
Finally, President Bill Clinton reached a deal with Castro: The migrants
at Guantanamo could come to the U.S., and at least 20,000 other Cubans a
year could get U.S. visas. But Cuban authorities would resume patrolling
to keep people off unseaworthy rafts, and the U.S. would enforce a
“wet-foot, dry foot” policy: Anyone intercepted at sea would be returned
to Cuba; any Cuban reaching U.S. soil could stay.
It was a political compromise, meant to resolve a humanitarian crisis.
But it never stopped Cubans from risking their lives to cross the
90-mile Florida Straits: Another 26,000 Cubans have tried it since 1995.
The death toll is unknown. Scholars estimate that at least one of every
four rafters doesn’t survive.
That would mean at least 16,000 people have perished in the waters
between Florida and Cuba since the 1959 revolution, said Holly Ackerman,
a librarian at Duke University who has extensively studied the 1994
A more accurate toll is possible, and even a list of the dead, since the
U.S. knows who arrived and Cuba knows who left. But a real accounting
has never been on the agenda of the governments’ migration talks held
twice each year, she said.
“It is shameful that the two countries have not done this,” Ackerman
The latest arrivals come mostly on makeshift rafts, and have no close
U.S. relatives, said Oscar Rivera, director of the Church World
Service’s Miami office, which helps newly arrived Cuban migrants.
“They come smelling like fish and gasoline,” said Juan Lopez, associate
director for Cuban and Haitian resettlement with the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops in Miami. “You can tell by looking at them how
difficult, the things they have gone through to get here.”
Cubans come ashore as far north as the Carolinas, but more often reach
the Keys, where empty rafts are often found with jackets, pants, shoes,
bottles of water and backpacks on board, said Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission Officer Janette Costoya.
Most of the time, she has no idea what happened to those on board.
The latest rafts are often made of spray foam, wrapped in tarp and
secured by metal rods. About half have engines, many adapted from cars
or lawn mowers.
“They are unsinkable,” Costoya said.
The visa lottery was supposed to promise a safe alternative for Cubans
who don’t qualify as refugees or immigrants. But the U.S. hasn’t called
for new applicants since 1998, and most U.S. visas now go to reunify
After succeeding his brother as president, Raul Castro dropped a
requirement that Cubans get exit visas. But safe escapes are far too
expensive for most Cubans to afford.
“Those who don’t have close family ties are forced to migrate without
papers or look for other routes,” said Jorge Duany, who directs the
Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
Many rafters evade Coast Guard patrols, and a fraction caught with “wet
feet” — federal officials won’t say how many — are brought to U.S.
shores for medical treatment or to pursue political asylum.
In 2012, 32,551 Cubans obtained legal U.S. residency, while only 90 who
made it to U.S. shores were returned to the island. The same year,
146,406 Mexicans got residency, 448,697 were apprehended and 131,818
Immigrant rights activists it’s unfair, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of
Florida, a Cuban-American Republican, agreed with them on one point,
saying last year that some Cubans abuse their refugee status by
repeatedly visiting relatives back on the island.
But Rubio didn’t push for changes, and Cuban migration has hardly been
mentioned in congressional debates on immigration.
When Nature Calls: Cuba's Public Health Infrastructure Exposed
August 16 - A disaster will
not spontaneously trigger an outbreak of disease, unless, of course, a
highly infectious disease such as Ebola is the reason for the emergency
event. Countries are vulnerable to both newly emerging and remerging
communicable diseases when collapsing infrastructure and continuing
neglect threatens the health of residents and tourists visiting the
Cuba’s current challenges with cholera, dengue, and its viral relative,
chikungunya, are good examples. Cholera and dengue continue to spread
throughout the island, while the Cuban government claims that all the
reported cases of chikungunya have been imported to the island from
Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to the Pan American Health
Organization’s (PAHO) Update on Chikungunya Fever in the Americas
(August 8, 2014), Cuba has officially reported 11 imported cases with no
suspect or confirmed locally acquired cases since the start of the
outbreak in the Americas. (1)
Chikungunya, a viral disease transmitted by an infected mosquito, has
reached this hemisphere for the first time in history in December 2013
when it arrived on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin and spread
throughout the region. Recent data shows local transmission of
chikungunya has been identified in 29 countries and territories in the
Caribbean, Central, South and North America, including the United States
with a cumulative total of 508,122 suspected and 5,271
laboratory-confirmed cases, as of August 1, 2014. (2) Cuba rebuffs what
independent journalists, rumors, and local health professionals describe
on the island.
Here we go again.
Most likely Cuba’s failure to report chikungunya is intentional and not
due to poor data gathering capabilities. Cuba has an advanced
epidemiologic surveillance system with highly skilled scientists and
dedicated health professionals. However, the government’s failure to
release timely outbreak data threatens health security today.
A brief discussion on the relationship of climate change, failing
infrastructure, and the frequency and intensity of natural disasters is
considered below to identify both the challenges and realities with such
diseases as cholera, dengue, and chikungunya in Cuba.
• Scientists project that climate change will impact both the frequency
and intensity of extreme weather patterns. The Caribbean region, and
islands like Cuba, could expect rise in sea levels, and this combined
with more intense weather events will make flooding more common.
• Cuba’s coastal regions will be impacted the most, however, Cuba could
experience protracted seasons of both droughts and flooding, and
reliable potable water could become scarce.
•According to José Rubiera, top Cuban Meteorologist, the “seawater
temperature is rising and the conditions in the upper atmosphere are
favorable to rapid intensification. These cases are now somewhat more
frequent; it means something is changing.”(3)
•The vibrio cholera bacteria has been known to survive in brackish
waters and estuarine environments, attaches to zooplankton and moves
along the ocean currents as it is carried into new areas,(4) continuing
the threat to Cuba and Hispanola.
• This danger is especially problematic in countries where fragile
water, sanitation, sewage, and housing systems are further threaten by
climate change and rising water temperatures where the multiplication of
the cholera bacteria has been documented.(5)
for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies University of Miami
Cuban defector says he has information about Payá’s death
August 16 -
El Nuevo Herald (Spanish)
An officer in Cuba’s Ministry
of the Interior who claims to be related to former MININT chief Jose
Abrantes and to have valuable information has defected and is being held
in a migrant detention center in the Bahamas.
Ortelio Abrahantes Bacallao, 42, claims that fellow counterintelligence
agents told him that dissident Osvaldo Payá was killed when intelligence
agents rammed his car in an attempt to stop and search it, and not in a
one-car accident as the Cuban government claims.
None of the claims could be independently confirmed. But he has
documents identifying him as a member of MININT’s Technical
Investigations Directorate, a police-like unit that investigates common
crimes, and a graduate of MININT’s law school.
Abrahantes Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald he held the rank of major in
MININT’s Directorate of Counterintelligence (DCI) and was last in charge
of all the ministry’s land and sea transportation operations in the
province of Ciego de Avila, in central Cuba. The powerful ministry is in
overall charge of the island nation’s domestic security.
The defector said he launched his escape March 24 from a key off the
northern coast of the province aboard a MININT-owned sailboat, but was
picked up three days later by the U.S. Coast Guard and was taken to the
Bahamas. He is being held at the Carmichael Road migrant detention
center in Nassau.
Bahamian police and United Nations officials have interviewed him for
his application for political asylum, Abrahantes Bacallao said. But he
fears he will be murdered if the Nassau government repatriates him to
Cuba before the application is processed.
“I know too much. They would love to have me in their hands,” Abrahantes
Bacallao told El Nuevo Herald. His Miami lawyer, David Alvarez, said he
“faces being executed if he returns to Cuba because he was involved in
The defector said his father was a cousin of Interior Minister Gen. José
Abrantes, who was arrested in 1989 and charged with failing to stop the
drug trafficking and corruption that led to the execution of Gen.
Arnaldo Ochoa and three others that same year. He was serving a 20-year
prison term when he died in 1991 in what friends described as mysterious
Although Abrahantes Bacallao spells his surname differently from Jose
Abrantes, he has claimed that his birth certificate spells it the same
way and that the “h” was added when he joined the MININT. Official Cuban
records often contain misspellings.
The defector said he heard details about the Payá case during a party
with other DCI officers about one month after his death on July 22,
2012, in what Cuban officials portrayed as a one-car accident caused by
his driver, Spanish politician Angel Carromero. The Spaniard has
insistently alleged that he was rammed from behind by another vehicle.
One senior officer at the party told him that counterintelligence agents
from the province of Holguin, east of Ciego de Avila, who were driving a
red Lada vehicle model 2107 had tried to stop Carromero’s vehicle to
search it an instead caused it to crash, Abrahantes Bacallao told El
Nuevo Herald. The crash occurred south of Holguin and near the city of
Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero died at a hospital in Bayamo,
according to the defector’s version. Cuban officials have said Payá died
at the crash from massive head trauma and Cepero at a Bayamo hospital.
Abrahantes Bacallao said he was told the agents in the crash were from
the KJ department, which specializes in surveillance, of DCI’s Section
XXI, in charge of monitoring and repressing dissidents.
Friends at the party also told him that MININT rewarded the agents with
medals and ordered the Lada chopped down to erase all evidence of a
two-car crash, according to the defector. They knew about the accident
in part because Cepero was a native of Ciego de Avila.
Abrahantes Bacallao added he was also told the Cuban government had
claimed that Payá — 2003 winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov
Prize and founder of the Christian Liberation Movement — died at the
site of the crash in order to cover up its responsibility.
Carromero and another passenger, Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig,
survived the crash. Modig has claimed he was asleep when they crashed.
Carromero was convicted in Cuba of vehicular homicide for losing control
of his vehicle and slamming into a tree. He was sentenced to four years,
but is serving the sentence in Spain.
Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, said the family has spoken with the
attorney for Abrahantes Bacallao but will not comment on the defector’s
version of the deaths of her father and Cepero.
Family members have repeatedly alleged that Payá was tailed by
government agents virtually everywhere he went, and that they have
information showing Carromero was rammed from behind by another vehicle.
They have urged several international bodies and Spanish courts for an
independent investigation of the case.
Abrahantes Bacallao said he joined the MININT in 1998, earned a law
degree in 2010 from a MININT college in Havana and a master’s degree in
2011 in business administration from the university in Ciego de Avila.
Another document shows he studied “DTI operative investigations” for
five years at a MININT institution in Ciego de Avila, where he said he
was recruited by counterintelligence. Such recruitments are not unusual
in Cuba, where people in sensitive positions have dual responsibilities
to their regular supervisors and their DCI chain of command.
The Miami Herald
AP Story Renews Focus on Fulton Armstrong; Former Confidant of Ana
August 14 - Recent articles
by the Washington Free Beacon and other media outlets have challenged
the credibility of the Associated Press. A central figure in the
newswire’s use of suspect sources is Fulton Armstrong, the one-time
National Intelligence Officer for Latin America.
Following the conviction of career spy Ana Montes, several
administration officials – including Otto Reich – sought the
reassignment of NIO Fulton Armstrong, one of the government’s senior
specialists on Cuba. The New York Times cited critical officials as
describing Armstrong as overly “soft” on Cuba threats to U.S. interests.
Behind the scenes, they were deeply concerned not only with Armstrong’s
strong ties to Montes, but how closely his analytic conclusions mirrored
or endorsed hers.
In Newsmax, Kenneth Timmermann wrote that Armstrong would minimize or
trivialize everything “derogatory to Castro, Venezuela, or to the FARC.”
Several former U.S. intelligence officers confirmed that Armstrong,
aided by Janice O’Connell, Senator Christopher Dodd’s top staffer, went
so far as to continuously defend Montes “in closed-door sessions with
top policy-makers” long after her arrest.
Armstrong is well-known for consistently minimizing Cuba’s ability to
threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists. In one
interview, Scott Carmichael – the senior Counterintelligence
investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency – said Montes was “on a
first name basis” with the Armstrong. In fact, Montes and Armstrong
confided in one another by phone into the final stages of her
Dr. Norman Bailey, who previously served as the Issue Manager on Cuba &
Venezuela for the Director of National Intelligence noted, “I wouldn’t
be surprised if Fulton Armstrong had something to do with Ana’s products
not being pulled.”
In his book, Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA, Rowan
Scarborough recalled a meeting convened by Fred Fleitz, a CIA officer on
an interagency tour with the State Department. Representatives from most
of the Intelligence Community attended, including Fulton Armstrong.
Citing the damage caused by Montes, Fleitz called for a review of all
intelligence products on which she’d worked. He felt such a review might
provide insights into disinformation and biases built into her analysis.
Armstrong opposed any such review as wholly unnecessary. “He had worked
on the same assessments as Montes and was sure she did not distort
them,” wrote Scarborough.
Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western
Hemisphere Affairs, was so repulsed by Armstrong’s openly biased stance
that he banned him from his office. In a view shared by many, Noriega
said: “I didn’t question his patriotism. I questioned his judgment.”
Noriega went on to tell his assistant he “didn’t want to see a single
scrap of paper he was involved in. I was not interested in a person with
such a profound lack of judgment.”
In conclusion, a 2012 post by Capitol Hill Cubans reported the
following: “During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John
Kerry (D-MA) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often
forgot who was the elected Senator … and led a mostly unauthorized
assault on all-things Cuba policy under the Senator’s name. This led to
Armstrong’s retirement in 2011.”
Venezuelan Energy Company Investigated in U.S.
August 10 -Derwick Associates
Is Probed by U.S., New York Agencies for Possible Bribery, Banking
Federal and New York City
prosecutors opened preliminary investigations into a Venezuelan company
that became one of that country's leading builders of power plants
during the administration of President Hugo Chávez, as well as into a
Missouri-based company that played a key role in its success, according
to people familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Manhattan district attorney's
office are probing Derwick Associates, a Venezuelan company awarded
hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts in little more than a year
to build power plants in Venezuela, shortly after the country's power
grid began to sputter in 2009, the people familiar with the matter said.
ProEnergy Services, a Sedalia, Mo.-based engineering, procurement and
construction company that sold dozens of turbines to Derwick and helped
build the plants, is also under investigation, these people said.
The probes are in their initial phases, the people said, and it is
possible both investigations could be closed without criminal charges
Derwick Associates President Alejandro Betancourt in his Caracas,
"Neither Derwick nor its principals have been contacted by any U.S. law
enforcement agency," said Derwick President Alejandro Betancourt, in a
statement provided by lawyer Adam Kaufmann. "We therefore question
whether Derwick is the focus of any active investigation. In the event
we are contacted by a law enforcement agency, we will cooperate fully.
We are a transparent company and have nothing to hide."
A ProEnergy representative declined to comment on any investigation and
said the company "is committed to doing business in full compliance with
all applicable laws and to cooperating fully with regulatory and legal
Manhattan prosecutors are investigating Derwick and ProEnergy for
possible violations of New York banking law, people familiar with the
Meanwhile, people familiar with the matter said prosecutors in the
Justice Department's criminal fraud section are reviewing the actions of
Derwick and ProEnergy for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt
Practices Act, which prohibits offering foreign government officials
improper payments in exchange for a business advantage.
Federal prosecutors are scrutinizing the difference between the prices
ProEnergy charged Derwick for its equipment and the prices Derwick
ultimately charged the Venezuelan government, one person familiar with
the matter said. The person said that in some past FCPA cases, excessive
margins have been used to conceal bribes to foreign officials.
A lawyer for Derwick voluntarily contacted and met with federal
prosecutors last summer to discuss the FCPA investigation, a person
familiar with the matter said. Those prosecutors haven't requested
documents from Derwick, the person said.
"As we understand it, there has been a long-running investigation into
ProEnergy, but that doesn't equate to an investigation into Derwick,"
Mr. Kaufmann wrote in a letter to the Journal.
In Caracas, Mr. Betancourt said Derwick didn't bribe any Venezuelan
officials. He said Derwick won the contracts through competitive bidding
because it made superior offers. He also said the company's margins were
consistent with general industry practice and reflected the high
financial risks taken on by Derwick during a difficult time to do
business in Venezuela.
A spokesman at Venezuela's information ministry declined to comment,
while spokesmen at the electricity and energy ministries didn't return
calls seeking comment.
Mr. Betancourt and a cousin, Pedro Trebbau, registered Derwick in
Venezuela in 2009 and drew the attention of opponents of the Chávez
regime because of the large volume of business they did with the
Otto Reich, the top State Department official for Latin America during
the administration of President George W. Bush, filed a civil lawsuit in
New York federal court last year, alleging Derwick's founding cousins
damaged his consulting business by falsely spreading the word that he
was working for them. The lawsuit alleges Derwick and the company's
owners, among others, obtained contracts to build power stations in
return for paying multimillion-dollar bribes to senior Venezuelan
Mr. Kaufmann, a partner with Lewis Baach PLLC, said the lawsuit is part
of a smear campaign against Derwick, motivated by politics and family
squabbles, and lawyers for Messrs. Betancourt and Trebbau have moved to
dismiss it. "My clients categorically deny any allegations of paying
bribes to anyone," Mr. Kaufmann said. "But for the damage it has caused,
Reich's lawsuit is laughable, and his allegations are wholly without
evidentiary foundation," he wrote in a letter to the Journal.
The Manhattan district attorney's office, which has jurisdiction over
violations of New York state banking laws, is interested in Derwick's
relationship with J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.77% & Co., according to
people familiar with the matter. Investigators have interviewed
potential witnesses about Eduardo Travieso, a childhood friend of Mr.
Trebbau who worked at J.P. Morgan and served as Derwick's banker there,
according to people familiar with the matter.
In March 2013, Mr. Travieso resigned from J.P. Morgan. In a report made
public by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an industry
watchdog, J.P. Morgan alleged Mr. Travieso had acted in a manner
"inconsistent with the firm's policies and procedures and may have
violated applicable regulatory requirements, including using his
residential address as the mailing address for certain customer
Finra, which reported this year that it has made a preliminary
determination to bring disciplinary action against Mr. Travieso for
"potential violations" of certain rules, declined to comment, as did
Attempts to reach Mr. Travieso through his father, a Caracas lawyer,
were unsuccessful. A message to Mr. Travieso sent through his LinkedIn
account went unanswered. Mr. Travieso's lawyer declined to comment.
The Wall Street Journal
Fidel Castro’s daughter Alina Fernandez visits Cuba to be with ailing
August 6 - Alina Fernandez,
the rebellious daughter of Cuban former ruler Fidel Castro, has gone
from Miami to Havana to be with her seriously ill mother. It’s her first
trip back since 1993, when she escaped the island using a false passport
A woman who answered the phone Tuesday at the home of the 88-year-old
mother, Natalia “Naty” Revuelta Clews, said Fernandez was out of the
house but would be back in the evening. She later said the family was
focusing on Revuelta and would not make a comment.
Max Lesnik, a Miamian who has friends high in the Cuban government and
regularly travels to Cuba, reported in his El Duende column Tuesday that
Fernandez, 58 and a Miami radio personality, has been spotted in Havana.
The visit by Fernandez, a regular and strident critic of Castro and his
government, could mark another advance in the long-hostile relations
between the Cuban government and Cubans abroad who oppose the communist
Her visit was presumed to have been approved by the Cuban government,
whose security services control all who enter and leave the nation.
Among other recent visitors have been wealthy exile businessmen Paul
Cejas, Carlos Saladrigas, and Alfie Fanjul.
In her 1998 autobiography, Castro’s Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba,
Fernandez criticized her father as a distant dictator and wrote that she
was closer to his brother, current Cuba ruler Raúl Castro, describing
him as a good family man.
“He was the person to whom you could go to and ask for help every time
you had a practical problem,” she added in a 2008 interview with Foreign
Policy magazine. On personal issues, she added, “Fidel was totally
Just six weeks ago, Fernandez told the EFE news agency in Miami that it
was not the right time for her to return to Cuba, even though it was
“very sad” that she could not see her 88-year-old mother and described
her father as cruel.
“I don’t want problems” in Cuba, Fernandez said in the interview. “It
makes me very sad, because my mother is old” and “to see your mother and
to want to do something for her is a law of nature, something visceral.”
Friends of Fernandez say Revuelta fell and broke a leg recently and has
been in declining health for several months.
Fernandez was born in 1956 after Revuelta, a Havana beauty then married
to Orlando Fernandez, had an affair with Fidel Castro, then a young
revolutionary and lawyer divorced from Mirta Diaz-Balart.
She was raised by her mother but knew from the age of 10 that Castro was
her father and worked variously as a model in a combination clothing
shop-nightclub in Havana and as public-relations director for a clothing
Long known for her harsh croticisms of Fidel Castro, she fled Cuba for
Spain in 1993 using false documents and a disguise arranged by Elena
Díaz-Verson Amos, a Cuban-born woman married to a wealthy American and
living in Georgia.
Asked in the EFE interview if she hated her father, she said, “No. Hate
him, no. Hate is too strong a word. … I see him as having a pretty
elevated level of cruelty, but I never reached the point of hating him.
Fernandez moved to Miami with her daughter, Alina “Mumín” Salgado.
Fernandez wrote columns for el Nuevo Herald from 2009-2010, and for many
years hosted a program on WQBA radio called Simplemente Alina (Simply
Alina). She now has a short segment weekdays during the 3-5 pm slot on
Juanita Castro, sister of Fidel and Raúl, won a $45,000 judgment against
Fernández in a Spanish court, arguing that the autobiography’s portrayal
of the Castros’ parents, Angel Castro and Lina Ruz, libeled the family.
Two years ago, Fernandez filed suit to recover $100,000 she paid toward
the purchase of a $1.6 million house in Kendall. Several Miami men have
been arrested and charged with a real-estate scam.
Asked by EFE if she would ever like to meet with Fidel Castro again, she
said, “That’s not a realistic possibility. … I believe that there’s an
absolute lack of interest on both sides. I have nothing to say to him.”
As for how her father will be regarded years down the road, she said,
“For Cubans, the legacy of Castro is a country ruined and with part of
its people in exile, an experience very hard and very difficult to
The Miami Herald
Nuevo Herald (Spanish)
Cuba, North Korea and Hamas?
August 2 - Let's add another
one to President Obama's plate.
You always have to keep an eye on Cuba, specially when there are North
Korean ships visiting the island.
This is an ominous story over at Capitol HIll Cubans:
"Last year, the Cuban regime was caught red-handed smuggling 240 tons of
weapons to North Korea. This constituted the largest amount of arms and
related materiel interdicted to or from North Korea since the adoption
of resolution 1718 (2006).
The interdicted shipment, aboard the Chong Chon Gang, includedsurface-to-air
missile systems (that can take down planes), missile components,
ammunition, radars and other miscellaneous arms-related materiel.
What if these missile systems had ended up in the hands of Hamas or
Other Cuban weaponry may have, as there were at least seven otherNorth
Korean vessels that made similarly elusive trips (as the Chong Chon
Gang) to Cuban in the last few years.
Regardless, this is another reason why Cuban officials and entities
responsible arms trafficking with North Korea must face consequences for
their illegal actions."
This is a very dangerous development and I hope that someone is keeping
President Obama informed. We don't want to hear some day that he heard
about it in news media reports.
More importantly, the idea of North Korean ships visiting Cuba and
picking up weapons is further proof that no one is scared of the US, or
the Obama administration. I don't believe that North Korea would be
sending these ships if they feared some kind of retaliation from the US.
Imagining Cuba’s future
August 2 - Cuba is nothing
like as central to U.S. policy as it once was, but that may change when
the current regime either implodes or accelerates its tentative steps
At present, Cuba survives only on massive handouts from Venezuela,
which could be curtailed overnight. If and when Cuba leaves its bubble,
it will undergo a rapid social and political transformation. What
intrigues me is the question of how the nation’s religious landscape
will change and how much we can learn about that from the experience of
When Fidel Castro began his rule, he declared Cuba an atheist state.
Religious persecution has been commonplace ever since, though never as
bloodthirsty as in, say, North Korea, and the degree of official
intolerance has fluctuated over time. Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998
significantly improved official relations with the Roman Catholic
Unregistered groups, however, continue to suffer. The best statistics we
have—and estimates vary widely—suggest that half of Cubans identify as
Catholic, 40 percent are nonreligious or unaffiliated, and non-Catholic
Christians make up 7 percent. Complicating the statistics is the issue
of dual affiliation: at least 17 percent adhere to Afro-Cuban religions,
Just how matters would change in a postcommunist age depends largely on
how the new era comes about. Will the change involve violence? Should we
expect a massive return of exiles?
At the least, liberalization is likely to involve breakneck economic
development, the end of foreign embargoes, and the collapse of rigid
government controls and rationing. The immediate consequences would no
doubt be a huge influx of foreign investment, an epochal building boom,
and increased urbanization.
Cuba in five or ten years could pass through processes of development
and globalization that elsewhere in Latin America have taken half a
century. The winners and losers in this revolution would provide,
potentially, the membership of revived churches.
Catholicism still retains a cultural hegemony. Traditional practices and
pilgrimages—above all devotion to Cuba’s special version of the Blessed
Virgin, the Virgin of La Caridad del Cobre—have never lost popularity.
But if cultural Catholicism still flourishes, that does not mean the
church will continue to attract worshipers. Attendance at mass and
religious vocations have fallen dramatically across Latin America, and
the Cuban church would have to struggle to avoid a similar fate.
By far the greatest mystery in Cuba’s future concerns the evangélicos,
the Protestant and Pentecostal churches that have been so dazzlingly
successful in such countries as Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala. By all
rights, Cuba should join this list, for it possesses the conditions
often cited to explain Pentecostal growth. Pentecostal congregations
flourish during times of rapid social change and economic turmoil, and
they appeal especially to excluded ethnic groups. At least half of
Cubans claim African ancestry. And recent experience in China shows how
attractive the Christian faith can be following the sudden evaporation
of communist ideology.
Churches could play a vital role if working-class people suddenly found
themselves cut off from a rationed economy and thrust into the rigors of
a market system. Through social outreach programs, Cuban evangélico
churches could well win support by supplying economic aid. Such efforts
would likely be supported by well-funded foreign groups, chiefly from
the United States, but also from Brazilian and other Latin American
Cuban evangélico churches have grown powerfully in recent years, and
some, like the Apostolic Movement, have experienced harassment from the
government. It is likely that these groups would flourish in a free
Cuba. In religious terms, then, the best analogy for a future Cuba would
be what’s happened in Brazil, where Protestant churches are thriving.
But perhaps a better model for projecting the future of Cuba is to be
found outside Latin America in a postcommunist society like the former
East Germany. Secularization advanced to such a degree there that
religious faith could not be reconstructed, and it still shows no signs
of returning. It is possible that future Cuban churches would never be
able to win back the loyalty of that sizable minority of people who
presently affirm no religion. Also pointing to a secular future is
Cuba’s extremely low fertility rate, a figure that often correlates to
the decline of institutional religion.
The question, then, for anyone trying to project Cuba’s religious
future, is whether to look to Pentecostals or secularists, to Brazil or
before vacationing in a totalitarian country: "Honeymoon in a Cuban
June 17 - A
Cuban hotel, run by Raul Castro's military, charged a British couple
4,000 euros ($5,440) to replace a TV set in their room, that was
allegedly damaged. They were not allowed to go back to their room to
verify that the TV was not working.
The cost was 10 times the
price of the TV.
They were told that the hotel
was run by the military and if they didn't pay they'll go to prison.
Read their story in the
Castro: How Fidel lived the life of luxury in Cuba, complete with his
own private island
May 21 - Presione aquí
para leerlo en Español:
Fidel Castro lived like a
king with his own private yacht, a luxury Caribbean island getaway
complete with dolphins and a turtle farm, and travelled with two
personal blood donors, a new book claims.
In La Vie Cachée de Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro's Hidden Life), former
bodyguard Juan Reinaldo Sánchez, a member of Castro's elite inner
circle, says the Cuban leader ran the country as his personal fiefdom
like a cross between a medieval overlord and Louis XV.
Sánchez, who was part of Castro's praetorian guard for 17 years,
describes a charismatic and intelligent but manipulative, cold-blooded,
egocentric Castro prone to foot-stamping temper tantrums. He claims the
vast majority of Cubans were unaware their leader enjoyed a lifestyle
beyond the dreams of many Cubans and at odds with the sacrifices he
demanded of them.
"Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced
capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his
mode de vie is that of a capitalist without any kind of limit," he
writes. "He has never considered that he is obliged by his speech to
follow the austere lifestyle of a good revolutionary."
Sánchez claims he suffered Castro's ruthlessness first hand when he fell
out of favour, was branded a traitor, "thrown in jail like a dog",
tortured and left in a cockroach infested cell, after asking to retire.
Released from prison, Sánchez followed the well-worn route of Cuban
exiles to America in 2008. "Until the turn in the 1990s I'd never asked
too many questions about the workings of the system … that's the problem
with military people … as a good soldier, I did my job and my best and
that was enough to make me happy," he writes.
The book, published on Wednesday, has been written with French
journalist Axel Gyldén, a senior reporter at L'Express magazine. Gyldén
admits Sánchez has a large axe to grind with Castro, but insists he has
checked the Cuban's story.
"This is the first time someone from Castro's intimate circle, someone
who was part of the system and a first-hand witness to these events, has
spoken. It changes the image we have of Fidel Castro and not just how
his lifestyle contradicts his words, but of Castro's psychology and
motivations," Gyldén told the Guardian.
This is not the first time it has been claimed that Castro enjoys great
wealth. In 2006 Forbes magazine listed the Cuban leader in its top 10
richest "Kings, Queens and Dictators", citing unnamed officials who
claimed Castro had amassed a fortune by skimming profits from a network
of state-owned companies. The Cuban leader vehemently denied the report.
Castro's long reign ended in 2006 when he was stricken with what was
believed to be diverticulitis, an intestinal ailment, and handed power
to his younger brother Raúl, who had served as defence minister. He
officially ceded power to Raúl in 2008.
Fidel continued penning columns for the Communist party newspaper Granma
but gradually vanished from public view, fuelling rumours he had died,
only to surface for occasional, fleeting appearances. Raul has made
cautious economic reforms but kept tight control.
Visitors such as Ignacio Ramonet, the French journalist who has
interviewed Castro at length, have depicted an austere lifestyle of
reading, exercise, simple meals and modest home comforts.
But Sánchez, now 65 and living in America, claims Castro enjoyed a
private island – Cayo Piedra, south of the Bay of Pigs, scene of the
failed CIA-sponsored invasion of 1961 – describing it as a "garden of
Eden" where he entertained selected guests including the writer Gabríel
Garcia Márquez, and enjoyed spear-fishing.
The former bodyguard says Castro sailed to the island on his luxury
yacht, the Aquarama II, fitted out with rare Angolan wood and powered by
four motors sent by the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev. Continue
Citizens protesting against the regime on March 28 in Havana's famous
that brainwashing doesn't work?
Dec. 7 - Elian González after
14 years of brainwashing: "Fidel Castro for me is like a father. I
don't profess to have any religion but if I did my god would be Fidel
Castro. He is like a ship that knew to take his crew on the right path"
Ladies in White protest in Havana and stopped from marching in Holguín
Dec. 3 - Video of a protest
by the Ladies in White on Sunday December 1 at Parque Gandhi in Havana
and an attempt to march in Holguin, but were stopped by Castro's police
is brutally attacked by Castro's police for expressing her opinions
Nov. 4 - Anonymous Venezuela
has a warning: This is the future of Venezuela unless they get rid of
Maduro and the other puppets under the control of the Castro brothers.
Sáncez's presentation at Google Ideas Summit
October 26 - Yoani Sánchez
explains how Internet without Internet is used by Cubans inside the
Learn how you can help
promote Internet without Internet in Cuba:
The Real Cuba
Also on Twitter:
@WebPaqsforCuba On Facebook:
Paquetes Web Para Cuba
Learn about a new
technology that allows Cubans in Cuba have access to websites banned by
the Castro regime and how you can help:
The Real Cuba
Also on Twitter:
@WebPaqsforCuba On Facebook:
Paquetes Web Para Cuba
another act of repudiation against members of UNPACU
Oct. 9 - This took place in
Cardenas on Sunday October 6, 2013
to see the video
Cuban authorities are worried about web paqs circulating inside Cuba
Sept. 13 - Tweet from Yoani
"Authorities worried because
of "packages" or "combos" with a collection of audiovisuals in the black
As I have said before,
projects like Web Paqs for Cuba are the best way to bypass the
blockade at the Internet, put in place by the Castro dictatorship to
prevent Cubans in the island from knowing what's happening inside Cuba
and in the rest of the world.
You can learn more about Web
Paqs for Cuba and how you can get involved in this project at
La Singularidad Cuba (Español)
The Real Cuba
(English) Twitter and
at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, Luyanó, Havana, Cuba
July 8 - Video taken in April
of this year at the Hijas de Galicia Hospital, one of the hospitals for
Cubans who do not have hard currency to pay the Castro brothers.
Very different from the
hospital where they took Micahel Moore and the hospitals that are used
by foreigners who pay with dollars.
Click here to see the video
video shows Bahamian guards brutally abusing Cuban rafters
June 15 - June 15 - This
clandestine video taking inside a Bahamian jail, shows a guard kicking
and insulting Cuban rafters who were trying to reach the United States
and ended up in the Bahamas.
There should be a tourism boycott of the Bahamas, unless the Bahamian
government orders the arrest and prosecution of this brutal thug and
stops abusing Cuban rafters who are risking their lives in search for
Click here to see the video
Yoani Sánchez about the Web Paqs for Cuba project
about Paquetes Web Para Cuba
Visit our page about
Paquetes Web Para Cuba
You can also visit us on
Facebook to find all information about the Internet Web Paqs for Cuba, a
project to help the Cuban people have access to the websites that are
blocked by the Cuban regime.
Make sure to click on 'Like"
as a sign of support
Paquetes Web Para Cuba
daily ABC has an article about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare
Foto de la
versión impresa del reportaje en ABC
March 17 - On Thursday of
last week, Carmen Muñoz a columnist for Spanish daily ABC, called me to
ask for permission to use the photos at therealcuba.com for an article
about the false myth of Cuba's healthcare.
I was able to send her many
of the photos on high resolution to use on the print edition of the
The article was published on
Sunday on ABC and is also on their web page at
Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo about Paquetes Web Para Cuba
Our new page:
Fidel Castro, the
World's oldest terrorist
My interview with
March 29 - I was interviewed by Ed Kasputis, of Baseball PhD, about
baseball in Cuba before Castro and about the two Cubas, the one for
foreigners and the one for regular Cubans.
Ed did a previous program with Mr. Sports Travel of San Diego, CA, about
the five top international baseball destinations and was surprised to
find out that the #1 destination was Cuba.
He received some nice pictures of Cuba and was ready to book a trip when
he saw therealcuba.com and changed his mind.
He interviewed me as part of a program about the new Marlins Stadium and
I was able to talk about baseball in Cuba before Castro and then we had
a long chat about what is the reality of life in Cuba under Castro.
The program lasts 53 minutes, if you are not a baseball fan and just
want to hear my interview about Cuba use your mouse to move the dial to
here to listen
Listen to Fidel Castro
For those who think that the Cuban people chose the system imposed by
the Castro brothers, here are some of the things that Fidel Castro said
and promised when he gained power
photos of Cuba's prisons, missile installations, military bases and
A look at
Havana before the Castro brothers destroyed it
We have new photos of
Havana taken in October of last year
Oct. 9 - A friend sent me around two dozen photos of Havana that he took
at the beginning of this month.
Some of them are very sad, because they show how Havana has been
completely destroyed by this gang of human termites.
Some others are hard to believe, including this one of goats having
"lunch" off the dumpsters on a Havana street.
to see them
Socio-Economic Conditions in Pre-Castro
Dec. 17 - Cuba Facts is an ongoing series of succinct
fact sheets on various topics, including, but not limited to, political
structure, health, economy, education, nutrition, labor, business,
foreign investment, and demographics, published and updated on a regular
basis by the Cuba Transition Project staff at the University of Miami.
Click here to learn the truth about Cuba's Health, Education,
Personal Consumption and much more in pre-Castro Cuba.
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