Friday, January 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, José Martí! Fidel Rewrites History.

Tomorrow is the 159th anniversary of José Martí’s birth. The title of my novel comes from his poem, “I Cultivate a White Rose.” Annually, crowds carrying torches march through the streets of Cuban cities celebrating Martí as the father of the Cuban Revolution. Martí was democratic and zealously in favor of an independent Cuba. He spent a considerable time in New York and was offended by the race relations he saw in the United States. He condemned the lack of civil rights of African-Americans. He was brutally honest in his assessments and advocated a color-blind society for Cuba.While Martí was a revolutionary, he rebelled against Spain, fighting for a democratic society. Fidel has taken the truth and twisted it to suit the purposes of the Communist revolution. But Martí is not the only victim of Fidel's rewriting of history.

In comments that appeared a few days ago in Granma, the official Communist newspaper of Cuba, Fidel acknowledged the revolution’s debt to Marti. However, he went on to demonstrate the Orwellian double-speak of a press that is anything but free. My last post dealt with the tragic death of Wilman Villar. The entire world has condemned the brutality of his treatment. Fidel, with a stroke of a pen has rewritten history. He denies that Wilman Villar was a political prisoner, and instead notes:
Some news agency cables better illustrate what I wish to analyze, because they demonstrate the incredible cynicism generated by the decadence of the West. One of them, with amazing tranquility, talks of a Cuban political prisoner who, it states, died after a hunger strike lasting 50 days. A journalist with Granma, Juventud Rebelde, radio news or any other revolutionary organ might be mistaken in any interpretation of any subject, but would never fabricate an item of news or invent a lie.
A Granma informative note affirms that there was no hunger strike; the man was an ordinary prisoner sentenced to four years for attacking and injuring his wife in the face; that his own mother in law asked authorities to intervene; family members were kept fully abreast of all procedures used in his medical treatment and were grateful for the effort made by medical specialists who treated him. He received medical attention, as the note states, in the best hospital in the eastern region, as is the case with all citizens. He died from secondary multi-organic failure related to a severe respiratory infection.

The patient had received all the medical attention administered in a country which has one of the finest medical services in the world, provided free of charge in spite of the blockade imposed on our homeland by imperialism. It is simply a duty that is fulfilled in a country where the Revolution is proud of always having respected, for more than 50 years, the principles which give it its invincible strength.”
José Martí, a historic champion of liberty and democracy, has been hijacked by Fidel. The celebration of his birthday by a regime dedicated to obfuscation and willful ignorance is disingenuous and the antithesis of everything for which José Martí stood.

Happy birthday, José, I hope you are not rolling over in your grave.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Another Political Prisoner Dies in Cuban Prison and the US Can Do Nothing.

The impotence of US foreign policy to have any effect in Cuba was underscored last Thursday when thirty-one year old Wilman Vilar Mendoza died in a prison in Santiago de Cuba after a fifty day hunger strike. Mendoza had been a member of the illegal Cuban Patriotic Union and was arrested during a police raid on dissidents on November 14, 2011.
Ten days later he was sentenced to four years in prison after a trial that was closed to the public. It was announced that that conviction was for “assault, disobedience and resistance.” The following day he began his hunger strike and refused to wear the prison uniform, claiming he was not a common criminal. He was put in solitary confinement and contracted pneumonia.
His death has sparked calls from around the world for the release of political prisoners who are rotting in Cuban jails. In a blog posting last week, Cuban dissident and blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote the following posting:
A couple of years ago, my friend Eugenio Leal decided ask for the report of his criminal record, necessary paperwork when applying for certain jobs. With confidence, he applied for the form where it would say he had never been convicted of any crime but found, in its place, a disagreeable surprise: it appeared that he was the perpetrator of a “robbery with force” in the town where he’d been born, although in fact he had never even run a red light. Eugenio protested, because he knew this wasn’t a bureaucratic error nor a mere accident. His activities as a dissident had already made him the victim of repudiation rallies, arrests and threats, and now a blot on his criminal record had been added. He had gone from being a member of the opposition to someone with a past as a “common criminal,”something very useful to the political police to discredit him.
If we allow ourselves to be guided by government propaganda, there is not a single decent person on this island, concerned about the nation’s destiny and who hasn’t committed crimes, who is also against the system. Everyone who offers a critique is immediately branded as a terrorist or traitor, criminal or amoral. Accusations difficult to “disprove” in a country where, every day, the majority of citizens have to commit several illegalities to survive. We are 11 million common criminals, whose misdeeds range from buying milk on the black market to having a satellite dish. Fugitives from a criminal code that strangles us, fugitives from“everything is forbidden,” escapees from a prison that starts with the Constitution of the Republic itself. We are a population almost imprisoned, in the expectation that the magnifying glass of power hovers over us, raking through our lives and discovering the latest offense.

Now, with the death of Wilman Villar Mendoza, once again the old system of State insult repeats itself. A note in the newspaper Granma described him as a common criminal, and perhaps soon there will be a TV program — Stalinist style —introducing the alleged victims of his abuses. The objective is to minimize the political impact of the death of this 31-year-old citizen, convicted in November of contempt, assault and resistance. The official propaganda will attempt to downplay the importance of his hunger strike and shower his name with all sorts of derogatory adjectives. We will also see the testimony —violating the Hippocratic oath — of the doctors who attended him and probably even his mother will come out against her deceased son. All this, because the Cuban government can’t permit even a glimmer of doubt in the minds of ordinary TV viewers. It would be very dangerous if people started to believe that a regime opponent would sacrifice his life for a cause, to be a good patriot and even a decent man.”

The Florida anti-Castro faction reacted to this predictably with calls for stronger sanctions against Cuba and to tighten the economic embargo that the United States has been attempting for more than forty years. The problem remains that with the United States being the only country to embargo Cuba, it’s a lot like paddling a boat with a strainer. It’s hard to get any traction when every other country is ignoring the embargo and conducting business with Cuba.

I do not understand why the gentlemen and women who formulate United States foreign policy cannot keep Einstein’s admonition in their consciousness: “Insanity: Repeating the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” It is past time for formulating a new foreign policy.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Tonight’s Florida debate illustrates the profound lack of understanding that the current crop of Republican candidates have of the modern history of Cuba, with the possible exception of Ron Paul. I am no supporter of his. I disagree with virtually everything else that has ever come from his mouth, but I do give him credit for his assessment of US policy toward Cuba. Santorum’s comments---well, they speak for themselves. Romney doesn’t appear to have noticed that Fidel has been out of power for six years. In a blog published this evening, reported that when asked what should happen if Fidel dies, this is the discussion that took place:

"ROMNEY: First off, you thank Heavens that Castro is returned to his maker in another land. Then you work aggressively with the new Cuba. We just had Wilmer Someone who died for democracy. Obama is wrong. We want to stand with the people of CUBA. We will fight for democracy.

GINGRICH: I don’t think Fidel will meet his maker…he will go to another place. Our policy should be to overthrow the regime. Obama is infatuated with an Arab Spring but not a Cuban Spring. Reach out to every Cuban who wants to be free and tell the younger generation that a Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of a dictatorship. Use covert operations and the things that Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul did to the Soviet Empire.

RON PAUL: I would do the opposite. I don’t like isolationism. The Cold War is over. We propped up Castro for 40 years. Castro used us as a scapegoat. Quit isolationism. We talked to the Soviets and the Chinese and Vietnamese. Why don’t we talk to Cuba? I would think Cubans want to have freedom there. Maybe we can send them packages and visit them. We should talk to the Cuban people. We don’t have to use force and intimidation and try to overthrow governments.

SANTORUM: Cuba is 90 miles off our shore. There are no Chinese people there. Sanctions should continue until Castro is there and then we will give them mountains of aid once they get rid of the Castro Brothers. We need to have a solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people. There are Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans who want to work with Iran and have platforms 90 miles off our coast. This is a serious threat that will not go away until we confront the threat and convince the Cuban people to change their government."

The above discourse is disquieting. The Republicans do not have a clue as to what is presently going on in Cuba, and the Democrats are not much better equipped. I find it interesting that Gingrich mentioned the Arab spring. I think he has a point, but is not limited to Obama’s “infatuation.” The entire world is obsessed with the fallout from the Arab spring, and no one is really looking Cuba and seriously thinking about what is happening 90 miles from Florida. It is time for our government, and those who would lead it in the future, to create an informed foreign policy with respect to Cuba.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Keeping this blog up to date has been somewhat challenging during the past several weeks, as I have been trying to overcome some complications of a kidney stone that showed up like the man who came to dinner and refused to leave. The stone is out, but  the after-effects continue.

As controversy continues to swirl around the use of the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba as a place of interment for people the United States Government deems too dangerous to bring into the states for trial, and for other various justifications illustrating the ill-defined plans on how to cope with perceived enemies, I thought it might be useful to review the underlying treaty that gives the US permission to occupy the approximately 40 square miles of the eastern tip of Cuba. The treaty was executed after the US had joined in the Cuban Revolution against Spain, after the revolution was all but finished. Theodore Roosevelt rode in at the tail-end and under the provisions of the Platt amendment, established Cuba as a vassal state of the US. Ironic, that the war against Spain that was the Cuban revolution, is known in US schoolbooks as the Spanish American War.
I had always assumed that there was a 99-year lease in place between the US and Cuba. After all, in school we learned about the British having leased Hong Kong from China for 99 years. At common law, and in most states in the United States, 99 years is the longest term for a land lease. Any lease that purports to be for a longer term is void in those jurisdictions imposing that limitation. However, the terms of the Cuban lease are much different from the agreement that gave Great Britain control of Hong Kong, or the 99-year lease of the Panama Canal. Below is the full text of the treaty of 1903:

Signed at Habana, July 2, 1903; 
Approved by the President, October 2, 1903; 
Ratified by the President of Cuba, August 17,1903; 
Ratifications exchanged at Washington, October 6,1903
The United States of America and the Republic of Cuba, being desirous to conclude the conditions of the lease of areas of land and water for the establishment of naval or coaling stations in Guantanamo and Bahia Honda the Republic of Cuba made to the United States by the Agreement of February 16/23,1903, in fulfillment of the provisions of Article Seven of the Constitutional Appendix of the Republic of Cuba, have appointed their Plenipotentiaries to that end.-
The President of the United States of America, Herbert G. Squiers, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary in Havana.
And the President of the Republic of Cuba, Jose M. Garcia Montes, Secretary of Finance, and acting Secretary of State and Justice, who, after communicating to each other their respective full powers, found to be in due form, have agreed upon the following Articles;-
The United States of America agrees and covenants to pay to the Republic of Cuba the annual sum of two thousand dollars, in gold coin of the United States, as long as the former shall occupy and use said areas of land by virtue of said agreement.
All private lands and other real property within said areas shall be acquired forthwith by the Republic of Cuba.
The United States of America agrees to furnish to the Republic of Cuba the sums necessary for the purchase of said private lands and properties and such sums shall be accepted by the Republic of Cuba as advance payment on account of rental due by virtue of said Agreement.
The said areas shall be surveyed and their boundaries distinctly marked by permanent fences or inclosures.
The expenses of construction and maintenance of such fences or inclosures shall be borne by the United States.
The United States of America agrees that no person, partnership, or corporation shall be permitted to establish or maintain a commercial, industrial or other enterprise within said areas.
Fugitives from justice charged with crimes or misdemeanors amenable to Cuban Law, taking refuge within said areas, shall be delivered up by the United States authorities on demand by duly authorized Cuban authorities.
On the other hand the Republic of Cuba agrees that fugitives from justice charged with crimes or misdemeanors amenable to United States law, committed within said areas, taking refuge in Cuban territory, shall on demand, be delivered up to duly authorized United States authorities.
Materials of all kinds, merchandise, stores and munitions of war imported into said areas for exclusive use and consumption therein, shall not be subject to payment of customs duties nor any other fees or charges and the vessels which may carry same shall not be subject to payment of port, tonnage, anchorage or other fees, except in case said vessels shall be discharged without the limits of said areas; and said vessels shall not be discharged without the limits of said areas otherwise than through a regular port of entry of the Republic of Cuba when both cargo and vessel shall be subject to all Cuban Customs laws and regulations and payment of corresponding duties and fees.
It is further agreed that such materials, merchandise, stores and munitions of war shall not be transported from said areas into Cuban territory.
Except as provided in the preceding Article, vessels entering into or departing from the Bays of Guantanamo and Bahia Honda within the limits of Cuban territory shall be subject exclusively to Cuban laws and authorities and orders emanating from the latter in all that respects port police, Customs or Health, and authorities of the United States shall place no obstacle in the way of entrance and departure of said vessels except in case of a state of war.
This lease shall be ratified and the ratifications shall be exchanged in the City of Washington within seven months from this date.
In witness whereof, We, the respective Plenipotentiaries, have signed this lease and hereunto affixed our Seals.
Done at Havana, in duplicate in English and Spanish this second day of July nineteen hundred and three.
I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the foregoing lease, do hereby approve the same, by virtue of the authority conferred by the seventh of the provisions defining the relations which are to exist between the United States and Cuba, contained in the Act of Congress approved March 2, 1901, entitled "An Act making appropriation for the support of the Army for the fiscal year ending June 30,1902."
Washington, October 2, 1903.

The treaty is perpetual and has no limitation as to its term. So long as the United States pays its $2,000 in gold coin each year, it appears that the lease remains perpetual. Interestingly, the treaty provides in in Article III that there shall not be any commercial enterprises located at Guantanamo. Today, there is a Subway, McDonalds, A&W and KFC located on the base, but all are owned by the US Navy. I do not know if there are any other businesses operating there. Perhaps some of my readers might know and may comment. At least one account I have read suggests that the treaty is being violated by the operation of business enterprises, but I have not read any description of what those businesses might consist of. While I doubt Theodore Roosevelt ever contemplated fast-food operations in lieu of a Navy mess, it does not seem inconsistent with the operation of a naval base.
In a world of modern aircraft carriers powered by nuclear reactors and aircraft that travel the distance between Cuba and the US in less than a minute, I wonder what its strategic importance is, apart from its function as a naval brig. I wonder what the man-in-the-street in Cuba thinks of having a part of Cuba perpetually occupied by another country. A recent article in the New York Times suggested it is almost as if the French had decided at the end of the American Revolution to occupy New York in perpetuity in return for helping the colonies free themselves from Great Britain.