Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Do Mahmoud Abbas, Raúl Castro and Mark Twain Have in Common?

The brief answer is absolutely nothing, except somewhere in the twisted neurons of my brain, and there, if you look closely, a slender thread connects the three. In my quest for news of Raul Castro and his just-ended trip to Vietnam, China and Russia (with new cases of cholera in Cuba an everyday occurrence, he could not have picked a safer time to absent himself from island of the palms) I came across a story that appeared in the Monday edition of the Miami Herald, under the headline “Palestinian president urged Raúl Castro to free Alan Gross” (

Why on earth would Mahmoud Abbas involve himself in the fate of a Jewish subcontractor who works for the US Department of State and who is rotting in a Cuban jail? In previous posts, I have written about Gross’s circumstances, but never considered that the Palestinian Authority might want to free him.  The explanation provided by the Miami Herald is that the Palestinian request came from an attempt to accommodate a U.S. Congressman holding the purse strings on a $147 million grant to the Palestinian Authority. This odd development led me to a search for the origin of the phrase, “politics make strange bedfellows.” Certainly, stranger bedfellows never existed.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase was coined by Charles Dudley Warner, a 19th century American essayist, a resident of San Francisco.  As a resident of northern California, my ears perk up, whenever I come across a literary tidbit that is associated with these parts of the world.

Warner was so popular in San Francisco that three different streets were named after him—Charles, Dudley, and Warner Streets. Another of his phrases, “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” has been misattributed to Mark Twain. Without the news of Abbas’s attempt (Raúl will not budge on his demand that five Cubans held in the United States be released), I would still be thinking that Mark Twain was responsible for the observation of the ironic human preoccupation with the weather.

Thank you Mr. Abbas.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Revolution Came with Hope and Departed in Disillusion

A theme of The Death of the White Rose deals with the inevitable failure of a revolution to maintain the loyalty of its supporters when the change it promises does not materialize No matter how zealous the advocate, when the promises of a revolution are not kept, disillusion sets in.
I was struck by the description of Yoani Sanchez, the independent blogger, of the disillusion of her mother in 1989 when the most highly decorated general of the Cuban Army, Arnaldo Ochoa, was convicted and shot for drug trafficking. The general enjoyed widespread popularity and because of that, threatened to eclipse Fidel. Other heroes of the revolution had suffered a similar fate decades before—Frank País and Camillo Cienfuegos, just to mention two. The trumped up charges against Ochoa, who was regarded as the hero of the Cuban army’s campaign in Africa, strained the Castros’ credibility to the breaking point, and caused many ardent supporters to abandon any hope that the promises of the revolution would ever be kept.
Here, taken from, is the story of Yoani’s mother’s reaction to the execution of this popular figure:
My mother, devoted to Fidel, sat in front of the television. A few days later her two daughters understood that a transcendental and irreversible change had come over that compulsive thirty-something. A former militant in the Young Communist Union, she had suffered a degree of ideological disillusionment in the late eighties, but the trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa was too much for her revolutionary illusions.
I remember seeing her sitting in that easy chair in front of the television thinking that her “Commander” was more than a father – much more than the nation itself – and observing, from my naïve adolescent perspective, her transformation. Her anger, her sadness, while the farce of the judicial process continued. Later I heard from my school friends that a similar metamorphoses occurred in many of their homes. “What have we come to,” seemed to spread among a good part of Fidel’s faithful followers.
Why, 23 years after that “reality show” televised throughout the country, is what is called “Case No. 1 of 1989” still considered a point of rupture? How did this moment become one of the dates marking the decline of the Cuban Revolution?
I do not think it was solely because of popular sympathy for the haughty and handsome man who was in the dock. Nor for the false note of the generals – chubby cheeked from the good life – blaming one of their colleagues for enjoying a luxury here, an extravagance there. Nor can it be said that it was just the evident contrast between the soldier who had led battles in Africa, and the Commander in Chief who played at war from afar, from the comfort of his office.
I think it all came together for many Cubans, in that moment, that the train of the political process had gone off the rails. But undoubtedly added to this was the desire to find a good excuse for a break, a sufficiently strong pretext to show the door to an ideology that had defrauded so many. We children saw this metamorphosis in our parents… there was no way we could emerge unscathed in the presence of such a mutation.
For four weeks, the small screens in every Cuban household were tuned to these courtroom images, where the great majority of those present wore olive green uniforms. We heard the witnesses testify, the accused shift from a tone of alarm to the stuttering of terror as many of them declared that the highest levels of the Cuban government were not aware of the drug trafficking.
Raúl Castro talked about how he had cried in front of his bathroom mirror, thinking about Ochoa’s children, but he still approved his execution, and that of three other defendants.
And all this happened before our eyes in the same year in which the Berlin Wall would fall and many Eastern European regimes would crumble like illusory castles in the sand. It wasn’t possible to separate what was happening outside our borders from that Military Tribunal that indicted Arnaldo Ochoa for “high treason against the country and the Revolution.” Difficult to separate the crisis of faith that the Cuban process was passing through at the moment of this public lesson broadcast to millions of TV viewers.
The authorities – intending to teach us a lesson – wanted to show that they were still capable of striking a blow against any ideas of a tropical Perestroika that might be lurking on the island. A self-inflicted wound in their own ranks was a very clear way of warning that there would be no mercy for those who crossed a certain line. Parallel to the official version of the trial ran a thousand and one popular rumors about the most decorated General in Cuba overshadowing Fidel Castro.
Many analysts argued that what was a really playing out was a rivalry for power. It was not surprising, therefore, that so much of the evidence presented in the trial ultimately did not convince the audience. “There’s something more going on here,” said the older people… “there’s something fishy,” they repeated, with the wisdom of those who had seen many others fall, be ousted.
At dawn on July 13, 1989 Arnaldo Ochoa, Antonio de la Guardia, Amado Padrón and Jorge Martinez were shot. My mother had turned off the television just as the sentence was announced. I never saw her look at the screen with rapture again; nor meekly consent when the figure of Fidel Castro appeared.
13 July 2012

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


After reading various press accounts about the outbreak of cholera in Granma province in eastern Cuba, it is difficult to assess if this is a minor problem or an epidemic. Officially, three people have died. Other reports state that the death toll has reached 85 with 1000 ill.  With investigative journalism virtually nonexistent in Cuba, it is a challenge to separate fact from fiction. 

To get a better idea of what has occurred, I looked back over the recent postings of Translating Cuba, to see if anyone in the Cuban blogosphere had commented upon the outbreak. I discovered the post of Yoani Sanchez that she had made public on July 3rd  in Translating Cuba. The full text is set forth below.  I found her reporting that the government of Cuba considered the reports of the epidemic to be a hoax, fomented “by the imperialists,” was not too surprising. After all, isn’t “the Empire” responsible for every problem Cuba has faced?

BAD NEWS by Yoani Sanchez

There are many jokes in Cuba alluding to the stereotypical information provided by the official press. Jokes about the tendency to narrate only the positive that happens in the national territory and to show the rest of the world through a succession of tragedies and negativity. One of the best known of these jokes is repeated when the prime time news begins and some families hang an empty bag under the television. “At least it can be filled up this way from the tons of meat, fruit and foods that show up only in the news reports,” say the cheeky housewives burdened by the shortages. Beside the sarcasm, there are linguists who have noted the use of verbs such as “grow, sow, build, develop” in the headlines referring to our own country, while they prefer to use words such as “die, bomb, prosecute, punish and destroy” for articles about the rest of the world.
Despite the fact that in recent years they’ve tried to offer a journalism closer to reality, triumphalism continues to set the standard for what appears in the mass media. A recent example is the outbreak of cholera that appeared in early June in the eastern provinces. The first evidence that something was happening was a text from an independent journalist. On the official digital sites this news was branded “another hoax from the imperialists.” Only to have to recognize weeks later that there is, indeed, an outbreak of vibrio cholerae in the City of Manzanillo. As people disbelieve so much of what the newspapers say, they even read this note in Granma with suspicion. To the figures of 3 dead and 53 infected, popular rumor started to increase the numbers. And all this speculation is because we have learned to read the news upside down and between the lines, and to distrust almost everything said on TV.
3 July 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Death of the White Rose Finds a Home

The Death of the White Rose took a giant leap toward publication today with the receipt of a publishing contract from Bridge Works Publishers of Bridgehampton, NY. Founded by the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, Bridge Works  is a boutique company focused on novels. Barbara Phillips, their editorial director, and former features editor of the WSJ,  will guide me through a restructuring of the middle and concluding chapters of the novel, helping to make The Death of the White Rose reach its full potential. 
I think the process will be much like making sausage—ugly to watch, but delicious to eat when done!  I expect to have it complete  by December.

Many thanks to my literary agent, Waterside Literary Agency’s Jill Kramer, for making this opportunity a reality.

Bon Voyage, White Rose.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cholera Strikes Southern Cuba

A measure of the economic deterioration that has taken place in Cuba is the recent outbreak of cholera. It has been more than 100 years since cholera last was seen on the island of the palms. According to an account published in the Jamaica Observer today, at least fifteen people have died as a result of the disease.

Official Cuban government spokesmen at first denied the existence of the disease, then admitted to three deaths and fifty people having been stricken in Granma province. Cholera is a bacterial infection that is usually transmitted through fecal contamination of food or drinking water. There are more than 800,000 people living in Granma  province located in southeastern Cuba.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro is safely on the other side of the world today. He is in Vietnam paying tribute to the grave of Ho Chi Minh.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Reflections on the Cuban Revolution

What did the triumph of the Cuban revolution accomplish? A lot: it changed what should not have been changed, destroyed all of the island’s prosperity. It focused on the benefits for the government and forgot the people; it deceived, lied and used many followers, deluded at first by promises of a false freedom and independence for Cuba.
What did they do? They made us dependent on the Socialist camp and didn’t care about the future in their eagerness to demonstrate that they can come out ahead without help from its neighbor to the North; this governmental pride oppresses us more each day.
What do they do? Nothing: to invent a blocade that always existed, mocking this measure by having the help of the Soviet Union, and today said embargo is brought out in order to explain and justify the scarcity of all that was promised.
What have they demonstrated? The lack of preparation and the ambition for power; that we are being led by incompetents or by people who love regression.
The inexplicable! An island surrounded by ocean yet there is scarcity of salt, there is scarcity of fish; 53 years of government and we have nothing.
The explicable! We are governed by an ambitious dictatorship of destructive power, with ideological methods based on the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, that force one to adhere to its beliefs or to be punished by death or to be exiled forever. They are people who do not know how to find equilibrium because they want to demonstrate their absolute perfection — and that doesn’t exist, not even nature is perfect!
Translated by: Maria Montoto