Thursday, February 28, 2013


Yesterday, I was saddened to hear that Harvey Lavan "Van" Cliburn Jr. died of bone cancer. As a child, I remember him being hailed as a hero, when he won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in 1958, the final year of the Cuban Revolution.

The competition was created to demonstrate the superiority of Soviet musicians and became a black eye to the USSR, when Van Cliburn, an American, won. Such was his fame that New York welcomed him home with a tickertape parade. Three years later, I had the good fortune to attend his rehearsal and concert at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, where I was a camper. Van Cliburn was our hero, and in many ways a weapon in a cold war, where even musicians became warriors of a sort. He was a vestige of this frightening time, and he has now passed from the scene. The recordings that he has left behind are testament to his talent and skill.

U.S. foreign policy concerning Cuba, like Van Cliburn, is a relic of the cold war. The Soviet Union no longer exists, yet the foreign policy with which the United States confronted it in Cuba remains largely unchanged. This week, a bent-over Fidel Castro stood witness to his brother, Raúl, taking his last oath as president of Cuba. We know, that if Raúl lives through his final five-year term, the last remnant of leadership of the revolution that came to power in 1958 will also pass from the scene. America no longer needs its Van Cliburns to fight its political battles with the USSR. I wonder how much longer the U.S. will maintain its foreign policy to clash with a ghost of an enemy that is no longer a threat to its national security.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


The resourcefulness of people who find a means to scrape by never ceases to amaze me. Finding an “edge” to eke out a living in difficult times, identifying a use for a by-product others might throw away, never fails to bring a smile to my face. That’s exactly what happened when I read of the ingenuity of one septuagenarian in Havana, who has found a way to arbitrage his way to supplementing his livelihood. Here’s the story that appeared in, as told by Cuban blogger Regina Coyula. Finance / Regina Coyula

Petty Finance

The bus stop at G and 27th, three in the afternoon. Several people gather around a skinny seventy-something. He’s not selling peanuts, he’s not selling newspapers, he’s not selling candy bars, he’s not selling anything. He is exchanging one Cuban peso for 80 centavos. It works because although public transport costs forty centavos, in practice breaking a Cuban peso into smaller coins is difficult because Cuban pesos are only in the places selling on the ration book (at the bodega and the bakery) are fractions handled.
People prefer to make change with the skinny guy, outfitted with a cardboard box of his own invention hanging just below his chest, because with a peso you can only pay for one trip, and if you change it you can pay for two, others prefer to favor the retiree before tossing a coin in the fare box.
And so it goes! I say to myself annoyed at my camera. I try to speak to him but he crosses diagonally across G Street to the stop for the P-2, which starts its journey towards Alamar there.
I tried to calculate (you already know, numbers aren’t my strong point): With five people making change, he can buy himself a small coffee; with forty a pizza. How many hours a day will he have to dedicate to tramping from stop to stop, how many times will the police stop him. But in any case, the next list of allowed self-employment professions should include moneychanger, coin-breaker, or something like that.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Since I last posted, the novel has been completely revised and the title has changed from Death of the White Rose to Island of the White Rose. Working with Barbara Phillips, the editorial director of Bridgeworks Publishing Company, has been educational. There was not a sentence, word or punctuation mark that she did not scrutinize, and she was an able sculptor of the clay of my completed manuscript. Now, the project has the look and feel of a completed book, although the publication date is still months away—August 1st. It is being printed in both hardback and e-formats and should be available through any bookstore or Amazon. When it becomes available, I’ll post here about where to buy it and link to a webpage,, presently under construction.

Much has happened in Cuba since the last posting, and there are some hopeful signs of change on the island of the palms. Yesterday, Raúl Castro was sworn in as president for a final term. He announced that this will be the end of the road for him and it is time that a new generation take over the reigns of government. He also advocated that there be term and age limits in the future for government officials.

The person most likely to follow Raúl as president is Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the highest ranking vice president. I am pleasantly surprised that the betting is not on Raúl’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espín. Perhaps the Castro line is at an end. Bermudez has experience with foreign investment in tourism and his ascendancy may signal a change in the wind for socialism in Cuba.

Another change is the implementation of the policy announced some months ago that for the most part dispenses with the necessity of an exit passport for Cuban citizens. As a result, Yoani Sánchez, who 13 times requested permission to leave the country over the past few years finally was able to depart on a three continent lecture tour. Yoani has also learned how a public figure’s every comment will generate public indignation, if the words are not well chosen. Last week she garnered criticism in the Cuban-American community, when she called on the United States to free the Cuban five, the Cuban nationals who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder and acting as the agent of a foreign government in the United States. She also called for the end of the US embargo and the closure of the U.S. government’s Guantánamo naval base. The latter two points have some support in the U.S. both inside and outside the Cuban-American communities, but the idea of freeing felons has little traction here, to my knowledge.

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