Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Trailer for Island of White Rose is Republished

Today is a landmark--more than 25,000 page views of this blog to date. Thank you readers for returning here to read my meanderings. 

It is also the date of publication of the remade trailer. Thanks to the talents of Mark Kingsley Brown, accomplished graphic artist and video editor extrordinaire, the trailer has been re-edited to reflect the change in title of my novel from Death of the White Rose to Island of the White Rose and also to connect the novel to its publisher, Bridge Works Publishing. If anyone needs help with the design for any kind of marketing communications, visit Mark's site at http://www.kinsleynet.com

Click on this link: http://youtu.be/4A8qtR9rlec

Monday, March 25, 2013

Corrected March 25th post - Bebo Valdés, Musician and Cuban Refugee Dead at 95

One of the profound effects of the Cuban Revolution was the fracture of families, as husbands or wives came under suspicion of members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and had to flee, often in the middle of the night. Bebo Valdés, who died last Friday in Sweden, is one of these tragic stories. Bebo was the music arranger and house pianist at the Tropicana nightclub in Havana at the time of the revolution. When he fled Cuba, he left his entire family behind him.

Here is an excerpt of an interview made by El País in 2008 (Bebo was a better musician than grammarian):
"He said that when the revolution triumphed, he was threatened with a 20-year jail sentence. What did he do? Did he murder anyone? I bought a piece of land and placed a foundation on it. One day I went there and found a guy placing rocks and things on it, and I said: 'Hey,! what are you doing here?' 'The government sent me.' I said that this cannot be because this is mine. A policeman came over and said: 'Here no one owns anything, sir. All this, and all of Cuba, belongs to the Government.' Anyone can tell you this. Luis Yáñez, who worked with me and was my friend, pointed a machine gun at me so that I would open a shopping bag where I had a chicken for my daughter, Miriam. Everything was 'fatherland or death, we shall overcome, if you don't like it, leave.' When you wanted to leave, because I wanted to leave in July of the preceding year, he (Castro) came in January, they asked for your passport to stamp a visa on it and they did not return it. I was lucky to have been able to leave with a fake work contract from Mexico." http://elpais.com/diario/2008/10/05/eps/1223188012_850215.html

Bebo left Cuba on October 26, 1960 and never returned.

This is not what the protagonists of Island of the White Rose dreamed for their fatherland, nor was it the dream of the middle and upper classes who fought in the underground to support Fidel in the mountains. They hoped that the revolution would bring democracy to Cuba. There was no plan to establish a system in which the government owns everything. Bebo died in exile on March 22, 2013. He left without realizing his dream of going back and without seeing the dream of the revolution fulfilled. Unhappily, there are many more Bebos still waiting for this to occur.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Often, at major events such as football games and graduation exercises, before the program starts, the crowd sings the national anthem. Someone, pass me the peanuts and Cracker Jacks. This is commonplace throughout the world. Today, in the state of Zulia in Venezuela, there were graduation ceremonies for the award of medical degrees to 675 new community doctors. 

Nicolás Maduro, Acting President, was in attendance, and the ceremonies preempted TV programming throughout Venezuela. It's not too surprising that to kick things off, the national anthem was played. However, the particular anthem that was chosen, was not “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo,” the national anthem of Venezuela, but “La Bayamesa,” the national anthem of Cuba. Hanging overhead was a banner depicting Fidel Castro and Chávez. Here is a video link: 

What was most amazing is the fact that the Venezuelan graduates knew the words and sang the song passionately. Maduro called on the new graduates to practice preventative health care and not the type of corrupt medicine that capitalism had brought, which “made our children sick.”

It’s no wonder that Venezuelans have taken to calling their country Cubazuela. Can you imagine if the University of Michigan School of Medicine played “Oh Canada” at commencement exercises, under a banner showing Stephen Harper, the prime minister of our northern neighbor? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


                                                       A Novel
                                                  R. Ira Harris

            Intrigue and adventure, armed struggle and forbidden love intersect amid the Castro revolution in 1950s Cuba in R. Ira Harris’s novel ISLAND OF THE WHITE ROSE  (Bridge Works Publishing Co., Aug. 1, 2013, $24.95, hard cover).

            With Cuba in the headlines now as power moves from Castro to a new generation, Cuban-born authorities in the United States have praised the authenticity of this “gripping story of love, faith, betrayal, and revolution,” as Florida International University’s president emeritus, Dr. Modesto A. Maidique, describes it. Guillermo Martinez, co-editor of Cubans: An Epic Journey, calls it “a good page-turner…that depicts the true story of many Cuban youths who risked their lives to oust a brutal dictatorship,” that of Fulgencio Batista, only to find it replaced by another ruthless regime.

            Father Pedro Villanueva, 34, the novel’s protagonist, son of an upper-middle-class Havana family, is initially non-political but agrees to try to free a parishioner’s son from La Cabaña prison. He and his brother Alberto bribe guards at the prison, the prisoner is released, but Pedro’s brother is killed in the handover. Pedro then joins with the underground to support the Fidelistas fighting in the Sierra Maestra.

            Two attractive women of the underground, Dolores Barré and María Guerra, persuade Pedro first to obtain medicines for the rebels, later to smuggle arms to them aboard his family’s 40-foot-sloop,  The White Rose (named after a poem by José Martí, a 19th century national hero, in which the white rose symbolizes Cuba and its brightest aspirations). As Pedro’s involvement with the revolution grows, taking him into the mountains, gun in hand, his priestly ethics and his celibacy vows are sacrificed. After Batista flees the country and Castro’s forces take power, Pedro sees some close to him demonized, he comes to realize he has traded his core beliefs for disillusionment—and The White Rose, with Pedro at the helm, secretly slips off on a new mission.  

About the Author--

R. Ira Harris, an attorney living in Sacramento, has spent his adult life closely associated with the study of the struggles of the Cuban people.  

[More information about the author can be found on his blog at www.islandofthewhiteroseblog.com/   and on his author website at http://www.islandofthewhiterose.com]

About the Publisher—

            Bridge Works is a 21-year-old independent publisher that has discovered and first published such successful authors as Tom Perrotta (whose subsequent Election and later Little Children were bestsellers and were made into hit feature films); Alan Isler (whose The Prince of West End Avenue won the National Jewish Book Award and was runner-up for the National Book Critics Circle’s fiction award); Lorna Landvik; and Claire Cook (whose subsequent Must Love Dogs was made into a feature film). Bridge Works titles, in addition to the above Alan Isler recognition, have won Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for best mystery; have been finalists for the Barnes & Noble annual Discover Great New Writers Award and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award; and have been among The New York Times Notable Books of the Year.

            Bridge Works’ books are distributed nationally by National Book Network to wholesalers, retail chains, independent booksellers, and other outlets. Bridge Works’ books, including Island of the White Rose, are published simultaneously as e-books and are available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other e-book retailers.

 Additional information can be found at www.BridgeWorksBooks.com

Monday, March 18, 2013


The stakes have gotten high for Cuba in the April 14 Venezuelan election to replace the deceased socialist president, Hugo Chávez. The opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles announced today to university students in the state of Zulia, that if he were elected, “not a single drop of more oil will go to the government of Raúl Castro."

Europa Press reported Capriles stated that Nicolás Maduro is the “candidate of Raúl Castro." He went on to say that "Nicolás knows that he will not solve any problem, is pure bullshit.” Despite the grammatical nonsense of this statement, I couldn’t help but think how often an American presidential contender might like to publicly use profanity in this way to grab attention away from his opposition. Having read this Europa Press report, it was interesting to compare the text of the same speech as it appeared in the Miami Herald, which politely declined to use the vulgarity. The Spanish word paja (bullshit) in its root meaning is hay; the vulgar version of it is masturbation. However, in Venezuela, in this context, it means bullshit. The language used gives the sense of how heated this election is becoming.

The electioneering is also spawning promises that Capriles cannot possibly deliver in any sane world. His solution to the grinding poverty is to raise the minimum wage by 40%. I'm reminded of a thought expressed by my son, Max, when he was eight years old, that poor people wouldn't be poor if they were given debit cards. Now Max is 23 and surely has learned that a debit card is not an inexhaustible source of money. Neither is oil.

The point of this is, that no matter who wins, the likelihood is that Venezuela’s oil-based economy, with its infrastructure in collapse, will likely tumble into an abyss, like Cuba’s, before there is any real hope for market reform. The Castros must be a little nervous about their lifeline, but assured by the latest polls that put Maduro ahead by 14%.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Cuba Today Street Photography by Jorge Santana Gives Sacramentans a Glimpse of Havana Street Scenes

For my readers who live in Sacramento, I want to call your attention to a wonderful new exhibit of photography at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center, 2015 J Street, Sacramento. Entitled "Cuba Today Street Photography," the show features photographs of Jorge Santana, a retired Sac State professor and experienced group leader for cultural trips to Cuba. Here is a link to the Second Saturday crowd enjoying the exhibit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HJbxVaVnDc . 

One of the photographs that interested me showed a cottage book publisher who hand assembles and binds every book, made from primitive photocopies of manuscript pages. When I asked the professor about it, he vanished for a moment and magically reappeared, bearing a sample of the book produced. Holding the delicate volume, I felt that if I sneezed, it would fall apart. I could feel the love that went into putting together each page. If you watch the video link above, you will see me examining the book at 4:02 into the video. The professor is wearing a guayabera shirt.

It's a sunny day here and I'm off to give Scruffy a bath! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

Friday, March 15, 2013


Hollywood director Mack Sennett was known for his zany movies in which characters took the most unlikely and preposterous actions that there was no need for dialog to cause the audience to laugh out loud. The demise of Hugo Chávez, his funeral and the plans for the disposition of his body have taken on the dimension of a Max Sennett comedy. All that has been missing for the past week and a half is a walk-on roll for Charlie Chaplin.

When the Venezuelan government announced that Chávez had died in a hospital in Caracas, it also announced that he would be put on display forever, so that Venezuelans could venerate his body like Mao or Lenin. I’ve already written about the shell game with the caskets a few days ago and will not delve into that again. But today, the final day of his casket being on display for the faithful to pass by, the final act of the comedy, in all its laughable intrigue played out.

Acting President Nicolás Maduro began the closing scene with the announcement that German scientists had determined that it was too late to perform the embalming techniques necessary to do body preservation for which they had all planned. Other arrangements will likely have to be made (years ago, Chavez had indicated a preference for burial in his home town of Barinas). “We waited too long,” he said. But the real jaw-dropping line came from Chavez’s old army buddy, Major General Jacinto Pérez Arcay, who, at a podium in front of the casket, exclaimed, “how did you leave the stage, Hugo? Like Negro Primero (one of Simón Bolívar's favorite soldiers) you came from Cuba dead!"

Either the government lied in its initial announcement of his death, or the general lied in his excited utterance, next to the casket. As a lawyer with considerable experience in courtrooms, I tend to believe the truthfulness of the emotional outburst of his comrade-in-arms. Spontaneity is the mother of truthfulness. The very nature of it being unrehearsed suggests that the statement has not been crafted to follow some pre-planned agenda.

If one accepts the hypothesis that the general told the truth and the government lied about the place and time of death, the analysis does not end. Why did the government lie? Who and what was being protected? The inescapable conclusion is that the Castros wanted to insure the succession of Maduro to the presidency, essentially staging a bloodless coup d'état. The Castros must be laughing all the way to the bank. A bank that continues to fill with Venezuelan petro dollars.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I spent the late evening tonight watching a wonderful video feed of a meeting between Yoani Sanchez, the famous Cuban blogger, and journalism students at Columbia University that took place this afternoon. Here is a link where I encourage all my readers to click on to watch this amazing young woman who after four long years and twenty attempts to get  a visa to leave Cuba to accept a journalism award at Columbia finally made it out.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


You don’t have to see a skunk to know that there’s one in the neighborhood. My nose is starting to twitch, sniffing the news reports about Hugo Chávez, his medical care in Cuba, his death in its sibling, Venezuela, and the scramble for power now that everyone appears to agree that he is really dead.

American newspapers and broadcast media have faithfully reported the announcements of the Venezuelan government, but seldom have they provided enough of a backstory to allow the readers and viewers to understand the context of the reports, so that they can decide whether they are really true. 

Do not be alarmed; I am not about to suggest that Chávez is anything other than dead. He’s no Jimmy Hoffa. However, the facts about when he died, how he died and where he died may not be entirely as reported from Caracas. Uniformly, we’ve been informed that Chávez had been in the military hospital in Caracas since his arrival from Havana on February 18, 2013. It has been told that he had been having severe respiratory problems following surgery in Cuba and had been breathing with the help of a tracheotomy. These difficulties may have existed as early as December 20, 2013. See, Nelson Bocaranda’s blog at http://www.cmi.com.co/default.asp?n=95298 and the Spanish newspaper ABC, http://www.lapatilla.com/site/2012/12/21/abc-Chavez-fue-sometido-a-una-traqueotomia

Unfortunately, Chávez was kept under wraps during his stay in Havana. On Thursday, March 7, 2013, the Spanish newspaper ABC, in an article captioned “A Death Surrounded by Lies”, by Emili J. Blasco, reported that "the last days of Hugo Chávez's illness was a history that was plagued by official lies. The most brazen of them being the distribution of photographs in which the Venezuelan president and his daughters supposedly appeared reading the edition of the Cuban newspaper Granma dated February 14. But that was the only way to try to deceive Venezuela and the world." http://www.abc.es/internacional/20130307/abci-muerte-rodeada-mentiras-201303071207.html

Similarly, Panama's former Ambassador to the OAS, Guillermo Cochéz, during an interview given to La Estrella (laestrella.com.pa) stated the fact that one of the daughters had had cosmetic surgery on her nose (to look more refined) prior to February 14th, and her new nose was not visible in the image distributed by the Venezuelan Government. He also said that in that photograph, the president looks heavier than he did before the last Havana operation for cancer. See, http://alexismarreroc.com/diario-la-estrella-paraguay-hijas-de-hugo-chavez-habrian-ordenado-su-desconexion-cochez/  

During an interview also given to La Estrella on February 27, 2013, Mr. Cochéz stated that, "Chávez was brain dead since December 31, and was kept alive by artificial means and was disconnected four days prior to the interview at the request of his daughters."
Again, Emili J. Blasco of the Spanish newspaper ABC, relied on unnamed military sources to report on March 8, 2013 that on Wednesday, while Chávez's empty coffin was being paraded around Caracas from the military hospital (where the Venezuelan government said Chávez died), to the military academy for seven-hours, they were preparing his body in the Hospitalito morgue, in the Military Academy, after the arrival of his body from Havana. The body was put into a coffin in the basement of this institution. When the false coffin arrived once the parading ended, the coffins were switched, out of sight of the television cameras.

Blasco states that "the government's deceit during the procession is a new hoax, adding to the long list of lies with which the chavismo has filled the last months of the life of its leader.” Although no photographs have been taken of the body, many commented that they had observed a slightly swollen and hairless Chávez, unlike the photographs that had been shown on February 14 with his daughters and a full head of hair. http://www.abc.es/internacional/20130308/abci-feretro-chavez-vacio-201303072142.html
Today, the body is still being viewed, seven days after his death. The question arises, was Chávez embalmed in Cuba prior to being flown to Caracas? That might explain the report on February 18, in Mesa Redonda Contracomunista, that Massimo Signoracci, the embalmer of the last two popes was spotted in Havana. http://www.mesaredondacontracomunistabg.blogspot.com/2013/02/que-hace-el-embalsamador-mas-famoso-del.html If true, was he there for Chávez? When did the president really die? Why does it really matter?

The deathwatch for Chávez has, at its root, significant constitutional importance for Venezuela and economic implications for Cuba. Venezuela is a lifeline for the Cuban economy that still lies in shambles, despite Raúl’s so-called liberalizations. It is essential to Cuba that the leader who replaces Chávez continue Venezuela’s generosity to Havana.  

Last October, Chávez was elected President of Venezuela by an 11% margin. Under Article 231 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the president had to be sworn in on January 10th. If the president was unable to be sworn in, either by a temporary or absolute absence, the president of the general assembly, Diosdado Cabello, under Article 231, should have become president and an election should have been called within 30 days.

Chávez was not sworn in by the constitutional deadline, and the Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, Luisa Estela Morales, ruled on January 9, 2013, that there was no temporary or absolute absence that required the vice president to take over, and because it was the continuation of the president's mandate, the taking of the oath of office was not necessary. Below is a photograph of the Chief Justice. Note the large Cuban flag in the background and the small Venezuelan flag on her desk.

On December 9, 2012, before leaving Venezuela for his last cancer surgery in Cuba, Chávez announced that should he not be able to continue on as president that Vice President Maduro would be his designated successor. He asked the Venezuelan people to vote for Maduro.

Not surprisingly, Maduro was sworn on the day of the funeral in front of Chávez's coffin. On Sunday he announced that he would be a candidate for president in an election to be held on April 14th.

It is important to note that Article 229 of the constitution provides that the person who takes office as president due to the death of the president has to resign in order to be a candidate at the election held to fill the vacancy in office. The exact language is the following:

Article 229. A person holding the office of Executive Vice-President, Minister or Governor, or Mayor, as of the date he announces his candidacy or at any time between such date and that of the Presidential election shall not be eligible for election to the office of President of the Republic.

Again, Chief Justice Luisa Estela Morales indicated that upon the death of the President of the Republic, the Executive Vice President assumes the Presidency and leaves his previous position. In his capacity as Interim President, he has all the constitutional and legal powers as the Head of State, Head of the government and Commander in Chief of the Bolivarian National Armed Force. Herein lies the second shell game.

After January 10, was there a void of power in Venezuela since both Chávez's and Maduro's term had come to an end? If so, neither Chávez nor Maduro were in power on the alleged date of death. If by some twisted logic Maduro was still Vice President when Chávez died, shouldn’t he have to resign to run for president? By keeping Chávez out of sight of the cameras through his final illness, there is no verifiable means to determine when and where he died. Is Maduro a usurper? More importantly, is this a bloodless coup-d'état by a putative President?

If ever there were an Oliver Stone series of events it has been the past three months of Chávez’s mercurial existence, floating back and forth between Caracas and Havana. It is no secret that Maduro is the fair-haired boy that the Castros have wanted to succeed Chávez.

Alexis Ortiz, in his page, El Político said the following:

"This sly and courtly man with an obsessive ambition of command, discovered early on that Diosdado Cabello, his competitor in Chávez's succession, had the advantage of more support in the party, in the armed forces, in the Bolivarian bourgeoisie, and that he had managed to amass a fortune that gave him greater autonomy of action than Maduro had.

Both Maduro and Cabello are too shrewd to be believing in communism and other obsolete doctrines, but played Chávez's game because they have no other way to survive in politics for now. Chávez was the absolute master and they have to feign ideological loyalty to him and his nonsense.

The problem is that Nicolás Maduro is a civilian in a military environment and to bring himself to their level, he has sought support from Cuba. He has sold Raúl Castro the idea that he is the man who will guarantee security to the Cubans. This is why Chávez, pressured by the government of Cuba, proposed Maduro as his heir. Starting a race for the succession that will be, inevitably, confusing, conflictive and sweeping."  http://elpolitico.com/2012/12/del-editor/alexis-ortiz/nicolas-maduro-el-hombre-de-los-castro/

The foregoing discussion is admittedly a tattered weaving of stories that have appeared over the past few weeks on the Internet. The fact that the whereabouts and the condition of Chávez was treated as a state secret, in both Havana and Caracas, lends credibility to the commentators whose views are discussed above. I’m not certain where the truth lies. The whole tawdry mess makes me grateful to live in a country where the freedom of the press makes it unlikely that such intrigue could successfully be repeated here. I think that the photograph of the Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court sitting to the side of a large Cuban flag and with a tiny Venezuelan flag on her desk, explains a lot. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I just listened to All Things Considered on NPR and heard their take on the death of Chavez. Here is their story:


Yesterday’s news of the death of Hugo Chavez makes me wonder is this good for Cuba, or does it signal a disaster about to happen. In her Cuba Libre blog in the Spanish newspaper, El País, Yoani Sanchez writes about how Chavez’s final illness was held secret from the people of both Cuba and Venezuela by the Castro-controlled Venezuelan government, and states that maintaining secrets nowadays is like holding water between your fingers—it will inevitably leak out.

On its surface, Chavez’s death threatens an end to the generous subsidies that have kept Cuba’s economy functioning in the wake of the demise of the USSR. Cuba has received Venezuelan oil at a fraction of the world price. In return, Cuba has sent thousands of doctors to Venezuela to enable it to provide medical services for Venezuelans at little cost. The oil has been the heart-lung machine to Cuba’s terminally ill economy. If the plug is pulled, one of two things will happen. Either the Cuban economy will founder, and the hopes, which have been generated by the recent liberalization of private ownership of small businesses and real estate, will be dashed by a widespread depression, or, the government will accelerate the changes that have started to stimulate the economy through relaxed emigration and foreign investment in the travel sector of the economy. The new first Vice-President is particularly experienced with the development of foreign tourism investment outside of Havana. Perhaps he will be permitted to accelerate that important source of foreign exchange.

But much more than a few hotels and golf courses are needed to bring stability to the economy. The old guard is giving up its control and its adherence to a state-owned means of production very grudgingly. Even during Raúl’s swearing in for the final five-year term, Fidel was quoted as saying that the change that was the most important was the revolution, not the changes that Raúl has been advocating. This does not bode well.