Friday, December 30, 2005

Backers of Cuban Reforms Play a Waiting Game,0,463732,full.story?coll=la-home-world
From the Los Angeles Times
Backers of Cuban Reforms Play a Waiting Game
From Washington to Havana, there is a prevailing sense of resignation that only Castro's death will clear the way for democracy.
By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer

December 30, 2005

ALONG THE STRAITS OF FLORIDA — On both sides of this 90-mile-wide waterway separating the United States and Cuba, the aging adversaries of the Cold War's most enduring confrontation are exercising, eating right and trying to outlast one another.

Septuagenarian Cuban exiles such as Alfredo Duran, a Bay of Pigs veteran and Miami lawyer, proclaim themselves fit for the day that mortality will vanquish archenemy Fidel Castro and they can return triumphant to their homeland.

But the 79-year-old Communist leader, who has withstood assassination attempts, a U.S. embargo and economic stagnation and who will mark his 47th year in power on New Year's Day, takes care of himself as well.

He eschews the cigars and rum for which his country is famous and adheres to a natural food diet. Although the CIA recently claimed that he suffers from Parkinson's disease, Castro has appeared hale and strapping lately, well enough to stand for hours ranting against imperialism and opponents of his revolution.

From the streets of Havana to the halls of power in Washington, there is a sense that, inevitably, Cuba will embrace the reforms and democracy that have swept other communist countries over the last two decades. But there is also a prevailing sense of resignation that nothing can be done to hasten the process and that only Castro's death will clear the way.

"People are just waiting," said Damian Fernandez, head of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. "They want a biological solution."

Cuba's succession process calls for Castro's lifelong understudy, his 74-year-old brother Raul, to take power when he dies. Exactly how he would lead the nation remains unknown. But U.S. lawmakers, trade group officials and others who have had contact with Cuba's leadership say some officials desire reform but will not speak openly about it, in deference to Castro.

Cuban government and Communist Party officials declined numerous requests for interviews. But analysts note that even Raul Castro, as head of the Defense Ministry, has had a guiding hand in drawing foreign investment into the booming tourism sector and that others in the Communist Party wings have spoken in favor of market-oriented liberalization.

Cuba's state-run media trumpet the gains in education and healthcare under communism and blame economic failures on U.S. sanctions imposed since 1960. Although most Cubans are proud of the early social accomplishments of Fidel Castro's tenure, many are disenchanted with the lack of entrepreneurial opportunities of the type that have lifted living standards in Eastern Europe, Vietnam and China.

In conversations with dozens of ordinary Cubans in Havana, not one spoke in support of the current crackdown on private enterprise. Most cited Castro as the main obstacle to a freer and more prosperous Cuba, and said they had little hope of relief as long as he remained leader.

"Only one man holds us back. He doesn't want us to earn money," says Javier, a 27-year-old bicycle taxi driver, taking his right hand from the handlebars to stroke an imaginary beard, signifying Castro.

"Havana is destroyed," he said, pedaling past crumbling apartment blocks with flaked paint, broken stairs, uncollected trash and windows that have been without glass for decades. "Young people aren't waiting for change anymore, they're waiting to leave."

But even those openly disparaging of Castro, like an unemployed carpenter named Ivan, say Cubans are too cowed by fear and immobilized by resignation to challenge Castro.

"Esperamos," he said of Cubans' strategy, using the Spanish word that means both "we wait" and "we hope."

While Cubans bide their time, academics are studying the transition experiences of Eastern Europe, South Africa and China, in efforts to forecast what might be ahead for Cuba. Some fear mounting internal pressure if too many years remain in the mortality contest, leading to a possible eruption and violent crackdown, as happened in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

"Cuban society has always accommodated the state, but there is a tradition of both overt and informal opposition," Fernandez said, describing the population as passive but potentially volatile. "People talk among themselves…. You have growing poverty and inequality. Put that together, and you have a very charged situation."

U.S. policy toward Cuba has long sought to ignite discontent with Castro's regime by imposing ever-harsher sanctions, including measures last year that prevent Cuban Americans from visiting relatives more than once every three years.

Caleb McCarry, the State Department's newly appointed Cuba transition coordinator, contends that opposition to Castro in Cuba is broader and stronger than most analysts calculate and that U.S. support to dissident groups will help to eventually bring democracy.

But even he discusses the change in the context of Castro's passing. Pointing to a U.S.-funded report chronicling 1,805 acts of peaceful civil resistance in 2004 as evidence that Cubans are increasingly disgruntled, McCarry predicted they will use Castro's death as their opening to demand change.

"The United States will not support a succession of the dictatorship. We are standing with Cubans who want genuine change in Cuba," he said.

U.S. proponents of greater engagement with Havana say Washington is missing a chance to lay the groundwork now for real change in post-Castro Cuba. They say that the U.S. focus on funding Castro opponents exposes such activists to accusations that they are traitors in the pay of a hostile foreign power.

"It's absurd," said Wayne Smith, a retired diplomat who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana during the Carter administration. "We would all like to see Cuba move toward civil society and free markets and greater respect for human rights. But the U.S. policy is exactly the wrong way to go about it."

He alluded to the March 2003 arrests of 75 opposition leaders, who were jailed for terms averaging nearly 20 years on charges of treason.

"As long as the United States is taking a threatening position, the Cuban government will act defensively. They'll call for internal discipline, rally around to defend against the threats — exactly the opposite climate for change," said Smith, now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

Lifting a U.S. travel ban, engaging with Cubans at all professional levels and ending the embargo all would be better strategies for building bridges with the next leadership, Smith argued.

Some analysts see one remote possible catalyst for breaking the U.S.-Cuba standoff before Castro dies: oil.

If reported oil discoveries in Cuban territorial waters prove significant, U.S. energy giants might begin pressuring the administration to ease sanctions to allow them to get into the development market, said Glenn Baker, Cuba Project coordinator for the Washington-based Center for Defense Information.

"There's some sense that this time it's for real," Baker said of the energy market buzz over the Cuban offshore reserves.

As for the U.S. embargo against trade or collaboration with Cuba that has been upheld by all 10 administrations since its 1960 imposition, he said: "This is the one thing that could change it."

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), an advocate of broader agricultural trade with Cuba, has been floating a measure that would exempt energy companies from the embargo on grounds that exploiting the Cuban oil would decrease American reliance on the Middle East for energy and boost U.S. national security.

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska who studies Cuban energy issues, says market-savvy Cuban officials are eagerly waiting for the chance to work with U.S. oil majors.

"They understand that all the cutting-edge technology comes out of Houston," he said. "They know they won't make significant progress until the United States is there."

Still, he predicted, serious collaboration won't be possible "until such time as Castro is removed from the equation."

For Duran, the Bay of Pigs veteran who spent more than a year in Cuban prisons after the failed 1961 CIA-sponsored invasion, the exile community's strategy of waiting for Castro to die is tantamount to allowing its communist adversaries to declare victory. He despairs of both Castro's repression and the official U.S. strategy of isolating and impoverishing Cubans in the hope of driving them into rebellion.

But the 70-year-old's views have become more moderate in the years since the invasion. He now heads the Cuban Committee for Democracy, which advocates a peaceful transition and reconciliation between those who left and those who stayed.

As time ticks by, the former warrior observes from his opulent office overlooking the straits, the once-monolithic corps of Castro opponents in Florida has become divided, disillusioned and diminished.

"We don't have much of a younger generation in the exile community," he said, noting that more recent waves of refugees show little interest in returning to Cuba even after Castro. "Why should they? They're living the American dream here."

The historicos, as the old Castro adversaries call themselves, are dying out, Duran said.

"But they haven't won until we have surrendered, and that's not going to happen," he concluded with a wry smile and a glint of defiance. "I'm dieting and exercising, trying to outlast him. I want to see the transition."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Castro vows to go after the 'new rich'

Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Dec. 02, 2005

Castro vows to go after the 'new rich'
Cuban leader Fidel Castro pledged to battle corruption. In one example, thousands of college-age youths have become involved in fuel distribution by taking over gas stations and riding in tankers.

Financial Times

(economist and recently released dissident, discussing Cuba's corruption crackdown)

Fidel Castro is mobilizing tens of thousands of young people and threatening a Cultural Revolution-style humiliation of corrupt officials in what the Cuban leader characterizes as a do-or-die struggle against graft, pilfering and the ``new rich.''

Oscar Espinosa, an economist and dissident recently released from prison, said the campaign would create more hardship and illegal activity. ''What we need here is market reform, like in China or Vietnam. By returning to command economics and repression, they are simply throwing gas on the fire,'' he said.

''What you have here is a classic Chinese-style, anti-rightist campaign of Mao's days,'' a foreign banker said.

Castro's initiative is part of a broader effort, government sources say, to make effective use of increased resources flowing into the country from generous Venezuelan energy financing and payment for medical services, as well as Chinese soft trade and development credits.

The first target of the campaign -- dubbed ''Operation July 26'' after Castro's movement in the late 1950s that brought him to power -- has been the country's fuel-distribution system.

Thousands of college-age youths have taken over petrol stations and started working in refineries and riding in fuel trucks to monitor an industry where up to half of this precious resource was being stolen, according to receipts since the takeover began a month ago.

Cuba registered its first balance-of-payments surplus since 1989 last year, and expects another surplus this year, despite an increase of more than 30 percent in imports.

''We need to get back to a situation where the state pays a wage that can meet basic needs and in proportion to what one contributes to society,'' says Anicia García, head of Havana University's Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

She points out that state salaries and pensions have increased on average by more than 20 percent this year and that there are more consumer goods, mainly imported household appliances, and food available.

''We are taking advantage of the better situation to deal with the social problems that appeared during the crisis that came with the end of the Soviet Union. For example, that one could do better not working than working, or as a hotel bellboy or gas-station attendant make more than a brain surgeon,'' she said.


The Communist party launched an assault two years ago on ''corruption and illegalities'' within its ranks and the state administration as it recentralized economic activity and control over hard currency after what it characterized as ''liberal errors'' in the 1990s.

Bureaucratic corruption and a booming black market are nothing new in state-run economies like Cuba's, but Castro said recently that market-oriented reforms such as decentralization, authorization of small private initiatives and circulation of the dollar alongside the peso, among other emergency measures taken after European communism's collapse, ``increased these ills to the point where they have taken on a certain massive character . . . and inequality has grown.''

Castro said he was mobilizing 26,000 young social workers to fight for a purer society and would mobilize more than 100,000 social workers and university students if needed, threatening to drag corrupt officials out in public.


Raúl Castro, the defense minister and second in the Cuban hierarchy after his older brother Fidel, is reported to have told party officials 18 months ago: ``Corruption will always be with us, but we must keep it at our ankles and never allow it to rise to our necks.''

But the drive apparently made little progress, and the military was forced to take over operations at the port of Havana in September to handle increased imports and stop theft by port workers and truckers.

''In this battle against vice, nobody will be spared,'' Fidel Castro said in a recent speech, apparently taking over the campaign from his brother. ``Either we defeat all these deviations and make our revolution strong, or the revolution dies.''

He blamed the ''new rich'' for Cuba's social ills, without defining who they were, except that they had access to hard currency.

The Cuban leader said social workers were organizing cells in neighborhoods to fight corruption and illegalities.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Miami santero/drummer faces deportation

Originally published by Miami New Times 2005-09-29
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.

Exit Philbert
Immigration wants to deport a well-known santero/drummer over five stolen shirts
By Mariah Blake

Jonathan Postal
Armenteros ain't crooning at Krome

Who / What:
Philbert Armenteros
Three-year-old Jorge Armenteros giggles and shrieks as he patters around barefoot on the tile floor of a Burger King in Little Havana. His brother Eric, a lanky six-year-old, happily wolfs down Chicken Tenders. French fries are scattered on the table in front of him, and ketchup is smeared on his white tank top.

Neither of them, nor Jorge's twin sister Raquel, knows that their dad Philbert might never come home again. And their mom, Luz Preciado, wants it to stay that way. "I tell them that their dad went on a trip," she says. "I want them to keep the good image they have of him. He's their role model."

Philbert Armenteros is a singer and percussionist best known for his throbbing, hypnotic rhythms rooted in Afro-Cuban tradition. He has performed and recorded with internationally renowned acts such as Don Dinero and Yerba Buena. And his burly six-foot-three frame and gold-tooth smile are fixtures in Miami's Latin music scene, where he has played with numerous groups, among them Palo!, the Nag Champayons, and his own band, Aina.

Music is not only a job but also a form of worship for Armenteros, a Santería priest who has played regularly at drumming ceremonies, where he beckoned the gods to Earth with fierce batá rhythms.

Now Armenteros, who has a green card and has lived in the United States for more than a decade, has been detained by immigration officials and is facing deportation. The 28-year-old has been at the Krome Detention Center since this past August 10. The apparent reason: He pled guilty to stealing three polo shirts and a couple of sweater vests from a Dillard's department store more than seven years ago.

"It's really ridiculous," says Anna Bryant, who tends bar at Jazid, a hip South Beach club where Armenteros played regularly. "So many people who live in this country do much worse things and only get a slap on the wrist. If he leaves, we're losing a really amazing person and a great musician. And what for?"

Armenteros was born in late Seventies Havana and early on discovered his twin passions -- Santería and music. His family was made up of santeros, or Santería priests. And his great grandmother, Mercedes Alfredo, danced and sang with the well-known rumba group Clave y Guaguanco, as well on Radio Cadena Havana and at Santería ceremonies. She served as Armenteros's spiritual guide and taught him music and dance while he was still a toddler. By age five, he was performing at ceremonies and festivals. He continued to drum and sing his way through Cuba until moving to Miami eleven years ago.

Almost as soon as he arrived here, Armenteros began getting into trouble. In December 1995, police picked him up for shoplifting, but the charges were eventually dropped. Seven months later, police charged him with possession of one joint and a small package of cocaine, according to court documents. This time he was released without a trial on the condition that he complete a drug treatment program, which he eventually did.

For a while Armenteros steered clear of the law. Then, on January 16, 1998, he walked into a Dillard's department store in Broward toting a gift box covered in green Christmas wrapping. The box had a slit on one side, and Armenteros shoved three polo shirts and two sweater vests, valued at $365, into it. He then attempted to leave, but an officer nabbed him outside the store. In March of that year, Armenteros pled guilty to grand theft and received three years' probation. Grand theft is considered an aggravated felony, a deportable offense, according to a 1996 federal law.

Homeland Security spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez wouldn't specify why Armenteros has been detained, but Preciado says it's because of the Dillard's incident.

In August 1998, Armenteros was arrested again for violating probation by smoking marijuana and failing to pay fines. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail. During this turbulent period, Armenteros met Preciado at a Santería drumming ceremony in Naples, Florida. She was seventeen years old and pretty, with soft, almond-shape eyes and a smattering of freckles sprinkled across her round face. "We started talking, and we hit it off right away," Preciado says. Within months, she was pregnant. And in July 1999, when Armenteros was 21 years old, their eldest son, Eric, arrived. In August 2002, Preciado gave birth again, this time to the twins, Jorge and Raquel.

For the first five years, the couple's relationship was bumpy, but Preciado says Armenteros was always a deeply devoted father. There were no new criminal charges, and his musical career flourished. He also began helping to organize music showcases, such as the Afro Roots World Music Festival, and became involved in projects to educate people about traditional Cuban music and culture, particularly his religion, Santería. He wrote regularly for, an online Santería magazine, and he recently made a presentation at Florida International University. "His goal is to dissolve fear," says José Elias, who plays guitar in Armenteros's band.

Armenteros began teaching his own children Afro-Cuban music and dance while they were still in diapers, and took them to Cuba to be initiated as santeros when Eric was three and the twins were five months old. He returned to Cuba with the children in May 2004 for ritual animal sacrifices, which he believed would protect them. During the trip, Preciado says, thieves broke into Armenteros's rental car and snatched his Sony digital camera along with his passport and green card.

When he returned to the United States, Armenteros was issued a temporary green card, which was good for only one year. In late June of this year -- less than two months before he was detained -- he bought a three-bedroom house on NW 56th Street near Eighteenth Avenue for his family. Around the same time, his band, Aina, found a weekly gig at Jazid. Employees there describe Armenteros as a sort of gentle giant. "He's a great big guy with almost frighteningly large hands," says bartender Anna Bryant. "But he's always smiling and polite, and he never drinks."

On August 10, Armenteros went to an Immigration Services office to renew the temporary green card, according to Preciado. That's when he was detained. Hours later, he called Preciado and told her, but she didn't believe him. "I thought it was a joke," she says. "He told me he was serious, and I burst into tears. But I still didn't believe it was really true."

Soon, Preciado says, she was flooded with phone calls from Armenteros's fans and fellow musicians, some of them strangers, offering help. Many who had hired him to play at Santería drumming rituals offered to postpone their events until Armenteros was free. Aina continues to play its weekly Jazid gig but has drawn sparser crowds.

Armenteros's fate remains an open question. His first deportation hearing, held September 22, was inconclusive. It's unclear what will happen if the judge rules against Armenteros, since the United States rarely deports people to Cuba.

Meanwhile, Armenteros missed the twins' birthday August 24. Preciado is struggling to keep the family afloat while holding down a job as a receptionist. Finances are tight. And she says all of the children have begun wetting their beds again. "Everybody makes mistakes," Preciado remarks wearily. "Philbert's paying for his. But it's not just consequences for him. It's a consequence for everyone."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Latest Cuba Census Reports 11.2M Residents

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterSat Nov 12, 6:13 PM ET

Cuba is home to some 11.2 million residents, three-quarters of whom live in urban areas, according to the communist island's third census since the 1959 revolution that launched Fidel Castro to power.

The census, taken three years ago and presented to officials this week, showed Cuba's population grew by almost 1.5 million since the last census in 1981, according to the Communist Party daily Granma.

It was not clear why it took three years to report the data compiled in September 2002.

The average age of Cubans is 35, though nearly 15 percent of the population is aged 60 or older, state-run newspapers reported Saturday, citing the census results.

The population is split equally by gender, but Juan Carlos Alfonso, who directed the census, predicted that women will be the majority on the island within a few years, according to Juventud Rebelde, Cuba's communist youth newspaper.

An increasing number of Cubans are of mixed ethnicities, with a quarter classified as mestizo in the survey.

There is electricity in about 95 percent of all homes, while 96 percent of households have cooking facilities. The census found there are slightly more than three people per household on the island.

News reports showed that nearly all Cubans took part in the census survey, put together and processed by about 95,000 workers. A digital version of the results was distributed to Cuban ministers and government organizations.

Prize-Winning Cuban Scientist Denied Visa

Prize-Winning Cuban Scientist Denied Visa

By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press WriterSat Nov 12, 6:57 AM ET

A Cuban scientist who helped develop a low-cost synthetic vaccine that prevents meningitis and pneumonia in small children says he was offended the U.S. government denied his request to travel to the United States to receive an award.

Vicente Verez-Bencomo was to accept the award recognizing his team's technological achievement during a Wednesday ceremony at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. He had also been invited to address a gathering of the Society for Glycobiology in Boston on Friday.

Verez-Bencomo said the State Department denied him a visa because the visit would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States."

"That is really offensive to me," the chemical engineer told The Associated Press as he sat on a stool inside the University of Havana's Synthetic Antigens Laboratory, where the vaccine was developed. "It's really a shame."

The State Department said it has a policy prohibiting comment on individual visa cases. The switchboard rang unanswered at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which evidently was closed Friday for Veterans Day.

"It's incomprehensible that a civilized nation can confuse someone who has dedicated his life to saving the lives of children with someone who goes against the interests of the United States," Verez-Bencomo said with a sigh. "I wasn't going there to talk about politics, I was going to talk about science."

Verez-Bencomo led a team that developed a vaccine for Haemophilus influenza type B, also known as Hib, a bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia. The diseases kill up to 700,000 children worldwide each year.

Before the development of a similar vaccine more than a decade ago, Hib was the biggest cause of meningitis among infants in the United States. That earlier vaccine has all but stamped out the disease in the western world, but mass immunizations are too expensive for many poor countries.

The synthetic vaccine created by Verez-Bencomo's team can be produced at a relatively low cost because antigens don't have to be grown in a bacterial culture, making it an attractive alternative for poorer nations.

So far more than 1 million doses have been administered to Cubans. Science Magazine last month said the vaccine "may someday save millions of lives."

Officials at the San Jose Tech Museum were disappointed the government blocked Verez-Bencomo's trip.

The museum organizes the award ceremony every year to recognize individuals or groups who use technology to improve the environment, economy, education, equality and health.

"We recognized them for cutting-edge technology and wish he could be here to accept this," museum spokesman Tony Santos said. "We wish that hadn't been the government's decision."

An editorial in the San Jose Mercury News also expressed disappointment.

"Verez-Bencomo won't be here to receive the award," it said, "because he's from Cuba. He's a scientist, not a terrorist, but our State Department nevertheless denies him entry. He brings ideas, not bombs, but we let ideology trump innovation."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This year's embargo vote

Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Nov. 09, 2005

Again, U.N. vote urges end to Cuba embargo
For the 14th straight year, the U.N. General Assembly called on the United States to end its trade embargo against Cuba. Cuban officials hailed the 182-4 vote but knew it would be ignored.
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly urged the United States on Tuesday to end its 44-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, a call U.S. Ambassador John Bolton dismissed as ``a complete exercise in irrelevancy.''

It was the 14th straight year that the 191-member world body approved a resolution calling for the U.S. economic and commercial embargo against Cuba to be repealed ``as soon as possible.''

The vote was 182-4, with 1 abstention, a higher ''yes'' vote than last year's vote of 179-4 with 1 abstention. Many delegates in the General Assembly hall burst into applause when the result was flashed on an electronic screen.

The United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against the resolution, while Micronesia abstained. Four countries did not indicate any position at all -- El Salvador, Iraq, Morocco and Nicaragua.


The resolution is not legally binding, and Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque noted that the U.S. government has ignored it for the past 13 years. But he said that that didn't diminish ``the legal, political, moral and ethical importance of this vote.''

In Cuba, hundreds of government supporters in Havana's convention center shouted in glee and jumped up and down when the result was announced. State-run television showed high-ranking officials among those gathered to await the news, but Cuban President Fidel Castro did not appear to be there.

Bolton chose to attend a Security Council meeting to vote on an Iraq resolution rather than the General Assembly vote on Cuba.

Cuba launched a broad public relations campaign drawing attention to its complaints against the embargo, and speaker after speaker in the General Assembly debate opposed the U.S. sanctions imposed after Castro defeated the CIA-backed assault at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.


The embargo, aimed at toppling Castro's socialist system, has been steadily tightened under President Bush's two terms. Pérez Roque said ''most likely'' Bush would tighten the blockade even further.

''Never before, as in the last 18 months, was the blockade enforced with so much viciousness and brutality. Never before had we seen so cruel and relentless a persecution by a U.S. administration against the economy and the right of the Cubans to a dignified and decent life,'' the Cuban minister said.

But Pérez Roque stressed that ``the U.S. government is delusional with the idea that it can overthrow the Cuban revolution.''

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

11 Cuban singers defect

Posted on Wed, Nov. 02, 2005

11 Cuban singers defect
Cuba's National Choir is 11 members short: they defected last week in Canada.

The Cuban National Choir is missing a couple of baritones and is particularly light on bass singers after 11 of its 40 members defected last week in Toronto midway through a Canadian tour.

The desertions decimated the island's flagship choir, but -- as they say in that business -- the show did go on. Somewhat altered concerts continued last week to standing ovations.

''I got a call last Monday at 8:15, saying 11 singers were not at the airport. They had developed a reputation for not showing up for buses on time, so I thought they just missed the bus,'' said Robert Missen, the Canadian agent who organized the tour. 'The tour manager said, `No, Bob. They're not here. They defected.' ''

The defections took place after a concert in Toronto on Oct. 24, the night before the rest of the group flew to British Columbia for more shows. The first few had clearly planned the defections in advance. Others jumped ship when they saw their colleagues walking out of the hotel, bags in hand.

''We sent a car over to the hotel to pick them up,'' said poet Ismael Sambra, president of the Cuban-Canadian Foundation. ``Then we realized that wasn't enough. We had to send another car, a bigger one.''

Sambra said in fact there had been ''up to 20 defections'' but that some singers who went back to the hotel for luggage were detained by Cuban security -- an allegation Missen flatly denies.

''Whether it was 11, 15 or 20, it was a massive desertion,'' Sambra said. ``It was a blow to the dictator.''

Sambra said the singers sought refuge at the homes of various Cuban exiles in Toronto. The Globe and Mail newspaper said six are already in the United States with relatives.

Immigration officials in Miami said they had not heard of the case, and Cuban-American National Foundation director Alfredo Mesa said he hasn't heard from the defectors. A Canadian immigration service spokeswoman said she could not comment.

After a publicity blitz in Canada, the singers stopped talking publicly for fear of reprisals to their families, Sambra said. ''It is hard to choose between your freedom and your family,'' baritone Ernesto Cendoya-Sotomayor told the Globe and Mail. ``But this was my one opportunity to escape.''

He said he had a wife and 4-year-old daughter in Cuba.

''Cuban police will probably tell my family I am a traitor to the revolution,'' he told another Canadian paper.

It was Canada's largest defection of Cubans since 2002, when 24 who visited Toronto for World Youth Day sought asylum.

Founded by Argentine-born guerrilla Ernesto ''Che'' Guevara, the Cuban National Choir started in 1959 as an army choir.

Two more concerts are scheduled this week before the group goes home . It took Missen a year of red tape to organize the tour. After two trips to Havana, he suspected some of the singers might stay behind. But he had his hopes. 'I thought, `Please let them wait until the end of the tour.' '' Missen said.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More Cubans leaving for U.S.

Posted on Tue, Nov. 01, 2005 Miami Herald

More Cubans leaving for U.S.
The latest figures from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Border Patrol show a sharp increase in the number of Cubans leaving their country.

The number of Cubans leaving their homeland by sea in illegal attempts to reach the United States has increased sharply.

According to the most recent figures from the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol, the number of Cuban migrants stopped at sea so far this year is nearly double the number intercepted last year.

The number of Cubans who made it to shore in the last 12 months is almost triple the number who reached U.S. soil during the prior 12-month period.

Though landings and interceptions are up, American officials say the figures do not portend an exodus comparable to the Mariel boatlift in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans reached South Florida or the rafter crisis in 1994 when more than 37,000 Cubans made it to the United States.

''Mariel, that was an exodus, and the rafters in 1994, that was an exodus,'' said Luis Díaz, a Coast Guard spokesman based in Miami. ``What is happening now is not an exodus.''

According to figures posted on the Coast Guard's Internet website, 2,368 Cuban migrants have been intercepted at sea so far this year -- compared to 1,499 in all of 2004. The number stopped at sea so far this year is the highest for a single year since the 1994 rafter crisis.

Meanwhile, the number of Cubans who reached South Florida during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30 hit 2,530 -- compared to 955 during the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2004.

State Department officials have accused Cuban authorities of encouraging illegal migration by not doing enough to prevent departures.

Cuban officials, in turn, have accused Washington of encouraging illegal departures through its controversial ''wet foot, dry foot'' policy.

The policy, set up after the rafter exodus, generally allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil to stay while most of those intercepted at sea are returned home.

National media attention recently focused on the policy after 6-year-old Julián Villasuso drowned Oct. 13 when a suspected migrant smuggling speedboat turned over in the Florida Straits as it fled the Coast Guard.

The child's death sparked renewed calls by Cuban-American leaders for the U.S. government to scrap the wet foot-dry foot policy.

Many of those leaders prefer the old policy, when the Coast Guard rescued Cuban migrants at sea and brought them to U.S. soil.

The Coast Guard, for its part, is urging potential Cuban migrants to stop fleeing by sea.

''What we'd like to see is people apply for visas,'' said Díaz, the Coast Guard spokesman. ``It may take some time, but you arrive safe and alive.''

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cuba unexpectedly accepts U.S. hurricane aid

Cuba unexpectedly accepts U.S. hurricane aid
Castro routinely turns offers down; American team to assess Cuba’s needs
The Associated Press
Updated: 7:08 p.m. ET Oct. 27, 2005

WASHINGTON - Cuba has unexpectedly agreed to a quiet U.S. offer of emergency aid following Hurricane Wilma, and three Americans will travel to Cuba to assess needs there, the State Department said Thursday.

Washington has routinely offered humanitarian relief for hurricanes and other disasters in Cuba, and Cuban leader Fidel Castro himself has routinely turned the offers down. After Hurricane Dennis pummeled the island in July, Castro expressed gratitude for Washington’s offer of $50,000 in aid but rejected it.

“This was the first time they have accepted an offer of assistance,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, at least based on the “collective memory” of diplomats at the department.

The display of U.S.-Cuban cooperation was not expected to produce any easing in the long-standing hostility between the two countries. The official U.S. policy is to seek a democratic transition in Cuba once President Fidel Castro, 79, is gone, rather than accept a regime-orchestrated succession.

For his part, Castro has waged a 46-year struggle against U.S. interests.

Washington sent a diplomatic note to Cuban officials on Tuesday, a day after the storm pounded the island nation, offering to send emergency supplies. Cuba accepted the offer Wednesday, McCormack said.

The State Department did not specify what supplies might be sent, but humanitarian assistance generally covers food, medicine, related supplies or emergency housing.

A three-person team from the U.S. Agency for International Development is making travel arrangements now, McCormack said. Additional aid offers would be based on what that team found, and all aid would go to Cuba indirectly, through aid groups, McCormack said.

Trade embargo since Kennedy administration
Cuba and the United States do not have full diplomatic relations, a legacy of more than 40 years of Cold War acrimony. A U.S. trade embargo on Cuba has been in place since the Kennedy administration. More recently, the Bush administration has branded Cuba one of the world’s few remaining “outposts of tyranny” in a league with Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe.

Havana offered 1,600 doctors to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the United States on Aug. 29. The State Department said the Cuban help was not needed because enough American doctors had offered their services.

Floodwaters in Havana caused damage to historic buildings and the famed Malecon seawall. Dozens of city blocks were flooded by the storm, but no deaths were reported in Havana. Wilma has been blamed for at least 31 deaths, 14 in Florida, 12 in Haiti, at least 4 in Mexico and 1 in Jamaica.

It is not unusual for the United States to offer aid to adversary countries. Iran accepted U.S. aid following an earthquake in 2003. Also, there have been frequent humanitarian food shipments to North Korea over the past decade.
© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© 2005

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hurricane Wilma 2

Floodwaters Recede in Cuba, Reveal Damage

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterTue Oct 25, 9:43 PM ET

Floodwaters from Hurricane Wilma that transformed the coastal streets of Cuba's capital into rivers began receding Tuesday, leaving behind damage to historic buildings and the famed Malecon seawall.

The coastal highway paralleling the Malecon was dotted with chunks of the seawall as well as huge holes where the road had been chewed up by pressure from the ocean.

The windows of Havana's seaside hotels and the headquarters of the island's tourism ministry were smashed, with nearby wire fences twisted and clumped with debris.

Those living near the ocean sifted through what was left of their belongings.

"I wanted to die when I first came home," said Dayami Gonzalez, scrubbing her refrigerator. "We just finished fixing up this apartment a year ago, and now we have to go back and do repairs again. It could take years."

Gonzalez's husband, Alejandro Rios, held up a tape measure to a gooey line on the wall showing how high the water had reached — 38 inches. The couple had lifted most of their valuables up before the storm, but, in most cases, not high enough.

"We never thought it would come up this high," Gonzalez said of the water. "Mattresses, books, tables — ruined."

Basement apartments took the most severe blow, with water reaching the ceiling during the ocean's assault and still waist-deep under Tuesday's sunny skies.

There were no immediate reports of deaths attributed to Hurricane Wilma. Nearly 700,000 people were evacuated across Cuba's west as Wilma approached.

Although the Malecon and adjacent neighborhoods often flood during storms, the extent of Monday's flooding was highly unusual.


Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Hurricane Wilma

Wilma breaches Havana's defences
Hundreds of people have been rescued from homes in Cuba's capital, Havana, after sea defences succumbed to flooding brought by Hurricane Wilma.

Rescuers used boats and inflatable dinghies to reach people trapped as sea water swept hundreds of metres inland.

Some residents said the devastation was the worst since the "storm of the century" in 1993.

Hurricane Wilma has since moved on to Florida, striking the US state with winds of 125mph (200km/h).

Appeal for calm

But storm surges brought by Wilma struck all along the north-west coast of Cuba.

The streets will be full of rubbish and people will be trying to salvage whatever they can
Olga Salinas, resident

Waves burst over Havana's sea walls, flooding the coastal highway and inundating Havana's western neighbourhoods with waist-high water.

Resident Fernando Lores, 57, said: "I've never seen anything like this in my life. People have been left homeless and it's a real surprise to us."

Olga Salinas, 58, who became trapped on the second floor of her home in the Miramar district, said: "I'm terrified, this was apocalyptic and the worst is yet to come.

"The streets will be full of rubbish and people will be trying to salvage whatever they can."

Ms Salinas said the disaster was the worst since 1993 when a storm brought by the El Nino phenomenon caused damage of up to $1bn (£560m).

President Fidel Castro appeared on television late on Sunday to appeal for calm.

Electricity was then cut off for the capital and some western parts of Cuba as a precaution.

Other areas of Cuba have also been affected by the storm. Cuban television said sea water had penetrated up to a kilometre (half a mile) inland in some southern communities while tornadoes have destroyed homes in the west.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/10/24 18:50:33 GMT

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cuban illegal migration up

Cuban Migration to U.S. Hits 10-Year High

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press WriterSun Oct 9, 8:01 AM ET

The number of Cubans caught this year trying to make the risky voyage across the Florida Straits to the United States -- whether by puttering homemade boats or speedy smuggler's bosts -- reached a 10-year high. There was a significant increase this year in Cubans who made it to U.S. shores as well.

While no mass migration appears on the horizon, Cuba experts and U.S. officials say Cubans increasingly take to the ocean to flee the island run by communist President Fidel Castro because of chronic economic hardship, repression of political dissent and a hard-line bureaucracy that makes it difficult for even some legal migrants to leave.

"Something has to be happening that people would prefer to risk death rather than continue living there," said Ramon Sanchez, founder of the Cuban exile group Democracy Movement. "People just get so fed up with the system, they leave and risk their lives on the high seas."

During the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, the Coast Guard intercepted 2,712 Cubans trying to reach the United States. That compares with only 1,225 during the same period in 2004 and is by far the most since 1994, the year a massive Cuban exodus led to a new agreement for more orderly migration between Cuba and the United States.

Over the same time frame, 2,530 Cubans made it to U.S. shores, more than double the 954 who arrived in 2004, according to the U.S. Border Patrol.

Under the U.S. "wet foot/dry foot" policy, Cubans who are interdicted at sea are generally returned to Cuba, while those who reach U.S. shores are usually allowed to stay after they have been in the United States for at least a year.

Cuban authorities in the past have said that U.S. policy acts as an enticement for its citizens to emigrate and has blamed past migration increases on growth in the human smuggling trade. Cuban officials in Havana said this week they are studying the new migration patterns and that the Castro government would have no comment on the 2005 increases until the analysis is finished.

The Coast Guard attributes at least part of the 2005 increase to improved interdiction efforts spurred by the focus on border security in the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Creation of the Homeland Security Department included the Coast Guard with such agencies as the Border Patrol and Customs, which have their own aircraft and marine patrols.

"That's an additional set of eyes that we have," said Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz. "We all have a new No. 1 priority, which is protecting our shores. We are all on the same page now, and I firmly believe that is working much better."

In its annual report on Cuban migration, the U.S. State Department said the main reason for the surge is the continued poor economic conditions in Cuba — which is still recovering from the loss of billions of dollars in aid following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, said many Cubans are stuck in low-paying jobs with no opportunity to start a small business that might improve their financial future.

"The Cuban economy has stalled and there are absolutely no signs of hope for most Cubans on the island," Fernandez said.

The State Department gave other explanations for the 2005 increase in Cuban migrants, including mild weather in the Florida Straits during the winter months and "pent-up demand" following the active 2004 tropical storm season in which Florida was lashed by four hurricanes.

Still other reasons involve obstacles that U.S. officials say Cuba uses to hinder people from legally immigrating, forcing some to try illegal means.

"Castro is not granting Cubans their U.S. legally approved visas to come to this country and, in acts of desperation, they are risking their lives to join their families," said Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (news, bio, voting record), a senior member of the House International Relations Committee. "This mode of entry is fraught with danger and too many have already died."

That danger was underscored on Aug. 24 when a smuggler's speedboat carrying 31 people capsized in the waters north of Matanzas, Cuba. Three badly burned survivors were rescued by a merchant ship but the Coast Guard was unable to locate any of the others on board.

Under the 1994 migration agreement, up to 20,000 Cubans each year may legally leave for the United States under a lottery system. Yet some people who get U.S. visas are denied exit permits by Cuban officials who arbitrarily deem them "defectors," according to the State Department. Cuba also regularly refuses to allow doctors and other medical professionals to leave even if they have visas.

The Cuban government "imposes nearly insurmountable obstacles to emigration to the United States for medical professionals," the State Department report said.

The Castro government has previously accused the United States of exaggerating the number of Cubans denied permission to emigrate.

Cuba also collects an estimated $12 million (euro9.88 million) each year in fees for exit permits and medical examinations that some U.S.-bound migrants have difficulty paying, according to the State Department.

The U.S. government says it has evidence that Cuba retaliates against migrants who are returned after they are caught attempting to make the ocean crossing. Doctors have been demoted or forced to work in remote locations; teachers are "deemed untrustworthy" and made to become janitors in their former schools.


Associated Press writer Anita Snow in Havana contributed to this story.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Candomble file

Afro-Brazilian High Priestess Dies at 80

By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press WriterSat Oct 1, 2:04 AM ET

Olga de Alaketu, the high priestess of one the oldest temples of the Afro-Brazilian religion Condomble, died of complications from diabetes, hospital officials said. She was 80.

Alaketu presided over the Ile Maroia Laji "terreiro," as Candomble temples are known, which was established in 1636, making it one of the oldest in the coastal city of Salvador da Bahia, where the religion is based. She was buried on Friday.

Alaketu's terreiro was frequented by prominent figures, including Brazilian writer Jorge Amado and French anthropologist Pierre Verger. Earlier this year, the terreiro was declared a national heritage site by Brazil's Culture Ministry.

Candomble is an animist religion brought over with the African slaves, mostly from Nigeria and Benin. Followers incorporate spirits in ceremonies filled with music and dancing that often last throughout the night. The ceremonies can also involve animal sacrifices.

"In the last 40 years, we can consider Mother Olga as the greatest proponent of the religion of the Orixas in all Brazil," said popular singer and Culture Minister Gilberto Gil at the ceremony declaring the terreiro a national heritage site.

Historians said Alaketu was a fifth generation descendent of the royal family of Aro, from present-day Benin. Her family members were brought to Brazil as slaves and were instrumental in establishing Candomble in Brazil.

For many years, Candomble was banned in Brazil and its followers practiced their religion by worshipping the Orixas — the Gods of their African ancestors — disguised as Catholic saints. The sea goddess Iemanja, for instance, became the Virgin Mary, Saint Antonio became the god of iron and war, Ogum.

In the 1980s, spurred on by a growing black pride movement, Candomble moved to distance itself from Catholicism, eliminating the saints and worshipping the Orixas directly.

Alaketu was buried Friday at the Bosque da Paz cemetery in Salvador. Information was not immediately available regarding survivors, although, media reported that her eldest daughter would assume the terreiro.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Congero Cándido

The Mozart of the congas is a legend and a gentleman
His might not be a household name, but Cuban artist Cándido Camero long ago took conga playing to a new level. Tonight, he brings his show to Miami.

NEW YORK - Conga legend Cándido Camero inches around his tidy Upper West Side apartment, cane in hand, in search of this memento and that.

He speaks like he walks. Cautiously. Unhurriedly.

But put him behind his three glossy white congas and suddenly, he's not 84 anymore. Suddenly, he's not hunched over anymore. Suddenly, he's on fire.

People talk about drummers making their congas sing. Camero invented the concept. In the early 1950s, he was the first to play two, then three congas at the same time. Before him, cats played just one. He tuned them differently and coaxed melody out of them, fingers dancing on skins like a piano. In a famed 1950s recording with pianist Joe Loco, he made three congas and a bongo sing Tea for Two.

His congas sang for everybody -- Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, La Lupe, Celia Cruz, Machito and his Afro-Cubans.

Tonight, he offers a rare Miami performance. Saturday night, he attends the Miami premiere of the documentary Candido: Hands of Fire.

''This is a true living legend,'' said Iván Acosta, the New York filmmaker who produced and directed the documentary. 'One day he was showing me old photographs and I started thinking, `It's a pity more people don't know who this man is.' ''


Camero, born in Cuba to a musical family -- his grandfather taught him how to play the bass, his father the tres and his uncle the bongos -- got the percussion career going at 8, when he began mimicking his uncle on two empty condensed-milk cans.

''My mother would scold me because she thought I was going to hurt my hands,'' says Camero, who keeps in his living room the first conga he played in New York in the late 1940s, a TV on top. ``So my uncle covered the cans in skins.''

You can press Camero, but he won't go on about the innovations he made with the congas. He's too old school to brag; the innovations came out of a basic need to do more with less.

'In 1946, I came to New York for the first time to play with a dancing duo that was famous in Cuba, Gloria y Rolando. I usually played the conga and somebody else played the bongos. But they couldn't afford to bring both of us to New York. So I said, `Maybe I can play both at the same time.' Somehow, it worked. I learned that I could play a steady beat on the conga with one hand, and improvise on the bongos with the other.''

That led to multiple congas, which wowed the New York jazz scene, which led to stints with all the greats. He was a fixture at legendary jazz clubs Birdland and the Apollo. He appeared on The Jackie Gleason Show with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Ed Sullivan show with Lena Horne.

He worked in a heated, heady era. But when the gigs ended, he didn't stick around for the partying.

One of the keepsakes he's most proud of is a letter of recommendation written by Stan Kenton in 1954, after Camero's two-year stint with the band:

``Personal habits that include abstinence from alcohol, tobacco and the use of profanity have made [Camero's] conduct on the road beyond reproach.''

''I've been on the road with everybody. I saw what drugs did to Charlie Parker [who died at age 34],'' says Camero, too much of a gentleman to give you any of the nitty-gritty on his old friends.

``I saw what they did to Billie Holiday, a woman with so much talent but with so many insecurities. I've been on buses with musicians smoking dope and drinking. False inspiration, I always called it. It's a shame how many careers were ruined by drugs and alcohol.''

Women ruined a bunch, too, says Camero. Which is why he insisted on contracts that spelled out first-class travel for two.

''I've only had three women, my three wives,'' he says. ``Well, the last I never married. We were together 10 years. She was like my wife. Yes, there were a lot of available women on the road, but I took my wives with me everywhere. Because I wanted to stay faithful.''


The last, Mary Ginero, died two years ago. Camero now shares his apartment with a grandson. He has a son and a daughter in Cuba, but he hasn't returned to the island since 1955.

''I'll go back when it's possible,'' he says cryptically.

Is it politics that have kept him away?

''If I went back, I would want to stay for a few weeks, but I never have a few weeks off,'' says Camero, who still gigs every weekend, mostly in the Northeast. ``I can speak about music. That's what I know. I can't speak about politics or race or religion. You know what I say? I say that you can take the Cuban out of Cuba, but you can't take Cuba out of the Cuban.''

Camero appears on more than 100 records with endless jazz and Latin greats. In 1960, he made it into the World Book Encyclopedia. Recently, Latin Percussion, the leading manufacturer of congas, launched a line named after him. A set of three Candido Camero Original Model congas sell for about $2,100.

But outside the hard-core jazz world, he remains a relative unknown.

''He should be getting $25,000 a night,'' says Stuart White, who leads the New York-based Steven Scott Orchestra. Camero has been part of the act for 22 years, playing mostly upscale weddings and private parties. He is paid considerably less than $25,000 a gig, says White, but he wouldn't be more specific.

''He was a legend then and he is a legend now,'' says White. ``He is flawless. And he's an incredible person. Never heard him say a bad word about anybody. If there were a reality show called The Last Gentleman, he'd be the star.''

Jazz musician Bobby Sanabria, who teaches Latin jazz at the the Manhattan School of Music and New School University, relishes every chance he gets to perform or record with Camero.

''He's the father of modern conga drumming. He should be on the tip of everybody's tongue,'' says Sanabria. ``Imagine if Mozart was still alive and you could sit down and talk to him. We're talking about a guy who is still here to tell the tale of the son as it became the national music of Cuba in the 1930s. He remembers who was in the orchestra when he was the conguero for the Tropicana.''

He remembers all the details from the Apollo, too. From Birdland, from the Palladium.

But he's not the type to drone on about how much better things were in the good old days.

''The musicians I play with today are just as good as the musicians were back then,'' says Camero. ``The minute you start thinking the past was better than the time you're living now, it's over.''

Monday, August 08, 2005

Nueva Trova - Noel Nicola (1946-2005)

Cuban trova musician Noel Nicola dies

Associated Press

HAVANA - Noel Nicola, one of the founders of modern Cuban trova music, has died of cancer, his friends said. He was 58.

The singer died in Havana Sunday and was buried on Monday at services in which many of Cuba's top folk singers sang together.

Silvio Rodriguez joined others in a rendition of one of Nicola's most famous songs - "Es mas, te perdono," or "Furthermore, I Forgive You."

Nicola was born in the Cuban capital Oct. 7, 1946, into a family of musicians. He was composing songs by the time he was 13 years old.

His first onstage performance came in 1968, next to Cuban greats Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes.

The trio and several others founded the modern Cuban trova movement - music has its roots in the troubadour ballads composed during the island's wars of independence. Modern Cuban trovas recall American protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s that focused attention on social problems through musical storytelling.

Nicola performed in more than 30 countries in Europe, Africa, and North and South America. He also spent some of his time composing music for movies and the theater.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Ibrahim Ferrer (1927-2005)

Buena Vista Social Club Singer Ferrer Dies

By Anita Snow
The Associated Press
Sunday, August 7, 2005; 12:46 AM

HAVANA -- Ibrahim Ferrer, a leading voice with the hugely popular Buena Vista Social Club of vintage Cuban performers, died Saturday, his representative in Cuba said. He was 78.

The Montuno production company did not give a cause of death, but Ferrer's colleagues said he suffered from emphysema and was feeling ill earlier in the week.

Known for his trademark cap and graying mustache, Ferrer was a wiry, animated figure who clearly enjoyed performing Cuba's traditional "son" music of the 1940s and 1950s for new generations of fans.

Among a group of older Cuban performers recruited by U.S. musician Ry Cooder, Ferrer performed on the "Buena Vista Social Club album" that won a Grammy in 1999, and was among those appearing in the film of the same name.

"I felt like he was my brother," said fellow Buena Vista performer, the guitarist Manuel Galban. "He was a great musician and a great companion."

Also in 1999, Ferrer was featured in one of a string of albums that followed, "Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer," and won a Latin Grammy for best new artist in 2000.

Two other well-known members of the original Buena Vista group, singer Compay Segundo and pianist Ruben Gonzalez, died in 2003.

Originally from Cuba's eastern city of Santiago, Ferrer was born on Feb. 20, 1927, during a dance at a social club after his mother unexpectedly went into labor.

Ferrer was still a boy when he began singing professional with Santiago groups in 1941. By the late 1950s, he was a well-known singer performing regularly with the late, great bandleader Pacho Alonso.

He also made guest appearances with other legendary names, including Benny More and Orquesta de Chepin.

Alonso's group moved to Havana in 1959, and Ferrer came along, remaining with the group for more than two decades. By the early 1980s, Ferrer had left the musical scene, but came out of retirement to perform with the Buena Vista group.
© 2005 The Associated Press

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Santeria used for travel license

The Miami Herald
Sun, Feb. 27, 2005


A Santeria group with a religious license to travel unimpeded to Cuba reports a boom in the size of its congregation, drawing criticism and scrutiny.


Despite the Bush administration's crackdown on exiles' trips back to Cuba, there are still ways to travel to the island without restriction.

One seems to be increasingly popular: Go as a Santero.

Religious groups can get licenses with little trouble. And the head of at least one group that says it practices the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria acknowledged that his congregation has exploded in size since the new travel restrictions kicked in.

Jose Montoya, head of the Sacerdocio Lucumi Shango Eyeife in Miami, said that between 1996 and July 2004, he took about 60 people to Cuba under his religious travel license. Since the restrictions took effect in July, he has taken about 2,500, he said.

''Before, people didn't have a necessity, and Afro Cubans who practice our religions could travel to Cuba without a license, but now they need a license,'' Montoya said. ``This is a ticking time bomb. They will give a religious license to anyone.''

Exiles who support the restrictions -- which cut exile trips to Cuba from once a year to once every three years -- say the Santeria groups are abusing their religious privilege.

The U.S. Treasury Department allows unimpeded travel to Cuba for legitimate religious reasons. The department has issued more than 200 licenses to religious groups for travel to Cuba, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, R-Miami.

Díaz-Balart, a supporter of the new limits, has called for an investigation, which he said is being conducted by the Treasury Department.

''There is abuse and it needs to stop,'' he said. ``It is wrong for someone to say that they are seeking a license for religious travel and then to use that license commercially to promote tourism, and I think it's happening.''

Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise and other department officials could not be reached for comment.

Tom Cooper, CEO and chairman of Gulf Stream International Airlines, one of the biggest companies still operating flights to Cuba, said he has also noticed a recent increase in the number of people coming to his airline with religious licenses.


''I have my own questions about it,'' Cooper said. ``I think the Cuban people are very industrious and ingenious, and I think that they really will find a way to visit their relatives in Cuba.''

During a recent interview in his office at 4315 NW Seventh St., Montoya told The Herald that he has an established track record in Miami's Santeria community and is not abusing his travel license.

Montoya acknowledges that he has no church or temple, and his office is plainly decorated, with no evidence of Santeria. His church, the Sacerdocio Lucumi Shango Eyeife, is listed in Florida corporate records as a for-profit company. He brands himself ''Maximo Sacerdote General,'' or Maximum High Priest.

Montoya said the Treasury Department's religious license places no restrictions on the number of people allowed to travel to Cuba under that license, or the frequency of visits. He provided The Herald a copy of his license.

He also provided The Herald a copy of an application people must fill out if they want to travel to Cuba under his religious license. Applicants must swear that they are part of his religion and get the letter notarized. The application named Heidy Gonzalez as an applicant and showed a telephone number. When The Herald called the number, a man named Braulio Rodriguez said Heidy Gonzalez was a 1-year-old baby and that he was her grandfather.

Rodriguez said he had no idea how her name came to be on an application for travel to Cuba and that as far as he knew, she would not be traveling to Cuba as the application stated.

When quizzed about potential abuses, Montoya pointed to another supposed Santeria group that has a religious travel license, Santa Yemaya Ministries. Montoya said his own research shows that many of the people traveling to Cuba under religious licenses today travel through Santa Yemaya.

Florida corporate records show that Santa Yemaya Ministries was established in October 2003 by Fabio Galoppi. The principal place of business address, according to corporate records, is 9741 NW 31 St., a house in a gated community in Doral. It is listed as a nonprofit company.

The official explanation given by Fabio Galoppi to incorporate Santa Yemaya, according to corporate records, is ''to spread the word of God across the world.'' Santa Yemaya Ministries' website boasts a 15-day travel itinerary in Cuba filled with Santeria tourist stops at places such as Casa Templo and The Yoruba Center.

A woman who described herself as Fabio Galoppi's wife when phoned by The Herald declined to comment. She referred questions to a Pierre Galoppi.

Pierre Galoppi, who owns Estrella de Cuba Travel in West Miami-Dade and PWG Trading Corp., confirmed that Santa Yemaya has a religious travel license. He declined to describe his relationship to Fabio Galoppi.

''I can assure you that our agency and our ministry are in full compliance with all regulations,'' Pierre Galoppi said.


When asked how many people travel to Cuba under Santa Yemaya's license, or whether Fabio Galoppi is a Santero, Galoppi declined to comment.

''It's a very sensitive industry,'' he said. ``I have no idea how many people we're talking about.''

Pedro Gonzalez-Munne, owner of Cuba Promotions, an agency that promotes travel to Cuba, said he has done business with Pierre Galoppi and is familiar with his enterprise.

''Since the new restrictions kicked in in July to now, PWG Trading has 33 to 34 percent of the total market of people that travel to Cuba,'' Gonzalez-Munne said. ``Is this a situation of freedom of religions, or are they using their religion for travel and profit?''

The Santeria travel wars have spilled over into local media. Montoya said community leaders and radio commentators have singled him out for criticism on Miami's Spanish-language radio stations. That has prompted Montoya to buy four full-page ads in El Nuevo Herald since November, defending his travel practices.

''We continue to deny the disinformation campaign that some radio stations have established that intend, for politics, to violate our religious rights,'' said an open letter from Shango Eyeife published in El Nuevo Herald on Jan. 24. ``Our institution has nothing to do with other people who possess licenses for our religious practices issued by Treasury.''


Ernesto Pichardo, Miami-Dade's best known Santero, who once took a case about animal sacrifices to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the groups ``are not authorized, legitimate religious organizations in Cuba or here.''

''We've started doing homework,'' Pichardo said. ``I've gotten people from New York, D.C., all over. They have bought into this little deal of buying into [Montoya's] membership . . . to fly to Cuba on a religious visa.''

Cooper, the Gulf Stream CEO, said air travel to Cuba plunged after the restrictions kicked in. For example, his company used to fly five planes a week with 600 seats to the island. Now he flies only about 123 seats a week. However, in the past month, he said, business has picked up again, partly because of religious-license travel.

Pichardo said a signal that Shango Eyeife and Santa Yemaya may not be legitimate religious groups is that neither has a church or temple in Miami.

He said that he doubts they have churches in Cuba, because the Cuban government has never authorized Santeria.

Gonzalez-Munne said the trend shows that people will do whatever it takes to get to Cuba, and business people are thinking creatively to make it happen.

''People are not traveling because they are Babalaos, let's speak clearly,'' Gonzalez-Munne said, using a term meaning priest. ``They are traveling because they have no other way to get to Cuba.''

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Lengthy 1998 article on economics of Jineterismo

Previously published in Global Development Studies, I, 3-4 (Winter 1998-Spring 1999), 57-78


Elisa Facio


This article traces the emergence of jineterismo with the growth of the tourist industry and contrasts these developments in the 1990s to the forms of prostitution that existed in Cuba during the 1950s. The historical background reveals the terrible contradictions for the revolutionary socialist state and the feminist women who organized the elimination of prostitution by providing viable economic and educational alternatives for women from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Finally, the arguments raised here imply a certain optimism for turning one of the worst of all imagined developments into a practice with some redeeming value, by stating explicitly that the new form of sex work has provided at least some children of jineteras some badly needed food, clothing and medicine that can be bought almost exclusively at Cuba's "dollar stores."

1. Introduction

In the early 1990s, many observers spoke of the imminent collapse of the Cuban Revolution. With the breakdown of the Eastern Communist bloc, political and economic relations between Cuba and its former allies were abruptly and drastically reduced. Few foreign analysts argued that Cuba had the potential to survive. This notwithstanding, Cuba marked the 40th anniversary of its revolution in January 1999, which also marked the eighth year of the "Special Period in Time of Peace". The continuation of the "Special Period in Time of Peace" essentially signified that existing policies could no longer operate within a "business as usual' framework.

Amidst the unraveling of Cuba's relations with Eastern Europe, the overall realignment of the global economy, and the continuation by the United States of its aggressive attempts to destroy the Cuban state and economy, namely with the Torrecelli and the Helms-Burton bills. Only the visit of Pope John Paul II and some homegrown relief from the devastating food shortages of the first half of the decade seemed to offer hope and optimism. Throughout the 1990s, Cuba has sought to survive and adapt to the new international circumstances without losing sight of the revolution's past accomplishments and future goals for sustaining an adequate quality of life for its people.

One of the most controversial areas in Cuba's post-Soviet economic strategy has been the tourist industry. In urgent need of quick hard currency, the Cuban government turned to the island's greatest natural resource--its gorgeous beaches and glorious weather. Its campaign to attract Canadian, Latin American (particularly Mexicans), and European tourists (Spanish, Italians and Germans) led to a major leap in the number of foreign visitors from about 250,000 in 1988 to some 400,000 in 1991 (Dello Buono, 1992, pp. 4-5). Gross income earnings during these same three years doubled from $150 million to $300 million. The largest foreign investment in Cuban tourism was cemented during the summer of 1996. Canadian hotel mogul Walter Berukoff and Wilton Properties agreed to split the cost of a $400 million investment in eleven hotels and two golf courses with a Cuban partner, the state-run Gran Caribe. Tourist development at the white sand beaches of Varadero (80 miles east of Havana), Santiago de Cuba, and Holguin's Guardalavaca is still in demand. Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage reported that in the spring of 1996, tourist visits were up 45 percent over 1995. Cuban tourism official Eduardo Rodriquez de la Vega stated that tourism revenues In 1996 exceeded the previous year's $1 billion (Falk, 1996), and future prognoses predicted significant increases in tourism's earning for several years.

Extensive debates have taken place in Cuba over the relative social costs and benefits of developing tourism. The renewed emphasis on tourism has been accompanied by a host of problems. First, tourism has created a two-tiered society in Cuba--the privileged foreigners and the unprivileged locals. In an effort to absorb tourist dollars, the government created tourist stores, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, even tourist taxis that are accessible only to foreigners with hard currency. Some Cubans feel that this 'tourism apartheid" subverted the whole purpose of the revolutionary state, which is to promote equality. Others counter that unlike other countries, tourist income in Cuba does not go into the hands of a few wealthy business tycoons but goes to keep up the health care system, the schools, and the food supply. But many Cubans who understand this argument are nevertheless highly bothered when they see the island's best resources going toward coddling foreigners while their own lives are plagued with serious daily difficulties. Second, with the inception of tourism there has been an increase in crime. Cuba was once known as one of the most crime-free societies in the world. While violent crime remains low, petty theft has increased dramatically.

Finally, and of particular interest to this discussion, tourism has led to a form of sex work called jineterismo. There is a new language to describe the range of behaviors ascribed to ""jineterismo" (literally translated as horseback riding or breaking in a horse, or *gold digging" in its colloquial form), and the attitudes by and toward the jineteras who engage in It. Jineterismo is a range of behaviors, not only a direct exchange of sexual relations for dollars (Diaz, 1996, p. 4). Additionally, Cuban sex workers or jineteras can include pubescent girls to professional women. Unlike prostitution in the U.S., Cuban sex workers are not organized or integrated into networks controlled by "pimps." Cuban jineterismo has been described has having "advantages" over other places such as Thailand or the Philippines. The country is relatively free of AIDS, it is inexpensive, and the women themselves have an "innocent quality* (Lane, 1994, pp. 15-18). When jineterismo initially surfaced in the latter part of 1991, a very financially hard-pressed Cuban government, facing an anticipated $4 billion trade deficit by the end of 1992, appeared to turn a blind eye in hopes the dollars jineteras earned would help overcome the Revolution's worst economic crisis.

The government's initial acquiescence was at odds with one of the principal alms of the revolution: ridding the country of the vice that had turned Havana into the sin capital of the Western hemisphere at a time when casinos, cheap rum, and sex attracted thousands of North Americans to the Caribbean island. The revolutionaries aimed to free women from sexual exploitation in all sectors of society. Several older women recalled that during the early years of the revolution, the government did not use laws and punitive measures to sanction women in order to eliminate prostitution; rather, job training and a non-judgmental approach prevailed in contrast to the strong social taboos at that time from families, religious leaders, and the men who purchased sexual services. The new revolutionary leaders offered the compassionate combination of real economic opportunities and moral rehabilitation with the active mobilization of large numbers of female revolutionaries to assist less fortunate women in the transition from prostitution to gainful employment and social Integration. The Cuban government today--in what is known as "legalizing reality"--appears to be using dollars earned by jineteras and other illicit business to help overcome the economic catastrophe caused by its own mismanagement, the demise of the its Soviet ally, and the U.S. blockade. Given the existence of jineterismo, and the cultural images of Cuban women produced by the tourist industry, Cuba faces tremendous contradictions and complexities regarding women's lives.

Many social scientists argue that jineteras engage in sex work because of materialistic desire as opposed to any realistic economic necessity (Stout, 1995, pp. 13-18; Miranda, 1993, pp. 1-24). They propose that in a society where education and health care are free, and where people are supposedly secure with adequate foodstuffs and clothing through the libreta (ration book), women do not need to engage in sex work. However, since 1990 no Cuban household has been able to survive on the goods available through the libreta. The debatable question remains whether jineterismo is either a result of dire economic need or the desires for materialistic consumption, or both.

Generally, government officials voice the notion that the phenomenon is clearly related to the material shortages as well as the increasing presence of foreign consumerist values. Furthermore, social scientists argue that while traditional prostitution was eradicated in Cuba in the 1960s, sex work appears to be practiced as a personal decision by young people otherwise capable of engaging in more dignified and less risky activities. Thus, the Cuban government can conveniently label jineteras as social deviants while also maintaining a more lenient stance toward non-professional jineterismo.

The following discussion explores the phenomena jineterismo in the context of Cuba's current economic crisis. The first section of this paper focuses on some of the social realities for women in Cuba's declared wartime economy during peacetime. Second, Cuban tourism is highlighted, particularly how women's lives have been affected by both the inception of the tourist industry and the emergence of jineterismo. Finally, the article concludes on a speculative note suggesting that an analysis of jineterismo be placed in a context of patriarchy and international tourism.

2. Cuban Women During the Special Period

The shortfall in oil and other key inputs during this period began to have dramatic effects in Cuba's industrial sector, (these effects have been documented and discussed by Campbell's and Carranza's and other articles - editor's note). Comprehending the economic realities of daily life is important in order to discuss the conditions from which women, in particular, became vulnerable to various forms of sex work or jinetersmo. The curtailment of consumption and the implementation of a food self-sufficiency program provide a panoramic backdrop for viewing the daily struggles of Cuban life during the special period.

2. 1. Curtailment of Consumption

The drive towards rationing of food consumption was thrown into high gear with the failure of 100,000 tons of wheat to arrive from the Soviet Union in early 1990. Broad rations were initially cut in most provinces from 200 grams to 180 grams per person per day while the price of a 400 gram loaf of bread in Havana was raised from 30 to 35 cents. The price of eggs was nearly doubled, from 8 to 15 cents. Tens of thousands of tons of citrus fruits originally destined for export were poured into the domestic market, improving short-term availability, but at the expense of hard currency earnings (Dello Buono, 1995, p. 2). By mid-February 1992, the price of many food products including potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, beets and bananas had doubled, while increasing significantly for other fresh food products. Pressure mounted on the Cuban state to reduce its subsidies. Fuel saving measures within forty-five major industrial firms were likewise implemented beginning in 1990 with the aim to save at least 150,000 tons per year of oil (Dello Buono, 1995, p. 2).

Throughout 1992, more drastic measures of austerity became evident throughout the Cuban society, particularly in urban areas. Beginning in January 1992, work centers had begun to reduce their hours, street lighting was reduced, most regular taxis were taken off the road, television broadcasts were reduced to five hours on weekdays, night baseball games were suspended, and air conditioners in most government offices were ordered turned off. By September 1992, the nation's single biggest development project, a nuclear power plant being constructed near Cienfuegos, was ordered suspended. The project had employed some 10,000 workers and had cost more than $2.5 billion over its seven years of construction. Designed to significantly reduce Cuba's energy bill by cutting the island's oil needs by approximately 20 percent, the project was nearing completion. The abrupt cutoff of Soviet assistance meant that Cuba now would have to pay Russia in hard currency for completion of the plant.

2. 2. The Fight for Food Self-sufficiency

President Fidel Castro indicated on several occasions that the food crisis was Cuba's "Achilles heel, and that it could be overcome only with the massive participation of all Cubans in the drive to achieve food self-sufficiency (Deere, 1991). Beginning in 1989 and expanding rapidly by mid-1990, Cuba's emergency food program (Programa Alimentatio) was designed to rapidly increase domestic food production in the event of the continued disruption of food imports. Substantial effort was also placed on improving the yield of sugar cane fields to compensate for lower prices, a principal characteristic of the new reorientation of Cuban exports toward the capitalist world market. In addition, an increasing percentage of Cuba's sugar product was diverted to domestic import substitution via by-products that could be used for animal feed.

An important aspect of the emergency program was its sponsorship of labor mobilization to produce food. Particular attention was given to cultivating lands for food production in the Havana province, including in local communities and on lands pertaining to workplaces. One object was to lower transportation costs associated with the movement of foodstuffs from the provinces into the densely populated city of Havana. The program also sought in principle to divert workers who were idled in other sectors to the agricultural sector. Thousands of state employees in the construction and agricultural ministries were given leave of absence from their jobs and sent to new posts located primarily on state farms in 1992 and early 1993.

By March 1992 scant availability of vegetables and some fruits were reported in Havana, but the early successes with food production were insufficient to resolve the demand for food in the Cuban economy. By 1994, the state took even more radical measures to encourage production and increase the stock of food supplies by re-introducing private farmer's markets that would allow producers to sell their goods at whatever price the market would bear. By early 1995, food products in variety and high quality began to circulate on the now legal market as private producers responded to the growing stimulus, making products which had not been seen for almost a decade available for those who could afford to purchase them.

3. Tourist Industry: Un Mal Necesario

With the onset of the Special Period, Cuba also placed a high priority on foreign exchange earnings. Of the many concessions made to salvage the economy and the socialist project, the most controversial has been the inception of tourism to bring in freely convertible hard currency. The State invested in the physical infrastructure in order to expand tourism into untapped regions of the island. At the same time, Cuba diverted highly educated and underemployed labor to the tourism industry, established new training facilities in tourist services, and prepared to accommodate the anticipated influx of foreign investment capital.

In 1989 Cuba's 13,000 hotel rooms earned $200 million from 326,000 tourists. Key markets were located with Canada, West Germany, Spain, Mexico and Italy. In 1990 it increased its capacity to receive 334,000 customers largely from the German and Mexican markets. A target of 500,000 tourists was set for 1992 for a yield of over $400 million in revenues. By 1993, as the quality of services improved, the over 560,000 tourists visiting Cuba generated a gross income of $720 million dollars (Diaz, 1996). The most recent figures hover around one billion dollars, an impressive fivefold increase in less than one decade.

While the Cuban state strived to maintain control over the tourist industry, joint venture capital entering the Cuban tourist industry now included major investors from Spain and Germany. For example, the creation of Gaviota, a major state enterprise based in the Cuban military, combined private enterprise flexibility with strong state financing and high worker discipline as it entered the tourist arena. By mid-1994 Cuba's Minister of Tourism projected that the island was quickly regaining its status as a tourist competitor and indicated that Cuba would break the one million tourist mark by 1996 with an annual income of $1 billion. Although the net profits are still low compared to the gross receipts, nevertheless the importance of such a drastic change in the economy was accompanied by several social changes.

4. The Special Period and Women's Lives

Scholars have given tremendous attention to the strides women have made since the triumph of the Revolution of 1959. Women have made substantial achievements materially and culturally, especially in professional status and in the struggle to change sexual ideology in the family (Smith & Padula, 1996, chapters 1-3). This view is shared by scholars such as Max Azicri, Carolee Benglesdorf, Lourdes Casal and Margaret Randall. However, I would argue that these changes have not extended necessarily to larger political and economic policies nor to party practice. The overall quality of women's lives, which is in serious jeopardy, is overlooked by most revolutionary ideology. Thus, women's existence as women has gone largely ignored. The issue of patriarchy has not been adequately considered by the revolutionary leadership. Therefore, it is not surprising that jineterismo has surfaced with a great deal of confusion inside and outside the political circles.

In this context I am defining jineterismo as a new form of women's work, and, therefore, the daily struggles of women's lives during the special period must be highlighted. First and foremost, women have been active in all the strategic programs initiated during the economic crisis. In 1992 women constituted more than 61 percent of the middle and upper level technicians, half of the doctors and 40 percent of all executives in the health and education areas. There has not been a reduction in female participation in the economy, but a reorganization of job sites. Women who worked in light industries which were subsequently closed were transferred to local industries closer to their homes. In addition to transportation problems, brown-outs (apagones) and the lack of kerosene and spare parts greatly affected women and families. There were difficulties in producing and procuring milk, meat, chicken and eggs, and even soap and detergent. The availability of rice, frozen fish and canned meat was reduced to a minimum. Cuba even experienced a total lack of sanitary napkins.

Overall, women have felt the difficulties of daily life more harshly than men during this period. While women had achieved professional advancements, traditional roles in the home persisted with women shouldering the burden of the double day. Even though some women's jobs were geographically relocated closer to their homes due to transportation shortages, many were given the option of taking a 30 percent cut in salaries and reducing their work days by one-third. Women spent the majority of their time creating and "inventing" ways in which to obtain food. In the early years of the Special Period, the black market was in full force. The exchange rate plunged from 8 to 10 pesos per dollar in 1988 to 100 to 120 pesos for $1.00 in 1994. Those fortunate enough to access dollars either through relatives in Miami, jobs in tourism, or state jobs (where goods could be easily stolen and sold on the black market) did not always experience the general hunger that the majority of Cubans confronted. Transportation shortages led to bicycle use, thus contributing to exhaustion and tremendous weight loss among the Cuban population.

Women, in particular, began to devise ways in which to earn hard currency, illegally. Many women would bake, sew, clean, cook, create small craft items in exchange for pesos, which eventually were converted into dollars, or better yet, dollars so that they could have a foreigner with access to a tourist store buy soap, cooking oil and detergent for them, as these items were not available on the ration nor in the black market. With electrical brown-outs, many food items for daily meals were acquired and consumed the same day in order to prevent spoilage. The daily preoccupation and challenge was to obtain food with dollars because dollars had greater purchasing power. However, the possession and use of dollars was considered counterrevolutionary and thus illegal.

People were expected to depend on a ration system that did not meet the daily nor monthly needs of the population, a black market which quite often was unattainable because of the extraordinary exchange rate (pesos and dollars), and to maintain hope that the tourist industry would bring about economic recovery, namely more food. The black market began to undermine the national economy, forcing President Fidel Castro to legalize the use of dollars in July, 1993 (Figueros & Plasencia Vidal, 1994).

The stories that follow of three women and one unnamed fifteen year-old who decided to become involved in jineterismo provide us with a brief glimpse at women who resort to activities that the revolutionaries had proudly eliminated from Cuba in the early 1960s.

5. Women, Sex, and Tourism

Angeles agrees to meet with me late one summer evening in 1996. She appears nervous, embarrassed, but anxious to talk with someone about the anguish she experiences daily. She is a petite 22 year-old university student anxious to leave Cuba. She lives with her parents who are unaware of her desires to marry a foreigner and leave the island. Angeles sadly states that the future of Cuba's youth is extremely unpredictable. She no longer feels secure as she did in her early teens. "I'm a university student, but I don't feel I'll benefit from my education. My parents work so hard to maintain our home. As you know, we lack everything, especially food. And without dollars, there's nothing for young people to do in this country. It's really hard to make sense of our lives during this time." Attending the university, worrying about her livelihood, and dealing with the lack of entertainment, Angeles desperately struggles to make sense of her life. Economic and social uncertainty led her to sex work in 1993. In September of 1997, Angeles married and now resides in Spain.

A pretty, fifteen year-old bleached blond, personifies Havana's return to the decadence that Fidel Castro's revolution was supposed to eliminate nearly four decades ago. She is barely five feet tall, weighs about 100 pounds, and is dressed in lemon hot pants and a black halter top. Her eyes are rimmed with thick mascara. "What country are you from?" she asks my colleague, blocking his way to the car door. Flirting in her childlike way, she tells my friend he is handsome, intelligent. She was not an aberration in the early phase of the Special Period. She was an important "handmaiden" in the service of attracting desperately needed currency (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2). She is one of the many young Cuban girls and women who have turned Havana into an attractive "fleshpot" for foreign tourists. Every day, dozens of men arrive at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport to begin their vacations with young women like Ana. She had a carefree attitude about what she was doing. She was driven partly by the desire to obtain cash, and also a desire just to have fun in a country that offers little entertainment outside places that are closed to her unless she is on the arm of a foreigner. Maria, a twenty year-old University of Havana student, comes to the illicit arrangement with an astonishing air of practicality. One night, as the young woman awaits her "date"--a paunchy Spanish executive in his 60s who has promised to take her to the Havana Club disco--she calculates her advantages. "I can earn more in one night than my mother can in five months," she says smoothing her sequined mini-dress that the Spanish executive paid for. "If it wasn't for the dollars I earn this way, I couldn't afford to continue my studies," she said. "I can make about $35 a night, eat a good meal and have a swell time." What does her Cuban boyfriend think? "He knows what I am doing. But we look upon this as an opportunity to get ahead, as a phase in our lives. It's no big deal."

These women are confronted with a choice between the glittery world of hard currency full of materialism and food against the difficult world of the average Cuban who has very little of either. The hard-currency world of cars, tourist shops, restaurants, discos and resorts is off-limits to the vast majority of the Cuban population-even though Article 42 of the Constitution specifically forbids such a segregated arrangement. But most Cuban women can break the barrier with a foreign tourist and briefly escape the harsh living conditions of most Cubans, who earn practically nothing and endure a monotonous diet of beans and rice. Practically anything worth buying-from jeans to shampoo--can be found only in stores once reserved for documented foreigners (who had to show passport, a visa or letter of affiliation or invitation from some institution) but now open to anyone with dollars to spend.

With respect to the Cuban male's reaction, not all Cuban men are as tolerant as Maria's boyfriend. It is a source of resentment among Cuban males, who cannot compete for attention without dollars, which were forbidden until 1993. Other men like Rosa's ex-husband will not tolerate the stigma of being associated with a jinetera either past or present. Rosa is a twenty-six year-old single mother living with her parents. I arrive at her two-bedroom apartment late afternoon in the summer of 1996. She is mopping the floors preparing for my arrival, warmly greets me, and offers me a glass of water. Rosa states, "I became involved in jineterismo because of my family's economic situation and especially for my child. Without the dollars, I can barely clothe and feed my child." Rosa continues, saying that she was fortunate enough to meet a Cuban man and marry. However, once her husband learned she had worked as a jinetera, they divorced. Rosa showed me a set of beautiful wedding pictures; we both sobbed not so much over the dissolvement of her marriage, but more so because of the contradictions and predicaments of life for so many Cuban women during the Special Period.

Later that evening, as I take another walk around the Hotel Riviera nightclub, the conflict is put into perspective. I notice a young couple dancing in front of a table of foreign tourists. Their rhythmic and synchronized moves are tantalizing and seductive. Shortly, they are invited by the foreign visitors to share a table. By the end of the evening, the young man is offering the sexual services of his female friend. During the ride home we ask the taxi driver, a young veteran of the Cuban forces who fought in Angola, about what we had just observed. He angrily stated that he did not fight in Angola to be banned from some lousy disco, so that Cubans could be treated like second-class citizens and Cuban women reduced to prostitutas.

In 1993, even though housing remained free or low-rent, food rations generally ran out by the middle of the month, forcing families to barter on the black market where stolen supplies and foodstuffs were sold. Educated Cubans scrambled for jobs they would have scorned before: tending bar or waiting tables for dollar tips in luxury hotels, where most Cubans were barred from entering. At the Capri Hotel which is centrally located in downtown Havana, my friend tells a familiar story. "I was a professor for five years at the University of Havana. Now I work 12-14 hours a day as a hotel porter. I get good tips in dollars, of course. Here, this is called progress." Indeed, the inequity between the dollar and peso has created an inverted economy in which bellhops at resorts make more money in tips than doctors and college professors do in salary. Another friend who was an elementary school teacher left his job to work as a waiter in one of Havana's finest hotels. He tells me he can now walk with me comfortably and without embarrassment as he can afford to buy me a Coca-Cola. Another friend, one of Havana's pool of young and gifted medical specialists, apologizes for not being able to spend a Friday evening with me because she has no divisa, meaning dollars.

By 1994 more than 160,000 Cubans had applied for licenses to set up their own businesses. Many others are simply going it alone without bothering with the legalities. Lacking capital and resources, most businesses depend wholly on ingenuity. An older man who lives next door to my friend refills butane cigarette lighters that in other countries would be disposable. He pays the government 50 pesos a month for his license, and another 24 pesos for every day he sets up shop in a nearby plaza with dozens of other artisans. Arts and crafts markets lined the streets of downtown Havana with artisans selling their works for dollars.

By 1995 food consumption had increased with the establishment of farmers markets, home restaurants (paladares), food stands (particulares), and the re-opening of a few state restaurants that accepted pesos. The famous Coppelia ice cream park now accepted both dollars and pesos. However, for many, especially young Cubans, tourists with dollars continued to provide the only access to certain goods and entertainment. In and around the clubs and hotels, particularly in Havana, cash exchanges for sex have become common practice. Additionally, women offer their company, their conversation, their charm in return for an expensive meal, a night of drinks and dancing or a chance to shop at the dollar stores. Beyond the hotels, on the streets and plazas, young men work in the underground economy, selling illegally obtained cigars and other goods and changing pesos for dollars at many times the official rate. Recent observations in 1996 and 1997 suggest that a small number of young men are also engaging in forms of sex work. (They are referred to as "jineteros" or the more vulgar street term, 'pingeros").

Many now depend on the black market for goods that are virtually impossible to get otherwise, for instance, cigarettes. This inevitably affects the social conscience and consciousness of Cubans. The boom in black market activity has prompted police crackdowns. Cubans are being armed to protect "important economic sites" from burglary, and street thefts are rising. These developments could threaten to undercut Cuba's ability to offer tourists a safe and secure Caribbean vacation, one of the greatest advantages Cuba has over the other Caribbean islands.

The two-tiered system of currency created during the Special Period, not only contributes to a socially stratified Cuba but has also resulted in a "tourist apartheid." Many Cubans called for the elimination of the dual currencies to counter this trend, A single currency would allow Cubans to buy any goods or enter any establishment if they had enough money; to some extent, there would still be a division between foreign and domestic tourist activity, but it would be based on purchasing power and not on discrimination against Cuba's own people.

The government is uncomfortable with market mechanisms to curtail or increase domestic demands for foreign and luxury goods. Although it has taken a definitive stand on the currency issue, the government has essentially abdicated all other key tourist development questions to its semi-autonomous enterprises. These in turn proceed without any overall strategy. Yet, the form of tourism that the government endorses--one that will benefit all Cubans by providing collective goods-presupposes a guiding political force and a plan. Yet, as the government loses its vanguard role in this now vital sector of the economy, it is relegated to acting as a kind of police force maintaining a favorable investment climate. Cubans thus enjoy neither the accumulative benefits of capitalism nor the input into the social process characteristic of the best aspects of Cuban socialism. By not permitting market activity within the domestic economy, while selling off chunks of the island to foreign investors, the government has taken a path that benefits those who least support the revolution. Everyone else suffers with the hope that the sacrifices will help them get through the crisis with health care, education and other services kept intact for their families.

Despite the economic gains made by tourism and other economic strategies of the special period, many Cubans must struggle to obtain food. No doubt, overall food consumption has increased; however, monthly incomes remain insufficient for meeting the basic needs of the population. Thus, jineterismo continues to flourish in the tourist areas. In addition to exchanging sex for food, clothes, entertainment, and other necessities, women are now looking to various forms of jineterismo as a way of leaving Cuba; that is, to find potential foreign marriage partners.

6. The Politics of Sexuality and Cuba's Economic Crisis

The return of sex work has caught the attention of both the Cuban government and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). The official position on sex work argues that unlike women who worked to survive or were deceived into prostitution during the period of economic destitution before the Revolution, these modern-day sex workers are trading their bodies for consumer goods and recreational opportunities otherwise unavailable to them (Diaz, 1996, pp. 1-33). Because many of these young women are well-educated--some are even university graduates--their turning to sex work puzzles and dismays many Cubans, whether or not they support the policies of the revolutionary state. Researchers from the FMC and MAGIN (organization of prominent women from the National Women's Press Association) report that the circumstances for prostitution in today's Cuba are vastly changed from the period leading up to the Revolution in 1959.

A more critical gendered analysis brings new interpretations. Jineteras are seeking power in the new tourist marketplace, the power of access to consumer goods and otherwise unobtainable amusements and diversions that are associated with the privileges of tourists and foreign businessmen. Some of the important differences between present-day jineterismo and pre-revolutionary prostitution are in the type of clients, educational access, family and social reactions, and levels of self-esteem. These changes are linked to the rapid development of tourism and increased opportunity for contact with foreign men.

Prostitution's customers used to be primarily Cuban men; today's clients are tourists from all over the world. Most young women today have the benefit of extensive educational opportunity in Cuban society compared to opportunities for most women before the revolution. Based on research conducted by the FMC, many jineteras are not rejected by their families or by most of society. In fact, few have low self-esteem compared to women stigmatized prior to 1959 as putas or whores (Weisman, 1995, pp. 24-27). What has remained the same is in the social definition of illegality; yet, today's government prosecutes and offers treatment (especially in the case of related drug addiction) to jineteras.

Mirta Rodríquez Calderón, a leading journalist and co-founder of MAGIN, who has written and published extensively on gender and sexual politics in Cuba (including Digame, Usted!, a collection of thought-provoking columns in Granma), has interviewed women who have relations with tourists. She characterizes jineteras as young women who, with very few exceptions, do not have to practice commercial sexual relations to survive. Instead, she believes, what motivates most of these young, mainly dark-skinned, Afro-Cuban, women to practice jineterismo is the desire to go out, to enjoy themselves, go places where Cubans cannot afford to go and have fancy clothes. Other women, a minority, she estimates, may be engaging in jineterismo because they have families and truly need the money and goods. Rodríguez Calderón further describes the differences between modern-day jineteras and pre-revolutionary prostitutes in terms of power. Today's young women practice jineterismo for the "freedom" to go out-dancing, dining, to concerts, to visit Varadero Beach or other resorts, and to shop in dollar stores. Some of these young women are looking for potential spouses in foreign men in order to leave Cuba for a more stable and consumer-oriented life. Others look at current options in Cuba to earn a living and make money. A secretary, for example, currently earns 190 pesos a month (roughly $9.50--given the current exchange rate of roughly 20 pesos to $1), while a family doctor (the majority of whom are women) earns 250 pesos or about $12.50 practicing medicine, compared to $35 to $50 for one evening for a woman who is practicing jineterismo.

Calderón also theorizes the interaction of racism and prostitution. Many of the people who left Cuba since 1959 are light-skinned and living primarily in the United States; they are sending money to their relatives still living in Cuba to lessen the economic hardships. Young women without access to family resources in the U.S. have a greater need for the economic assistance of this kind of work, adding to increased racial segmentation in both class and gender status. Racism and the double sexual standard also create the market among European businessmen for the exotic/erotic "other." The combination of foreign men seeking sexual partners who are racially and culturally different, coupled with the sexual double standard's separation of women into "good" versus "bad" ones, reinforces the desirability of darker-skinned Cuban women as sex objects.

The government's inconsistent response to the rapid rise of sex work reflects the double gender standard. The major focus is on changing the behavior of women, not the behavior of male prostitutes (jineteros), foreign businessmen or tourists. A number of feminists have called for a shift in emphasis. Instead of attacking the supply, attack the demand. What is most frightening about this unexpected result of tourism is the illusion of "freedom." Although jineteras do not appear trapped now, the practice of jineterismo may bring harm to young women in more serious and limiting ways. Celia Berger of the FMC states that if a young woman manages to marry and leave the country, she faces the possibility of being sold into sexual slavery (Weisman, 1995, pp. 24-27).

Therefore, the FMC is urging women in grassroots organizations to target schools through the leadership of the UJC (Union of Communist Youth) and encouraging the 50,000 social workers (mainly volunteers) associated with the FMC to conduct studies on the images of Cuban women portrayed abroad to promote tourism. The MAGIN is conducting the educational and training programs for tourism planners and economic decision-makers. The MAGIN further advocates a major shift in tourism's focus, emphasizing the wealth of health and medical, ecological, family/recreation and historic/cultural resources--instead of selling implied sexual adventure (Diaz, 1996).

While the current methods to reduce and ultimately to prevent the practice of prostitution are significant and timely, there is a need for fundamental economic, social and political responses to jineterismo. Given the underlying cause of economic scarcity, the extreme difficulties of solving the economic crisis, and its further exacerbation by the U.S. government's foreign policy, can (or how can) the Cuban government overcome these structural barriers? The problem requires a gendered analysis of the construction of sexuality. For example, which women are jineteras and who decides what behavior is prostitution? Given the still unequal sexual division of labor in Cuban society and the relatively traditional socialization of men and women and their sexuality, how does "the Revolution" change the culture that creates the desire for prostitution by men and the perception of economic powerby women who practice jineterismo? Only a social and political revolution of feminist values can provide a decisive analysis and vision for new constructions of gender, sexuality and power relationships, Until women become more than a sector for development and accomplishments, power arrangements will continue to perpetuate models of domination. For many women inside and outside Cuba, it is a great shame that the Cuban Revolution can no longer claim to have eliminated both illiteracy and sex work.

7. Sexism, Tourism and International Politics

Further probing into the tourist industry from a critical, global, feminist perspective can shed light on international politics and longstanding political relationships between local residents and tourists. For example, Enloe (1990, chapter 2) argues that women in many countries are being drawn into unequal relationships with each other as a result of government sponsorship of the international tourist industry, some because they have no choice, but others because they are making their own decisions about how to improve their lives. Many women are playing active roles in expanding and shaping the tourist industry, as travel agents, travel writers, flight attendants, crafts women, maids, sex workers--even if they do not control it. Despite the good intentions of the feminist tourist/researcher, the relationship between the privileged tourist/researcher and jinetera, for example, fall short of any imagined international sisterhood (Enloe, 1990, p. 20).

Cuba, Tanzania, North Korea, Vietnam and Nicaragua are being governed today by officials who have adopted a friendlier attitude toward tourism. Indebted governments that have begun to rely on tourism include those that previously were most dubious about the tourism route to genuine development, especially if "development" is to include preservation and national sovereignty. Cuba and the other mentioned countries are being complimented and called "pragmatic" by mainstream international observers because they are putting the reduction of international debt and the earning of foreign currency at the top of their political agenda. Many of the advertisements luring travelers to sunny beaches and romantic encounters are designed and paid for by government tourist offices. Most of those bureaucratic agencies rely on femininity, masculinity and heterosexuality to make their appeals and achieve their goals. Local men in police or military uniforms and local women in colorful dresses-or in the case of Cuba, very little dress at all--are the preferred images. The local men are militarized in their manliness; the local women are welcoming and available in their femininity.

Sex tourism is not an anomaly; it is one strand of the gendered tourism industry. While economists in industrialized societies presume that the "service economy," with its explosion of feminized job categories, follows a decline in manufacturing, policy-makers in many Third World countries have been encouraged by international advisers to develop service sectors before manufacturing industries have the chance to mature (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

To succeed, sex tourism requires Third World women to be economically desperate enough to enter prostitution; having done so, it is difficult to leave. The other side of the equation requires men from affluent societies to imagine certain women, usually women of color, to be more available and submissive than the women in their own countries. Finally, the industry depends on an alliance between local governments in search of foreign currency and local and foreign businessmen willing to purchase sexualized travel (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

The hushed and serious tones typically reserved for discussions of nuclear escalation or spiraling international debt are rarely used in discussions of tourism. Tourism does not fit neatly into public preoccupations with post-Cold War conflict and high finance. Although it is infused with masculine ideas about adventure, pleasure and the exotic, sexual relations are deemed "private" and thus kept off stage in debates about international politics. Yet, since World War II, planners, investors and workers in the tourist industry, and tourists themselves, have been weaving unequal patterns that are restructuring international politics. And they depend on women for their success (Enloe, 1990, chapter 2).

Cuban tourism might be providing much-needed liquidity, but it is not a solid foundation on which to build an economic recovery, especially as it relies on foreign investment to trickle down to the population. An alternative strategy would instead increase participation of the Cuban people in economic planning and implementation. Here the government could begin by engaging a public debate on how to develop a form of tourism that does not come at the expense and exclusion of Cubans. This debate could then extend to the larger issue of how to integrate market activity into a socialist country in a way that preserves the gains of the revolution. The absence of such an internal discussion will not forestall difficult choices but would mean simply that such choices will be made for Cuba by the more powerful forces of international capital.

8. Conclusion

On a global scale, government and corporate officials have come to depend on international tourist travel for pleasure in several ways. First, over the last decade they have come to see tourism as an industry that can help diversify local economies suffering from reliance on one or two products for export. Tourism is embedded in the inequalities of international trade, but is often tied to the politics of particular products such as sugar, bananas, tea or copper. Second, officials have looked to tourism to provide them with foreign currency, a necessity in the increasingly unequal economic relations between poor and rich countries. Third, tourism has been looked upon as a spur to more general social development; the "trickle down" of modern skills, new technology and improved public services is imagined to follow in the wake of foreign tourists. Fourth, many government officials have used the expansion of tourism to secure the political loyalty of local elites. Finally, many officials have hoped that tourism would raise their nations' international visibility and even prestige; tourism continues to be promoted by bankers and development planners, the majority of whom happen to be men, as a means of making the international system more financially sound and more politically stable.

Without ideas about masculinity and femininity&endash;and the enforcement of both&endash;in the societies of departure and the societies of destination, it would be impossible to sustain the tourism industry in its current form. It is not simply that ideas about pleasure, travel, escape, and sexuality have affected women in rich and poor countries. I am suggesting that the very structure of contemporary international tourism needs patriarchy to survive. Men's capacity to control women's sense of security and self-worth has been central to the continuation of tourism.

Feminist organizations concerned with jineterismo, both inside and outside Cuba, must seriously examine the larger question of patriarchy and international tourism in relationship to Cuba's current economic crisis. Movements that upset any of the patterns in today's international tourist industry are likely to upset one of the principal pillars of contemporary world power. Such a realization allows us to take a more optimistic second look at the young women who seductively entice men along Cuba's Malecon for a fistful of dollars. They could have, with a certain combination of socio-economic conditions, the potential for reshaping the international political order, thus placing Cubans at the forefront of dismantling patriarchy and serving as a beacon of hope, justice, and democracy.


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