Friday, June 16, 2006

Fla. school board bans Cuba book

Fla. school board bans Cuba book

Fri Jun 16, 4:49 AM ET

A children's book about Cuba must be removed from all Miami-Dade County school libraries, the school board ruled.

In a 6-3 vote, board members decided the book — "Vamos a Cuba" and its English-language version, "A Visit to Cuba" — was inappropriate for young readers because of inaccuracies and omissions about life in the communist nation.

"A book that misleads, confounds or confuses has no part in the education of our students, most especially elementary students, who are most impressionable and vulnerable," said board member Perla Tabares Hantman, who supported the ban.

The book, by Alta Schreier, contains images of smiling children wearing uniforms of Cuba's communist youth group and a carnival celebrating the 1959 Cuban revolution. The district owns 49 copies of the book in Spanish and English.

In voting to remove the book from the district's 33 schools, the board on Wednesday rejected the recommendations of two review committees and Superintendent Rudy Crew.

"We are rejecting the professional recommendation of our staff based on political imperatives that have been pressed upon members of this board," said board member Evelyn Greer, who opposed the ban.

The controversy over the book began in April when parent Juan Amador Rodriguez complained about its depiction of life under communist rule.

"The Cuban people have been paying a dear price for 47 years for the reality to be known," Amador Rodriguez, a former political prisoner in Cuba, told The Miami Herald. "A 32-page book cannot silence that."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida was preparing a legal challenge, executive director Howard Simon said. He said the board should add more material with differing viewpoints rather than remove books that could be offensive.

The board also ordered the removal of similar books from the same series about 24 nations, including Greece, Mexico and Vietnam. In their place, Crew is to get more detailed books, the board decided.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cuba restores power to U.S Interests Section

Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Jun. 13, 2006

Cuba restores electricity to U.S Interests Section


Electricity at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana was restored Tuesday, the same day that Cuba's Communist Party daily published a scathing 2,000-word editorial denying that the week-long outage was intentional.

The Cuban government ''categorically denies'' claims by the U.S. State Department that it deliberately cut off power and water to the U.S. Interests Section, and such accusations are an attempt to provoke a total break in relations and end immigration accords and food sales, the Granma editorial said.

On Monday the U.S. State Department said its Havana mission was running on generators since June 5, when electricity was shut off. The State Department also said faucets ran dry for a month this year -- plus another three days last week.

''Our revolution has never assaulted or violated the diplomatic headquarters,'' the newspaper said. ``It never did it and never will.''

The flap over water and lights comes amid increasing hostility between the two nations. The U.S. Interests Section infuriated Cuba in January when it put up an electronic ticker-tape board that carried messages critical of the government. Cuba fired back by posting a sea of flags to block its view.

Not long after, the USINT received a letter from the Cuban government saying that in response to the electronic billboard sign, it would cease USINT's diesel fuel deliveries.

Granma said the power outage was the result of a broken electrical line, and that water department technicians have diligently responded to problems. It even listed the amount of construction supplies delivered this year.

Washington scoffed at the Cuban explanation.

''You'll excuse me if I don't take that explanation at face value,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, noting that Cuba's power company is controlled by the government. ``It's the only building or compound on the block that doesn't have power, and we did pay our power bill.''

The Cuban government claims its notoriously poor electrical service suffered a setback recently when the 13,000-volt underground circuit that supplies power to the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) broke down during recent heavy rains.

Proof that the USINT doesn't ''lack a single watt:'' the electronic billboard that broadcasts ''insulting and offensive'' messages is still on, the paper said. Granma also said the USINT demonstrated ''bad faith'' by not mentioning that the water department sent maintenance workers to do repairs seven times since January.

Granma also offered a list of how much electricity and gas and construction equipment the Interests Section had used this year.

'Cuba fights up front and clean: it doesn't' need to find pretexts to harass the office,'' the paper said. ``It doesn't look for subterfuge, or cut electric cables to turn out little trashy signs.''

Interests Section spokesman Drew G. Blakeney said the office was being harassed in other ways: a lack of supplies; a shortage of Cuban construction workers; refusal to grant exit visas to the Cubans who work at the office and need to travel abroad.

''It's a propaganda piece from a dictatorial state's propaganda machine,'' Blakeney said of the Granma editorial. ``What we got today was electricity. All the other things are still outstanding.''

Blakeney said since fuel deliveries ended, the Interests Section has had to send a flat bed truck to fill up 55 gallon drums to collect diesel at commercial pumps a renovation project at the refugee annex is at a crawl, he said.

Cutting power to a diplomatic mission is a rare occurrence, although not unprecedented. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said the Cubans did it at the start of the Lyndon Johnson administration, forcing Washington to send generators.

In 1964 Cuban leader Fidel Castro cut off the water and power to the Guantánamo Naval Base to retaliate for the arrest of 36 Cuban fishermen in Florida waters.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Editorial: One-note policies harm scholarship

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

One-note policies harm scholarship

By Maria Cristina Garcia

June 12, 2006

Imagine a scholar of American studies who had never set foot in the United States or consulted any of its libraries and archives. The product of such "scholarship" would be suspect, even laughable.

Yet that is the level of mediocrity that the Florida Legislature would have its scholars produce.

SB 2434, just signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, prohibits the use of any funding for research in Cuba (and several other countries) on the grounds that it is a terrorist state.

Federal rules already severely restrict travel to Cuba. But now, the Florida Legislature -- which likes to craft its own foreign policy, especially in an election year -- is further tightening the screws. The effect is to limit what our students can learn and our scholars can study.

What will be the consequences for scholarship? Internationally recognized scholars of Cuba and the Caribbean will leave for other universities, while it will become increasingly difficult to attract top specialists to Florida's universities.

If the federal government follows suit, all Cuba-based scholarship in the sciences and arts will be produced outside the United States. Ironically, even policymakers will have to turn to international scholars for their data.

How does this affect the average Floridian? Scholarly collaborations between scientists on topics ranging from infectious diseases to sustainable agriculture to hurricane research will be greatly curtailed. Cultural exchanges in the arts -- which create vital opportunities for discussion, understanding and even change -- will be brought to a halt. The law will predictably produce mediocrity.

Americans generally acknowledge that citizens need to be better informed about the global community -- to maintain a competitive edge, enforce our security and, more importantly, to be responsible actors in the international arena. That the Florida Legislature would seek to curtail access to knowledge at this moment in history is outlandish to anyone with common sense.

ENCASA/U.S.Cuba, representing more than100 Cuban-American scholars, artists and other professionals across the U.S., opposes such one-note Cuba policies, which substitute for thoughtful policymaking. It is time for a new approach toward Cuba.

Maria Cristina Garcia, Ph.D., is a Cornell University professor and member of the steering committee of ENCASA (Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists).

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,5362576.story?coll=sfla-news-opinion

Cuba cuts off power to U.S. diplomatic mission
Cuba cuts off power to U.S. diplomatic mission

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Cuban government cut off electricity to the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana a week ago, and U.S. requests for power to be restored have gone unanswered, the U.S. State Department said Monday.

The facility has been operating with generator power.

Work at the mission continues, including interviews of refugees and outreach programs for the Cuban people, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"I would just say that the bullying tactics of the Castro regime aren't going to work," he added.

He said Cuban authorities also reduce the availability of water to the mission from time to time.

McCormack said he suspects that the decision to cut the power was in response to efforts by the mission to provide information to the Cuban people.

"That, of course, is not something that the Castro regime takes kindly to," he said.

In January, President Fidel Castro complained about use of the U.S. mission to carry human rights messages to passers-by on outdoor electronic signs.

Castro called the signs provocations.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

essay on recent law forbidding study in Cuba

Miami Herald
Sunday, June 4, 2006

In My Opinion
Act's real aim is to halt research about Cuba

By Ana Menéndez

Congratulations to state lawmakers for making it almost impossible for Florida scholars to travel to Cuba and four other ``terrorist states.''

Why stop there? Let's go after scholars wanting to travel to other unsavory states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Ohio, where it recently took 1½ hours to execute an inmate who could be heard moaning and making guttural noises as he died.

Only problem is that Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, is a friend. Pakistan, despite an appalling human-rights record, is an ally. And Afghanistan may be on its way to becoming the world's largest narco-state, but it's our narco-state.

And Ohio's exiled community has yet to become a force in local politics.

Gov. Jeb Bush signed the Travel to Terrorist States Act on Tuesday, proving once again that political leadership today has less to do with moral courage than it does with creating the illusion of it.

The bill was sponsored by Miami Republican David Rivera, who did a brilliant public relations job with it -- persuading people that it was an innocuous little bill that merely prevented state funds from being used for travel to Cuba.


In fact, state funds have never been used to finance travel to Cuba, said Lisandro Perez, past director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. The institute has never needed state money, Perez added, having received more than $1 million from private foundations since 1991.

But Rivera should know that. That's why, while publicly crowing about ''tax payer money,'' Rivera worded his bill to outlaw the use of private foundation money as well.

So the Travel to Terrorist States Act is not really aimed at making sure taxpayers don't fund travel to Havana, since that is not happening anyway. It's also more than harmless pandering to that ever-dwindling segment of the exile community that models its political strategy on the ostrich.

In wording, timing and effect, the bill seems aimed at shutting down FIU's Cuban Research Institute, whose activities depend on private grant money. Its passage represents a serious interference with academic freedom that should trouble those Florida residents who fled just this kind of demagoguery.

Luckily we still live in an open society, and the bill will not avoid legal scrutiny.

''A challenge in the courts is inevitable,'' said Howard Simon, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.


The depressing thing is that such a seriously flawed bill could ever pass. Its unanimous support is an example of how easy it has become to play the Cuba card and how terrified lawmakers are of seeming soft on Castro.

Rivera, who once tried to deny Medicaid to anyone traveling to Cuba, is not the only politician skilled at using people's hopes and fears to shore up his power base. Take School Board member Frank Bolaños, who made a big fuss about the need to ban a children's picture book on Cuba right before announcing a run for state office.

The Travel to Terrorist States Act is an assault on the pursuit of knowledge that is a vital part of any thriving democracy. Far from striking a blow against oppression, the bill would create the sort of intellectually stunted environment it seeks to condemn.

A healthy society allows access to even those ideas it deems threatening or offensive, whether they're found in Cuba, Saudi Arabia or the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution. In an increasingly complex world, the cause of freedom is served by more understanding, not less.

''I think there's very little to be gained in a setting where you have a totalitarian dictatorship that controls all sources of information and determines what kind of research can be conducted in those regimes,'' Rivera told me Friday.

On that point we both agree.

Ana Menendez
Ana Menéndez was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Cuban exiles. She is the author of two books of fiction, which have been translated into several languages: In Cuba I was a German Shepherd, which was a 2001 New York Times Notable book of the year and whose title story won a Pushcart Prize; and Loving Che, a national best-seller. She was a journalist for several years, first at The Miami Herald, where she covered Little Havana until 1995 and later at the Orange County Register in California. She has also lived in Turkey and South Asia, where she reported out of Afghanistan and Kashmir. Since 1997, she has taught at various universities including, most recently, as a visiting writer at the University of Texas at Austin. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Florida International University and a Master's from New York University.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

U.S. Tuner works on Cuban pianos

U.S. piano tuner hits right notes in Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- When American piano tuner Benjamin Treuhaft first visited Cuba in 1993 he found that years of neglect, humidity and termites were ravaging the island's dwindling piano population.

Thirteen years on, Treuhaft has helped send 237 old pianos donated by Americans to the communist-run island, filling a void in a musical country by providing instruments used for practicing piano concertos, accompanying tenor soloists and rehearsing ballet dancers.

"Most of the pianos here were Soviet-made: many of them from Moscow and Estonia, so they weren't that great to begin with," Treuhaft said during a visit this week. "Then, they met the Cuban termites. And then, they met the Cuban pianists, who are great, but strong, and can really destroy an instrument."

Treuhaft keeps returning to survey donated instruments and tune and restore others, striking an insistent chord against the U.S. trade embargo.

After nearly 20 trips to the island -- some without U.S. approval -- the jocular former hippie who sports a bandanna on his head and likes to tune pianos barefoot is now a personality in some Cuban music circles.

When Treuhaft repaired Jorge Lopez Marin's dilapidated Russian piano, the Havana composer wrote a traditional Cuban song for him called "El Medico de Piano" -- or "The Piano Doctor." The tune is widely performed by a popular women's musical group.

"What he has done is very important for the music community in Cuba," said Julia Diaz, a Cuban piano tuner who has known Treuhaft for 12 years. "He is very much beloved here."

Cubans admire Treuhaft's dedication to his craft, and delight in his playful personality.

"I'm on vacation," Treuhaft insisted, clad in black jeans and a T-shirt, and scrunched up under an old American baby grand at Havana's Superior Art Institute. "I still might get to go to the beach if they'd stop finding pianos for me."

Treuhaft, who was returning to the United States on Friday, said he has U.S. Treasury Department approval to visit Cuba legally to check on the donated pianos. He said he exported the donated instruments with approval of the U.S. Commerce Department, which curiously granted a license through its the Office of Missile and Nuclear Technology.

But for this trip, he said, "I left my license at home."

Treuhaft said he isn't worried about the possibility of being fined for his latest trip to Cuba, which he described as an "act of civil disobedience" against American rules he says violate his constitutional right to travel.

Treuhaft was contacted by Treasury officials after an unauthorized visit in 1994. Treuhaft was fined $10,000, later dropped to $3,500, which he refused to pay. The case remains open.

Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise declined to comment on Treuhaft's case because of privacy issues.

Although Treuhaft doesn't consider himself political, he said his defiance of the U.S. embargo may be explained by his background.

The 58-year-old was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by activist parents who were Communist Party members in the 1950s.

His mother was noted social critic Jessica Mitford, whose book "The American Way of Death" criticized the funeral industry. His father was Oakland, California, civil rights attorney Richard Treuhaft.

Treuhaft said his parents, who died in recent years, loved his "Send a Piana to Havana" project, its name written in American vernacular to make it rhyme. "They would make their leftist friends donate thousands of dollars," he recalled.

Treuhaft now has a young Hungarian wife and a baby daughter. For this trip, they stayed in New York, where Treuhaft now operates his Underwater Piano Shop in the East Village.

The shop, which Treuhaft ran in Berkeley, California, for 25 years, was named for a whimsical idea he had as a hippie in the 1960s about an underwater piano to entertain dolphins. The plan was never realized.

During those years, Treuhaft found his calling when he wandered into a San Francisco music shop owned by Victor Charles, a Canadian Marxist and piano tuner.

Charles taught the 18-year-old college dropout how to handle a tuning fork -- a craft Treuhaft perfected in the 1970s at the prestigious Steinway & Sons Concert Basement in New York, working for artists including Vladmir Horowitz.

When Charles died in the early 1990s, he left Treuhaft $28,000, which helped pay for an early shipment of donated pianos. With increased sanctions on Cuba in recent years, Treuhaft said he's temporarily put more shipments on hold.

But he said he'll still visit Cuba -- with or without his government's approval. And he hopes to work with Cuba in a joint enterprise using the island's copper to manufacture piano bass strings to be sold across Latin America.

The company's name?

The Helms-Treuhaft Piano Bass String Co., named after retired U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, who co-sponsored a major law tightening the American embargo a decade ago.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.