Wednesday, January 31, 2007

No party: Castro event downsized

Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Jan. 31, 2007

No party: Castro event downsized
After a public backlash, a city-organized Orange Bowl event to mark Fidel Castro's death will not include festive elements that were initially discussed.

Responding to an international media blitz and outrage from some members of the Cuban-American community, Miami city leaders Tuesday vowed to tone down a proposed large-scale, city-organized public event in the Orange Bowl when Fidel Castro dies.

And despite preliminary plans that included the possibility of musical acts and themed T-shirts, the city stressed that it had never -- ever -- intended to respond to a man's death by holding a party.

The goal was to provide a place for an informal, friendly get-together, officials said. ''Our past experience has shown us that the local community has strong emotions tied to any significant issues relating to Fidel Castro,'' the city's Office of Communications wrote in an official statement on the subject. ``The Orange Bowl has been designated by the county, as well as the city of Miami, as a possible site for people and community leaders to gather peacefully, if necessary.

``As such, no city tax dollars will be spent on this event other than to address public safety needs.''

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz said the Orange Bowl has always been part of government plans to accommodate overflow crowds in the event of Castro's death. But Diaz said he was not consulted before a Jan. 23 meeting of a citizen committee tapped to plan the event.

At that meeting, there was talk of setting up performance stages, printing an uplifting theme on T-shirts and creating a media village for the slew of reporters expected to show up.

The possibility of securing Cuban-born Salsa musician Willy Chirino came up. ''I'm not into parties,'' Diaz said in vowing that none of the controversial plans would come to fruition. ``We're not going to hire Chirino.''

With the exception of musicians who might donate their services, the underlying assumption during those planning committee discussions was always that the city would foot the bill. Because so many details surrounding the event were undetermined -- that meeting was the committee's first -- the city never calculated a price tag.

''This is obviously not a planned activity that we budgeted for,'' city public facilities director Lori Billberry said at that meeting.

But the very idea that Miami would mark the death of Castro with a celebratory event prompted ample criticism -- and coverage by the 24-hour cable news networks and international press following an article in Monday's Miami Herald.

''Miami Plans Castro Death Party in Orange Bowl,'' proclaimed Fox News Channel on Monday.

''When Castro dies, Miami will party like it's 1959,'' chimed in CNN.

Plenty of Miami Herald readers weren't pleased. They let the paper know via letters and e-mail.

''I am a Cuban American who was uprooted because of this man,'' wrote Rachel Lauzurique of Coral Gables. ``I despise everything that he stands for and he should be tried for crimes against humanity by a court of his peers. However, I find it very offensive and disgusting to plan a party to celebrate anyone's death, even his.''

The city now says musicians and T-shirts won't happen. Miami will provide the Orange Bowl as a gathering space. Nothing more.

Miami Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who spearheaded the creation of the committee, said journalists from Argentina, Chile and Colombia had contacted him about the controversy. ''It's a major, major story for Latin America,'' Regalado said.

He said he believed Castro's death is worth celebrating, but he denied that the Orange Bowl event was dreamed up with the idea of a party per se.

''One guy on the citizen's committee said T-shirts,'' Regalado said, adding that the the city had the final say. The official City Commission resolution creating the committee did not mention things such as music, Regalado said. That commission resolution passed quickly without much debate on Jan. 11, but Commissioner Joe Sanchez, whose district includes the Orange Bowl and surrounding Little Havana neighborhood, said the event idea drifted far from what he ever had in mind.

''We need to clarify a lot of things. Never at any time did this commission vote for a carnival,'' Sanchez said.

Planning committee member and former state Rep. Luis Morse said commissioners hadn't provided much in the way of direction. The panel will hold its second-ever meeting in the fifth-floor press box of the Orange Bowl at 5.30 p.m. today.

While supportive of musical performances and their potential to lure attendees, Morse said if the city wants a subdued Orange Bowl gathering, so be it.

''They are the ones who decide,'' he said.

When Castro dies, the party's on

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Jan. 29, 2007

When Castro dies, the party's on
The city of Miami plans to respond to Fidel Castro's death -- whenever that may be -- with a celebration at the Orange Bowl.

One day, very possibly one day soon, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro will die -- and a nascent committee sponsored by the city of Miami wants to be ready.

So it's planning a party.

The event, still in the very early planning stage, would be held in Little Havana's Orange Bowl stadium -- and might include commemorative T-shirts, a catchy slogan and bands that will make your hips shake.

The stadium is a bittersweet landmark in South Florida's Cuban-American experience. After the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, more than 35,000 exiles gathered there to hear President John F. Kennedy promise a free Cuba.

Decades later, the bowl served as a camp for Mariel refugees.

City Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a Cuban American, came up with the idea of using the venue for an event timed to Castro's demise.

''He represents everything bad that has happened to the people of Cuba for 48 years,'' Regalado said of Castro. ``There is something to celebrate, regardless of what happens next. . . . We get rid of the guy.''

Despite that statement, Regalado, along with other organizers, prefers to think of it as a celebration of the end of communism -- whether or not that is triggered by Castro's death -- as opposed to a large-scale tap-dancing session on someone's grave. Regalado compares it to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The city created the citizens committee that is planning the event earlier this month. When the still-unnamed panel met for the first time last week, Castro's death was nowhere to be found on the meeting agenda. The meeting was officially -- and ambiguously -- advertised under the title, ``Committee Meeting for an Event at the Orange Bowl.''

Its purpose, according to the city's website: ``Discuss an event at the Orange Bowl in case expected events occur in Cuba.''


At that meeting, committee member and former state Rep. Luis Morse stressed the need for an uplifting, forward-looking theme for the party -- one not preoccupied with a human being's passing. The committee discussed including such a theme on T-shirts that would be made by private vendors for the event.

Plenty of details have to be sorted out: What musicians would perform? The city hopes entertainers will donate their services. How long will the event last? Hours? Days? And how much will it cost?

Performance stages require time to be set up, and a security guard company has already told Miami officials it requires 24 hours' notice before being able to work the stadium. A gap of a day or two between Castro's death and the Orange Bowl event is possible.

And before printing themed T-shirts, Miami has to actually decide what the theme is. It's still working on that one.

''That has to be done with a lot of sensitivity,'' Morse said. ``Somebody needs to be a very good wordsmith.''

The stadium plan, though in its infancy, already has drawn criticism from callers on Spanish-language radio who complain Miami is dictating to Cuban Americans where they should experience one of the most intensely dramatic moments of their lives.

Regalado stresses that folks will still be free to spend their time on Calle Ocho -- the cultural heart of Little Havana and a location viewed more fondly by many exiles -- or anywhere else for that matter.

''This is not a mandatory site,'' he said of the Orange Bowl. ``Just a place for people to gather.''

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, leader of the Miami-based Democracy Movement organization, worries about how a party would be perceived by those outside the exile community. He stressed that Castro's death will prompt a whole range of emotions among Cubans -- not just joy.


''The notion of a big party, I think, should be removed from all this,'' Sánchez said. ``Although everybody will be very happy that the dictator cannot continue to oppress us himself, I think everybody is still very sad because there are still prisons full of prisoners, many people executed, and families divided.''

Rather than partying, Sánchez would rather see the post-Castro focus be on improving conditions for those still on the island. If an Orange Bowl event must happen, Sánchez would like to see it in the form of a ''protest concert'' heavy on positive messages.

Regalado, meanwhile, envisions the stadium -- as opposed to Versailles restaurant or some other tried-and-true landmark -- becoming the operations hub for the hordes of media expected to descend upon Miami: images of a thumping, pulsating, euphoric Orange Bowl beamed to televisions across the globe.

''It's helping a community celebrate,'' he said. ``We can't stop the celebrations. We just want to help.''

Raúl Castro's inner circle hints at the future Cuba

Miami Herald
Posted on Wed, Jan. 31, 2007

Raúl Castro's inner circle hints at the future Cuba
Six months after Cuban leader Fidel Castro ceded power, a reformer has been taking on an increasingly prominent role while hard-liners slide.

The latest leader to emerge in Cuba is a pediatrician and economic reformer who's known for biking to work.

Vice President Carlos Lage, a 55-year-old who once served on a medical mission to Ethiopia, became the nation's economic czar in the early 1990s. And now Lage has become one of the few Cuban politicians to stand out as a rising confidant of interim leader Raúl Castro.

Lage's rise -- and the perceived slide of hard-liners close to Fidel Castro, such as Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque -- has marked the six months since Castro ceded power to his brother following surgery for a still undisclosed ailment.

As old-time communist stalwarts and young up-and-comers close ranks in Havana to consolidate power in a not quite post-Fidel Cuba, experts agree that Lage's heightened profile is a sign of a Cuba to come: one under Raúl, where an economic overhaul could be welcomed.

Once on the edges of the Cuban limelight, Lage has represented Cuba at most international gatherings, from presidential summits to inaugurations, and recently headed a top-level delegation to Caracas to sign a string of agreements with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba's top ally and financial backer.

''Lage is key in all this,'' said Wayne Smith, a former chief of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana and critic of U.S. Cuba policy. ``Lage had been sort of put in the back seat, because he wanted to move ahead with economic reforms and Fidel didn't. Raúl comes in and makes Lage his right-hand man. He's been brought out of the closet, so to speak.''


Lage was credited with pushing state enterprise administrators to increase productivity and keep the economy from collapsing without surrendering socialism after the fall of the Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, he oversaw a series of economic changes that permitted limited and indirect land holdings and small businesses.

They were moves Raúl is believed to have supported, but Fidel curtailed them.

When Fidel announced July 31 that an intestinal ailment had sidelined him and he needed to relinquish power for the first time in 47 years, he assigned his pet projects to six senior officials.

He put energy and finance in the hands of Lage, a member of the Communist Party's ruling Politburo since 1991 and one of the younger members of Castro's inner circle. His son, also named Carlos, is now head of the influential Federation of University Students.

And while he has touted the need for economic changes, Lage by no means wavers in his commitment to socialism.

''Socialism in Cuba is irreversible . . . because with our efforts yesterday and today, we make it irreversible,'' he said in a speech last month. ``In Cuba, there will be no succession; there will be continuity.''


Experts point to Ramiro Valdés as another person who has taken a more important role under Raúl Castro. Although long believed to be Raúl's nemesis, Valdés was named minister of communications, in charge of key sectors such as the Internet.

Although experts wonder whether Raúl Castro named Valdés so he could keep his enemies close, they note that it nevertheless is a sign of closing ranks. As long as Fidel Castro remains alive, analysts doubt drastic changes will take place.

''Differences will not emerge until people start competing for political power. And, at the moment, there is no such thing,'' said Frank Mora, a professor at the National War College in Washington. ``The fact that . . . these two hated guys could come together and hold hands tells you something: in a moment of uncertainty, they will come together.''

Despite the semblance of unity, some Cuban officials do appear to have lost some ground under Raúl Castro.

Experts agree that Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque appears to have taken a lesser role in the past few months. Although he gave a key speech during an international summit in Havana in September, he has not been part of many of the foreign delegations headed by Lage.

The lower profile is important, because Pérez Roque is a key member of Fidel's inner circle. He's among the hard-liners dubbed Talibans for their strict allegiance to communism.

''He was like a son to Fidel,'' said Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami. ``He has apparently been pushed aside. Raúl doesn't want totally devoted protégés of Fidel.''

Also playing lesser roles in the past few months have been Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly, and Young Communists leaders Hassan Pérez and Otto Rivero, Cuba watchers said.

Old-time officials such as Health Minister José Ramón Balaguer and Esteban Lazo and José Ramón Machado Ventura -- to whom Fidel assigned oversight of education -- are expected to keep their assignments but diminish in importance over time.

For now, no one is expecting anything dramatic.

''There's too much uncertainty,'' Kaufman Purcell said. ``Raúl can't really become Raúl until Fidel is gone.''

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

He's Back

Posted on Tue, Jan. 30, 2007

Cuba TV shows Castro meeting with Chavez

Associated Press

HAVANA - Cuban state television Tuesday showed a video of a healthier looking Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and saying his recovery was "far from a lost battle," in the first images of the ailing leader shown in three months.

Castro stood and appeared alert in the 10-minute video clip, which state TV said was shot during Chavez's previously unannounced visit to Havana on Monday.

The video seemed to be aimed at knocking down recent rumors about Castro's health, including a report that he was in grave condition.

Castro looked heavier than in previous images that had showed him much more thin and frail. Dressed in a red, white and blue track suit, the 80-year-old was shown sitting and drinking juice.

"This also is far from being a lost battle," Castro said of his current health problems.

He noted that when his severe intestinal problems struck last summer he was still not fully recovered from a devastating October 2004 fall that severely injured a knee and a shoulder. "One after the other," Castro said of his health troubles.

Later in the video, Chavez was even more optimistic, saying Castro had already won the battle to recover his health. The Venezuelan president's brother, Education Minister Adan Chavez, was also seen in the video visiting Castro.

The broadcast came six months after Castro's July 31 announcement that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his younger brother Raul.

Castro had looked thinner and frailer in the last video images, which aired on Oct. 28.

The date that Tuesday's video was taken could not be immediately confirmed. In it, Chavez said the two-hour private meeting took place on Monday and ended at 3 p.m. on Jan 29. In Caracas, a presidential spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed that Chavez made a one-day visit to Havana on Monday.

On the video, Castro was also heard reading aloud a headline from a printout of an article dated Saturday from the Web version of Argentine newspaper Clarin.

Castro stunned the nation six months ago when he temporarily stepped aside for his younger brother, the 75-year-old defense minister. Since then, Raul Castro has led the nation at the head of a collaborative leadership that has kept the government running calmly in his brother's absence from public life.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 26 - five days before he stepped aside.

Cuban officials told visiting U.S. lawmakers last month that Castro does not have cancer or a terminal illness and will eventually return to public life, although it was not clear whether he would return to the same kind of absolute control as before.

In the latest video, Chavez said he found his friend to be "of good humor, with a good face and in good spirits." He said the pair discussed a variety of issues, including the world's energy crisis, and that Castro showed "much clarity, as always in his ideas and analysis."

A report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais earlier this month said the Cuban leader was in "very grave" condition. The paper, citing two unnamed medical sources from Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, had reported Castro was still recovering after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal ailment common in older people called diverticulitis.

The hospital employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat Castro. The article's authors later said Garcia Sabrido was not among their sources and he later dismissed much of the report as half-truths and rumors.

Frozen Cuban funds running out

Miami Herald
Posted on Mon, Jan. 29, 2007

Frozen Cuban funds running out
Havana is reportedly alarmed at the rapid depletion of funds held in U.S. accounts and being doled out as compensation to claimants in U.S. courts.
El Nuevo Herald

U.S. lawsuits seeking monetary compensation from Cuba face discouraging prospects: The Cuban funds frozen in U.S. accounts now are estimated at only around $70 million and are expected to run out soon.

The depletion of the Cuban assets held in U.S. banks has alarmed Havana, which has accused the U.S. government of stealing $170.2 million of its money over the past five years.

Cuba's accusation was contained in a note from the Ministry of Foreign Relations earlier this month, after a court ruling in Miami awarded $400 million to the survivors of Robert Fuller, a U.S. citizen executed by firing squad in Cuba in 1960. The compensation in that case has not been collected.

''Cuba will never renounce its right to demand that the U.S. government take full responsibility for the theft of the funds that are legitimately ours, to the last cent,'' the ministry's note said.

In reprisal for the first disbursement -- a $96 million award to the survivors of the Brothers to the Rescue members killed over the Straits of Florida -- Havana cut off direct U.S.-Cuba telephone communications in 2000. But Cuba analysts believe the current complaint has a different purpose because Raúl Castro has ''temporarily'' replaced his brother Fidel as the island's leader.

''These funds could be a subject for negotiation with Washington,'' said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the Center for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. ``The new clique of Raúl Castro, [Central Bank President] Francisco Soberón and company, is interested in those accounts, with a pragmatic vision.''

Cuba faces 5,911 claims from corporations and individuals for the confiscation of their properties and other assets on the island after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. But it was not until the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2000 that claimants in U.S. courts could hope to collect any court awards from the frozen Cuban funds.

Although the amount of Cuban money frozen in U.S. accounts is inexact and ever-changing, an article that appeared in the Granma newspaper after the foreign ministry complaint said that barely $76 million remain, and that two of its accounts at the JPMorgan Chase bank ran out after an award granted by a New York judge in November 2006.

That award, totaling almost $91 million, benefited the survivors of Howard Anderson ($67 million) and Thomas Willard Ray ($23.9 million), U.S. citizens who participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion and were captured and executed in Cuba in 1961. The ministry maintained that only $72.1 million of that amount could be transferred to the plaintiffs before those accounts ran out.

The assets blocked by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations established in 1963 consist of three major accounts in the JPMorgan Chase bank: one belonging to the National Bank of Cuba (BNC) and two belonging to the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (EMTELCUBA). A significant percentage of the accumulated funds consists of long-distance telephone charges due to Cuba.

According to the Granma report, the BNC account and one of the EMTELCUBA accounts are already depleted. The second EMTELCUBA account contains only $6 million. About $58 million belonging to individual citizens and about $12 million in small accounts belonging to private and public institutions is all that remains of the frozen funds.

The latest U.S. Treasury Department report on the frozen assets of terrorism-linked nations placed the Cuban amount by the end of 2005 at $268.3 million. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) declined to comment on the Cuban government's $76 million figure but did not challenge it.

''Because we do not physically possess the assets, our information depends on the figures given to us by the financial institutions,'' said spokeswoman Molly Millerwise. ``There are several requirements the financial institutions must meet when they report the frozen assets, and these [requirements] change frequently, making it impossible to get precise figures.''

Claimants also have had problems locating the frozen money because the U.S. banks refuse to reveal information, so as to prevent claims on their funds.

''A fundamental problem that emerged from the beginning in the quest to receive awards from the frozen funds was that there was no mechanism to collect the awards, even after a judge ruled favorably,'' said attorney Frank Angones, who represented the relatives of the Brothers to the Rescue victims in their 1997 claim for Cuban assets.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

New York Times: After Castro

January 21, 2007
After Castro
What Was Once Theirs

FOREIGNERS almost never show up on the ragged streets of the old town across the bay from Havana. But there was a knock recently on the front door of the battered yellow house in Guanabacoa that is home to Marielena and Francisco, a working-class couple, and outside stood an American.

The stranger explained that his wife had lived in that four-room house as a child. In 1962, almost four years after Fidel Castro took power, she and her family fled to New York, and now she wanted pictures to show their children where she had twirled in the patio and sung old Spanish ballads as she grew up in another time, and another world.

Marielena welcomed the stranger, but Francisco (he was afraid to give his last name) stood with arms folded over his bare chest. “You came here all the way from America just to take pictures,” he said suspiciously. “Are you going to reclaim this house?”

The stranger in Guanabacoa (pronounced hwan-ah-bah-COE-ah) had no intention of reclaiming the shoebox house or anything else. I know, because I was the person who knocked on that door during a trip to Cuba last year. My wife, Miriam, lived in that house until she was 10. When she saw the photographs I carried back, she was overcome with bittersweet emotion. Though now faded and chipped, the pink paint on the walls and the green and red tiles on the floor were still there, 44 years later.

Nothing had changed and, of course, everything had changed in the years since the revolution triumphed. That’s the phrase Fidel Castro’s regime has always used — “the triumph of the revolution” — and it slips off the tongues of even those Cubans who have benefited little from his rule.

But now, as they await the demise of the only leader most of them have ever known, Cubans are forced to reconsider what the revolution has meant. Many on the island are caught between two fears — today’s and tomorrow’s. Where will they find the money, energy and enterprise to get themselves and their children through another day? And when Fidel dies, will the 1.5 million Cuban-Americans in Florida and New Jersey return to take back what once was theirs? Mr. Castro, who confiscated private property throughout the island nearly 50 years ago, has exploited such anxieties to bolster a sense of national identity, and those fears have only intensified during his long illness.

And not without reason. The United States maintains a list of some 5,911 compensation claims by American companies and United States citizens dating from the revolution. Including interest, they are now worth more than $6 billion. And lawyers in Florida and the New York area are girding for one heck of a fight.

To Cubans who stayed, those who left are “gusanos,” worms that crawled away from the homeland. The government turned over any house left behind to other Cubans long ago, and after so many years the current residents believe these houses belong to them, though they hold no title because technically everything in Castro’s socialist enclave belongs to the state.

Few exiles have papers either, and unlike the American citizens of a half-century ago whose claims were registered by Washington, Cubans who lost property had no mechanism in their own country for recording their losses.

But so much time has passed that many gusanos agree that they no longer have a legitimate claim to the houses and small properties they left behind. Miriam’s family never even owned the house in Guanabacoa, and no one claims it as theirs.

Several public opinion polls and surveys of Cuban-Americans conducted recently in South Florida and North Jersey show that a declining percentage of the diaspora still dreams of reclaiming houses. This is especially true among the younger generation, whose members never lived in Cuba.

Still, some exiles did sneak out deeds and have fished them out of strongboxes since Fidel became sick. While some undoubtedly will try to reclaim former residences, most want factories, mills and other commercial properties.

“Cubans are not going to fight over the last few crumbling homes,” said Nicolas J. Gutiérrez Jr., a 42-year-old Cuban-American lawyer in Miami who represents many business claimants and for himself seeks the return of two sugar mills, 15 cattle ranches, a food distribution center and more. “Out of the hundreds of people I represent and the thousands I talk to I’ve never met anyone who says he’s going to go back there and kick people out. On a base level, that would be immoral.”

Even so, the fear held by people like Marielena and Francisco matters, having been planted by the regime and nurtured by a controlled press that issues regular warnings about ignoble gusanos and what they might try in a moment of crisis.

This dense cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over Cuba since the summer, when Mr. Castro, who is 80, ceded power to his brother, Raúl, who is 75. For most Cubans, the fear of the future has little to do with who eventually replaces “El Commandante.” Rather, most are consumed by the contradiction between longing for change and fearing that change will come.

All but the most strident military families and pampered government officials hate the current economic system. They have had it with ration books and wartime restrictions — one tasteless roll a day, and every month eight eggs, a few pounds of chicken and a half-pound of something called “ground-up texturized soy” among other basics. But they also can’t imagine life without such subsidized guarantees.

They also resent a two-tier currency system that makes many consumer goods available to tourists, but out of reach for Cubans. And capitalism itself seems brutal and forbiddingly unequal, a system they can glimpse only when it rubs shoulders with shabby Castro-style Communism in hotels they cannot enter and restaurants that let them in only if they are on the arm of a foreigner.

So engulfed have they been in the daily struggle to survive that many Cubans told me they wanted just to forget about the transition now taking place. The regime seemed willing to assist them. Visiting relatives in La Lisa, a poverty-stricken area outside Havana with a forest of six-story Soviet-style housing blocks, I saw what looked like a water tanker in a public square one Saturday night. Crowds thronged, and I could tell that it wasn’t water that flowed from the tap. It was cheap beer. A bucket and a few centavos could make the weekend pass more quickly.

Still, there continues to be an undercurrent of pride in Fidel’s ability to stand up to so many American presidents for so long, and a deeply rooted resentment of the United States and its embargo. So whenever Fidel dies, there is likely to be a great show of grief in Cuba, and a funeral fit for a pharaoh.

But the next day will bring the longed-for, dreaded future — the specter of a new encounter with the outside world that will challenge the efforts of Cuba’s current leaders to make certain that Fidel Castro’s Revolution survives his death.

Already, the leaders are making him more myth than man. New billboards have sprouted along the main highways around Havana: “Fidel Es Un País” — Fidel is a country.

But Cuban-Americans in the United States don’t see it that way. And it isn’t likely that Marielena and Francisco and other ordinary Cubans do either.

When Fidel no longer looms over Cuba, it is much more likely that both sides will focus on what happens when there is another knock at the door, and another stranger asks to come in.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cuban artists' union enters censor debate

Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Jan. 19, 2007

Cuban artists' union enters censor debate
A union of Cuban writers and artists expressed indignation, and apparent resignation, over the reappearance of a government censor.

From Miami Herald Staff and Wire Reports

HAVANA - The Cuban government's union of writers and artists on Thursday backed intellectuals who protested the recent TV reappearance of a censor blamed for Stalinist-type purges in the 1970s, but issued what appeared to be a warning that limits remain on criticisms of Fidel Castro's revolution.

The statement by the National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers appeared aimed at defusing a fiery and unusually public debate among Cuban intellectuals on and off the island about the former censor's TV appearance. Two other former hard-line culture officials also appeared on TV recently.

Published in the Communist Party daily Granma, the union's statement said it shared the ''just indignation'' of intellectuals disturbed by the resurfacing of the official.

But it blamed part of the controversy on people abroad ''obviously working for the enemy'' and concluded by noting that Cuba's 'anti-dogmatic, creative and participatory cultural policy maintained by Fidel and Raúl [Castro], founded with `Some Words to the Intellectuals,' is irreversible.''

''Some words to the intellectuals'' refers to a famous 1961 speech in which Fidel Castro warned an audience of intellectuals that there were limits to criticism of his government: ``Within the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.''

The words were later taken as the basis for crackdowns on intellectuals during the 1960s and '70s known in Cuba as the Quinquenio Gris -- the gray 15-year period.

In Miami, a website run by pro-Havana commentator Francisco Aruca said a seminar on Quinquenio Gris: Revisiting the Term, will be held Jan. 30 at the Cuban Film Institute in Havana, apparently as part of the settlement of the dispute over the reappearance of the censor.

Since censor Luis Pavón Tamayo's TV appearance, Cuban writers on the island and in exile have engaged in a spirited debate about what it all meant -- a public dispute specially unusual because of Fidel Castro's current illness.

Castro ceded his powers provisionally to his brother Raúl on July 31.

Raúl Castro recently has been campaigning for fearless and critical debate within the confines of the island's communist system.

In the flap about the former censor, the union statement did not name Pavón, who was president of Cuba's National Culture Council from 1971 to 1976.

During those years, writers and artists were expelled from their jobs for being gay or not toeing the government line. Some were hounded into exile. Beatles music, and even long hair, were banned on the island.

The statement said union leaders had met with writers who worried that the new appearances by Pavón and the others could ``express a tendency other than the political culture that has guaranteed and will guarantee our unity.''

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Spanish newspaper: Castro prognosis 'very grave'


MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish newspaper cited sources at a Madrid hospital Tuesday saying that Cuban leader Fidel Castro suffered from a serious infection of the large intestine and faces a "very grave prognosis," but the doctor who examined Castro last month said he stood by his statement of last month that Castro was recovering from his ailments.

El Pais -- one of Spain's largest and most reliable papers -- reported that two sources at the Madrid hospital told its reporters that Castro had suffered complications after three failed surgeries to correct the problems.

Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, chief of surgery at the public hospital Gregorio Maranon in Madrid, traveled to Havana in December where he examined Castro for about 90 minutes. He told CNN's Al Goodman Tuesday that he was not the source of the report in newspaper El Pais.

"Any statement that doesn't come directly from his (Castro's) medical team is without foundation," Dr. Garcia Sabrido said.

Garcia Sabrido refused to further comment on the report and instead referred Goodman to his statement made on December 26 in which he said Castro is recovering from his ailments and does not have cancer. At that time, Garcia Sabrido told reporters that Castro was doing "fantastically well" with his treatment.

The doctor had led a conference at the 9th Cuban Congress of Surgery in Havana last month and, according to Spanish newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya, traveled to Cuba aboard a Cuban government plane. In addition, the Cuban Embassy oversaw all details of his visit, the newspaper reported.

Spain's El Pais reported that Castro suffered from diverticulitis, an inflammation of sacs on the large intestine that can rupture and cause bleeding. The infection spread to the tissue on the walls of the abdomen, a condition called peritonitis.

The infections, the paper said, have impeded the healing process.

According to El Pais, the Cuban leader has undergone at least three operations on his large intestines that have had various complications.

Based on the newspaper's descriptions, CNN's Sanjay Gupta said it appeared that Castro's first surgery likely entailed the removal of a portion of his infected intestine and of his rectum. The surgery likely also involved the connection of two parts of his intestine, a difficult procedure.

The second surgery was to clean out infection in the abdominal cavity, reconnect broken parts of the connected intestine and put a small prosthesis in the gall bladder, Gupta said.

A third operation would have required surgeons to replace the prosthesis, fix the gall bladder and again reconnect the two parts of intestine, Gupta added. (Watch Gupta explain what the reported operations would entailVideo)

But the operation apparently is not working, Gupta cited the report as saying. "He is still leaking half a liter of fluid into his abdominal cavity every single day, which is a lot. He is a very sick guy, and that just leads to more infection," Gupta said.

The El Pais report was posted on the newspaper's Web site early Tuesday and then on the front page of its Madrid print edition.

Castro, 80, underwent intestinal surgery on July 31, and has not been seen in public since. The Cuban government has released at least one video of him.

CNN's Al Goodman contributed to this report.

Find this article at:

Monday, January 08, 2007

Cuban paper warns against consumerism

Cuban paper warns against consumerism

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterSun Jan 7, 2:10 PM ET

Cuba's official youth newspaper on Sunday reported an increase in sales of children's toys this year but warned against a rise in consumerism on the communist-run island.

In a two-page spread, the Juventud Rebelde reported on the revival of "Three Kings Day," a Latin American tradition of giving gifts to children on Jan. 6, commemorating the arrival of three wise men who offered the newborn Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

"A tradition that seemed extinct in Cuban society rises again," the state-run newspaper said. "Although no one sees celebrating the millennial festivity of the Three Kings as heresy, the danger could be in (the holiday) accentuating consumerist habits and social differences."

Christmas is a low-key affair in Cuba. The government discouraged holiday celebrations for religious and consumerist reasons for decades following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, but made Christmas a holiday in 1997 ahead of a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Christmas was declared a permanent holiday at the end of 1998, a decision religious leaders embraced while also echoing concerns that it would succumb to Western-style commercialization.

State-run department stores offer no special promotions or sales on toys this time of year. Those interviewed for the Juventud Rebelde article attributed the increase of gift-giving in Cuba to the influence of globalization and visits by Cuban-Americans and other natives living abroad.

"During these days one can hardly move around the toy department of stores ... in the capital," the article said.

The newspaper spread showed photographs of shoppers holding several bags and children playing with toys. Raisa Vazquez, a manager of Havana's La Epoca department store, was quoted as saying toy sales were the highest this year since the store reopened in 1998.

"The enormous demand has forced us to spread out the toys to other departments, like the hardware section or the area with school supplies, so that the customer doesn't have to wait in such an immense line," Vazquez told the newspaper.

No specific sales numbers were reported, however.

Some of those interviewed by Juventud Rebelde expressed disdain for the resurgence of the holiday, calling it "a tradition of capitalist countries." University professors also warned that gift-giving can highlight economic differences.

"What should worry us is the social connotation that this could have, making it an objective of families to buy the most ostentatious gift," Teresa Munoz, a sociology professor at the University of Havana, told the newspaper. "The solution is not to prohibit (the celebration) but rather to be conscientious of the consequences we could face creating consumerist habits that deform little ones and make them feel superior to their companions."

The Three Kings Day tradition comes from Spain. While not actively promoted by the communist government, the newspaper said rebels led by Castro in the 1950s also gave toys on the holiday to children in the mountains where they were fighting the Cuban revolution.

On Monday, the office of Havana's city historian will distribute 100,000 toys to children to celebrate the holiday but also to honor Castro's Jan. 8 entrance in Havana after the triumph of his revolution in 1959.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Letra del Año en Español e Inglés - 2007

Letra del Año en Español e Inglés - 2007
Sign of the Year in Spanish
and English - 2007 (see below)

Reposted from: Homepage

Predicciones de Ifá para el año 2007
Para Cuba y el mundo

A los sacerdotes de Ifá, a los hermanos Oriates, Babaloshas, Iyaloshas e Iworos.
Pueblo religioso en general

El pasado 31 de Diciembre del 2006, se reunieron 950 Sacerdotes de Ifá en representación de la inmensa mayoría de las ramas o familias de Cuba. En la casa templo situada en Ave. 10 de Octubre # 1509 e/ Josefina y Gertrudis, Víbora, Municipio 10 de Octubre, Ciudad de La Habana, Cuba.

Esta ceremonia fue presidida por el sacerdote de Ifá Guillermo Diago “Ogbe Weñe” y saco la letra el sacerdote mas pequeño.

Signo Regente: Ofun Otura (Ofun Topola)- Ofun Lame el Corojo.

Oración Profética: Ire Ashegun Ota lese Oshosi (Beneficio de vencer las dificultades y enemigos al pie de Oshosi.

Ónishe: Frutas variadas, su coco y sus velas.

Divinidad Regente: Oshosi: Esta palabra se deriva de O,-quien, -So,- vigilar,- SII.- a una distancia, algún tiempo. Osha de los cazadores (Ode) y de los conocedores de las propiedades mágicas de las plantas. Es un Orisha guerrero, por tener una especial habilidad de ver a gran distancia y escuchar el mas mínimo sonido, así como el actuar con increíble rapidez.- Uno de los hijos de Yemaya, como su hermano Orgun, el es el Patrón de los Cazadores. Su asistencia se desarrolla llevando a los animales a las trampas o huecos que los atrapen; colabora con su hermano dándole la ayuda necesaria a los cazadores.- Tiene 2 formas de representación, una es simplemente un Arco y la otra, un hombre con un Arco.

Asegura la comida en nuestras casas y muchas veces se le vincula con la policía, por lo que no pocos religiosos tratan de ensalzarlo para escapar de las persecuciones y persecuciones de las autoridades.- Oshosi lleva las sentencias de Obatala, por lo que muchas veces se le confunde y se le vincula con las cárceles y prisiones.

Su planta fundamental es la ciruela.- Esta Osha esta relacionada con Esi, especie de fetiche que se pone detrás de la puerta, para proteger la casa del ataque de las fieras.- Este fetiche es un arco con 3 flechas, el cual es consagrado en el culto (Esin) a Oshosi.

Su collar es de cuentas azules y color miel (ámbar) recibe los mismos sacrificios y ofrendas que Orgun.- En Cuba se sincretiza con San Norberto; en Brasil con San Sebastián, y los Amerindios con Aimore.- Oshosi llego al mundo acompañado del Odu Ifa Oshe Kana para proporcionar el alimento a las comunidades humanas....

Nota Importante: cuando el devoto de Oshosi se desarmoniza con esta Osha o no toma en cuenta sus tabúes, ni acata los requerimientos que se exigen, son afectados con problemas en los negocios y con la pobreza.

Divinidad Acompañante: Oya, Divinidad de las tormentas y de los suaves vientos. Identificada con el espíritu de los antepasados. Es la diosa del río Níger (Odo Oya), el cual ha recibido su nombre por esta divinidad. Se supone que sea la primera esposa y favorita del Orisha Shango. La tradición nos dice que el río se formó originalmente por las copiosas lagrimas que ella derramó el día que murió su esposo.

Bandera del Año: Mitad Azul y mitad Amarilla con ribetes en morado.

Ebbo: Un pollon, una flecha y una trampa y los demás ingredientes.

La distribución de éste documento es gratuita y esta Comisión no es responsable de la venta que hacen personas inescrupulosas, con ánimo de lucro.

Enfermedades de cuidado.

* Enfermedades Contagiosas. Cuidado con la Lepra o enfermedades que presenten lasEnfermedades Contagiosas. Cuidado con la Lepra o enfermedades que presenten las mismas características sintomá
* Enfermedades Neurológicas
* Trastornos en la garganta y las cuerdas vocales
* Marca impotencia en el hombre

Estudiar los principios activos medicinales del Jobo y Ponasí

Acontecimientos de interés social.

* Grandes epidemias que pudieran propagarse a una extensa Grandes epidemias que pudieran propagarse a una extensa área o Nació
* Modificaciones en el sector de la agricultura
* Alteración de las relaciones interpersonales y tragedias entre vecinos
* Rupturas de convenios entre países amigos por maquinaciones de un tercero
* Intervenciones militares


1. Mejoramiento de los sistemas hidráulicos en general y en especial en los sectores urbanos. Tener cuidado con la contaminación de las aguas potables.
2. Analizar los métodos y procedimientos en el sector agrícola
3. Incrementar presas y embalses para garantizar el consumo de Agua
4. Se recomienda evitar el Tabaquismo
5. Incumplimientos de los Pactos y compromisos.
6. Se mantiene la sequía y enfermedades por falta del agua
7. Hacer limpieza con granos y demás ingredientes
8. Cumplir los compromisos religiosos adquiridos
9. Consolidar el matrimonio.- Se hace un llamado a la cordura.
10. Incremento del espionaje – Signo de sentencia.- Continua el peligro de Guerras
11. Realizar sacrificios para lograr propósitos
12. Signo que advierte confabulaciones
13. Solo la fe y la oración salva.

Refranes del Signo

1. Cabeza verde, cabeza hueca
2. Cuando hay cabeza el sombrero no se lleva en las manos
3. Saco vacío no se para
4. Inútil mostrar argollas de oro al que no tiene orejas
5. La lengua habla más rápido que lo que la cabeza piensa


Seguir los modelos ejemplificantes del Año 2005 y tomar referencias de los aspectos negativos del propio año como experiencia y cambios oportunos. (

Sacrificio Colectivo en Beneficio de la Comunidad

Se recomienda el Sacrificio de un Carnero a Eggun y Shango con los demás ingredientes

Nota: Se recomienda dirigirse a sus respectivos padrinos en busca de orientaciones individuales.

Feliz y Próspero Año 2007 le desea la Comisión Organizadora de la Letra del año.


Sign of the Year in English - 2007 Homepage


To the priests of Ifá, to our brothers and sisters— the Oriatés, Babaloshas, Iyaloshas, and Iworos— and the general religious public.

On the 31st of December of 2006, 950 priests of Ifá gathered in representation of the great majority of the religious branches or families of Cuba in the casa-templo situated on Avenida 10 de Octubre, #1509, between Josefina and Gertrudis, Vibora, Municipio 10 de Octubre, City of Havana, Cuba.

The Ifá priest Guillermo Diago Ogbe Weñe presided over the ceremony and the most junior priest took out the sign of the year.

Reigning Sign: Ofún Otura (Ofún Topolá). Ofún laps up palm oil.

Orientation of the sign: Iré Ashegún Otá elese Oshosi (the fortune of overcoming difficulties and enemies at the foot of Oshosi).

Onishe: Varied fruits, coconut, and candles.

Reigning Deity: Oshosi. The name is derived from O (the one who); S[h]o (to conduct vigilance); Sii (from a distance, over time). He is the orisha of the hunters (odé) and belongs to the specialists in the magical properties of plants. He is a warrior orisha by virtue of having the special talent of seeing over great distances and hearing the slightest sound, as well as, acting with incredible speed. He is one of the sons of Yemayá, and as is his brother Ogún, is the patron of hunters. His presence leads animals to hunters’ traps or the holes that trap them. He collaborates with his brother, giving hunters the help they need. He is represented by two forms: a simple bow and the bowman. Oshosi ensures food in our homes and often he is linked to the police, because no few religious practitioners try to propitiate him in order to escape persecution and persecution by the authorities. Oshosi carries out the judgements of Obatalá, for which reason there arises the confusion that Oshosi is the orisha associated with jails and prisons.

His foundational plant is the ciruela [plum].

Oshosi is related with esi, a species of power object that is placed behind the door in order to protect the house from attacks by brutes. This power object is a bow with three arrows, which is consecrated within the worship (esin) of Oshosi.

Oshosi’s necklace is made of blue and honey-colored (amber) beads. He receives the same sacrifices as Ogún. In Cuba he is syncretized with Saint Norbert, in Brazil with Saint Sebastian and among the Amerindians with Aimore.

Oshosi arrived to the world accompanied by the Ifá odu Oshé Kana so that he could distribute nourishment to the human community.
Important Note: when the followers of Oshosi fall out of harmony with this orisha or don’t take into account his taboos, nor comply with the requirements Oshosi demands, they are afflicted with problems in business and of poverty.

Accompanying Deity: Oyá, deity of storms and gentle winds. She is identified with the spirits of the ancestors. She is the deity of the River Niger (Odó Oyá), which received its name from this deity. It is believed that she was the first and favorite wife of the orisha Shangó. The tradition tells us that the river was originally formed by the copious tears she shed when her husband died.

Flag of the Year: Half blue and half yellow with purple trimming.

Ebbo: A young rooster, an arrow, a trap, and the rest of the ingredients.

The distribution of this document is free and the Commission is not responsible for its sale by unscrupulous people driven by profit.


* Contagious illnesses. Be careful with Leprosy or sicknesses that present the same characteristic symptoms.
* Neurological diseases.
* Disorders of the throat and vocal chords.
* It marks impotence in men.

A Special Suggestion for Scientists and Researchers
Study the active medicinal principles of jobo and ponasi [plants].

Events of Social Concern

* Great epidemics that can proliferate throughout a large area or nation.
* Changes in the agricultural sector.
* Disturbances in interpersonal relations and tragedies amongs neighbors.
* Breaks in treaties between friendly countries because of machinations of a third party.
* Military interventions.


1. Improvement in water resource systems generally and specifically with the urban sector. Be vigilant about the contamination of potable water.
2. Analyze the methods and processes of the agricultural sector.
3. Add dams and reservoirs in order to guarantee water consumption.
4. Avoiding smoking is recommended.
5. There will be non-compliance in agreements and obligations.
6. Droughts and sickness because of lack of water will continue.
7. Perform cleansings with grains [including all kinds of dried beans, etc.] and other ingredients.
8. Comply with the religious obligations you have acquired.
9. Strengthen your marriage.
10. Use common sense.
11. There will be an increase in espionage; this is the sign of condemnations; the danger of wars continues.
12. Carry out sacrifices in order to achieve goals.
13. This sign warns of plots
14. Only faith and prayer save.

Proverbs of the Sign

1. Green [newcomer’s] head, empty head.
2. Where there’s a head, the hat is isn’t carried in the hands.
3. The empty sack doesn’t stop.
4. It’s useless to show big gold earrings to someone who has no ears.
5. The tongue speaks faster than the mind thinks.


Continue the models exemplified in 2005 [same sign] and take note of the negative aspects of that year for experience and opportune changes. (

Collective Sacrifice to Benefit the Community

The sacrifice of a ram [carnero] to Eggun and Shangó with the rest of the necessary required ingredients is recommended.

Note: All of you should go to your respective godfathers for individual orientation.

The Organizing Commission of the Reading of the Year Wishes you a Happy and Prosperous Year 2007.

Letra del Año

El Nuevo Herald
Posted on Wed, Jan. 03, 2007

Cuba's Santería priests predict 'funereal' future
Two Havana groups of Santería priests issued their predictions for 2007, eagerly awaited by the many Cubans who practice the mixture of African and Catholic religions.
El Nuevo Herald

In separate and virtually competing new-year predictions, two groups of Cuban Santería priests are predicting a ''funereal'' future but also an ''ideal'' moment for an economic recovery.

The island's babalawos have long been split into several groups, with one group relatively loyal to the government. But their annual predictions nevertheless are anxiously awaited by the many Cubans who practice the mixture of African and Catholic religions.

This year, the predictions were awaited with special interest because of Fidel Castro's still-unknown ailment, which has kept him out of the public eye since July 26 and sparked speculation that he's seriously ill.

On Monday, the Yoruba priests who make up the relatively independent Commission for the Year's Letter announced that 2007 would be marked by wars and ''military interventions'' although the island will see an economic improvement based on the discovery of oil and mineral deposits.

While they refused to speak specifically about Castro's health, babalawo Lázaro Cuesta, who read the year's prediction, made comments that seemed to be directed at the Cuban leader's ailment.

''The panorama that presents itself to us is a little funereal,'' he said. ``When one doesn't leave his place at its proper time, one runs the risk that unpredictable things happen.''

Castro surrendered power for the first time in 47 years after undergoing intestinal surgery in late July. A Spanish surgeon who visited him two weeks ago said Castro was recovering from ''complications'' following ``very grave surgery.''

The 80-year-old Castro turned over most of his power temporarily to his younger brother Raúl, who is believed by many Cuba-watchers to be more willing than his brother to open the island's economy to more market forces.

''I was powerfully impressed that they [the babalawos] were so categoric on this,'' said María I. Faguaga Iglesias, a Havana anthropologist who took part in the process of developing the commission's predictions.

Although the Cuban babalawos usually avoid making statements with political implications, this year they raised eyebrows when they called for more care and attention to the island's youth ``because today's youth will be called to rule from a house to a country in the not-too-distant future.''

The babalawos' comments coincided with recent statements by Raúl Castro that the generation that fought in and led the Castro revolution is reaching the end of its time ``and we must give way to new generations.''

Meanwhile, the Cuban Council of Senior Ifá Priests, considered to be more loyal to the government, said its predictions ``speak of legal problems and their repercussions, which could bring as a concequence an increase in corruption and crime.''

A third group of babalawos in Miami, which will make its own predictions public today, said the true forecast falls somewhere between the two Havana groups. ''If we take a piece of each letter to make up one real letter, if out of all this mess we take a little bit of each, this year, simply put, the letter is predicting something bad,'' said Miami babalawo José Montoya.