Cuban leader Fidel Castro called into Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show, saying he felt "more energetic" and was enjoying his convalescence in his first live comments since falling ill seven months ago.
One-time Florida International University Professor Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa, supplied agents in Fidel Castro's government with classic intelligence information that went far beyond the ''harmless gossip'' the convicted couple said they gathered on the Cuban exile community, federal prosecutors said Monday.
On the eve of the couple's sentencings today, the U.S. attorney's office disclosed for the first time that the FBI obtained material from one of the Alvarezes' home computers showing that rather than reducing their illicit operation in the mid-1990s, they were still actively contacting the Cuban Intelligence Service.
Ink and coffee framed the countercultural debates in the cafés of San Francisco, New York and Paris, so Neli Santamarina figures her little joint on Southwest Eighth Street, Tinta Y Café, might help pry open exile Miami's Cuba discourse a half-century later.
Santamarina plans to begin monthly tertulias cubanas or talk sessions -- an old Spanish tradition -- at her coffeehouse so that people who disagree with U.S. policy toward Cuba can share their feelings with those who would never stray from the status quo. The first one is Sunday.
In any other city, an open talk about Cuba policy might not be a big deal. But in Miami, where thousands know of someone who was a political prisoner in Cuba or who died trying to flee the communist government, talk of softening U.S. policy toward Cuba is not always met kindly. It has drawn condemnation from talk radio, street protests and even violent attacks in the decades past.
"My parents didn't sacrifice themselves and come to this country so we would stay quiet and be afraid to speak out, " Santamarina said. "Everyone says things need to change in Cuba, and that's true. But they also need to change in Miami. There's a culture of intimidation in Miami that doesn't allow people to criticize U.S. policy toward Cuba. I'm not going to let that go on."
With its own timbiriche window serving crispy croquetas and cortaditos with evaporated milk, Tinta reflects the anti-Versailles of exile thought. An art book featuring Ernesto "Che" Guevara on the cover sits on a book shelf -- placed there by Santamarina to provoke conversation -- and the Cuban hip-hop sound of Orishas thump from speakers. Couches and threads of conversations critical of U.S. policy toward Cuba greet people as they enter.
"Miami is at a tipping point, " Santamarina said on a recent afternoon as she tackled a plate with a plantain leaf-wrapped tamal, manchego cheese and arugula. "I feel that we need to give a voice to the silent majority of people in Miami who are frustrated with the failures of U.S. Cuba policy."
Santamarina and her friend, anti-embargo exile activist Sylvia Wilhelm, each invited ten people to Sunday's tertulia and asked them to bring someone who disagrees with them on U.S. Cuba policy.
Outside the famous Versailles Restaurant on Southwest Eighth Street, Miami's best-known tertulia on the Cuba issue thrives daily. Near the timbiriche that fronts Calle Ocho, casual groups form in the sparse shade of palms, always coming around to the topic percolating in Miami's collective consciousness for two generations.
On Wednesday, former political prisoner Dagoberto Venturita, 72, wandered into a conversation about the U.S. embargo of Cuba. He thinks Santamarina's tertulia plays into the hands of Cuba's ailing leader, Fidel Castro.
"Those people, that's leftism, " Venturita said. "Why do they come to this country if [the United States] is a democracy. Everyone has a right to talk, but there are a lot of sentiments and feelings in this community against their position."
Cuban American lawyer Raúl Hernández-Morales, chatting in a group of three outside Versailles, snickered at the concept of a tertulia to discuss the U.S. embargo: "What embargo? The embargo hasn't accomplished anything. The embargo has been an excuse for all of Fidel's tyranny."
Santamarina believes recent changes in the leadership both in Cuba and Washington are cause to reexamine the strained U.S.-Cuba relationship. Fidel Castro's brother Raúl now runs Cuba, and Democrats, including many who want an opening with Cuba, now control Congress.
"You know what, I'm not a commie, so get over it, " Santamarina said of those who disagree with her. "We have to get beyond those ridiculous insults and talk this out. Lots of us feel that the best way to bring about change in Cuba is to increase contact."
Earlier this month, Santamarina hosted a photo exhibit on the second floor of the building that houses Tinta, the Jóse Martí Building, known for amural of the island on a wall that can be seen from I-95. The exhibit was critical of U.S. policy that prohibits Cubans in the United States from visiting family on the island more than once every three years.
An awkward confrontation punctuated the night.
Alvaro Fernandez, chairman of the Cuban American Commission for Family Rights, which aims to end restrictions on family travel, unveiled the exhibit. He said the photos captured "some of the pain experienced by families who can't see each other just because of a policy, " a woman in the small crowd interrupted.
"Excuse me, didn't we all know that we were going to be separated?" she said. "I don't understand your attitude, I'm sorry."
Fernandez asked her to reserve her comments until he was finished. But the woman interrupted again.
"President Bush didn't divide us, " she said. "Fidel is the one that divided us. He kept us from going for 25 years."
As the visibly upset woman left the building, she declined to provide her name to a Miami Herald reporter, saying the people giving the presentation were "cabrones" (bastards) and "asesinos" (assassins).
"They are just saying half the truth, " she said. "I came here in 1962 and for 20 years, I couldn't go to Cuba and there was no Bush. It was Fidel's decision to prohibit us."
Santamarina, who also is a real estate investor, was not dismayed. In a way, the confrontation represented the kind of discussion she wants to promote -- but without raised voices, insults or hurt feelings.
"Let's stop talking like that, " she said. "It's not about attacking someone. We have to stop the fights. To quote a T-shirt my friend was wearing the other day, what we need is dissent without fear."
BY ALFONSO CHARDY
Two Florida men allegedly concocted a scheme to get around the restrictive Cuba travel ban by creating bogus churches and applying for licenses under the name of God that allowed thousands of travelers to visit the communist island nation.
The federal government wasn't fooled for long.
By Phil Rosenthal
Tribune media columnist
Published February 22, 2007, 5:49 AM CST
Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Gary Marx, who has been based in Havana since 2002, was told Wednesday by Cuban officials his press credential will not be renewed and he can no longer report from there.
"They said I've been here long enough and they felt my work was negative," Marx said. "They did not cite any examples.''The decision on Marx comes at a critical time for Cuba, with longtime leader Fidel Castro's age and health setting the stage for possible transition.
Marx was one of only among a handful of permanent correspondents for U.S.-based news organizations in Havana. CNN and the Associated Press also have Cuba bureaus.
From the AP:
WASHINGTON -- (AP) -- Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Wednesday it would be a "great disservice'' for the Cuban people if the United States eased economic and political ties with the island in the post-Fidel Castro era.
"Cuba is at a critical point in its history," Gutierrez said. "The country is poised for change. The policy of the Bush administration has been to help the Cuban people achieve their freedom through democratic change."
The United States, he said, must not legitimize a successor regime by "helping it maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people."
Gutierrez serves as co-chairman of an official commission which made recommendations for Cuba policy after Castro passes from the scene. He spoke to the Council of the Americas, a pro-business group.
Gutierrez's speech was devoted mostly to the plight of the Cuban people under the system Castro created 48 years ago. He omitted any reference to Castro's brother Raul, who has served as acting president since the 80-year old leader fell ill last July.
"The embargo is not the problem or the solution," Gutierrez said. "The problem is the repressive communist system. The solution is to change the system."
Donated diapers, baby formula, wheelchairs, even Christmas decorations are stacked from floor to ceiling.
But for almost two years, the Archdiocese of Miami has had little face-to-face contact with Catholics in Cuba, a byproduct of tightened travel restrictions for religious organizations imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.
CLICK ON LINK TO HEAR RADIO REPORT:
Many have drawn comparisons between the North Korean communist dictatorship and the government of Cuba. Both are closed, almost hermetic regime structures that thrive on a cult of personality. Raul Castro, the new leader of Cuba, has asked that the U.S. government "negotiate" with him. So far, the U.S. has ignored the request, at least publicly. Yet Tuesday, a major breakthrough in talks with North Korea was reached. Reports the New York Times:
"Perhaps equally important, the United States and Japan agreed to discuss normalizing relations with Pyongyang. The United States will begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending U.S. trade and financial sanctions."
If the United States has agreed to negotiate with North Korea over normalizing relations, should officials do the same with Cuba?
From the Sun-Sentinel:
Havana · Think of the nightmares possible in doing business overseas: Tight government regulations. Supply shortages. Sky-high utility bills. Unmotivated workers. Dismal customer service.
International companies in communist-run Cuba face all of those -- and more.
The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Cuba among the world's worst business environments -- No. 80 of 82 nations surveyed, with only Iran and Angola rated lower for the past five years.