Is Fidel Mounting a Comeback?

Fidel Castro during his most recent trip to the Havana Aquarium.
Fidel Castro during his most recent trip to the Havana Aquarium.
Cuba’s lion of the gulag, Fidel Castro, sure has been busy these past few weeks. Multiple appearances, an exclusive interview regarding his illness, and most recently, a visit to the Havana aquarium with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg and Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations. I hate to say it, but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Fifo’s appearances amount to some sort of comeback tour. I only hope it isn’t a “comeback” to the Council of State.

For four long years, the only glimmer of hope the Cuban people have had is the imminent death of the world’s longest-serving dictator. While I don’t necessarily believe that Stalinism will topple upon the announcement of Castro’s death, I do know that many on the island pin their hopes on that eventual outcome. Over and over during my most recent trip to Cuba, I heard citizens speak of the regime being buried with Fidel, of Raul following shortly thereafter, and a new day dawning upon the demise of two crackpot dictators whose time should have run out long ago. But Cuba’s very own “Where’s Waldo” keeps popping up left and right. Granted, he seems feeble, speaking in a hoarse voice while propping himself up with the help of various adjutants, but his recovery has been somewhat miraculous—apologies for staining a term that is normally reserved for holier topics than one of Satan’s favorite sons. Little-by-little, Fidel Castro seems to be re-inserting himself into the popular consciousness of the island’s tired and oppressed citizenry. If he does return, what is to be done about it?

There’s no way to vote the brothers out of power. Most assassination attempts have been thwarted by either the U.S. government or a variety of unscrupulous Latin American security agencies. So what’s left? Eleven-million people can’t wait forever. Perhaps it’s time for the island’s military leaders to grow a pair of cojones, look in the mirror, repent, and become heroes. Before Fidel, we had a proud history of toppling those leaders who had gone astray—remember Gerardo Machado? Yet somewhere along the line, we lost our way, became tired, and gave up.

Bottom line: if Fidel really is coming back, someone in olive green is going to have to act. Hell, they’re the only ones consuming enough protein to have the strength. Any takers?

Tourist Life in Cuba


If there’s one aspect of Cuba today that really gets under my skin, it’s the sheer, unabashed ignorance displayed by foreign tourists who not only see no problem with hemorrhaging money into the dictatorship’s coffers, but see nothing wrong with the regime the way it is. Part of this indifference comes as a result of racism, but another aspect of the puzzle is simple ignorance. Most tourists never leave the safe confines of their resorts. This I learned (although I, like you, had always suspected it) from a friend with the proper connections, who was kind enough to get me into one such resort: the Blau Varadero.

The Blau is a typical four-star, all-inclusive resort. Meaning: you pay about $130 a night and receive not only a room, but all your meals (buffet style), drinks, beach access, everything. And because you receive an all-inclusive, cheap (by western standards) rate, you rarely venture off into the plantation that is Cuba. This keeps foreign tourists from interacting with regular, everyday Cubans, and helps to prop up the myth still maintained by so many foreigners, that the Cuban dictatorship is nothing but a benevolent, yet misunderstood regime.

Entering the Blau after living in Cuba, like a Cuban, is like walking into an Oasis. The interior of the Spanish hotel is immaculate. Upon my arrival, an employee mistaking me for a paying guest, offered me a flute of champagne—don’t worry, “it’s on the house.” I passed and kept sucking on my bottled water, until a Canadian fellow came walking past with his shirt off. There, nestled atop his left pectoral muscle, was the distinct tattooed image of Che Guevara. To be walking around Cuba with a tattoo of Guevara in full view, without a care in the world, is a brazen insult to the great people of that island which requires no explanation.

Once you make your way past the lobby, you descend to the first of not one, not two, but three bars on the property. Just off the bar is the dining hall, where breakfasts of bacon, omelettes, various breads, fruits, and sweet treats abound. Cuba is always struggling amid some sort of shortage, and it just so happened that during my visit, rice was scarce and good meat wasn’t that easy to find either. Not at the Blau, however. In fact, I witnessed entire BUCKETS of bacon being poured onto the griddle for the long lines of hungry, and may I say somewhat portly, tourists reveling in the workers’ paradise that is Cuba.

Oh, and did I mention the pool? Not a care in the world for these folks: dozens of beached foreigners loll around the perimeter while being waited on, hand-and-foot, by a veritable army of Cuban servants whose pay is sent mostly, to the Cuban regime. For all their work, you might expect folks to leave tips. During my visit however, I kept a sharp eye out for “propinas” on the tables after multiple meals and never saw a SINGLE piece of change on any of the tables. Not one CUC, folks, not one.

Here’s the rub: it wasn’t that long ago (50 years) that at a place like the Blau Varadero, you could count on seeing just as many Cubans as foreigners enjoying a vacation. Today however, properties like the Blau are reserved pretty much entirely for foreign tourists. While the regime sees fit to dictate how much a worker can earn, where they can work, and who may obtain a higher education, it has no problem accepting precious dollars from the capitalists it so reviles. And so we’re the servants, you’re the masters, and I’m just plain pissed off.

Enjoy this peek into the world of the foreign tourist in Cuba:

Fearing the Hourglass

Bottle1Nestled amid the crystal glasses and barware of a hutch in my uncle’s home, there sits a bottle of Bacardi rum. Not just any rum, mind you, but a bottle of real Bacardi Anejo. What makes it real? Look at the label. Instead of the phrase “Puerto Rican Rum” that so many connoisseurs have grown accustomed to, this one bears the words “Santiago de Cuba.” This, is the real-deal. An original bottle of Bacardi, fermented and bottled in the Pearl of the Antilles, before the days of Castro’s ration book.

But that isn’t the only interesting fact surrounding this particular bottle of liquor. You see, this bottle was among those taken by Fulgencio Batista aboard the plane that ferried him out of Cuba on New Years Eve, 1959. It was later given to my grandfather—that’s a whole other story—who set it aside, vowing to drink it “the day Fidel falls.” Love him or hate him, Batista certainly wasn’t the maniac so often portrayed by Hollywood. True, his time was up and Cuba needed the a return to constitutional democracy by the time he fell, but those who continue to promote the idea that Cuba’s previous dictator—and yes, he was technically a dictator—was in bed with U.S. gangsters are trapped in a romantic work of fiction (guess who the author is?). Mayer Lanksy and his cronies didn’t own the Tropicana or Sans Souci. Those nightclubs were owned by Cubans. In fact, the flight that ferried my mother out of Cuba many years ago, also carried one of her best friends to safety: the daughter of the Cuban man who owned the Tropicana—but that too, is another story.

When I was a child, I often opened up the bar when nobody was around, to see how much of the alcohol had evaporated from the sealed bottle. Back then, it was nearly full, but over the years, I’ve watched the volume plummet. Currently, the bottle is only half full, and I’ve always viewed it as an hourglass, counting down the days till the death of the dictatorship. I pray that my interpretation is incorrect, for if it isn’t, Cuba won’t be free until sometime in January of 2059.

Truth-be-told, my most recent trip to the island didn’t do much to assuage my fears. I saw very little—if any—change. The reigns handed down to Raul a few years back, remain intact. Barely anybody on the island knows of the political prisoners or the various democracy movements. Ramiro Valdez has done an incredible job at keeping the cork on the internet. Meanwhile, outside the plantation, the international community is finally starting to wake up to the atrocities of the regime. While that is an incredibly long stride towards change, it isn’t enough. Something needs to happen from the inside, but without the ability of information to travel from one town to the next, from one province to the other, I fail to see how this will be possible.

During my stay, I had the distinct privilege to watch “A Mano Limpia,” “Maria Elvira,” “Noticiero Telemundo,” and “Noticiero Univision,” thanks to the illegal satellite TV hookup of a friend. The satellite cards used to secure the signal had been smuggled into the country by some rather famous artists—I can’t say what medium, lest I provide clues as to their identities—who you all know. In fact, many here in the U.S. have portrayed folks like those who took great risk to import the cards—and distribute them gratis—as lackeys for the regime. They are not, and we must think before making hasty accusations in the future.

The point is, that while I did see a few illegal satellite hookups, the vast majority of Cuban citizens have no access to this sort of information, and those who do, can’t simply walk around informing their fellow citizens like the newsboys of old, shouting “EXTRA, EXTRA, let me tell you all about it.” They watch the news, thankful for the ability to do so, and keep it to themselves. Well, not entirely to themselves—there is always some amount of gossiping that goes on when a defector appears on Miami television to divulge the dirty little secrets of the brothers-Castro.

And so, our little bottle of sweet sugar cane liquor continues to disappear, bit-by-bit, drop-by-drop. What was it the announcer used to say at the beginning of “Days of Our Lives?”

“….like sands in the hourglass…”

The rum bottle continues to lose portions of its contents, year-by-year.
The rum bottle continues to lose portions of its contents, year-by-year.


What follows is the first installment of a series of reports on my recent trip to Cuba.


“La Habana Vieja esta en candela!” My uncle Lazaro, sweaty, with his shirt untucked, had just returned from the city where he had witnessed what happens when one community is starved for the benefit of some good PR.

The island of Cuba, which had once ranked fourth in the region (pre-Castro) when it came to rice production, is currently in the throes of a major rice shortage. It’s hard to come by via the ration books. It’s hard to come by at the agros. It’s hard to come by at the dollar stores. Rice is a scarce commodity right now. So when the inhabitants of Old Havana caught site of a ship laden with trillions of grains, spirits rose and word spread. Crowds soon began to emerge from the neighborhood’s narrow streets near the seaside boulevard, Avenida Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. Many in the sweaty mass of humanity even carried small bags, in hopes that perhaps they might be able to somehow come away with their own morsel of much-needed starch.

But then another rumor began to spread, one that turned out to be true. The ship at which all their attention was currently directed, was outbound, not inbound. The destination? Haiti. In a bid to curry favor with the international media amid the growing furor over its political prisoners, the de-facto Cuban “government” had decided to export what little rice it had on-hand. Not that Haiti couldn’t use the help—it can. That said, robbing Peter to pay Paul, when Peter has nary a speck of food in his own pantry, isn’t exactly a wise move. The crowd began to push closer to the shoreline. And as they moved, so too did Cuban security forces. Members of the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) and special police units—not your average beat cops, soon arrived and the citizenry took note. Some began to pocket rocks and bits of rubble to use against the police in the event it became necessary.

Several truck drivers en-route to pick up containers of goods from the port reported that had even one police officer lifted his baton at any of the protesters in the crowd, all hell would have broken loose. It wasn’t just the small stones he noticed people carrying that gave him pause. Some carried small lengths of pipe, others pieces of wood. The moment an officer made a move, someone was going to pay.

For better or for worse, it seems as though the dictatorship’s security forces might be getting a little wiser. Their tonfas remained on their hips and the standoff remained just that, but it begs the question: how much longer can confrontations like this one be averted? Eventually, the lid will blow off the boiling powder keg that is Cuba, and when it does, no amount of tonfas will be able to protect the rats from the cats.

Set your traps, folks. It’s hunting season.

Waiting to Exhale

Satie’s Gymnopedies, that’s what I always here in my head every time my plane rises off the tarmac in Havana following a visit – be it for work in the old days when I was putting pen to paper as a wire service journalist, or on a family visit, as was the case this time.

That one piece of music is perfect. Beautiful, yet sad, just like the island. Not once have I failed to select it on my MP3 player during take-off. Nose pressed to the cabin window, my ritual is always the same—I stare down at the long, skinny form of Cuba for as long as I can see her . . . for as long as I can see my family. I no longer shed tears during those takeoffs. Why give Fidel and Raul the satisfaction? Fact is, I know their time is running out, and mine is only just getting started. The moment they exhale their last bits of oxygen into the atmosphere, setting that precious air free to be inhaled by another—perhaps even one of us—their world will become black. I doubt there will be any warm, glowing white light. I don’t believe Angel Castro will be standing at the end of a long corridor, waiting to greet his sons. They will simply cease to be.

I visited Cuba for two weeks this time, in a completely different capacity than that to which I had become accustomed. I had always set off for Havana to report on some story or support the production of some documentary. I had never gone strictly to visit family. Recently, I left the hard news business and I found myself in a bit of a moral quandary: do I force myself into a self-imposed exile from the island or yield to genetics and family bonds? I yielded and luckily, that choice was rewarded. Strings are being pulled, angles are being worked, and it looks like one of my favorite cousins will soon be in la Yuma. In short, this trip was well worth it.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be popping in from time-to-time with stories from my most recent trip to the island. That said, should anyone have any questions, feel free to pass them on in the comments section. I will answer them as honestly, and candidly as I can. Nothing is off the table, so go for it.

Satie Gymnopédies – 1. Lent Et Douloureux

A New Audience for a Familiar Story

So, the Cuban government is about to release 52 political prisoners to appease the cries of the international community (ie: shut them up for a few months), without ever being held responsible for illegally imprisoning and torturing said individuals in the first place.  With any luck, the world won’t take the pressure off the family farm, Villa Castro. I’m not holding my breath, though.

What follows is a sample of a project I began to work on a while back. I’ll begin the process of releasing this material via some sort of website, soon (yes, I have a plan). This story is so emblematic of what it means to be a political prisoner in Cuba, it needs to be disseminated to as many people as possible. Its audience is limited however, to those who can read and speak Spanish, as an English translation has not been released. Until now.

See if you folks can recognize what this is:


-Get dressed, you’re leaving today.
I stare at the jailer, a sergeant who extends his arm to give me a pair of pants and a shirt.
– There’s a bucket of water to bathe yourself – he adds while giving a cynical smile.
And off he marches. The cell door, a massive steel plate, rattles and shakes as it slams shut.

I am tense, but I make an effort to maintain my calm. The idea of my impending liberty seems like an absurd comedy. For years, they’ve repeated to me, 1,000 times, that I’ll die in prison. Now, after having delivered a beating that’s left every bone in my body hurting, these murderers pretend to tell me that I’m headed for the street? Why didn’t they return to finish me off when I shouted that I wasn’t afraid of them, that they should come back? They don’t dare? They dare to do everything! The destruction of human beings is their profession. They simply haven’t received the order yet.

It’s six in the morning, the 21st of October, 1979. I have completed, since the very beginning, straight through to the final day, a sentence of 20 years of cruel and unjust imprisonment. Now comes the changing of the guard. The uncertainty and anxiousness of liberty begin to grip me. Could it be true? Is it nothing more than another trick or perhaps a ray of light? Twenty years of iron bars and horrors! This tyrant and his henchman love to play cruel jokes on their political prisoners. How many men saw their appeals go unanswered, all the way to the last day of their imprisonment and are still, to this day, rotting in the dungeons! Despite the fact that I dream of freedom, I am prepared for the worst.

I take off my torn, stinking prison uniform, still littered with the marks of violence and begin an attempt to tidy myself up. Ah, the beatings! It hurts so much where these sons of bitches hit me!

For better or for worse, I change into the new clothing the guard left me—street clothes with the stink of prison on them. How much longer? Are we going to continue with this comedy?

UPDATED: Remember Me, Vicky?


UPDATE – 7/1/2010, 9:36 a.m. (EST): Thanks to a reader, I’m able to supply folks with the link to the original CubaWatch post outing Vicky Pelaez. I’ll also be pulling out my archive CD of old CubaWatch posts in order to supply readers with the original text, as CubaWatch no longer exists. Without further ado, here it is:
Note: link no longer active


A few years back, when I began to assemble the CubaWatch (Outing Fidelistas Across the Globe) website, it was with the intent of calling spades . . . well, “spades.” Sick and tired of the way so much of the media danced around the precious reputations of some of the dictatorship’s most ardent supporters–ahem, Nelson “sellout” Mandela–I decided to dig up whatever dirt I could find, whatever embarrassing morsel at my disposal, and use it to disgrace those who would sell the good people of Cuba up the river.

I had already been a longtime reader of El Diaro/La Prensa by the time CubaWatch landed on the internet. And during the course of those years, the name “Vicy Pelaez” was always good for a rise in my blood pressure. The fact that she, and by extension El Diario, could dub herself a “journalist” while consistently extolling the virtues of one of the last remaining Stalinist dictatorships in the world, was mind boggling to say the least. Pelaez’s support of the Castro regime wasn’t vague or misguided, rather, it was sheer, unbridled hatred for all to see.

And so, my curiosity was piqued and I began to do a little digging. Lexus-Nexus, Google, a few searches through library records, and I came up with an abundance of links between Pelaez, the DGI (Cuban Intelligence), and a pot-luck stew of Cuban propaganda offices and associations. Armed with all the connections–which were out there for anyone to see–I cast the CubaWatch net over Vicky, “outing” her a couple of years ago. I made it quite clear in the post that I was forwarding all the information I had gathered to the FBI, which I did. Funny how things turned out, isn’t it?

Pelaez wasn’t busted for her connections with Cuban intelligence, but her Red Square connections aren’t too far off the mark, and I guarantee you we’ll hear about ties with Havana in the coming months as all of this unfolds. CubaWatch might be gone, but she sure as hell still is casting a shadow.

I haven’t written these words in a long time. Truth-be-told, I miss them. Please humor me, if only for a moment:

“Vicky Pelaez: you are so BUSTED!”

Y Punto!

Chilean Businessman Found Dead in Havana Apartment

Yesterday, a massive blow was dealt to those in the business world who continue to see the Castro regime as a fantastic investment opportunity. Chilean businessman Roberto Baudrand was found dead in his Havana apartment after Cuban authorities prevented him from leaving the island as a result of an investigation into his business ventures there.

This story, while not top-of-the-fold news, or even front page news, blows the door open on what is increasingly looking like a very tangled web of intrigue, historical figures, and the kind of drama only found in Hollywood blockbusters. Here’s the rundown on the tantalizing bits that make this case so interesting.

  • Baudrand headed a semiprivate company that was in partnership with the regime.
  • Baudrand served as the on-island contact for Max Marambio, former Chilean President (and Castro crony) Salvador Allende’s onetime head bodyguard.
  • Marambio’s company, “Tropical Island,” sells products in dollar stores catering to foreign tourists. I.e.: “big bucks.”
  • The joint (Cuban/Chilean) operated company has been shut down for months due to an “ongoing investigation.”
  • A Tropical Island attorney had visited Baudrand only two weeks ago and found the executive “distraught” over the investigation.
  • Several foreign workers allied with Baudrand have also been arrested. Do we know of their whereabouts?
  • Marambio and Fidel Castro have maintained a friendship for nearly half-a-century. In fact, Marabmio served as the first president for Cimex and is said to have participated in a number of secret operations for the Cuban regime in the 1970’s.

But here’s the kicker. According to the Associated Press, Marambio had “expressed support for free elections in Cuba” in recent years. Makes ya wonder what’s really going on behind all the smoke and mirrors, doesn’t it?

Still set on cozying up in the Cuban “joint venture” bedroom?

Catch the entire developing story.

A Humidor’s Scent of Cuba

The humidor is constructed of Honduran mahogany with a rosewood veneer. Wenge edging and maple stringing provide the accents on the corners and edges.
The humidor is constructed of Honduran mahogany with a rosewood veneer. Wenge edging and maple stringing provide the accents on the corners and edges.
Several years ago, during my first reporting trip to Cuba, I purchased a few paintings from a local artist in Havana. An old family friend outside the city milled up some picture frame stock from native Spanish Cedar with which to frame them. The frames weren’t fully assembled but rather, milled lengths of wood that I would later joint together in various sized squares and rectangles. While I did indeed use some of the frame stock for paintings, other pieces sat unused in my basement, collecting dust until just recently.

After turning in my press credentials and making a somewhat abrupt career change, I’ve found myself in a position where I have access to a rather large woodworking shop. On most weekends, I can be found there, working on a variety of furniture pieces for the new life and home I’ve begun to build with my wife since marrying her this past July.

One of those projects was the humidor you see here. Made of Honduran mahogany, wenge, rosewood veneer, and maple stringing, the humidor is nearly complete. Pretty soon, I’ll be cutting the lid off on the tablesaw (in woodworking, fine boxes are generally built as cubes, with the lid then being sawn off, and hinged to the bottom portion). One of the last steps in the process will be to line the box with–you guessed it–Spanish cedar. This species is almost always used for humidor liners, as it’s incredibly stable (it won’t warp under the enormous stresses brought on by the difference in humidity inside and outside the box), and just aromatic enough to impart a pleasant flavor to fine cigars.

I couldn’t think of a better use for all that cedar stock that’s been languishing in my basement. Once complete, I’ll be able to experience the scent of Cuba every time I reach for a Macanudo. Perhaps someday, this humidor will be sitting on a sideboard inside a home in Havana. Perhaps . . .

Open Letter to Cuba’s Vice Minister of Culture

Well now, that’s being direct.

The following letter to Cuban Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas was penned by blogger Claudia Cadelo as a response to the recent ban on the performance art group, OmniZonaFranca, from performing in public places.

Open Letter to Fernando Rojas:

Fernando Rojas: I am writing to you with the intent to offer advice. Let us say that from my 26 years, I have decided today to serve for a few moments as your mother, or your conscience, however you would like to interpret it. So I write this to Fernando Rojas, the man, and not the Vice Minister of Culture, to whom, perhaps, more than once in your childhood, your mother said, “Fernandito, to the girls, it is not done.”

They say—and you know what weight is given to the third person plural in Havana—that during the infamous meeting that you had with the artists of the performance group, OmniZonaFranca, one of the justifications offered for banishing the Festival of Poetry Without End from Cuban institutions, was that the boys were meeting with the blogger Yoani Sanchez. The resolutions and laws that your ministry has promulgated to limit the entry of citizens to establishments and activities are not known to me, but it is not about the laws that I wish to speak, because in the waters of the law, Rojas, your ministry has not bathed for a very long time.

What worries me is your threat, “If Yoani Sanchez comes, I myself will meet her with a stick.” Serious words, Fernando, for a man. But even more serious for a Vice Minister who—according to comments from the “cultured” corridors—aspires to lose the prefix “vice”. However, this is not a reprimand, rather it is a call to sanity, civility, intelligence. I remember that, for these duties, the government has the paramilitaries, the rapid response brigades, and as a last resort, the CIM (Military Counterintelligence); it does not seem advisable to me that a staff member take these tasks on himself, much less announce it in advance as, leaked through the Internet, it might reach inappropriate ears.

Considering that everyone knows Yoani Sanchez is a writer and you are the Vice Minister of Culture, I would say that an atmosphere of terror doesn’t agree with you, and that the image of your delivering a beating is regrettable and unfortunate.

On the other hand, I could be mistaken and your vice may be nothing more than an alibi, in which case you would belong to one of the above mentioned organizations whose job it is to beat civilians. In that case your sin would probably be the indiscretion, because after publicly threatening to attack the physical integrity of a citizen, it is hard to believe, Fernando, that you are only an official in the Ministry of Culture.

Sincerely, Claudia Cadelo De Nevi

Coming Home

It has been many months since my last post here at Babalu—six to be exact. In that time, I’ve made a rather significant career change, gotten married, moved, and begun to contemplate having children with my lovely, caring wife. It’s about time I explain my long absence here and perhaps begin anew.

For ten years, I worked in the journalism industry. The mainstream media was my bread and butter and I absolutely adored what I did. As an editor, I worked with an incredibly talented and dedicated group of men and women stationed across the globe, crafting stories from far-flung nations and giving voice to those who for whatever the reason, had none. Some of my colleagues died in the field. Others suffered serious injury—either physical or mental. Be that as it may, we did what we did out of a feeling of love for our fellow man. Sound silly? Consider this: when Benazir Bhutto was put under house arrest and cordoned off from the outside world, one of the journalists under my care was lucky enough to be right there beside her. She covered the events of those many days with bravery and humility. And so it was that when Bhutto decided to address a large crowd in Rawalpindi on the 27th of December, 2007, that same journalist was on her way to cover the event, knowing full well that there was every possibility that an attempt would be made on the candidate’s life. This journalist didn’t make it to the rally on time and luckily, wasn’t seated inside Bhutto’s SUV—which she would have been had she arrived in time—when a bomb exploded, killing Bhutto instantly. Over the course of the following 24 hours after the blast, she continued to cover the story, despite the fact that she was being chased by angry mobs all-the-while, who were very intent on killing her. This same journalist, despite the fact that she very nearly lost her life many times over the course of one day, continues to work in the field to this day. She believes in what she’s doing and her soul, is stronger than mine will ever be.

Flash forward several months. I am editing several stories on the Israeli invasion of Gaza when two photographs come across my desk. One shows the face of a three-year-old Palestinian girl covered in the rubble and debris of a house leveled during an airstrike—her eyes wide open and staring at the camera. The other shows a young Israeli girl, about the same age, with a look of sheer terror on her face as her family struggles to comprehend the scene, just moments after a Qassam rocket hit their home in southern Israel. It was at that very moment that I decided I’d had enough. The search for a new career path was about to begin.

And what of Cuba? For all my 30+ years on this planet, I’ve been waiting for the ignorant masses to finally say: “My God, why did anyone ever support this regime? What have we done?” And you know what? No one ever has. I have become tired of waiting, tired of dreaming, tired of hoping. Many years ago, my grandmother once remarked to me that for my grandfather, affectionately known to me as “papito,” Cuba was dead. He had divorced himself from that island. As a man who had fought so long and hard against another dictatorship—that of Gerardo Machado—as a member of the ABC, he was deeply offended that his people could sell their own brothers and sisters up the river.

Today, many years after that conversation with my abuela, I finally understand where he was coming from. My friends, I am tired of being angry. I am tired of having to justify myself to those who would say that my family, and yours, “got what they had coming to them.” I am tired of sitting here in my 3-bedroom home, driving to work in my Toyota, eating three wonderful meals a day, while my loved ones in Cuba—who yes, I do still visit from time-to-time—struggle to cope with the regime that tells the world it’s acting in their interests when they arrest folks for “social dangerousness” or send goon-squads to their home because of a flippant remark made concerning the government.

But I have missed you all a great deal—the debates, the teary-eyed stories, the political satire. I have missed it all. My responsibilities have increased greatly these past six months, and I won’t be able to post with the frequency I once did, but I’ve decided to come home, and do what I can from time-to-time. I only hope you’ll have me back.

Oh, and my new career path? While I can’t divulge all the details (it would give away my identity), it does combine one of my first loves, woodworking and construction, with media. In fact, I’m in the process of building my first of a series of humidors that will be lined with Spanish Cedar I once brought back from my true home, Cuba. It is a labor of love, one that makes me feel just a little bit closer to the island that once was and which I fear, I may never get to know.

Warmest regards this holiday season,

-Anatasio Blanco

The UN gives up . . . .

Most of you know where I stand regarding the United Nations. I worked the UN beat for a couple of years as a journalist, during which time, I came to realize how corrupt and ineffectual the organization is as a whole.

UN staffers routinely party through the entire night before major presentations on a variety of topics, showing up hung over and appearing embarrassingly inept. Votes are essentially bought and sold as commodities and the Human Rights Council is . . . well . . . anything but a Human Rights Council.

Elections were held today for the international body’s HRC. I’d be willing to bet you’re all wondering who was elected. Here’s just a taste:

Saudi Arabia

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s time to shutter the United Nations much like its predecessor, the League of Nations. A new world body needs to be formed, the goals of which should somehow entertain at least the “idea” of human rights.

Read more here.

Rogues Gallery of Bigots

A rogues gallery of bigots for your consideration. For an explanation, have a look at my earlier post of today. I’m through tiptoeing around. Those who wish to continue to condemn my family and yours to the nightmare that is the Cuban Revolution will be slammed – no holds barred.

Clockwise from upper-left: Rep. Laura Richardson, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Bobby Rush, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.


The Bigotry of the Congressional Black Caucus

Well, it’s over. The Congressional Black Caucus wrapped up its junket down in Havana with statements ranging from “We’ve been led to believe that the Cuban people are not free, and they are repressed by a vicious dictator, and I saw nothing to match what we’ve been told” (U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver) – to, “In my household I told Castro he is known as the ultimate survivor” (U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush). While Mr. Rush and Mr. Cleaver were busy coming to those conclusions at the protocol house where they met ailing former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, family members of mine living less than 20 miles away were struggling to earn enough money through black market dealings to feed their loved ones. When bringing home the bacon in a nation with an economy entirely controlled by one man means a paltry 18 dollars per month – you do what you’ve got to do. Today, only 24 hours after this carnival of fools departed from the airport in Rancho Boyeros, those same family members will be visiting a small cemetery to commemorate the extrajudicial, summary execution of a family member many years ago by that man Mr. Cleaver seems to believe is anything but a “vicious dictator.” Thanks, Mr. Cleaver.

Let me be perfectly clear: the narcissistic propaganda campaign mounted in Cuba by members of the Congressional Black Caucus was akin to spitting on the memory of every noble man and woman who dared to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge back in 1965. Did you get that, Mr. Cleaver? How about you, Mr. Rush? For the members of the CBC, slavery in Cuba, where all profits are diverted to the overseers Fidel and Raul is A-OK. God forbid that same treatment should befall an African-American however. What I saw transpire in Havana over the past 48 hours was nothing short of unadulterated bigotry and prejudice on the part of the CBC, disguised to appear as a humanitarian effort.

I am absolutely convinced of the theory a rather eloquent Cuban author once put to me – ladies and gentleman: the Cuban people are perceived by much of the world as nothing more than a “bunch of spics.” And being “spics,” we are completely incapable of forging our own destiny or exercising our own sovereignty – we need a strong-arm dictator to keep the plantation slaves in line and literally force the bread down our throats. That’s where the mentality of your average fidelista comes from – it’s just that simple.

I am not opposed to truly honest and humane efforts to engage in dialogue with the Cuban regime from a stance of pushing for the release of political prisoners and allowing the formation of opposition political parties. If that had been the goal of the CBC in Cuba, it would have brought tears of joy to my eyes. What I saw instead was an effort to convince the world that my family members and yours – are able to enjoy the fruits of a benevolent leader who offers top-notch hospital care, free universal education and the ability to speak one’s mind without fear of reprisals. The members of the Congressional Black Caucus are anything but stupid. They know these so-called “facts” to be complete fabrication on the part of the Cuban dictatorship. And so, the only conclusion I can come to is that which I stated above: Emanuel Cleaver to the people of Cuba: “ Your spics. You can’t take care of yourselves so be thankful you’ve got Fidel – it’s the best you’ll ever do.”

I would kindly advise Mr. Cleaver and his colleagues to extract their heads from a part of the human anatomy normally reserved for the expelling of waste.

Many of Babalu’s readers and contributors go through life with an incredibly strong yearning to return to the land they will always call home. Yet the vast majority will never do so out of a firm conviction that until the dictatorship falls, not one penny should be plopped into the Castro piggy bank by any man or woman who so suffered under his rule. I have been lucky enough to work in Cuba as a journalist. And in that capacity, I continue to bear witness to the enduring hardships experienced by my beloved family. Fifty years into this nightmare dubbed the Cuban Revolution, I continue to see their tears fall when reflecting on their murdered loved ones, their inability to pursue higher education due to non-affiliation with the PCC, and a myriad of other humiliations Cubans have suffered in one way or another, each and every day for the past 18,000 days.

And so I declare the Congressional Black Caucus guilty of forgetting every injustice their own constituents, leaders and supporters have suffered over the years in the United States. They have forgotten the lessons learned during the march from Selma to Montgomery. They have turned their backs on the memory of all those who perished to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. Yes, CBC members: you’ve sold out – completely and utterly.

The world doesn’t give a damn about human rights in Cuba. What the world gives a damn about is the sexy dream of what Fidel Castro was attempting to portray during his march from Santiago to Havana on January 1-8, 1959. Yet dreams do not erase reality and we are left with the realization that “we’re in this alone.”

Due to the efforts of groups the likes of the CBC, change will never come to Cuba through dialogue or any other peaceful effort. Change, unfortunately, will only come to Cuba through the spilling of blood. If all the official delegations that regularly travel to Cuba made a concerted effort to force the regime to listen to its slaves – er people – the dictatorship would fall. As it stands now, due to the free pass the regime gets and the fact that delegations like the CBC’s routinely arrive in Havana and fail to utter a single word about human rights – Cuba is damned to change through violence. And so I find myself in a similar situation to that of my family on the island – feeling the tears stream down my cheeks on yet another day as I anguish over their unconscionable bondage.

What I fear may come . . .

Blogger Yoani Sanchez has been accused of a “provocation” for her remarks, and those of many others, during the Havana Biennial this past Sunday.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised it took the regime in Havana this long to respond to the exercise of free expression that echoed across the Wilfredo Lam Center on March 29th. What comes next is anyone’s guess however, I fear Sanchez and those who took to the podium are in danger.

And so I must ask, what should the response to any potential act by the Cuban government against Yoani and the others be? Should a hair on her head, or on the heads of any of the other participants be touched, I fear there will be many calling for reprisals against Cuban consular staff outside the island. The few emails I’ve received concerning potential actions against the group basically read like a call to arms. Is that just? I don’t know. What I do know is this – the Cuban people have been backed into a corner for too long. This sort of action can only end in one way and I fear the day of action is getting closer.

Your move, Fidel. Choose carefully.