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.

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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.

Ever Wonder?

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For years I’ve heard apologists for the Cuban regime marvel at the fact that Fidel Castro leads a life almost as austere as that of his subjects. According to those who believe the Cuban people aren’t worthy of the right to self determination, Castro has never involved himself in arms or drug trafficking, never illicitly enriched himself or fallen victim to narcissism and self idolatry. To those who continue to support the dictatorship, Fidel Castro truly is a “man of the people” who “practices what he preaches.”

Hmmm, I wonder if any of them have ever spoken to former Cuban Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Reinaldo Sánchez? Although they’ll most likely never get the chance, below you’ll find the next best thing – Parts 1 through 20 of Sánchez’s recent interview segments with journalist Oscar Haza. Want to know the skinny on Castro’s infamous Punto Cero compound in Jaimanitas, just outside Havana? Sánchez has got it. Interior plan of the main residence? Ditto. Castro’s intriguing health history dating back to the 1980s? Yup, he’s got that too. Arms trafficking with certain Central-American nations and drug lords? Indeed. A rooftop cattle farm in El Vedado? I kid you not, he’ll explain the details.

I advise you to watch the segments BEFORE heading out to lunch, lest you lose it.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

On Reconciling the Past with the Present

Jeweler David Balogh buying jewels from Cuban refugees. (Photo by Michael Rougier/Time Life Pictures
Jeweler David Balogh buying jewels from Cuban refugees. (Photo by Michael Rougier/Time Life Pictures

Once in a while I’ll log into any one of a number of online photojournalism archives – Getty, Magnum, Life – in search of images depicting pre-Castro Cuba. The research is done in a bid to understand the complete disconnect I feel from the Cuba that once was. The only Pearl of the Antilles I’ve ever known is the one of the last half century – that is to say, the impoverished third-world nation that has been used as a pawn by both the Soviets and now the Venezuelans. The contrast between the Cuba of yesterday and that of today is so stark, so complete, that photos of the Malecon aglow with neon light and flashy chrome-covered cars is almost incomprehensible to me. One of my uncles once attempted to explain to me how that contrast has functioned to keep him from “going back.”

“Imagine your life here in the United States, as it is right now. You have a comfortable, middle-class life, a car, a television, a college degree – all the things most Americans take for granted. You’re not wealthy but you’re doing just fine.

Now imagine if one day the government shifted drastically and you were forced to leave this land, thinking all-the-while that you’d be back within a few months. The years go by and you watch that developed nation in which you’d lived for so long transform into an underdeveloped country where poverty is the norm, development has completely halted, information is strictly controlled by the state and many activists around the globe applaud it. It’s just too much to process, let alone bear.”

To give you an understanding of what I mean, dig through some of your old family photos from Cuba. Try to find one that has been marked with a street corner perhaps. Now log on to flickr and see if you can’t find a present-day image of that very site. The change is quite frankly, terrifying.

Yesterday afternoon I stumbled upon a photograph that got me thinking about just how far the island has fallen. The caption reads: “Jeweler David Balogh buying jewels from Cuban refugees.” It’s dated to March of 1961 and can be found in the online archives of Life Magazine.

What immediately struck me was a feeling of “My God, Cubans wore jewelry. They actually bought jewelry!” That feeling might seem a bit odd to some of the older readers and contributors here at Babalu but it’s representative of something – the fact that Cuba was in many respects, just the same as any other developed nation many decades ago. When you delve further into this sort of thought you quickly realize that in a span of only about sixty years, Cuba went from being an underdeveloped third world colony, to a prosperous “first” world nation, then back to a third world colony. All this in less than a century.

Those who supported Fidel in the “beginning” never thought Cuba would turn out like it has. The island had experienced any number of revolutions and “golpes de estado.” Most probably thought the situation surrounding the “barbudos” would be no different – “just another shift in government that won’t alter the course ship too much.” And yet it has, and I’m sitting here looking at photographs on an online archive, attempting to reconcile what once was with what now is.

Anatasio to go to the altar?

Indeed its true. My absence of the past week was due to a vacation – during which I proposed to my lovely novia. To my delight, she accepted!

I tend to be a man of tradition and as such, I value items of historical significance – particularly when they relate to my family. In keeping with those sentiments, the diamond which I used in the engagement ring has a long history. In 1940, it was set in a ring by my great-grandfather and given to his wife as a 30th anniversary gift. Many years later, when my grandmother left Cuba, the ring went with her. However, it wasn’t as cut and dry a situation as some might think.

As you all know, Cubans leaving the island are permitted to carry with them only what they can pack in a suitcase. This excludes items like jewelry however. Hey, the barbudos need to take their cut, right? “Mamita” (my abuela) of course knew all about this the day she departed the island and decided she’d have to come up with an ingenious way to smuggle out whatever she could. Some of the jewelry she brought out of Cuba was of emotional value, other items were taken out in order to sell upon arrival in the United States – remember, she was leaving with nothing – not a single penny.

On that fateful afternoon, she sewed several items into the collar of her coat, said a prayer and set off for Rancho Boyeros. Today, so many years later, one of the diamonds ferried out of Cuba sewn in a secret compartment now graces the left hand of the woman I love.

My wife-to-be may not be Cuban, but one piece of that island’s history will always remain with her . . . and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

An Urgent Call to Action

This post will remain at the top of the page all day, for newer posts, please scroll down.

What: Protest demanding change in Cuba
When: Sunday, March 1 – 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Where: Outside the Cuban Mission to the United Nations – 315 Lexington Avenue, New York City

According to Belascoaín y Neptuno, a counter demonstration is scheduled to commence near the location of this protest one hour earlier. The NYPD is reporting that a group is expected to turn out in order to support the dictatorship and possibly stir up trouble with our pro-Cuba compatriots.

I don’t understand what someone wishes to accomplish by supporting the suppression of human rights in Cuba. Fact of the matter is, it gets my blood boiling as much as the next guy. That said, I sincerely hope that we are able to turn our ears away from those who wish to use hate against our families on the island and instead, focus our attention on the task at hand; confronting the collaborators inside the Cuban Mission with the hopes and dreams of the Cuban people for true, substantive change on the island.

Courage.

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Forgive me father for I have stood up against tyranny

Can someone please explain to me why it’s necessary for any nation to “apologize” for supporting the liberation of an oppressed people? It would seem that an apology for the “apology” is in order here. The complete and utter lack of logic in this world never ceases to amaze me.

Guatemala begs forgiveness for an act of courage – assisting in the attempt to stamp out Cuba’s death squads – 50 YEARS AGO? An attempt that was manned largely by CITIZENS OF THE OPPRESSED NATION IN QUESTION – and not simply by so-called “American colonialists!”

Yet another nation that hasn’t learned a damn thing from its own sad history.