Keeping the flame burning

One morning at home in early 2005, I opened up my recently-delivered Miami Herald and ran into a story about a website called Babalú Blog run by a Kendall cubanito by the name of Valentin Prieto, and dedicated to news about Cuba and all things Cuban and Cuban-American. Back then, before the social media explosion, a few Cuba-themed websites were popping up, but these were mainly related to Cuban-American culture and not so much about politics. So, I checked out Babalú Blog, and was quickly captivated by the rapid-fire mixture of politics, culture, and storytelling.

It inspired me to start my own blog along the same lines, and although my blog never came close to reaching the level of readership as Babalú, it got the attention of “El Machete” who graciously invited me to join his talented group of authors and contributors. I felt honored and humbled to be a part of a community of like-minded people with a common goal and desire to expose the atrocities of the Cuban dictatorship, as well as to be a voice of hope for the victims of the regime.

It’s been a decade since I’ve written on Babalú Blog, and although my blogging days are behind me, I still have fond memories of being part of that great team of writers and hanging out with the likes of Val, Alberto, George, Henry, Ziva, and Amanda (apologies if I forgot anyone…it’s been a while!).

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Ladies in White Given Award by U.S. Government

As reported by EFE via Fox Latino:

Washington – Julia Nuñez, wife of former Cuban political prisoner Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, was here Thursday to receive a U.S. State Department Human Rights Award on behalf of the Ladies in White, a group comprising relatives of jailed dissidents.

In a moving ceremony that Nuñez attended dressed in white to recall her “Cuban sisters,” the under secretary for Political Affairs, William Burns, awarded the prize to the Ladies in White in recognition of their courage and their defense of human rights and democracy against a repressive government.

The group “distinguishes itself not only by the depth of its commitment to the release of political prisoners, but by the full measure of its bravery in defense of human rights in Cuba,” Burns said.

He said that the “Damas de Blanco,” as they are known in Spanish, helped create the conditions that led the Cuban government to release the “Group of 75” dissidents jailed in March 2003, including Nuñez’s husband.

Burns said that despite the situation on the Communist-ruled island that forces defenders of human rights to work underground, the Ladies in White continue “providing a poignant weekly reminder of the day-to-day repression that Cubans face.”

Since March 19, 2004, the Ladies in White have gone every Sunday to Mass at Havana’s Santa Rita Church, and afterwards stage a peaceful march in the streets nearby demanding the release of their loved ones.

The group was originally formed in 2003 following the sentences imposed on 75 dissidents in what came to be known as the “Black Spring.”

“It is very touching, not for me, because I’m already here, but for my Cuban sisters, the Ladies in White who remain in Cuba fighting for prisoners’ freedom,” Nuñez said.

She now lives in Miami with her husband, Adolfo Fernandez Sainz, who was released from jail in August 2010 as a result of the Spanish-backed dialogue between the Cuban regime and the Catholic Church that led to the release of the 52 members of the Group of 75 still in prison at the time.

Fernandez, who served 7 1/2 years of his sentence, told the press on Thursday after the ceremony that he was “very pleased” that his wife had received the prize “in the name of those who have written such a beautiful page in the history of Cuban women.”

“I can imagine how she feels and I know how this prize will be regarded there, as protection for those that are still there,” he said.

Fernandez recalled how worried he was last year in jail because of the repression against the Ladies in White after the death of Orlando Zapata, whom he called “our political-prisoner martyr,” who died after a hunger strike of 85 days demanding to be acknowledged a prisoner of conscience.

“That was the worst, because the violence against them in the streets intensified,” Fernandez said.

The Ladies in White earlier received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Liberty of Conscience.

Wise Words from a Wise (and Brave) Man

From an article in Baltimore’s The Catholic Review Online covering the teleconference earlier this week with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet and organized by our own Alberto De La Cruz:

(Dr. Biscet) called on fellow Cubans to “act moderately, impartially, and with firmness in the defense of our principles without falling into sectarian extremism, but always intransigent in regards to liberty, justice, and democracy for Cuba.”

That, to me, is what’s it’s all about. Plain and simple.

The Glory of Being Free

Miami Herald File: Albert Coya
Miami Herald File: Albert Coya

The story of Carmen Santana’s life in exile mirrors that of so many others who left their lives behind in Cuba to seek freedom. The fact that Ms. Santana’s story isn’t out of the ordinary doesn’t make it any less heroic, however.

The above picture from the Miami Herald’s files was on the front page on Sunday, June 6th, 1971:

On June 6, 1971, the Sunday Miami Herald front page displayed stories about the Vietnam War, a Fort Lauderdale car crash that killed six, First Daughter Tricia Nixon’s upcoming wedding – and an arresting picture of a woman on her knees holding a young boy’s hand.

The woman was Carmen Santana; the boy her 12-year-old son, Normando. The day before, they’d landed at Miami International Airport on a “freedom flight’’ from Cuba.

Carmen was fulfilling a promise.

“She was a nurse in Cuba,’’ explained her son, now called Norman. “When we were living there, the age for the armed forces is 12. When I was 11, we had been sanctioned to leave but they put a clamp on her’’ because of her profession. “She made a promise that if she did leave, she would never go back. She vowed she would be on her knees.’’

Words can’t fully describe the emotions displayed by Ms. Santana in that picture. Holding her 12-year-old son in one hand and on her knees in what could be described as a mixture of heavenly gratitude and perhaps a tinge of emotional pain. God only knows how many others in her exact situation had similar reactions or displays of joy and gratitude upon landing in Miami. We can be grateful that Ms. Santana’s dramatic gesture was captured on film, if only to serve as a reminder of the invaluable nature of freedom.

That’s what freedom does. Freedom from an island prison. Carmen Santana, en paz descanse.

Read the article in full below the fold.

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Battle for Baby Joseph’s Fate

Most of you have probably heard the story from Canada of 13-month-old Joseph Maraachli (Baby Joseph) who suffers from a severe neurological disorder with virtually no chance of long-term survival. A battle between Baby Joseph’s family and the government, represented by the hospital, has been ongoing for weeks now, with the family wanting a tracheotomy performed on their son in order so they can take him home to spend his remaining days with loved ones, and the Ontario courts ordering the ventilator be removed without the tracheotomy procedure, leading to death in minutes.

Some are comparing this case to the Terri Schiavo one from 2005. There are key differences. The Schiavo case was a family dispute between Terri’s husband and her parents and siblings. The Florida courts decided which family member had the right to determine Terri’s fate. In Baby Joseph’s case, the family is in agreement and it’s the government of Ontario through a court ruling that is making the decision despite the family’s wishes. Disturbing, to say the least.

LifeSiteNews has a good summary of the latest events here.

Readers can decide for themselves whether this action by the Ontario courts and the hospital is indicative of what government-run health care can turn into, but it should give people on both sides something to think about. After all, the family of a 13-month-old baby should have every reasonable right to decide how they want their son to spend its remaining days, not the government.

On the Rights of Public Unions


Hello, readers! It’s been a while since I’ve posted at Babalú Blog, and it’s good to be back here posting. I hope to pop my head in here on a more regular basis.

The following is an amalgamation of several recent posts at my blog, Searching for Signs, on the Wisconsin union protests and the rights of public unions.

As a federal government employee who enjoys the benefits of a non-negotiable pension plan in which my contribution is matched by my employer (i.e. you), I’m not going to trash public employee pension plans. Public service workers at all levels benefit the common good in many ways and should be justly compensated (key word here being justly).

Nor will I trash all public unions. Government workers deserve to be treated fairly just as much as private workers. So, no, this will not be an across-the-board-union-bashing post. The issue here, as we all know, is how much influence and power public unions ought to have.

For those of you who watched the O’Reilly Factor show last Friday, Bill O’Reilly started the show with the revelation that federal unions have little to no bargaining rights when it comes to pensions and wages. O’Reilly was referring to a Wall Street Journal column written by Kimberly Strassel (I link to the Snow Report Blog which has the full column versus the WSJ site which requires a subscription to view it in its entirety) which laid out President Obama’s “predicament” vis-a-vis Wisconsin and other states’ public union rights (emphasis mine):

The union horde is spreading, from Madison to Indianapolis to a state capital near you. And yet the Democratic and union bigwigs engineering the outrage haven’t directed their angry multitudes at what is arguably the most “hostile workplace” in the nation: Washington, D.C.

It will no doubt surprise you to learn that President Obama, the great patron of the working man, also happens to be the great CEO of one of the least union-friendly shop floors in the nation.

This is, after all, the president who has berated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, calling the very idea an “assault on unions.” This is also the president who has sicced his political arm, Organizing for America, on Madison, allowing the group to fill buses and plan rallies. Ah, but it’s easy to throw rocks when you live in a stone (White) house.

Fact: President Obama is the boss of a civil work force that numbers up to two million (excluding postal workers and uniformed military). Fact: Those federal workers cannot bargain for wages or benefits. Fact: Washington, D.C. is, in the purest sense, a “right to work zone.” Federal employees are not compelled to join a union, nor to pay union dues. Fact: Neither Mr. Obama, nor the prior Democratic majority, ever acted to give their union chums a better federal deal.

Scott Walker, eat your heart out.

Basically, Obama has no legs to stand on in standing up for union protesters in Wisconsin and elsewhere, thanks to Jimmy Carter and his Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 which stripped federal unions of virtually all bargaining rights for benefits and wages.

Going back to the central question of the level of power and influence public unions should have, the answer is: the same as any other union. That is, proportionate and fair to all sides. It’s pretty clear to me that Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal puts Wisconsin public sector bargaining rights closer to those of their federal counterparts. Most wage and benefit bargaining is rightfully off-the-table for federal employees because of the obvious ease in which abuse can take place whenever public unions use taxpayer money to leverage a “better deal” against the state. All you have to consider is the scam being run by the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state teacher’s union (in particular, read pages 3-6). Other bargaining rights that directly involve working conditions and employee performance (things that also matter), stay intact.

Those public unions who are careful stewards of public monies and interests are to be commended, and I feel bad for those groups because they are also victims here.

Next time you hear a pro-union person claiming that folks like Scott Walker are threatening to eliminate unions altogether, remember the damage some unions have already done. Therefore, it makes total sense, in this day and always, to strip away anything that would give public unions the ability to use and abuse their influence and power for their own benefit and NOT for the benefit of the people. Everything else is on the table.

Salida Definitiva

The Miami Herald’s Fabiola Santiago has a good story on the expatriation to Spain of the Cuban dissident prisoners. It’s worth a read, particularly for those who think that the prisoners had a real choice of whether to stay in Cuba or go to Spain.

Here’s a telling section of the article:

Some of the released prisoners consider their expatriation “a deportation” and showed a Miami Herald reporter how their passports had been marked “salida definitiva” — final exit — while the passports of children and adolescents were labeled emigrantes, meaning that they could return to Cuba some day.

The entire article can be found below the fold.

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Something Stinks in the FL-25 Republican Race

Those of you who live in South Florida have probably heard about the controversy surrounding last week’s meeting of the Miami GOP Executive Committee in which District 25 Republican candidate Paul Crespo was confronted by local police after his 2+ minute speech.

For those of you outside of South Florida, here’s a quick primer:

Paul Crespo, local radio commentator and regular guest on Spanish-language current event programs, president of Civica Americana, and former Miami Herald contributor who was “released” from that duty in 2006 in the infamous Oscar Corral TV/Radio Marti “conflict of interest” fiasco, is running against two other candidates; Marili Cancio and David Rivera. Rivera is a current member of the Florida House and the Executive Director of the Miami-Dade County GOP. Name and party recognition make Rivera the current favorite to win the GOP primary.

At the GOP Executive Meeting last month, each candidate was given two minutes to speak. Paul Crespo went slightly over his two-minute time, spending the extra time “respectfully” asking for David Rivera’s resignation from his Miami-Dade GOP leadership position. Shortly after Crespo stepped off the podium, he was confronted by at least two local police officers for what in all indications was merely for speaking over his time limit.

The Shark Tank is all over this story and has a video released by Crespo which shows that Miami-Dade GOP leadership may have played a direct role in asking police officers to approach Crespo after his speech.

If the video even remotely captures the true events which unfolded that evening, it’s a huge shame to the GOP leadership in Miami-Dade County and a prime reflection of the spreading of the political-establishment-cancer from Washington to other precincts. This incident needs to get out beyond South Florida because it illustrates the corruption in our political establishment, regardless of party, and why we need to get behind candidates who aren’t beholden to their political parties.

Here’s the link once again to the video released by Crespo’s camp. Take a close look at it and decide for yourself.

Black Spring Anniversary

In thinking of today’s anniversary of the Cuban Black Spring crackdown, I arrive at a very non-political concept: the concept of human suffering. Christians believe that suffering is an essential part of our human existence, not as a exercise in masochism, but as a way to reflect on our imperfections and get closer to God. It’s a very complicated concept and one that I’ve just barely begun to scratch the surface on.

The brave journalists, dissidents and political prisoners who languish or have perished in Cuban jails can probably write books on the Christian concept of suffering. It’s their extraordinary courage, conviction and selflessness that triggers their suffering, and they’re willing to go through it for the greater good of their cause.

In this season of Lent in which Christians reflect and give up certain things, I can’t think of a better modern-day example of our brothers and sisters in Cuba who know that their cause is a righteous one but have to give up so much for it.

Rubio versus Cuban-Americans? (UPDATED)

As Marco Rubio continues to face heavy scrutiny over everything from his record on taxes and illegal immigration, to his use of a GOP credit card in which all charged personal expenses were paid back by Rubio, his record as a lobbyist and past associations with controversial figures like Ray Samson, it’s understandable and even expected that the next step will be for some to create a wedge between Rubio and his core constituent base.

This article in National explores the supposed lack of support from Florida Cuban-Americans towards Rubio. To be honest, the article raises some interesting points which merit our consideration.

Marco Rubio was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents, became the first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House, and he takes a hard line on U.S. policy towards Havana. Rubio leads Gov. Charlie Crist by approximately 28 percentage points in the race for the GOP Senate nomination, and in a matchup with Rep. Kendrick Meek, the presumptive Democratic nominee, he wins by 5 points.

So with Marco Rubio poised to become the nation’s third Cuban-American senator, why haven’t the rainmakers in Florida’s Cuban-American donor community rallied to his side?

His challenges begin with the US-Cuba Democracy PAC. The Florida-based lobbying group is prolific, contributing more than $760,000 to congressional candidates in 2008. In this cycle, it had donated $225,000 to 111 House and Senate candidates across the political spectrum as of Feb. 21, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rubio is not one of them.

Instead, the PAC has thrown in its lot with Meek, already having given him $7,500 — more than any other Senate candidate and as much as it gave Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Albio Sires, D-N.J., the top House recipients.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the director for US-Cuba Democracy PAC’s Washington operations, stressed that the committee has nothing against Rubio. At a December panel discussion hosted by the committee, Rubio, Crist and Meek all toed the same anti-Castro line, he noted. So then why Meek?

“He’s the only one who’s been in Congress and has a long track record of being an outspoken advocate for human rights and a strong Cuba policy,” Claver-Carone said. “Charlie and Marco are great, and they would be great members of Congress, but they haven’t had that yet. They’ve talked about it and they’ve advocated, but never from a legislative perspective.”

Claver-Carone added that the PAC follows an “incumbency rule” in its giving and considers Meek an incumbent of sorts since he is currently in the House. But the PAC gave $7,000 to former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., in his 2004 campaign to become the first Cuban-American senator, even though Martinez had never served in Congress.

The 25 Cuban-Americans who make up US-Cuba Democracy PAC’s board, which includes some of the biggest rainmakers in South Florida, haven’t rallied behind Rubio either. As of the end of the fourth quarter 2009, its board members had donated $31,200 to Crist, $14,950 to Meek, and $73,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but just $8,150 to Rubio.

The donation numbers for the first quarter of 2010 are not yet available, and several members of the board did not return phone calls about their donations.

Rubio, despite his dominance in the polls, trails both Crist and Meek in cash on hand. Rubio had around $2 million in his coffers at the end of 2009, while Meek had $3.37 million and Crist had $7.56 million.

Does Rubio have a Cuban-American problem? No recent polls have broken down Cuban-American support for Rubio and Crist. But a Public Policy Polling survey released March 10 shows Crist faring better than Rubio with Hispanics in a general election matchup. Crist wins Hispanic voters — Cuban-Americans account for close to half of Florida’s Hispanic vote — by a 43-22 margin over Meek in a potential matchup. Rubio, meanwhile, trails Meek by a 48-35 gap among Hispanics. Both Republicans would defeat Meek, according to the poll, but Crist enjoys a wider margin of victory, thanks in part to this differential.

Crist has a history of electoral success with this group: He won 70 percent of Cuban-American voters in his 2006 race for the governor’s mansion.

Alex Burgos, a spokesman for Rubio’s campaign, said he is confident his candidate has Cuban-American support.

“Marco is a product of this community,” he said. “He is the proud son of Cuban exiles.”

Still, while Rubio would love to carry the Cuban vote, Little Havana isn’t his base. His most strident supporters have largely been white conservatives — including Tea Partiers nationally. They are the ones who shook the rafters at his CPAC speech last month and continue to pour money into his coffers with one-day online fundraising drives, or “money bombs.” Moderate Floridians still favor Crist, but among self-described conservative voters, Rubio trounces the governor by a 69-12 margin in the PPP poll.

Rubio, meanwhile, has taken stances at odds with the Latino community. He is against any immigration reform bill that provides a path to citizenship for the nation’s 12 million illegal aliens; a spokesman said Rubio believes the 1986 amnesty was “a mistake.” He also opposes counting undocumented immigrants in the Census for the purposes of federal aid and congressional reapportionment.

That stance drew a stern rebuke from Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The organization honored Rubio in 2007 when he became the first Cuban-American leader of the Florida House, but “that was a very different Marco Rubio,” Vargas told the Miami Herald last week.

“I know that in visiting Florida there has been some significant disappointment in the positions he’s taken,” Vargas told

Cuban-Americans who want Washington to take a hard line with Havana need allies in Congress more than ever. One of Congress’ most outspoken advocates for the Cuban embargo, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., announced last month that he will not run for re-election. Former Sen. Martinez, another strong anti-Castro voice, resigned in September before the end of his term.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has tried to offer Havana an olive branch by loosening travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans. The US-Cuba Democracy PAC and other hardliners want Havana to release political prisoners and legalize opposition political parties before Washington offers any carrots.

It’s worth noting that Crist has had problems in South Florida, too. Diaz-Balart and his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), who are two of Congress’ most anti-Castro members, pulled their endorsement of Crist in December. At the time, Lincoln Diaz-Balart remarked cryptically, “We take our endorsements seriously, but the governor knows why we withdrew and he left us with no alternative.”

Is there a rift between influential Florida Cuban-Americans and Marco Rubio? I believe it depends on how loyal the individual is to the GOP establishment, and especially to Charlie Crist. Party loyalty is a big factor, IMO. For example, Al Cardenas, former Florida GOP Chairman, supports Crist. It’s easy for party partisans to forget that primaries can be just as rough-and-tumble and nasty as general races, and the establishment/incumbent frequently has no qualms about eating their young in order to remain in power.

Also, the article didn’t mention Cuban-American David Rivera’s (state representative and Miami-Dade GOP Chairman) support of Rubio. One would think Rivera’s endorsement would be at least somewhat noteworthy.

Nevertheless, the article’s numbers showing the US-Cuba Democracy PAC’s relative lack of support for Rubio does raise some eyebrows. Mauricio Claver-Carone’s assertion that the PAC supports members of Congress with an established track record on Cuba is understandable, and likely FL Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek has been deserving of their credit in this regard.  On the other hand, lack of congressional experience didn’t stop the PAC from backing Mel Martinez in 2004. Perhaps they will wait until the general election to throw more weight at Rubio. We’ll see.

The point where the National Journal’s analysis falls flat on its face on is in recent polls indicating that Florida Hispanics favor Crist over Rubio, somehow suggesting that this is reflective of Cuban-Americans. We can’t tell for sure until we see a specific poll which separates Cuban-Americans from other Hispanics, but if you consider that Cuban-Americans typically vote out of step with the rest of Florida Hispanics (see the 2008 presidential election), these polls don’t say much about where Cuban-Americans stand on Rubio.

UPDATE 835 PM EDT: Erik Maza at the Miami New Times covered similar ground in a story back in February.