Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cuban media on the hunger strike

Cuban television broadcast a 15-minute video (here on YouTube) on the hunger strike conducted by Martha Beatriz Roque and fellow dissidents, alleging that she had a neighbor (who appears on camera) bring her food.  Asked about this, Roque told AP that the question offended her and that “an avocado cannot bring down a hunger strike.”  The video presents doctors who said her condition was good, recorded conversations with reporters and U.S. activists, and audio and video showing contact with U.S. diplomats.  It also includes an apparent conversation with the wife of the prisoner for whom the hunger strike was undertaken, in which the wife says the prisoner had broken off his hunger strike and Roque reacted with some anger.  Cuban media accounts are here in English and Spanish.

"The gangster"

Having a bad day?  Rep. David Rivera’s is far worse.  

The Herald reports that defeated no-name Democratic primary candidate Justin Lamar Sternad’s testimony is consistent with the public accounts of campaign vendors – that Rep. Rivera funded and directed his campaign.  Ana Alliegro, the GOP campaign consultant and friend of Rivera who has gone missing, apparently referred to the Congressman as “the gangster” when she talked to Sternad.

This story is incomparable, and it makes one realize why Carl Hiassen left the Herald’s newsroom to write novels: the envelopes of cash, the hotel-clerk candidate, Rivera’s Calle Ocho chutzpah, his apparent confidence that federal law need not apply to his campaign, and Ms. Alliegro’s disappearance, a mystery that looks like an act of iron loyalty to an undeserving Rivera. 

Could Granma be speechless?  The paper is covering the Latin Grammys rather than cranking up the screedster Jean-Guy Allard, who usually has to think up words like “gangster” all by himself.

But beyond all that and beyond the legal predicaments of Rep. Rivera and Ms. Alliegro, this saga is increasing the likelihood that Democratic nominee Joe Garcia will win the November election.  Rivera’s finances and party support are tanking.  Cuban American leaders are offering not one word of support.  As national Democrats sense a chance to pick up the seat, resources are flowing to Garcia and will continue to do so. 

Garcia’s election would mark a watershed in the Cuba debate in Washington because he would break the unanimity of opinion among Cuban Americans in the House and Senate.  He would not be outdone by any of the veterans in his criticism of Cuban human rights practices, and Havana will surely call him a “terrorist” because he worked at the Cuban American National Foundation.  But Garcia would be the first to support President Obama’s policies.  He has a common-sense view of Cuban American family visits, one in line with the way most Americans approach the rest of the world: they are good for families, good for Cubans in Cuba, and they just might contribute to positive change there.  He has had the temerity to question USAID programs, the amount of money that ends up in Miami, and their low impact in Cuba. 

Cuba would not be at the center of his legislative priorities, as his district has more important concerns.  But his impact would be significant.  On the few occasions when Members of Congress face Cuba questions, many rely on the Cuban Americans now among them, or on our friend Mauricio who supports their campaigns, or on the bizarre Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Having done so, you can’t blame them for thinking that they have heard “how Cubans feel,” even though it’s nary impossible to find a Cuban in Cuba who likes the idea of being cut off from the outside world by any government’s travel restrictions, first and foremost Havana’s. 

With Garcia in the mix, Cuba policy will not be transformed, but the debate will get healthier.  For the first time the diversity in Cuban American opinion will be reflected right there in the Florida delegation.  By a Cuban American who, like most Americans, sees openness as part of our identity, and as part of our strength.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The inimitable politics of Miami-Dade

The apparent scheme whereby Rep. David Rivera and associates helped an unknown candidate in the Democratic primary came to light in part because some of those involved – including direct mail vendors who were paid with envelopes of cash – spoke on the record. 

Now, with an FBI probe under way, some information on the investigation itself is getting to the Miami Herald.  This story affirms that the FBI has in its hands four envelopes in which cash payments were allegedly delivered to a direct mail outfit.  The cash paid for mailings for the campaign of the no-name Democrat, Justin Lamar Sternad, who mainly attacked candidate Joe Garcia, who is now the nominee.  It also reports that invoices for those mailings were originally directed to Rivera. 

And there’s this very colorful profile of the key figure, Republican political consultant and Rivera friend Ana Alliegro, who apparently helped Sternad.  Alliegro has gone incommunicado since failing to appear for a September 6 FBI interview that her attorney had arranged in lieu of a grand jury appearance.  Her grandfather was President of the Senate in Cuba during the Batista era, but the rest is much more colorful.

For some time, Mitt Romney and national Republicans have been keeping their distance from Rivera.  Senator Rubio has not addressed the allegations about Rivera but stands by him as a loyal friend.  And for now, Granma has steered clear of the story, but that can’t last forever.

Odds and ends

·         New York Times: GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, leaving his anti-embargo voting record behind, visited Versailles on Calle Ocho and explained how his Cuban-American colleagues helped him see the light.  And maybe they believe him.

 ·         Prensa Latina: Cuba’s justice ministry says it has handled the paperwork for 45,000 real estate transfers through the end of August – sales, swaps, and donations.

·         Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda says that representatives of the Venezuelan opposition candidate were received in Havana by President Raul Castro and Vice President Machado Ventura to discuss “future Cuban cooperation.”

·         Along the Malecon publishes the National Endowment for Democracy’s latest list of Cuba grants.  And USAID’s administrator told the Herald that he doesn’t see his Cuba program as “aid for the opposition.”

·         In the New York Times Magazine, a long article about a trip to Cuba by an American who married into a Cuban family.

·         The BBC’s Fernando Ravsberg says that widespread Internet access in Cuba is inevitable, whether provided by the government or by “its enemies.”


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Odds and ends

·         Reuters: Cuban foreign ministry official Josefina Vidal says Cuba has proposed talks with the United States about the Alan Gross case, but “up to this moment we have not received a response.”  “Therefore,” she adds, “it is clear that it is not Cuba, but the United States that is not showing interest in this case.”  The State Department responded with a statement that rejects the idea of talks with Cuba and instead demands a “humanitarian gesture to release Mr. Gross.”  Sorry, Alan.

·         With the release of prisoner Jorge Vasquez Chaviano, Martha Beatriz Roque and fellow hunger strikers have ended their hunger strikes.  Roque’s condition had grown precarious (AP).   Tracey Eaton noted the demands of all the hunger strikers and linked to his interview with Roque.

·         Here are two Reuters stories on recently reported economic statistics in Cuba; on agricultural production and employment.  The data comes from the National Statistics Office’s annual report, the 2011 edition of which is being released one chapter at a time.

·         The Economist on Cuban reforms that “seem to be stalling.”

·         BBC Mundo: As Cuba’s legislative elections approach, many are more attuned to the potential impact of elections in Venezuela and the United States.