CUBA BRIEF: UM president favors strengthening academic bonds with Cuba, while there is no academic freedom there. House passes bill on airport security in Cuba.


The St. Kitts & Nevis Observer published on the Eastern Caribbean island of the same name runs today [October 23, 2017] an article: ” Cuba, Caribbean ties to U. of Miami in New Online Report.” U.M. president Julio Frenk says “We look forward to more opportunities to strengthen academic bonds, increase research and welcome diverse discourse on the humanities, politics and culture.” Dr. Frenk contradicts himself. Two months ago he assured a group of Cuban American leaders that there would not be academic exchanges between UM and Cuban universities, as long as there was no academic freedom on the island.  Earlier this year, a Cuban student was expelled from a Cuban university due to his political and religious views after returning to the island from a visit to the United States where he participated in a seminar at UM. He is not the only one. There are other students and teachers that have been expelled. UM’s online report on UM ties with Cuba and the Caribbean fails to point out the real nature of Cuban “politics.”  Dr. Frenk might want to to have a diverse discourse which includes  humanities, politics, and culture. UM’s online report says nothing about political repression, political prisoners, beatings of political dissidents, and other aspects of Cuba under the Castro dynasty.

As the president of the university says the University of Miami has a proud history, but there is nothing to be proud of in its efforts to silence diverse views on Cuba as this UM publication demonstrates. Dr. Jaime Suchlicki, the founder and director of UM’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies resigned in protest alleging President Frenk wanted to embark on a new path. The new path is here for everyone to see: treating Cuba as no more than a tourist destination and sweeping under the rug most things Raul Castro wants to keep out of the public discourse. 

In this CubaBrief we include the following:

  • “House passes bill to boost Cuban airport security,” published by The Hill.  The bill insists that American airlines be able to hire their own workers at Havana’s airport. Otherwise the airlines will be little but an auxiliary of Cuba’s political police. The House should be commended for its concern about Americans’ security.
  • Che Guevara, the Argentinean adventurer, helped impose in Cuba Stalinist repression which included internment in work camps of Jehovah ’s Witness’s, gays, young Cubans who wore tight pants and long hair, writers and intellectuals. Cato, the libertarian institute based in Washington features in its web page a short video on Guevara.  
  • “Dissidence Museum in Havana Pays Homage to Poet Juan Carlos Flores,” published by 14ymedio, the online newspaper which continues to earn the wrath of the Cuban authorities for its reporting. The article does not mention the suicide in New York of one of the most important 20th century Cuban writers. Reinaldo Arenas was also a political prisoner whose books are still banned on the island. Arenas managed to escape during the 1980 Mariel boat lift. Cuba’s political policeconfiscated several of his manuscripts. It remains to be seen whether scholars could have access to Cuban police archives to read Arenas’s manuscripts once the regime is gone. Many other Cuban writers while not committing suicide, died abroad. Among them poet Heberto Padilla whose imprisonment and detention resulted years ago in an outcry by Mario Vargas Llosa, Susan Sontag, Jean Paul Sartre, and others. In a poem that remains banned on the island he wrote.


To Write in a Tyrant‘s Album

Protect yourself from the vacillating ones,
because one day they will learn what they don‘t want.
Protect yourself from the babbling ones,
from John-the–Stutterer, Peter–the-Mute,
because one day they will discover their strong voices.
Protect yourself from the timid and the overwhelmed,
because one day they will not stand when you enter.


The Hill, October 23, 2017

House passes bill to boost Cuban airport security

By Melanie Zanona – 10/23/17

The House easily passed a bill on Monday designed to boost airport security in Cuba, where commercial U.S. flights have been landing for over a year.

Lawmakers approved legislation by voice vote that would require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to assess each of Cuba’s 10 international airports and brief Congress about it, as well as disclose all federal air marshal agreements with foreign partners.

A delegation of lawmakers was denied visas last year to go check out Cuba’s airports themselves. They want to know whether airports are complying with new aviation security measures and keeping up with evolving threats, especially as U.S. officials warn that the threat to aviation remains as high as ever.

The House measure, which is sponsored by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), also would require U.S. airlines to publicly disclose any contracts with entities controlled by the Cuban government to hire their employees and conduct airline operations on the ground.

Bill sponsors say the measure will encourage American airlines to directly hire their own employees — a step they say is necessary given the potential threat of insider access.

The bill’s passage also comes following a series of bizarre attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana.

“There are gaps in our knowledge. … It’s incumbent upon us to find out what’s going on down there,” Katko said. “They allow very little oversight from TSA.”

However, the legislation would not halt commercial flights to Cuba, which began last year as part of former President Barack Obama’s historic opening with the island nation.

Last year, as the U.S. was preparing to resume commercial air service with Cuba for the first time in over 50 years, some

lawmakers tried to stop flights from going there until new security measures were implemented. But those members appeared to have backed off the effort.

“This is a very different bill than what was submitted last time,” Katko said during a committee meeting this summer. “We are not aiming to stop flights. We simply want to make them secure.”

Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to reverse Obama’s Cuba policy, rolled out new commercial and travel restrictions with the island  this summer. But Trump’s Cuba policy leaves the commercial air service between the two countries intact.

“I hope we get this bill to the president’s desk for signature, because we don’t mess around with things that are homeland security,” Katko said.


14ymedio, October 22, 2017

Dissidence Museum in Havana Pays Homage to Poet Juan Carlos Flores

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2017 – Damas Street in Old Havana awoke Friday to the terrifying image of a man hanging from a balcony. After their fright passed, the residents realized that it was an artistic installation by Amaury Pacheco in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores.

The body that hung from a rope opened the exhibition Another Poet Commits Suicide, organized by the Dissidence Museum and the group Omni Zona Franca, in order to remember Flores and reflect on the “tradition of suicide that exists in Cuban culture,” as its organizers explain.

“Some time ago Luis Manuel Otero and Yanelys Nunez [managers of the museum] told me that they wanted pay homage to Flores but we did not encounter the moment and, now, the opportunity presented itself,” explained Pacheco to 14ymedio, minutes before the afternoon’s poetry recital.

Flores, born in 1962, committed suicide in the middle of last year at his house in the Alamar neighborhood after having struggled for several years with depression and psychiatric problems. Among his best known books are Group Portrait, Different Ways of Digging a Tunnel and The Kickback.

Pacheco, who belongs to the Omni Zona Franca Project to which Flores had close ties from its inception, added personal objects belonging to the poet to the exhibition. “I brought his manuscripts, clothes, the rope with which he committed suicide, and some of his other belongings to exhibit,” he explained.

“There were 20 years of friendship, and he embodied the poet his whole life, both in his imagination and in the social space,” emphasizes Pacheco, who believe that Flores’ verses “strongly touch on Cuban social reality.”

Yanelys Nunez, responsible together with artist Luis Manuel Otero for the Dissidence Museum, said that the title of the event is inspired by a text by Rafael Rojas about the death of Flores, an end that requires reflection about the incidence of suicide among Cuban artists.

Nunez recalled, before a dozen attendees, the end of Raul Hernandez Novas, Angel Escobar and “others who died in exile” like Guillermo Rosales and Carlos Victoria. To the list can be added also the writer Reinaldo Arenas and the painter Belkis Ayon.

Readings by poets Ariel Manzano, Cinecio, Osmel Almaguer, Irina Pino and Antonio Herrada began at six sharp in the small room, plus narrator Veronica Vega shared some remarks about the beginning of Omni Zona Franca in Alamar.

Between coffee candies, cigarettes, water, rum and speeches, verses were read loudly in order to overcome the natural bustle of the Belen neighborhood.

For these artists, the homage to Flores is also “a way to rescue those poets important to Cuban history” but whom “the government or institutions render invisible,” Nunez notes.

The artist and curator thinks that these omissions are due to “cultural- or power-level intrigues.” Thus the exhibit Another Artist Commits Suicide permits retaking “those dark areas in Cuban culture.”

The poetry day this Friday, which began with the disquieting performance by Pacheco, closed with a hip hop concert headed by David D’ Omni and other guests. This Sunday the homage to Juan Carlos Flores will conclude with verses and questions, just as did his own life.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel


Reuters, October 23, 2017

Enthused by Wi-Fi hotspots, Cubans clamor for more Internet access

Alexandre MeneghiniSarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) – At dusk, when the worst of the Caribbean heat has subsided, parks around Cuba fill with families video chatting with loved ones abroad or scrolling through social media, their animated faces lit by telephone and tablet screens.

The introduction of Wi-Fi hotspots in Cuban public spaces two years ago has transformed the Communist-run island that had been mostly offline. Nearly half the population of 11 million connected at least once last year. That has whet Cubans’ appetite for better and cheaper access to the internet.

“A lot has changed,” said Maribel Sosa, 54, after standing for an hour with her daughter at the corner of a park in Havana, video chatting with her family in the United States, laughing and gesticulating at her phone’s screen.

She recalled how she used to queue all night to use a public telephone to speak with her brother for a few minutes after he emigrated to Florida in the 1980s.

Given the relative expense of connecting to the internet, Cubans use it mostly to stay in touch with relatives and friends. Although prices have dropped, the $1.50 hourly tariff represents 5 percent of the average monthly state salary of $30.

“A lot more could change still,” said Sosa. “Why shouldn’t we be able to have internet at home?”

A tiny share of homes has had broadband access until now, subject to government permission granted to some professionals such as academics and journalists.

The state telecoms monopoly has vowed to hook up the whole island and connected several hundred Havana homes late last year as a pilot project. In September, it said it would roll that service out nationwide by the end of 2017.

Cubans say previous promises for such access have not been fulfilled, so their expectations are not high. They also say the cost is prohibitive, with the cheapest monthly subscription priced at $15.

Havana says it has been slow to develop network infrastructure because of high costs, attributed partly to the U.S. trade embargo. Critics say the government fears losing control.

Cubans who can afford it flock to Internet cafes and 432 outdoor hotspots where they brave ants, mosquitoes and the elements.

Here they laugh, cry, shout, and whisper. Black market vendors weave in and out among them, trying to hawk pre-paid scratchcards allowing Wi-Fi access. The ping of incoming messages and ring of calls fill the air.

“There’s absolutely no privacy here,” said Daniel Hernandez, 26, a tourist guide, after video chatting with his girlfriend in Britain.

“When I have sensitive things to talk about, I try shutting myself into my car and talking quietly.”

The quality of connections is often good only at specific spots, he said, and when fewer users are connected. Otherwise, the screen tends to freeze mid-chat.

Hernandez said he also uses the internet to search for news. In Cuba, the state has the monopoly on print and broadcast media.

A few meters further on, Rene Almeida, 62, sat in his taxi checking email. He said he felt lucky that his two children had moved to the United States where communications are better than ever. It was only in 2008 that the government first allowed Cubans to own cell phones.

He, too, complained of the lack of privacy and the expense.

“It’s better than nothing,” he said. “But it should improve. It will.”

Reporting by Alexandre Meneghini and Sarah Marsh, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien