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Wednesday July 18, 2012

Critical Miami Podcast, episode 2

critical miami podcast I talk with artist Misael Soto about his gigant beach towel tour, Cuban-Americans and the terms Latino and Hispanic, and the Midtown Miami Walmart.

You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or download the mp3.

Episode Links


Tuesday February 19, 2008

Big news of the morning: Fidel Castro has officially resigned as dictator of Cuba. Three quick things: (1) Obviously this is to lessen the political turmoil that would otherwise have been caused by his (imminent?) death. (2) What happens in Cuba now? My optimistic predictions from 2005 still hold. (3) I’m offended by the opening sentence of Frances Robles’ article: “Saying he is no longer healthy enough to hold office, Cuban leader Fidel Castro has announced he will not seek reelection after 49 years in power and nearly 19 months sidelined by illness . . .” When elections are universally believed to be a travesty, why mention them in the opening paragraph about a leader’s resignation? At least put quotes around “seek reelection” so we know you’re in on the lie. Update: What timing!: A map from the revolution, hand-drawn by Castro in 1953, is up for auction. Update: Val’s thoughts.


Thursday November 8, 2007

I ♥ Cuba. Same spot as previous photo (see geotag at flickr).



Hey, wouldn’t the Freedom Tower be a perfect spot for the Bay of Pigs museum? (From Suzy’s comment #9, here)


Wednesday November 7, 2007

“Cambio:” 70 young people were arrested last week in Havana for wearing wristbands with this word, which means “change.” Depending on your perspective, this is either a sign that things are changing or a sign of a new wave of repression. BTW, get your “CAMBIO” bracelet (or any phrase) here.


Wednesday October 17, 2007

Dusty foot: Cubans who immigrate to the US through Mexico, avoiding the Coast Guard and wet-foot/dry-foot. Apparently they can just walk up to a US official at the Mexican border and ask for political asylum.


Tuesday September 11, 2007

None of your business?

Oh, so, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a big custody case going on in a Miami court involving a 5-year old girl and her Cuban father. It seems he wants custody of her back after letting her come to the US . . . well, whatever. But so anyway, yesterday, the father was testifying, and one of the lawyers asked him to name all the women he’d ever had sex with. What type of crap is that? Someone asks me that and I’ll tell him to go fuck himself straight up; from the witness stand if that’s where I’m sitting. Seriously, isn’t that the kind of intimidation questioning they’d use in Cuba? I mean, if there’s a child in the house and you want to know what’s going on, ask for a number or something, but names?

Judge: “If he went out with other women and had sex with them, I don’t care . . . Quite frankly, if you go out and look at everybody who’s had sex with everybody, you are going to have to take a lot of kids away . . . People have sex, and they lie about it, as we all know.”

So the judge had a problem with the it too, but It’s unclear from the article whether the question ever got answered. (Damn you Carol Miller — setting up a question in the first paragraph and then not answering it!) I sure hope not.


Friday August 3, 2007

“Miami has a big stigma attached to it among cultural circles in Cuba. Mainly because of the lack of cultural options compared with any of those cities plus it’s seen as a place where the worst of Cuban idiosyncrasies reign -the loudness, the tackiness, the flashiness, the braggadocio, the gold-chains-and-undershirt set and also the intolerant politics.” — Alex.


Friday July 27, 2007

“When I started my blog, people were upset that I didn’t offer my opinion. Some of the hard-line exiles felt I should be out there as a champion for anti-Castro cause. There is a concept in parts of the traditional Cuban exile community where you have to pass a litmus test of opinion to be approved of or included. But that’s a minority point of view.” — Oscar Corral, interviewed by Rebecca Wakefield. Corral has been going some great work lately, but count me among those who find it odd that he doesn’t want his blog to be “anti-Castro.” (via Herald Watch)


Thursday June 7, 2007

Glimpse from inside the Vamos a Cuba appeal. The ACLU is all like, “All a publicly elected body has to do to ban a book is utter the word inaccurate? If that’s the case every library administrator and library association in the country should be worried.” And the judges are all like, “[what about] a book about Adolf Hitler that would credit the Nazi leader with creating the Volkswagen and bringing Germany out of the depression — but not mention the Holocaust.” Also, for the sake of posterity, I’m mirroring the court documents posted at the Herald: School Board’s Complaint [PDF]. ACLU’s response [PDF].


Friday May 18, 2007

“The term ‘Miami Mafia’ was coined by castro [sic] himself. To use the term in anything other than a tongue-in-cheek manner (which the tee does and Menendez does not) is to put the lie to what might otherwise be a cogent point she seems to be making.” — nonee moose


Friday March 9, 2007

Priceless: “While hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agents intercepted imaginary Cuban migrants during a massive training exercise in south Florida, two boatloads of actual Cubans sneaked ashore on Miami Beach on Thursday.”


Thursday February 22, 2007

Dalila Rodriguez found a book in a school library she didn’t like, so she decided to steal it. “It’s not censoring; it’s protecting our children from lies.” Um, sorry lady, but censoring is exactly what it is. I say we order a copy of each of these “offensive” books for every library and put them on a special table right in front, where the librarians can keep an eye on them.


Thursday February 1, 2007

“A city-sponsored party at the Orange Bowl would annoy many Cubans on the island who once supported the Cuban dictatorship, and who — while critical of it now — have fears about their future. And a more subdued, official ‘‘public event’‘ without a clear focus would not be much better, since it would inevitably turn into a party. Instead, Cuban exiles should hold a prayer service for the victims of Castro’s military regime. In addition, they could use the occasion to expose Cuba’s disastrous economic policies by collecting food for the Cuban people, who — under their food rationing cards — do not have access to any red meat; only three quarters of a pound of soybean picadillo per person per month.” — Oppenheimer’s thoughts.


Monday January 22, 2007

Are Cuban-Americans violent?


This is a stupid question, and I don’t really have much to say about it. I wanted to express my disagreement with the thrust of Rick’s recent series of posts on the subject without really getting into the argument, so I left a comment saying he was “out of control.” Then I was singled out (with a link, thanks!) in the most recent post, so I feel like I should at least express an opinion.

Asking whether Cuban-Americans are violent is like asking if blonds are violent. Of course it’s absurd to say that there haven’t been violent incidents in the history of anti-Castro activities in Miami. But posts like this one . . .

Are you looking for an adventurous way to spend your Friday afternoon? Wander on down to SW 8th Street and 13th Avenue to the Bay of Pigs Memorial any time after noon and check out the rally that is planned.

If you really like living on the edge, wear your favorite Che tee. And, by all means, wear a pair of good running shoes.

. . . do nothing to advance the conversation, and amount to little more then a middle finger directed towards the entire anti-Castro Cuban-American population. You want to talk about the problems within the Cuban-American community, Rick? I’d suggest starting by showing some empathy with the cause, and trying to understand where those strong emotions come from. Otherwise, you make it too easy to dismiss you as a one-dimensional anti-Cuban demagogue.

Yes, there are violent knuckleheads in the anti-Castro community. There are violent knuckleheads in any group, and when it comes to an issue that people are as passionate about as they are about Cuba, those violent tendencies have a tendency to be inflamed. Those elements deserve criticism, but I believe that criticism of that sort is more credible coming either from within the group, or from a source that has shown empathy with the group’s cause.


Friday January 19, 2007

“Considering Miami’s predominance of Cuban immigrants, it’s astonishing that truly wonderful, home-style, traditional Cuban meals are rare here.” But Pamela Robin Brandt found Las Delicias Restaurant to be to her satisfaction.


Sunday January 7, 2007

Radio and TV Marti is now broadcasting in Miami, and DeFede is not happy.


Wednesday January 3, 2007

How to cook Cuban Black Beans and Rice. Skip the post, and head straight for Firefly’s comment. “Who’s ever heard of ‘draining’ a can of black beans?” Agree there, though beans, rice, and cheese on a tortilla sounds pretty good to me, delusions of Cuban cuisine aside.


Tuesday December 12, 2006

What's up with the New York Times?

While clicking around the internets yesterday, I came across Rick’s post linking to Ziva’s post about Pinochet. Neither is particularly remarkable for what it says (“Pinochet was a bad dude, now he’s dead,” etc.), but interesting threads developed in the comments. It seems that there are actually passionate supporters of Pinochet walking around in our midst, and they’ve let their voices be heard.

Check out Manuel A. Tellechea’s comment — neither site will let me link to it directly, but it’s high up in both threads, pretty long, and hard to miss. This is a guy I’ve very much agreed with in the past, but here he’s just silly. Here’s one paragraph:

But the leftwing media in this country and Western Europe, which believe that countries have the right to commit mass suicide so long as it’s done democratically, as in Germany in 1933, proceeded to blacken Pinochet’s name while extolling the perennially unelected Castro as a folk hero.

Now, that’s just plain silly (even after the “mass suicide” gaffe). Nobody in the mainstream media has ever called Castro a folk hero, any more then they’ve supported the holocaust. When pressed, Manuel challenges me to find articles in major newspapers that refer to Castro as a “monster,” or a “dictator,” as they do with Pinochet. There’s at least one of the former, and plenty of the latter.

The right-wing guys always fixate on the New York Times, and of course the NYT also . . . wait a second. I’m searching the NYT site for articles that include the words “Castro” and “dictator.” Many of them obviously are mentioning Castro in passing, and talking about a different dictator but, hmm, ok — here’s one and here’s another. Whoa! What’s going on here? Here are the respective quotes:

. . . a man whom the vast majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami consider a despicable and murderous dictator.

. . . Mr. Castro, whom the United States government tars as a dictator who suppresses his people.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that one of these articles is a “fascinating” look at a pro-Castro radio station, and another is a rather positive look at a Cuban educational program, why does the New York Times always holding the word “dictator” at arms length. “Those people call him that,” it seems to say, implying (does it not?) that it does not consider him one?

Now, playing the numbers game to try to see who’s better between Pinochet, Castro, Stalin, and Hitler (that’s four murderous dictators, btw, two right-wingers and two left-wingers) is just absurd, as is the notion that American media doesn’t call Castro a dictator — most of them do. But what’s up with the New York Times?


Monday November 27, 2006

What's up with a deleted comment?

screenshot from Babalu: [ED: A PORTION OF THIS COMMENT WAS DELETED BECAUSE IT WAS COMPLETELY INAPPROPORIATE.]OK, so a disgruntled former employee storms the Herald, takes a hostage, and then surrenders. The blogs jump all over it, of course. But one particular thing struck me during all this: a comment left on the Babalu post about the event. Here it is:

“Warning: The Attorney General Has Determined that working at the Miami Herald Is Dangerous to Your Health.”

It’s unfortunate that Jose Varela did not seize the racist Tom Fiedler. Had he done so, Cuban exiles would have erected a monument to Varela at the Cuban Memorial Plaza.

Pretty outrageous comment, and Rick and Bob both picked up on it; at some point in the meantime, the second paragraph of the comment was deleted, presumably by Val, the owner of Babalu. (Rick has thoughtfully archived a pre-deletion screenshot here.)

I find that comment outrageous, maybe even bordering on offensive, but for the life of me I can’t see how it rises to the level of needing to be censored. Now, Val runs a great blog, and I’m not trying to suggest that he can’t do anything he wants with his comments section. But I think the deleting of this comment deserves a little discussion. Many people in the Cuban-American community in Miami hate Fiedler. Heck, many Miamians of all sorts of origins hate him — this is a guy who’s claim to fame is sinking Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign.

But nobody believes that the comment was a serious suggestion that someone harm Fiedler, nor can the “racist” comment possibly be viewed as a factual allegation. This poster was voicing serious dislike of, and doing it in an irreverent fashion. It’s not like joking about violence is considered out of bounds; check out Wonkette’s reaction to this very story:

We hope this is the start of a trend, and expect to see Tom Toles firing warning shots out of Downie’s office window by the end of the year.

And that’s a post, folks, not a comment.

OK, so comments get deleted all the time, right? What’s the big deal? Well, for 99% of the comments that get deleted from blogs, it’s because they’re abusive to the process — we delete spam, commercial messages, and abusive language directed at other commenters (ie “trolling”), which undermine the conversation. We do not, generally, delete comments simply because we disagree with them. But wait a second, if we take the gist of the comment to be that Fiedler is an ass, then presumably the editors of Babalu agree with the sentiment.

So what does it mean that this comment got deleted? That Val actually likes Fiedler? That he thought there was a genuine incitement to kidnap him? Or was it that he didn’t want that comment up because it made his blog’s community look a little nutty?

If it’s the latter, then the implications are troubling. Are they that, once again, the Cuban-American community is supposed to speak with one unified voice? That “extreme” comments are encouraged so long as they stay within certain prescribed lines (note that a regular commenter is named “KillCastro”)? Or that the line between flippant comments and violent actions is still dangerously thin for some?

Again, my intention is not to tell Val how to run his house, or what he can and can’t delete. But unlike zapping a piece of spam, deleting this particular comment had meaning, and it’s worth wondering what that is.

. . .and a not unpredictable brawl ensued in the comments below. I want to thank Val for correcting a couple of my points and sharing his perspective on this issue. To wit: (1) I was wrong about KillCastro being a regular commenter on Balabu; I randomly came across some old posts that led me to that conclusion. (2) I obviously wasn’t clear enough in saying that I think the comment should have stayed. (3) the comment was deleted by George, after consulting with Val (not a major point IMHO).

But let me jump straight to what I think is the most significant issue, and one which everyone in the comments seems to be ignoring: The comment was deleted to avoid (further) criticism from Rick. What’s up with that?? As much as I think the comment should have stayed, I think the reason for its deletion is even worse. We all have strong opinions, and we have blogs so we can hash out our intellectual differences. So why delete a comment to avoid an argument, if it’s an honest argument?

The rest of my thoughts are more relevant to what’s being discussed in the comments, so I’ll continue there. Thanks to everyone for participating — it’s a little bit of a flame war, but there’s some good exchange of ideas, too.

Update: This comment says something very important. Thanks, Manuel.


Friday November 24, 2006

For anyone who thinks the Radio Martí thing is over, check out some recent posts at the Pulp and Herald Watch. That’s right — still raging!


Thursday November 2, 2006

In lieu of posting something real, a riddle: How many Cuban guys does it take to make a sandwich?


Thursday October 5, 2006

Some interesting statistics from a poll of Cuban-Americans

Some interesting statistics from this poll [PDF link] of Cuban-Americans:

More analysis from Henry and DeFede. Questions for thought: For how many different reasons might the 13% above be a much lower number then how many would actually consider returning if freedom and democracy were reinstated? How might the group of people who refuse to talk to surveyors feel differently about these issues then those who agree to do so? And how does a pollster get their list of names and phone numbers, anyway?


Monday September 11, 2006

Overtown gets his copy of Vamos, and muses about Cuba. “Another woman was amazed that there was so many black people in Cuba. She asked us why there are no black Cubans in Miami. No one had an answer for that one.”


Friday August 18, 2006

US steps up anti-Castro TV. Meanwhile, Cuban exiles wage war of terror? Yikes! (thanks KH)


Wednesday August 16, 2006

White Dade does an interesting one on the difference between Cuban-Americans and Cubans. I have no way to confirm what he says, but it relates to part of what I said in Cuba: what happens now? (i.e. that Cuban-Americans are not a random sampling of Cubans, therefore their feelings about, say, Fidel, cannot be attributed to Cubans with 100% certainty). Also something about the “Miami accent.”


Tuesday August 15, 2006

Cuban exiles suspect Castro photos are fakes, obviously. The US government says “there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the photos,” but yet they’re “conducting further analysis.”


Monday August 14, 2006

If you can use photoshop then Fidel must be alive

castro holding a recent newspaper . . . and then you woke up.

No, seriously. What are you trying to do, lull us into a false optimism? This is just sad . . . my cat can work photoshop better then this. I used to do better photo montage with MS Paint when I was in jr. high. Or, were you trying to say that if you can whip up a cartoon with Fidel in it it proves he’s alive?

What, in Cuba they always do a 4-inch bottom margin on the front page of the newspaper, so that bearded dictators have a comfortable spot to grip? Well, ok, i’ll play along. Look at his fingers. Look at the newspaper right around his fingers. Anyone who’s ever held a newspaper knows that’s not how it looks to hold one. OK now look at the newspaper closely. You’ll notice that the paper is sort of an off-white in the photograph. Compare to Fidel’s (sporty, I must say) Adidas jacket. The jacket, along with his face, is clearly lit by crappy flash. The paper, on the other hand, has a much more natural lighting to it, sort of a diffused indirect-sunlight sort of thing.

Speaking of light, though, my favorite thing is the “shadow” the newspaper casts. Look at the neat little line running along the right side of the bottom part of the newspaper. We’re supposed to believe that this is the shadow cast by the camera’s flash. It doesn’t follow the shape of the bed because it’s all about the shape of the object (paper) relative to the flash and the lens. True: crappy flash pictures really do work this way; you can try it. The problem is that the exact thing should happen with the shadow of the top half of the newspaper. But our Comrade Photoshopper thought it looked pretty natural this way: newspaper casting a shadow on the vertical part of the bed, not horizontal. Give me a break. Buy yourself a newspaper, sit in front of a bed, and have a friend flash you. Have fun: get yourself a Cuban-flag-colored Adidas jacket!

Maybe the el Nuevo Herald guys learned photoshop on the island. Sorry, kids: I’m not sure if that’s a real newspaper or not, but I’m damned skippy that it was never in the same room with Fidel.


Fidel with Hugo Chavez and Raul

Here’s the photo released this morning, Fidel with Hugo Chavez and Raul. I haven’t had a chance to look at it closely yet, but on first blush I find this one a little more convincing. While it’s certainly possible that they montaged ‘em together, if I were trying to inspire confidence I wouldn’t choose a picture of FC lying in a hospital bed. Also, Chavez would have had to go along with it, and why would he put his integrity on the line like that? On the other hand, we have the weird “be prepared for bad news” comment coming out of Cuba, so it’s a mystery. I still say the first photo’s a fake, though.


Monday August 7, 2006

51st State of the USA: South Florida Cuba (guy with a map)

Noted without comment, though Robert has some.


Wednesday August 2, 2006

Oppenheimer is all like, wtf is going on in Cuba?? And then he’s got some good speculation. Conclusion: Even if Fidel recovers, “we would see a power-sharing agreement in which Fidel Castro could become—at least in title—a ceremonial head of state.”



Cuba: what happens now?


Let’s assume for the moment that Fidel Castro is alive in fact, but dead effectively: that is, he’s sick to an extent that will make it impossible to return to power for a long while. Let’s further assume that the instability of the transfer, along with Raul Castro’s weaker political clout and cult-of-personality, make it impossible for the new leader to hold the Communist regime together. These assumptions each have considerable evidence behind them, but I feel comfortable making them primarily because the effect of their incorrectness would be little but to delay whatever the result would be. Where, then, does that leave us?

Since our current international eye is so used to looking at Iraq, it’s easy to conjure up images of civil unrest, chaos, and jostling for power. I find such predictions unpersuasive. In fact, I think the Velvet Revolution may be a much closer model of what is to come in Cuba. Whether it be in weeks or years remains to be seen, but let’s consider how the end of the Castro era in Cuba is likely to be similar or different from the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. (For new readers, I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1974, and immigrated to the US with my family in 1980.)

The Velvet Revolution was precipitated by events from outside the country: specifically, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of Communism in most surrounding countries. As shocks to the system go, it seems roughly equivalent to loosing the one figurehead who’s been in charge of the Communist regime of Cuba for all this time. So the spark is there. But is there any fuel? By my estimation (And this might be a fair moment to point out that I’m no expert on on this stuff. If these thoughts have any weight, they must have it on their own merit. Feel free to dismiss them as rampant speculation.), two components are necessary for a relatively bloodless transition away from Communism: a strong intellectual dissident movement, and a significant percentage of fed-up population willing to put themselves at some risk to overthrow the regime.

Dissident intellectuals? I suspect Cuba is rich with them. Witness the reports that the government has been cracking down on just such dissidents over the last few days. That Raul may take a particularly strong position against them in the first days of his rule to prove his strength. And note the plight of Guillermo Fariñas, which, for all his suffering, made it into the international press. On NPR today I heard an interview with a Havana resident described as a “dissident and economist.” Nuff said.

Fed-up population ready to demonstrate? Hmm… here’s where Cuba’s geographical situation works against it. The problem is that it’s just so darned close to the US, which provides an escape hatch for those to whom the regime is most insufferable. I mean, no, the journey from there to here is nothing if not arduous. But it’s doable. And the costs of an attempt are low. (In contrast, my family had to go through endless legal wrangling and political subterfuge to get official permission for a vacation in Yugoslavia, which for some reason had a demi-porous (read: soldiers with machine guns patrolling, but only intermittently) border with Austria.) The result is that the very Cubans who might right now be most eager to rush into the streets of Havana with a view towards overthrowing the Commies are . . . living in Miami.

Of course this isn’t intended as a slight on Cuban-Americans or on the act of immigration. (When faced with a situation, it’s only right that each family does what it needs to do.) It’s an observation: one that might explain the oddly reticent reaction of folks still on the island. The lack of protests might very well be a simple a biding of time, though.

In the case of the Velvet Revolution, more then a week went by between the sparking incident and the tipping point, which came on November 17, 1989. Basically, what is required is a consensus feeling that change is possible, and something to motivate a lot of people to get out there and make it happen. Lots of things go into something like this, and again I note the importance of dissident leaders as a motivating force. (The riot police who responded to the demonstrations on November 17th blocked all the exits except one, and every person, as they filed out, got a whack of billy club across the back. The strength of a large group of people being able to take shit like that leads rather directly to the downfall of governments.)

Weighing all of this, I can’t help but feel optimistic for Cuba. Some absurdly thoughtful comments at the previous thread make it clear that the Velvet Revolution is but one possible model of what is to come in Cuba. Another equally plausible one is China: a Communist power that relaxes financial restrictions while holding tightly on to control of society. I don’t think I need to convince anyone that the way I’ve outlined—of temporary, short-lived suffering, followed by the sweet freedom of reality—is preferable to the slow and gradual relaxing of restrictions by a still oppressive regime. But I think the the situation is right for this kind of overthrow. The idea of Communism in Cuba is so closely tied to the leader that Val calls ‘the bearded goat’ that with him gone, everyone—man in the street, soldier in uniform, party intellectual, and even Raul himself—will be thrown into enough of a state of anomie that some drastic change will seem inevitable. The inevitability of that change itself is a powerful motor. Let’s hope it gives a push in the right direction.

Update: Some interesting and related information at the 26th. And at Balabu: read this and do this.


Monday July 31, 2006

What's up with Castro?

Raul Castro

Holy shit: People have taken to the streets in Little Havana in Miami. Calle Ocho is packed with Cubans celebrating the news. The news, that is, of FIDEL CASTRO’S POSSIBLE DEATH. I’ll go with the guy on Calle Ocho that Balabu quotes: “While we celebrate here, I urge the Cuban people in cuba to take to the streets. This is the opportune moment. Now is the time.”

Image: Raul Castro, currently in control of Cuba.

Update (11:30 pm): Cubans in Miami wait for news on Castro. How would Raul Castro govern?

Update (11:56 pm): Channel 4 is doing online and on-air live coverage of local celebrations and ad-hoc analysis of Cuba’s future, “a nexus of emotion.” Manny Diaz is on the scene. I’m toasting Fidel’s possible death myself. Here’s to your hopefully imminent demise, old man—may you rot in hell!

Update (12:50 am): Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez press confrence: “The Emergency Operations Center is active on level 2 . . . keep your celebrations out of the street [fat chance] . . . 311 is open . . . blah, blah, blah.” Channel 4 just replayed the announcement that Castro’s office manager read, and it’s some crazy stuff. Meanwhile, balabu is still on it: “Behind every smile, behind every feeling of unbridled joy and desperate happiness, there are 47 years of tears . . . Viva Cuba libre coño!

Update (8/1/06 7:27 am): The consensus among news sources is that Fidel Castro is still alive, though probably in very poor health. Raul’s profile has been gradually increased, possibly over the last couple of months. Humanitarian violations in Cuba have stepped up over the last couple of days. Meanwhile, some Wikipedia articles worth keeping up with: July 2006 transfer of power, Raul Castro, and, of course, Fidel Castro. The latter entry is locked up tight to newbie modification.) From the Herald: the Complete text of the proclamation is worth reading. Can’t seem to find the video of the proclamation, which was also very interesting (the guy who read it was very young). Raúl groomed for top job.

Update (7:38 am): Wha? Part of the Herald’s coverage is coverage of Critical Miami coverage. I’d be careful about clicking that link – some weird hypertext feedback loop might result (ok not really – they don’t give my URI, much less link!). And yes, I had to find out about this from Rick, where, truth be told, I first heard about Castro last night. Way to go, Rick! (And check out his frank look at his own feelings about all this.)

Update (7:56 am): A brief report on how Cubans still living on the island took the news of Fidel Castro’s illness (4’s coverage of all this generally has been superb). I’m looking around for more media interviews with Miami Cubans about this, with little success. Val’s thoughts are great: “I should note, for those of you that arent very familiar with fidel castro’s deaths, that this is the first time where actual reports on castro’s health were made publicly to the Cuban people via Cuban media. [. . .] If you guys think last nights imromptu celebrations caused by the news of the relinquishing of power were big, just wait until the news that the old goat is dead top be confirmed. Even clocks will stop in Miami that day.”

Update (8:47 am): At the BBC, a great slideshow of Miami celebrations (which begins with a picture of the Cuban spokesdude that delivered the proclamation), as well as one of those quasi-celebratory Castro bios Val predicted. More quotes: “I’m praying to God to give us a miracle and let that man die.” (Gabriela Burmudez) “My grandfather waited forever for this day and he died in 2000. I’m here celebrating for him.” (Edgar Montegudo) And Conductor says, “As my grandmother has grown older . . . one of the things she frequently repeated was that she only really had one thing to live for anymore, to outlive fidel castro even if it would be by only one minute . . . Hang on Abuelita, hang on.”

Update (9:51 am): Joe Cooper is having a panel to discuss all this on his show today. Participants have not been announced. Listen at 1 pm on 91.3 fm or Bob compares point sizes of the word “Castro” on the covers of the local newspapers. Y No Mas says: Castro’s signature is a fake.


Wednesday July 26, 2006

Conductor has some thoughts on the Vamos decision. “For better or for worse the Miami-Dade School Board voted to remove Vamos a Cuba from school libraries. While I personally disagree with the decision, I believe the board was well within its rights to do so. [ . . . ] So now a judge has arbitrarily ruled that the book be put back into circulation and I have a big problem with that strictly from a separation of powers standpoint. As usual the courts are overstepping their bounds and making public policy.” It’s a point, although I question the aptness of the word “arbitrarily.” I think the courts’ intervention on matters like desegregation and censorship is a good thing. And Conductor never quite explains why he doesn’t consider the school board’s decision censorship. Update: Conductor updated his post, and updated the URL, too, breaking the link above! (thanks Franklin) Here’s the new link, along with a wag of the finger to Conductor and to Blogger: Cool URIs don’t change.


Tuesday July 25, 2006

. . . and just like that, Vamos a Cuba is back in the schools for good. Damn, that was fast. (via hiddencity) Update: SDoF has a great quote from the judge: the School Board “abused its discretion in a manner that violated the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.’’ Also, a link to the full ruling [PDF]. Update: Oh yeah, they can appeal. Miami Gradebook explains what’s doing with each of the individual members and concludes they probably won’t.


Monday July 24, 2006

Cuban regime feeling heat from Czechs. The dissension in Czechoslovakia when it was under Communism is a strange and wonderful history, and it’s nice to see the Czech government staying true to those ideals. “The 44-year-old Kolar, who worked as janitor in the 1980s after he was ejected from a university for refusing to join the Communist Party, and more recently oversaw a human-rights division in the foreign ministry, said Czechs have a sense of kinship with the Cuban opposition.” Update: Robert’s thoughts.


Tuesday July 18, 2006

Little Black Sambo vs. Vamos A Cuba

Nazi book burning

Bill’s recent comment on the ‘Vamos a Cuba’ post offers an interestingperspective. He compares the book to Little Black Sambo, and claims that both books must remain available, not despite their inaccuracies, but because of them, as they are part of our history.

While the argument is powerful, and works very well for LBS, applying it to VaC is problematic. First of all, the alleged sins of VaC are sins of omission, not sins of commission. Whereas Sambo is wrong because it encourages thinking in terms of racial stereotypes, the most we can accuse Vamos of is of overlooking unpleseant truths.

Little Black Sambo does have a place in Americas history and, as such, should be presented for what it was/is therby assuring a thourghly educated populace. I would not want the book to come up in discusion, only to have my child ignorant of its meaning and its history.

LBS has a place in the history of racist portrayals of people of color, and it needs to be perserved for that reason. But the word “history” is carrying serious weight there: the book was published originally in 1899. The same does not apply to VaC, though, which dates back to 2000 – it’s not “historical” in a real sense. It is, rather, a product of the present. That is to say, LBS’s place in history is decided not so much by its publication, but by its acceptance for most of the 20th century. We have the opportunity to deny that acceptance to ‘Vamos a Cuba.’

In some sense, that’s what this fight is about – does our society tolerate accounts of totalitarian regimes that are incomplete in this fashion? Or do we hold them on par with racial stereotypes?

It’s interesting to note that VaC is not being condemned for expressing an undesirable perspective – it’s being condemned for not expressing a sufficiently negative perspective — of Communist Cuba. One could make a comparison to a textbook banned in Saudi Arabia for not expressing a sufficiently negative perspective of life in the United States. Or something. It’s also worth noting that ‘Vamos a Cuba’ is not nearly the sunny portrait of life in Cuba some believe. While the text omits mention of politics, its depiction of poverty is unmistakable.

What’s interesting about the VaC situation is that there is no reasonable compromise. Val groped around for it when he tounge-in-cheek (?) suggested placing the book in the fiction section. A more ‘reasonable’ compromise is the warning label approach (“This book presents a view of life in Communist Cuba which many find inaccurate and disagreeable . . .”), which is also so patently absurd that nobody I know of seriously advocates it. We are left with a simple leave it/remove it choice.

Blinded by passion, some folks have advocated the removal of this book. I understand their frustration. Were it up to me, I’d leave the book, but in fact it’s not up to anyone – the Schoolboard has made the decision to pull it. From a legal perspective at least, it seems pretty obvious that they fucked up royally.

Had ‘Vamos a Cuba’ stayed in our libraries, we, as a society, would have had the opportunity to condemn it as propaganda and distortion. We could have continued to discuss its failings, and let those discussions be the history of this book, not the acceptance that ‘Little Black Sambo’ enjoyed.

But there’s the rub: we still can. And we will. Despite the Schoolboard’s boneheaded move, the book is still widely availabe. And it seems pretty clear that the ACLU action will have ‘Vamos a Cuba’ back on the shelves sooner or later. Unlike the Nazis, we’re not actually burning books, and we’re not about to start.


Wednesday July 12, 2006


protest with signsprotest with signs

A little protest (maybe 50 people), possibly about this, in which case they have my unmitigated sympathy. Monday afternoon, MacArthur bridge to the Beach. (click images for flickr link)


Friday July 7, 2006

Steve does Vamos a Miami.


Monday June 12, 2006

What's up with 'A Visit to Cuba'?

visit to cuba book cover

Over on Net for Cuba, Agustin Blazquez argues passionately for the removal of Vamos a Cuba and its English counterpart, A Visit To Cuba, from school libraries (via 26thparallel). The two books are in the middle of a giant debate, because it’s a “unreasonably sunny portrait of life under Fidel Castro.”

Blazquez’s argument boils down to this: if you remove books offensive to other groups (as is the school board’s policy), then you must remove remove this book, because it is extremely offensive to Cuban-Americans. The problem with that argument, of course, is that it could be used to remove books about nuclear power from schools if they are deemed offensive to environmentalists, or to remove books about computers if they offend the Amish.

No, the only sensible reason to remove a book from a school is if the book could be harmful to children. That would actually be the case if it misrepresented the political situation in Cuba. I haven’t seen the book, so I can’t make up my mind for sure. According to the description on Amazon, the book covers “land, landmarks, homes, food, clothes, work, transportation, language, school, free time, celebrations, and the arts.” It’s unclear how a denunciation of the Castro regime, or even depictions of suffering, would fit into this program: the book is intended for grades 2 to 4. What’s more, it’s part of a series, and I’m guessing the rest of the volumes don’t discuss the politics of the nations they’re from.

But yes, it’s a touchy subject, and it’s certainly possible that some of the pictures in the book cross the line. I suspect that what’s happening here, though, is that we have a book that is free of politics, and that is what bothers the Cuban-Americans. Any opportunity to criticize the Castro regime should be seized, and any such opportunity missed should be condemned. And while I’m generally sympathetic to that attitude, I don’t believe it should be extended to a book intended for little children. If all the it does is make the idea of people living in Cuba more of a tangible reality for children, then it’s doing exactly what it should to prepare them to understand the situation Cuban people live under. With any luck, by the time they’re old enough to learn about the specific politics, the Castro regime will be long gone, and Cuba will be democratic and prosperous.

Update: it’s gone.


Friday June 2, 2006

Castro’s alive. When I heard this report on the radio this morning, I swear they made it sound like he’d died for the first minute or two… there was even a “as far as we know, he’s alive and well” disclaimer at the end. Good grief! There’s also a big plan [pdf], presumably about what to do when he dies (it’s funny to read, because it’s a plan for “preparedness,” but they never say what they’re preparing for).


Tuesday May 16, 2006

Rick lays into the Cubans. Well, not exactly – he’s laying into a particular no-immigration-except-for-us mentality.


Sunday May 7, 2006

Cuban connection

A follow-up to the Herald blogging post is really not necessary, since most of the blogs, while based in Miami, are not really about Miami. (There are, by the way, two new ones.)

Oscar Corral’s Cuban Connection is interesting sometimes. He recently posted about breaking up his blogroll into pro-Castro and anti-Castro, which just comes across as weird: the Herald’s blog on Cuban issues is “neutral” about whether Castro is good or bad?! To top that off, he refers to the “irreverence” of some of the anti-Castro blogs. Robert actually had a pretty good-natured response to that comment, which I’d have been pissed off about if I were him. Also, babalú gets oddly snubbed.

In any case, the comments section looks completely unmoderated, and an unhinged argument ensues.


Tuesday April 11, 2006

Last Tuesday Ever*

miami beach city hall


Monday March 27, 2006

Guillermo Fariñas

Guillermo Fariñas “I got on my knees and said, ‘Down With Fidel!’ They started kicking and beating me, bruising my back, arm and head. They stopped when they saw I would not lose my dignity and say things I didn’t feel.” (Herald)

So says Guillermo Fariñas, who has been on a hunger strike for 55 days, after his e-mail was taken away by the Cuban regime. We are blogging about this because we agree that it is an injustice, although I’m pessimistic about the power of blogs to make much difference in this case. Why is it that ten years after the fall of most communist regimes in Europe, Cuba is still in this impossible situation?

Update: Link to Reporters Without Borders story.