Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Beak Speaks

Yesterday I was contacted by a blogger named Beakerin and asked to answer a few questions for an online interview. Here are his questions and my answers.

1. There is a stereotype amongst the far left that all the Cubans who fled are super wealthy. Can you describe the variety of people in your local community? Can you explain the financial hardships many Cuban Immmigrants faced upon arrival in the USA?

The only people that fled Cuba with money were the members of the Batista regime that fled at the very beginning. We’re talking about very few people. They fled because they were afraid that they would be swept up in the reign of terror. Most Cubans, even wealthy ones had a “wait and see approach” to castro. After all, he had promised a return to the constitution of 1940, free elections within 18 months and had denied being a communist.

As the regime began to consolidate and eliminate dissent in its ranks many of the upper and middle class folks saw the writing on the wall and abandoned the country. Political exiles from Cuba living in US was not a new phenomenon. Jose Marti, the apostle of Cuban independence, actually lived longer in exile in the states than he lived in Cuba.

I would classify the big wave of immigration to the US in the early 60s as educated not wealthy. My father for example was med student in Cuba when the revolution came. (In Cuba the high schools awarded a Bachelor diploma. You entered the university into your specialty like law school or med school.) He arrived literally with nothing more than that diploma. My mother didn’t even have that; she came at the age of 17 without a diploma. My grandfather was a doctor in the Cuban army before the revolution. When he arrived in the US in the mid 60s he did so without a dime in his pocket. He had to re-certify himself as a physician at an advanced age.

After the 60s Cuban immigration can’t be categorized by class because there are no classes in revolutionary Cuba like we have here. There are only two classes, the ruling class and the ruled.

In 1980 the Mariel boatlift brought 125,000 Cubans to the US. Many of these had either been born in after the Revolution or had lived most of their lives under it. The 90s brought a wave of rafters to the US that numbered more than 30,000. It was this uncontrolled migration that caused the Clinton administration to implement the wet foot/dry foot policy that exists to this day. Cubans interdicted at sea are sent back and those who make it to dry land get to stay. Since it’s hard to make it undetected on a raft, this is a magnet for human smugglers that use “go-fast” boats.

In exchange for changing the rules on who gets to stay, Clinton created a visa lottery in which Cubans can apply for 20,000 visas annually. In Cuba this is called El Bombo, literally the drawing (as if winning the lottery). There has been a silent migration of 200,000 Cubans to the US in the last 10 years. I have talked with many of these recent arrivals and blogged about it.

The population in Cuba today is 11 million. In 1959 the it was 6 million. Today there are more than 1.5 million Cuban-born people living outside of Cuba. The numbers dictate that all of these people could not possibly have been rich in Cuba.

2. Do you still have relatives in Cuba? Does your family send money and consumer products back to these relatives?

All of my immediate family lives in the US. My father has some cousins in Cuba. Some of them have come to the US to visit but because they are at an advanced age they returned to Cuba.

3. Does Cuba hold political prisoners? Would you talk about two or three of the most famous political prisoners? One of the problems Cuban Americans have in getting their message out is the American people do not have a name like a Sakharov or a Havel to rally around.

Amnesty International currently recognizes more than 60 prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Reporters without borders recognizes 24 independent journalists being held as political prisoners (Cuba is 2nd behind China on this count. China has 31 with a population more than 100 times larger than Cuba). All told there are more than 300 political prisoners in Cuba and many more who are on the street with a “conditional release” meaning they can be picked up for literally any reason. In 2003 the Cuban government cracked down on dissidents and arrested 75 of them in what is now known as the black spring. At least 60 of them remain in prison today. It was because of this crackdown that the EU established some tepid sanctions against the regime which the socialist government of Spain succeeded in suspending a couple of years ago. I can’t explain why the world doesn’t know the names of Cuba’s political prisoners like Oscar Elias Biscet, an afro-Cuban doctor who started an organization called the Lawton Foundation for human rights. He had been given a conditional release only to be picked up in the black spring crackdown. More information about Biscet is available at Free Biscet and more info about Cuba’s political prisoners is available at Uncommon Sense.

4. Is the boycott the cause of inability of the Cuban economy to provide basic consumer staples like food? There is a joke that drives Commies up a wall. A Cuban has three ways to get a good meal in Cuba. They could become a prostitute or if their morals are lower they could join the Communist party. Lastly they could demand asylum in GITMO where our prisoners sit in air conditioned cells and eat better than Cuban workers.

I believe you are talking about the trade embargo that the US put on Cuba after Cuba expropriated $1.8 billion in US assets without compensation in the early days of the revolution. The embargo is an excuse that castro uses and the media eats up. The fact is that the Soviet Union subsidized the money-pit that is communist Cuba to the tune of billions of dollars annually. Now Venezuela has replaced the USSR as castro’s benefactor. These subsidies remove incentives for castro inc. to implement economic reforms. Cuba is free to trade with every other country in the world and does so with many including the EU, Mexico, and Canada. Despite the embargo he US is currently Cuba’s top food supplier (because agricultural products and medicines are excluded from the embargo) and one of Cuba’s top 5 trading partners overall. Certainly communist party officials have more access to scarce resources than ordinary Cubans. Cubans joke that there is no socialismo in Cuba but only sociolismo (socio means partner, meaning that it all depends on who your buddy or partner is). As for the US base in Guantanamo Bay, it would be hard for any Cuban to get in since the surrounding area has been mined by the Cuban government.

5. What are the real ingredients to a Cuban Sandwich?

A Cuban Sandwich is Pork, Ham, Swiss Cheese, Pickles and mustard on Cuban bread. The same ingredients on a Cuban sweet roll make a medianoche or midnight sandwich.

6. Does Cuba have spies in the USA?

Does a bear shit in the woods? Google the following: Ana Belen Montes, Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, and the WASP spy network. All of these are convicted Cuban spies that have been discovered in the last 10 years. Ana Belen Montes was a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst that was arrested days after 9/11. The feds had her in their sights but she was about to be made privy to US battle plans for Afghanistan and they felt they had to grab her. She pled guilty to espionage and is serving a 25 year sentence. The Wasp spy ring was involved with, among other things, the shootdown by Cuban forces of two unarmed American civilian aircraft over international waters in 1996. 3 American citizens and one American legal resident died in that action. Also the WASP spies were found to have been spying on movements at the US Southern Command. Carlos and Elsa Alavarez were just sentenced this year. They were psychology professors at Florida International University and they had been gathering information on prominent Miami exiles and sending it to Cuba via shortwave. Among other things one of them was responsible for the psychological evaluations for local law enforcement. Clearly there are more spies among us. Scott Carmichael, the DIA agent that busted Montes believes as much and says so in his book about the matter called “true believer.”

7. Does the vaunted Cuban health care system still quarantine AIDS patience and place political prisoners in mental health facilities?

The Cuban government certainly created camps to segregate AIDS patients during the height of the worldwide epidemic. I would be lying if I told you that I knew whether or not the practice exists today. It’s also hard to know exactly how many people have AIDS in Cuba. I know personally of at least one dissident (the father of Miami Doctor Malvis Labrada) who is being held in an insane asylum. A few years ago a former staffer from one of these institutions named Eriberto Mederos was fingered to US authorities as being a torturer by one of his victims. Mederos was found guilty of lying on his citizenship application, his citizenship was revoked and I believe he was deported.

8. What does a Cuban Block party do? Does the government employ an army of Finks and snitches?

I believe you are referring to the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution). Yes these are neighborhood spies that report on movements and actions of their neighbors. These, like many Cuban institutions, are based on models from the USSR and other former communist countries from the eastern bloc.

9. Does Cuba still discriminate against Homosexuals?

The regime is trying to paint itself as friendlier to homosexuals these days. Part of that is the recent visibility of Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela who has been outspoken about gay rights. Cuba is even publicizing free sex change operations. But you are right, the regime has historically been intolerant of gays. In particular, revolutionary hero Che Guevara was very intolerant of them. There were work camps called UMAPs where gays, long-haired rockers and other "undesirables" were sent.

10. Does Cuba persecute Christians and the handful of Jews who remain. At one point the government of Cuba outlawed the Hebrew language.

Castro closed all the religious schools (including his own alma mater) and expelled many of the religious orders in the early days. At one point they actually banned Christmas celebrations. For many years being a practicing person of faith limited ones possibilities for advanced education at for promotions at work. Again here the regime is trying to put a happy face on the situation. Pope John Paul II visited Cuba in the 90s and castro rolled out the red carpet for him even placing a mural of Jesus Christ across the plaza of the Revolution from the giant Che Guevara sculpture. But the church is full of spies. Just recently the independent Catholic magazine called Vitral was closed ostensibly because of lack of funds but in reality because the Church caved in to the regime. The disappearance of a vibrant Jewish population in Cuba is one of the saddest outcomes of the Revolution. My grandmother worked as a Spanish teacher to many Jewish children that came to Cuba in the post World War 2 era.

11. Is Fidel Castro linked to the Narcotics trade?

Yes. There is a lot of evidence that Cuba was an important transshipment point for drugs during the 80s and 90s. When things got too hot, Castro fabricated a scapegoat in the form of the popular general and Angola veteran, Arnaldo Ochoa who was promptly executed. From time to time an indictment of Raul Castro has been discussed in the US but nothing has ever come of it despite the fact that former US attorneys say that there is enough evidence to get one. Today it’s humans, not drugs, that are being smuggled out of Cuba. It’s hard to believe that smugglers can get in and out of a highly militarized totalitarian state that is said to be expecting an invasion from the US any day without being detected.

12. Does Cuba discriminate against Blacks?

Yes. Particularly in the tourism industry where white workers are preferred. All of the employees of foreign managed hotels are selected by an official Cuban government employment agency so the companies can’t be blamed for this discrimination. The Rand Corporation has a report in which they detail official Cuban racism.

Additionally for a country that is more than 60% black or mulatto, there are very few blacks and mulattos in the upper echelons of the party and government structures.

14. What excuses do the far left come up with for Cuban mercenaries aiding a homicidal regime in Ethiopia? Cuba also sent 1200 soldiers to Syria in the Yom Kippur War? Where are the peaceniks when Cuba interferes in the affairs of other countries?

The short answer is they ignore Cuba’s interventions in Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador Grenada and other places. You’d have to ask them why.

15. We have several readers who visit Cuba on government-sponsored trips? Do the experiences of the tourists provide any insight into the lives of ordinary Cubans?

Let’s put it this way, these tourists aren’t shown where the “sausage is made”. Cuba, like Nazi Germany, has become pretty efficient about hiding what it doesn’t want outsiders to see. Additionally Cubans themselves are either afraid to talk openly with foreigners or are well versed in the “doble-moral” or being two faced: parroting the official discourse in public and lamenting the inequities of the Cuban system privately. The people that take these kind of trips are predisposed to believing the propaganda from the regime so it’s doubtful that my comments will make any impact with them. For the rest of you I can only repeat what a friend of mine always says: The rafts only go in one direction. If free healthcare and education was all that it’s cracked up to be, these people would be happy in Cuba and not risking their lives to make it to freedom.

16. Is there any celebrity whose stupidity on Cuba stands out?

Harry Belafonte. Danny Glover. Jesse Jackson, Charlie Rangel (seeing a trend?) For some reason Black America has really bought into castro inc and its incredible PR campaign. There are others like Carlos Santana and Diego Maradona, both Che worshippers.

17. Do Cubans take special pride in the success of the few pro baseball players that have made an impact in the pros such as El Duque and Jose Contreras? Does news of their exploits reach Cuba itself?

Yes. Cubans are very aware of the major leagues and the Cuban players playing in them. One of my favorite anecdotes is about the World Baseball Classic last year. When Cuba was playing Japan in the final, a Cuban player hit a homerun and ESPN cut to the Parque Central in Cuba where the regime had set up a giant screen and the man standing in the foreground was wearing a t-shirt with an American flag on the back. You can see the screen capture here.

Despite all the rhetoric from the regime Cubans still have an affinity for all things American. We've had an interwined history since the time that Cuba and Florida were both Spanish colonies. Cubans served on both sides in the American Civil war. Cuba was the first country outside of the US to bottle Coca-Cola. Cuba was used as a test market for American companies because pre-castro consumer tastes were so similar to those in the US. In the 1950s, Cuba had a net negative immigration to the US, meaning that more Americans were moving there than Cubans were moving to the US.

Someday soon free Cubans and Americans will be able to share a smoke and a drink at a hotel bar in Havana. Unfortunately right now they can't because Cubans aren't allowed in the tourist facilities, even if they have the money to use them.

18. What are your views on immigration? Should the United States move from a family based policy to one based on vocation?

I am all for border security but I think that many of my Republican colleagues are misguided on the issue of immigration. The Pat Buchanans and Tom Tancredos of the world are not conservatives but populists who are using demagoguery on the immigration issue. If I were responsible for immigration policy I would focus on three key areas:

First I would secure the borders and make them as air-tight as possible. Secondly, I would find a way to make the current illegals legal (it’s to their benefit and ours that this happens) and lastly I would make it much easier for immigrants (particularly from Latin America) to come to the US by increasing the number of visas for all types of workers. The median age for the non-Hispanic white population in the US is more than 10 years older than that for Hispanics. We need young workers in the US to replace the aging work force. It’s supply and demand. We are artificially putting limits on the supply. The US immigration problem isn’t as dire as in other countries. For the most part immigrants from Latin American countries have Judeo-Christian values. They aren’t going to create a jihad in our streets. The reality is that Hispanics are conservative in nature.

19. You may not be able to answer this one. Many of my friends had a minor problem when they entered the workforce with employers who think the Latin American community is a monolith. A Cuban American friend of mine was upset that he was moved into Spanish advertising when he graduated. In the long run it was a career builder as Spanish advertising has grown in importance. Does this misconception of a common Latino American culture exist?

It’s funny that you should mention Spanish advertising because that’s the field I work in, on the agency side. Your friend was moved into that area because corporations are realizing the incredible growth in buying power among Hispanics in the US and are finding that they have very few Hispanics in their company ranks to manage these marketing programs. Unfortunately many companies promote people from sales or other operational areas that have no background in marketing into Hispanic marketing because simply because they are Hispanic.

I could do a dissertation on what clients do right and wrong in these programs and in the hiring of their personnel but I won’t bore you with the details except to say that my ideal client would be a sophisticated marketer and a Hispanic. If I could only have one of those things I’d take a sophisticated marketer that isn’t Hispanic.

By the way, related to this topic and the immigration topic, the largest spender in Spanish language media is a company called Lexicon Marketing which sells “Learn to Speak English” courses. People who say Hispanics don’t want to learn English are ignorant.

20. Are you fully bilingual? Can one pick up regional accents in Spanish much like our regional and national accents in English?

I’m about as bilingual as an American-born Cuban can get. I didn’t specifically study Spanish in college but I have been speaking it all my life. My written Spanish is a little clumsy. And yes Spanish speakers can detect accents. Some are more obvious than others. Argentines, Spaniards, Mexicans all have very distinct accents.

21. Is the news on the Spanish stations such as Telemundo or Globovision as far to the left as its English speaking counterparts. Has a latino version of talk radio emerged yet?

Univision and Telemundo largely cater to the 2/3 of the Hispanic population which is Mexican in origin. As a result they cover a lot of Latin American news with a focus on Mexico. They tend to be left of center like the English language MSM and are particularly activist when it comes to the immigration issue. There are some nationally syndicated radio shows (the equivalent of Dr. Laura, Suze Ormond, and The Car Guys) but they don’t have the ratings of English talk radio. In Miami there is a significant anti-castro talk radio industry.

22. Do you watch professional or college sports? Which teams are your favorites?

I am a Florida Gator. I got my degree from UF in 1991 and am very happy to say that the Gators are defending national champs in basketball and football. I have a blog called Saurian Sagacity dedicated to Gator sports and particularly football.

I have been a Marlins season ticket holder for 5 years and am a big baseball fan. When it comes to pro football I root for the Dolphins but I was born in Philly and still have a soft spot for the Eagles.

23. What are your views on gasoline taxes? Do these taxes have an adverse impact on the rural poor?

I think gas taxes are among the most insidious that we have. When you buy gas (in Florida, at least) you have no idea how much of what you paid went to the various government entities in taxes because the per-gallon price includes it all and it’s not itemized. I can think of no other product where this is the case. John Stossel recently did a piece on gas prices and he showed that the government makes more on gas taxes than the “greedy” oil companies do in profits. My degree is in economics and one of the things that gets me is how little people understand about the economics of oil.

24. What are your views on the UN? Should the United States leave the UN?

The UN is useless. It’s a podium on US soil for enemies of the US to rail against the US. The new Human Rights Commission is an example of how ludicrous this has become. Cuba and other human rights abusers sit on that commission. They just voted to eliminate the special reporters assigned to Cuba and Belarus. I would love for the US to tell all these America haters to take their circus somewhere else. But alas we’ll never have a leader with the gonads to do it.

25. Should the US government make a serious effort to penalize employers who hire illegal aliens or even worse employ child labor?

As I stated earlier, we can make fundamental changes to immigration policy that would eliminate the “illegal alien” class from our society by making illegals legal, closing the border, and allowing a lot more legal immigration. As for child labor, I’m not sure we have a huge problem with that unless it’s among these illegal families. Once legal, the need for children in these families to work will decrease.

1 comment:

beakerkin said...

Cross promotion of blogs is an excellent marketing strategy. The usual supects are indeed afraid of Cuban Americans.