IAPA criticizes Cuba's treatment of
The Associated Press, March
MIAMI -- The Inter American Press Association
has accused Cuba of harassing of independent
journalists and called for the release of
75 dissidents and journalists from its jails.
A news release marking Thursday's one-year
anniversary of the crackdown on the dissident
movement and independent journalists in
Cuba said the communist island jails the
most journalists than any other country,
"Journalism in Cuba is still characterized
by ever more deplorable threats to the free
exercise of the profession, democratic values
and human dignity,'' said the IAPA, a continentwide
organization of newspapers based in Miami.
The dissenters -- 74 men and a woman--
were sentenced after the March 18, 2003,
roundup to terms of six to 28 years, accused
of working for the U.S. government to undermine
the communist government of Fidel Castro.
The dissidents have said their only crime
was speaking their mind.
The organization offered heavy criticism
of Cuba for having squalid conditions in
its jails, raiding the homes of independent
journalists, tapping their phones and even
assaulting them on the streets.
In one case cited by the IAPA report, journalist
Maria Elena Alpizar was attacked Feb. 20
in the streets in Placetas, Cuba. Alpizar
was on her way to report a police raid when
a car carrying police officers hit her in
the presence of witnesses, the report said.
She was detained for several hours and fined,
the report said.
However, the report also says that relatives
of some of the journalists a relative change
in the attitude toward some of the prisoners.
Since the middle of February, some have
been transferred to jails closer to their
homes and several are getting medical exams.
But the report said that the change "seems
to be an attempt to mitigate the growing
number of petitions for amnesty and international
The report also mentioned the recent release
of a jailed journalist Bernardo Arevalo
Padron as a step forward. Arevalo was jailed
in 1997 on a contempt charge against Cuban
President Fidel Castro and Vice President
Carlos Lage and completed a six-year sentence
of hard labor, the report said.
No one could be reached Friday at the U.S.
Interests Section in Washington to comment
on the report.
Cubans have beef with chronic cattle
By Gary Marx, Tribune foreign
correspondent. Thursday, Mar 18.
Cattle graze along the vast grasslands
and gentle hills of eastern Cuba, but Giorgina
Brooks cannot remember the last time she
had a good steak.
"It's been years and years,"
said Brooks, 47, as she gazed at a few cattle
munching on grass.
Faced with U.S. trade sanctions, questionable
economic policies, drought and rustling,
Cuba's once-large cattle herd has been hit
hard over the years, leaving many Cubans
longing for beef.
The situation also has forced Cuban officials
to take tough measures to protect cattle,
even as the government turns to the United
States for help in restocking its herd.
In communist Cuba, only the state is allowed
to slaughter cattle and sell the meat. Citizens
who kill a cow--even if they raised it themselves--can
get a 10-year prison sentence. Anyone who
transports or sells a poached animal can
get locked up for 8 years.
"My brother-in-law got a 12-year prison
sentence for killing 12 cows," said
an accountant who lives in the cattle-raising
But it's not unheard of for Cubans to sneak
into a pasture at night and butcher a cow
on the spot. Residents have been known to
descend on a cow struck by lightning, carving
it up in minutes even though the meat often
is charred and they risk a fine if caught
The same thing can happen if a cow is hit
by a car or dies of illness or malnutrition,
in giving birth or of old age, even though
residents admit the law requires them to
leave the carcass alone and notify local
Converging on cattle
Ulises Cutino, who works at a large dairy
farm, recounted how scores of people scrambled
to a nearby railway with knives and machetes
when word spread that more than a dozen
cattle had been struck by a passing train.
"If the authorities don't come fast,
people take it away," said Manuel Salazar,
who tends cattle in eastern Cuba.
Pedro Alvarez, a Cuban trade official,
acknowledged a shortage of beef but said
there is no hunger in Cuba because citizens
receive government-subsidized food, including
bread, rice and chicken.
Alvarez said the government has sought
to increase beef and dairy production through
the recent purchase of 913 U.S. cattle.
He said Cuba could buy up to 100,000 head
of cattle from the U.S.--at an estimated
cost of $150 million--if trade sanctions
against the island are dropped.
While the four-decade-old U.S. economic
embargo prohibits most American trade with
the island, it allows Cuba to make cash
purchases of food and agricultural products.
Alvarez argued that the embargo increases
the cost of all imports and represents a
huge drag on the Cuban economy.
But John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba
Trade and Economic Council, said he doubts
the Cubans could afford such a large purchase
of cattle even without U.S. trade sanctions
as long as Cuba fails to implement economic
"People should stop dreaming and deal
with reality," he said.
Island once awash in beef
Cubans have not always been hard up for
beef. Before the 1959 revolution, Cuba was
said to have as many cattle as people--about
5 million--and one of the region's highest
per-capita consumption of beef, experts
But Fidel Castro's revolutionary government
nationalized the large land holdings of
U.S. and other ranchers and slaughtered
many of the cattle to make up for falling
food production in other areas.
The beef industry never recovered, but
dairy herds were built back up through huge
investments and imported animal feed, experts
said. Years later, when the Soviet Union
collapsed and ended $5 billion in annual
subsidies, Cuba lacked the money for feed,
and much of the dairy herd also was lost.
Today beef is found almost exclusively
in state-run restaurants catering to tourists
and dollar-only markets beyond the reach
of most citizens.
The problems have been exacerbated by severe
droughts and by what some experts describe
as Cuba's ill-fated attempts to breed a
superbovine that could thrive in a tropical
One product of that effort was a single
prodigious milk-producing cow called Ubre
Blanca, Spanish for "white udder."
During one 24-hour period in 1982, the cow
produced 241 pounds of milk, more than four
times a typical cow's production.
But the Cubans never could breed the cow,
which died several years later and now stands
stuffed in a glass case in the lobby of
the cattle institute about 15 miles outside
Milk subsidized and limited
The government today imports huge quantities
of milk from New Zealand, Canada and other
countries and distributes it at subsidized
prices for infants, children up to age 7,
the elderly and the infirm, according to
Alvarez and others.
Most everyone else has to purchase powdered
milk on the black market for $1 a pound.
Cubans earn an average of about $10 a month.
At the same time, per capita beef and veal
consumption in Cuba has fallen from about
3.7 pounds per month in 1961 to just over
1.2 pounds per month in 2001, according
to the United Nations (news - web sites).
That compares with about 8 pounds of beef
and veal per month consumed by the average
"It's a tremendous drop," said
James Ross, a professor of agricultural
economics at the University of Florida.
"The bottom line is that the Cuban
administration has adopted policies that
do not favor cattle production."
Cubans have made up for the beef shortage
by eating more pork and chicken, which Alvarez
said is cheaper to produce than beef.
But others say they prefer a juicy steak.
"The meat of a cow tastes better no
matter how you cook it," said Salazar,
Oliver Stone glad Canada has guts to
air his 'blogged' Castro documentary
John Mckay, Tue Mar 23,12:43
TORONTO (CP) - Oliver Stone (news) has
always attracted the lightning and it's
The director of such controversial films
as JFK, Natural Born Killers and Nixon says
his recent project, a documentary on Fidel
Castro (news - web sites), was the victim
of a fake e-mail campaign, a new "sickness"
that he believes threatens pop culture and
even democracy itself.
Stone's Comandante is a free-form personality
profile of the durable Cuban dictator culled
from 30 hours of interview video he and
his crew shot in Havana in 2002. But it
was cancelled by HBO last May when the U.S.
network argued that a new, aggressive crackdown
on dissidents in Cuba had rendered the film
incomplete and outdated. Apart from screenings
at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals,
it has not been seen, especially by American
audiences, and no U.S. telecast is planned.
But Comandante has been acquired by CBC
Newsworld, which plans to air it in prime
time Sunday night, making it the only broadcast
in North America in the foreseeable future.
Stone says he's glad Canada had the guts
and he's hoping some Americans along the
Canada-U.S. border at least might catch
"Canadians have always been open to
Castro and Cuba, they go down there a lot.
You know, what harm is there in seeing it?
What harm in letting someone speak for himself?"
Stone also hopes to reacquire the rights
to Comandante and release it on DVD.
Shades of Mel Gibson (news)'s The Passion
of the Christ controversy or of the CBS
decision to axe that Ronald Reagan (news)
biopic, Stone says it was a low point in
his career when it became clear that 95
per cent of the film's critics in the media
hadn't even seen his documentary.
"There was a tremendous response,
especially negative, from the American-Cuban
lobbies," he says in a telephone interview
from Los Angeles. "It's ugliness and
I think because of computers they can make
a million e-mails out of five people. They
can clone themselves into a larger power
than they really are and it's just paper."
The 56-year-old filmmaker says he's convinced,
though, that such paper now plays an important
role in the process of mucking up democracies.
"It's just a sickness and popular
culture is really prey to that. . .you can
get blogged out. There's so much blog."
Anti-Castro elements weren't the only critics,
however. Roger Ebert wrote that as an old
baseball player, Castro easily knocked Stone's
softball questions out of the park. Another
said it was akin to making a documentary
on Al Capone and neglecting to mention he
was a gangster.
Although Stone disagreed with HBO that
his conversations with Castro had been rendered
outdated, he understood that even a subscriber-based
cable channel is subject to political and
economic pressures, what he calls one of
So he agreed to HBO's request to return
to Havana and conduct a more confrontational
interview, which he says he did last May.
The result, called Looking For Fidel, will
air on HBO April 14 and may also be acquired
by the CBC at a later date.
But it's clear Stone is passionate about
Comandante, which he says shows off a charismatic
world leader in a relaxed state that few
people have seen before. He concedes he's
not the hard-hitting Mike Wallace type and
that while he did ask some tough questions,
when he got answers he let it go because
"The words are in his mouth, they're
not in mine. I may have a bias or not but
the point is he still reveals himself and
it allows the viewer to make up his mind."
Stone says La Barba was given the right
to say "Cut" at any moment the
questions became uncomfortable but that
he never invoked that right.
"He said 'Go make your movie, shoot
what you want.' There's a man who is at
ease with himself, he's comfortable in his
skin as the French would say."
Intercut with grainy newsreel footage of
the 1959 revolution, the 93-minute film
is a handheld medley of cinema verite moments
all cut to the constant rhythm of Latin
music on the soundtrack.
We see Stone sharing the backseat of Castro's
car, even opening some of his host's mail.
The camera pans down to reveal that Castro
wears Nikes. He jokes with Stone about Viagra,
about movies, about love and about never
considering seeing a shrink. He gets serious
when he says he didn't buy the lone gunman
theory of the JFK assassination, that he
never wanted Soviet missiles in Cuba, and
that his regime does not believe in torture
At one point Castro asks Stone if he was
decorated for his Vietnam service. Yes,
Stone replies quietly. Was he wounded? Another
The film ends with the two men at the airport,
parting with a hug.
Stone argues that his country should emulate
Canada and end its four-decade-old boycott
of Cuba. He is not the least apologetic
about his clear admiration of Castro, as
a survivor and as a person. And he has no
regrets about his now-infamous statement
that he found Fidel to be one of the world's
"It's come back to haunt me, absolutely.
No question. But I maintain he's been on
the world stage for 40 years. . .you can
hate him, but you can't ignore him."
Ana Menendez's fondness for the poets
Lorca and Neruda in Loving Che obvious
Shazna Nessa, Tue Mar 23.
(AP) - Knowing who one's parents are is
a fundamental aspect of one's identity.
In Ana Menendez's first novel, Loving Che
(Atlantic Monthly Press), a young Cuban-American
woman grapples to find that sense of self,
but its absence is twofold.
While scouring Havana for clues about the
mother she never knew, she's juggling with
her national identity: she's American, but
she's Cuban too, and the role of exile-immigrant
with the "trauma of separation"
is also her concern. The unnamed protagonist
was born in Havana around the time of the
1959 revolution and raised in Miami by her
grandfather. She is told that her father
is dead, and all that remains of her mother's
is a scrap of paper with some lines of Neruda
Following the death of her grandfather,
the melancholy narrator makes several fruitless
trips to Havana in search of some family
background. She stops going when she realizes
that Havana, "so lovely at first glance,
was really a city of dashed hopes, and everywhere
I walked I was reminded that all in life
tends to decay and destruction."
One day, she receives a mysterious package
postmarked in Spain and full of letters
and pictures that "smelled of dark
drawers and dusty rooms."
These artifacts make up most of the book,
creating the effect of a novel within a
novel. The narrative switches to the fragile
voice of Teresa de la Landra. Now an old
woman, Teresa recounts her distant youth
to her lost daughter.
She speaks with an aching voice about an
adulterous affair with Che Guevara, suggesting
that Castro's aide and fellow revolutionary
fathered her child. Photos of Guevara, including
a close-up of his executed corpse, are inserted
throughout the book to startling effect,
The letters drag out, loaded with sentimentality,
stilted eroticism and a pining for the past:
"Forgive me, my daughter. I have laboured
to construct a good history for you, to
put down the details of your life smoothly;
to connect events one to another. But my
first efforts seemed false. And I am left
with only these small shards of remembrances
written on banners of wind."
As historical documents, the letters are
hazy. The events leading to Castro's overthrow
of Batista's government and its aftermath
serve only as a backdrop to Teresa's story.
For her, the sensations of love, revolution
and death are rolled into one passionate
Guevara as a gutsy, idealistic hero is
played down, and he takes on the role of
a banal lover "who is only warm, smelling
of moss ground. ... freckled and soft, his
skin tacky to the touch with dried sweat."
The author's fondness for the poets Lorca
and Neruda is obvious since they are mentioned
frequently. The sparse yet rich language
of their love poetry resonates throughout
the novel, but it is overused. Abstract
allusions to vague sentiments are sometimes
lovely, but eventually wear thin:
"Loving Che was like palest sea foam,
like wind through the stars."
The book is rescued from becoming entirely
a romance novel by the third and final section,
which brings readers back to present-day
The letters have changed the young woman's
life. With a new sense of who she is, she
sets out again on the trail to find her
Her quest for discovery turns into an exhilarating
detective story, where most of the clues
are embedded in very raw emotions. Thus
begins the sifting of the evidence.
Another trip to Cuba reveals a country
vastly changed from the one she remembers.
She describes the paradox of a crumbling
Communist country that survives on the currency
of its foe, the American dollar. Along the
way, we meet chatty Cubans, and their words
seem genuine, intelligent and poignant.
It is a relief to shift back to a sense
of reality and succinct writing, as the
narrator walks around the city and knocks
on doors. It's an adventure and, although
she is tired, she is getting closer to solving
the mystery that shrouds her birth.
Is Teresa really her mother? Are the letters
true? In the end, we realize that it is
our very longing for identity that defines