CUBA NEWS
July 5, 2004

 

CUBA NEWS
The Miami Herald

Torture suspect arrested

Federal agents arrest yet another Cuban torture suspect in Miami, accusing him of having persecuted dissidents opposed to Fidel Castro in the 1990s.

By Alfonso Chardy and Karl Ross, [email protected] Posted on Sat, Jul. 03, 2004.

Federal immigration agents raided a west Miami-Dade apartment early Friday and arrested a Cuban national that a judge ordered deported on suspicion of having persecuted dissidents in the early 1990s before leaving the island for the United States.

His attorney categorically denied the allegation and said Luis Enrique Daniel Rodríguez, 37, was a defector.

During immigration proceedings in Miami, Daniel Rodríguez acknowledged he was a Cuban government officer, people familiar with the case said.

Barbara González, a spokeswoman in Miami for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed the arrest. Court records showed the judge ordered him deported on Wednesday.

''An immigration judge made a finding that he was a persecutor or involved in human rights violations based on his work for the Ministry of the Interior in Cuba,'' she said. "Based on the findings, the judge issued an order of removal.''

LAWYER: 'NO PROOF'

Leonardo Viota Sesin, Daniel Rodríguez's attorney, denied his client is a human rights violator.

''Hogwash,'' he said. "He is no persecutor. He may have worked for the Ministry of the Interior but many other defectors did as well and they are living under the protection of the United States. My client is a defector. There is no proof he was ever a persecutor. It's guilt by association of the worst kind.''

People familiar with the investigation said that after Daniel Rodríguez was arrested in the 8900 block of Southwest 25th Street, he was transported to the Krome detention center in west Miami-Dade County to await deportation.

Cuban nationals are rarely deported because the Cuban government generally does not take back exiles living in the United States. In general, Cuban nationals detained by immigration and ordered deported are released under supervision.

But immigration law also allows federal authorities to detain indefinitely a foreigner who cannot be deported and is deemed a security threat.

THIRD CUBAN HELD

Daniel Rodríguez is the third Cuban arrested as a foreign torture suspect since immigration authorities began arresting such subjects under a so-called ''persecutor program'' started in 2000.

Daniel Rodríguez, who crossed into the United States from Mexico in 2000, lived in a one-room studio at the rear of a ranch-style house subdivided into apartments. The place looked as if the tenant had left in a hurry. A fan was still whirring.

In a letter found discarded outside, dated Thursday, Daniel Rodríguez requested five days off from his employer, a furniture store, so he could meet his wife and child, about to arrive from Cuba.

José Luis Gil was surprised when told his neighbor had been arrested as a suspected Cuban agent and torturer.

''He seemed normal,'' Gil said. "I never noticed anything odd or unusual about him.''

During immigration proceedings, Daniel Rodríguez denied having violated human rights. But the government trial lawyer said he likely was the ''lieutenant Daniel'' mentioned in a 1991 Human Rights Watch report titled "Cuba Behind a Sporting Facade, Stepped Up Repression.''

According to the report, Lt. Daniel was one of four Cuban military officers who raided the home of human rights activists in 1991 to confiscate documents, reports and cassette tapes. It also said Lt. Daniel was seen among a group of pro-Castro demonstrators in a rally known as an ''act of repudiation'' outside the home of another dissident in 1991.

Viota Sesin said his client is not the man in the report.

Torture suspect from Cuba has closed court hearing

Alfonso Chardy. Posted on Sat, Jul. 03, 2004.

A hearing took place in immigration court Thursday for Jorge de Cárdenas Agostini, a Cuban recently arrested by federal immigration agents as a torture suspect.

However, his lawyer, who has proclaimed his innocence, succeeded in closing the hearing and barring a Herald reporter from covering it.

Judge Kenneth Hurewitz and the immigration service's trial attorney said they had no objection to coverage. But Hurewitz granted the motion by de Cárdenas' attorney, Linda Osberg-Braun, to close the hearing.

''Under immigration law, the respondent has a right to a private hearing,'' Hurewitz said.

Immigration law says a judge can close a hearing "for the purpose of protecting witnesses, parties or the public interest.''

Neither the court, nor the government would say what happened at the hearing. Osberg-Braun did not return calls to her office. But a source familiar with immigration proceedings said Thursday's session was de Cárdenas' initial court appearance since his June 8 arrest.

Democrats say Cuba travel restrictions could help Kerry

Ken Thomas, Associated Press. Posted on Thu, Jul. 01, 2004.

MIAMI - Democrats criticizing the Bush administration's new travel restrictions to Cuba suggested Thursday it could help presidential candidate John Kerry peel away some Cuban American voters traditionally loyal to Republicans.

The new rules that began Wednesday are part of the administration's attempt to undercut Cuban President Fidel Castro. The restrictions have generated criticism from some Cuban-Americans, including a group that was unable to catch an expected flight Tuesday at Miami International Airport.

Kerry called it a "cynical, election-year policy" that would "harm Cuban Americans with families on the island while doing nothing to hasten the end of the Castro regime."

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., said it represented a hard-right turn by the Bush administration, arguing the Massachusetts senator could offer an alternative to the heavily Republican Cuban-American community.

"I think what the president has done has motivated several individuals who gave him the benefit of the doubt for carrying out sound leadership. They're going to find other people to vote for - that other person is John Kerry," said Meek, Kerry's state campaign chairman.

Cuban-Americans supported Bush in 2000 by about 4-to-1, a critical margin in a state where Bush won by only 537 votes. Recent polls show Bush and Kerry locked in a neck-and-neck contest in Florida.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla. and like Meek from Miami, rejected the Democrat assertions, saying the support in the exile community for Bush and his package of reforms to democratize Cuba has been "unprecedented - beyond overwhelming."

In addition to the travel restrictions, the measures announced earlier this year include funding for dissidents, democracy-building activities and aid to end the jamming of U.S. broadcasts to the island.

"An election is coming in November - watch," Diaz-Balart said, predicting Bush will add to his margin among Cuban-Americans in 2000. He called reports of dissension among Cuban-Americans "on another planet."

State GOP chairman Carole Jean Jordan said the president "has done more toward the realization of a free Cuba in three years than John Kerry ever did in his 19 years in the Senate."

The new travel rules bar Cuban-Americans from visiting family on the island nation more than once every three years instead of once a year. They also limit visits to 14 days and daily spending to $50 per person. Before, there were no limits on visit length and people could spend $167 a day.

Miami television newscasts showed images on Tuesday of dozens of Cuban-Americans chanting "We want to fly!" after they were turned away from flights to visit their families as the deadline approached. The charter they had expected to fly on went to Havana empty to pick up Cuban-Americans returning to Miami.

Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, said their organization supported "99 percent" of the tough new strategy on Cuba announced this year but the president "received bad counsel" on the travel restrictions.

"One little thing of this has divided it and eclipsed a series of measures that are fantastic," Garcia said. "We love what the president did. We're friends with the president of the United States, many of the people here. But those people who want to see a good policy certainly don't want to see it mucked up by bad politics."

Whether it would provide Kerry an opening to whittle away at Bush's Cuban-American support remained uncertain. Some Democrats have pointed to former President Clinton's relative success with Cubans in 1996 as a model - he earned nearly 40 percent.

Jorge Carbonell, a retired broadcaster, said most members of the exile community supported the restrictions and the critics were limited to a small minority - many who are recent arrivals and nonvoters.

"Most of the guys who were crying at the airport - they're not citizens," Carbonell said, standing near the outdoor counter at Versailles Restaurant in the heart of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

Vicente Rodriguez, the editor of La Voz de La Calle, a Hialeah-based weekly newspaper, said it was possible Kerry could get some additional support - but it would likely be "insignificant."

"The problem is, in the Cuban community, Bush is not the best," Rodriguez said. "But he is better than Kerry."

Cuba sanctions hit home for families in Miami

By Elaine de Valle and Daniel de Vise, [email protected] Posted on Thu, Jul. 01, 2004.

Dora Sánchez, 71, turned up Wednesday at a Westchester shop called La Estrella de Cuba with a bag of baby clothes, bottles, diapers and booties for her brother's new grandson, her grand-nephew, born June 8 in Havana.

She was a day late.

On Wednesday, people who live in the United States lost the right to send clothing, photographs and an array of other items to loved ones living in Cuba.

The new rules, along with restrictions on travel, were ordered by President Bush and are tailored to hit Fidel Castro in the pocketbook and hasten the demise of his regime.

But in the envios, or shipping houses, of Hialeah and Little Havana on Wednesday, there was a more immediate impact.

Dalia González, a Hialeah woman, typically goes to Havana every August to visit her daughters and her grandchildren, ages 6 and 1. She stopped by Cuba Export and Travel on Wednesday, but only to make a few copies. She will not see the grandchildren again until 2006.

''I understand: the new rules help. But the new rules don't permit me to go to Cuba. I don't like that,'' she said.

"I help the cause of liberty when I go . . . and I tell all of my friends about how it is in the United States, the whole truth.''

The new measures have left Cuban Miami tense and divided. The early exiles, those who left Cuba in the early 1960s, mostly favor the sanctions. Those who have arrived since 1990, with fresher ties to the island, seem largely opposed.

STRONG SUPPORT

Sánchez, the grandmother barred from sending booties to her brother, couldn't disagree with the measure.

''Some people like me will suffer,'' she said, "but they had to do something about the shameless Cubans who are getting here and in 18 months they want to go back to that hell to leave dollars there. My brother will adjust.''

Across town, at a shipping agency called Almacén El Español, Carlos Royo begged to differ.

''It's not about Fidel. It's not about Bush. It's about my family in Cuba that is poor and hungry,'' Royo said. "Fidel will go on over there. Bush will go on in his White House. And my family will go on hungry.''

At issue are new rules issued by the federal Treasury and Commerce departments, part of a broader strategy to speed the demise of socialism in Cuba. They narrow the range of acceptable actions -- already quite limited -- by Americans who wish to travel to Cuba or to send packages there.

PACKAGES

Cuban Americans may now send packages only to immediate family, not uncles, aunts, cousins or friends. The parcels may only include food, medicine and a few other vital items. No longer allowed: jeans, shoes, underwear, soap and other items that typically can't be bought by Cubans on the island and were de rigueur in most care packages before.

Travelers accustomed to visiting Cuba once a year may now go only once every three years. Baggage is restricted, and the daily spending limit is trimmed from $167 to $50.

At La Estrella de Cuba in Westchester, the phones rang ceaselessly Wednesday with callers still confused about what they could or could not send.

''Only food and medicine,'' employee Zumel Michel told caller after caller. "No, no clothing. No shoes, either.''

The agencies, licensed to ship parcels to Cuba, had seen business double or triple in the past few weeks and stayed open late as the cutoff date neared. Many customers ''left here crying,'' Michel said, "because they knew that was the last package they could send.''

On Wednesday, traffic at the envios dropped to nearly nothing.

One Hialeah shopkeeper posted a hand-written note and took the morning off. Another complained, two hours after his business opened, that he had yet to see a single customer.

''All of our businesses are affected. Where are the customers?'' said the owner of Cuba Export and Travel, who gave his name only as Morales. "In three months, half of these businesses will close. That's what I think will happen.''

Most shipping agencies are raising their prices to help compensate for the lighter boxes: from $13 to $16 a pound at La Estrella, for example, and by as much as 50 percent at others.

Tom Cooper, president of Gulfstream Air Charter, said he anticipates his company's business to Havana will decrease by 60 or 70 percent, the Associated Press reported. In Havana, where charter flights from the United States usually arrive full, a 122-seat plane arrived Wednesday with only 17 passengers, the AP said.

STRONG SUPPORT

The restrictions are the talk of Cuban radio and Spanish-language television. About two dozen Cuban Americans demonstrated Wednesday outside the Doral district office of U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, the Miami Republican, in support of the measure.

A day earlier, Díaz-Balart had been confronted at the airport by a group opposed to the sanctions.

Díaz-Balart said his office took 235 calls favoring the restrictions, three against. Spanish-language radio station WWFE-AM (670) La Poderosa took 115 calls on a recent day, 112 of them to support the new rules, said owner Jorge Rodriguez.

''I have never seen the community more united,'' Díaz-Balart said. "It's absolutely overwhelming, the support for President Bush and these measures.''

But Democrats smelled a backlash and, perhaps, an opening for their nominee to make a dent in a traditionally Republican-leaning voting block by appealing to moderate Cuban Americans and those with family still on the island.

John Kerry, in a statement Wednesday, denounced Bush's policy as a ''cynical, election-year'' ploy and said the restrictions will "punish the Cuban people and harm Cuban Americans with families on the island while doing nothing to hasten the end of the Castro regime.''

Herald staff writers Jonathan Abel and Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Repatriated exile: Government will let him leave Cuba and return

Anita Snow, Associated Press. Posted on Wed, Jun. 30, 2004.

HAVANA - Opposition member Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, a repatriated exile who refused to leave the island for fear he wouldn't be allowed to return, said Wednesday the government gave him a passport allowing him to visit Spain and come back.

Gutierrez-Menoyo said in a statement distributed via e-mail to international media that he was leaving Havana late Wednesday for Spain, where he had been invited to attend a congress of the Socialist Workers Party.

Although his immigration status in Cuba remains unclear, Gutierrez-Menoyo said that the passport letting him go and return to the island was a positive sign. He previously was living here without immigration documents of any kind.

"I cannot deny the fact that this represents flexibility by the government toward someone in the island's independent opposition," he wrote.

The Cuban government did not publicly comment on Gutierrez-Menoyo's travel plans. It has remained silent on his presence here since he returned to the island 10 months with the intention of staying indefinitely.

Gutierrez-Menoyo is a former rebel commander who fought in the Cuban revolution before falling out with Fidel Castro and spending 22 years in prison here.

Born in Spain, Gutierrez-Menoyo later became a Cuban citizen. During his years in exile, beginning in the 1980s, he retained his Cuban citizenship although he also had U.S. residency.

He returned to Cuba to stay in August during a family vacation. His wife and three school-aged sons returned to Miami, but have visited him here since.

Gutierrez-Menoyo insists as a Cuban citizen has the right to live on the island and wants to open a Havana office of his Miami-based pro-democracy group - Cambio Cubano - to bring about change in Cuba. He left his family behind in Miami.

Gutierrez-Menoyo has promoted dialogue with Castro in recent years and even has even met with him several times - but not since returning to live here last year.

Many exiled Cubans leaders in Florida criticize Cambio Cubano as being too "collaborative" with Castro's government.

Guayabera's origin remains a puzzle

By Christine Armario, [email protected] Posted on Wed, Jun. 30, 2004.

The origins of the guayabera remain open to debate -- even on Guayabera Day, this Thursday.

It's as Cuban as the folk song Guantanamera -- or so it is thought. The guayabera, that long-sleeved, four-pocket shirt long the garb of exiles and militants, has a somewhat checkered history.

'Everybody says 'No, it's from my country, no it's from mine,' '' said Ninoska Castillo, a Nicaraguan waitress at Exquisito Restaurant in Little Havana. "Everyone wants to be the creator of the guayabera.''

Thursday is Guayabera Day. It began in Cuba to mark the unofficial start of spring and maybe to settle the long-running debate of who made the first guayabera.

The first guayabera might have been made by the wife of a Spaniard in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba, sometime in the 18th century. Some say it got its name from the guayaba fruit farm hands used the pockets to carry, or from the Yayabo River whose nearby residents were known as Yayaberos.

Of course, neither might be true. A similar shirt, the Barong Tagalog, was created in the Philippines two centuries before. The Barong Tagalog is considered an elegant shirt with patriotic significance to the Filipinos. It became popular around the same time as the guayabera: 1898 -- the year both countries became independent from Spain.

''It's not the same shirt, but the same concept,'' said Rene La Villa, owner of Guayabera Inc. in Miami. The difference lies in the cuffs and the number of pockets, he said. While the guayabera boasts four pockets, the Barong Tagalog often has none.

Others claim it was the Yukatans -- descendants of the Mayans -- who invented it. Even today there are a plethora of factories in Merida, Mexico that make their own guayaberas, known as Mexican wedding shirts.

Francisco Angel, a musician with the Miami-based Mariachi Mexico band, said he buys into the theory that the shirt's origins trace back to Mexico. ''Mexico was one of the most influential countries'' of the Spanish empire, he reasoned.

A biting spin on this tale, however, is that it was wealthy Cubans traveling to the Yucatán peninsula wearing their guayaberas who brought the trend to Mexico. Or even worse: the Mexicans stole the design from the famous Cuban store El Encanto.

On Calle Ocho there are just as many interpretations of the origins of the guayabera as there are guayabera wearers.

''The Spaniards who dominated [Cuba] knew how to dress very well so they probably used the guayabera,'' said Wilfredo Cejas, 84, sporting a light brown and white checkered guayabera.

Jessica Alonso, a clerk at Viva la Guayabera, disagreed.

''It's definitely of Cuban origin. That goes without saying,'' said Alonso, a Cuban American. "It's like salsa. It's been appropriated by other cultures, but the origin is Cuban.''

The penchant to pin down an exact origin is losing steam as a younger crowd stylizes the guayabera. Now it has simply become known as ''classic Latino wear.'' Given the range of looks, that just might be the most accurate.


 

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