September 20, 2007

The Miami Herald

'Cuba's future must be democratic,' U.S. diplomat says

By Pablo Bachelet, Posted on Thu, Sep. 20, 2007.

The top U.S. diplomat for Latin America on Thursday urged nations to push Cuba to hold an internal dialogue that would pave the way for democracy on the island.

''There is a quiet consensus in the Americas and in Europe that Cuba's future must be democratic,'' Thomas Shannon, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, told participants at the The Miami Herald Americas Conference in Coral Gables.

''All successful political and economic transitions, from South Africa to Eastern Europe, have required dialogue between the existing regimes and the citizens of their countries,'' he said. "Cuba will be no different.''

The call comes as Havana and Washington engage in dueling diplomatic campaigns to lay the groundwork for a post-Fidel Castro era on the island.

Top Cuban officials have fanned the globe to lend legitimacy to the emerging government headed by Raúl Castro, Fidel's younger brother who assumed control last summer, American officials and diplomats say. U.S. officials, meanwhile, have asked nations to make public statements in support of Cuban dissidents and democracy but few countries have made any public pronouncements since Castro became ill and ceded power to his brother.

Shannon's comments were a rare public admission of the difficulties the United States faces in its diplomatic efforts. Havana regards any statements about its political system as an infringement of its sovereignty.

''Currently, the regime believes it can buy time and space through increased repression within Cuba and aggressive diplomacy outside of Cuba,'' Shannon said to a crowded room. "This is not a long-term strategy, and it does not address the forces of change that ripple beneath Cuba's surface.''

Shannon said there ''still exist differences'' about how to promote democracy in Cuba, given Latin America's "historic commitment to the principles of noninterventionism and national sovereignty.''

''But have no doubt,'' he noted, "helping the Cuban people achieve their democratic destiny and reintegrate their country into the Americas will be one of the biggest diplomatic challenges we face.''

5 Cubans spared death penalty in attempted hijacking

By Will Weissert, Associated Press. Posted on Wed, Sep. 19, 2007

HAVANA -- Four soldiers and a civilian got lengthy prison terms but were spared the death penalty for killing an army officer and trying to hijack a plane off the island, a leading rights activist said Wednesday.

It was the second recent case involving killings by soldiers that didn't end in capital punishment.

Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation said a secret military tribunal's decision not to apply the death penalty was "something positive.''

''We hope the government will take other positive steps,'' Sánchez said, such as commuting the sentences of 50 other inmates believed to be on Cuba's Death Row.

The commission said Sgts. Yoan Torres and Leandro Cerezo received life sentences and a third, Karel de Miranda Rubio, got 30 years behind bars. Capt. Alain Frobes received a 25-year prison term and a civilian, Ridel Leseaylle Veloz, was sentenced to 15 years.

The soldiers killed at least one soldier while escaping from their base April 29, an incident that prompted a nationwide manhunt. They commandeered a city bus four days later, headed to Havana's International Airport and attempted to hijack a plane, sparking a predawn shootout in which an army lieutenant colonel was killed.

Cuba's government blamed Washington for the attempted hijacking, saying American policy allowing most Cubans to stay if they reach U.S. soil encourages violent attempts to leave the island.

Sánchez said three separate sources confirmed the men were sentenced last week after a three-day trial behind closed doors in August, and the commission obtained a copy of the 32-page sentencing decree.

The soldiers were between the ages of 19 and 21, and the civilian was 31. Sánchez said that under Cuban military law, only 21-year-old Torres was old enough to face the death penalty.

Sánchez's commission earlier reported that four men involved in a December prison uprising that killed two military officers and wounded an inmate outside the eastern city of Santiago had also been spared the death penalty.

In that case, a prisoner and an army recruit working as a prison guard were condemned to life behind bars and two other soldiers on guard duty got 30-year sentences.

Sánchez's commission is not recognized by the Cuban government. Its primary activity is tracking political prisoners and issuing twice-yearly reports that are widely used by international rights groups.

There have been no reported executions in Cuba since April 2003, when three men convicted of hijacking a Havana passenger ferry with knives and a gun were sent to a firing squad. No one was hurt in the attempt, which came amid a wave of attempted boat and plane hijackings on the island. The government's swift execution of the three men led to widespread international condemnation.

Capital punishment in Cuba is always carried out by firing squad. It has been used sparingly in recent years, usually in especially heinous homicides, such as the murder of a child during a rape, or in multiple killings.

Cuba's trade prospects challenging

U.S. exports to Cuba are strictly limited to agricultural products, but that can mean everything from wooden telephone poles to M&Ms.

By Jane Bussey. Sep. 19, 2007

Though Cuba's economy is small -- close to the size of that of the Mexican city of Guadalajara -- it still offers interesting prospects for commerce, trade experts said Tuesday.

Without a nod to the highly charged political issues that usually swirl around Cuba, the SeaCargo Americas Conference dissected the Cuban economy and its trade and economic potential in a roundtable Tuesday.

''It is limited,'' said John Price, president of the business consulting group InfoAmericas. "But Cuba is interesting as a trading partner.''

According to Price, because the Cuban economy doesn't have a lot of productive sectors, it has to import about $10 billion a year in goods. Oil products account for about a third of those imports.

Despite the U.S. trade embargo, the United States is still one of the largest exporters to Cuba, though its exports -- largely food and agricultural products -- reach only about $350 million a year and have fallen slightly as Cuba has turned to other countries for food imports.

But Cuba is riding the same crest of commodity exports that is buoying economies in much of South America, helping its economy to grow 9.5 percent in 2006 and 8.5 percent in 2005, Price said.


Although some economists question Cuba's reported economic growth, there is no doubt that the Cuban economy has performed much better in the past few years than over the previous decade.

Part of that growth comes from a huge jump in the price of nickel, which is being exported for the rapidly growing stainless-steel industry in China -- the world's No. 1 producer of stainless steel.

Subsidized oil products exported from Venezuela also have reduced the vulnerability of the Cuban economy, Price said.

The well-attended panel came on the final day of a two-day meeting that looked at challenges facing the sea cargo industries, ranging from security issues to the changing marketplace.

''This presentation is about business and not politics,'' said moderator Manuel Almira, the assistant director for business Development at Port Everglades, as he introduced the Cuba panel.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba means that all U.S. exports to the country, whether express packages or shiploads of rice, wheat and corn, must receive a U.S. license and the Cuban government must pay before the goods are shipped, said Jay Brickman, vice president of Crowley Liner Services in Fort Lauderdale. Crowley runs a weekly container service to Cuba.


U.S. exports are limited to authorized agricultural products, Brickman added.

'The question we were asked constantly was 'Does it include M&M'S [candies]?' '' Brickman said. "And the answer is yes.''

Brickman also noted that the United States is a big exporter of telephone poles -- also considered agricultural products -- heading south to Cuba on barges.

Despite Crowley's regular service to Havana, Brickman said containers return empty because they are not authorized to carry any goods from Cuba to the United States. He noted that Cuba's main import agency, Alimport, handles the logistics and negotiates competitive transportation contracts along with the goods.

''When they sit down to negotiate their contracts, they come very well prepared,'' Brickman said, adding that Alimport has offices in Europe, Asia and Canada and knows transportation pricing.

Like the rest of the region, Cuba faces major challenges in how to stretch its limited resources.

Price pointed out that nickel prices are falling and that the tourism sector has the worst record in the Caribbean in attracting return visitors.

Capital for future investments will need to come from outside Cuba, and the future depends on Cuba's ability to attract those investments, Price said. U.S. companies are not allowed to invest in Cuba and U.S. service firms also do no business there.

Arturo Sandoval: On a mission to elevate jazz

By Jordan Levin, Posted on Mon, Sep. 10, 2007

Arturo Sandoval is a big man. Makes a big sound on the trumpet, big gestures, big talent, big cigar in his mouth whenever he's not playing the horn. But it doesn't slow him down.

Right now he's dancing, rolling his hips -- arms pumping, feet buoyed by the silky voice of 18-year-old Dana Lauren, a student from the New England Conservatory of Music who Sandoval met at the Newport Jazz Festival and invited to record in the tiny studio of his sprawling Coral Gables home.

''Yeahhhhhh,'' Sandoval hisses delightedly. ''She don't push, don't pretend, she feels like a natural singer,'' Sandoval says.

''But I don't do it for her. Everything I do, I go like this,'' he says as he rolls his eyes upwards, stabs at the ceiling with his cigar stub. "What you think? Is it OK by you? As long as I'm OK with the old guy up there, I'm good.''

He starts to play an enormous Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano -- once owned by legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson -- and soon bassist Chuck Bergeron is plucking the bass, Lauren is singing, and the other musicians have gathered. Sandoval is grinning, feet tapping, music swirling around him.

"No pueeeedooooo seeer feliiiizzzz,'' he bellows -- I can't be happy. Right.

Sandoval has just about everything he wants, and he adds to it by doing more. Since he defected from Cuba in 1990, he has become that rarity, a commercially successful and artistically revered jazz artist, with 15 U.S. recordings, four Grammy awards, a whirlwind touring schedule.

But his own career isn't enough. He's on a nonstop mission to elevate jazz in Miami. He teaches in Florida International University's music department and plays alongside teenage aspirants in the school's jazz big band.

Against everyone's advice, last year he opened the Arturo Sandoval Jazz Club in the Deauville Hotel on Miami Beach to give the music he loves a proper home in his home city.

He plays benefit concerts for community radio station WDNA and for FIU's scholarship program. He recently opened a second club, Rumba Palace, in South Beach, and released a CD by the same title that was just nominated for a Latin Grammy.

The more he does, the more he seems to want to do. The more he gets, the more he seems to feel he ought to give.

''I don't want to get the point where I retire, get old and they say he was a greedy son of a gun,'' Sandoval, 57, says. "I think the satisfaction you get when you give something back is priceless.''

His drive to accomplish is as powerful as his music.

''Arturo has amazing energy -- it's the same energy that comes out of the horn,'' says saxophonist Ed Calle, a close friend and musical collaborator for more than 15 years.

"He has a great ability to overcome challenges, whether it's musical or a situation. And people like that have a natural leadership ability that creates opportunity for those around him. It's like a pebble that goes into a pond and starts a ripple -- but he's a boulder.''


The natural wave-maker is the son of an auto mechanic, born and raised in Artemisa, a small town east of Havana. Sandoval initially studied classical trumpet at the Cuban National School of the Arts, but in his late teens a journalist played him Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

''It blew my mind,'' Sandoval says. "This was a new world.''

That was a dangerous world in Cuba, whose government then labeled rock and jazz ''imperialist music.'' But Sandoval nonetheless started listening to a jazz program on Voice of America radio -- landing him in jail during his military service.

In 1973 he became one of the founding members of the ground-breaking jazz-rock-Cuban fusion group Irakere. Although he enjoyed considerable success in Cuba, Sandoval is bitterly critical of the island's socialist system, and just as enthusiastic for his adopted home country.

''As much as I suffered there, that was a kind of lesson to appreciate a lot more the opposite,'' he says. 'When they say, 'You miss Cuba?' I say 'You know what? When I'm traveling, I miss Coral Gables a lot.' ''


His life changed in 1978 when a friend with the Ministry of Culture tipped him off that Gillespie was arriving in Havana that afternoon. Sandoval took his idol on a whirlwind tour of the city, then startled Gillespie in an Irakere performance that night.

'He say, 'What the hell my driver doing with a trumpet?' '' Sandoval remembers, chuckling. Gillespie became a mentor and close friend, helping Sandoval perform in the United States and Europe, and to defect.

''He was so good to me,'' Sandoval says. When Gillespie came to Cuba, "I was kind of lost, wasting my time, drinking rum. He gave me the desire to continue.''

Gillespie's generosity is one of the reasons Sandoval is a teacher. He's been at FIU since 1991. ''I learned from a lot of people, and I feel the obligation to share that,'' he says. "That don't belong to me. I should be able to transmit that.''

At a recent master class at the FIU School of Music, Sandoval talked to 19 students about everything from why he opened the jazz club, to performance energy, to staying sober, to practice habits and tricks of lip placement. Underlying everything is this message: focus, discipline, love the music.

''If God played the trumpet he'd have to practice,'' he says. "In this business it doesn't matter how musical you think you are, if you don't practice, they're gonna bury you with it.''

But he's also encouraging and practical: "In the end, what makes the difference is the ability to figure out your own problems.''

As he talked, the students slowly shifted from leaning back to forward. When he blew an impossibly skittering sequence of notes or a golden, soaring melody, they laughed, shaking their heads in wonder.

''It gives you a lot of optimism because someone of his caliber is spending that time and treating us with respect,'' says Jesus Mato, 30, a senior who plays trumpet in the FIU big band.

Sandoval's reward is when someone like Mato responds. ''When he recommends a student work on something and comes back in a month and they have, he's the happiest guy in the world,'' says Sam Lussier, FIU's director of jazz studies.

If teaching is one way Sandoval spreads the music, the jazz club is the other. It's an elegantly gleaming, bronze-and-black room in the Deauville Hotel that Sandoval and wife Marianela, who designed it, created from a bare, dilapidated space. It is not a money-maker, he says.

''If you see that place as a business you better run,'' Sandoval says with a snort. But because it books some of the best national and local jazz artists and because of its respect-the-music attitude -- there's no talking during shows -- it is widely regarded as the best and only serious jazz club in South Florida.

''He's certainly not in it for the money,'' says Maggie Pellaya, general manager of WDNA-88.9 FM. "But it gives him pleasure musically to have these kind of musicians come to his club, and it exposes the community to the music. I think he wants to make sure that jazz stays alive and well here.''

Civic-musical satisfaction is a part of the reason for the club, Sandoval agrees: "How can you put in dollars and cents the honor and satisfaction when people come to you and say congratulations, we appreciate a lot what you do to bring jazz to this city?''

It's also another way for him to prove himself -- as someone who can add something to jazz, and bring that culture to a city.

''I like challenges,'' says Sandoval. ''I like a little bit of pressure. That move me, drive me to keep trying. Otherwise I get confident, relax. I can't get confident. Something have to stick in my'' -- and he pokes himself from behind.

The club also gives Sandoval a place to play when he's home. At one of his shows last month, the club was packed with well-dressed, middle-aged couples, excited and a little awed.


Sandoval makes sure they stay that way, moving confidently from trumpet to piano to timbales, even scat-singing, joking, explaining, grimacing extravagantly with emotion -- an old-school showman.

''What, you want more of the same!'' he shouts, as they yell for an encore. "No! It's gonna be so boring!''

''Arturo was always one of the most admired musicians in Cuba, and he still is,'' says 79-year old percussionist Gilberto Valdes, an old friend from Havana visiting Miami and in the club audience that night.

"It's been a while since I heard Arturo -- but wow. You change the way you live, but you don't change inside. He's still the same -- no brakes.''

In Cuba or out, Sandoval can't stop.

''You have to hustle, you have to fight,'' he says. "You can't just let things happen -- you must make things happen.''


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