Archive for November 18, 2013

Antonio Castro, or the Diplomacy of Baseball / Ivan Garcia

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Antonio Castro, son of the bearded man who governed Cuba for 47 years and nephew of the president hand chosen by his brother, told U.S. channel ESPN, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing that our baseball players leave the country to go play in the best league in the world.”

Tony Castro, of course, isn’t a dissident or dumb. He’s trained to be an orthopedist and is a lover of beautiful women, the good life and baseball. He grew up without a ration book in Zone Zero (the residential complex where his father lives, in the Jaimanitas neighborhood west of Havana), with a cow in the yard where each child of the commander could drink fresh milk. He got first-class medical attention and had the possibility to go see the World Series, while the rest of Cuba’s baseball fans were forbidden to do so.

“He’s a good guy,” his party-going friends assure. He likes to play golf, a sport that his father and the Argentinian Ernesto Guevara banned, ostensibly because it was bourgeois and racist: they said that the caddies were always black.

The talk of Cuban autocrats is a complex exercise of deciphering messages. To those who look at the Revolution with nostalgia, the only things that remain are the sporadic Reflections (as Fidel’s articles in the newspaper are titled), where the leader announces atomic disasters, the end of capitalism or that the moringa tree would be the food of the future.

If you aren’t an ideological fanatic and interpret daily life in Cuba in a reasonable way, we reach the conclusion that each step in the timid reforms of Raúl Castro or pronouncements of his relatives, the real mandarins, have buried Fidel Castro’s wilfulness a hundred meters under the ground.

Maintaining the bored phraseology and ideological symbols has been a masterpiece of political witchcraft by Castro II. Without celebrating a Stalinist opinion, he has shifted all of the ruses enacted by his brother.

The furniture changed drastically. Fidel’s confidantes are either prisoners or have easy jobs. Or, like Felipe Pérez Roque and Carlos Lage, they’re working in a factory, the biggest punishment for any ex-minister.

For some time now, homosexuals are revolutionaries. The boarding schools in the countryside were suppressed, because they intended to supplant the family. The security guards at the borders opened the gate and allow us to travel abroad.

We also stay in hotels, buy American cars from the ’50s or old Russian Ladas. We sell the house and legally engage all of those businesses that previously we engaged in on the side, yes we have money, of course.

They have told us why all of this was forbidden for so many years. It’s nobody’s fault. But the specialists in dissecting the magic realism inside the power in Cuba know that the mud continues flooding Fidel Castro, the promoter of this political jargon.

Even his son jumps at his precepts. And he announces that the old “traitors, deserters, and stateless people of the Cuban exodus” are now welcome. Surely they could be enlisted in future national teams and begin businesses, while they pay the tax collector, of course.

The olive branch, in any light, is a capitalism of the family. A technocracy. Now the problems of government can be spoken about in a taxi or bar in the neighborhood. But you go to jail if you evade taxes.

Tony doesn’t want to get left behind when the cake gets divided up. The ex son-in-law of Raul Castro and his generals control 80% of the actual economy, not the one of bread and croquettes, that never will ruin the country, but rather the one of oil and of the port of Mariel, tourism, exporting of medical services, and other tax collecting and hard money businesses.

Behind Tony Castro’s words there is no light or rebuff. The leaders are sending a message: we want to negotiate with the United States. Taking as a model Nixon’s ping pong diplomacy of the 70s with China, Tony intends to seduce the market of the Big Leagues. He has the cards in his favor.

In 2013, the Cuban baseball players have left as a group. They have had their best season. If we add up their salaries, we see that it adds up to about $600 million. And the smart ones back in Havana send in their bills.

If one day the embargo disappears, around 300 Cuban baseball players, who learned in academies patronized by the MLB, can nurture baseball organizations. For all of them, the economic blade will tax them with high fees. And the zeros in the banks of relatives and friends will grow.

Of course, to reach that dance of the millions and sell the loot of a nation, you need the obstinate gringos to lift the embargo. Therefore, it’s time to pull levers.

Diplomats wear out the soles of their shoes in Florida to convince Cuban-American business owners of the favorability of a new investment law. For the fifteenth time, the chancellor of the ONU has said that the bad guys of this movie are the Yankees, who don’t want to get rid of the “criminal blockade” and refuse to sit down and civilly chat about business like a good capitalist.

In this piñata that Cuba has turned into, Antonio Castro pretends to be the boss of professional baseball’s future on the island. Well, that’s the way it is now.

Iván Garciá

Video: Interview from October 27, 2013 with journalist Paula Lavigne and Antonio Castro in Havana for the show Outside the Lines of ESPN.

Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association 

11 November 2013

United States: Famous People with Cuban Roots / Ivan Garcia

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Eugene Salazar

Alberto Salazar, who was one of the most distinguish runners in the United States, today is a highly paid trainer in long distance running around the world.

The best informed on the island know that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Executive Director and owner of the Washington Post Newspaper, had a stepfather born in Santiago de Cuba. Ryan Lochte’s mother is from Havana. Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah’s trainer, was born August 7, 1958 in Havana.

Or that Isabel Toledo, the designer of the dress that Michelle Obama wore in January 2009 at her husband’s first presidential inauguration, is from Las Villas where she was born in 1961.  And that the first lady has wore models from Narciso Rodriguez, son of Cuban immigrants that arrived in New Jersey in the 1950’s.  Narciso was raised in a family very attached to their roots.

Due to the lack of access to the internet, magazines or foreign newspapers, many in the island would be surprised to discover that Dudley, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s grandfather was a Barbado’s native and that in 1936 je traveled to the island and there fell in love and married a Cuban.  After her passing, Dudley wanted to remember his love’s homeland naming their son Cuba, who at the same time continued the tradition naming his first descendant Cuba.

Another actor, Steven Bauer, Melanie Griffith’s ex-husband, was born in Havana in 1956, and his real name is Esteban Echevarria.  Marcia Presman, Miami’s socialite, is the mother of Brett Ratner, movie director and musical producer.  She was born in Cuba, in the center of a Jewish family which in 1960 immigrated to the United States.  The famous blogger Perez Hilton (Mario Armando Lavandeira) also has Cuban roots.

Baseball fans follow the news related to Cuban baseball players who decided to compete and earn seven figure salaries in the MLB (Major League Baseball), like Yasiel Puig, Kendrys Morales, Yoennis Cespedes or Aroldis Chapman

But not all know that the Puerto Rican Jorge Posada, ex player with the Yankees is son of a Cuban father and a Dominican mother.  Pitcher Gio Gonzalez is son to two Cuban fans.  Jon Jay, center field for the St Louis Cardinals was born in Miami; his father was from Santiago de Cuba and his mother from Matanzas.  Since his first and last names tend to offer confusion he has said:  “Yes, I am Cuban.  Of rice and black beans, palomilla steak and cafe con leche”.  Perhaps Justo Jay, Jon’s father, might be related to Ruperto Jay Matamoros (Santiago de Cuba 1912-Havana 2008) the largest exponent of naif painting in Cuba.

Of course, Cubans know about the saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, both American citizens today; they were born on the island. That Andy Garcia came into this world in Bejucal, a town 26 km south of Havana. That Eva Mendez (Miami, 1975) is the youngest of four siblings, all children to Cuban immigrants. And that Cameron Diaz (California, 1972) is the daughter of the American Billy Early and Emilio Diaz, now dead, famous entrepreneur whose parents settled in Tampa.

Also Carlos Leon, the father of Lourdes Maria, Madonna’s daughter, was born in Cuba in 1966. Armando Christian Perez, alias Pitbull, son of Cubans who immigrated to Florida, is heard among toques de santo parties, with white rum and marijuana in the poorest and largely black neighborhoods in the capital.

Willy Chirino (Pinar del Rio, 1947) is almost an “asere” from the neighborhood.  His hit, “New Day is Coming” has become a hymn in Cuba. People rent gossip magazines to read about the model and actor William Levy, born in Havana in 1980.  Or about Gloria Estefan (Havana, 1957) and her husband Emilio (Santiago de Cuba, 1953).

On the island there are some people who believe that the Cuban-American composer Jorge Luis Piloto is related to the binomial author Piloto & Vera. Which doesn’t stop people from El Pilar, the neighborhood where he lived in the capital, from knowing the lyrics of his songs sung by Luis Enrique or Chayanne.

The regime, in his campaign to discredit Cubans in the exile and their descendants, hide their triumphs in the United States. When they mention names of the ex-president of The Coca-Cola Company, Roberto Goizuete; the Bacardi family or the Fanjul, among others, they link them to the national bourgeoisie or the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The politicians with Cuban origins that swarm mayor positions or other institutions in Florida or other states or the US Congress, are target of criticism from the regime. Disparagingly they call them the “Miami Mafia”.

The message is understood.  Since 1959, when Fidel Castro gained power and started piecing together the most successful autocracy of the continent, the immigrants are considered enemies.  Those that choose to leave the ideological madhouse had to endure humiliations, delays in their immigration dealings, go to work in agriculture, or withstand insults and eggs at barbaric acts of repudiation.

Fifty-four years later, the Castro government attempts to masks their treatment of the exiles, wielding an inclusive and moderate speech. They need it. That’s an important source of their economic support.

1,785,547 Cubans or 0.6% of the United State’s population, per the 2010 census, generates ten times more riches than Cuba’s GDP, one of extreme poverty, with a population of eleven million.  It’s an  incontrovertible statistic.

Iván García

Translated by LYD 

11 November 2013