Showing posts with label Cuba. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cuba. Show all posts

Thursday, August 28, 2014

End of the Road for Cuban Refugees?

Cuban refugee Rafael Alejandro Hernández argues with an immigration official on Plaza Bolivar today.
They'd fled from Cuba to Ecuador to escape, they claim, abuse and violence from government authorities.
From Ecuador they crossed into Colombia four months ago, and today planted themselves on Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar and announced a hunger strike until they received refuge in some free nation.

'Cuban political opponents. Colombia denied us refuge,'
says the poster.
"I don't care about getting mugged on a bus," said Rafael Alejandro Hernández, "I just want to live in liberty."

Hernández and his friend Yuniesky Rampón Borges Jiménez said that back in Cuba they'd opposed the government and been repeatedly arrested and physically beaten for their actions. Hernández recited a list of Cuban dissident journalists he said were his friends.

The pair had requested asylum in Colombia, but understood that their case had been rejected. They seemed clearly desperate. Hernández, who claimed that the Cuban government had trained him from age 16 to be a spy and to infiltrate the U.S., said he'd had to leave behind his infant daughter in Cuba.

If the pair wanted attention, they'd chosen the right place. Colombian police and migracíón officials showed up, the migración officials eager to take the Cubans back to their office to discuss their cases.

"There are many possible solutions," an immigration official assured them. "In Colombia, every procedure has an appeal."

Yet, their prospects weren't good. In March, Colombia denied refugee status for six Cubans who two months previously had gotten off of a plane headed to Cuba and staged a hunger strike in the El Dorado Airport. By that time, Colombian government officials said they had lost track of the six Cubans.

The two Cubans on Plaza Bolivar this afternoon were nervous about trusting the government officials - appropriately, for citizens of the hemisphere's last surviving full dictatorship. They feared being sent back to Cuba or to Venezuela, a close Cuban ally.

"You're not being detained," the official assured them. "We'll just talk."

An older man with a bicycle listening to the discussion, apparently a sympathizer of the Cuban government, began criticizing the paramilitarism and corruption in Colombia.

"If you said those things in Cuba, my friend, you'd be in prison already," Hernández told him.

But other bystanders were also fearful. One woman worried that people would be endangered because they appeared in my photographs. (I can't imagine that would be true, in this situation.)
Ready to go with the officials, Hernández rolls up a poster
announcing their hunger strike.

"You foreigners have caused us all problems," another person in the crowd yelled out. "Foreigners started the guerrillas here."

During the Cold War, Cuba financed guerrilla groups across the continent. And Colombia's ELN guerrillas were founded by a group of young Colombians who had studied in Cuba.

"The last thing we want to do is cause problems," Hernández assured her.

This man criticized Colombia as corrupt and violent.
"These people are crazy," one of the immigration officials told the Cubans.

"You see, we can't talk here."
The immigration officials urgently wanted the protesting Cubans off of the government plaza. Cuba is hosting peace negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas. Perhaps an international incident involving Cuban dissidents wouldn't be convenient.

"What about those negotiations in Cuba?" Hernández asked. "You see - there's politics in everything."

Bystanders watch and photograph as the Cubans
leave with immigration officials.
The two men finally, reluctantly, agreed to go to the immigration office. Hernández gave me his e-mail address - rafale1220 (at) gmail (dot) com .

"Write me. If I don't reply in three days, it means I've been disappeared, or sent away," Hernandez told me. Apologetically, he added: "I've been made to imagine the worst possible things."

The crowd from the plaza followed them to the government car. "Copy down the license plate number," someone yelled out. Others photographed the official cars.

Update: Hernández wrote and said they'd had a successful meeting with the immigration folks, who gave the Cubans three additional months of 'safe passage' in Colombia and promised to send them to a third country. If not, however, he says 'We'll resume our hunger strike.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kennedy and Colombia

Kennedy and Colombian Pres. Albeto Lleras inaugurate housing for the poor in south Bogotá.
The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination is as good a time as any to take a look at the storied president's relationship to Colombia.

Kennedy visited Colombia once, in December 1961, only the second U.S. president to do so, following Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

JFK in Bogotá.
(Photo: JFK library.)
The purpose of Kennedy's visit was ostensibly to inaugurate a south Bogotá housing project funded by United States aid money. But the Kennedy administration's broader purpose was to line up regional governments behind U.S. Cold War policy - in particular, opposition to Fidel Castro's communist government in Cuba. Eight months before, the U.S. had launched the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, which Kennedy had inherited from his predecessor, the Eisenhower administration.

Kennedy had lots going for him in Latin America: he was young, handsome, charismatic, apparently vigorous (he in fact had severe medical problems), and, most of all, Catholic.

In March '61, his administration had created the Alliance for progress, supposed to help development of Latin America.

But the United States faced widespread distrust across Latin America, as expressed by Colombian an ingratiating letter a few months before Kennedy's visit. Lleras said that Colombia had "no doubts" about the U.S.'s commitment to send development aid to Latin America, but that many other countries thought that Washington's demands weren't balanced. Washington's aid pledge to the region "lacks precision," Lleras wrote, "while at the same time the United States requires from (Latin nations) in very precise form radical transformations that they cannot undertake without external aid from the United States."

In other words, if Latin American nations were to follow Washington's economic and ideological blueprints, they expected to be paid for it.

A cartoon shows Kennedy and Fidel
Castro confronting each other.
(JFK Library)
Pat M. Holt, a journalist, book author and staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also believed that Washington had more persuading to do: "Some - I am afraid many - Latin Americans are not yet convinced that the Soviet presence in Cuba is by intervention and not by invitation," he wrote, adding that, because of Castro's apparent popularity, "Latins are assailed by doubts that (Organization of American States (OAS)) to end Soviet intervention in Cuba would interfere with the right of the Cuban people to self determination. This argument may be silly, but that doesn't keep some people from believing it."

On the following page, Holt quoted a clause in the OAS charter stating that "No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever in the internal or external affairs of any other State."

For its part, Lleras assured Kennedy that Bogotá was on the same page as Washington in its "desire to sek proper solutions to the serious danges which have been created for the hemisphere by the imminence of the Soviet menace..."

A few days before Kennedy visited Bogotá, Colombia broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. In January 1962, the OAS expelled Cuba, which is still not a member.

In Nov. 1963 Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Some conspiracy theories hold that Castro was behind the killing. The south Bogotá neighborhood which Kennedy visited was renamed Barrio Kennedy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why the Negotiations Have Stalled?

The new plutocrats? FARC negotiators relax on a yacht off of Cuba. 
All negotiators need incentives to advance, and the FARC-government talks in Havana, Cuba are no different.

For the government's part, a successful peace treaty by early next year would give a huge boost to Pres. Santos' reelection hopes, not to mention his place in history.

But the guerrillas' motivations are less clear. Their revolutionary cause - or what remains of it amidst terrorism, debauchery and narcotrafficking - is terribly weakened. But the FARC still earn millions from extortion, narcotrafficking, illicit mining and other illegal businesses.

Nicer than the jungle. FARC negotiators
in their Havana residence.
If the guerrillas sign a peace deal, they'll have one of three options: politics, prison, or the prospect of having to find (god forbid) regular jobs. And those are just the guerrilla leaders. The guerrilla foot soldiers will head back to their farms or receive some sort of cursory work training. Many could miss the good old days in the jungle, when they earned money simply by shouting revolutionary slogans and waving their guns in people's faces.

For the guerrillas' top leaders now negotiating in Havana, the contrast is even more dramatic, as shown in a photo distributed by Colombian ex-Pres. Alvaro Uribe, who is a furious opponent of the peace talks. In the photo, two guerrilla negotiators and an unidentified woman companion relax puffing on cigars on a yacht off of the Cuban coast.

When they are not negotiating or on the yacht, the FARC representatives live in a mansion in the exclusive Habana neighborhood El Laguito.

Who'd want to leave that life for work, prison or politics?

It's easy to understand, then, why the guerrilla leaders would want to draw out the negotiations, whether productive or not, as long as possible.

Fellow FARC Rodrigo Granda called the yacht outing natural and a well-deserved break for hard-working negotiators.

But the scene looks fundamentally hypocritical, even Orwellianly so. Certainly, overtaxed negotiators have a right to relax. But you'd expect revolutionary leaders fighting for the proletariat to behave like the humble working class men and women whose rights they are supposedly defending, not the wealthy elite they want to overthrow. The guerrillas could have gone to the beach, visited a park, seen a movie, taken a walk, read a book...but to head straight from negotiating supposedly for Colombia's poor to a yacht party!

This isn't the FARC guerrilla leaders' only luxury. Among numerous examples, FARC leader Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, el Mono Jojoy, who was killed by the military three years ago, loved whiskey, expensive trucks and purebred horses. After Colombian bombs killed FARC 'foreign minister' Raul Reyes in his camp in Ecuador in 2008, Colombian soldiers found a fake Rolex watch on his wrist.

Meanwhile, the guerrillas continue driving peasants off of their land, recruiting children and committing innumerable other atrocities.

With their comfortable Havana lifestyle, the FARC negotiators seem to be living off the exploitation of the poor and downtrodden just as surely as do the capitalists they love to denounce.

*In fact, the negotiations weren't stalled. On Nov. 6, the two sides announced an agreement on political participation. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Two Legacies of José Martí

The BLAA library in La Candelaria has an exhibit about Cuban revolutionary and martyr José Martí, a man who deserves honor and admiration and who holds the historical honor of having been caricatured and worshipped by two diametrically opposed groups.
Martí was a Cuban, born in Havana in 1842, who dedicated his life to freeing the island from Spanish colonial tyranny. He failed miserably, and Cuba's independence soon after only saw Spain replaced by a nearer and more powerful imperial power, the United States. 

The exhibition, which is scheduled to continue until Feb. 22, unfortunately does not delve deeply into Martí's role in history and his legacy. However, it does provide glimpses of Martí's life and accomplishments. Probably few people who died so young and have confronted so much adversity and accomplished so much. Born in 1853, Martí's biographers say that he was horrified by the atrocities committed by imperial Spain, which was struggling to hold onto the last pieces of its empire: Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Phillippines. Those outrages included imprisoning, torturing and deporting Cuban nationalists. By the time Marti was a teenager, Cuba was also one of the last holdouts in the Americas of slavery, which had been abolished in the English and French colonies, as well as by the young nations such as Colombia which had freed themselves from Spanish rule. 

Martí's last letter, written to his son
before the invasion of Cuba. 
(I attribute Martí's values not because I have any reason to doubt them, but because of history's way of whitewashing these 'Great Men.' After all, has history remembered Thomas Jefferson's unprincipled attitude toward slavery or that Andrew Jackson was a slave trader? Or that both men committed near-genocide against American Indians?)
When he was only 16 Martí was imprisoned and tortured for letters he'd written criticizing friend for joining the Spanish Army. After two years in prison, he was deported to Spain, whose government hoped that living in the mother country would make him loyal to Madrid. Of course, it didn't dent his ideals. 

Martí spent the rest of his life in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Venezuela writing and organizing for the Cuban revolution. Despite health problems and harrasment by the Spanish government, Martí was incredibly productive, doing journalism, translating books, writing his own books (including a children's book) and even poetry. 

Altho Marti used the United States as a base for his revolutionary work, his attitude towards the U.S. was mixed. In 1879, upon arriving in New York, Martí wrote that he was "content to live in a nation where each person seems to be master of himself. One can breathe freely, since her liberty is the shield, the essence of life." But, not long after, Martí wrote that the U.S.'s vice was that "life has no greater object than amassing a fortune." Martí also harshly criticized U.S. ambitions to control all of the Americas, including Cuba, and quoted a U.S. politician as saying "This continent is ours, and sooner or later (the rest of the Americas) will have to buy what we have to sell." 

Finally, in 1895, Martí and a small group of revolutionaries landed on a Cuban beach and tried to spark a revolution. More talented as a writer than a guerrilla, Martí died in a futile attack. But the revolution fought on, altho the Spanish only gave up Cuba, as well as Puerto Rico and the Phillippines, after being defeated in war by the United States.

'José Martí's Anti-Imperialist Texts'
Always a hero, after the Cuban revolution, Cubans both on and off of the island made Martí a standard bearer and have used his name for propaganda. The truth is, of course, more complex. Martí harshly criticized the United States' materialism and lust for money, but I haven't read anything by him advocating socialism. He also clearly loved liberty and hated authoritarianism. So it's unimaginable that he would have supported the Castro dictatorship, which imprisons journalists and represses dissent. 

Martí's birthplace. 
Still, nobody hesitates to evoke his name. The U.S. government finances the anti-Castro Radio Martí in Miami, and the Cuban government awards a Jose Martí journalism award.
The beach where Martí and his companions
invaded Cuba disastrously in 1895.
After defeating Spain in the Spanish-American war, the U.S. proceeded to occupy Cuba militarily and then dominated the island's economy until the Castro brothers and Che carried out their revolution in 1959.
One can only wonder how Cuba's - and America's - history might have been different if Martí had survived and become an independent Cuba's first president.
On the other hand, as courageous and idealist as he was, Martí might just have been saved by his early death. After all, power corrupts. So who can tell whether, if Martí had achieved power in Cuba, he might have become a tyrant, too? 

The spot in Cuba where Martí was killed in 1895.

'The Girl from Guatemala,' who fell madly in love with Martí.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dictator for Democracy?

Raul Castro: First Secretary of the
Communist Party of Cuba, Dictator, and
now pro-democracy leader.

Today, a supposedly pro-democracy organization appointed the hemisphere's only dictator as its president.

If that makes no sense, it just might interpreted thru the lens of hemispheric politics.

The organization in question, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC, was founded in 2010 almost solely to defy the United States (and Canada) and to replace the Organization of American States, which is often seen as a puppet of Washington.

The CELAC is certainly not purely Latin. It has a dozen English-speaking member nations, albeit mostly tiny ones, and one Dutch-speaker, and 18 Spanish-speaking ones. Culturally, ethnically, linguistically or economically, these 33 nations with five official languages, lots of religions and varied economies and histories, have little in common.

So, nothing in particular ties the CELAC's members together, except one thing: they aren't the United States.

The CELAC's reasons for being are to exclude Washington and promote Hugo Chavez's ideas about socialist revolution. It was not by chance that Chavez was a co-chair (along with Chilean Pres. Piñera) of the committee that drafted the CELAC's statutes, or that its first summit was held in Caracas and its third is scheduled for Cuba.

Sure hope Raul's not too busy jailing journalists and
arranging one-party elections to promote democracy?
At the CELAC's second summit, held today in Santiago, Chile,  Chilean Pres. Sebastian Pinera handed the organization's presidency to Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

The vice president of Venezuela also read a letter supposedly written by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who has held power for some 14 years and recently began yet another term even tho he's been out of sight for more than a month in a Havana hospital suffering from cancer. The letter called for unity among the organization's members and denounced the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

Are Venezuela and Cuba the CELAC's models for democracy?

It's healthy to have a counterbalance to Washington-driven policies. But nobody should deceive themselves that an organization evidently directed by Cuba, a dictatorship which permits no free press, and by increasingly authoritarian Venezuela, will promote democratic values like free speech and the right to vote.

Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer got it right in this quote in a Washington Post article: “it’s hard to take the CELAC seriously when in their foundational charter they put that they’re going to defend democracy and then they elect a military dictator as its president.

Oppenheimer observes that the CELAC has no headquarters. I couldn't even find a website for the organization. Perhaps the CELAC will do nothing more than organize meetings and issue statements, as leftist demagogues are so fond of doing.

On the other hand, the CELAC might do some good if it makes some think skulls in Washington D.C. realize the imbecility of the embargo against Cuba, which succeeds in giving Cuba a moral standing it didn't earn and generates responses like the CELAC.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis and Colombia

Fidel Castro and Nikita Khruschev buddy up.
(Photo: Boston University)
A half-century ago, humanity came to the verge of armageddon when the United States discovered Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. After several tense weeks, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev reached an agreement and backed away from the abyss.

But, during those tense weeks Cuban dictator Fidel Castro asked the Soviets to shoot at U.S. spyplanes, which could likely have triggered nuclear war, as recounted in this story in the New York Times.

Castro, a revolutionary accustomed to dramatic acts and gestures, favored military action against the U.S. Castro, who was still angry about the attempted U.S. invasion of Cuba, also resented not being consulted by Moscow. Castro was motivated by anger and desire for vengeance. Cuba was an important country, he believed, and would not accept being treated as a non-factor. If proving Cuba's importance meant burning millions of people, including Cubans, to ashes, so be it. In contrast, both the U.S. and Soviet leaders were much more rational actors: they wanted to further their interests, but knew that nuclear war would be bad for everybody.

“This is insane; Fidel wants to drag us into the grave with him!” Khruschev reportedly told his advisors.

Fortunately for the world - and particularly for the millions of Cubans and Americans who would have surely been blown to bits or fried by nuclear storms - the Soviets removed their missiles, and in exchange the U.S. removed its own nuclear missiles from Turkey and also promised never again to invade the communist island.

(Reportedly, Colombia had offered its support for a U.S. invasion of the island to remove the missiles.)

Fidel Castro and bearded comrades celebrate the 
revolution's victory.
The world gave a sigh of relief. But the Soviets' support and the U.S. assurance that it would never again invade Cuba, as it had disastrously in 1961 at the Bay of Pigs, gave Castro cover to try to foment Communism across the hemisphere. In 1968, Che Guevara died in Bolivia trying to ignite a Cuban-style revolution there. Castro also financed and trained armed insurgencies across Central and South America, including Colombia's ELN guerrillas. In recent years, however, Cuba has assisted with as-yet-unsuccesful peace negotations between the Colombian government and the ELN and FARC guerrillas.

A U-2 spy plane photo shows Soviet missile silos in Cuba.
(Photo: Smithsonian Museum)
Meanwhile, the United States and now-geriatric revolutionary Cuba, only 90 miles apart, still maintain one of the world's last remaining Cold War hostilities.

Today, Latin America's only situation even distantly resembling the 1962 Cuba is Venezuela, a leftist nation hostile to the U.S. which has during recent years purchased billions of dollars of mostly Russian military weapons. But those are conventional weapons, and Venezuela presents no military threat to the U.S., altho its armamanets are potentially worrisome to its neighbors, Colombia and Guyana.

A bit like Cuba a half century ago, Venezuela is a source of tensions between Moscow and Washington, still vying for influence.

The Soviet missiles have ended up achieving their original goal: preserving the Communist revolution on the U.S.'s doorstep. But in the meantime their builders, the Soviet empire, has crumbled, leaving Cuba as a sort of museum piece for a failed system. However, in the guerrillas which still afflict Colombia, Colombia continues to feel the the missile crisis' consequences.

So, for Colombia, the missile Crisis leaves mixed messages. By preserving revolutionary Cuba, the missiles contributed to Colombia's ongoing troubles. However, the communist island could now contribute to peace in Colombia.

And, the crisis' greatest lesson for Colombia is that determined and cautious leaders can resolve the most difficult crisis without firing a shot.

But are Colombia's guerrillas rational actors? For that matter, is the government?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, April 16, 2012

Amercas Summit Winners and Losers

Winner - Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos: Altho he didn't succeed in achieving consensus for his ideas of reconsidering the War on Drugs, he did come off like a statesman, he got a wave of positive publicity for Colombia and reaffirmed relations with the United States, including setting a date for the (unfortunate) U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Obama and Santos smile about the Free Trade Agreement on the cover of today's El Tiempo.
On the downside, Colombia's relations with Latin America's leftist governments, few of whom attended the summit, became more strained.

Otto Perez Molina.
Winner - Guatemalan Pres. Otto Perez Molina: This ex-military man heading a tiny, poor country put himself onto the global stage for 15 minutes at least by leading the push to reconsider prohibitionist drug policies. Pres. Santos has been the other prominent advocate for a reevaluation of how to deal with drug addiction and violence. Altho the U.S. rejected a change to anti-drug strategies, the issue was discussed for the first time in a major international forum, hopefully opening the gate to further debates. (Surprising, isn't it, that the calls for decriminalization are coming for conservative leaders?)

Broke Even - U.S. Pres. Barack Obama: He generated ill-will by nixing calls to reevaluate the War on Drugs and to allow Cuba to participate in meetings of heads of state. On the other hand, Obama beat the drums for economic growth and reducing poverty, which will play well at home, and buddied up with Pres. Santos. Obama also became a hero just by being the first Afro-American U.S. president in the mostly Afro-Colombian city of Cartagena. But the trip was marred, perhaps even overshadowed, by the Secret Service's drinking-and-prostitution scandal. 

Cristina Fernandez,
no closer to the Falklands.
Loser - Argentine Pres. Cristina Fernandez: She failed to get a consensus behind her drive to pressure England to negotiate the status of the Falkland Islands. Pres. Santos apparently 'forgot' to mention the issue in his closing speech. More likely, Colombia's relationships with the U.S., Canada and ex-British colonies in the Caribbean mattered more to him than Kirchner's futile quest. A miffed Kirchner left the summit early.

Secret Service men
guarding the Pope:
But what did they do
Loser - The U.S. Secret Service: Male members of this supposedly elite security team came off looking more like adolescents who couldn't hold their liquor or keep their pants on. Some of them may lose their jobs because they were caught dallying with prostitutes. Has the Secret Service considered hiring only female agents for its most sensitive positions?

Winner - Cartagena's prostitutes, who got a burst of unexpected publicity thanks to the Secret Service's antics.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, April 13, 2012

Give Obama a Drug Policy Update

Obama in El Tiempo. 
"We're making progress, and we're not going to give up."

"We'll increase cooperation so that the drug cartels and narcotraffickers have no place to hide."

"The United States is not going to legalize or depenalize drugs, because doing so would have grave consequences for all of our nations, in terms of public health and security. What is more, legalizing or depenalizing drugs wouldn't eliminate the danger created by international organized crime." - Barack Obama in today's El Tiempo, but Richard Nixon might have said the same things 40 years of the War on Drugs ago.

In his huge front page interview in today's El Tiempo, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama sounds like he hasn't noticed this millenium - at least as far as the War on Drugs is concerned.

Many Latin Americans whose nations have been wracked by drug violence, including Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos, hope that leaders will debate the U.S.-backed drug war's impacts during this weekend's Summit of the Americas in Cartagena. But Obama makes it clear that the U.S. won't permit any real experimentation on drug policy. Time magazine's Tim Padgett gives a good explanation of drug policy here.

If Obama thinks we've made progress in a global way on drugs, I wish he'd point out where. Sure, violence has dropped in Colombia, but it's soared in parts of Mexico and Central America; Cocaine consumption has declined in the United States - but it's increased in Europe and other regions; and the U.S. has been hit by epidemics of methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs.

Obama's comments supporting excluding Cuba from the summit make more sense. Cuba is a dictatorship which tramples basic human rights such as free speech, and the freedoms to travel and elect one's leaders. Giving it a seat at the table with democratically elected leaders would legitimize dictatorship and repression. On the other hand, trade with the hemisphere's last communist relic can benefit common Cubans and open the country to new ideas, as seems to be happening in China.
Obama is talking not only as U.S. president, but as a presidential candidate who knows he'd get slammed by Republicans if he dared to suggest a retreat in the War on Drugs. But, hopefully Obama will win a second term in November, and then be able to try more flexibility on failed drug policies. That's because, as cautious as Obama has been in this and other areas, Republican Mitt Romney would be far more closed to change. 

The Cartagena summit has generated a series of flattering news stories about Colombia larded with descriptions such as 'miracle' and 'rising' and 'reinvents itself.'

But, while there's truth in that, it's also true that Colombia still has an armed conflict going on, close to half of its population living in poverty and an unjustifiably high homicide rate.

Colombia has come a long way, but has a long way to go.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Colombia and Cuba: A Difficult Relationship

Good friends? Juan Manuel Santos
and Cuban leader Raul Castro.
Pres. Juan Manuel Santos is visiting Havana, Cuba today, meeting with the long-ruling Castro brothers and Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez, who is in Cuba once again being treated for cancer.

Colombia's leaders find themselves in a difficult situation, with the continent's leftist governments demanding that Cuba be allowed to attend the Summit of the Americas to be held in mid-April in Cartagena.

Cuba has been historically excluded from the organization because it's not a democracy. But Cuba's leftist allies demanded that Cuba be allowed to attend this time, even threatening not to attend themselves, tho since then some appear to have backed off of that threat.

Unsurprisingly, Colombia has stuck to the position of its close ally Washington, that non-democratic Cuba doesn't deserve a spot at the summit.

For Cuba's supporters, some of whom have had their own democratic credentials questioned by Washington and international organizations, Cuba's participation would provide something of a safeguard: it would be difficult to eject other nations from the organization for failing the democracy test as long as Cuba, a dictatorship, was allowed to belong.

Cuban-Colombian ties? Che Guevara looks
down over the central plaza  of the
National University in Bogotá.
The Colombian-Cuban relationship has never been easy, despite Santos' recent description of Raul Castro as his "good friend." Perhaps the two governments started off on the wrong foot as far back as Che Guevara's visit here during his famous Motorcycle journey across the region. (He actually came to Colombia on a riverboat, having ditched the bike in Peru.)

El Che didn't like Colombia, which was then ruled by a military dictator, and left quickly for Venezuela. Nevertheless, Che's portrait looks down over the National University's central plaza, commonly known as La Plaza del Che.

During the 1960s and '70s, Cuba sponsored leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia and other Latin nations. But the only place where such guerrillas fight on is Colombia, altho Cuba long since ceased supporting them and they found financing in narcotrafficking and extortion instead. In recent years Cuba has accepted exiled Colombian guerrillas such as the M-19 and served as a site for negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN, altho those talks have gone nowhere.

'Try it old man!' 'Never!' A cartoon in El Tiempo newspaper
makes fun of the U.S.'s refusal to either consider
drug decriminalization or to talk to Cuba. 
Today, Bogotá and Havana have normal diplomatic, economic and cultural relations, despite deep ideological differences.

For its part, Cuba has experienced two difficult decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, its main ideological and economic backer. But, some of that support was replaced when Chavez became president of Venezuela in 1999.

With the Castro brothers aging, and Chavez ailing, however, two of Colombia's leftist neighbors may soon experience deep political changes.

March 12 addendum: Colombia now say it'll help Cuba to participate more in international meetings. Cultural and economic ties are one thing. But does Cuba, a dictatorship which does not allow a free press, deserve the respect brought by a voice in international affairs? What will such a move signal to other countries sliding toward authoritarianism? Would people look at Cuba differently if it happened to be a right-wing dictatorship rather than a left-wing one?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, July 4, 2011

Orlando Jaramillo's Campaign for Cuba

Cuba crusader Orlando Jaramillo on La Ciclovia.
If you've ridden on Bogotá's Ciclovia, you've probably seen Orlando Jaramillo. In fact, you could hardly miss him, with his placards celebrating communist Cuba and denouncing the United States, and sometimes Colombia as well.

Orlando told me that he's not Cuban by nationality, but "I'm as Cuban as I can be in my soul." He's been campaigning for the island, which is the only communist nation and the only dictatorship in the Americas, since 2008. But Jaramillo celebrates Cuba's accomplishments in health care: for example, its infant mortality rate is 4.4 per 1,000 live births, compared to 6.8 in the United States and 16.1 in Colombia, and education: Cuba boasts a primary school enrollment rate of 99% and an adult literacy rate of 100%, compared to 90% and 93% for Colombia. One might, however, question the openness of that education in a one-party state with no  free press.

Jaramillo also celebrates as heroes the Cuban Five, who in 1998 were convicted for spying in the U.S. Cuba admits that the group worked for its intelligence network, but says they only spied on Cuban dissidents. However, the five were convicted of sending U.S. military information to Havana.

But Jaramillo might feel fortunate that he's not in Cuba demonstrating for the U.S. or Colombia: he wouldn't get far before going to prison. Freedom House labels Cuba as 'not free' and says that "Opposition to the ruling Communist Party is not tolerated" and "Human rights defenders and political prisoners endure torture and deplorable prison conditions." 

Perhaps Jaramillo should consider balancing his praise of La Revolucion with a bit of reality. 

'Colombia is passion for corruption.'

'Five Cuban heroes imprisoned by the empire.' 'We demand their liberation.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What's Happening with Hugo?

Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and
Raul Castro in a Havana hospital room.
On June 10, Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez was hospitalized in Havana, Cuba, for what was officially described as a 'pelvic abscess.'

Since then, the normally long-winded Chavez has kept virtually silent, with the exception of one broadast, a few photos and a couple of Twitter tweets. That's all despite a huge power blackout and a deadly riot and siege at a major prison back home.

Many Venezuelans suspect Chavez has something very serious, such as cancer. But, in the best tradition of authoritarian regimes, the Venezuelan government is keeping its leader's health a secret from his people. That may be why he's being treated in Cuba, where secrets can be kept.

Most Colombians seem to dislike the leftist Chavez, who probably has aided Colombia's guerrillas. But Colombia also wants a stable Venezuela which buys Colombian exports. And if Chavez either dies or becomes incapacitated, there's no telling who will replace him. Chavez has so dominated Venezuelan politics over the past decade that there no other person in his party is waiting in the wings.

Venezuela has a presidential election coming up next year, and Chavez's health troubles and his country's many problems make it more realistic for an opposition politician succeed him - which would delight both Bogotá and Washington.

On the other hand, since Juan Manuel Santos became Colombia's president, the two nations' relations have warmed. Santos even called Chavez 'My best friend,' earning the ire of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
Now, Santos's investment in his leftist neighbor may be in jeopardy.

Most likely, Chavez will recover and return to the presidency. However, if his condition is serious, this will likely prevent him from ruling until 2020 or 2030, as he has suggested and his opponents fear.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials are assuring their people that Chavez continues governing the country from his Havana hospital room. Venezuela's Constitution seems to say that the vice president should take over - but who cares about the letter of the law in Chavez's Venezuela.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cuba's Defender on Bogotá's Ciclovia!

This man is a frequent sight on Bogotá's Sunday/holiday Ciclovia, denouncing the United States and defending Cuba's revolution. 

Cuba proclaims victory....No to the U.S. bases in Latin America. 

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours