CubaNear And Still So Far


I went to Cuba on Friday.  That is, to the airport in Havana. There, immigration security stopped and questioned me. Their focus was on a story I had published in The Wall Street Journal 23 years ago.

That was the last time I visited Cuba.  And yes, they had stopped me at the airport and shipped me back to Miami.

History repeats itself in Castro’s Cuba. It seems to go with the system. On Friday, seven hours after my arrival I was again shipped back to Florida.

But what could they be afraid of? Maybe their own weaknesses?

In a time of openness, which they badly need, the system still throws punches at the “enemy.” Maybe it’s an outdated burocratic bloat. Whoever cleans up the dirty sheets just missed mine.

And why? Nobody would tell me. They themselves didn’t know. They were following orders.

So here was an 82-year old journalistic warrior refused entry to his own country when all he wanted was to re-live las ilusiones that he believes are there again. Simply because he could not forget the beautiful expectations of the real revolution he lived through in 1959.

Family were kept waiting. Friends and colleagues frozen from reunions long-planned for a 10-day visit to my hometown and other sentimental places in the island. .

But hope prevails. You wanna know why? Because it’s a survival trick for so many Cubans, young and old.

Because la esperanza es lo último que se pierde.

Because those octogenarians, not me, are disappearing. Not only from the face of the earth, but from the minds and imaginations of most Cubans.

And the younger ones who learned their aberrations are knowing better.

5 Facts About U.S. Relations With Cuba

Here are five facts about the relationship between the United States and Cuba

President Barack Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge did so in 1928, marking a historic moment in the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The renewal of diplomatic and economic ties has drawn widespread support in the U.S., but significant partisan differences on the future of the relationship between the two countries remain.

Here are five facts about the relationship between the United States and Cuba:

uscuba1A majority of Americans support the renewal of diplomatic relations with Cuba. A Pew Research Center survey from July 2015 found that 73% of Americans approved of the thaw in relations between the two countries. A similar share also said they would favor ending the trade embargo the U.S. imposed against Cuba in 1960. Support for renewed diplomatic and economic relations had increased across nearly all partisan groups since January 2015, the month after Obama announced his initiative. 





uscuba2Americans are skeptical about whether Cuba will become more democratic in the near future. Fewer than half of those surveyed in July 2015 said they thought Cuba would become more democratic over the next several years. A greater share (49%) said that the state of democracy in Cuba would be “about the same,” while just 3% said they thought the country would become less democratic. There were significant partisan divides on the future of democracy in Cuba: Conservative Republicans were the most skeptical, with just 29% saying the country would become more democratic, while 59% predicted Cuba would remain about the same. Liberal Democrats expressed the most optimism, with a majority (58%) saying they believed Cuba would become more democratic over the next several years and just 37% saying things would remain about the same.

For the first time, a majority of Americans have a favorable view of Cuba. A Gallup survey conducted in February found that 54% of Americans had a favorable view of Cuba. This is a dramatic change from the first time Gallup asked the question in 1996; then, just 10% said they had a favorable view of the country. But a partisan split still remains: Nearly three-quarters of Democrats surveyed (73%) said they have a favorable view of Cuba, while just 34% of Republicans said the same. About half of independents (53%) said they have a positive view of Cuba.

uscuba4The Cuban American community, long a source of opposition to restoring relations with Cuba, is changing. The number of Hispanics of Cuban ancestry in the U.S. has increased from 1.2 million in 2000 to more than 2 million, with much of the growth coming from those born in the U.S. In 2013, 57% of Hispanics of Cuban origin were foreign born, down from 68% in 2000. At the same time, a new, more recent wave of Cuban immigrants has arrived in the U.S. Since 1990, more than 500,000 Cuban immigrants have entered the U.S. Most recently, there has been a surge of Cuban immigration following Obama’s decision to renew relations.









The U.S. decision to restore relations with Cuba had strong support in Latin America. uscuba5A majority across five Latin American countries surveyed in the spring of 2015 said they approved of the thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Nearly eight-in-ten in Chile (79%), Argentina (78%) and Venezuela (77%) said they approved of the renewal of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, as did 67% of those in Brazil and 54% of those in Mexico. There was similarly broad support for ending the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Support for ending the embargo was stronger among Latin Americans with higher incomes, compared with lower-income respondents.

Cuba Gets Back in Action as Big Film Shoots Return


By Elaine Diaz

After more than half a century’s absence, Hollywood returned to Cuba in 2013, though in a slightly roundabout way. “Papa: Hemingway in Cuba,” a film about the American writer, was shot on the island as a Cuban-Canadian-U.S. co-production, requiring elaborate permissions from both Washington and Havana.

But thawing relations meant that Universal could land with a bang in Cuba this year with “The Fate of the Furious,” the latest in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. The mega-production created more than 300 jobs for six months — producers, personal assistants, drivers — and generated an unprecedented amount of money for the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), though the official figure has not been made public. The new “Transformers” film also shot in Havana this year, and more interest from Hollywood is sure to follow. As Frank Cabrera, the Cuban producer on “The Fate of the Furious,” puts it: “Cuba is an aphrodisiac. The island is a natural market for the U.S. film industry.”

What affect Fidel Castro’s death Nov. 25 will have remains unclear, but as a shooting location, Cabrera says, “it is very easy to film in Cuba.” ICAIC supports up to 15 foreign productions every year, and independent producers — though not legally recognized by the government — also offer their services for international projects. Productions are scrutinized and approved by the institute on a case-by-case basis. And if you have the budget for it, you can get official authorization to import more than 40 trucks full of technological equipment, fly a noisy helicopter over Havana, or even close main streets for 12 days, all of which “The Fate of the Furious” did.

Favorite shooting sites are Old Havana and Centro Havana, districts where history and the feeling that everything is about to collapse create a unique ambience – but also perpetuate a stereotype. Old cars and pre-Revolution buildings give the idea that Cuba is still stuck in the 1950s. Prices certainly aren’t. “Although Cuba is not a cheap location anymore and hotel prices are high, Cuban people are good hosts, socially skillful, and technical personnel are very well-prepared,” Cabrera says.

Claudia Calviño, an independent producer and filmmaker at production company Quinta Avenida, recently worked on “Buena Vista Social Club: Adios,” a sequel to Wim Wenders’ 1999 “Buena Vista Social Club.” (“Adios” is being directed by Oscar-nominated British documentarian Lucy Walker.) “It is good to have big productions coming to Cuba. It creates jobs; it enriches the industry,” says Calviño, who is now working on a project with Colombian filmmakers. “But we need the money that comes out of that to support the Cuban film industry,” instead of just going into government coffers via ICAIC.

There was a time when Cuba occupied a leading role on the Latin American film scene. But that time has faded, with the domestic movie sector now the virtual monopoly of the state. Independent producers like Calviño say that changing the law to recognize them as legitimate players would energize Cuba’s movie industry and elevate its status. “We need to start thinking of our relations with the U.S. industry as more of a partnership, in which both parts are equally important, and not as the American industry hiring Cuba’s cheap labor force,” Calviño says.

For Hollywood, as long as it sticks to politically inoffensive themes – whether Hemingway or Autobots and Decepticons – moviemaking in Cuba should go smoothly. But President-elect Donald Trump’s warning that he might turn back the clock on improving U.S.-Cuba ties could hobble a Hollywood-Havana rapprochement. And if American filmmakers try to dig deeper into Cuban reality, the ideological hostility that kept Cuba and the U.S. apart for more than 50 years is likely to rear its ugly head.

Right now, Havana is hosting its annual International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, which runs from Dec. 8 to 18. But don’t expect to see “Santa & Andres,” an independent co-production between Cuba, Colombia, and France that had its world premiere in Toronto. Centering on the unlikely relationship between a gay, dissident Cuban novelist and his government-appointed minder, the movie is about tolerance. But its release has not been authorized in Cuba. Even after Castro’s death, the full social and cultural effects of which remain to be seen, Cuba is not ready for tolerance just yet — on the streets or on screen.

I Forgot Fidel a Long Time Ago


by Mirta Ojito

I don’t mean to ruin the party. By all means, keep uncorking the wine, toasting to freedom and banging pots on Calle Ocho. I just want to offer an alternative reality, one in which Fidel Castro isn’t the center of the universe.

It is possible to be Cuban, even a Cuban exile and not be Castro-obsessed. Yes, it is true that most of us wouldn’t be in exile if it weren’t for him. (I never heard anyone claiming they had left Cuba because of Raúl, the current president of Cuba and Fidel’s younger brother). On the other hand, once we’ve left the island, some of us decided not to give Fidel another second of our time or another inch of our mental space.

Growing up, Fidel loomed large in my life and in the life of most Cubans of the generation born shortly after he assumed power in 1959. Because we knew nothing else, because we were taught only one reality, Fidel came to embody not only the ideas of the revolution but also the nation itself. He was the mambí (those who fought for independence against Spain) and the bearded revolutionary; he was the national anthem and the flag, the mountains and the sea.

All powerful, all seeing, he came to replace God at a time when the government declared the country atheist. Who needs God in the face of such powerful force?

To reject him, to stand against everything he stood for was to be disloyal not only to him but to la patria -the motherland.

It is no coincidence that the government adopted words to demean those who wanted a different life. In revolutionary Cuba, people didn’t just leave the island, they “abandoned the motherland.” At first and for a long time they were called gusanos, or worms. Later, when my time came to leave, we were called escoria, or scum.

I left in a boatlift that brought more than 125,000 Cubans from the port of Mariel, in northern Cuba, to South Florida 36 years ago. On a wall in my home office I keep the departure order the government issued to the Mañana, the boat that carried me and my family to the US. Under the category of shipment, someone at the port wrote the word “lastre” or ballast.

Inside the revolution, all was possible; outside, nothing, Fidel once famously said — and he meant it.

To step aside was called “diversionismo ideológico” an ideological betrayal of the highest order. And so he controlled what music we listened to, what books we read, what uniforms we wore, the length of men’s hair, whether or not we communicated with our cousins in the U.S. (the euphemism for the US then was el exterior as if all that was ours and all that was good stood in juxtaposition to everything that happened outside that island, outside our revolutionary bubble).

Eventually the bubble burst, but it took a long time. The damage was done.

By then, I had already left my country and began the treacherous path of exile, where I was expected to think for myself and make choices, wise choices. Upon arrival I was told I could forget my name and my past; I was beginning a new life and could choose a different name.

I decided to keep both my name and my memories, but I also decided to leave Fidel behind, where he belonged, in the bubble he created and that so many -here and there- continue to cling to.

I can’t claim the news of his death didn’t have an impact on me, but it wasn’t huge news. Rather, it was the kind of news I wanted to share only with my mother, my sister, my sons and some close friends. It was as if I was sharing family gossip of a distant relative we once knew and had concluded was never going to die. What do you know? He was mortal, after all.

Fidel is dead, but it doesn’t change much. It doesn’t make me happy nor sad. It’s been a long time since I have given him any thought. I won’t start now.

Mirta Ojito is a journalist, educator and author of Finding Mañana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus and Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town. She is currently the Director of Standards at NBC Telemundo.

Your Editor Asks: Are Cubans in Cuba also turning the page?

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