Renunciation Scars

FGSA middle-aged woman entering the neighborhood supermarket caught my attention as I was shopping in the Produce Department. Her demeanor struck me although it shouldn’t have by now. As far back as the early seventies there have been stories about recent arrivals from Cuba reacting to their new surroundings in similar fashion.

I approached her cautiously, asking her if I could be of assistance. Looking at me, she extended her arm and shook her head; there was nothing I could do or that she needed, she meant. She seemed reflective and forlorn. Despite her initial refusal to accept my assistance, I asked her why she cried–as she walked slowly, tears rolling down her cheeks. She echoed a tale precious few besides observant south Floridians could genuinely fathom.

She said she couldn’t stop herself from thinking how for fifty years she had little or nothing to buy in a neighborhood market, where every time she went, the shelves were mostly bare. She whispered how scarcity made it hard to plan a decent meal for her family and how almost always it was hard to know what the next day’s main dish would be.

Clearly it isn’t an abundance of fruit that bedazzles the recent arrivals; it’s the plenitude of bounty. It’s the profusion of everything new to them. Young and old alike lived in Cuba without the basic necessities all their lives and they learned to cope. Their arrival in South Florida leaves them speechless and confused; perplexed because they were brought up listening to Castro’s propaganda telling them they lived in paradise when their exit from the island makes them realize they were merely surviving in Castro’s inferno.

They were taught to trust the government. They were told the US and the other Cubans in exile were lurking behind every news release to grab from them the few possessions they had. Once the automatic doors swing open at any supermarket, their past experience tumbles on top of them and crushes them emotionally as they’re confronted with the lies the government used to keep them at bay over the last fifty-six years.

It’s not just the young who react this way. Anyone born after 1959 is susceptible. The world has been upside down for them since their birth. The change of setting arouses in them strong emotions. They feel betrayed. They feel their life was wasted. They feel unable to cope with so much at once. They’re happy for their escape and sad for the people, the country, their way of life, the loves they left behind, all still enduring the misery.

They also feel the weight of living free, making decisions on their own, weighing possibilities that never existed for them before. It’s like any of us who live in the First World landing in a new region without water, with extreme heat and scarce resources. We could never put in words our contrasting emotions coherently. They’re too many and would come far too fast for any attempt to vocalize them to be successful. As these people, all we could do is cry. This woman cried uncontrollably, as would anyone if they suddenly faced the deception that shaped everything in their life.

It’s probably a human trait to face heightened adversity with tears when we become conscious of our survival hinging upon the individual choices we must make at every turn. Dictatorships are less stressful when their victims only do what the government allows. We can always blame the system if we fail; it’s a safety net of sorts.

Self-determination is overwhelming. Freedom is an awe-inspiring responsibility and it smacks them in the face just about then, when they get to the supermarket and they’re shocked by the affluence of colors, smells, tastes, sounds and products too many of us take for granted and yet so many others of the Third World can’t even imagine when their existence is condemned to a windowless habitat disconnected from the rest of the world.

I count my blessings. I’ve spent here more than 80% of my life. I don’t know first-hand the deprivation these new arrivals endured. I’m glad my parents taught me as a young adolescent the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness by sending me abroad.

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Apaga y vámonos

CUBATimeCoverAquí no hay más que hablar. Igual que los rusos blancos que huyeron cuando el zar y la revolución bolchevique quedaron fuera de la Rusia de Yeltsin, el futuro de Cuba yace en los que se quedaron en Cuba, sobrellevaron las dificultades, permanecieron con cierto poderío y bienestar bajo el beneplácito de los Castro y en recompensa heredarán el poder cuando los Castro se hayan marchado. Los exiliados cubanos iremos pereciendo lejos de la Isla y ajenos a todo lo que ocurra cuando llegue ese día, tal vez más defraudados si aún nos interesamos en los eventos políticos y económicos en Cuba cuando los oligarcas del castrismo sigan beneficiándose de lo que queda que nuestros antepasados crearon en la Isla, de lo que abandonamos en nuestro éxodo y del cautiverio de las demás víctimas de la dictadura castrista. Al exilio cubano solamente le queda el vanagloriarse de lo que cada uno de ellos individualmente logró consigo mismo y con las familias que formó libremente lejos de la dictadura castrista; esa Cuba de nuestros recuerdos pereció y nunca más volverá. Todo pasa. Nada es permanente. Por eso el olvido que trae la vejez es bienvenido. Al igual que hoy se tergiversan las razones de la guerra civil estadounidense entre los estados del norte y los estados del sur, atribuyéndole exclusivamente a la esclavitud ser la causa única de la cruenta batalla y se toma la bandera sureña como un símbolo de odio y de opresión racista, desconectándola del resto de la realidad histórica norteamericana, ignorando todos los demás motivos de esa larga y concertada destrucción política, económica y social que eran numerosos, el impacto de los carpetbaggers en la posguerra, la carencia del sufragio libre como represalia y demás, así ocurre con los cubanos que huimos del castrismo, el único motivo que narra la historia reescrita es nuestra ambición, nuestra corrupción política y un deseo desleal de hacer sufrir al resto de nuestros compatriotas por beneficio propio, robándonos de todo tipo de altruismo o sacrificio en aras a la patria por forzar cambios favorables dentro de ella. Así se reescribe la Historia porque la Historia la reescriben los victoriosos y lamentablemente no fuimos nosotros los exiliados los que ganamos por aliarnos erróneamente a un país donde la política sólo favorece al mejor postor, no se basa en valores milenarios ni en la ética. Fidel y su corrupto sistema represivo les han dado el esquema a los demás políticos alrededor del mundo para perpetuarse en el poder; el maestro diabólico se emula en todas las capitales del mundo y sus lecciones de mentiras y confabulaciones contra la justicia, tornando al pueblo libre en pueblo subyugado, hacen eco en todas las sedes del poder globalmente; eso es lo que lo glorifica y la razón por la que incongruentemente tantos gobiernos le dan el pase y le perdonan su feudalismo anacrónico y avasallador. Todos se miran en su despótico éxito. A ninguno le interesa nuestra causa. Todo nuestro esfuerzo en desenmascararlo cae en ojos ciegos y oídos sordos. Ninguno está en disposición de reconocer que el poder perpetuo es un crimen contra la humanidad porque todos anhelan llegar a él. Adiós a la esperanza.

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At Her Side

WP_20150523_14_52_58_Pro 2As I sat there, distraught and seemingly withdrawn—mentally counting the folds on the sheet covering her ailing figure, the number of bars on the side rails of her hospital bed, noticing the foam-rubber booties casually leaning, blue, against the footboard, next to the yellowing power chord of the hand-control—her eyes glanced over me and she smiled with a tenderness that stirred me, for it appeared to be a glimpse at another lifetime, long ago. Her illness moved fast, devouring her inside and now her outside, as the merciless tumor on her left breast, where it all began, oozed out day and night to heighten her distress even if well-bandaged and anointed to soothe its physical sting. Her remaining days were dwindling. She was quickly losing the fight.

In a split-second, as if on an out-of-body experience, I saw myself from above, there at her side, reliving the re-enactment of a scene I loathed to experience, pouring forth an agony that haunted me and hunted me down heartlessly, forcing me to come face to face with her tragedy; to witness the few residual moments of the most significant person of my existence; the woman who transformed my life initially with youthful unrestraint and gut-wrenching love so many years before, later gifting me an anguish that paralyzed me and turned me into a human ball of pain and nausea, despite having allowed me to retain the most cherished fruit of our years together. Gone was the bitterness over her betrayal, the shock of her desertion, as was all memory of our two, four, six and eight year olds sobbing when for days she failed to call or visit; absent too was the sorrow of listening to the bedtime prayers of disconcerted little children pleading for their mommy to come home.

After thirty-three years, unexpectedly, one day life came around full circle and there I was, still with so much left to grieve, hardened to the world, but internally, spongy, like soft clay, with nowhere to run, realizing there was nowhere I craved to run to. The youthful I wanted to give her peace; the present I, grasping for some of the peace I lost when she walked away–but it wasn’t to be found. Despite the mountain of years, both lives fully lived, the experiences enjoyed or suffered without our presence in each other’s space, I wanted to assuage her pain and nurture her with the love I strived so hard to kill—so in vain—before, year after year. I wanted to cram, in what little time remained, the happiness we could have shared.

Life and certainly the Spirit colluded to remind me, to reflect on each and every ceremonial vow we made on that magical Friday evening almost forty-five years before; solemn promises neither one of us dared annul, perhaps—and I romanticize—because deep inside, intuitively, we both knew our souls were uniquely intertwined even if our flesh was not to be. So much had changed. So much had transpired and yet, at that instant, I saw her again majestically radiant in her wedding gown, stepping down from the altar; strolling out of the church, in step to the crescendo of the recessional playing on the organ, hanging from my arm as, starry-eyed, we faced the world together for the first time.

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The Recruitment of the People

As a child in Cuba I witnessed how the newly formed Castro government stealthily NC Public Transport CDR-likeexpanded its incipient authority. The Castro brothers deceitfully conceived a security campaign exhorting the public to spy as an act of national loyalty, an action that contrasted with Rosie the Riveter’s barely twenty years prior spurring Americans to do precisely the opposite in a democratic society. The Castros promoted public safety by encouraging the people to spill everything they observed to the government. They achieved their nefarious goal of ensconcing themselves in power with public support for their malfeasance.

Fifty-five years later, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution continue to wreak havoc in Cuban society. Individuals across the Island report block by block on neighbors, parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. The Castro brothers institutionalized snitching as a patriotic activity for the good of society. They developed a scheming formula irresistible alike to despots and elected leaders today.

The Castro brothers learned about public repression in all its manifestations from the well-known figures of world domination: Joseph Stalin, Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Erich Mielke, and Chairman Mao. They found in Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda of the Nazi regime, a source of inspiration and a fountain of technical knowledge to achieve their undisclosed goal of absolute subjection. The product of their maliciousness remains on public display as twelve million enslaved men and women dream only of fleeing from their captivity by escaping from the Island.

Today across the globe we strive to defend our society from armed groups of misguided individuals spewing hatred in the name of a just and loving God. How these parties justify their criminal activities as different factions of their faith is beyond our grasp. The fact is, we are vulnerable if we fail to recognize their surreptitious proximity and fail to quash their evil acts before they kill and maim us.

Our open society; our culture of freedom; our defense of individual rights to protect us from despotic rulers like the Castros, all make us susceptible to being wounded or hurt by terrorists. The result is that we heighten our senses to raise our awareness in different surroundings. Yet, we go about our business standing in defiance of potential assailants while the governments of the world engage in public campaigns to recruit us. They lead us to be wary of everyone around us, to report to the authorities what we see. They coax us to trust Big Brother.

I stand in disbelief as images of my childhood resurface in my mind. I know the outcome. I gasp deep in my DNA.

“It’s not the same,” I hear. “It’s not nefarious.” “It’s for a greater good.”

But do we all agree on what truly is this greater good? Is survival the greater good? I dare say not if this desire would lead us by design or subterfuge down the road to some form of unavowed totalitarianism. Furthermore, blanket mistrust is anathema to traditional American values, for all of America’s bountiful blessings are cradled in freedom. To live among us is the desired goal of “wretched masses yearning to breathe free,” as Emma Lazarus depicts.

So today I post this Blog to question our resolve to remain in liberty. Did our soldiers die in wars to bring freedom everywhere so that today we may give away this cause so gallantly advanced thoughtlessly? Do we honor our fallen braves by renouncing our Bill of Rights?

Governments around the world in their battle against terrorism embrace and stand with Goebbels, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the Castro brothers by urging the citizenry to spy on one-another. Their choice concerns us all, for we must position the course of our tomorrows today with as much determination as the Fathers of the Country when they conceived the Union.

So I ask, is freedom the price to pay for security?

If the majority finds the answer to this question in the affirmative, then I choose the opposite camp, standing instead with Thomas Paine, James Madison and Patrick Henry.

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Sad Day For Freedom-Seekers Everywhere

FGSYes, December 17, 2014 marks a nasty betrayal of dignity, of human values, of justice everywhere by the President of the United States; very much along the lines of the Kennedy Administration in April 1961 when JFK withdrew the support the US military had pledged to the Cuban fighters after they landed on the beach in the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Everyone’s happy for Alan Gross and his family, but some are floored by the price paid to obtain his release. His freedom was exacted by a trade; a trade involving the three spies instrumental in shooting down civil airplanes carrying American citizens, a violent act causing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to use language unbecoming a lady before the United Nations in condemnation of their criminal action. What of the innocent lives lost when their airplanes were blown out of the sky? Were the lives of these Americans less valuable than the life of Mr. Gross? Are their deaths meaningless? Are the deaths of so many thousands through the years heroically standing against the Castro tyranny to be ignored?

My outlook shouldn’t surprise anyone:  As a Cuban-American–emphasizing the Cuban portion of the stigmatizing label–I am sickened over the move. I’ve spent 54 years away from Cuba because of the regime’s firing squads, the absence of free elections, its totalitarian controls, its smothering any semblance of individuality, the lack of independence of its non-existing judicial, the absconding of all private property to enrich the ruling family and the military that keeps it in power, everything despotic governments force upon the people of the country they ruthlessly subdue.

Since 1961, the dictatorship has relied on the largess of other governments to finance its repression; first, the USSR, lately Venezuela. As these two deep-pocketed benefactors lost the resources allowing them to finance Castro’s thugs in power, now Raul looks to the US for easy money, since from the get-go every tourist must deal with a 15% loss of capital when they exchange their currency for Cuban Units of Currency–the infamous CuC and then purchase everything from government stores selling at exorbitant mark-ups to extract more than their pound of flesh with every commercial transaction. How do these schemes benefit the average citizen?

Raul’s initiative is not a new move; what’s new is the US President’s acquiescence. The government of Cuba has been pressing to get US dollars by the bucketful for decades, yet  it has been unwilling to release political prisoners, to stop persecuting dissidents, to forego total ownership of each and every commercial enterprise on the island, large and small, by issuing and withholding licenses and permits whimsically, to encourage  initiative by modifying Cuba’s Constitution to allow for judicial independence and to promote the rule of law, the respect for private property, and the establishment of political parties contrarian to the government.

That there’s more to this relaxation than meets the eye is certain. All I can do is speculate on possible scenarios. Let me share a couple.

As a Cuban-American–this time with an emphasis on American–the only explanation for this appeasement on the part of the US is that Mr. Obama had no alternative but to give in to Castro’s blackmail. A couple of reasons may be considered. Either Raul told the POTUS that if the US doesn’t cave-in to his demands our coastline would be filled with another Mariel-like migration, spurned by his release of restrictions on Cubans leaving and the exile community returning by the boat-load to pick up friends and relatives on the island, as in the 1980 exodus; or perhaps, the acknowledgement that the recent Sony/North Korea cyber-attacks generated in Cuba, since Cuba, as a rogue government, is aligned with North Korea–particularly in light of a ship caught not long ago as it sailed off Cuba’s port of Mariel toward the Panama Canal carrying illegal, undeclared, and camouflaged bellicose material toward North Korea, courtesy of the Castro regime in violation of UN sanctions.

The fact that a politician of dubious reputation like Charles Rangel was in Havana when the exchange was made is further indication of something else going on behind the limelight–anything unethical, fraudulent and deceitful comes to mind where men of this caliber are involved.

The acolytes spin the free internet line to swing public opinion in favor of this so-called opening. It makes me want to yell at them; call them ignorant and fellow travelers in the 1950’s context. There’s China. How does the free internet change the situation in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai? Has it stopped China’s occupation of Tibet? Did it stop Putin from rolling over Crimea? How has it changed matters in Venezuela? How did it change anything in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Iran or Iraq?

Despotic systems of government should not be any more appeased than South Africa was with Apartheid. If the world had not come together to declare South Africa a Pariah, we would still have Apartheid and Mandela would’ve died in prison. It’s the same with Cuba, yet no one cares except the Cubans. Some may get together and toast this opening, as if Chamberlain’s appeasement had prevented World War II and if by willing change the world could have fostered it in the Berlin of 1940. I feel betrayed.

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Together Let’s Negotiate the End of Despotism in Cuba

FGSBefore running out of time, I’d like to contribute to the restoration of the grandeur once synonymous with the Cuba of my birth. The military junta in power since 1959 puts out volumes of distortions and purposeful misinformation to spread its propaganda across the globe, yet the truth is clear. As the New Testament teaches—and I’m not prone to paraphrase the Bible—“let those with eyes to see see and those with ears to hear hear.”

The reality is that Cuba has suffered much too long under totalitarianism, endlessly abused by what I label an anachronistic feudalist regime with the Castro family at the helm. Fifty-five years and counting should be long enough for any people to remain enslaved, marginalized and hungry. Summoning the world’s help to overthrow this castrating family of thugs in power in Cuba is my most fervent desire.

However, to clarify further my intentions on this blog, as long as I remain alive, I will fight totalitarianism, military juntas, extended tenures in public office and everything else detracting from the freedom we are all created with. This quest is as much about Cuba as it is for the land that welcomed me, nourished me, educated me, and allowed me to live free, raise my family and sheltered my aging parents to their last breath. It’s why my blogs often revolve around this theme and why Patrick Henry alongside Jose Marti are my favorite patriots in the cause for liberty.

With this in mind, I’ll attempt to restructure the unsavory feedback produced by comments released in a letter published recently and currently still circulating through the Internet. The letter was written by one of the most influential members of the exiled Cuban community, a T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University and a historian of late medieval and early modern Europe, Dr. Carlos Eire. Dr. Eire is a renowned story-teller and eminent scholar, recognized for his zealous dedication to the fight against the regime that forced us as children to flee our native Cuba.

It’s clear to me he allowed his emotions to cloud his reasoning, openly hurling unnecessarily hurtful epithets with derision at Google-billionaire Eric Schmidt, potentially with the undesired side-effect of destroying any opportunity for the bridge-building a more restrained and informative missive would have quietly delivered, especially coming from such an important scholar addressing a high-profiled individual with important political connections in this country and across the world.

Ostensibly, a few days ago, Mr. Eric Schmidt traveled to Cuba undercover to meet with Raul Castro and his minions. When he arrived back in the US, he published on his Google+ page his personal opinion on the US Embargo after dissident Yoani Sanchez made public on Twitter his visit to the Island. From Mr. Schmidt’s exposition, the well-informed on Cuba and of the actual situation on the ground in Cuba can infer that there’s a very marked absence of awareness, consciousness and knowledge about the true facts surrounding the so-called Castro opening. Additionally, his post omits any mention of the atrocities the people in Cuba suffer daily at the hands of his host, the head of an absolute feudal state since 1959 and the military junta keeping the Castro family in power with repression, torture, assassinations, kidnappings, and kangaroo courts in exchange for a better lifestyle than the rest of their compatriots.

Professor Eire in complete exercise of his inalienable right to free speech, in the process hurt, beyond the exiled community in general who oppose an end to the Embargo, the cause for Cuba’s freedom and those fighting tirelessly to bring an end to the ruthless dictatorship. From professionals in the field of psychology and other mental health advocates we learn how genuine personal feelings can’t be questioned, for they are an individual’s true expression of personal emotions about situations, and while we here should not and do not challenge the august writer’s feelings, we must acknowledge finding egregious fault with the manner of his delivery.

Some, including me, find the iconic letter embarrassingly disrespectful. It makes us uncomfortable and we find it as demeaning as the roll the Castro dictatorship has given Mr. Schmidt in recruiting his naïve endorsement. It’s humiliating because the gentleman, well-versed on media, technology, finances and politics, failed to do some research with his own Google Internet browser prior to the public revelation of his thoughts. On this point, Dr. Eire is correct.

But we can’t blame Mr. Schmidt for believing the Castro siren song. Our parents and grandparents also trusted his brother Fidel’s smooth talk before realizing too late how much he had fooled them. They died here in the US as political exiles regretting their mistake.

Had Mr. Schmidt been more proactive and alert, he would have understood why his hosts misinformed him. Being more prepared, he would have realized how his Cuban hosts are using him to obtain more than cash, the access to large credit from the US and international banking institutions under the guise of seeking an end to the only thorn through the decades of its oppression that it has been unable to extract from its side despite all previous concerted effort in the past.

Mr. Schmidt would have learned how the poignancy of their thrust has varied through the years. It becomes more vehement as capital to finance the repression appears to dwindle, but diminishes in urgency as other countries with an agenda against the US open their purses to purchase the repressive state’s belligerence in the global court of public opinion.

Mr. Schmidt could have been aware to discuss with Raul Castro how the Embargo, which is not a blockade as the regime’s sympathizers like to claim, works only to prevent the generous exchange of trade using credit with the US and other world banking entities. He would have been able to bring up how unabated since 1959 every nation in the world except the US trades with the oppressive Cuban regime, unlike the world did when South Africa was shunned globally over its repulsive Apartheid system. Nothing prevents them from continuing this blatant disregard for the human rights of the Cuban people with the Embargo in place.

From this vantage point, it’s understandable how most civil-minded individuals with a kind heart and scarce knowledge of the actual situation on the ground in the country would question why US trading with the Island today should not resume. Those who ignore the reality of the Cuban tragedy would raise their opposition to the continuation of the failed Embargo. After all, it’s easy to believe the lies the dictatorship repeats across the globe in seemingly independent media over and over, mimicking what Goebbels and Stalin so clearly taught the world over three-quarters of a century ago, that a lie repeated often enough becomes truthful to the masses.

On the other hand, the well-informed understand without a doubt–and it would have been a stronger position for Mr. Schmidt’s clandestine visit if he had been aware–that blaming the Embargo is only a despotic smoke screen. In Cuba the powerful Castro family using the military as its brutes owns every single enterprise on the island and prevents others from competing with them by passing regulations to suffocate individual initiative. Inconceivable as it is to an American unexposed to absolute totalitarianism, the Castro economic machinery turns all its revenue back to its feudal lord. The large sums of cash are used to purchase the goodwill of those relied upon by the regime to remain in power. The military carry out the orders of the feudal lord. In turn, they benefit by receiving earmarked benefits from the despot.

These benefits place the military on better footing–in a superior economic condition–well above the rest of the Cuban people. These doles buy Castro the loyalty of his sycophants. The feudal state would tumble if the military saw their benefits reduced or eliminated over lack of hard currency and with the erosion of Venezuelan economic wealth and influence, its latest monetary lifeline is precariously at risk; which is why the goons are so intent on revoking the US Embargo with deliberate speed.

The personal wealth of the Castro family is incalculable—many times larger than Mr. Schmidt’s, only shielded behind foundations, trusts, multiple corporations across many nations and countless lawyers; owning property, hiding bank accounts and all sort of investments across the globe. Castro’s despotism is a prime example of how political corruption and unchecked power buy privilege. It’s this corruption what the US Embargo tries to arrest. Rafael Trujillo ruthlessly ruled the Dominican Republic so many years ago with less efficiency than the Castros have managed to amass and retain since 1959. The labor of twelve million plantation indentured servants grows this wealth exponentially and despite all claims to the contrary, the despots will not let go of it without losing a heightened confrontation. Fear of losing control is precisely why they squelch any dissidence. It’s why their brigades of goons disguised as civilians beat up, maim, incarcerate and eliminate anyone with the extreme courage to clamor publicly for the world’s attention to their oppression.

In the Castro plantation, every dollar crossing the border immediately loses 15% of its face value when it’s traded for a CUC, a Cuban unit of currency worth 85% of a dollar at a government-owned money-exchange window. The 15% goes to enrich the coffers of the military, where the head of the military is of course, Raul Castro. A similar haircut is applied to all monies wired by relatives abroad to their loved ones on the island. Further, every CUC spent on the Island goes to purchase goods and services from a military-owned facility or a venue of the military in partnership with foreign investors where goods imported from every corner of the world, including the US, are sold at two or three times their retail value everywhere outside their commercial monopoly.

In the past–and there’s no reason to believe things will change until the feudal state is removed from office–the fate of foreign investors hasn’t been certain. There are multiple entries of instances that show up in a Google search attesting to the arbitrary detention of foreign investors when their use is no longer important to the thugs in power. A recent example of headlines is that of a Canadian, Sarkis Yacoubian.

It’s widely known that the Castro dictatorship rounds up individuals at its whim and denies them their freedom by presenting conjured cases before corrupted courts that always find in favor of the government’s orders. Their present Constitution allows for this, which is the reason the Judicial is not independent. The road to freedom is clear and any semblance of totalitarianism must be revoked.

Everyone knows what must be done to foster a civil society in Cuba. If Raul Castro wants to be trusted, he must move forward with irrevocable changes to the current Cuban Constitution. These changes must be in place before undertaking any discussion to end the Embargo.

He must relinquish the military’s choke-hold on the people. He must  release all political prisoners. He must stop the persecution of dissidents. He must  protect the Ladies in White and all dissidents. He must steward a new republic imposing limited powers on the government and a principled respect for the human rights of everyone on the island and abroad.

However, I’m not blind or foolish. This is a tall order. Alas, our voice will remain weak until the world condemns the abuses of the Castro regime over the last fifty-five years. It’s essential to stand against Castro’s despotism in a unified front, similar to the world’s condemnation of Apartheid in South Africa decades ago. Until the whole world unmasks and rejects the abuses of the Castro regime marching toward its sixth decade, the Cuban people will remain enslaved in Castro’s outdated autocracy because the status quo benefits the Castro clans.

What will it take for this unification of the world in condemnation of Castro’s atrocities to occur? How many more lives must Cuba sacrifice to this worthy cause? How can we motivate influential individuals like Mr. Schmidt and Dr. Eire to work together to promote the cause of freedom in Cuba? Recalling Jose Marti’s “la patria es ara, no pedestal,” how can we appeal to every  principled individual of conscience  and compassion to relegate the opportunity for any personal gain by siding with the oppressors on a scale far below the urgency to see justice, freedom, and equality flourish once again in Cuba?

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Facing An Ethical and Social Conundrum Today

FGSThe writing today stems from a telephone conversation with a good friend. While we were both born in Cuba, I was born early enough to recall a prosperous Cuba, a joyful Cuba, an economically progressive Cuba, and a free Cuba in most respects. And yes, I use the term free despite the historical allegations that erode the notion of liberty during the Batista regime deposed in 1959 by the Castro feudal clan. In comparison, anyone who did not outwardly and with deliberate acts of aggression attempt to tumble the dictatorship was left alone to promote his/her own version of free will and the pursuit of happiness creole style. In essence, as long as someone didn’t attempt to promote the fall of the Batista regime, he/she was left to live his/her life unhindered. Definitely, Cuba under Batista was not the Dominican Republic under Trujillo.

My friend, on the other hand, was born barely a couple of years before the Cuban Revolution turned the former republican form of government in Cuba into a feudal society with a single, non-benevolent despot, a feudal lord reigning over his subjects, turning the nation into his and his family’s personal plantation with now twelve million slaves who must do what he orders or face dire consequences. He grew up under the current feudal system that has plagued our native mother-land for over fifty-five years now.

He received his education under feudalism. He studied after our History was re-written to suit the malevolent schemes the mendacious system wants to project as authentic to ensure sympathizers across the globe as it promotes its nefarious goals to remain in power. He achieved his age of reason after the system had engaged in the country’s economic destruction. He witnessed growing up the systematic erosion of Cuba’s social fiber at the hand of its current slave-owners and their sycophants, whose bread is buttered by playing the game of their feudal lord lest they and all those they love face horror and dismay, the same horror and dismay faced every day by the other poor souls whose only remaining ambition lies in an eventual flight out of their hell hole. In summary, he grew up after Cuba was anachronistically transported back to the Dark Ages, a moment in time before the Renaissance opened the world to the Age of Enlightenment and its progressive outlook on democratic representation.

My friend worked hard to think clearly. He strived to find sources of inspiration and reference in works of importance that slipped through the cracks and served him well to understand the world outside the Cuban Holocaust in which he was raised. He’s a self-made man of great intellect and an impeccable clarity of communication. Yet, he still finds it difficult to blanketly repudiate all those who play the game that retains in power in Cuba the feudal lord and his merciless control of everything and everyone on the island.

My friend fled the regime as a young man, freshly graduated from the university, ostracized over his religious devotion, and nauseated from his experiences. I left at the age of 13 with different experiences and a truncated childhood. This difference in our upbringing and our age difference at the moment each of us fled the repression on the island brings me to question many important and pertinent issues today, raising awareness over important social and ethical concerns.

In essence, I question how a political system that destroys individualism and every fiber of a social structure could ever be trusted to forge mentally healthy individuals; individuals able to adapt to less stressful conditions away from the repression; acting favorably in situations that require higher-order thinking, those beyond struggling with essential day to day survival needs; situations where we are expected to make the right choices for us, our family, our community, our country and the world in absolute freedom. How is an individual able to understand the obligation ethical principles present, after growing up knowing that in order to survive a person has to hide his authentic feelings toward the society that engulfs him/her as an individual? How is a child who witnesses his parents hiding behind a façade of acceptance able to discern truth from fiction? How is a generation growing up without ethics, unacquainted with ethics and ethical expectations ever evolve to understand what ethics connotes and how ethics are essential in a free society? How are individuals able to tell the truth and face the consequences of truthfully stating their mind when they must lie to survive the hostile system that shaped them? How is a whole nation immersed in totalitarian feudalism able to move forward under any system of government less despotic than the one the people grew up with and is used to? How is lying as a way of life ever repudiated when people grow up thinking lying is worthwhile as hiding the truth in public and thinking something else privately becomes a way of life in order to survive?

These questions are difficult to answer. It’s also difficult to understand how individuals today play the feudal lord’s game and milk the system abroad to benefit their social standing in Cuba as they cross the borders and return with goods to make their hypocrisy seem like an act of practicality and astute convenience. How are individuals who own property in Cuba, rent their properties to tourists who pay them in US dollars in the US, all while receiving US government benefits in the US not make every hard-working, ethical individual’s blood boil? How are feudalist sympathizers able to dismiss their contribution to the regime by invoking their love for relatives who remain behind as they go back to visit them barely a few months after obtaining political asylum in the US?

Something is rotten and it’s clear to many that the regime through the years managed to infiltrate with sympathizers and collaborators pivotal positions across different government agencies in the US, its universities, colleges, states, cities and municipalities, enabling other ethically-deprived individuals collaborating with the feudal lords to benefit today from the largesse of the American people. The spooks promote other spooks by finding them government benefits, scholarships and remunerated positions where people of other nationalities and natural-born Americans themselves are denied similar opportunities.

How do we defend ourselves against this ongoing onslaught of infiltrators when the Cuban system has benefitted from fifty-five years of collusion and determination to bring about an end to the American social fiber that nourished us and made us strong and open-minded enough to fight for the inalienable rights of all around the globe?  How is an ethical society to defend itself from unethical barbarians out to pillage all the resources others have compassionately put in place to save the weakest of its members?

Posted in Education, Family, General, Politics | 1 Comment

Review of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel

FGSThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, from the perspective of a literary work is phenomenally amusing and impossible to put down, albeit its plot describes more sadness, despair and cruelty than a single lifetime can absorb. It’s evident the Pulitzer Prize was well deserved. Mr. Diaz’s technique, the suspense, his use of space, his character development, his vocabulary and his myriad references to other works are impressive. Unmistakably, the author must be a competent professor of creative writing judging by his own genius, hopefully generous of both, his time and his extensive fountain of knowledge. We should look forward to a good number of well-skilled writers spawning from his classes at MIT.

The author delivers an acrid and satirical commentary on the Dominican Republic’s peculiar habit of differentiating individuals by gradations of their skin color and their generational distance from a mythical, unmixed white race. Some of his commentaries may appear at times unforgiving, depicting a group of people filled with large doses of anger, hatred and contempt, hopefully excreted since the end of the Trujillo era of abuse. This by no means would be the image of the DR an outsider brings home. As a point of interest though, it’s curious that by the large number of references in the story, Mr. Diaz seems as obsessed with Cuba and Havana as he is with the documented and undocumented Haitians inhabiting the island on the DR side.

An academic from one of the most prestigious universities across the globe, his pulpit is not a shabby vantage point from which to lob criticism of both cultures, the US’ and DR’s. His social commentary is well delivered because with apparent humor the reader is more receptive to a writer’s arguments. The author’s anecdotes and descriptions are astutely woven into his tale, working to raise the public’s awareness of historical facts, eliciting the reader’s desire to rail against the pervasive social issues that at first appear to be unique to the DR and its people, although as we separate from the narrative and gain some distance from its central focus, they acquire more universal themes for the region: abuse of power, totalitarianism, violence, cruelty, alienation, injustice, poverty, repression and impotence on the part of an individual and his family desperately trying to survive surrounded by all this hostility.

As a non-Dominican, this reader finds Mr. Diaz’s constant use of the forbidden N word offensive, not for the word itself, as words only have the meaning we attribute to them, but because being of color does not give anyone license to offend others repeatedly. For logical reasons, this recurrent use of the N word causes one to question whether the author means to use the American meaning of the word, historically filled with loathing and prejudice, or the more benign Spanish meaning of the word, a mere reference to an individual’s skin color devoid of social rancor, used merely as an adjective among friends of different races generally showcasing the affection and friendship that unites them.

One question this reader would like to direct at the author is whether he’s aware of the manner in which his description of the Failed Horse Thief who governed the DR for thirty-some years, the despot considering the country his exclusive fiefdom at the expense of everyone’s liberty and well-being are not exactly as the current conditions in the Cuba to which he refers so often in his narration, a repressive system spanning by now more than fifty-five years of assassinations, firing squads, disappearances, incarceration, torture and disturbing violations of the individual rights of thirteen million people, the systematic annihilation of the country’s social institutions, its cultural heritage, its economic system, and its history, everything that makes anyone’s and everyone’s daily survival hinge upon the whims of a monstrous clan and the sycophants who do their dirty work in and outside the enslaved island country.

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The Times Ahead

FGSAs a financial advisor, I spend a large part of my working day reading many types of investment publications. I owe it to my friends and clients who look to me for sensible advice. I also owe it to myself and the legacy I’d like to leave.

By legacy, I don’t mean monetary assets. I mean the entire essence of my being; all that defines me, a man uprooted from familiar surroundings before adolescence and planted to grow up in freedom in a foreign land, a wonderful and welcoming land, but distant, new and foreign nonetheless. I studied hard, worked long hours, fully enjoyed every aspect of the many facets of my life, raising a family and forming part of my Boomer generation. A legacy isn’t always about wealth. It’s more often about personal values, ethics, and strength of character than the mere accumulation of property, often more linked to good fortune than tenacity and hard work.

So here today we discuss a priceless consideration for the barrage of alarming opinions published daily on the Internet in blogs and tweets on how the world as we know it will soon come to an end. The alarmists speak of widespread financial ruin ahead. They speak of bankruptcies, of worthless currencies, of stock market implosion and of a sudden and now well-discussed drop of valuation in everything we know of value, of spiraling inflation, of stagnant incomes; in summary, for some writers there is an imminent ensuing of chaos on the streets of America.

Related to this outlook, a few days ago I discussed something similar with one of my daughters. She’s worried and forwarded a piece written and published on the webpage of her metals dealer; a piece more alarming than the rest, for it quotes well-known individuals of high profile warning about impending economic doom and gloom. After I slept on her concerns, I saw her message more in focus.

She’s concerned that my lifelong dedication to the financial industry prevents me from seeing the full scope of this alarming outlook, feeling that I’m too vested in the markets to clearly detect the dangers these individuals portray. She’s concerned with everything the promoters of precious metals pronounce will take place in the future when the bubble bursts. Like anyone of kindness and care, she wouldn’t want anyone to suffer financial setbacks in their golden years, so she raises this issue to alert me, hoping to avert my own financial disaster.

My thoughts flow better when the issues affect those I love, especially when the experience of the years adds a positive perspective to a situation. In essence, my reply to her email evoked how along the course of my life I survived the myriad trials I faced and overcame. I fell back on my years as a single parent raising our family; explaining how while the academic world was my formal training in college, the majority of my life I spent assisting individuals to achieve financial security, allaying their concerns methodically with products earmarked to address their specific goals, all unrelated to literature and language, my college majors. In summary, I depicted how despite all the obstacles I faced, I always managed to fulfill my parental obligations irrespective of the economic conditions that surrounded us along the years.

My grandparents faced the Great Depression. After losing it all, their hard work brought them back to comfort. My parents went into exile penniless, with the clothes on their back. Their hard work later managed to restore them to relative security.

They all shared common traits: They were adaptable, flexible, nimble, ingenious and dedicated to their tasks. It’s the old saying about making lemonade when life gives you lemons. Our family tradition makes us prime examples of survival over hostility. The next time will not be any different.

Times seldom are as dire as some would predict. Life’s more about the good times and the difficult ones averaged out. Everything generally falls somewhere in the middle.

Somehow when we really have to, we sum up all our energy and set our mind to work,  creating opportunity to overcome obstacles with hard work and dedication.  We conquer difficulties with a strong will to prevail, a strong faith, and an absolute determination to forge ahead. In a free society, troubles are not about anything or anyone else. We find answers by looking in the mirror. When we’re free, we only have ourselves to blame for our choices and ultimately for the results they bring.

For the possible scenario currently in the mind of some investors, my advice is simple: Raise some cash by realizing profits and lose the greed; no one is able to pick up the last dollar that crosses the table before a crisis because the crystal ball to predict the future doesn’t exist. Continue saving to raise more cash–even if the returns are next to zero. At least for the time being, emphasize in your portfolio income producing investments; they always come in handy, for cash flow during hard times is priceless.

Sit back and wait until everyone else is running for the exits, at which time savvy investors pick and choose the securities to supplement their existing portfolios. A market correction of significance may take a while.

It’s always harder to replace capital lost during financial crises than to earn positive returns during good times.  Never invest funds you’re unable to replace. Never absorb more risk than you can tolerate without losing sleep.

Consult your financial adviser and don’t act on anything discussed. Always only act according to your own adviser’s recommendations. Everyone is different and investing is never a cookie-cutter enterprise.

Share your comments. It’s always nice to hear from you.

Peace and prosperity to all.

 

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My Early Way Back From Sigmoid Colectomy

FGSAfter nearly forty years dealing with diverticulitis, I crossed the safety line almost a year ago. It was no longer feasible to take medication to resolve the flare-ups. The side-effects from the Levaquin, the designated drug that kept me away from the surgical table all these years gave me a trigger thumb, a trigger finger months later, and later yet, tendinitis in the wrist, the elbow and the shoulder. In essence, unawares, I had entered a danger zone requiring immediate attention or risk dire consequences.

No time to waste, after five consecutive episodes of diverticulitis in a twelve month period, I had to face the unavoidable. I asked doctor friends for advice. I read articles about healthy eating. I sought information online, but in the end, it came down to now or never.

The passing of the years didn’t make things easier. Trying to lay blame for the condition was a futile exercise. Yet, there’s a high degree of consensus placing the blame on stress. Regardless, I had to take action. While I had been lucky all these years, my luck was running out. It was clear.

My consultation with the surgeon went well. I was impressed with his medical training, as a myriad diplomas lining the walls of his office attest. He inspired trust. He had the training, the experience of thousands before me with similar issues, and a conviction that I had no alternative.

Despite all the above, a high degree of ambivalence and fear lingered on and off as the set date approached. So, I continued to read, now more about personal experiences online from patients who had undergone the operation. Some stories scared me more and others helped me regain my determination to proceed.

For me, the main obstacles were the preparation for the surgery and the post-operational road to a new normal. I spent four months prepping. I had healthy, balanced diets. I had probiotics every morning, yogurt for breakfast daily, and stayed away from food I knew from experience had always pushed me to another crisis. As my gastroenterologist explained, for the surgery the area had to be cold, not in a flare-up, for at least 90 days.

Two days  before the surgery, I had to prepare by following a familiar procedure, for the process is very similar to the prep for a colonoscopy with its two liters of laxative swallowed by the glassful every fifteen minutes until the liquid’s all gone; only this time it was double the dosage four hours apart. The day before, three strong doses of antibiotics spread out in the afternoon and evening. The day of the surgery, an enema and a shower with special antibacterial soap.

From that hazy morning barely six days ago, I recall my rejection of an anesthetist and a request for an anesthesiologist to oversee the anesthesia process. I have a vague souvenir of a woman introducing herself to me as the anesthesiologist and giving me a description of what she would do, probably while injecting my line with a strong drug that blocked everything else beyond that moment.

I have souvenirs of isolated images but little recollection of actual visitors and conversation my daughters both assert I held. It’s all a vague memory with few exceptions. One of these is the initial Patient Administered Analgesia. It gave me a nagging itch over my entire body. The antidote for the itch was Benadryl, but it can only be administered every so often, which left me itching and scratching like a mad man the rest of the day.

Luckily, there were other choices. The nurse suggested as an alternative, morphine. The morphine turned me into a belligerent, aggressive, irritable and irrational man, but worst of all, it didn’t take away the pain.

In a more sequential format, my surgery took place early Thursday morning. All day Thursday, I used Dilaudid for the pain, the drug causing the uncontrollable itch described earlier. It was Friday afternoon when the nurse suggested morphine. Luckily, I only endured it for a half day. By late Friday, I stopped it and changed for what I would term, a miracle drug, Toradol.

For the record, from what’s published on the Internet, Toradol’s another drug with possible serious side effects. It should be closely managed. It should only be administered by a competent physician. But it worked for me and I used it moderately, as prescribed.

It took my pain away. It soothed me. It pacified me. Its effects were totally opposite those of the morphine administered intravenously.

I should also emphasize still in disbelief that I stopped taking pain killers by the fourth night after the operation. Last night I took a couple Tylenol Extra-Strength to pass the night and I slept the whole night through. This contrasts drastically with my expectations from most of the material I read.

For those frightened by the stories from the Internet, by Saturday my doctor had placed me on a liquid diet for breakfast, a bland liquid diet for lunch, and a soft diet for dinner. By Sunday, I had a small pancake, scrambled eggs, a nice, thick slice of ham, a cup of coffee with skim milk and sugar, and apple juice. Later that morning, I came home with instructions to continue following a healthy diet, free of spices and foods that would give me gas.

The gas that everyone warned me against has not inflicted any pain. I walk as often as I can, which also follows medical advice. The meals I eat are small, but balanced.

Diverticulitis has no cure. An operation can be ignored and the condition treated as long as the episodes it causes are not more frequent than one or two a year. An experienced gastroenterologist and an abdominal surgeon are best qualified and able to explain the odds to an individual facing a similar condition.

This short narrative is not meant to encourage anyone to enter into a similar procedure. Everyone is different. However, I remain pleasantly surprised with what seems to be my normal recovery. Thus far, I feel very lucky, which is why I want to share my experience after the surgery with others who may be weighing their alternatives.

Nevertheless, going through with the procedure is the right choice when facing the acute risk of a ruptured intestine along with a dismal rate of survival. From my perspective today, barely five days after the surgery, I should have done this years ago. I can look forward to a happy, healthy recovery, with years free of pain and abdominal crisis.

Ignorance may be bliss, but it doesn’t lead to an educated choice. Hopefully, my description of the process only days after the surgery will clear up anyone’s reasonable apprehension to go through with it. It’s meant to help patients suffering from diverticulitis, fearful of the surgery, and still weighing the options.

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