"Nobody is in agreement…It’s that, no one says it and no one takes the risk to say it, to speak the truth. That’s what is happening. In other words, one of the foundations, of what are the regimes in the entire world, in all of history, has been fear and lies. In other words, once you are in fear that's when you don’t take a risk, where you collect yourself and don’t unite…understood? To be in fear is not to offer help to anyone because that signifies risk." -Gorki Águila Carrasco, lead singer, guitarist of the music group Porno Para Ricardo and political prisoner
"Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand." --Jose Marti

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Monday, July 23, 2007


Legless Cuban survivor finally reaches U.S.
After 15 years and the loss of both legs, a Cuban rafter finally arrived in Miami to tell about his harrowing escape.
El Nuevo Herald

Amado Veloso Vega lost both legs to a mine as he tried to slip into Gitmo in 1992.

He had managed to crawl through the third barrier between Cuban territory and the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo when the warning flares lit the night sky.
Amado Veloso Vega thought he'd stay there till dawn, confident the Cuban guards could not enter the mine-laden strip dubbed ''no-man's land.'' But then he heard shots, and when he tried to move, a mine exploded, destroying his legs and flinging him 15 feet.
With no strength to shout, Veloso lay there until he heard the soldiers approach.
It was the beginning of a 15-year odyssey to get to the United States that ended this week. Veloso, 36, arrived in Miami on Monday with a U.S. State Department humanitarian visa.
Veloso is headed for Louisville, Ky., where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sponsored him, has found him a home.
''I'm still pinching myself, because I can't believe it. I'm in Miami!'' he said this week at his Miami hotel. ``I want to laugh because I believe I suffered enough. In Cuba, I was a walking dead man.''
The details of his horrific 1992 experience with the mine remain vivid today. ''Strips of flesh dangled from my legs. I was disfigured and my mouth was torn,'' he recalled. ``I couldn't react, though I didn't lose consciousness altogether.''
He'll never forget one man and what he said. Vega, a short man in uniform, told another that Veloso ''wouldn't make it alive'' to the hospital in Guantánamo.
''They started to play with me. They bayoneted me in the hand and in the leg and then pulled me off the fence,'' Veloso said, showing his scars.
Veloso was taken directly to the morgue. There, a doctor wouldn't give up, injecting him with adrenaline. Veloso was revived.
He slowly returned to health, but his nightmare wasn't over. For the attempted escape, Cuban authorities sentenced Veloso to two years of detention at his Havana home. A mystery remains: The mine that did so much damage was in Cuban territory, but at the time, some U.S.-planted mines were in the area, too.
Veloso said he tried to remake his life but that even relatives and friends turned their backs on him. He sought prosthetic legs at a Havana hospital. ``They concluded that my accident was due to my attempt to leave the country illegally and told me the [prostheses] they had were for revolutionaries and fighters back from Angola.''
Then he met activist Francisco Chaviano -- now a political prisoner in Cuba -- who arranged for the Cuban American National Foundation to send him a wheelchair. The chair was presented to Veloso in the name of Jorge Mas Canosa, the organization's founder. Veloso and a medical specialist friend fashioned a pair of plaster prostheses.
Early in 1994, Veloso applied for a refugee visa at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, but he says the office turned him down. He then wrote to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who answered his letter and agreed to support his application, as did Rep. Lincoln Díaz Balart.
The association with Miami exile politicians caught the attention of the Cuban government. 'State Security constantly visited my home. `Who are you? First, Mas Canosa. Then, Ros-Lehtinen and Díaz-Balart. What are you up to?' they would ask me,'' Veloso said.
During the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis, Veloso tried to escape on a makeshift boat, but he was caught. Ensuing attempts failed as well.
``I lost track of all the arrests and fines. Something compelled me to look for what I couldn't find in Cuba: respect for a human being, respect for life and the right to overcome my handicap.''
In September 2006, during the police raids that preceded the Summit of Non-Aligned Countries in Havana, Veloso made his final attempt to flee. With 15 others he bought a homemade boat made of aluminum tubes. Police intercepted the others before they arrived at the beach, so he decided to travel alone from Cajío Beach in Havana.
'The boat was known as a `tube of toothpaste.' They are made of six aluminum tubes and cost about $4,000,'' he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted him 27 miles from the Mexican island of Cozumel and sent him to the place that reminded him of his personal tragedy: the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo.
There he remained for nine months, working as a bowling alley assistant. Part of the money he earned he sent to his mother, wife and two children who remain in Cuba.
''That people would risk their lives, like Amado did, that they would risk everything, clearly demonstrates the desperation of Cubans on the island,'' Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, told El Nuevo Herald on Tuesday.
Today Veloso wants to place flowers on Mas Canosa's grave. ''When I look at it from afar, I feel it was worth it,'' he said of his odyssey. ``It's a high price, but it's the price of liberty.''



Saturday, July 14, 2007


Cubans risk raids to get satellite TV
Police in Havana to close these illegal windows on the world.
By Eloise Quintanilla Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor
Page 1 of 3
Havana - Before the police raid, the Perez family paid $7.56 per month for a DirecTV window on the world.
Daniel, a literature major at the University of Havana, watched the Chicago White Sox on ESPN. His mom, Marisel, never missed an episode of "La Fea Más Bella" (The Prettiest Ugly Girl), a popular Mexican soap opera on Univision. And Daniel's younger brother was an avid fan of the VH1 music videos.
Now, they are stuck with four Cuban TV channels – and two of those are devoted to educational programming.
"Cuban TV is boring.... There isn't much variation," says Daniel Perez (who fears arrest, so asked that his family's real name be changed). "I like being in the loop, knowing about the newest trends and feeling like I'm in touch with the world."
Having a satellite TV, cellphone, or Internet connection at home is illegal for most Cuban citizens. But that hasn't stopped the spread of such services on the black market.
Pedro, a young underground entrepreneur, gets his nightly news from Channel 23 (Univision), "because Cuban TV doesn't give me unbiased coverage of world news.... But neither does American news. So I watch both and compare them."

Pedro, who requested his last name not be used, estimates that 90 percent of his neighbors get satellite TV service. "That business really started to accelerate about a year ago," he says. "All of our neighbors know about [it] but nobody talks about it. The woman who lives below me is the president of the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution] and even she has cable television."
But in recent months, the Cuban government has stepped up efforts to curb this booming underground industry. Two months ago, the police raided Pedro's neighborhood early in the morning. They blocked off the streets, climbed on the rooftops, and began cutting cables leading to the satellite dish, he says.
"My neighbor started making hand signals at me from the window of his house that the police were here and to take down my cables," says Pedro. Although Pedro escaped detection, he decided to remove his cable connections permanently for fear that the police would discover his illicit CD-making business. As for his neighbors, "Two days later, people were already putting up their cables again."
Mauricio Barroso, a telecommunications official in the Ministry of the Interior, says that 37.6 percent of households in Havana were connected to the service when the police began the raids in March. By early May, one set of raids had netted a significant amount of coaxial and neoprene cable, three satellite receptors, five satellite dish antennas, 43 signal amplifiers, a computer, and five LNB (low-noise block converters), according to the government-run newspaper, Granma.
The Cuban government is also levying multi-tiered fines and jail sentences on satellite TV providers. According to Granma, signal distributors were slapped with fines of 10,000 ($450) and 20,000 ($900) Cuban pesos and jail sentences of three to five years. Users of the service were fined only 1,500 pesos ($67.50).
Mr. Barroso says that illegal satellite TV service in Cuba has been around since the 90s, "but people gain access to the service much more easily now.... The service is much more affordable. That's why it's increasing at such a rapid rate. For the service to build up to the levels of '93, it took three years. Now, they [the service providers] fill up half the city in three months."
In Daniel's neighborhood, the satellite TV guy is a 6-foot-4-inch tall Afro-Cuban named Alberto. He declined to give his last name. Two gold teeth glint as he smiles and explains his fee structure. He charges a one-time connection fee of 10 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) or about $11, and 7 CUC ($7.56) a month for service. In a good month, with 300 households in his neighborhood as clients, he rakes in up to 2,000 CUC ($2,160). He still has a legal $15 per month income as a truck driver. He keeps this job in order to keep a low profile. By Cuban standards, Alberto is wealthy.
When Alberto started his business four years ago, he had to shop for a satellite dish antenna, a receiver, an access card with the correct code to capture the signal, a signal amplifier, and cable on the black market. He distributes the satellite signal from his single dish antenna to his neighborhood through a spider web of cables over the rooftops. There's a catch, however. Everyone on the network has to watch the same channel that the satellite dish owner is watching. Alberto does an informal survey of his customers to find out what they like to watch. His programming schedule includes telenovelas from Univision and Telemundo, movies from HBO and STARZ, popular talk shows such as "Don Francisco Presents," and the variety show "Sabado Gigante."
But the average official monthly wage in Cuba is only $15. How can Cubans afford this service? Many have illegal businesses and relatives living abroad (mostly in the US). According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, an estimated $812 million were sent to Cuba in the form of workers' remittances in 2006 alone.
Pedro, for example, gets $100 a month from his brother in Washington, D.C. His second source of informal income comes from the sale of pirated copies of CDs produced with a computer from his brother. "In two days, I make what a Cuban doctor makes in a month. That's how I am able to pay for a cellphone and satellite TV service," says Pedro.
In May, the government-run media reported that satellite TV is part of a US plot to overthrow the Cuban government. Mayra Espina, a researcher at the University of Havana, says that may be an overreaction. "Watching 'La Fea Más Bella' is not an act of opposition against the state. It is not a political attitude. It is a phenomenon of free time."
Despite the recent crack down, satellite dishes continue to pop up on roof tops. "If there is censorship," says Alberto, "There is business."
• Daniel Palacios contributed to this story from Havana.