Sunday, January 31, 2010

Announcing the 2010 Raices Conference @ Cornell, April 8-11, 2010

The boom of information technology is becoming more evident every day, both in Cuba and beyond its coasts; it has become a window to undiscovered countries and societies. Nevertheless, it is a luxury we have come to take for granted, forgetting the good fortune of having so much of the world only a click away. Be it through underground musical expression or through the most recent blog, technology has revolutionized the world and its people, rallying us all in one common web.

With this conference we hope to further our understanding of how technology can be used as a bridge to overcome distance and strengthen the bonds between us and our friends and family on the island. By understanding the increasing role technology is playing in the lives of everyday Cubans, who are striving for better lives for themselves, we can help find ways to support their efforts and further inspire them to become authors of their own destinies.  Join us as we explore ways to help our counterparts in Cuba take full advantage of their growing place in this interactive world.

To see the entire weekend agenda click here. 
If you are interested in joining us for the 7th Annual Raices Cuba Conference @ Cornell please fill out an application here. Deadline is March 1st

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Officials say most deaths during cold snap were of "natural causes"

From The Washington Post:

Cuba cold snap kills 26 at psychiatric hospital

The Associated Press
Friday, January 15, 2010; 6:08 PM

HAVANA -- Twenty-six patients at Cuba's largest hospital for the mentally ill died this week during a cold snap, the government said Friday.

Human rights leaders cited negligence and a lack of resources as factors in the deaths, and the Health Ministry launched an investigation that it said could lead to criminal proceedings.

A Health Ministry communique read on state television blamed "prolonged low temperatures that fell to 38 degrees Fahrenheit (4 Celsius) in Boyeros," the neighborhood where Havana's Psychiatric Hospital is located.


Click here for the whole story.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Blog -- Alex Buznego on Humanitarian Aid

When I asked one member attending the 2009 University of Miami Cuba Conference if he would prefer to attend Saturday morning’s panels, rather than traveling to a warehouse to pick up the truckload of aid, the participant, without skipping a beat, looked me dead in the eye: “No. I’m through talking. Now I want to do something.”

Today, Raices announced that it will donate the nonpolitical humanitarian relief supplies to the people of Haiti in this time of uncertainty and loss.

Raices said:

(Miami, FL) During this time of great need and tragic loss, our thoughts and prayers are with the Haitian people. In a gesture of friendship and solidarity, Roots of Hope would like to offer more than nine pallets -valued at approximately $150,000- worth of humanitarian aid to help in the relief and recovery efforts in Haiti.The aid, originally intended to go to Cuba, was collected and cataloged by Roots of Hope in response to the hurricanes that devastated the island in 2008.

Despite our exhaustive efforts over the course of a year to place the much needed aid in the hands of the Cuban people, the Cuban government rejected the shipment based on what they are calling "political reasons." We believe there is nothing political about the humanitarian needs of the Cuban people. This denial of aid demonstrates a complete disregard for the needs of Cubans on the island. Since the Cuban government made it impossible to send the humanitarian relief, Roots of Hope looked outside of Cuba and
identified with Haiti. We feel it's important to donate these materials to our Haitian brothers and sisters who are faced with extreme recovery efforts in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster. Roots of Hope thanks the more than 300 volunteers who collected, cataloged and packaged the aid for their incredible generosity and selfless sacrifice.

We extend our deep and sincere condolences to the friends and families of the victims and offers this aid with love, friendship and hope for the Haitian community.

The decision that the nine pallets of humanitarian aid, consisting of about 6,000 pounds of clothes, shoes, linens, food and toiletries, will be sent to Haiti has evoked a mixed emotion for me. In the course of the past year, I joined hundreds of my fellow Roots working for countless hours to inventory the aid. During seven different day-long efforts, we sorted and counted individual piece after piece after piece of aid, in order to comply with the standards required to send the aid with our pre-approved license. We lifted and weighed box after box after box after box, sweating through our clothes in that unairconditioned sauna-like warehouse during a Miami summer.

I never heard one complaint.

Despite the grueling and unbelievably tedious nature of the work, and the less than favorable conditions, our Roots put their heads down with a collective and quiet resolve and passion unlike any I have ever experienced. It resounded with me deeply the level of passion our volunteers had, that they would go through this type of taxing work without a peep, because of their unwavering passion and care for Cuba and Cuban youth.

Last February we received a humanitarian license and pre-approval to send aid. So we proceeded to collect and inventory our nine pallets’ worth of aid. Yet despite doing everything right and complying with the rules as they were laid out to us, we were arbitrarily denied by the Cuban government when it came time to deliver. We then tried month after month after month, speaking with and trying to work with NGOs, trying to find avenues, trying different and creative means to get it there, but the bottom line was that the Cuban government refused our aid and made it impossible for us to send it.

Given this roadblock and the situation in Haiti, which is by any definition and without exaggeration, a heartbreaking and devastating catastrophe, Raices made the decision to move forward with using the aid in a different manner. There is undoubtedly an urgent pressing need given the degree of pain, loss and suffering currently being experienced only miles South and East of Cuba. Our organization is founded on Amor, Amistad y Esperanza- Love, Friendship and Hope- and given the historic situation, we wish to extend these sentiments to our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti. We can continue to negotiate with the slim hope that an opportunity presents itself at some unknown time in the future, while the aid continues to sit in a warehouse, or we can put the materials to use where they can have a profound and immediate impact- with the people of Haiti who are going through such inconceivable pain.

Our hearts and prayers are with the people and youth of Haiti, and despite the adversity and obstacles, Raices will remain unwavering in its efforts to help Cuban youth.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Guest blog — Carmen Peláez on nostalgia and promise

by Carmen Peláez

The definition of nostalgia is ORIGIN late 18th cent. (in the sense [acute homesickness] ): modern Latin from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain.’

Cubans are often accused of being overly nostalgic. And even though our accusers are as guilty of us, posing for club red snapshots in front of 1950’s Chryslers, we have worn it as a badge of honor. Nostalgia was the thing that most of us chased down the rabbit hole that is Cuba. The black and white pictures on the wall, the what-could’ve-beens, the what-we-should’ve-knowns. For us, it’s been the preserving agent of a free Cuba. At least I thought so until recently.

The art any society produces will tell you volumes more than any history book. You want to know what the first decade of this century was like? Who sums it up better that Britney Spears? Flashy, trashy and destructive. When I look at modern Cuban art — and I include myself in this — we mostly deal with our pain, with loss, with remembrance. But rarely, if ever, have I seen an artist deal with possibility, with progress and with the future. We have color images of what Cuba is today but prefer those matted black and whites of what it was when it was ‘ours’.

On a recent trip to Miami, I decided that if "nostalgia’" gave me a history, "promise" would give me a future. Sadly, I will never meet El Caballero de Paris. I will never go see el Beny sing at the San Souci. I will never see the relief and joy in my grandparents faces when we return to a free Cuba. But right now I am part of the changes that are happening in Cuba. I will meet people I could never have imagined and my grandparents spirits will soar the day I experience my "return home" with a joyful heart and a new Cuba to create.

Carmen Peláez was born in Miami to Cuban parents. She is a playwright and actor residing in Brooklyn, New York.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"A Type of Cuban Craigslist"

From The New York Times, we get word of Revolico, a classified ads site inspired by Craigslist and tailored for Cuba:

[...]There are no classified advertisements in the Communist Party newspaper Granma or the other state-run publications that circulate in Cuba. Rather, sales are made through Radio Bemba, which is not a radio station at all but the country’s extensive gossip network, which takes its name from the Spanish word for lip.

Two Cubans in their 20s who left the island for Spain have created a way to make all this secretive selling easier. It is a type of Cuban Craigslist, which allows the small but growing number of Cubans with access to computers and the Internet to buy and sell with less sneaking around.

But the authorities, despite loosening restrictions recently on the sale of computers, have repeatedly blocked access to their Web site, Revolico, whose name means commotion. One of the programmers who created the site ( said in an e-mail message that he and the co-founder were in a constant scramble to get their site past government censors.

You can access the full story here and Revolico here.