Category Archives: Latin America

Alan Gross’s Mission in Cuba: How Much Did the White House Know?: Newsweek

Alan Gross
Jailed USAID contractor Alan Gross, right, poses for a picture during a visit with Cuban Jewish Community leader Adela Dworin, center, and David Prinstein, vice president, at Havana’s Carlos J Finlay Military Hospital September 28, 2012. REUTERS

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Filed under Intelligence, Journalism, Latin America, Obama

The Pope and The U.S. Cuban Breakthrough: Gracias pero….

It’s fine to thank Pope Francis, but let’s not overplay the idea that the Vatican took a significant role in the historic change of U.S.-Cuban relations after more than half a century.

Officials in Washington and Havana have been in contact all along, albeit at lower levels through their periodic and sometimes secret meetings in Havana and Washington.  They didn’t need an intermediary–they needed a political moment, and the timing is perfect.

It is great that the pope could provide a meeting room, write some letters to presidents Obama and Castro and express his concern on humanitarian grounds for Alan Gross and the other prisoners on both sides. But the Vatican involvement is probably little more than diplomatic cover. Cuba is a Catholic country, the pope is seen as a progressive peacemaker; perhaps the idea of his participation soothes the animus of a few Cuban exiles in Miami with the inference that President Obama listened to a higher power.pope and obama

Neither did the countries need to meet in Canada, other than for the sake of following through on diplomatic protocol.

Rarely have two countries known one another as well as do the United States and Cuba. The change in relations has its own moment. First, President Obama can do it now without expending much political capital. He need not face elections again and taking this step right after the midterm elections can cushion the eventual Democratic presidential candidate from what he has done. Meanwhile, the profile of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the key opponents to a modern rethinking of Cuban policy, is on the wane. He will move aside as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Republicans take over in January.

In addition, a persistent domestic political problem for Democrats is wasting away with time.  Florida International University’s most recent survey about Cuban-American views of the embargo is emblematic of change. This year for the first time the tri-yearly survey shows that a majority of Miami Cubans support an end to the Cuban embargo. Florida was once a more troublesome problem. Democrats thought they could not win Florida’s 29 electoral votes without taking a strident anti-Castro position. President Obama, however, took Florida both in 2008 and 2012 with the support of Cuban-Americans.

Times are changing. The pope is Latin American and his support cannot hurt. But the eventual resumption of Cuban-American relations has everything to do with two presidents of two countries, one term-limited out and the other dealing with actuarial tables.

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Pepe Eliaschev — Conspiradores en Momentos Dificiles

El fallecimiento de mi amigo y colega, el periodista argentino José “Pepe” Eliashev, me recuerda una historia que merece ser contada. Pepe falleció de cáncer de páncreas en Buenos Aires, el 18 de noviembre de 2014. Tenía 69 años. Durante décadas fue un comentarista y locutor de radio muy popular en la Argentina.

Como jóvenes periodistas de la Associated Press en Nueva York en los años 70, Pepe y yo nos convertimos en conspiradores para frustrar el intento de los editores que supervisaban América Latina de censurar o de limitar las noticias sobre la dictadura militar derechista.

Yo trabajaba en el World Desk en la oficina de AP en Nueva York. Mi trabajo consistía en editar, transmitir y a veces cubrir las noticias del exterior, en inglés, para nuestro servicio mundial en Europa, Asia y África.

Pepe se sentaba a unos metros de mí en La Prensa Asociada –la sección de América Latina que traducía y transmitía noticias en español a México, América Central y Sudamérica. Algunos redactores de esa sección eran, como Pepe, exiliados de países cuyos regímenes represivos dificultaban el periodismo y lo volvían peligroso.

Quedó pronto claro que algunos redactores eran también escandalosamente de derecha e incluso hacían comentarios despectivos sobre los periodistas que trabajan a su lado. En particular, algunos de los editores latinos apoyaban la dictadura argentina, la que en aquel momento estaba sumida profundamente en la Guerra Sucia, que acabaría matando o “desapareciendo” a más de 20.000 personas. Esos editores no sabían que yo hablaba español y que podía oír lo que estaban diciendo.

Pepe me dijo que algunos de los jefes estaban interceptando –“desapareciendo”– historias que podían “avergonzar a la Argentina”. Los editores latinos podían desechar las historias que llegaban habitualmente y además impedir que Pepe, y otros de la sección, cubrieran historias que eran relevantes para la Argentina y una vergüenza para la dictadura.

Sabíamos, sin embargo, que no podían bloquear esos artículos –las inquietudes del gobierno de Carter con respecto a los derechos humanos o el papel de la Iglesia Católica, por ejemplo– si éstos se originaban o seleccionaban en la sección en inglés. Así es como Pepe me informaba cuando alguien trataba de eliminar una historia que pintara negativamente a la dictadura argentina. Todo lo que yo tenía que hacer era guardarla y publicarla en la línea internacional en inglés. Los forzábamos, de esa manera, a traducirla y trasmitirla vía las líneas noticiosas sudamericanas.

La maniobra tenía su importancia, porque muchos diarios de América Latina censuraban sus propios reportajes internos por razones de seguridad, pero las historias que venían de la AP en Estados Unidos podían publicarse con mayor facilidad.

En 1978, en plena Guerra Sucia, hubo una historia que recuerdo en particular. Pepe me dijo que una de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo estaba en Nueva York lista para ser entrevistada.   Hice la entrevista y redacté una historia nacional e internacional sobre los esfuerzos del grupo para encontrar a los niños robados de sus padres prisioneros y asesinados.

Pepe y yo tratamos de no llamar  la atención –esa historia y otras aparecieron en el cable latino como era nuestro propósito. Nuestro único objetivo era asegurar que se pudiera acceder a todas las noticias. Fue una gran satisfacción.

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Pepe Eliaschev–A Proud Memory

The death of my friend and colleague, the Argentine journalist Jose “Pepe” Eliaschev, brings to mind a story that deserves to be told. Pepe died of pancreatic cancer in Buenos Aires on November 18, 2014. He was 69. He had for decades been a popular commentator and host on Argentine radio.

As young newsmen at The Associated Press in New York in the 1970s, Pepe and I were proud conspirators when some supervisors on the Latin America desk tried to censor or limit news about the right-wing Argentine military dictatorship.

I was on the World Desk at AP headquarters in New York. My job was to edit, transmit and sometimes report world news in English for our worldwide service in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Pepe sat several yards away at La Prensa Asociada — the Latin America desk, translating and transmitting news into Spanish for Mexico, Central and South America. As in the case of Pepe, some were from countries whose repressive regimes made journalism difficult and dangerous.

Others were right-wingers and even made sneering remarks in Spanish, assuming no one could understand. They didn’t know I spoke Spanish. In particular, some of the Latin editors supported the Argentine dictatorship, which at the time was deep into on a Dirty War and would end up killing or “disappearing” more than 20,000 people.

Pepe told me that some of the bosses were intercepting—“disappearing”—news stories that might be “embarrassing to Argentina.”

We knew, though, they couldn’t block stories if the English-speaking side of the desk originated or selected stories to publish – for example, the Carter administration’s human rights concerns, or questions about the role of the Catholic Church.

So Pepe would let me know when someone tried to weed out a story that might reflect badly on the Argentine dictatorship. All I had to do was resurrect the story on the international line in English.  They were then forced to translate and transmit the report to the South American news lines.

This was significant, because many newspapers in Latin America self-censored their own reporting at home for reasons of safety; stories originating from AP in the United States could more easily be published.

One story in particular came in 1978 – the height of the Dirty War.  Pepe told me that one of the members of the organization Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was in New York and ready to be interviewed. I was able to write a national and international story about the group’s efforts to find children stolen from their imprisoned and murdered parents.

Pepe and I kept our heads down – that story and others appeared on the Latin wire as was only fair and fitting to our role as journalists. The goal was to make sure that all the news was available regardless of politics. It’s a proud memory of my old friend.

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Questions About Argentina and the Catholic Church

LATIMES OP-ED

The Catholic Church and Argentina

In Buenos Aires, joy over Pope Francis’ election is tempered by questions about the ‘dirty war.’

Pope Francis
Peter Eisner  March 17, 2013

Very few Argentines were on hand for the proceedings, for the white smoke followed by the traditional proclamation, Habemus papam — “We have a pope.” But on the other side of the world, the people of Buenos Aires erupted with jubilation when they learned that the new pontiff, Pope Francis, was Argentine.

The celebration was more about national pride than religious pride, however. At the moment that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the face of Catholicism in the Southern Hemisphere and the world, his own country is becoming far less religious. Only about 25% of Argentines regularly attend church — far below the 44% attendance rate in the United States — and evangelical Protestantism is growing in popularity. Even churchgoing Catholics in Argentina, like their counterparts in North America, flout the church’s dictates about marriage, birth control and education.  (FULL STORY)

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Brasilia and Niemeyer — The Future Locked in the Past

Architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s.

Architect Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s.


Taking note of the death of Oscar Niemeyer at 104, those of us who have lived in Brasilia–his crowning creation–take pause for a moment. I lived there for two and a half years in the 1980s. Life for the middle class meant a strange existence in so-called “superquadras” — superblocks, all designed along the lateral sides of the airplane-shaped central city.

Life was odd, one needed a car to go most anywhere, the sidewalks often dead-ended at highways. Yet there was a magic it.

Every time I went to the foreign ministry and drove down the Eixao– the central highway– toward the Esplanade of of the Ministries — it felt like participating in a fabulous social experiment. And spending time (and being paid for it) at the Foreign Ministry — the Palacio do Itamaraty — was a gift. For me, Itamaraty is Niemeyer’s greatest monument.Palacio do Itamaraty

The views and the graceful curves gave unending pleasure. Yet, the architecture of Brasilia in sum always felt less than masterful — as if part of a Godard or maybe a Jacques Tati film.

Brasilia was locked into the 1960s or a vision of the 1960s conceived in the 1950s, dated even before it was completed. Yet, friends from Brasilia have remained friends forever. People needed one another there.

As for daily life, the nice thing was that as the buildings were slowly deteriorating, grass was literally growing between the cracks — nature triumphing over design.

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Latino Power: Even George W. Bush Heard About It

Perhaps because his little brother Jeb warned him, former President George W. Bush and aides knew well that the changing ethnic mix in the United States would cause problems for the Republican Party.

In the waning days of his presidency in 2009, Bush said that the Republican Party:

“should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we’re viewed as anti-somebody—in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant—then another fellow may say, well, if they’re against the immigrant, they may be against me.” [Fox News Sunday, Interview with Brit Hume, January 11, 2009]

It was a warning not heeded. Republicans opposed the Dream Act and efforts toward immigration reform. They took insignificant steps–like parading out conservative Latinos at the Republican National Convention, such as Florida U.S. Senator Marco Antonio Rubio, “the crown prince of the Tea Party Movement,” and the now elected U.S. Senator from Texas, Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz.

One other attempt to identify with Latinos was characteristic of the deceitful Republican presidential campaign. On the stump and with the right audience, of course, Mitt Romney played up his tenuous Mexican ties, not mentioning the connection was based on the fact that his great-grandfather fled to Mexico to continue practicing polygamy.

Now the Republicans appear to be getting the message: Latinos voted 75 percent to 23 percent for President Obama. TalkingPointsMemo.com reported:

“For the first time in US history, the Latino vote can plausibly claim to be nationally decisive,” Stanford University university professor Gary Segura, who conducted the study, told reporters.
According to Segura, the Latino vote provided Obama with 5.4 percent of his margin over Romney, well more than his overall lead in the popular vote. Had Romney managed even 35 percent of the Latino vote, he said, the results may have flipped nationally.

Latino Power is real. Beyond their strong influence on the presidential race, Congress and governorships, hundreds of Latinos serve in state legislatures; thousands serve in local government.

I’ll bet that Republicans in the new Congress will be more willing to work with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform. They make other concessions as well. But they will also figure, wrongly, that Latinos will accept their intrusive social agenda — anti-abortion, privatization of Medicare and Social Security and the crazy pledge to never raise taxes.

My guess is that the Republicans are going to get it wrong. Interest groups are not monoliths and people aren’t stupid. A profile of Latinos, as with the changing demographics of the United States, will show that they are increasingly young, progressive and interested in Democratic values. Latinos are no more fooled by Rubio and company than African Americans are fooled by U.S. Rep. Allen Bernard West in Florida or the handful of other blacks tied to the Republican Party.

Latinos will not be snowed by extremism and lies.

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