Circles Robinson Online

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Location: Havana, Cuba

is a blog to give a fresh angle on a fascinating and beautiful Caribbean Island country that, despite being relatively small and with only 11 million people, has been a major player in American and world politics for a half century. I also suggest you try

Thursday, August 30, 2007

War on Newcomer Aliens in the USA

By Circles Robinson

Federal immigration agents, a sheriff’s posse and local cops were very proud this week for having teamed up to arrest 160 aliens at Koch Foods in Fairfield, Ohio. To their credit, no reports were made of the aliens being declared enemy combatants for having butchered US fryers.

With a smile a block wide, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones —no doubt of alien blood himself— said, “This is what can happen when we all work together.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities said they had been watching Koch Foods for two years and suspected it of hiring aliens at their poultry processing plant.

Sherriff Jones also bragged of doubling as a business consultant advising firms in newspaper ads to hire established aliens instead of newcomers.

However, anybody with a grammar school education knows that besides the Native Americans who were already present before the British, French and Spanish colonization, the entire US nation was built on aliens. In fact, the non-aliens weren’t given any rights under the US Constitution that took effect in 1789. Many other aliens, called slaves, were also left out of the newly founded alien nation.

Tens of millions of aliens from around the world arrived in the US as recently as the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Many began as “illegal” aliens and later became “legal” aliens.

Whether the aliens working in Ohio will receive their wages or not was not mentioned much less the situation of their alien relatives with them in the US. Their children may end up being candidates for adoption by wealthier aliens or descendents.


Koch Foods played dumb. The company said it is “committed to complying with all immigration laws and looks forward to resolving the matter quickly.” Koch told the ICE authorities that it doesn’t distinguish between its aliens. The company says all its workers had presented their papers.

If their lawyers do a good job and the court is “friendly” it will take into account that Koch is a major employer and the fine involved could even be less than the back pay and benefits that should be paid to the 160 arrested aliens.

Despite the round-up, Koch said it will continue to produce its chicken products with the other 340 aliens and alien descendents.


Everyone involved in this story is an alien. The difference is that established aliens get one salary with certain benefits and newer aliens get another lower one, often without benefits they can make use of.

The presence of newer aliens can also bring down the pay of established aliens, something the corporations aren’t complaining about.

Instead of allowing businesses to cut costs by cutting wages using newcomer aliens, why not pass a law that makes all aliens equal and make sure they all get the same pay and benefits for the same work, documentation aside?

Meanwhile, if Sherriff Jones, legislators and the White House would like to see less newcomer aliens in their country of aliens, they might make an about face on a two-century-old foreign policy that has led to a stampede into the USA.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Obama Straight Talk on Cuba

By BARACK OBAMA*, re-imagined by Circles Robinson**

When my father was a young man living in impoverished Kenya, the freedom and opportunity of the United States exerted such a powerful draw that he moved halfway around the world to pursue his dreams here. My father's story is not unique. The same has been true for tens of millions of people, from every continent -- including the many Cubans who we encourage to risk their lives and come to the USA and take advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act in place for over 40 years and which grants them automatic residency.

It is a tragedy that, just 90 miles from our shores, there exists a society where such freedom and opportunity are kept out of reach by a government that clings to an ideology that favors the collective good over the small chance of achieving individual wealth. A democratic opening in Cuba is, and should be, the foremost objective of our policy. We need a clear strategy to achieve it --one that takes some limited steps now to spread the message of the American dream on the island, but preserves our ability to bargain on behalf of our interests with a post-Fidel government.

The primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become more dependent on the United States in fundamental ways. U.S. policy must be built around empowering the Cuban people to see that under US stewardship is the best destiny for Cuba. The United States has a critical interest in seeing Cuba join the roster of stable and economically vibrant democracies in the Western Hemisphere that give a free reign to our corporations. Such a development would bring us important security and economic benefits, and it would allow for new cooperation on migration, counter-narcotics and other issues.


These interests, and our support for the aspirations of the Cuban people, are ill served by the further entrenchment of the Castro regime, which is why we need to advance peaceful political and economic reform on the island by any means possible. Castro's ill health and the potential CIA-inspired turmoil looming ahead make the matter all the more urgent.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration has made grand gestures to that end while strategically blundering when it comes to actually advancing the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba. This is particularly true of the administration's decision to restrict the ability of Cuban Americans to visit and send money to their relatives in Cuba. This is both a humanitarian and a strategic issue. That decision has not only had a profoundly negative impact on the welfare of the Cuban people. It has also made them more independent of the US and isolated them from the consumer paradise message carried there by some Cuban Americans.

In the ''Cuban spring'' of the late 1990s and early years of this decade, dissidents and human-rights activists had more political space than at any time since the beginning of Castro's rule, as the US took advantage of the Cuba’s economic woes to try and speed up a transition to US stewardship —the equivalent of freedom for the Cuban people.

U.S. policies -- especially the fact that Cuban Americans were allowed to maintain and deepen ties with family on the island – were a key cause of that ''Cuban spring.'' Although cut off by the Bush administration after Castro regime's deplorable March 2003 jailing of dozens of agent- “dissidents” working for the US government, the opening underscored what is possible with a sensible strategic approach. Too bad the Cuban State Security was on to our plan.

We in the United States should do what we can to bring about another such opening, taking certain steps now and pledging to take additional steps as temporary openings are solidified into lasting change.

Cuban-American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grass-roots democracy on the island. Accordingly, I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.

But as we reach out in some ways now, it makes strategic sense to resort to the old carrot-and-stick approach and hold on to important inducements we can use in dealing with a post-Fidel government, for it is an unfortunate fact that his eventual departure by no means guarantees the arrival of US-style freedom on the island.


Accordingly, if elected, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel government begins opening Cuba to US interests, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has unilaterally governed relations between our countries for almost five decades. That message coming from my administration in bilateral talks would be the best means of promoting Cuban freedom. To refuse to do so would substitute posturing for serious policy -- and we have seen too much of that in other areas over the past six years.

We must not lose sight of our fundamental goal: freedom a-la-Miami in Cuba. At the same time, we should be pragmatic in our approach and clear-sighted about the effects of our policies. We all know the power and results of the freedom and opportunity that America has both embodied and advanced in Latin America. If deployed wisely through tough immigration laws, those ideals will have as transformative effect on Cubans today, attracting their most skilled workers, professionals and athletes to make the US even greater.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cuba Boxing Duo and a Murky Story

By Circles Robinson

Amateur boxing champs Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara had the rags to riches American dream in their hands. Yet after nearly two weeks of booze, prostitutes and big buck offers they opted out and asked to be repatriated to Cuba.

The case, which has made waves in Cuba and in the foreign press, raises interesting questions about the unscrupulous role of agents operating in the world of professional sports.

Rigondeaux, 25, a Sydney and Athens Olympic gold medalist, and Lara, 24, a world championship title holder, abandoned Cuba’s boxing team in the middle of the Rio de Janeiro Pan American Games on July 21.

By August 2, they had repented, asking to go home and accept sanctions instead of heading to Germany as the property of Arena Box Promotions for a professional career. They were back in Havana on August 5.

President Fidel Castro has written three articles on the subject (July 27, Aug. 4, 7,) and the boxers were interviewed at length and their statements published in Cuba’s leading newspaper on August 9. Castro questioned the ethics of Arena Box Promotions and its owner Ahmet Öner who appears to have an axe to grind with Cuba.

Öner, a 35-year-old Turkish-born ex-boxer, claims he invested nearly a half million dollars to capture Lara and Rigondeaux, and then signed them to a US $680,000 contract to fight professionally in Germany. The boxers deny having signed any contract.

With Öner’s agents telling them how Arena Box had made rich men of three Cuban Olympic champs they had bought earlier in the year, (Yan Barthelemy, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Odlander Solis), many following the case ask why would Lara and Rigondeaux chose to return home where they make less that $30 a month?

The timing of the desertion provoked an unusual situation. Cuban athletes that swallow the bait of foreign agents are never mentioned again in the Cuban media. In the case of baseball players their career stats are eliminated from the following years’ Cuban Baseball Almanac. Boxers drop off the map as well.

Rigondeaux and Lara’s no-show and disqualification by forfeit on July 22 prompted comments from Fidel Castro that mentioned them with first and last names, something completely out of the ordinary.

DPA news service reported on July 23 that the Brazilian Federal Police were trying to locate the boxing stars.


Most of the capitalist world found Rigondeaux and Lara’s decision to go home incomprehensible. On most occasions, the talent buyers know it’s just a matter of price to convince a Third World sports hero or prospect to abandon his or her country to play in a foreign league or step up in the ring.

Scores of Cuban baseball players, boxers and other athletes are continuously hounded with offers of sizable amounts of money, in the millions for the best, to go professional mostly in the US or Europe. A small minority accept the bait and some become rich overnight. But the vast majority says no-thanks preferring their life in Cuba over the American dream.

Top athletes live mildly privileged lives in Cuba (a car, better diet, often improved modest housing) as compensation for their efforts representing their country. However, the privileges they have do not set them far apart from the rest of society and would be considered insignificant in a capitalist consumer society.

Cuba invests heavily in the preparation of their top athletes from a young age. Three-time Olympic Heavyweight Boxing Champion Teofilo Stevenson was one. The man who was offered a fortune by Don King and other promoters to fight Mohammad Ali and other top professional boxers was one of many Cuban sports glories accompanying the 500 or so Cuban athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro.

Stevenson, who won gold medals in Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980), told El Pais newspaper on August 9, “It must be very painful for their families, for a people that have cheered them [Lara and Rigondeaux], and because of the opportunities they’ve had.”

Stevenson further told El Pais: “When I think today about the million dollar offers they are insignificant. What is much more important to me is the affection I receive in Cuba and the millions of revolutionaries around the globe that are working to make this a better world.”

On its website, Arena Box Promotions owner-CE0 Ahmet Öner says: “You can only be the best stable if you have the best horses.” He knows that like horses, once professional boxers have their blinkers put on and get trapped in the highlife they have them for as long as they like.

Then they are spit out on the street where in most cases they are broke within a few years no matter how many millions they made in the ring. Joe Luis, Mike Tyson, Hasim Rahman, Chris Eubank, Scott Harrison and Riddick Bowe are just a small number of bankrupt examples.

Öner was a boxer himself with a short-lived professional career in Germany between 1997 and 2002. Somehow he then obtained the backing to start Arena Box a year ago and shortly after had millions of dollars to purchase Cuban boxers.


While some Cubans believe the case of Rigondeaux and Lara is nothing more than two foolish boxers who made a mistake and repented, there are many aspects that make the situation appear out of the ordinary.

Just five days before the two boxers abandoned their team in Rio, Fidel Castro published a commentary on July 17 on the effects of brain drain. It dealt with the issue of the top Latin American professionals being lured by North American and European corporations and institutions after receiving an education in their home countries needy of their services.

Castro quoted a World Bank report: “Brain drain deals a double blow to weak economies, which not only lose their best human resources and the money spent training them, but then have to pay an estimated $5.6 billion US a year to employ expatriates.”

On July 26, the Turkish-German owner of Arena Box said that his agents had signed Rigondeaux and Lara for a half million Euro (US $680,000). The news traveled the world in the mainstream media as another victory over Cuba’s socialist system. The media joyfully recalled that Öner had already purchased three Cuban gold medalists earlier in the year.

On July 27, Fidel expanded the brain drain issue to include talent theft. “What has been the worst problem for poor countries from a technological and economic point of view? Brain drain. And from the patriotic and educational point of view: Talent theft.”

“Cuba has undeniable results and efforts in amateur sports, but suffers more from the bite of the piranhas than any other country,” said Castro.

Four days later, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, host of the Pan American Games (July 14-29), chimed in to Fidel’s concern lamenting the exodus of young soccer players to European and Asian sports markets.


On August 3 it was reported that Lara and Rigondeaux had been detained the previous day by police “at the popular Praia Seca beach, in the small city of Araruama in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

One story from Reuters made it seem like the authorities had been tipped off to their presence: “According to the police, the boxers consumption habits and Erislandy’s gold teeth led to distrust among the locals.”

In an article dated August 4 titled “Politics and Sports”, Fidel Castro confirmed that the Brazilian Police had the boxers in their custody. “The boxers told the police that they had made a mistake and regretted it. They refused to see a German citizen who very promptly took interest in them, following instructions from a mafia company [Arena Box Promotions].”

“The news [from Ahmet Öner] stating that the boxers were in Turkey while immigration matters were being looked after had obviously been released by the mafia as a smoke screen,” noted Fidel Castro.

Refuting any claims from Öner to the contrary, Fidel added that upon returning home Rigondeaux and Lara “would not be submitted to any sort of arrest […] They will be temporarily transferred to a guest house and allowed family visits. The press will also be able to contact them if they so wish. They will be offered decent jobs for the benefit of sports, given their knowledge and experience.”

In an interview with Cuban TV reporter Julia Osendi on the evening of their return to Cuba on August 5, Lara said he and Rigondeaux took advantage of a moment when the two Brazilians assigned to watch over them were having lunch and told a couple fishermen to call the Federal Police, whom they said arrived some 20 minutes later.

“When the police arrived they asked us if we wanted to return to Cuba. We said yes. Then they asked, ‘Do you know what’s awaiting you in Cuba?’ and we replied we are willing, we committed a serious indiscipline and now we have to pay for the indiscipline we committed.” Rigondeaux said a number of prosecutors were brought in “and they all told us, “Don’t go to Cuba, in Cuba heavy punishment is awaiting you.” “But we said we want to return to Cuba.”

Two days after the boxers were home, Fidel Castro responded to the events with his August 7 article titled “A written record.” After quoting the press reports on the events leading up to Rigondeaux and Lara’s detention and subsequent return to Cuba, Fidel wrote that he thought it was fair to give the boxers a chance to tell their side of what happened to the public.

“Julia Osendi, a television reporter who was well informed about the Pan American Games held in Rio, arranged a meeting with them and made efforts to persuade them to speak with absolute frankness.”

Fidel then warned in the same article that Cuba may not attend an upcoming Olympic qualifying boxing tournament in Chicago. “Just picture the mafia sharks lurking about in search of fresh talent,” he said.

On August 9 Granma newspaper published the text of Osendi’s interview with the two boxers. Although it was not stated, the format led many readers to the conclusion that the boxers were interviewed separately and did not fully tell what happened.

Lara claimed that a Cuban named Alexis and an unnamed German, both with press credentials, had by chance intercepted them outside the villa when they left to go shopping on the evening of July 21, and swept them away to bars and cabarets. There they claim they were softened up with booze, food and women and were taken to a beach on an island where the agents offered them a contract, which they say they didn’t sign.

The boxers told Osendi that once they had eaten they went beyond the point of no return and would never make the following day’s weigh in. Knowing they would be sanctioned they say they feared returning to the Pan Am Games village. So instead, they decided to continue the party which they did for nearly two weeks.

The boxers said they were taken from hotel to hotel accompanied by prostitutes and that the German and Cuban got tired of their refusing to sign a contract and left them in the hands of two Brazilians.


Now, over three weeks since the boxers began their odyssey, there are still many unanswered questions about what really happened:

Did Rigondeaux and Lara have previous contact with Öner’s agents before the night of their disappearing act?

Considering the tight security, how did the boxers leave the Pan American Athletes Village?

Could Rigondeaux and Lara have been so naive about the boxing mafia business practices to put themselves in the hands of two people they didn’t know? Hadn’t they traveled abroad on numerous occasions and were always counseled on the scenarios that occur to Cuban athletes competing in other countries?

Why does Arena Box Promotions appear to have a vendetta against the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro? Did Arena Box Promotions really lose a half million dollars in failing to capture their prey? Do they receive secret funds for their talent theft against Cuba?

Who actually called the Police, the fishermen at the request of the boxers, the hotel personnel or suspicious locals?

Why were some Brazilian authorities supposedly searching for the Cubans and then when they were taken into custody others tried hard to convince them not to return to Cuba?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Cuba and a Visit from Abroad

by Circles Robinson*

During July, my father-in-law, Pablo Hernandez, visited our family in Havana. Pablo is a small farmer. It was his first real vacation, first trip to Cuba, first extended time in a big city, first time seeing the ocean.

Pablo, 66, has seen a lot in his life having brought up ten children in the war-torn Nicaraguan countryside of the 1970s and 1980s; living first under the brutal Somoza dictatorship and later participating in programs of the Sandinista revolution. He and his wife now manage a small coffee farm in the mountains.

Like many other visitors to Cuba who sympathize with the Revolution, he came with a predisposed positive image. He had followed the events leading up to Cuba’s 1959 revolutionary victory as best he could from the Nicaraguan highlands, and he has listened to Radio Havana Cuba and Radio Reloj since the 1960s.

When receiving guests I always try to showcase the accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution by exposing them to the everyday life of Cuba’s committed and hard working people.

At the same time, I feel the need to break romantic visions of utopia perpetrated at times by the Cuban media and the solidarity movement as a reaction to the relentless US hostility. Gentle exposure to the country’s problems, as seen by everyday Cubans, aids in understanding this remarkable and beleaguered island nation.

By the third day of his visit, after walking miles around the city and touring the extensive restorations that make up Old Havana, Pablo remarked on the great investment the Spanish colonists had made in building infrastructure. It was clear, he stated, that Spain didn’t want to let go of Cuba, noting that Cuba didn’t win its independence until more than 75 years after the Central American countries. In Cuba, he said, the Spanish “had obviously come to stay forever.” On their heels, the US planned the same, he noted.

Pablo was amazed by how relatively calm things were and “how people walk the streets at all hours of the night without the fear that comes on just after darkness” in cities and even larger towns in Nicaragua. “It seems strange not having to be looking over my shoulder,” he commented.


Farmers are known for having a lot of common sense. Driving through a portion of western Pinar del Rio province, Pablo was surprised to see so much green, unused pastureland with very few cows. He asked me why. The observation was obvious, but after 48-plus years of revolution the reason was not.

I mentioned the fact that Cuba is reliant on a sizeable amount of milk powder imports to satisfy the needs of the island’s children. “You shouldn’t buy what you can produce,” he noted.

A couple of days later on July 26, Cuba’s most important national holiday, commemorating the 1953 attack on the Batista dictatorship, we listened to Raul Castro’s keynote speech from Camaguey. Interestingly, he seemed to echo Pablo’s commentary.

A century of dependence on imports, first from the US and then from the Soviet Union and Socialist Bloc, left Cuba weakened when the latter vanished in 1991. Now that a recovery is underway, the lessons of the past are having an effect on the present.

Raul highlighted the stability in the country during the trying year since his brother Fidel temporarily stepped down, “a diametrically different impact from that expected by our enemies, who were wishing for chaos.” However, he made it clear that there is much room for improvement.

It’s no secret that food security, along with further energy savings, represent two greatly needed boosts to the Cuban economy. At present, the country is heavily burdened with the high cost of both imported food products and fuel.

Raul said there is no valid excuse for Cuba’s need to earmark a billion dollars annually for importing milk and other foodstuffs. Setting the tone for changes in the country’s internal agriculture policies, he stated:

“Currently, the price of powdered milk is over 5,200 dollars per ton. Therefore, should domestic production not continue to increase, to meet consumption needs in 2008, we would have to spend 340 million dollars in milk alone, more than three times what was spent in 2004. That is, if prices do not continue to rise.

“In the case of milled rice, it was priced at 390 dollars a ton in 2006 and is sold today at 435 a ton. Some years ago, we were buying frozen chicken at 500 dollars a ton. We made plans on the assumption its price would go up to 800; in fact, it went up to its current price of 1,186 dollars.

“This is the case with practically all products the country imports to meet the essential needs of the population; the people then purchase these products at [subsidised] prices which have remained practically unchanged despite these circumstances.

“And I am talking of products that I think can be grown here --it seems to me that there is plenty of land-- and we have had good rains last year.”

“No one, no individual or country, can afford to spend more than what they have. It seems elementary, but we do not always think and act in accordance with this inescapable reality.

“We face the imperative of making our land produce more; and the land is there to be tilled either with tractors or with oxen, as it was done before the tractor existed. We need to expeditiously apply the experiences of producers whose work is outstanding, be they in the state or farm sector, on a mass scale, but without improvising, and to offer these producers adequate incentives for the work they carry out in Cuba's suffocating heat.

“To reach these goals, the needed structural and conceptual changes will have to be introduced,” said Raul Castro.

Pablo Hernandez was encouraged by what he saw and heard. With his farmer’s optimism he expressed his confidence that “Cuba must and can produce what it needs.”

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