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, February 05, 2009

Cuba Travel Ban Could be Doomed

By Circles Robinson

A bipartisan group of US Congress people jumped the gun on President Obama on Wednesday to change US policy towards Cuba.

The first step, contained in House Bill H.R.874, would lift the travel ban on US citizens wanting to go to Cuba.

While attention around a possible change in Cuba policy has focused on whether President Obama would make a bold move to hold face-to-face, unconditioned talks with Raul Castro, Congress may be the scene of earlier action.

During his campaign President Obama promised to ease restrictions on Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba and send home remittances. While he did not commit himself to taking the ban off the rest of US citizens from traveling to the island, many analysts believe he would not veto such legislation if passed by Congress.

The bipartisan nature of the bill stems from a desire of a growing number of legislators and governors to break fifty years of icy relations and open up trade with Cuba. Restoring Americans right to travel is considered to be a first step in that direction.

Currently US citizens need hard to get special permission to legally visit the island from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury Department. They are subject to heavy fines or possible imprisonment for going illegally.

The four Democrats and four Republicans co-sponsoring the bill submitted by William Delahunt (D-MA) are Rosa L. De Lauro (D-CT); Donna F. Edwards (D-MD); Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO); Sam Farr (D-CA); Jeff Flake (R-AZ); Jerry Moran (R-KS); Ron Paul (R-TX) and James P McGovern (D-MA).

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Should Younger Cubans Have a Voice?

By Circles Robinson

Running an alternative website in a country not used to such endeavors is a complicated matter. Cuban readers of Havana Times ( are surprised to find a source that is pro-revolution but at the same time is not apologetic and prints criticism —sometimes strong criticism— of different government policies.

A fellow editor reminded me the other day that Cuban media professionals draw a danger line for themselves, based on their own or others’ past experiences. The line keeps them from stepping onto shaky ground, where some higher up might perceive their subject matter or focus as too controversial or too negatively critical of an official, institution or organization.

The rationale is always that internal problems should not be divulged or discussed by the Cuban media, because such writing “helps the enemy.”

In its “Diaries from Havana” section, Havana Times brings readers slices of Cuban life from a wide variety of citizens. Some of the younger contributors present a bleaker view of the country and express an urgent desire for changes.

Some of my over-fifty friends resent such a tone, questioning their unconstrained criticism of government policies or structures. They believe the youth should go easy on what they see as dysfunctional aspects of the country’s political and economic system and day-to-day hardships, taking into account the blockade and half century of hostility from the United States as sufficient reason to do so.

Motivated by sincere concern, some colleagues have warned me that by publishing these young voices I might be stepping too close to the imaginary line that no authority has defined but everybody knows is there.

Play the Game or Silence

The issue of whether young people should be allowed a voice if it differs from the establishment is one of contention. You get the feeling there are many in positions of power that dismiss the younger generation’s vision of life on the island, arguing that they lack experience and historical perspective, condemning them to either play the game or silence.

The resulting lack of participation in this society for such young people is a glaring reality. Despite the local media’s glorification of the rebel youth of the 1950s, who risked their lives to break all the rules and challenged the Batista Dictatorship, the young rebels of today are criticized instead of encouraged.

While their parents or grandparents may have dedicated their lives to the victory, survival and advance of the Cuban Revolution, many from the younger generations —while respecting their elders’ feats— show a disconnect between those historic struggles and the concrete incongruities of today.

The result is a considerable number of young people alienated from work or study and who privately express an ardent desire to leave the country; many young professionals have that same wish. The emigration of these talented young people only fuels the troubling situation of Cuba’s aging population.

The difficult economic situation, with severe material shortages, is not the only reason for the desire to emigrate. Young people who would like the country’s socialist system to be more participative and less dogmatic want public debate on the great contradictions they see in their society. Instead, they find themselves on the sidelines, with their main concerns considered taboo subjects in educational institutions and at workplaces.

I don’t think that the disgruntled have all the answers, but I do defend their right and need to express themselves and I try to encourage them to put forth their ideas and make suggestions. The failure to allow such critical feedback is often cited as one of the reasons for the collapse of the European socialist camp.

So, if you get a chance to read the Havana Times diary posts you may find some that seem quite dark and depressing. But I assure you that what is expressed is representative of numerous other young people in the 16-40 range to whom I have listened.

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