Disillusioned Cuban Communist Became Entrepreneur

(p. 7) . . . , Ms. Limonta’s faith in the revolution had been absolute. Born just three weeks after Fidel Castro started his uprising by beaching an old American yacht called Granma in a mangrove swamp on Cuba’s southern shore in 1956, she had fully embraced his promise to wipe out inequality and create a new Cuba.

. . .

As the revolution aged, contradictions grew harder to ignore. As her job took her around the country, she saw that the hospitals most Cubans went to were shabby reflections of the one where her mother was treated. Other Cubans waited months, sometimes years, for a wheelchair. They couldn’t count on oxygen being available. Vital equipment broke down. Medicines ran out. Doctors and nurses expected to be bribed.

The stark differences weighed on Ms. Limonta, weakening her revolutionary spirit as well as her heart. She was just 48 when she was rushed to the mediocre hospital to which she, as a resident of Guanabacoa, was assigned. But once doctors found out who she was, they insisted on transferring her to Cuba’s top cardiology center.

She got the pacemaker she needed, but the speedy treatment only deepened her doubts. Bound by a strict sense of social justice, she finally forced herself to see the truth. She and her mother had been pampered in their time of need not because they were equal to other Cubans. Not because they were socialists. Not because they loved Fidel. But because they were more important.

The surgery caused a nearly mortal infection in her heart. Emergency open-heart surgery left her scarred and uncertain about her life. She decided to quit her job, hand in her party membership, give back her state car and even renounce the Santería religion she had been practicing.

Standing before a mirror one day, she cried. The scars on her body made her look like she had been torn apart and sewn back together, which was how she felt about her life. She had turned her back on everything she once believed in and had no idea how to go on. She was not like her friend Lili, who led the neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and whose faith in Communism was unshakable. Like many other Cubans whose support for the revolution lagged, Ms. Limonta had few options. She could dissent openly and invite harassment or persecution. She could throw herself into a raft and hope the sea breezes blew her to Florida. Or she could keep her thoughts to herself and focus on surviving.

Even with the subsidized rice and beans every Cuban receives, her $12 monthly pension guaranteed only misery. She needed to remake her life and found inspiration in the old treadle sewing machine that her mother had given her for graduation. Using discarded hotel sheets, she sewed crib sets for newborns that she covertly sold for a few dollars apiece. In 2011, when Raúl Castro cautiously allowed Cubans to start their own small businesses, Ms. Limonta became one of Cuba’s first legal capitalists.

Eventually, with help from a church-sponsored business incubator, she created her own company, rented space for a workshop, hired seamstresses and started turning out clothing of her own design. When President Barack Obama visited Havana in 2016 to see for himself how Cuba was responding to the opening he had set in motion, Ms. Limonta was among the Cuban entrepreneurs who met with him.

. . .

. . . , the old men who run Cuba cannot deny that they’ve lost even individuals like Ms. Limonta who once embraced the revolution. Cubans are not in the streets protesting, but they have no loyalty toward the men who took Fidel Castro’s place or the political system they keep propping up.

For the full commentary, see:

Anthony DePalma. “How Cubans Lost Faith in Revolution.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, May 24, 2020): 10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 23, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

DePalma’s commentary, quoted above, is related to his book:

DePalma, Anthony. The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times. New York: Viking, 2020.

Jailed Cuban Human Rights Dissident Fears for Life

(p. A1) MIAMI — The activist José Daniel Ferrer García made his desperate plea by hand.

“On hunger and thirst strike,” Mr. Ferrer, one of Cuba’s most well-known dissidents, scrawled on a piece of paper smuggled out of prison. “They have done everything to me.”

Mr. Ferrer, 49, has been jailed since Oct. 1 [2019] on what human rights activists say is a trumped-up assault and battery case. In his note, he described being dragged, cuffed by his hands and feet, and left in his underwear for two weeks to be nipped by mosquitoes and the morning chill.

“My life is in grave danger,” he warned.

Mr. Ferrer’s detention renews the spotlight on Cuba and the lengths it goes to against dissidents under President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Nineteen months after assuming the presidency amid high hopes for reform within Cuba and abroad, Mr. Díaz-Canel leads a government that bears a striking similarity to the Castro dynasty that preceded him, critics say.

For the full story, see:

Frances Robles. “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 3, 2019): A1 and A10.

(Note: bracketed year added.]

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 2, 2019, and has the title “Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba.” The online version says that the title of the New York print edition was “For Cubans, New Ways to Speak Out, but the Same Old Arrests.” The title of my National print edition was “For Cubans, a New 3G Bullhorn, but the Same Same Old Arrests.”)

Tropical Socialist Paradise Rations Basic Food Items

(p. A7) Cuba will ration sales of basic goods, officials said, as tighter U.S. sanctions and the economic implosion of key ally Venezuela puts further pressure on the Communist regime to import food staples.

Commerce Minister Betsy Díaz on Friday [May 10, 2019] said the government would ration items including eggs, cooking oil, chicken, sausage and soap amid widespread shortages that have caused anxiety and panic buying.

Cuban officials blame the shortages on the Trump administration’s hardening of the trade embargo, but economists say the island’s economy has also been hit hard by reduced shipments of subsidized oil from Venezuela. The island’s agriculture sector has long been inefficient, some analysts said.

The rationing plans come as the country’s Cuba’s authoritarian regime cracks down on civil-society groups. Over the weekend, security officers blocked an unauthorized parade in Havana by gay-rights activists. Several activists were detained, Cubans said on social media.

Cuban officials acknowledged that the government had failed to meet production targets for food staples including eggs and pork, and said limits will be put on the amount of chicken and other products individuals could purchase. They urged Cubans to avoid panic buying.

For the full story, see:

José de Córdoba. “Cuba to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, May 13, 2019): A7.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 12, 2019, and has the title “Cuba Plans to Ration Sales of Basic Food Items.”)

Sister Jeanne Defended the Freedom of Elian Gonzalez

(p. A25) Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who was thrust into national prominence in 2000 during a tumultuous custody battle between the Cuban father of a 6-year-old refugee, Elian Gonzalez, and the boy’s relatives in Miami, died on Tuesday [June 18, 2019] in Adrian, Mich.

. . .

In early 2000 she sought in vain to ensure that Elian could stay temporarily with his Miami relatives instead of being returned to his father, who had remained in Cuba, divorced from his wife, after Elian and his mother fled in a rickety boat on Nov. 21, 1999.

His mother, Elizabeth Brotons Rodriguez, died when the boat capsized in the Atlantic. Elian was found in the water off Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 25 clinging to an inner tube, and his miraculous survival all but elevated him into a religious figure in South Florida’s Cuban-exile community.

. . .

In an Op-Ed article for The New York Times, she compared the “strong bond” that had developed between Elian and the Miami cousin who was caring for him with the absence of his father.

“It troubles me that Elian’s father has not come to the United States,” she wrote. “What, if not fear, could keep a person from making a 30-minute trip to reclaim his son? And what might Elian’s father fear, if not the authoritarian Cuban government itself?”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, Advocate in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies at 90.” The New York Times (Friday, June 21, 2019): A25.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 20, 2019, and has the title “Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, 90, Voice in Cuban Boy’s Custody Fight, Dies.”)

“There Comes a Time When You Get Tired of Being a Slave”

(p. A1) RIO DE JANEIRO — In a rare act of collective defiance, scores of Cuban doctors working overseas to make money for their families and their country are suing to break ranks with the Cuban government, demanding to be released from what one judge called a “form of slave labor.”
Thousands of Cuban doctors work abroad under contracts with the Cuban authorities. Countries like Brazil pay the island’s Communist government millions of dollars every month to provide the medical services, effectively making the doctors Cuba’s most valuable export.
But the doctors get a small cut of that money, and a growing number of them in Brazil have begun to rebel. In the last year, at least 150 Cuban doctors have filed lawsuits in Brazilian courts to challenge the arrangement, demanding to be treated as independent contractors who earn full salaries, not agents of the Cuban state.
“When you leave Cuba for the first time, you discover many things that you had been blind to,” said Yaili Jiménez Gutierrez, one of the doctors who filed suit. “There comes a time when you get tired of being a slave.”
. . .
(p. A10) . . . , Dr. Jiménez, 34, found the work rewarding, but also began to harbor feelings of resentment.
“You are trained in Cuba and our education is free, health care is free, but at what price?” she said. “You wind up paying for it your whole life.”
. . .
“We keep one another strong,” said Dr. Jiménez, who says she has been unemployed since being fired in June and is now barred from re-entering Cuba for eight years.
Dr. Álvarez and her husband were among the lucky ones to keep their jobs and get what amounted to a huge pay raise. They also managed to bring their children to Brazil.
“It’s sad to leave your family and friends and your homeland,” she said. “But here we’re in a country where you’re free, where no one asks you where you’re going, or tells you what you have to do. In Cuba, your life is dictated by the government.”

For the full story, see:
ERNESTO LONDOÑO. “‘Slave Labor'”: Cuban Doctors Rebel in Brazil.” The New York Times (Fri., SEPT. 29, 2017): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “Cuban Doctors Revolt: ‘You Get Tired of Being a Slave’.”)

Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Wage U.S. Workers

(p. C1) Research published a decade after the Mariel boatlift, as well as more recent analyses, concluded that the influx of Cuban migrants didn’t significantly raise unemployment or lower wages for Miamians. Immigration advocates said the episode showed that the U.S. labor market could quickly absorb migrants at little cost to American workers.
But Harvard University’s George Borjas, a Cuban-born specialist in immigration economics, reached very different conclusions. Looking at data for Miami after the boatlift, he concluded that the arrival of the Marielitos led to a large decline in wages for low-skilled local workers.
. . .
(p. C2) Dr. Borjas, who left Cuba in 1962, when he was 12 years old, has long challenged the idea that immigration has few downsides. One of his studies in the early 2000s analyzed decades of national data to conclude that immigrants generally do push down wages for native workers, particularly high-school dropouts.
One Sunday morning in 2015, while working on his book, Dr. Borjas recalls, he decided to revisit the Mariel boatlift. He focused on U.S.-born high-school dropouts and applied more sophisticated analytical methods than had been available to Dr. Card a quarter-century earlier.
Dr. Borjas found a steep decline in wages for low-skilled workers in Miami in the years after the boatlift–in the range of 10% to 30%. “Even the most cursory reexamination of some old data with some new ideas can reveal trends that radically change what we think we know,” he wrote in his initial September 2015 paper.
. . .
Dr. Borjas has spent decades swimming against the tide in his profession by focusing on immigration’s costs rather than its benefits. He said that he sees a parallel to the way many economists look at international trade. Long seen as a positive force for growth, trade is now drawing attention from some economists looking for its ill effects on factory towns. “I don’t know why the profession has this huge lag and this emphasis on the benefits from globalization in general without looking at the other side,” Dr. Borjas said.
. . .
Dr. Borjas’s research, including his recent work on Mariel, has found fans on the other side of the debate. When he testified at a Senate hearing in March 2016, then-Sen. Sessions welcomed his rebuttal to Dr. Card’s paper. “That study, I could never understand it because it goes against common sense of [the] free market: greater supply, lower costs,” Mr. Sessions said. “That’s just the way the world works.”
. . .
Dr. Borjas welcomes what he calls a more realistic approach to immigration under the Trump administration. “If you knew what the options are, who gets hurt and who wins by each of these options, you can make a much more intelligent decision rather than relying on wishful thinking,” he said. “Which is what a lot of immigration, trade debates tend to be about–that somehow this will all work out, and everybody will be happy.”

For the full commentary, see:
Ben Leubsdorf. “The Immigration Experiment.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 17, 2017): C1-C2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 16, 2017, and has the title “The Great Mariel Boatlift Debate: Does Immigration Lower Wages?”)

The book by Borjas, mentioned in the passage quoted above, is:
Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Cuban Entrepreneurs Lost Faith in Fidel’s Revolution

(p. 22) Ihosvany Oscar Artiles Ferrer, 44, a veterinarian who worked in Camagüey but recently moved to Queens, said the lack of wholesalers to buy supplies from made it difficult to eke out a profit.
“The private business is like a handkerchief the government puts over everything to be able to say to the United Nations that in Cuba people own small businesses,” Mr. Artiles said.
“In the beginning, almost all of us were revolutionaries,” he added. “But now, we quit all that because we don’t believe in Fidel, in the revolution, in socialism or anything.”

For the full story, see:
FRANCES ROBLES. “Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Are Divided on Where to Stake Futures.” The New York Times (Tues., MARCH 22, 2016): 22.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 21, 2016, and has the title “Stay or Go? Cuban Entrepreneurs Divided on Where to Stake Futures.”)

Where Fidelistas Miss Mr. Hershey’s Company Town

(p. A9) This small town on Cuba’s northern coast is steeped in memory and wistfulness, a kind of living monument to the intertwined histories of the United States and Cuba and to the successes and failures of Fidel Castro’s social revolution.
The town dates to 1916, when Milton S. Hershey, the American chocolate baron, visited Cuba for the first time and decided to buy sugar plantations and mills on the island to supply his growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania. On land east of Havana, he built a large sugar refinery and an adjoining village — a model town like his creation in Hershey, Pa. — to house his workers and their families.
He named the place Hershey.
The village would come to include about 160 homes — the most elegant made of stone, the more modest of wooden planks — built along a grid of streets and each with tidy yards and front porches in the style common in the growing suburbs of the United States. It also had a public school, a medical clinic, shops, a movie theater, a golf course, social clubs and a baseball stadium where a Hershey-sponsored team played its home games, residents said.
The factory became one of the most productive sugar refineries in the country, if not in all of Latin America, and the village was the envy of surrounding towns, which lacked the standard of living that Mr. Hershey bestowed on his namesake settlement.
. . .
“I’m a Fidelista, entirely in favor of the revolution,” declared Meraldo Nojas Sutil, 78, who moved to Hershey when he was 11 and worked in the plant during the 1960s and ’70s. “But slowly the town is deteriorating.”
Many residents do not hesitate to draw a contrast between the current state of the town and the way that it looked when “Mr. Hershey,” as he is invariably called here, was the boss.
Residents seem amused by, if not proud of, the ties to the United States.
Most still use the village’s original name, pronounced locally as “AIR-see.” And Hershey signs still hang at the town’s train station, a romantic nod to a bygone era, though perhaps also a symbol of hope that the past — at least, certain aspects of it — will again become the present.

For the full story, see:
KIRK SEMPLE. “CAMILO CIENFUEGOS JOURNAL; Past Is Bittersweet in Cuban Town That Hershey Built.” The New York Times (Thurs., DEC. 7, 2016): A9.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date DEC. 7, 2016, and has the title “CAMILO CIENFUEGOS JOURNAL; In Cuban Town That Hershey Built, Memories Both Bitter and Sweet.”)

Immigration Depresses Wages of Low-Wage Americans

(p. A11) Mr. Borjas is himself an immigrant, having at age 12 fled from Cuba to Miami with his widowed mother in 1962, just before the Cuban Missile Crisis shut down legal exits. As a labor economist, he has spent much of his academic career studying the effects of immigration on the American jobs market, often arguing that immigration depresses wages, or job opportunities, at the lower end of the scale. Here he notes that, on balance, the added production supplied by immigrants makes a modest contribution to U.S. economic growth. He generously provides readers with arguments on all sides, including Milton Friedman’s wry observation that illegal immigrants are of more net benefit to the American economy than legals because they make less use of welfare-state services.
. . .
After totting up the pluses and minuses, Mr. Borjas concludes that immigration has very little effect on the lives of most Americans. He does worry, however, that some future wave might bring along with it the “institutional, cultural and political baggage that may have hampered development in the poor countries” from which immigrants often come, and he sees a need for reforms.

For the full review, see:

GEORGE MELLOAN. “BOOKSHELF; The Immigration Debate We Need.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Oct. 19, 2016): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review, is:
Borjas, George J. We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.

Today Is 16th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González

GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg“In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. “10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title “10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.”)

Today (April 22, 2016) is the 16th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.

Today Is 15th Anniversary of Our Betrayal of Elián González

GonzalezElianSeizedOn2000-04-22.jpg“In this April 22, 2000 file photo, Elian Gonzalez is held in a closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the two men who rescued the boy from the ocean, right, as government officials search the home of Lazaro Gonzalez, early Saturday morning, April 22, 2000, in Miami. Armed federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn Saturday, firing tear gas into an angry crowd as they left the scene with the weeping 6-year-old boy.” Source of caption and photo: online version of JENNIFER KAY and MATT SEDENSKY. “10 years later, few stirred by Elian Gonzalez saga.” Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., April 22, 2010): 7A. (Note: the online version of the article is dated April 21, 2010 and has the title “10 years after Elian, US players mum or moving on.”)

Today (April 22, 2015) is the 15th anniversary of the day when the Clinton Administration seized a six year old child in order to force him back into the slavery that his mother had died trying to escape.