Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cuba reports largest outflow of citizens since 1994

By Marc Frank HAVANA (Reuters) - The number of Cubans leaving their country has increased steadily in recent years, the government reported on Wednesday, reaching levels not seen since 1994 when tens of thousands took to the sea in makeshift rafts and rickety boats. Separately, the U.S. State Department on Wednesday announced it is lengthening most visitor visas for Cubans from six months to five years, allowing them to make multiple U.S. visits over the five-year period instead of repeatedly applying and paying the $160 fee for the privilege. Cuba liberalized travel restrictions in January, making it much easier and less expensive for residents to travel and to return after they emigrate, and eliminating the confiscation of property of migrants, perhaps in hopes of slowing the outflow. The new Cuban travel measures extend to 24 months the amount of time Cubans can be out of the country without losing rights and they can seek an extension of up to 24 months more. In theory, the changes on both sides of the Florida Straits should make it easier for Cubans not only to travel but to work in the United States and return home when they want. According to Cuba's annual demographic report for 2012 (, 46,662 Cubans migrated permanently in 2012, the largest annual figure since more than 47,000 left the communist-ruled island in 1994 after what international observers dubbed the "Rafter Crisis." Over the last five years, Cubans have been emigrating at an average annual rate of more than 39,000, the report said, higher than in any other five-year period since the earliest years of the revolution. The figures are not good news for a government facing a demographic crisis similar to some developed countries where fewer young people must support a growing elderly population. The report did not break down migration by age, but it is common knowledge that many leaving the country are young and educated and a large proportion eventually wind up in the United States where they are quickly granted residency even if they entered illegally. The U.S. announcement followed the resumption of immigration talks earlier this month after a two-year suspension. The Obama administration believes the visa extension "will increase people-to-people contact, support civil society in Cuba; and enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people," a State Department spokesperson said. It would also help to further reduce the wait time for visa interview appointments at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. Since 1994 when the last mass immigration wave increased tensions between the two ideological foes, on-again-off-again immigration talks have led to a more orderly, safe and legal flow of Cubans to the United States, though thousands still arrive by crossing the Mexican and Canadian borders and some still perish at sea. Over the past half century, thousands of Cubans have died trying to cross the treacherous Florida Straits in flimsy boats and homemade rafts, while hundreds of thousands more have completed the journey, many of them in the mass migrations in 1965, 1980 and 1994. The United States now accepts about 20,000 Cubans annually via legal immigration, as well as family members seeking reunification, and also takes in those who manage to reach U.S. shores without being intercepted. Under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, it turns back Cubans picked up at sea. Almost 1,300 Cubans were repatriated to Cuba in 2012 after failing to make it to U.S. soil. (Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Ken Wills)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 4/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 3/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview, PART 2/4

Rosa Maria Paya Interview: PART 1/4

"The Economist" journalists discuss the Cuban Economy in 2013

The official word: Cuba's economic performance in 2012

A Challenge of Enormous Magnitude
Recently, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) published a digital version of the Economic and Social Outlook for 2012, a document it publishes regularly as a preview of the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba (AEC). [1]
The first thing that stands out in the published information is the adjustment in growth figures for last year, which were previously reported in the National Assembly of People’s Power in December 2012. Once the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy at the end of the year were estimated and which – according to estimates – cost 6.9 billion pesos, [2] the GDP growth figure for 2012 was calculated at 3% as compared with the 3.1% previously announced and was lower than the projected 3.4%. [3]
There were other figures that had to be adjusted by sectors. Economic performance was negative in the agricultural sector, decreasing 1.2% during the year compared with the 2% positive growth previously announced; there was an important deceleration in manufacturing where growth dropped from 4.4% to 2.3%; and the transportation and communications sector declined from 5% to 2.8%. On the other hand, construction showed favorable growth of 18% compared with the 12.4% previously estimated, while domestic trade rose from 5.9% to 6.4%.
In general, since 2009, the Cuban economy has been growing very modestly from 1.4% in that year, 2.4% in 2010 and 2.8% in 2011 for an annual average up until 2012 of 2,4%. Except for 2010, these figures have remained slightly lower than projected. Furthermore, these results compare favorably with Latin American and the Caribbean in 2009 and 2012 but are below the regional figures in 2010 and 2011.
In any case, a balanced evaluation of the country’s economic performance cannot be made without taking into account the process of transformation that has taken place since the approval of the new economic and social policy in April 2011, which assumed profound changes in the Cuban economy and its management system, all of which also has effects on the pace of the country’s growth.
In this sense, the current performance of the Cuban economy stems from a socialist economic strategy centered on the creation of conditions for sustainable development in the medium term.
To reach this objective, it is especially important to have a process for improving the balance of payments, which in the short term, is a high priority element in the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy. [4]
This policy calls for an updating of commitments for payment of the foreign debt as an indispensable requirement for achieving an expansion of the economy taking into account the need for a greater flow of external financial resources including greater foreign direct investment.
In pursuing these priorities we have increased foreign exchange earnings through growth of more than 100% in the value of exported goods, while imports increased by only 54% between 2009 and 2012 resulting in a decrease in the current account balance in relation to GDP of -4.2% in 2008 to an estimated -0.6% in 2012. [5]
Furthermore, we have made significance advances in revising foreign financial commitments. By 2010, an agreement had been reached for the renegotiation of 2 billion dollars in foreign debt payments. [6] Likewise, in February 2013, an agreement was reached with Russia for debt forgiveness with the old Soviet Union. [7]
All of this has made possible a strict compliance with foreign financial obligations, which should result in greater credibility at the international level. Also, in relation to this issue, it is important to emphasize that the prioritized payment of contracted obligations basically has been backed by a reduction in the nation’s expenditures. State spending dropped in relation to GDP from 78.1% in 2008 to 67.4% in 2011; the fiscal balance dropped from -6.9% to -3.8%; liquidity in the hands of the population fell from 41.5% to 38.6%; and a process of restructuring basic social services was carried out to reduce costs without affecting essential benefits.
Along with the reduction in external financial tensions, economic efficiency must be increased through greater growth in labor productivity, a process that focuses on a gradual reduction in underemployment in the state sector, increasing activities in the cooperative, private and mixed sectors, [8] while reorienting investment to favor the productive sphere. In this sense, there was an 8.1% growth in labor productivity between 2009 and 2012, but the pace was still insufficient although it was in harmony with the increase in median salary.
In this regard, it is worth noting that, as a consequence of the scarcity of financial resources, investment funds are still limited [9], and with low levels of efficiency in their management. All of which constitutes an obstacle to reaching higher levels of productivity in the midst of a process of real-wage depression that, in comparison with 1989, has still not recovered. [10]
The results that were achieved in 2012 can be said to be in line with what can be expected of a process of changes that substantially alters the economic management system of the country creating conditions for sustainable development while having to face a complex international economic situation and the consequences of the U.S. economic blockade.
This year and 2014 should see a change in the quality of state economic management with a greater level of decentralization, growth in economic efficiency and a gradual increase in worker income, which, along with an increase in the level of investment, will allow an increase in the pace of economic growth in a more favorable environment for external finances.
The challenge is clearly of enormous magnitude, but there are conditions to successfully face it.
Dr. José Luis Rodríguez is Cuba’s former economics minister and an advisor to CIEM.

[1] See “Panorama Económico y Social. Cuba 2012,” in
[2]Information from the Ministry of Economy and Planning, Granma, June 6, 2013, p. 3.
[3] See, Yaima Puig and Leticia Martínez “Economía cubana creció un 3% en 2012,” Cubadebate, 06/06/13,
[4] ”Starting with the current conditions and the foreseeable international scenario, economic policy is directed at addressing the problems of the economy by applying two kinds of solutions that require mutual consistency: short-term solutions directed at eliminating the deficit in the balance of payments, which will promote foreign earnings and import substitution and at the same time responding to the problems of greater immediate impact on economic efficiency, worker motivation and income distribution, and creating the necessary infrastructural and productive conditions to permit a transition to a higher state of development.” VI Congreso del Partido Comunista de Cuba “Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución,” Havana, April 18, 2011, p. 10.
[5] Cuba Country Forecast, Economist Intelligence Unit, March, 2013.
[6] Information from Marino Murillo to the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power, Granma, December 20, 2010, p. 10.
[7] See Granma, February 21, 2013, p. 2. According to Russian sources, this debt reached 35 billion dollars. “Russia to write off 35 billion of Cuba’s debt,” Pravda (English version), February 22, 2013 .

From, July 24, 2013

In memory of Osvaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, July 2013

Cuba's Economy Tzar Marino Murillo: Press conference, March 2012

Cuba still allergic to private property as reforms creep forward

Reuters, July 22, 2013 - Every Monday in the bowels of Cuba's Palace of the Revolution, a group of men and women charged with revamping the island's moribund economy meets to review progress in building what they have dubbed "a prosperous and sustainable socialism." They have their work cut out for them, as demonstrated by the recent discovery by Panama of decrepit Cuban weaponry on its way to North Korea for repair, a walk down any potholed Havana street or the Cuban government's admission that 58 percent of water pumped from reservoirs is lost to leaky pipes.

The men and women are members of a Communist Party commission charged with carrying out a 313-point, five-year plan to modernize the economy that was adopted in 2011. First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, in a recent interview with Cuban journalists, said the weekly gathering was chaired by the man he is in line to succeed, 82-year-old President Raul Castro, and reviewed "all the advances in terms of designing policy." Talk of selling the state's more than 90 percent stake in the economy is apparently not on the agenda of the Monday meetings, according to the head of the party's reform commission, Marino Murillo.

Murillo told National Assembly deputies earlier this month that those outside and inside the country who thought his commission was restoring capitalism or planning a fire sale were terribly mistaken. "You can't confuse transformation of property with modernization of its management; they are two different things," Murillo said in a two-hour speech. "It (modernization)... does allow for new actors in the non-state sector (farms, small businesses, cooperatives and joint ventures)," Murillo said.

The non-state sector, which includes employees of small businesses and many people "working for themselves," such as taxi drivers and produce vendors, currently comprises 23 percent of the 5.1 million member labor force, according to Carlos Mateu Pereira, an adviser to the minister of labor and social security. Murillo said central planning still ruled but would become more of a "regulator, not administrator" as the market was given more sway in pricing and other business decisions.

Murillo used agriculture to illustrate what he meant. He said 70 percent of the land is leased to co-operatives and small farmers while 20 percent is owned by private farmers and their cooperatives. State companies occupy 10 percent of the land. Murillo said an increasing amount of what the farms produce was being sold on the open market, about 47 percent currently, bypassing the state's wholesale trade monopoly. To those who believe modernizing the economy is moving too slowly halfway through the five-year Party plan, Cuba's president at the July parliament meeting said, "There will be no shock measures here like in Europe."

Economic growth in recent years has averaged around 2.5 percent despite reforms, compared with the 5 to 7 percent economists believe is needed for development. Achieving that will require significant foreign investment, they say. No speaker at the week-long National Assembly meeting dedicated to the economy mentioned foreign investment. None of the foreign companies managing and participating in joint ventures in Cuba, 190 at last count, own any property outright, nor do they have the right to sell shares except with the authorization of their state partner.

According to Diaz-Canel, reform is indeed a painstaking process as it moves from lifting prohibitions on personal property, travel, minor economic activity and farming, to "a crucial and defining stage" where such thorny issues as the island's dual monetary system and the inefficiency of state companies are the focus. Since the fall of the Soviet Union Cuba has had two currencies in circulation - the peso, valued at 25 to the dollar, and a dollar equivalent called the convertible peso, making accounting, budgeting and other matters extremely cumbersome.

Policies are proposed at the Monday meetings by commission subcommittees, he said, and then experiments launched to prove their efficiency, with studies to examine the impact of cutting subsidies and unleashing market forces on a society unaccustomed to living this way for the past 50 years. There are many pilot projects these days. For example, a wholesale market where farmers can buy supplies, instead of the inputs being assigned by the state, or an experiment in two provinces aimed at downsizing government.

At the same time, earlier pilot projects are now being generalized, such as the leasing of thousands of tiny state retail services to employees and larger ones to cooperatives, or allowing state companies to sell excess product on the market and keep 50 percent of their profits after taxes. "This is very much like the early days of reform in Asian communism, when the Communist Parties tried to hold on to everything and restrict all investment," a western diplomat said. "They soon learned that it wouldn't work and opened up further."

(Editing by David Adams and Cynthia Osterman)

Lawsuit seeks $12M from Dodgers’ Cuban star Yasiel Puig: "Plan to smuggle YP out of Cuba got me in big trouble!"

Follow this link to read all about it!

Cuba's 1% is not who think it is!

by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera for The Daily Beast on July 22, 2013

In most parts of the world, artists struggle to make a living. In Cuba, they're part of the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
Cuba Art
Artist Nelson Dominguez moves a painting at his studio in Havana on September 14, 2012. (Franklin Reyes/AP)

Two quirks of fate have led to an explosion of well-paid artists on the island: an exception to the U.S. embargo on Cuban goods that allows Americans to spend money on Cuban art, and an accident of Cuban history that lets artists keep the money they earn. Dionel Delgado, 29, is emblematic of financially successful Cuban artists. His new gallery is in an apartment he just bought in a prime ground-floor location in old Havana that gets lots of tourist foot traffic. As he painted a large, lush landscape of the Cuban countryside, he told CNBC, "A big part about my work is about the landscape. The love of my country, my space, my dream space." Don't try to buy the work however—it's already sold to a Mexican gallery for $10,000. He said that, on average, he sells a painting every two months.
Thousands of Americans travel legally to Cuba every year under what the Treasury calls "people to people" licenses. Remember Jay-Z and Beyoncé's trip? On such junkets, American tourists are prohibited from buying any kind of souvenir—except for books, music, and art. As a result, as one moves through old Havana, some of the most prevalent items for sale aren't T-shirts, hats, or magnets, but paintings. In fact, the government put up a new building a few years ago expressly for art vendors. Vendors there don't have to be as successful as Delgado to make a good living. Most of the paintings for sale to tourists are $100 or less. Selling just one a month, a painter makes more than double the average Cuban, who earns only $19 in a government job.
Artists have held a special place in the Cuban economy since the early 1990s—an extremely difficult period in which the Soviet Union cut off the billions of dollars in subsidies it had supplied to Fidel Castro's government. Even food was hard to come by. During that time, the government carved out a special exemption for musicians and artists, allowing them to travel freely in and out of the country and, more importantly, to be self-employed as artists and to keep the money they made. The exemptions made them rich compared with other members of Cuban society, as well as more cosmopolitan.
Though Cuba is allowing a small private sector to exist, Ted Henken of Baruch College discusses whether the nation is really on the verge of change. Abel Barroso Arencibia, 46, who specializes in wood carvings, agrees that artists are lucky to hold a special place in the Cuban economy. Barroso is in the middle of a major renovation on his apartment. Two museums in New York—the Whitney Museum of American Art and Museum of Modern Art—hold his pieces in their collections. He has traveled all over the world, from the U.S. to Japan, and was able to do so long before other Cubans, who received that right only at the beginning of this year. Also remarkable is that the Cuban government seems willing to tolerate art that could be interpreted as critical of it. Barroso, for example, is working on a woodcut of a tablet computer. It obviously doesn't work, but the "apps" on the wooden machine are all related to emigrating from Cuba. Barroso makes many woodcuts of communication devices. He calls the work an "ironic" commentary on technology. When asked if it's a criticism of the government—given that most Cubans don't have a cellphone or access to the Internet—he responds, "How it's interpreted is up to the viewer."
Besides landscapes, Delgado has created a series of large-format paintings that depict fake magazine covers. He said he was inspired by Norman Rockwell, famous for painting real magazine covers that portray an idyllic American life. One of Delgado's magazine cover paintings shows people preparing to jump over the malecón—the famous seawall in Havana—in inner tubes. It's a scene repeated by thousands of Cubans who, desperate to leave, took to the open ocean. When asked if the painting is intended as a criticism of the government, Delgado said no, adding that "it talks about the troubles of Cuba."
"It's normal for all the Cubans to have this constant on our minds," he said. For a Cuban, the sea means "one way to take his dreams out there, the American dream," he added. "It's a reflection of ... how many people take this option, you know? For finding a way, you know?"

From the H5N1 Blog: Recent cholera outbreak in Cuba

Cuba: 14 "suspected cholera" cases in Manatí

Thanks to Lucie Lecomte for sending the link to the report in Martí, a dissident website: Manatí: catorce casos de “sospecha de cólera”. [Manatí: 14 cases of "suspected cholera"] Excerpt, with my translation:
En el municipio de Manatí, provincia Las Tunas, se han reportado catorce casos de "sospecha de cólera" ingresados en el hospital municipal, y tres casos en el hospital infantil de la misma localidad, donde esta semana es muy probable que se decrete la fase de cuarentena debido a que se ha propagado considerablemente la enfermedad en la zona, afirmó en el programa Cuba al día de Martinoticias, el periodista independiente José Agramonte, quien se enteró gracias a la información que le suministró Yelaini Vargas Betancourt, integrante de la Alianza Democrática Oriental.
Fourteen cases of "suspected cholera" have been reported in the municipality of Manatí, Las Tunas province. They've been admitted to the municipal hospital, along with three cases in the local children's hospital. It's very likely that a quaratine will be declared because the disease has spread considerably through the region. This was stated in the Martinoticias program "Cuba Daily" by independent journalist José Agramonte, who reported information received from Yelain Vargas Betancourt, a member of the Eastern Democratic Alliance.
Agramonte señaló también, que "en este momento sigue el control sanitario en diferentes localidades de lo que es la ciudad de Camagüey, (…) en el sistema carcelario, fundamentalmente Kilo 7 y Kilo 8, que son las prisiones provincial y nacional de Cuba, aquí en Camagüey, y que han decretado la fase de cuarentena. Es decir, que en estos centros penitenciarios no se puede pasar ningún producto alimenticio cocinado, casero. Todos los productos tienen que ser sellados".
Agramonte also said that "At the moment there's sanitary control in different localities in the city of Camagüey, and in Kilo 7 and Kilo 8, which are the provincial and national prisons, here in Camagüey, and they've declared a quarantine. That is, in the penitentiaries you can't bring in any home-cooked food. All products have to be sealed."
Agramonte dijo que varias personas se le han acercado para comunicarle lo que está ocurriendo, ya que saben la labor informativa que realizan los periodistas independientes. "Nosotros confirmamos la noticia. Tenemos fuentes dentro de la misma Dirección de Salud Pública que nos mantienen al tanto de toda la situación epidemiológica".
Agramonte said several persons have approached her to tell her this is going on, now that they understand the work that independent journalists do. "We confirmed the report. We have sources inside the Directorate of Public Health that keep us informed of the whole epidemiological situation."
Además, lamentó que el Gobierno considere el asunto del cólera como un secreto de Estado, "porque la verdadera verdad, es que lo que sucede dentro de un país debe conocerlo la población en general".
As well, she regretted that the government considers the matter of cholera a state secret, "Because the truth is, what happens inside a country should be known by the general public."
In this connection, Lucie Lecomte has also sent the link to the official Cuban government website on cholera. It's pretty good, with extensive reports on cholera outbreaks elsewhere in the world. But the only local cholera story is from last January, saying the Havana outbreak is "practically over."
— Associated Press
— Cuba celebrated the 60th anniversary of the onset of its revolution Friday, with the aging Communist leader who took part in the initial failed uprising vowing to focus the future on younger generations that have been slow to come to power.

Wearing an olive-green military uniform and a broad-brimmed hat against the sun, President Raul Castro spoke to a crowd of thousands outside a military barracks still visibly pockmarked with bullet holes from the 1953 assault that is considered the beginning of the rebellion. Castro was just 22 when he followed his older brother Fidel's lead in a seemingly suicidal attack on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, along with more than 100 other mostly youthful rebels opposed to strongman Fulgencio Batista. "The years have passed, but this continues to be a revolution of young people, as we were on July 26, 1953," Castro said. The Moncada raid was a disaster for the rebels, and many of them were tortured and killed. But it helped make Fidel Castro the focus of opposition to Batista, whom he overthrew six years later after surviving prison and exile, transforming him into a hero for revolutionaries around the globe. Yet the youthful insurgents of 1953 and 1959, many of them now in their 80s, still hold key positions of power in Cuba. While Raul Castro has led a series of economic and political reforms, young leaders are just now beginning to emerge.
Earlier this year, 53-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel was named vice president and became the first person not of the revolutionary generation to hold the No. 2 spot. "The historic generation is giving way to the new saplings with tranquility and serene confidence, based on (their) demonstrated preparation and capacity for maintaining the revolution and socialism," Castro said. At Friday's ceremony, a giant banner hanging from the barracks with an image of Fidel Castro raising a triumphant fist was the only sign of the retired leader. A near-fatal intestinal illness forced him from office seven years ago, and he rarely appears in public these days.
In speeches, allied leaders recalled Moncada as an act that inspired rebellion, both armed and political, across the Americas in the decades that followed. "The history of Latin America can best be understood if we mark a before and an after the assault on the Moncada barracks," said Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino. "Fundamentally this was a revolution of dignity, of self-esteem for Latin Americans," said Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, who joined an armed leftist guerrilla group in his own country in the 1960s and was imprisoned for more than a decade. "It seeded us with dreams, it filled us with (the spirit of Don) Quixote." The July 26 holiday is sometimes used to make major announcements or address current affairs, but Castro hardly strayed from the past tense in a speech almost entirely focused on history. He did not mention a shipment of Cuban weaponry recently seized in Panama on its way to North Korea. Nor did he address the ongoing saga of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and his quest for asylum beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement.
And there was no new word about the future of Castro's reforms, which have seen changes such as the legalization of home and car sales, relaxed restrictions on foreign travel and limited openings for independent small businesses and cooperatives. One of the Cuban government's most outspoken critics, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, was unimpressed. "A nation cannot be represented and led by men who have more memories than projects," Sanchez tweeted.
Castro also extolled recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy walloped Santiago last year, and echoed common talking points such as Havana's demand that four Cuban agents sentenced to long prison terms in the United States on spy charges be returned. Meanwhile allies including Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega heaped praise on Havana and bashed capitalism and the United States, railing against "imperialism" and the 51-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba. "We condemn the criminal, illegal blockade perpetrated by the world's biggest power against our brother people," Patino said. "The backyard of the United States," he said, "is no longer in Latin America."

Cuba, Castro and Tony Oliva

You find Entronque de Herradura on a map and even today it looks as if this is the middle of nowhere. The village is located in Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province of Cuba, an area of mountains and lush valleys.Pedro and Anita Oliva had a farm of 150 acres, where they raised chickens and cows for food, and grew tobacco and other crops. Pedro earned a reputation in the area for having the finest touch for rolling cigars.There were 10 children, six boys and four girls. There was much work on the farm, but on Sundays, there was baseball.
''We would play three games ... play all day," Tony Oliva said. "After a while, I could hear the older men who were watching, talking in low voices to each other, saying, 'If that boy gets to Havana, he won't be back.' ''They were talking about me." Havana was the home to the four teams of the Cuban League. This was the best of baseball's winter leagues, with major leaguers such as Camilo Pascual pitching 300 innings for the Washington Senators and then coming home to pitch more than 100 in the offseason.
Roberto Fernandez Tapanes was an outfielder who played for the Havana Cubans in the Florida International League in the early 1950s. The founder of that team was Joe Cambria, who would become known as "Papa Joe" to the many Cuban players that he signed for the Washington Senators' organization. ''Fernandez Tapanes discovered me," Oliva said. "He would bring teams to play in our area on Sundays, and he saw me play in Palacios. I was hitting third for our team ... hitting good. He said to me, 'Would you want to play professional?' 'I thought he was talking about playing in Havana, in the Cuban League. I had listened to those games at night, on our scratchy radio, and had dreamed of being able to play there."
The conversation was taking place soon after Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, took power on Jan. 1, 1959. Fernandez Tapanes, along with Tony Oliva, and his parents, had no idea to the full extent of changes this would bring. Private land was seized and Pedro and Anita's farm went from 150 acres to a tiny plot, a couple of acres. In 1961, Castro outlawed professional sports, officially putting the end to a Cuban League filled with major leaguers.
Fernandez Tapanes introduced Oliva to Cambria, and Tony was in a last-ever group of Cubans (22 at the start) that Papa Joe would send to the Griffith organization -- freshly relocated to Minnesota. ''We left on April 9, 1961, and had to enter the U.S. through Mexico," Oliva said. "We were there for 10 days, before leaving for Florida on April 19." There was a considerable brouhaha in Cuba-U.S. relations during that period. The CIA-inspired and ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion had occurred on April 17. ''The Bay of Pigs was terrible for many people, but it's probably the reason I was able to play baseball in the United States," Tony said. Four of the Twins' six full-season minor league teams already had departed Fernandina Beach, Fla., when Papa Joe's final shipment of Cuban talent arrived.
''We worked out for five days and they told 10 of us to go home," Oliva said. "But we couldn't go home, because travel was shut down after the Bay of Pigs. I think Joe Cambria made a call for me."
The call was to Phil Howser, running the Class A Charlotte Hornets for the Griffiths. Oliva and two other Cubans were told to go to Charlotte and wait for further instructions.
''Minnie Mendoza was playing second base for Charlotte," Oliva said. "I owe a lot to him. He kept telling Phil Howser, 'Don't send Tony back. He's a great hitter.'?" Eventually, Howser placed Oliva with the short-season team in Wytheville, Va. Tony hit .410. He had a handful of September at-bats for the Twins in 1962 and 1963, and came to stay as the American League's Rookie of the Year and batting champion in 1964. Truly came to stay. He and his wife Gordette raised their family in Bloomington, and now that home is a gathering place for four children, and five grandchildren, and right now, siblings visiting Tony from Cuba. Tony and Gordette also visit his family most winters in Pinar del Rio. Tony turned 75 July 20, with a small birthday celebration on a deck at Target Field.
''We had a place in Miami for a few winters, but after two or three weeks, we would say, 'Let's go home,'" Tony said. "Minnesota, and also Cuba ... those are the only places where I feel like I'm home."
(Contact Patrick Reusse at Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,