Mariel 1980 and how I got reconnected with Cuba

By the late 1970’s, I had few reasons to think about Cuba.    I was not avoiding Cuba but I was not talking about it either.    Then, the Mariel boatlift began:

“On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day.”

By April 1980, the embassies of Argentina and Peru were flooded with Cubans looking for a way out of the island.

It became an international crisis and President Jimmy Carter issued a statement about the situation. He expressed concern about the safety and well being of the 10,800 Cubans at the Peruvian embassy.

Fidel Castro responded by calling on Cubans to leave if they didn’t support the revolution. Immediately, more Cubans rushed to the embassies.

It quickly became an embarrassment, as well as a logistics problem for embassies protecting hundreds of Cubans. Fidel Castro responded again and told Cubans to leave the island.

And thousands did.

Suddenly, Americans saw boats full of Cubans landing in Florida. It soon became a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Then-Rear Admiral Benedict L. Stabile, USCG related the story years later:

The size of the refugee flotilla was staggering.

Trailered boats were lined-up 50 to 100 deep at Key West, waiting their turn to be launched. This went on for 36 to 48 hours; local residence could hear the activity around the clock.

Hundreds of trailers were scattered throughout Key West.

One thousand craft were observed southbound on the afternoon of the 24th.

For the most part, these were Cuban Americans who owned their own boat, typically a 20 to 40 footer relatively well equipped for local pleasure boating.
Reportedly, the tanks in numerous craft had inadequate fuel capacity and the vessels were carrying additional fuel in portable containers.

This, the first wave, resulted in the transit of 1,000 to 1,200 boats to Mariel in relatively short order.

It went on for weeks!

Mariel brought thousands to the U.S. and most of them turned out to be very good additions to Florida. Unfortunately, there were some criminal elements but they were a very small number. Don’t judge “Marielitos” by Tony Montana of Scarface!

Years later, most of the “Marielitos” have contributed much to Miami and the U.S.

For me, Mariel was a turning point in rediscovering my Cuban roots. It reconnected me with the Cuban cause, especially since I saw boats and people leaving the same island that I left as a kid in 1964.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

April 1961: “The Bay of Pigs” a show from 2011 with Humberto Fontova, author

As my parents recall, much of Cuba was buzzing on this day 56 years ago about an invasion… my own father went into hiding for a few hours because of massive arrests… a missed opportunity is what many in their generation continue to say…

We recorded this chat with Humberto Fontova in 2011, or the 50th anniversary…

we discussed the preparations and the invasion itself…

of course, we salute and remember the courage of the men of Brigada 2506…

Click to listen:  The 50th anniversary of ‘The Bay of Pigs’! 04/17 by Silvio Canto Jr | Current Events Podcasts

Blame it on Fidel not the Cuban people

The latest Economic Freedom Index confirms who is prosperous and who is not.    It demonstrates that socialism makes you poor and that the rule of law is essential to progress.

There are 180 countries ranked in the index, and the last three are:

#178 Cuba

#179 Venezuela

#180 North Korea

Cuba’s ranking is remarkable, given that the Obama administration tried very hard to encourage business transactions with the island.  It made it easier for companies to start operations in Cuba and encourage tourism as well.

Nevertheless, Cuba’s still a lousy place to do business.  Why?  Because it is still the same communist dictatorship that it was on the day the Obama administration started talking to Castro’s regime.

How is Cuba going to change if the corrupt regime doesn’t change?  I hope President Trump understands that.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Governor Christie wants the cop killer back in New Jersey


Thanks to Carlos Eire, we were reminded of the story of Joanne Chesimard, a radical and violent leftist.   She was convicted in the 1970’s of killing a New Jersey state trooper and then escaped to Cuba.

Joanne then became Assata Shakur and was granted political asylum in Cuba.   More than that, she became the darling of the revolution or the black woman who represented everything racist and evil about the US.    It was pathetic.

We are happy to see that Governor Christie wants to bring her to justice, as we read a couple of days ago:

In 2015, when then-President Barack Obama reopened relations between the United States and Cuba, there was hope that Chesimard would be returned to finish her life sentence. But she remains free today, even though the Obama administration said her return would be part of diplomatic negotiations with the communist regime.

Appearing Friday night on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Christie said “it’s outrageous” that Chesimard lives in freedom, and he pressed the administration of President Donald Trump to fight for her extradition to the U.S.

“I hope that what the Trump Administration is going to do is, before we take any further steps with a relationship with Cuba, that they say, ‘Listen, first and foremost, return this fugitive from justice back to New Jersey so that she can rightfully serve the rest of her term for murdering a police officer,’” said Christie, a friend and supporter of Trump.

“I think this is something that Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson and others in the Trump Administration should make a top priority in any dealings they have with Cuba,” Christie added.

Indeed it should be a top priority!

The Chesimard case is exhibit A of everything that was wrong with President Obama’s deal with the Castro regime.

Unfortunately, the Obama team did not demand her release, or frankly anything at all.   Mr. Obama desperately wanted a deal rather than look out for the US, or in this case the family of a police officer killed by a terrorist.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

1977: Another president tried to work with Cuba

DuplomacyII-X carter fidel

In 2012, President Obama started secret talks with the Castro regime.

We remember today another president who tried to work with Cuba:

When Carter took office in 1977, he indicated to Cuba that the United States was prepared to enter into direct diplomatic negotiations on a number of issues, including fishing rights.

On March 24, 1977, negotiators from the United States and Cuba met in New York City to discuss the fishing issue. It was the first time since 1961 that U.S. and Cuban officials had talked face to face on any issue. In the months that followed, other breakthroughs occurred.

The two nations agreed to establish “interest sections” in the other’s country that would operate as de facto embassies pending the restoration of full diplomatic relations. Castro freed some political prisoners and Carter eased travel restrictions to Cuba.

These were encouraging signs, but many factors worked together to prevent any progress toward normalized relations.

The strong and vocal Cuban-American community in the United States pressured congressmen and the president to back away from closer relations with Castro. Officials within Carter’s administration cautioned the president about appearing too “soft” with the communist dictator.

When Carter suffered a series of diplomatic setbacks in 1979, such as the fall of the pro-American leaders of Nicaragua and Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he began to toughen his stance with Cuba.

He criticized Cuba for its role in the Angolan civil war, and warned Castro about allowing Soviet troops into Cuba. Castro responded to these new attacks in a novel manner.

In early 1980 he encouraged tens of thousand of Cubans, some from jails and asylums, to immigrate to the United States. Over 100,000 Cubans flooded into the United States, causing some serious problems, particularly in south Florida.

By the end of 1980, U.S.-Cuban relations were as acrimonious as ever.

President Carter learned a bitter lesson by the end of his term. Unlike President Obama, President Carter unplugged the talks and walked away. Castro reacted by being Castro, or a leader who never negotiated in good faith.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

“El sinker” and the end of “Fidel beisbol”

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For non-baseball fans, the “sinker” is a wicked pitch that breaks down and fools the hitter.     The major leagues is full of good pitchers who throw the sinker and force batters to hit ground balls to end scoring threats.    “The sinker” is a cousin of the curve and slider, two other wicked pitches that have broken lots of hearts over the years.

Cuba went 1-2 in the first and 0-3 in the second round.   They were eventually eliminated by the Netherlands, a team with major leaguers like Jurickson Profar, Didi Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, and several pitchers with major or AAA experience.   I don’t know how many of these players have ever been to the Netherlands but they’ve spent their last summers with the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Can you imagine the poor Cuban manager?   He is a veteran of international competition.  He must have been looking at his squad and longing for the days when they played junior college teams from the U.S. and amateur baseball clubs from the world.     There were no Profars, Gregoriuses, or Bogaerts in those old Dutch teams!

There were no “sinkers” in those tournaments!

So what happened to Cuban baseball?  Why was Cuba dispatched so easily this time around?

The first reason is competition, or as someone said this is not “Los Pan Americanos” or those amateur Pan American Games where Cuban teams beat up teams over the years.

Am I the only person who saw Cuban hitters rattled by “breaking” pitches that they had never seen before?  In the past, these hitters hit doubles.  Today, they are ground balls that turn into easy double plays.

“La curva or el sinker” will get you everytime, specially if you don’t see it on a regular basis!

The second reason is defections. In other words, most of the best young players defect as soon as they have a chance.

Ben Strauss wrote about it last year when the Rays played an exhibition game in Havana. By the way, he is referring to earlier tournaments not the 2017 WBC. The results are the same:

According to one estimate, 150 Cuban ballplayers defected last year, leaving the national team’s ranks awfully thin.

The Cuban team, once an international powerhouse, has been underperforming lately.

It won a bronze medal in last year’s Pan-American games in Toronto, but lost in the quarterfinals of the Premiere 12 tournament last fall in Asia.

Earlier this year, in the Caribbean Series tournament, the Cuban team posted just a 1-4 record.

Adding insult to injury, the last remaining superstar in Cuba, Yulieski Gourriel, defected after the Caribbean Series in February with his brother, Lourdes Jr., a promising young player.


I guess that word is out in Cuba that “los Yankis” will pay you well to play ball.  So long to playing for “la patria” or the Cuban way.

Before his death last year, I used to hear my father’s stories of major leaguers playing in the pre-Castro winter league.  My dad saw a very young Willie Mays and Brooks Robinson right before they became regulars with their teams.

Cuban baseball was really good back then because you were facing major league talent, as you can learn from the great book “The Pride of Havana.

Cuban baseball is not the best anymore, another consequence of “socialismo.”

Regime change will bring freedom to the island and introduce  “el sinker” to Cuban baseball.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

1996: A deadly weekend for US citizens over international waters



Thank you to all of my fellow contributors for remembering the terrible events of February 1996.   Let me add a couple of thoughts:

This incident was a low point in U.S.-Cuba relations.  The U.S.-registered aircraft were destroyed while looking for rafters in international waters.  Cuba had no reason to shoot down planes on a humanitarian mission.

Furthermore, Cuba has never taken responsibility for this lawless action.

Nevertheless, a U.S. flag now flies in Cuba, not far from where dissidents continue to be arrested.

And no one reminded President Obama that Cuba has never fulfilled the requirements that President Clinton and the U.S. Congress imposed after the shooting:

to work with Congress to pass the so-called Helms-Burton legislation which would tighten the existing U.S. embargo against Cuba.

The president said he would ask Congress to permit him to use some of the approximately $100 million in frozen Cuban assets in the U.S. to compensate the families of the four missing Cuban-American pilots and crew members.

Clinton also announced additional punitive measures, among them:

tighter restrictions on the movement of Cuban officials in the United States; efforts to increase funding to help the U.S. government’s Radio Marti overcome Cuba’s jamming of its broadcasts; suspension of all commercial charter flights between the U.S. and Cuba.


Yes, many of President Obama’s overtures toward Cuba violated what Congress passed in 1996.    Then again, did President Obama ever care about the law?

What happens when a hostile country shoots U.S. citizens on a humanitarian mission? I guess that you reestablish relations and don’t demand accountability.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.


“Clean sheets” not the embargo is the reason tourists go somewhere else




Our friend Carlos Eire alerted us to the article about tourism problems in Cuba.

Let me tell you about a Dallas couple that just went to Cuba.    They were curious and took a trip to see the island.   We spoke recently about it and the trip was not really what they expected.   In other words, Cuba lacks the infrastructure that Cancun, Jamaica and other places have.

Not a shock, frankly.

Cuba is not ready to handle U.S. tourists who are accustomed to better facilities in Cancun or Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. After all, who wants to go on vacation to an island with 1959 infrastructure? Cuba’s communist system spent a lot of money on the military, prisons and telling gullible U.S. college professors about their health care programs. Unfortunately, they did little to improve such basics as water pipelines, the electricity grid or having hotels with clean sheets.

There is another reason. Cuba is competing with countries that have been marketing to U.S. tourists for decades.

It all reminds me of a conversation I had with an older couple years ago. They went to Varadero, Cuba for their honeymoon. The lady said that Cuba was a popular honeymoon destination back in the 1950s. Back then, the hotels were private and well run, the restaurants were first class and hygiene was not a problem.

Cuba today is not that way. It won’t be that way for a long time. So don’t expect a lot of Americans to go to Cuba.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

“Yankis go home” is now “Yankis to the rescue”

mckee cuba obama you drive a hard bargain

Some of us are old enough to remember the “yankis go home” placards in Cuba.    Today, we learned that American Airlines opened an office in Havana:

American Airlines formally opened an office in Havana on Wednesday, and an executive said the company will move ahead with its plans for Cuba despite uncertainty over what President Donald Trump’s administration will bring.

The inauguration of the office came two months after American Airlines flew the first scheduled commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana in more than 50 years. Several airlines had begun routes to other Cuban cities earlier and before that there were costly charter flights.

The U.S. company said the flight and the office reflected the company’s commitment to doing business on the island after President Barack Obama initiated detente with Cuba.

This is shameful and it may be even illegal given the embargo.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Where were the marches about the Cubans?

obama handshake raul castro

The airports are a bit crowded today with people protesting President Trump’s latest executive order.

Yet, they were empty when President Obama blocked the Cubans, or for that matter when Mexico deported some back to the island.

Rep. Diaz Balart of South Florida pointed out the double standard:

Obama on January 12 ended the nation’s “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy which for the past two decades had allowed Cubans to remain legally in the United States if they were able to set foot on U.S. land.
The Cuban government had been seeking an end to the policy and it followed Obama’s decision to renew diplomatic and economic ties with the country, which is still controlled by a dictatorship.

We ask again: what happened to the self righteous marchers? The answer is that George Soros did not want to pay for a march against President Obama.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

Week 1: Trump reverses an abortion policy


This is good news, especially if you believe that abortion is wrong.

President Trump reversed one of President Obama’s most odious executive orders on abortion:

President Trump on Monday reversed the Obama administration’s 2009 decision that let the money flow. The decision means nonprofits abroad will have to end patient counseling in which abortion is mentioned or forgo U.S. dollars.
The rule is known as the “Mexico City policy” by its supporters and the “global gag rule” by its foes. It was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan during a conference in Mexico City in 1984.

Elections have consequences.    Hillary Clinton would not have signed this order.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.

The Abolition of the Wet Foot-Dry Foot Immigration Policy Not A Bad Move

Following is my latest letter-to-the-editor that the Washington Times published on January 20, 2017.

Mr. Antonio Benedí bemoans the repeal of the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy by President Obama (“Obama’s betrayal of the Cuban people,” Web, Jan. 17). Said policy puts Cubans who reach U.S. soil on a fast track to permanent residency. He and I disagree on this issue.

First, let’s correct the record. Mr. Benedí indicates that this policy was put in place in response to former President Bill Clinton’s handling of the Elian Gonzalez incident. This is simply not factual. The policy was started in 1995 by President Clinton as a preventive measure against a mass exodus of Cuban refugees after Fidel Castro threatened another exodus of Cubans to protest the U.S. embargo. The Elian Gonzalez incident took place in 2000, long after the policy was firmly in place.

President Obama’s decision to abolish the “wet foot, dry foot” rule was the right one to take, and it’s been long overdue. When most Cubans who benefitted from this policy in the past returned to Communist Cuba repeatedly after obtaining their residency by living for one year and one day in the United States, it transformed them from political refugees to economic immigrants. They ceased to be “political refugees” — people afraid to return to their home countries for fear their lives would be endangered. To afford these Cubans special privileges that were denied immigrants of other nationalities was in itself discriminatory and challenging to our fair-play values. So kudos to President Obama for ending this “pachanga” once and for all.

To restore freedom and democracy to Communist Cuba, it is the Cubans who have to trigger a ‘Cuban Spring.’ The “wet foot, dry foot” policy provided an escape valve to shirk this responsibility. It provided the Cuban government with a lifeline into the future by getting rid of most of the regime’s dissenters. Those dissidents who remained in Cuba were then either locked up in Cuban gulags or killed by Communist thugs. With the repeal of the policy, there will be enough dissidents in Cuba to provide the spark for the liberation movement that will untie the chains that have oppressed Cuban citizens for over 57 years.

To view Mr. Benedí’s op-ed, click on

Obama throws Cubans to the sharks



We are just starting to live with the change implemented by the Obama administration. It’s a whole new game for people coming from the island.      There is even confusion at airports, as we’ve seen reported in these pages.

This is from the Augusta Chronicle:

Obama said in a White House statement that Cuban migrants now will be treated “the same way we treat migrants from other countries.”

Really? Like the migrants who practically cartwheel across our porous border with Mexico every day? The difference is, Cuban refugees face certain political persecution upon their return to Cuba.

This is amazing.

Over the last few years, the Obama administration has watched thousands of people walk over the border without penalty.    We were told that it was in our humane tradition to take people looking for a new opportunity or running away from cartel violence in Central America.

I guess not sending them back to Guatemala is humane but people from Cuba should go back.   Really, Mr. President?

My sense is that this is a cheap shot against Cuban Americans, who put Donald Trump over the top in Florida.   

President Obama’s embrace of the Castro dictatorship did not go over well and Cuban Americans decided to vote GOP!       

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.


Obama’s timing on Cubans raises some questions

mckee cuba obama you drive a hard bargain

(My new American Thinker post)

Over the last few years, many of my Latin American friends have asked the same question: Why do you Cubans get preferential treatment?

The answer is complex but it is based on the reality that we come from a communist dictatorship devoid of any human rights. In other words, things may be bad in Mexico but they have multiparty elections and a free press. Mexican immigrants are usually looking for economic opportunities not political freedom.

Also, to be fair, it is also true that Cubans are concentrated in Florida, a state with the third largest electoral votes on the map.

On Thursday, President Obama decided to cancel the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that has allowed Cubans to claim legal status if they make it here.

My initial reaction was twofold:

First, why now? We will have a new president in a week. Why make this decision at this stage of the transition? Was Mr. Trump consulted?

This decision puts president-elect Trump in a difficult position. He can accept the decision and irritate the Cuban-Americans who put him over the top in Florida, or he can restore special treatment of Cubans and risk attacks that other immigrants are being treated differently.

Second, can President Obama even do this? Can a President reverse an immigration policy? Didn’t his executive order about “the dreamers” run into a wall last year?

What happens now? My guess is that some human rights group will challenge the decision because no one knows what will happen to the Cubans returned, as Senator Marco Rubio indicated.

Also, did President Obama get any concessions from Raul Castro that these Cubans won’t be treated like “traitors” when they go back? In the past, returning Cubans have been targeted by the regime.

My hope is that President Trump reverses Obama’s decision and calls on Cuba to make some concessions, such as a guarantee that these Cubans will not be targeted. It could be part of a new deal with Cuba that is based on helping the Cuban people rather than making a deal for the sake of making a deal.

P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.