Beloved wife, philanthropist, Cuban patriot, and "mom" to many, Maria Juana Cohen dies

I want to thank everyone for the countless expressions of sympathy I have received in the last few days. I decided to put politics and other musings on the back-burner and have maintained somewhat of a “radio silence” of sorts since Thursday night when I received word of María Juana Cohen’s grave condition. I took the first possible flight out of Tallahassee into San Diego, but unfortunately arrived too late. She died before I arrived, but I was able to make it to the burial and spend some time of reflection with her husband Salomón who has gone above and beyond for me over the years and has been like a father.

Continue reading

Remembering the Great Olga Guillot, una gloria de Cuba

Olga Guillot
1922-2010
When I was sixteen years old, I was talked into “dancing” a “quinces,” which to those of you non-Cubans reading this, is the equivalent of a sweet sixteens, but for a fifteen year-old and much, much tackier. The dancing part of it is a uniquely tacky (again) Cuban tradition where thirty of the birthday girl’s closest friends (15 guys and 15 girls) do a few routines to usher in her grand entrance. The choreographer hired to put this hilarious production together is usually a recently-arrived flamboyant middle-aged Cuban who at one point or another claims to have danced for the famous Havana Tropicana Night Club before emigrating.

But I digress.

So, I was talked into making a royal fool of myself by a high school friend of mine way back in the day because I figured that every good Cuban teenager should be subjected to this unique form of humiliation. The last few weeks before the party, the rehearsals were held at the venue where the party was slated to take place: the Four Ambassadors Hotel ballroom. Next door to the ballroom was an upscale dinner club called Scala.

During one of our long, annoying rehearsals, I snuck out to take a break and heard singing coming from the Club next door. It was Olga Guillot.

Most 16 year-olds wouldn’t know who Olga Guillot was, much less sounded like, but I knew. I’ve always been an old soul, as most of my friends would attest. So I peaked into the front door of the club, and apparently the crack of the door threw Olga off, she stopped, and said, “eh, pero quien esta ahi?” (who’s there?)

So I came in, introduced myself, and she asked me to stay for the remaining minutes of her rehearsal because she wanted to talk to me afterward. So I did. Meanwhile, the rehearsal for the “quinces” was going on next door, sans me, which I’m sure relieved the choreographer I made a habit of publicly mocking.

After Olga finished rehearsing, she sat with me, asked me who I was and how a sixteen year-old like me would know who she was. So I explained that I have always held Cuban tradition and culture close to my heart, grew up listening to her music, was essentially raised by my grandparents, etc.

The result: we stayed there talking for nearly two hours, and the only reason I cut it short was because my ride was there to pick me up at a time certain.

We talked about everything from my family, her story, to even politcs. Back then, Bill Clinton was president, and she had very few nice things to say about him. She said she loved and missed the great Ronald Reagan and lamented the fact that we would never see another one like him. Not only was she a Cuban patriot, but she was also a solid, bedrock conservative who was able to articulate conservative principles better than most politicians.

My favorite story she shared that day was how she was performing in some Latin-American country, and thinking that she would be honored with his presence, the owner of the place she was performing at excitedly told her that the ambassador of Cuba was in the audience. Upon hearing this, she informed him in no uncertain terms that she would not perform so long has he was in the audience. Mind you, this was in the early days of her exile from Cuba when she was not exactly financially set and every gig was vital to make ends meet. But she would not relent. The result: staff had to ask the communist ambassador to leave so Olga could perform.

There were similar stories to that, including ones where agents of the Castro dictatorship actually plotted to assasinate her several times unsuccesfully, of course.

I saw Olga socially several other times after our initial meeting at the Four Ambassadors, including at Republican fundraisers and patriotic rallies, but mainly at Versailles Restaurant in Miami, where she was a regular patron.

If you were ever having a meal at Versailles and all of a sudden the entire restaurant burst into applause, it is very likely because Olga Guillot walked in. I have eaten there more times than I care to recount, and have seen everyone from politicians and prominent journalists, to Grammy Award-winning superstars (i.e., Gloria Estefan). The only person whose entrance would provoke spontaneous applause in that Miami landmark was Olga Guillot.

And every time, I would go up to her, I would say hello, and she would remember me.

***

There are going to be countless obituaries and honors written to this grande dame of song, about how she was a pioneer at a time when no female artist could sell records in Latin-America, about how she was and always will be the queen of Bolero, and how she was a stalwart Cuban patriot and defender of America, which is all an understatement.

I just wanted to honor her in my own way by sharing my personal story about this great lady. May the Lord bless her soul, and may her music and love for liberty endure forever.

Apartheid South Africa Kills Nelson Mandela!

How would the world react to such a headline if South Africa’s unjust apartheid system were still in effect today? How and to what extent would the mainstream media report this news? What would the United Nations say? How about the United States administration or congress?

Well, obviously that did not happen. South Africa eventually transitioned into a Democracy, Nelson Mandela was freed, and he even served as president of the nation that once imprisoned him.

Although South Africans deserve a great deal of credit for the democratization if their country, there is little doubt that international efforts aided in that transition.

The United States, for example, passed the Comprehensive Antiapartheid Act. The legislation was an embargo of sorts that banned trade and investments in South Africa as a punitive measure against the government’s unjust institutional racism. Direct flights between South Africa and the United States were also banned.

Sound familiar?

It should. The embargo that resulted from the United States Comprehensive Antiapartheid Act is very similar to the Cuban embargo.

The Antiapartheid Act was controversial at the time, since the United States was embroiled in a Cold War, and although it was an unjust regime, the Apartheid government was generally anti-Soviet. Regardless, the embargo legislation passed with support from both sides, especially from the Congressional Black Caucus. And rightfully so.

Yet today, most if not all the members of the congressional black caucus deride the Cuban embargo as unjust and want to see it lifted. Others in congress do, too.

They call for closer economic and diplomatic ties with the Cuban government as it commits acts eerily similar to the fake Mandela headline above.

Case in point: a few days ago, a Cuban political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, was allowed to die when he went on a hunger strike to protest the repeated beatings and other blatant abuses by Castro’s thug prison guards.

According to reports, the black Cuban was denied liquids by his captors as a punitive measure for daring to go on a hunger strike, and in the ultimate act of cruelty, his family was denied the opportunity to visit him during his final days.

After his death, supporters and friends were forbidden from paying their last respects at his funeral.

Meanwhile, nowhere outside Miami has the mainstream media reported this, the Castro-friendly Congressional Black Caucus and other congressional so-called “leaders” continue calling for the lift of the embargo on Cuba, and countless other political prisoners, including the black doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, continue rotting in Soviet-style Cuban gulags–not in some faraway continent, but in our very own. 90 miles away.