Miami’s Las Damas de Preston raise thousands for families in Cuban town

For a group of Cuban women in Miami, the struggles of the families back home are not forgotten. They have raised about $10,000 to send back to the Communist island that they left behind decades ago. 

Rita Pinto, who is Local 10 News Nicole Perez’s grandmother, founded Las Damas de Preston, a group with nearly two dozen members. Most of them were born in the town of Preston, now known as Guatemala, in the province of Holguin. The poverty there haunts them.  

“We collect money and send it to Cuba, to Central Preston, our town, because people there are having a bad time,” Pinto said. “There is no money, no food, no clothes.”

For the last 11 years, their fundraisers include raffles of items made in Cuba and monthly luncheons at the Islas Canarias Restaurant near Westchester. Some six to seven families rely on their support. 

Pinto said she treasures the handwritten thank you letters that they receive from Cuba. Janet Talavera agrees and she enjoys that “old writing that is so classy from Cuba.” Rivero said the families’ gratitude drives her to continue the meetings.

“Preston has suffered a lot,” said Alicia Rivero, a Damas de Preston member. “We will continue [helping them] until we are so old we cannot come.” 


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Cuban exiles in Miami’s Little Havana view Cuban president as Castro’s puppet

After their afternoon cafecito, Cuban exiles in Miami’s Little Havana said they were convinced that Raul Castro’s successor Miguel Diaz-Canel is not going to challenge the island’s single-party system.

Juan Peña, a grandfather who was standing near the restaurant’s ventanita, is among the Cuban exiles who chalk up the transfer of power on Thursday to a shuffling of deck chairs on a boat that’s not changing course. 

Diaz-Canel “is the puppet,” Peña said. “He will be the puppet.”

Many at Versailles Restaurant, where there was a massive celebration when Fidel Castro died, viewed the Cuban National Assembly’s process as a political transition, but not as political change. They cautioned that any talk of political and economic reform is misguided. 

“It will be a person who was born after the Revolution and has ideas that are formed by that milieu,” Cuban exile Octavio Pino said. “But it is not a Castro, so the opportunities are there if we want to create that situation.” 

Octavio Pino believes Cubans living in the United States, who know the benefits of living in a Democracy, need to get more involved in Cuban politics. 

“The community here still goes there and visit their relatives,” Pino said. “But there has to be more of a connection.”

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Castro loyalist prepares to make history in Cuba

Miguel Diaz-Canel may prefer the Cuban guayavera shirt over the Cuban military fatigues, but if he becomes Cuba’s president later this month, the hand-picked apparatchik is likely to continue with Fidel Castro’s legacy of anti-Americanism.

Although it will be the first time Cuba’s Politburo won’t have a Castro leading both the presidency and the Communist Party, the new strategy will continue to protect Castro’s aim to “defend, maintain and continue to perfect socialism and not to destroy” the totalitarian regime.

Cuba’s new parliament is set to vote for the island’s new leadership April 19, a day before Diaz-Canel turns 58. He is expected to remain obedient to Castro, who will be the first secretary of Cuba’s Communist party until 2021.

The 86-year-old grandfather will continue to enjoy the protection of his 52-year-old son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, who controls the counterintelligence force with an iron fist. 

Diaz-Canel, the son of a plant worker in Santa Clara, will likely not interfere with the ruling elites. Instead, he will be busy adjusting Castro’s economic reforms and working on the possibility of a future transition out of the current dual currency system.

The disciplined Marxist and former university professor’s road to power was solidified when he became Castro’s Sierra Maestra loyalist Jose Ramon Machado Ventura’s protege. The trained electronic engineer served in the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ anti-aircraft missile unit, and was later the minister of higher education. 

When Diaz-Canel succeeded Machado Ventura as first vice president among five other vice presidents, he became the first Cuban born after Fidel Castro established his Communist dictatorship to reach that level of power.    

In 2013, Patrick Ventrell, the former spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said the promotion of Diaz-Canel did not signal a “fundamental change for Cuba,” and the U.S. wanted to see Cubans being able to “pick their own leaders in an open democratic process.”

Five years later, the feeling among U.S. officials is the same. There is plenty of evidence that Diaz-Canel has little desire to make an effort to normalize relations with the U.S.

Last year, Diaz-Canel was filmed telling leaders of the Communist Party that President Donald Trump’s administration was “offensive,” and Cuba should not have to make any concessions. He also accused Yoani Sanchez, a prominent digital journalist, and the dissenting relatives of political prisoners of working as well-funded “puppets” of the U.S. 

His rigidity and lack of interest in making improvements in the area of human rights signal his future refusal to extradite U.S. fugitives or to free political prisoners. He also seems to have a plan to target government critics. 

“The day we are able to cut the money, the counterrevolution is over,” Diaz-Canel said in a 2017 video published by CiberCuba on YouTube.

Diaz-Canel will take office as the island enjoys strong relationships with China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela, and just after John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser and Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the U.S. State Department.  

Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, considered Cuba to be part of the world’s “axis of evil,” a term used to describe terrorism-sponsoring states. Pompeo, the former director of the CIA, fervently opposed former President Barack Obama’s policy and criticized his 2016 visit to Havana.

It’s unclear if this will translate into a lack of cooperation on drug interdiction, immigration and anti-terrorism efforts. The U.S.-Cuba relationship is so icy that the White House has already announced Trump has no intentions of meeting with Castro during the Summit of the Americas April 13-14 in Peru. 

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Catamaran reported stolen in lower Keys spotted near Cuba, authorities say

A $350,000 catamaran sailboat that was reported stolen last week from Newfound Harbor in the Lower Keys has reportedly been spotted near Cuba, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Linhardt said Tuesday in a news release. 

According to Linhardt, multiple be-on-the-lookout alerts were sent out by sailing and boat groups via radio as well as on social media, which led to reports that the boat was spotted Saturday.

The boat was allegedly spotted after it tried to enter Marina Darsena Varadero, which is located on the north coast of Cuba at Veradero, Matanzas. 

Linhardt said the person or persons aboard the 2009, 40-foot Admiral Catamaran sailboat named Kaisosi apparently had no vessel papers or passports and were turned away.

“The Coast Guard Investigative Service and Sheriff’s Office were still working Tuesday to verify those reports, as well as determining for sure where the vessel is currently located, including any persons who may have been on board at the time it was reportedly spotted,” Linhardt said.  

Linhardt said the boat was last seen in the Florida Keys by a Little Palm Island employee who saw it traveling west toward Key West on Friday with its sails down. 

The boat’s owner had anchored it between Picnic Island and the southern point of Little Torch Key. 

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Cuban legend takes Grammy nominated artist under her wing

At 87, Omara Portuondo Pelaez, also known as the diva of the Buena Vista Social Club, is still recording in Havana. She is working on a new album with Aymee Nuviola, a Miami-based Cuban artist who deeply admires her.

The new album, which they have yet to name, will include a bit of Cuban son and cha-cha-chá. Nuviola is best known for playing Celia Cruz in a Spanish-language soap opera about the life of the Cuban-American singer who died in 2003.  

“The only person who I think would be able to do this is Omara,” Nuviola said in Spanish. “I have always had a strong connection with her.”

Nuviola, the 45-year-old two-time Grammy Award nominee said she is honored to have the opportunity to work with Portuondo, also the legendary founding member of the popular vocal group Cuarteto d’Aida. 

Portuondo is also very fond of Nuviola and said she is also grateful to have found “my little Lulu,” referring fondly to an American-Canadian animated series featuring a little girl with curly black hair. She said Nuviola earned the nickname because “she is a big deal.”

The two artists will be performing separate shows during Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Nuviola will be performing at 7:30 p.m., May 3. Tickets are $19 to $39. Portuondo will be performing at 8 p.m., May 8. Tickets are $19 to $69

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