Friday, August 21, 2015

More Good News, Roosevelt Island F Train Service To And From Manhattan This Weekend -That's 5 In A Row

According to the MTA Weekender, there will be Roosevelt Island F train service

to and from Manhattan this weekend.

That's 5 in a row weekends of Roosevelt Island F train service to and from Manhattan.

F Trains run local in both directions between 21 St-Queensbridge and 71 Av

Weekend, 12:01 AM Sat to 5 AM Mon, Aug 22 - 24

Trains stop at 36, Steinway, 46 Sts, Northern Blvd, 65 St, Roosevelt, Elmhurst, Grand Avs, Woodhaven Blvd, 63 Dr and 67 Av.

Roosevelt Island Median Monthly Rents On The Rise According To Zumper NYC Neighborhood Analysis - $3,000 For 1 Bedroom, 3940 For 2 Bedroom

From the Roosevelt Island Twitterverse:

Real Estate web site Zumper reports:
This summer, New York City remained the second most expensive rental market in the country as the median price for a one bedroom remained steady at $3,100, while two bedrooms commanded $3,600. Despite a flat quarter, rent prices in the city have increased 3.3% and 2.9% for one and two beds in the past year, respectively....
Image From Zumper

Roosevelt Island is not pictured in the Zumper map above - somehow missing in the East River.

But, according to the Zumper Top 60 NYC Neighborhood Median Rent Chart, Roosevelt Island moved up 12 spots to number 28 with a median rent for 1 bedroom apartment of $3,000 and $3,940 for a 2 bedroom apartment.
Image From Zumper

Here's the full Zumper Top 60 NYC Neighborhood Median Rental Map.

Time Out NY adds:
... When it comes to New York neighborhoods, the areas that saw the highest rent increases this year were buzzy nabes Greenpoint and Gowanus, both with an average price of $2,600 and on-the-rise Roosevelt Island, where one-bedrooms now cost an average of $3,000 a month. Apparently, "Freedom From Rehabilitating Rent" is not one of the ones included in Four Freedoms Park...
Is this a NYC rental bubble? If yes, when will it burst?

Mongolian Throat Singing Under A Roosevelt Island Tree -You Never Know What You May Find On Roosevelt Island

Nature Ganganbaigal: Mongolian throat singing from Taeko Itabashi on Vimeo.

Come To Rick's Cafe At Roosevelt Island Summer Outdoor Movie Showing Of Casablanca Saturday August 22 Firefighters Field - Could Be The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship

 View From Above July 11, 2015 Mary Poppins Roosevelt Island Firefighters Field Outdoor Movie

The 2015 Roosevelt Island Outdoor Summer Movie Series at Firefighters Field

 Image Of July 12,2014 Showing Of Marvel's The Avengers At Firefighters Field

is showing Casablanca Saturday night August 22 starting at 7 PM.

According to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC):
This Saturday, August 22, 2015, bring your friends and family to join us for our second to last screening of this year’s Outdoor Summer Movie Series! We have screened many marvelous films, but we couldn’t forget the all-time classic Casablanca!

Before the movie begins there will be music, trivia, prizes and much more! You are welcomed to bring blankets and lawn chairs. There will be food on-site, available for purchase. The fun will take place at Firefighter’s Field beginning at 7 PM (across the street from the Tram).

Schedule of remaining screenings this summer:

Friday September 4th: Singin’ in the Rain (Rain Date: TBA)

This free event is sponsored by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation.
Come see a classic movie and enjoy the fantastic Roosevelt Island views. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You're Invited To Summer Jazz With Art Baron & Friends Today At Roosevelt Island's FDR Four Freedoms Park 6-8 PM

According to the FDR Four Freedoms Park:

Summer Jazz with Art Baron & Friends

Thursday, August 20, 2015

6:00pm 8:00pm

Renowned jazz musician, Art Baron, will regale Park visitors with the sounds of the Harlem Renaissance and the jazz-age. (Rain date: Thursday, August 27th.)


About Art Baron

Art Baron is an American jazz trombonist. He also plays didgeridoo, conch shell, penny-whistle, alto and bass recorder, and tuba. Baron is an alumnus of the Berklee College of Music. He joined the Duke Ellington band in August 1973, at the age of 23, during the last year Ellington led the band, and was the last trombonist Ellington ever hired. He leads The Duke's Men, a band made up of Duke Ellington band alumni. He has performed and/or recorded with Buddy Rich, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Illinois Jacquet, Sam Eckhardt, Roswell Rudd, Mel Tormé, Charlie Musselwhite, Andy Harlow, Fontella Bass, Sam Rivers, Glen Velez, John Tchicai, Wilber Morris, Alan Silva, George Gruntz, Joey DeFrancesco, Bobby Watson, Elliott Sharp, Annea Lockwood, Matt Glaser, Cyro Baptista, and She & Him. Baron lives in New York City.
Here's some Art Baron & Friends playing in 2010.

Pedestrian Bridge From Roosevelt Island To Long Island City Proposed For New Mulit Million Square Foot Queens Waterfront Project

The Twitterverse reports today

According to Politico NY:
... The bridge is envisioned as something akin to the High Line — a path for pedestrians and cyclists with views of Manhattan's skyline and space to sit and unwind. On the Roosevelt Island side it would land near the site of Cornell Tech, the applied sciences school that will dominate the south end of the island.

"Part of the presentation includes renderings for an iconic bridge that connects the new, under-development campus on Roosevelt Island to Queens, which would hopefully attract more economic activity," one source said.

"We are intrigued by the idea of connecting the campus and Roosevelt Island to Queens," said Meghan French, a spokeswoman for Cornell Tech. "It's exciting that the campus is sparking ideas like this. We expect to be an active player in Queens economic development and look forward to learning more and discussing the proposal with other stakeholders."...
Google Maps Image Of Site For Proposed Development Including Pedestrian Bridge To Roosevelt Island

Politico NY adds that the Queens site is located at Vernon B'lvd and 44th drive just north of the Queensboro Bridge.

It appears that the Roosevelt Island site for the pedestrian bridge would have to be in Southpoint Park,

controlled by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) and, ultimately the Governor of NY State.

Do you remember the proposed Trilogy skyscraper project,

lovingly referred to as the Roosevelt Island Tower of Death by Curbed, that was developed by Italian architectural students in 2007. Though only an academic study, it included a pedestrian bridge from Southpoint Park over the East River to Manhattan.

Also, the Hunter College Access RI project included a pedestrian bridge to Manhattan too.

UPDATE 2 PM - Of course, the Roosevelt Island Bridge

Image From Wikipedia

already connects to Long Island City at 36th Avenue and has a pedestrian pathway.

UPDATE 2:45 PM - According to a RIOC Spokesperson:
... the pedestrian bridge connecting Roosevelt Island to Long Island City described in article has not been vetted or even proposed to RIOC.
UPDATE 5:45 PM - According to The Real Deal:
A team of investors led by Bruce Teitelbaum, the former chief of staff to ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is pitching an ambitious mixed-use project based around 44-02 Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City....
Politico NY adds:
... In his pitches, Teitelbaum has relied on the appeal of connecting the increasingly popular waterfront area of Queens to the new graduate school, the sources said....
Mr. Teitelbaum is the husband of NYC Super Lobbyist Suri Kasirer whose Kasirer Consulting represents Cornell Tech. The Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech graduate school engineering campus, scheduled to open in 2017, is directly across the East River from Mr. Teitlelbam's proposed Long Island City development project and adjacent to Southpoint Park.

UPDATE 8/21 -  Alicia Glen, NYC deputy mayor for housing and economic development,  discussed the project in an interview with Politico NY yesterday:
... "It is a very ambitious, aggressive plan," she said. "There's some interesting ideas contained in it. We said we would like to continue to work with them to shape the idea. As presented to us, we thought the scale was a little large even by our standards, and you know we're known to be pro density and pro height.

"We thought it was a little out of scale," she said.

Glen said the city is also unsure to whom it would sell the lot on which the D.O.E. building sits.

"There's so many moving pieces in that transaction they're a long way from it coming together," she said....
Click here for the full Politico NY article.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wafels & Dinges Food Truck Wednesday Night At Roosevelt Island - Will You Have One?

The Wafels & Dinges Food Truck was back on Roosevelt Island for its regular Wednesday night visit

on the West Promenade opposite Starbucks tonight.

Did you have one?

Lawsuit Alleges Mentally Ill Coler Hospital Patient Beaten By Roosevelt Island Public Safety Dep't In May 2014 Returns Next Day To Attack Former Related Mgmt Riverwalk Condo Manager - Also, Homeless Policy Of Catch And Release On Roosevelt Island

According to the NY Daily News:

The NY Daily News reports that former Riverwalk Condo Manager for Related Management Gerard Martin alleges:
... he contacted the security force about homeless people congregating in bushes near a children's playground outside Riverwalk and for the first time, the guards asked for him to help rousting the homeless.

One homeless man — beaten by the guards with batons and dragged from the bushes — "locked eyes" with him "while muttering incoherent words,” according to the suit.

Martins thought the man was being taken into custody, but instead, was dumped on a nearby street, despite the fact that the man was wearing clothes bearing stamps from Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital, according to the suit.

The man, Gerad Moses, was a mentally ill escapee from the hospital who returned to Riverwalk the next day and savagely beat Martin for up to 10 minutes before running off, the suit said....
... Martin contends that the security force's “catch and release” policy and its failure to notify the NYPD of crimes related to the homeless population created an environment where there was “insufficient security.”...
Click here for the entire NY Daily News article.

In response to my inquiry about the matter, a Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) spokesperson said:
No comment other than RIOC has not received lawsuit papers.

AARP New York Celebrates 80th Birthday Of Social Security Act At Roosevelt Island's FDR Four Freedoms Park

On August 14, Roosevelt Island's FDR Four Freedoms Park hosted the AARP New York  celebration of President Franklin D Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act.

From the Roosevelt Island Twitterverse:

Here's President Roosevelt's August 14, 1935 speech after signing the Social Security Act

and a July 23, 2015 commemorative anniversary event on the past and future outlook of Social Security.

Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech Jobs Available - Finance Specialist For Capital Projects, Ass't Director Financial Operations & Ass't Director Student Services

The Twitterverse reports on these jobs available at Cornell Tech currently operating at the Google HQ and opening their Roosevelt Island campus in 2017.
Finance Specialist for Capital Projects:

Cornell Tech is in the process of developing a new campus on Roosevelt Island. The project included the demolition of the existing buildings on the site, installation of new site-wide utilities & landscape, and the construction of multiple new buildings – with scope including academic, residential, conference and corporate co-location functions. The first phase of the project will be open in 2017.

This position includes primary responsibility for tracking, monitoring, updating, and forecasting capital projects for Cornell Tech. Prepares financial reports summarizing status of all aspects of capital project including but not limited to budgets, P&Ls, and cash flow. Ensures quality control of financial data. Easily synthesizes and summarizes large amounts of financial data. Identifies and communicates trends including potential overages or available funding. Coordinates with Cornell Tech capital project team and other units in Cornell Ithaca to gather and communicate financial information. Prepares information for presentation to various Cornell boards and other governing bodies. Coordinates with external partners including third party developers, city government/ agencies, and other constituents as needed, and provides clear and accurate reports. Prepare documents for reimbursement from city or other organizations as needed. Prepare gift funding reports for donors...
Click here for more info and to apply.

Assistant Director, Financial Operations:
Cornell Tech develops pioneering leaders and technologies for the digital age. Cornell Tech brings together faculty, business leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and students in a catalytic environment to produce visionary results grounded in significant needs that will reinvent the way we live in the digital age.

A hallmark of Cornell Tech is a rapid pace of change and growth which serve as opportunities to pursue excellence and improvement, not merely scale. We iterate to learn quickly from our activities and to improve our programs and ways of working. We further expect our organizational structure to continue change, given the pace of our activities and programs and our iterative learning process. We see Cornell Tech serving as a model organization for our students, demonstrating the operations of a highly effective, dynamic, information-age organization.

We seek an experienced Assistant Director to play a critical role in growing and evolving the financial management and operations of the campus. This role reports to the Senior Director of Administration....
Click here for more info and to apply.

Assistant Director of Enrollment & Student Services Data:
We seek an experienced Assistant Director to play a critical role in growing and evolving the enrollment management strategy and operations for student services of the campus. This role reports to the Senior Director of Enrollment and Student Services.
Click here for more info and to apply.

Good luck.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

2016 $1 Million Participatory Budgeting Neighborhood Assembly Comes To Roosevelt Island August 19 Says NYC Council Member Ben Kallos - Come Suggest Your Million Dollar Idea For Roosevelt Island

Last April, Roosevelt Island's PS/IS 217 Green Roof proposal won $500 hundred thousand in 2015 NYC Participatory Budget funds from our Council Member Ben Kallos.

Tomorrow, you have a chance to recommend a Roosevelt Island project to win up to $1 Million as Council Member Kallos begins the 2016 Participatory Budgeting process.

According to Mr. Kallos:
Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. In other words, the people who pay taxes decide how tax dollars get spent. Participatory budgeting is grassroots democracy at its best. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions - because who better knows the needs of our community than the people who live there?...
You can learn more at:
Neighborhood Assembly for Participatory Budgeting
Wednesday, August 19, 2015 - 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Chapel of the Good Shepherd
543 Main Street
New York, NY 10044
and from Council Member Kallos' Participatory Budgeting web page.

Here's what happened at the October 2014 Roosevelt Island Participatory Budgeting Assembly.

Nike NYC Train Tuesday Pop Up Work Out Event Tonight At Roosevelt Island's FDR Four Freedoms Park - Participants Meeting At Manhattan Tram Station In Middle Of Rush Hour At 6:04 PM

Nike NYC is having a Train Tuesday event at Roosevelt Island's FDR Four Freedoms Park tonight and inviting participants to meet at Manhattan Tram Station this evening.

Will this cause any problems for rush hour Tram commute home tonight?
According to the FDR Four Freedoms Park:
... Nike is holding an hour long workout event at the Park today at 6:30. We are still closed to the public (as we are every Tuesday) but the event, which is described as a "pop-up" workout event, is free and as far as we know is open to anyone. They hold the free #TrainTuesday events at Parks throughout NYC but don’t reveal the location until the day of. They just started posting the location on social media...
Will Nike NYC Train Tuesday crowd overwhelm Roosevelt Island Tram commute home during rush hour?

Roosevelt Island Resident Laila Amatullah's Poem "I Wasn't 'Til" Performed At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Visible Ink Program

Roosevelt Island resident Laila Amatullah

 Image From You Tube Video

shares this performance of her poem
"I Wasn't 'Til"
at the 2013 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) 2013 Visible Ink program.

Ms. Amutallah writes under the pen name Najla.

"I Wasn't 'Til" was performed by Susan Spain and danced by Khori Petinaud. Karen Popkin performs on drums.

According to MSKCC:
Visible Ink, a one-on-one writing program for patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, offers opportunities for self-expression, stress reduction, personal growth, and individual success at a time when many participants face the considerable challenge of a serious illness.
Turner Classic Movies Robert Osborne introduces Visible Ink 2013.

More on the Visible Ink writing program from this 2012 video

and the MSKCC web site.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Roosevelt Island FDR Four Freedoms Park Gets $300 Thousand From Queens Borough President Melinda Katz To Improve Lighting Facing Queens

Queens Crapper reports that Queens Borough President Melinda Katz allocated $300 thousand in her Fiscal Year 2016 discretionary capital funds budget to Roosevelt Island's NY State FDR Four Freedoms Park.

According to press release from Queens Borough President Katz:

... $300,000 to improve lighting along the shorefront facing Queens in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island...
 Image Of FDR Park And Queens Waterfront via Politico and AP

Queens Crapper notes:
... Sending money across the river while Queens parks look like crap....
UPDATE 8/18 - The Long Island City Queens waterfront seen from FDR Park.
According to NY 1, Rosemary's Playgroung in Ridgewood:
... didn't receive any of the $32 million that Borough President Melinda Katz has set aside for park improvements. Instead, many are upset that $300,000 is being allocated for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, which is in Manhattan.

"We probably need about $1 million to fix this place, but a lot of little things could be done with several hundred thousand," said Richard Fassett, who is part of a resident group called Let's Fix Rosemary's Playground.

According to Katz's office, the money for Roosevelt Island will be used to improve the lighting along the shorefront facing Queens to make it more attractive to people in what she likes to say is the World's Borough.

From what we saw, the best view of Four Freedoms Park is from a group of high-rise buildings, which is another point of contention.

"The city is becoming a center for the rich people, and they need to have certain places fixed," said one New Yorker....
Click here for full NY 1 story and video.

UPDATE 8/27 - FDR Four Freedoms Park Conservancy President Sally Minard responds.

Roosevelt Island Con Edison High Pressure Gas Upgrade Evening Work Begins Tonight Near Capobianco Field, No Weekday Nighttime Parking In Area - Main Street Traffic Disruptions Warns Public Safety Department Director

The Con Edison Roosevelt Island High Pressure Gas Upgrade project begins nighttime work this evening on Main Street near Capobianco Field. As a result, there is no weekday evening parking in the area for several months.

According to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC):
There will be No Parking, Stopping or Standing on the West side of Main Street between 591-625 Main Street effective Monday, August 17, 2015, Monday– Friday from 5 PM to 8 AM, until further notice.

Vehicles not moved by 5 PM will be summonsed and/or towed.

This area will be reduced to one lane of traffic Monday- Friday from 7 PM to 7 AM.

The sidewalk on the east side of Main Street, in front of Capobianco Field, will be closed to pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians may cross over to the west side of the street either at the crosswalk near 591 or 625 Main Street.

Parking rules will be strictly enforced in the Commercial Loading Zone in front of 575 Main Street (Island House), as all deliveries will be directed to unload at this location.

We appreciate your cooperation during this project.
Image Of No Parking Area From 591 -625 Main Street

Con Edison adds:
Work Notice Update

Friday, August 14, 2015

Starting on Monday, August 17, Con Edison will begin working at night associated with the gas riser infrastructure upgrades on Main Street in front of the Capobianco Field. Crews will be working at this location from 7PM to 7AM for the remainder of the riser project. We will continue to provide you with updates as this riser work continues through the fall, and once the daytime gas main work commences in the coming weeks. This entire gas upgrade project is expected to be complete in December. Schedule is subject to change.

There will be no service disruptions to customers associated with this work. We apologize for any inconvenience. For more information, contact Manhattan Public Affairs at

Below is Roosevelt Island Con Edison High Pressure Gas project RIOC permit including:
  • work schedules,
  • street closures,
  • penalties,
  • noise mitigation,
  • air monitoring,
  • asbestos abatement
  • parking,
  • mitigation strategies and
  • more.

RIOC Public Safety Department Director Jack McManus discussed Main Street traffic disruptions caused by the current Con Ed Gas Upgrade and ongoing building facade work during August 11 Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Public Safety Committee meeting.

Director McManus said that:
... past experiences with Con Ed is that they need alot of attention...

... it's going to be a busy time and an inconvenience...
Also discussed were insuring that ambulances, other emergency vehicles and Access A Ride vans have access to serve Roosevelt Island residents during the construction.

Here's the discussion.

More information on Roosevelt Island Con Edison High Pressure Gas Project at previous post showing video of Town Hall meeting on subject.

Roosevelt Island Resident Ike Nahem Attends Ceremony Opening Cuban Embassy In Washington DC And Reports On Recent Visit To Cuba

The United States Embassy in Cuba reopened last Friday, August 14 after being closed for 54 years. US Secretary Of State John Kerry attended the flag raising ceremony.

Last month, Roosevelt Island resident Ike Nahem attended the July 20, 2015 opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington DC. Mr. Nahem shares these pictures of himself with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez

and American actor Danny Glover

as well as Minister Rodriquez with Arizona Senator Jeff Flake at the Washington DC Cuban Embassy opening.

According to the White House:
... The opening of the embassies in Washington, D.C. and Havana culminate an important step in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. President Obama’s new approach towards Havana moves beyond decades of unsuccessful efforts to isolate Cuba, and is the continuation of a process designed to allow the Cuban people chart their own future. This will allow us to increase contact with the Cuban government and the Cuban people, helping us to contribute to the democratic development and prosperity of the country. To inaugurate the re-opening of the Cuban embassy in the United States, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez travelled to Washington and became the first Cuban official to visit the capital since 1959.

The embassy openings in Washington, D.C. and Havana follow the decision taken by Secretary of State John Kerry to rescind the designation of Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, and President Obama’s announcement to formally re-establish diplomatic relations and permanent diplomatic missions on July 1. These measures further advance U.S. interests, including counterterrorism and disaster response. The Administration is also taking steps to improve travel and remittance policies that 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....

Mr. Nahem reports on a recent trip to Cuba:
From April 28-May 5 my wife Erin Feely-Nahem, son Andrew Feely, and myself

spent a week in Cuba. We were part of a “people-to-people” delegation legal under US law. Our group included doctors and other health care providers, teachers, trade unionists, and activists against the decades-long U.S. government policy of economic and travel sanctions and political hostility and subversion against the island aimed at overturning the Cuban Revolution that triumphed in 1959. That unchanging anti-Cuba policy ultimately resulted in the utter and embarrassing isolation of the U.S. government across the Americas and at the United Nations year after year, as well as being contrary to public opinion at home, and seems to be finally collapsing.

Erin, Andrew, and I were on one of the first charter flights from JFK that recently went into service under recently loosened travel regulations approved by President Barack Obama. These were part of the historic December 17, 2014 announcement by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that Washington and Havana would move to establish the normalization of diplomatic, state-to-state relations which were unilaterally severed by the United States in the period following the 1959 triumph of the Cuban Revolution. This can open up the prospect of mutually beneficial economic and cultural exchanges between Cuba and the United States.

Just before our trip, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to Havana, met top Cuban officials, and secured a few deals. Among the agreements inked was one between the Roswell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo, New York and Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine with a clinical trial in the United States. Another agreement with a New York-based software company will promote the integration of Cuban medical data.

Cuba is a major world medical "power." The Caribbean island of less than 12 million people recently sent more doctors to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa than the rest of the world combined. Cuba trains free of charge medical students from around the world, including from the United States, who are motivated to become doctors and serve in poor and working-class underserved communities in their home countries. Cuba's biomedical industry is at the cutting edge of the field worldwide.

On the plane with us were many Cuban-Americans who have been traveling to the island freely for several years, renewing family ties. This registers a sharp turnaround in Cuban-American public opinion in favor of normalization of relations and ending sanctions. It indicates the crumbling of the long domination of that community by hardline “anti-Castro” exile forces committed to the violent overthrow of the Cuban government, often trained and supported by bipartisan Washington.

Erin and I have been to Cuba many times, including on our honeymoon in 1998. We are both long-time activists in the movement to end all US sanctions against Cuba and to establish normalized relations between our two countries. We are now seeing the fruits of these long struggles.

Having visited and led many delegations to Cuba in years past, I am often told that what strikes people the most is the gap – chasm really – between the relentless anti-Cuba propaganda that paints the “communist” island as a totalitarian hell of oppressed, cowering people and the actual Cuban social, cultural, and political reality, with all its problems, challenges, and contradictions.

Santa Clara and the Eternal Presence of Che Guevara

In Cuba our group spent several days in Havana and at the end of our stay visited the Varadero resort area for two days, with some of the most stunning beaches in the world. (Unfortunately it rained much of the time we were there.)

In between we visited the lovely city of Santa Clara, population 240,000, where the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution was fought. Santa Clara was where an army of several hundred guerrilla fighters led by Argentine-born Che Guevara defeated thousands of demoralized troops of the dictator Fulgencio Batista, a battle which opened the door to the conquest of Havana by Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army. Preserved intact in a park is the famous derailed troop train, sabotaged by pro-Revolution railroad workers, that was key to the guerrilla victory.

Che Guevara was killed in 1967 in Bolivia where he had been trying to organize a continental revolutionary army to fight US-backed Latin American military dictatorships. Since then Che became a legendary emblem of anti-imperialism and revolutionary struggle worldwide. His image is ubiquitous in Cuba.

When his remains were recovered and forensically confirmed in 1997 from a field where his corpse had been secretly dumped by his executors, they were returned to Cuba, along with those of his fellow fighters. A stunning statue of Che

overlooks Santa Clara’s Plaza of the Revolution. A museum and mausoleum built in in Che’s memory is part of the large square. Tourists stream into Santa Clara from around the world to see it all. We met visitors from Germany, France, China, Israel, Norway, and several Latin American and African companies.

May Day in Havana

Another highlight of our trip was our participation in Havana’s annual May Day parade where one million Cuban workers mobilize in a massive outpouring of dancing, chanting, and singing. It is an almost surreal festival-like celebration organized by the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC).

While a Cuban jazzy, salsa-esque orchestra blares infectious Caribbean beats over large loudspeakers. Cuban workers from every trade and industry -- from ballet dancers to athletes to medical workers and railroaders --parade with banners and homemade signs. The parade was led this year by medical personnel who had returned from West Africa fighting the Ebola epidemic.

Our group was on the reviewing platform, along with over 1000 international guests, not far from where Cuban President Raul Castro and other top Cuban leaders

waved at the marching and chanting Cuban workers. We met groups of trade unionists and others from Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Germany, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Italy and many other lands.

Half-way through the parade, which begins gathering in the early morning as the sun begins to rise, a steady, mounting rain began to fall. This seemed only to increase the enthusiasm of the workers who marched and danced. Umbrellas went up and ponchos went on. The orchestra’s musical numbers became more animated, punctured with intensely dramatic blaring and syncopated trumpeting. As the last contingents passed by the band belted out the traditional socialist anthem, “The Internationale:”

Arise ye prisoners of starvation/ Arise ye wretched of the Earth/ For justice thunders condemnation/ A better world’s in birth/ No more tradition’s chains shall bind us/ Arise ye slaves, no more in thrall/ The Earth shall rise on new foundations/ We have been naught, we shall be all.

May Day has faded or become a bureaucratic routine in many countries, but in proudly socialist Cuba it is not only a national holiday but a festive -- patriotic and internationalist -- mass mobilization of the Cuban working class. It is truly a sight to behold – over a mile of ordinary and extraordinary Cuban working people and families, waving, dancing, and chanting.

To witness May Day in Havana gives the lie to any notion that Cuban working people do not fiercely identify with their Revolution and the essence of the social relations and system ushered in by it.

Having said that, Cubans, far from the stereotype of a cowed, oppressed people, are quite contentious and argumentative in their views on how to move their society forward. They have no illusions or rose-colored glasses in looking at their grinding economic problems and challenges in labor productivity, technological backwardness, housing shortages, and so on.

They tend, in my experience, to be very engaged in finding solutions. And there are many grass-roots platforms and mass organizations by which ordinary Cubans debate and impact on the formulation and implementation of the policy changes now being implemented. Nearly all Cubans we spoke with expressed the hope that the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba will lead to greater industrial and agricultural development for their country.

Image Of US Embassy, Formerly US Interest Section In Havana

Coming Out of the “Special Period”

Cuba is emerging from an extended period of economic crisis and contraction following the overnight collapse of its economic relations with defunct Soviet-bloc governments in the early 1990s. It’s slow, steady recovery was further interrupted by a series of devastating hurricanes a few years back. The effects of what the Cubans call the “Special Period” are still seen everywhere.

However, in recent years new economic policies being led and implemented by the Raul Castro-led government are starting to kick in. These policies aim at increasing labor productivity and efficiency; technologically modernizing and refitting industrial plant and infrastructure; boosting food production by offering land and other state support and subsidies to private family farmers and farming cooperatives; reducing the state and government bureaucracy; and encouraging private wholesale and retail operations, especially in services. Further progress is contingent on attracting capital for investment. Much of this is coming from China, other Latin American countries, and Canada. Soon a major port at Mariel Harbor will be opened, largely developed in partnership with Brazilian capital.

But to this observer, having visited Cuba many times from the worst depths of the Special Period, most recently two years ago, it is also apparent that the Special Period is steadily receding into the past and being overcome at an accelerated pace. Along the famed Malecon ocean side drive and walkway,

many classic old structures

and buildings have been rebuilt and repainted, and stylish new buildings have gone up. Old Havana, already a United Nations Heritage site, is renewing its status as an architectural gem.

We observed an expansion and greater visibility for privately owned restaurants, called paladores, where we took in a number of fine meals, which are emerging from a quasi-underground existence. They are more visible today with nice signs and lighting on the outside and more comfort and menu choices inside.

Cuba is considered poor by “middle-class” US standards. But it is a strange "poverty." You see nothing like the destitution of desperate, "crime-riddled," drug-ravaged, “gang”-infested communities (hello West Baltimore!) that are widespread in every Latin American and Caribbean country, and also in the US. Street crime in Cuba is almost unheard of and it's not because of a heavy police presence on the streets. In fact, police seem few and far between. Addiction to hard drugs, and the thriving, profit-making, if nominally illegal, drug businesses that drive it, are also virtually non-existent in Cuba. (Before the Revolution, of course, Cuba was a center of the drug and organized crime rackets; Havana the home base of top U.S. Mafia families. The Revolution wiped that out. See the Godfather Part II.) While I would say that the most regular complaint I hear from average Cubans is around housing availability, especially for new, young families, as well as bottlenecks and shortages for home repairs, there is no homelessness. Most Cubans own their homes or pay a pittance in rent.

Every Cuban child is in school getting a first-rate education totally free of charge, with an extensive network of technical, vocational, university, and graduate schools, all free. Cuba not only has long conquered illiteracy, but "exports" thousands of teachers to Latin American and African countries, where they organize literacy programs.

The Cuban health-care system is a marvel of organization and compassion, with clinics in every neighborhood, all free of charge, from checkup and vaccinations through heart surgery and even transgender and transsexual procedures and surgeries.

There is in Cuba today undoubtedly a more relaxed political atmosphere and context in which debates and discussions take place among the Cuban people over the new economic and other polices and changes that are being implemented.

These policies are debated out in continuous mass forums in workplaces and neighborhoods as well as in the trade unions and grass-roots mass organizations of women, private and co-operative farmers, students, artists and intellectuals, and within the Cuban Communist Party. This is the actual dynamic that frames and guides policy making decisions and legislation. And the fruits are already apparent in legal and other positive changes on questions ranging from expanded travel rights to ending all legal discrimination and vastly opening up social and cultural space for LGBT Cuban citizens. Any objective observer visiting the island – without malice or prejudice in their brain and heart – cannot but note the desire and ability of average Cuban working people to engage in no-holds-barred discussions on all the questions and challenges facing Cuba today, and debating the policies to overcome them.

The relative political weakening of Washington’s anti-Cuba policy, combined with the mounting changes in the political dynamics among Cuban-Americans, has paved the way for significant shifts in the political orientation and policies of the Cuban government. The Raul Castro-led government feels more confident in politically engaging with the “Cuban Diaspora,” including in its South Florida heart, and at the same time is less inclined to carry out legal prosecutions and punitive measures against those who collaborate and consort with US government agencies and their subversive schemes in obvious violations of Cuban law. The overhaul in Cuban travel regulations is one example. The release of all “dissidents,” some 75 in all, convicted and imprisoned following increased threats to Cuba in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, is another. Today, Amnesty International and the Cuban Catholic Church, who have both, to varying degrees, advocated in favor of these US-connected “dissidents” have declared that there are no more, as they term it, “political prisoners” in Cuba.

Above all a trip to Cuba combines stunning beauty and unmatched beaches, a fantastic music and art scene, and a history that has truly helped define, and continues to impact, the world. Finally all of this appears to be opening up to US citizens.

Image Of Ike Nahem In Front Of Car

Take advantage of this change. I hear JetBlue is starting direct flights later this summer.
More from Mr. Nahem on Cuba and his trip here.

But Vice News reports:
Here's more from Secretary Kerry
and the raising of American flag at embassy in Cuba.