New Cuban Political Prisoners: How Castro Has Gamed Obama and Media

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Every week, hundreds of Cuban dissidents are beaten, arrested, then usually released within 24-48 hours.

This has become a systemic practice gamed by the Castro regime, in order for the international community and media not to pay close attention.

Even Secretary of State John Kerry recently minimized these "short-term" arrests.

But amid the hundreds arrested, the Castro regime always keeps several back and hands them long-term sentences.

They are usually less known dissidents, which serve a dual purpose. On one hand, it sends a message to the growing ranks of dissidents that next time it could easily be one of them held back. On the other, the media is so focused on Obama's frivolous policy (cruises, etc.) that they overlook it.

Here's the latest batch (courtesy of Marti News):

Among the newest prisoners of conscience are Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda, Yunet Cairo Reigada and Jaqueline Heredia Morales, who were arrested on 15 April for staging a pro-human rights demonstration in Havana’s Central Park.

They were held at a police station jail without charges for a while before being transferred to a long-term prison, while still in limbo concerning specific charges.

According to Arcelio Molina, a member of the dissident organization UNPACU, Jacqueline Heredia (pictured below) has been transferred to San José prison, where all AIDS-infected Cubans are taken, and Xiomara de las Mercedes Cruz Miranda and Yunet Cairo have been taken to the women’s prison at Guatao.

A fourth dissident arrested the same day at Havana’s Central Park, Marieta Martínez Aguilera, remains jailed at the Departamento Técnico de Investigaciones jail known as “la Quinta.”

Cuba Ranks Among 'Worst of the Worst' in Press Freedom

 In Freedom House's 2016 new report on freedom of the press, Cuba ranks even worse than Iran and Syria.

Again, moving in the wrong direction.

Amidst Obama's Deals, Religious Freedom Deteriorates in Cuba and Iran

Things are not getting better under Obama's policy. To the contrary.

From The Hill:

Religious freedom 'under assault' in Iran, Cuba, says government report

In Iran, religious freedom is “deteriorating,” according to a new government report.

Religious minorities are subject to arrest, torture and even execution “based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote in a report issued Monday.

The population of Iran is 99 percent Muslim, made up mostly of Shi’a Muslims. According to the report, the government discriminates against people of other faiths — such as Sunni Muslims and Christians — who are facing “increasing religious freedom abuses.”

"Since President Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, the number of individuals from religious minority communities who are in prison because of their beliefs has increased,” the report noted.

The group’s paper casts a shadow on more than 30 countries where it said religious freedom violations are egregious, including China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, North Korea, Iran and Cuba.

This comes as the Obama administration faces criticism for engaging in nuclear talks with Iran and restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, despite human rights concerns in those countries.

The report urged the Obama administration to use these negotiations as leverage to press for stronger religious freedom protections in these countries.

In Iran, the report encouraged the Obama administration to “ensure that violations of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights are part of multilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranian government whenever possible, and continue to work closely with European and other allies to apply pressure through a combination of advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions.”

The report was also critical of the Cuban government, which it said "continues to harass religious leaders” and interfere with church matters.

"As part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions, the U.S. government should take significant action to convey that the change in policy does not diminish the Cuban government’s need to improve religious freedom conditions on the island,” the report noted.

As Predicted, Castro Keeps Reverting "Reforms"

Monday, May 2, 2016
Obama's policy supporters long argued that normalizing relations and easing sanctions towards Cuba would encourage Raul's "reforms."

That misses the glaring fact that Castro's regime only responds when it's economically pressed. For example, "self-employment" -- albeit a half-measure -- was a temporary reaction to loss of Soviet subsidies. Years later, with the remnants of the Chavez-Maduro regime in Venezuela imploding, Cuba resorted to it again.

However, as we warned several months before the Obama-Castro deal (December 17th, 2014), once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to "bounce back," the Castro government will reverse itself to freeze or revoke any "reforms."

Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba's government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change.

That's exactly what has been happening.

Here's the latest from Reuters:

Cuba backtracks on food reforms as conservatives resist change

Cuba decided at a secretive Communist Party congress last week to reverse market reforms in food distribution and pricing, according to reports in official media, reflecting tensions within the party about the pace of economic change.

President Raul Castro unveiled an ambitious market reform agenda in one of the world's last Soviet-style command economies after he took office a decade ago, but the reforms moved slowly in the face of resistance from conservatives and bureaucrats.

At the April 16-19 congress, Castro railed against an "obsolete mentality" that was holding back modernization of Cuba's socialist economy. But he also said the leadership needed to respond quickly to problems like inflation unleashed by greater demand as a result of reforms in other sectors.

In response, delegates voted to eliminate licenses for private wholesale food distribution, according to reports over the past week in the Communist Party daily, Granma, and state television.

Delegates said the state would contract, distribute and regulate prices for 80 to 90 percent of farm output this year, compared to 51 percent in 2014, according to debates broadcast days after the event.

Cruising to Cuba Like its 1977

Despite the misleading headlines, this week's Carnival Cruise to Cuba is not the first since 1959.

Kudos to CNN's Patrick Oppmann for actually doing some research.

In 1977, there was a similar cruise.

It's also a reminder of how there's nothing particularly new about President Obama's Cuba policy. It's simply a rehash of Jimmy Carter's.

And just like Carter's, Obama's is already proving to be counter-productive.

Quote of the Week: Cuba is Not Changing

With this government, I don’t think there are going to be big changes. I don’t think they want to open. They want to tighten down. We’re still very closed. They don’t let you sell, they don’t let you get a license to import. We aren’t changing.
-- Barbara Ugarte, Cuban "self-employed" licensee ("cuentapropista") in Central Havana, AP, 4/30/16

Goodbye, Jaime Ortega

From Diario de Cuba's Editorial Board:

Goodbye, Jaime Ortega

Things are so bad in Cuba that any news about a shakeup in the country's elite - even if it's just a quasi-retirement, like that announced for Jaime Ortega- is good news.

Cardinal Ortega had been the Archbishop of Havana since 1981. In exchange for concessions for his Church, he ingratiated himself with the Castro regime to such a degree that he ended up being perceived as one more component of it. Under his leadership the Catholic Church sought and managed to recover a significant social presence, which is not illicit. What was wrong, however, was doing so by failing to denounce the social, political and economic crisis induced by the dictatorship, the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba, denying the existence of political prisoners and serving as a spokesman for the regime at international forums.

At these events the cardinal demonstrated an attitude of classist disdain and a lack of compassion, mercy and Christian love and sympathy for the "uneducated" or "criminals," as he branded Cuban citizens demanding the rights. Ortega forgot the mercy that Jesus showed to thieves and prostitutes. Rubbing shoulders with “Castro's princes” made him arrogant and led him off the path he had sworn to follow.

He served as a go-between for the Interior Ministry when it sent the Black Spring political prisoners into exile, thereby allowing the regime to avoid direct talks with the civil society groups that were pressuring the Government, and then proceeded to deny the existence of those same activists in Cuba. In this way he was complicit in the regime's sleight of hand campaigns: making people disappear and then claiming that they don't exist.

For all these reasons, though the cause of democracy in Cuba should not expect much from Pope Francis and Vatican strategies, the fact that Jaime Ortega has left the scene (at least partially) represents progress.

Harvard Crimson: The Cost of Obama's Cuban Rapprochement

Sunday, May 1, 2016
By David Liebers and Michael Silva in The Harvard Crimson:

The Cost of Obama's Cuban Rapprochement

As President Obama stepped off Air Force One to begin his historic visit to Havana, he seized the opportunity to fire off a tweet: “¿Que Bola Cuba?” His message, which in Cuban-Spanish slang roughly translates to “What’s popping?” or “What’s good?” was surely intended to ingratiate and serve as an opening olive branch to his hosts. The irony—that the majority of Cubans would never see his message thanks to repressive internet censorship—was entirely lost on the president.

This dissonance summarizes the mood of the two-day spectacle. President Obama, the first sitting U.S. President to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge, intended to lay the foundations for renewed cooperation between the two countries. The challenge for the President was to balance the diplomatic goal of demonstrating a workable political relationship with Raul Castro, while paying lip service to the issue of the dictator’s human rights abuses.

Predictably, the results proved awkward. During a joint press conference with President Obama, Raul Castro scolded reporters for asking about human rights violations and lambasted U.S. economic policy. Soon after the conclusion of the visit, an official organ of the state-controlled Cuban media used racially vulgar language to insult the President of the United States. The no-strings-attached commitment from President Obama to lift the embargo emboldened Castro to criticize the U.S. and redeploy his communist message.

Even more embarrassing, as our President posed for photos in front of a Che Guevara mural and tweeted about his trip, thousands of political prisoners—including members of the Ladies in White movement—detained for no reason other than their peaceful opposition to political repression, rotted in jails across the island.

The current Cuban regime has made brutality towards political dissidents a regular part of its operation. Raul Castro denies the presence of political prisoners, yet the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 2,555 detentions in the first two months of this year, after more than 8,600 in 2015. Members of opposition political parties are regularly subject to machete attacks, and refugees stopped by Cuban coastguard risk extrajudicial killing. Despite all this, U.S. leadership seems to have fallen for Castro’s propaganda.

President Obama says he wants to “bury the last remnant” of the Cold War. But his visit will have the opposite effect. It ensures prolonged communist rule in Cuba by extending an economic lifeline and legitimacy to the Castro regime. Seduced by the chance at being the leader who would liberate the Cuban people from the “failed” U.S. embargo, President Obama chose to cement his place in history rather than to stand with those who risk their lives to fight for basic freedoms.

The symbolic power that the United States holds to those standing up to totalitarianism is not easy for those of us born here to understand. But for pro-democratic freedom fighters—whether across the communist bloc in the 1980s, or today in Cuba—American solidarity has been a source of strength. There is no other nation so steadfast in its defense of freedom of expression, basic human rights, and democracy. Like the authors of this piece, one of the left and one of the right, Americans across the political spectrum ought to support these principles. The symbolic power of the U.S. in standing for human rights has eroded in this abandonment of Cuban pro-democratic dissidents.

The pain was real for Cuban-Americans who watched as the leader of the free world befriended the dictator they risked their lives to flee. One such Cuban, Natividad Silva, an 85-year-old retired pharmacist and the grandmother of one of the authors of this piece, fled Cuba in 1962 when the Castros confiscated her small business and life savings. She began fearing for her life as peaceful dissidents around her in Havana were incarcerated, tortured, and killed. Her story is by no means unique. It is shared by the millions of Cuban immigrants in the U.S. and the hundreds of refugees who continue to flee the Castro regime each month.

President Obama turned a blind eye to human rights violations and made the political calculation that his reversal of American policy towards Cuba would represent another jewel in his foreign policy legacy. In doing so, he abolished America’s unique role as a beacon of freedom to the pro-democratic Cuban opposition and to dissidents in totalitarian states around the world.

Michael A. Silva ’15 and David T. Liebers are medical students at Harvard Medical School.