Caught on Film: Female Activists Protest in Havana, Violently Arrested

Sunday, September 21, 2014
The video below shows two female democracy activists holding a banner on the rooftop of a building in central Havana, while calling for "Freedom!" and "Down With the Dictatorship!"

Pamphlets with messages from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were dispersed throughout the streets.

Towards the end, note the violence with which the female activists are yanked from the rooftop; the size of the police operation mounted against them; the gathering crowd's rejection of the violence used against the peaceful activists (chants of "Abusers!"); and the secret police officials dispersed through the crowds.

Click below (or here) to watch:

How MLB Can Protect Cuban Baseball Players

By Helen Aguirre Ferre in The Miami Herald:

Unfortunately, cash, smugglers rule

Human trafficking is not new, but smugglers have new clients: Cuban baseball players. That became clear with revelations about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s flight from Cuba through violent smugglers who left a trail of death and deceit along the way.

Cuban boxer Yunior Despaigne, who fled with Puig, signed an affidavit claiming that Gilberto Suarez and others financed Puig’s escape to Islas Mujeres and Mexico for $250,000. Realizing Puig’s dollar value to a Major League Baseball team — there are 30 — the smugglers doubled the amount to be paid for his release.

Puig was held until the ransom was paid. As it turns out, the smugglers were working for the notorious Zetas Mexican drug cartel, which allegedly killed one involved in the plot over a dispute about money.

Is the trip worth the risk?

Baseball is a way of life in Cuba. Cuban baseball players are considered national icons; every time one defects, it is an embarrassment to the government. They are leaving to escape poverty and to fulfill a dream of playing for the MLB. In Cuba, a baseball player lives in poor conditions. earning between $12 and $16 a month. In the United States, the minimum salary reported by the MLB in 2013 was $490,000. Some, of course, earn much more. Puig has a $42-million contract with the Dodgers; White Sox star Jose Abreu earns $68 million. The difference in salaries between both countries would be almost comical were it not so sad.

Joe Kehoskie, a baseball agent and president and CEO of Joe Kehoskie Baseball has represented more than a dozen Cuban defectors. In an interview for Issues Reports, which I host 11 a.m. Sunday on WPBT2, Kehoskie says that professional smugglers work with U.S. sports agents to target and seduce players to leave Cuba. The smugglers/agents get up to 30 percent of the value of the player’s contract in return. He paints an ugly portrait of a sport that is considered America’s pastime.

Facing the embarrassment of the growing number of prominent ball players who are fleeing the island, the Cuban regime is softening its position now allowing some to play abroad as long as they return to Cuba to fulfill their commitments at home. Mexico and Japan have taken advantage, reportedly signing deals that range from $980,000 to $1.5 million. There are two catches: The Cuban government receive the players’ salaries, and none can play in the United States. It could become a lucrative business for the communist country that never lets its workers directly negotiate or be compensated by companies.

The Cuban government has long profited from the human trafficking of its best talent. That is the perspective of Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, who calls out MLB Commissioner Bud Selig as a frequent visitor to Cuba and friend of members of the regime.

Photographs of Selig in Cuba sitting next to Fidel Castro support his view: “The real problem is that MLB does not treat Cuban players in the same way as they do other international players,” says Claver-Carone.

Under MLB rules, only Cubans who arrive in the United States via a third country are allowed to negotiate as free agents; that is where the lucrative contracts lie. MLB policy ignores Cubans who arrive legally by other means such like a visa or wet foot-dry foot. They can only be hired by a team as an amateur draft pick who earns far less. It is a rule the MLB could easily change, thus eliminating the stain of corruption and immorality associated with human trafficking.

There are those who say that the Cuban embargo is the culprit behind the human trafficking of ball players, but that clearly isn’t true. By changing its rules, the MLB could let all Cuban arrivals negotiate as free agents like other international players.

Cuban baseball players might not care how they get off the island, but the rest of us should. Human exploitation is wrong. The Florida Legislature was right in unanimously passing a law that attempts to pressure the MLB to level the playing field for all Cuban ball players. The story is out that sports agents and drug cartels are smuggling Cuban players; MLB needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing for all international ball players, including Cubans.

Venezuela Shouldn't Get U.N. Security Council Seat

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela doesn’t deserve a seat on the U.N. Security Council

The odds that Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest country, will suffer a catastrophic economic collapse shortened significantly this month. Nicolás Maduro, the economically illiterate former bus driver who succeeded Hugo Chávez as president last year, rejected the advice of pragmatists proposing common-sense measures to rein in soaring inflation of more than 60 percent and crippling shortages of basic goods such as milk and toilet paper. Instead he gave a speech claiming that “our problems are the result of economic war waged by the opposition and private business.”

Now Mr. Maduro’s government is attempting to prove his point. It is pressing forward with the prosecution of several top opposition leaders, including Leopoldo López, the former mayor of a Caracas district who heads the more militant wing of anti-government forces. “Militant” is a relative term here: Earlier this year Mr. López and several allies called for peaceful street demonstrations under the slogan “the way out.” The hope was they would create irresistible pressure for change, similar to the “people power” revolutions of Asia and Eastern Europe.

As Human Rights Watch documented , the regime responded violently. More than 40 people were killed, and 1,700 were criminally charged. Some 70, including Mr. López, remain incarcerated. Since voluntarily surrendering on Feb. 18, Mr. López has been held in isolation on a military base. Now he is undergoing a trial that can only be described as farcical. The government claims that Mr. López is somehow responsible for violent clashes in Caracas, even though he was not present when they took place and had publicly called on his followers to remain peaceful. A judge has disallowed all but one of the more than 60 witnesses he called, while scheduling more than 100 for the prosecution. As The Post’s Nick Miroff recently reported, Mr. Maduro has already declared the trial’s outcome: “He has to pay, and he will pay.”

Average Venezuelans are already paying heavily for Mr. Maduro’s practice of substituting political persecution for economic remedies. Now the question is whether he and his cronies will be held responsible for their behavior by outside powers with leverage, including the United States. The Obama administration has been resisting legislation that would provide for sanctions against leading members of the regime. In July, it offered the weaker measure of canceling the U.S. visas of some two dozen officials, without naming them.

It’s time for more visible action. One opportunity is at the United Nations: Next month Venezuela will stand for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, where it would be able to advocate for allies such as Syria, Iran and Cuba. Though unopposed, the Maduro government must win the votes of two-thirds of the General Assembly in a secret ballot. The Obama administration could help itself and send a message to Mr. Maduro by rounding up the 65 votes needed to keep Venezuela off the Security Council.

Solidarity or Propaganda?

By Cuban blogger Fernando Damaso in Translating Cuba:

Solidarity or Propaganda? 

I wish I could be happy about the quick response by the Cuban government to the request for assistance from the World Health Organization and the UN general secretary in their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, but I cannot.

I am all too aware of the deteriorating state of our hospitals, the lack of hygiene, the poor medical care — provided mainly by students rather than doctors — the poor nutrition provided to patients, the shortage of drugs and many other problems.

I am referring, of course, to the medical centers which serve the average Cuban, which are the majority, not to the specialized centers catering to foreigners, VIPs or people who can pay for their services in hard currency.

A similarly rapid response should be applied to the serious problems that have afflicted our health care system for years. We make the mistake of trying to solve the world’s problems without due regard for our own. This seems to have paid off in that at least it generates a lot of free propaganda.

However, no one who speaks or writes about the magnificent Cuban health system has had to have their illnesses or those of their loved ones treated here. Furthermore, many Cuban bigwigs prefer to seek treatment in other countries, even that of the enemy. There must be some reason for this.

At a press conference in Geneva, Cuba’s minister of public health took the opportunity to propagandize about the country’s achievements and to emphasize yet again how many medical personnel have provided and are now providing care in other countries.

He also talked about the thousands of overseas volunteer workers, though without mentioning how much Cuba charges in dollars for this service — currently one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange — or how doctors, nurses and other specialists are not being properly paid.

At one point during the press conference the minister stated that the Revolution did not wait for its health services to be developed before beginning to provide assistance to other peoples.

He neglected to mention that Cuba’s health services were already well-developed before 1959 and were among the best not only in the Caribbean but in all of Latin America. One need only look to official statistics from international organizations of the time to confirm this.

Given these questions, I am concerned that what we are dealing with here has more to do with propaganda than with solidarity.

Chinese Military Illegally Sold U.S. Telecom Equipment to Cuba's Regime

Friday, September 19, 2014
Castro's propagandists and anti-sanctions lobbyists argue that greater collaboration with Cuba's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, will somehow lead to greater Internet access for the Cuban people.

Yet, from 1995 until 2011, Telecom Italia owned 27% percent of ETECSA.

Moreover, the 2011 Cuba-Venezuela fiber optic cable was laid by France's Alcatel-Lucent.

And now we learn that the Chinese military, through Huawei, has been selling U.S. telecom equipment -- albeit illegally -- to Cuba's regime.

Have any of these lead to greater Internet access for the Cuban people?

Absolutely not. 

But they've been a great boon for Castro's regime.

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Chinese Military-Linked Telecom Firm Shipped U.S. Equipment to Cuba

Commerce probing whether Huawei sale of U.S. gear violated sanctions

A Chinese telecommunications company linked to the People’s Liberation Army provided U.S.-origin equipment to Cuba in apparent violation of U.S. economic sanctions on the communist-ruled island.

U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports said the equipment included U.S.-made modems, routers, and switches for telecommunications networks.

The transfer took place within the past two months and was reported by the U.S. Southern Command, the military command with responsibility for Latin and South America in internal channels, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One official said the transfer violated U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Cuba and that the transfer is under investigation by the Commerce Department.

No other details could be learned on the U.S. companies or company involved. However, administration officials said it is illegal to export any U.S.-origin telecommunications equipment to Cuba without an export license.

President Obama in 2009 loosened controls on Internet and telecommunications services for Cuba in an effort to promote greater openness. But telecommunications equipment remains banned under the 1964 embargo.

Huawei, a global network equipment manufacturer based in Shenzhen, China, has been identified by the Pentagon in reports to Congress as one of several companies that maintain close ties to the PLA.

Along with two other firms, Huawei, “with their ties to the [Chinese] government and PLA entities, pose potential challenges in the blurring lines between commercial and government/military-associated entities,” the 2012 report said.

Huawei also was identified by the U.S. government as posing a cyber espionage risk. A House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report in 2012 warned U.S. businesses not to use equipment made by Huawei and another firm, ZTE, over concerns the gear can be used by China’s government to conduct cyber espionage.

The transfer of equipment to Cuba appears similar to another deal involving Huawei and Iran in 2012. Documents obtained by Reuters revealed that Huawei offered to sell Iran’s state-run telecommunications firm $1.7 worth of computer and network equipment made by Hewlett Packard. Huawei denied that it sought to evade U.S. sanctions in the proposed 2010 deal.

Bringing Freedom of Expression to Cuba, One Story at a Time

Thursday, September 18, 2014
By Cuban independent journalist, Roberto de Jesus Guerra, in Harvard's Nieman Reports:

It’s Good to Talk

Hablemos Press is trying to bring freedom of expression to Cuba, one story at a time

Members of Cuba’s mass media, which is completely in the hands of the state, cover only what’s convenient for the government. Because of that, in February of 2009, a group of seven independent journalists and human rights activists in Havana founded Hablemos Press—Let’s Talk—as an independent news agency to break through government censorship and inform the world about events the official media tries to silence.

Our objective was to create a system for gathering and disseminating information and for training journalists and collaborators all over Cuba. Our only equipment was one old computer, one voice recorder, and one telephone line. Today, 38 people work for Hablemos Press. We are active in nine of the country’s 16 provinces and have more than 100 collaborators. We report from and for Cuba on politics, culture, commerce, finance, art, literature, and sports—anything that’s news. And we have done this despite government repression against our journalists.

We have been arrested, deported to our hometowns when police find us elsewhere, threatened with death, harassed, and accused of “pre-criminal dangerousness,”a vague charge that can lead to anything from a ban on foreign travel to a prison sentence. Police and State Security agents beat us, fine us, and confiscate our equipment, including cell phones, cameras, flash drives, computers, recorders, and even interview notes. Our relatives also have been victims of this psychological warfare.

We Cubans live in absolutely horrible conditions. We enjoy no freedoms. We do not trust one another because the government has ground us down to the point where we believe other people could be policemen. We cannot organize peaceful public gatherings to voice our true feelings. We do not have the right to speak our minds—and those of us who do risk going to prison.

For my work as a journalist, I have served more than three years in prison and been detained more than 180 times since 2003. In prison, I witnessed daily beatings, medicine and food shortages, overcrowded cells, torture, suicide, and self-mutilation, things some people cannot believe actually happen in this dictatorship that calls itself “the Cuban Revolution.”

But we keep working as journalists because we are committed to supporting freedom of expression. Journalism must be impartial, but we in Cuba report mostly on government violations because we live under a military dictatorship that abuses the people and civil society every day.

We work in chaotic conditions, in a small and hot room about 12 feet by 20 feet, sometimes with up to six people working on three computers that are not connected to the Internet. We file our reports to supporters abroad when foreign embassies give us a few hours of Internet access in their offices.

We receive more than 15 daily visits from correspondents, collaborators, friends, and others who come by to give us information or ask for it. We make videos, do interviews, copy documents—a lot of work. Right now it’s 3:50 a.m. and I have not slept. I slept just three hours last night, and even less the night before. Despite the challenges, we have been first to many stories the regime tried to hide—the deaths of more than 20 elderly people in a Havana mental hospital during a cold snap in January of 2010; the first outbreak of cholera in Cuba in nearly 100 years; the first cases in Cuba of Chikungunya fever; street protests near the Capitol in Havana; and the deaths of several people after eating rotting meat in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

We have a Web portal for our news reports, www.cihpress.com, that is administered by a friend abroad and is updated three times a week. It gets more than 1,000 visitors per day. Our YouTube channel, with more than 250 videos, has received more than one million visits. In the last year, we also have printed 400 to 600 copies per week of a small Hablemos Press newspaper with national and international news and disseminated DVDs with TV and radio programs not available through official media.

My principal challenge is to confront the repressive apparatus each day, to grow within the repression, to evade government censorship and fill the news pages without fail.

Tweet of the Week: Venezuela on U.N. Security Council

The Speech Cuba's Regime Didn't Want You to Hear

Below are this week's remarks by blind lawyer, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

As we previously posted, the Castro regime's delegation interrupted Gonzalez Leiva three times and became threatening.

Item 3
United Nations Human Rights Council
September 15, 2014

My name is Juan Carlos González Leiva. I've spent 20 years as a blind lawyer defending human rights, suffering beatings, arbitrary arrests and organized mobs. From March 4, 2002 to April 26, 2004, I was detained in the Police Center of Pedernales, Holguín, without trial, for celebrating a congress about human rights. There, they systematically sprayed chemical substances over me that burned my skin and occasioned hallucinations, strong headaches and allergies.

I was confined without access to the press, telephone, correspondence, or religious assistance. Murderous prisoners threatened me and prevented me from sleeping night and day. In my cell were left exposed electric cables with current.

Human rights defenders in my country are victims of a constant policy of repression.

For example: In 2014 I was beaten together with 10 activists in the street. Agents dislocated my left leg and right shoulder and I lost consciousness when they applied a choke hold. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”and his wife Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were arrested, beaten and transferred to the local police headquarters where Antúnez was placed in a choke hold losing consciousness several times and was injected by state security agents with an unknown substance. His home was invaded and sacked.

Other activists arbitrarily detained and beaten were: José Daniel Ferrer García, Yusmila Reina Ferrera, Geobanis Izaguirre Hernández and Ernesto Ortiz Betancourt.

I ask the United Nations protection for me and all the activists inside Cuba because soon I will return to my country to continue defending human rights.

(Courtesy of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.)