Must-Read: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

Friday, October 24, 2014
By Maria C. Werlau in Spain's ABC:

Paying for The Port of Mariel: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

The Brazilian government has committed huge taxpayer funds —in loans, subsidies, and direct humanitarian assistance— to support infrastructure projects, food exports, and other initiatives in or for Cuba. Brazil has also provided decisive international political backing to the Cuban military dictatorship. This support is nowhere more evident than in the Port of Mariel, refurbished to great fanfare with Brazilian public financing of over one billion dollars.

Brazil’s massive lending for Cuba seems reckless from a financial/due diligence perspective, as Cuba does not meet basic standards of creditworthiness. The island is technically insolvent; it has US$75 billion in external debt, a long history of defaults, and a classification from The Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the four riskiest countries on the planet to invest in. Meanwhile, the port project is apparently not viable, as the two main reasons given to justify the gigantic investment are shaky at best. Several ports in the vicinity look better positioned to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion and the U.S. embargo does not seem anywhere close to ending.

Brazil’s huge government loans and subsidies for Cuba have been granted with unprecedented levels of secrecy and are currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, kickbacks, and favoritism towards the port builder, Odebrecht, which received Brazil´s development bank (BNDES) loans for the port construction and is a large campaign contributor of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (P.T.). Moreover, while Brazil has greatly increased financing for projects of politically-compatible foreign governments such as Cuba’s —growing the deficit to 4% of GDP—, public funding for infrastructure projects within Brazil has been lacking. The manifest commitment to support Cuba at all costs may seem puzzling, but can be explained by the strong political-ideological alliance of P.T. leaders with the Cuban regime in the pursuit of a radical hemispheric agenda (inspired in the Foro de Sao Paulo). The hyped-up business opportunities surrounding the port seek to exert pressure against the U.S. embargo and attract investors.

While the Mariel port project does not meet standard repayment conditions, Brazilian officials insist Cuba is meeting its financial commitments, presumably the amortization of its own loans from Odebrecth. In fact, it appears that repayment is coming from exploiting Cuba’s citizens as export raw material for goods and services —purchased mostly by public entities in Brazil— in what arguably constitutes a government-to-government collaboration in human trafficking. Referred to as “health cooperation,” these exports consist of:

Export services provided by approximately 11,400 Cuban doctors hired out for a Brazilian government program launched in 2013 that generates Cuba estimated annual net revenues of US$404 million.

Export products reported under standard trade codes for blood — including plasma and medicines and other products derived from blood — and for extracts of glands and organs. Both have grown exponentially since former Brazilian president Lula da Silva launched the Brazil-Cuba alliance in 2003. Blood imports by Brazil from Cuba were only US$570 thousand in 2002, grew to US$16.9 million in 2011, and totaled US$4.8million in 2013; imports of extracts of glands and organs increased phenomenally from almost nothing in 2003 (US$25,804) to US$88.4 million in 2013.

These exports raise serious ethical concerns. The doctors are deployed as “exportable commodities” to remote zones of Brazil in violation of several ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions as well as of international standards and agreements on the prohibition of human trafficking, servitude, and bondage. Regarding the export products, details are lacking, but if the trade is in products of human origin, as it appears, it would have very troubling implications. In Cuba, blood and organs/tissues/body parts are obtained from voluntary and uncompensated donors unaware of a profit motive by their government and practices involved in their collection —some quite scandalous— are unacceptable by standards of the World Health Organization and other international bodies. Additional concerns pertain to safety, quality, effectiveness, and the potential political purpose driving the purchases.

While the service of Cuban doctors has raised ample debate and media coverage in Brazil, the import of products purportedly derived from human blood and body parts has, as of yet, remained out of the public sphere. In addition, while Brazilian authorities move forward with plans to integrate its biopharmaceutical production with Cuba, that this industry is under the absolute control of the secretive Cuban military regime or that it collaborates with rogues states such as Iran and Syria —including with exports of dual-use technology— have yet to raise attention in Brazil. In Cuba, this discussion cannot be had, as all media and mass communications belong to and are run by the state.

Maria Werlau, a former banker, is Executive Director of CubaArchive.org. The above is based on a detailed paper to be published by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Foreign Policy: Cuba Leads Diplomatic Offensive to Protect North Korea's Dictator

Not wanting to be the last totalitarian standing, the Castro regime is clearly obsessed with helping its North Korean brethren -- whether through arms smuggling or in leading a comprehensive diplomatic offensive to protect Kim Jong Un.

Also, note PR blitz the North Korean's are currently undertaking.  It's textbook Havana.

From Foreign Policy:

North Korea Enlists the Help of Cuba and China in Shielding Kim Jong Un From ICC

North Korea has long used ballistic missile tests and underground nuclear explosions to proclaim its intentions to the world.

But fearing that the West wants to prosecute their leader, Kim Jong Un, for human rights abuses, North Korean officials are beginning to rely on soft words instead of hard power. In an appropriately bizarre new tact for the Hermit Kingdom, North Korean officials are engaging in an intensive charm offensive designed to persuade world powers to leave their "dear leader" alone.

As part of a rare PR blitz, North Korean diplomats have reached out to reporters, diplomats, and regional experts to derail any efforts to pursue prosecution of senior North Korean officials. This week, Jang Il Hun, a North Korean diplomat who oversees North Korean outreach to the United States, went to the Council on Foreign Relations to denounce a U.S.-led "plot" to overthrow his government. Earlier this month, another North Korean official, Choe Myong Nam, defended Pyongyang's human rights record at a U.N. press conference. Although he also acknowledged the existence of "reform-through-labor" camps where wayward individuals can be "improved through their mentality and look upon their wrongdoings." And on Wednesday, Oct. 22, a delegation of North Koreans diplomats attended a U.N. panel on human rights that featured two former inhabitants of North Korea's extensive prison network. When the session ended, a North Korean official passed out CDs to journalists that denounced efforts by "the United States and other hostile forces" to engage in childish plots to mislead public opinion in the U.N. arena with nonexistent "human rights violations" in the North Korea.

The intent of North Korea's extraordinary charm offensive is to convince the United Nations and key governments that North Korea is prepared to allow the world unprecedented, though extremely limited, scrutiny of its human rights record. But Pyongyang has been stymied by its diplomatic estrangement from key governments with which it has no diplomatic relations, forcing it to rely on sympathetic allies such as Cuba and China to do its diplomatic bidding.

The move follows the release of a damning 372-page report in February by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, which concluded that "widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," according to a 36-page summary of the report. The summary also concluded that such crimes have been committed "pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State." The "gravity, scale and nature" of these abuses "reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," according to the summary.

In response, the European Union and Japan have introduced a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the "ongoing, systematic, widespread and gross violation of human rights" in North Korea. The resolution asserts that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea, and it encourages the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," including imposing sanctions on those responsible for or who ordered such crimes and authorizing a criminal investigation by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Never mind that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and the prospect of the Security Council's adopting a resolution triggering an ICC investigation is remote, given China's reluctance. North Korea is clearly spooked.

On Oct. 17, North Korea enlisted Cuba to reach out to the European Union on its behalf. In essence, Cuba was offering a trade: North Korea would invite the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to Pyongyang to discuss the situation in exchange for European assurances that the North Korean leader would be off-limits. China subsequently delivered the same appeal to the European Union.

"The Cubans have been doing their [the North Koreans'] diplomacy basically because they are not so skillful," said a European diplomat. "The Cubans came forward with a proposal to drop the ICC referral from our text. In exchange, they would accept a visit from the high commissioner for human rights. The reaction was very negative to such a deal. We don't trust them -- that's for sure. But even if we trusted them, we wouldn't trade a referral to the ICC for a visit to the country. It's a little late for that."

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jang, the North Korean diplomat, dismissed the commission's contention that North Korea has hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in labor camps spread across the country, saying they are simply "reformatories."

He said the "major obstacle" to improving human rights in North Korea is the United States and its "hostile policy" aimed at isolating North Korea and stifling its ability to prosper. In contrast, he said, North Korea's young leader has made a "constant effort … to improve the human rights situation of my country by improving the people's livelihood and giving more freedom and rights to the people."

"The United States and other European countries are making very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it, in my country," he said. This "is a political plot to demonize our system."

Asked why North Korean officials -- after years of diplomatic discretion -- have mounted such a public campaign, Jang said they think the resolution is directed at their leader: "We hold … our respected Martial Kim Jong Un in highest esteem," he said, employing a title North Korean officials use to highlight their leader's supposed military prowess. "We could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to -- we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot."

But Michael Kirby, an Australian judge who led the commission of inquiry, said no one should be fooled by North Korea's new geniality, which included the release of American Jeffrey Fowle, whom Pyongyang was holding prisoner, as well as its recent, first-ever commitment to accept a series of human rights recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council. "This house, the United Nations, speaks endlessly of universal human rights … and the obligation of those who are guilty of crimes against humanity to answer before justice for their crimes," Kirby said at Wednesday's panel discussion on North Korean rights. "And the question that is before the United Nations now is, when we face such a moment of truth, will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea?… And my hope is that the answer to that question will be 'no. We don't back away. We stand for the principles of the United Nations, and we expect accountability for great crimes before justice. And that is the right of the people of North Korea."

Tweet of the Week: An Editorial That Won't Please Castro

From The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl:

Cuba's Democracy Movement Converges, Deserves U.S. and E.U. Support

Thursday, October 23, 2014
Last month, Cuban democracy leaders from throughout the island gathered in Havana to create a consensus of immediate demands.

They converged upon four simple points:

1. The release of political prisoners;
2. The end of political repression;
3. The ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights; and
4. The recognition of Cuban civil society within the island and the diaspora.

This week, a delegation of democracy leaders visited Warsaw and met with Polish government officials to discuss their plight and the European Union's relations with Cuba.

See the images below.

It's hard not to be impressed by the youth, diversity and dynamism of these Cuban democracy leaders.

They include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", intellectual Antonio Rodiles, blogger Yoani Sanchez, journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra, attorney Yaremis Flores, Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart and Catholic scholar Dagoberto Valdes.

Why is Castro's regime so afraid to meet face-to-face (in the same manner as below) with these Cuban democracy leaders?

Instead, it resorts to harassing, beating and imprisoning them.

Shamefully, The New York Times, along with Castro's lobbyists and propagandist, are working diligently for the U.S. to unilaterally and unconditionally normalize relations and invest billions in Cuba's brutal dictatorship.

However, the United States and the European Union must continue conditioning any improvement in relations with Castro's regime upon the fulfillment of these fundamental demands by Cuba's democrats.

Such a principled stance is the best investment in Cuba's future.


Tweet of the Day: NYT's Wishful Thinking, Castro's Intransigence

Yesterday, New York Times reporter Damien Cave discovered that the "wishful thinking" of his Editorial Board is naïve (at best):

Must-Read: Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

By Cuban democracy activist Karel Becerra in the PanAm Post:

Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

If Economic Pressure Forces Reforms, Up the Pressure

A few days ago the New York Times asked for an end to the “embargo on Cuba.” However, they should have asked for an end to the embargo on Castro. Cubans have nothing to impound: no properties, no houses, no cars, no furniture not even intellectual property; everything belongs to the communist government.

This misunderstood contradiction means people such as the Times editorial board see a generous leader fighting against imperialism and a country “that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961.” Meanwhile, the Cuban people who know the truth see a civil society impoverished by a dictatorship in Cuba that has held power for over five decades.

The Times presents two main arguments: “shifting politics in the United States” and “changing policies in Cuba.” Therefore, they contend, it is now “politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.”

The first argument is supported by a telephone survey of a sample of one thousand respondents in nation of 300 million citizens and a Cuban community of over one million. It lacks of scientific rigor and is meaningless.

The second argument falls flat after a mere glance at Cuba’s Official Gazette, where allowed private activities are nothing but “topping palms, fixing shoes, and selling plastic bags.” The Times adds that, as part of these reforms, it is now possible for Cubans to “sell properties like cars and houses,” although they fail to mention buying them. Even the Times knows it is impossible for a Cuban who fixes shoes or sells plastic bags to pay US$25,000 to buy a car.

However, the Times argues that “in recent years, a devastated economy has forced Cuba to make reforms.” Here begs the question: if the reforms have been forced on the government, they are not really open to a freer market, so why ask for an end to the embargo?

The Times‘ logic only holds if they can show that lifting the embargo would have a negative impact in the economy, since then Castro would be forced to make additional reforms.

The Times ignores the facts that shape the real world. Castro’s regime only reacts under pressure, from inside or from outside.  The pseudo reforms in Cuba are nothing but “a process that has gained urgency with the economic crisis in Venezuela.” Yet, the Times editors ignore the interference of Castro in Venezuela, which has contributed to their sister nation’s economic crisis.

Last but not least, the Times tries to defend Odebrecht, a Brazilian enterprise involved in cases of corruption. This has occurred while investing billions of dollars in El Mariel, helping to build a seaport in Cuba with Brazilian capital.

Do the Cuban workers receive their salaries directly from the investing company? Will Cuban entrepreneurs be able to import or export their products? The answer to both is no!

The Mariel seaport investment only serves the regime and its heirs. This investment constitutes explicit support for Castro’s regime and its planned successors. No matter how hard the Times tries, there is no way to hide that fact.

But apparently the “great project [will] be economically viable only if American sanctions are lifted.” After five years of construction, it has become evident that they need an end to the embargo! It seems that a dam was built without a river.

Well, that’s how socialism works: mourn and blame someone else.

“End the economic embargo! Lift the sanctions!” go the cries of the Times. First the seaport and now the river to North American markets. Fortunately for the people of Cuba, they are running out of time and the river is not available for navigation.

Hotels Magazine: Cuban Military is Latin America's Largest Conglomerate

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, has released its compilation of the world's 325 largest hotel companies and consortia.

The list is topped by the likes of the U.K's InterContinental Group (#1), the U.S.'s Hilton (#2) and Marriott (#3), and France's Accor (#6).

Meanwhile, the largest Latin America-based hotel conglomerate is Cuba's Grupo Turismo Gaviota (#55).

Think about this: Gaviota -- on its own -- is larger than any Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Argentinian, etc., hotel company.

Of course, Gaviota is owned by the Cuban military ("MINFAR"), through a conglomerate called GAESA (headed by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas).

Also appearing independently on the list are Cuba's Grupo Cubanacan (#171), Hoteles Islazul (#231), Grupo Hotelero Gran Caribe (#287).

These are all also owned by Cuba's MINFAR, through GAESA.

Thus, if calculated together, GAESA would be the 34th largest hotel company in the world -- ahead of the Walt Disney Company.

And that's just hotels. It doesn't include all of the other business sectors (retail, transportation, arms trafficking, etc.) under GAESA's direct control.

This is the sad legacy that millions of Canadian and European tourists have left Cuba over the last two decades.

Has it brought freedom to the Cuban people? Or prosperity? Quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime, along with its apologists, operatives and cohorts, lobby tirelessly for the U.S. to add millions of its tourists to this calculation.

That would surely place GAESA in the Top 10.

Rubio to Kerry: U.S. Must Defend Summit's Democracy Clause

October 21, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

With the Seventh Summit of the Americas quickly approaching, I am deeply concerned that the Administration has sent mixed messages to the Panamanian government regarding the participation of undemocratic countries. During the 2001 Summit in Quebec City, the United States made a formal commitment that a democratic system is an “essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits”. Thus, as a non-democracy, Cuba should remain excluded from the Summit.

Just last month, State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, stated: “[O]ur view is that at the 2001 Summit of the Americas, all participating governments agreed to consensus that ‘The maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are at the same time a goal and a shared commitment and are an essential condition of our presence at this and future summits.’ So we should not undermine commitments previously made, but should instead encourage – and this is certainly our effort – the democratic changes necessary for Cuba to meet the basic qualifications.

Then, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, emphasized: “I think we have made clear that we believe the Summit process is committed to democratic governance and we think that the governments that are sitting at that table ought to be committed to the Summit principles, which include democratic governance.

Those words will stand hollow if our country fails to stand by these principles. Furthermore, allowing a country that is a habitual violator of human rights and has not allowed a free election in over 50 years would damage everything that the Summit wishes to accomplish. Cuba should not be allowed to undermine the commitment to democracy made by the remaining nations of the Western Hemisphere during the Summit process.  Moreover, the United States should not stand idly by if Panama does indeed intend to invite Cuba to the Summit.

Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the mixed message sent recently by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, John Feeley, who told the Panamanian media that "it’s not so important the guests at the table but the meal that’s served."

I urge you to reaffirm the United States’ position that Cuba should only be welcome to participate in the Summit when the Castro regime abandons its repression of the island’s population and to ensure that the nations of the Western Hemisphere are left with no doubt that the United States will stand firmly behind the formal commitment it made at the Quebec Summit.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
United States Senator