Over 882 Political Arrests in September

Tuesday, October 6, 2015
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 882 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of September 2015.

This bring the total number of political arrests in the first nine months of this year to 5,146.

In just nine months, these 5,146 political arrests surpass the year-long tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests), 2011 (4,123 political arrests) and is (tragically) on-pace to become one of the most repressive years in recent history.

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

It's "what change looks like."

Must-Read: Cuba's Regime Tries to Blackmail the U.S. Congress

As we posted months ago -- far from "empowering the Cuban people" -- the Obama Administration's new policy has put Castro's monopolies squarely in the driver's seat.

Click here to read, "How the Tail (Castro) is Wagging the Dog (Obama and U.S. Business)."

Now that the Obama Administration and the U.S. agri-business lobby are eating out of its hand, Cuba's regime wants to blackmail the U.S. Congress.

From Politico:

Cuba to US: We don’t want your food

As the White House tries to open up a trade relationship, Cuba shuts off the spigot. What’s going on?

As President Obama’s Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker journeys to Havana tomorrow to promote the idea of a warmer U.S. trade relationship with Cuba, she's shadowed by an awkward fact: The existing trade between the two nations is vanishing, and nobody is quite sure why.

Strange as it might sound for a country under a 53-year embargo, Cuba does buy a significant quantity of American goods every year, thanks to a little-known exception that allows American companies to sell food and medical supplies there. But as the two countries grow diplomatically closer, that business relationship has dropped off sharply.

Agricultural exports to Cuba slid from $710 million to $291 million between  2007 and in 2014. In the first seven months of this year, they’ve fallen to $122 million, a 41 percent drop. In July, the only agricultural product that Cuba imported from the United States was poultry, according to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

As Pritzker arrives on Tuesday for two days of high-level talks with senior Cuban officials, the drop-off is a stark reminder of how much control the Cuban government can exert over the relationship—and the limits of the White House’s ability to promote U.S. interests.

"What the Obama administration does is only 50 percent of the equation. This is also about what the Cuban government wants,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “And right now the Cuban government is showing a less than enthusiastic focus on what the president’s done.”

In part the numbers are going down because of pure economics: falling commodity prices push down the value of all trade. Many experts also point to the fact that Cuba can buy agricultural products in a global market. The U.S. has some major competitive advantages—high-quality products and a coastline less than 100 miles from Cuban soil—but American producers still have international competition. And a U.S. law forbids domestic producers from selling agricultural goods on credit to Cuba, putting U.S. producers at a disadvantage.

But many experts say economics is only part of the reason for the decline in exports. They also point a finger at politics. All U.S. agricultural goods must be sold to one state-owned company, Alimport, and many Cuba observers generally believe the Castro regime uses it as a political lever. During much of the 2000s, Alimport purchased U.S. agricultural products from dozens of states with the hope of garnering support from the states’ respective lawmakers to repeal the embargo.

"Alimport can certainly make decisions on imports that aren’t purely economic,” said Michael Gershberg, the special counsel at Fried Frank who focuses on trade issues. “If they receive orders from the government to make decision based on political reasons, that can certainly have an effect [on purchases].”

When the strategy failed, the Cuban government moved in the opposite direction: Instead of buying from many different states, it decided to dramatically cut back on all U.S. agricultural products.

“They tried the carrot. That didn’t work,” said Parr Rosson, the head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. “This may be the stick.”

As diplomatic relations improved over the past year, the “stick” approach remains. In 2007, U.S. producers sold $109 million worth of corn and $67 million worth of soybeans to Alimport. Through July of this year, they’ve sold less than $5 million worth of corn and less than $7 million worth of soybeans. In fact, total U.S. food sales to Cuba fell to less than $4 million in July, one of the lowest numbers since the law allowing such U.S. agricultural exports took effect in 2001.

Despite the Obama administration’s desire to renew diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, increased trade still requires cooperation on the part of the Cubans. Pritzker’s visit to Havana this week is intended to push Cuba towards a more open business climate. But if President Raul Castro intends to restrict purchases of U.S. agricultural products as leverage to pressure American politicians into repealing the embargo entirely—a job that falls to Congress—the White House is stuck.

Obama's Cuba Policy: Distract from Human Life, Focus on Marine Life

On the same day human rights monitors were reporting over 882 political arrests by the Castro regime in September 2015 -- documenting an exponential rise in human repression on the island --  Secretary of State John Kerry was in Chile promoting some vague marine life agreement with the Castro regime.

Talk about misplaced priorities.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, which found no space to report on the increase in human repression in Cuba, lavished praise on the marine life agreement.

From The New York Times:

Cuba and U.S. Agree to Work Together to Protect Marine Life

The Cuban and American governments have agreed to work hand in hand to protect marine life in the seas that join their countries, a move that represents the first environmental dividend of a thaw between the two Cold War foes.

Under an agreement announced Monday at an oceans conference in Valparaíso, Chile, government agencies from Cuba and the United States are to map marine life in protected areas in the Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico and compile an inventory of shared species.

Quote of the Day: Cuba's Absolute Violation of Freedom of Expression

In Cuba there's a structural situation whereby the violation of freedom of expression is absolute.
-- Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, during the Inter-American Press Association's General Assembly, 10/5/15

WSJ Editorial: Obama's Castro Courtship

Sunday, October 4, 2015
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Obama’s Castro Courtship

The U.S. may stay silent while the U.N. condemns the U.S. trade embargo.

President Obama gave Raúl Castro the expected gift of a handshake photo-op this week, conferring legitimacy on the 56-year-old dictatorship with a bilateral meeting. But could Mr. Obama’s courtship of the Castros be so passionate that he’d even abstain from an anti-U.S. resolution at the United Nations?

That’s the recent scoop from the Associated Press, which reported that the Obama Administration is debating whether to let the U.N. condemn the U.S. trade embargo without a peep of protest. What a stunning turn that would be. Cuba and its pals roll out the condemnation every year in the General Assembly, and the U.S. routinely votes against it.

For the U.S. to abstain now would essentially endorse a denunciation of America by an assembly that includes some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. This goes well beyond Mr. Obama’s famous “apology” tours for alleged past U.S. sins. He would be apologizing for a law currently on the books that has been supported by members of both parties for years and that Mr. Obama has taken an oath to uphold and enforce.

Mr. Obama may feel he must slap America in the face in this fashion because Raúl has been playing hard to get. The U.S. President has given him diplomatic recognition, easier travel by Americans to the island, and returned some spies. But Mr. Castro now says he won’t make any concessions until the U.S. lifts the trade embargo and returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.

The current Congress won’t do either, which means Mr. Obama has to find other ways to please the Castros enough that they’ll grant him the Havana trip Mr. Obama covets before he leaves office. If refusing to oppose a denunciation of America at the U.N. doesn’t work, don’t be surprised if he does try to give Gitmo back without Congressional approval.

When Did America Become So Spineless?

By James S. Robbins in USA Today:

Ich bin ein Bejinger

Insulated communist leaders need to hear call for human rights loud and clear.

When did America become so spineless? There was a time when the world expected the United States to be a resolute voice for human rights, when American diplomacy sought to prick the conscience of dictators. There was an age when we assumed that role with pride. It gave birth to “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Tear down this wall.”

But now the first principle of American foreign policy is: never hurt anybody's feelings.

Case in point: Last Thursday Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a unanimous consent resolution that would rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” after the noted dissident and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He and his wife Liu Xia are currently languishing in a Chinese prison for the crime of promoting political freedom and justice in the communist state. Renaming the plaza would force Chinese diplomats to see Liu Xiaobo’s name on their way to work, and on every piece of mail that crossed their desks.

There is worthy precedent. In 1984, the street in front of the Soviet Embassy was renamed “Andrei Sakharov Plaza,” honoring the famous human rights activist who was in internal exile with his wife Yelena Bonner in Gorky. The measure passed Congress with strong bipartisan backing. Of course, there were naysayers. Columnist Jack Anderson called it a childish "cheap shot." But this symbolic measure did not derail U.S./Soviet relations, and may have helped Sakharov. A year later, Bonner was freed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. A year after that they were both released from Gorky. Who knows, maybe the renaming showed Moscow that the United States was serious.

But that was then. Sen. Cruz’s attempt to tweak Beijing failed when Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., raised an objection. She did not want the Senate to embarrass Chinese president Xi Jinping on his trip to the U.S. "Maybe people don't believe that diplomacy makes a difference,” she said, “but I do." By this definition, diplomacy means that no foreign dictator ever be made to feel a modicum of displeasure or be forced into even a moment of reflection on their contemptible ways.

The White House made this point more vividly. A group of demonstrators — pro-Tibet, pro-human rights, anti-communist — had gathered in Lafayette Park across from the executive mansion during Xi Jinping’s visit. But the White House bowed to Chinese requests that Xi be spared the sight or sound of protesters on his Washington visit. For fear of what? That he might stomp off in a huff?

In a similar incident last July, two Cuban pro-democracy activists were threatened at the State Department just for showing up. Dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and Rosa María Paya, daughter of the late pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, attended a joint press conference by Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. They were confronted by a U.S. official who informed them if they tried to ask any questions they would be forcibly ejected. They probably felt like they were back home in totalitarian Havana.

Is President Obama’s standing in the world so weak that he fears any show of American resolve will scuttle his delicate diplomacy? It is worth remembering that Senate approval of the 1984 renaming at the Soviet embassy came weeks after President Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had a productive meeting to discuss Reagan’s ambitious proposal for a broad arms control framework. But for Reagan, progress on arms control did not come at the expense of America’s responsibility for global leadership. His diplomacy spoke from a posture of both power and principle.

“Ronald Reagan understood that standing for human rights actually strengthens our diplomatic hand,” Sen. Cruz told me. “It highlights the very principles that make our nation great.” He stressed that it is not a question of whether or not to talk to our adversaries, but “we don’t have to grant them moral parity. We don’t have to check our values at the negotiating-room door.”

Sen. Cruz intends to bring the matter back to the Senate floor this week, hopefully with better results. Because this kind of diplomacy does make a difference.

Obama Doesn't Understand Why Raul Bites His Hand

By renowned Cuban author and journalist, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

Obama doesn't understand why Raúl bites his hand

In his United Nations speech, Raúl Castro attacked “the blockade,” demanded the return of the base at Guantánamo, and asked for an end to the Radio Martí broadcasts. He defended Nicolás Maduro and Rafael Correa. He sided with el-Assad's Syria, Iran, Russia, and Puerto Rican independence. He criticized the market economy and, in a heavy-handed flourish, closed with a quote from his brother Fidel, an obligatory gesture in Cuba's unctuous revolutionary liturgy.

Shortly thereafter, he met with the U.S. president. According to The Washington Post, a somewhat disappointed Obama mentioned to him the overlooked matter of human rights and democracy. There wasn't even a glimpse of a political opening.

Obama doesn't understand that, with the Castro brothers, there is no quid pro quo or give-and-take. To the Castros, the socialist model (they constantly repeat this) is perfect, their “democracy” is the best in the planet and the dissidents and the Ladies in White who ask for civil liberties are merely salaried servants of the yanqui embassy, invented by the media, people who deserve to be thrashed.

The Cuban government has nothing to rectify. Let the United States, that imperial power that abuses other nations, rectify. Let capitalism, that system that spreads misery worldwide with its free market, repulsive competition, hurtful inequalities and lack of commiseration, rectify.

To the Castros and their troops of battle-hardened Marxist-Leninists, indifferent to reality, the solution to all evils is in the collectivism managed by army officers, with the Castro family directing the puppet show.

Raúl, Fidel, and all those around them are proud of having created the greatest subversive core in the 1960s, when they founded the Tricontinental and nurtured all the terrorist groups on earth who knocked at their doors or forged their own intelligence services.

They worship the figure of Che, dead as a result of those bloody goings-on and recall with emotion the hundreds of guerrillas they trained or launched against half the planet, including the democracies in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.

They become teary-eyed when they remember their feats in Africa, carried out for the purpose of creating satellites for the glory of the USSR and the sacred cause of communism, as they did in Angola, where they managed to dominate the other anti-colonial guerrillas. Later, in bloody combat on the Ogaden desert, they defeated the Somalis, their friends before the war, who are now confronting Ethiopia, Havana's new ally.

They feel not the slightest remorse for having executed adversaries and sympathizers, for having persecuted homosexuals or religious believers, for having confiscated estates that had been honorably acquired, for having separated families and pushed into exile thousands of people who ended up at the bottom of the sea. What does this minor individual suffering matter when compared with the glorious feat of “seizing the skies by storm” and changing the history of humanity?

O for the grand days of the not-so-cold war, when Cuba was the spearhead of the worldwide revolution against the United States and its minions in the West! A glorious era, betrayed by Gorbachev, when it seemed that soon the Red Army would triumphantly camp on Washington's boulevards.

Obama's mistake is thinking that his 10 predecessors at the White House erred when they decided to challenge the Castros and their revolution, identifying them as enemies of the United States and of the ideas upheld by democracy and freedom.

Obama doesn't understand the Castros nor is capable of gauging their significance, because he was not -- as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. were -- steeled in the defense of this country against a very real Soviet threat.

Even Clinton, who dodged the draft rather than fight in Vietnam, in the post-Soviet era understood the nature of the Cuban government and signed the Helms-Burton Act to combat it. Bush Jr. inherited from his father the conviction that an enemy crouched 90 miles away and treated Havana in that spirit during his two terms of office.

Obama was different. When he came to the presidency, 18 years had passed since the Berlin Wall had been toppled. To him, the Cold War was a remote and foreign phenomenon. He didn't realize that there were places, like Cuba and North Korea, where the old paradigms survived.

He had been a community organizer in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, concerned by the troubles and lack of opportunities that afflicted his people. His battle was of a domestic nature and was inspired by the struggle for civil rights. His leitmotif was to change America, not to defend it from external foes.

Like many U.S. liberals and radicals, especially those in his generation, he thought that little Cuba had been the victim of the imperial arrogance of the United States and could reform and normalize as soon as his nation gave it a hand.

Today, he is incapable of understanding why Raúl bites that hand instead of gripping it. He doesn't know that old Stalinists kill and die with their fangs always sharp and ready. It's all part of the revolutionary nature.

SOS: Three Innocent Lives at Risk in Cuba

Saturday, October 3, 2015
SOS: Three innocent lives at risk in Cuba

This call for help for the lives of three humble and peaceful Cubans is addressed to Pope Francis, to the governments of the free world, to organizations defending human rights and all people of good will.

On the morning of Sunday September 20th, within minutes from the start of the first Mass by Pope Francis in Cuba, three residents of Calabazar village in the Cuban capital, with Biblical names and members of a cell of the pro-democracy organization Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, named “Felix Varela” passed through Security rings without hurting anyone and approached the Bishop of Rome with the intention of calling attention to the things that make our country an inferno for the lives of most Cubans.

Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and the outstanding Lady in White Maria Josefa Acón Sardinas, wanted the Supreme Pontiff, the foreign press, and through this, the World, to know that in Cuba there are political prisoners who survive in subhuman conditions, that we live under a harsh dictatorship that tramples the rights and fundamental freedoms of human beings, and that the repressive forces beat Peaceful Women and men who just dream about a fraternal, fair, democratic and prosperous Cuba.

These three good Cubans, Zaqueo, Ismael and Maria, are on hunger strike as of Sunday September 20, and later also of thirst, in the infamous center for “investigations” at Aldabó and 100th Street in Havana. They are accused of assault, disrespect, public disorder and resistance. Their lives are in grave danger. With their strike they are sending a clear Message: they are not willing to serve prison time for an action to which they were compelled by the criminal methods of the Castro regime and the indifferent attitude towards the suffering of the victims of repression displayed by institutions and personalities that have a sacred duty to condemn abuses, all affront to human dignity, and always be “good Samaritans”.

In an open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, dated September 3, we had already warned: “Many members of our organization and other groups of independent civil society wish to attend, with discipline and respect, to your masses, but the secret political police will prevent them as happened during the visit of your predecessor Benedict XVI. On behalf of those who could spend the days of your historic visit in dark dungeons, we also, since now, give you our warmest welcome.”

We had also written to the Cuban Bishops in order to inform them on the brutal beatings and even torture against peaceful human rights defenders. The same day of the arrival of the Successor of Peter to Havana, many dissidents were surrounded, and that same evening Berta Soler, Martha Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leyva were arrested. The three had been invited by the Church to be among those who would welcome the Argentinian Pope on his arrival in the Nunciature. All this was convincing Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael that there was no choice: They had to raise the cry of an enslaved people in that square.

Zacchaeus and his wife Mary received permanent surveillance since the day before, only the correctness of their intention, and perhaps their biblical names and that of the UNPACU cell they belong to (Felix Varela), could make it possible for them to avoid so many agents of the secret political police and get to Francis on that Sunday morning. Gallant Zaqueo rose to reach the representative of Christ, of whom he had heard was a fair man, concerned about the persecuted and oppressed of the earth.

Mary, like the mother of Jesus, suffered long ago the Stations of the Cross of her people, her sisters the Ladies in White and her own. Countless are the arbitrary arrests, beatings and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment. Ishmael, like Abraham’s son, knows what it means to wander in the wilderness, be expelled, to live without rights, so he thought he should overcome the fear that paralyzes, (John Paul II told us: Do not be afraid), and that Sunday to do for his country what he had never done and we all should do. Ismael thought, God will hear me.

The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Whereas it is essential that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, so that man is not compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.” In Cuba we have a regime that blatantly and cynically violates the civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights. The Castro regime’s abuses committed against the people are more than enough for Cubans to rebel against injustice. Cuban democrats are people of peace convinced that violence is never the best solution, so we persevere in our peaceful struggle in the midst of hatred and brutal repression.

Zaqueo, Maria e Ismael wanted (and succeeded in doing so, and all Cubans are indebted to them), to draw attention to our difficult reality. Complex reality that when healthy solution is not sought in time, ends fatally producing extreme situations like the one we see today in Syria. Situations that the Pope, and all people of good will, rightly condemn. Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael gave a prophetic cry, alerted everyone and told us with their action: It’s okay to rejoice with the process of normalization of relations between the US government and the Cuban regime, but do not forget the victims of violations of human rights, nor harbor any illusion that only that process will end the suffering of an oppressed people.

Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael were arrested before the Pope Francis and before several television cameras. The images were seen around the world. Now they have undergone 11 days on hunger strike and 6 without consuming water. Dozens of peaceful activists are now victims of repressive actions for claiming for their release. We fear for their lives. Therefore this SOS, is aimed at every person of good will.

Thank you so much.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia,
General Coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)