It's Official: Obama Can't Transfer Guantanamo to Raul

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Throughout the year, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has demanded the transfer of Guantanamo as a condition for the "normalization" of relations with the United States.

As of today, that would be against U.S. law.

Late this afternoon, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, which was approved by a veto-proof majority of the U.S. Congress.

Among the provisions in the bill is Section 1036, which states:

"No amounts authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2016 may be used— (1) to close or abandon United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; (2) to relinquish control of Guantanamo Bay to the Republic of Cuba; or (3) to implement a material modification to the Treaty Between the United States of America and Cuba signed at Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1934 that constructively closes United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay."

Thus, sorry Raul, no Guantanamo for you.

Cuban Dissident Leaders: Castro Using Migration Crisis to Gain Further Concessions

Declaration on the Cuban Migrant Crisis

Forum for Rights and Freedoms, 23 November 2015 — In recent weeks we have observed, with deep concern, the development of a new migration crisis. The human drama that thousands of Cubans are experiencing already affects the entire Central American region, the Caribbean, and especially Costa Rica, a nation that has received migrants with great solidarity, in contrast to the complicity of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

The Castro regime has decided, once again – we recall the Camarioca exodus in 1965, the Mariel Boatlift in the 1980s, the Rafter Crisis in 1994 – to use Cubans as pieces in their political game, putting at risk their lives and safety. Denunciations of abuse, assaults and every kind of crime against Cuban emigrants has elicited the solidarity of all people of goodwill.

Since coming the Castro dictatorship’s coming to power, the regime has used migratory crises to win concessions from the United States.

In this case, the regime is pressuring the United States, and involving third parties, in the midst of a process of normalization between the Obama administration and the dictatorship, to win additional concessions from president Obama, without having to take steps to improve the appalling situation of human rights in Cuba.

We condemn the profound contempt, and the indolent and inhumane attitude of the dictatorship towards Cubans. Only a transition to democracy and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms can reverse the misery that exists on the island.

We appeal to international organizations and those involved to be in solidarity with the Cuban people and their right to be free, in the face of his scenario that becomes more complex every day.

Ailer González, Estado de Sats
Ángel Moya, Democratic Movement for Cuba
Ángel Santiesteban, Estado de Sats
Antonio G. Rodiles, Estado de Sats
Berta Soler, The Ladies in White
Claudio Fuentes, Estado de Sats
Egberto Escobedo, Association of Cuban Political Prisoners
María Cristina Labrada, The Ladies in White
Raul Borges, Christian Democratic Unity Party

Jeb: I Would Close Embassy in Cuba

NGO Petitions U.N. to Inquire Into Death of Cuban Democracy Leader

From the New York-based Human Rights Foundation:

Cuba: HRF Asks UN to Inquire Into Suspicious Death of Oswaldo Payá

Yesterday, Human Rights Foundation (HRF) submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (U.N. Special Rapporteur), requesting that he send an allegation letter to the government of Cuba regarding the inconsistencies of the government’s official investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá in 2012. HRF documented numerous due process violations, including damning witness accounts, a grossly inadequate autopsy examination, and other key pieces of evidence that were overlooked by the Cuban judicial system.

“Oswaldo Payá was the most prominent Cuban pro-democracy activist of the last two decades and he was killed in circumstances that indicate foul play in the Western Hemisphere’s only totalitarian country,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “We ask the Special Rapporteur to question the Cuban government about evidence that strongly suggests that Payá’s death was the result of a car crash caused by agents of the dictatorship. We ask the Special Rapporteur to help the Payá family in their search for truth and justice,” said Halvorssen.

The legal report HRF submitted to the U.N. Special Rapporteur concludes that “the evidence the Cuban State deliberately ignored strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012 were not an accident, as was quickly claimed by authorities in State-owned media and later rubber-stamped in Cuba’s totalitarian court system. Rather, Payá’s death is the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the State, acting (1) with the intent to kill Oswaldo Payá and his fellow passengers in the vehicle; (2) with the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm to them; or (3) with reckless or depraved indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to the life of Oswaldo Payá.”

Long-Term Arbitrary Detentions on the Rise in Cuba

From Frontline Defenders:

Cuba: Ongoing arbitrary detention of human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco amidst arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment of peaceful demonstrators

Mr. Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been arbitrarily detained since 25 October 2015 and is now facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in peaceful demonstrations in Cuba.

Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza are also currently under detention following their arbitrary arrest on 5 November 2015 and a summary trial on 6 November 2015 in which they were sentenced to 6 months imprisonment.

This is an example of several cases of arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment against defenders in Cuba in the past months. Amongst them, the case of human rights defenders Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, both of whom were arrested on 11 November 2015 and released the following day.

Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez, Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza and Jorge Luis García Pérez "Antúnez" are members of Frente de Acción Cívica “Orlando Zapata Tamayo” (Civic Action Front “Orlando Zapata Tamayo” - FACOZT). FACOZT is an organisation that fights for the release of political prisoners in Cuba and reports human rights abuses committed by police forces against peaceful demonstrators in the country.

Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera is the president of Movimiento por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks (Rosa Parks Civil Rights Movement), which is a feminist movement fighting to end the repression against human rights defenders and for the release of political prisoners.

Human rights defender Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco has been detained since 25 October 2015 when he was arrested while on his way to participate in the demonstration “Todas Marchamos” (We all March), organised by the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) movement. He is being detained at the Fifth Unit of the Municipality Playa (Quinta Unidad del Municipio Playa), in Havana. The human rights defender is facing charges of public disorder linked to his participation in a demonstration at the premises of the Attorney General's office on 22 October 2015 demanding that all human rights defenders detained during the Pope's visit to Cuba should be released.

Human rights defenders Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza were arrested on 5 November 2015 and taken to the police station in the city of Palma Soriano. In the morning of 6 November 2015 both human rights defenders were subjected to a summary judgement and sentenced to six months imprisonment. They were both convicted of failing to pay a fine of 15,000 Cuban pesos (approximately 4,700 euros) for allegedly making anti-government graffiti in the city of Palma Soriano. The graffitti read "Queremos Cambios" (We want change), "No más hambre" (No more hunger), "No más desempleo" (no more unemployment).

On 11 November 2015, at approximately 7am, members of the regime’s special brigade broke into the home of Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” in Camaguey and arrested him along with his wife and fellow human rights defender Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera. The arrests happened one day after Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” launched the campaign “No, no and no” (“No, no y no”) asking the government to free Messrs Geovanys Izaguirre Hernandez and Laudelino Rodriguez Mendoza. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez” and Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were released the following day, but their home was seized by the police and their computer was taken along with some documents.

Front Line Defenders has received recurrent reports on arbitrary detentions conducted against human rights defenders in Cuba. The human rights organization Information Centre “Let's Talk” Press (Centro de Información Hablemos Press - CIHPRESS) has recently issued a document reporting 1,021 arbitrary and politically motivated arrests in Cuba in the month of October 2015 alone. The alarming number of arbitrary detentions in Cuba shows that human rights defenders who speak out against the regime continue to be targets of systematic repression. In this context, one of the most vulnerable group of human rights defenders are the women from Damas de Blanco since they are frequently subject to harassment during their weekly protests in Havana and other Cuban cities. This group of women has seen an increased pattern of arbitrary detention against them, where the government detain them for a few hours and re-arrest them the following week.

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned at the arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders in Cuba, intended to silence all dissenting voices. Further concern is expressed at the continuous acts of violence and human rights violations committed against those who fight for the implementation of human rights in the country.

Who Benefits From U.S. Debit Cards in Cuba

Monday, November 23, 2015
Last week, Florida-based Stonegate Bank, in partnership with MasterCard, announced it will issue debit cards to be used in Cuba by authorized U.S. travelers.

An open question remains whether the use of these debit cards constitutes financing (e.g. through an overdraft feature) and, therefore, a violation of Section 103 of the LIBERTAD Act, "Prohibition Against Indirect Financing of Cuba."

Clearly, credit cards would have been illegal -- but Congress, bank regulators and perhaps even the courts, should look into whether these debit cards also constitute financing for purposes of this prohibition.

But from a policy perspective -- who stands to benefit the most from the use of these debit cards in Cuba?

Currently, there are 10,000 locations in Cuba that process such cards, of which 2,500 were installed in 2015, pursuant to Obama's January regulations authorizing their use.

Every single one of these locations are regime-owned facilities.

And, according to the AP, the Castro regime is so excited about the fees and income it will charge for these cards that -- "on Wednesday, officials with Cuban state company Cimex said the government plans to [further] expand credit card processing to commercial and retail outlets throughout Cuba in early 2016."

Again, all at regime-owned facilities.

But, as the AP reveals, the biggest winner is the "Cuban state company" in charge of processing every single one of these transactions -- CIMEX.

CIMEX stands for Cuban Export-Import Corporation, one of the Cuban military's largest commercial entities, whose operations range from banking to retail. It's yearly revenues are over $1.5 billion and rising -- thanks to Obama's new policy.

The head of CIMEX is Colonel Hector Oroza Busutin, a Raul Castro confidant. CIMEX falls within the greater GAESA military conglomerate, which is headed by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

Thus, once again, the beneficiaries of Obama's new policy are not the Cuban people, or the "self-employed" entrepreneurs, who the President purports to support.

The beneficiaries are the Castro family and its military conglomerates.

The Sobering Truth About Business in Cuba

Last week, there was an article in Forbes entitled, "What You Need To Know If You're Considering Doing Business In Cuba."

Its author is Mike Coates, president and chief executive of Hill & Knowlton Strategies Americas, who had just returned from the Havana International Trade Fair.

Amid the fluff, here are two important (and sobering) excerpts, for those who -- wittingly or unwittingly -- plead ignorance:

-- From what we saw, the jubilant mood of the international community is clouding the reality on the ground that the Cuban government is unwilling to bend its existing rules for conducting business. Under those rules, a foreign business must partner with the government and most likely agree to be represented by a state-owned law firm. Once that hurdle is overcome, management at the local level presents another complication: The permit to establish an office takes three years to obtain, and labor must be hired and paid through a government recruitment agency. It is illegal for an investor to pay employees directly, as a Canadian businessman recently discovered when he was jailed for breaking this law.

-- Our advice to companies looking to invest in Cuba is: Assess the opportunity carefully, hire good advisers, accept that government will be your partner, and, most important, be patient while proceeding.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Add the fact that your business "partner" is a totalitarian dictatorship that imprisons, beats and kills innocent people; that your "partner" works against American interests throughout the world, alongside Iran, Russia, Syria and North Korea; and that these "rules" violate nearly every international labor and corporate ethics code.

How this can be acceptable to any principled businessman is simply a question we can't answer.

Quote (Thought) of the Day: To Invest or Escape Cuba?

The question that needs to be asked is: If [Cuban migrants] can obtain $15,000, why do they prefer to invest it in a dangerous escape, rather than in creating a business or prospering in their own country? The answer is painful and overwhelming: because here there are no guarantees, nor hope and because their lifespan is not long enough to wait for the fulfillment of promises of a better tomorrow, which are like the horizon: moving farther away every time we are near touching them.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger and independent journalist, 14ymedio, 11/21/15