How Obama Could Easily Help Cuba's "Self-Employed"

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Last week, the Sun-Sentinel ran an article about efforts in Congress to clamp down on the abuses of "people-to-people" travel, which have become little more than Castro-hosted boondoggles to Cuba.

It's increasingly hard to argue (with a straight-face) that trips led by Castro regime officials (see The Nation's recent tour) or yacht cruises (despite Cubans being prohibited from boarding vessels) help "promote independence from the Cuban authorities," as President Obama stated was the purpose of these trips.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this article was that even anti-sanctions lobbyists agree that these "people-to-people" trips have become Castro-hosted boondoggles.

Of course, their solution would be to exacerbate the problem by allowing unfettered tourism to Cuba, whereby Americans would join the ranks of the millions of Canadians and Europeans that travel to the Cuban military's all-inclusive, isolated beach resorts -- even farther from the Cuban people.

This will eventually earn Americans the same disdain that the Cuban people hold for these Canadian and European tourists, who travel to Cuba for cheap resorts, rum, cigars and sex.

Funny, every traveler always points out how the Cuban people love Americans. How could that be? What about sanctions, hostility etc.? The answer is simple: Because the U.S. is the one country that has always opposed the dictatorship. Moreover, because its travelers don't (usually) go to exploit their repression.

Regardless, tourism travel to Cuba would require an Act of Congress. And that's not going to happen until there's genuine democratic reform in Cuba.

As a reminder, a provision in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (§910(b) of P.L. 106-387, Title IX) codified the ban on tourist activities in Cuba, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, "as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000."

In other words, if the license and category of travel didn't exist on June 1, 2000, then it's considered tourism and strictly prohibited. Only Congress can create new travel categories or lift the sanction.

Congress is much more likely to get rid of "people-to-people" travel altogether -- due to the rampant abuses -- than to lift the ban on tourism.

So let's join forces in simply adjusting "people-to-people" travel to make it consistent with the President's stated policy goals.

It's a proposal we made earlier this year -- a "middle-ground approach."

It's an approach that would: 1. help Cuba's "self-employment" sector; 2. not violate U.S. law; 3. not entail any new stream of capital entering the island; and 4. deny funds to Castro's monopolies.

It's a win-win all around.

It stems from a floor speech by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who made the important point:

"On the economic front, I think it's important to make the point that when people argue for trade and travel with Cuba, they are arguing to do so with Castro's monopolies. Let’s be clear, regular Cubans are prohibited from engaging in foreign trade and commerce. So we want to trade with Castro's monopolies? Do we? Do we want to reward the regime?

The U.S. government’s own report of agricultural sales to Cuba states how every single transaction with Cuba, by hundreds of American agricultural companies, have only had one counter-part: Castro's food monopoly, through a company named Alimport that hasn't helped the people one bit. So do we really want to unleash billions to Castro's monopolies?

Also, every single foreign 'people-to-people' traveler currently stays at a hotel or resort owned by the Cuban military (GAESA). No exceptions!

So, M. President, how does that promote the 'independence of the Cuban people from the regime?' as President Obama's policy statement upon releasing these regulations states?

At the very least, they should be compelled to stay at a 'casa particular' – a private home – but staying at the military's facilities contravenes the President's own policy statement. This hardly constitutes an economic opening for the people of Cuba."

There you have it.

We propose a simple requirement whereby all U.S. "people-to-people" travelers to Cuba -- better yet, every category of U.S. travelers to Cuba -- must stay exclusively at "casa particulares" and dine only at "paladares."

No more stays at the Castro regime's fancy Hotel Nacional and Hotel Saratoga, or parties at La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita and Tropicana.

And if the "casa particular" or "paladar" is a front for the Cuban military -- it's also a no-go.

It's an easy, direct and non-controversial way to help Cuba's "self-employed."

The Nation Goes to Cuba -- Says "Viva Castro!"

Last month, the far-left magazine The Nation, led a "people-to-people" trip to Cuba and returned enchanted by their "interlocutors" -- who just happened to all be Castro regime officials.

The Nation's editor is New York City heiress Katrina vanden Heuvel, who recently penned a column in The Washington Post about the trip, where she unwittingly admitted all of her talking points came from senior Castro regime officials (and intelligence agents).

This week, The Nation published a report of its trip findings.

Highlighted among its findings were various "erroneous assumptions" (or as vanden Heuvel calls them, "worn out fallacies") that their "interlocutors" claim people in the U.S. have about Cuba.

Among these "erroneous assumptions" are such gems as:

-- The military is the key institution in Cuba.

-- Dissent is prohibited and punished.

-- Political opposition groups are the democratic alternative in Cuba.

-- As long as one party remains in power, no democratization is possible.

-- Most youth want to leave Cuba.

-- Average monthly income in Cuba is $20.00

-- Cuban émigrés are exiles.

In case you feel stunned or confused in disbelief -- you're not -- they seriously claim none of the above are true.

Needless to say, The Nation didn't challenge, question or counter any of these "erroneous assumptions."

To the contrary, it proudly seeks to "debunk some of these worn out fallacies that some Americans still believe in."

The Nation's absurdity speaks for itself.

However, can the Obama Administration explain how this propaganda trip benefits the Cuban people or helps "promote their independence from Cuban authorities," as was the President's stated policy purpose for the "people-to-people" travel category?

Tweet of the Day: On Oswaldo Paya and a Free Cuba

By the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Keith Harper:

Quote(s) of the Day: Cuba, Israel and Gaza

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
The Middle East is currently in the midst of a huge tsunami - not because of what is happening in Gaza, but because of events in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere. This reality is not reflected in some of the United Nations bodies, such as the Human Rights Council, where such states as Cuba and Venezuela approve resolutions condemning Israel.
We will continue to fight terror and continue to fight the hypocrisy and anti-Semitism of bodies such as the UNHRC. When countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and the like, who do not know the concept of human rights, point an accusing finger towards us, it is a sign that we are doing the right things.
--Avigdor Libemran, Israel's Foreign Minister, pursuant to meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 7/23/14

Xi's "Blah-Blah" Trip to Cuba

Over the weekend, Chinese dictator Xi Jingping traveled to Argentina, where he signed finance deals worth $7.5 billion for two hydroelectric plants and a railway project.

China's interest in Argentina is commodity-based, mainly soybeans.

Then, Xi traveled to Venezuela, where he signed a $4 billion finance deal, in exchange for one million barrels of oil per day through 2016.

China's commodity interest in Venezuela is obvious.

Finally, Xi traveled to Havana where he reportedly (according to Cuban state media) signed various cooperation deals, of which no details or amounts were disclosed.

China's interest in Cuba is, well, rhetoric.

Xi's latest visit sounded eerily familiar to his 2011 trip to the island, where he also signed a "host of cooperation deals" -- few of which have seen the light of day.

The big news during Xi's 2011 trip was that China was going to build a $6 billion oil refinery in Cuba.

Imagine the media hype and propaganda.

Needless to say, it never happened.

The Chinese have long been skeptical of doing business with the Castro regime.

As a Wikileak-released 2010 State Department cable revealed:

"(C) Payment problems continue for all countries. Despite once again restructuring all of its official debt in 2009, Japan has yet to see any payments. Even China admitted to having problems getting paid on time and complained about Cuban requests to extend credit terms from one to four years. When France and Canada responded with "welcome to the club", China suggested Canada help secure payment from a Cuban joint venture that includes Canadian firm Sherritt International which is now reportedly receiving its share of profits.

(C) Foreign investors have been treated poorly in Cuba and new investors will demand additional protections and guarantees, according to the French. The Chinese complained that the GOC's insistence on keeping majority control of all joint ventures makes no sense. "No matter whether a foreign business invests $10 million or $100 million, the GOC's investment will always add up to 51%," China's commercial counselor said in visible exasperation. He noted a joint venture to produce high-yield rice that produced a good first harvest but was not sustainable at the GOC-mandated prices. Brazilian investors are taking a longer term view on returns, however, noting some success in raising capital for the refurbishment of the port at Mariel."

Kudos to Reuters for its prudent reporting on Xi's trip this week:

"China's flag flies from leased oil rigs along the northwest coast and a modern container port boasts Chinese equipment, but direct investments are limited to a communications venture established 15 years ago and an onshore oil block in Pinar del Rio province.

Chinese diplomats and businessmen have told Reuters over the years that they had little confidence in Cuba's ability to work efficiently with them, complained about the high cost of doing business, and said Cuba has balked at bringing construction crews in from China to build projects.

Little of the $80 billion China has invested in Latin America and the Caribbean in recent years has been in Cuba."

In stark contrast, the AP's Havana bureau simply regurgitated what Cuban state media released and -- as usual -- unquestionably praised Raul Castro's so-called "reforms."

Tweet of the Day: Castro's Import Monopoly

Tuesday, July 22, 2014
By Cuban blogger and photographer, Yusnaby Perez:

NO Cuban has the right to open a store of imported clothing in #Cuba. The government is the monopoly of imports.

How Cuba's Political Stage is Set Up

Excerpt by Erasmo Calzadilla in The Havana Times:

Cuba’s political stage is set up as follows --

On the one side, we have the people, not the real people but the people presupposed by the Party Guidelines: an innocent people, as helpless as a small child that tells the leaders its problems so that they can solve them.

On the other side of the equation we have the leaders: a group of know-it-all technocrats and responsible patriarchs who know what to do to solve the said problems, provided people work hard and remain disciplined.

If the technocrats wanted (this is the best part) they could solve social problems through unpopular measures, as their super-evil counterparts do in the rest of the world, but their commitment towards the people prevents them from going so far.

Ultimately, I am grateful for such unsubtle politicians, for politicians who think like foremen and bare themselves and call a spade a spade from time to time. I am confident such insolent remarks will someday end up angering Cubans and awakening their civic pride, their dormant dignity and their political awareness. If it happened to me, why can’t it happen to others?

Obama Should Stand With Democratic Forces in Venezuela

By Mike Gonzalez and Andrea Rodriguez in The Daily Signal:

The Deep Roots of the Border Crisis

The violence in Central America that leads to the crisis at our border is not an isolated example of policy gone awry but the tipping point of a failing policy on Latin America. Exhibit 1 is Venezuela. We don’t hear much about Venezuela anymore since the Obama administration let its dictatorial president regain the upper hand.

Yet, Venezuela is the distribution point for much of the drugs that end up in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which are then shipped from there to the United States. It is estimated that 75 percent of illegal drug flights outbound from South America land in Honduras and originate in Venezuela.

The cartels and street gangs that transship the drugs have overwhelmed the armed forces of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, giving them the No. 1, 4 and 5 highest murder rates in the world. This is why, when Central American parents hear from coyote networks that the Obama administration will give their children asylum, they swallow hard and hand them over to be taken through Mexico and deposited at the Rio Grande.

The Obama administration has known about this complete breakdown of order in our hemisphere for years. In fact, it has contributed to it through its own inaction and refusal to side with democratic forces in the region.

Two courageous Venezuelan journalists daily take personal risks to make sure Venezuela does not descend into a Cuban-style totalitarian dictatorship: David Moran and Gustavo Ocando. The first is the editor of LaPatilla.com, the leading online news publication in Venezuela with 42 million visits per month, and the second is editor of the daily La Verdad, a regional affiliate also with significant reach. These leaders of two of only a dozen opposition media outlets left in Venezuela were in Washington last week to drum up international support for democracy in their home country.

“The Obama administration lost a golden opportunity when it decided not to sanction government officials involved in human rights abuses,” said Moran. The time to act was in February when thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were taking to the streets daily in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities.

“It was a golden opportunity to deliver a moral blow to the government” of President Nicolas Maduro, he said.

Instead, “the Obama administration handed the baton to Brazil,” said Moran, referring to the Obama administration’s lead-from-behind policy of asking Brazil to be the regional lead on Venezuela.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a socialist herself, always has been easy on other socialists from Caracas to Havana. But this is not just a question of Marxist solidarity: Brazil’s construction giant, Odebrecht, has $20 billion in projects in Venezuela and an estimated $1.2 billion invested in Cuba, which explains why Rousseff’s administration is deeply committed to the survival of the two dictatorial regimes.

“The Obama administration asked Rousseff for permission to stand up for freedom in Venezuela, and when Brazil did not give its permission it did not wave the flag of freedom,” said Moran. Ocando rolls his eyes, too, when discussing the administration’s decision to follow Brazil’s lead. “The administration has lost its touch. It is very timid with Venezuela,” said Ocando.

Instead, the State Department counseled the leaders of the demonstrators and the political opposition to sit down and have a dialogue with Maduro, while opposing the sanctions that would have kept pressure on the Maduro government—talks he used to buy time and deflate the street pressure.

Now that the streets are quiet, Maduro once again has the upper hand and has called off the talks. So much for the State Department’s advice.

“The Obama administration has done little or nothing to prevent the repression against political and social actors, including the few independent news outlets that still exist,” Ocando said.

A Venezuela run by Maduro and other chavista henchmen is not in the U.S. national interest. As much as 25 percent of Colombia’s cocaine runs through Venezuela, with which Colombia has a porous 1,375-mile border. Ocando’s paper last year reported how remote indigenous villages near the border have been taken over by drug traffickers, turning the jungle into a scene from a Jack Ryan movie.

Today, said Moran sadly, Venezuela “is a country run by narco-traffickers” and Caracas has 162 murders a year per 100,000 inhabitants.

Previous administrations have dealt with bad actors in our hemisphere by supporting those who share our values, as President Reagan did with President Jose Napoleon Duarte in El Salvador and President George W. Bush with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Outsourcing policy to a socialist in Brasilia is not how a superpower behaves.

The Administration should send Venezuela’s opposition a clear message of solidarity, and get serious with Maduro by enacting targeted sanctions against key Venezuelan government officials, including revoking their visas and freezing their assets within the United States.