Name This Dictatorship

Sunday, August 31, 2014
Is the dictatorship described in the following news-story:

a.) Cuba
b.) Iran
c.) North Korea

From The Guardian:

"Despite the perception of [Nation A] as the basketcase of [Region A], the country once had an enviable healthcare system, with a network of nearly 45,000 family practitioners. Some 800 hospitals and 1,000 clinics were almost entirely free of charge for patients. They still are, but you don't get much at the hospital these days. The doctors, who are barely paid, expect gifts from their patients. The hospitals often have no heating, running water or electricity. You need to provide your own food, blankets, bandages, medicine.

The school system that once allowed [Nation A's dictator] to boast his country was the first in [Region A] to eliminate illiteracy has now collapsed. Students have no books, no paper, no pencils."

Answer: While the propaganda is remarkably similar for all three, this particularly story was about c.) North Korea. ("North Korea's Giant Leap Backwards," The Guardian 7/16/2010.)

And, of course, the downfall of North Korea's "enviable" free health care and educational system is due to sanctions.

European NGO: EU Must Pressure Cuba to Respect Human Rights

From the Stockholm-based, Civil Rights Defenders:

The EU must put pressure on Cuba to respect human rights

The EU and Cuba held subsequent negotiations concerning the possibility of future political dialogue and assistance between the two sides. To ensure that the agreement will lead to human rights improvements in Cuba, Civil Rights Defenders, together with the Cuban Campaign, Por Otra Cuba, have developed a platform on how these negotiations should be conducted and what should be included in the agreement.

Negotiations between the EU and Cuba, to achieve a bilateral agreement on the subjects of political dialogue and assistance, began in early 2014. Cuba is currently the only country in Latin America the EU has no bilateral agreement with, the reason being the total lack of respect for human rights in the country.

When the Cuban government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in 2008 it represented a first step towards change. But since then, no real improvements have followed as far as human rights is concerned.

Civil Rights Defenders calls on the EU to put pressure on Cuba to ratify and implement human rights conventions – before any discussion on an agreement can continue. Prior to any final agreement it is essential that the EU includes civil society in Cuba and the political opposition in the dialogue in order for it to have legitimacy amongst the population.

During the negotiations, it has also emerged, that the EU, in addition to the agreement on political dialogue and assistance, intends to initiate a trade agreement with Cuba. The platform states that no trade agreement should be entered into before Cuba ratifies and implements the two human rights conventions.

Vatican Envoy Speaks Truth About Cuba

Saturday, August 30, 2014
In The Miami Herald:

Vatican nuncio in Cuba criticizes government 

In an unusual gesture for a member high in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy in Cuba, the Apostolic nuncio Bruno Musaro spoke openly about Cuba’s “extreme poverty and human and civil degradation.”

Musaro made his controversial remarks while on vacation in Italy after holding a Mass in the San Pio de Pietrelcina park, in the Italian municipality of Vignacastrisi.

The Cuban people are “victims of a socialist dictatorship that has kept them subjugated for the past 56 years,” Musaro said, according to the Italian newspaper, Lecce News24.

“I’m thankful to the pope for inviting me to this island, and I hope to leave once that the socialist regime has disappeared indefinitely,” said Musaro, a Vatican ambassador living in Cuba since 2011. “Only liberty can bring hope to the Cuban people,” he said.

The Italian newspaper said his remarks were “a cry for help, a call to the weapons of conscience and common sense” made by the diplomatic envoy from the Holy See, who also said regarding Cubans, “The only hope for a better life is to escape the island.”

The monsignor compared the realities of his native Italy and Cuba and warned Italians that they should make note of the fact that “in Cuba, a doctor makes 25 euros a month, and to live with dignity, some professionals go work as waiters during the night.”

“In Cuba, everything is controlled by the state, even milk and meat. Eating lamb is a luxury, and whoever kills one to eat it is arrested and taken to jail,” he said. “Half a century later, and people are still talking about the revolution. It is praised. Meanwhile, people don’t have work and don’t know what to do to feed their own kids,” the archbishop said.

Masuro was born in Andrani in the Lecce region, nearby to Vignacastrisi, where he officiated the Mass. He was named a Vatican representative in Cuba in 2001 after a long career within the Catholic Church.

He was ordained as a priest in 1971 and began his diplomatic service in 1977. He was previously designated apostolic nuncio in other Latin American countries such as Panama (1994), Guatemala (2004) and Perú (2009).

According to a source of the Apostolic branch in Cuba, he is currently “on vacation” in Italy and isn’t expected back until three weeks from now.

The source claimed to be unaware of the comments made by Masuro and denied that his mission in Cuba had ended, although other media outlets suggested it had.

The archbishop’s comments were given in Polish and on Vatican Radio on its website. They were not given in Spanish or in English.

Masuro’s declarations could bring tension to an era in which the Catholic Church has improved its relationship with Raúl Castro’s government.

Monsignor Felix Perez, adjunct secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently told the Italian news agency ANSA that Cuban authorities have approved plans to build two new churches in Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río.

The frank nature of Masuro’s criticism contrasts with the caution that high members of the Catholic Church uphold when it comes to topics of politics and social well-being on the island.

Tweet of the Day: Chairman Menendez on Vatican Envoy's Remarks

Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations Continue to Rise

By Frank Calzon in Democracy Digest:

Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations Continue to Rise

The Cuban government continues to repress religious believers and its Office of Religious Affairs, responsible for official permits to worship, continues to monitors and harasses churches, according to a new report from the widely-respected, UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The well-documented report, which covers a period of 19 months ending in July of this year, includes details of the destruction of churches and notes that the Office of Religious Affairs is an official organ of the Cuban Communist Party.

Religious leaders say that if there is a need for supervision of the churches, it should be done by the government, and not by an arm of the ruling Party. This unique situation was alluded to by Pope John Paul II when he visited Cuba and called on the authorities to set aside “antiquated structures.”

The report calls on the European Union, the United States government, and other governments around the world not to ignore both religious repression in Cuba and the fact that “over the past decades the Castro regime has proved adept at sleight of hand tricks to convince the international community that it is committed to improvements in the human rights situation. Its approach to religious freedom has been no different.”

“Despite government claims of increased respect for religious freedom, reported violation of religious freedom in Cuba continued to increase dramatically,” CSW says. The report entitled “Cuba: Religious Freedom” says that “government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in the first decade of the millennium.” Christians in Cuba continue to report varying levels of discrimination in educational institutions and in their places of employment,” CSW says.

The scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature is due to “harsh government restrictions on the import of Bibles and other religious materials and a lack of access to printing infrastructure in the island.” The organization says that it has received “sporadic reports of violent beatings of Protestant Pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country.”

“Week after week, scores of women were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning services by state security agents,” and in many parts of the island, particularly in rural areas “the government has destroyed church properties.”

“On 2 July 2014 Cuban government agents including state security and Cuban Communist Party officials, destroyed a church and home affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. The unannounced demolition of the Establishing the Kingdom of God Church began at 6am while the owners of the home and their young children were sleeping inside.”

“They arrived and violently broke down the front door which was locked, the police entered with batons alongside a group of men carrying machetes. They began to destroy and occupy the properties of the pastor and the church,” according to Pastor Marcos A. Perdomo Silva, a church leader.

“Photos taken at the scene show uniformed officers directing a bulldozer leveling the area where the church and home stood… Pastor Esmir Torreblanca, his wife, and his two children aged two and seven were left homeless…The following Sunday, members of the church met at the site for open air worship.”

Image: Pastor Esmir Torreblanca standing in the ruins of his church and home.

Internet for Cubans vs. Helping Castro's Censorship

Friday, August 29, 2014
A centerpiece of recent lobbying efforts by Cuba sanctions foes is for U.S. companies to be allowed to invest in the Castro regime's telecom monopoly ("ETECSA").

Pursuant to the 1992 Cuba Democracy Act -- and subsequent regulations -- there's nothing in U.S. law that prevents telecommunications and Internet services between the United States and Cuba.

The one thing that is prohibited by law is U.S. investment in Castro's domestic telecommunications network, namely its monopoly ("ETECSA").

Yet, that's exactly the latest spin by anti-sanctions advocates.

Just recently, former State Department official (and now Richard Feinberg's cohort at UC-San Diego), Charles Shapiro, wrote:

"Anything we can do on our end to facilitate real Internet access in Cuba is worthwhile, even if the 'price' of doing that is working with the Cuban government telecommunications monopoly."

(This was also mentioned in the the Council of the Americas' derelict Cuba letter.)

We recalled this as we posted a tweet from Cuban blogger and democracy activists, Yusnaby Perez, who reminded us today:

"Internet and Cable TV services provided by the Government, can only be contracted by foreign residents in Cuba."

In other words, Internet services are available in Cuba. The only reason the Cuban people are unable to access them is because the Castro regime doesn't allow them to.

So how exactly would further enriching Castro's ETECSA monopoly change this?

Perhaps Mr. Shapiro is unaware that Telecom Italia owned 27% of ETECA from 1995-2011.

(The rest is owned by the Castro regime's Ministry of Information and Communication, led by ruthless General -- and former Minister of the Interior -- Ramiro Valdes.)

Did Telecom Italia help Cubans access the Internet through its investment?

Perhaps Mr. Shapiro is unaware that ETECSA is responsible, together with Castro's secret police, for tapping phone lines, monitoring conversations, Internet censorship and persecuting Cubans with home-made satellite dishes.

Should U.S. companies partake or contribute to such activities?

Perhaps Mr. Shapiro is unaware that the Cuba-Venezuela fiber optic cable was laid by France's Alcatel-Lucent.

Has France's Alcatel-Lucent helped Cubans access the Internet through its fiber optic cable?

The evidence clearly shows that investments in ETECSA only help Castro's censorship and control.

Instead, why not push for companies like Google to provide Internet connectivity -- via satellite -- to the Cuban people?

This can -- and should -- be done with or without Castro's approval.

Another Chapter in the EU-Cuba Two-Step

Upon completion of this week's second round of European Union-Cuba talks, the EU's negotiator, Christian Leffler, stated that there had been "substantial progress" made in the talks.

But only trade and investment cooperation were discussed, of course.

Leffler admitted in the follow-up press conference that political and institutional issues were not discussed.

He then became defensive about the rationale for avoiding these key issues -- let alone basic human rights.

A win-win for Castro.

Tweet of the Day: Internet for Foreigners

Thursday, August 28, 2014
By Cuban blogger and photographer, Yusnaby Perez: