Cuban and European NGOs: Include Civil Society and Political Opponents in Negotiations

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
This week, representatives of the Castro dictatorship and the European Union are meeting in Brussels to discuss a potential new framework for bilateral relations.

(Apparently, the billions that EU companies and tourists have provided the Castro regime over the years hasn't been quite enough.)

It's the second meeting in this ongoing series -- the first was last April in Havana.

Ahead of today's meeting, the "For Another Cuba" ("Por Otra Cuba") campaign, a Havana-based citizen's initiative led by Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles, has teamed up with the Stockholm-based human rights NGO, Civil Rights Defenders, to issue a "Platform for Discussion on the Current EU-Cuba Negtiations."

You can read the entire document here.

Here's the Executive Summary:

The European Union bilateral relationship with Cuba has always been guided by the promotion of human rights and democracy, as explicitly stated in its “Common Position” toward Cuba. Therefore such values should also form the cornerstone of on-going negotiations between the EU and Cuba regarding the bilateral Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement that was initiated in April 2014.

In 2008, the Cuban government took its first positive step towards respecting human rights by signing the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The following years, Cuba released many political prisoners; including the 75 human rights defenders imprisoned during the spring of 2003. However, Cuba has not taken any further effective steps to ratify or implement the International Covenants. Political persecution and repression continues, while any space for opposition in official Cuban political life remains wholly elusive.

The EU must therefore first seek to include Cuban civil society and political opponents in the negotiation process with the Cuban government in order to ensure legitimacy to the final agreement for the Cuban population.

The EU should then move on to include basic steps regarding the ratification and implementation of the ICCPR and ICESCR, as well as their respective additional protocols in the agreement.

The implementation should be understood, in a first step, as the incorporation of these instruments into the Cuban constitution, and national laws so that basic human rights, such as the right to association, the right to form unions, the right to own property and the right to freedoms of expression, press and movement are guaranteed.

Finally, the EU should ensure that civil society and Cuban political opponents have the opportunity to maintain open dialogue with the EU throughout the follow up process of the agreement.

The 2012 EU agreement with Central America includes chapters on Political Dialogue, Cooperation and Trade. It should constitute a basis for the agreement with Cuba in its first two chapters. When Cuba has ratified the International Covenants and implemented the basic reforms implied, the EU should then open the negotiation process for a beneficial trade agreement and not before. It is therefore a worrying sign at this stage that negotiations already seem to include a trade agreement, although the EU has never communicated this before negotiations commenced.

A fundamental condition, before the EU consider signing such an agreement should stipulate that Cuba promises to comply with its commitment to ratify and implement the International Covenants; sets free all political prisoners and halt the arbitrary arrests of Cuban democracy activists.

Spanish Bank Tries to Impede Judgments Against Cuban Regime

Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A., ("Banco Bilbao"), filed a motion in a Manhattan federal court seeking to block the families of various Cuban men, who were tortured and assassinated by the Castro regime, from collecting their successful "wrongful death" judgments.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected this effort by Banco Bilbao.

Apparently, Banco Bilbao -- one of the few European banks that still keeps a strong presence in Cuba -- felt that profit trumps justice.

It was wrong.

Read Judge Hellerstein's opinion here.

Where Internet Censorship is Strongest

Visit IVPN's new interactive censorship map here.

Cuba is ranked 2nd worst in the world -- following Syria -- regarding obstacle to access.

Thus, regardless of its new fiber optic cable, or past foreign investments in Cuba's telecom monopoly ("ETECSA"), the Castro regime simply keeps raising the barriers to connectivity.

Thus, if companies like Google want to really help the Cuban people, browsers (Chrome) are nice -- except few Cubans have access to use them.

More importantly, it should provide satellite connectivity -- with or without Castro's permission.

It's easy, nothing in U.S. law prevents it and can be done virtually overnight.

From Engadget:

The internet censorship map at a glance

If you're reading this, you probably enjoy open internet access as a matter of course. However, other countries aren't quite so liberal. How do you know where you're truly free? IVPN's new interactive censorship map might just answer that question for you. The site lets you click on a given country to quickly learn about its tendencies to block free speech online, attack critics and shred anonymity. Not surprisingly, very authoritarian governments like China, Cuba and Iran don't score well -- they tend to insist on real names when you post, and will throw you in prison for challenging the internet status quo. Many other countries, like Russia and Venezuela, walk an awkward line between freedom and trying to crush dissent.

The map is far from perfect. There are quite a few gaps, although that's partly dictated by countries that can't or won't offer data (North Korea isn't exactly the sharing type). Also, you may scoff at the nations deemed truly free -- the info comes from 2012, before we knew about Australia's proposed anti-leak measures, American surveillance revelations or the UK's hit-and-miss porn filter. Still, the guide should make it at least a little bit easier to understand where it's safe to speak your mind.

Image of the Day: Kudos to Pierce Brosnan

While in Miami this week, where he's promoting his latest film ("The November Man"), Pierce Brosnan visited with Bay of Pigs veterans at the Brigade 2506 Museum.

He wanted to learn first-hand about their experiences and about the victims of Castro's dictatorship.

Here's an image (courtesy of EFE):

Tweet of the Day: On Violent Repression Against UNPACU

Tuesday, August 26, 2014
By U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson:

Venezuelans (Cubans) Don't Believe Maduro's (Castro's) "Excuses"

According to a new Pew Research survey, over 62% of Venezuelans have a favorable view of the United States.

Meanwhile, only 37% of Venezuelans have a favorable view of the Maduro government's political patron, Castro's Cuba.

This, despite the fact that the Maduro government blames the United States for absolutely everything -- from "spreading cancer" to "assassination plots" to "economic aggression."

Yet, the concern that Maduro will use the United States as an "excuse" -- which it does anyway -- has kept U.S. diplomats paralyzed.

As we've written before in The Hill:

"'Don’t give them an excuse to crack down on dissent,' is a favorite sophism spread among foreign-policy elites, lazy bureaucrats and big-chair academics. Dictators love it.  Why? Because as soon as it’s uttered, it shifts blame, immunizes them and effectively silences freedom’s advocates, even in the face of egregious violations of human rights and crimes against humanity."

But also, the people of those countries don't believe their "excuses."

This is also a favorite talking point of those who lobby against Cuba sanctions -- that it gives Castro an "excuse" for its failings.

Yet, time and time again, every survey conducted in Cuba shows that less than 10% of Cubans believe the U.S. embargo is the cause of their ills. Moreover, they believe that if you lift sanctions, it would only have a limited effect on their economic well-being, as Castro's monopolies control all foreign trade and investment.

In other words, Cubans (like Venezuelans) don't believe Castro's "excuses."

Why? Because they're not stupid.

Image of the Day: Female Activist Beaten by Cuban Agents

Monday, August 25, 2014
The image below is of Yunaisi Carracedo, a democracy activist with the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.

She was beaten by Castro's agents during a weekend crackdown that resulted in the arrest of over 130 of UNPACU's members.

Yunaisi sustained injuries to the face, arm and hand.

Every weekend, Cuba's dictatorship violently attacks peaceful, female activists -- with impunity.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Propagandists, Anti-Sanctions Lobbyists or "Moderate" Businessmen

The following op-ed in The Hill could have been written by any of Cuba's propagandists, anti-sanctions lobbyists or Cuban-American "moderate" businessmen:

Note they make the exact same arguments:

1. Iran's (Cuba's) regime is committed to dialogue and reform;
2. Sanctions hurt Iran's (Cuba's) "private sector";
3. American business would make everything better; and
4. The fundamentalists are in the U.S. Congress, not Tehran (Havana).

By Iranian-American "moderate" businessman, Amir Handjani, in The Hill:

Sanctions cause Iranian airplane crashes

On August 10, a Sepahan Air regional airliner crashed in a neighborhood in densely populated Tehran, killing 39. This latest incident is just one in a spate of air accidents in Iran, where the imposition of sanctions by the West has severely impacted the safety of civilian aircraft.

In the last 25 years there have been more then 200 accidents involving Iranian planes, resulting in 2000 deaths and many more debilitating injuries. With this abysmal safety record, the odds an Iranian air passenger will die on a flight are 100 times higher than those for passengers on the world’s major carriers. Statistics like this, and the human tragedies they belie, demonstrate how the sanctions levied against Iran serve to collectively punish the Iranian people

The crashed aircraft was an Iranian-built Iran-140, a domestic version of the Russian Antonov An-140. Skeptics may argue that it was the outdated Soviet-era design that explains the plane’s lack of airworthiness. However Iranians have little choice but to fly these planes because U.S. sanctions prohibit Iran from purchasing Boeing or Airbus planes on the open market, even second hand. Iran’s aging civilian fleet includes planes, which first entered service before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, when the U.S. first began to institute sanctions on the country. In the subsequent years, airlines have struggled to source parts and technical support for their aircraft.

A 2005 report by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN body, noted that the “United States sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran have adversely affected the safety of civil aviation.” The authors urged American regulators to recognize that “Aviation safety, as it affects human life and human rights, stands above political differences.” Since 2005, there have been 700 fatalities in air accidents. Unfortunately, sanctions policy has little concern for human life. Although under the interim nuclear deal Iran has been allowed to purchase some spare parts for its aging fleet, there remains no way for Iranian airliners to purchase sorely needed new aircraft.

Every US administration for 35 years has increased the scope and strength of sanctions levied on Iran. The purported rationale has been to punish the Iranian government for its financing of terrorism and acceleration of its nuclear program. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that groups like the Revolutionary Guard and other kleptocracies have only come to control larger swaths of Iran’s economy as the sanctions starve Iran’s private sector businesses. (Sanctions on airplane parts far precede recent sanctions that the US claims brought Iran to the negotiation table.)

Such unintended consequences of the sanctions program harm the Iranian people in numerous ways. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has acknowledged that sanctions are having a detrimental effect on health of average Iranian, noting, “It is difficult, if not impossible, for importers to pay for medical supplies and equipment.” Last year, there were shortages for around 100 vital medicines in Iran each month.

Similarly, food prices in Iran have increased dramatically, leaving the country’s food system in a crisis as the cost of milk quadrupled, the cost of bread doubled, and the cost of rice increased from just 3 cents per kilogram to nearly $2.40 between 2007 and 2013.

It is the architecture of the sanctions that leaves the Iranian people so vulnerable to shortages, inflation, and price rises in everything from food to medicine to aircraft parts. Iran’s banking infrastructure was blacklisted by United States Treasury in 2012. Iran’s Central Bank-CBI (The equivalent of the US Federal Reserve) was sanctioned as were the six largest financial institutions. These banks were critical to facilitating trade on behalf of Iranian merchants looking to import food and medicine. U.S. regulators have imposed heavy fines on European banks conducting business with Iran. This has had a chilling effect of having those very same institutions shying away from opening letters of credit from Iranian customers.

As a result merchants have had to turn to smaller, private banks in Iran with limited pools of capital and restricted access to Iran’s foreign exchange reserves. These smaller banks have to request special allocations from the CBI so as to access Iran’s hard currency held in overseas accounts of countries that purchase Iranian crude oil.

Iran’s revenue comes mostly in its sale of oil and gas to Asia (Europe and the United States have sanctioned itself from buying Iranian crude). Proceeds of these sales are held in accounts of the CBI in denominations of the country buying the crude. For instance Chinese purchases of Iranian crude are held in renminbi in Chinese Banks. When Iran approaches these countries about accessing its own funds to buy goods such as penicillin, insulin, or essential commodities the banks of those countries sense an opportunity to reap huge profits from Iran by forcing Iran to use its own money to buy goods from their own domestic companies at huge premiums. These “commissions” a sometimes rate as high as 10% of the total contract amount, and the extortionate premiums are passed on in the inflationary cycle and price increases endured by the Iranian consumer. Moreover, in the case China and India food and medicine are often inferior to those that are produced in the West.

Today, as the U.S. remains close to a historic nuclear deal with Iran, members of the United States Congress, untrusting that diplomacy will work, are pressing the Obama administration to impose even more sanctions. This leaves Iranians concerned not so much about their own government, which has shown early signs of reform and commitment to dialogue with the West. Instead, they fear and resent lawmakers in Washington, who continue to pursue devastating sanctions with a fundamentalist zeal.