WaPo Editorial: On U.S.-Cuba Military Cooperation, Proceed With Caution

Tuesday, May 31, 2016
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

On U.S.-Cuba military cooperation, proceed with caution

Idael Fumero Valdés is not someone you’d expect to see as an honored guest of the U.S. military. As chief of investigations for Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police, a part of the military-controlled Ministry of the Interior, he plays a key law enforcement role in a state where beating and arresting human rights activists is considered law enforcement. Yet there he was at a U.S. naval air base in Key West, Fla., on April 21, touring the facilities at the invitation of the U.S. military command for Latin America.

Accompanying Mr. Valdés were senior officials of the Cuban anti-drug agency and border guards, plus a diplomat. Separately, U.S. officials have attended a security conference outside the United States with a Cuban delegation headed by Gustavo Machín Gómez, who was expelled from a previous diplomatic post in the United States 14 years ago due to his involvement with a highly damaging Cuban espionage operation against the Defense Intelligence Agency. Apparently the White House has decided to let that bygone be a bygone.

Welcome to the brave new world of military-to-military contact with Cuba, the Obama administration’s latest idea for engagement with that island nation. Direct communications between the two countries’ security forces have been going on for years, of course — in limited, operational contexts such as avoiding clashes around the Guantanamo Bay naval base and repatriating Cuban rafters plucked from the sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s necessary and appropriate.

As the Key West visit suggests, however, the administration has a wider agenda in mind. For the first time, the United States accepted Cuban participation, alongside military officers from democracies, in this year’s Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Kingston, Jamaica. The deputy secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, visited Havana earlier this month to discuss law enforcement cooperation. At a conference on the benefits of expanded contacts Thursday sponsored by the American Security Project think tank, a retired Army colonel suggested that the United States could seek information from Cuban military intelligence about North Korea and other countries.

Latin American military and police crave the legitimacy that comes from ties with their U.S. counterparts. A great bipartisan achievement in U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America over the past three decades has been to condition military cooperation and assistance increasingly on respect for the rule of law and human rights — rather than turn a blind eye to military abuses in the name of either anti-communism or the war on drugs, as U.S. officials so often did in previous years.

Today, in a hemisphere where military dictatorship was once widespread, no generals rule. The exception is Cuba, where Gen. Raúl Castro’s word is law. Normalizing military-to-military ties between the United States and Cuba, for the sake of fighting drugs or other “common threats,” would imply that civilian rule doesn’t matter so much to us anymore — that Cuba’s military is morally equivalent to its hemispheric counterparts — when, in fact, it is deeply complicit in political repression and corruption.

Legislation pending in Congress would block full military-to-military normalization until Cuba democratizes. At a time when Cuba’s beleaguered civilian democracy activists need unequivocal U.S. moral support, the administration and outside supporters of its Cuba policy should not be eager for potentially compromising relationships with the Cuban people’s uniformed oppressors.

Missouri Governor Literally Subsidizes Cuban Dictator

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is the latest state official that has traveled to Cuba for a tropical boondoggle.

The big "news" from his trip is that "Cuba has accepted a 20-ton shipment of long-grain rice grown and processed in Missouri."

You'd think this means the Castro regime purchased 20-tons of Missouri rice -- and that's the media spin they'd like you to believe.

But as Governor Nixon's office clarified, "the 20-ton shipment of Missouri rice arrived at the deep-water Port of Mariel last week and was sent to the people of Cuba by Martin Rice at no cost."

In other words, 20-tons of free rice was handed to the Castro regime at the Cuban military's Port of Mariel.

Apparently, Governor Nixon is channeling his inner Khrushchev and Chavez by now subsiding Castro's dictatorship as well.

He even added the typical propaganda line that it was "sent to the Cuban people."

You know -- the whole handing food subsidies to dictators "for the people" scheme -- à la Mengitsu, Saddam Hussein and Mugabe.

Just another example of how the Obama Administration's new policy is literally subsiding Castro's dictatorship.

Cuban Soldiers in Business: A Bad Deal

By Luis Cino Alvarez in Cubanet (via Translating Cuba):

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal

The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income.

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel.

Must-Read: Obama's Human Rights Betrayal in Cuba

Sunday, May 29, 2016
By Aaron Rhodes in The Huffington Post:

Obama’s Human Rights Betrayal

As a human rights activist, I cringed at President Obama’s response when Raul Castro attacked America’s human rights record. It is not that the United States is free from human rights violations. In fact, under the current administration, the government has infringed on press freedoms, and has used the federal bureaucracy to intimidate and persecute civil society groups seen as political opponents. Police violence is widespread.

But Castro wasn’t speaking about those problems. Castro claimed that while Cuba was in compliance with international human rights standards, the United States violated human rights with respect to welfare policies. President Obama replied, “President Castro, I think, has pointed out that in his view making sure that everybody is getting a decent education or health care, has basic security and old age, that those things are human rights as well. I personally would not disagree with him.”

Ever since economic and social rights were implanted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, American diplomats have insisted on a distinction between human rights to basic freedoms, as opposed to rights to government services. In doing so they have sought to defend the sacrosanct character of natural rights — moral rights that are prior to any national law — as opposed to welfare rights, which reflect the politics of different societies and eras, and are protected by positive law.

Obama missed an opportunity to explain and defend that idea of human rights, which animated America’s founders, and which they bequeathed to Americans and to people all over the world in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, Obama “personally” embraced an interpretation of human rights at variance with the philosophy of the U.S. Constitution. What is more, Cuba has arguably done more than any other nation to subvert respect for authentic human rights in the United Nations. With his response, Obama indirectly but clearly endorsed that program. If his words indeed reflect the U.S. approach to human rights, it is bad news for those who defend human rights as natural rights to basic freedoms, and who look to America for support and as an example of the success of freedom.

Cuba has consistently defended the world’s worst human rights abusers, like North Korea, from criticism in international forums, claiming that such criticism is “political” and “biased.” In fact, Cuba is the most vocal member of the United Nations seeking to blunt the UN’s already blunt instruments for investigating grave human rights violations and putting pressure on governments to reform, favoring anodyne, “thematic” issues instead. Cuba has been a leader in proposing bogus human rights mandates in the UN Human Rights Council, like the “Independent Expert” on the “Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order,” which is nothing but a platform for ideological attacks on free societies and free enterprise — in the name of “human rights.”

Thanks in large part to Cuba, the international human rights system has become hopelessly clogged up with such institutions. The language of human rights has become thoroughly polluted with left-wing, politicized rhetoric used to justify restrictions on freedom and to attack other states, while drawing attention away from actual human rights problems. What is more, human rights treaties are being drafted on such issues as “business and human rights,” a topic seen as a top priority by leading UN human rights bureaucrats, and on the human rights of the elderly and peasants. Individual rights have been marginalized, while collective rights reflect an international identity politics.

The idea of human rights has become so expansive and that there is no longer any rational basis for determining what is and what is not a human right. But to preserve their meaning and what enforcement is possible, human rights need to remain clearly defined and apart from politics. What legislatures decide about taxation in order to protect the vulnerable and needy is a matter of politics. Protecting that process itself, and other basic political freedoms, is the challenge of human rights.

A few years ago, at a UN briefing in Geneva, Cuban diplomats bragged about their “free” health care and education systems as proof that their government respected human rights. A Cuban dissident responded, “Our health care system and our education system are not without costs. We have paid for them with our freedom.” Obama’s betrayal of the idea of natural rights was also a betrayal of Cuban human rights campaigners, and indeed people around the world living under dictators who exploit the conflation of human rights and welfare rights in order to defend oppression.

Aaron Rhodes is president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and a founder of the Freedom Rights Project. He was executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights between 1993-2007.

Dr. Biscet: Obama's Embrace of Castro Weakens Cause of Freedom

Excerpt from an interview with Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban democracy leader, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, in Diario las Americas:

"I wasn't surprised by Barack Obama's decision, as he had been in favor of establishing relations with the Castro regime as a U.S. Senator. To do so though, the Administration had to violate the Helms-Burton law, which required that the Castro regime take steps towards democracy.

The United States, until the establishment of relations was announced, had greatly supported the cause of freedom in Cuba. It was a friend of our cause. Since the beginning of this dialogue with the Castro regime, some have felt abandoned. In my case, I have always believed in creating a united internal opposition force, independent of the solidarity of any foreign government. We think that anyone who believes in fundamental freedoms should support our cause, but it's not an obligation.

That Obama is now acting in concert with the Castros weakens the democratic spirit of the U.S. before the world and in the eyes of the Cuban people, for there is an intellectual awakening taking place in Cuba that goes well beyond economic necessities.

Obama’s embrace of Cuba's tyrant is seen by many as the U.S.'s abandonment of people seeking freedom."

Cuban Police Raid Dissident Headquarters, Target Leaders

From PanAm Post:

Cuban Police Raid Opposition Activists for Fourth Time in 2016

Authorities Seize Hardware and Documents Without Warrant

The Cuban police raided the national headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), a civil dissidence group in opposition to Raúl Castro’s administration.

Without giving explanation, security confiscated three computers, two cell phones, a hard drive, passports and other hardware and records.

Arcelio Molina, an activist and owner of the property, told the newspaper Martí Noticias that police also seized the luggage of the youth leader Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, who traveled from Santiago de Cuba to Havana to take a flight to Argentina.

According to Molina, Oliva can’t travel, and has since been arrested.

This is the fourth time this year that state security has raided and confiscated Unpacu’s equipment.

Molina added that what has transpired is a classic “trampling” of citizens’ rights in the country, “where there are no laws or respect for the constitution on the part of the authorities.”

This is not the only repressive measure implemented by the Cuban regime in recent years. On Tuesday, May 24, activist and leader of the Ladies in White group, Berta Soler found out she will be going on trial for "resisting arrest."

Soler could go to prison between three months and five years. She has been prohibited from leaving the country until the trial is held, and said she is “prepared to go to prison.”

Soler said there are videos showing she is innocent, which is why she is not afraid to go to jail. She went so far as to say that she hopes they “have a room reserved for her.”

Reports That Castro is Legalizing 'Private Business' Are False

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Yesterday, the AP's Havana bureau reported that the Castro regime was going to legalize "private business" in Cuba.

As we posted yesterday, it was a recognition that there is currently no "private business" in Cuba -- despite the Obama Administration's narrative over the last few years.

But reports that Castro is now going to legalize "private business" were also grossly exaggerated.

It was either the result of the AP's over-zealousness, sloppiness, poor Spanish or Ben Rhodes' "echo chamber."

The fine print of the Communist Party document cited by the AP makes clear that the legalization of small- and medium-sized business is not something being currently considered by the Castro regime.

Instead, the document (with goals for the year 2030) states that it's a "project" that may be considered in "a future society to which we aspire."

In other words, in 2030.

Moreover, that the current text is "generalizing, with the purpose of conceptualizing future aspirations, once the Model has been updated."

(14ymedio has more details -- in Spanish.)

That's Communist talk for never -- akin to Lenin's stages of revolution.

(He too had his "useful idiots").

Let's see whether AP has the journalistic integrity to correct its story.

Tweet of the Day: Cubans Increasingly Desperate to Flee

The result of a policy based on a President's legacy, not thoughtfulness: