339 Ways to Solve Toilet Paper Crisis

Saturday, August 8, 2009
Reuters reported that,

Cash-strapped Cuba says toilet paper running short

HAVANA - Cuba, in the grip of a serious economic crisis, is running short of toilet paper and may not get sufficient supplies until the end of the year, officials with state-run companies said on Friday.

Then, within a few days that,

Cuba publishes collection of Fidel Castro thoughts

HAVANA - Taking a leaf from China's Chairman Mao, Cuba has published a collection of the thoughts of its former leader Fidel Castro, who led the country for 49 years before resigning last year.

Fortunately, the paperback edition of Fidel's thoughts has 339 pages.

Problem solved.

Quote of the Week

"We are grateful to you for allowing us to tell the world, in our own words, what is going on - the violations of human and labor rights -- here in Cuba."

- Maria Elena Mir Marrero, General Secretary of the Independent National Trade Union Confederation of Cuba (CONIC), who was arrested and interrogated by Cuban state security for an interview given for the filming of the critical documentary, Under Cuban Skies: Workers and Their Rights.

Courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Military Control of Cuba's Economy

By Jaime Suchlicki
The Miami Herald

Gen. Raúl Castro's recent statements and measures indicate the total ascendancy of the military and the relegation of Cuba's Communist Party to a supervisory capacity. Recent decisions have been made by the small military gerontocracy that surrounds Raúl Castro.

The VI Communist Party Congress has been postponed indefinitely; retail stores have been entrusted to Gaviota, the military enterprise in charge of shuffling tourists areound; more state businesses are in the hands of the military.

Raúl trusts his military comrades more than the Party bureaucrats. In the difficult days ahead, military discipline, productivity and efficiency must prevail. The Cuban regime is relying on repression to control Cubans' growing unhappiness.

But why this sudden shift and new austerity measures? One explanation is the declining prices of Cuba's exports, primarily nickel, and reduction in Cuban-American remittances. There is also exhaustion of revolutionary fervor, low productivity, increased corruption and widespread malaise in Cuban society.

Yet perhaps the major reason for the increased militarization is a possible reduction in Venezuela's petroleum shipments to the island. Venezuela's largesse may be in decline. Chávez may have notified Raúl that the unsustainable level of Venezuelan support to Cuba may be cut in the future.

This explains Raúl's recent trips to Angola and Algeria and his cozy-up to Russia and Iran, all petroleum exporters. Not that these countries are going to provide Cuba with Venezuela's terms of large credits with little payment. But Cuba's economy would not suffer a repeat of the catastrophic crisis that followed the 1990s collapse of communism and the end of Soviet subsidies.

For the Cuban people the end result is more austerity, more militarization and more suffering. Raúl's recent statement that "he wasn't elected to dismantle communism in Cuba'' also indicates a desire to cling to failed political and economic policies. While an opening to the market and a relaxation of the totalitarian system may improve life in Cuba and even entice the Obama administration to relax the embargo and travel ban, Cuba's military leadership seems more reluctant than ever to change.

Jaime Suchlicki is director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.

Not so Vogue, Ms. Niarchos

Eugenie Niarchos recently traveled to Havana with Vogue Magazine, as she felt "political change is coming to Cuba, and wanted to visit before any major transformations."

Ms. Niarchos is a European socialite, granddaughter of Greek shipping billionaire, Stavros Niarchos.

Naturally, she stayed at the Hotel Nacional, where she raved about her view of the Malecon seaside boulevard, but failed to mention that Cuban nationals are denied access to such facilities - a true apartheid experience.

Then, after mojitos at La Bodeguita and daiquiris at El Floridita, she "escaped" to the beach at Playas del Este.

Prior to departing the island she rejoiced that, "there is a joy to life in such places."

Fortunately, political change will come to Cuba one day, so that Cuban nationals -- not just foreign tourists, socialites, movie stars and journalists on a weekend jaunt -- can also experience "the joy of life in such places."

Until that day comes though, the Cuban people remain subject to "the joy" of a repressive dictatorship, while human rights activists, pro-democracy advocates and independent journalists -- that seek the simple freedoms that Ms. Niarchos obviously takes for granted -- will continue experiencing "the joy" of a 6 x 8 foot prison cell.

Feces, rats, beatings, mosquitoes and urine-induced humidity come included.

A far cry from St. Tropez.


A Challenge to Raul's "Election"

Friday, August 7, 2009
Last week, Cuban dictator Raul Castro declared that he was "elected" to defend communism.

As we all know, there's no such thing as an election without an opposition -- that's called a selection.

Therefore, this week, pro-democracy leaders have announced an electoral challenge to the dictatorship.

Will Raul allow for an election, or select to imprison opposition leaders for this challenge?

Opposition leader wants to contest elections

HAVANA, Cuba, (Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Cubanet) - Silvio Benítez, president of the dissident Liberal Party of the Republic of Cuba, says he wants to run candidates in elections planned for next year.

"We're prepared because the party has possibilities with various candidates, not only in the municipality of Lisa but also in the provinces of Havana and Pinar del Rio, where we can count on outstanding candidates who could win," Benítez said.

Martinez's Last Floor Speech on Cuba

This morning, U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida announced that he would be resigning from his seat in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Martinez was the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate. Prior to that, he was the first Cuban-American nominated and confirmed to serve in a Presidential Cabinet, as George W. Bush's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Earlier this year, Senator Martinez took to the Senate floor to fight against efforts to ease sanctions against the Castro regime in the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

It would be his last floor speech on Cuba.

Message From Senator Mel Martinez

Excerpt from this morning's resignation announcement by U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida:

As a U.S. Senator, I have also had a platform to speak against the oppression of the Cuban regime and my hope for a better future for the people of Cuba. I will continue that lifelong passion in the next phase of my life. I will always be grateful to the people of Florida for bestowing on me the singular honor of representing them in the United States Senate.

Trouble in Tourist Paradise

Dictators hate competition.

Therefore, the Castro regime now thinks it can abuse and starve foreign tourists into staying at its resorts and just handing over their hard currency.

After all, that's what it does to its own people.

This comment was posted on TripAdvisor by a Canadian tourist that recently visited Castro's Sol Sirenas Coral Resort:

"Turned us off Cuba forever"
sandybeach70, Jul 26, 2009

It was our first and last trip to Cuba. They take your passports when you check in. (?) A bit scary. We had a minibar, but nothing in it. We were given ONE water bottle to share for the entire week - it was never replaced and when asked we were told to refill it in our room with water from the shower or tub.

The have NO DIET POP. In any of the bars or restaurants. It's full-sugar or nothing at all. I just about cried. Wait, I did cry a few times on this trip. It was THE WORST trip we've ever taken.

The weather was awful - cold and about 15 degrees. Staff were in winter gear. Didn't swim AT ALL as it was too cold. Red flags everyday. Rain, everyday. We asked ourselves if we could have overlooked the rest if we had blazing hot weather. We don't think so.

Food - really, really bad. We're not picky and will eat anything - we're really easy to please people, but come on. For lunch one day I ordered a tuna sandwich. It took an hour to arrive and was a big bun with the tiniest amount of tuna inside (maybe 1 inch by 1 inch) of BLACK (?) tuna. Not even worth eating.

We were so happy when we arrived home - even though it was -30oC, we were just about kissing the ground. We ran straight to the Golden Griddle for a big delicious breakfast - something we never got at the Sol Sirenas. The eggs there were floating in water. There were no sausages, just wieners cut up. We went home hungry. (oh and bloated from all the sugar and bread). The bread is good - I'll give them that. It's fresh baked. But can you live on bread and butter?

The public washrooms were dirty and almost always out of toilet paper.

One day in our room we didn't have toilet paper, shampoo or soap (essentials) after the maid had been there, so we called to have it delivered. The guy told us to "look for our maid." Um, what? I did that, trust me - if she was around I would have just asked her myself. It took another two calls down, a trip to the front desk by my husband and a total of 6+ hours until we were given what we needed to get cleaned up for yet another disappointing dinner.

I waited at the pool bar for the longest time while the bartender talked to a friend of his (another worker). There was no one around. I just stood there, to see how long it would take him to acknowledge that I was waiting to be asked what I want to drink. He didn't - so I had to interrupt him to ask for my drink. Unbelievably bad service. The staff are down-trodden, unhappy people. We felt so sorry for them. They couldn't even fake it with a smile - no one smiled. Poor people.

This is a 3 star hotel. Not what we thought we were getting. Friends of ours booked the Sandals Hicacos (a 5-star) and they had the same awful time as we did. In fact they were given a FREE trip to return and they refused to go - even for free. We feel the same way - never again.

I hear of people loving Cuba and I just don't get it. The food is terrible. I've had better cafeteria food! If it's just this resort (and Sandals) then it's a shame - as we won't risk another trip to this country. We'll stick to Mexico, Dominican and Jamaica. SOOOOO much better.

Castro's Cancun?

Is the goal of lifting travel-related sanctions towards the Castro regime to support the Cuban people in their struggle against a totalitarian dictatorship that systematically violates their human, civil, political and economic rights?

Or, is it to selfishly discover another tourism destination (and areas forbidden to Cuban nationals in their own homeland)?

You decide.

From a report on NY1:

A perfect first trip to Cuba should last seven days, according to freelance tour guide Julio Viera. This way, you can cover the main attractions, starting with the cultural seaside hub of Havana and the colonial-era enclave of Habana Vieja.

"If they want to combine that with Varadero, the beach resort, then it would be perfect because they can see the capital city, they can see nature in Viñales, they can see history both in Havana and Trinidad, but also they can relax in an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero by the end of the trip."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Travel to support the Cuban people has always been legal under a host of Treasury Department license categories. Therefore, my bet is the latter.

Good Question on the OAS

Thursday, August 6, 2009
Good question posed by Eric Fransworth of the Council of the Americas in his article, Latin America Calling, published in Poder Magazine:
 
"With multilateralism the watchword of the moment, what role would be appropriate for the OAS [Organization of American States], an institution that—ironically—used its first General Assembly after the Summit to sandbag the U.S. Secretary of State for a pyrrhic victory on Cuba rather than focusing on meaningful steps to build democracy either in Cuba or across the region?"
 
Actually, good point too.  

Immerse Yourself as a Cuban Dissident

By reading this vivid and tragic account of life in Cuba's pro-democracy movement:

Other Means of Killing
by Jorge Olivera Castillo

For this moment no bullets can be heard. However, in between these gaps of silence which invite you to think about pacifism, your eyes will see bleeding wounds, suffering bodies and human souls perishing from mental anguish and physical punishments imposed by the adroit personalities of our insular bestiary.

The guns are resting, bright and shiny, on the belt of our leaders so that they can be used in case of any impending danger or simply to maintain natural fear and distress in the psyche of potential opponents.

Just come to any of the meetings which are called in order to hold debate on whatever social or political topic from a non-governmental point of view, and you might see that some of these discussions conclude with beatings and shootings.

Parapolicemen carry no arms while at work. What their superiors want is efficiency, clean hand solutions and perhaps some discreet blows, should the repressive operation get somewhat complicated.

Systematic punching and kicking into the bodies of those who happened to be chosen for harassment at the very moment, leave wounds and injuries which, as time goes by, will slowly be forgotten.

It is a cycle which has been repeating continuously on the background of impunity where victims remain fatally helpless. This is how the story of a very peculiar genocide evolves. Cuba suffers from a strong and firm despotism the degree of which tends to go unnoticed, nevertheless, this tyranny writes plenty of acts that all together make up one big nation-wide tragedy.

To be tortured physically or verbally for opinions or declarations that are in conflict with the rules imposed by the government Party, has become a probability which may materialize far too easily.

The high degree of political violence at all its diverse levels is associated with a system in decay and with an exhausted ideology that has lost its essence in a great deal of absurd experiments and destructive voluntarism.

The method of demonizing its adversaries and of eliminating them progressively, in case they deserve it, continues to be in a certain way sophisticated strategy which has allowed the regime to maintain control over the society at a price that is relatively low if compared to the number and character of all violations committed.

Media campaigns targeted at damaging personal reputation, acts of repudiation, prisons, labor reprisals. This enumeration hardly reveals but only a negligible part of the arsenal which the regime has on hand for crushing those who disagree with its official policies.

Harm can be done in many different ways and so can a person be killed, with no evidence being left. Hundreds of Cubans have ended up committing suicide as a result of constant harassment designed in the headquarters of our political police.

However, other statistical figures, covered under a veil of silence and complicity, suggest that the death toll which may be ascribed to our psycho government is much higher. At this very moment, a fatal dossier of evidence which proves all sorts of crimes may be found in jails.

According to Noelia Pedraza, in more than six years of imprisonment, imposed for his anti-establishment activities, her husband Ariel Sigler Amaya was practically dried. While serving his sentence, he has lost at least 100 pounds that is to say almost half of his original weight. Moreover, he now has severe locomotive difficulties and can only move on a wheel-chair. No causes of this serious deterioration in Ariel`s health have so far been diagnosed.

This drama is but a raindrop in the sea which cannot fully illustrate the giant proportions of the whole catastrophe.

Expressing a truly free opinion may be a first step towards hotter flames of hell. Death, pain, derangement and insanity are waiting for new guests. The depths of hell store the chronicle of executioners who do their job slowly and with premeditation, just like serial killers.

Jorge Olivera Castillo is an independent journalist in Cuba. He was an editor at Cuba's official television station between 1983 and 1993, but was forced to leave his work after making public his disagreement with censorship policies in his country. In 2003, however, he was one of 35 journalists, writers and librarians who were arrested during a crackdown on alleged dissidents. He was released in 2004 on health grounds.

Courtesy of Romania's Hot News.

Cuban Dissidents Disappointed in Obama

Cuban political prisoner (17 years and 38 days) and pro-democracy leader, Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez), is calling on U.S. President Barack Obama to pay attention to human rights violations on the island.

"Obama has disappointed many of us Cubans who thought his Administration would support the opposition. Instead, he's adopted a policy of appeasement and rapprochement towards Castro's tyranny. With one stroke of the pen, he has dismantled the long tradition of U.S. Administrations that have expressed solidarity and support for Cuba's opposition movement."

- From an interview with Cuban independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, who was recently arrested for interviewing Antunez and reporting on pro-democracy activities.

Anti-Union Intimidation Intensifies

Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba (IGCSRC) has denounced the arrest of -- and pursuant threats against -- four trade unionists affiliated with the Independent National Trade Union Confederation of Cuba (CONIC).

According to Maria Elena Mir Marrero, General Secretary of CONIC, independent trade unionists Justo J. Sánchez, Hanoi Oliva and Daniel Sabatier and herself received an official summons to appear at the headquarters of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) in the town of Guanabo, Municipality of Havana East.

Upon arrival at NPR headquarters, state security agents subjected the trade unionists to harsh interrogations and threatened them with court proceedings for their activities.

In particular, the agents alluded to a July 13th demonstration commemorating the 41 victims of the "13 de Marzo" tugboat, which the Cuban authorities sank in 1996 for trying to flee the island; interviews the trade unionists gave for the filming of the documentary "Under the Cuban Skies: The Worker and his Rights," which premiered on July 30th at the 19th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) in Miami; and were threatened with further violence if they decided to participate in any public demonstrations today, August 5th, the 15th anniversary of the "Maleconazo" pro-freedom rally.

A group of police officers then proceeded to fingerprint the trade unionists, photograph them and force them to rub a rag-cloth around their sexual organs. The rag-cloth was placed in a glass container and sealed. The authorities informed them that this was to create an "odor bank."

These actions are in violation of the International Labor Organization's (ILO) Conventions and Recommendations, to which the Cuban government is a signatory. The ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association has repeatedly urged the Castro regime to respect freedom of association, including the right to form independent labor unions, and the rights of workers to express their views freely.

Cuban-American to Head the ABA

Boies, Schiller & Flexner Partner Stephen Zack Voted American Bar Association President-Elect

Slated to be First Hispanic American to Lead the ABA

NEW YORK -- Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP (BS&F) is pleased to announce that today its Miami partner Stephen Zack was elected as president-elect of the American Bar Association (ABA). The unanimous vote on his nomination by the ABA's House of Delegates at its annual meeting in Chicago positions Zack to become president of the ABA in August 2010. His one-year term as ABA president-elect is effective immediately.

Zack, who was raised in Cuba and whose family moved to Miami as refugees following Fidel Castro's rise to power, has practiced law for more than 35 years and has been on an ABA leadership track for decades. Among many accomplishments, Zack is a founding member of the Cuban American Bar Association and became the youngest president of The Florida Bar.

A Culture of Fear and Repression

This picture from the August 5, 1994, pro-freedom demonstration, popularly known as Cuba's Maleconazo, is worth 1,000 words.

Freedom Movements Remembered

August 5, 1994 will undoubtedly be remembered in Cuban history as the "beginning of the end" of the Castro regime.

That summer's spontaneous demonstration by young Cubans demanding their freedom throughout Havana's seaside Malecon shaped a pro-democracy movement that survives -- despite overwhelming repression -- to this day.

It stands alongside the 20th century's most courageous movements against tyranny, most of which have eventually culminated in freedom and democracy. And rest assured, those that haven't yet -- will.

October 23, 1956, Hungary. Student demonstrations led to a nationwide revolt against the Stalinist regime of the People's Republic of Hungary. After successfully overthrowing that regime and creating an interim government, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country, restoring totalitarianism.

January 5, 1968, Czechoslovakia. Reformist Slovak Alexander Dubček came to power in Czechoslovakia and began a series of political liberalization measures. The reforms were not received well by the Soviets who sent thousands of Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country and restore totalitarian rule.

August 14, 1980, Poland. Shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, staged a successful strike in protest over the politically-motivated dismissal of a crane driver. The strike at that shipyard led to the founding of the Solidarity movement and began a campaign for political freedoms and to improve conditions for Poland's labor force. Martial law was declared to suppress this movement.

June 4, 1989, China. A series of pro-democracy demonstrations led by students, intellectuals and labor activists in the People's Republic of China culminated in a massacre. The Chinese regime decided to violently suppress protests, which had begun in April of that year, sending tanks and soldiers into Tiananmen Square.

July 8, 1999, Iran. Widespread public protests began with a peaceful student demonstration in Tehran against the closure of the reformist newspaper, Salam. Following the demonstrations, a student dormitory was raided by riot police during which a student was killed. The protests escalated, but were violently suppressed by the regime's militias.

"The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage."

-Thucydides, Greek historian and author, 460-404 B.C.

Kim and Raul Love to Talk (and Repress)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il during a surprise visit to Pyongyang, where he successfully negotiated the release of imprisoned U.S. journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

However, not before the North Korean regime "spun" the visit ad nauseam.

North Korean state media reported, "Bill Clinton courteously conveyed a verbal message of U.S. President Barack Obama to Kim Jong-Il."

The White House has denied this.

It then proceeded to report, "Kim Jong-Il expressed thanks for this. He welcomed Clinton's visit to the DPRK (North Korea) and had an exhaustive conversation with him. There was a wide-ranging exchange of views on the matters of common concern."

Why was North Korea so eager to hype this visit as a "wide-ranging exchange" with Clinton?

"It will also be used for domestic propaganda as it comes amid growing concerns about Kim's health," Cheong Seong-Chang of the Sejong Institute think-tank told AFP.

Sound familiar?

Just this weekend, Cuban dictator Raul Castro declared, "we are ready to talk [to the U.S.] about everything, but not negotiate our political or social system."

Why?

To distract from the severe economic crisis the Cuban regime faces.

Regardless of how long they have ruled, and as long as they maintain power through force and repression, tyrants will always seek domestic distractions and international legitimacy.

Former President Clinton should be commended for his work on behalf of these two U.S. journalists.

Meanwhile, we pray for the day that 23 million North Koreans and 12 million Cubans can also be released from their captors.

The Dog (Chavez) Wags its Tail (Correa)

Just three days after Hugo Chavez officially criminalized free speech in Venezuela, Rafael Correa seeks to follow suit in Ecuador.

According to the AP, Correa will take control of private radio and TV frequencies due to what he's calling "irregularities."

Of course, Correa failed to specify what sort of "irregularities" broadcasters have committed.

Perhaps Correa wasn't too happy that his ties to the FARC, Colombia's narco-guerillas, have been revealed, including funds -- derived from narcotrafficking and kidnappings -- transferred to his 2006 Presidential campaign.

Fidel must be proud.

State Department Reaction to Raul Castro

From yesterday's press briefing with Assistant Secretary of State, Phillip Crowley:
 
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the statements by Raul Castro this weekend this weekend about negotiating with the United States and that he's open to negotiating with the United States, but not much change? Have you anything on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Obviously, we have had some limited dialogue with Cuba in recent weeks on more technical subjects, obviously, restarting the migration talks. We have been willing to discuss other issues such as mail service. I think we're taking this in a step-by-step. I think we are willing to have a broader dialogue with Cuba. Clearly, Cuba has to take certain actions before we think that would be viable.

A Historic Cry for "Libertad"

Tomorrow marks the 15th anniversary of the historic pro-freedom demonstration that shook Havana's seaside harbor -- and ruling regime --popularly known as the "Maleconazo."

On August 5th, 1994, thousands of young Cubans took to the streets, in a public act of resistance, to demand their freedom. This spontaneous demonstration was met with unbridled repression by the Castro regime, as scores of militia from the Rapid Response Brigades (the Cuban version of Iran's Basij militia) confronted protesters with guns, chains and batons.

[Amateur footage of the demonstration, including acts of repression, can be seen below.]

Soon thereafter, in order to ease domestic pressure and distract international attention, the Castro regime authorized another mass exodus of Cubans towards the shores of the U.S., the so-called "Rafters Crisis" of 1994.

It is important to recall these events, as there are various noteworthy parallels between that hot August day fifteen years ago and today:

- Cuba's economy was in a severe crisis.
- high-levels of dissatisfaction amongst the island's youth.
- a new Administration in the U.S.

In 1994, the relatively new Clinton Administration flinched at the Castro regime's threat, and was calculatedly drawn into unprecedented direct negotiations [on migration], which served as a perfect domestic and international distraction for the regime's woes.

If history repeats itself, as it all too often does, it's key for the U.S. and the international community to keep their "eye on the ball":

The human right of the Cuban people to live in freedom, without fear of persecution.

If you don't speak Spanish, as you watch the footage, just remember, "Libertad" means "Freedom."

Hedging Bets on Raul's Speech

Monday, August 3, 2009
During this weekend's meeting of Cuba's monolithic National Assembly, Raul Castro stated,

"They didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba, nor to hand over the revolution...I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not destroy it."

Yet, Spain's El Mundo newspaper editorialized the following conclusion,

"Everything indicates that Fidel's brother wants to promote reforms in the Chinese style that involve an opening in the economy without changing the political structure. In other words, Castro is willing to institute a free market and private property, but not to hold democratic elections or foster freedom of expression."

In effect, El Mundo has called Raul Castro a double liar. First for claiming he was "elected" and second for claiming he will "defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism."

This is more of the same hedge -- and now face-saving -- that has been taking place since Raul "the Economic Reformer" was first handed dictatorial authority in 2006 by his sick brother, Fidel.

Anyone willing to make the opposite hedge? That Raul will allow political reforms, but maintain a socialist economic system.

Unlikely, as people don't "elect" socialist dictatorships.

Canadian Critique of Obama's Cuba Policy

Obama's Cuban Strategy Will Fail

By Michael Taube
Washington Examiner

President Obama has started the slow process toward reconciliation with Cuba. At the recent Summit of the Americas, he announced that travel restrictions – plus the ability to send remittances to family members – had been lifted for all Cuban-Americans. He also enabled U.S. telecommunications firms to seek potential business opportunities on the island.

Obama's announcement was praised in many quarters. There's some optimism that the president's gestures will motivate Cuba to ultimately embrace capitalism and the free market. In time, it could even become a strategic ally.

That optimism, however, is pure fantasy at this conjecture.

Until Cuba truly embraces democracy, real political and economic change is unlikely to ever occur. And I believe Obama's strategy has actually aided Cuban President Raúl Castro's mission to retain political power and preserve communist rule in his homeland.

For more than a half century, the U.S. was in control of its destiny with respect to Cuba. The island has been isolated from the U.S. since Raúl's brother, Fidel, established diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union in 1959.

As well, American foreign policy concerning Cuba, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush, ranged from regime change to demanding political and economic reform.

Meanwhile, the Castro brothers have had to deal with a U.S. trade embargo that has crippled their economy and weakened their society. Plus, a growing number of Cuban-Americans – and many young Cubans born after the revolution – have grown tired of communism and isolation from the western world.

Yet in one stunning maneuver, the U.S. lost its advantage. The Obama White House made unnecessary concessions with Cuba before achieving the primary objectives that previous administrations had fought for tooth and nail. And Mr. Castro, having achieved a moral victory against the U.S. while still preserving his brother's political legacy, will likely see a surge in his popularity.

But what about Obama's support of a free enterprise system in communist Cuba, some of you might say. Wouldn't that lead to real change?

Not necessarily. Communist and socialist parties have wisely learned over time to accept some capitalist principles. Yet they still don't accept the fact that their countries should also move towards liberal democratic values.

Take China, for example. The country's communist leaders have successfully mixed their authoritarian political views with a market-based economy. The Chinese are allowed to start their own businesses, earn profits, generate wealth and field new financial opportunities across the globe.

That's great. But do you ever hear talk about moving toward free elections in China, or supporting human rights, or promoting individual rights and freedoms? Of course not – and it's unlikely you will for a very long time, if ever.

China has become an economic superpower with the absence of real democracy and real freedom. If a communist country can succeed in this fashion, other communist countries will eagerly follow this model.

For the Cuban hierarchy, this will especially be the best of both worlds.

Thanks to the Obama White House, foreign companies will be encouraged to gradually invest in Cuba, creating more jobs and available goods and services. In the meantime, Castro can keep promoting communist and/or socialist principles on his island, while triumphantly showing that steps are being made toward greater degrees of free enterprise.

And if the average Cuban sees an increase in the standard of living, the push toward democracy will collapse in short order.

Obviously, Obama would like to be historically known as the U.S. president who ended five decades of tension with Cuba and the Castro brothers. Unfortunately, he's going about it the wrong way.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"With Reasonable Men I Shall Reason"

A recent column in the Huffington Post makes an important, albeit indirect, observation for policymakers in dealing with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Castro brothers:

"As argued by former Salvadoran guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos, unlike Cuba's support for insurgencies throughout the 60s and 70s to bolster its own security, Venezuela is disrupting democracies even though it faces no blockades, no contras, no assassination attempts, and the United States is his number one oil customer."

In other words, Villalobos -- the principal military strategist of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) during the civil war against El Salvador's right-wing governments -- contends that Chavez's actions defy reason or logic.

Agreed.

However, while Villalobos strikingly concedes that Castro's Cuba also sought to disrupt democracies in the region, he insinuates they were reasonable or logical attempts to "bolster its own security."

Not exactly.

First of all, Chavez's "war on democracy" has been undertaken with the full faith, credit and counsel of the Castro regime. Chavez himself has admitted as much. Furthermore, the Castro regime's existence has arguably never been under threat of an outside attack since the 1962 Missile Crisis and the resulting Kennedy-Khrushchev pact, in which the U.S. agreed not to allow its territory or that of any other nation in the Western Hemisphere to be used to launch attacks on Cuba.

Which leads to the point.

Both Chavez and Castro are individuals motivated by ruthlessness, egocentrism, anti-Americanism and a zeal for absolute power that surpasses logic or reason.

Therefore, it defies logic or reason to believe that unconditionally engaging or negotiating with such individuals can squelch their self-centered pursuits. Their actions must be countered, their expansionism contained and their victims emboldened.

As 19th century U.S. slavery abolition leader William Lloyd Garrison stated,

"With reasonable men I will reason; with humane men I will plea; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost."

Anti-Bush Criticism of President Obama

Sunday, August 2, 2009
Foreign policy excerpt from Jacob Weisberg's, Obama's Unwise Fixation on the Past, in Newsweek:
 
Obama, who did not have much global expertise before coming to office, molded his approach around his predecessor's errors. Bush's naive idealism and unilateralism encouraged Obama's realism and multilateralism. Bush's boycott of North Korea, Cuba, and Iran fed Obama's eagerness to engage pragmatically with those tyrannies. Bush's neglect of the Mideast peace process fed Obama's urge to plunge into it. The new president has reversed the old one's prioritization of Iraq over Afghanistan and, in what has become the political cliché of 2009, tried "hitting the reset button" on relations with Russia.

In so doing, Obama now faces an inverted set of hazards: getting overcommitted in Afghanistan, putting too much faith in the United Nations, accommodating dictators instead of standing up to them. Most alarmingly, given all that his predecessor did to discredit them, Obama has failed to stand up for the broader ideas of democracy promotion and humanitarian intervention. Surely if not for Bush, Obama's instinct after the Iranian election would have been to identify with those risking their lives to free their country, not to get back to his attempt at dialogue with Ahmadinejad.

Quote of the Week

From the Associated Press story on Raul Castro postponing the Cuban Communist Party Congress originally scheduled for this year:

"The congress? I don't care about that. What I want is something concrete," said high school student Silvia Medina, 17. "We young people want to know what's going to happen. We want some light on the horizon. We want a better life, where we don't have to work so hard for so little."

Who "Elected" Raul Castro?

According to Reuters, Raul Castro expressed irritation with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for saying repeatedly that Washington expects Havana to make democratic changes.

"I have to say, with all due respect to Mrs. Clinton...they didn't elect me president to restore capitalism in Cuba, nor to hand over the revolution," said Castro.

"I was elected to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism, not destroy it," he added.

Aside from being tyrants, Raul Castro and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad apparently share something else in common: they both believe, or somehow expect us to believe, that they were elected.

However, the difference between Castro and Ahmadinejad is that Ahmadinejad actually had an opponent [albeit vetted by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini], and some Iranians actually did vote for him [albeit not a majority].

Meanwhile, Raul Castro has never permitted an opponent, nor an election.

So, who is Raul talking about that "elected" him to "defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism"?

One man, his brother Fidel.