Did Zimmern Have to Show I.D. in Cuba?

Saturday, September 12, 2009
Of course not, he's a foreign tourist.

However, here's what the Cuban people have to endure, which Andrew Zimmern -- whose Travel Channel show, Bizarre World, featured a trip to Cuba this month -- conveniently omitted.

I.D. needed to purchase fresh fish

HAVANA, Cuba, (Georgina Noa, Cubanet) – Butcher shops in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo have been requiring the presentation of identity cards to those wanting to buy fish, according to one customer.

"It's really the last straw when you have to bring an identity card in order to buy fish," said customer Juana Alfonso. "At any moment we'll have to present an authorization from the police to buy it."

Fresh fish recently appeared at the shops in Arroyo Naranjo for the first time in four months.

Despite this, Zimmern -- like all foreign tourists in Cuba -- was able to carelessly enjoy fresh lobster, which can cost a regular Cuban long prison terms.

Castro's Old Guard Suffers Double Loss

Last night, General Juan Almeida, Cuban "Vice-President" and an original Comandante of the Revolution along with Fidel and Raul Castro, died at the age of 82.

Almeida was a member of the Council of State, Council of Ministers and Politburo of the Communist Party.

With his passing, only four original Comandantes of the current dictatorship now remain: Fidel and Raul Castro, Ramiro Valdes and Guillermo Garcia Frias (all in their late 70's, early 80's).

Ironically, during Almeida's last few months of life he was confronted with the political defiance of his son, Juan Almeida GarcĂ­a, who was detained by the Cuban authorities this past August 20th for staging a public protest in Havana's Revolutionary Square.

Almeida Garcia had been previously arrested on May 6th for attempting to "illegally" leave the country. He was released a few days later, but under the condition that he "reports-in" to Cuban State Security headquarters on a daily basis.

As a result, the Castro regime has not only lost one of its leaders, but is left with no ideological heir.

The old guard vs. the new guard.

A sign of things to come?

Taxi Meters Are Ticking Down

In what's being labeled as "cab capitalism," the Castro regime is once again issuing licenses to those lucky few chosen -- and authorized -- to use their cars as taxis (but only to transport Cuban nationals, not foreign tourists, as that "luxury" is reserved for a military corporation).

Dozens of Cubans lined up outside the Transport Ministry's office yesterday hoping to land one of the coveted licenses.

As expected, Raul Castro is being praised for this new "reform."

Except it's not new.

According to the AP, the regime stopped granting new licenses for private taxis in 1999, which means this is not a new "reform."

So either the Cuban economy was more progressive in 1999 than today -- scary thought -- or we're reminded of just how quickly Castro can open and close the economic spigot.

The fact remains that these private taxi licenses were first issued during the "special period" of the 1990's, when the Castro regime was in dire need of hard currency pursuant to the disappearance of the Soviet Union. Upon the rise of Hugo Chavez and his petro-aid to Castro, these licenses were halted.

Once again, the regime needs hard currency (Chavez's generosity has been limited by international oil prices and domestic concerns), so they're authoritatively looking to open the spigot for relief (and to further capture family remittance dollars) -- one of those "comforts" that exerting an absolutely monopoly over the island's economic activity allows.

Lesson to be learned:

The Castro regime only acts out of necessity, rarely -- if ever -- out of goodwill.

We'll see how long the taxi meters run this time around.

Quote of the Week

Friday, September 11, 2009
"After the Soviet collapse, Marxism is a relic, a pathetic anachronism reduced to its last redoubts: North Korea, Cuba and the English departments of the more-expensive American universities."

- Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist, September 10, 2009

And a close second,

"I love the Cubans on the island just as much as I love the Cubans here, and of course I'd love to sing in Cuba once it's free. We want there to be peace with freedom."

- Gloria and Emilio Estefan, referring to the upcoming Juanes "Peace Without Borders Concert," September 11, 2009

We Will Never Forget

Picture Worth 1,000 Words (for Juanes)

The following picture was taken in Cuba during the recent filming of the music video "Sangre Guerrera" by hip-hop sensation, Los Aldeanos.

For those that can't read or understand Spanish, "Libertad" means "Freedom."

What are the chances that Juanes will invite Los Aldeanos to perform in his September 20th concert in Havana?

They're anxiously awaiting for an invitation.

Blogging (With Hope) Against All Odds

Thursday, September 10, 2009
The Committee to Protect Journalists ("CPJ") has just released this report on the rise of bloggers in Cuba and the hope they represent. It highlights their talent, courage and determination, despite the tremendous challenges faced, and obstacles imposed, by the island's totalitarian regime.

Together with the report, the CPJ offered this very insightful set of recommendations:

To the Cuban government:

- Put an end to the systematic harassment of bloggers and independent journalists.

- Remove all legal barriers to individual Internet access, and allow bloggers to host their blogs on Cuban domains.

- Fully meet commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has signed, by allowing journalists to work freely and without fear of reprisal.

- Immediately and unconditionally release all imprisoned journalists.

To the international community:

-In keeping with its June 16 resolution calling for results-oriented dialogue, the European Union must press the Cuban government to heed its call to grant freedom of information and expression, including access to the Internet, to all Cuban people. The EU must further press Cuban authorities to heed its call for the release of all political prisoners, including those imprisoned in the 2003 crackdown. In its 2010 evaluation of its Common Position on Cuba, the EU must predicate future dialogue on Cuban authorities making substantial and specific improvements in these regards.

- The Organization of American States must guarantee that Cuba's proposed participation in the organization conforms to OAS principles, including the right to freedom of expression and access to information. In the event Cuba joins the OAS, the organization must ensure Cuba's compliance with freedom of expression standards.

- All OAS member states should promote a vigorous debate on human rights violations in Cuba, including restrictions to Internet access, and should call for the release of imprisoned journalists.

- The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression should request authorization to assess the state of freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Cuba and report findings and recommendations.

To the technology and blogging community:

- The international blogging community should continue to support Cuban bloggers by publicizing their work and ensuring international readership by linking to their blogs.

- Companies that provide technology infrastructure to Cuba must ensure their work product is not used to restrict freedom of expression. Companies should follow the principles established by Global Network Initiative, which seeks to ensure that technology companies uphold international freedom of expression standards.

Freedom First, Then Financing

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was named the new Chair of the Senate's Committee on Agriculture.

She takes over the panel from U.S. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was named Chair of the Senate's Health Committee pursuant to the passing of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

In a statement to the AP, Senator Lincoln stressed that the implementation of the Farm Bill and ending the Cuba trade embargo were among her top priorities.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Arkansas has been at the forefront of lobbying efforts to normalize relations with the Castro regime for years, due to business interest by that state's rice farmers and Tyson's Foods, which is headquartered in Springdale.

"I've always supported opening up trade with Cuba and I'll continue to do so," she said.

Unfortunately though, the Senator's interest in the Cuban tragedy appears to end at Arkansas' farmer's profits -- what about the Cuban people and the brutal dictatorship that systemically violates their fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights?

Furthermore, let's be honest and straightforward.

There's is no such thing as "trade with Cuba" -- the Cuban people aren't allowed to engage in any trade activity, only the Castro regime's monopoly, Alimport, which the regime uses to exert "food repression."

Every penny of every export that Arkansas has transacted with Cuba, has been transacted with Castro's Alimport.

So let's call it "trade with Alimport."

But Arkansas agri-business already sells its products to Alimport -- on a cash basis -- so what more does Senator Lincoln want from lifting sanctions towards Alimport?

By default, to legalize U.S. financing to Alimport.

In other words, to provide billions of dollars in credits for the Castro regime to (maybe) purchase more commodities (at its whim), strengthen its food monopoly (or its defense, state security and intelligence monopoly), and be able to feed the increasing amounts of foreign tourists (Cuban people barely see Tyson's chickens, if any).

The Castro regime already owes well over $30 billion to its international trading partners -- with little hope for repayment -- and ranks second on the list of the world's most credit unworthy nations. This year it even made $1 billion "disappear" from the accounts of foreign companies on the island.

So when the regime forfeits on this public and private financing, the U.S. taxpayer can bail it out. But no worries, the profits will already be in agri-business' pockets.

There is some good news though -- Senator Lincoln did conclude that,

"I can't single-handedly make [lifting the embargo] happen as chairman of the committee."

Amen to that!

Principled Divestment Plan

Wednesday, September 9, 2009
From The Reading Advocate:
by Senator Richard Tisei
Two years ago, Massachusetts joined a growing international movement protesting the brutal campaign of genocide being waged by the Sudanese government against its own people in the province of Darfur.

On Nov. 2, 2007, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation authorizing the Commonwealth to begin divesting $164 million in state-held assets from companies doing business with Sudan. Like the 1980s movement that targeted the racist apartheid policies of South Africa, the Sudan divestment effort was an attempt to exert financial pressure on a country's leaders to change government policies.

At the same time the Sudan divestment effort was underway, I was one of several legislators calling for an even broader divestment strategy that would include all countries on the U.S. State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. That list includes not only Sudan, but also Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria. Although U.S. law prohibits direct investment in these countries, many pension plans contain holdings in companies that do business with their governments, which is perfectly legal, although morally questionable.

Consider Iran, a country the U.S. State Department has labeled the world's "most active state sponsor of terrorism." As of June 30, the value of Iran-related securities held in the Massachusetts pension fund was $342.4 million. It is appalling to think that the hard-earned money of the Commonwealth's employees and retirees is being used to support an oppressive regime that has long pursued anti-American policies.
Senator Tisei is the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts State Senate.

Senator Mel Martinez's Farewell Remarks

Excerpt from U.S. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida's farewell speech this morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

"I have brought to my work the belief that it is always necessary to provide a voice for those silenced for attempting to advance the cause of freedom.

Having lived under Cuba's repressive dictatorship, I have always recognized the struggle of those who fight for freedom. That has always been and will continue to be a lifelong passion.

I have taken every opportunity to recognize those engaged in Cuba's peaceful civic struggle for democratic change in Cuba and stand up for their human rights: Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, AntĂșnez, the Damas de Blanco (the "Ladies in White"), and the victims of the Black Spring government crackdowns.

It is my fervent hope that one day in the not too distant future, the people of Cuba will live in freedom with dignity and the hope for a better tomorrow that is their God-given right.

Even though I will no longer hold public office, my passion to work and devote myself to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom will continue.

The preservation of all freedoms whether they be in Cuba or around the world calls us to stand up whenever and wherever it is threatened."

"Breaking News" on Raul's "Reforms"

The zeal with which foreign news bureaus in Havana continue to depict Raul Castro as a "long-awaited" economic reformer is getting out-of-hand -- to the point of contradiction.

On the morning of September 2nd, the Financial Times reported that:

"The Cuban government is considering easing its stranglehold on the retail sector in an effort to legalize the underground economy and reduce massive theft. It is President Raul Castro's second big economic reform after last year's decentralization of agriculture and the leasing of idle state land."

Yet, on the very same day, Reuters reported that,

"A crackdown on corruption by President Raul Castro is causing consternation among ordinary Cubans, who say it is biting into the flourishing black market and reducing a prized source of cheaper food and other items."

That story proceeds to explain that,

"Castro's transfer of many retail businesses to military control has caused state employees who once routinely stole goods to stop, or at least think twice. Military managers are said to exercise better inventory control and be less tolerant of filching."

So which is it?

Is Castro easing his stranglehold on Cuba's retail sector, and therefore, the black market (or more properly stated, underground economy), or is it exerting even further control over the retail sector and cracking down on the black market?

It's time to break the news to those that are continuously searching for the coming of Raul "the Reformer":

There's no evidence that he intends to liberalize the Cuban economy in any way, sort or fashion.

To the contrary, since 2006, Raul's has simply accelerated a process that he began years before as Minister of Defense,

Military control over the Cuban economy.

The Fidel Funnel

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It's an inarguable fact that truffles and fox furs are not accessible to the Cuban people.

Therefore, the title of the recent Miami Herald article, "From truffles to fox furs, U.S. ships more than food to Cuba," is alone cause for concern.

As inferred from the title, it is a long diatribe on U.S. sanctions, loopholes, financing hurdles, advantages and disadvantages for potential exporters, not to mention complaints from U.S. farmers, trade associations, cargo specialists, and so on and so forth.

However, just as one begins to glaze over the wide-array of business interests looking to profit in Cuba, the article reveals a most telling -- yet understated -- fact:

"For American businesses, there is only one customer in Cuba: Alimport, the government agency that coordinates purchases from the United States."

In other words, all of these business interests are tripping over themselves to transact with only one entity -- the Castro brothers.

That's called the "Fidel funnel."

Castro Shuts Down Foreign Bank Operations

The Castro regime has withdrawn the licenses of two foreign banks, ING Barings and Netherlands Caribbean Bank N.V., for not doing enough business.

Both banks were the first foreign banks authorized to conduct business on the island, in conjunction with the Cuban authorities, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Cuban Central Bank president Ernesto Medina said the banks lost their permits because "they stopped conducting the business authorized by the license, and show no sign of resuming it in the future."

Moral of the Story:

In Castro's Cuba, once the money stops flowing into the regime's coffers, you're no longer welcome.

A Hip-Hop Challenge for Freedom

The following is a hard-hitting protest video by Cuban hip-hop artist, Eskuadron Patriota entitled "Decadence."

It's in Spanish, but contains very powerful images that transcend language.

It was filmed in Cuba and poignantly asks:

Why repress those that simply want to be free?

Why is it treason to think differently?

Why does fear impede our need to scream, to demand our rights?

Then invites the Cuban people to:

Raise their fists, join hands and scream for freedom.

What are the chances of Juanes inviting Eskuadron Patriota to perform at his September 20th concert in Havana?

Do Obama Regs Violate the LIBERTAD Act?

Last week, the Treasury Department issued final regulations on President Obama's new policy of unlimited family travel and remittances to Cuba.

At first glance, these new regulations appear to be in violation of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1996, and remains law.

According to Section 112 of this law, Reinstitution of Family Remittances and Travel to Cuba:

It is the sense of the Congress that the President should --

(1)(A) before considering the reinstitution of general licenses for family remittances to Cuba, insist that, prior to such reinstitution, the Cuban Government permit the unfettered operation of small businesses fully empowered with the right to hire others to whom they may pay wages and to buy materials necessary in the operation of the businesses, and with such other authority and freedom as are required to foster the operation of small businesses throughout Cuba; and

(B) if licenses described in subparagraph (A) are reinstituted, require a specific license for remittances described in subparagraph (A) in amounts of more than $500; and

before considering the reinstitution of general licenses for travel to Cuba by individuals resident in the United States who are family members of Cuban nationals who are resident in Cuba, insist on such actions by the Cuban Government as abrogation of the sanction for departure from Cuba by refugees, release of political prisoners, recognition of the right of association, and other fundamental freedoms.

Thus far, the Castro regime has refused to recognize and respect human rights, or undertake any political or economic reforms.

Yet, the answer is no.

President Obama did not violate the terms of the LIBERTAD Act, for a "sense of Congress" provision in enacted legislation is merely guidance and not enforceable law.

Nonetheless, the Administration should be respectful of Congress and keep in consideration its bipartisan will prior to executing its policy towards Cuba.

Both of these provisions simply insist on reciprocity for the Cuban people.

If not for Congress, the Obama Administration should do it for the Cuban people.

Food for Foreign Policy Thought

Monday, September 7, 2009
Excerpt from "Obama's Foreign Policy: The End of the Beginning" by George Friedman:

Of great interest, of course, were the three great openings of the early Obama administration, to Cuba, to Iran, and to the Islamic world in general through his Cairo speech. The Cubans and Iranians rebuffed his opening, whereas the net result of the speech to the Islamic world remains unclear. With Iran we see the most important continuity. Obama continues to demand an end to Tehran's nuclear program, and has promised further sanctions unless Iran agrees to enter into serious talks by late September. 

Courtesy of Real Clear World.

Chavez Sells Ice to Eskimos

Or the equivalent of.

Hugo Chavez is amidst an 11-day trip to Russia, Belarus, Syria, Algeria, Libya, and Iran.

A loud, anti-American, "tour of tyrannies."

In an interesting dispatch from the BBC, it was reported that during his visit to Tehran,

"Venezuela has agreed to export petrol to Iran, in a sign of closer ties between two of America's most vocal adversaries. At the end of a two-day visit to Iran, President Hugo Chavez said Venezuela would supply 20,000 barrels of petrol a day to the country.

Iran is a major oil exporter but lacks domestic refining capability."

Keep in mind that Venezuela also lacks significant refining capacity. As a matter of fact, it's forced to refine more than half of its daily production abroad in the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean.

Therefore, Chavez is willing to further strain Venezuela's limited domestic refining, in order to satisfy his anti-American ideological zeal.

That's akin to when Castro's Cuba first announced in 2001 that it was importing sugar from Brazil to satisfy domestic consumption.

Such economic inefficiency by tyrants guarantees their eventual ouster.

And the free world will be the better for it.

Sniffing Out Political Dissent

Sunday, September 6, 2009
The Nuevo Herald newspaper reported yesterday on the Castro regime's use of dogs to track and repress political dissidents.

If "Down With Raul" appears written on a wall, the regime will use dogs to track the scent, and thus identity, of the author.

This instrument of repression was historically perfected by the East German secret police, the nefarious STASI. It wasn't until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that a warehouse full of the scent cloths of political dissidents was shockingly discovered. Today, this "odor bank" forms part of the Stasi "Runde Ecke" Museum in the eastern German city of Leipzig -- a reminder of the cruelty of that dictatorship.

Unfortunately, it remains an all-too-modern reality in Castro's Cuba, where the DTI (Technical Investigation Department) keeps a similar "odor bank" to identify dissident activities.

In an August 5th post on the arrest and intimidation of four independent trade unionists associated with the Independent National Trade Union Confederation of Cuba (CONIC), we'd originally denounced that:

"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."

Next time, the dogs will be set on them.

Castro Regime Reacts to Obama Regs

According to the Castro regime's official internet portal, Cuba Debate:

"These new [family travel and remittance] rules are tasked with regulating what gifts and how much cash can be sent or spent in Cuba, measures that the White House announced 150 days ago but had not yet implemented. They only give a cosmetic varnish to the brutal sanctions imposed on the island by the blockade."

In other words, the Castro regime doesn't care about family visits or reunification.

It only cares about the bottom-line that such visits represent.

Another "Compassionate" Embargo Foe

There are many opponents of sanctions towards the Castro regime that genuinely believe changing U.S. policy will benefit the repressed Cuban people, despite the dictatorship's political and economic monopoly over the island.

Unfortunately though, it seems the most vocal opponents of current U.S. policy are simply looking for another tourism destination or to make a quick dollar, such as the case here:

"Cuban cigars are extremely coveted and would be the ultimate prize for cigar smokers here in the U.S., but as long as the U.S. trade embargo is in effect, they are impossible to obtain," said Greg Fox, General Manager of BestCigarPrices.com. "We hope that the embargo is lifted so we can begin marketing and selling Cuban cigars to our customers."

Just oozing compassion for the Cuban people.

On a side note, Cuba's cigar industry, Habanos, S.A., is owned by the MINFAR (the Ministry of the Armed Forces) and presided by Raul Castro confidant, Col. Oscar Basulto Torres.

Not likely to "trickle down."