A Heroic Voice Behind Bars

Saturday, October 3, 2009
"The enemies of freedom may have strength, but we have reason; they may have laws, but we have justice; they may control the media, but we have the truth; they may manipulate our thoughts, but not our conscience; they may imprison our body, but not our spirit."

- Pablo Pacheco, Cuban independent journalist and political prisoner serving a 20-year sentence, November 2003.

Looking Out the Restaurant Window

Friday, October 2, 2009
From ABC News:

At the rooftop pool of Havana's Hotel Saratoga, where rates run $200 and up and two-story suites have humidors and marble bathrooms, young Brits order mojitos. On the street below, near crumbling apartment buildings of Old Havana, a boy peers through the hotel restaurant's window and stretches a hand toward patrons nibbling delicacies unavailable to the average rice-and-beans-eating Cuban, miming hunger.

In the 50th anniversary year of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro into power, tourism is the No. 1 moneymaker, while locals might subsist on $20 a month and omnipresent food rationing.

In other words, while the Castro regime owns and operates the island's tourism industry, it condemns its people to subservience, humiliation, shortages and repression -- all of this to maintain absolute, dictatorial control.

U.S. tourists should not contribute to this repression until the Castro regime ends its monopoly over the island's tourism industry and allows the Cuban people to partake in the fruits of their labor.

Or, at the very least, until Cubans are allowed to look out the restaurant window from the inside, instead of being forced to observe from the outside.

Does Brazil Act Like a Global Power?

Newsweek's Mac Margolis asked the poignant question today,
 
Brazil, which just won the 2016 Olympics, wants to be a global power. So why won't it act like one?

Here's an excerpt from his insightful article:
 
Brasília has also stumbled in taking on its expansive new posture. Lula has opened embassies in 35 countries in six years, mostly in Africa and Latin America—each one a potential vote in Brazil's campaign to reform the United Nations. But coddling dictators can be risky: in recent months, Brasília has systematically balked or stonewalled when it came to speaking out on human-rights abuses in a number of authoritarian countries, including Sri Lanka and no-brainers like North Korea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan. It routinely passes on censuring repression in Cuba, where dissidents are muzzled and jailed. Lula even likened the conflicted Iranian elections and their bloody aftermath to a row between rival football fans. He stoutly defends Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, who has shut down critical media and turned his country's Congress and Supreme Court into rubber stamps. "Give me one example of how Venezuela is not democratic," he told NEWSWEEK.

The Not So Philanthropic Philharmonic

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra has cancelled a tour of Cuba after some "philanthropists" that were sponsoring the concert were denied licenses to accompany the musicians on the trip, according to the New York Daily News.

Lets be absolutely clear, the Treasury Department gave the musicians, performers and staff the licenses needed to visit and perform in Cuba. It was only the "philanthropists" that were going to accompany the orchestra -- and enjoy an exotic Cuban vacation on the side -- that were denied licenses.

Which leads to the bigger question -- did the New York Philharmonic Orchestra or the "philanthropists" involved really ever care about extending cultural ties and reaching out to the Cuban people?

If so, they wouldn't have cancelled the entire concert for the sake of a couple of spoiled donors wanting to go along for the ride.

That's not very philanthropic them.

Bisa "Checks the Box" With Dissidents

It appears that Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bisa Williams, during her 6-day trip to Cuba, met with dissidents for lunch one day -- checked that box -- then proceeded to enjoy the hospitality of the Castro regime for the remaining 5 1/2 days.

That set the stage for a "cultural cocktail party" held at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana this past Tuesday, to which only Cuban officials and artists "authorized by the regime" were invited.

For the first time in recent memory, dissidents were excluded from an event at the U.S. Interest Section.

Hopefully, this will not be the beginning of a "slippery slope," for the last thing Cuba's courageous dissidents need is to be subjected to the same demoralizing behavior by U.S. officials, as they are subjected to on a daily basis by the Castro regime.

The good news is that this doesn't seem to be a concrete policy change, as can be derived from the confusion and clarification during the State Department's press briefing by Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley:

QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba. This diplomatic reception in Havana, the dissidents were not invited for the first time in many years. Does it mean --

MR. CROWLEY: Can I clarify? The dissidents --

QUESTION: -- it was a diplomat --

MR. CROWLEY: -- were invited --

QUESTION: Cuban dissidents.

MR. CROWLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: There were none – there were none of them, no. There were not.

MR. CROWLEY: I suppose there's a question of definition here. But just since you introduced the subject, Deputy Assistant Secretary Bisa Williams, as everyone knows, was in Havana recently to lead a delegation on direct mail service between the United States and Cuba. She took advantage of the opportunity while there to do a number of things, did have meetings with Cuban officials. I would describe these as kind of mechanical meetings, maybe – on very specific issues in our existing relationship, including the functioning of the consulate – or, I'm sorry, not the consulate, the Interests Section in Havana, following up on the migration talks that we had in July, real nuts and bolts working-level things.

But while she was in Cuba, she did have interaction with human rights advocates, members of civil society, dissidents, talking about a variety of issues, both economic and political. She also had the opportunity to travel to western Cuba to see a part of the country that had been severely hit by hurricanes last year.

So if the question – the suggestion was that she did not meet with dissidents in Havana, she did.

QUESTION: No, no, this was not – but since we are now on Ms. Williams, the fact that she stayed much longer --

MR. CROWLEY: She stayed for six days.

QUESTION: -- was this prepared before she went, or it was after she spoke to Cuban officials?

MR. CROWLEY: No, she had planned to stay beyond the mail talk meeting.

QUESTION: Yeah, but what I meant – and maybe you can take the question otherwise – there was a diplomatic reception in the Interests Section. And every year, they invite the dissidents. This time, they did not invite them for the first time in many years, and there were plenty of people of the civil society, people under the regime could see that it's – the regime approves – they're as musicians or entertainers or writers or whatever, so many people from the cultural scene and – but no dissidents. And this is the first time in a long time.

MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I will seek a clarification
, but while she was there, she --

QUESTION: No, this has nothing – no, no, this has nothing to do with her. This is --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah, okay, okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: On an related --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- situation, you said she had planned to stay beyond the talks on – postal talks. So this invitation to extend her stay presumably was worked out ahead of time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually, it's hard to say.
I mean, there was – she had planned to stay beyond the one-day meeting at the same time that there was this kind of organic process where the Cuban Government had some issues to discuss with us; for example, diplomatic notes that had been previously sent to the United States but had not been answered. So I think there was a general agreement that there were benefits on both sides to having these kind of follow-on discussions on very specific, very narrow issues related to our existing relationship.

QUESTION: Right, but that was --

MR. CROWLEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- worked out beforehand.

MR. CROWLEY: I think some of this was worked out beforehand, and perhaps some of this was worked out once she was on the ground.

QUESTION: That doesn't mean – after all, this relationship --

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn't say it changes anything in terms of our relationship with Cuba,
but obviously, it's consistent with the President's efforts to increase the free flow of information and the interaction between the United States and the Cuban people.

For the Umpteenth Time, Where's Mariela?

Thursday, October 1, 2009
Just last week, the Huffington Post featured an article entitled, "Mariela Castro Espin, President Raul Castro's Daughter, Champions Cuba's Gay And Transgender Communities."  

Mariela is being wined and dined throughout the world, and featured in major international publications, for her "work on behalf of the gay community in Cuba" as head of the CENESEX (National Sexual Education Center). 

Yet, she never seems to be around when the gay community is being repressed by Castro's state security.

Authorities crack down on gay activists


HAVANA, Cuba, Sept. 30 (Aliomar Janjaque Chivaz, Cubanet) – The organizers of a planned Mr. Gay Cuba contest say they are facing government opposition to thwart the event.

Committee members said police raided the home of Mario José Delgado González, vice president of the Reinaldo Arenas Memorial Foundation, one of the organizers, and broke up a meeting and seized equipment.  Delgado González and a medical student named Rafael, who recently won the Mr. Gay Havana contest, were expelled from the University of Havana.

Police also arrested Henri Solís, 27, an artistic education professor and gay rights activist.  

Has the Cuban Embargo Worked?

While browsing over the transcript of a July 23rd seminar -- organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. -- on Europe and Canada's policy of engagement towards the Cuban dictatorship, one comment jumped out of the page:

Dianna Melrose, Britain's Ambassador to Cuba -- and a philosophical foe of the embargo -- said,

"Let's have a reality check. The EU has little to show for its engagement over the past year. There's very little the Cuban government wants from the EU that it doesn't already have: trade and investment, development assistance and continuing opposition to the U.S. embargo. So if there is any external actor that has potential leverage over Cuba, it is the United States."

Perhaps this doesn't clarify whether the embargo has worked or not. To make that assessment, one would have to know for sure whether an alternate policy would have been successful.

We will probably never know.

However, we do know that Europe and Canada have practiced engagement with Castro's Cuba for decades, and it hasn't convinced the Cuban dictatorship to embrace human rights and democratic reforms either.

Instead, according to Ambassador Melrose, it has left the Europeans feeling philosophically satisfied, but with little practical leverage.

Fortunately, that's not the case with the United States (thanks to the embargo).

Will Congress Choose Castro Over Colombia?

We're not so sure, just yet, but today's Investor's Business Daily seems to think so:
 
Serving Castro First

Trade: Colombia got another brushoff Tuesday, when Commerce Secretary Gary Locke pronounced its free trade pact dead for the year because Washington is too busy with health care. Why doesn't Cuba ever hear that?

Speaking at the sidelines of a conference in Chile, Locke told Dow Jones: "It's pretty doubtful that the pact will be ratified this year, although the Obama administration is pushing forward with Colombia, Korea and Panama."

Yeah, sure. Pushing and pushing, it's all we've heard about from this crew.
 
By contrast, Cuba has yet to hear about demands that health care is placing on the Democratic agenda. It's gotten speedy service.

On the very day Colombia was humiliated by Locke's comments in Chile, the State Department announced it had sent acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Bisa Williams to Havana to negotiate new agreements with the ruling Castro oligarchy.

First up: a new mail agreement. Free travel in the U.S. for Cuban spies, plus an end to the U.S. trade embargo to help bail out the Castro brothers with U.S. trade credits, are probably next. But so far, the talks have been secret.

"Look at the momentum; look at the pace of these steps," gushed the Council on Foreign Relations' Julia E. Sweig to the New York Times. "It's a departure from many, many years of practice."

So why isn't Colombia getting the same "pace of steps"? All it gets are sorry excuses. The U.S.-Colombia trade treaty was signed in 2006 and is ready to go. Its only barrier is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who doesn't want a vote because she knows it will pass.

No country has ever been strung along so cynically.

With Castro, a state sponsor of terror, getting everything he wants and Colombia, a strong ally, getting just excuses, it seems the best way to get attention from this new administration is to forge a long record as an adversary.

Members Request Info on Bisa's Trip

Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balarts Request Information on Meetings Between U.S. Official and Cuban Regime

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) sent a letter today to Undersecretary of State William J. Burns requesting an immediate briefing on a recent visit to Cuba by Bisa Williams, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and Mario Diaz-Balart:

"If reports are accurate, Ms. Williams' scheduled visit to Cuba went far beyond its stated purpose and turned into a quasi-summit with officials of the Cuban regime.

We are concerned that Ms. Williams' visit may have elevated diplomatic contacts with the regime to unwarranted levels.

During a trip which was supposed to be focused on postal issues, it is troubling to learn that discussions were broadened to such an extent that the regime's Foreign Minister reportedly described them as covering a 'global agenda.'

It is important that Congress be kept informed about the Administration's activities related to Cuba, including with whom U.S. officials are meeting and what issues are being raised
."

Tests for New Burma Policy

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following remarks regarding the Obama Administration's Burma policy:

"Early in the Obama administration I encouraged Secretary of State Clinton to make Burma a priority, review our policies toward and relations with Burma, and to see how the U.S. could better achieve its objectives toward the regime. Having reached the end of that review Secretary Clinton has decided to engage the regime in Burma in pursuit of the fundamental goal of a unified, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of its citizens.

There remain two significant tests of whether or not Burma's relationship with the United States has improved to the degree that we should even consider moving away from a policy of sanctions: the release of all political prisoners to include Aung San Suu Kyi, and the conduct of free and fair elections in 2010 that allow for the meaningful participation of opposition and ethnic groups. The United States must also insist that Burma comply with its international obligations and end any prohibited military or proliferation related cooperation with North Korea."

Time for Talks With Tyrants

Talks with tyrants are sweeping the world this week.

From Iran:

"The new diplomatic phase begins in Geneva on Thursday with direct talks between Iran and the six countries negotiating with it - the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany." (BBC)

To Burma:

"A senior US diplomatic official was to meet Tuesday with a delegation from Myanmar on the margins of the UN General Assembly meeting, the State Department said." (AFP)

To Bisa's Cuban adventure:

"Bisa Williams, acting deputy assistant secretary, met this week with Deputy Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez during a six-day trip to Cuba, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley said." (BBC)

In other words, a top-down approach, which seeks to negotiate away contentions with these regimes.

The problem is that it simultaneously risks legitimizing the repressive behavior of these dictatorships and weakening the beleaguered civil society movements in those countries.

A bottom-up approach towards these regimes would focus engagement on strengthening Iran's Green Movement, Burma's National League for Democracy and Cuba's courageous pro-democracy leaders.

Those are the agents of change, not to mention the only real solution for long-term peace.

Therefore, a friendly note of caution to the Obama Administration from 19th century anti-slavery, abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison:

"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."

The Wacky World of Reparations


Last week, Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi took to the floor of the U.N. General Assembly to deliver a 96-minute stand-up rant, in which amongst other things he attacked capitalism and ripped up the U.N. Charter, but his grand finale was demanding $7.77 trillion in reparations for colonialism.

This isn't unique, as the Castro regime in Cuba is also seeking $227 billion dollars in reparations for what it claims U.S. sanctions has cost it.

Funny how these regimes forget the billions in illegally confiscated properties and bank accounts they stole upon seizing power, or the billions that they've cost their populations by monopolizing decades of economic activity for themselves.

But much more importantly, how much reparations should the people of Libya and Cuba get for suffering over four and five decades, respectively, under the rule of brutal totalitarian regimes, for the hundreds of thousands of deaths and tortures, the millions of political prisoners and families separated through exile?

Those lives are priceless.

Financing for the Castro Regime?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Not if you want to see your money back.
 
But don't ask me, ask these foreign businesses that have had their hard currency accounts frozen this year by the Castro regime.
 
So why do Senators Byron Dorgan and Max Baucus, and Congressmen Jerry Moran and Charlie Rangel, insist on pushing legislation that would authorize U.S. financing for the Castro regime?
 
Reuters is reporting today that:
 
Many foreign suppliers and investors in Cuba are still unable to repatriate hundreds of millions of dollars from local accounts almost a year after Cuban authorities blocked them because of the financial crisis, foreign diplomats and businessmen said.

The businessmen, who asked not to be identified, said they were increasingly frustrated because the Communist authorities refused to offer explanations or solutions for the situation, which stems from a cash crunch in the Cuban economy triggered by the global downturn and heavy hurricane damage last year.

"I have repeatedly e-mailed, visited the offices and sent my representative to the offices of a company I did business with for years and which owes me money, and they simply refuse to talk to me," a Canadian businessman told Reuters.

Bizarre Headline of the Week

This morning, MercoPress reported:
 
"The party is over: Cubans are told to work harder and solve their problems"

Cubans should no longer "expect the government to solve all of its problems" and "should work hard and efficiently to overcome the crisis and ensure the continuity of the revolution" said Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes quoted with extensive coverage in Havana's Sunday media.
 
Meanwhile, Cubans are scratching their head wondering:
 
When did "the party" actually start?

Bruno Wants Obama to Fund Repression

Yesterday, at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez urged U.S. President Barack Obama to authorize tourism travel to Cuba,

"President Obama could allow American citizens, by means of a license, to travel to Cuba,"

Meanwhile, back in Cuba, an "anonymous" tourism official told Reuters that a Cuban-Chinese venture will break ground this year on a 600-room luxury hotel in the Hemingway Marina -- Cubans aren't allowed near the lush Marina, as it's illegal for Cubans to board or travel on vessels without permission -- just west of Havana.

The target market of this luxury hotel?

According to the Cuban official, U.S. tourists.

Isn't that convenient.

The project is owned by Castro's Cubanacan hotel group and a minority share -- yet bulk of the financing -- will be provided by China's Suntine International-Economic Trading Company.

Ever heard of Cubanacan?

Grupo Cubanacan S.A., is a state-owned tourism conglomerate affiliated with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) under General Abelardo Colome Ibarra. It was originally founded in the 1980's by one of Fidel Castro's closest friends, Abraham Masiques, as a means to control and funnel hard currency from the tourism sector on the island and abroad. Together with CIMEX, the infamous illicit trafficking corporation that led to the trial and execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, Cubanacan formed the basis of the MC Department ("Moneda Convertible" or "Convertible Currency") of the MININT.

Needless to say, the MININT is the Ministry responsible for the Castro regime's intelligence and state security services.

Therefore, one tourist's nice, relaxing, luxurious vacation in Cuba, means financing for the censorship, beating and imprisonment of the Cuban people.

How's that for escapism?

Choices Left on Iran

Monday, September 28, 2009
Excerpts by Eliot Cohen in today's Wall Street Journal:

There Are Only Two Choices Left on Iran
An Israeli or U.S. military strike now, or a nuclear Tehran soon.

1. An Israeli strike may set back the Iranian program by some short period of time. What the Israelis can do is unclear: They play their tactical cards close to their vest, and they would take different approaches, and accept different risks, than the U.S. Air Force would. No surprise there, given that they believe, with reason, that the looming issues are existential.

An American attack would be more effective, but it would take longer and probably lead to real warfare in the Persian Gulf, disrupting oil supplies and producing global responses. More to the point, it is difficult to believe that the Obama administration has the stomach for war. Its appalling public case of nerves over the war in Afghanistan—a "war of necessity," as of only a few months ago—is indicative of its true temper. And if President Obama does not have the courage to accept hazards and ugly surprises, and if he cannot bring himself to deploy his rhetorical skills to the mobilization of opinion at home and abroad, he should not start a shooting war, even if the Iranians are already waging one against us.

2. That leaves living with an Iranian bomb. But this too has enormous hazards. It will engender—it has already quietly engendered—a nuclear arms race in the region. It will embolden the Iranian regime to make much more lethal mischief than it has even now. In a region that respects strength, it will enhance, not diminish, Iranian prestige. And it may yield the first nuclear attack since 1945 some time down the road.

It is, therefore, in the American interest to break with past policy and actively seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Not by invasion, which this administration would not contemplate and could not execute, but through every instrument of U.S. power, soft more than hard. And if, as is most likely, President Obama presides over the emergence of a nuclear Iran, he had best prepare for storms that will make the squawks of protest against his health-care plans look like the merest showers on a sunny day.

Mr. Cohen teaches at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. He served as counselor of the State Department from 2007 to 2009.

Los Aldeanos Arrested for a Dream

UPDATE: Aldo Rodriguez Barquero was released by the Cuban authorities this evening.

In this song, "Es Solo Un Sueno" ("It's Only a Dream"), Cuban hip-hop sensation, Los Aldeanos, rap about a day in which they can live without the Castro regime's political, social and economic repression.

That's their dream.

They condemn the island's tourism apartheid, where Cubans are denied access to areas and privileges reserved for foreign tourists, and the censorship and humiliation they are subjugated to by the regime.

For daring to share this dream, Aldo Rodriguez Baquero, the head rapper of the group, was arrested this morning.

Cuban Rapper Arrested

This morning, the lead artist of the Cuban hip-hop group, Los Aldeanos, was arrested by Castro's state security for the "illegal possession of computers."

In Cuba, only the regime can authorize the use and ownership of computers.

Los Aldeanos have been continuously harassed for their lyrics and overt criticism of the Castro dictatorship.

They were specifically recognized by Juanes at the end of his recent "Peace Without Borders" concert in Havana's Revolutionary Square.

We hope Juanes and the international community will promptly demand Aldo Rodriguez Baquero's release and defend his fundamental right -- as a human being -- to express himself.

Watch Castro During Iran Crisis

In March 2003, while the world's attention was fixated on the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, more than 80 economists, librarians and journalists were imprisoned by the Castro regime, and three men found guilty of hijacking a ferry in a botched attempt to reach Florida were executed by firing squad.

This wave of repression became known as the Black Spring.

The Castro regime has historically used crises throughout the world, in order to crackdown on its internal opposition.
 

In a March 28th, 2003 editorial, "The U.S. Is Busy Elsewhere, So Castro Fills His Jails," the Wall Street Journal highlighted this strategy:

The terror came after dark. The targets were clear. The strikes were precise. Opponents were silenced.

I refer not to an al Qaeda foray, but to Fidel Castro's latest assault on the battered Cuban population. In the same week that the allied coalition moved against Saddam Hussein, Fidel's goons swept the island arresting over 85 non-violent dissidents, searching their homes in the wee hours of the morning, seizing books and medicine. Suspects were charged with "crimes" that carry up to 20-year sentences.

It is unlikely that the events coincided accidentally. In a statement of protest, the secretary general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, said, "Cuban authorities are clearly taking advantage of the war in Iraq to crack down while the world looks elsewhere."

There is indeed every reason to believe that the wily Fidel carefully calculated that the right moment to slap down Cuba's democrats was while the world's most important human-rights advocates were at war with the Iraqi dictatorship. 
 
As a potential confrontation with Iran looms, whether solely diplomatic or otherwise, keep an eye on Castro.

Castronomics of Shock n' Awe

Just when you thought you'd seen it all -- and heard it all -- from the Castro dictatorship, they always find a way to shock the conscience.

Comandante Ramiro Valdes, former head of Cuba's secret police and Vice-President of the Council of State, announced that the "Cuban people should not wait for 'Father State' to solve their every problem, acting like pigeons: open your little mouths and here's your food."

Seriously?

The Castro regime runs a totalitarian dictatorship that owns and controls all means of production and distribution (orthodox Marxism), prohibits private enterprise and small business, and condemns the people to an absurd dual-currency system so that the State (the sole employer) can pay them in worthless pesos, while the regime absorbs all of the island's hard currency.

So what option exists to "Father State" in this totalitarian regime?

Considering that Raul Castro vowed, just last month, that he would not change the communist system or allow capitalism, it looks like they are ready to starve the Cuban people for the sake of totalitarian control.

Of course, this absurd discourse come on the heels of Raul's announcement that he'll tackle Cuba's cash crunch by eliminating a government lunch program that feeds almost a third of the nation's population every workday.

Instead, workers will see their salaries boosted by 15 worthless pesos a workday (.60 dollar U.S.) to cover their lunch.

And what can state workers purchase -- from state owned stores (adding to the endless spiral) -- for lunch with these worthless pesos?

Not much.

All of this nonsense, in order to try to monopolize power forever.

Like Paper Without a Pen

Sunday, September 27, 2009
Last week, the Castro regime announced that it would authorize Cuba's post offices to provide public Internet access.

Raul's cheerleaders immediately praised his dictatorship for this new "reform."

But what does it really mean?

According to the AP:

Cuba has authorized public Internet access at post offices across the country, though it has yet to apply what would be a landmark loosening of cyberspace rules in a nation where information is strictly controlled.

A decree posted on the Web site of the government's official gazette this week authorizes Empresa Correos de Cuba to "provide access to public Internet to all naturalized persons."

Many post offices already offer public computers, but they are linked to a national intranet — an extremely limited list of Cuba-only Web sites.

Cubans there can send and receive international e-mail, but direct access to the rest of the Web is blocked, limits far stricter than those imposed even in China or Saudi Arabia.

It means that Cuban people will also be able to access the Castro regime's propaganda on the Internet -- the same political diatribe it already disperses through radio and TV.

However, accessing the World Wide Web remains strictly prohibited.

That's like giving someone paper without a pen.

Engagement Approach is Flawed

Cuba's Future: Democratic Reforms Key to Real Change
 
by José Azel

For over half a century, the history of Cuba has been the history of the Castro brothers and their ideas. As this era comes to an end a new battle of ideas for the future of Cuba is taking place. The combatants are Cubans in exile and in Cuba, the American public, and the international community.

The first order of battle is Cuba's transition from totalitarianism and a centrally-planned economy to a different polity and economic system. But unlike classical warfare, the combatants are not aligned by nationality, geography, or ideology. The main ideological campaign is over transitional tactics.

The overall strategic objective of a free, democratic, and market-oriented Cuba is seldom questioned. However, for some, the appropriate tactics are anchored on policies of engagement with Cuba's nomenklatura that they believe will lead to evolutionary changes. For others, profound changes in personnel and policy are prerequisite conditions for a genuine transition.

The engagement approach reflects an instinctive preference for conversation over confrontation. Moreover, as it is often argued, 50 years of confrontational U. S. policies have failed to bring about changes in Cuba's government and a new approach is required. If we do business with China and Vietnam, "Why not with Cuba?" is a popular retort.

However, as satisfying as this approach may be, it is flawed.

First, it is based on an unfounded belief that engagement in general and economic engagement, in particular, will lead ultimately to democratic changes. But, this is an unsubstantiated belief.

The often cited cases of China and Vietnam, in fact, make the opposite case. After decades of engagement and significant economic reforms, these countries have failed to advance a political agenda in the direction of democracy. Independent rankings by international organizations show that, in terms of political rights and civil liberties, China and Vietnam still rank today at the bottom of the scale.

An additional flaw derives from a failure to appreciate the indispensable role of freedom and its democratic institutions. Democracy is viewed as a good that can be postponed until a later date in a reform process. The unspoken premise is that it is more important to improve the economic well being of a society than to secure its freedoms. But this represents a false choice. Postponing democratic reforms belittles the innumerable practical ways in which freedoms make possible our pursuit of happiness. 

Democratic experience has shown that democracy is much more than a constitutional form of government. Political rights and civil liberties are not superfluous luxuries.

Cuba's nomenklatura does not believe that there is an inherent human right to political liberty and self-government. General Raúl Castro and his inner circle are not closet democrats waiting for an opportune moment to express their Jeffersonian ideals. Their governing modality is inseparable from Cuba's current state of affairs. Democratic nations require a relationship model between the state and its citizens.

Perhaps new tactics for change in Cuba are needed, but their centerpiece should be the establishment of a democratic society in which individuals are free to pursue the spiritual and physical goods that enrich human life.
 
José Azel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. Dr. Azel was an adjunct professor of international business at the School of Business Administration, University of Miami.
 
Courtesy of ICCAS.