Is Castro Getting "Soft"?

Saturday, October 10, 2009
The much-anticipated reforms of Raul Castro seem to be really intensifying now.

Just last week, Castro released human rights advocate, Angel Luis Santiesteban, from prison after serving only 5-months (of a 6-month sentence) for purchasing a wheelbarrow in the black-market.

Before you know it, it'll be free speech and multi-party elections.

Sarcasm emphasized, but unfortunately the following is tragically all-too-real:

Freed from prison for wheelbarrow purchase

HAVANA, (Doralis Álvarez, Cubanet) – Human rights advocate Ángel Luis Santiesteban has been released from prison a month before completing a six-month sentence for the alleged illegal purchase of a wheelbarrow.

"The political police wanted to jail him for his work in favor of human rights," said colleague Martha Díaz Rondón. "For that reason they took away his small tile factory and left him without source of income."

Santiesteban was tried and sentenced without legal on April 13. He was released September 28.

He's a member of the Cuban Human Rights Foundation and is an activist in democratic activities in Banes in Holguín province.

Havel on Change in Cuba

Václav Havel, a playwright and dissident who became free Czechoslovakia's first president after leading that country's Velvet Revolution, was asked about Cuba during a recent Newsweek interview:
 
How do you see the opportunities for democracy in Cuba, one of the world's last communist countries?

It's really difficult to judge from outside, as it is from inside as well. We didn't know ourselves back then about when the change would come. What's certain is that a totalitarian enclave like Cuba's can't continue to exist, so change will definitely come there, eventually.

Quote of the Week (and Ration Cards)

"What I like best about capitalism are the stores full of things."

- General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last Communist leader under the Soviet bloc, Spain's El Mundo, October 10, 2009.

Meanwhile, the AP is reporting:

Cuba may soon be saying adios to ration cards, the system that allows islanders to buy food at deeply subsidized prices.

Unfortunately though, the Castro regime still refuses to allow the Cuban people entrepreneurial freedoms, which means that even steeper shortages are on the horizon.

Fidel never learns (or just doesn't care).

Tyrants and Threats Predate George W. Bush

Friday, October 9, 2009
We'd like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to President Barack Obama on being awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

It's undoubtedly an honor for all Americans to have our President distinguished internationally.

Yet, at the same time, it's important to remember that while the world is endeared to President Obama due to a style different from former President George W. Bush, most of the threats from tyrants and dictators that the U.S. faces predate Bush.

In a recent article, "Guru America," Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford University's Hoover Institution, critically highlights some of the international challenges that transcend President and personality:

In the last ninth months, President Obama has used his youthful charisma and nontraditional background to wow nations abroad with his message that a new, friendly White House can export its trademark "hope and change."

He has sent special envoys to dictators in Cuba and Syria. Yet the former has not granted more freedom to its oppressed people, and the latter has not stopped funding terrorists or sabotaging Lebanon.

In Venezuela, it seems the more Hugo Chavez praises nice-guy Obama, the more he brags about plans to acquire rockets and develop a nuclear program (all the while jailing opponents).

Months ago, Obama also sent an olive branch to the Israel-hating, terrorist-sponsoring Iran. In reaction, the Iranians kept on building a new secret nuclear facility. The International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledges the regime now has the necessary expertise to build a bomb.

America recently sought an implicit grand deal with Russia's Vladimir Putin: We would halt missile-defense plans in nearby Eastern Europe, which Russia believes is still in its sphere of influence; he then would pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program. Putin, of course, loved the missile-defense part of the deal -- but did nothing concrete to pressure his long-term Iranian friends. In the process, democratic but vulnerable Eastern European states have learned not to rely on the United States.

All these recent examples could be expanded, but suffice to say that former and present enemies now get more presidential attention than friends.

The president's much ballyhooed "reset button" for dealing with adversaries is apparently based on three assumptions: Too many nations abroad did not like us because of George Bush. With Obama in office, they will once again be fond of America as they melt before his charisma, unique heritage and friendly outreach. As a result, the world at large will become a calmer, safer place guided by us.

Only one of these propositions is correct: More foreigners now really do say they like the United States better after Barack Obama was elected in January. They apparently appreciate his heartfelt apologies for two centuries of American sins -- and his assurances that America is now an equal in the family of nations.

But the other two assumptions are terribly wrong. Dictators like those in Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela predated George Bush. They hate the United States not just because of Bush's tough-guy rhetoric. The problem instead is that their agendas -- getting nukes, bullying neighbors, taking back disputed land, supporting terrorists, jacking up oil prices and stifling political dissent -- are not reconcilable with America's traditional vision of a democratic, free-market global system.

What keeps the so-called civilized world civilized each day is largely the willingness of the U.S. to invest vast resources to protect admirable but weaker nations. America keeps Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and democracies in Asia and Latin America safe from regional bad actors. That way these countries can help spread shared ideas about freedom and progress to less fortunate others.

And for all the tragedy in Afghanistan and Iraq, America removed the Middle East's two worst regimes -- the Taliban's and Saddam Hussein's -- and is trying to foster civil societies in their places that will benefit both the region and the world at large.

The U.S.'s job is expensive, dangerous and unpopular. But our role largely explains a half-century of unprecedented global prosperity -- and so far the absence of World War III.

In contrast, the more Obama blurs the difference between allies and enemies, the more he depresses the former and encourages the latter.

With Respect to Alec Baldwin

This week, actor Alec Baldwin made a plea in the Huffington Post to allow the New York Philharmonic permission to take 150+ of its benefactors on an exotic vacation to Castro's Cuba, while the Orchestra plays its concert on the island.

Baldwin serves as the 2009-2010 host The New York Philharmonic This Week, the Orchestra's nationally broadcast radio series.

While we continue to strongly agree with the Treasury Department's decision to grant licenses to the entire Orchestra and staff of the Philharmonic, but not to the benefactors that want to simply tag along (and have since held the entire concert hostage to their selfish whim), there was one part of Baldwin's appeal that was personally impacting:

"The Cuban American community, who truly suffered the upheaval, savagery and indignation of losing their homeland to the Communists can never be compensated. One could never equate the current order as being the result of merely a 'grudge.'"

As Cuban-Americans, we truly appreciate Baldwin's thoughtfulness and compassion towards our plight.

Nonetheless, and to the full meaning of the phrase, we just respectfully disagree.

Anti-Communist Wins Nobel Prize

Thursday, October 8, 2009
Romanian-born author Herta Muller has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Muller is noted for her works depicting the harsh conditions of life in Communist Romania under the repressive regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

She spoke to Radio Free Europe in 1999 about growing up under the Ceausescu dictatorship and how it shaped her writing:

"I was born in Romania. I grew up there and I lived there until I was 32. I left Romania in a rather complicated state of mind. I wrote my first books in Romania. My first book was 'Niederungen' ['Lowlands'], which is about a child's view of the German Banat [a region in western Romania]. In that book, and in others, the central topic is the dictatorship. I knew nothing else. I'd seen nothing else. And I continued with that topic.

I believe there is a kind of literature throughout the world, the literature of biography that runs in parallel with extreme events, in parallel with the authors' lives. For example in the 1950s, the gulag was present in Eastern Europe in certain forms. [Or] for instance, the labor camps. And then we have the national-socialist era, Hitler's time, the destruction of the Jews, a topic which many authors have described in parallel with their own biographies... I believe this type of literature exists everywhere, from Cuba to China."

The Hypocrisy of International Organizations

While international organizations, such as the U.N.'s Human Rights Council (please watch the clip at the end of this post) and the Organization of American States (OAS), embrace the Castro regime from afar, that dictatorship denies local visits by independent observers from those organizations.

Not surprisingly, according to El Universal, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has followed suit:

"Only dictatorships prevent visits from international bodies"

The hunger strike recently held by dozens of students outside the offices of the Organization of American States (OAS) once again shed light on a recurring issue over the past seven years: the Venezuelan government refuses to authorize a visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to evaluate the status of human rights in the country.

In response to the authority's reluctance to allow the international organization's visit, former IACHR President Carlos Ayala Corao said that "democratic countries are open to visits by the United Nations and the IACHR. Authoritarian or dictatorial governments shun these types of visits."

Ayala Corao also addressed the government's claim that the Commission is biased, as the reason for denying the visit. "There is always some sort of excuse. The excuse cited by (Augusto) Pinochet to prohibit the IACHR from visiting Chile was that the organization was allegedly being manipulated by international left-wing factors. Fidel Castro's excuse for not letting the IACHR visit Cuba is that the organization represents international imperialism. Regardless of their tendency, authoritarian governments always agree in using sovereignty to avoid these types of visits and evaluations," he denounced.

An African Tourist in Cuba

Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The following compelling testimony was posted in the African music blog, Benn Loxo du Taccu:

Rumba in Prison

Last week I got back from an 11-day trip in Cuba. I spent about a week in Havana plus a few days time in the west of the country, seeing Pinar del Rio, Vinales and finally the beaches and underwater life at Maria la Gorda.

It goes without saying that Cuban music, both old and new, is amazing. I heard the tourist-ringed but high-quality live salsa and rumba on every corner in Havana Vieja, Santaria rumba with the Conjunto folklórico, Afro-Cuban jazz at La Zorra y El Cuelvo, late nights, hard reggaeton and I-wish-I-could-dance-like them action at numerous clubs in Miramar and Vedado, sub-par big-name salsa at La Casa de la Musica and much more.

I try my best not to get political on this site, but let me say that visiting Cuba is a bit like going to a maximum security prison on the beach, snapping pictures of friendly inmates as they go about their business.

Most Cubans aren't allowed to travel at all, even inter-city within their own country. The average monthly cash take-home is about 15 Euros a month. Prostitution is a disturbingly tolerated practice on a scale that outstrips Nigerian oil bars and Senegalese nightclubs. There are no boats on the water or in the harbour aside from patrols and tourists, not even for fishing. The vast majority of people aren't allowed to own a car or pretty much anything else. If you're a Cuban and have a relationship with a foreigner living in Cuba you will usually kiss your chances of getting a travel permit goodbye. The whole system is setup to reward those who play by the rules and punish those who don't. Never question Fidel and you might get a TV. Organize enough anti-US parades and you might just get a job at a hotel… and the tips that come with it.

As I said to a friend earlier today, Cuba is a beautiful, fascinating… and ultimately very sad place. Any positive things I had thought about certain aspects of Fidel's Cuba, such as good medicare, innovative urban agriculture policies, etc, went out the window. All of that is worthless if you have absolutely no freedom.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was dated March 2007, but it couldn't be timelier.

History's Most Murderous Regimes

Fascinating excerpt from, "Elites and Tyrants," by Walter E. Williams:

Rep. Diane Watson said, in praising Cuba's health care system, "You can think whatever you want to about Fidel Castro, but he was one of the brightest leaders I have ever met."

W.E.B. Dubois, writing in the National Guardian (1953) said, "Joseph Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. ... But also -- and this was the highest proof of his greatness -- he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate."

Walter Duranty called Stalin "the greatest living statesman . . . a quiet, unobtrusive man." George Bernard Shaw expressed admiration for Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin.

John Kenneth Galbraith visited Mao's China and praised Mao and the Chinese economic system. Gunther Stein of the Christian Science Monitor admired Mao Tsetung and declared ecstatically that "the men and women pioneers of Yenan are truly new humans in spirit, thought and action," and that Yenan itself constituted "a brand new well integrated society, that has never been seen before anywhere." Michel Oksenberg, President Carter's China expert, complained that "America (is) doomed to decay until radical, even revolutionary, change fundamentally alters the institutions and values," and urged us to "borrow ideas and solutions" from China.

Even Harvard's late Professor John K. Fairbank, by no means the worst tyrant worshipper, believed that America could learn much from the Cultural Revolution, saying, "Americans may find in China's collective life today an ingredient of personal moral concern for one's neighbor that has a lesson for us all." Keep in mind that estimates of the number of Chinese deaths during China's Cultural Revolution range from 2 to 7 million people. Mao Tsetung was admired by many academics and leftists across our country. Just think back to the campus demonstrations of the '60s and '70s when campus radicals, often accompanied by their professors, marched around singing the praises of Mao and waving Mao's little red book, "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tsetung." Forty years later some of these campus radicals are tenured professors and administrators at today's universities and colleges, as well as schoolteachers and principals indoctrinating our youth.

The most authoritative tally of history's most murderous regimes is in a book by University of Hawaii's Professor Rudolph J. Rummel, "Death by Government." Statistics are provided at his website. The Nazis murdered 20 million of their own people and those in nations they captured. Between 1917 and 1987, Stalin and his successors murdered, or were otherwise responsible for the deaths of, 62 million of their own people. Between 1949 and 1987, Mao Tsetung and his successors were responsible for the deaths of 76 million Chinese.

© 2009 Creators Syndicate.

Solidarity With the Guinean People

Guinea is just the latest example of how coddling dictators emboldens their repressive behavior.

The more Western nations -- in this case, France -- accommodated the military junta of Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, the more assured he felt to subvert the upcoming elections and to murder opposition protesters.

Here's a brief summary of the Guinean tragedy from, "Who Will Save Guinea?" by Hakeem Jamiu in the Daily Independent:

Guinea, a West African country of 10 million people, obtained her independence from France 50 years ago. But just like many African countries, its people remain one of world's poorest with 40% living below the poverty line despite having diamond, gold, iron and half of the world's reserves of the raw materials used to make aluminum.

Post-independence history of Guinea has been characterized by military dictatorship, repression, poverty and a succession of wars fought along its borders in the 1990s and early 2000s in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. Guinea- Conakry (as it is often called to distinguish it from its neighbor, Guinea Bissau) is home to 24 ethnic groups and has its capital in Conakry.

Ironically, it was the only French colony to opt for independence in 1958. President Sekou Toure governed Guinea from 1958 until his death in 1984. Toure was dictatorial as he allowed no opposing views. Lansana Conte took over in 1984 after Toure's death and ruled Guinea in the same dictatorial manner until he also expired in 2008. The first elections since independence were only held in 1993 but were widely believed to have been manipulated by Conte. Although the President of the National Assembly was to take over power pending fresh elections, Moussa Dadis Camara, 44, an army captain, seized power in December, 2008, just hours after the death of Lansana Conte. Camara announced that the constitution had been set aside and that the country was under the rule of a military junta. He initially said he would not stand in elections scheduled for January but recently indicated that he may have changed his mind.

On Monday, 28th September, more than 150 civilians protesting the candidature of Camara in January's election were killed by soldiers while about 1,253 sustained injuries. It was reported that women were openly raped by soldiers. For this, France, through her foreign Minister, served notice that it was no longer supporting the military junta. But France ought to have been more proactive. It is countries like France, Nigeria and Senegal that gave Camara the confidence that made him change his earlier promise of not participating in the forthcoming elections.

Does Sailing Constitute a Cultural Exchange?

A cultural exchange is understood to mean an exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc., between two countries to promote mutual understanding.

Media reports claim that the Obama Administration is promoting such exchanges as a centerpiece of its Cuba policy.

However, at what point does a cultural exchange not pass the "laugh test"?

It's hard to tell, as there are plenty of absurd ones, but probably with sailing regattas.

The Sarasota Yacht Club ("SYC") is working hard to promote their 2010 Sarasota-Havana Regatta.

Not only has the SYC submitted its OFAC application to the Treasury Department, but it has apparently had detailed discussions with the Department of Commerce regarding the Temporary Export License that each vessel will need prior to acquire prior to departing for Cuba.

The SYC even sent the following recent message to its supporters,

"There are indications that H.R. 874 – the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act is progressing through the Congress. The SYC Charitable Foundation does not engage in political activities of any kind and does not take a position whether the embargo with Cuba should be lifted. Timely passage of the bill might eliminate the need to acquire the many licenses required to conduct the Regatta."

In other words, this is just an elitist ploy by a yacht club to take an exotic vacation in Cuba, not to mention a pathetic attempt to conceal a lobbying appeal.

Even if the Administration did have a systemic policy to engage in grater cultural exchanges with Cuba, it's hard to imagine how a sailing regatta would fit into that category.

What would be the "exchange" on the Cuban side?

The Castro regime does not permit the Cuban people to board or even approach boats or other vessels, not even for fishing.

Cubans that do so risk arrest and imprisonment.

As such, to grant the SYC a license for this regatta under the guise of a cultural exchange does not pass the "laugh test."

To the contrary, it would be downright humiliating for the Cuban people.

Alina Tells It Like it Is

Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Castro's daughter: America not to blame for Cuba's woes

CHESTER — Love child turned critic, a daughter of Fidel Castro told a Widener University audience Monday that lifting 50-year embargoes imposed by the United States would do little to help suffering people in Cuba.

"I believe the government is going to control everything as it has always done," Alina Fernandez said of the homeland she fled in 1993 to provide a better life for her own daughter.
 
© Copyright 2009 The Delaware County Daily Times

Dorgan's Rant on the Philharmonic

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota took to the Senate floor to lambast the decision of the Treasury Department to award travel licenses to the New York Philharmonic's conductor, musicians and staff, but not to the 150+ benefactors that selfishly insist on accompanying the orchestra (and have now held the trip hostage to their tourist foray).

Senator Dorgan didn't frame it this way, which means he was either spinning the truth, or was simply uninformed.

Hoping for the latter, we strongly recommend this excerpt from Norman Lebrecht's, "Cuba Fiasco Spoils Philharmonic's Gilbert Crowning," in Bloomberg:

On the diplomatic front, meanwhile, a fracas is mounting. The orchestra made headlines in February 2008 by visiting North Korea with its previous music director Lorin Maazel. The New Yorkers dined handsomely and strolled freely in a famine- stricken land without achieving a thaw in global relations, as the Pyongyang regime continued to test nuclear devices, along with Barack Obama's patience.

The Cuba trip, meant to happen next month, was suddenly derailed last week when the Philharmonic discovered Washington wouldn't let it take along about 150 board members and others, "without whose financial support this trip is not possible."

The State Department, which backed the orchestra's prior initiatives, balked apparently at the prospect of 150 rich New Yorkers paying $10,000 to drink rum in a repressive country that ordinary Americans are forbidden to visit.

What, in fact, was the point of this trip? If it had been a real diplomatic mission, it would have gone ahead regardless of donors. If, on the other hand, it was just a publicity stunt, Philharmonic president Zarin Mehta should be hauled over the coals for taking wealthy pals on a tax-free vacation in the middle of a world recession. Mehta is well-paid to keep the Philharmonic in tune with the times. He received $2.7 million in the year ending in August 2008 -- $850,000 in salary; the rest in deferred compensation.

Did Castro Expel the Mafia from Cuba?

Over the summer, a handful of Hollywood actors, including Bill Murray, James Caan and Robert Duvall, were in Havana "conducting research" for an upcoming movie project by producer Steve Bing.

This "new" project is yet another version in a repetitive series of stereotypical movies about Havana, nightclubs, casinos and the Mafia.

At the risk of bursting some mythological bubbles, it's important to clarify some of these stereotypes.

Were there casinos in Cuba?

Absolutely.

According to Cuban author Humberto Fontova:

In 1955, there were three gambling casinos in Cuba. The biggest casino was at the Tropicana and featured ten gambling tables and thirty slot machines. Meanwhile, Havana's Hotel Nacional had seven roulette wheels and 21 slot machines.

By contrast, the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada featured 20 gambling tables and 116 slot machines.

Therefore, in 1955 one Las Vegas casino alone had more gambling action than all of Cuba's casinos put together.

Did the Mafia have a financial interest in those casinos?

Surely.
In the same manner that they did in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and in a host of even more lucrative enterprises in New York City.

Did Fidel Castro expel the Mafia from Cuba after taking power in 1959?

Not really.

More precisely, he replaced the U.S.-based Mafia with his own Mafia.

Since 1959, Cuba has been ruled by a family dynasty that controls every aspect of the island's political and economic activity. Just like the U.S.-based mafia, it has dabbled in narcotics trafficking throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and a host of other illicit activities, including diamond trafficking during the wars in Africa. Since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991, this dynasty has further created a host of financial conglomerates that monopolize the key sectors of the island's economy, including tourism, nickel and remittances from abroad.

It has exerted power through executions, intimidation, extortion and repression.

It's called Castro Incorporated.


How Many Dictators Fit in a Hand?

Monday, October 5, 2009
A thoughtful critique in yesterday's Wall Street Journal by Daniel Henninger:
 
In his Inaugural Address, President Obama spoke directly to the world's rogue nations. "[W]e will extend a hand," he said, "if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Question: How many rogue nations can you hold in one hand? Let's try to count.
 
Iran remains rogue No. 1. The world is riveted by the expanding Iranian nuclear threat, and one might expect a mess of this magnitude would occupy most of the diplomatic energies of any presidency. But this one has time for more.

The Monday after last Friday's bombshell that Iran has a hidden nuclear site, the State Department announced the start of a "direct dialogue" with Burma's hopeless junta. The administration has dispatched a special envoy to Sudan and its genocidal leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad got his own Obama envoy, plus a visit from John Kerry.

At the Summit of the Americas, Mr. Obama himself did meet and greets for "dialogue" with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Bolivia's Evo Morales, and reached out to Cuba's Raul Castro. Mr. Obama then dropped in on Russia's leaders for a "reset."

There is something slightly weird about all this activity. If the Obama team wanted to make a really significant break from past Bush policy, it would say it was not going to just talk with the world's worst strongmen but would give equal, public status to their democratic opposition groups. Instead, the baddest actors in the world get face time with Barack Obama, but their struggling opposition gets invisibility.

You can read the entire article here, but note the poignant conclusion:

What if the world's real democrats, after enough bullets and dungeon time, lose belief in the American democracy's support for them on this central idea? They may come to regard their betters in the U.S. and Europe as inhabiting a world less animated by democratic belief than democratic decadence.

Is This Man a Threat?

"Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same."

- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, from "Kindness, Clarity, and Insight."

Or is the threat the Chinese dictatorship that has murdered over 60 million people in its 60 years of existence, and remains the current sanctions loophole towards brutal regimes including Sudan, North Korea, Burma and Iran?

Eye-Rubbing Hypocrisy of Delahunt & Co.

Six Members of the U.S. Congress have written a letter to the Honduran Congress threatening that unless Manuel Zelaya is restored to the presidency, the U.S. will not recognize the winner of that country's upcoming presidential elections.

The letter signed by Representatives Bill Delahunt, James McGovern, Sam Farr, Gregory Meeks, Janice Schakowsky, and Xavier Becerra stresses that,

"Unless the coup is ended, President Zelaya is restored, and violations of democracy and human rights are halted, no presidential election conducted in that environment will be recognized as free or fair or legitimate by the United States government and its senior leaders."

Fascinating.

It's important to remember that each of these Members of Congress has traveled to Cuba on multiple occasions and are leaders in Congressional efforts to unconditionally normalize relations with the Castro regime's totalitarian dictatorship.

Now, these six Members, who have been historically silent on the daily violations of human rights perpetuated by the Cuban dictatorship, demand that the Honduran government restore democracy and respect human rights?

With what credibility, Congressmen?

And wait -- are those democratic conditions they are placing on the Honduran government? In other words, the same "conditionality approach" that they reject regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba?

But the hypocrisy goes beyond Members.

On the same issue, the AP separately reported:

"I think that this trip potentially will muddy the waters even more, and that would not be constructive," said Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, which promotes human rights and democracy. "The danger of this visit is that those supporting the Micheletti government re-entrench."

Where does the Washington Office on Latin America promote human rights and democracy?

Not in Cuba, that's for sure, as they actively advocate to unconditionally normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship. And what about the multiple visits by Members of Congress and this organization to Cuba? Doesn't it legitimize and embolden the Cuban regime?

It's time to call a spade-a-spade.

The Power Lies With Congress

Sunday, October 4, 2009
The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is known as "the investigative arm of the Congress," has just issued a report (GAO-09-951R ) entitled, "U.S. Embargo on Cuba: Recent Regulatory Changes and Potential Presidential or Congressional Actions."

According to this report, absent the respect for fundamental human rights and democratic reforms in Cuba, the legal power to unilaterally lift sanctions remains within the purview of the U.S. Congress.

Here's the Executive Summary:

The President is authorized to suspend or end the embargo in the event of certain political changes in Cuba. Under the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996, on determining that a transition Cuban government is in power, the President may take steps to suspend the embargo, including its implementing regulations restricting financial transactions related to travel, trade, and remittances. He may also suspend enforcement of several legislative measures related to the embargo. LIBERTAD also requires that on determining that a democratically elected Cuban government is in power, the President must take steps to end the embargo, including the implementing regulations, and that once he has made such a determination, certain listed embargo-related legislative measures are automatically repealed.

Absent a presidential determination of a democratically elected Cuban government, the President could end the embargo only if Congress were to amend or repeal LIBERTAD and various other embargo-related statutes, including provisions in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Food Security Act of 1985, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1999, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA). Such provisions include, for example, section 908(b)(1) and 910(b) of TSRA that require payment of cash in advance or third country financing for agricultural exports to Cuba and prohibit Treasury from authorizing travel to Cuba for tourist activities by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

Philanthropy or High-Class Tourism?

From the New York Times' report, "October New York Philharmonic Trip to Cuba Is Off":

"Violinists, bassoonists and timpanists in Cuba? Fine. A bevy of rich Americans? Sorry.

The New York Philharmonic scratched its trip to Cuba at the end of October because the United States Treasury Department said it would deny permission for a group of patrons to go along. Without them and their donations, the orchestra said on Thursday, it cannot afford to go.

About 150 board members and other donors had promised to pay $10,000 each to spend Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 in Havana, where the orchestra was to play two concerts, said Zarin Mehta, its president. The money was to have covered the cost of the proposed trip, which came at the Cuban government's invitation.

Supporters, both individuals and executives of donor companies, usually tag along with major orchestras when they travel around the world. The travel amounts to high-class tourism along with a chance to make business connections in foreign capitals."

By holding the entire concert hostage to their desire for an exotic tourism destination, the New York Philharmonic's donors have proven that they never had any philanthropic intent to foment cultural exchanges or help the Cuba people.

It was always about their self-interest.

That's not philanthropy. That's elitism.

The Cost of a Non-Democratic China

As a showdown with Iran intensifies over its nuclear capability, the Obama Administration has been working to build an international coalition, in to prevent a veto of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Nonetheless, even if the U.S. succeeds in seducing France and Russia -- which is unlikely in itself -- the main problem remains China.

As Iran's largest trading partner and source of natural gas, China will almost surely hamper any international effort to pressure the Iranian dictatorship.

But this isn't new.

China also serves as the main sanctions "loophole" for Burma, Sudan and North Korea -- it is the largest trading partner of those rogue regimes -- easing international pressure from those conflict areas. Furthermore, China was key to providing Pakistan's A.Q. Khan with nuclear technology, another proliferation nightmare for the U.S.

Therefore, think of how different the world would be if the West had sided with China's growing political reform movement during the 1980's. By the time of the Tienanmen Square manifestations in 1989, the Chinese democracy movement appeared unstoppable, leading the regime's leaders to consider serious political openings (to accompany the economic openings it had been undertaking since 1978).

Nonetheless, economic interests prevailed and the West sided with the "stability" of the Chinese regime -- a silent complicity that resulted in the virtual annihilation of the democracy movement.

Of course, today, there wouldn't even be a choice but to side against democracy in China, as our nation's debt is even financed by the Chinese dictatorship now.

But that wasn't the case in 1989.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Hopefully, we've learned a lesson -- only democratic reform can lead to real, long-term peace and stability.

Quote of the Week

"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."

- Canadian investor in Cuba whose local bank account has been frozen and is owed millions by one of the Castro regime's companies, "Foreign Suppliers in Cuba Fret Over Payments Crisis," Reuters, September 29, 2009.