Dr. Biscet's Wife Writes to Raul Castro

Friday, December 31, 2010
As 2010 closes, Elsa Morejon, wife of Cuban political prisoner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, has written an open letter to Raul Castro, upon his regime's failure to uphold an agreement to release 52 political prisoners that were specifically-named on July 7th of this year.

Here's the core message:

First, the prison conditions to which you have subjected my husband in the Combinado del Este Prison do not correspond to him by law.

Second, of the 52 political prisoners that should have been released by November 7th, 11 remain in prison, including my husband.

So my questions to you are as follow:

1. Why weren't you able to uphold the agreement with the Church and international community, which began with such seriousness?

2. On various occasions during those four months, international cables contained statements by Cuban government officials, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada and Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, both of whom declared that they would all be released and that those that did not want to emigrate could stay in Cuba, their homeland. Yet five months have passed and your announcement has not been fulfilled, as only one political prisoner, of those that decided to stay in their country, has been released on parole.

3. Why the silence amidst so much speculation, which only tears at our emotions, as family members of these prisoners, who saw in this agreement a positive and humanitarian step?

The Hug That Failed

A hard-hitting Investor's Business Daily editorial:

Diplomacy: If there's any doubt that U.S. kissing up to Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has been a disaster, note the mutual expulsion of envoys Wednesday. Some diplomacy. This is the product of appeasement, not strength.

It was quite a bright dawn two years ago when President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, went out of their way to make nice with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez at a summit in Trinidad. They shook hands, touched him like an old friend, accepted his insulting anti-American book as a gift, and declared they were "there to listen" as the diatribes flowed.

Instead of improving relations, we can now see where that leads — to a fast deterioration in ties.

Because Chavez acts like a clown, it's easy for the Obama administration not to take him seriously. The administration also fears being singled out in the hemisphere for Chavez's rage, as the Bush administration was.

So President Obama and some of his political appointees at State seem to think the way to handle him is to appease him — even as evidence mounts that he's a predator.

Chavez refused career diplomat Larry Palmer as U.S. ambassador to Caracas because he made "aggressive" and "unacceptable" attacks on his rule. In fact, Palmer merely explained to the Foreign Relations Committee at his Senate confirmation hearing last June that morale is low in Venezuela's military and the government is sheltering drug-dealing guerrillas from Colombia. All true.

It was enough for Chavez to throw a tantrum and reject the president's choice of envoy, as well as place himself in a position to bully the U.S. into nominating an ambassador of his choosing.

Fact is, these things happened because U.S. hasn't dealt Chavez a hard enough hand.

The U.S. — rightly — kicked Chavez's own envoy out in retaliation for this thuggery. But even that packed less punch than it should have because Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, a former board member of La Raza, merely revoked Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez's visa instead of the much tougher act of declaring him persona non grata.

They also dragged Palmer's nomination out for six months, which gave Chavez the time he needed to step up his attacks.

Worse still, Chavez could see a divided State Department, where the spokesman defended Palmer, and Valenzuela actually blamed Senator Richard Lugar's staff for asking Palmer tough questions.

It's all part of a message, sent again and again, that Chavez's tantrums don't matter, his acts don't matter and all that matters is not confronting him. It will only get worse from here.

A Striking Similarity

Thursday, December 30, 2010
From a VOA News interview with Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi:

Q. The U.S. and E.U. have supported the reformers in your country by imposing sanctions. This has become a controversial topic.

"I want to clarify the situation because some people are using sanctions as an excuse for the economic mess that's going on in this country. Most economic organizations and some economists say that the main problem is economic policy that the present regime has imposed, and unless the economic policies change, Burma is not going to take off and become another 'Asian tiger'."

Q. How can Burma's economic problems be solved?

"The economic policies of the nation are very much part of the whole political set up. Unless that can change, unless people in government are prepared to change, they're not going to change."

The Canadian Far Left

By Mark Sholdice in The Propagandist:

Useful Idiots. The Far Left's Support for Foreign Oppression

A popular but apocryphal legend tells us that Lenin cynically coined the term "useful idiots" to denote Western sympathizers of the Soviet regime. A BBC radio documentary of the same name appeared last summer, outlining the history of such individuals, from Walter Duranty's Pulitzer Prize-winning Stalinist propaganda in the 1930s to those who defend the authoritarian government of Iran today.
 
Useful idiots are also prevalent in Canada's far left milieu, acting in support of such diverse causes as anti-democratic Islamism in the Middle East, Communism in Cuba, Bolivarian socialism in Venezuela, and even the re-establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. An overview of the far left scene shows us how each group specializes in the defence of a particular autocracy. Like their Stalinist predecessors, these modern useful idiots are attracted to the ideological prestige and recruiting potential that come with such efforts [...]

Canadian far left groups take interest in helping authoritarian leaders in South America, such as Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. Canadian radicals produce a great amount of apology for anti-democratic trends and autocracy in South America, seeing these regimes as allies in their anti-American struggle. The Toronto-based Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LASN) is an umbrella group for far left organizations in support of the continent's oppressive governments.

A large variety of far-left groups support the Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC), including the Communist Party of Canada, the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), Socialist Action and the Vancouver-based Movement Against War and Oppression. A number of local groups are designated by the use of the title "Canadian-Cuba Friendship Association" in the style of the Cold War-era National Council for Canadian-Soviet Friendship, which was set-up as a front by the Communist Party. Cuba-focused tour agencies are also represented on the CNC, paradoxically allying a profit motive with support for the anti-capitalist regime.

The CNC is a very loyal mouthpiece of the Castro government, seen in an April 2010 press release on the death of Cuban democracy activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a prolonged hunger-strike. The author of the statement, Dalhousie University professor and CNC co-chair Isaac Saney, repeated the line of Cuban state-owned media outlets by stating that Zapata was nothing but "a habitual common criminal" who does not deserve to be recognized as a democratic martyr. Yet Zapata was indeed a dissident acknowledged by Amnesty International. The CNC and its member organizations are also extremely vocal in their support for the release of the "Cuban Five," a group of intelligence officers sent by the Cuban government to infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and US military installations in Florida, who have been imprisoned since 1998. The Cuban Five have been portrayed by sympathizers as victims of injustice, in spite of their activities as spies.

Like the IS and its particular focus on radical Islam, the Canadian Trotskyists of the International Marxist Tendency seem to specialize in the promotion of Hugo Chavez' rule over Venezuela, via front groups called Hands Off Venezuela – Canada and La Société Bolivarienne du Québec. The Venezuela We Are With You Coalition is IS' pro-Chavez front group, which has participated in public events with the organization's other fronts, such as the Global Boycott Divestments Sanctions Day of Action protest at the Israeli consulate on June 5th. IS supporters also seem to be the organizers of the Bolivia Action Solidarity Network.

One of the most bizarre far left groups in this country is a tiny sect called the Canadian Friends of the Soviet People (CFSP), which advocates for the re-establishment of the USSR. The main activity of the CFSP is the publication of the Northstar Compass, which has been produced since August 1991 by ex-CPC cadres who were upset with the "revisionist" line the party took after the USSR's disintegration. The CFSP also supports North Korea, the last Stalinist regime in the world, along with the authoritarian dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.
 
Carrying on an old tradition, the Canadian far left continues to produce useful idiocy in the support of authoritarian regimes around the world. More important, of course, is the ongoing cooperation of mainstream leftist groups in these efforts, such as trade union financial aid for the CPA. These so-called progressives have betrayed the spirit of social democracy in their complicit assistance to the Canadian-based propagandists of foreign dictators.

Honoring Celia Cruz

The U.S. Postal Service announced yesterday that it is honoring Cuban music legend Celia Cruz with a 2011 commemorative stamp.

Celia Cruz will forever be remembered for her artistic genius and for her unwavering commitment to the freedom of the Cuban people.

Due to this commitment, she was never allowed to return to Cuba by the Castro regime, even to attend her mother's funeral.

Yet, as a poignant tribute once noted, fifty years from now Cuban history books will show a very short mention of Fidel Castro as "a corrupt politician who lived in the times of Celia Cruz."

From Jail to Exile

From a collection of recent Cuban political prisoner testimonies by the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Unexpected departure: From jail to exile

By Omar Rodríguez Saludes

It was about 4 in the afternoon on July 8 when the official assigned to me at Toledo Prison, where I'd been locked up for nearly five years, came running to get me. He was in such a hurry that that he tripped and almost fell to the ground. "Saludes, we're going upstairs," he said, breathless and sweating. He didn't give me any more details, but I soon found out that he was taking me up to the director's office where State Security was waiting for me. "They've come to talk to me," I told myself. And they had.

At the chief's desk sat an agent of the political police. I didn't recognize his face, but he had the same harshness and arrogance as all members of that repressive body. As soon as I entered the office, the agent signaled me silently to pick up the telephone receiver lying unhooked on the desk.

With countless questions racing through my head, mostly related to my family, I picked up the phone.

"Yes..." I said.

"Is this Omar Rodríguez Saludes?" a female voice asked me.

"Yes," I responded, laconic and intrigued.

"One moment please."

Without delay, a man's voice came on the line. He identified himself as Orlando Márquez, official spokesman for the Archbishopric of Havana and secretary to the cardinal. Márquez hastily told me that Monsignor Ortega wanted to speak with me.

After formal greetings, Monsignor Jaime Ortega Alamino, archbishop of Havana, got straight to the point, disclosing the results of negotiations with Cuba's leader, Raul Castro, that he and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos had mediated.

Following his summary, Ortega Alamino said that he had included my name among the first five prisoners that would "shortly travel to Spain with their family members." The cardinal asked if I would accept this proposal.

"Monsignor, I greatly appreciate your concern," I told him. "But you will understand that I can't give you an answer now. First, I have to speak with my family, principally with my wife. They also have the right to make a decision." This was my answer.

The cardinal assured me that he would immediately contact my wife and that he would make arrangements "with the authorities" for a family visit.

Before saying goodbye, I thanked the cardinal for his efforts in support of 75 prisoners of conscience and of the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White. I also extended my thanks to Pope John Paul II, who always advocated for our freedom and was always concerned about the Cuban people. The prelate thanked me for my words and bid me goodbye, giving me God's blessing.

Our conversation had lasted 20 minutes. I was obliged to raise my voice so that the archbishop could hear me. "There's a problem with the line," the security agent in the chief's seat told me sarcastically while jotting down each of my words. To clear up any uncertainties, he asked me pointblank if I wanted to travel to Spain or not. My answer was categorical: "No," I said. "You know all too well that it has never been my intention to abandon Cuba." Following a brief exchange, the agent assured me that I would be granted a family visit as soon as possible.

The next day, at 3 in the afternoon, I received a visit from my wife and my eldest son. We were given barely 30 minutes to decide our fates. I explained to my family the difficulties of being deported, which are made worse by arriving to a new destination in a state of complete neglect and disorientation. I asked them to carefully analyze their decision before communicating it to me. In the end, both opted for leaving.

When the visit was over, without wasting any time, five state security agents met with me in the same room. They assured me that I could bring a "reasonable number" of family members to Spain. "They will be able to come back when they wish, but not you," they told me when I asked if I would be able to return to Cuba whenever I wanted. "You leave for Spain in less than a week," they announced.

At that point, time sped up. There was scarcely enough time to finalize and coordinate everything. The day after my family's visit, two soldiers arrived at my bedside to tell me to gather all of my belongings. "Saludes, get everything because you're leaving. State Security is coming to get you," they told me. They almost surprised me in the act of writing in the secret diary that I'd kept, cautiously, since my first day in prison, and in which I was able to record the impressions that now fill this page. Minutes before their arrival, I had saved my final notes in the usual hiding place.

The other prisoners congratulated me and kept telling me how happy they were to see me get out. Everyone wanted to send me off with a goodbye, the goodbye we had always longed for next to a seemingly permanent question mark.

Why Isn't Alan Gross on EcuRed?

By Rick Robinson in The Daily Caller:

Why isn't there any mention of Alan Gross on EcuRed?

The founding of the website EcuRed — Cuba's newest propaganda tool — reaffirms one long-standing principle of comparative international politics. Communists suck at naming things.

The phenomenon is understandable. Communists were never schooled in the capitalist skill of marketing. The Soviet Union never had a "branding" initiative at the Politburo.

EcuRed was created by — get this name — the Youth Club of Electronics & Computers of Havana. The name of EcuRed's founding organization conjures up visions of serious young people in uniforms, all gazing into the screen of an old cathode-ray tube monitor. Perhaps they meet in an otherwise barren office with a 20-year-old picture of Fidel peeling from the wall. If they want to complete the picture, perhaps they could simply rename themselves the Internet Brown Shirts.

Of course that is a silly suggestion. Our own FCC no doubt has a plan to claim the domain names InternetBrownShirts.gov, .org and .com any day now. Though, given the wimpiness of the Obama administration when it comes to Havana, the White House would probably have the FCC sign the domain names over to the Cubans if they asked nicely.

In essence, EcuRed purports to be, with a few exceptions, the Cuban version of Wikipedia. Each article on Wikipedia notes that material posted without a source may be removed. EcuRed probably has a similar process for addressing any proposed changes in content. But, in the Castro tradition of free speech, instead of the inaccurate posting being removed, the person challenging it can be removed…literally…permanently… forever.

Even by the lax standards of internet reporting, EcuRed is a sham. The bloggers on birther websites would have to scoff at how completely baseless and biased the EcuRed articles are. Ya gotta have some journalistic standards, after all.

But that assumes you are at least trying to tell the truth. EcuRed is simply a propaganda tool, but one that has the potential to reach far more people than Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Union until 1991, or Pravda's little brother, the Cuban Communist Party rag Granma.

Perhaps the most direct evidence that this new website is a propaganda tool of the Castro regime is the fact that there is no EcuRed listing for Alan Gross.

The sad & strange story of Alan Gross

Alan Gross is a 60-year-old American U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor. He has been wasting away in a Cuban jail for over a year, despite never having been formally charged with any crime.

A husband and father of two daughters, Gross worked for a company in Maryland that gave him a portion of their USAID grant to deliver cell phones and computers to Cuba's Jewish community. He had made five trips to Cuba in nine months distributing equipment.

According to an article in the Washington Post, Gross had "also helped the Cubans download music, Wikipedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica off flash drives."

As he tried to leave the island in December of 2009, Gross was arrested. Although he has never been charged with any crime, Cuban officials now claim that Gross is an American spy.

International opinion on Alan Gross varies. He's been labeled both a patriot and a puppet. Many feel he is simply an unintended casualty of the ongoing U.S.-Cuba stand-off.

Alan Gross may be called a lot of things (for believing he could move around Cuba unencumbered, naive is a good start), but he is certainly not an American spy. The CIA doesn't train their inductees in language by giving them Rosetta Stone, which is how Gross learned the broken Spanish he speaks in jail.

And, judging from his activities in Cuba, if Gross is a trained American spy, we have a lot bigger problems here than our relations with Cuba. If Gross is on the CIA's payroll, America needs to spend a lot more money on training.

The establishment of EcuRed this month therefore puts an ironic new twist on the detainment of Alan Gross. In a country where internet use is restricted for most citizens, Gross was bringing Cubans equipment that would have actually given them the ability to access and read EcuRed.

Unfortunately for Alan Gross and his family, he has become a pawn. International sources who have met with the Castro regime have indicated that Gross has become a trading chip in Castro's efforts to gain return of five Cuban nationals serving time in American jails for spying. The Castro regime is seeking a 5-for-1 trade.

Fidel Castro can write the EucRed profile for Alan Gross

2010 will be remembered as the year when Fidel Castro embarked on his "I Am Not A Tyrannical Despot World Tour." In the twilight of his life, Castro has started a public relations campaign, trying to transform his image as a totalitarian dictator to that of an international statesman.

Castro has apologized for the systematic persecution of gays under his watch. He told a reporter for The Atlantic that Iranian leaders need to quit being anti-Semitic. But his words, unmatched with action to date, have been meaningless.

The case of Alan Gross gives Fidel Castro the opportunity to match his words with action. Gross is ill and has lost 90 of his pre-incarceration 250 pounds. Back home, his daughter is fighting cancer. International humanitarian agencies have called for his release.

It's time for the Castro regime to respond and send Alan Gross home.

As part of his activities this past year, Fidel Castro published several columns. The Alan Gross situation gives him the perfect opportunity to write and post an article on EcuRed:

Alan Gross — American contractor held prisoner in Cuban jail without charges for distributing cell phones and internet equipment. He was set free on humanitarian grounds by direct order of Fidel Castro in 2011.

Quote(s) of the Week

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Two great quotes from two very different people:

"When I hear the President of Cuba, Mr. Castro, I don't even know whether it's Fidel or Raul anymore... say that they have to rectify or perish, I ask myself, why didn't they rectify 50 years ago."

-- Alan Garcia, President of Peru, AP, December 27, 2010

"The stink of a dying dinosaur gives me great joy."

-- Gorki Aguila, Cuban punk rocker, on the imminent demise of the Castro brothers, Diario de Cuba, December 24, 2010

PBS's Rosey Goggles

PBS's Ray Suarez spent the better part of this month in Havana, hosted by the Castro regime, reporting on the "marvels" of Cuban health care.

As the Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady effectively debunks:

In his memoir covering four years in Cuba as a correspondent for Spanish Television, Vicente Botín tells about a Havana woman who was frustrated by the doctor shortage in the country. She hung a sheet on her balcony with the words "trade me to Venezuela." When the police arrived she told them: "Look, compañeros, I'm as revolutionary as the next guy, but if you want to see a Cuban doctor, you have to go to Venezuela."

That story was not in the three-part report by Ray Suarez on Cuban health care that aired on PBS's "NewsHour" last week. Nor was the one about the Cuban whose notice of his glaucoma operation arrived in 2005, three years after he died and five years after he had requested it. Nor was there any coverage of the town Mr. Botín writes about close to the city of Holguín, that in 2006 had one doctor serving five clinics treating 600 families. In fact, it was hard to recognize the country that Mr. Suarez claimed to be describing.

Make sure to read O'Grady's whole editorial, "A Cuban Fairy Tale From PBS," here.

Furthermore, today's Miami Herald reports:

In one Cuban hospital, patients had to bring their own light bulbs. In another, the staff used "a primitive manual vacuum'' on a woman who had miscarried. In others, Cuban patients pay bribes to obtain better treatment.

But what about the elite Cuban hospitals -- the ones Ray Suarez toured -- where foreigners and government officials are treated?

Not so great either.

Otherwise, why would Cuba's Vice-Minister of Health, Abelardo Ramirez, travel to France for cancer treatment?

Or why would the head of Cuba's most propagandized hospital, CIMEQ, travel to Britain for surgery?

Or why was Fidel Castro treated by a Spanish doctor for his recent health woes?

Time to remove the goggles altogether.

Vene-Cuba's Grim 2011 Outlook

From The Eurasia Group:

In Venezuela, deteriorating economic conditions, rising crime, and pervasive shortages of electricity and basic consumer goods have pushed President Hugo Chavez's popularity numbers lower over the past two years, and political tension and uncertainty is bound to increase in the run up to the crucial 2012 presidential elections. His most recent electoral setback in the November midterm legislative election provides a check on his administration and its policies. But Chavez has not moderated his politics or economic policy in response, and though Venezuela has one of the worst growth outlooks in the region, his administration will likely push forward without major policy changes in 2011. Growth will be slow and inflation will remain high. Authorities will continue to intervene heavily in the economy and could resort to a new round of company takeovers to combat rising inflation and worsening food shortages.

Sluggish economic growth and dwindling state finances will encourage Raul Castro's government to slowly liberalize elements of the Cuban economy in 2011. The economic reform plans are ambitious, but Cuba is not moving toward political change, and the island's inability to trade with the United States will continue to hinder its recovery. Any change in U.S. policy toward Cuba is extremely unlikely, especially as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of the embargo, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), assumes the chairmanship of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Catholic Church Cannot be Trusted in Cuba

Tuesday, December 28, 2010
According to a Wikileak-released cable from the U.S. Embassy in Vatican City:

(C/NF) The Vatican hopes for a transition to democracy in Cuba, but is not at the forefront of that battle because it is more concerned about protecting its small space for operations in Cuba.

In other words, for the Catholic Church in Cuba, freedom, democracy and human rights come second to its institutional presence.

Isn't selfishness one of the primary roots of sin?

It's no wonder the Church sought to quickly intercede (uninvited) with the Castro regime -- and marginalize Cuba's dissidents -- pursuant to the death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the brutal repression of the Ladies and White, and the summer standoff with hunger striker Guillermo Fariñas.

As Cardinal Jaime Ortega conceded in an August interview, all of this dissident activity "was causing instability."

Furthermore, it's no wonder that the Church wants Cuba's most prominent political prisoners to be exiled as a condition for their release.

At the end of the day, dissidents put their "relations" with Castro at risk.

Political Prisoner S.O.S.

Monday, December 27, 2010
In an AP story yesterday about 11 Cuban political prisoners that were announced for release since July, but who refuse to accept forced exile as a condition, a Cuba "specialist" had the shamelessness to suggest (after giving excuses for the regime's delay) that the "eventual" release of these 11 would bring the number of Cuban political prisoners "down to a very low number, or nearly zero."

These "specialists" would like the world to ignore the hundreds of Cuban dissidents arrested this month alone (ninety on December 10th) -- albeit held for short-terms -- or the thousands currently in prison for trumped up "common crimes," as a guise for their political activity (or "anti-social behavior" as the regime calls it).

One of these is Agustin Cervantes, who was arrested in September 2009 for "assault" (protecting his wife and himself from a stranger who attacked them with a knife in their own home), but is widely known to have been a target of Castro's secret police for his opposition activities with the Christian Liberation Movement.

Cervantes was rushed to the hospital this Christmas weekend, as he's been on a hunger strike demanding an end to prison abuses and the release of the 11 political prisoners who refuse forced exile.

Click here to learn more about Cervantes.

All Cuban political prisoners deserve to be unconditionally released in their homeland -- without excuses.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 23

From The Daily Caller:

Cuban Wikipedia most elaborate propaganda creation ever

Last week, Cuba launched EcuRed, it's own version of Wikipedia. It was an intriguing move for a country whose population has very minimal Internet access. But the Cuban regime produces a large amount of propaganda targeted at the outside world, and EcuRed fits neatly into that framework.

"They do these extensive media operations," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, and a member of the board of directors of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, "so that eventually the rest of the world, they hope, is seeing that, and they think it's the truth because it's coming from all kinds of different sources."

If building an entire online encyclopedia seems overly elaborate for propaganda, one need only look at Cuba's newspapers, says Claver-Carone. He points out that all six major newspapers in Cuba are state run, but each claims to represent a different voice in the population, leading to the perception that multiple different viewpoints are represented in the media.

"It's their way of continuously rewriting history, essentially, for a foreign audience," he said, because "domestically, the Cuban government is not going to convince anyone that all is good … they survive basically off foreign political support and foreign economic support." [...]

The targeted audience, obviously, is not the United States, a country that, as The Daily Caller reported last week, gets a pretty bad rap on EcuRed. "There is a huge audience out there that consumes anti-Americanism," said Claver-Carone, calling it "the blame America first model." The regime's propaganda "feed[s] that anti-American audience."

It also, according to Claver-Carone, serves as a "distraction, so that people don't pay attention to the real issues on the island."

Treasury's $1 Billion Castro Bailout

Last week, the Treasury Department authorized Western Union to send remittances to Cuba in the Castro regime's convertible pesos (CuCs), instead of in U.S. dollars.

At first glance, this might seem like a bad deal for the Castro regime, as it would lose the 10% exchange fee it charges to convert U.S. dollars into CuCs.

And it very well might be a bad deal for the regime -- in the long-term -- which then leads to the question:

Why did the Castro regime agree to this new arrangement?

In a nutshell, because the regime is suffering from a severe short-term liquidity crisis and this arrangement amounts to a cash windfall -- potentially worth $1 billion.

To elaborate -- when dollar remittances are sent to Cuba, the Cuban national that receives the dollars might take months to exchange them, if at all. That means the Castro regime is not immediately guaranteed the high exchange fee.

Through this new arrangement, Western Union will exchange these dollars up front, which the regime desperately needs to meet its debt payments. Remember that last year the regime froze over $1 billion in the Cuban bank accounts of foreign companies (mostly Spanish), not to mention the nearly $4 billion debt it has recently incurred with China.

Thus, the Castro regime is willing to potentially risk a long-term loss for a short-term bailout.

The regime also figures that this new arrangement can lead to an overall rise in remittances, as senders and recipients will initially think they are saving the 10% exchange fee. However, the regime can compensate by raising prices at state-owned CuC-denominated stores by 10% -- for CuCs are worthless anywhere else.

As we learned from the recent special report (below) in The New York Times -- Congress enacts sanctions laws and Treasury finds harmful loopholes.

Is Farm Lobby Endangering Foreign Policy?

Sunday, December 26, 2010
This is outrageous.

Excerpts from a New York Times special report:

U.S. Approved Business With Blacklisted Nations

Despite sanctions and trade embargoes, over the past decade the United States government has allowed American companies to do billions of dollars in business with Iran and other countries blacklisted as state sponsors of terrorism, an examination by The New York Times has found.

At the behest of a host of companies — from Kraft Food and Pepsi to some of the nation's largest banks — a little-known office of the Treasury Department has granted nearly 10,000 licenses for deals involving countries that have been cast into economic purgatory, beyond the reach of American business.

Most of the licenses were approved under a decade-old law mandating that agricultural and medical humanitarian aid be exempted from sanctions. But the law, pushed by the farm lobby and other industry groups, was written so broadly that allowable humanitarian aid has included cigarettes, Wrigley's gum, Louisiana hot sauce, weight-loss remedies, body-building supplements and sports rehabilitation equipment sold to the institute that trains Iran's Olympic athletes.

Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve American foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Internet connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear.

In one instance, an American company was permitted to bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation. In one such case, involving equipment bought by a medical waste disposal plant in Hawaii, the government was preparing to deny the license until an influential politician intervened [...]

"It's not a bad thing to grant exceptions if it represents a conscious policy decision to give countries an incentive," said Stuart Eizenstat, who oversaw sanctions policy for the Clinton administration when the humanitarian-aid law was passed. "But when you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses."

What's more, in countries like Iran where elements of the government have assumed control over large portions of the economy, it is increasingly difficult to separate exceptions that help the people from those that enrich the state. Indeed, records show that the United States has approved the sale of luxury food items to chain stores owned by blacklisted banks, despite requirements that potential purchasers be scrutinized for just such connections.

Enforcement of America's sanctions rests with Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which can make exceptions with guidance from the State Department. The Treasury office resisted disclosing information about the licenses, but after The Times filed a federal Freedom of Information lawsuit, the government agreed to turn over a list of companies granted exceptions and, in a little more than 100 cases, underlying files explaining the nature and details of the deals. The process took three years, and the government heavily redacted many documents, saying they contained trade secrets and personal information. Still, the files offer a snapshot — albeit a piecemeal one — of a system that at times appears out of sync with its own licensing policies and America's goals abroad [...]

For all the speechifying about humanitarian aid that attended its passage, the 2000 law allowing agricultural and medical exceptions to sanctions was ultimately the product of economic stress and political pressure. American farmers, facing sharp declines in commodity prices and exports, hoped to offset their losses with sales to blacklisted countries.

The law defined allowable agricultural exports as any product on a list maintained by the Agriculture Department, which went beyond traditional humanitarian aid like seed and grain and included products like beer, soda, utility poles and more loosely defined categories of "food commodities" and "food additives."

Even before the law's final passage, companies and their lobbyists inundated the licensing office with claims that their products fit the bill.

Take, for instance, chewing gum, sold in a number of blacklisted countries by Mars Inc., which owns Wrigley's. "We debated that one for a month. Was it food? Did it have nutritional value? We concluded it did," Hal Eren, a former senior sanctions adviser at the licensing office, recalled before pausing and conceding, "We were probably rolled on that issue by outside forces."

While Cuba was the primary focus of the initial legislative push, Iran, with its relative wealth and large population, was also a promising prospect. American exports, virtually nonexistent before the law's passage, have totaled more than $1.7 billion since [...]

Even the sale of benign goods can benefit bad actors, though, which is why the licensing office and State Department are required to check the purchasers of humanitarian aid products for links to terrorism. But that does not always happen.

Here's a list of companies given special permission by Treasury to bypass sanctions.

Honoring Lincoln Diaz-Balart

Click on picture to enlarge.

As appears in today's El Nuevo Herald:

The Pope's Mixed Messages

Saturday, December 25, 2010
In today's Christmas message, Pope Benedict urged Chinese Catholics to "be brave" against their oppressors.

Yet, the Catholic Church urges Cubans to just "go into exile."

Since the July 7th "agreement" between the Catholic Church and the Castro regime for the release of 52 specifically-named political prisoners, 40 have been sent into forced exile and only one has been released within Cuba.

Meanwhile, the other 11 political prisoners, who refuse forced exile, remain in prison this Christmas -- nearly two months past the given deadline -- without any sign of release.

So this weekend, the Church sought out two other political prisoners (there's plenty to choose from) -- not on the original list of 52 -- that would accept forced exile.

As a result, the Catholic Church continues to play into the hands of the Castro regime -- for as long as it keeps pressing political prisoners to accept exile as a condition, the regime will not release any that want to stay in Cuba and continue their peaceful dissidence.

Cubans also have a right to "be brave" in their own homeland.

According to MSNBC:

Pope tells Catholics in China to be brave

Pope Benedict prayed for a rebirth of peace in the Middle East and encouraged Catholics in Iraq and communist China to resist persecution in his Christmas message read amid heightened security on Saturday [...]

Benedict directly criticized China, where recently Catholics loyal to the pope were forced to attend a series of events by the state-backed Church which does not recognize his authority, bringing relations with the Vatican to a low point.

"May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope," he said.

Apparently, the way to really get under the Pope's skin is by not recognizing his "authority."

Merry Christmas

"A good conscience is a continual Christmas."

-- Benjamin Franklin, American statesman, 1706-1790

"I hope this is the last Christmas we spend without democracy. Remember that the most important thing about being Cuban is to love one's motherland and, somehow or other, confront the regime that's oppressing her. I hope God will intervene and next Christmas we can be free and all Cubans can share here the freedom and democracy for which we have struggled for so long and so many have died."

–- Guillermo Fariñas, Cuban dissident and 2010 Sakharov Award recipient, on Radio Martí.

Spain Profits From Cuban Apartheid

Friday, December 24, 2010
According to a State Department cable -- released by Wikileaks -- during a 2008 meeting between then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Spain's Ambassador to the U.S. Jorge Dezcallar:

(C) The Secretary stated she remains unconvinced of the sincerity of minor post-Fidel changes in Cuba. She emphasized the need to make real change, as opposed to cosmetic ones. For example, Cubans should have access to cell phones and the Internet. The Ambassador countered that GoS doesn't think that changes in Cuba since Raul's ascent to power have been cosmetic. He denied that Raul is another Fidel, but warned against being too heavy-handed and "scaring him off, or he will be even more difficult."

Why is Ambassador Dezcallar so concerned about being "too heavy-handed" with Raul?

The answer is simple:

Because it's bad for business.

Yesterday, EFE reported that Spain's Sol Melia hotel chain disclosed $3.664 billion in business income with the Castro regime over the last 20 years.

And that's only one of 25 major Spanish companies conducting business with the Cuban dictatorship -- we stress business with the Cuban dictatorship, as the Cuban people are strictly prohibited from engaging in any type of business with foreign entities.

Castro's tourism apartheid and repression pays -- and Spain is shamefully cashing-in.


A Look Back at the 111th Congress

As the 111th Congress (finally) adjourned last night, here's a chronological look back at U.S.-Cuba legislative news items (and misguided predictions):

They didn't waste any time. While most of the nation focused on the stimulus bill winding through Congress, nine representatives introduced a bill calling for an end to the 46-year-old ban on travel to Cuba -- Sun-Sentinel, February 9, 2009

"I think there's sufficient votes in both the House (of Representatives) and the Senate to finally get it passed," Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said at a news conference -- Reuters, March 31, 2009

After years of frustration, backers of a softer Cuba policy think their moment has come -- St. Petersburg Times, April 1, 2009

"I don't want to give you a time frame, but I'm certain it will come to the floor, and we will have a vote, and I believe we will have a significant number of cosponsors," U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt -- St. Petersburg Times, April 2, 2009

As the power of the Cuban lobby fades, broader considerations are gaining importance. I asked Rep. Bill Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat who cochairs the House's Cuba Working Group, about the Cuba lobby's ebbing influence. "We now have people on our side of the issue who are saying, 'We support candidates who have a different view in terms of what the relationship ought to be,'" he said -- U.S. News and World Report, April 14, 2009

As an observer of American trade policy, I will wager that the farm lobby wins this battle. US agricultural exports to Cuba averaged more than $350 million a year between 2004 and 2006 before hitting $691 million last year -- "Farm Lobby Versus Cuba Lobby," MyDD, May 4, 2009

The U.S. Congress will most likely lift a five-decades-old embargo on Cuba before the end of 2010, a senior Democratic lawmaker [Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel] said Tuesday -- Reuters, May 6 2009

Legislation to end a ban on Americans traveling to Cuba has enough support in the U.S. House of Representatives to win approval by year-end, said Representative Sam Farr, a California Democrat -- Bloomberg, September 21, 2009

The travel ban to Cuba may be one step closer to being lifted. A bill intended to end a ban on travel to Cuba by United States citizens may have enough votes to pass the House by the end of the year, a representative told the Bloomberg news service -- New York Times, October 4, 2009

Delahunt "has a pretty impressive list of sponsors. That bill looks good in the House,' said a former Bush administration Cuba expert. "Delahunt will pass the House,"' added an Obama administration official. Both asked for anonymity so they could speak frankly about the topic -- The Miami Herald, October 12, 2009

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) have jointly written a compelling case to end the travel ban for all Americans desiring to go to Cuba -- Huffington Post, November 17, 2009

Berman says those who support lifting the ban have their best chance in years to get rid of it, thanks to Democratic control of the White House and Congress and backing from a wide range of business, agricultural and other groups. He says the House may act on legislation by the spring -- Washington Post, November 20, 2009

Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson is lending his heft as House Agriculture Committee chairman to end the travel ban to Cuba -- Minnesota Star-Tribune, February 24, 2010

U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan said he will bring a bill to lift the ban on travel to Cuba to the Senate floor this summer and that more than 60 Senators will vote for it -- Bloomberg, March 25, 2010

The U.S. House of Representatives may pass a bill next month that would cut restrictions on agricultural exports to Cuba and lift a ban on travel to the island, the measure's sponsor [Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson] said -- Bloomberg, March 31, 2010

"It's just a question of 'when,' it's not a question of 'if,' at this point," Delahunt said -- National Journal, April 5, 2010

Business associations are raising the lobbying stakes on legislation that would remove the American travel ban and boost U.S. farm sales to Cuba -- The Hill, June 29, 2010

'An unprecedented coalition of agriculture, business, religious and social organizations have endorsed (the bill), and today's vote demonstrates that Congress is ready to change our nation's approach on this issue,' [Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson] added -- IPS, June 30, 2010

A bipartisan pair of senators said Thursday they have the votes in the Senate to lift the longstanding U.S. ban on travel to Cuba. Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) said they believe they have the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and lift the travel ban to the communist-held nation south of Florida -- The Hill, July 1, 2010

Traveling to Cuba may soon become a reality for Americans. Yes, we have heard this before, but this time it seems it could actually happen -- NY Daily News, July 4, 2010

Senator Byron Dorgan, co-sponsor of a bill to lift a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, said both houses of Congress will pass the legislation this year -- Bloomberg, July 16, 2010

Kirby Jones, a longtime consultant with U.S. corporations, organizations and media wanting to do business in and with Cuba, told me that "in the 35 years that I've been following this issue, I've never seen Congress so close and so active in pursuing a change in Cuba policy. Progress has never been this close. We're somewhere between 205 to 210 votes, and that's very close -- Politics Daily, May 23, 2010

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated recently if Berman's committee approved the bill, it could be brought to the House floor either before or after the November midterm elections -- UPI, September 29, 2010

Advocates of easing restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba have not given up on legislation this year, the chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said on Monday -- Reuters, September 31, 2010

A number of business associations are planning a lobbying blitz during the lame-duck session to repeal the U.S. travel ban to Cuba -- The Hill, October 6, 2010

And finally:

Legislation eliminating a longstanding travel ban to Cuba is dead in this Congress, several senior Democrats said this week -- The Hill, December 2, 2010

Quote of the Week

"It's not the first time that we are amidst a grave situation; they announce changes and then everything stays the same, you know how this country is."

-- a Cuban citizen, on the Castro regime's supposed economic reforms, Diario de Cuba, December 19th, 2010

Rubio Remarks at Cuba Democracy PAC

Wednesday, December 22, 2010
See video below:

Foreign Pressure Works, Pt. 2

From an interview in Spain's El Mundo with Cuban author -- and former Fidel and Raul Castro confidant -- Norberto Fuentes:

Question: At this time, the Cuban National Assembly is gathered in Havana and has introduced a series of reforms. Is the regime really trying to undertake reforms and, if so, under what conditions?

Fuentes: This has many possible readings, it can be looked at many ways. That is to say -- they are pressured, they are obligated, they have no choice, that it's a definite strategic victory for the "enemy." The point is that they are making some reforms, they will keep doing them and that they have to see them through to the last consequences.

Five Political Corpses in 2011

Tuesday, December 21, 2010
By Moisés Naím of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Hosni Mubarak is eighty-one years old and, since 1981, president of Egypt. Fidel Castro is eighty-five, and has held supreme power in Cuba for half a century. At eighty-three years old, the King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej ranks as the longest-serving head of the state: his rule began in 1946. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia's king, is eighty-six. The Supreme Leader, who also calls himself Dear Leader, Our Father, The General and Generalissimo, will soon turn seventy. His real name is Kim Jong Il, the cruel tyrant of North Korea.

These five are very sick. Some may die in 2011. But even if this does not happen, their physical weakness creates political weakness that will force their countries to go through complicated and unpredictable power shifts.

The ripple effects of these transitions will reach beyond the borders of their nations.

Egypt is a fundamental player in the Arab world and the Cuban influence in Latin America is well known. Thailand's precarious political balance could easily collapse after the King's death and the turmoil can spill over onto neighboring countries. What happens in Saudi Arabia greatly influences your gas and heating bills and more broadly politics in the Middle East and as far as Pakistan. An armed conflict in the Korean peninsula would have large and immediate effects on the global economy. In fact, North Korea's recent bellicosity is intimately linked to its succession process.

These five countries are very different in their politics, economics, geography, demography and culture. Yet they are uncannily similar in terms of the succession processes of their current leaders.

All in the Family

Hosni Mubarak is doing his best to leave his job to his son Gamal. Fidel left power to his brother Raúl. Kim Jong Il has anointed his twenty-six-year-old son Kim Jong-un as his successor. Thanks to unknown military merits young Kim was just promoted to four-star general. His father has also decided that, at least for now, his successor should be referred to in the official propaganda as "Bright Comrade." If George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were presidents, ask the Kims and the Mubaraks, why not us?

In the case of kings, family succession is more obvious. And also more complicated. King Abdullah appointed his stepbrother Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz as heir. The problem is that the younger successor is also an octogenarian. And he too is quite sick, having battled—or perhaps he is still battling—cancer. Succession decisions are made through complicated and secret negotiations involving the different factions of the Saudi royal family.

The same is true in Thailand. The king's son, Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn (fifty-seven years old) is the natural heir. But while his father is revered, the prince is feared and unpopular. His controversial love life, his adoration of Fu-Fu, his poodle that has a military rank and sometimes sits in banquets, and the constant rumors about some of his more unsavory friends stand in sharp contrast with the admiration for his sister, Princess Sirindhorn. One possible, and highly speculative, scenario is that on his deathbed, the king could skip his son and appoint the princess or one of his grandchildren. In any case, the last thing troubled Thailand needs is to add to the violent political confrontations taking place in the street a power struggle inside the royal palace.

Sons, Brothers and... Generals

Another common denominator in these five countries is the fundamental role that the armed forces play in the succession process. All of these governments depend on the military to retain their grip on power. In Egypt, the president's son's lack of military experience and his promises of economic and political reforms have not gone down well with the generals. Raúl Castro is not only Fidel's brother but for decades he was the head of the armed forces. In Saudi Arabia, the princes who control the military or intelligence services are best situated for succession, or at least have a disproportionate influence in the selection process.

Once the "Dear Leader" disappears, North Korea will most likely not be run by the "Bright Comrade," but by a military junta. In Thailand, generals have a long tradition of coups and heavy-handed intervention in matters of state. They will not be passive observers of the succession process that will unfold after the king's death.

Age is Unforgiving

"There is no evil that lasts a hundred years, or a body that can resist it," goes the old saying. Autocrats that look to extend their mandate beyond their death by leaving in power their son or brother run afoul of this adage. They are keen to ensure that their evil legacy lasts longer than one hundred years. In some cases, and to the detriment of their long-suffering societies, they will succeed. In others, the body—that is, society—will not resist the extension of the evil, that is, more of the same bit with a different leader.

Some or all of these five old and frail men will pass away next year. Their deaths will change more than their countries.

Connie Mack Named Western Hemisphere Chair

Mack Named Chairman of Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in 112th Congress

Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14) today was named Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere for the 112th Congress. Mack currently serves as Ranking Member of the Subcommittee.

The Western Hemisphere Subcommittee oversees matters affecting U.S. foreign policy and political relations in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

Mack said:

"I'm truly honored to be named Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and to continue my work on addressing the pressing issues facing the region.

With freedom and free markets under continuous assault by thugocrats like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and the Castro Brothers in Cuba, the United States must remain committed to countering the influence of these socialist leaders in the region. We must also work with our allies in the hemisphere to eradicate terrorist organizations like the FARC, keep a watchful eye on the dangerous ties between Russia, Iran and Venezuela, and build relationships based on our shared goals of freedom, security and prosperity.

I look forward to working with Chairman Ros-Lehtinen, the other Subcommittee Chairmen, and the entire Committee on improving U.S. foreign policy and preserving freedom around the world."

Incoming Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said, "Congressman Mack does not hesitate to call a dictator a dictator, or, as is his preferred term, a "thugocrat." Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa are all placing democracy under siege in Latin America, and I am happy to have Connie standing up to their tyrannical advances as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere."

The Cardinal's Hope vs. Castro's Reality

Sobering news from the AP:

The Roman Catholic Cardinal who helped broker a deal with Cuba to free dissidents jailed in a 2003 crackdown says he hopes the government will make good on its pledge to release the last 11 remaining in prison.

Havana Archbishop Jaime Ortega says "hope springs eternal" that Havana will honor its "formal promise" to free them.

Nearly two months have past since the November 7th deadline given for the release of these political prisoners.

Yet, just two weeks ago, Cardinal Ortega -- who originally failed to mention that the condition for these prisoner's release was forced exile -- expressed confidence that they "will be released."

Now, he says "hope springs eternal."

Thus, all of those negotiations with Cuban dictator Raul Castro and the international public relations tour on its behalf, was essentially a hoax -- only one political prisoner has been released in Cuba (and hundreds arrested since then).

As 19th century U.S. abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison wisely stated,

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

The Battle Goes On

From CBS4:

Miami Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart is one of the highest profile voices pressing for a free Cuba.

He is retiring from political office next month. On Monday a political who's-who celebrated his service during the annual U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC (political action committee) luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables where the audience vowed to continue a hard line against the Castro regime.

South Florida Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree on little, but they are united on Cuba policy. Weston Democratic Congressman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz thanked Diaz-Balart for his work and said, "Under no circumstances should the U.S. Congress unconditionally embrace the Castro regime until all political prisoners are released and allowed to remain in their homeland, until free and fair elections are held, and until Cubans can freely leave the island."

Diaz-Balart chose to retire after 18 years in Congress. In 1996 he helped lead efforts to strengthen the embargo against Cuba after the shoot down of Brothers to the Rescue planes. The Castro brothers continue to hold on, though, decade after decade.

New Cuban-American faces in Congress will soon take up the fight. That number will include Miami Republican Senator-elect Marco Rubio.

But Rubio told the audience he is weary of being asked when American policy toward Cuba will change. Rubio said, "My answer is, when is Cuba policy going to change? How come that question is never asked?"

Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart will keep his brother in mind on the House floor. He said he is bound to think, "What would Lincoln do? What would Lincoln say in this particular moment? But I've got his phone number."

He has not revealed his future plans but Lincoln Diaz-Balart is resolute about Cuba's future. He insisted it will not be what he calls the China model, one of authoritarian rule but a capitalist-styled economy.

Diaz-Balart, after receiving a standing ovation, said to his audience, "The inevitable future for Cuba is the other one, a democratic transition."

The wait for that return to democracy has lasted nearly 52 years. There is the iron willed determination of Cuban-American lawmakers in Congress to compel change in Cuba matched against ironfisted resistance to that change by the Castro regime.

The battle goes on.

Here's the video version:

Wikileaks Vindicates Cuba “Embargo”

Monday, December 20, 2010
By Humberto Fontova in The Americano:

Rubbing his hands in triumphant glee, Castro boasted at maximum volume to the entire world that he was freeing Cuba from "Yankee economic slavery!" (Che Guevara's term, actually) and that "he would never repay a penny!"

"Cuba Policy isn't made in Washington," griped Bill Press in a CNN column. "It's made in Miami by former Batista supporters who think they can reverse history!"

"Bush's defense of the (Cuban) embargo serves a family voting bloc and little else!" once griped Kathleen Parker in a column.

"A small number of powerful exiles in South Florida cow our politicians into keeping the crazy Cuban policy!" griped media baron Al Neuharth in USA Today.

"The powerful Cuban exile lobby has long dictated the U.S.'s Cuba policy." Tim Padgett, Time Magazine.

And it goes much further. Those insufferable Cuban-exile lobbyists managed to get Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal, Chris Dodd and Larry Craig, Pat Buchanan and Antonio Villaraigosa, George Will and Noam Chomsky, The Brookings Institution and the Cato Institute, The Wall Street Journal and The Nation, the U.S. Communist Party and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- all on the same side of an issue. All of the above have come out publicly against the so-called Cuban embargo. All blame it on the "politically-powerful" and "well-heeled" Cuban-American lobby.

And you are quite welcome, American taxpayer. To wit:

"A (Wikileaks) cable reported on a breakfast hosted by a U.S. diplomat in Havana with commercial and economic counselors from five of Cuba's largest trading partners — China, Spain, Canada, Brazil and Italy — plus key creditor nations France and Japan. The diplomats reported continuing problems collecting their Cuban debts, with the Japanese noting that after restructuring all of Cuba's official debt in 2009, Tokyo had not received any payments….Even China admitted to having problems getting paid on time and complained about Cuban requests to extend credit terms from one to four years," the cable said. "France and Canada responded with 'welcome to the club.'"

Last month, South Africa was also forced to write off 1 billion Rand debt owed to them by Cuba.

In fact, despite all the media and political gabble and scribble about some "Cuba embargo," the U.S. currently serves as Cuba's biggest food supplier and fifth biggest import partner, selling $710 million worth of U.S. products to Castro's fiefdom in 2008, and transacting more than $2 billion worth of business with Cuba in the last decade. Nowadays the so-called U.S. embargo merely stipulates that the Castro regime pay cash up front through a third–party bank for all U.S. agricultural products; no Ex-Im (U.S. taxpayer) financing of such sales. Enacted by the Bush team in 2001 this cash-up-front policy has kept the U.S. taxpayer among the few in the world not screwed and tattooed by Fidel Castro. Just ask the French, Canadians, Japanese, South African, etc.

So again: U.S. taxpayer, you are quite welcome.

Not that Castroite sponging started recently. In fact, per-capita-wise, for years Cuba has qualified as the world's biggest debtor nation with a foreign debt of close to $50 billion, a credit rating nudging Somalia's, and an uninterrupted record of defaults. In 2008 one of the world's most respected economic forecasting firms, the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked Cuba as virtually the world's worst country business-wise. Only Iran and Angola ranked lower. This firm predicted that Cuba's abysmal business climate would remain that way for the next five years, at the very least.

Standard & Poors refuses even to rate Cuba, regarding the economic figures released by the regime as utterly bogus.

In 1986 Cuba defaulted on most of its foreign debt to Europe. Three years ago France's version of the U.S. government's Export-Import Bank, (named COFACE) cut off Cuba's credit line. Mexico's Bancomex quickly followed suit. This came about because the Castro regime stuck it to French taxpayers for $175 million and to Mexican taxpayers for $365 million. Bancomex was forced to impound Cuban assets in three different countries in an attempt to recoup its losses.

Last year the Castro regime suddenly froze $1 billion held in Cuban banks by foreign (mostly Spanish) businessmen. "Cuban banks informed depositors that they had no foreign exchange to back up the convertible peso in which many were doing business," explained Reuters Havana Bureau.

However valuable to American taxpayers today, U.S. sanctions against Castro's Stalinist regime were not originally enacted due to their abysmal credit rating. In July 1960, Castro's KGB-trained security forces stormed into 5,911 U.S. owned businesses in Cuba and stole them all at Soviet gunpoint – $2 billion were heisted from outraged U.S. businessmen and stockholders. Rubbing his hands in triumphant glee, Castro boasted at maximum volume to the entire world that he was freeing Cuba from "Yankee economic slavery!" (Che Guevara's term, actually) and that "he would never repay a penny!"

This is the only promise Fidel Castro has ever kept in his life.

Humberto Fontova is the author of four books, including Fidel: Hollywood's Favorite Tyrant and Exposing the Real Che Guevara.

Few Coincidences in Castro's Cuba

There are few coincidences in Castro's totalitarian Cuba.

Castro attacks:

On December 3rd, 2009, the Castro regime arbitrarily arrested U.S. development worker Alan Gross for helping Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

On June 11th, 2010, Fidel Castro "reflected" that "the hatred felt by the state of Israel against the Palestinians is such that they would not hesitate to send the one and a half million men, women and children of that country to the crematoria where millions of Jews of all ages were exterminated by the Nazis. It would seem that the Fuehrer's [Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's] swastika is today Israel's banner."

The U.S. pressures -- better late than never:

On July 14th, 2010, at a State Department reception in honor of Hannah Rosenthal, the Obama Administration's special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, Hillary Clinton urges U.S. Jewish groups to push for Alan Gross's release.

Castro steps back:

On August 31st, Fidel Castro personally invites an Israel-hawk to Cuba, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg (just days after his article regarding Israel's bombing of Iranian nuclear sites), treats him like a foreign dignitary, and expresses nothing but support for Israel's self-determination -- for the first time ever (historically, Castro trained PLO terrorist in Cuba and even sent troops to fight against Israel in the Yom Kippur War).

Castro takes preventive measures:

On December 3rd, 2010, one year after the arrest of Alan Gross, he's still being held without charges or trial -- no due process whatsoever. Therefore, Adela Dworin, president of Havana's Temple Beth Shalom, (all-of-the-sudden) publicly denies ever knowing U.S. development worker Alan Gross and even (incredibly) claims that Cuba's Jews can "communicate freely."

Castro rewards "obedience":

Two days later, on December 5th, Cuban dictator Raul Castro celebrates Hanukkah for the first time ever at Havana's Temple Beth Shalom with -- naturally -- Adela Dworin.

Machiavelli would be proud.

Here's Raul and Adela "sharing a moment":

Only Suckers Need Apply

Sunday, December 19, 2010
According to the AP:

"The life of the revolution is in the balance," [Raul] Castro said in a two-hour speech closing out a twice-yearly meeting of the island's national assembly. He repeated his contention that the dollop of limited capitalism being injected into the economy does not mean the end of the revolution's ideal to create an egalitarian utopia.

"The strategic economic changes are being made to sustain socialism," he said. "They are to preserve and strengthen socialism, so as to make it irrevocable."

That's quite an oxymoron.

To inject elements of capitalism in order to strengthen socialism (and make it irrevocable) means that the Castro's are only looking for a temporary reprieve from the current crisis. Then, they'll hit reverse.

Sound familiar? That's exactly what they did a decade ago.

The AP story continues:

Still, Castro had a message to those who wonder if the Cuban government is serious this time around — since past economic openings have fizzled.

He said the changes are "the result of profound meditations and analysis, and we can assure you this time there will be no going back."

For months, media outlets and Cuba analysts have been touting these economic changes as unprecedented. Now, Raul just admitted it's more of the same, except that this time the regime won't hit reverse -- no really, they "promise."

Yet here's the clincher: If these measures are only meant to strengthen socialism (and make it irrevocable), then he just confessed their plan is to hit reverse.

As usual, it's more of the same lies.

So who will bailout the regime this time?

Like Canadian and European tourists in the 1990's and Hugo Chavez this past decade -- only suckers need apply.

Chavez's Guardian Coup

Renowned Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington divided coups into three types:

1. Breakthrough coups - In which a revolutionary army overthrows a traditional government and creates a new bureaucratic elite.

2. Guardian coups - The stated aim of this form of coup is to improve public order, efficiency, or to end corruption. There is usually no fundamental shift in the structure of power, and the leaders of these types of coups generally portray their actions as a temporary and unfortunate necessity.

3. Veto coups - These coups occur when the army vetoes mass participation and social mobilization.

Now read the following news item from Reuters:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is taking decree powers for a year in a move he says is needed to deal with disastrous floods but opponents denounce as a calculated blow to democracy.

Did Chavez stage a coup?

Answer: #2

Will the OAS denounce Chavez's coup as a violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter?

Don't hold your breath.

Spaniards Want Tough Stance Towards Castro

Saturday, December 18, 2010
A public opinion poll by a leading Spanish think tank, Real Instituto Elcano, shows that 79% of Spaniards believe the international community is not doing sufficient to pressure the Castro regime on human rights.

Ironically, this poll was released just days before a Wikileak-released State Department cable discusses the ambivalence of many democracies -- including Spain -- toward the human rights violations of the Castro regime.

Other results show 50% of Spaniards believe the recent release (and forced exile) of some political prisoners does not merit an easing of the European Union's policy towards Cuba, while only 31% believe it does.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro ranks just above Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez as the worst-viewed foreign leaders.

History Will Forget Fidel

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro once stated, "history will absolve me."

Yet it looks like history will just forget him -- a punishment in itself for an egomaniac of his ilk.

As for Raul, history has always passed him over.

The following graph from Google's new feature, Books Ngram Viewer, shows the decline of Fidel and the irrelevance of Raul in the corpus of books from 1950-2008.

Historic karma.

Shameful Behavior by Some Democracies

Friday, December 17, 2010
"For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing."

-- Simon Wiesenthal, Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate.

Excerpts from a 2009 State Department cable -- revealed by Wikileaks -- regarding the collusion of some democratic nations with the brutal dictatorship of Fidel and Raul Castro:

1. (C) Summary. The Cuban Government has been able to stonewall its independent civil society from foreign visitors who have, for the large part, been all too ready to give in to Cuban bullying and give up on these encounters. A series of recent visits has shown the different approaches that foreign governments have taken to highlight, or not, Cuba's sorry human rights record. The Australian Foreign Minister, Switzerland's Human Rights Special Envoy and the Canadian Cabinet-level Minister of the Americas not only failed to meet with non-government Cubans, they didn't even bother to publicly call for more freedoms after visiting Cuba in November. Though also shunning NGOs, recent emissaries from the Vatican and the EU, at least called out publicly for greater rights. Some holdouts remain, refusing to bring anyone of note if the Cubans insist on conditioning access. Regardless of the approach, the result tends to be the same. There is little of substance to be gained from a "friends-at-all-costs" approach to Cuba.

THE "BEST-FRIENDS-FOREVER" APPROACH: DO, SAY NOTHING

2. (C) Practitioners of this approach to Cuba include most countries, including all Latin Americans and Africans, Russians and Chinese, and many Europeans. The Brazilian Polcouns in Havana best summed up this style: "We don't raise (human rights) in public or private." No wonder, the U.K. number-two in Havana grumbled, that "Cuba would love nothing more than to have the same relationship with us that they have with Brazil." Most of these countries would not raise human rights even if the Government of Cuba (GOC) did not object to them doing so. This group apparently now includes the Swiss and Australians.

9. (C) The EU Commission in Havana sits snuggly in the "Best-Friends-Forever" camp. Their functionaries share with us their reproach of the "radical" Swedes and Czechs, with their human rights priorities, and can't wait for "moderate" Spain to take over the EU Presidency. The former Development Commissioner, Louis Michel, keenly followed that line during his visits to Cuba. Not so his successor.

THE "TAKE-YOUR-VISIT-AND-SHOVE-IT" APPROACH: LITTLE LOST

12. (C) Some countries refuse to let the GOC dictate to them when it comes to visitors. Although they will accommodate GOC petulancy by hosting dual national day ceremonies (and spare Cuban officials the "affront" of sharing space with Cubans it deems unworthy) and cordon off their ambassadors from civil society engagement, the holdout countries resist pressure to disengage from civil society altogether. In many cases they have chosen to keep their principals at home if the price is kowtowing to the GOC. Germany, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom may pay a price in terms of lost business and access from their principled stance. Others who stand in this camp have less to lose from sticking it to the Cubans, and include Poland and Sweden.

14. (C) COMMENT. The overwhelming majority of the 100 foreign missions in Havana do not face a human rights dilemma in their dealings with the Cubans. These countries wouldn't raise the issue anyway. The rest, a group that includes most of Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and the United States, claim to employ different approaches to address their human rights concerns in Cuba -- but the truth is that most of these countries do not press the issue at all in Cuba. The GOC does not like to talk about its human rights situation, and even less to be lectured publicly. It deploys considerable resources to bluff and bully many missions and their visitors into silence. For the most part the rewards for acquiescing to GOC demands are risible: pomp-full dinners and meetings and, for the most pliant, a photo-op with one of the Castro brothers. In terms of substance or economic benefits, they fare little better than those who stand up to the GOC.

Free Biscet Campaign Video

Please watch this video and join the campaign here:

Kudos to the State Department

From yesterday's Daily Press Briefing with Assistant Secretary of State, P.J. Crowley:

QUESTION: And then also, are you aware of, at any point in the last two years, Raul Castro, through the Spanish, trying to open up a direct dialogue with the White House and him being basically – or the Spanish being told in return that, no, no, he should go – we've made a number of outreach efforts so far, and he should – if he wants to open up a dialogue with – a direct dialogue with the U.S., he should go through the normal diplomatic channels.

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear to Cuba that, first and foremost, before we would envision any fundamental change in our relationship, it is Cuba that has to fundamentally change, and that we would respond accordingly to any actions that Cuba undertook to release political prisoners, to fundamentally change its political system. That remains our position. But we still continue to engage Cuba on specific issues, such as migration issues, which has a clear humanitarian issue. We have opened up greater opportunities for travel of family members, which is, again, something that – of a humanitarian nature.

But we are – we will consider changes in our relationship only when we start to see a real change on --

QUESTION: Well, this is --

QUESTION: Well, what is dialogue?

QUESTION: Hold – hold on a second. This is not – this a little more narrow than a change in policy. This is just talking about – I mean, this is Castro seeking a direct contact – seeking direct contact with the White House, not necessarily a change in policy.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I'm just – we have an Interests Section in Havana that operates. We do have specific dialogue with the Government of Cuba. And a broader, higher level dialogue is -- will only be feasible once we see real change in Cuba. As we've said, we're prepared to respond as Cuba changes, but we have not seen anything approaching fundamental change in Cuba at this point.

QUESTION: But why is a broader dialogue only feasible once there's a change in Cuba? I thought this Administration and this President campaigned on engagement with one's enemies in order to change the behavior.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, but we engage at an appropriate level where we see an opportunity. We have limited dialogue with Cuba right now on specific issues -- postal issues, migration issues.

QUESTION: These are small technical issues, though. This President –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand.

QUESTION: No, I believe that this President did campaign on engagement with one's enemies or countries that you don't have – that you don't agree with in order to find areas of – further areas of common interest.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we will pursue our national interest. We are willing to pursue engagement. There's no cookie-cutter approach to this. Our approach to Cuba doesn't necessarily have to mirror our approach to Iran, which doesn't necessarily have to mirror our approach to North Korea. We continue to review our policies with respect to Cuba. We have made, over the past 18 months, some changes to allow certain activities to expand. We continue to evaluate how to increase people-to-people contact between the American people and the Cuban people. But in terms of a broader, higher level dialogue, we've made clear we want to see fundamental changes occur in Cuba, and we will respond as those occur.

The Chilling and Retardant Effect of Fidel

Thursday, December 16, 2010
From a 2007 State Department cable revealed by Wikileaks:

7. (C) Comment: We are missing too many variables to be able to predict accurately how many more months Fidel Castro will live. Frankly, we don't believe anyone, including Castro himself, can state that with certainty. However, while he is still alive, even in a reduced capacity, his presence has a chilling and retardant effect on Cuban society. The high expectations for change are still out there, but are mostly associated with the idea that the dictator has to die first before anything substantial will happen.

Cuban Regime Officials Reject Rabbis

From Washington Jewish Week:

Petitions urge Gross' release

Rabbi David Shneyer, two petitions in hand urging Cuba to release a Jewish American prisoner, led a handful of congregants to the Cuban Interests Section on Friday, but was unable to drop off the petitions.

The reason: He didn't have an appointment.

The petitions -- one signed by about 200 people, most of them local; the other signed by about 40 members of Rabbis for Human Rights -- seek the release of Potomac resident Alan Gross.

Gross, 61, was arrested a year ago, with Cuba calling him a spy. Charges have never been filed. Both his family and the State Department say he was in the country on a U.S. Agency for International Development contract to help the Cuban Jewish community with Internet access to communicate with other Jewish communities.

Shneyer, rabbi of Kehila Chadasha and Am Kolel Jewish Renewal Center, where Gross is a member, said he had repeatedly sought a meeting with Carlos Barros Olivera, the Cuban Interests Section deputy chief of mission. It was to Barros that he hoped to deliver the petitions.

The local petition, addressed to the Cuban government, states: "We hope you will let Alan free as a humanitarian act, for the sake of his family and for the sake of creating good will between our peoples."

The petition signed by the rabbis -- including Charles Feinberg of Adas Israel in D.C., Alana Suskind of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg and Sid Schwarz of Rockville -- is directed to Cuban President Raul Castro. "The equipment he brought was intended for humanitarian purpose, not for the dissident community. Your government has not charged him with any crime," it says. "We urge you to release Alan Gross immediately."

A letter to Castro signed by Shneyer noted that Friday marked the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Rights. "The Cuban Revolution was a struggle for these basic human rights. Article 9 reads 'No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.' His captivity without charge for more than a year is both arbitrary and cruel," he wrote.

Shneyer had met with Barros in February, a meeting he said took several months to arrange. "At that time, he said there was an ongoing investigation," the rabbi said, adding he will continue his efforts to arrange a meeting and deliver the letters. He also said an online petition is in the works.

Cuba, Shneyer complained, "has never said officially what they want from the United States to release Alan."

A spokesperson for the interests section had no comment on Gross, saying the investigation is ongoing.