A Hard Trade-Off

Saturday, January 30, 2010
Cuba's Generation Y blogger Yoani Sanchez is truly one of our heroes.

We hold her in the highest esteem and wholly agree with her observations regarding Cuba's dictatorship. Nonetheless, we respectfully disagree with her views on U.S. policy.

The following is a thoughtful comment that was posted by a reader of the blog, Penultimos Dias, on the same issue:

I profoundly admire Yoani. I agree with most of what she has to say. And I sincerely hope the Cuban government lifts its embargo on the freedoms of ordinary Cubans.

That said, I think her proposal for unilateral concessions on the part of the U.S. is very risky.

The logic of interest politics in the U.S. suggests that once the embargo ends it will never come back.

What if Raul and his cronies use this opportunity to reform like Vietnam? You might see fast growth, rising standards of living and a postponement of the democracy question for another generation -- a hard trade-off.

Moreover, nobody will care about Yoani in this context, or the dissidents, or prisoners of conscience -- ugly inconveniences on the way to making money. Vietnam and China suggest this.

Yoani's key argument (or hope) is that the unilateral removal of sanctions will undercut the regime's arguments. That may well be true but besides the point when people are busy making money and no longer interested in democracy. Besides, I think it insults Cuban's intelligence to think they still believe the regime's propaganda.

So the key question is this: Will unilateral concessions bring about full democratic transition or a Vietnamese one? The answer is uncertain and open to argument, for sure, but we can begin by assigning probabilities. I put the probability of a Vietnam-like outcome at 50%. I base this on my cursory reading of the historical record.

I guess Yoani thinks the probability is much lower (10%?). I'd be very interested in knowing why she thinks this. On the basis of what arguments and evidence? Believe me, I want Yoani to be right.

The cost of being wrong, however, is very high. It may condemn Cubans to one more generation of "communist capitalism." Cubans might become consumerists like Americans -- with their Levis and iPhones -- but without American's political freedoms. Surely this would be the greatest travesty in the name of "Cuban sovereignty".

I believe Cubans should push -- peacefully -- for the whole cake, while the opportunity lasts. You have nothing to lose. To not do so now is a great risk.

P.S. In passing, there is absolutely no evidence that economic growth leads to democratization, e.g. Singapore, Saudi Arabia, etc. So don't pin your hopes on that either.

Young Venezuelans Demand Freedom

Friday, January 29, 2010
This week, Venezuelan students took to the streets to protest the repressive measures and dictatorial power grab by Hugo Chavez.

The sign below reads, "No More Violence. Chavez, Freedom is Not Negotiable."

This young woman, just attacked with tear gas, has "Libertad" ("Freedom") written on her arm.

Our thoughts and prayers are with these courageous young Venezuelans.

Lessons For 2010

A critical post in The Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry:

What Did President Obama Learn About Cuba in 2009?

President Barack Obama launched his Cuban policy with some carrots for Fidel Castro's regime. In April, he moved to lift many of the restrictions which hamper Cuban Americans from visiting and communicating with their families, and to cut through obstacles preventing private telecommunications and satellite radio and television companies from providing services to Cuba.

Only eight months after President Obama offered to lift the restrictions on private communications companies, the Cuban government arrested a 60-year-old social worker and contractor, Alan P. Gross, from the Washington-based firm Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), for assisting several Jewish community groups in gaining access to the Internet. Notably, DAI has been operating with a grant of $40 million in aid from the U.S. government intended for allocation in pro-democracy programs in Cuba. Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcón charged that Gross was acting at the behest of"American intelligence services" and "agents, torturers and spies that are contracted as part of the privatization of war."

What can President Obama learn from this harsh action? Perhaps he should recognize that the goal of the Castro regime is not improving relations with the United States, but is truly interested in staying in power. To keep its grip on power, the regime continues to restrict the Cuban people's access to the Internet and the outside world. While speaking on the topic of Google in China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Countries that restrict free access to information or violate the basic rights of Internet users risk walling themselves off from the progress of the next century … We cannot stand by while people are separated from the human family by walls of censorship."

President Obama and Congress would be wise to apply Secretary Clinton's strong statement on freedom in cyberspace to Cuba as well.

Is Cuba a Cyber-Attack Conduit?

Brahma Chellaney, a former Member of India's National Security Council, wrote an interesting article for the Project Syndicate entitled, "China's Cyber-Warriors."

Chellaney notes that:

"The state-sponsored transnational cyber threat is at two levels. The first is national, with the hackers largely interested in two objectives. One is to steal secrets and gain an asymmetrical advantage over another country. Cyber intrusion in peacetime allows the prowler to read the content and understand the relative importance of different computer networks so that it knows what to disable in a conflict situation. The other objective is commercial: to pilfer intellectual property.

The second level of cyber threat is against chosen individuals. The most common type of intrusion is an attempt to hack into e-mail accounts. The targets also can face Trojan-horse attacks by e-mail intended to breach their computers and allow the infiltrators to corrupt or transfer files remotely.

To be sure, if a cyber attack is camouflaged, it is not easy to identify the country from which it originated. Through the use of so-called 'false-flag espionage' and other methods, attacks can be routed through the computers of a third country. Just as some Chinese pharmaceutical firms exported to Africa spurious medicines with 'Made in India' labels – a fact admitted by the Chinese government – some Chinese hackers are known to have routed their cyber intrusion through computers in Russia, Iran, Cuba, and other countries."

Cuba is a totalitarian country with strict control over all cyber activity. Therefore, it's highly improbable that such attacks could take place from the island without the acquiescence of the Castro regime.

Plus it wouldn't be the first time that Cuba serves as a conduit to stifle dissent in other tyrannies.

In 2003, it was reported that the Castro regime began jamming U.S. government and private Persian-language TV and radio broadcasts into Iran at the behest of that country's brutal mullahs.

A disturbing pattern of cyber collusion.

Picture of the Week

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Patient Death Toll Climbs

Two weeks ago, we expressed concern regarding the death from hypothermia of 26 patients at Havana's Psychiatric Hospital, known as "La Mazorra."
We also highlighted the call by some pro-democracy leaders for the prosecution of Castro's Minister of Health for criminal negligence.
Yesterday, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) announced that the death toll at La Mazorra is apparently much higher.
CCDHRN spokesman Elizardo Sanchez Santacruz told Diario de Cuba that, "we estimate that the number of deaths due to hypothermia, malnutrition and criminal negligence is between 40 and 50."
Once again, the dictatorship has a problem with the truth.

Police Crackdown Caught on Tape

"The truth is on the march and nothing will stop it."

- Émile Zola, French novelist and author of the renowned newspaper headline J'Accuse, 1840-1902.

The following short clip exemplifies the repressive reality of daily life for Cuba's courageous pro-democracy advocates.

It shows approximately a dozen activists during a non-violent march demanding "Libertad" ("Freedom") and "Que Vivan los Derechos Humanos" ("Long Live Human Rights"). Almost immediately, a police operation was unleashed against this peaceful expression of dissent.

The person taping the demonstration -- and thereafter, crackdown -- was doing so from within a home with a barred porch. As such, the authorities couldn't enter the home in a timely manner, so they tried to prevent the filming of the violence by holding a sheet over the porch area.

P.S. This is far from Castro's beach resorts and designated tourist zones.

Quote of the Speech

"For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity."
- U.S. President Barack Obama, State of the Union, January 27th, 2010.

A Similar Script

According to Reuters:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez warned on Wednesday that he may quicken his drive to build a socialist state, as he shuffled his cabinet amid opposition demonstrations sparked by closure of a television station.

The leftist leader is already facing a tough start to 2010 with growing complaints over shortages of electricity and water and a sharp currency devaluation that could harm the chances of his supporters in congressional elections in September.

In a sign he may be preparing for a combative year, Chavez has responded to these challenges by designating a vice president known for radical views and pushing the opposition station RCTV off subscription TV networks.

The move against RCTV has sparked opposition protests this week during which two students have been killed.

And here's our favorite line:

"If you're going to head down the path of destabilization, I'm warning you it will yield the opposite result of what you're seeking -- that we may decide to speed up the changes," Chavez, who recently declared himself a Marxist, said in televised comments.

Chavez just "recently declared himself a Marxist"?

A shocking revelation.

So now that he "finally" decided to turn Venezuela into a Marxist dictatorship, it's simply a question of logistics -- timing and implementation.

Why is it that tyrants have such trouble with the truth?

The Cuban Catastophe

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
There's a great piece in The New York Post by its former editor and publisher, Kenneth Chandler, entitled "Cuba: Catastrophe in Waiting."

In it, Chandler correctly recognizes:

Everyone in Cuba knows the status quo can't last. But no one knows how or when it will end. The political structure, like Havana's crumbling buildings, seems to be held up by force of habit and little else.

Read more here.

Setting the Labor Record Straight

A delegation from the group "U.S. Labor for Friendship with Cuba," which included eight labor activists from the Metropolitan Washington Council as well as one each from Miami and St. Louis, was hosted on the island by the Castro regime from January 10-17.

"As workers and individuals, we can be part of a process that brings together people with open hearts. Our visit affirms that by opening lines of communication between people, while honestly and bravely addressing bilateral issues of both historic and contemporary relevance, we will find that we have far more in common than those things that divide us," the delegation said in a laudatory statement, which focused primarily on attacking U.S. policy, and was published by Castro's state media signed by Dena Briscoe (America Postal Workers Union), Carl Gentile and William Preston (American Federal Government Employees, 17).

Cuba's courageous independent labor leaders set the record straight,

City of Havana
January 21, 2010

Mrs. Dena Briscoe
Mr. Carl Gentile
Mr. William Preston

Dear Colleagues,

We were extremely surprised to read your statements published by the official newspaper Trabajadores on January 17, 2010, after completing your visit to Cuba.

We have no reason to trust what was published by the official Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) newspaper, but since we haven't seen any rebuttal from you, we have to assume you agree with it.

We, the signatories, representatives of the independent labor movement in Cuba, want nothing less than what the organized workers in the US have obtained: freedom of association, autonomy of labor organizations from any parties or government and the respect of human and worker rights.

To visit Cuba with an agenda prepared by the Communist Party and the official CTC, with the purpose of assessing the current situation of the people on the island, is like trying to learn about the living conditions of Cuban political prisoners by only interviewing the Director of Prisons under the Ministry of the Interior.

To be a victim of the old and worn subterfuge upon which all ills are caused by "imperialism" and that the gaps and lacks in education, nutrition and health care are due to the heinous intentions of exogenous forces is a naive blunder.

We would like not know if you had the opportunity of meeting with a farmer, a professional, or an artist, without the presence of a member of the official CTC.

On the other hand, have you asked yourselves how much "sacrifice" the Cuban people have been subjected to in order for the government to maintain propaganda instruments such as the School of Medicine, the Lazaro Peña trade union school, or the Nico Lopez College of the Communist Party, whose primary goals are ideological and political rather than cooperation with other nations as they claim?

We ask ourselves the following: What can the CTC have in common with the US labor movement? Would the US labor movement accept to be an extension of the government or political parties to discipline and repress workers? Would you accept it if Sweeney in the past or now Trumka were appointed by George W. Bush or Barack Obama? We are sure the answer is no.
To state that Cuba has successfully "eliminated hunger, unemployment and illiteracy" after only receiving information from the Cuban bureaucrats, borders on ignorance.

Haven't you asked yourselves why the dissident movement cannot develop? Why are workers who want to organize outside of the official structure imposed by the government being sent to prison, threatened and harassed –violating all conventions of the ILO? Why is there no right to strike? Why do independent unionists remain in prison? Why are artists being incarcerated? Do you think that all political prisoners and the almost 2 million Cubans living in exile are traitors or agents of imperialism? And one last question: Why didn't you try to meet with somebody outside of official circles?

Just as the truth of the United States is not seen from the White House, the Capitol and its surrounding areas, the truth about Cuba is not seen at the headquarters of the Communist Party, the CTC and all the propaganda showcase institutions you stated as having visited.

The truth is that the health care system is in shambles, the education is politicized and deficient, workers are subjected to appalling conditions and miserable wages. Whoever does not follow the guidelines of the party (including the CTC) cannot grow professionally or academically, individually or collectively.

It is true that the "embargo" makes economic trade, investments and the free flow of capital and US tourism difficult, but this is not the main cause for the problems we have in our country. The guilty parties are those inept leaders and their anti-democratic leadership methods. Is it them whom have imposed an economic system with deformed structures and an excess in centralization.

The embargo did not generate the lack of productivity and efficiency in our economy. Those responsible are the capricious old leaders who after 51 years in power continue blaming our powerful northern neighbor.

Cubans do not need guilty parties; we need solutions and radical changes.

We are sure that the majority of the delegation made the trip in good faith and this is why we would like to invite you to see the true Cuba, where we, the signatories of this letter, suffer and truly deserve the solidarity of the well respected and admired US labor movement.

We remain at your entire disposal,

Independent Federation of Cuban Workers
Carmelo Díaz Fernández
Minaldo Ramos Salgado

Independent National Labor Federation of Cuba
María Elena Mir Marrero
Emilio Jerez Oliver

Center for Labor and Trade Union Training
Víctor Manuel Domínguez García

Trade Union Press Agency
Reinaldo Cosano Alén

Castro Turns the Screws on U.S.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

How come when Hillary Clinton pronounced U.S. disapproval of Internet censorship last week she never mentioned Cuba? Probably because when you are negotiating a hostage release, you try not to aggravate the kidnapper.

Since December 4, Cuba has been holding Alan Gross, a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in a detention center on the island. Cuba has not charged him with any crime but alleges that he was working for American intelligence. The Miami Herald reported on January 14 that anonymous sources told the paper that Mr. Gross had been assisting "two or three Cuban Jewish groups obtain unfiltered access to the Internet."

The U.S. insists that Mr. Gross is not a spy but Cuba has made it clear that it intends to get something for his release. And sadly the Obama administration is signaling that it's ready to deal.

In a report published by Senator Richard Lugar last year, two congressional staffers who visited the island said that when asked what the U.S. could do to improve relations, Cuban officials "expressed concerns" about USAID democracy programs and TV and Radio Marti. Now sources in Washington say that in return for Mr. Gross's freedom, Havana is demanding that the USAID program be shut down. And an email leaked to me that was sent from USAID to its democracy-program contractors on the island suggests Washington may be in a mood to comply. The email asks the contractors whether they could run their democracy programs from the U.S. and cut out travel to the island.

There are plenty of good reasons to shut down USAID but meeting the extortionate demands of Cuba's dictator is not one of them. Repression on the island is said to be at a recent high but reportedly so is dissident activity. One dissident leader told a source here in the U.S. that the movement is stronger than it was even before the regime's March 2003 roundup of writers and political activists. Cuba's economy is on perilously shaky ground. Meanwhile, the government has been cracking down on Internet use. Mrs. Clinton should think twice about giving in to blackmail, as she apparently did when leaving Cuba out of public denunciations of Internet censorship.

History teaches that when the island is ripe for a revolt, the Castro brothers like to release the pressure by unleashing a refugee crisis, especially when facing a weak U.S. president. Think Mariel. If Mr. Obama signals Carteresque tendencies, Fidel Castro will not pass up the opportunity.

Quote of the Week

"So many things the Cuban government does is arbitrary. The Jews of Cuba are not a hotbed of dissent. If you wanted to foment a rebellion in Cuba, you wouldn't go to the synagogue. The whole story doesn't make sense. I don't see that it's so terrible to hook up a synagogue with computers. And why is it so terrible if people in Cuba have satellite phones?"

-- Rick Schwag, a Vermont humanitarian worker with experience in Cuba commenting on the arrest of an American by the Castro regime for helping the island's Jewish community gain access to information technology, Washington Jewish Week, January 20th, 2010.

As Hillary Spoke on Internet Freedom...

...the Castro regime punished two well-known Cuban writers for "inappropriate use of the Internet."

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled her
Internet Freedom Initiative.

Soon thereafter, Castro's cultural monopoly, the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), expelled writer Manuel Garcia Verdecia from its ranks and novelist Rafael Vilches Proenza from his job.

Garcia Verdecia was accused of "not acting in accordance to his functions" (as a regional Vice-President of the UNEAC) and of "no longer being trustworthy" to the regime.

Meanwhile, Vilches Proenza was "intercepted" by information security officials, who confiscated his flash drives and scoured through emails he'd exchanged with Cuban writers in exile -- what happened to "cultural exchange"?

A tragic irony, indeed.

Source: Diario de Cuba

Blind Opposition Leader in Peril

Monday, January 25, 2010
Cuban opposition leader Juan Carlos González Leiva, Executive Secretary of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs ("the Council"), has made an appeal for protection to the international community. An alarming wave of repression has taken place this week and several leaders of Cuba's pro-democracy movement have been beaten and arrested.

The Council is a coalition of over 500 human rights monitors representing approximately 70 groups, as well as political prisoners in 50 prisons (of over 250 believed to be in existence). It reports the most egregious violations against citizens and human rights advocates throughout Cuba.

On Wednesday, January 20th, the Castro regime attempted to forcibly transplant González Leiva, a blind lawyer, and his wife, independent journalist Tania Maceda, from Havana to the province of Ciego de Avila, claiming he is in the capital illegally. González Leiva and Maceda resisted, bunkered themselves inside their home and are relying on friends and supporters to bring them food. They vowed to continue working on the Council's 2009 Annual Report of human rights abuses.

In mid-2007, González Leiva had switched his residence to the Havana home of a blind friend, Sergio Díaz Larrastegui, in accordance with laws allowing those assisting the handicapped to live in their homes. Having endured imprisonment, beatings, threats, harassment and abuses by the government for years, González Leiva sought access to Internet from diplomatic missions, greater protection from international journalists stationed in the capital, and greater organizational capacity for the Council. By banishing González Leiva and Maceda to the far-away province, the regime seeks to ostracize them and prevent the Council's reports from being broadcast abroad. Council members throughout the island have been subject to constant harassment, threats, and detentions, their email accounts blocked and tape recorders confiscated.

For more information on the Council, please visit Cuba Archive's "Documenting Inside Cuba."

Castro Smears U.S. Relief Efforts in Haiti

The U.S. Government -- led by its multi-dimensional military -- has undertaken a massive emergency relief effort to provide support to the Haitian people pursuant to the tragic earthquake of January 12th.

Additionally, Americans have generously contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to non-profit efforts; mobilized local and state medical and rescue personnel; and opened their homes to Haitian children orphaned by this catastrophe.

And that's just the immediate relief effort, for the U.S. will be key to the reconstruction process. As Vice-President Joe Biden said, "We are there to rescue. We are there to secure. We will be there to provide. We will rebuild, and we will sustain."

So what does the Castro regime think of U.S. relief efforts in Haiti?

The following is the text of a communique that was distributed by the Cuban Embassy in a Latin American country to the foreign diplomatic corps there. It is believed that all Cuban Embassies in the region have done the same.

The original Spanish text (as received) can be seen below. Here's the translation:

"While it's still impossible to count the total number of deaths caused by the earthquake, the forces of occupation are repressing popular protests in Haiti with arms loaded with rubber bullets and tear gas bombs.

A Cuban television team has captured footage of U.S. troops, which have occupied the International Airport in Puerto Prince, attacking Haitians that were looking for work and a place food to survive.

U.S. soldiers, which control the International Airport in Puerto Prince, Haiti's main airport -- and therefore decide who can enter and leave the country -- are finally allowing the arrival of food with humanitarian aid, after receiving harsh critics for prioritizing military flights.

After the earthquake destroyed the control tower at the airport in Puerto Prince, U.S military personnel took control of its operations, and is therefore responsible for prioritizing the departures and arrivals amidst intense international air traffic, catapulting the tragedy.

The lack of coordination has caused supplies from different parts of the world to become accumulated there, and hundreds of people to flock there looking for work or food for themselves and their surviving relatives.

Due to the U.S. occupation of the the airport, the distribution of food, water and medical equipment was delayed last weekend.

France's Minister of Cooperation, Alain Joyandet, presented a formal protest to the U.S. Government at the Embassy in Paris. "We need to help Haiti, not occupy it," he condemned.

An air logistics expert with the World Food Organization (WFO) also complained that the priority of the U.S. military is to "bring security to the country." "Ours is to feed people. We need to synchronize those priorities," he stressed.

Benoit Leduc, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (DWB), said during a teleconference Monday from Haiti that three planes full of cargo and two planes transporting expatriated personnel from the non-governmental organization were not permitted to land.

Therefore, the five planes had to land in Santo Domingo, which delayed the aid distribution by 48 hours.

After that incident, the U.S. military acquiesced to prioritizing the landing of planes transporting humanitarian aid.

(With information from Cuban television and the IPS)."

Enough Is Enough

Sunday, January 24, 2010
In the upcoming edition of Newsweek, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, comes to the realization that the Iranian dictatorship is not a rational partner that can be dealt with through engagement and negotiations.

Haas sets the premise:

Enough Is Enough

Why we can no longer remain on the sidelines in the struggle for regime change in Iran.

Two schools of thought have traditionally competed to determine how America should approach the world. Realists believe we should care most about what states do beyond their borders—that influencing their foreign policy ought to be Washington's priority. Neoconservatives often contend the opposite: they argue that what matters most is the nature of other countries, what happens inside their borders. The neocons believe this both for moral reasons and because democracies (at least mature ones) treat their neighbors better than do authoritarian regimes.

Read his conclusions here.

A Point of Moral Equivalency

This week, the Galveston Daily News ran an editorial favoring the unconditional lifting of sanctions towards Castro's Cuba.

Its rationale is that it would benefit the economy of Galveston County, Texas.

Yet, unlike other publications, which simply rant about Cuban-Americans as "anti-Castro hard-liners," the Daily News was more thoughtful:

"The Florida congressional delegation has fought any move to lift the embargo. It's representing the wishes of many people who fled Cuba when Castro took over. Many of those refugees lost family members -- not just property. You can't blame them for their anger and their bitterness. And you can't blame the Florida delegation for representing constituents who suffered a devastating loss."

Granted, we prefer the descriptive "pro-democracy" and "pro-human rights" -- as opposed to "angry" and "bitter" -- but they were more sensitive than most.

And then, their rationale:

"But how about Texas' congressional delegation, which represents a lot of people who are suffering?

Is it really worth punishing Texans who are suffering economically by continuing an embargo that has failed to produce any meaningful results for almost 50 years?"

Far from being sanctimonious, there is surely a point of moral equivalency in favor of those who have lost their loved ones and are struggling against tyranny, versus a few speculators looking to profit from business with the Castro regime (*if they're lucky not to get swindled).

Or so we hope.

*Read the next post for more context.