As Cash Flow Rises, So Does Repression

Saturday, September 4, 2010
By Stephen Johnson in Foreign Policy:

Cuba: No lifeline to a dying regime

When in a bind, Cuba's Castro brothers sometimes ease their repressive grip on the island's population.
Case in point: during the current economic crunch, President Raúl Castro has released some two dozen political prisoners, revived a lapsed self-employment experiment, and allowed foreigners to lease land for 99 years. Impressive, except we've seen this movie before.

And to remove any doubt about its meaning, President Raúl Castro reportedly told his National Assembly that it does not signal a change in the 50-year-old anti-American police state. Which is why the United States should not significantly alter its equally long-lived trade embargo. The tougher it gets for the regime, the more likely that a few small freedoms will last longer -- hopefully until the two brothers go to the great commune in the sky.

It may be useful to remember that the harshest periods of the brothers' rule were when their coffers were flush and the revolution was strong. That's when the Soviet Union supported it with subsidies worth up to $6 billion a year as a regional arms trafficking and subversion hub. During that time, the regime reportedly held as many as 60,000 political prisoners, according to some estimates.

Yet in 1980, when outside help wasn't enough to pay the bills and thousands of Cubans took to the streets, then-president Fidel Castro allowed nearly 125,000 citizens -- some from prisons and mental hospitals -- a one-time good deal to flee to the United States. It was either appear magnanimous or lose control.

After subsidies dried up with the Soviet collapse in 1991, he licensed some 200,000 workers to earn their livings as cuentapropistas, self-employed street vendors and taxi drivers. At the end of the decade, when the economy had adjusted and Venezuela started providing subsidized oil, many permits were not renewed.

During the same period, the Cuban government began inviting foreign businesses to engage in joint ventures with state enterprises. In 1999, a project with a Canadian firm to refurbish a Soviet-built power plant seemed on track until the regime arbitrarily terminated the partnership and used the company's proprietary plans to shop for new partners, sinking a $9 million investment.

Now facing a cash crunch on the heels of a disastrous sugar harvest, brother Raúl is consulting Fidel's old playbook -- releasing jailed dissidents, ramping up self-employment, and making nice to foreign businesses, which, by the way, must abide by Cuban policies of denying workers' rights, in violation of International Labor Organization conventions. Meaningful reform? You be the judge.

Last year, President Obama rolled back Bush-era restrictions on family-member travel and remittance payments, and promised to allow U.S. companies to provide cell phone and satellite telecommunications services. Now he is about to encourage visits by academics and artists in a return to Clinton-era policies of purposeful engagement. Such measures might foster more people-to-people contact, but he should be careful about going much further.

The more radical 2010 Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), reported out of the House Agriculture Committee on June 30, would streamline financial transactions with Cuban banks to speed U.S. farm exports and lift the U.S. ban on tourist travel to the island. While enhancing sales is a good thing, a horde of American vacationers now could revive the army-run tourist industry and kill the current cuentapropista revival.

Tempting as it may be to view Cuba's tactical retreats as reforms, they are stopgaps. However, for as long they last, they provide certain benefits to ordinary Cubans. In that sense, the Obama administration and Congress would do well to stay the current course and abide by principled policies designed to pry open access to individual freedoms for Cubans wherever possible. To tweak U.S.-Cuba policy and perhaps minimize the embargo's impact on American businesses, U.S. policymakers could:

Link seeming concessions to more positive behavior.

- As U.S. officials urge Raúl to release all prisoners of conscience, they could caution against booting them out of their own country.

- Take advantage of resurging self-employment. Business information and news of micro-financing opportunities on U.S. official broadcasting to the island might fuel popular expectations of further liberalization.

- Facilitate free expression by easing more U.S. restrictions on cell phone and equipment sales, and service agreements consistent with broader U.S. technology transfer limits. Wider ownership of laptops, mobile phones, and other consumer electronics (now legal in Cuba) can further complicate the regime's ability to control communication.

- Consolidate America's position as a key goods supplier to the island. President Obama could urge Congress to expand the list of what can be exported under the embargo's cash and carry sales rules that now contemplate food, clothing, and medicine.

To sustain leverage over Cuba's government on the cusp of transition, the United States should continue to:

- Deny financial support and credit until Cuba releases its captive labor force and pays creditors, and

- Condition normal diplomatic and economic relations on respect for human rights and civil liberties such as freedom of expression, of assembly, movement, and access to due process of law.

Since they came to power in 1959, the Castro brothers' goal has been the survival of their socialist dream. Adaptability has been the key to success, retreating at critical junctures without altering the regime's basic structure. Such measures often looked like signs of change because we wanted to see them as such. On close inspection, they were skillful maneuvers to get through a crisis.

A number of congressmen and business groups are now saying that Raúl is sending friendly signals to Washington like crazy. Perhaps. But it would be crazy for us to believe he would admit that a life spent building a repressive police state was just a mistake. Rather, we would be better off dealing with new leaders willing to take Raúl's retreats to the next level by guaranteeing human rights and civil liberties, respecting ordinary citizens' right to choose their leaders, and allowing a market economy to flourish.

Raul's Red Window-Dressing

Friday, September 3, 2010
As in blood-stained, that is.

By Thor Halvorssen in The Huffington Post:

Scourge of the Castros: Cuba's Courageous Ladies

This coming Sunday a group of women, dressed in white and holding flowers, will walk quietly down the Quinta Avenida -- Fifth Avenue. They have done this every Sunday for the past seven years. Even during inclement weather and hurricane season, these unlikely demonstrators march, advocating for the release of innocent men held in Cuban government prisons. The Ladies in White, or "Las Damas de Blanco," is a group of wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers of political prisoners arrested in Cuba's "Black Spring," a government crackdown on dissent that took place March 18-20, 2003. Seventy-five independent journalists, librarians, and democracy and human rights activists were arrested and sentenced -- some to as many as 28 years in prison.

Last month, the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuba announced that it had brokered a deal with the Cuban government and some of the prisoners would be freed. At the time, 52 Black Spring prisoners remained in jail and were to be freed over the course of the coming months. Their release is a concession to unprecedented pressure on the Cuban government following a flurry of public relations disasters: first, the death of hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo; then the ensuing hunger strike of Guillermo Fariñas; and lastly the globally-publicized attacks on dissenters including world-renowned blogger Yoani Sánchez.

But their liberation is unquestionably a result of the non-violent action of the Ladies in White. Their peaceful protest has garnered worldwide attention and exposed the cruelty behind Cuba's carefully crafted international facade. "The whole world is awakening and removing its blindfold with regards to Cuba," says Laura Pollán who leads them. Pollán is resolute in how critical things are at this moment in Cuba and she emphasizes how important it is that nobody looks away.

In a documentary short filmed recently in Havana and released today by the Human Rights Foundation, the Ladies in White state that they will march, every single Sunday, until all of the Black Spring prisoners are free. "We will never give up," says Pollán.

The slow trickle of prisoners being released, however, is not a pardon, and is by no means, unconditional. Of the 26 prisoners freed since July, all have been banished to Spain, and one prisoner was exiled to the United States to receive medical treatment.

Although release from Cuba's notorious prisons is cause for celebration, especially for these innocent men and their families, it is not a sign that things are improving in Cuba. It is only the next act in the regime's cyclical and opportunistic show, by which every few years the dictatorial regime releases a few high-profile political prisoners in return for favorable editorials in the foreign media and praise from nostalgic "revolutionaries" around the world.

Under Cuban law, writing anything critical of the government is a punishable offense. In some cases it takes less than that: many are locked away under an Orwellian criminal code, for their "potential" to commit a crime. The Black Spring survivors may be leaving Cuba, but as the totalitarian legal system remains unchanged, their prison cells can surely be used tomorrow by a new crop of innocent individuals -- without trial and without ever having committed a crime.

The Black Spring prisoners are still criminals in the eyes of the Cuban government -- criticism of the Castro regime remains an unforgivable, treasonous offense. Their exile does not exonerate them, and were they given the chance to remain in Cuba, they would continue to be harassed and face further persecution from the government and its supporters.

At least 5 of the prisoners have refused exile from Cuba. They will accept nothing less than an unconditional release. They are willing to sacrifice their freedom and remain imprisoned to draw attention to the dire human rights situation there.

Just as the Ladies in White are an inspiring reminder of the peaceful struggle of dissidents in Cuba -- and the gains that can be made from persistence and audacity -- so, too, should the world be as equally determined to pressure Cuba toward a real transition to democracy, and respect for human rights. To achieve this requires far more than freeing space in Castro's gulag to make room for other innocent individuals.

The freedom granted to those who should have never had it robbed from them is a welcome step. But the heart of the problem remains: the Castro brothers' tyranny is no different and international actors mustn't be fooled into believing that Raúl is any less of a despot than Fidel. He has inherited his brother's house of tyranny, and has changed nothing but the window dressing. And the curtains aren't white. They're red.

Thor Halvorssen is President if the New York-based Human Rights Foundation and founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum.

More Dissidents Arrested Than Released

During the month of August, the Castro regime arrested more dissidents than it released (or more precisely, banished to Spain).

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), last month there were 71 documented police raids on dissidents, which resulted in 184 arrests.

Of these, eight dissidents appear to be facing long prison terms -- five in the eastern city of Baracoa and three in Havana.

Meanwhile, only six political prisoners were banished to Spain by the Castro regime -- and none released in Cuba.

Yet somehow, only the six banishments seem to get general media attention.


From The White House

Presidential Memorandum-Continuation of Authorities Under the Trading With the Enemy Act

Under section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223 (91 Stat. 1625; 50 U.S.C. App. 5(b) note), and a previous determination on September 11, 2009 (74 FR 47431, September 16, 2009), the exercise of certain authorities under the Trading With the Enemy Act is scheduled to terminate on September 14, 2010.

I hereby determine that the continuation for 1 year of the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba is in the national interest of the United States.

Therefore, consistent with the authority vested in me by section 101(b) of Public Law 95-223, I continue for 1 year, until September 14, 2011, the exercise of those authorities with respect to Cuba, as implemented by the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515.

The Secretary of the Treasury is authorized and directed to publish this determination in the Federal Register.


The Ghost of Reinaldo Arenas

Thursday, September 2, 2010
With news of a complaint being filed by a prominent gay rights group against Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, please watch the following short video segment of the documentary "Extravagant Beings."

It highlights the life of Cuban poet and playwright Reinaldo Arenas, who famously stated:

"I'm a person here called dissident. In all senses because I'm not religious, I'm a homosexual and - at the same time - I'm anti-Castro. This means that I have all the conditions to never have a book published and to live at the margin of any society anywhere in the world."

Note the absolute disdain by Fidel Castro in his speech regarding Cuba's gay community.

Cuba Visitors Wear Horse Blinders

By columnist and journalism professor Miguel Pérez:

Whenever fellow Americans tell me, "I just came back from Cuba" or "I'm planning a vacation in Cuba soon," they obviously think they are paying me some kind of compliment. Because I was born on that precious Caribbean island, they think such statements would lead to some sort of bonding. They don't know it makes me lose respect for them.

"Oh, really?" I usually reply, straining to be polite.

As they proceed to tell me about all the places they visited and the people they met, I usually am thinking about all the places they weren't allowed to see and all the people they were not allowed to meet.

Cuba's dungeons for political prisoners and chats with constantly harassed Cuban dissidents surely were not on their tourist itineraries.

People who try to talk to me about their visits to Cuba usually fall into three categories: Latino Americans who travel to Cuba by way of their own native homelands, Americans who go there (mostly illegally) through a third country or Cuban-Americans who visit their homeland more often than ever, thanks to an Obama administration relaxation of travel restrictions last year.

Obviously, I'm not impressed by their tours of my native homeland, because I know it required wearing moral horse blinders.

In my book, only Cuban-Americans who go home for emergency visits to sick or dying relatives are justified in going back there. All others are helping to subsidize one of the oldest repressive dictatorships in history.

When I go beyond asking my diplomatic question — "Oh, really?" — just to be clear, I tell my Cuba-visiting friends that there is no place I rather would see but that I rather would hold out until the island is free.

I tell my non-Cuban friends that I probably have much better reasons for wanting to go there. But sarcastically, I also explain that I've managed to resist the temptation because I suffer from an illness called "principles" and that traveling to my country under the hideous regime from which I fled is bad for my health. Until Cuba is truly free, I'm not going to be traveling with them.

Non-Cubans who visit my country are generally either U.S. liberals who go on their revolutionary vacations because they think it's simply "a cool thing to do" or unscrupulous entrepreneurs, who tend to be Christian conservatives but would cut deals with Lucifer himself. When these leftists and capitalists are there — drinking mojitos, dancing to Cuban salsa and making strange bedfellows — they have no time to worry about the hardships of the Cuban people.

Perhaps their insensitivity can be blamed on ignorance. You really don't know what it's like to live under a communist tyranny until you have experienced it for longer than a couple of weeks, outside of a beach resort, enduring the choking grip of an iron fist.

But Cuban-Americans who go home for vacation should know better! They usually claim they go there to help their relatives, but they know that by subsidizing the regime, they are prolonging the suffering of all Cubans.

Most Cubans in the United States were granted U.S. political asylum because they claimed they had a "well-founded fear of persecution" upon returning to their homeland. Unless they already have become American citizens, I say that if they go back — proving they no longer have that fear — they should have their political asylum revoked and be forced to stay in Cuba. And if they have become naturalized Americans, they should be forced to abide by the same travel restrictions imposed on all Americans, who are mostly forbidden from traveling to Cuba.

Unfortunately, at least some of those restrictions are reportedly close to being loosened by the Obama administration, which seems ready to open a floodgate of horse blinder-wearing Americans traveling to my still-subjugated homeland. Some of them are so naive that they actually believe that American tourists are going to liberate the Cuban people from the government's repression machine, when in fact they will be providing a lifesaving cash transfusion to a dying regime.

Tourists from all over the world have been going to Cuba for many years without putting a dent on the repression machine. What makes anyone think that Americans could do better?

Although Obama's move would be limited — easing travel restrictions only for academics, corporations, humanitarian groups and athletic teams to travel to Cuba — it would send a clear signal to Congress to begin lifting the U.S. economic embargo against the communist regime in Havana. And in Congress, there are many lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — who have been waiting for such a signal from the White House.

But why such a dramatic shift in U.S.-Cuba policy? What have Fidel and Raul Castro done to show they are willing to ease their repression? It couldn't be because they recently agreed to release 52 prisoners of conscience — not when the whole world knows that it took the hunger strike death of one such prisoner, not when some of the released prisoners look like the survivors of Nazi concentration camps, not when it took international condemnation and many defiant and courageous marches by the prisoners' wives, mothers and daughters, not when everyone has seen how these women have been verbally and physically abused.

Doesn't it matter that Cuba's only "concession" illustrates just how vicious the Castro regime can be?

Apparently not if you are wearing horse blinders! And unfortunately, the Obama administration is getting ready to issue them to Cuba-bound travelers.

Oh, yes, there was one time when my "Oh, really?" reply didn't suffice.

"I just came back from a great vacation in Cuba," a former friend told me at a cocktail party, where the beverages had made me much more honest than normal.

"Oh, really?" I told her. "Shame on you!"

Spain Cozies Up to Castro

From The Hudson Institute:

Spain Cozies Up To Cuba

But "Are They Emptying Cuban Prisons Just to Fill Them Again?"

Six Cuban political prisoners arrived in Spain in August, joining 20 others who came to the country in July after being released from prison by the dictatorship of Cuban President Raúl Castro. They form part of a July 7 deal struck between communist Cuba and the Roman Catholic Church, brokered by the Socialist government in Spain, in which the Castro regime agreed to free 52 of 75 dissidents sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years.

Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero hopes the prisoner releases will help him to achieve a long-term political goal: to persuade other European Union countries to relax sanctions on Cuba. The EU's Common Position on Cuba, which dates back to 1996, links any improvement in relations to progress on democracy and human rights.

Cuban dissidents, however, say that even after the release of the 52, another 115 political prisoners will still be languishing behind bars in Cuba. One of the released prisoners, Regis Iglesias, told reporters in Madrid that by agreeing to release the dissidents, Havana is merely seeking to "clean up its image." He said Cuba will only change when there is "a transparent process of dialogue involving all the Cuban people, all ideological trends, both within the island and outside."

Immediately upon their arrival at the airport in Madrid, the former prisoners accused the Castro regime of using the release of the dissidents to hide the "criminal repression" of its opponents. They also issued a petition asking the EU to maintain its sanctions.

In a statement, the dissidents declared: "We, the Cuban prisoners of conscience exiled to Spain in recent days, aware of the manifest willingness of some European countries to modify the EU's 'Common Position' regarding Cuba, declare our disagreement with an approval of this measure, as we understand that the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of our country. Our departure for Spain must not be considered a good-will gesture, but a desperate action on the regime's part in its urgent quest for credits of every type. It is for that reason that we ask the countries of the European Union not to again soften their exigencies intended to achieve changes toward democracy in Cuba and to secure for all Cubans the same rights that European citizens enjoy."

The declaration has angered the Zapatero government, which rejects the idea that dictators should be isolated and views the normalization of EU relations with Cuba as a key foreign policy priority. After meeting Castro in Havana in July, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos proclaimed the opening of "a new phase in Cuba" and insisted that "there is no longer any reason to maintain the [EU's] Common Position" on Cuba.

But efforts by the Zapatero government to de-link political dialogue with Cuba from the issue of human rights on the island have failed due to strong resistance from other EU members — notably former communist countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, which insist that the EU should not fully normalize its ties with Cuba until civil and political freedoms are granted to all citizens.

Click here to read more.

Gays Take Castro to International Court

The Brazilian gay rights NGO, Grupo Gay da Bahía (GGB), is filing a complaint at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague against Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for "crimes against humanity."

In this case, for crimes against Cuba's homosexual community.

According to the GGB, which is considered the oldest gay rights NGO in Latin America, Castro is responsible for the "demoralization, persecution, imprisonment in forced labor concentration camps, torture, banishment, and death of thousands of gays, transvestites and lesbians."

As part of its complaint, the GGB will hold a conference in Salvador da Bahia during March 2011 that will feature pictures and testimonies evidencing the Castro regime's homophobia.

No wonder Castro is quickly trying to message ahead of this.

Non-Government Regulated Church Leader Arrested

Here's what happens to Church leaders that refuse to be officially regulated by the Castro regime. 
Needless to say, this is not something that Cardinal Jaime Ortega and the Cuban Catholic Church need to worry about.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

Cuban church leader arrested on questionable charges

A respected church leader in Cuba was unexpectedly arrested on Monday and taken to a town in Central Cuba where he is expected to stand trial. CSW believes the charges of "offensive behaviour" and "threats" against Reverend Roberto Rodriguez to be false.

Those close to Reverend Rodriguez, who is in his late 60s and in poor health, say he became a government target after the organization he led publicly withdrew from a government sanctioned religious umbrella group in the second half of 2008, and that the criminal charges against him are an attempt to discredit and silence him. His arrest was so sudden that Reverend Rodriguez was unable to take important medication with him. It is feared that without it, his health will continue to deteriorate.

According to his family, state security officials arrived at the home without warning on 30 August and forced Reverend Rodriguez to go with them. The family understands that he will be taken to the town of Placetas where he will be put on trial sometime over the next few days. Prosecutors are asking that he be given a one-year prison sentence.

Charges were first brought against Reverend Rodriguez in late 2008 and he was given three trial dates over the course of 2009 but no trial ever took place. He and his family were forced to move after being subjected to constant verbal and physical abuse from their neighbours, apparently acting with the support of the government. He has spent the last 21 months under house arrest.

CSW is calling on the Cuban authorities to release Reverend Rodriguez immediately and drop all charges against him.

CSW's National Director Stuart Windsor said, "The treatment of Reverend Rodriguez and his family over the past 21 months has been disgraceful. The European Union will be looking at the human rights situation and reviewing its Common Position on Cuba this month. While some heralded the release of some Cuban prisoners of conscience this summer as an improvement in the human rights situation, the arrest of Reverend Rodriguez this week demonstrates that the Cuban government is not interested in real human rights reform. We call on the EU to make urgent representations on behalf of Reverend Rodriguez to the Cuban government."

No Travel to 'Terrorist' Countries

Wednesday, September 1, 2010
According to The Christian Science Monitor:

No travel to 'terrorist' countries for Florida state universities: court

A challenge to a 2006 law banning state university-funded travel to countries the US deems sponsors of terrorism was struck down Tuesday. Florida-based international scholars say the decision will disrupt studies.

Florida-based international scholars are reacting with disappointment to a federal appeals court ruling that reinstates a ban on state university funding for travel to "terrorist" countries, including Cuba.

The decision greatly complicates the funding of a range of Florida-based research projects focusing on Cuba and other countries. Analysts say it could undercut existing research efforts, encourage top scholars to leave Florida, and deter others from studying or working at the state's public universities.

A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a 2006 state law does not conflict with federal statutes and can be fully implemented.

Under Florida's Travel Act, no money that flows through a state university – including grants from private foundations – may be used to organize, direct, or coordinate any activities involving travel to a terrorist state.

The state law defines "terrorist state" as any country designated by the US State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. Four countries are currently on the list: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

How About Reconciling With Hitler's Germany?

In today's Roll Call, retired Brig. Gen. John Adams and David Jones, a former fundraiser for Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York and now lobbyist for Vigilant Worldwide -- whose clients seek to do business with Cuba's dictatorship -- argue in favor of unilaterally lifting sanctions towards the Castro regime.

However, they do so by making the following odd analogy:

U.S. reconciliation with Germany took about a decade after that terrible war introduced words such as "genocide" and "Holocaust" into the global vocabulary and claimed the lives of more than 400,000 U.S. military personnel.

By helping Germany transition from occupation to sovereignty, we kept the peace in Europe and established a beachhead against expansionary communism that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and reunification of the two Germanys just one year later.

U.S. reconciliation with Vietnam took 20 years after Americans were stunned by news footage of men and women clinging to helicopters making their flight to freedom from rooftops in Saigon. In an act of political foresight, President Bill Clinton, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) skillfully navigated the emotional wreckage left by that war and its 58,000-plus U.S. casualties and restored diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995.

This not only produced an invaluable economic and diplomatic presence for our nation in Southeast Asia, but enabled Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to visit Hanoi in July to commemorate the 15th anniversary of normalization and to express our concern about the human rights record of our former adversary on its own soil.

If we can reconcile with Germany and Vietnam, why not with our neighbor Cuba?

Let's help them put their concern to rest.

Undoubtedly, the U.S. should (and will) quickly reconcile with a post-Castro democratic Cuba, as it did with a post-Hitler democratic Germany.

However, they should ask themselves the inverse question:

Should the U.S. have reconciled with Hitler's Germany?

Of course not.

As for Vietnam, despite Secretary Clinton's commendable remarks regarding that regime's human rights atrocities, our policy of unfettered business ties has done nothing to improve the plight of Vietnam's courageous pro-democracy movement -- to the contrary, it has helped condemn it to secondary obscurity.

We believe our Cuban neighbors deserve better.

The Facts on Cuba Travel

By U.S. Senator George Lemieux of Florida in The Sun-Sentinel:

U.S. tourist dollars would only tighten Cuba's grip on power

The recent Sun Sentinel editorial, "Lifting ban on travel to Cuba best way to push democratic ideals," fails to consider the most important facts regarding U.S. Cuba policy.

First, tourism travel to Cuba represents the Castro regime's foremost source of income — akin to the energy industry being Iran's foremost source of income and thus the main target of sanctions. Few would disagree that Canadian and European tourists have financed the existence of the Castro regime, and therefore their repression of the Cuban people. For the United States to create a tourism bonanza for the regime at this time would provide the dictatorship an economic lifeline.

Second, to argue that U.S. tourists are going to stir the winds of political and economic change by spreading democratic ideals is unrealistic and insensitive. What could tourists do to surpass the efforts of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Guido Sigler Amaya and other courageous Cubans currently spending decades in prison for advocating democratic ideals?

What change could tourists inspire above that of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died this year after an 85-day hunger strike? What economic or political pressure will tourist dollars bring beyond the five pro-democracy activists who stood on the stairs of the University of Havana last week and demanded freedom for the Cuban people — three of whom are now facing lengthy prison terms? It seems the world could learn a great deal from the inspiring courage and resilience of Cuba's pro-democracy movement, not vice-versa.

Finally, to argue that allowing tourism to Cuba would prevent the Castro regime from "cherry-picking" for travel only "those who are neutral and harbor sympathies towards the regime" is completely misguided. What the Castro regime wants are apolitical and uninformed tourists they can contain in isolated, all-inclusive resorts. Such "easy income" would reduce the regime's reliance on, and likely the frequency of, humanitarian travelers.

Cuba is not a tourist paradise. Behind the curtain of white sandy beaches are people held captive by a brutal regime. U.S. tourist dollars would only serve to tighten the regime's grip on power.

Rather than concede human rights and the rule of law, we should align with pro-democratic movements, instead of giving the Castros the fodder and means to crush them.

Stop the Ag Hype

The American Farm Bureau is constantly moaning and groaning about U.S. policy towards Cuba, claiming that it's an impediment to current agricultural sales to the Castro regime.

Thus, it's nice to hear U.S. producers -- without a political agenda -- tell the truth about the real impediment to current agricultural sales: the Castro regime's food monopoly, Alimport.

According to Kentucky's business periodical, The Lane Report:

LaGrange-based Northland Corp., which sells hardwood lumber, has pursued Cuban business without luck.

"I think there are some definite opportunities, but I tried pursuing some leads for a year and a half after the [2002] exhibition, and for whatever reason I wasn't able to get anything done," said Orn E. Gudmudsson Jr., Northland's export manager. "But that has more to do with the cumbersome process in Cuba than a lack of interest. Personally, I don't find the U.S. regulations that cumbersome. The complicated part is having to go through Alimport, which just adds another layer to the negotiations."

Roger Quarles, president of the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative in Lexington, participated in the 2002 Kentucky trade mission. Despite the hype, he said, it amounted to nothing.

The American Farm Bureau's desire to provide billions of dollars in tourism income to the Castro regime -- hoping it'll turn around and buy more U.S. ag products -- amounts to nothing more than a commercial experiment.

And if their hopes are dashed, they have nothing to lose.

However, for the Cuban people, such an experiment would come at a very repressive cost.

The Political Prisoner Reality

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
For those doing back-flips over the "announced release" of 52 political prisoners by the Castro regime -- of which 26 have been banished to Spain and 26 remain in prison -- please consider the following tragic reality:

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), there have been over 940 dissident arrests between January and July of this year alone.

Please note that these are only arrests that are known and compiled. Just imagine how many unknown arrests there must be.

Either way, that gives you a sense of how quickly the Castro regime can (and does) fill up its political prisons.

Furthermore, as Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez noted in a recent interview:

I find [the "announced release"] it very positive; however, it's not enough. While in Cuba there continues to be a system of surveillance and punishment for whoever expresses an opinion different from the State, at any moment there could return another Black Spring of 2003… or there could come a Gray Autumn of 2012 or a Dark Spring of 2014.

As long as the Cuban government doesn't say, "Here there is no punishment against freedom of opinion, people can associate in ecological or political groups, they can found parties, they can have platforms, and they can create publications (whenever they fulfill the norms of a national publication, such as declaring where its resources come from, etc.) – whenever they do that, they can have it."

As long as that is not done, we are all potential prisoners. This will be true as long as the government has in the penal code a criminal violation that it calls "illicit association" against enemy propaganda. There is a law that they apply against people who print and distribute something critical, different, contrary to the government. We are all in danger as long as there exists this penal code and the criminal decree of peligrosidad predelictiva (pre-criminal danger, whereby the government or its courts can determine that someone potentially in the future could commit a crime and they could be sent to prison for up to four years).

So, these releases should be followed by a process of guarantees. Well, they're already free, now, those who are in the street should know that they will never go to prison for reasons of opinion or for political motives. And these are the guarantees. The Cuban government has to ratify the human rights pacts that it has not ratified. As long as it doesn't ratify those pacts, there is no public commitment.

Are Castro's Banks Safe for Foreigners?

From Tracey Eaton's Along The Malecon blog:

Is a foreigner's money safe in a Cuban bank?

An Aug. 26 story in The Economist chronicles the fall of Max Marambio, a Chilean businessman now wanted for questioning in a fraud and bribery investigation in Cuba.

The Economist says the Cuban government's investigation of Marambio and his company Rio Zaza underscores Raul Castro's campaign against corruption.

I have no idea whether Marambio is a crook or not. But it seems that The Economist glossed over a key detail: Before there was any word of any investigation, the Cuban government froze some $30 million in revenue that Rio Zaza had in a Cuban bank.

Cuban authorities weren't just freezing the accounts of companies suspected of wrongdoing. They were preventing foreign companies from withdrawing their money from Cuban banks as a matter of routine because, as The Economist describes it, Cuban officials were "facing an acute shortage of foreign currency."

When Marambio complained, authorities began investigating him.

So what happened to the $30 million? My guess is that the Cuban government grabbed that. That's a theft that ought to be investigated.

I wonder how many other foreign companies operating in Cuba have lost their bank deposits for reasons that aren't entirely clear.

Now the Cuban government says it's changing the law, again, so that foreign companies may be able to develop golf courses, Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told reporters on Aug. 1.

But how can any foreigner be sure his money is safe in a Cuban bank?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Max Marambio was a long-time personal friend and business partner of the Castro brothers. His Cuba-based representative was found dead in a Havana apartment last April.

Our Man in Caracas

Monday, August 30, 2010
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Our Man in Caracas

Good news: Chávez doesn't like him.

Should Hugo Chávez be allowed to choose the next U.S. ambassador to Venezuela? He seems to think so, as he is protesting President Obama's nominee for the post.

Larry Palmer is a career diplomat with experience over two decades in the likes of the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador. In 2002 George W. Bush named him U.S. ambassador to Honduras.

The Senate is expected to confirm Mr. Palmer for Caracas after its summer recess, but some of his confirmation answers have riled the Venezuelan caudillo. Answering a dozen pointed questions from Richard Lugar of Indiana on human rights and the like, Mr. Palmer went way out on a limb and said U.S. policy should work to "bolster regional cooperation to support democracy and human rights."

He also suggested that José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, should use his office to do the same. He said time and events would determine whether "OAS member states decide to honor their commitments under the Charter and stand up in defense of democracy in Venezuela, or wherever it is threatened." This kind of thing infuriates Mr. Chávez, who has been trying to dominate the OAS and has rolled over Mr. Insulza like fresh asphalt.

Regarding the Venezuelan military, Mr. Palmer referred to its "clear ties" with guerrillas fighting the Colombian government, a decline in its professionalism due to politicization, and concern that "Cuba's influence within the Venezuelan military will grow."

That was all too much for Señor Chávez. "How do you think, Obama, that I am going to accept that gentleman as ambassador? It's impossible," he said on his TV program. "He ruled himself out, breaking all the rules of diplomacy, having a go at us, even the armed forces. Probably you will withdraw him, Obama. Don't insist, I'm asking you."

Sorry, Hugo. Mr. Palmer's answers merely reflect U.S. policy. Perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should break the news to Mr. Chávez that whoever draws the short straw at State and gets sent to Caracas will carry the same portfolio. She might add that the U.S. doesn't beg countries to accept its ambassadors. If the post stays vacant, so be it.

Castro Expands Apartheid System

Advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with Cuba regularly make the counter-intuitive argument that the Castro regime really doesn't want U.S. sanctions lifted.

Yet, for not wanting U.S. tourism and commerce, they sure are trying to lure it.

According to Reuters:

The cash-strapped Cuban government will allow foreign investors to use state-owned land for up to 99 years in a change that is likely to bring developments of luxury golf courses to the communist island.

The fact remains that the Castro regime absolutely wants sanctions lifted, and more importantly, the hard-currency it would provide.

So -- once again -- in its selfish ambition, the Castro regime is expanding the preferential rights of foreigners in Cuba, while continuously denying the Cuban people of any rights whatsoever.

In other words, the Castro regime is expanding its system of legal and economic discrimination against Cubans.

That's called apartheid.

But who cares? It's a bargain for foreign investors -- the Chamber must be thrilled.

After all, the regime provides a competitive advantage versus other tourists destinations in the Caribbean (and the U.S.'s Gulf Coast for that matter) thanks to a slave labor force of 11.5 million Cubans at its disposal.

Sarcasm aside -- what's just as insulting is that some media outlets have had the audacity to call this a "free-market" reform.

That's simply outrageous.

Eight New Dissident Arrests

Sunday, August 29, 2010
According to AFP:

Cuban dissidents have accused the government of rounding up more political prisoners -- even as Havana continued freeing dozens of detained activists in a deal reached last month with Catholic leaders and Spain.

Activists said on Sunday three of the newly detained dissidents were being held in Havana, and five others in Guantanamo, in eastern Cuba.

Opposition leaders said the detainees in the Cuban capital were Luis Labrador, Eduardo Perez and Michel Rodriguez, all of whom were arrested on August 16 during a protest at the University of Havana.

"They committed no crime, they were just exercising their rights of free speech and free assembly, but were arrested all the same," said Sarah Marta Fonseca, who was briefly detained at the same protest, but later released.

Meanwhile, Cuban dissident leader Elizardo Sanchez told AFP that five other dissidents were arrested on August 12 for attending a political meeting at a private home in Guantanamo.

Sanchez identified those detained as Francisco Manzanet, Roberto Gonzalez, Enyor Diaz, and two brothers, Ernesto Rodriguez Lobaina and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina.

The Church's Hypocrisy

Case and point made by Babalu Blog's Alberto de la Cruz:

To the Vatican, it seems that not all forced expulsions are alike.

When it comes to Cuban prisoners of conscience being forcibly expelled from the island, it is viewed as an act that promotes "social harmony."

However, when the French government expels gypsies who are in France illegally, it is a heinous violation of human rights that hearkens back to the days of the Nazi holocaust.

Another "Crazy" Coincidence?

Last month,

(AP) Fidel Castro returned to Cuban television Monday night, his first major appearance in years, as the aging, ailing revolutionary leader held forth on the dangers of possible nuclear confrontations in Iran and the Korean Peninsula.

This week,

(AFP) The North Korean ambassador to Cuba says his country will respond with nuclear weapons and engage in a "sacred war" if attacked, Cuban state media reported.

Kwon Sung Chol, quoted by the Prensa Latina government agency, spoke at an event late on Friday marking the 50 years of diplomatic relations between Cuba and North Korea.

Historically, the world's most notorious dictators became increasingly neurotic and ruthless during their twilight years, e.g. Mao's "Cultural Revolution" and Stalin's "Doctor's Plot."

Thus, Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro's "craziness" is worth keeping a close eye on -- whether as an international diversion for domestic repression or as a regional menace.