The Vietnamese Yoani

Saturday, October 2, 2010
Ever heard of Vietnam's Pham Minh Hoang?

Probably not.


Yet, everyone's rightfully heard of Cuba's Yoani Sanchez.

And Iran's Hossein Derakhshan has been all over the news pursuant to his 19-year prison sentence for "propagating against the regime" (in other words, blogging). Note both are from sanctioned countries.

Maybe that's because we're too busy trading, hand-holding and boosting the economy of the Vietnamese regime to take notice of Pham Minh Hoang.


Does that mean conditioning the lifting of sanctions to a regime's treatment of its citizens results in greater scrutiny?

Something for well-intentioned sanctions opponents to ponder.

According to Reporters Without Borders:

Vietnamese blogger charged with trying to topple government

Reporters Without Borders is appalled that the Vietnamese authorities announced at a news conference yesterday that they are charging blogger Pham Minh Hoang with "activities aimed at overthrowing the government" (article 79 of the criminal code) and membership of a "terrorist organization" (the banned opposition party Viet Tan).

A mathematics teacher at the Ho Chi Minh City Polytechnic School, Hoang was arrested on 13 August. He studied in France for many years and has French as well as Vietnamese nationality.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the government's systematic use of conspiracy theory to silence dissidents and calls on France and the European Union to press for Hoang's release, in line with the French government's recent pledge to defend online free expression.

Police cited 30 articles which Hoang posted on his blog under the pseudonym of Phan Kien Quoc and which are available on the Viet Tan website. They also accused him of organising 40 students into a group for training as future Viet Tan members.

His wife, Le Thi Kieu Oanh, is also accused of being a party member but is not being prosecuted because they have a very young child. Oanh denies being a Viet Tan member and insists that the sole reason for her husband's arrests was his opposition to bauxite mining by a Chinese company in the central highlands.

Richardson (Finally) Tells the Truth

Friday, October 1, 2010
As we previously posted, The New York Times re-ignited the "Castro oil scare" this week.

Apparently, it's a mandatory drill (no pun intended) every two years.

However, it was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson -- a tireless advocate of normalizing relations with the Castro regime -- that revealed the truth behind this "timely" resurgence.

According to the Times:

New Mexico's governor, Bill Richardson, a Democrat who regularly visits Cuba, said Cuba's offshore drilling plans are a "potential inroad" for loosening the embargo. During a recent humanitarian trip to Cuba, he said, he bumped into a number of American drilling contractors — "all Republicans who could eventually convince the Congress to make the embargo flexible in this area of oil spills."

And there you have it.

The Boy Who Cried Oil Drilling, Pt. 2

The St. Petersburg Times gets this introduction absolutely right:

The talk has been going around for years. Cuba would soon allow drilling off its shores. Foreign companies would begin sinking offshore rigs there shortly. Florida's Keys would be at risk.

The drilling would start in 2008. No, it would be 2009. No, wait, it would be 2010.

Now, with this year's Deepwater Horizon disaster fading from headlines if not from the Gulf of Mexico, the talk about Cuban drilling is back. Stories in both the New York Times and the Miami Herald this week reported that a Spanish company will begin drilling new exploratory wells in Cuban waters just 50 miles from the Florida Keys in 2011.

This time, Cuba experts say, the talk is serious. The reason: Like everyone else these days, Cuba needs the money.

So Cuba didn't need money in 2008 or in 2004, when we first started hearing about the "Castro oil scare"?

Of course, it did.

Except they really, really, really mean it this time.

No, really.

Carrying the Oil Lobby's Water on Cuba

From The Columbia Journalism Review:

The Times Channels the Oil Lobby on Cuba

The top story in The New York Times yesterday carried a bit of water for the oil and gas lobby.

It's about how Cuba is thinking about opening up its waters for oil drilling and how that could affect the U.S. if there were a spill. That's a legit story, although it's an old one.

The Wall Street Journal wrote it three months ago and even then thought it worthy of just A5.

The Journal back then reported that "U.S. companies won't participate because of a longstanding trade embargo against Cuba." But Big Oil smells Havana crude. And that's the twist on the Times's story.

The paper somewhat credulously channels oil interests in reporting why U.S. drillers are worried about Cuban drilling:

The prospect of an accident is emboldening American drilling companies, backed by some critics of the embargo, to seek permission from the United States government to participate in Cuba's nascent industry, even if only to protect against an accident.

"This isn't about ideology. It's about oil spills," said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a trade group that is trying to broaden bilateral contacts to promote drilling safety. "Political attitudes have to change in order to protect the gulf."

Sure!

Fortunately, we do get this acknowledgment:

Any opening could provide a convenient wedge for big American oil companies that have quietly lobbied Congress for years to allow them to bid for oil and natural gas deposits in waters off Cuba. Representatives of Exxon Mobil and Valero Energy attended an energy conference on Cuba in Mexico City in 2006, where they met Cuban oil officials.

Basically its unclear why global oil corporations already going into Cuba won't have equipment as good as the Americans say they need. The spill angle is a bit of a red herring.

A better angle for this story might have been something like: American oil and gas companies, which currently can't start any new wells in the Gulf, are trying to scare people into letting them start new wells in the Gulf -- for Cuba.

The folly of the whole Cold War-relic embargo itself is another story.

CHC EDITOR: Nedless to say, we disagree with the last sentence, for it's thanks to U.S. sanctions that this entire issue is a red herring. However, we'll leave that for another day also, as the rest of the post is on-point.

Castro Lies About Reforms (Again)

By Professor Javier Corrales of Amherst College:

Cuba's Latest Reforms Won't Work

In early September Fidel Castro, former president of Cuba and now opinion-maker-in-chief, stunned the world twice by declaring, first, that the Cuban model "doesn't work for us" anymore, and second, by arguing a few days later that he didn't really mean what he said. While Fidel Castro seems confused, his brother Raúl, Cuba's official president, seems pretty clear about the issue. With the set of market-oriented reforms that he recently announced, Raúl Castro has essentially confirmed that Fidel's original statement was correct -- Cuba's current model needs overhaul. The key question is whether the announced reforms will save Cuba. The answer is no.

Raúl Castro's reforms are no doubt significant. Ten percent of public sector employees will be let go. Self-employment will be allowed in 178 activities. Private restaurants will be allowed to add more tables. Rental markets will be expanded. And for the first time ever, Cubans will be able to hire non-relatives, and Cubans living overseas will be allowed to take part in these new economic liberties. In total, the government expects to authorize 250,000 new businesses, tripling the size of the current self-employed private sector.

There is no question that Cuba needs reform. Cuba is the one country of the Americas that has had not one, not two, but six lost decades, experiencing a deterioration of living relative to its peers steadily since the mid 1950s. Something must change. However, the current reforms won't do the trick. This is not because the reforms are, economically speaking, too modest (they are), but because the most vital political factor that is required for market reforms to be effective is still missing -- societal trust in the state.

Cubans mistrust the state for a simple reason: every time the state opens the economy, sooner rather later, authorities unilaterally change their mind, decide to take those liberties away, and end up punishing those who tried to take advantage of the small breathing space that had been provided. This promise reversal has taken place four times under in the Revolution's history.

The first occurred two years after the triumph of the Revolution. Initially, Fidel promised to create a favorable climate for private investment. The first major law of the Revolution, the "Fundamental Law of Cuba" of February 7, 1959, even stated that "Confiscation of property is prohibited" (Art. 24) and recognized the "legitimacy of private property" (Art. 87). There was so much trust in the state that Bacardi, one of the largest Cuban-owned multinational ever, paid its 1959 taxes all at once. But in December 1961 Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist and launched the most aggressive confiscation drive ever in the Americas, collectivizing almost 70 percent of the total economy by 1962.

The second promise reversal was the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. Initially, small retailers were exempted from the nationalization drive of 1961-62. This made many Cubans feel that the revolution was supportive of economic rights for the little guys even if it punished the big capitalists. But in 1968, the state changed its mind again and proceeded to nationalize 55,636 small businesses (groceries, butcher shops, laundries, barber shops, boarding houses), essentially eliminating all non-agricultural retail still left in Cuba.

The next broken promise came in 1986 with the "rectification of errors" campaign. That year, a few markets that had been allowed to reopen earlier in the decade were suddenly shut down. This policy reversal was so severe that two scholars described it as "a return to totalitarianism," inexplicably at a time when economic totalitarianism was waning in the big communist powers of China and the USSR.

Finally, and most gravely, the unprecedented market reforms of 1993-94 (dollarization, opening to foreign investment, and legalization of self-employment) were also terminated -- more gradually but also equally decisively -- by the early 2000s. By then, most foreign direct investments failed to materialize due to unfavorable business conditions, possession of dollars was penalized again, and most self-employment activities were reregulated, or altogether banned, legally or extralegally.

Cuba thus has a history, as economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago always points out, of introducing modest economic openings, only to reverse them soon thereafter. The brief reforms allow the state to weather a momentary fiscal crisis. But when the fiscal crisis subsides, the state re-imposes draconian measures. This return to totalitarianism is something that all college-level Cubans have seen once; older Cubans have seen multiple times. It is the way that the Cuban state conducts business, or rather, chooses to interrupt business. The result is that Cubans have learned not to trust the state.

Without this trust, Castro's microeconomic reforms won't amount to much. No doubt, Cubans will try to take full advantage of the new openings--many will open new businesses, retool themselves to work in different trades, and borrow money from relatives abroad. This will bring some economic relief. But these will be baby steps. The much bigger steps that are required for market reforms to deliver transformative effects--firms making large investments in capital and technology, conducting research to develop new markets, borrowing long-term to pursue high returns projects--won't happen in Cuba. All these activities require citizens to think long term, which in turn requires citizens to have state institutions in which they can believe, such as property-defending courts, reliable and balanced legislatures, a legal system that is predictable and committed to protecting contracts, and a state that governs by negotiation rather than decree. These institutional conditions are absent in Cuba, and nobody believes that the current state will ever deliver them or guarantee their survival.

Analysts have begun to debate whether the current round of reforms goes too far or fails to go far enough. But focusing on the reforms alone misses the point. The key problem is that Cubans have a long history of being cheated by their state, and the current reforms do nothing to address this problem. Contrary to press accounts, the current reforms are not new. The Cuban state has made similar promises in the past, only to change its mind arbitrarily, abruptly, punitively, and always in a reactionary direction.

The Cuban state has been trying to bring revolution to Cuba's society since 1959. But what Cuba needs is no more revolutions at the level of society, but a revolution at the level of the state. The conditions that allow the state to act so arbitrarily and imperiously must end. This behavior has been the hallmark of the Cuban state since pre-Revolutionary times--arbitrariness expanded under the Fulgencio Batista regime (1952-1958) and became more pronounced under the Castros. The current reforms do nothing to strip the state of arbitrariness, and until that changes, it is hard to imagine that this round of reform will be more than another failed déjà vu.

Cuba Backs Ahmadinejad at U.N.

From The New York Sun:

Cuban Minister Hews Hard Line at United Nations, Contradicting Castro and Backing Ahmadinejad

On the eve of hearings in the United States Congress on whether to ease the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, Havana's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, has been taking a hard, even strident line here at the United Nations, very much at odds with the way Fidel Castro is trying to portray Cuba in the American press these days.

It has prompted old hands here at the United Nations to quote another, albeit different kind of, Marxist — Groucho, who famously asked: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

The Atlantic Magazine, the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York Times and others report that Cuba and the Castro brothers are mending their ways, decentralizing the economy, distancing themselves from world tyrants, and even finding kind words for Israel and the Jews.

Mr. Parrilla, however, was, in his address at the annual General Assembly debate, as rigid as ever, blaming America's aggression for all the isle's troubles, saying Israel is behind all that's wrong in the Middle East, and expressing solidarity with Venezuela's caudillo, Hugo Chavez.

"The Cuban revolution will unyieldingly and tenaciously continue down the path that has been sovereignly chosen by our people, and shall not cease in its endeavors, befitting the ideas of Marti and Fidel," the Cuban foreign minister told delegates at the opening debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday.

And no, for Cuba the holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the aggressor. "As Comrade Fidel has pointed out, powerful and influential forces in the United States and Israel are paving the way to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Mr. Parrilla warned, adding that the General Assembly must stop such a plot to commit a "crime against the Iranian people" and such "an assault against international law" in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Mr. Parrilla's entire speech was an old-style Cuban assault on America and Israel, harking back to the glorious days of the Cold War when the Castros drew as much attention at international fora like the U.N. as is now reserved for Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Chavez.

But wait a minute. Hasn't Fidel Castro mellowed with age? Isn't Cuba's new powerhouse, Raul Castro, turning the country and its sclerotic system around?

Didn't the older Castro tell the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg and the Council's Julia Sweig that the Cuban model no longer works (although he later recanted, saying that, though he'd been accurately quoted by Mr. Goldberg, he meant to say that thecapitalist system isn't working)?

Also in that Atlantic interview, Mr. Castro – who has championed Palestinian terrorists since the 1970s, when he also severed his country's relations with Israel – talked about the suffering of the Jewish people and stressed the uniqueness of anti-Semitism. He even berated Mr. Ahmadinejad about his holocaust denial.

President Peres was so impressed that, while in New York late last week, he wrote a thank-you letter to Castro, which was hand delivered to Cuba's ambassador to Turtle Bay. In it Mr. Peres congratulated Mr. Castro for the "intellectual depth" he displayed in Mr. Goldberg's interview.

Meanwhile, the New York Times issued on its front page a dispatch of Elisabeth Malkin detailing the younger Castro's plan to fire "more than half million" public sector employees – a step representing the "clearest sign yet that economic change is gathering pace" in Cuba.

Trouble is, the Times story, filed from Mexico City, showed scant evidence that any of the changes described in it were actually taking place beyond reports in Granma and other state-owned press outlets or official statements from state-sanctioned workers unions.

"These are things that they're constantly announcing that they're going to do," said the former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Castaneda. But the record in the last four years – since Fidel's ailment forced Raul to take over as president – shows that "none of it ever really happens," said Mr. Castaneda, a long-time Cuba watcher whom I have known for years because he is my cousin and who, in any event, has clashed with the Castro brothers on many occasions.

The elder Mr. Castro's interviews may seem like a repudication of much of his 50 years in power, but, as Mr. Parrilla's speech shows, they – and reports disseminated by the government's own propaganda organs – do not indicate any real change in Havana's ideology or policies.

They're mostly designed to end a situation in which, in Mr. Parrilla's words, "for all American citizens or foreigners residing in that country, traveling to Cuba continues to be illegal." Cuba is starved for an American cash infusion, which it hopes would save its economy from collapse. Mr. Parrilla said here that Washington hasn't revolutionized its policies under President Obama despite Havana's hopes.

The Boy Who Cried Oil Drilling

Thursday, September 30, 2010
According to Reuters in 2004:

Drilling of an exploratory well in Cuba's virgin Gulf of Mexico waters that could make the Communist nation an oil exporter and undermine the U.S. embargo has been completed, a senior official said.

Work on the well by Spain's Repsol YPF began in June and captured the attention of the industry and governments due to its potential economic and political consequences.

According to The New York Times in 2006:

In 1977, the United States and Cuba signed a treaty that evenly divided the Florida Strait to preserve each country's economic rights. They included access to vast underwater oil and gas fields on both sides of the line.

Now, with energy costs soaring, plans are under way to drill this year, but all on the Cuban side.

With only modest energy needs and no ability of its own to drill, Cuba has negotiated lease agreements with China and other energy-hungry countries to extract resources for themselves and for Cuba.

According to Time in 2008:

Despite the Bush Administration's hard line on Cuba, Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation to exempt Big Oil from the embargo. That clamor is sure to rise — especially if Barack Obama, who is more open to dialogue with Havana, becomes the next President — now that Cuba's state oil company, Cubapetroleo, or Cupet, has announced a stunning new estimate of more than 20 billion bbl. bubbling off its shores. "This is not a game," Cupet's exploration manager, Rafael Tenreyro, assured reporters in Havana last week.

And today, The New York Times recycled its 2006 story again:

Five months after the BP oil spill, a federal moratorium still prohibits new deepwater drilling in the American waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And under longstanding federal law, drilling is also banned near the coast of Florida.

Yet next year, a Spanish company will begin drilling new wells 50 miles from the Florida Keys — in Cuba's sovereign waters.

Meanwhile, despite years of hype, no one reports on the main (and obvious) obstacle to oil drilling in Cuba: U.S. sanctions.

Therefore, if you are concerned about oil drilling by the Castro regime or anyone else in Cuba, the solution is simple: stop whining and support U.S. sanctions.

Where's the Outrage?

Click on the image to enlarge.

Knowing How to Lose

Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Responding to a tirade in The Huffington Post about Cuban-American Members of Congress, political contributions and the cancellation of today's markup, Ernesto Hernandez Bustos of Penultimos Dias pointedly notes:

"Some people don't know how to lose. If the Cuban-American Members of Congress have succeeded, it's because they do their job well, which is to defend the interests of those that elected them. As regards economic support, why doesn't the analyst mention the business lobby that is in favor of lifting sanctions? Don't they make donations?"

We'd further note that the political contributions of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureaus and the multiple trade associations lobbying to unconditionally lift sanctions stymie those of the Cuban-American community.

And shamefully, that business lobby has only one interest in its tireless pursuit of lifting sanctions: to profit from repression.

Don't Believe the Hype

In its preview of the Congressional race in Florida's 25th District, Time gets the premise absolutely right:

One overhyped story in the 2008 election was the supposed rise of Miami's moderate Cuban-American voters. Early polls, demographic data and fundraising trends indicated the conservative Cuban politics that had long held sway in Miami's three southernmost congressional districts (the 18th, the 21st and the 25th) was on the outs -- and that Democrats might just pick one of them up. In the end, however, Barack Obama's coattails failed to reach the Magic City, and the best the Dems could do was Joe Garcia's six-point loss to incumbent GOP U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart in the 25th.

House Committee Punts Cuba Bill

From The Hill:

House panel delays action on Cuba bill

Lacking the votes necessary for passage, a House panel has postponed action on a bill that would lift travel restrictions to Cuba.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee had scheduled a Wednesday markup on Rep. Collin Peterson's (D-Minn.) measure, which was approved by Peterson's Agriculture panel earlier this year. But the markup on Tuesday was postponed.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has been trying to secure 24 votes on the 47-member panel to approve the bill, but an analysis by The Hill shows only 16 members have publicly committed to it.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently indicated that if Berman's panel approved the bill, it could be brought to the House floor either before or after the elections.

The bill's future is now uncertain.

Berman Cancels Tomorrow's Markup

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Statement of Chairman Howard L. Berman on H.R. 4645

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement regarding the markup of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act:

"For a very long time, I have either led or supported efforts to repeal restrictions on the freedom of Americans to travel. The current prohibition on Americans traveling to Cuba is the last obstacle to the full enjoyment of this right. I strongly support H.R.4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which would eliminate the Cuba travel restrictions.

The Committee had been scheduled to consider this legislation tomorrow, but it now appears that Wednesday will be the last day that Congress is in session before an extended district work period. That makes it increasingly likely that our discussion of the bill will be disrupted or cut short by votes or other activity on the House floor. Accordingly, I am postponing consideration of H.R. 4645 until a time when the Committee will be able to hold the robust and uninterrupted debate this important issue deserves. I firmly believe that when we debate and vote on the merits of this legislation, and I intend for it to be soon, the right to travel will be restored to all Americans."

Cuban Military Prepares for Berman's Bailout

While House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) prepares to markup legislation on tourism to Cuba, Castro's military prepares to reap the profits.

According to Reuters:

Military man to head Cuba's [Castro's] biggest company

President Raul Castro has put a military officer in charge of Cuba's largest commercial corporation as part of a drive to increase efficiency and reduce corruption in the country's major foreign exchange companies.

Colonel Hector Oroza Busutin arrived at the headquarters of the Cuban Export-Import Corporation (CIMEX) earlier this month, replacing its long-time President Eduardo Bencomo, according to various company employees.

"Since then, there have been a lot of military people running around here," one of them said, asking that her name not be used.

Since taking over the presidency from older brother Fidel Castro in 2008, Raul Castro has taken steps to boost Cuba's troubled state-run economy and weed out corruption.

He reportedly wants to brings some of the country's independent companies under government ministries and views consolidation, which has already begun, as the best path forward.

In many cases, he has entrusted the task to military officers, with whom he is said to feel more comfortable after almost five decades as Cuba's defense minister.

At least 10 military men hold positions in his cabinet or as deputy ministers and heads of key agencies.

Oroza Busutin moved to CIMEX from his position as No. 2 in the military-run Administrative Group of Businesses (GAE.SA), a holding company which also operates numerous foreign exchange businesses including the country's largest tourism corporation and real estate firm, a chain of warehouses and hundreds of retail outlets selling everything from groceries to domestic appliances.

Castro's son-in-law, Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez, is the chief executive of GAE.SA.

CIMEX's new deputy director, Ana Maria Oretega, held a similar position at the military's retail chain, TRD-Caribe, according to the company sources.

"I'm not surprised. It follows the trend under Raul," said a Western diplomat in Havana.

The appointment has not been announced despite CIMEX's relations with hundreds of foreign suppliers and significant role in Cuba's everyday life.

A Makeover in The Atlantic

Monday, September 27, 2010
By The Wall Street Journal's Mary O'Grady:

Weekend at Fidel's

Jeffrey Goldberg is not the first American journalist to cuddle up to Castro.

At most marine parks in the world the animals provide the entertainment. But at the Havana aquarium last month, Fidel Castro had a couple of humans eating out of his hand and clapping like trained seals.

I refer here to the Atlantic Monthly's Jeffrey Goldberg, who traveled recently to Cuba at Castro's invitation with his friend Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Goldberg has posted a two-part report from his lengthy conversations with the dictator online for the magazine. One part includes details of a day at the aquarium, where Mr. Goldberg, accompanied by Ms. Sweig, seems to have experienced more than one "thrill going up [his] leg" in the presence of Fidel.

The reporter "hope[s] to be publishing a more comprehensive article about the subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic." I'm guessing that anyone who actually knows something about Castro's Cuba is not the target audience.

Castro again has an urgent need to put a smiley face on his dictatorship. The economy is in dire straits. Food is scarce, electricity is a rarity, and soap and toilet paper are luxuries. Cuba produces almost nothing and this makes it difficult to get hard currency—aka real money—which in turn makes it tough to buy from abroad. Lending sources have dried up.

If the regime is to stay in power, it needs a new source of income to pay the secret police and keep the masses in rice. The best bet is the American tourist, last seen circa 1950 exploiting the locals, according to revolutionary lore, but now needed by the regime. It wants the U.S. travel ban lifted. To prevail, Castro needs to counteract rumors that he is a dictator. Solution: a makeover in The Atlantic. In Mr. Goldberg, he no doubt recognized the perfect candidate for the job.

Fidel's step one was to tell Mr. Goldberg that he is outraged by anti-Semitism. "I don't think that anyone has been slandered more than the Jews," the old man proclaims to his guests. And by the way, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should "stop picking on the Jews." When Mr. Goldberg asks whether Castro will tell the Iranian himself, Castro says, "I am saying this so you can communicate it." Translation: This should be the headline of your piece so that the American people will recognize my benevolence. Mr. Goldberg complied.

We are supposed to conclude that Cuba is no longer a threat to global stability and that Fidel is a reformed tyrant. But how believable is a guy whose revolution all but wiped out Cuba's tiny Jewish community of 15,000, and who spent the past 50 years supporting the terrorism of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Syria, Libya and Iran? And how does Castro explain Venezuela, where Cuban intelligence agents run things, Iran is an ally and anti-Semitism has been state policy in recent years? Mr. Goldberg doesn't go there with Fidel.

It also is passing strange that we hear nothing from Mr. Goldberg about poor Alan Gross. Mr. Gross, a U.S. government contractor and a Jew, has been languishing in a Cuban prison since December. His crime: distributing computers to a handful of Cuban Jews who want to establish contact with the diaspora. Is that any way to show love for the Jewish people?

It never seems to cross Mr. Goldberg's mind that he is being used in a manner Communists first learned at Lenin's knee. Or perhaps he is happy to be useful. In a follow-up post he explains that since Fidel is not as bad as Pol Pot, Cubans should stop complaining. And to demonstrate further how little he knows about the plight of the Cuban people, he says that the "release" of political prisoners "is currently being negotiated." Wrong. Some have been exiled; some others may receive conditional parole meaning that they can be returned to prison at any time if the regime disapproves of their activities.

Mr. Goldberg is peddling his Castro interviews as serious journalism. But while he was "curious" to get a "glimpse of the great man," he was ill-prepared for the job. Presumably he knew this, which is why he allowed Ms. Sweig to lead him around Havana by the nose.

This set him up for failure because Ms. Sweig—an academic with easy access to the island while critics are banned—is a trusted friend of the dictatorship. "Fidel greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years," Mr. Goldberg reports.

When Castro declares that the Cuban model no longer works, Mr. Goldberg turns to Ms. Sweig, as if there is something profound to be grasped. He is not saying "the ideas of the Revolution" have failed, she explains, but only that the state "has much too big a role" in the economy. Right, except that the state-owned economy is the idea of the revolution.

It is hardly surprising, then, that what we get from this interview is warmed-over Barbara Walters, another whose heart went pitter patter when she got close to the Cuban despot. This encounter also produced nothing of substance.

Don't Reward Atrocities

Sunday, September 26, 2010
From USA Today:

Don't reward atrocities

by Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Ninety miles off Florida's coast, an elusive island beckons. Cuba evokes an exotic bygone era for tourists and a potential market for American farmers. So it should surprise no one that there are calls to open our flights, markets and wallets to Cuba again.

Such appeals, however, mask the brutal truth: After 50 years of oppressive rule by Fidel and Raul Castro, Cuba maintains one of the most deplorable human rights records in the modern world.

Openly hostile to the United States, the Castro regime continues to inflict substantial domestic political and economic oppression. The Cuban people suffer without the most basic human rights, and the government imprisons students, journalists and anyone who speaks against the regime. For example, American Alan Gross has languished in a Cuban cell since December without access to medical care, for his "crime" of distributing cellphones to the Jewish community in Havana; Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of a dissident who died this year of a hunger strike, is routinely beaten when she attempts to visit her son's grave.

These examples represent only a fraction of Cuba's flagrant human rights violations. The Cuba Archive Project has documented more than 90,000 non-combat deaths — including executions, extrajudicial assassinations, death in political prisons, and disappearances. Furthermore, 1.5 million Cubans are in exile, while the regime continues to trumpet a release of prisoners that only scratches the surface.

Declaring the embargo a failure and using it as justification to reopen trade and relations ignores the fact that the Cuban economy is on its knees. The paltry changes we've seen (allowing Cubans to buy and sell some goods) have been necessitated by their economic crisis. Ending the embargo now not only ignores the atrocities perpetrated by the Castro regime, it also hands the Cuban government a huge financial boost at the exact moment they need and want it most.

Friendship and an economic relationship with our nation must be earned, and Cubans deserve the freedom, democracy and human rights they lack. Until Cuba has demonstrated meaningful progress, unilateral changes in American policy would undeniably reward horrific behavior.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a Democrat from Florida.

Excelling in Freedom

From The Dayton Daily News:

Judo standout free to pursue dreams after leaving Cuba

She says her coach stole money from her, and that wasn't the worst of it. When she and her Cuban judo teammates fared poorly, he would subject them to humiliating punishments such as cutting their hair.

"Our coach," Leyen Zulueta says simply, "was mean."

Protest, of course, was out of the question.

"You can't express your opinion in Cuba," she said. "They can put you in jail."

Zulueta, 30, had been given a house, but she thinks it was part of a ploy to keep her around.

It didn't work.

Seven years ago, while returning home from Japan with the Cuban national team, Zulueta defected to Mexico on a layover. She spent a year in South Florida and now lives in Miamisburg [CHC: it's not a spelling error, that's in Ohio] with her husband and their 6-month-old son.

Granted citizenship in January, Zulueta trains with the Kettering Rec Center Judo Club and hopes to represent the United States at the 2010 London Olympics.

The "Mother" of All Dissidents

The following is an excerpt from The Financial Times' obituary of East German dissident leader, Bärbel Bohley. The last paragraph should serve as a lesson for those pushing to unconditionally embrace the Castro regime in Cuba:

To many east Germans, Bärbel Bohley will always be the "Mother of the Revolution".

Her soft-spoken, almost girlish voice was the most instantly recognizable sound of opposition to the ruling Communist party in the dying days of the former German Democratic Republic. Her signature was the first on the manifesto of the New Forum citizens' movement, published on September 10 1989 under the words: "The time is ripe." Within a matter of weeks, 200,000 names had been added. Two months later, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.

Bohley, who died this month at the age of 65, was an unlikely revolutionary. A diminutive figure with a constant cigarette in her hand, she was most at home debating the absurdities of the system over endless cups of tea at her kitchen table in the then shabby East Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg.

But she seemed to be fearless in facing down the dreaded Stasi police and their legions of secret informers. She liked to speak her mind, to the discomfort (and occasional irritation) of many of her friends as well as her communist foes [...]

If Bohley and her companions were reluctant revolutionaries, they were also taken aback by the speed of the changes they helped unleash. Their citizens' movement was swiftly eclipsed in the negotiations for unification that followed, and Bohley never forgave western politicians who preferred to deal with the communist establishment than the dissidents. She feared she would be "crushed" by the party political machines. "I never joined any party in the east, and I don't want to do it now," she said.