Meet Sonny

Saturday, October 9, 2010
Needless to say, the famine hasn't affected his weight -- see picture below -- but that's probably because he's been in Switzerland.

According to Reuters:

North Korea's leader-in-waiting, the youngest son of ailing ruler Kim Jong-il, is expected to make a high-profile public debut on Sunday during the reclusive state's biggest military parade in years.

On Saturday night Kim Jong-un joined his father and top military and ruling party officials, as well as Chinese representatives, in Pyongyang's May Day Stadium for an invitation pageant of music and dancing to mark the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

However, it was this paragraph that really caught our attention:

A stable succession would be a relief to North Korea's economically powerful neighbors -- China, South Korea and Japan -- which worry that a regime collapse could result in massive refugee flows and possible civil war.

This is the same posture that some "experts" want the U.S. to adopt towards Cuba. In other words, to turn a blind eye towards the torture, imprisonment and repression of an entire population, in order not to "risk" instability.

Sadly, they fail to realize that the best way to achieve long-term peace and stability -- particularly in this Western Hemisphere -- is through freedom and democracy.

Obviously, that's not the Chinese regime's interest in East Asia, but it should remain the U.S.'s national interest towards Cuba.

Otherwise, we risk reigniting the authoritarian tendencies of the past -- from the right and the left -- throughout Latin America. And that's in no one's best interest.

"How to Screw a Communist" Video

Don't miss the latest video from Cuban punk rock sensation, Porno Para Ricardo, entitled "Como Joder a Un Comunista" ("How to Screw a Communist"):

Don't Trust & Verify

Retiring U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) returned from Havana this week claiming that the Castro regime's recent economic "reforms" are "deeper and more lasting than the ones that occurred in the early 1990s."

But it's not just Senator Dodd -- practically all advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations with the Castro regime (regardless of whether it reforms or not) are doing back-flips trying to convince policymakers that these "new" economic measures are a real "opportunity" for the U.S. (to bailout the regime, apparently).

Meanwhile, back in Havana, the Cuban people continue scratching their heads, while the Ministry of Labor and National Tax Office tell the AP that they haven't received orders "from above" regarding the new self-employment licenses -- not to mention how/when they will be distributed and taxed.

And even Omar, a popular figure who dresses as an uber-revolutionary in the tourist zone Old Havana, was arrested by the Cuban authorities this week for not having a license to practice "self-employment" (acting like a revolutionary for tourists is not one of the 178 employment activities eligible for licensing).

Sadly, this is not a joke. The picture below is an artistic irony in itself.

Political Hardball

In a column entitled "Dictators, Si - Republicans, No!," author Star Parker takes on The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg pursuant to his recent spat with Mississippi Governor Haley Barbor (which is not the focus of this post, nor are the partisan views reflected in her opinion).

However, in doing so, she makes some important points regarding Goldberg's recent Cuba trip:

A few weeks ago, Goldberg made news getting invited by Fidel Castro to visit Cuba to spend a couple days chatting it up with him.

Reading through Goldberg's blogs about his visit, he appears infinitely more tolerant and forgiving toward one of the most ruthless Communist dictators of the last century than he is toward Republican Governor Haley Barbour.

In response to criticism that he sat for three days serving up soft balls to Castro, never once asking him about oppression or the hundreds of political prisoners tortured and rotting in Cuban jails, Goldberg writes that Castro isn't as bad as many claim. "Cuba," he writes, "is not as bad Zimbabwe, Burma, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Eritrea, Venezuela…."

Freedom House, which provides annual ratings of political rights and civil liberties in 194 nations around the world, ranks Cuba among the worst. From Goldberg's list, Iran and Venezuela are actually ranked more free than Cuba.

Regarding racial matters, which supposedly Goldberg cares about, Freedom House reports "Afro-Cubans have frequently complained about widespread discrimination against them by government and law enforcement officials…."

And Dr. Oscar Biscet, a Cuban black Christian physician, sits with a 25 year sentence in prison for protesting human rights abuses
and one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world where, according to National Right to Life, six of ten Cuban pregnancies end in abortion.

Goldberg's priorities and perspectives appear a little out of whack. But, if he was a clear thinker, he wouldn't be a liberal.

*Star Parker is president of the Coalition on Urban Renewal & Education.

In Solidarity

Friday, October 8, 2010
With the well-deserved winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

We join the rest of the world in calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Here is the Statement by President Obama on Liu Xiaobo:

I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo. Last year, I noted that so many others who have received the award had sacrificed so much more than I. That list now includes Mr. Liu, who has sacrificed his freedom for his beliefs. By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

As I said last year in Oslo, even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal to all human beings. Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.

"Viva Cuba Libre" Video

Here's the latest video from Cuban hip-hop sensation, Los Aldeanos. It's called "Viva Cuba Libre" ("Long Live a Free Cuba").

If you speak Spanish, listen to the lyrics carefully, for they're very powerful. If not, we'll work on a translation.

In the meantime, don't miss the "CAMBIO" ("CHANGE") wristband at the 1:43 mark.

The Year of Resistance

Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".

Today, the Nobel Peace Prize 2010 was awarded to Liu Xiaobo "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China".

Meanwhile, The Atlantic Council is honoring The Ladies in White with the Freedom Award 2010 "for their courageous call for freedom and human rights in Cuba."

In a year that began with the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo, pursuant to an 85-day hunger strike -- one thing is for sure:

The future does not bode well for the world's remaining dictatorships.

All Hail "The China Model"?

Advocates of the "China model," especially for Cuba, should read this analysis by famed NYU Economic Professor William Easterly in AID Watch:

Our China who art in heaven, hallowed be thy growth rate

A writer in The New Yorker has an article fawning all over China's rulers and Chinese economist Justin Lin (currently the Chief Economist of the World Bank).

I'm saddened to see my favorite magazine publish an article seemingly in search of every possible fallacy about growth, the main one being that if you have a high growth rate, then the current autocrats and their economist advisors must be Gods.

(Sorry to be so harsh. Can you tell that this time I am really annoyed to see so much gushing over a Party that kills, beats, and imprisons any Chinese citizens who are not quite as enthusiastic about their own government as a New Yorker writer? And recommends this approach to other countries?)

The New Yorker's caption: "The success of China's authoritarianism may make it a model for developing economies."

Let's review the logic and evidence.

1. See previous post on the myth of the benevolent autocrat. (To be fair to The New Yorker writer, he mentions briefly at the very end of the article Dani Rodrik's similar argument. But it comes as across as a CYA after the long hagiography.)

2. Rapid growth episodes never last indefinitely, so forget all the nonsense about projecting today's growth rate forward till China overtakes Japan, the US, God, etc..

3. Especially considering (2), Growth is not a reliable indicator of performance, income levels are what matters:

4. China's per capita income is currently 13 percent of the US level.

a. Remember growth is the CHANGE in income. A change is made up of two elements:

i. The extent to which things are good now.
ii. The extent to which things were totally f'd up before.

b. China performs really well on this second part of the CHANGE equation. Not even mentioning previous authoritarian emperors and political chaos, it had from 1949 to 1976 a totalitarian psycho in power responsible for the deaths of millions, the Great Leap Famine Forward, the Cultural Revolution.

c. So compared to the official "complete wacko destructive" standard set by Mao, today's citizens are free-er, but still not very free.

d. Did I mention that I am really annoyed?

So another way of stating China's rapid growth recipe would be something like the following:

Have a succession of crazy autocrats, political chaos, and war savagely repress one of history's most inventive peoples, along with not allowing one of the most successful trading diasporas in history to operate in China proper. Then have things calm down a bit and have somewhat less crazy rulers allow more of the people's energy and creativity to burst out. Presto, the change from EXTREME NEGATIVE to LESS NEGATIVE is called a "growth rate," and it will be high. Now accept worship from around the world.

Quote of the Day

"I got a very clear sense of how dangerous I think he is because clearly what's happening in Venezuela, my mother's Cuban -- my family left Cuba for a reason. I see what's happening in Venezuela as very similar to what happened in Cuba. It's terrible. Poverty is on the rise. Inflation is on the rise. People are suffering. But, he can win you over. I mean it's very, very impressive. It reminded me of actually serial killers that I interviewed in Florida. They're very, very charming. They're seductors. That's how they get where they're going to go and so there's a lot of similar qualities to their personalities."

Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch," on her interview with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, October 7th, 2010.

Smile for the Camera

Thursday, October 7, 2010
If there's one area in which the Castro regime spares no expense, it's on maintaining absolute control of the streets.

Therefore, it employs a high-tech system of cameras throughout Havana and other major cities, in order to keep a watchful eye on everyone.

Periodically, clips are smuggled out of the island by disenchanted regime bureaucrats.

Here's a recent (repressive) example:


Kudos to The Minnesota Daily's Editorial Board.

First, for its thoughtful review of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson's (D-MN) Cuba bill. Needless to say, we disagree with its final conclusion regarding sanctions, but appreciate its realistic view of the "smoke-screen" agricultural provisions within the legislation.

And foremost, for being the very first publication to highlight the political contributions of the farm bureaus and multinational agri-business giants. This stands in refreshing contrast to a majority of publications, which only like to take irresponsible and biased pot-shots -- including Chairman Peterson himself -- at Cuban-American political activism and contributions -- even though agricultural political contributions stymie those of Cuban-Americans.

It's a must-read:

From Heartland to Havana

A lopsided Cuban trade proposal aimed to help farmers falls short.

Minnesota Democrats Rep. Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar might seem like odd candidates to jump into the muddy waters of U.S.-Cuba relations. Yet together, they've authored a pair of bills that would lift a decades-old travel ban to Cuba and poke holes in the U.S. trade embargo of that island nation.

But Peterson has made clear that this effort isn't about Cuba; it's about American farmers needing new markets. Peterson is the current chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and his 7th district covers a heavily agricultural swath of the state.'s list of his top campaign contributors also reads like a who's-who of national and international agribusiness interests, with the multinational agricultural corporation, Monsanto, topping the bill.

Steve Suppan, a policy analyst for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said in an e-mail that agribusiness giants like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland have "long sought" exemptions from the Cuban embargo, which would eliminate the need for them to trade through third-country loopholes as they currently do. He argues this exemption, which would primarily move commodities whose production is "highly mechanized," is hardly the pro-farmer job-creation engine its authors suggest.

There are in fact excellent reasons — economic, cultural and otherwise — to open relations with an apparently reforming Cuba, which has been singled out as a communist pariah for too long. It is time to re-evaluate our gratuitous, Cold-War-era posture toward this close neighbor. To that end, lifting the travel ban is of undeniable importance, but this narrow proposal that comes from Minnesota's congress-people reeking of special interests falls short of a productive solution.

A Worthy Nobel

According to AP:

Mario Vargas Llosa wins Nobel literature prize

Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the most acclaimed writers in the Spanish-speaking world, a man of letters who also braved the violence and political divisions of his homeland to run for president, won the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday.

Vargas Llosa has written more than 30 novels, plays and essays, including "Conversation in the Cathedral" and "The Green House." In 1995, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's most distinguished literary honor.

The Swedish Academy said it honored the 74-year-old author for mapping the "structures of power and (for) his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt and defeat."

Vargas Llosa emerged as a leader among the so-called "Boom" or "New Wave" of Latin American writers, bursting onto the literary scene in 1963 with his groundbreaking debut novel "The Time of the Hero" (La Ciudad de los Perros), which builds on his experiences at the Peruvian military academy Leoncio Prado.

The book won the Spanish Critics Award and the ire of Peru's military. One thousand copies of the novel were later burned by military authorities, with some generals calling the book false and Vargas Llosa a communist.

The military academy "was like discovering hell," Vargas Llosa said later.

At 15, he was a night-owl crime reporter. Still in his teens, he joined a communist cell and eloped with his 33-year-old Bolivian aunt, Julia Urquidi — the sister-in-law of his uncle. He later drew inspiration from their nine-year marriage to write the comic hit novel "Aunt Julia and the Script Writer" (La Tia Julia y el Escribidor).

After they divorced, Vargas Llosa in 1965 married his first cousin, Patricia Llosa, 10 years his junior, and together they had three children.

In the 1970s, he denounced Castro's Cuba and slowly turned his political trajectory toward free market conservatism — sparking a fallout with many of his Latin American literary contemporaries.

In a famous incident in Mexico City in 1976, Vargas Llosa punched out his former friend, Garcia Marquez, whom he would later ridicule as "Castro's courtesan." It was never clear whether the fight was over politics or a personal dispute.

CHC: For Spanish speakers, make sure to read Vargas Llosa's stinging critique of the current Spanish government's stance towards the Cuban dictatorship, "Fidel Castro's Sad Whores."

Clinton's (and Bush's) Rice Mistake

Please read the following from the BBC:

US urged to stop Haiti rice subsidies

Cheap imported rice discourages farmers from growing their own, says Oxfam

A leading aid agency has called on the United States to stop subsidizing American rice exports to Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, because it says the policy undermines local production of food.

Former US President Bill Clinton, one of the architects of the subsidies to US farmers - and who is now, paradoxically, the co-chair of Haiti's earthquake recovery Commission - is quoted by Oxfam as saying that the policy was "a mistake".

"It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked," said Mr. Clinton, a frequent visitor to Haiti.

"I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did."

In 2001, the Bush Administration adopted a similar policy towards Cuba pursuant to Hurricane Michelle hitting the island, which led to the first authorized U.S. agricultural sales to the Castro regime.

While the Trade Sanctions Reform Act had legalized agricultural sales to Cuba in 2000, the Castro regime's food monopoly had -- thus far -- refused to make any purchases because the law also barred U.S. government or private financing for such sales.

But then, a delegation from USA Rice traveled to Cuba and the Castro regime quickly learned about the farm lobby's power in the U.S. Congress.

At that very moment -- an unlikely alliance was born.

And the rest is history.

Even Dodd Agrees

Wednesday, October 6, 2010
That there's no moral equivalency between Cuban spies tried and convicted in the U.S. and an American development worker held without charges since last December by the Castro regime.

According to the AFP:

No talk of US-Cuba prisoner swap: US senator

A top US senator just back from a five-day visit to Cuba to meet with officials there said he did not believe there was any chance of a prisoner swap between the United States and its communist neighbor.

Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd made the trip for talks with officials in Havana on how to improve relations between the former Cold War foes, his office said. The countries do not have full diplomatic ties.

Dodd, who also chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, has been a frequent vocal critic of the US trade embargo on Cuba.

In December, Cuba detained a US government contractor, Alan Gross, whom Havana accused of distributing communications materials to civil groups.

The United States, meanwhile, since 2001 has jailed five Cuban spies for Havana.

Though US media have speculated on the possibility of a swap, Dodd said it was not being discussed before he left for Cuba.

And he stressed that in his view, Gross' case was very different from that of the Cubans, who were spying on US military installations. He also said that he was not able to meet with Gross during the visit.

Peterson-Berman Should Come Clean

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) are circulating a letter to President Obama -- similar to the one last week by U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) -- asking him to modify regulations on agricultural sales to Cuba, particularly those dealing with the definition of "cash-in-advance" and direct banking for payments.

Both provisions are also (partly) the subject of H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, known as the Peterson-Moran bill.

Basically, Peterson-Moran now want the Obama Administration to change -- through regulation -- the agricultural sales provisions that were tightened -- through regulation also -- by the Bush Administration in 2004.

It's nice to see Chairman Peterson finally coming clean.

So why the year-long push (through H.R. 4645) to legislatively modify these two agricultural provisions, instead of simply pressuring the Administration to do so -- through regulation -- in the first place?

Because it has never been about the agricultural provisions.

It has always been about the non-agricultural provision in H.R. 4645, which the Obama Administration cannot change through regulation -- tourism travel.

Thus, the year-long charade of H.R. 4645, including the strong-arm tactics used to prevent the tourism travel provision from being stripped-out (by amendment) during the Agriculture Committee markup.

This legislation is nothing more than a ploy by Peterson-Moran and the Farm Bureaus to provide billions of tourism dollars to the Castro brothers, in the hopes that they'll turn around and buy more agricultural products from the U.S.

That's quite a leap of faith -- but why not just say so?

Because if you think lobbying for subsidies for American farmers is tough, then imagine lobbying for subsidies funneled through the Castro dictatorship.

Obviously, that argument would be a tough sell. And if instead, the Castro regime used those billions to strengthen its repressive grip, they simply wouldn't care, for it's of no consequence to them or their loved ones.

That's just selfish.

So when will House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) come clean also?

Chairman Berman has been a ideological proponent of tourism travel to Cuba for many years -- and we respect his views. However, he has publicly admitted that he's not focused on the agricultural provisions.

So why not just markup H.R. 874, the Delahunt-Flake bill (two Members of his committee), which would solely address the tourism travel provision?

Why the obsession and intense lobbying against addressing each issue on its own merits? Why the insistence on agricultural diversions (which the Obama Administration can address without Congress)?

The answer is simple.

Because -- thus far -- Peterson-Berman have had trouble moving H.R. 4645 altogether, agricultural provisions and all, so just imagine dealing with each on its own merits.

That's just plain disingenuous.

Fidel's Desperate Ploy

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Former Costa Rican Ambassador to the U.S., Jaime Daremblum, on Fidel Castro's recent "denunciation" of anti-Semitism:

Fidel is desperate -- desperate to bolster his historical legacy, and desperate to secure much-needed financial aid for his cash-strapped government. Now 84 years old and in poor health, Castro knows the Cuban economy is in dire condition, and he knows that Washington could throw his Communist regime a lifeline if it were to eliminate the U.S. travel ban. Those American lawmakers who oppose the ban are always eager to highlight evidence that Cuba is "reforming" and should thus be rewarded with a flood of free-spending U.S. tourists. Congress is currently debating legislation that would scrap travel restrictions and provide Havana with a massive infusion of hard currency.

Castro's denunciation of anti-Semitism must be seen in this context. Indeed, Havana has recently made several calculated gestures in hopes of improving its global image. In July, Cuba agreed to release 52 political prisoners, on the condition that those prisoners accept forced exile in Spain. Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who helped broker the agreement, triumphantly declared that it "opens a new era in Cuba."

In reality, it was a familiar PR stunt: The Castro regime has always used conditional prisoner releases to elicit concessions from foreign governments. It treats peaceful dissidents as strategic pawns, turning them into a form of diplomatic currency. With the prisoner release, Havana was aiming to convince European Union members to adopt fully normalized relations with Cuba. As Julio César Gálvez, one of the exiled Cuban prisoners who is now living in Spain, told the Associated Press, "Our departure [from Cuba] should not be seen as a gesture of goodwill but rather as a desperate measure by a regime urgently seeking to gain any kind of credit."

Last month, according to a Reuters report, Havana allowed Judy Gross to visit her husband, Alan, who has been sitting in a Cuban prison since late 2009. Alan Gross is a USAID contractor who was working with Cuban civil-society activists at the time of his arrest. The Castro regime insists, ridiculously, that he was engaged in espionage. The Grosses are both American citizens, and Alan's incarceration has prevented greater progress in U.S.-Cuba relations. Permitting a spousal visit was a small gesture. But the fact that Gross is still being held indicates that Cuba wants to use him as diplomatic leverage.

Many U.S. lawmakers, unfortunately, seem relatively unconcerned that one of their countrymen is being unjustly detained. Indeed, calls to abolish the Cuba travel ban have grown louder since it was reported that Havana would lay off around 500,000 state workers and take small steps toward expanding private enterprise. But has the Communist government really changed? There is no evidence that it will soon implement the type of far-reaching reforms that would deliver real economic and political freedoms to the Cuban people.

"Fundamental changes of U.S. policy toward Cuba should await fundamental reforms by the regime," the Washington Post argued in a recent editorial. "When average Cubans are allowed the right to free speech and free assembly, along with that to cut hair and trim palm trees, it will be time for American tourists and business executives to return to the island." That sounds like the correct strategy to me.

Quote of the Day

"Cuba should release all political prisoners unconditionally."

-- Dan Restrepo, Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere, National Security Council, on the Castro regime's forced exile of 39 political prisoners, EFE, October 5th, 2010.

From Violating One Human Right to Three

This past July, the Castro regime announced it would "release" (more precisely, "forcibly exile") 52 political prisoners.

These 52 innocent men have been unjustly imprisoned since 2003 in violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) -- to which Cuba is a signatory -- and states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Thus far, 39 have been forcibly exiled to Spain, none released in Cuba and 12 refuse to trade prison for banishment.

Therefore, as regards these 52, the Castro regime is now in violation of three fundamental human rights -- Articles 9, 13 and 15 of the UDHR.

Article 9 for those exiled and still imprisoned. Plus Article 13, which states:

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

And Article 15:

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Yet, some still have the audacity to hail this as progress on human rights.

Pretending to Reform

Monday, October 4, 2010
A must-read by Dr. Jose Azel in Foreign Policy:

Here are some excerpts:

Last month, the Cuban government said it planned to fire 500,000 state employees, and perhaps over 1 million, saying "our state cannot and should not continue supporting... state entities with inflated payrolls, losses that damage the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits, and deform the workers' conduct."

Some heralded the announcement as a long-awaited sign that Havana under Gen. Raúl Castro is finally moving toward a market economy, others voiced substantial skepticism, and Marxists denounced it as a betrayal of communist orthodoxy. So, where is Cuba headed?

Most likely, nowhere fast. Far from being a hopeful indication that Raúl is serious about economic reform, the abrupt layoffs reveal a government that is simply desperate to make ends meet. And they offer yet more evidence that Cuba, one of the last countries in the world to cling to Joseph Stalin's bankrupt ideology, is not interested in joining -- or, to be charitable, does not know how to join -- the globalized, 21st-century world [...]

In Cuba, a state permit is required even to shine shoes -- along with 178 other private economic activities that include mostly individual service activities from baby-sitting to washing clothes. It is also unclear exactly how those selected for dismissal will be chosen; seniority, patronage, friendship, ideological purity, or some form of capitalist or socialist merit? Will race or gender play a role in these massive firings? Will the dismissals disproportionately target those who receive remittances from abroad? Perhaps more important, how are those fired supposed to find jobs? In an economy with developed private competitive markets, employees dismissed from one firm have a fighting chance of securing employment in another. But in Cuba's economic system, the government controls most economic activity. There is no private sector to absorb the unemployed. Where will they find employment? [...]

The government is projecting a 400 percent increase in tax revenues, presumably to be collected from the fired employees turned entrepreneurs. More likely, Cubans will find ways to avoid paying taxes by relying on the black market for these economic activities. Cuban economist and dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe writes from Havana of the impact of Cuba's economic situation on civil society: Cuban children, he tells us, grow up witnessing how their parents, obligated by circumstances, live by theft and illegality.

Because Cubans cannot live by the results of their legitimate labors and work has ceased to be the principal source of one's livelihood, a survival ethic has evolved that justifies everything. One lesson to be learned from the transitions in the former Soviet bloc is that the success of reforms hinges on placing individual freedoms and empowerment front and center. In the decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the most successful transitioning countries were those that embraced political rights and civil liberties decisively: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, East Germany, and Hungary. This is not where Cuba is headed with its "actualization of socialism."

The main reason is Cuba's Stalinist political order, which remains unchanged by this announcement. In a system that denies basic freedoms, society is debilitated and corrupted by a miasma of fear. For five decades, fear has been an integral part of the everyday Cuban existence. This fear must be conquered if any national project of transition is to stand a chance of success.

The Cuban penal code that is used to suppress dissent defines disobedience, disrespect, illicit association, possession of enemy propaganda and socially dangerous, and more as "crimes against socialist morality." In Cuba, the crime of "social dangerousness" permits the government to imprison people for activities they may commit in the future. Until this totalitarian document is reformed or wiped away, expect little to change [...]

For now, the firings only highlight the dismal state of the Cuban economic model, perhaps best depicted by the old Soviet joke: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." The regime in Havana is peddling a similar story today: They will pretend to reform, expecting the world will pretend to believe it. Let us hope nobody in Washington is buying.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm

It's interesting how the Castro regime and the Catholic Church are spreading news that nine additional political prisoners, who were not on the original list of 52 agreed to this past July, will be offered banishment abroad.

Meanwhile, there is no news of when -- or even whether -- they will release 12 of the original 52 that refuse to be forcibly exiled.

Sounds like they are buying time and trying to divert attention from the 12.

Terrorists Trained in Venezuela

According to El Universal:

Two alleged members of the Basque separatist group ETA admitted that they have received arms training in Venezuela, according to an indictment.

Judge Ismael Moreno said that Javier Atristain and Juan Carlos Besance, who were arrested on Wednesday in the Basque Country, said they have received arms training in Venezuela between July and August 2008, AP reported.

According to the judge, ETA suspect Arturo Cubillas, who is a longtime resident of Venezuela, provided arms training to both men. Cubillas was charged in March in another case filed by the Spanish National Court of being an intermediary between the Basque separatist group ETA and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), under the protection of the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

For ETA's Cuban ties, click here.

No More Excuses for Repression

For decades, apologists of the Castro regime have willfully overlooked its totalitarian control and repression due to its system of free education and health care.

These have always been poor excuses, for education in Cuba is akin to choice-less indoctrination, while its health care is plagued with poor quality and preferentiality for regime elites and foreigners.

Plus regardless -- that's quite a high price to pay.

But for the sake of argument -- and this post -- let's give these apologists the benefit of the doubt.

Over the weekend, news reports indicate that the Castro regime is looking to restructure its system of free education and health care. Instead, it is considering charging Cubans -- proportionally -- for these services.

So what'll be the new excuse?

Essentially, the Castro regime is nothing more than a fascist military dictatorship.

No more excuses.

The Destiny of "The Twelve"

Sunday, October 3, 2010
Of the 52 political prisoners announced for "release" this past July by the Castro regime, 39 have been banished to Spain.

None have been released within Cuba.

Of the remaining 13, today's Miami Herald reports that:

Twelve say they will accept freedom only on the basis of their age and health status, but they are unwilling to be forced to move to Spain as a condition of the deal.

So what will be the short-term fate of these 12?

It's unclear, but it's not a coincidence that three months later -- none have been released.

Meanwhile, as regards the destiny of the 39, IndyPosted reminds us:

Cuba is not the first dictatorship to use exile as a safety valve. In 1974, the Soviet government exiled soviet dissident and author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. In 1976, the communist government in the former East Germany exiled Wolf Biermann, a communist dissident who questioned the authenticity of the regime's Marxist credentials.

Neither the USSR nor East Germany remain communist today. Both Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Wolf Biermann returned to their respective homelands under democratic regimes. Cuba's communist leadership hopes to beat the odds.

From Lenin in czarist Russia to Jose Marti under Cuba's colonial regime in the 19th century, dictatorships have sent dissidents into exile and fallen in spite of it. Cuba's communist regime is not likely to be any different.

Which leads to the bigger question:

Will the short-term fate of the 12 close a safety valve leading to the destiny of the 39?

Time will tell.

Dodd's Farewell Tour of Havana

U.S. Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, is currently in Cuba.

An outspoken and zealous critic of U.S. policy towards Cuba -- while an under-spoken and passive critic of the Castro regime's dictatorship -- Senator Dodd is no stranger to Havana.

Senator Dodd's office has confirmed the trip, but given no specifics.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Virginia Staab told Radio Martí that Dodd "is on a fact-finding trip consistent with his role as a senator. As we and others have done, we expect the Senator to urge the Cuban government to immediately release Mr. [Alan] Gross."

Alan Gross is an American development worker, who has been held -- without trial or charges -- by the Castro regime since last December for helping the island's small Jewish community connect to the Internet.

We're eager to learn what "facts" Senator Dodd finds.

Fact-Check Time

By Mark Milke in The Calgary Herald:

Cuba is no island paradise for its citizens

For some unexplained reason, a coterie of Canadian apologists exist who are ever eager to defend Cuba's 51-year old Marxist dictatorship. In recent weeks, one letter writer to the Herald argued Cuban children benefit from the island autocracy because education is free. She also trumpeted how some foreign kids receive free health care, a variation of the oft-heard notion that Cubans have a great medical system. Another writer disputed the Herald's claim that communism was the 20th century's most murderous ideology.
Fact-check time. Eleven years ago, Harvard University published The Black Book of Communism, a series of essays, mostly from former French Marxists. They estimated those killed by the ideology amounted to about 100 million people in the last century.

That includes Cuba. "During the (Cuban) repressions of the 1960s, between 7,000 and 10,000 people were killed and 30,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons," wrote French journalist Pascal Fontaine. None of that takes away from the gravity of history's other mass murdering ideologies, notably the Nazi Holocaust's 6 million victims.
But the Herald was correct in its assertion.

What about Cuba's oft-praised health care and education systems? In 2003, the American Journal of Public Health found that 33 per cent of all Cuban refugee children had intestinal parasites, 21 per cent had lead poisoning and all had higher than normal levels of disease. In 2006, Fidel Castro flew a doctor in from Spain to look at his insides.

You'd expect refugees to have higher incidences of disease. However, given the Cubans were refugees but for a few days on their way to Florida from Cuba, the study was telling.

None of this should surprise anyone with open eyes. I was in Cuba in 2008, the day Castro resigned. One guidebook estimated 45 per cent of Cubans live in substandard shelter. That was obvious in Havana where I spent five days walking around. There are some nicely restored buildings in Havana's core but sub-standard, crowded tenements for ordinary Cubans are the norm.

Then there is the food rationing. The Varadero resort where I spent two days (and which is not the real Cuba) had trays full of scrambled eggs. But in Havana, one store with eggs for sale noted a limit of just five per person. Also in Havana, I snapped photos of a rundown school, a public hospital in disrepair and half-empty pharmacy shelves.
Even Castro no longer defends his record. In an interview last month with The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, he made this admission: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore." (His admission was borne out by recent Cuban government reforms, including laying off half a million people from inefficient state enterprises, and loosening up some restrictions on small entrepreneurs). Several days later, Castro tried to claim he meant the opposite. Too late. He inadvertently admitted what economic data have shown: Cuba's 1959 detour into economic tyranny after its revolution produced 50 years of suffering for Cubans.

In 1958, the year before Castro came to power, Cuba's per capita GDP was $2,363, not far off the Latin American average of $3,047 (all figures inflation-adjusted 1990 dollars at purchasing power parity). Back then, Cuba's per capita GDP was higher than some East Asian jurisdictions such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea and not far behind Japan and Hong Kong.

By 2008, Cuba's per capita GDP was $3,764. Meanwhile, the East Asian jurisdictions that were below or barely above Cuba's economic status have long eclipsed it. In 2008, per capita income was $19,614 in South Korea, $20,926 in Taiwan, $28,107 in Singapore, and $31,704 in Hong Kong. In real terms, Hong Kong's per capita GDP grew by a factor of 11, Singapore's by 12, and South Korea and Taiwan by 16 -- while Cuba's equivalent didn't even double from its pre-revolutionary state.

Apologists point to the American economic embargo as a prime reason for Cuba's poverty. It's that and communism. However, the defenders never understand how their own argument supports free markets: free-flowing trade between countries lifts a country's economic prospects, as free-flowing internal trade does. Canadian apologists may not get it, but if recent baby steps toward economic reform are any indication, the Castro brothers apparently, finally, do.

Mark Milke is director of the Fraser Institute's Alberta office and of the Alberta Prosperity Project.