Message From Havana

Saturday, October 16, 2010
An important message from the Havana-based opposition group, Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs ("CHRR"):

Given that the human rights situation in Cuba has become worse; due to the profound economic stagnation; to the repression and the social confinement as well as to the dangerous present political state of affairs; to the demagoguery; to the deception; the prevailing uncertainty; the risk of social unrest or of a mass exodus; to the liability of being subjected to tactics of state terrorism; and to the relentless intimidation of mass governmental organizations; the CHRR has decided to release the following statement:

REPRESSION: The violent "acts of repudiation" perpetrated during this past weekend and in the course of previous days and months, across our national territory by the military agents of Cuban State Security and its paramilitary mobs; the more than 1000 arrests in 2010; the beatings against peaceful activists and independent journalists; the restrictions on freedom of movement; the interception and monitoring of dissident's telephone calls; the breaking and entering of their homes; the confiscation of their possessions as well as other numerous hostile acts reflect the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in our country during 2010. In all instances, the repression was aimed at frustrating the dissidents' peaceful activities organized by small groups of defenders of the international pacts of civil, political, and cultural rights that Cuban authorities say they are willing to respect.

In the same manner, almost all of these meetings were planned to take place inside the activists' homes with a usual assembly of no more than thirty people that are systematically arrested, threatened and evicted, in spite of the fact that they pose no danger to the stability of the Cuban government.

Due to the large scale of sectors and activities that are subject to the repression we can state, unequivocally, that there have been no improvements or opening up in regards to the public rights and liberties in Cuba. What we observe is that the Cuban government has changed the focal point and tactics of its political repression pretending to fool international public opinion by transposing its criminal actions from the heinous penitentiaries to the homes of the peaceful human rights defenders and independent journalists.

PRISONS: The terrifying prison situation does not improve. Cuban authorities maintain around 300 correctional centers throughout the island of which 100 are extremely brutal. According to our investigations, the penal population of common criminals comprises around 200,000 inmates, most of them young and of the black race who survive in crowded conditions.

The CHRR confirmed that Cuban authorities released 72 political prisoners since January 2010, up to the present date. Of these, more than half belong to the cause of the "Group of the 75" (2003), whose personal decisions to be released from prison were flawed since they were conditioned by the Cuban military with forced exile to Spain. Most of the rest of these political prisoners were released in observance of the releases announced by the Cuban government, the Catholic Church and the Spanish authorities.

The CHRR has verified that there are still 82 political prisoners in Cuban penitentiaries, 2 of whom were imprisoned this year, a fact that implies the almost total eradication of imprisonments for political reasons in 2010 and achieved by Cuban authorities at the expense of a rise in the repression against the internal dissidence and through the use of excessive and frequent use of violence, force, and intimidation.

Other organizations inside and outside Cuba, that document the number of Cuban political prisoners point out that, at present, the figure of Cubans jailed for political reasons is higher and could possibly reach 120.

Several thousands of mentally disturbed, handicapped and critically ill convicts are confined in these Cuban penitentiaries in deplorable and embarrassing conditions, deprived of medical assistance.

The Cuban government continues to imprison innocent human beings, accused of "social dangerousness" whom it considers have a "special proclivity" to commit crimes. Under this status, thousands of individuals are locked up in jails where they are subjected to forced labor, though they have never committed a crime. Around a thousand young prostitutes are victims of this unjust measure.

In addition, the government continues to imprison innocent members of Cuban civil society using judicial deceit by inventing crimes such as; "illegal exit" (Cubans are required a permission from the government to travel to another country), "contempt or disrespect for authority" (restrictions on freedom of thought and expression), "disobedience", and "attack" (range of forms of insubordination to government officials.)

The unfair and excessive sentences; the extreme severity; the meager and rotten food (salcocho), the beatings and the cruel treatment of the prisoners and their families; the overcrowded cells; the lack of medical assistance and of water (scarce and dirty) are among other things, the causes of the frequent and preventable deaths and suicides that have increased the death rate in Cuban prisons in the last 5 years (when more tan 500 common prisoners have died) and several dozens only in 2010. These injustices are the reason for the daily protests that today keep hundreds of convicts on hunger strike, "plantados" (resisting prison authority and rules). To give just one example among many: for three months now, 15 convicts remain on hunger strike in the maximum security prison of "Boniato" in the Eastern city of Santiago de Cuba demanding transparency for their cases and just decisions based on full respect for the guarantees of due process.

The Cuban prison scene is aggravated by the high consumption of drug use, the alcoholism, the homemade sharp weapons (knives and pointed instruments) within the prisoner's reach, all these (drugs, alcohol and weapons) are regularly introduced in many prisons by the guards themselves to be used as a form of reward, barter, and to obtain favors.

Margarito Broche Espinosa, President
Juan Carlos González Leiva, Executive Secretary
María Caridad Noa González, Human Rights Rapporteur
Bárbara Jiménez Contreras, Rapporteur for the Rights of Women
Noelia Pedraza Jiménez, Vice-President for the Central Region
Tania Maceda Guerra, Organization Secretary
Odalys Sanabria Rodríguez, Rapporteur for the Information Center
Leticia Ramos Herrería, Rapporteur for the Information Center

Castro Secures Microcredits (For Himself)

Friday, October 15, 2010
Times sure are tough for the Castro regime. Apparently, its billionaire defaults on large international loans have caught up to them, for they're now resorting to aggregate microcredits.

Naturally, the regime is providing a creative spin for these, which its apologists are gleefully echoing abroad.

So here's the story -- according to Reuters:

Some European countries are quietly working to bring hard-currency loans to Cuban farmers, an idea Cuba has traditionally resisted but now looks ready to accept to help its economic reforms.

A small flow of Spanish money for credits in Cuba is set to start up in 2011 and there are hopes it can grow as Cuba modernizes its state-prevailing socialist economy.


Of course, the spin is that it's "to bring hard-currency loans to Cuban farmers." Doesn't that sound nice?

But here's the fine print:

Because of the political sensitivities, diplomats said the loans will not go directly from foreign providers to individuals.

Instead, the initial Spanish funds will be channeled through the state-owned Bank of Credit and Commerce to groups of farmers leasing land from the state.

In other words, the Spanish government will -- once again -- place cash in one of Castro's banks.

Ironically, Castro's Bank of Credit and Commerce is one of the banks that froze and confiscated over $1 billion in Spanish company accounts just last year.

So what are the odds that a Cuban farmer will ever seeing a penny of this?

Similar to those of the Spanish government -- slim to none.

Canada's Humiliating Sex Tourism

Ever wonder where the word "jinetera" -- a term adopted by Cubans in the 1990's referring to prostitutes -- comes from?

Many assume it comes from the word "jinete," which means a "jockey" or "horse-rider."

Unfortunately, it's even more humiliating.

It comes from the French word "ginette," which is the term used by French Canadians (or "Quebecois") to describe prostitutes.

Since Castro opened Cuba's doors to foreign tourism in the 1990's -- as a means to finance its repressive regime pursuant to the fall of the Soviet Union -- approximately 40% of tourists that have visited the island stem from Canada (90% of those from the province of Quebec).

How's that for "empowering" the Cuban people through tourism travel?

Appalling.

Courtesy of Penultimos Dias.

Fascinating Ignorance (or Exceptionalism)

Thursday, October 14, 2010
It's absolutely fascinating how an author, who makes the following horrid observations regarding European and Canadian tourism travel to Cuba, could simultaneously advocate for Americans to partake in such repulsive behavior.

To condemn the reality of tourism travel to Cuba in this fashion, but to pretend American tourism travel would be any different, is either an extraordinary brand of exceptionalism, arrogance or just plain ignorance.

Either way, for Cubans -- it's simply humiliating.

An excerpt from Outside Online:

Far from being isolated by our embargo, today's Cuba is a hub of international travel already, awash with a staggering two million tourists a year. This tropical downpour of outsiders has created a MasterCard-equipped island where Cuban authorities have literally installed an ATM at Communist Party headquarters, in Santiago. Of course, only legal foreigners, mostly Europeans and Canadians, can use them.

You remember the Europeans, right? Sophisticated. Savvy. Subtly attuned to other cultures. Yet what they've done to Cuba since the tourism binge began, in the mid-nineties, isn't pretty. Typical tourists in Cuba today are budget-conscious bottom-feeders—think Belgian pedophiles and Scottish football hooligans -- who hole up at all-inclusive beach resorts on isolated peninsulas.

After sunshine and salt water, the main Cuban attraction is the action. Prostitution draws in the Euro-weenies and Alberta wheat farmers, levitates the economy, and greases (sorry) the tourism machine. The result is ugly -- I've seen 13-year-old girls for sale in my hotel lobby -- and leaves many Cubans seething.

Nonetheless, the party rolls on. Fifty thousand hotel rooms have been built to feed this state monopoly, in which the government charges visitors $100 a night, pays hotel workers 70 cents a day, and arrests anyone who tries to form a union. Profits are split amicably with the foreign tourism companies brought in to manage an industry that the Castros cannot.

Are Cuban-Americans Monolithic Voters?

The Sun-Sentinel's Guillermo Martinez has an insightful column today on Hispanic voting blocs.

While not solely focused on Cuba-Americans, he looks back at the history of voting trends in Florida -- from Democrats favored by Cuban-Americans to their shift towards Republicans pursuant to Ronald Reagan.

Martinez concludes that today, Hispanics -- in general -- aren't monolithic voting blocs.

As regards Cuban-Americans, Mr. Martinez is half right -- they are not a partisan voting bloc, but they are a policy voting bloc.

The only thing that Democrats Dante Fascell, Claude Pepper, Ricard Stone and Bob Menendez (albeit in New Jersey) have in common with Republican Marco Rubio is their strident opposition to providing unilateral concessions to the repressive Castro regime.

And that's why they've all been supported by Cuban-Americans -- not because of the D or R next to their name.

Here's the entire column:

Three races show Hispanics don't fit a monolithic voting bloc

Many who comment on the politics of Hispanics in the United States do not remember when Cuban-Americans in South Florida favored Democratic candidates for Congress.

Those were the years of Bob Graham, elected both as governor and U.S. senator; of Dante Fascell and Claude Pepper in the House of Representatives; and of Richard Stone in the U.S. Senate. They were liberal on domestic policies but also opponents of the Castro regime in Cuba.

Cuban-Americans turned to the Republican Party for two reasons. One, was that they could not win Democratic primaries. And the second was Ronald Reagan, the Hollywood Republican who was as strong an anti-communist as Cubans in the exile community.

Now things in the country are changing. Polls tell us that non-Cuban Hispanics overwhelmingly prefer Democratic candidates; that they are true blue Democrats who are not likely to vote for a Republican again after their tryst with former President George W. Bush turned sour.

Some pundits try to ignore the fact that three Hispanic Republicans are favored to win elections for governor and the U.S. Senate.

In Florida, voters are fully aware that conservative Republican Marco Rubio has a wide, double-digit lead over his two opponents, Gov. Charlie Christ, now running with no party affiliation, and U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic Party candidate.

Most in this part of the country don't know, however, that Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martínez has a seven or eight point lead over Lt. Gov. Diane Denish in the New Mexico governor's race, according to the most recent polls.

And then there is Brian Sandoval, who is far ahead of Rory Reid for governor in Nevada. And, yes, Reid is the son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls, Sandoval is leading Reid by 14 points.

If Rubio, Martínez, and Sandoval all win in November, Republicans will have three new bright Hispanic stars to show off. Democrats still have Sen. Robert Menéndez of New Jersey, but no new fresh faces.

How do pundits explain this surge of prominent Hispanic candidates in the Republican Party? They struggle to find the right answers for they continue to pigeonhole all Hispanics into inflexible concrete molds. All Cuban-Americans are conservative Republicans, which is no longer true. And all other Hispanics care only for immigration reform — also wrong.

Polls show that Hispanics are open to conservative views — 56 percent oppose abortion rights and 44 percent oppose gay marriage. Yes, most Hispanics will vote for Democrats, but Rubio, Martínez and Sandoval are clear evidence that things are not monolithic.

China Trades Cuba For Texas

Since 2004, the Castro regime has been propagating the myth of China drilling for oil off Cuba's coasts. Its goal has been to seduce oil companies into lobbying Congress (and at that time, the Bush Administration) against U.S. sanctions.

The Castro regime -- along with U.S. advocates of unconditionally normalizing relations -- had made the clever calculation that the oil industry was the "Achilles heel" of Republicans and that -- together with the farm lobby -- it could tip the scales in their favor.

Therefore, it's not a surprise (nor a coincidence) that with all of the talk about Republicans re-taking control of Congress, the issue of oil drilling in Cuba has conveniently resurfaced.

However, the ironic reality is that China has indeed made a recent billionaire bet on oil investment -- but in Texas.

Needless to say, if before it was highly improbable that China would undertake the overwhelming logistical and commercial challenges to invest in the "possibility" of Cuban oil, then it's a complete dud now -- for it will not add legal challenges to that equation.

According to The Houston Chronicle:

State-owned Chinese energy giant CNOOC is buying a multibillion-dollar stake in 600,000 acres of South Texas oil and gas fields, potentially testing the political waters for further expansion into U.S. energy reserves.

With the announcement Monday that it would pay up to $2.2 billion for a one-third stake in Chesapeake Energy assets, CNOOC lays claim to a share of properties that eventually could produce up to half a million barrels a day of oil equivalent.

It also might pick up some American know-how about tapping the hard-to-get deposits trapped in dense shale rock formations, analysts said.

As part of the deal, the largest purchase of an interest in U.S. energy assets by a Chinese company, CNOOC has agreed to pay about $1.1 billion for a chunk of Chesapeake's assets in the Eagle Ford, a broad oil and gas formation that runs largely from southwest of San Antonio to the Mexican border.

CNOOC also will provide up to $1.1 billion more to cover drilling costs.

Dropping a "Bomb" on Cuban Oil Prospects

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Former Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) Director, Gustavo Coronel, makes some interesting observations on Cuban oil prospects in Petroleum World.

Then, after a thorough analysis, he drops a "bomb" on all prospects at the very end (#6).

1. Cuba produces about 48,000 barrels per day of oil and receives about 98,000 barrels per day of highly subsidized oil from Venezuela . The combined supply exceeds demand by about 30,000 barrels per day. I assume that some or most of this excess oil is exported by the Cubans, giving the Castro regime a welcome income at the expense of the Venezuelan people.

2. There are several oil companies active (or just present) in Cuba: Sherrit Oil Co, a Canadian company, has been the most successful and produces oil under a contract that gives them 49 percent of the production, while the other 51 percent goes to the government. Other companies such as Repsol, Statoil Petrobras, Petronas, PetroVietnam, Angola Oil Co. and Petroleos de Venezuela are in Cuba but have not established production. Repsol is the one company that is getting ready to explore offshore and has contracted the rig Scarabeo 9 for $400,000 a day, with a crew of about 200, to conduct exploration drilling starting in 2011.

3. The prospects for Cuban oil resources are essentially located offshore. In 2005 the U.S. Geological Survey made a technical estimate of how much oil could be present in this area, concluding that there might be a 50 percent probability of some 4.6 billion barrels of oil to be discovered.

It is important to comment about this estimate.

First of all, it means that there is a 50 percent probability of this amount being present but there is, of course, more than a 50 percent probability of less oil being present. As expectations for the oil to be found increase, the probabilities that these expectations will be met decrease. The amount of 4.5 billion barrels of oil represents, therefore, a convenient simplification for the purposes of discussion.

Second, the estimate represents oil in place. The lighter the oil to be found, the better the probabilities of a high recovery factor. For very light oils, depending on the production mechanism present in the reservoirs, a 50 percent recovery rate is possible. If the oil is heavy this recovery factor could be, at best, 25-30 percent of the total oil in place. The Cuban oil found so far tends to be on the heavier side. Lets assume, therefore, a recovery factor of 30 percent for the oil in place. This means that the total oil to be recovered from the Cuban offshore could be of the order of 1.4 billion barrels of oil.

Third, a total recovery of some 1.4 billion barrels will not be possible in less than, say, 30 years, again depending on the characteristics of the reservoirs to be found and the technical complexity of the activity. Usually there is a 5-8 years period of exploration and a similar period of oil field development to establish continuous production, reaching peak production after some 15 years of start-up. It is improbable that production from this area would ever exceed 200,000 barrels a day at peak production. The average production distributed during the 30-year period would be of some 120,000 barrels per day but actual production would be much less for the first 15 years and would decline after the 20th year or so.

What this all means is that any Cuban new oil production would allow Cuba to become self sufficient in oil but will not transform Cuba into a world-class exporter. At best, it would allow Cuba to export some 100,000 barrels a day for relatively brief periods of time. In the context of U.S. imported oil requirements this is a peanut. Cuba will probably never become a significant source of oil for the United States.

4. Consider also the capitals required to develop Cuban offshore oil. This will be a very costly operation and this capital can only be provided by international companies that will need to recover costs. I would not dare to make a back of the envelope estimate of costs involved but we are talking billions of dollars that will have to be invested for the first ten years, without any positive cash flow for the companies. The only way Cuba can pay back is with oil production, so that most of the Cuban oil might never see the U.S. market, considering that European, Latin American and Asian oil companies are the ones currently involved in Cuba.

5. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela plays a crucial role in the oil and the political sectors of both countries. For the last 5 years or so Hugo Chavez has been sending the Castro brothers close to 100,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan crude oil and products. This represents a huge gift of some $3 billion per year from one dictatorship to the other, one that is deeply resented by the majority of the Venezuelan people and is basically designed to cement both dictatorships. There is no doubt that the day after Chavez is ousted from power, by whatever means, this enormous transfer of Venezuelan wealth to Cuba will cease. The energy deficit of Cuba would abruptly become enormous and its economic impact on the regime will likely lead to major political changes in Cuba. This means that Cuba will cling to Venezuelan oil desperately and that it will do all it can to keep Chavez in power. Cuba already controls much of the Venezuelan security forces and, literally, has Chavez's life in their hands, through a ring of bodyguards that have Cuban interests at heart. This is a delicate balancing act that might be disrupted at any moment, bringing chaos into Cuba and, possibly, into Venezuela.

6. The development of Cuban oil resources will not be likely without a major contribution from U.S. technology. This is not really possible under the current embargo. This means that any significant development might be delayed beyond normal technical or economic reasons by the existing political situation between the two countries.

Progress You Can't Believe In

During the month of September, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) documented the arrest of at least 90 dissidents, albeit for short detention periods. This stands in stark contrast to 15 political prisoners released and banished to Spain during the same period.

Thus far, in 2010, 1,220 dissidents have been arrested by the Castro regime. This stands in even starker contrast to 39 political prisoners released and banished to Spain during the same period.

Furthermore, over the weekend, a dissident family (including a 9 year-old child) in the eastern city of Guantanamo was violently repressed by a large government-sanctioned mob, which impunely assaulted their home for over 24 hours (in order to prevent a meeting of opposition groups).

And, as we posted Sunday, two members of the Ladies in White's organization were brutally beaten (again) by the Cuban authorities -- see picture below.

Yet, none of these items have been covered in any way, shape or form by the English-speaking media. They are apparently too busy on stories about guayaberas and banishments.

Economic Reform Doesn't Lead to Democracy

A must-read by Fang Lizhi in The International Herald Tribune:

Liu Xiaobo and Illusions About China

I heartily applaud the Nobel Committee for awarding its Peace Prize to the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo for his long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China. In doing so, the committee has challenged the West to re-examine a dangerous notion that has become prevalent since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre: that economic development will inevitably lead to democracy in China.

Increasingly, throughout the late 1990s and into the new century, this argument gained sway. Some no doubt believed it; others perhaps found it convenient for their business interests. Many trusted the top Chinese policymakers who sought to persuade foreign investors that if they continued their investments without an embarrassing "linkage" to human rights principles, all would get better at China's own pace.

More than 20 years have passed since Tiananmen. China has officially become the world's second largest economy. Yet the hardly radical Liu Xiaobo and thousands of other dissidents rot in jail for merely demanding basic rights enshrined by the United Nations and taken for granted by Western investors in their own countries. Human rights have not improved despite a soaring economy.

Liu Xiaobo's own experience over the last 20 years ought to be enough evidence on its own to demolish any idea that democracy will automatically emerge as a result of growing prosperity.

I knew Mr. Liu in the 1980s when he was an outspoken young man. He took part in 1989 in the peaceful protests at Tiananmen Square and was sentenced to two years in prison for his efforts. From then until 1999 he was in and out of labor camps, prisons, detention centers and house arrest. In 2008, he initiated the "Charter 08" petition calling for China to comply with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Consequently, he was again arrested, this time sentenced to a particularly harsh 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power" — even though China is a signatory of the U.N. declaration.

According to human rights organizations, there are about 1,400 people political, religious and "conscience" prisoners in prison or labor camps across China. Their "crimes" have included membership in underground political or religious groups, independent trade unions and nongovernmental organizations, or they have been arrested for participating in strikes or demonstrations and have publicly expressed dissenting political opinions.

This undeniable reality ought to be a wake up call to anyone who still believes the autocratic rulers of China will alter their disregard of human rights just because the country is richer. Regardless of how widely China's leaders have opened its markets to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.

On the contrary, China's dictators have become even more contemptuous of the value of universal human rights. In the decade after Tiananmen, the Communist government released 100 political prisoners in order to improve its image. Since 2000, as the Chinese economy grew stronger and stronger and the pressure from the international community diminished, the government has returned to hard-line repression.

The international community should be especially concerned over China's breach of international agreements. Besides the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, China also signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture in 1988. Yet, torture, maltreatment and psychiatric manipulation are extensively used in detention and prison camps in China. This includes beatings, extended solitary confinement, severely inadequate food, extreme exposure to cold and heat and denial of medical treatment.

As the regime's power grows with prosperity, the Communist Party feels confident in its immunity as it violates its own Constitution. Article 35, for example, says that "citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration." Yet who can doubt that the government regularly violates these rights.

As the unfortunate history of Japan during the first half of the 20th century illustrates, a rising economic power that violates human rights is a threat to peace.

Thankfully, the courageous Nobel Committee has exposed this link once again in the case of a prospering China. The committee is absolutely right to make a connection between respect for human rights and world peace. As Alfred Nobel so well understood, human rights are the prerequisite for the "fraternity between nations."

Fang Lizhi, a professor of physics at the University of Arizona, was a leader of the pro-democracy movement in China before fleeing the country in 1989.

Tragically Funny

Tragically, for this clown still lives off the suffering of an entire population.

According to AP:

Playboy son of NKorea leader raps succession plan

The casino-loving eldest son of North Korea's Kim Jong Il — once tipped to succeed him before trying to sneak into Japan to go to Disneyland — says he opposes a hereditary transfer of power to his youngest half-brother.

It's the first public sign of discord in the tightly choreographed succession process, though analysts said Kim Jong Nam spends so much time outside his native land that his opinion carries little weight.

The chubby 39-year-old Kim, the oldest of three brothers who were in the running to take over secretive North Korea, is the closest thing the country has to a playboy.

Unlike many of his countrymen back home who lack the resources and connections to travel overseas, Kim travels freely and spends much of his time in China or the country's special autonomous region of Macau — the center of Asian gambling with its Las Vegas-style casinos.

He sports the family pot belly and favors newsboy caps and an unshaven face, while frequenting five-star hotels and expensive restaurants. In June, he was photographed in Macau wearing blue Ferragamo loafers.

Speaking in Korean, he told Japan's TV Asahi, in an interview from Beijing aired late Monday and Tuesday, that he is "against third-generation succession," but added, "I think there were internal factors. If there were internal factors, (we) should abide by them."

"I have no regrets about it. I wasn't interested in it and I don't care," Kim said, when asked whether he is OK with the succession plan.

The "Cuban Oil" Dud, Again

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
According to The Oil and Gas Journal:

Experts examine how Cuba's offshore oil could be 'game changer'

Participants [at a recent Inter-American Dialogue/FIU forum] immediately dismissed rumors of the Chinese already drilling off Cuba. But they also indicated that China could eventually play an important role in parts of Cuba's oil industry beyond exploration and production.

China could invest heavily and be the operator of two new refineries which have proposed to process the heavy crude from offshore wells, according to Jorge R. Pinon, a visiting research fellow at CRI's Latin American and Caribbean Center. It's uncertain whether the North Belt offshore region could make Cuba a net oil exporter, but it could break the country's dependent relationship with Venezuela to both countries' satisfaction, he said.

"The same relationship Cuba had with the Soviet Union in the 1960s and '70s it now has with Venezuela," said Pinon. "I believe China could become its new partner. It's looking for Caribbean refining capacity, including Valero's facility in Aruba, and could use Cuba's new refineries to sell light products to the US and keep the diesel and fuel oil for itself."

Obviously, these "experts" need a refresher in U.S. law, particularly the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which expressly prohibit such transactions.

Consequently, China will not be investing heavily, nor operating any new Cuban refineries, for it's commercially and logistically unfeasible as long as U.S. sanctions remain.

Thus, this is -- and has always been -- a dud.

Will Dems Reject Chamber's Cuba Policy?

Monday, October 11, 2010
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has become public enemy #1 for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

According to The Washington Post:

Obama continues attack on Chamber of Commerce

The White House intensified its attacks Sunday on the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its alleged ties to foreign donors, part of an escalating Democratic effort to link Republican allies with corporate and overseas interests ahead of the November midterm elections.

So the question is:

Will President Obama and Congressional Democrats also reject the Chamber's Cuba policy?

After all, it seeks to promote business ties with a foreign monopoly -- the Castro regime.

Let's hope so.

How to Bring Down a Dictator

A must-read from YES! Magazine:

Ten years ago, on October 5, 2000, hundreds of thousands of Serbian protesters descended on the streets of Belgrade and pushed past the indifferent security forces to seize control of the Parliament building, effectively ending the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. It was the final act of a two-year nonviolent struggle led by the youth movement known as Otpor, or "Resistance," whose iconic clenched-fist led the way toward free elections and newfound democracy.

One of the leaders of this movement was 27-year-old Srdja Popovic, who after Milosevic's overthrow was elected to the Serbian Parliament. In 2004, Popovic left politics to found the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade, an organization that has trained activists in dozens of countries around the world—from those involved in the successful pro-democracy movements in Georgia, Ukraine, and the Maldives to the ongoing struggles in Burma and Iran.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Popovic and ask him about the role that humor played in the struggle against Milosevic, how Otpor was able to win over his feared security forces, and the ways in which the movement lives on today.

Click on the top link to read the whole interview with Popovic. Here's a glimpse:

What is the significance of Otpor globally and how do you see it alive around the world today?

SP: Otpor and the Serbian nonviolent revolution has really become a worldwide recognizable brand. You will find successful examples of similar movements in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon, (2006) and as far as the Maldives (2008). You will find the same symbols and visual identity in Egypt and Kenya. You will find Buddhist monks leading the Saffron Revolution inspired by the movie Bringing Down A Dictator. You will find similar strategically-run nonviolent movements in Venezuela and Vietnam. You will find books and movies distributed widely in Cuba and Iran. It seems that the idea and model of "nonviolent revolution" has inspired many people and some of them have successfully implemented bright and creative tactics, thanks in part to the movie Bringing Down A Dictator, a series of books including Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points, and most of all the bravery and interest of local activists worldwide. That makes us proud because we strongly believe that every man and woman in the world has the full right but also a duty to stand for human rights and democracy.

Still No Political Prisoner Releases in Cuba

Yesterday's AP headline read:

Cuba to free 3 prisoners not in church deal of 52

Cuba will release into exile in Spain a lawyer jailed for allegedly revealing state security secrets and two hijackers, none of whom were on a list of 52 political prisoners the government has agreed to free in a deal with the Roman Catholic Church.

And tucked away at the very end of the story, there was this (important, yet glazed over) paragraph:

All but 13 of the dissidents covered in the deal with the church have been freed. At least seven of those still jailed have rejected freedom because they don't want to leave Cuba.

So 13 of the 52 that were announced for release in July remain in prison, essentially because they refuse to be banished to Spain.

Yet, the AP has the audacity to say that they have "rejected freedom"?

They have not "rejected freedom" -- they have spent over 7 years in political prison fighting for their freedom (as well as that of the entire Cuban people) with extraordinary courage and sacrifice.

Furthermore, forcibly exiling prisoners to Spain is not "freedom."

Freedom includes the ability to choose where you want to live, particularly within your own homeland, as encapsulated in Articles 9, 13 and 15 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Do you think it's a coincidence that the Castro regime is forcibly exiling three additional political prisoners, while 13 of the original 52 remain behind bars?

Of course not, the regime's goal is to divert the world's attention away from those that want to remain in their homeland and refuse to swap prison for banishment.

So why aren't those that refuse banishment worthy of a headline?

It's one thing for the Castro regime and the Catholic Church to play that game, but it's appalling for the world's free media to play along.

In the meantime, the tragic truth remains that not a single one of these political prisoners has been released in Cuba.

Ladies in White Supporters Beaten (Again)

Sunday, October 10, 2010
According to EFE, Sonia Garron Alfonso and Mercedes Fresneda Castillo, two activists from the support group of the Ladies in White, have been brutally beaten by Cuban state security.

They were detained over the weekend for demonstrating with a sign that read, "Down with racism and long live human rights." Both Garron and Fresneda are Afro-Cuban.

During their detention, the authorities broke Garron's nose and fractured Fresneda's left wrist.

As Ladies in White spokeswoman, Berta Soler, declared: "this shows that there have been no changes in Cuba, as men are still being imprisoned and women beaten."

Mahmoud, Bruno and Fidel

According to Iran's state media:

Ahmadinejad urges closer Iran-Cuba ties

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Iran and Cuba should cooperate on all fronts, saying there is no limit for the promotion of ties with Latin American countries.

"The two countries should tap into all their potential to further deepen cooperation and mutual relations," President Ahmadinejad told Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Tehran on Sunday.

The president then touched upon Cuba's struggles against global capitalism and said, "Today, the historical dreams of the two countries and nations are coming true."

President Ahmadinejad told the top visiting Cuban official that Tehran and Havana can cooperate in a whole range of areas, highlighting the numerous possibilities for cooperation within the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

Hegemonic powers seek to orchestrate coups in Latin America, said the Iranian president, urging all nations to remain vigilant and maintain presence in the global political arena.

The Cuban foreign minister, for his part, described Iran as a heavyweight in the global arena, adding that his country backs Iran in all international circles.

Rodriguez conveyed to President Ahmadinejad the warmest greetings of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, expressing hope that Tehran-Havana cooperation would further expand on an international level after Iran takes over the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Taking Exception in Nebraska

By Frank Calzon in The Lincoln Journal Star:

Taking exception to Cuban 'opportunity'

The stated premise of your editorial (Loosen trade with Cuba, 9/29/2010) that "recent moves by Fidel and Raul Castro present a new opportunity" is simply wrong and, I fear, leading you to recommend policy changes that offer no relief from poverty to the Cuban people and will leave American taxpayers holding a worthless Cuban IOU.

It is correct that the Cuban government has announced it will "lay off a half a million workers," about 10 percent of Cuba's workforce. It does not follow that this means "a move toward the free market system."

In 2002, Fidel Castro announced the closing of 71 of the country's 156 sugar mills, leaving thousands of workers unemployed. Like the new layoff, the old layoff was a move toward greater misery, poverty and despair for workers and families.

Closing the mills also was the demise of an industry that had fueled Cuba's economy and development since the 18th century and a testament to the cruelty of the tight control the Castro communist government exerts over the island's economy.

The 178 "self-employment" jobs open to Cubans include: animal caretaker, barber, baby sitter, servicing carts pulled by animals for children's use, clown, re-filler of cigarette lighters, repairman of wicker products, salesman of paper flowers, future teller, collector of grasses for animal feed, mattress repairman, doorman, peeler of natural fruits, pet-hair cutter, servants, umbrellas repairman, and exhibitor of trained dogs.

Cuba is a beggar state, dependent on the remittances of exiles to prevent widespread hunger. The Castro Regime imposes high taxes on those remittances, ignoring President Barack Obama's request to reduce those taxes and rejecting proposals to normalize postal service. Re-establishing postal service would help millions of desperate Cubans, but the regime awards its supporters with private freight concessions and takes a cut of their profits.

Here is the historic record: By 1962, the Castro government had assumed control of all major economic activity in Cuba and had confiscated about $1 billion in American-owned properties. By 1968, virtually every vestige of pre-Castro free-enterprise had been eliminated, including fruit stands and barber shops.

Even by communist standards the Cuban government has exercised an unparalleled level of economic control. Today, Cuba is broke. Its government has no clue as to how to deal with the most serious economic crisis in the island's history, except to freeze the bank accounts of foreign investors "due to a liquidity crisis" and urge American tourists to visit and rescue it.

The biggest economic reform it could muster is to allow "Paladares" to increase seating to 20 from 12. Paladares are restaurants in the home of the cook. This is a far cry from the economic activity allowed by the also repressive Vietnamese and Chinese communist regimes.

In 2007, America sold Havana $437.5 million dollars in foodstuffs. In 2008, the number was $710 million. Unlike exporters from other nations, the U.S. exporters got paid because the United States requires that any trade with Cuba be made on a "cash and carry" basis. The United States cannot extend credit to Havana without also providing export insurance and guarantees that force American taxpayers to pick up the tab when Cuba defaults. Havana already owes billions to European nations.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, it simply is not in the best interests of this country to lift sanctions unilaterally. With U.S. dollars flowing into its coffers, the Cuban government most likely will strengthen its repressive, domestic security forces, halt any pretense of economic reform, and increase its worldwide anti-American campaigns. That's been the history of Castro's Cuba, and it is why Cuba remains on the State Department's list of state-supporters of international terrorism.

Those who believe that "increased economic contact with Cuba cannot help but increase the desire among Cubans for freedom of speech and other political rights" should know that that desire already is strong. What pro-democracy advocates in Cuba need is support and solidarity with the United States in keeping pressure on the Castro government to reform. Have you ever heard anyone trading with Havana, call on the Castro regime to reform its economy? Hold free elections? Uphold human rights? What you hear from those now trading with Havana is silence.

Change will come to Havana. When it does, U.S. policy, no doubt, will facilitate a successful transition to democracy and market economics. For now, let's help the Cuban people by denying subsidies to their oppressors.