An Elitist Class of Their Own

Sunday, July 31, 2011
A Canadian tourism company (Standard Feather International, SFI) has announced that the Castro regime will allow it to hold a perpetual lease on a beach property in the Holguin province, in order to build a luxurious golf community and country club.

Moreover, it will allow its foreign residents to import their vehicles and provide "exclusive" food products for their consumption (including home delivery).

(Maybe Treasury will even issue one of those luxury "people-to-people" licenses).

Of course, all of this is denied (and strictly off-limits) to the Cuban people -- except for the Castro clan.
On a tangential note -- and to add insult to injury -- a new pictorial book, Habana Libre, explores the life of privilege and luxury of the Castros' offspring -- whom the author nauseatingly refers to as "very elegant and sophisticated and talented people."

They follow in the same "exclusive" tradition of other tyrannical heirs, including Uday and Qusay Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Saif Gaddafi and Kim Jong Un.

As the recently-exiled offspring of another privileged Castro family ally, J.J. Almeida, describes them (H/T Penultimos Dias):

"Grand-daddy's kids who live in a paralyzed society, sniff cocaine in the Red Room of the Capri (Hotel), hook up with stylish prostitutes and remain paralyzed in a revolutionary fair that I wouldn't label as corruption, but simple opportunism."

So much for social justice.

Image courtesy of MyParkingSign.com.

Castro's Sprawling Racism

Saturday, July 30, 2011
Excerpt from Carlos Moore's "Putting Context to Cuba's Racial Divide":

Brought to light in 2008, the first comprehensive, officially-sanctioned document addressing the issue of race in Cuba under the Revolution, The Challenges of the Racial Problem in Cuba, paints a stark picture of the situation that exists even now in 2009 for the blacks. This graphic, 385-page document, supported by a bounty of hitherto unpublicized statistics, speaks of neglect, denial, and forceful resurgence of racism in Cuba under Communism.

The publication shows a growing impoverishment of the population as a whole, but it emphasizes that black Cubans are disproportionately affected. The old segregationist Cuba is gone, according to this document, yet, somehow the country's leadership continues to be predominantly white (71%). A majority of the country's scientists and technicians are white (72.7%), even though both races have equal rates of education.

The same whitening process affects Cuba's universities at the professorial level (80% at the University of La Habana).

In the countryside, the land that is privately held is almost totally in the hands of whites (98%), and even in the State cooperatives blacks are almost nonexistent (5%).

A robust percentage of able-bodied Cubans with jobs are white, whether male (66.9%) or female (63.8%). In contrast, the overall employment rate of blacks who are fit to work is startlingly low (34.2%). We are left to conclude that most able-bodied black Cubans are unemployed (65.8%).

Hostage-Taking Must Be Unequivocally Unacceptable

When will the Obama Administration put some teeth into its rhetorical demands for Alan Gross's release?

(Our concern is expressed at the end.)

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cuba should free Alan Gross

ALAN P. GROSS, the U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor who committed what Cuba considers the unconscionable offense of making the Internet available to members of its minuscule Jewish community, has almost exhausted possible judicial appeals of his 15-year prison sentence.

Mr. Gross, 62, a resident of Potomac, was arrested in December 2009 as he prepared to fly home from Havana. Convicted on trumped-up charges in March this year, he appeared a few days ago before Cuba's highest tribunal to appeal his conviction and plead for release. The outcome of his appeal, expected in the coming days, is certain to be dictated one way or another by Cuban leader Raul Castro — and will be a sign of whether Cuba is remotely interested in better relations with Washington.

Cuba, besides its repressive ally Venezuela, is virtually the only place in the Western Hemisphere where distributing laptop computers and satellite phone equipment intended to connect people to the Internet — Mr. Gross's supposed "crime" — could be construed as subversive. The regime in Havana is so brittle and creaky that it blanches at the idea of its subjects communicating too freely with the outside world, lest they undermine a communist system whose attempts at economic development have delivered scanty results.

There are plenty of humanitarian reasons to release Mr. Gross, who has been confined for 19 months. Somewhat overweight when he was arrested, Mr. Gross has lost 100 pounds, according to his wife and other American visitors who have been allowed to meet with him; he also suffers from gout, ulcers and arthritis. His daughter is struggling with cancer, and his mother is reported to be in poor health.

Cuban authorities have portrayed Mr. Gross as a spy involved in an enterprise aimed at undermining the regime. That seems unlikely in the extreme. In fact, Mr. Gross, a veteran development worker who had minimal command of Spanish, was part of a democratization project of the sort the U.S. government runs in countries all over the world.

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Gross was working for Development Alternatives Inc., a Bethesda firm that had won a $6 million government contract to promote democracy in Cuba. His work consisted mainly of providing computers and satellite phones to Cuban Jews, a community thought to number about 1,500, so they could access the Internet, whose use is restricted in Cuba, and contact Jewish communities beyond Cuba's shores. Not exactly a cloak-and-dagger project likely to bring the Castro brothers to their knees.

The Obama administration has made it clear that any improvement in relations with Cuba is on hold pending Mr. Gross's release. That's a fitting response to the communist regime's knee-jerk behavior in persecuting an American whose "crime," if any, may have been an excess of naivete.

(CHC: How has an improvement in relations been placed on hold? In the year-and-a-half that Mr. Gross has been held hostage by the Castro brothers, the Obama Administration has continued to take measures easing sanctions, while U.S. Senators John Kerry and Patrick Leahy have acquiesced to the regime's demands to hinder Cuba democracy programs. Thus, they've sent a very dangerous message, which further endangers Mr. Gross and other American lives: hostage-taking pays.)

Fidel and Hugo's Last Hurrah

Must-Read of the Week

Friday, July 29, 2011
By Rikki Ratliff in The Toronto Sun:

Cuba: A Pretend Paradise

Cuba has become Canada's beloved vacation destination and unofficial 11th province.

Nobody travels more to Cuba than Canadians — about 600,000 of us head there every year. With affordable non-stop flights and unbeatable all-inclusive packages, even middle-class families can afford to play in paradise.

But beyond the shoreline, the oasis turns mirage.

As we casually sip our mojitos and work on our tans, dissident journalists are silenced and jailed every day for speaking out against Castro's island "utopia."

Popular Cuban author and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, is the most recent victim to endure Castro's silent treatment.

Her crime? Publishing a tell-all book that dispels the fantasy of Cuba as a model for socialized government. Her shipment of books from the publisher were seized by the government and never made it into the country.

For her practice of free speech, she is also prohibited from leaving Cuba.

Through telephone interviews and her blog site, Generation Y, she manages to find ways to loosen the invisible chains of communism that bind her.

Others like Sanchez convicted of dissidence are sentenced anywhere from five to 25 years in prison — many of them locked up with violent criminals, subject to the worst possible treatment. All this is happening just miles from our sheltered sandy resorts.

For the adventurous traveler who dares to enter into the "real Havana," the charming portrait belies the truth, as no local will ever speak of the reality of their circumstances.

Despite his failing health, Castro's grip on public perception remains as powerful as ever.

Jimmy Escobar is an author, frequent visitor to Cuba since the '90s, and a major supporter of the Cuban people.

"Loyalists to the government are planted within the tourism industry," Escobar warned over the phone. "The regime would never allow any worker in contact with vacationing Canadians to speak ill of the government."

If we were to sanction every destination that violates basic human rights, we'd be left with few options. However, how is Canada — a country that considers itself a human rights leader on the world stage — able to reconcile propping up a government through tourism, which jails its non-violent critics?

Sure we do a necessary dance with China, one of the greatest offenders of human rights, but the billions of dollars in trade is the easy justification.

But how necessary are Varadero vacations?

While thousands of Canadians save up their hard-earned paycheques to get into Cuba, thousands more Cubans risk their lives to flee on float vessels to freedom; many are turned away by U.S. officials in the Caribbean Sea, countless others drown.

The irony that our beloved vacation spot is a hell they're trying to escape is one that cannot be ignored.

Previous talks of bringing Turks and Caicos into the Canadian fold as the 11th province sound inviting. But why not start a real revolution — and welcome in the warm island of Cuba?

That way we wouldn't have to continue to duck under our beach umbrellas at abuses we would never tolerate here at home — all because of the lure of some cheap sunshine and a good cigar.

Ratliff is senior producer of The Source with Ezra Levant on Sun News Network

'Til Their Own Death Comes Knocking

Thursday, July 28, 2011
It's fascinating how tyrants always call for the ultimate sacrifice of others on behalf of their dictatorships.

Yet, when it comes to their own death, they want the mere thought to be inviable.

From Bloomberg:

Chavez Eliminates Death From Slogan, Vows to Rule Past 2031

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called on his government to remove the word death from a military slogan and said that he plans to rule past 2031 as he prepares for a new round of chemotherapy in the "coming days."

Chavez, speaking from a balcony at the presidential palace for a celebration of his 57th birthday today, said that while he's currently in a "quarantine" of sorts while receiving treatment, he expects to live another 57 years and to win another presidential term in elections next year.

Chavez, who was jailed in 1992 for leading a failed coup after serving as a paratrooper and tank commander, called on his government to change a military slogan that he promoted from "Fatherland, Socialism or Death," to "Fatherland, Socialism or Victory. We will live and conquer."

"People-to-People" Support for MINFAR

This month, the Castro regime hosted a briefing for Latin American journalists to boast about its tourism industry.

Amongst its "successes," it highlighted that "thirteen foreign hotel chains are in charge of the administration of 28,854 rooms total, by means of 65 management contracts with national companies Cubanacan, Gran Caribe and Gaviota."

For those that don't follow Cuba closely, Cubanacan, Gran Caribe and Gaviota are companies entirely owned and operated by the Castro regime's military (Ministerio de la Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, MINFAR).

So when the Treasury Department issues "people-to-people" licenses to Abercrombie and Kent, and other similar travel providers, that offer "exclusive accommodations at Cuba's best hotels" (11 days for $4,325 per person) -- they are directly contributing to MINFAR's bottom line.

Thus, the Cuban "people" being directly supported by such travel are General Raul Castro, General Julio Casas Regueiro, General Aberlardo Colome Ibarra, General Ramiro Valdes, Coronel Alejandro Castro Espin, Coronel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja and the rest of the Castro clan's nefarious repressive forces.

Is that the intent of Obama's "people-to-people" travel policy?

We hope not -- but sadly, it's a very real consequence.

A Courageous Protest in the Capitolio

Yesterday, Cuban pro-democracy activist Ivon Mayeza Galano courageously stood on the steps of the Capitol building ("Capitolio") in Havana with a bed-sheet reading:

"Cambios en Cuba Sin Dictadura" ("Change in Cuba Without Dictatorship")

Passers-by expressed their support, but she was promptly arrested.

Perhaps the foreign news bureaus in Havana can look into her safety and whereabouts.

Update on Hostage Crises

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
By Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Elliott Abrams:

Key Days In Our Hostage Crises

Decisions will be coming in the next few days in the cases of our hostages in Cuba and in Iran.

In Cuba, the "Supreme Peoples Court" heard the appeal of Alan Gross last Friday and should be announcing its decision very soon.

Gross is an AID contractor who Cuba has jailed since 2009 on ridiculous charges that his work for AID was actually espionage.

In Iran, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer have also been in prison for two years. They are hikers who strayed across Iran's border from Iraqi Kurdistan and the espionage case against them is equally baseless. They are scheduled to go on trial this Sunday, July 31, the second anniversary of their arrest.

One can make an argument for the Obama Administration's low-key handling of these cases—if they end well, with the release of all three men very soon. Then the Administration will be able to say that quiet diplomacy was the best bet and that release could not have been speeded up by louder criticism and more diplomatic attacks on Iran and Cuba.

But that argument will work only if they are all released. If these "trials," which are farcical and depend on decisions made at the top of each regime, do not result in the release of our hostages the Administration will have to abandon its present tactics. Far more publicity and pressure will be needed. For example, the Obama Administration eased rules governing travel to Cuba this year. It is obscene that Americans are cavorting on Cuban beaches while their entire population is held prisoner by the Castro regime, but the loosening of travel regulations cannot be sustained if Cuba refuses to release Alan Gross. If the White House will not tighten them again, Congress should do so unless Gross is freed within weeks.

Are Cuban-Americans Changing Their Views?

Yesterday, Chris Sabatini of the New York-based Council of Americas added his voice to those "Cuba "experts" -- with absolutely no political experience in South Florida -- who want President Obama to believe his Cuba policy is somehow good politics.

This, despite the fact that -- just last year -- President Obama's Congressional candidate in South Florida's 25th District couldn't break 18% of the Cuban-American vote.

So lets recap.

Are Cuban-Americans changing their views?

In theory
-- since 1985.

In reality -- not a single candidate who supports unconditionally easing sanctions towards the Castro dictatorship has ever been elected by the Cuban-American community.

And just for fun -- here's a breakdown of some discredited "theorists," including some of The Miami Herald's finest (former) political reporters (H/T Henry Louis Gomez):

Please note the dates.

"...there has been a generational change among Cuban voters. The power is no longer being wielded exclusively -- perhaps not even primarily -- by those whose political orientation is Cuba..."

-MIAMI'S VOTE MADE HISTORY, November 10, 1985, by Tom Fiedler

"The memory was reinforced in a similar conversation with a middle-aged Cuban American who watches some of his contemporaries react in anger and frustration to the obvious Americanness of their yuca (Young Upscale Cuban American) children. They want their children to feel the loss of Cuba as they feel it.

This wish to have our children re-create our own past experiences is common, perhaps even universal. But it is a vain hope, one that brings only grief if it is pressed very hard
."

-THE 'MEMORY OF A MEMORY', November 20, 1988, by Joanna Wragg

"For Hispanic candidates banking on ethnic calls to arms, the survey suggests that the approach may bring no better than mixed results right now. And in the future, they may not work at all, as the numbers of younger voters overtake their seniors."

-MAYORAL ELECTION EXPOSES GENERATION GAP, November 7, 1993, by Andres Viglucci

"There is a generational transition going on," said Jose Ceballos, Hispanic coordinator for the Clinton-Gore campaign. "I have a lot of young Cubans who come up to me and say, 'Don't tell my Mom, but your guy's doing pretty good.' "

-GOP WOULD BE TOUGHER ON CUBA, KEMP PLEDGES, October 27, 1996 by Tom Fiedler

"There are also some generational differences. Younger people are more likely than older exiles to favor dialogue and to want to hear music from the island played on Miami radio, according to the poll."

-EXILES GLUM ABOUT PROSPECTS FOR CUBA, June 29, 1997 by Cynthia Corzo and Fabiola Santiago

"Some of the change is generational . Cubans who came to the United States in the 1960s - and traditionally have held the more conservative views - now make up only a third of the Cuban population in Miami-Dade.

"Through time, there has been a greater acceptance that there are going to be these initiatives,'' Perez said. "I also think that to some extent, there's been a transition in the Cuban-American community. People have changed their position, and many of the traditional hard-liners have died.''

-U.S.-CUBA EXCHANGES BECOMING MORE COMMON, March 26, 1999, by Fabiola Santiago

Rangel Marks Castro's Holiday

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Sadly, this is not a joke.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel of New York has chosen this July 26th -- the Castro dictatorship's most celebrated revolutionary holiday -- to send the following Congressional Dear Colleague:

After 50 Years, Let's Join Over 100 Countries that Now Have Full Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

From: The Honorable Charles B. Rangel

July 26, 2011

Dear Colleague:

This Congress, I've reintroduced the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act of 2011 (H.R.1888) to promote and expand upon President Obama's recently modified Cuba policies. I am seeking your support for Export Freedom to Cuba Act (H.R.1886), the Free Trade with Cuba Act (H.R.1887), and the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act (H.R.1888). They will all contribute to the normalization of relations between our two great countries. All three of these closely related bills are crucial for developing a freer, more open dialogue with the people of Cuba.


Coincidence?

Senate Should Reject Farrar Nomination

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida in NRO:

The Senate Should Reject the President's Nominee for Ambassador to Nicaragua

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the nomination of Jonathan Farrar to be the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. After thoroughly researching his track record, consulting with others familiar with his work and personally questioning him during a Senate hearing last month, I believe his confirmation would send the wrong message and I strenuously oppose it.

His tenure as chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana should alarm all my colleagues. Several Cuban human-rights organizations reported his systematic "reluctance and disinterest" to work with dissidents in Cuba, while keeping his distance from the besieged pro-democracy organizations in that country. Under his direction, the mission dismantled creative methods that had been put in place and maintained by the two previous chiefs of mission to visibly engage with the Cuban people and bring them uncensored information. The most notable of these was taking down the news ticker that ran across the façade of the U.S. Interests Section projecting quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and uncensored news headlines to those living under Castro's repressive regime.

When given a chance to alleviate these concerns during his nomination hearing, Mr. Farrar did not credibly explain what prompted the policy shift that ended these creative initiatives. He also failed to explain his role in this decision.

According to press reports, an April 2009 dispatch signed by Mr. Farrar stated that Cuban pro-democracy activists' focus on human rights did not resonate with Cubans "who are more concerned about having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably." This conclusion raises the possibility that Mr. Farrar believes respect for the rule of law and human rights is predicated on economic progress. Furthermore, his views conflicted with information from surveys done by internationally-recognized NGOs inside Cuba, which note that more than 75 percent of Cuban adults have expressed support for voting for fundamental political change if given the opportunity.

During his hearing, Mr. Farrar did not explain how he arrived at those conclusions. Furthermore, Mr. Farrar did not provide any evidence of programs he would have proposed to address the situation described on the April 2009 dispatch and help the Cuban pro-democracy groups strengthen the capacity of their organizations even as they face the relentless persecution of the Castro regime.

During a September 2009 visit to Cuba by then–Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bisa Williams, the U.S. Interests Section in Havana hosted a reception where Castro regime officials were invited, but representatives of independent civil society were excluded. This unprecedented measure undermined long-standing bipartisan U.S. policy to support Cuba's pro-democracy movement. It's practically unheard of for the U.S. Interests Section to have an event and exclude dissidents.

During his hearing, Mr. Farrar failed to explain the purpose of excluding dissident organizations from U.S. events or his role in planning the September 2009 reception. He also did not provide an explanation as to how many other similarly exclusionary events took place during his assignment in Havana.

In sum, while in Havana, Mr. Farrar adopted a "give no offense" approach to U.S. policy in Cuba, unilaterally dismantling or weakening U.S. pro-democracy initiatives in order to placate the Castro regime. More importantly, the measures taken under his direction failed to produce any demonstrable improvement in the Castro regime's human rights record or its willingness to engage the Cuban people in a path towards meaningful political openness.

In Nicaragua, a determined and autocratic President Daniel Ortega is corrupting and weakening Nicaraguan institutions to extend his grip on power. He has manipulated elections, corrupted and manipulated the courts, and threatened opposition members with mob violence.

Mr. Farrar's nomination is problematic because of its broader applications to every embassy and diplomatic mission we have around the world. It goes to heart of the question: What is the proper role of the United States around the world when it comes to advocating for freedom? In countries where people live in the oppressive darkness or feel increasingly powerless in the face of authoritarianism, is the United States going to be a shining light that people can turn to for support? Are we going to be a voice for the powerless?

I believe that whether it's people in Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else around the world, the United States must be a voice that will speak clearly and unmistakably for freedom. Our diplomatic corps — from the ambassadors all the way down to the Foreign Service officers on their first assignments — should be doing everything they possibly can to vehemently support democratic movements around the world. We certainly shouldn't be shunning them, diminishing them, or undermining them in any way.

I am deeply troubled by the message the president is sending not only to Nicaragua and Cuba but the entire Western Hemisphere through this nomination. I am concerned about what it says to the rest of the world. At this time, we need a forceful and unequivocal voice for democratic values and the rule of law in Nicaragua. Mr. Farrar is not the right choice for this post and he should not be approved by the committee.

Part-Time Purpose, Part-Time Party

When the Obama Administration first announced its new regulations for people-to-people ("purposeful") travel this year, the AP reported:

"If it is simply salsa dancing and mojitos, no. That doesn't pass the purposeful-travel criteria," a State Department official involved with the policy said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Moreover, when the Treasury Department announced its official guidelines for these new regulations, it emphasized that:

Authorized trips are expected to be led by the licensed organization and to have a full-time schedule of activities in which the travelers will participate.

Yet, this month's New York Times story on "people-to-people" licensed travel makes it abundantly clear that -- in reality -- these trips are only part-time purposeful and part-time party.

Here are some excerpts:

- Despite the intense schedule, Ms. Brout and the group found time in Varadero, in the northwestern province of Matanzas, to wade in the sea and sip mojitos at Xanadu, the grand former mansion of Irénée du Pont, now part of a golf course.

- This group squeezed in some leisure time, too, touring Havana's carefully restored old city, catching some jazz at La Zorra y el Cuervo and dining at La Guarida, a bohemian restaurant tucked at the top of a crumbling central Havana mansion.

- While visitors are shuttled around on a tight schedule, their evenings are often free, and several said they felt they had time to draw their own conclusions, both positive and negative.

- "You spend a day in a dance class, and then in the evening, you can go to a club and dance with Cubans. And you're not breaking any rules," she said. "That's great."

Actually -- you are breaking the rules.

And that's not to mention the recent onslaught of luxury travel announcements to Cuba -- which inherently defy the purpose of these trips.

Remember when travel advocates would argue that visitors would stay in "casa particulares" and eat at "paladares"?)

Yesterday, Treasurywarned of misstatements in the media -- and abuses -- regarding its Cuba travel policy.

Now, the question remains -- will they pull the licenses of these obvious violators?

Treasury Recognizes Cuba Travel Abuses

Monday, July 25, 2011
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has just released the following travel advisory:

CUBA TRAVEL ADVISORY

ISSUED: July 25, 2011

SUBJECT: Travel to Cuba and People-to-People Groups

The U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") is aware of misstatements in the media suggesting that U.S. foreign policy, as implemented by OFAC, now allows for virtually unrestricted group travel to Cuba by persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Although OFAC amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 515 (the "Regulations"), in January 2011 to expand licensing of travel to Cuba for certain specific purposes, the amended Regulations still contain significant travel restrictions.

Read more here.

Let's hope Treasury takes action against those intentionally skirting the law.

The Indefensible Case for One-Party Rule

The underlying basis of this column is very disturbing.

Yet sadly, this is what some people want for Cuba.

By Paul Roderick Gregory in Forbes:

China's Flawed Case For One-Party Rule

Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker, biographer, corporate strategist and paid advisor to the Chinese government, is the face of China's PR campaign for the Chinese Communist Party's (CPC) 90th anniversary. The publication of his China Daily article "China 'best served'' with CPC at the helm" as two-page advertising supplements in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal shows China's desire to legitimize itself in the eyes of the international community.

Kuhn is not the only advocate of Chinese-style one-party rule. Among those joining him are New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman and investor-philanthropist George Soros. Both praise the CPC's sound and timely decision making. Some scholars also argue that "benevolent" one-party rule is better for poor countries that cannot afford "messy" democracies at early stages of development. They point to contemporary China, South Korea and Taiwan in their early years as cases in point. (Both South Korea and Taiwan transitioned to democracy within two decades. The CPC has exercised one-party rule for more than a half century with no end in sight.)

Here's a summary of the brilliant counter-arguments made by Gregory:

- In market democracies, voters and the market determine "who gets what." In China, the CPC decides who lives where, which companies get state credits, what prices to charge for high-speed rail, how to clear occupied land for new construction, what wages to set, how much corruption to tolerate, and whether to allow citizens to attend church on Sunday.

- If we use history as our guide, only democracy has produced high living standards, not CPC-like dictatorships. And those countries that are now rich did not wait to introduce democracy until their peoples were rich and well educated. The slogan: "bread first, freedom later" has appeal, but it has yet to work in the long run.

- I know of no historical precedent of a dictatorial regime removing itself for poor decision-making in an act of self-flagellation. Instead, the worse the performance, the more the regime clings to power to avoid the day of reckoning with the people.

- [T]he CPC social contract gives the Chinese people a bad deal. They have preciously little economic freedom (as I would define it) to compensate for their lack of political freedoms. They are not allowed to live where they want. They do not have secure property rights to the land on which they live or the farmland they cultivate. Businesses cannot enter into contracts that will be enforced by courts that follow a rule of law. The CPC dictates how many children they can have. Private persons must bribe corrupt state and party officials to do business. Private businesses lack access to bank loans, and they are disadvantaged by regulators vis-à-vis state businesses.

- The ultimate lack of freedom is that the CPC can take virtually any arbitrary action against the people in their economic and social lives, and they can do nothing to stop this. The lack of a rule of law is perhaps more deadly than the lack of democracy.

- If the Chinese people support the one-party system, why is it so afraid of the people?

If you were an ordinary Chinese citizen, how would you answer a survey researcher asking you whether you like the CPC regime or not? The answer is obvious and so much for Kuhn's proof of regime popularity.

If the people support the CPC, why is it so afraid? Why does it crack down mercilessly on informal Christian religious services? Why does a Nobel Prize awarded a dissident poet create an international incident? Why does it grow hysterical when a foreign leader receives the Dalai Lama? Why is it so fearful of public protests or strikes?

The answer: The CPC realizes that it has no basis for legitimacy; therefore, it must repress any hint of an alternative or a challenge to its legitimacy. Growing church attendance suggests to the CPC that one day the church could challenge its monopoly, as it did in Communist Poland. If workers organize into real labor unions, the unions could eventually become an alternate political movement. A lone dissident may strike a chord among the people that sets off something that they cannot suppress by their usual repression. The CPC leaders look with fear and trembling at the Arab Spring, knowing it could happen in their backyard.

The AP's Blind-Eye Toward Raul's Repression

Today, the AP ran its second (almost duplicate) story in less than three weeks on Cuban dictator Raul Castro's supposed "reform" of the Cuban (state-owned) housing "market."

Was there any more news on the issue?

No -- it still remains subject to Raul's "pledge" and speculation.

Moreover, what has been announced -- thus far -- is farcical.

But hey -- why miss another opportunity to further the pre-disposed narrative of Raul's "reforms."

Meanwhile, last week, 16 Ladies in White were brutally beaten, dragged and stoned in Santiago de Cuba.

Any AP story?

Nope.

And this weekend, 21 dissidents were arrested and 34 placed under house-arrest in Santa Clara, in order to prevent them from supporting a Methodist Minister who was (ironically) being expelled from his home by Castro's secret police.

Not to mention -- the arrest of more Ladies in White in Palma Soriano, the pummeling of pro-democracy leader Iris Perez Aguilera in Placetas and many other acts of repression.

Any AP story?

Nope.

Yet they did squeeze-in a story on lower bulk prices in the wholesale market, which is (of course) owned and operated by the Castro regime.

Shameful.

Castro Increases Military Expenditures

Sunday, July 24, 2011
From Cubapolidata:

In 2010, the Cuban government increased its defense and internal order expenditures by 2%.

According to the recently released 2010 Statistical Annual of Cuba (Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2010) by the Cuban Office of National Statistics (Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (ONE), expenditures in the area of defense and internal order were $2.14B CUP compared to 2009′s total that was $2.09B CUP. (Figures are in millions of Cuban pesos.)

The Raúl Castro government continues the trend of increased defense expenditures.

Another Fugitive Living It Up in Cuba

From Toronto Sun:

Wanted man living it up at resort

Photos of a man police say is on the run and wanted in the shooting death of a 16-year-old Ottawa man surfaced online Friday showing him vacationing in Cuba, QMI Agency has discovered.

But shortly after QMI Agency found the photos of Mohamed Wehbe they mysteriously disappeared.

On Friday, a man calling himself Khalid Wehbe posted photos of Mohamed Wehbe shortly after 5:14 a.m. on his Facebook page -- though it is not clear whether the pictures were taken recently.

It is also unclear whether Mohamed Wehbe, who has a Canada-wide warrant out for his arrest, remains in Cuba.

After QMI Agency contacted Khalid Wehbe, through Facebook, the photos were promptly removed and later in the day his profile was deleted altogether.

The images show the two Wehbes together along with other young men and women posing at what Khalid Wehbe describes as the "Havana Resort." Several show them posing with imaginary guns.

Exporting Freedom or Voyeurism?

Myth: "The United States should immediately remove travel restrictions and allow Americans to act as ambassadors of freedom and American values to Cuba."

-- Letter to President Obama by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

Reality: "Outsiders have long been predicting Cuba's demise as a revolutionary socialist state. And there is undoubtedly a voyeuristic element in many tourists' motives for going there: see it before the wheels drop off."

-- U.K. Telegraph's travel expert, Nigel Richardson, who proceeds to be enthralled by "jineteras."

What to do With a Dictator's Army

Saturday, July 23, 2011
An interesting analysis by U.S. Naval War College Professor Nikolas Gvosdev in World Politics Review:

Most experts believe that one of the most catastrophic mistakes made during the U.S. occupation of Iraq was the decision to disband the Iraqi armed forces in May 2003. The question is not merely of interest to historians and those writing "after-action" reports on the Iraq invasion. After all, other Iraq-style regimes -- most notably in Syria, Libya and North Korea -- are likely to fall in the near future. In all three states, the armed forces are part and parcel of the longstanding political order, and there will be those arguing for their complete dissolution in order to sweep away the last remnants of the "ancien régime."

Starting from scratch with a new army "free from politically compromised personnel," as Florence Gaub puts it in a recent study of post-conflict militaries in Iraq and Lebanon, may be a noble task in theory, but difficult to achieve in practice. A new Libyan democracy, for instance, will need the skills and institutional memory that current supporters of Moammar Gadhafi will bring. Conversely, if the Libyan rebels were to exclude them from any new arrangements, this would not only slow down the process of reconstruction but even possibly sow the seeds for counterrevolution [...]

Rarely do policymakers have easy choices in post-conflict situations. In Iraq, the fear was that compromising with elements of the old order would fundamentally preclude a new and better one from emerging. That led to an ill-thought-out decree that unnecessarily complicated the occupation without leading to any major changes. Hopefully, this lesson will not be forgotten when similar challenges again confront us in other post-conflict scenarios.

We Are All Norwegian

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Norway amidst their national tragedy.

Gud velsigne Norge!

Quote(s) of the Week

"They are beating women on the streets. Dialogue and rapprochement cannot be an option with these oppressors."

-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Cuban pro-democracy leader, on the violent attacks by the Castro regime on The Ladies in White, Twitter, July 21, 2011

And:

"I am very pleased that Republicans and Democrats voted together to roll back President Obama's policies allowing increased travel to Cuba. "

-- U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on Thursday night's 36-6 vote (including 13 Democrats) to repeal Obama's Cuba travel regulations, July 22, 2011

Ladies in White Denounce Violent Attacks

Friday, July 22, 2011
FROM: The Ladies in White, a movement that since 2003 has demanded the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are deprived of their freedom by the Cuban government.

REGARDING: An accusation of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment by the Cuban government against the peaceful opposition movement, The Ladies in White.

Last Sunday morning, July 17, 2011, sixteen Ladies in White and Ladies of Support went to the sanctuary of El Cobre, located in the town of the same name in Santiago de Cuba Province, with the objective of participating in a mass.

When the mass concluded and after the women prayed and asked for the release of political prisoners, they got ready to begin a peaceful march through the sidewalks in this town. Upon starting the journey, forces from the so-called Rapid Response Brigade, previously posted in the surrounding areas of the sanctuary and under the direction of agents of Section 21 of State Security, began to throw stones and shout offensive slurs against the dignity of these Cuban women.

Not fully satisfied with this criminal behavior, the officials of Section 21, Department of State Security (S-21-DSE) gave a previously planned order directly to several women to attack the Ladies in White and Ladies in Support.

1. Belkis Cantillo suffered a serious wound to her right arm when she was attacked by a woman who was a member of the mob with a perforated instrument (scissors). It was necessary to suture her wound.

2. Aymee Garces Leyva suffered serious wounds as a result of the beating, which caused a fistula on one of her vertebra.

3. Tania Montoya lost consciousness as a result of the beating. Her clothes were half-torn off of her as well.

On May 1, 2010, the Cuban government agreed with the Catholic Church as its witness (that is, his Imminence Cardinal Jaime Ortega) that the Ladies in White would not be reprimanded by the Rapid Response Brigades, an agreement which was broken on December 9, 2010, when repressive acts began again on the evening of December 10th, the international remembrance of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The socio-economic situation in Cuba continues to deteriorate, and as a consequence, criticism against the government is growing, and as a result, actions by the peaceful, non-violent opposition are growing inside of Cuba as well. Parallel to this increase in opposition, the government is accelerating, perfecting, modernizing, equipping, and increasing its repressive efforts. As a result, we do not rule out increased and escalated repressive efforts by the Cuban government, and for this reason, we call attention to the following:

That during the act of repression against the Ladies in White and the Ladies of Support at the Sanctuary of El Cobre in Santiago de Cuba Province:

a. The repressive mobs used stones, sticks, and perforated cutting instruments against the women.
b. Men, who were members of the mob, kicked and beat the women.

Peacefully, we remember that the United Nations, on more than just a few occasions, has condemned violence against women, and Cuba, a member nation of this organization, has a government that promotes violence against them. Specifically, Cuba finances, organizes and directs this violence.

Given from Havana, Cuba
The Ladies in White

Berta Soler
Laura Pollán

Translated by the Coalition of Cuban-American Women.

Is Luxury a New Category of Travel?

Then the Obama Administration wonders why Congress -- in a bipartisan manner -- overwhelmingly rejects its supposedly "humanitarian" Cuba policy.

From The New York Times:

Going to Cuba in Luxury

Five-star hotels and luxury motor coaches may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Cuba. But now they can be part of the experience. Abercrombie & Kent, the luxury travel company, is offering trips to Cuba from the United States made possible by President Obama's loosening of travel restrictions earlier this year.

Obama Travel Regs Repealed in 2nd Major Bill

Thursday, July 21, 2011
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has just overwhelmingly voted 36-6 -- in a bipartisan manner -- to repeal the Obama Cuba travel regulations in the FY 2012 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.

Last month, similar language was added to the must-pass FY 2012 Financial Services Appropriations bill.

Thus, in an almost unprecedented move, there are now two major multi-faceted pieces of legislation that contain language to repeal the Obama Cuba travel regulations.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 34

From The Miami Herald:

Move to tighten Cuba travel could pass in Congress

An effort by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart to overturn Obama administration rules easing restrictions on travel to Cuba may win congressional approval despite a threatened presidential veto, according to supporters and even some critics.

The Florida Republican's proposal was initially given little chance of becoming law, especially after President Barack Obama last week vowed to veto it if it reached the White House for his signature.

But as the bill's possible paths through Capitol Hill became clearer, even some of its critics now say they believe the measure stands a reasonable chance of making it past Congress and even the White House.

"Although we appreciate the president's veto threat, there is no question that this misguided legislation, due to the way it's been placed in an appropriations bill, has a good chance," said former Democratic congressional candidate Joe Garcia.

"I am certainly NOT surprised that this looks like it's going to pass," added Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee, which supports strong U.S. sanctions on Cuba [...]

Diaz-Balart's wording on Cuba was approved by a voice vote — indicating there was no strong opposition — in the House Appropriations Committee as an amendment to a bill funding the Treasury Department and other agencies for the coming fiscal year.

The bill is all but certain to be approved unchanged by the Republican-controlled House. The Democratic-controlled Senate usually does not draft its own version of the Treasury budget bill, leaving it to a House-Senate conference committee, with members appointed by congressional leaders, to craft a compromise.

House and Senate Democrats in the conference committee will try to strip the Diaz-Balart language out of the bill, said the Capitol Hill staffer, "but in a conference committee the leadership gives the orders, and on this one I don't know if the Democratic leadership is willing to die for travel to Cuba." [...]

"When the same people are going to Cuba two and three times and even more times a year, that starts to take the edge off the humanitarian intent" of easing the travel restrictions, the lobbyist said.

House Committee Votes to Defund OAS

From Foreign Policy:

House panel votes to defund the OAS

The House Foreign Affairs Committee began its Wednesday markup of the State Department authorization bill by voting to end funding for the Organization of American States (OAS), with Republicans lambasting the organization as an enemy of freedom and democracy.

The one-hour debate over the GOP proposal to cut the entire $48.5 million annual U.S contribution to the OAS is only the beginning of what looks to be a long and contentious debate over the fiscal 2012 State Department and foreign operations authorization bill written by chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Democrats accused the Republicans of isolationism and retreat for their proposal, while the Republicans accused the OAS of being an ally of anti-U.S. regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. The OAS Charter was signed in 1948 at a conference led by U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall.

"Let's not continue to fund an organization that's bent on destroying democracy in Latin America," said Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), the head of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and the sponsor of the amendment. "You will support an organization that is destroying the dreams of the people of Latin America."

Other GOP members piled on, accusing the OAS of supporting Fidel Castro, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

"The OAS is an enemy of the U.S. and an enemy to the interests of freedom and security," said Rep. David Rivera (R-FL). He compared U.S. support of the OAS to a scene from the movie Animal House, where a fraternity pledge is being paddled on his rear end and humiliatingly asks for more punishment.

"How much longer will we say to the OAS 'Please sir, may I have another," Rivera said

The defunding amendment passed 22-20 along party lines.

Internet Access Should Be a Human Right

From Public Service Europe:

Internet access should be 'a human right'

Access to the internet should be enshrined in law as "a human right" because of its capability to bring about democracy and freedom of expression, according to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Calling for all governments to include technological rights in their constitutions, OSCE representative on freedom of the media Dunja Mijatovic said: "In order to pay tribute to the unique contribution the internet has given to participatory democracy, to freedom of expression and to freedom of the media - it is only fitting to enshrine the right to access on exactly that level where such rights belong, as a human right with constitutional rank. Without this basic requirement, without the means to connect, without an affordable connection, the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media become meaningless in the online world."

She also urged states that adopt censorship to relent, adding: "The free flow of information is the oxygen of cyberspace. Without it, the internet becomes a useless tool. Why do certain governments try to block, restrict and filter this flow? To protect us from terrorism, extremism, child pornography, human trafficking and other forms of threats, and make our societies more secure? Or is it only to shield us from criticism, satire, provocative and shocking comments, differing views and tasteless or controversial content? For that they do not have permission. We as citizens that voted for them never asked them or obliged them to shape our minds and opinions. There is no security without free media and free expression, and no free expression and free media without security. These two terms should go hand in hand, and not fight each other like we see in so many parts of the world."

Her comments come in the wake of the Arab spring, where mass uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have been labelled as the "Twitter" or "Facebook revolutions". But despite the empowerment of people through technology and the mobilisation of networks of pressure groups and individuals by way of social media, a number of autocratic states like China and Cuba still refuse the right for everyone to have unencrypted online access.

No More Cuba Boondoggles

From The Washington Times:

Congresswoman says curbs on travel to Cuba ignored

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said limits on travel to Cuba are being violated and she wants the Obama administration to crack down.

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee is pressing the Obama administration to enforce U.S. laws limiting tourist trips to Cuba, after discovering that a Louisiana travel agency is promoting trips to the communist-ruled island.

"Not only is the Obama administration easing sanctions on the Cuban regime, but it would appear they are also ignoring the regulations in place," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, said this week.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American, said that both public and private organizations are misrepresenting recent changes to Cuban sanctions by the White House.

She called on the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency in charge of economic sanctions, to "strictly enforce U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba and duly impose the corresponding penalties."

A Reply to Yoani

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
By Ernesto Hernandez Busto of Penultimos Dias:

The emergence of the Cuban blogosphere, of which without a doubt Yoani Sanchez is its most visible member, has brought about an era of ideological confusion that is now beginning to become clear. The initial enthusiasm erased the mark of ideology and allowed a consensus based on elemental demands thrown in the face of a cynical regime. It was within that framework where, for example, the right to travel demanded by an independent blogger is supported by an entire Cuban community that is tired of having to ask permission to leave or enter. Or, where a punk music artist, arrested for predilection to dangerousness, receives effective solidarity that gets him out of prison and places him on the forefront of international attention. In that process, ideology moved into the background: the demand to have rights was worth more than the specifics of the demand.

I have no doubts about the contribution of Yoani Sanchez to citizen journalism on the island; neither do I doubt her valiant ethical stand, nor her struggle to recover certain basic rights. But her last post has looked to me – as well as many other readers – to be a "declaration of principles" from the left: her outright opposition to those who believe in the necessity of the embargo has brought to the surface the tensions that profoundly divide the Cuban community in exile. Within this panorama, Yoani Sanchez has chosen a position. It is nothing new that the celebrated blogger has for a while now supported a policy of "no restrictions" to exchanges in tourism, culture, and money between Cuba and the U.S. What is new this time might be the slant of her argument.

Perhaps she has wanted to respond in a resounding way to the criticisms that her previous post provoked, where her personal chronicle style exposed her worst side by addressing a complex issue that deserved to be taken on with more than just an anecdote and a moral. But her latest declaration, in my opinion, continues to be incomplete in some very essential matters.

In the first place, Yoani uses captious reasoning: whoever supports the embargo does so based on the theory of "putting fire to their feet." That is such an obvious manipulation that it comes across as outrageous from such an influential voice. Many of us in exile defend the usefulness of the embargo and the restrictions on travel and remittances not because we consider them, as the official line suggests, a punishment for the Cuban people, but because it is a legitimate policy of a country that has seen its interests threatened, and it has a right to defend them. To other people – including congressmen and other duly democratically elected officials – it looks bad that every two weeks fully loaded "mules" go do business with the misery of a foreign nation. Or that travel agencies who are now screaming to high heaven because of the prospective restrictions charge more than $400 for a 45-minute trip on an airplane. Or that all of those who are defending the sacrosanct right of Cuban families only consider those rights from the perspective of a reunification trip every six months, and not from the daily struggle to survive that the government forces upon its hostages.

If I talk about the "left," it is because Yoani Sanchez's juggling of arguments seems to me to be a kind of substitution for state intervention by employing in that role exile-trips-exchanges to provide a political sense. Supposedly, from the outside there would come a propitious environment that would bring about more liberty — just as before bread and work came every day from the paternalistic State. It is difficult not to read into this reasoning the reemergence of a certain mental laziness of the young progressive: wait until someone else provides, complain about the supposed evidence pointing to lack of civic responsibility, the virtuous premise of the "bridge," and the supposed "oxygen" associated with it. On the other extreme of this "Left" I place the defense of a free market, but based on the elemental premise that the parties that interchange must themselves be interchangeable. And that, unfortunately, is not the case for Cubans.

The government of the U.S. has no reason to help Cubans if those Cubans have already decided that instead of helping themselves they will "scheme" or "just get by" or "see what happens." Yoani Sanchez' post avoids confronting arguments that go against her argument: the "bridge" is in reality a profitable business for the "lobbies" of travel agencies who depend on the authorization from the Cuban government, and the "oxygen" from tourism is no more abundant than the paltry bubbles in the cocktails sipped by tourists who every day are less interested in social change.

Yoani Sanchez assures us that social rebellion has been subjugated by the efficiency of the machinery of repression and by the alternative of emigration. For the flow of remittances to be cut and trips by Cuban Americans to the island limited seems to her to be a contribution to the martyrdom of a lobotomized people, and would not affect a certain "ruling class." I believe that in this aspect Yoani is wrong. Perhaps she does not know this, but the ruling class feeds itself with, among other things, the money from tourism agencies: a business that is quite far from being an example of free markets. The uninterrupted flow of remittances has come to reinforce the mentality adopted by paternalism: the best thing to do is wait for someone else to resolve the problem. The reality is that neither more information nor increasing tourism has changed the way in which power is wielded in Cuban society. And that is a problem which should worry us. Because in Cuba and in the exile community, with fire or no fire, we have to stop thinking about how to alleviate the situation in order to start thinking of how to solve the situation.

Translation by Babalu Blog

Political Cartoons of the Week

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
By Gustavo Rodriguez, El Nuevo Herald:


Not-so-Private Farming in Cuba

In 2008, the Castro regime announced that it would hand over idle farmland to private farmers and cooperatives for production.

Needless to say, this announcement was heralded as a major "reform" by Cuba "experts" and foreign news bureaus.

The headlines read -- "Cuba to Allow Private Farming."

Of course, in reality, the Castro regime never relinquished ownership over the land.

It simply gave private farmers 10-year concessions and cooperatives 25-year concessions to till the land -- sort of like indentured servitude.

But hey -- why ruin a good headline?

This week, the Castro regime announced that it's re-claiming the idle farmland given to 9,000 concessionaires -- obviously breaking its own terms.

Apparently, indentured servitude is insufficient for the Castro brothers -- they much prefer slavery.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Money Laundering in Castro's Cuba

Yesterday, India's SEBI -- their equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission -- cautioned markets about money laundering and terror-funding risks in ten countries:

North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Syria and Turkey.

This action follows a global notice released on June 24th by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) -- an inter-government body whose purpose is to combat money laundering and terrorist financing -- identifying these countries as high-risk jurisdictions.

As regards Cuba, the FATF has concluded:

Cuba has not committed to the anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) international standards, nor has it constructively engaged with the FATF. The FATF has identified Cuba as having strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system. The FATF urges Cuba to develop an AML/CFT regime in line with international standards, and is ready to work with the Cuban authorities to this end.

The Stoning of the Ladies in White

More details of the brutal repression against the Ladies in White this past Sunday.

From the Coalition of Cuban-American Women:

Ladies in White Beaten, Dragged and Stoned After Mass

In Santiago de Cuba, a city in the eastern province of Cuba, female pro-democracy activists were savagely beaten and verbally attacked in the streets by Cuban State Security agents after they attended mass in the Basilica of "El Cobre," a Catholic shrine dedicated to "Our Lady of Charity," where they prayed for the freedom of all Cuban political prisoners and for the freedom of Cuba.

Tania Montoya Vazquez, one of the 16 Ladies in White who were attacked, describes the violence:

"...it wasn't enough for them to snatch the gladiolus from our hands, they began to beat us, they ripped all our clothes, I have scratches all over my body... so does Aimee and all the other women in the group. We all did a 'sit-in' and they almost killed us... they did not stop slapping us, we are all scratched, they pulled our hair, they dragged us, and they threw rocks at us as we remained united, in silence on the ground, firm in our conviction that what we want is the freedom of our political prisoners and the freedom of Cuba.

...this was all organized and ordered by State Security whom we make responsible for what could have happened to each one of us and the physical condition we are all presently in... they didn't care that they beat up Nersa Fernandez Fonseca, an older woman in her fifties. Several of us had to go to the hospital due to our ailing physical conditions. I was hit on the head with a stone and have a bump, I'm all bruised. When they attacked us, they never took into consideration the fact that we were women walking in silence. Freedom for Cuba! Long live human rights! Freedom for our political prisoners!"

You can listen to the audio (in Spanish) here.

Those "Lucky" Cuban-Americans

Monday, July 18, 2011
The following guidance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) applies to people that flee persecution from Iran, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Burma, North Korea, et al.

The one exception are people that flee persecution from Cuba -- thanks to the generosity of the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA).

Is President Obama's policy of unlimited Cuban-American travel to Cuba undermining the CAA?

Moreover, are those "lucky" Cuban-Americans traveling back-and-forth to the island undermining the CAA?

According to CIS:

Possible Consequences of Returning to the Country of Claimed Persecution

Section 208.8(b) of Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations provides that an asylum applicant who leaves the United States pursuant to advance parole and returns to the country of claimed persecution shall be presumed to have abandoned his or her asylum application, unless the applicant is able to establish compelling reasons for the return. Therefore, if an asylum applicant returns to his or her country of claimed persecution pursuant to advance parole, he or she should be prepared to explain the reason for the return.

Asylum status may be terminated for specific reasons as listed in INA § 208(c)(2). An individual's underlying asylum status may be terminated even if the individual has already become a lawful permanent resident.

Returning to one's country of claimed persecution may be relevant to a number of termination grounds. For instance, asylum status could be terminated based on a fundamental change in circumstances in the asylee's country of persecution. Termination could also occur due to fraud in the asylum application such that the asylee was not eligible for asylum. Return to the country of feared persecution can, in some circumstances, be considered evidence that the asylee's alleged fear of persecution is not genuine. In addition, termination of asylum status could occur if an "alien has voluntarily availed himself or herself of the protection of the alien's country of nationality... by returning to such country with permanent resident status or the reasonable possibility of obtaining such status with the same rights and obligations pertaining to other permanent residents of that country."

Accordingly, an asylee or a lawful permanent resident who obtained such status based on a grant of asylum status may be questioned about why he or she was able to return to the country of claimed persecution and, in some circumstances, may be subject to proceedings to terminate asylum status.

Ladies in White Beaten and Arrested (Again)

From the International Federation of Liberal Youth:

Condemnation of Cuba's Continuing Crackdown

In what seems to be a season of intensifying repression in Cuba, members of the group "Damas de Blanco" (Ladies in White) were assaulted by police and paramilitary forces after attending church services in El Cobre on July 17th.

Belkis Cantillo Ramirez was shot in the arm, while others were brutally beaten with batons, stones and other objects. In the midst of the violence, Tania Montoya and Rodaisa Corrioso were arrested by the authorities. Aside from these two brave women, thirteen members of this organization, including Belkis Cantillo Ramirez, are receiving medical care at a local hospital.

Las Damas de Blanco are human rights advocates who refuse to be bound by the 'rule of silence' enforced by the Communist Party's thugs. Many members are female relatives of political prisoners - the mothers, daughters, sisters and wives of dissidents whose only crime may have been speaking out against government policy or having an Internet connection. As a form of protest, the Ladies in White frequently attend Mass on Sundays, dressed in white, and subsequently walk silently through the streets. The color white was specifically chosen to symbolize peace.

These true patriots have been recognized for their outstanding work by many institutions within the international community. In 2005, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the group.

The International Federation of Liberal Youth (IFLRY) condemns these attacks in the strongest terms. Las Damas de Blanco is a strictly peaceful movement. To respond to such non-violent resistance with such brutal repression colors the Castro regime as tyrannical at best. If these attacks were not sanctioned by the authorities, then an investigation must be immediately initiated and given far-reaching jurisdiction.

Even so, public confidence and trust can only be established now through the development of an independent judiciary, as well as a legislature that is not the purview of a single party but instead consists of representatives chosen by the Cuban people themselves through free and fair multi-party elections.

Now is not the time for another Black Spring. Now is the time for a national re-birth as a successful and prosperous democracy.

IFLRY wishes a speedy and full recovery for all those who were injured in the July 17th attacks in El Cobre. Furthermore, Tania Montoya and Rodaisa Corrioso must be immediately and unconditionally released.

It's All About Business, Pt. 2

Sunday, July 17, 2011
So much for promoting family, academic and religious travel.

Is Obama's Cuba policy (unwittingly or not) catering to the Castro regime's business partners?

You decide.

From Tampa Bay Business Journal:

Businesses interested in opportunities in Cuba but concerned about Congressional opposition now have some reassurance from the top — from President Obama, that is.

The Obama administration sent Congress a Statement of Administration Policy on July 14 with a warning regarding a provision dealing with Cuba in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

Yoani Nails the Premise

The Miami Herald has a great interview with Havana-based blogger Yoani Sanchez.

She makes the following astute observation:

Behind the economic reforms, there is government urgency because it has its coffers empty and has been forced, to its chagrin, to grant economic power to the citizens... [The reforms are] heading in the right direction of an opening, [but they] are slow and superficial.”

Yoani absolutely nails the premise.

The Castro regime is undertaking its current "dog-and-pony" show of "reforms"' because it has been forced to by its dire economic situation -- not because it wants to.

So then -- how could anyone support bailing out the Castro regime (with billions in U.S. trade, credits, investment and travel) and, thus, strengthen its totalitarian grip?

Must Read of the Week

From The Miami Herald:

Medicare crooks find safe haven in Cuba

South Florida is known as the capital of Medicare fraud, but increasingly Cuba is where the scammers go to avoid prosecution.

As Medicare crime spreads across South Florida, accused scammers are escaping in droves to Cuba and other Latin American countries to avoid prosecution — with more than 150 fugitives now wanted for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. healthcare program, according to the FBI and court records.

The tally of fugitives charged with healthcare fraud here has tripled since 2008, when The Miami Herald first reported on the phenomenon of Cuban immigrants joining the Medicare rackets and fleeing to evade trial in Miami.

But during the past three years, the FBI has captured only 16 fugitives, reflecting the difficulty in catching Spanish-speaking suspects who head south to hide out. Most of the fugitives were born in Cuba, immigrated to South Florida after 1990 and can easily live under the radar in Latin America with hundreds of thousands or millions in taxpayer dollars fleeced from Medicare.

Even if fugitives can be located in Cuba, there's no way to get them back because of the political realities at play.

"They go to Cuba so they can't be caught,'' said Rolando Betancourt, a longtime Miami bail bondsman who has tracked one Medicare fugitive to Havana. "You can find anybody in Cuba; you just can't arrest them.''

Because so many of the Medicare defendants are Cuban, rumors have swirled for years that the Castro government has purposely trained and deployed immigrants to take over Medicare-licensed clinics in South Florida, and then harbored them after they returned home. But federal agents and prosecutors, while privately speculating about an official Cuba connection, say they've never uncovered evidence linking Fidel and Raul Castro's regime to the rampant healthcare fraud on this side of the Florida Straits.

Moreover, the feds have made no official attempts to seek extradition of fugitives in Cuba, mainly because the United States has no formal relations with the government. Agents have captured some Cuban fugitives returning from the island as they travel through Miami International Airport.

Repeated calls and emails seeking comment from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., were not returned.

Earlier this year, a University of Miami report quoted a former Cuban intelligence official who suggested there were "strong indications" his government was either facilitating the Medicare fraud or providing safe harbor for fugitives in exchange for hard U.S. currency. But the report provided no examples.

Soon afterward, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a Medicare watchdog for years, questioned Health and Human Services officials at a congressional hearing about the possible Cuban government link after the department's inspector general posted a "Most Wanted" list of Medicare fugitives, and seven of the top 10 were Cuban.

CURRENCY FOR CUBA

Cuba watchers, legal experts and others who have witnessed South Florida's ascendance as the nation's Medicare fraud capital say the Cuban government's involvement would not be that far fetched — though they have no proof to back it up.

"It wouldn't surprise me if one day that is proven to be a fact," said Miami attorney Sam Rabin. One of his clients, Eduardo Moreno, fled to Cuba after posting a $450,000 bond in 2007 on healthcare fraud charges. He had collected $2 million from Medicare on bogus claims for medical equipment and HIV services.

"I think it would be very hard for someone with millions in currency to stay under the radar in Cuba" without that government's protection, Rabin added.

Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said he has heard from sources in Miami and Cuba allegations that the Castro government extorts Medicare bounty from criminals who are allowed to go back and forth between here and the island nation. But he said he knows of no evidence directly implicating the Castro regime in the fraud.

"The Cuban government knows what's going on," Gomez said. "The government knows who the fugitives are, and the bigger they are, the more the government expects to be paid by them... It's a way to obtain hard currency and a way to discredit the Cuban-American exile community."

James Cason, who served as chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002-2005, said he was not aware of the fugitive phenomenon during his tenure, but noted that relaxed travel restrictions in recent years have enabled Cubans to fly more easily between Havana and Miami. He said it's highly probable that the Cuban government shakes down Medicare fraud fugitives, but doubts its direct involvement in the healthcare scams.

"There is no way the Cuban government wouldn't know about this," said Cason, who was recently elected mayor of Coral Gables. "Whether the Cuban government is involved or not [in Medicare fraud], the Cuban government wants the hard currency from the fugitives."

Cason called the Medicare offenders "scammers, not revolutionaries," saying the FBI should try to work with the Justice and State departments to engage Cuba in extraditing some of the fugitives.

"The Cuban government will investigate if they think it's in their interest," he said. "But I bet the FBI hasn't asked them."

Officials for the FBI and Justice declined to comment. A spokesman for the State Department also declined to comment on Medicare fraud fugitives, but said that the federal government has sought the extradition of fugitives in Cuba wanted for other serious crimes.

Castro's Violence Against Women

Saturday, July 16, 2011
This is mind-boggling.

This week, a group of female pro-democracy activists -- led by Idania Yanez Contreras -- set off on a peaceful march to the Belico River in the town of Santa Clara, in order to lay flowers in memory of the 37 Cubans (including women and children) murdered by the Castro regime on a tugboat on July 13, 1994.

They were confronted by Castro's police, which proceeded to impede the march.

They did so by (self-admittedly) bringing a group of women from the National Judo Academy (where the regime trains its Olympians) to violently attack the female protesters.

Needless to say, the group of female pro-democracy activists ended up brutally beaten, violently arrested and some of them (including Idania) in the hospital.

Just what type of Machiavellian malice does it take to conjure up such repressive schemes?

The "Cost" of Cheap Sneakers

Last week, we published a column on U.S. policy towards Cuba vs. China, entitled "Freedom First vs. Business First."

Here's an interesting follow-up.

Has U.S. policy helped make China "the pièce de résistance" of tyranny?

If so -- at what cost?

(Aside from getting cheap sneakers and other consumer goods).

From Democracy Digest:

Is the world’s leading democracy about to cede global supremacy to its most powerful authoritarian state?

Yes, according to public opinion in 15 of 22 nations surveyed
in the new PEW Annual Global Attitudes Project poll.

In most regions, the United States enjoys improved favorability ratings than over the past decade, but the balance of global opinion is that China either will replace or already has replaced the US as the world’s hegemon. This conviction is most widespread within some of the world’s other leading democracies in Western Europe, where 72% in France, 67% in Spain, 65% in Britain and 61% in Germany expect Communist China to best the U.S.