The Absurdity of Raul's Recycled "Reforms"

Saturday, April 16, 2011
The former Havana bureau chief of Spain's largest television network (TVE), Vicente Botin, perfectly encapsulates the irony and absurdity of the Castro brother's recycled "reforms":

Two decades later, Raul Castro has once again pulled out from the rabbit's hat "self-employment" as the remedy to deal with the country's acute economic crisis.  Fidel Castro walks by his side as a traveling partner, forgetting the curses he bestowed against those he'd previously called "bandits" and "speculators."  The "Political, Economic and Social Guidelines for the for the Party and the Revolution" [being discussed at this weekend's VI Communist Party Congress] are simply using a new side of the old sock of the revolution, another "betrayal" against the egalitarian postulates of state capitalism that Fidel Castro imposed on the Cuban people.

Once again, artisans and craftsmen are the weapon to prevent the revolution from sinking. Before there were 157 occupations authorized, now there are 178. Thousands of Cubans have solicited licenses to perform the most colorful of tasks. The revolution that once prided itself in providing a university education to all Cubans, now offers them the opportunity of a better life as a shoe repairman. The average salary of a doctor or engineer is less than $12 a month, while a barber can make five-times that much and even hire employees, which are euphemistically referred to as "hired laborers solicited by self-employed laborers to labor with them."

Tanks on the Streets, Party Congress Inside

Today, while the Cuban people lack even running water, the Castro regime will be undertaking another one of its massive (and very expensive) military parades -- marking the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs.

Not coincidentally, the military parade will simultaneously mark the beginning of the VI Communist Party Congress -- where a select group of people, chosen amongst themselves, approve the ultimate decisions of Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro.

The imagery is important -- tanks on the streets outside, while the Communist Party elites gather inside.
 
The message to the people is very clear -- we rule, you obey (or else).

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Julia Dreams of a Post-Castro Dictatorship

Friday, April 15, 2011
We're rarely surprised by the ideological tantrums of the Council on Foreign Relations' (CFR) Julia Sweig.

Her apologies, defense and justifications of the Castro regime go back many years. 

However, you'd think that at some point the CFR, which is a serious organization, would stop lending its name to her absurdities.

Today, in a CFR-produced interview with Sweig, she blurts out two more gems:

"So in the two years since he took office, [Raul's] pushed for economic reforms that in their sum total equal pretty significant political reform. But they're not political reforms strictly speaking."

In her ideological zeal, she's pathetically trying to insinuate that Raul has undertaken some political reforms, which doesn't pass any laugh-test.

However, she fails miserably, for her statement is misguided and contradictory any which way you read it.

So she decides to stop beating around the bush and plainly states her hopes and aspirations for a future Cuba:

"It seems like the United States is still not willing to recognize that he is dead-set on transforming Cuba so that when he and his brother leave the stage, there will be some legacy of a functioning, self-respecting society capable of an independent foreign policy and an identity independent from the United States."

First of all, a totalitarian dictatorship is hardly a functioning and self-respecting society.  It's an aberration of the free will of the Cuban people, which has been suppressed through force and violence for five decades.

Furthermore, 34 out of 35 countries in this Western Hemisphere have independent identities and foreign policies -- and they do so while respecting the fundamental right of their people to freely choose their leaders in a representative democracy.

So to advocate for the U.S. to accept and embrace a dictatorship 90-miles away (with or without the Castros) is (at best) insulting and (at worst) malicious.

Newest Member of Castro's "Diplomatic" Corp

An investigation by Accuracy in Media unmasks one of the newest members of Castro's "diplomatic" corp in Washington, D.C., Juan Jacomino.

Jacomino was previously a "journalist" with Global Radio News, a network of free-lance journalist that provides reporting to networks such as ABC, NPR, Al-Jazeera and even Fox News.

Thus, he's served as a "correspondent" for various Cuba-related stories on those networks.  

And now -- surprise -- Jacomino serves as Second Secretary of Castro's Interests Section in Washington, D.C., where he oversees "solidarity" activities.

Also, make sure to watch the clip below (or here) of an impromptu interview with Jacomino.

For those heralding Castro's economic "reforms" and supposed creation of a "private sector" -- focus on the 1:50 mark.

When asked specifically about the upcoming VI Communist Party Congress in Cuba and the regime's supposed move towards market reforms, he answers:

"That's a gross overstatement... Cuba's changes are far from free enterprise, far from a market economy." 

Straight from the horse's mouth.

Poll: Cubans Overwhelmingly Desire Freedom

The International Republican Institute (IRI) today released its survey and analysis of Cuban public opinion. The survey was fielded on the island January 28 – February 10, 2011.

Here are some key findings:

- Cubans still overwhelmingly desire democracy and freedom in their country, including multiparty elections and freedom of expression. The response rate signifying this desire is higher than at any time since Raul Castro assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2008.

- More than three-in-four Cuban adults would vote for fundamental political change (78 percent) if given the opportunity, and nine-in-ten citizens (91 percent) would support economic change.

- More than 90 percent of Cubans want a market economy system, with economic freedoms, opportunities to own property, and the right to own businesses.

- Citizens remain very concerned with their economic future and more than three of four Cuban citizens (77 percent) do not have confidence that their government will succeed in solving this challenge.
 
A total of 463 Cuban adults were asked questions ranging from perspectives on the economy, to the performance of the current Castro government. The survey was conducted in 12 Cuban provinces and has a margin of error of +/- five percent, and a 95 percent level of confidence.

Dissidents Want Political Change

From Deutsche Presse:
 
Dissidents want political change, not just economic reform

Cuban dissidents say that the economic reforms slated for consideration at this weekend's Cuban Communist Party congress do not go far enough.

For them, real change - not just the tweaks in Cuba's socialist economic model intended by party leaders - means that economic reforms must go hand in hand with political opening.

During a recent visit to Cuba by US former president Jimmy Carter, dissident leader Oswaldo Paya, who was awarded the 2002 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, presented a 'roadmap for change' on the island.

The document demands that parties other than the Communist Party be allowed, that a referendum be held asking Cubans whether they accept 'free and democratic elections with a new electoral law,' and that the freedoms of expression, press and association be respected.

'The Communist Party can only do good if it gives back to the people what belongs to the people: full rights and sovereignty,' Paya said. 'Let no one speak for all the people - ask the people in a referendum.'

Before the Communist Party congress, Paya said that 'the solution lies not in savage capitalism and its privatizing frenzy, nor in savage communism with its single party and its single super- capitalists.'

'Neither the market nor the state,' he said, 'must be above the people.'

Frequent hunger-striker Guillermo Farinas, the 2010 Sakharov prize winner, said the Cuban economic model 'needs to be changed, not updated,' as Cuban President Raul Castro describes his reforms.

Farinas played down the credibility of debate prior to the congress, with assemblies in neighbourhoods and workplaces where Cubans were asked their opinions on proposed economic reforms. Such debate, he said, is an 'act of propaganda and demagogy' that is done 'under the absolute control of the party itself.'

'In earlier processes of this type, either popular opinion was not taken into account,' he said, 'or no one knows where it went.'

The New Repression Hotline

Thursday, April 14, 2011
A new website has been launched to help provide a voice to Cuba's voiceless.

It's called Hablalo Sin Miedo ("Talk Without Fear").

Basically, it allows regular Cubans -- amidst imminent repression -- to make an emergency phone call to 1-615-HABLALO and record their plea for help.

Upon hanging up, the message will be automatically transcribed as a blog post and relayed through Twitter.

It helps Cubans transmit their SOS to the world -- and sends a message to the Castro regime's thugs that the world is watching.

H/T Penultimos Dias

Castro's Revolving Prison Doors

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
This week, two of the twelve political prisoners recently released within Cuba -- Felix Navarro and Ivan Hernandez -- were brutally re-arrested by the Castro regime for trying to attend a meeting with fellow dissidents.

They were released the next day, but only after being sternly reminded that they are under a "temporary parole" and can be sent back to prison at any time.

Meanwhile, another political prisoner from the group of twelve, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, was confronted today by paramilitaries armed with metal pipes and threatened with physical violence if he continued his peaceful opposition activities.

More "reform" you can't believe in. 

In the picture below of Ferrer Garcia, the "L" stands for "Libertad" (Freedom).

Congress Honors Bay of Pigs Veterans

The Miami Herald's Lesley Clark has a good recap of a much-deserved recognition on Capitol Hill for a group of Bay of Pigs veterans:

Fifty years ago, a group of Cuban exiles who eagerly volunteered for a clandestine mission to topple Fidel Castro were left largely abandoned in Cuba when U.S. support for the mission evaporated.

The Bay of Pigs would go down as one of the United States' biggest strategic blunders: More than 100 men were killed, including four U.S. pilots, and Castro remained at the helm. His brother, Raul, succeeded him five years ago.

But the survivors of Brigade 2506 have never lost their resolve. On Wednesday, eight of the estimated 1,100 surviving members basked in a congressional salute: a resolution put into the Senate record and remarks from the floor of the House of Representatives -- see video clip below.

"Though the operation was not successful, the dedication and commitment that these brave individuals illustrated during the conflict was exceptional," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said on the House floor. "The men who fought courageously on that historic day came from many backgrounds, but all cared for the freedom and liberty of Cuba."

The men were in their teens and 20s when they left to fight Castro. Their hearing has faded now and they're not as spry as the infantrymen, paratroopers and frogmen they once were. But they beamed as Ros-Lehtinen took them around the Capitol, introducing them as "proud patriots" to everyone from Capitol Police officers to her fellow members of Congress.

The veterans mark the anniversary of the invasion every April 17 and honor those who died. But they said it was the first time they had been so touted in Congress.

"In 50 years we've not had anything like this," said Max Cruz, 73, as he sat at lunch listening to a series of senators and House members thank the veterans for their service.

"This one is really special."

They heard from Cuban-American members of Congress, including Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, as well as Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who called them "an inspiration."

"I'm leaving the Senate in two years," Lieberman noted. "And I'll tell you, I'd sure like to see Castro go before I leave."

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who was born in the U.S. to Cuban parents a decade after the Bay of Pigs, credited the veterans for "keeping watch over this issue."

"Younger people, like myself, who have never known Cuba, have never visited there, feel aligned with that cause because they kept it alive," Rubio said.

Amado Cantillo, trained as a frogman for the assault, said he never expected the CIA-trained, U.S.-led exile group to lose to Castro, though at one point the 1,300 men faced 60,000 members of Castro's military.

"Unfortunately, we all know what happened," he said, referring to the U.S. decision not to order more air cover. "I always thought we were going to go back."

With the Castros still firmly in power, some said they were pessimistic about changes to Cuba. But they're buoyed by the explosion of Cuban bloggers and activists taking on the government. Several said they remained confident that they would see democracy in Cuba in their lifetime - or those of their children and grandchildren.

"This event has given us hope that Washington is still wanting Cuba to be free," said Julio Rebull Sr. "It's late for us, but there's another generation."

The optimistic include Jorge Gutierrez-Izaguirre, who showed the curious the bullet hole in his chest, sustained a month before Bay of Pigs when his unit was in Cuba doing surveillance for the operation. After Cuban troops shot him in the side, the bullet exited his chest and left a gaping wound. He was captured after the shooting and Fidel Castro commuted his death sentence, but he spent 18 years in a Cuban prison.

Still, the 75-year-old said, "I never have lost my hope, not at all. That's the last thing they can take away."

(Shamelessly) Promoting Sex-Tourism to Cuba

This will get your blood boiling.

Babalu Blog has exposed several websites promoting sexual tourism to Cuba owned by Rob Sequin, editor of the Massachusetts-based website, Havana Journal.

Sequin once labeled CHC as being "dangerous to American freedoms" for opposing Congressional efforts to unconditionally authorize tourism travel to Cuba.

If by "freedoms" Sequin means allowing his audience to prey on vulnerable men and women repressed by a ruthless dictatorship (which has proven to enthusiastically profit from sex tourists) -- then call us "dangerous."

Sequin was also a constituent of former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA), a favorite of the Castro brothers.

As regards Delahunt, he once stated

"The congressman's staff has been a fantastic source of information and has introduced me to some very knowledgeable and influential people in the Cuba arena."

Fascinating.  But it gets worse.

Last week, Sequin was invited to participate in the Roots of Hope annual conference, held at Boston College.

At the conference, he shared the stage and conference agenda with representatives of the U.S. and Cuban Catholic Church, all of whom zealously lobby to unconditionally lift sanctions against the Castro regime -- a Shakespearean irony, of sorts.

Upon being informed about the sex-sites (better vetting next time), Roots of Hope posted a condemnatory statement -- in response to which Sequin first apologizes (in the comments section), but then adds insult to injury:

"[T]he main purpose of the site was designed to be more educational featuring YouTube videos and main stream news articles."
 
Educational?
 
Here's a direct quote from Sequin's website, sexincuba.com:

"Seriously, Cuba is the place to get laid... man, woman, straight or gay! There may not be freedom of speech but there certainly is freedom of sex."

Does that sound educational?

Let's pray that's not what the Treasury Department has in mind when issuing "educational travel" licenses to Cuba.
 
Which brings up another question -- what type of license does Sequin travel to Cuba under?

Regardless, he's obviously violating the terms of the license.

Rogues Love to Take Hostages

Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Particularly when they think they can get high-profile visits and unilateral concessions in exchange.

Does this sound familiar?

From ABC News:

An American citizen has been detained in North Korea for several months, the State Department said today.

"I don't have any details on what this individual was doing in North Korea. But we would call on the government of North Korea to release this citizen on humanitarian grounds. And we would ask that they respect and treat this citizen in a manner consistent with international human rights law," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.


As regards Castro's hostage, American development worker Alan Gross -- the blog Penultimos Dias has interviewed Spanish journalist (from the newspaper El Mundo) Carlos Hernando, who was arrested and expelled from the island last week for associating with Cuban pro-democracy bloggers and musicians.

During his interrogation by Castro's secret police, he was warned:

"You know that Alan Gross is in prison. We can also put you in prison."

(Note for opponents of USAID programs: Hernando is neither an American contractor nor grantee of any sort).

Reflecting on his experience, Hernando says of the Castro regime and its intimidation tactics:

"It was a very bad experience, but I suffered the most upon seeing the fear in the faces of those who know me after. [That regime] is a mafia. I know how to deal with a State, but I don't know how to deal with a mafia."

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum "Channels" the KGB

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) has introduced legislation entitled, "Stop Wasting Taxpayer Money on Cuba Broadcasting Act," which (obviously) seeks to eliminate Radio and TV Marti.

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) has introduced the Senate version.

Thus, she's circulated a Congressional "Dear Colleague" looking for co-sponsors that reads:

"Over the past twenty-five years, more than $660 million dollars have been wasted beaming propaganda into Cuba. Most of these radio and TV broadcasts—called Radio and Television Marti—are jammed by the Castro Regime before they even reach Cuban shores. The ones that make it through are ignored by the Cuban people."

Here's a question for Congresswoman McCollum:

If the Cuban people ignore Radio and TV Marti, then why does the Castro regime spend so much time, effort and resources trying to jam them?

After all, Castro beams his radio stations to the U.S. (in English)
-- including Radio Rebelde, Radio Reloj and Radio Habana Cuba -- but the U.S. government doesn't spend any resources scrambling them.

One -- because we believe in free speech.

Two -- because there's no need to.

Americans don't want to live in a totalitarian state.

However, Cubans do want to live in freedom -- so the Castro regime goes to great lengths in order to prevent them from listening to radio broadcasts from the U.S. or any other free country.

Ironically, a new website dedicated to smuggled KGB documents features one in which the Castro regime frantically begs them for help with Radio and TV Marti:

"During your visit to Cuba on May 3 to 9 as Head of Delegation of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Cuban side requested for assistance in arranging suppression of American television broadcasts to Cuba."

Castro is obviously afraid of something.

Swap the Soviets for the Chinese and the KGB for -- well, the KGB -- and Castro is still afraid, perhaps more than ever.

But who needs scrambling equipment, when there's Congresswoman McCollum.

Bottom line:  This is not about policy, it's about politics.  Congresswoman McCollum doesn't care about Cuba policy and never has.  This is her way of trying to show the dichotomy of Republicans supporting Radio and TV Marti, while opposing NPR. We're non-partisan, but it's an absurd comparison. In the U.S., there are hundreds, if not thousands, of radio stations, which cover the entire political spectrum.  Thus, public broadcasting may (arguably) play a limited role in a free market.  However, in Cuba, Radio and TV Marti serve as the only instrument that help Cubans break through the Castro regime's censorship and media monopoly.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 29

Monday, April 11, 2011
Excerpt from the Fox News story, "Fidel Castro's Daughter is Loving Life in Anti-Castro Miami":

Fidel Castro's daughter is alive and well and still living like just another cubana in Miami [...]

[Alina] Fernández-Revuelta, who worked in Cuba's fashion industry and joined the dissident movement four years before she fled Cuba, does make anti-Castro and pro-democracy speeches at universities and other institutions on a regular basis.

"It's my duty, maybe part of the obligation I have because of who I am," she said.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, [a Director] of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC in Washington, D.C., says that is where Fidel's daughter has made the biggest difference.

"The impact she's had has been tremendous in the terms of educating the American public about the reality and injustices of the Cuban regime," Claver-Carone said. "I can't tell you the number of students who come through Washington as interns and who I have some interaction with who will tell me that 'Fidel Castro's daughter was at my school and she really opened my eyes.'"

The message is especially important in middle America, he added, where crackdowns on dissidents and protests are not in the headlines.

"But it's difficult for her because it's still her father," Claver-Carone said. "So it takes more courage to go out there and talk and tell the stories time and again. She could have just disappeared."

For Fernández-Revuelta, another vanishing act is not an option. She says she feels an obligation to speak about the Cuban government's restrictions on individual freedoms and hypocrisies whenever the opportunity arises.

"People often need someone who was there to tell them the truth and make them aware of what is propaganda," she said. "They think in Cuba there is no elite, but my father lives an elitist life.  And who can provide that information better than me? I have to do it."

Raul's (Unimpressive) Economic "Reforms"

Media reports keep putting a happy face on the Castro regime's licensing of a limited number of self-employment activities.

Throughout the week, there have been various stories about the nearly 180,000 new licenses granted since Cuban dictator Raul Castro reinstated them last year. (Remember that the Castros already went through this self-employment charade in the 1990's.)

However, the real picture is not so rosy.

Buried into an EFE story (and missing from all others) was a very revealing fact from Castro's Ministry of Labor:

Over 42,000 of the newly granted self-employment licenses have been cancelled or returned.

That means one in four Cubans that have received a license (temporarily lease) from the Castro regime for self-employment have found them to be useless.

That's a serious systemic problem.

And what about the 500,000 state layoffs that were so widely reported last year as "the centerpiece" of Raul Castro's "reforms"?

These layoffs were supposed to have been concluded by last week (March 31st to be exact).

Most uninformed observers assume that they've already taken place.

Far from the truth.

As Reuters reported:

"Cuba's program to slash 500,000 state jobs nationwide has barely gotten off the ground in the provinces, as officials scramble to provide alternatives and deal with unease and anger over the layoffs."

So allow us to summarize the current state of Raul's economic "reforms":

1. One in four self-employment licenses have been canceled or returned.
2. There's been absolutely no movement on the 500,000 layoffs.
3. The Cuban people are still denied any ownership rights whatsoever.

And as for political rights, which should be the priority, even talk of them remains severely punishable.

Pretty unimpressive.

Biscet Asks Kerry to Lift USAID Hold

Sunday, April 10, 2011
The Miami Herald has a great interview with Cuban pro-democracy leader and recently-released political prisoner, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

Here are some excerpts.

Regarding the possibility of negotiations with the Castro regime:

"If the regime were willing to have talks, we have demands. We want Raul and Fidel Castro to resign because they have drowned the country in misery, its political assassinations and persecution. Let them assign other people to represent their interests and let us begin a transtition towards freedoms for the Cuban people."

On Cuba's youth:

"The Cuban youth does not believe in the system, and the spirit they are developing is not afraid of the government's pressure. The fear the Castros wish to impose is not going to stop the wishes of the youth of pursuing the general welfare, including the economic and psychological perspectives. The youths will create their own space to accomplish their objectives."

Regarding Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry's (D-MA) hold on funding for USAID's Cuba democracy programs:

"Kerry must know that resources are needed for this type of fight and he knows very well that Cubans on the island do not have those resources. If we are able to resist it's because of our high morale not because we have resources. Here were have to depend on people's mercy to survive."

Castro Regime Steals U.S. Humanitarian Aid

According to AP:

A U.S. housing company is blaming Cuba for the loss of a barge loaded with supplies to build shelters for displaced earthquake survivors in Haiti.

Executives with Harbor Homes LLC said late Saturday that the Cuban government denied the U.S. Coast Guard permission to enter its waters to reclaim a drifting barge carrying $2 million worth of humanitarian supplies bound for the quake-devastated Caribbean country.

As a result, the barge carrying cargo to build 1,000 homes in Haiti sank in December as the Cuban military attempted to tow it ashore. A tow line snapped and the barge ran aground, scattering building supplies, three tractors, and a bulldozer into the Atlantic, company officials said.

"At the end of the day the Cuban government is directly and solely responsible for the sinking of this vessel," said Matt Williams, a spokesman for Harbor Homes and its subsidiary PermaShelter. "A lot of homes aren't being built because of the Cuban government."

Reflecting on Air Support (or Lack Thereof)

"What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past"

-- Victor Hugo, French poet and author, 1802-1885

As U.S., French, British and now NATO forces provide air support to rebels fighting to oust the brutal Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya, it's timely to reflect on a similar scenario five decades ago.

This week (April 17th) marks the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs operation, when a force of 1,500 Cuban exiles (known as "Brigade 2506") -- supplemented by urban cells and rebel units in the countryside -- landed on the beaches of southern Cuba seeking to liberate their homeland from the Castro dictatorship.

History has now amply documented how the operation was doomed from the beginning, as U.S. President John Kennedy scrapped plans to provide U.S. air support just days before the landing (without telling the Brigade).

When Castro's air force began fiercely attacking the Brigade as it reached Cuban shores, its commander, Jose Perez San Roman, famously radioed his U.S. contacts for help:

"We are under attack by two Sea Fury aircraft and heavy artillery."

"Do not see any friendly air cover as you promised. Need jet support immediately."

When San Roman's request was denied, he replied, "You, sir, are a son of a bitch."

The air support originally promised by President Kennedy consisted of sixteen B-26 twin-engine light attack bombers. 

It never came -- and the rest is history.

Fortunately, Libyan rebels do not seem doomed to the same fate.

Granted there's one major difference -- the Brigade 2506 was created with U.S. support from the beginning, while Libyan rebels sought U.S. support after the fighting began.

Yet, both simply wanted air support, not boots on the ground.

Which leads to the question:

If U.S. air support proves to be the "turning point" for Libyan rebels in their efforts to oust Moammar Gaddafi -- could the Brigade 2506 have been successful if they'd received the air support originally promised?

There's certainly a case to be made (for Castro didn't even dare leave his bunker until he was assured there were no U.S. planes) -- but it'll remain, as Victor Hugo said, "a reflex from the future on the past."