We Are All Syrian

Saturday, April 23, 2011
From The Daily Telegraph:

Syria uprising: 'We will continue until the fall of the regime'

As President Assad follows the 'Bloody Good Friday' massacre with the shooting of funeral mourners, defiant Syrians vow to keep protesting.

International outrage [is] being heaped on the head of President Bashir al-Assad, and his reputation as a reformer lay in tatters.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators," President Barack Obama said. "This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now."

Even Syria's once-loyal ally, Russia, joined in the attack, calling for "large-scale political reforms" and for an end to violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Most significantly of all, President Assad's regime was looking increasingly isolated from within, as two MPs resigned and, according to one independent news website, elements inside his ruling elite were demanding a "Plan B": major political reforms including the release of political prisoners and an end to the primary role of the Ba'ath party itself.

Still Searching for Raul's "Reforms"

It has not been a good week for the Castro regime.

Even left-leaning academics are skeptical about the results of the VI Communist Party Congress and Raul Castro's supposed "reforms."

First, from the Wall Street Journal (and also our "Quote of the Week"):

"They're keeping to the hard-line, ideological old guard," said Uva de Aragón, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University. "The problem is you can't have Stalin and Lenin trying to be Gorbachev at the same time."

Then, from The Miami Herald:

Carmelo Mesa Lago, a University of Pittsburgh economist who is one of the most respected analysts of the Cuban economy, is more skeptical. Barring surprises once the Congress's resolutions are published, this is not comparable with China's or Vietnam's economic openings decades ago, he said.

In China and Vietnam, the opening started with sweeping agricultural reforms that gave farmers virtual ownership rights over their land. In Cuba, farmers will only get usage rights of the land, which will be limited to 10 years and subject to stringent restrictions, he said.

Mesa Lago said that the most important steps for Cuba to solve its economic crisis would be — in this order — giving private farmers greater property rights, implementing the announced layoffs of up to 1.5 million government workers, and implementing the new rules allowing people to own homes and cars. "The latest reforms are very timid, and with too many strings attached," he said.

Better Late Than Never

Friday, April 22, 2011
From The White House:

Statement by the President on Syria

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now. We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the Syrian people in this challenging time.

The Syrian Government's moves yesterday to repeal Syria's decades-old Emergency Law and allow for peaceful demonstrations were not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters today. Over the course of two months since protests in Syria began, the United States has repeatedly encouraged President Assad and the Syrian Government to implement meaningful reforms, but they refuse to respect the rights of the Syrian people or be responsive to their aspirations. The Syrian people have called for the freedoms that all individuals around the world should enjoy: freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the ability to freely choose their leaders. President Assad and the Syrian authorities have repeatedly rejected their calls and chosen the path of repression. They have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people, resorting to the use of force and outrageous human rights abuses to compound the already oppressive security measures in place before these demonstrations erupted. Instead of listening to their own people, President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now, and heed the calls of his own people.

We strongly oppose the Syrian government's treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior more generally, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. The United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Syria and around the world.

Will Kerry Freeze Syria Democracy Programs?

This month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) announced that he would delay funding for Cuba's pro-democracy movement.
 
Will Kerry do the same with funds for Syria's pro-democracy movement?

According to the Washington Post:

The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

Doesn't this violate Syrian "law" (as Kerry and opponents of the Cuba programs argue)?

How about funding for Internet activists in dictatorships worldwide?

According to Bloomberg:

The U.S. State Department is set to announce $28 million in grants to help Internet activists, particularly in countries where the governments restrict e-mail and social networks such as those offered by Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Google Inc. (GOOG).

Isn't this exactly what American development worker Alan Gross was doing in Cuba? 

Bottom line: It's absurd to withhold resources from courageous pro-democracy movements fighting against brutal dictatorships -- whether half-way around the world in Syria or ninety-miles away in Cuba.

A Picture Worth Two Millenia

Thursday, April 21, 2011
Below is the official picture of the "new" Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party.

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

Sadly, this is not a joke.


H/T Babalu

Over Ten Independent Journalists Arrested

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Journalists face arrest, intimidation during Party Congress

The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a string of recent arrests of journalists from the Havana-based news outlet Centro de Información Hablemos Press, preventing them from reporting on the Communist Party Congress held in Havana this week. CPJ called on the Cuban government to cease its persistent harassment of independent journalists and allow them to report freely.

In the past three weeks, at least 10 correspondents from Hablemos Press, known for its reporting on human rights and opposition activities, have been detained in police stations, put under house arrest or threatened with arrest. One journalist, Enyor Díaz Allen, was assaulted by government supporters and then held by police for four days. The arrests coincide with the Sixth Communist Party Congress, the first in 14 years, which began in Havana on Saturday.

"This spike in short-term arrests of journalists during the Communist Party Congress is evidence of the Cuban government's unchanged attitude toward the independent press, despite the releases of imprisoned journalists in recent months," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "We call on Cuban officials to stop detaining and harassing journalists."

Despite the landmark release this month of Alberto Santiago Du Bouchet Hernández, the last journalist jailed in Cuba, CPJ and local human rights organizations have observed an increase in instances of low-intensity persecution--short-term detentions, house arrests, smear campaigns, and intimidation--of members of Cuba's independent press.

Hablemos Press director Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez told CPJ in an interview Tuesday that the timing of the arrests was obvious. "The regime is afraid that there will be a popular uprising during the Party Congress and wants to prevent journalists from reporting on what's going on," Guerra said.

According to CPJ research, 10 journalists from Hablemos Press have faced arrest and intimidation in the past three weeks:

--Guantánamo correspondent Enyor Díaz Allen, 28, was arrested Friday, along with pro-democracy activist Yoandris Beltrán Gamboa, and held until Tuesday afternoon, Díaz told CPJ. As he was walking Friday evening, two unidentified men approached Díaz shouting pro-Castro slogans and attacked him. Díaz defended himself but sustained a fractured arm and wounds requiring stitches on his head. About 20 minutes into the attack, police agents arrived and broke up the fight. The police took Díaz to the hospital. After Díaz's wounds were treated, state security agents took him to the Parque 24 police station and held him for four days. Díaz was charged with minor assault, and his attackers walked free, Guerra said.

Díaz has reported on police abuses, education issues, and opposition activities in Guantánamo province and is also a member of the youth democracy movement. According to Guerra, a common tactic used by Cuban authorities to intimidate critics is have government supporters attack dissidents who are later arrested. Díaz told CPJ that he believes the attack was related to his reporting.

--Raúl Arias Márquez and Elier Muir Ávila, correspondents in Morón and Ciego de Ávila provinces, were detained and threatened on April 5 and again on April 6 by police and state security agents at Márquez's home, where the journalists frequently meet. Both have been working for Hablemos Press for about two months and had reported on a student brawl that left two dead.

--On March 31, Hablemos Press correspondent Idalberto Acuña Carabeo was arrested at his home in Havana by state security agents demanding he hand over photos he took while covering a labor protest hours before. When Acuña refused to comply, he was taken to a local police station, interrogated and threatened for 24 hours, Hablemos Press reported.

--Luis Roberto Arcia Rodríguez, Hablemos Press correspondent in Mayabeque province, was put under house arrest in his home in San Jose de las Lajas on April 16 and held there for 12 hours to prevent him from traveling to Havana to meet with other journalists during the communist congress, Guerra said. According to Guerra, eight state security and police agents prevented the reporter from leaving his home.

--Sandra Guerra Pérez, Hablemos Press correspondent in Melena del Sur, was put under house arrest by more than 20 police and security agents on April 16 who blocked her from leaving her house until the evening of April 18. She had been reporting on a series of sugar cane field fires in the area as well as on the conversion of abandoned schools in the countryside to prisons. According to Roberto Guerra, the house arrest was intended to keep Sandra Guerra from traveling to Havana during the Party Congress.

--On April 15, two state security agents appeared at Hablemos Press's headquarters in central Havana and warned four journalists including Roberto Guerra that they would be arrested if they left their homes during the Party Congress. Guerra was also warned that he could face imprisonment for the videos that he has posted on Hablemos Press's Web site that show victims of official repression.

Blondie, Duran Duran and Raul's "Reforms"

Yesterday, we posted the Miami Herald's 1986 story on the III Cuban Communist Party Congress.

We wanted to highlight it again today, for it's really the best example of the media's sensationalism in reporting this weekend's VI Party Congress.

Just note the terminology - sweeping changes, fresh breezes, improved relations with the Catholic Church, home ownership, cultural leniency.

These are the same "initiatives" being extolled today -- 25 years later -- as Raul Castro's "new reforms."

It's like featuring Blondie or Duran Duran as a new pop group (they too went out in the 1980s).

We hope that the media -- particularly the foreign news bureaus in Havana -- take note.

Here's the 1986 story:

DRAMATIC CHANGES ARE SWEEPING CUBA AS PARTY CONVENE

SAM DILLON Herald Staff Writer

"Revolution in the revolution" overstates the case, but Cuba is undergoing significant, perhaps watershed change, as President Fidel Castro convenes his Communist Party's Third Congress here today.

Fresh breezes have been blowing across the revolutionary island for over a year, as Castro has courted Cuba's Roman Catholic hierarchy, relaxed Stalinist cultural restrictions, permitted Cubans to own their own homes and cajoled many of his one-time enemies across Latin America into new friendships.

Equally dramatic has been Castro's reorganization of Cuban leadership. He has replaced at least 11 high officers, including the interior, transportation, health and planning ministers.

Influencing the political developments have been Castro's attempts to revamp Cuba's economy, to carry out what one year ago Castro called a "revolution in our economic conceptions."


State Department Honors The Ladies in White

From the U.S. Department of State:

Today, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will present the Human Rights Defenders Award to the Cuban NGO Damas de Blanco ("Ladies in White").

The Human Rights Defenders Award recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations who show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression.

Damas de Blanco's visible, consistently observed vigils focused international attention not only on political prisoners, but the overall human rights situation in Cuba.

Castro's Theatre of the Absurd

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
By Yale University Professor Carlos Eire in the U.K.'s Guardian:

Theatre of the absurd. Characters trapped in hopeless situations, frustrated by illogical speech, compelled by irrational forces to perform meaningless gestures. It was once the rage among the thinking classes of the free world. And decades later, unfortunately, it is enjoying a revival at the recent Communist party congress in Havana.

After 52 years in power – 47 of which he spent in his older brother's shadow - "president" Raúl Castro is seeking to reform his domain and change nothing at the same time. Two days ago, he told the party delegates that henceforth no one should serve more than two five-year terms in government. Ten years in office; that's it for everyone from now on, himself included. "We need to rejuvenate the revolution," said Raúl.

The assembled delegates responded with thunderous applause. Then they swiftly anointed 79-year-old Raúl as their supreme leader and José Ramon Machado Ventura, one of Raúl's cronies, as his immediate successor. The number three spot went to another revolutionary sidekick, Ramiro Valdés. Machado is 80 years old. Valdés is 78. Then came the pièce de résistance: 300 proposals to shake up Castrolandia's centrally planned economy, including one that would allow Cubans to buy and sell their homes. The congress will be very busy for a while "voting" on these proposals.

What the government-controlled Cuban press won't say, and what most foreign correspondents on Cuban soil don't dare say (lest they be expelled, as happened last week to Spanish journalist Carlos Hernando) is that these so-called reforms are illusory, and a desperate, ridiculous attempt to camouflage repression and maintain the current status quo.

Instead of opening up the Cuban economy, creating a private sector, or granting more freedom to Cubans, what these "reforms" seek is to control the black market that has been in existence for decades and to tax it. Take, for instance, the plan to remove half a million Cubans from the government payroll and transform them into instant entrepreneurs. This is not only an acknowledgment of the fact that many Cubans already engage in unregulated menial jobs under the table, such as fixing clocks, mending shoes, running errands, or catering to the whims of tourists, but also an attempt to establish a tighter control over these activities and claim a share of the money that exchanges hands in all such transactions. Even worse, the jobs which these half a million suddenly-unemployed Cubans are supposed to create for themselves are limited to a highly specific number of 178 menial professions, such as dog groomer, button sewer, and parasol tinker, each of which will require proper licensing, constant supervision, and crushing tax payments.

This much-vaunted "reform" is not new at all. A similar plan was put into effect in the early 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union left Cuba short of cash and subsidies. Suddenly Cubans were free to turn their crumbling homes into restaurants or inns and their antique cars into taxis. Many did so, successfully, only to find themselves under the thumb of bureaucrats who gradually taxed them out of existence.

Or consider the latest proposal which will "allow" Cubans to buy and sell houses. This, too, is deceitful. First and foremost, a daunting obstacle stands in the way: lack of cash, and the absence of loans. Individual Cubans have no savings. Everyone in Cuba earns about $20 a month and all of that is quickly spent. The new entrepreneurs, busy with their wretched tinkering, are not likely to save much either, certainly not enough for a down-payment. Even worse, Cuba has no private banks and no means to come up with loans for its citizens, let alone to pay its foreign debt, which is in the tens of billions.

Then there is the question of ownership itself, an ugly monster that this communist regime has kept tightly chained, chiefly because there are two million Cubans in exile who were never paid for the homes they owned and left behind, and those homes are now occupied by others. Once this monster is unleashed, it will undoubtedly wreak havoc, especially if all those exiles start making their very legitimate claims. One need not be an economist to realize that this alone makes all housing "reforms" moot, and a sign of desperation.

At the close of the Communist party congress programme yesterday, a very frail Fidel Castro appeared on stage. Many of the world's newspapers reported that the assembled delegates greeted him with a rousing ovation and tears in their eyes. One is tempted to ask: what is more absurd, the reception Fidel received or the mere mention of it in news reports written by external journalists who would be driven mad by bogus reforms if they had to live in Cuba as Cubans rather than as privileged foreigners?

Which raises another question: are tyrants ever denied thunderous applause, or tears of gratitude, even when they confront their mortality in the theatre of the absurd?

Sweeping "Changes" Under the Tanks

The Castro brothers knew all-too-well what a farce their VI Communist Party Congress (CCP) was going to be.

That's why they planned for the CCP to begin with a military parade, in order to put the tanks on the streets -- warning the Cuban people to not dare complain.

And there's certainly lots to complain about.

Here are the take-aways from the CCP:

1. There's no future or hope for young people in Cuba.

Cuba will continue to be ruled by octogenarian dictators for the next three decades -- unless they die or are removed from power beforehand.

2. Social programs will be cut without tangible relief.

Not even the billions in the Castro's Swiss bank accounts can prevent Cuba from going bankrupt.

Yet, instead of giving the Cuban people the political and economic freedoms needed to forge a new path, or even cutting from the regime's expensive military and repressive machinery -- they chose to target the Cuban people's bread crumbs (e.g. state jobs and ration card).

3. Economic changes will be limited to re-enacting the self-employment charade of the 1990's.

In order to deal with the economic crisis of the 1990's, the Castro regime allowed the leasing and licensing of 157 self-employment crafts. (Pursuant to obtaining economic relief from Chavez's oil subsidies, the regime eliminated them soon thereafter.) 

However, in this latest reenactment of self-employment, the regime will now allow 178 crafts . 

Thus, the extent of the Castro regime's economic "changes" can be quantified by 21 new permissible trades and crafts. 

4. In the future, Cubans may be permitted to sell homes that they don't really own.

Huh?

According to Castro's 1976 Constitution (as Amended), homes in Cuba are "socialist State property" -- in other words, they belong to the regime.

For decades, the regime has allowed Cubans to "exchange" the home in which they reside (usually for a smaller one) through a complex and corrupt system called "permutas."

So in order to grab a headline (and a talking point for apologists), Castro announced -- without offering any details -- that Cubans may soon be permitted to "sell" the homes in which they reside.

Of course, if this ever takes place, they'll predictably create a fictitous market (an anomaly), in which they'll decide (and control) to whom it can be sold and for what "price" (same as before). 

Why?  Because it's ultimately State property.

The fact remains private property requires individual legal guarantees and recourse -- that means, a division of powers, a bill of rights and an independent judiciary.  All of which have been discraded by the Castro regime.

Anything else is semantics -- or simply hot air.

So where are the "sweeping changes" the media and "experts" anticipated throughout the weekend?

They obviously got "swept under the tanks."

Party Like its 1986

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
In the Cuban Colada blog, reporter Frances Robles posted a fascinating article she found regarding the Cuban Communist Party's III Party Congress -- back in 1986.

Sound familiar?

DRAMATIC CHANGES ARE SWEEPING CUBA AS PARTY CONVENE

SAM DILLON Herald Staff Writer

"Revolution in the revolution" overstates the case, but Cuba is undergoing significant, perhaps watershed change, as President Fidel Castro convenes his Communist Party's Third Congress here today.

Fresh breezes have been blowing across the revolutionary island for over a year, as Castro has courted Cuba's Roman Catholic hierarchy, relaxed Stalinist cultural restrictions, permitted Cubans to own their own homes and cajoled many of his one-time enemies across Latin America into new friendships.

Equally dramatic has been Castro's reorganization of Cuban leadership. He has replaced at least 11 high officers, including the interior, transportation, health and planning ministers.

Influencing the political developments have been Castro's attempts to revamp Cuba's economy, to carry out what one year ago Castro called a "revolution in our economic conceptions."

Same "Old", Same "Old"

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:
 
Back to the future
 
OUR OPINION: No surprises in Cuba's sixth congress, just same old, same old

About the only surprise at Cuba's Communist Party Congress that ended Tuesday is that Fidel Castro didn't open his mouth. For once, no hours-long diatribes about the "evils of American imperialism", or the irrational reflections he has been prone to writing in his feeble octogenarian state since he stepped down because of an intestinal illness almost five years ago.

The "big news" at the rare meeting was that Fidel's brother Raúl, a spry 79, was elected first secretary of the party, replacing 84-year-old Fidel.

Another "news flash" came when the congress tapped José Ramón Machado Ventura as the Número Dos. He's just 80, and potentially the Cuban dictatorship's next "president."

And No. 3 in this crusty lineup?

Ramiro Valdes, the 79-year-old vice president and former interior minister known for his crackdown on all things liberty.

What an exciting bunch! They're sure to make a difference in the lives of Cuba's struggling and jobless youth.

As if.

Let's be clear. We aren't ageist. America has its own obsession with youth, and wisdom certainly is sorely lacking in many of our politicians today, regardless of age and political leanings.

The problem we have with the Cuban regime's "new" cadre of leadership is that they're still partying like it's 1959, when they were the revolutionary comandantes who toppled another dictator with promises of democracy.

Fifty-two years later, Cuba has been ravaged by one failed communist policy after another, and despite Raúl Castro's promises of "reforms" nothing really changes because Cuba's rulers in a one-party state control the press, the labor unions, and every aspect of people's lives.

Economic reforms amount to allowing such "techie" jobs without government intervention as shoe shining and fruit peeling. This is progress?

Raúl Castro has pretended to chart a new course by warning that the regime cannot afford to pay everyone to pretend to work and calling for up to one million workers to set out on their own, but then delaying the inevitable.

So-called economic reformers have been cast aside, even arrested over the years. The hype about a new group of leaders with new ideas — like 50-year-old Marino Murillo, who is Cuba's latest economic czar, and Lázaro López Acea, the 47-year-old chief of the communist party in Havana, or Lázaro Expósito, the 40-something chief of the party in Santiago — was just that, hype. They remain in the second tier.

Term limits remain Cubans' latest hope — and so does the biological clock.

It's in the General's Nature

Today's quote from Cuban dictator, General Raul Castro, on his decision to name seven currently-active military Generals to the 15 member Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party:

"In the Politburo, you will see reflected, an adequate proportion of the principal commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.  It is natural for it to be that way." 

Welcome to Cuba's military junta.

The Few That Could Choose (Had No Choice)

The picture below of the VI Communist Party Congress (CCP) speaks for itself.

Perhaps those that argued (or hoped) that the Castro regime could change from within will now realize the hilarity of that argument.

The regime's octogenarian leadership has made it absolutely clear that they will not relinquish power by choice.

And that -- sadly -- is the most important lesson of this CCP.

80-Year-Old Named Raul's Succesor

Breaking News:  Raul Castro has named someone even older than him to succeed him as Cuba's dictator.

The future of the Cuban Revolution is bright indeed (sarcasm emphasized).

So it's official: Raul Castro, who turns 80-years-old in June, has named himself First Secretary of the Communist Party -- the most powerful position in Cuba.

In turn, Castro named Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who turns 81-years-old this year, as his immediate successor.

Thus, if all goes according to Castro's plan (considering his new "term limits"), Raul will have to cede power when he's 90-years-old to Machado Ventura, who will be able to hold power until he's 101-years-old.

Oh -- and almost forgot -- 78-year-old former Minister of the Interior, Ramiro Valdes, has been named to the No. 3 spot.

Now that's "reform" you can't believe in.

Female Democracy Activist Savagely Beaten

Foreign news bureaus and other visiting media in Havana are being prohibited from entering and directly covering the VI Communist Party Congress (CCP).

Thus, they're simply regurgitating whatever regime officials and the state media "report" about the CCP.

So perhaps they can take advantage of their free time and inquire on the well-being of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Sara Marta Fonseca.

Yesterday, Fonseca was savagely beaten by the Castro regime for placing a sign outside her home reading, "Down With the Party."

She was then dragged away bleeding by the authorities.

Here's an eye-witness account of the violent event:

"The mob organized by the political police hurled itself on her. They arrived at her house and began kicking her on the floor. They struck the windows with metal pipes and broke them all. They went inside the house and destroyed the large windows. They threw her on the floor, amongst the mob, and began to kick and punch her on the floor."

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Here's a file picture of Fonseca after a previous "visit" to her home by Castro regime officials:

Cuba Amongst Top Three Internet Foes

Freedom House has just released its 2011 Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Freedom.

The report examines internet freedom around the globe. Overall, its findings indicate that the threats to internet freedom are growing and have become more diverse. Cyber attacks, politically-motivated censorship, and government control over internet infrastructure have emerged as especially prominent threats.

The three most repressive countries in the world for the Internet are Cuba, Burma and Iran.

Meanwhile, the three freest countries in the world for the Internet are Estonia, United States and Germany.

Click here for the Cuba section of the report.

Quote(s) of the Day

Monday, April 18, 2011
Ironically, both come from today's New York Times story on Castro's VI Communist Party Congress.

On supposed economic "reforms":

"We have a way of making changes but keeping everything the same. The basic problem is we have no money. I am hoping what they are discussing will change that."

-- Johan Rodríguez, 22, who supplements his meager state accountant salary by selling trinkets on the street.

On the need for new, young leaders:

"I think it is not just about more young people. It's about young people who think differently. We can have young people who think like the old ones or we can have young people who are young and think differently."

-- Rafael Hernández, a political scientist who edits the magazine Temas.

Flake's Cuba Policy Gets Some Arizona Heat

It seems Arizona conservatives are (fortunately) not too fond of Jeff Flake's Cuba policy views.

From Seeing Red Arizona via The Tuscon Citizen:

Jeff Flake would be term-limited in his beloved Cuba

Candidate Flake now switches effort to pull plug on Radio and TV Marti

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake has long been a proponent of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations with Communist Cuba where the Castro regime has held the reins of an oppressive dictatorship for 52 years. Now, in a fascinating move, Raul Castro, who took over control from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, has proposed term limits for Cuban politicians.

Castro, speaking to delegates at the Communist Party summit said he would launch a "systematic rejuvenation" of the government. He said politicians and other officials should be restricted to two, five-year terms, including "the current president of the Council of State and his ministers" — a reference to himself.

Under the new proposals, Jeff Flake would not be able to run in his favorite Communist regime. Flake broke his solemn 2000 pledge to limit himself to three 2-year terms — later calling his vow to constituents "a mistake."

Unlike Flake, Mauricio Claver-Carone, a lawyer and executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, is a prominent supporter of the policy positions the United States has taken against the current Cuban government. He says, "Sanctions are an important tool of leverage for democratic change, particularly in a post-Castro era. In the interim, sanctions have the effect of denying funds to the Cuban regime's repressive apparatus, which it would otherwise use to exert further economic and political control over the Cuban people."

In analyzing the November 2010 Congressional elections he notes that Cuban-American voters continue to overwhelmingly support candidates who are committed to maintaining trade and travel sanctions against the Castro dictatorship in Cuba. Check out his Do's and Don'ts of U.S. Policy Towards Cuba — paying particular attention to Number 9.

This Florida Cuban-American Voters Survey also supports sanctions and keeping the Cuban regime on the U.S. government's list of state-sponsors of terrorism.

Prior to announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate, Jeff Flake had attempted to eliminate Radio and TV Marti which the Communist regime tries to jam and censor. Marti sends unfiltered news to the Cuban people, where media are controlled and highly censored by the authorities. Four days later, as a newly announced candidate, the duplicitous Flake withdrew his opposition.

Like his aisle crossing mentor, John McCain who forged relationships with Kennedy, Feingold and Lieberman — Flake partners with the likes of Illinois radical Luis Gutierrez, and in this case, "hard-core liberal" Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. Together he and Delahunt worked to alter Cuba policy and teamed in "applauding the Obama Administration's" efforts to lift restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances.

The left-leaning Arizona Republic, which previously extolled Flake, has now expressed its disappointment in his campaign related position switcheroos, which they termed "Jarring." Flake is now a mere "politician" — no longer a "statesman," they moan.

Many of us have known that all along.

Castro's Kabuki Party Congress

Act One of the VI Cuban Communist Party Congress (CCP) is now over and the bizarre abounds.

First of all, it's important to note that this CCP had been more than two-years in the making. It was originally scheduled for 2009.
 
The official reason for its postponement was the "economic crisis."

But it was more likely tied to the regime's expectations that the U.S. Congress -- with a Democratic majority and President -- might have lifted trade, financing and tourism sanctions between 2008-2010.

Upon U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) taking the helm of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) becoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, it was finally time to proceed with the CCP and look for other ways to address the dire economic and political situation facing the island -- for a U.S. bonanza and recognition were not coming any time soon. 

(Well-intentioned opponents of U.S. policy should ponder on the economic windfall and legitimacy they would have provided the Castro regime if they had been successful).

So after a huge outdoor military parade -- in order to remind the Cuban people who's the boss -- Raul Castro took to the stage indoors and delivered four messages:

1. That it "might be advisable" to apply term limits to future senior regime officials.

This "do as I say, not as I do" approach would allow Raul to remain dictator until he's at least 90-years old or death (whichever comes first), while (of course) not impeding his family's power one iota.

Raul probably got this idea from similar recent announcements by his tyrannical brethren in North Africa and the Middle East, such as Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who are also looking for distractions to assuage popular discontent.

It's also meant to serve as talking points for the regime's apologists in the U.S. and Europe -- that Castro is undertaking "political reforms" (while arguably passing the laugh-test).

2. That none of the supposed "reforms" promised at the last CCP (in 1997) were implemented.

But that he's really, really sorry, and that this time it'll be different -- no, really.

3. That the Cuban people will remain without any ownership rights.

In other words, that the dictatorship will remain totalitarian.

For all of Raul Castro's "fiscal revelation" that 2+2=4, the CCP seems limited to cutting basic staples from the Cuban people -- e.g., ration cards, jobs -- but not giving the people any fundamental economic rights.  Instead, the regime will continue leasing and licensing a limited number of crafts (like it did during the 1990s).

At best, this reflects a shift from slavery to feudalism.

4. That young people are not "properly prepared" to assume positions of power.

Ironically, Fidel Castro was 32 years-old when he became dictator, while Raul was 29-years old when he was appointed Minister of Defense.   

Apparently, they can't seem to find young Cubans today as ruthless and tyrannical as in the old days.

Actually -- that might just be the best news to come out of the CCP.

A Tale of Two Eras

Sunday, April 17, 2011
Cuban author and columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner pointedly encapsulates a tragic reality:

Raúl Castro, a realist who cannot understand why Cuban children can't drink milk after the age of 7, is not unaware that his brother has been the worst leader in the history of the republic, founded in 1902. In 56 years of capitalism, despite bad administrations, corruption, frequent uprisings and periods of military dictatorship, the island became one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, and Havana one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The public sector was mediocre or bad, but civil society functioned reasonably well.

In contrast, in 52 years of communism, society became pauperized, and the urban landscape took on the appearance of a bombed territory. The communist-imposed public sector was terribly clumsy, infinitely worse than the one in the capitalist era, and civil society (which Raúl is trying to revive via artificial respiration) was cruelly crushed.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 30

From today's Miami Herald:

Less than 75 miles off the Florida Keys, Cuba's plan to explore for oil and gas in waters even deeper than BP's Deepwater Horizon well has U.S. officials on alert [...]

"Houston is 900 miles from where the well is going to be deployed and equipment could be there in a matter of hours, but it won't available because we haven't sat down with Cuba," said Jorge Piñon, an energy expert and visiting research fellow at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University [...]

Critics of further engagement with Cuba argue that Cuba has proposed offshore drilling for more than a decade without delivering.

"We've seen this dog-and-pony show for 10 years and the fact remains, there's no drilling," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of a leading pro-embargo lobby, the U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee. He contends the plans are part of a propaganda campaign by the regime to attract investors and to secure the oil industry's support for joining the lobby against the embargo. The embargo has already affected Cuba's operations: It had to secure a rig that didn't violate the U.S. law that prevents vessels with more than 10 percent of U.S. parts from operating in Cuba.

Claver-Carone suggested that if the rig — now in Singapore — approaches Cuba, there'd be time for Congress to make it even more difficult and expensive for Repsol to proceed. Florida lawmakers have already filed legislation aiming to block Cuba by making it more difficult for foreign oil companies to do business there.

"I don't understand why anyone would want to facilitate the creation of a petro-dictatorship 90 miles away," he said.

Cubans Aren't Stupid

Yesterday, the Castro regime marked the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion -- and the beginning of the VI Communist Party Congress -- with a large (and very expensive) military parade.

Most argue that these military exercises are a way for the regime to keep focus on the "enemy," the "bogeyman," the "scapegoat"
-- you've heard the argument before:

That the U.S. (due to sanctions) gives Castro an excuse for its ills (so the U.S. should instead provide billions in trade and travel to the Castro regime).

That ridiculous argument (wrongly) presumes that the Cuban people are ignorant at best (or stupid at worst).

As a 2009 State Department cable from the U.S. Interest Section in Havana (released by Wikileaks) shows -- Cubans are neither:

(SBU) Cuba mobilized as many cameras and reporters as it did soldiers for island-wide military exercises that concluded on Saturday, November 28. The following day, when Cuba celebrated Armed Forces Day, the top military brass, led by President Raul Castro, congratulated itself on the success of the exercises, which they attributed to "organization, more  than weaponry." The maneuvers, called "Bastion 2009," had not been held since 2004. The scenario for the Bastion exercises was, once again, a U.S. invasion.

(SBU) In the days leading to the three-day exercises, the official Cuban media tried to drum up enthusiasm in the island. Cubans were exhorted to show their readiness to defend themselves and repel any attack, and coverage was nonstop. Generals went on talk shows and the radio to promote the exercises -- based, according to one contact, on the Communist concept of "total war" where the entire population is mobilized for action.


(SBU) However, the population reacted with indifference. "Before we would all be asked to do something," a local observer told Poloff, "but this time around, nobody in my neighborhood was asked to participate." Sirens went off on Saturday morning in residential areas, but few bothered to come out. Some offices and factories, we were told, used the mobilization to clean up clutter, while the foreign press reported exercises taking place in relaxed and haphazard settings.


(SBU) Our contacts also dismissed notions that Bastion 2009 was meant as a message to the United States. Rather, they say, it was meant for local consumption, to show Cubans that their government and armed forces remain strong and capable despite the economic difficulties that the island is facing. Many, it seems, slept right through that message.