Welfare State Within a Welfare State

Saturday, May 21, 2011
Here's the Quote of the Week:

"People are used to not working.  It's a danger. That you can live without working is a very serious danger for Cuba. It's not some big accomplishment of the country's, but rather denigrating. People do not want to work, because they have an 80-year-old aunt who out of her small savings maintains a bum abroad, because she has a heart."

-- Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez, Catholic priest from Santiago de Cuba, during an interview with The Miami Herald, May 19, 2011. 

Yet, some (including those well-intentioned) believe that President Obama's unilateral regulatory changes to Cuba policy -- e.g. allowing unlimited remittances -- have had a "positive impact."

Perhaps at creating a welfare state within a welfare state -- and thus, allowing the Castro regime to keep laughing off genuine reforms.

Moreover, it's one thing when Cuban-Americans send their privately earned savings to the island, but when public assistance money (e.g. SSI) is simply being transferred over (as is systemically taking place) -- then you have U.S. taxpayers footing the bill.

Cuban Women Beaten for "Sit-In"

From Pedazos de la Isla:

Three Female Activists are Violently Suppressed

In the 1960′s in the United States, a countless number of African-American activists decided to shatter the chains of oppression which was being exercised not only in the United States but throughout the world -- institutional racism and segregation. The struggle of these activists, in their majority, was completely peaceful and although they were not confronting a dictator they were confronting a system which at one point seemed immovable. African-Americans achieved their goals because they guided themselves by the principles of nonviolent struggle. They decided to use methods of civil disobedience, one of the most popular being the "sit-ins."

From Rosa Parks when she refused to not give up her seat aboard a segregated bus, to the dozens of students who sat outside their schools to demand equal opportunity, and to the hundreds of activists who risked their lives to sit wherever they desired in public restaurants, which were exclusively reserved for those who were "socially" accepted at that moment.

Five decades later, in the island of Cuba dissidents of the current ruling regime have been practicing a similar style of resistance. Yesterday, Thursday May 19th of 2011, 3 Cuban female activists were beaten and detained by agents of the Cuban Political Police simply for taking part in a "sit-in" inspired on these same civil movements which surged in the US.

The three women are Donaida Perez Paseiro, Yaimara Mesa, and Yris Perez Aguilera -- all of who are members of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. The crackdown occurred while these women peacefully demanded that they be allowed to publish their opinions on air through a Placetas radio station. The activists decided to protest after the national Cuban press aired a report which assured that the dissident Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia was not assassinated but that he died of medical complications and natural causes.

Nelson Urges Clinton to Pressure Spain

Friday, May 20, 2011
U.S. Senator urges Clinton apply diplomatic pressure on Spain to keep company there from working with Cuba on oil drilling off South Florida

WASHINGTON, D.C. - With Cuba and a Spanish company poised to start oil drilling this summer at a point dangerously close to Florida, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ramp up diplomatic pressure on the government of Spain in hopes of at least temporarily blocking the Communist regime's plan to begin oil exploration in waters between Havana and Key West.

A letter to Clinton from Nelson, dated yesterday, is the latest move in a multi-year effort involving the senator to block Cuba from exploring for oil in waters where one accident like the BP spill could wreak havoc on South Florida's tourism-driven economy and undermine some of the ongoing restoration work in the Everglades, one of the world's most sensitive environmental sites.

Nelson told Clinton he was concerned there may be drilling off the North coast of Cuba as early as this summer, threatening Florida's environment and tourism-driven economy, not to mention U.S. national interests. The Spanish oil company Repsol, in a consortium that includes companies from Norway, India and Italy, is expected to drill a deep-water exploratory well roughly 20 miles northeast of Havana — in the currents that run up our Eastern Seaboard and very close to the fragile Florida Keys and south Florida beaches.

"I am asking that you raise this crucial issue with your counterparts in the current Spanish government and impress upon them the urgency of this situation," Nelson wrote to Clinton. "Oil drilling is coming at the behest of Cuba's communist regime, eager to benefit from any offshore oil resources. And by partnering with Cuba, Repsol is acting contrary to U.S. interests in the hemisphere."

Nelson is hoping to at least prevent drilling by Cuba until March 2012, when Spanish national elections could result in a new policy toward Spanish investment in the island nation just 90 miles south of Florida.

Meantime, Nelson has filed legislation that would require oil companies that do business with Cuba to at least comply with all U.S. safety regulations. "It would be a good safety net," he said.

Following is the text of Nelson's letter to Clinton:

May 19, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

I am concerned that there may be drilling off the coast of Cuba as early as this summer, threatening Florida's environment and tourism-driven economy, not to mention U.S. national interests. The Spanish oil company Repsol, in a consortium that includes companies from Norway, India and Italy, is expected to drill a deep-water exploratory well roughly 20 miles northeast of Havana — in the currents that run up our Eastern Seaboard and very close to the fragile Florida Keys and south Florida beaches.

Over the past several years, I have asked Republican and Democratic administrations to withdraw the diplomatic letters that we exchange with Cuba every two years. These letters are the only thing enforcing the 1977 Maritime Boundary Agreement under which Cuba claims the right to drill. But our presidents have disagreed with me.

So, last year I filed legislation that would have allowed the U.S. to deny visas to executives of foreign corporations in drilling agreements with Cuba. Congress did not pass it.

Now, as oil exploration off Cuba looms on the horizon, I have introduced the Gulf Stream Protection Act of 2011. This would require oil companies that do business with Cuba to at least comply with all U.S. safety regulations. It would be a good safety net.

Meantime, national elections are set in Spain for March 2012. Spain may have a government less inclined to tolerate investment in Cuba. Until such time as the elections, I urge you to do your utmost to prevent these drilling operations.

I am asking that you raise this crucial issue with your counterparts in the current Spanish government and impress upon them the urgency of this situation. Oil drilling is coming at the behest of Cuba's communist regime, eager to benefit from any offshore oil resources. And by partnering with Cuba, Repsol is acting contrary to U.S. interests in the hemisphere.

Financial gain from oil would only bolster a tyrannical regime in Cuba, and indefinitely postpone any hopes for real democratic change on the island. I appreciate your attention to this matter, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Bill Nelson

A Message of Solidarity and Freedom

The Global Cuba Solidarity Movement has produced another great video of testimonies from international leaders and human rights activists.

Please watch it here.

Amongst the highlights:

Estonian pro-democracy leader (and former Prime Minister) Mart Laar explains how in 1989 he didn't expect the Communist system to collapse in the Baltic states. To the contrary, the regimes looked very strong -- so he urges the Cuban people to maintain hope.

Former Malaysian Deputy Primer Minister Anwar Ibrahim elaborates on the Indonesian model, which after 30-years of repressive and corrupt dictatorship, transformed within a six-month period.

There are also messages of solidarity from Polish labor activist and former President Lech Walesa, as well as from human rights leaders in Chad and Chechnya.

It's a must-see.

Searching for El Dorado

The solution to Cuba's economic crisis is fairly simple -- just let the Cuban people choose their political leadership, in order to establish a rule of law and unleash a wave of entrepreneurial talents and freedoms.

That would result in billions of dollars worth of trade, tourism, financing and investments -- and most importantly, it would allow the Cuban people to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But that would require the Castro regime to relinquish their absolute political and commercial monopoly, which they are unwilling to do.

So instead, they want to string the Cuban people along with (10-years worth of) talk regarding oil prospects -- and now gold.

That's right, the Castro brothers have now announced that they will begin mining for gold in the eastern province of Oriente.

Of course, this will be the exclusive domain of the Castro's mining company, Geominera, S.A.

According to the Vice Minister of Basic Industries, Ivan Martinez, they even have satellite imagery (from those fancy Cuban satellites, of course) and geological studies showing abundant gold reserves.

And it'll only take five years to develop.  Thus, Raul will only be 85-years old.

Sound familiar?

Before you know it, gold "experts" and "consultants" will start doing the rounds on Capitol Hill -- like their oil industry brethren -- arguing that sanctions are preventing U.S. companies from partaking in Castro's "gold bonanza."

With some more patience and sacrifice -- they promise to find El Dorado.

Eurolat Lawmakers Call for Cuban Freedom

Thursday, May 19, 2011
From MercoPress:

Eurolat lawmakers call for freedom in Cuba and fair elections in Venezuela

Lawmakers from the European Union and Latin America meeting in Uruguay approved two resolutions on the lack of freedoms in Cuba and on the coming electoral process in Venezuela.

The resolutions were agreed during the two-day meeting in Montevideo of the Fifth Ordinary Plenary Session of the Euro-Latin American Parliamentary Assembly, Eurolat.

Regarding the Castro brothers regime lawmakers expressed solidarity with the "Cuban democrats that struggle inside and outside the island for freedom and full compliance with human rights in the Republic of Cuba".

They also underlined support for the "legitimate aspiration of the people of Cuba for the immediate launching of a political and democratic transition process that fully respects the people's sovereignty".

Lawmakers expressed support for "the demands of freedom of the press, freedom of action for political parties in a pluralist framework, free democratic elections and equally fair conditions for parties and candidates" and similarly, solidarity with demands for the liberation of political prisoners in Cuba.

Regarding Venezuela Eurolat lawmakers expressed their satisfaction with the successful political measures taken by the opposition parties that are part of the Democratic Unified Panel to present a plural and democratic alternative for Venezuela's future.

They also urged the Venezuelan government to observe the basic conditions to ensure a fair election within the framework of full respect for human rights, freedom of expression and pluralism. Further, they urged authorities to "allow the presence of international observers".

Eurolat lawmakers also requested the Venezuelan government to refrain from using state institutions to the service of a political party, from using public propaganda and from obstructing the actions of opposition political parties, so as to ensure respect for democratic coexistence.

The plenary sessions had the attendance of lawmakers from Uruguay, Spain, France, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Slovakia, Italy, Paraguay, Luxemburg and Guatemala among others.

Ordinary Citizens Spark Movements

Excerpt from U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East speech today:

On December 17th, a young vendor [in Tunisia] named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It's the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor's act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home -- day after day, week after week -- until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.


It's ordinary citizens like Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfedo Soto or even this courageous Cuban on the rooftop of his home in Marianao (H/T Penultimos Dias):

Rangel's Problem With the Truth

U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) seems to have a problem with the truth.

Last week, Rangel sent out the following Congressional Dear Colleague -- urging support for his legislation to lift sanctions towards the Castro regime -- full of misleading statements (or blatant lies).

Thus, we've taken it upon ourselves to correct (CHC, in italics) each false assertion Rangel makes.  A few observations are included also.

From: The Honorable Charles B. Rangel

Support H.R.1886 To allow Travel Between the United States and Cuba

With the recent announcement by Cuba of important economic reforms, the time has come for the United States to take positive reinforcing action.

CHC: Important economic reforms? Fortunately, even President Obama has seen through the Castro brother's charade.

Current co-sponsors are Edolphus Towns, Yvette Clarke, Betty McCollum, Bobby Rush, Raul Grijalva, Pete Stark, Laura Richardson, Barbara Lee, and Karen Bass.

CHC: Not exactly a moderate or reasonable group of co-sponsors.

I am soliciting your support to allow unrestricted travel between the United States and Cuba.

While President Obama's announcement on April 13, 2009 relaxing travel rules between the United States and Cuba was welcome, I am re-introducing this resolution to take further action toward normalizing travel between the two countries.

In accordance with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to travel freely is a fundamental human right. For nearly half a century, our citizens have been denied this right when it involved travel to Cuba. While current policy allows family members of Cuban nationals to travel there, most Americans are outright banned from travelling to Cuba – not for study, not for tourism, not even for charity. Your support of this H.R. would undo these unsuccessful and unpopular restrictions on American citizens and legal residents.

CHC: Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba. What they're not allowed to do is engage in financial transactions for certain types of travel, particularly those tourism-related. The reason for this prohibition is that Cuba's tourism industry is a monopoly of the Castro dictatorship and one of its main sources of revenue. As for the assertion that Americans can't travel to Cuba for study or charitable purposes, that's just an outright lie.

In the 111th Session, the measure amassed bipartisan support, drawing 31 House cosponsors, from embargo supporters to proponents of normalization. That's because the right of unfettered travel for our citizens has nothing to do with politics on the island. It has everything to do with basic freedoms, common sense, and ultimately, compassion. It is too much of a sacrifice to ask from our people, in particular our Cuban descendent brothers and sisters, to forego funerals, weddings, births, and death-bed invitations on an island just 90 miles away.

CHC: "Our Cuban descendent brothers and sisters" are not currently asked "to forego funerals, weddings, births, and death-bed invitations." Rangel himself recognizes this in his opening paragraph. It's another blatant attempt to mislead. Furthermore, where's Rangel's mention or consideration for the freedom and rights of the Cuban people, whose oppressors he's all-too-willing to embrace and finance?

Not even for the longstanding communist governments of North Korea, Vietnam, and China do we impose similar travel restrictions on Americans. It's counterintuitive to expect democracy to flourish and change to take root in Cuba without allowing the free flow of our people and our ideas. Cuban society needs more of our American essence – not less.

CHC: First of all, tourism travel is not a main revenue earner for the dictatorships in North Korea, Vietnam, and China. Moreover, how is it "counterintuitive" to expect democracy to flourish "without allowing the free flow of our people and our ideas," when this approach has utterly failed in North Korea, Vietnam and China -- regimes that are no less repressive today than when the U.S. chose to unconditionally engage them. Finally, you have to love how Rangel and his co-sponsors only believe in American exceptionalism when it benefits anti-American regimes.

Our religious missionaries and charities are hamstrung by a policy that labels their generous donations and messages of hope, love, and brotherhood as contraband. Our academic institutions, researchers, and bright minds struggle with restrictions that disallow them from gaining – and more importantly, sharing – knowledge.

CHC: Rangel needs to actually read the Treasury Department's current travel regulations (instead of playing the violin), which provide general licenses for religious and academic travel.

Increasingly, Americans yearn for change, including a majority of Cuban Americans who favor unrestricted travel, not just for relatives, but for every American. Listen to the American people and restore their fundamental right to travel.

CHC: Rangel doesn't represent any Cuban-Americans. How would he feel if the elected Members of the Cuban-American community -- all of whom oppose unilaterally lifting sanctions -- told him how African-Americans in his Harlem district "really feel"?

The Chavez Missile Crisis?

From The Jerusalem Post:

'Die Welt': Iran building rocket bases in Venezuela

German paper says Iranians paid cash to build mid-range missile launch pads on Paraguana Peninsula; Iranian engineers visited site in Feb.

The Iranian government is moving forward with the construction of rocket launch bases in Venezuela, the German daily Die Welt wrote in its Thursday edition.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is Teheran's most important South American ally.

Iran is building intermediate-range missile launch pads on the Paraguaná Peninsula, and engineers from a construction firm – Khatam al-Anbia – owned by the Revolutionary Guards visited Paraguaná in February. Amir al-Hadschisadeh, the head of the Guard's Air Force, approved the visit, according to the report. Die Welt cited information from "Western security insiders."

The rocket bases are to include measures to prevent air attacks on Venezuela as well as commando and control stations.

The Iranian military involvement in the project extends to bunker, barracks and watch tower construction. Twenty-meter deep rocket silos are planned. The cost of the Venezuelan military project is being paid for with Iranian oil revenue. The Iranians paid in cash for the preliminary phase of the project, which amounted to "dozens of millions" of dollars, Die Welt wrote.

The Paraguaná Peninsula is on the coast of Venezuela and is roughly 120 kilometers from America's main South American partner, Colombia.

According to Die Welt, the clandestine agreement between Venezuela and Iran would mean the Chavez government would fire rocket at Iran's enemies should the Islamic Republic face military strikes.

The Very Unpopular Raul

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
A new public opinion poll on Ibero-American leaders found U.S. President Barack Obama (57.2), Spain's King Juan Carlos (51.6) and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (47.9) with the highest favorability ratings.

At the very bottom of the list is Cuban dictator Raul Castro (24.3). 

And just barely beating Raul were his partners is crime, brother Fidel (26.9) and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez (26.4).

The poll, conducted by Activa Research and the Ibero-American Consortium of Market Studies and Investigations (CIMA), interviewed 9,667 people in 20 countries throughout Latin America.

Raul's popularity is also at a bare minimum (except with his brother) within Cuba, as an IRI poll found last month.

And that's why the Castro's selfishly and tragically rule by force -- through the barrel of a gun.

The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
In today's Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins University Professor Fouad Ajami writes (in the context of Libya):

Some NATO planners are worried that we might yet make a martyr of the tyrant if the military campaign against him were to succeed. This is but a variant of the soft bigotry of low expectations. If and when the end comes for Gadhafi, he shall fall alone. In Beirut and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, and in the streets of Iran and Shiite Iraq—where Musa al-Sadr still enjoys a saintly aura—there shall be joy. The undoing of Gadhafi would be seen as the grant of belated justice.

This is similar to arguments made by opponents of U.S. sanctions (and pro-democracy programs) towards Cuba, who believe that they give the Castro regime an "excuse" or "scapegoat" for its repression and control -- as if the Cuban people were stupid or ignorant to the reality of their oppressors.

That, too, is a variant of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

From Head-of-State to International Criminal

Tyrants that violently suppress the legitimate rights and democratic aspirations of their people should take note.

From the International Criminal Court (ICC):

Today 16 May 2011, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo requested ICC judges to issue arrest warrants against Muammar Abu Minya Gaddafi, Saif Al Islam Gaddafi and the Head of the Intelligence Abdullah Al Sanousi from crimes against humanity committed in Libya since February 2011.

The Office gathered direct evidence about orders issued by Muammar Gaddafi himself, direct evidence of Saif Al Islam organizing the recruitment of mercenaries, and direct evidence of the participation of Al Sanousi in the attacks against demonstrators. Additionally the Office documented how the three held meetings to plan the operations.

The evidence shows that civilians were attacked in their homes; demonstrations were repressed using live ammunition, heavy artillery was used against participants in funeral processions, and snipers placed to kill those leaving the mosques after the prayers.

The evidence shows that persecution is still ongoing in the areas under Gaddafi control. Gaddafi's forces prepare lists with names of alleged dissidents. They are being arrested, put into prisons in Tripoli, tortured and made to disappear. "These are not just crimes against Libyans, they are crimes against humanity as a whole," the Prosecutor said.

This is the first case in Libya. The Office will further investigate allegations of massive rapes, war crimes committed by different parties during the armed conflict that started at the end of February, and attacks against sub-Saharan Africans wrongly perceived to be mercenaries. "There will be no impunity for such crimes in Libya," said the Prosecutor.

Doing Repsol's Bidding

In today's New York Times, William K. Reilly, co-chair of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, complains that the Obama Administration is pushing back against his (zealous) efforts to engage the Castro regime on oil drilling.

Reilly, a former EPA Administrator under U.S. President George H.W. Bush, also criticized bipartisan efforts by U.S. legislators that seek to prevent foreign oil companies -- in this case, Spain's Repsol -- from helping the Castro regime become a lucrative petro-dictatorship.

In the story, Reilly makes it absolutely clear that preventing companies from drilling with Castro shouldn't be an option.

To the contrary, he wants Repsol to drill:

"What you want is a company like Repsol, which has its own interest in the United States, has rigs in the Gulf, applies for permits from the United States government," said Reilly.

Sadly, the NYT failed to disclose that Reilly is a Senior Advisor for TPG Capital (Texas Pacific Group), one of the largest private equity firms (based in Ft. Worth, Texas) with huge investments in oil and gas. He is also head of one of its affiliates.

Who else is a Senior Advisor for TPG Capital?

None other than Alfonso Cortina de Alcocer, the former Chairman and CEO of Repsol, who led the Spanish oil company's expansion in Latin America from 1996 through 2004, when Repsol first sought to drill for oil with the Castro regime.

Moreover, Reilly is also a Director of ConocoPhillips, the Houston-based energy corporation, which has partnered with Repsol (whose North America subsidiary is also based in Houston) in various (controversial) projects throughout indigenous tribal lands in South America. (Repsol is infamous for these projects and for partnering with tyrants -- from Libya to Iran.)

But more pointedly, ConocoPhillips is the second-largest refiner in the U.S. and the fourth-largest in the world.

Even Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, one of the largest oil producers in Latin America, needs to send most of its oil exports to the U.S., for geographical proximity is key to its profitability and because refineries in U.S. Gulf Coast are specifically designed to handle heavy Venezuelan crude.

So if commercially viable quantities of oil were (ever) to be found off Cuba's shores, where would it be refined and marketed?

U.S. sanctions prohibit the Castro regime from refining Cuban oil in the U.S. -- its natural market due to capacity and proximity. So thankfully, partnering with the Castro regime for drilling remains economically unfeasible.

Yet, Reilly is still eager to provide them with a solution.

"Yeah, I'm going to continue to pop up. I mean, I'm trying to go to Cuba," he said.

Business as usual.

Freedom is the Only "Reform" Needed

Monday, May 16, 2011
Former Cuban political prisoner Pablo Pacheco, who was recently banished to Spain, on Raul Castro's farcical "reforms" (H/T Pedazos de la Isla):

The 6th Communist Party Congress is more of the same, with the additional problem that time is running out and a social explosion can surge at any moment as a consequence of the political immobility on behalf of the dictatorship, the economic crisis which the nation has been submerged under and the absence of freedoms. The discourse reflects the lack of will of the regime, and the fear they try to infuse on the Cuban people.

We must recall that prior to the Congress, Raul himself stated that they were border-line ruined: "We either fix ourselves or we drown", he said. But, can socialism really be saved? I think it's far too late to dream while awake, and to continue carrying out this political system which excludes its citizens. The Cuban people will inherit the worst of capitalism and the nature of communism- the massive employee layoffs from the first, and the absence of freedom from the latter. I'm not sure what to think if this consolidates itself. Cubans no longer care about one ideology or the other. The world has changed and we now have only two options: dictatorship or democracy, and only the latter is compatible with humanity. We deserve another opportunity, and we deserve to live like human beings without fear, without so many limitations, and without a double morale. In sum, the only thing Cubans need to rebuild the ruins which 52 years of totalitarian rule have left us is: freedom.

More Fluff, Price Controls and Planning

Yesterday, the AP ran another fluff piece on Raul's "reforms."

In this latest story, they focus on the "re-emergence" of private restaurants in Havana, known as paladares.

Yet within the long narrative, only two facts prevail:

First:

"Authorities first let private restaurants open in homes in 1993 during the austerity that followed the collapse of Cuba's lifeline, the Soviet Union. But just months later they slammed on the brakes. In 1995 they rolled out strict rules: Paladars (the word is Spanish for 'palate') were limited to 12 seats and prohibited from serving steak or seafood."

And secondly:

"The new rules allow the independent restaurants to seat up to 20 people. Gone is the ban on seafood and steak, as well as the rule on hiring only family members."

Wow! In 18 years, the Castro's have gone from allowing 12 seats to 20 seats for self-employed paladares.  Not to mention the "novelty" of allowing steaks and seafood to be served.

At that pace, just imagine what the regime will allow in 18 more years -- perhaps up to 28 seats -- and Raul will only be 98-years old by then!

On a less sarcastic note, The Miami Herald's Juan Tamayo has an excellent story on the reality of the VI Communist Party "Guidelines" released last week by the Castro regime.

As economists explain, there's a heavy dose of price controls and central planning sprinkled throughout.

(So much for the paladares.)

Moreover, the Cuban people are quickly realizing what foreign news bureaus still ignore -- that it's simply more of the same.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Modern Day Lynch Mobs

Cuban pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner, José Daniel Ferrer García, has left the following message on the "Speak Without Fear" ("Hablalo Sin Miedo") tele-website:

"We're being subjected to a brutal aggression by the political police and the paramilitary Rapid Response Brigades. They've beaten my wife, my brothers-in-the-cause and myself. They're now threatening to enter our home and lynching us [...] You can hear the screams. The act of repudiation continues."

Click here to listen to the message.

Why Distort the "Ineffective"?

Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Miami Herald's Frances Robles posted an insightful Q and A with former Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) program director Marc Wachtenheim.

Wachenteim was recently featured in one of the Castro regime's highly-publicized video productions, which showed surveillance footage of him working on civil society programs in Havana, and that "revealed" one of his contacts as a regime agent.

Q: How big a blow are the videos to the program?

A: The only surprising thing about these videos is how closely they resemble the East German propaganda of the 1960s. The world has now moved beyond the Cold War—it would be good if Cuba's government would enter the 21st Century. Isn't it curious that the same people who claim that foreign assistance programs in Cuba are ineffective, also go to all ends to try to discredit them?

Q: Has the program been all for naught if the people we've been dealing with are agents?

A: No program will be 100% effective. International development work is messy; democracy programs especially so. But democracies, including the U.S., have a long history of extending solidarity to our friends abroad. Solidarity, in its most basic sense, means that the strong and the free should help the weak and the disenfranchised. This is because freedom implies responsibility, these are two sides of the same coin, and we are called on to exercise our freedom to help those who are not yet free. When we do this we exercise the very best part of our nation's values. Should France have stopped helping George Washington because of the occasional Benedict Arnold? Sometimes, the right thing to do is the right thing to do, just because it is the right thing to do. This is one such case. We need to act internationally in a way that is consistent with our values. That is what it means to be a free and responsible nation in a globalized world.

Raul's Military Caudillismo

A thoughtful analysis by Argentine university professor and former diplomat, Ambassador Carlos Perez Llana:

Raúl Castro's consolidation of his position as successor to his brother Fidel confirms that his Cuba will give the military domestic hegemony, which makes any serious political or economic opening in the near future seemingly impossible. The Cuban Communist Party's recent Sixth Congress reflected this, offering little new and rehashing a lot of the old.

Since ill health forced Fidel Castro to retire from Cuba's leadership, Raúl has opened the doors to the military and pushed out even those civilians who had been his brother's trusted associates. While Fidel wrote doctrinaire articles in the official press, the armed forces took over politics and production. Fidel's appearance at the Party's congress – an event full of political significance, because he has only rarely participated in public events since becoming sick in 2006 – seemed to confirm his support for this outcome.

We now know that the congress had been put off for 14 years, owing to deep divisions among Cuban leaders. The civilian group that was ousted wanted to adapt the "Chinese model" of gradual economic reforms initiated by the Party. Raúl and his military cronies, however, cornered Fidel and imposed their group's criteria.

In Asian communism – as practiced in China and Vietnam, in particular – the Party leadership rotates periodically, and a civilian leadership controls the military. Systemic nepotism in the top political and military leadership exists only in North Korea.

By contrast, Cuba's new Raúlist political structure takes its inspiration from the purest tradition of Latin American military caudillismo, using communist ideology pragmatically. The model is clearly revealed in the nature of Raúl's proposed reforms. The economy's most dynamic industries – namely, mining and tourism – are reserved for the military, which manages them in a business-like, profit-seeking way.

Only in these privileged sectors can some reforms be seen. The "new class" that populates them does not demonize foreign capital. Indeed, there are talks centered on debt, with some creditors interested in the mechanics of capitalization.

For the rest of the economy, the Party's position recalls the famous line from Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo (The Leopard): something must change so that everything else can remain the same. The sale of buildings and vehicles will be legalized and self-employment authorized, mainly in the service sector. But, lacking capital and forced to pay taxes, what fate awaits industries driven by the state into the market?

Nearly 1.5 million Cubans will never have a stake in the industries controlled by the military bourgeoisie. Nor was the issue of land ownership resolved: only a few plots will be leased in some form.

As a result, Cuba will continue to import a lot of food, most of it at a price that the population cannot afford. Moreover, ordinary Cubans fear that their ration cards – their only means of getting food – will be canceled. Indeed, according to Raúl, the state-controlled food-rationing system is a "factor of immobility," but no one knows what might replace it.

The Sixth Congress ignored questions of human rights. Neither freedom of the press nor access to information was on the agenda, and the opposition will continue to be ignored, its only options being conditional freedom or exile. Migration, an option financed by remittances from relatives in the United States, was not made any more flexible, either.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many believed that the Cuban regime would take the road to reform, however grudgingly. But the democratic transitions in Eastern Europe made Fidel Castro wary, so the first opportunity for a similar transition in Cuba was lost. Now an opportunity to introduce young blood and new ideas has similarly been missed: although the Sixth Congress adopted a ten-year limit for holding office, the two people designated to succeed Raúl Castro are both octogenarians.

In the 1980's, Deng Xiaoping warned that China would collapse if it didn't change; Raúl has said the same thing. But Deng chose real reform and real change, appealing to overseas Chinese, whom the Party had demonized for many years, to bet on the country's future and invest. The diaspora listened – the beginning and the secret of the reforms that put China on the path to its current economic success.

Cuba cannot remain isolated, dependent on Venezuelan petrodollars and penalized by America's ill-conceived trade embargo (CHC: We can agree to disagree on this last point). Any realistic agenda for change in Cuba inexorably requires opening up to the world, along with ensuring full freedom within the country. Unfortunately, the Sixth Congress demonstrated that the Cuban Communist Party remains in denial about the country's prospects and options.