Marketing Chinese Fiction From Havana

Saturday, June 11, 2011
This week, Chinese vice-dictator Xi JinPing visited Havana in order "to strengthen economic ties" with the Castro regime.

So what are the fundamentals of these economic ties?

Reuters encapsulates them:

China has become the lender of last resort for debt-ridden Cuba, which is carrying out reforms to modernize and strengthen its Soviet-style economy.

Last year, China restructured debt believed to be as high as $4 billion and agreed to extend new credit in what Havana-based diplomats said was a show of support for Cuba's reforms.

In other words, Castro is delinquent on his massive debt payments to China -- thus, the need to restructure.

Yet, China is going to extend even more credit to Castro?

This is Grade A propaganda in order to market the fiction of "confidence"
in Castro's economy.

And why is this fiction (and that of "oil drilling") so important to Cuba's dictatorship?

As NYU Professors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith explain ("How Tyrants Endure") in the New York Times:

Despotic rulers stay in power by rewarding a small group of loyal supporters, often composed of key military officers, senior civil servants and family members or clansmen. A central responsibility of these loyalists is to suppress opposition to the regime. But they only carry out this messy, unpleasant task if they are well rewarded. Autocrats therefore need to ensure a continuing flow of benefits to their cronies [...]

As money becomes scarce, leaders can't pay their cronies, leaving no one to stop the people if they rebel. This is precisely what happened during the Russian and French revolutions and the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe — and why we predicted Mr. Mubarak's fall in a presentation to investors last May.


Five Ladies in White Arrested

Friday, June 10, 2011
Five members of the Ladies in White have been arrested today by the Castro regime for demonstrating with a bedsheet reading:

"Long Live Human Rights."

They are Sonia Garro, Charito, Leidys Coca, Niurka Luque and Ivonne Malleza.

Their whereabouts remain unknown.

The Ladies in White is an organization of female pro-democracy activists, whose relatives have been held as political prisoners.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Whose Side Do You Want To Be On?

Here's the "new" Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party selected by Cuban dictator Raul Castro:


And here's the new generation of pro-democracy activists, bloggers and regime critics:


Who do you think the Cuban people would choose -- if given the chance?

Off the "Reform" Farm

Reuters has a must-read story on the inadequacy and failure of Raul Castro's agricultural "reforms."

Yet, no newspapers have picked it up, nor can it be found online.

Why?

Obviously -- because it goes against the hyped publicity and narrative of Raul Castro's "reforms."

From Reuters:

Cuban agriculture crisis persists despite reforms

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, June 3 - A lack of financing, inadequate reforms and bureaucracy are undercutting efforts to increase Cuban food production, farmers and local experts said this week, as an official report showed output of most farm products in 2010 was lower than it was five years before.

President Raul Castro has made increasing food production to substitute for imports and to supply a growing food service industry a priority since taking over for his ailing brother in 2006.

But with the exception of a few items, the import substitution program has yielded few results so far.

The 2010 crops of potatoes, root vegetables such as malanga and yucca, bananas, garden vegetables, corn, beans and fruits were all below what they were in 2005, according to the report released by the National Statistics Office.

Export crops, including sugar, coffee, tobacco and citrus fruit were also below 2005 levels. So was pork, Cubans' favored meat.

There were increases in most other livestock, milk, eggs and rice, the statistics showed.

Cuba imports between 60 percent and 70 percent of the food it consumes even while huge swaths of state land remain uncultivated.

"The government is moving way too slowly to implement reforms, which in many cases are half measures in the first place," a local agriculture expert said, asking his name not be used due to prohibitions on talking with foreign journalists.

Castro has decentralized decision making, opened up more space for farmers to sell directly to consumers, leased fallow state lands to would-be tillers and raised prices the state pays for produce.

STATE MONOPOLY

Nevertheless, the state still monopolizes food distribution and the supply of critical farm inputs despite criticism from farmers and consumers, the expert said, with only 10 percent of food sold on the open market.

Only now have state banks begun offering some small micro credits to new farmers, even as millions of dollars in micro credits offered by third countries, such as Spain, remain blocked due to authorities' insistence that the money flow through a state system that can not guarantee end use accountability.

"Land alone is useless, you need water and seeds and other supplies to put it into production. At a minimum you need a well, to install a windmill, put in an irrigation system and have tools and supplies, and that costs money," central Camaguey farmer Ernesto said.

"If we really want to increase food production we need to face the problem in a less haphazard and more integrated way," he said in a telephone interview.

To date, the agriculture ministry has granted 128,000 leases covering 2.9 million acres (1.2 million hectares), with another 1.7 million acres (700,000 hectares) being offered, the local expert said, adding that at least 30 percent of the land granted had yet to be cleared and put into production. Much of the rest was producing little due to a lack of financing and supplies.

"Three years ago the government began leasing state lands, but only now are they readying changes which increase the parcels' size, extend lease times, allow home and other construction on the properties and other changes. What took them so long?" he asked.

(H/T Cuba Triangle)

Nominee's Cuba Stance Will Be Scrutinized

Thursday, June 9, 2011
From AP:

US Senator: New Western Hemisphere official must take strong stance against communist Cuba

President Barack Obama's administration has not announced whom it will nominate as the new Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, but Sen. Marco Rubio says the candidate must take a strong position against Cuba's communist-run government.

U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America will depend on the Senate approving the White House's candidate to replace Arturo Valenzuela, who will leave the post in the coming months. Congress begins its summer recess on Aug. 8.

Rubio, a Florida Republican and son of Cuban exiles, told The Associated Press in an email Wednesday he hopes the candidate will have the strength to resist pressure to work with the Castro brothers and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and instead seek to defend democratic institutions, especially in Cuba.

Rubio leads his party on the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere and his objection would impede any candidacy.

Donna Brazile Ignores Cyber-Repression

As we should all know by now (but it's worth repeating) -- all high-profile delegations (or junkets) to Cuba must be vetted and pre-approved by the Castro regime.

(Actually, all visits to Cuba must be vetted and pre-approved by the Castro regime, but that's another issue).

The organizers of these junkets usually seek to distort Cuba's repressive reality.

Thus, the regime welcomes them with open-arms.

However, many times their participants have good intentions.

Unfortunately though, their lack of experience (naivete) regarding repressive regimes makes them useful and susceptible.

Case and point is this
tweet from Havana by Democratic strategist Donna Brazile (who forms part of the Center for Democracy in the America's current junket):

"Never thought I would hustle for a signal to communicate given my love for technology. #Cuba needs to modernized and connect more buildings."

Brazile seems to attribute the lack of connectivity in Cuba to an investment and infrastructure problem -- as opposed to Castro's cyber-repression.

So here's a crash course from Freedom House:

Despite a slight loosening of restrictions on the sale of computers in 2008 and the important growth of mobile-phone infrastructure in 2009 and 2010, Cuba remains one of the world's most repressive environments for the internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs). There is almost no access to internet applications other than e-mail, and surveillance is extensive, including special software designed to monitor and control many of the island's public internet-access points.

And from cyber-specialist and California State Professor Larry Page's site:

Only foreign people with permanent resident visas, foreign students, and business with foreign capital can get Internet accounts, and that those dial up accounts have all ports open.

Fortunately for Brazile, she's a foreign guest in Castro's Cuba.

The Cuban people aren't so lucky.


Quote of the Week

"Where's the controversy here? These programs are comparable to what we and other donors do to support democracy and human rights in repressive societies all over the world."

-- Mark Lopes, USAID chief for Latin America and the Caribbean, on U.S. Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) "hold" on Cuba programs, The Miami Herald, June 9, 2011

Farrar Confirmation in Question

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Sen. Rubio Challenges Farrar On His Record On Cuba

During today's Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing, Senator Marco Rubio challenged Jonathan Farrar's record while serving as the Chief of Mission of the United States Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Farrar has been selected by President Obama to serve as ambassador to Nicaragua, but his confirmation is in question, as many have questioned his record while serving in Cuba.

The AP (Spanish) has more details here on the questioning of Farrar by U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Denounce Violence Against Cuban Women

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) has sent a request for information to the Castro regime and urged "cautious measures" in favor of Cuban pro-democracy activist Idania Yanez Contreras.

Yanez Contreras was brutally beaten by Castro's secret police on May 25th of this year for participating in a peaceful demonstration.

The ICHR has launched an investigation into this case.

We urge the delegation of U.S. women leaders currently in Havana, led by former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, to please take time from their exclusive meetings with regime officials and visit with Idania Yanez Contreras.

Please feel free to contact us at capitolhillcubans@gmail.com for her information.

Of course, this meeting might result in your expulsion from Cuba by the Castro regime -- but it would be a small price to pay for denouncing brutal violence against Cuban women.

Cuba's Courageous Women Deserve Better

The Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) is sponsoring another one of its trips to Cuba.

Their trips usually vary in theme -- but are always vetted and pre-approved by the Castro regime.

This time, the theme is a delegation of influential U.S. women
composed of former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who now heads the Woodrow Wilson Institute for International Peace, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and attorney-activist Ahadi Bugg-Levine.

So surely they visited with the courageous women leaders of the Cuban pro-democracy movement, who conduct peaceful marches, protests and sit-ins, right?

You know, the ones who are constantly beaten, tortured and arrested by the Castro regime's thugs.

Or surely they visited with the courageous Ladies in White and their support network, whose relatives have suffered years in prison for their political beliefs, right?

How about with the mothers of the pro-democracy leaders that have been murdered for their advocacy?

Maybe they went to provide support to Reina Luisa Tamayo, who yesterday exhumed the remains of her murdered son, Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo?

Sadly, none of the above.

The CDA took them to meet with the princess heir of the Castro family dictatorship -- Mariela Castro.
(And a meeting with the families of five Cuban spies convicted in U.S. federal courts for espionage and conspiracy to commit murder).

Yes, the same Mariela that in an interview last week referred to young Cubans that don't support her family's tyrannical dynasty as "uncultured."

And what impressions were exchanged during this meeting?

The following quotes from AP provide some (disappointing) clues:

"It is very exciting to hear about some of the social changes going on in your country," former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman said.

Does she mean the 1,400 political arrests in Cuba thus far this year?

Or maybe the fact that the Castro regime is en route to double its amount of political arrests from 2010?

"We want there to be transparent relations that respect our sovereignty and are not manipulative or based on conditions," said Mariela Castro.

For Mariela, "respect" means recognizing her family's unilateral will to maintain its totalitarian control of Cuba.

Anyone who disagrees is "uncultured" or "manipulated" from abroad -- except, of course, when she travels the world courtesy of generous grants from the Ford Foundation.

And finally, "our hope is that we will learn from the Cuban women and that maybe we have something to offer in exchange," said Sarah Stephens, CDA's executive director.

Isn't CDA's argument against U.S. policy that travel to Cuba will "enlighten" Cubans as to the virtues of democracy?

Or is it now to learn from the Castro clan the "virtues" of family dictatorships, brutalizing pro-democracy activists and submission to absolutism?

Cuba's courageous women deserve better.

A Presidential Toast

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
A great toast tonight by U.S. President Barack Obama in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good evening. Guten abend. Michelle and I are honored to welcome you as we host Chancellor Merkel, Professor Sauer, and the German delegation for the first official visit and State Dinner for a European leader during my presidency. (Applause.)

Angela, you and the German people have always shown me such warmth during my visits to Germany. I think of your gracious hospitality in Dresden. I think back to when I was a candidate and had that small rally in Berlin's Tiergarten. (Laughter.) So we thought we'd reciprocate with a little dinner in our Rose Garden.

Now, it's customary at these dinners to celebrate the values that bind nations. Tonight, we want to do something different. We want to pay tribute to an extraordinary leader who embodies these values and who's inspired millions around the world -- including me -- and that's my friend, Chancellor Merkel.

More than five decades ago -- in 1957 -- the first German chancellor ever to address our Congress, Konrad Adenauer, spoke of his people's "will of freedom" and of the millions of his countrymen forced to live behind an Iron Curtain. And one of those millions, in a small East German town, was a young girl named Angela.

She remembers when the Wall went up and how everyone in her church was crying. Told by the communists that she couldn't pursue her love of languages, she excelled as a physicist. Asked to spy for the secret police, she refused. And the night the Wall came down, she crossed over, like so many others, and finally experienced what she calls the "incredible gift of freedom."

Tonight, we honor Angela Merkel not for being denied her freedom, or even for attaining her freedom, but for what she achieved when she gained her freedom. Determined to finally have her say, she entered politics -- rising to become the first East German to lead a united Germany, the first woman chancellor in German history, and an eloquent voice for human rights and dignity around the world.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor a President can bestow on a civilian. Most honorees are Americans; only a few others have received it, among them Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Helmut Kohl. So please join me in welcoming Chancellor Merkel for the presentation of the next Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)

I want to conclude by inviting all of you to stand and join me in a toast. And I want to do so with the words that Angela spoke two years ago when she became the first German leader to address our Congress since Chancellor Adenauer all those decades ago.

Her words spoke not only to the dreams of that young girl in the East, but to the dreams of all who still yearn for their rights and dignity today: to freedom, which “must be struggled for, and then defended anew, every day of our lives.”

Cheers. Zum wohl. (Applause.)

A Disservice to Miami Herald Readers

UPDATE: Our thanks to the Miami Herald's Frances Robles for the follow-up. However, make sure to see the original images of Sequin's site (not just his newly edited version).

In April, we strongly condemned the vulgar sex-sites of Havana Journal's Rob Sequin.

Sequin's sex-sites denigrate Cubans with tasteless images and comments such as the following:

"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."

Now, Sequin is looking to financially prey on the same community he's shamelessly insulted.

So he's set up a new business, Cuba City Hall, which charges Cubans an exorbitant $495 to use his contacts within the Castro regime and expedite official documents (e.g. birth certificates) certified by Cuba's Ministry of Foreign Relations.

This week, the Miami Herald wrote a story -- virtually a free advertisement -- about Sequin's new business.

Yet sadly, it did not bother to disclose his controversial sex-sites.

Did the Herald think its readers wouldn't want to know about Sequin's other Cuba interests?

Obviously not, as it mentioned one of Sequin's non-sex-sites, Havana Journal.

This blatant omission is a disservice to Miami Herald readers, which deserve to be fully informed about where their hard-earned money could end up.

(To be fair -- the Herald's story did, at least, elude to the predatory rates that Sequin is charging for his regime contacts).

There are also legal questions.

Is it a coincidence that Sequin officially launched this business soon after the Obama Administration issued new rules allowing non-Cubans to send (limited) remittances to the island?

Is this how Sequin is forwarding payments to his associates in Cuba?

After all, he's providing a non-official service that requires official channels -- for a hefty fee.

Moreover -- judging by the story -- he seems to be the only non-official provider currently able to obtain official documents and get them certified by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Thus, his associates must work for -- or have close contacts in -- the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Is he remitting extra-official payments to them?

Sequin boasts that his "South Florida lawyer" informed him that this business falls within the sanctions exemption for "informational materials" (thanks to the 1988 Berman Amendment).

And he's probably right.

However, it doesn't exempt him from sending payments to a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, or even the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

But that's a matter for Treasury and Justice.

For now, we strongly urge all Cubans to take a close look at Sequin's sex-sites before contracting his services.

(He's edited these sites since April, but Babalu Blog has preserved the original ones for posterity).

Furthermore, we hope the Miami Herald will provide its readers with all of the information they deserve to know about Sequin's Cuba interests.

In other words, with the full story.

More Arrests and Re-Arrests

Monday, June 6, 2011
From Catholic News Agency:

Cuban government detains two recently released dissidents

Cuban dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Perez denounced the country's government on June 2 for detaining 10 opposition leaders.

Perez said the detentions occurred while the two men were meeting to "coordinate a national march that will extend across the island, from one end to the other," reported Cubaencuentro.com.

The arrests included Ivan Hernandez Carrillo and Felix Navarro, who were both part of the Group of 75 rounded up by the Cuban government during the "Black Spring of 2003."

The two men had been released from prison in February and March of this year.

The other dissidents who were detained were Raul Risco Perez, Frank Reyes Lopez, Julio Columbie Batista, Rene Fernandez Quiroga, Guillermo del Sol Perez, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Yoan David Gonzalez and Gliceria Paseiro Espinosa.

The True Color of Raul, Saif and Bashar

Thus far in 2011, there have already been 1,393 known political arrests in Cuba -- which nearly matches the number of known political arrests for all of 2010.

And those are only the ones that are accounted for -- there are countless other arrests and acts of repression that remain unknown.

Yet, despite Cuban dictator Raul Castro being en route to double his amount of political arrests from 2010, there are still those that continue to ignorantly promote him as a "reformer."

These are the same "wishful thinkers" that -- for years -- also hyped Libya's Saif Gaddafi and Syria's Bashar al-Assad as "pragmatic reformers."

This concept is now nearly unanimously rejected as regards the Gaddafi clan in Libya.

Unfortunately though, Syria's Assad (and Raul) still enjoys the support of it's regional neighbors and a relatively weak stance from the international community.

(Ironically, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) has publicly given up on Assad as a "reformer," but still gives Raul the benefit of the doubt).

What's irreversible is that the true color of these tyrants has now been exposed -- at the countless suffering of pro-democracy activists in these countries.

It's bloody red.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 31

Sunday, June 5, 2011
From the Pulitzer Center:

Beyond fake boogie boards: Promoting democracy in Cuba

It was a novel plan: Disguise satellite dishes as boogie boards. Smuggle them into Cuba and set up a mobile Internet connection free from socialist government control.

"The internet works VERY RAPIDLY!" a technician told his Cuban contact while explaining the set up. "...You may use Skype, Yahoo video + voice... Next week we will be talking FOR FREE!"

But Cuban authorities say they were onto the plan from the beginning, and the improvised communication system wound up in the hands of Cuban agents, thwarting the U.S.-financed effort.

Three years later, U.S. democracy programs in Cuba have been redesigned and improved, their supporters say. And they are operating on the island, despite a 20-month delay in new funding and political fights over their effectiveness.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department have set aside more than $94 million for the democracy programs since 2007, budget figures show. The programs form a key part of President Obama's bid to promote democratic change in Cuba, something 11 successive American presidents have failed to do.

"I think the programs are important," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a leader of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which supports hard-line policies against the Cuban government. "No program is perfect. But I think we have seen continuous improvement" [...]

Claver-Carone, a lawyer and lobbyist, said the Cuban government "hates these programs passionately" because the U.S. support "goes to people who don't agree with their views."

He is optimistic the $20 million will be distributed.

"Congress approved those funds. Congress voted. Even if Sen. Kerry completely disagrees, he's cognizant that this was voted on. This is Sen. Kerry holding up President Obama's request. It'll go through."

"We want to help the Cuban people. We're not trying to impose anything on them."

Sanctioning Irredeemable Thugs

Bloomberg's Editorial Board recommends a tougher U.S. policy toward Syria.

Sound familiar?

(Yet ironically some of the points below are criticized when it comes to Cuba policy).

Squeeze Syria's Thug-in-Chief Enough to Make It Hurt

What the U.S. and its allies can do is put more economic pressure on the Syrian regime. Already, the U.S. and European Union have frozen local assets of Assad and his top associates. China and Russia are unlikely to agree to broader UN sanctions, so the U.S. should seek alternatives. One would be working with the EU and Turkey to freeze the assets of Syria's state-owned banks, which finance the Syrian oil industry and key figures in the pro-Assad business elite. The U.S. and EU should also bar flights to and from Syria, and widen visa bans on Syrian officials, especially military officers and their families.

These measures aren't likely to bring down Assad's house. But they would sting. Having established themselves as miscreants, the regime's agents should now be denied the privileges of international life. The sanctions would also let the Syrian opposition know the democratic world is behind them.

Should the Syrian Spring fizzle, the Assad regime would press for a return to normalcy, and many countries would be apt to go along. But the sanctions must remain, at least until there has been accountability for the atrocities being committed now. Since he succeeded his father in 2000, Bashar al-Assad has toyed with projecting the image of reluctant ruler and reformer. As Hamza al-Khateeb's (murdered young protestor) family knows perfectly, he is but one thing: an irredeemable thug.