For Mariela, All Gays Are Not Equal

Saturday, July 9, 2011
"For Mariela Castro, gay rights are OK in Cuba but political rights are not."

-- Wendy Iriepa, a transgender woman forced to quit her job from the National Sex Education Center (CENESEX) by Raul Castro's daughter (Mariela) for dating a gay dissident, The Miami Herald, July 9th, 2011.

In a separate story, Iriepa describes how one of her official duties for Mariela Castro at CENESEX was as her "taster."

In other words, she would try the foods prepared for ("Her Majesty") Mariela.

The Castro's truly think they are royalty -- and that the Cuban people are their serfs.

A Historic Flashback

In the 19th century, Cuban independence hero Jose Marti pondered on the dilemma of travel to Cuba, while the island was under the yolk of another sort of tyranny -- Spanish colonialism.

Here's his conclusion:

Trips to Cuba

War brought us here and the abhorrence against tyranny keeps us here. That abhorrence is so deeply rooted in us, so essential to our nature, that it is as inseparable from us as our own flesh!

What are we to seek there when it is not possible to live with honor and when the time to return and die has not yet come?... Why should we go to Cuba? To hear the cracking of whips on the backs of men, on the backs of Cubans, and to not be able to defend oneself, even if there were no weapon but the branch of a tree, by nailing the hand of the one who punishes us against a tree as an example?

To see the repulsive consortium of the sons of heroes belittle themselves with all kinds of impurity and the imported vices that they flaunt, or to see them boast their filthy prosperity before those who should live amongst them?

To greet, to beg, to smile, to shake hands, to see the mass of people that flourish amongst our anguish, as the black and yellow butterflies that flourish amongst the manure along the roads? To see an insolent bureaucrat parade his luxury, his carriage, his lady, before the august thinker who walks by his feet without having the means in his own country to provide a meal for his family?

To see distinguished people live in shame, to see the honorable live in helplessness, to see talent acting in shameful complicity, to see the women with impure company, to see the farmers without the fruits of the soil? What does one have to turn over to the soldier that he will only seek to take away tomorrow? Will he even take away the ability to grow one's own crops or sugarcane?

To see a whole people, our people, for whom judgment goes as far today as courage did yesterday, dishonor themselves by showing cowardice and pretending as if they do not know what is happening around them? This hurts far worse than thrust of a dagger. To go and see such shamelessness! Others are able to: We Cannot!

Jose Marti
October 10, 1887

(Courtesy of Babalu Blog)

The "Rehabilitated" Cubans

Journalist Achy Obejas (formerly of The Chicago Tribune) is trying to get to Cuba.

The following narrative from her most recent ordeal explains how only "rehabilitated" Cuban-Americans are approved for entry -- even though it's their own homeland -- by the Castro regime.

Makes you wonder what it takes to become "rehabilitated."

Here's an excerpt from, "Traveling to Cuba, as a Cuban":

[I]in most countries, citizens can breeze in and out with a passport. And I have that. In fact, it's good until March 12 of next year. I also have a nifty little sticker on my Cuban passport called the "rehabilatación," a unique Cuban permit that allows certain citizens to go in and out of the island without having to ask permission each time.

Yeah, Cubans need to ask permission of Cuba to both come and go from their own country. Not just me or other Cubans living abroad. Everybody. If you don't get the permit as a rehabilitación, you have to get an individual travel waiver each and every time you travel, in and out of Cuba. (It's like getting a visa to your own country as well as to the country you're going to.)

But there's one other little thing, called a "prórroga." If you look it up, it means deferment or some such thing. You may wonder what, exactly, is being deferred. But your passport, which is good for 6 years, and your rehabilitación, which runs concurrently, are worthless without a prórroga, which is only good for two years at a time.

Needless to say, the passport has a fee, the rehabilitación has a separate fee, and the prórroga has a separate fee. Never mind that they all work together.

So when I arrived yesterday, all was good except my prórroga but I wasn't worried. I'd travelled through Jamaica dozens of times with the same situation and simply gotten my prórroga renewed in Cuba. No such luck here.

Cubans Will Be Able to Purchase Ladas

Friday, July 8, 2011
The following is a story from the Castro regime's state media on the upcoming "new regulations" for buying and selling houses and cars:

Buying and Selling Houses and Cars No Longer a Legal Hassle in Cuba by Year's End

On Friday, the Cuban government announced the first details of a highly anticipated new law meant to loosen rules on the buying and selling of homes and cars.

The law is still being drafted and will take effect by the end of the year. The new rules are meant to help ease a severe housing shortage and legalize unofficial title transfers.

According to a note published in Granma newspaper, individuals will still not be allowed to own more than one home, and the sales will be taxed. Bureaucratic hurdles will be eliminated, meaning transactions can be notarized and completed without having to seek prior authorization. Family members will be able to inherit property, even if they are not living at the address.

Individuals can own more than one car, regardless of the model year, ending a system under which only pre-1959 vehicles could be freely bought and sold.

The measures will not apply to foreigners unless they are permanent residents.

Fascinating how it reads almost verbatim (same spin) to the stories put out by foreign news bureaus.

But more importantly -- what does this really mean?

1. For cars -- it means that Cubans will be able to buy and sell those "highly-coveted" Russian Lada cars, as the pre-1959 cars have supposedly been "freely bought and sold" for years.

Now that's "reform"!

2. For houses -- the only potential news is that the regime -- 52 years later -- will supposedly not re-confiscate the homes of Cubans that leave the island. Instead, it will allow other family members to reside there. However, since Cubans can only reside in one house, then their other house will be re-confiscated in the process.

In other words, it's a hoax -- for Cubans have no money, they already reside in one house and any "transaction" must take place through Castro's own bank. Thus, the regime has, still and always will (as long as it exists) own the property.

Finally, the big picture -- like all things Castro, "the law is still being drafted," so the entire sham won't be fully revealed until sometime next year.

Yet, it'll provide months worth of press coverage.

It's called ruling by headlines.


Cuban Troops in Venezuela?

From Cuba Polidata:

General Carlos Julio Peñaloza, the former chief of the Unified Command of Venezuela's Armed Forces, tweeted Sunday (July 3rd) about the arrival of Cuban troops in Port Cabello in Venezuela for the bicentennial independence celebration on Monday (July 4).

In a subsequent tweet dated July 5, the general said there are 2000 Cuban troops in the country with the excuse of participating in Monday's military parade.

Will this near battalion strength formation make a permanent presence to shore up Chavez's security if a threat materializes to his regime?

Castro Advises Chavez: Attack Women

Thursday, July 7, 2011
Castro's advice to Hugo Chavez during his month-long stay in Havana:

Attack female opponents of the regime.

From Venezuela's El Universal:

MP María Corina Machado assaulted after bicentennial parade

A mob attacked deputy María Corina Machado (Independent-Miranda state) when she left the military parade staged on Tuesday at Los Próceres promenade, southwest Caracas, to commemorate the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.

Lieutenant Colonel (Army) Marcos Álvarez was injured as a stone hit him on the head, while Machado was hit on the face with a bottle.

Sound familiar?

From Reuters:

Cuban police haul protesting "Ladies in White" away

Cuban police grabbed members of the opposition group "Ladies in White" by their hair, dragged them into a bus and drove them away to break up a protest march on Wednesday.

The white clothes the women traditionally wear were smeared with mud as they resisted policewomen forcing them into a bus. Government protesters shouted insults at them for the second day in a row.


In Fear of Biscet (and Bono)

Last week, during U2's concert in Miami, Bono dedicated a song to Cuban pro-democracy leader Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.

It seems Bono's praise and Dr. Biscet's celebrity power has frazzled Cuba's dictatorship.

This week, Dr. Biscet was ordered to check-in monthly with the Castro regime's police -- a tool of intimidation.

But as Bono proclaimed: "We are watching!"

Castro's Blind Eye to Human Trafficking

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
By Olivia Snow of The Heritage Foundation:

Shame on Cuba: Blind Eye to Human Trafficking

"If the girls give me trouble I hurt them." These are the words of human trafficker Aktham Zuhair Salem Madanat. Known for trafficking girls from Cuba to the United Kingom, Madanat had no qualms about openly discussing how he lured 10- and 11-year-old girls into the sex trade. In fact, Madanat is one of many involved in the lucrative human trafficking market throughout Cuba and beyond.

In order to fight human trafficking, the State Department annually presents its Global Trafficking in Persons Report, a survey of 184 countries that measures compliance with human trafficking regulations specified in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

The 2011 Report places Cuba and Venezuela on the Tier 3 list.

The Tier 3 designation is reserved for countries that do not comply with the minimum requirements in TVPA. Noncompliant countries receiving U.S. assistance can be sanctioned.

Cuba's placement on Tier 3 is both warranted and necessary. Because prostitution is not criminalized for anyone over the age of 16, it is difficult to track child prostitution in Cuba. Economic malfeasance in Cuba has forced many young women into the sex-for-sale industry. Cuba's tourism industry generated around $2 billion just in the past year, and illicit sex is a burgeoning part of the tourism industry profile. In fact, it has been suggested that the Cuban government even encourages sex tourism as a source for foreign cash that keeps the communist regime afloat.

Fidel and Raul Castro have turned a blind eye to sex tourism and human trafficking. One of Fidel Castro's flippant brush-offs included the following:

"There are no women forced to sell themselves to a man, to a foreigner, to a tourist…Those who do so do it on their own, voluntarily and without any need for it. We can say that they are highly educated hookers and quite healthy…"

Such cynical views have landed Cuba a spot on Tier 3. Cuba's blind eye toward sex tourism and human trafficking appears contradictory in a society where the state regulates virtually everything else.

Venezuela, home to Castro ally Hugo Chávez, also experiences high levels of trafficking, where of the 40,000 to 50,000 sex trafficked children, 78 percent are girls between the ages of 8 and 17. Venezuela's placement on Tier 3 is the result of a failure to enforce existing trafficking laws or enact new anti-trafficking legislation.

Despite the large number of youth affected by human trafficking, Cuba and Venezuela continue to turn a blind eye to an age-old problem. It is striking how far these anti-American regimes will go to defy the U.S. in its efforts to eliminate the vestiges of modern-day slavery.

The Continuous Black Spring

From the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ):

After the Black Spring, Cuba's new repression

When the last of 29 journalists jailed in a notorious 2003 crackdown was finally freed this year, it signaled to many the end of a dark era. But Cuban authorities are still persecuting independent journalists through arbitrary arrests, beatings, and intimidation.

Juan González Febles, director of the independent news website Primavera Digital, was running an errand last spring when he came upon a news story: Police were climbing onto his neighbors' roofs in Havana to remove satellite television dishes that the government considers illegal because they pick up uncensored stations from abroad.

When Febles started taking pictures with his cell phone, officers quickly arrested him and took him to a neighborhood police station, where he was held for seven hours and made to erase all of his photos of the dish seizures, a highly unpopular police activity. Febles, a former librarian who took up independent journalism in 1998 and now runs the overseas-hosted website, told CPJ that he has become accustomed to detentions, which number in the dozens over the years, but that he is still bothered that his phone is tapped and that he's followed by security agents in the streets. The agents sometimes stop him, Febles said, and relay what they've heard in his private phone conversations.

Such is the state of repression in Cuba today. As President Raúl Castro's government seeks greater international engagement, it has freed in the last year more than 20 imprisoned independent journalists and numerous other political detainees who had been held since the notorious Black Spring crackdown of 2003. Government officials talk of political and economic reform, pointing to a plan to introduce high-speed Internet service to the island this summer. But though the government has changed tactics in suppressing independent news and opinion, it has not abandoned repressive practices intended to stifle the free flow of information.

A CPJ investigation has found that the government persists in aggressively persecuting critical journalists with methods that include arbitrary arrests, short-term detentions, beatings, smear campaigns, surveillance, and social sanctions. Today's tactics have yet to attract widespread international attention because they are lower in profile than the Black Spring crackdown, but the government's oppressive actions are ongoing and significant.

CPJ examined government activities in March and April 2011, two months with sensitive political milestones, and found that journalists were targeted in more than 50 instances of repression. The majority of cases involved arrests by state security agents or police officers, according to CPJ research and documentation by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation and Hablemos Press, a news agency that focuses on human rights. Most frequently, these journalists were detained on their way to cover a demonstration or political event and were held in local police stations for hours or days. In at least 11 cases, the arrests were carried out with violence, CPJ research shows.

During this period, more than a dozen journalists endured house arrest, preventing them from reporting on the Communist Party Congress in April and the eighth anniversary in March of the Black Spring crackdown that led to the imprisonment of dozens of journalists and dissidents. Although no journalists have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms in the last year, Cuban authorities in May ominously sentenced six political dissidents to prison sentences of two to five years.

Read the whole report here.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 33

From The Hill:

DNC boss, President at odds on Cuba policy

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), tapped by President Obama to head the Democratic National Committee, is a hard-liner on Cuba, which means the chairwoman of the organization intent on reelecting the president disagrees with Obama on a foreign policy issue that is electorally sensitive in a swing state.

Wasserman Schultz's tough approach toward the Communist regime, including her firm position on the Cuba embargo, has helped solidify her popularity within Florida's powerful Cuban-American community, but it differs greatly from Obama's more lenient stance towards the Castro government.

If the White House thought Wasserman Schultz's new role as Obama's top cheerleader would, in and of itself, win over Cuban-American voters wary of Obama's Cuba policy and put that vital swing state in the president's column in 2012, some leading experts on Cuba-U.S. relations have words of warning for the president's team.

"[Wasserman Schultz] wields great credibility amongst the Cuban-American community. She's an honorary Cuban-American. If she were the one running for president, she would do extraordinarily well in our community," said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee. "However, the president's policies of easing sanctions and unilateral concessions to the Castro regime are likely to be judged on their own."

Claver-Carone, a former Treasury Department attorney, said Wasserman Schultz's new prominence within the Democratic Party "certainly provides the Cuban-American community comfort." But he was quick to predict that neither her popularity nor her new role as presidential promoter will temper the suspicions of Cuban-American voters toward Obama's Cuba positions.

"Obama's policies of unilaterally lifting sanctions is already spilled milk that's tough to put back into the glass," Claver-Carone wrote in an email.

Castro Scrambles for Gaddafi

By Rachel Marsden in Hudson New York:

Fidel Castro's Secret Libya Rants

Now that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi for alleged crimes against humanity following about 100 days of coordinated NATO military action, it is worth examining the communiqués that Cuban leader Fidel Castro shared with his embassies throughout the world.

The documents of February 21st and 23rd, 2011, pre-date any NATO military action, all while predicting the international intervention and pre-emptively decrying the "crime that NATO is getting ready to commit against the Libyan people."

Castro would have the world believe that in destabilizing a dictator, the Libyan people themselves would be victimized by an international coalition of bullies. Harkening back to the good old days of the Libyan Revolution of 1969, Castro goes so far as to praise the Libyan dictator's role as revolutionary leader who overthrew a "corrupt monarchy," as though the alternative since has been significantly preferable.

Overlooking any possible actions on the part of Gaddafi himself – including allegations of rape and worse, which now constitute the reasons for the ICC arrest warrant that may ultimately be the cause of Gaddafi's removal from power – Castro prefers to focus on a more economic explanation for any NATO invasion: oil.

"Oil has become the principal wealth in the hands of the great Yankee transnationals; through this energy source they had an instrument that considerably expanded their political power in the world," he writes. "It was their main weapon when they decided easily to liquidate the Cuban Revolution as soon as the first just and sovereign laws were passed in our Homeland: depriving it of oil."

Castro then proceeds to explain how Libya's petroleum wealth has made it worth invading for NATO. That might make a feasible argument, were it not outside the realm of reality.

Libyan oil represents less than 1% of America's oil supply – hardly great "wealth" for the USA. And, as "Yankee transnationals" in the form of several American companies are already there and have been for a while, America does not have to invade Libya along with its NATO allies to get its hands on Libyan oil. If Castro thinks America is really in the business of invading oil-rich countries just to get for free what they can already freely access, then perhaps he would like to explain why the USA has yet to invade Canada – its largest oil exporter—which would be a lot more worthwhile.

Castro's rant about imperialist oil-grabbing as NATO's hidden justification for military action conveniently negates the example that his own comrades, the Russians, have already set.

Conveniently neglecting to call out Putin, Medvedev and the Russian oligarchy for imperialist political and economic takeover of sovereign states, such as the Ukraine in the interest of oil, Castro also apparently fails to see that this is the strategy used effectively by the Russians. With the exception of perhaps the Georgia conflict a few years ago, Russia has, in recent years, managed successfully to practice imperialism purely through economics. No military action required.

If Castro were arguing that America, via NATO efforts, is set on turning Libya upside down to replace the current regime with pro-American bootlickers for its own greater economic good, then he might have a point. But he keeps his rant focused entirely on oil rather than more general economic possibilities and opportunities – and therein lies the problem with his reasoning. There is currently no evidence to suggest that, even if the Gaddafi regime is replaced by a fully pro-American leadership, the USA's cut of Libyan oil would increase substantially, or at least enough to justify an increasingly unpopular war by a Nobel Peace Prize winning American president with precarious popularity. If Gaddafi is ousted, it will be on human rights grounds, because, like Syria's Bashar al-Assad, he resorted to violence against his own people in the wake of the Arab Spring, when people in every other oppressed regime around him were overthrowing their leaders.

A positive and likely outcome of his ouster may possibly be a more open economic field with possibly increased trade between democracies and new Libyan leaders. Castro is confusing cause with effect.

If Castro thinks – as he states – that Libya's great wealth grew from oil sales, then he should be thrilled at the possibility of it having the potential for even more growth as the result of a post-Gaddafi expanded trade market. Instead, seems as if he could not be more sullen about the idea.

As with everything Castro says and does, the situation in Libya, as he views it, is less about reality and more about his own projections and pet gripes.

Obama Licenses Corporate Jets to Cuba

While U.S. President Barack Obama aggressively targets corporate jet owners and carriers (in rhetoric and taxes), his Treasury Department keeps licensing corporate and personal jets for travel to Castro's Cuba.

But wait a minute -- wasn't Obama's Cuba policy aimed at family, religious and academic travel?

Either those family travelers, missionaries and students are doing really well -- or Obama's Cuba policy is disingenuous.

Here is a short-list of some the corporate jet providers authorized for travel to Cuba by the Obama Administration:

Omega World Travel, Personal Jet Charter, Corporate Air Charters, Golden Airlines, Gulfstream Airlines, National Jets, Universal Aviation, and most recently, Malone Charters.

Perhaps these corporate jets are intended for those licensed under Obama's new "people-to-people" category -- e.g. Harvard Alumni Association, Corcoran Gallery of Art and Insight Cuba's expensive tour junkets.

Yet, it's hard to imagine these "people-to-people" travelers interacting with ordinary Cubans -- as their specific license requires -- when they can't even share a plane with ordinary people.

What a farce.

Chavez's P.R. Man: Bill Delahunt

Tuesday, July 5, 2011
It seems former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) has begun a public relations campaign to salvage his old friend, Venezuelan tyrant Hugo Chavez.

From the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C.:

Delahunt to U.S. Congress: "Come to Venezuela, I Think You'll Be Surprised"

Former U.S. Congressman William Delahunt said that relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will improve because there is the will and a mutual interest for that to occur.

In an interview with the Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias, Delahunt said, "That will exists between Caracas and Washington because this relationship is sincerely very important for both countries and I think it will happen if we work on it."

The former Democratic congressman thinks that to come to an understanding, it is necessary "to avoid strong rhetoric and put aside the myths and erred perceptions that we have."

"I would say to my former colleagues (in the U.S. Congress) that they should come to Venezuela, to talk, with an open mind. I think you'll be surprised," he added.

Delahunt thinks that it is important that both governments work to return ambassadors to each others capitals.

The former Massachusetts representative is optimistic that relations between the U.S. and Venezuela will improve in the future, just as they have between Caracas and Bogota.

Delahunt indicated that during his visit to Venezuela, which will last until Monday, he will meet with members of the National Assembly, both from the opposition and pro-government parties, "to promote that the inter-parliamentary Boston group be revived."

The Boston group was created in 2002 to strengthen relations between Venezuela's National Assembly and the U.S. Congress. According to Delahunt, "I thought it was very useful." He proposed that the group to use the opportunity to add former legislators and prominent citizens from both countries.

While the initiative comes to life, Delahunt is preparing a plan of activities over the next few months to develop the U.S.-Venezuela Groups of Friends, a non-political group made up of individuals from various sectors of both countries to promote better understanding in the bilateral relationship.

Here Come the Oil "Experts"

Monday, July 4, 2011
Reuters's Havana bureau has put out a one-sided story on "experts" warning that the U.S. needs to engage the Castro regime on oil drilling.

It's entitled -- "U.S. must step up Cuba oil spill readiness: experts"

So who are the (three) experts consulted?

They are anti-U.S. policy activists
Robert Muse and Phil Peters, who use any issue (excuse) to lobby against sanctions -- whether it's oil drilling or selling chicken parts.

(Note to Reuters: These aren't unbiased "experts," so it's disingenuous to conceal their activism.)

And of course, Jorge Pinon, the former BP-Amoco oil executive on a decade-long quest to facilitate oil drilling for Cuba's dictatorship.

(Note to Reuters: It's disingenuous to conceal that Pinon is a former oil executive with an agenda.)

They are some of the same "experts" that five years ago were warning U.S. lawmakers that the Chinese were speculating off Cuba's coasts. And thus, using it as a ruse to lobby for the U.S. to lift sanctions -- so American oil companies could "beat them to it."

Back then, Dick Cheney famously fell for the "China ruse" -- and consequently had to retract.

As we all know, the Chinese never drilled.

For these "experts", preventing Castro from drilling is not an option -- as the Reuters story reveals:

"[T]he administration has not taken what many experts consider the most critical step -- meeting directly with the Cubans to develop joint safety regulations and protocol."

That's right -- the most critical step for these "experts" is not to prevent a Castro petro-dictatorship, it's to facilitate a Castro petro-dictatorship.

Why?

Here's the troubling reason (or despite the fact that):

"'It goes without saying that energy independence is critical for the political and economic future survival of the island nation,' said Jorge Pinon, an expert on Cuban oil at Florida International University."

(Sadly, Pinon has even adopted the Castro regime's insulting lingo of equating itself with the "island nation".)

Basically -- because "energy independence" is key for the survival of the Castro regime, particularly as "Chavez dependence" becomes increasingly unsustainable.

How's that for an agenda?

Political Arrests More Than Double

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR), there have been 1,727 documented political arrests by the Castro regime during the first half of 2011.

That's a 110% increase from the same period last year.

More "reform" you can't believe in.