Repressive Benefits of People-to-People Travel

Saturday, August 20, 2011
This week, the first people-to-people tours (approved by the Obama Administration) arrived in Havana.

Their itineraries consisted of luxury hotels, rum, cigars, music, baseball and, most insulting of all, visits with the Castro regime's repressive Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).

The CDRs are one of the lead entities responsible for the wave of repression sweeping through Cuba, including this week's brutal beating of nearly 50 Ladies in White.

Thus, these tours are financing (through their regime-approved visits), giving a seal-of-approval (visiting with CDRs) and turning a blind-eye (as soon as they head back to the Hotel Nacional) to repression.

So it's clear how these people-to-people tours benefit the Castro dictatorship.

But how do they actually help the victims of repression?

Nearly 50 Ladies in White Violently Attacked

Friday, August 19, 2011
Yesterday afternoon, the Castro regime violently attacked a group of nearly 50 female pro-democracy leaders -- known as The Ladies in White -- as they set out to march through the streets of Havana to advocate for the release of political prisoners and the freedom of all Cubans.

Their clothes were ripped off and they were dragged half-naked by a paramilitary mob that beat, kicked, spit, scratched, pushed, and pulled them by the hair.

Moreover, eight of them were arrested.

They are: Sara Martha Fonseca, Idalmis Ramirez, Odalis Izarza, Cristina Duquezne, Ivon Mayesa, Mercedes Fresneda, Rosario Morales, Yanelis Rey.

Where are the Havana-based foreign news bureaus?

They never seem to miss a beat when it comes to reporting on any nonsense declaration by the Cuban dictatorship.

Are they on vacation?

Crushing Dissent in Cuba

Thursday, August 18, 2011
From the Boston Globe's Editorial Board:

Crushing dissent in Cuba

WHILE THE Syrian government's savage attacks on anti-government protesters have rightly drawn the world's attention, it isn't only on the other side of the world that dictatorial rulers have been bloodying their critics.

In Cuba in recent weeks, pro-government goons have been attacking members of Ladies in White, a nonviolent protest group made up of women whose husbands, brothers, and fathers are dissidents imprisoned by the Castro regime.
In one attack, the Miami Herald reported last week, the women were assaulted with "steel bars, rocks, and fists'' as they left Mass in the cathedral of Santiago, the island's second-largest city. At least eight of the women ended up in the hospital, where they required stitches and other treatment for their wounds. According to Elizardo Sanchez, one of Cuba's leading human-rights activists, the attacks have left dissidents deeply alarmed; they know that no one "would dare order such beatings and so much violence without the approval of the central government."

Unlike Syria, Cuba has not seen massive street demonstrations, nor have there been public demands for the overthrow of the government. The Ladies in White, who received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2005, are few and vulnerable; Cuban ruler Raul Castro has nothing to fear from them but their integrity and moral authority. That, however, they have in abundance, while the ruthless regime over which Castro and his brother Fidel have presided for more than half a century has long since lost any claim to the respect or admiration of the free world.

Ros-Lehtinen on State-Sponsor Designation

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement on the Cuba section of the just released State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism:

"Cuba's continued designation as a state sponsor of terrorism underscores the severe threat that the regime in Havana poses to U.S. and regional security. Cuba remains an active supporter and friend of extremists who hate and seek to harm the United States.

Conspicuously absent from this year's report, however, is any mention of Cuba's longstanding alliance with Iran and other state sponsors of terrorism, the safe haven it continues to provide to fugitives of U.S. justice, or its ongoing espionage activities against the U.S. This is deeply troubling and raises questions about a potential concerted effort by the Administration to exclude information to justify its weakening of U.S. policy toward the Cuban regime.

It is my hope that the Administration is not manipulating information directly relevant to our nation's security to advance its misguided approach to the dictatorship

Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

The State Department has just released its yearly Country Reports on Terrorism.

Four countries remain designated as State-Sponsors of Terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria.

In order to designate a country as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Once a country has been designated, it continues to be a State Sponsor of Terrorism until the designation is rescinded in accordance with statutory criteria. A wide range of sanctions are imposed as a result of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including:

1. A ban on arms-related exports and sales.
2. Controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country's military capability or ability to support terrorism.
3. Prohibitions on economic assistance.
4. Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Obama: It's Time for Assad to Go

From The White House:

Statement by President Obama on the Situation in Syria

The United States has been inspired by the Syrian peoples' pursuit of a peaceful transition to democracy. They have braved ferocious brutality at the hands of their government. They have spoken with their peaceful marches, their silent shaming of the Syrian regime, and their courageous persistence in the face of brutality – day after day, week after week. The Syrian government has responded with a sustained onslaught. I strongly condemn this brutality, including the disgraceful attacks on Syrian civilians in cities like Hama and Deir al Zour, and the arrests of opposition figures who have been denied justice and subjected to torture at the hands of the regime. These violations of the universal rights of the Syrian people have revealed to Syria, the region, and the world the Assad government's flagrant disrespect for the dignity of the Syrian people.

The United States opposes the use of violence against peaceful protesters in Syria, and we support the universal rights of the Syrian people. We have imposed sanctions on President Assad and his government. The European Union has imposed sanctions as well. We helped lead an effort at the UN Security Council to condemn Syria's actions. We have coordinated closely with allies and partners from the region and around the world. The Assad government has now been condemned by countries in all parts of the globe, and can look only to Iran for support for its brutal and unjust crackdown.

The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.

The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement. What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community.

As a part of that effort, my Administration is announcing unprecedented sanctions to deepen the financial isolation of the Assad regime and further disrupt its ability to finance a campaign of violence against the Syrian people.
I have signed a new Executive Order requiring the immediate freeze of all assets of the Government of Syria subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in any transaction involving the Government of Syria. This E.O. also bans U.S. imports of Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products; prohibits U.S. persons from having any dealings in or related to Syria's petroleum or petroleum products; and prohibits U.S. persons from operating or investing in Syria. We expect today's actions to be amplified by others.

We recognize that it will take time for the Syrian people to achieve the justice they deserve. There will be more struggle and sacrifice. It is clear that President Assad believes that he can silence the voices of his people by resorting to the repressive tactics of the past. But he is wrong. As we have learned these last several months, sometimes the way things have been is not the way that they will be. It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side.

Quote of the Week

"Let's see who tires first. Those who fight for democracy or those who receive a salary."

-- José Daniel Ferrer García, Cuban pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner, on the fourth straight week of beatings and violence against The Ladies in White by the Castro regime's authorities, The Miami Herald, August 16th, 2011

Enough is Enough

From Leon Aron's "Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union is Probably Wrong" in Foreign Poilcy:

From the Founding Fathers to the Jacobins and Bolsheviks, revolutionaries have fought under essentially the same banner: advancement of human dignity. It is in the search for dignity through liberty and citizenship that glasnost's subversive sensibility lives -- and will continue to live. Just as the pages of Ogoniok and Moskovskie Novosti must take pride of place next to Boris Yeltsin on the tank as symbols of the latest Russian revolution, so should Internet pages in Arabic stand as emblems of the present revolution next to the images of rebellious multitudes in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the Casbah plaza in Tunis, the streets of Benghazi, and the blasted towns of Syria. Languages and political cultures aside, their messages and the feelings they inspired were remarkably similar.

The fruit-seller Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation set off the Tunisian uprising that began the Arab Spring of 2011, did so "not because he was jobless," a demonstrator in Tunis told an American reporter, but "because he … went to talk to the [local authorities] responsible for his problem and he was beaten -- it was about the government." In Benghazi, the Libyan revolt started with the crowd chanting, "The people want an end to corruption!" In Egypt, the crowds were "all about the self-empowerment of a long-repressed people no longer willing to be afraid, no longer willing to be deprived of their freedom, and no longer willing to be humiliated by their own leaders," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reported from Cairo this February. He could have been reporting from Moscow in 1991.

"Dignity Before Bread!" was the slogan of the Tunisian revolution. The Tunisian economy had grown between 2 and 8 percent a year in the two decades preceding the revolt. With high oil prices, Libya on the brink of uprising also enjoyed an economic boom of sorts. Both are reminders that in the modern world, economic progress is not a substitute for the pride and self-respect of citizenship. Unless we remember this well, we will continue to be surprised -- by the "color revolutions" in the post-Soviet world, the Arab Spring, and, sooner or later, an inevitable democratic upheaval in China -- just as we were in Soviet Russia. "The Almighty provided us with such a powerful sense of dignity that we cannot tolerate the denial of our inalienable rights and freedoms, no matter what real or supposed benefits are provided by 'stable' authoritarian regimes," the president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, wrote this March. "It is the magic of people, young and old, men and women of different religions and political beliefs, who come together in city squares and announce that enough is enough."

The "Foreign Plots" of Dictators

Wednesday, August 17, 2011
An editorial from Arab News:

An unholy alliance

To say that uprising in Libya and Syria is a foreign plot is an insult to people who are fighting for their freedom

On Tuesday, in a joint statement, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez denounced what they called the West's "imperialist aggression" in Libya and Syria.

It is a wonder they did not try and get Cuba's retired President Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to endorse their condemnation. They would have certainly obliged. Back in March, Castro's verdict on the Libyan uprising was that it was an American plot. Just over a week ago Mugabe called NATO "a terrorist group" because of its airstrikes against Qaddafi's forces.

The notion that the uprisings in Syria and Libya are a Western plot is not merely a gross distortion of the truth; it is a vicious slap in the face of ordinary Syrians and Libyans. They are the authors of the uprisings, not the Americans or the French or the British. The hundreds of thousands of Libyans who rose up against Qaddafi's iron grip on power and the young Libyans fighting, and dying, to free their country did not do so because of a foreign plot. They did so because they wanted to be free and were inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. They took their destiny into their own hands. It has been the same for the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets of Syria's cities, willing to die for freedom and, in some cases, doing so. The suggestion that they are agents in a plot devised by NATO and the CIA is an insult to them and the memory of the thousands who have been killed.

In any event, if it were an American plot, it was one for which the Americans should be congratulated for getting their Middle East policies right for a change and doing something that was genuinely in tune with mass public sentiment.

The fact that men like Chavez trot out this lie says everything about them and their politics and nothing about reality. They have a world view that is hopelessly outdated — a world divided into thieving imperialists and, battling against them, anti-colonialist liberation movements led by themselves. That has long gone. The world has moved on. But it is a vision these dictators are desperate to retain. It is their justification for their dead hand on the levers of power.

The same was said by the ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of the protests in Egypt before he fell; they were organized by outsiders, he said. Qaddafi and Assad have come up with different villains behind the opposition to them — they accuse hard-liners — but the thinking is the same. They need someone to blame for the crisis and refuse to admit they are the problem.

For all their populist rhetoric and their glorification of their "people's struggle" against "imperialism," it is their own people that the likes of Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi and Assad fear their most. So they come up with nonsense about foreign or terrorist plots.

No one is taken in. The Syrians and the Libyans, like the Egyptians and the Tunisians beforehand, know that their uprisings are their alone, not something cooked up in the Pentagon. Others may support them, morally or with money or even arms and air raids, but the Arab Spring is a genuine Arab affair. Those who have to pretend otherwise show how little they understand the momentousness of what is happening.

Still Searching for Humanitarian Travel

While the Castro regime's business partners "jockey" for profits:

Last month, ABC Charters announced plans to begin non-stop service to Cuba on Sept. 10. Since then, XAEL Charters Inc. appears to have leapfrogged ahead; that company now plans to take off from Tampa International Airport to Cuba two days earlier than its competitor, on Sept. 8.

Tessie Aral, president of Miami-based ABC Charters, said her early announcement clearly tipped off her competitors and allowed them to jockey for the prestige of being the first Tampa-to-Havana flight in five decades.

"Am I happy? No. But you have to deal with the cards dealt to you," Aral said. "I guess they're doing the right thing for their business. I actually hurt myself."

The first people-to-people "tour" arrives in Cuba and visits Castro's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (a repressive arm of the dictatorship):

A sample itinerary for the trip she is taking includes stops in Old Havana, Cathedral Square and the Bacardi Rum Museum as well as visits to schools, an orphanage and Callejon del Hamel, a community art and cultural project where tour participants will meet with Afro-Cuban artists. The trip is also supposed to include sitting in on a meeting of a neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, chats with tobacco farmers and possibly catching a baseball game of Havana's Industriales team.

All while staying at the luxurious, regime-owned, Hotel Nacional, of course.

Rum, music, cigars, baseball and coddling the dictatorship.

So much for humanitarian travel -- let alone promoting democracy.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 35

From today's Miami Herald:

Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington, said he also wants to preserve the benefits of the CAA [Cuban Adjustment Act] but approves of [U.S. Congressman David] Rivera’s efforts to sanction those who travel to Cuba too quickly.

“There should be consequences for people who adjust their status under the act and then travel back to the island using a loophole that refugees from other nations don’t have,” Claver-Carone said.

“We agree to put Cubans on a level playing field with refugees from other countries like Iran,” he noted, adding that U.S. regulations bar refuge seekers from returning home, at least until they become American citizens. “That unfair advantage needs to be fixed.”

Castro's Property Piñata

By Tania C. Mastrapa, Ph.D., in Babalu Blog:

Cuba's Piñata Party

The Communist leadership in Cuba must sense that the end is near. The proposed economic reforms include the right to buy and sell homes - the Piñata Party has begun. When the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua knew their era was coming to a close they quickly passed a series of laws that granted titles to beneficiaries of confiscated properties and the right to purchase "their" homes «para evitar la zozobra que un desalojo inminente pende sobre ellos» - to avoid the anxiety of the imminent eviction that hangs over them. These regimes pretend to protect the masses while favoring their elites.

The Nicaraguan ruse quickly revealed itself the same way it did in other formerly Communist countries. An estimated 500 officials purchased luxurious homes for a pittance: Minister of Interior Tomás Borge paid $1,800 for several homes, chief of the General Directorate for State Security Lenín Cerna acquired a lavish estate for only $4,800, and Minister of Agriculture Jaime Wheelock doled out to himself a 6,000 acre cattle ranch. Suddenly the Communists became advocates for private property rights - the rights to that which they had previously confiscated. Although over twenty years have passed since the fall of Communism the struggle continues for many former owners.

The Przedpelski family owned their home on 5 Ikara Street in Mokotów until the Polish Communist government nationalized it in 1971, purportedly to turn the property into a school. However, in 1972 Minister of Defense General Wojciech Jaruzelski moved in and never moved out. He purchased the home from the State in 1979 for less than the price of a Polski Fiat 126p. In Poland's Piñata many properties were also "legally purchased" by high-level Communist officials for virtually pennies.

Jaruzelski, like Fidel Castro, hails from a well-to-do family and received an elite Catholic education. As Minister of Defense he was responsible for Poland's participation in the violent 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, purged the military of Jews and their supporters, and in 1970 presided over the bloody suppression of shipyard protests in Gdansk, Gdynia and Szeczin. In 1981 as Prime Minister and First Secretary of the Polish Communist Party Jaruzelski imposed martial law and crushed Solidarity. The Institute of National Remembrance, which houses the country's State security files, took the general to trial for Communist crimes in 2008. A Przedpelski heir said it best, "...this is an oppressor living in the house of his victims."

Communist regimes typically rewarded confiscated homes to those who had proven their Party loyalty and revolutionary zeal. Recipients included, but were not limited to those who: re-educated enemies and homosexuals, executed counterrevolutionaries, beat and tortured dissidents,and engaged in high-level intelligence operations among other glorified activities. Cuban loyalists live in the country's best neighborhoods such as Flores, Kohly and Vedado. They are likely to "legally purchase" the homes they occupy in an attempt to ward off former owners. Regular Cubans will buy homes with money sent from their relatives abroad. The trite machination is intended to secure high-end properties for elites, obfuscate property titles and create an opportunity to disparage former owners on the island and abroad who seek to recover their properties as greedy and irrational.

Enter Stage Left - the exile collaborators. A certain variety of exile was notorious for jumping into bed with the Reds. When State Security files became accessible it was discovered that they had worked closely with the secret police. Exiles secured financial benefits for themselves in exchange for promoting regime "reforms." There can be no doubt that the possibility of opening Cuba's files will be loudly resisted by those who suspect that their collaboration has been recorded in detail. As the Polish saying goes - strike the table and the scissors will answer. The guilty are always the most vocal. The precarious Cuban regime needs exile help more than ever now that a cancer-stricken Hugo Chávez is shriveling. The money sure to pour into the regime's coffers due to exile efforts will compound the difficulties property claimants will face. The lesson to be learned from the experiences of former owners from Communist countries is that claimants must prepare to be relentless in the face of possible failure.

Tania C. Mastrapa specializes in post-Communist property restitution and related issues of transitional regimes. She received her Ph.D. in International Studies from the University of Miami, her M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and her B.S. in Marketing from Boston College.

Cell Phones Change How News is Gathered

Tuesday, August 16, 2011
From Strategy Page:

Cell Phones Change The World

Journalism is increasingly all about cell phone cameras, and sending picture and video files anywhere in the world via that hand-held computer. While the U.S. effort to help people in dictatorships (China, North Korea, Cuba and so on) get access to uncensored news and communications has helped, it's the milder dictatorships (most of Africa and the Middle East) that benefit from cell phones and the Internet just as they are. The high end dictatorships (China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria) have professional security forces that lock down all forms of communication, not just cell phones and the Internet. These efforts often work, and the coalition of hackers worldwide, and U.S. government cash, is helping to even the fight. But so far, the secret police are still in the lead.

Meanwhile, the milder dictatorships are too poor, or too weak, to do much more than censor print, radio and TV. The Internet and cell phones (especially texting) are left alone. And this is where popular journalism has revolutionized how the news gets collected and distributed. In effect, everyone with a smart phone (that has a camera capable of taking pictures and videos) can be a journalist. And many are. In poor countries, most Internet users access the web via their cell phones. They also access social networking sites (like FaceBook), where groups of these amateur journalists connect with each other, and those in foreign countries who can handle posting embarrassing (to the local government) videos and pictures in FaceBook, or any other web location where people will see it. Using their cell phones, the web location of useful (and uncensored) news quickly gets around. This not only drives the dictators' nuts, it is increasingly driving them out of power.

This citizen journalism is also forcing the mainstream media (whether government controlled or not) to move faster, and with more accuracy and honesty. Thus did two inventions, the cell phone, and cameras as part of cell phones, radically change how news was gathered and distributed. These new developments also made it more difficult for dictators to stay in power.

Celebrating Apartheid and Repression in DC

In The Atlantic, blogger Steve Clemons gives his seal of approval to the Cuban dictatorship's celebration of apartheid and repression.

He writes:

A new bar is opening in DC, called "Hemingway's Bar", in the invite only Cuban Interests Section. This is vastly better public diplomacy than the US-Cuba tit-for-tat shenanigans of the past.

Small scoop, but on October 6th, the Cuban Interests Section (aka, the Cuban Embassy if we ever get back to normalizing relations) will launch a clever bit of public diplomacy by opening "Hemingway's Bar."

Of course, one has to be invited as the bar is on Cuba's side of the line inside its sort-of-embassy, and my hunch is that some will make the list and others won't. Sorry Ileana (and Mario).

And as commerce can't change hands between Americans and Cubans -- the drinks will be free. I plan to go and will want a "Hemingway Daiquiri" -- double the rum, and no sugar.

Basically, the Castro regime is exhibiting at its Washington, D.C. diplomatic entity what it practices on a national scale in Cuba -- limiting access to carefully-vetted foreigners and other useful pre-approved invitees.

It's obvious why the Castro regime is doing this -- for control and propaganda.

But why would anyone (with the slightest conscience) want to share a daiquiri with the longest and most murderous dictatorship this hemisphere has ever seen?

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the Castro regime (with its German Shepherds and all) brutally assaulted and arrested over 20 Ladies in White and their supporters.

Cheers! (sarcasm)

The Reality of Foreign Travel to Cuba

The Reality of Foreign Travel To Cuba

By Carlos M. Gutierrez, Jr

The issue of travel to Cuba is a contentious one, both within and outside the Cuban-American community. In essence, the arguments for and against travel can be boiled down to two positions. There are those who believe that increased American travel to the island will result in a vibrant exchange of ideas, an exchange proponents argue will introduce and foster new ideas in the Cuban populace resulting in a newfound awareness of liberty which will then spur democratic change. Opponents of travel to Cuba warn that revenues accrued by the Cuban military regime from increased travel serve to offset any of the potential gains of tourism to the island. While the benefits of foreign travel to the island are intangible and largely immeasurable, the economic and social impact of increased tourism dollars to the coffers of the Cuban regime can be more easily qualified.

Increased Travel as a Way to Bring Democracy?

There is little evidence that increased American travel and tourism will create a democratic opening in Cuba. In recent years, the number of annual tourists to Cuba has reached about 2 million people. The majority of these travelers come from countries we would consider to be free and fair societies. In fact, most of the tourists that travel to Cuba stem from democratic countries. Tourism to Cuba is not a new phenomenon. While the United States has prohibited most travel to Cuba, the rest of the world has never followed suit. Proponents of increased travel to Cuba would be hard pressed to find any sign of a democratic opening correlated to such tourism. Rather, upon analysis of the link between tourism and democracy, one would be more apt to find an increase in government-sponsored repression.

Benefits of Increased Tourism Dollars to Cuba?

First, the Cuban regime, a regime that has -- for years -- been deemed to be on its last legs, has managed to remain standing. Nearly 90 percent of the Cuban economy is controlled by the military apparatus. Generals, high-ranking military officers and members of their families preside over the highest income-earning industries, which of course, includes the tourism sector. Tourism revenue spent on the island does not trickle down to the average Cuban, rather it remains within the control of the Cuban military regime. This yearly $2 billion windfall accrued from global travel to the island is not spent on building and developing democratic institutions or feeding the Cuban people. Rather, it is either re-invested in the upkeep of tourism facilities, and/or used to fund the repressive military mechanisms that are used to stifle public dissent and prevent a free and open democratic discourse.

Second, a result of increased travel by foreigners to Cuba has been the greater marginalization of the Cuban populace. Until recently, Cuban citizens did not have the legal ability to stay in, or even enter, the grand resorts developed for the benefit of foreign tourists. While the Cuban government has lifted such restrictions, it is impossible to imagine that a Cuban citizen making an average of $15 a month can afford a stay in these resorts. Furthermore, despite being deemed public property, ordinary Cubans are not allowed to use the finely combed sand beaches adjacent to these grand resorts. Rather, they are relegated to unclean and unkempt beach sites, far removed from the majestic beauty foreign tourists are able to enjoy. The consequence of this tourist apartheid is that the only role for an ordinary Cuban in a Cuban resort is as a servant. To add insult to injury, these servants must stand idly by while they watch foreign tourists consume steaks, lobster, champagne and various luxuries, which the average Cuban could only dream of eating 90 miles away in Miami.

Third, increased tourism to Cuba has led to the creation and growth of the sexual services industry. The abject poverty faced by both Cuban men and women, and the sexual appetite of foreign tourists travelling to the island, have created an opportunity for the exploitation of Cuban citizens of all ages. As Johns Hopkins University researchers have found, "Cuba is one of many countries that have replaced Southeast Asia as a destination for pedophiles and sex tourists." Having claimed that "Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world," de facto Cuban leader Fidel Castro is not blind to this phenomenon, nor above using it to lure foreign tourists to the island.

Morality and Travel to Cuba

Cuba is an island controlled by a communist military regime. Freedom of press, assembly, to form independent labor unions and to travel outside of the country are non-existent. Cubans are routinely jailed for any activity the government deems to be a threat to the political dominance of the military apparatus. Such behavior has been codified into law, resulting in the "Dangerousness Doctrine" which is outlined in Section 72 of the Cuban Criminal Code. As officially cited, "a state of dangerousness is considered to be the special propensity of a person to commit crimes, as demonstrated by conduct observed in manifest contradiction to the norms of socialist morality." Needless to say, this law has been used to encompass a broad range of behaviors, including (but no limited to) having a conversation, meeting in a park, or even owning a typewriter.

The reach of Cuba's draconian laws are not limited to Cuban citizens. As evidenced by the recent 15-year sentence handed down to American Alan Gross, Cuban authorities are just as intolerant of anti-socialist behavior from foreigners as they are of ordinary Cuban citizens. Mr. Gross' anti-socialist crime: attempting to connect members of Cuba's Jewish community to the internet to communicate with other Jews outside of the island.

A Choice

As Cubans continue to languish in this modern day gulag, faced with the constant threat of incarceration for activities that we take for granted in our free societies, the appropriateness of enjoying luxuries in Cuba which are limited only to foreign tourists and high-ranking members of the military apparatus must be questioned. Ordinary Cuban citizens are not blind to the disparities between their life on the island, and that of a European tourist. They are aware that the foreigner dines on dishes they can never afford, they can see from afar the European tourist enjoying the surf and sand of a beach they are not allowed to step on, and most heart wrenching of all, they can see friends and family members exploited to meet the sexual appetites of morally devoid foreign tourists. When all is said and done, Cuba will one day become a vibrant free, democratic society. A society in which Cubans will be able to denounce and speak of the various atrocities and embarrassments perpetrated against them not only by Cuban military authorities, but also by foreign tourists seeking to have a good time.

As Americans, we can either deny the Cuban government of its largest economic lifeline, or we can join our fellow democratic brethren in the exploitation of a demoralized, abused, yet noble people. Either way, we can be sure that when the time comes, the people of Cuba will not forget those who contributed to their misery, as well as those who refused to stand complicit with those who continue to repress them.

It is my hope that we do not switch sides.

Carlos M. Gutierrez, Jr. is a former Congressional Aide and Trade and Integration Consultant.

Letter From a Cuban Rafter

Monday, August 15, 2011
A must-read from El Nuevo Herald:

Trips to Cuba and Shame

The subject of trips to Cuba has once again entered the arena, along with the debate between those who support them and those who don't. And all because Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart presented an amendment that would revert the travel regulations to what they were under the administration of President Bush.

Before continuing, I should say that I am a rafter. I arrived in Key West on a boat with 20 other people on August 18, 1994. I was 20-years old. We set foot on land 24 hours before Clinton changed the law and began sending rafters to the U.S. base in Guantanamo. Those who first came to Miami, when this exile community was established, managed to have Clinton allow their entry into a free land. Additionally, I have all of my family in Cuba with the exception of one brother who also came on a raft three years after I did. In 17 years, I have not returned to Cuba and neither has my brother. The reason is simple: the system that provoked us to throw ourselves into the sea at the risk of being eaten by sharks or to perish drowning has not changed. That system remains there; the same or worse than before. Besides, I said when I arrived that I wanted political asylum because it was impossible to live under that dictatorship. In other words, I am a political exile. With that cleared up, I will continue.

I'd like to strike a chord regarding trips to Cuba because so many that come and go are using the fable of the family. They are the ones that are actually fueling the defense of my position, so that once and for all of the trips here and back will end. They are the escape valve the dictatorship uses when it is under pressure and in danger of exploding, and the ones it utilizes to pressure democratic administrations. Obama's is about to arrive very soon.

Among those who travel you have a little bit of everything. There are real family members that every 4 or 5 years go see their families to help them and reunite, and as a parting gift they come back depressed over the situation in which they leave behind their loved ones. Then there are those who go and see their families for only a few minutes, because the rest of the trip is spent on the beaches, hotels, and with under-aged girls. They return broke and asking for government assistance without ever providing the most minimal help to their families. Those are the majority, and why not say it: they are the ones who provide the wrong image of the true Cuban reality to the world. One thing is clear; what has separated the Cuban family is the criminal dictatorship, not the United States. It is up to Cuba to open its doors completely to all Cubans inside and outside, without conditions or visas.

Enrique Padrón

Translation by Alberto de la Cruz

Obama's Regs Empower Cuba's Emperor

As today's Miami Herald (finally) reports, the Castro regime only allows carefully-vetted, politically "non-threatening," Cuban-Americans to travel to the island.

So how can these pre-approved Cuban-Americans become "ambassadors for freedom" or "foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy," as President Obama claimed in his policy rationale for unlimited travel to Cuba?

They don't -- instead, they financially and politically empower Cuba's ruling emperor (who gives the ultimate thumbs up or down).

From The Miami Herald:

Many Cubans living abroad can't return to Cuba

Havana has banned the visits of thousands of Cubans now living abroad.

Tampa teenager Melissa González wanted to visit her ailing grandfather in Cuba. But her travel agency told her that the Cuban government had turned down her request for an entry permit, without explanation.

No doubt, said her father, Jorge Luis Gonzalez Tanquero, she was turned down because he is a former political prisoner who spent 7 ½ years in prison and has continued to blast the Cuban government since his arrival in South Florida in February.

Whatever the reason, Melissa now belongs to the little-known group of Cubans living abroad who are banned by Havana from visiting the island — anywhere from 77,000 to 300,000 — for reasons that range from illegal departures from Cuba to political activism.

Castro's Cosmetic Economic Reforms

Sunday, August 14, 2011
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Going Capitalist?

Its economic reforms are mostly an attempt to tax black market transactions.

Who says dictators don't have a sense of humor? Cuba's Castros have an undeniably comic side, as evidenced by the regime's announcement earlier this month that it plans to provide agricultural advice to 14 Venezuelan states. It sounds like a bad joke. Would you take technical assistance from a government that has turned the chicken into an endangered species in its own country?

This raises the question of how seriously we ought to take Raúl Castro's announcement that he is about to "reform" the Cuban economy.

The American press seems convinced. "Cubans Set For Big Change: Right to Buy Homes," the New York Times screamed on its front page on Aug. 2. "Now open in Cuba; Business isn't exactly booming as free enterprise expands, but the slumbering entrepreneurial spirit is starting to stir," said the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 7.

It sounds like a capitalist revolution. But is it really time to get in on the ground floor in Cuba?

History may provide some guidance. This is not the first time we have been told that the communist economy, paralyzed since 1959, is on the verge of a reversal.

In 1986, as Fidel Castro convened the III Communist Party Congress, the Miami Herald reported that "dramatic changes are sweeping Cuba," including, the story said, permits to own homes. It is true that the regime officially blessed "home ownership." But those houses could not be sold, only exchanged. And Cubans never actually had legal rights to them, as became apparent when the state discovered that enterprising Cubans were making money by trading houses for profit under the table. A wave of confiscations followed.

The end of Soviet aid provoked another crisis, and by 1994 the regime was again promising economic liberalization. There was some. Taxi businesses and in-home restaurants sprang up. But as soon as some Cubans began to acquire wealth, Castro got nervous, because he understands that economic power translates into political power. Prices for licenses went up sharply, making it so costly to operate in the formal economy that many start-ups disappeared again.

In 2008, three hurricanes and the global financial crisis took a sharp toll on tourism and nickel prices, two of the island's most important sources of hard currency. Food shortages became more acute and the existing housing stock, which was in ruins, shrank. Raúl decided it was time to talk again about reform.

It took a while but Cuba finally made it official earlier this year: 178 tasks have been legalized. By the beginning of next year the government has also promised to make the housing market legal. Property rights and private enterprise are keys to economic development and the idea that Cuba would allow both suggests that the revolution is breathing its last. Yet is this time any different?

There are no details about what it will mean when Cubans are allowed to "buy homes." But given the arbitrary power of the state, it is reasonable to question the certitude of the property right. The real reason the regime wants to formalize the housing market probably concerns the national purse. 

Right now Cubans are allowed to trade houses but since it is rarely an even exchange, there are also dollars—provided by the exile community—that flow in the black market. Castro, being short of foreign exchange, most likely wants to get in the middle of this transaction so that he can take a cut.

The strapped government also is looking for ways to unload part of the state work force. To ensure that laid-off employees don't starve, it wants to give them business "opportunities." But in a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy here 10 days ago, former International Monetary Fund economist and ASCE founder Joaquín Pujol noted that at the end of 2009, "there were already 143,000 licensed, self-employed, although thousands more worked for themselves illegally." He also pointed out that "171,000 new business licenses granted so far this year went to people who were already out of work, suggesting that the vast reforms may not be enough of a safety net for the half-million people who are expected to be soon out of a government job."

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that since not everyone has an entrepreneurial nature, job creation by the gifted few will be important. Yet an effective tax rate for micro-enterprises that "could reach and exceed 100%," according to Mr. Pujol, will discourage hiring. Mr. Pujol also noted that despite Cuba's investments in education, there is no private "knowledge intensive" work that is legal, ruling out growth in the sectors of the economy that offer the most potential.

Free prices, property rights and incentives for innovation would signal real change. But those things would also put the regime's grip at risk. So instead it is trying to formalize and tax black market transactions to create jobs for state workers and raise revenues. The idea that this is capitalism would be funny too, were it not so sad.

Take Action on Human Rights for Cuba

From the European human rights organization, Frontline:

Take Action here.

Cuba: Increased repression against human rights defenders and violent assault on women human rights defenders

Several members of human rights organizations Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) were assaulted by pro-Government groups and police officers on 7 August 2011 in Santiago de Cuba and Palmarito de Cauto in the eastern province of Cuba. Similar attacks have taken place each Sunday since mid-July, as members of Damas de Blanco have been leaving mass throughout the province of Santiago de Cuba. Damas de Blanco is a human rights organisation which was established in 2003 in Havana by a group of women demanding the release of political prisoners in Cuba. In 2005, Damas de Blanco was awarded the Sakharov Prize for freedom of conscience by the European Parliament.

On 7 August 2011, at approximately 11.00 am, pro-Government groups armed with steel bars and stones, as well as some members of the Ministry of the Interior, gathered outside the cathedral in Santiago de Cuba waiting for members of Damas de Blanco to leave following Sunday mass. The women had planned a peaceful march through the streets of Santiago de Cuba, holding flowers, calling for the release of political prisoners. Loud music and pro-Government propaganda was played from loudspeakers in the area.

Police officers, led by Lieutenant Colonel Elliott, reportedly cut off access to the area immediately surrounding the cathedral. The group of women was followed by the gang, who insulted and threatened them before forcing them onto a police bus which was driven to a nearby city, Palma Soriano, where some of the women lived. From there some of the women continued on to another town, Palmarito del Cauto, where they tried to stage a vigil however this was attacked by pro-Government gangs using iron bars and rocks. At least eight persons were hospitalized following the attack in Palmarito del Cauto and required stitches for their wounds.

According to the information received, later on the 7 August, the home of former political prisoner, José Daniel Ferrer García, where a group of human rights defenders had gathered, and the home of human rights defender Maximiliano Sánchez, were attacked by a pro-Government gang. It is reported that at least six persons required medical attention as result of injuries sustained during the attack, including member of Damas de Blanco and wife of José Daniel Ferrer García, Belkis Cantillo, and their 6-year old daughter. Doctors were reportedly instructed by police officers to refuse to provide medical certificates to the wounded which would serve as proof that violence had been perpetrated against them.

It is reported that the Government blocked the phone lines of those involved in the protest following the violence making it impossible for them to communicate with each other over the telephone.

On 8 August 2011, spokesperson for Damas de Blanco, Ms Laura Pollán, publicly denounced the violence perpetrated against members of the organization and requested that Cardinal Jaime Ortega act as an intermediary between the Government and the organization.

Another member of Damas de Blanco, Ms Aymé Garcés, described publicly how she had been assaulted by the police.

It was also reported that on 5 August 2011, human rights defender Ernesto Cabrera Moreno was attacked, in the city of Caimanera, by a pro-Government group using machetes. The human rights defender remains in hospital being treated for injuries to his head and body. Ernesto Cabrera Moreno is a member of the Movimiento, Resistencia, y Democracia (Movement, Resistance and Democracy) organization.

On 24 July 2011, a group of women from Damas de Blanco were assaulted as they were leaving the Virgin of Charity shrine in El Cobre, located outside Santiago. A week later on 31 July 2011 a similar attack took place on another group of women leaving a church in Palma Soriano.

Since 2004, Damas de Blanco have marched in silence through Havana dressed in white, and carrying white flags, demanding the release of political prisoners. The Cuban State Security Department has reportedly issued several threats against members of Damas de Blanco and attempted to blackmail their family members in Cuban prisons. Attempts by women to hold similar protests in other areas of Cuba have been violently put down by the Government.

Front Line is concerned for the physical and psychological integrity and security of the members of Damas de Blanco considering reports of ongoing physical assaults and insults against them. Front Line believes that members of Damas de Blanco have been targeted solely as a result of their legitimate work in the defense of human rights.