Selective Reporting on Selective "Reforms"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The international media has covered every conceivable angle of Castro's housing "reforms," including the repetitive spin of the Castro regime's apologists abroad.

Yet, this week, a Cuban family is arbitrarily evicted from their home in Santa Clara (central Cuba), 17 dissidents are arrested for trying to intervene on the family's behalf and not a peep.

Thank to courageous independent journalists we've learned that among those arrested were pro-democracy leader Idania Yanez Contreras, her husband Alcides Rivera, Damaris Moya and Enrique Martínez.

A second group of dissidents that went to the police station to protest the arbitrary eviction and arrests were also detained.

Important questions should be asked:

Aren't Cubans supposed to own the homes where they live?

If not, how can Cubans supposedly buy and sell what the ultimately don't own?

Even the obvious should be asked:

Who ultimately owns these homes that can have families evicted?

We know they don't have mortgages, so it's not the banks.

Hint: Their last name is Castro.

But that's how it is in Castro's Cuba -- selective reporting on selective "reforms."

How to Secure Alan Gross's Release

Statement by U.S. Senate candidate (Md.) Richard Douglas:

Alan Gross – Prisoner of Castro Dictatorship

The same White House feebleness which allows the Iranian dictatorship to kill American soldiers with impunity and threaten Israel, keeps Marylander Alan Gross in a Cuban jail. The failure of Maryland’s U.S. Senators to aggressively object and force the White House to act is an outrage.

Talk is cheap. Having worked on Capitol Hill for a principled U.S. Senator and in the State Department, I know that a muscular effort to free Mr. Gross from Castro’s gulag should look like: it does not look like what is happening now.

In a genuine effort to free Mr. Gross, a resolute member of Congress long ago would have used every trick in the congressional rulebook to demand – and, if necessary, force – the Obama Administration to take concrete steps like these:

• Suspension of all civilian flights between the U.S. and Havana;
• Issuance of notices to mariners and aviators suspending all non-emergency passage to or from Cuba through U.S. air space and waters (including the exclusive economic zone);
• Suspension of all financial transactions to Cuba from the U.S.;
• Cancellation of U.S. visas held by any Cuban official, including Cuba’s UN mission in New York;
• Federal indictment of Cuban officials responsible for Mr. Gross’s illegal imprisonment;
• Filing of INTERPOL Red Notices for the indicted officials to prevent their international travel;
• Forcing U.S. resolutions through the Organization of American States and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding Mr. Gross’s immediate release;
• Instructing American ambassadors around the world to urge their countries of assignment to demand liberation of Mr. Gross from the Castro gulag.

Moreover, a resolute Senator long ago would have blocked Senate processing of White House nominations for ambassadorships or treaties until the indicated steps were taken by the Administration.

For over fifty years, the same Castro dictatorship which pointed nuclear missiles at our cities – and begged Khruschev to launch them – has blazed a trail of destruction through the Western Hemisphere and Africa. Today that same dictatorship holds a Marylander hostage. But Castro also holds something else: a White House free pass.

A resolute Senator would shake the U.S. Senate from its torpor and use every tool at his disposal to force the White House to exact a price from Castro for the Gross kidnapping.

The Gross Family, the people of Maryland, and the people of the United States deserve better.

Quote of the Week

Tuesday, November 22, 2011
"A brief review of the [home and auto sales laws] reveal that this Cuban capitalization, which in a few years will produce a social order different from the one established by the socialist constitution, is obsessively selective, like the political regime itself. It has to do with a capitalization conceived in a way to provide economic power to some individuals, and exclude and keep others subordinate. Capitalism without democracy: the worst mixture devised by right wing dictatorships in the 20th century, rediscovered by not a few former communists in the last few decades."

-- Rafael Rojas, Cuban writer, Spain's El Pais newspaper, 11/22/11

Translation by Alberto de la Cruz

Are Cuban Doctors Killing Chavez?

Such irony.

By Roger Noriega in The American:

Botched Cuban care and Chávez’s deceit may have worsened the Venezuelan’s cancer

Fidel Castro’s vastly over-rated healthcare system may finally have achieved something noteworthy: killing Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez.

According to an investigative report authored by Leonardo Coutinho and Duda Teixeira that appeared in Brazil’s premier newsmagazine Veja on Saturday (November 19), Cuban doctors at that country’s premier medical facility bungled the initial treatment of Chávez’s prostate cancer and may have rushed him to an early grave.

The Brazilian report, which quotes several of that country’s cancer specialists and urologists, delivers a damning assessment of the Cuban care:

[In July 2011] Chavez was hospitalized in Havana [at the Center for Medical and Surgical Research (CIMEQ)] to remove the prostate tumor. Surgery, not recommended for cases of neoplasia in this gland with metastasis, may have been a very serious medical error that accelerated the spread of cancer. A second surgery was carried out…. From that moment on, European physicians with imported equipment directed the therapy. The Cubans were relegated to the role of observers.

The Veja report cites Brazilian medical specialists to describe the substandard equipment and treatment at CIMEQ, a facility reserved for the dictatorship’s elite and dollar-paying tourists.

A second fatal decision was self-inflicted. Chávez must have known from the beginning that his cancer was terminal, because he opted to continue receiving treatment in Cuba in order to keep his country in the dark about his true condition. For example, Veja reveals for the first time that foreign minister Nicolas Maduro traveled to Brazil in early July to consult with that country’s leading oncologists at the Sîrio-Lebanese Hospital of São Paulo. Rather than transfer to that renowned Brazilian facility, where the current and previous presidents of Brazil have been treated for cancer, Chávez preferred to risk care in Cuba to keep his people from knowing the truth.

Will Sicko movie-maker Michael Moore return to Cuba to interview the miracle workers who gave Chávez the care he deserved? Now that’s a sequel worth seeing.

Remarks at The Heritage Foundation

From last week's presentation at The Heritage Foundation:

"The Unwritten Story: How the Media and the Obama Administration Overlook Cuba's Wave of Repression"

by Mauricio Claver-Carone

Thank you so much for the invitation to be here today.

Cuba’s legal and institutional structures are under the direct control of the island’s totalitarian dictatorship.

The Castro regime’s 1976 Constitution prohibits private ownership of the media or any independent exercise of journalism. Moreover, it only allows for speech, so long as it “conforms to the aims of a socialist society.”

Its criminal code contains a host of arbitrary sanctions, such as “enemy propaganda” and the dissemination of “unauthorized news.”

Insult laws carry penalties of three months to one year in prison. The sentences rise to three years if members of the regime’s Council of State or National Assembly are the objects of criticism.

The 1997 Law of National Dignity provides for jail sentences of three to ten years for “anyone who, in a direct or indirect form, collaborates with the enemy’s media.” This is aimed at independent news agencies that send their material abroad.

All of this is in contravention to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Needless to say -- those who “dare” practice independent journalism in Cuba are violently repressed.

Cuba ranks amongst the top jailers of journalists in the world, alongside China and Iran. At one point in 2009, there were just 7 more imprisoned journalists in China than in Cuba. Of course, China has a population of 1.4 billion, while Cuba’s population is 11.5 million. That makes Cuba not twice or thrice as repressive as China -- but nearly 92 times as repressive.

Yet, at great personal risk, many courageous Cubans still dare practice this key profession.

Theoretically, the repression of domestic journalists would make the presence of foreign journalists more important, as they could report on Cuba’s realities with less risk. Or perhaps, it would guide their conscience and professional solidarity.

Sadly, that’s not typically the case.

So let me focus on U.S. media outlets in Cuba, which was the topic assigned to me for this presentation.

The New York Times was the last U.S. media entity to leave (or be shown the door) by the newly established Castro dictatorship in the early 1960s. Apparently, that was Castro’s payback for all of the positive reporting it got from the newspaper throughout the 1950s. If you haven’t read the book, “Herbert Matthews: The Man Who Invented Fidel” by Anthony de Palma, I highly recommend it.

It wasn’t until after collapse of the Soviet bloc and years of negotiations with Fidel Castro himself that CNN was the first U.S. outlet to establish a Castro-era Havana news bureau in 1997, followed by the Associated Press in 1998.

In 2000, after ten years of lobbying the Castro regime, the Dallas Morning News and Tribune Co. (which operated both the Chicago Tribune and Sun Sentinel) also established Havana bureaus. However, both closed down in 2004 and 2009, respectively. Ironically, they operated in Havana for less time than it took them to convince Castro to let them in.

ABC, CBS and NBC have established formal bureaus in the last decade, but they have had some reporting presence there since before. For example, NBC producer Mary Murray has been in Havana since 1994. Of course, this raises other concerns, such as “clientitis.”

The fact is that the foreign media in Cuba has only one goal -- to cover one “big story” -- the death of Fidel Castro. Everything else is a balancing act of how to "report" on current events without offending the regime and preventing expulsion, so as not to miss the "big story."

And how “big” is this story for them?

Put it this way -- Havana is the only news bureau in Latin America for CBS and NBC. ABC also has a Mexico City bureau. One would think there were other pressing issues in the region. Furthermore, Havana is not a strategic or efficient location to cover the rest of the hemisphere due to substantial logistical challenges, such as expensive linkage fees. The bottom line is that they are there to cover the “big story” and that’s it.

As Yoani Sanchez eloquently wrote in Foreign Policy recently: “The dilemma of foreign correspondents -- popularly called ‘foreign collaborators’ -- is whether to make concessions in reporting in order to stay in the country, or to narrate the reality and face expulsion. The major international media want to be here when the long-awaited ‘zero day’ arrives -- the day the Castro regime finally makes its exit from history

The Castro regime’s controls on foreign journalists are wielded through its International Press Center (IPC), which not only issues the press accreditation required to report from Cuba, but also approves the necessary paperwork for these journalist to enjoy some basic comforts, such as air conditioners and refrigerators (both helpful in the tropics), or being able to import or purchase a car.

The IPC also likes to remain a full-year behind in its process of renewing credentials for foreign journalists. It’s another “subtle” way of pressuring them on their stories -- like a report card hovering over their heads.

There are currently about 150 foreign media personnel (journalists and staff) accredited in Cuba by the IPC, mostly newspapers and television and radio stations from Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Accounts of the Castro regime’s methods to pressure foreign journalists against reporting on “non-approved” topics were highlighted in two recent books by Spanish journalists, who spent years as correspondents in Havana.

The books -- La Casa de Cristal (The Glass House) by Isabel Garcia-Zarza of Reuters and Los Funerales de Castro (Castro's Funerals) by Vicente Botin of Spanish Television (TVE) -- are a must-read for anyone wanting to understand the reality of reporting from Cuba.

"Rare is the journalist who does not soften his reports, to avoid being expelled from the country," wrote Isabel García-Zarza of the Reuters news agency.

"Self-censorship is a very common practice… No one on the island can write the truth of what happens there. Correspondents can only come close to reality," wrote Vicente Botín of Spanish television (TVE).

According to Botin, state security agents are widely believed to electronically monitor the correspondents' phones, cars and home and track their "political ideas, their preferences, their tendencies and above all their weaknesses like drugs, sex, alcohol."

Throughout the years, the Castro regime has expelled or refused to renew the accreditation of dozens of foreign correspondents -- always looking to set an “example” for other journalists. Some of the most recent include (in 2007) Gary Marx of the Chicago Tribune, Cesar Gonzalez Calero of Mexico’s El Universal, Stephen Gibbs of BBC, and just last month, Mauricio Vicent of Spain’s El Pais and Juan Castro Olivera from France’s AFP news agency.

Additionally, the Castro regime has no qualms about arresting foreign journalists. In 2005, it detained, and then expelled, at least seven foreign journalists -- one Swiss, two Italians and four Poles -- who traveled to Cuba to cover a gathering of pro-democracy activists.

Now, to be fair -- foreign journalists do not always succumb to the Castro regime’s pressures. It's a balancing act for them.

For example, last year, the IPC warned correspondents to stay away from the funeral of Cuban political prisoner and hunger striker Orlando Zapata Tamayo. None covered the ceremony. But after Guillermo Fariñas launched his own hunger strike, three foreign journalists went to his home for first-hand accounts.

Both of these events were outside Havana. Increasingly, pro-democracy leaders have dramatically scaled up their activities in the provinces. Foreign correspondents are practically all based in Havana, even further limiting coverage.

In a new phenomenon, the Castro regime has also adopted a strategy of “hit-and-run” repression. Since Raul Castro was promoted to dictator-in-chief, repression on the island has risen dramatically. However, the tactics have changed. In order to elude international scrutiny (despite a dramatic rise in repression), the regime will now beat up opposition activists, drag them to prison, beat them up some more and then release them in 2-3 days.

This has created a “cat-and-mouse” game with the foreign media: Journalists may write a story the first time, but by the time they get around to it, the activist will have been released. By the second and third time (etc.) the activist is arrested, they will simply not bother with a story altogether, anticipating the activist’s imminent release.

There’s a silver lining though.

As Yoani Sanchez concluded in the Foreign Policy article I previously cited: “Opening the world's eyes to the real Cuba, after all, no longer requires a wire service dispatch; it can be done with a cell phone.”

New media and technology have bolstered independent journalists and the entire spectrum of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement. Bloggers like Yoani Sanchez, whose posts travel the cyber-world; independent news agencies like Hablemos Press, which has filmed numerous recent protests (including one on the steps of the Capitol building) using cell phones; independent journalists like Carlos Rios Otero, who was just re-arrested last week for investigating the cause of death of Ladies in White leader Laura Pollan; tools like Twitter, which allow activists to denounce repression in real-time; and websites like Hablalo Sin Miedo (“Speak Without Fear”) and Cuba Sin Censura (“Cuba Without Censorship”), which turn cell phones into international microphones. These last two (along with Twitter) have become essential tools for activists in the provinces, which are virtually ignored by foreign journalists.

This brings me to an important issue.

On December 3rd, 2009, the Cuban authorities arrested Alan P. Gross, an American development worker from Potomac, Md., who had gone to Havana to help provide Internet technology to Jewish groups, so they could communicate amongst each other and with the outside world.

The arrest of Gross, who is in ill health, has lost over 100 lbs. and was sentenced to 15 years in prison (after a year with no charges filed), underlines the Castro regime’s determination to control information -- and punish those who would press for a free flow of information. Once again, in contravention of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes “the right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In conclusion, allow me to make just one factual observation regarding the Obama Administration’s policy towards Cuba, as it’s not my assigned topic per se.

There's an American hostage in Cuba and despite this, the Obama Administration conducted a new round of easing non-humanitarian sanctions in January 2011.

Since then, political arrests have more than doubled and we’re seeing the largest spike in repression in decades –- all courtesy of an emboldened regime.

And that’s not the only thing that has doubled. Since the Obama Administration first lifted restrictions on travel and remittances in April 2009, the Castro regime’s hard currency deposits in foreign banks have doubled. That’s a troubling and indisputable fact.

Once again, thank you so much.

New Survey of Cuban Public Opinion

Monday, November 21, 2011
The IRI today released its new survey of Cuban public opinion.

A total of 572 Cuban adults were asked questions ranging from perspectives on the economy, to the performance of the current Castro government and expectations for change.

Among its key findings are:

- Cubans still overwhelmingly (76 percent) desire multi-party elections, free expression and other elements associated with political freedom and democracy.

- More than half of Cuban citizens have not seen evidence of actual reforms taking shape in Cuba.

- Approximately three-in-five Cubans do not believe substantive economic reform is possible without changes to the political system.

- Nearly nine-in-10 (88 percent) Cubans desire a market economy, with economic freedoms, opportunities to own private property and the right to own their own businesses.

- Cubans remain very concerned with their economic future; more than two-thirds (70 percent) do not have confidence that their government will succeed in solving this challenge.

“Overall the findings of the survey suggest that while Cubans desire economic opportunity and private property ownership, they closely tie these economic changes to political change in the form of free elections, free expression, access to information and the right to dissent,” said Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI.

While international news media continue to report on promised reforms by the Cuban regime – including the highly publicized pledge to permit home sales – IRI’s survey shows that 52 percent of Cubans have yet to see any tangible examples of implemented changes.

“There are a lot of headlines here in the U.S. about changes coming to Cuba, but IRI’s survey shows that the Cuban people themselves are not necessarily seeing it so far. They remain skeptical that the Cuban government can improve their lives,” said Craner.

The survey was conducted in 14 Cuban provinces and has a margin of error of +/- four percent, and a 95 percent level of confidence. This survey was the sixth of its kind conducted by IRI on the island since 2007.

A New Day in Spain

Yesterday, the Spanish people handed the Socialist (PSOE) party of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (who had previously decided not to run for re-election) the biggest defeat of their democratic history.

For eight years, the Zapatero Administration worked steadfastly in the European Union to appease the Castro regime and to grant it numerous unilateral concessions.

Fortunately, its policies always met resistance from Eastern European countries that knew the psyche of brutal Communist dictators and opposed such concessions.

The newly-elected government of Mariano Rajoy from the Popular Party (PP) has expressed its desire to help the Cuban people break free from the Castro's dictatorship.

As Rajoy told Spain's El Pais newspaper last week, "for Cuba, I want democracy, I want freedom, I want human rights. Not just me, everyone does."

Well, almost everyone.

On that note -- good riddance, Zapatero.

Home Sales: More Questions Than Answers

Two articles show how more questions than answers remain regarding Castro's latest "reform."

From The Miami Herald:

[M]any Cubans wonder exactly how the reform will work, given the widespread corruption used in past years to sidestep the government restrictions on housing swaps.

“They only legalized what was happening illegally for decades,” said Camilo Loret de Mola, a former Havana lawyer who admits he handled many illegal cash payments for housing “swaps.”

In a country where the average monthly salary officially stands at $17, and where banks do not offer mortgages, most buyers are expected to get help from relatives and friends abroad.

Only a handful of Cubans may be able to pay even $10,000 for a dwelling – perhaps singers and other artists who earn money abroad, perhaps operators in the island’s massive black market.

Yet the new regulations require that payments for real estate be made through the Central Bank, and that the buyer certify that the money came from legitimate sources.

Cubans also question whether property titles, which contain the detailed descriptions of lots and homes, have been kept up to date as required in the municipal offices of the Institute of Housing.

Many dwellings have been subdivided over the years into apartments and even single rooms used by as many as eight families, with unclear boundaries and ownership rights.

Apartment blocks built under the Castro revolution issued property titles to owners but have no legal arrangement for the maintenance of common items such as elevators, water pumps or landscaping.

“There’s no owners’ association here, nothing,” said dissident Angel Moya, who lives in an apartment owned by his mother-in-law in Alamar, a 1980s housing development in eastern Havana.

But if she wanted to sell the apartment, she would have to get his approval because Cuban law says that anyone who has lived in one place for five years or more cannot be forced out.

The new law also makes no mention of new construction, or of the many areas where housing swaps required security clearances because of military or other activity.

There are Frozen Zones, Restricted Zones, Special Zones and even Speed Ways – including Havana streets that Fidel Castro’s armored vehicles use between the city and his home in a western suburb.

Loret de Mola noted that the new law and regulations also make no mention of a pardon for the many illegal housing deals done over the year with the help of payoffs to government officials.

From PolicyMic:

Castro still violates Cubans’ freedom of movement. He continues to enforce Decree 217 that prohibits “persons in other provinces from moving into Havana.” This decree prevents Cubans from accessing the wealth they need to live free lives. Havana is where a majority of business transactions occur and therefore, holds the countries profits. Without access to Havana, Cubans cannot obtain the wealth they need to get what they want. This leaves Cubans powerless to determine their lives. In order for Cubans to live free lives, Castro must stop his methods of social oppression and allow for a multitude of voices to be heard.

The Repression Rundown

From the Coalition of Cuban-American Women:

During the week of November 14–20, the Cuban regime continued its escalating pattern of committing cruel, inhumane and degrading acts against all those who dissent in the island.

The following are some human rights activists who were targeted by Cuban repressive forces:

November 14 – Eastern Cuba (city of Contramaestre) - A protest in the streets took place where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was distributed and activists of UMPACU (Union Patriotica Cubana), among them Jorge Cervantes, who cried out “Long Live Human Rights” were brutally beaten, arrested and released the following day.

November 16 – Eastern Cuba (city of Guantanamo) – Protest demanding the release of human rights defender, Niorvis Rivera Guerra, (member of the Resistance and Democracy Movement) and all Cuban political prisoners, ended with a violent "act of repudiation" by pro government mobs that lasted all afternoon and into the night against the home of Osvallemi Grant Guerra. As a result two dissidents were injured.

November 18 – Eastern Cuba (city of Palmarito de Cauto) – Following four days of classes on strategies of non violent resistance that were given by the ex-Cuban political prisoner of conscience, Librado Linares, a father and his son: Rogelio Tabio Lopez and Rogelio Tabio Ramirez were violently detained as they were on their way back home to the city of Guantanamo. Several other activists were also attacked as they returned to their hometowns.

November 18 – Eastern Cuba (city of Palma Soriano) – Seven activists and two family members of Pedro Campo Almenares were all violently attacked by authorities when they demanded his release in front of the Unit of the Political Police in Palma Soriano. (Campo Almenares is confined in the Prison of Aguadores since November 16, 2011 for protesting police repression.

November 19 – Eastern Cuba (city of Contramaestre) – A police operation to prevent the assistance to Mass of the Ladies in White, led to the arrest of two of them and their husbands: Mayelin de la O Montero and Yarisel Figueredo Valdes, as well as Alexander Aldana and Julio Cesar Pega. Amanda, the eight-year old daughter of Mayelin, spent hours crying for her mother in front of the police station until an agent took her to the home of a neighbor.

November 19 – Havana – Maria Elena Mir Marrero, Secretary general of the CONIC (National Independent Workers Confederation of Cuba) was arrested in her house and released hours later. Independent journalist Julio Cedeno Negrin also arrested alongside two other activists near Havana’s Central Park.

Since Raul Castro took over power in Cuba in 2006, the island’s political police: Rapid Response Brigades, paramilitary units, State Security agents, and pro-government mobs are escalating their ongoing repressive acts against peaceful human rights defenders.

As these pro-democracy activists throughout the island seek to assemble, organize and express themselves peacefully they, as well as their family members, are subjected to systematic physical and mental mistreatment.

Sanctions and Political Reform

Sunday, November 20, 2011
The Burmese regime is arguably moving in the direction of political reform.

To be absolutely clear -- it has a very long road ahead to prove its unequivocal commitment to such reforms, but it has begun to provide amnesty to a number of political prisoners, relax some restrictions on freedom of speech and indicated its willingness to respect political plurality.

This week, Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her political party (National League for Democracy, NLD) will likely participate in upcoming parliamentary by-elections. However, it is insisting -- as a pre-condition -- that all political prisoners must be previously released.

These are important tests for the Burmese regime.

Burma is subject to tough U.S. sanctions and should unquestionably remain under such sanctions until all political prisoners are released, fundamental human rights are respected and political reforms are fulfilled.

This is important, for since the military took power in a 1962 coup, the regime has previously held elections (most famously in 1990), briefly tolerated political parties and rewritten constitutions -- only to later forfeit and reneg on them.

Now let's put this in a regional context.

Compare the current situation in Burma to its neighbors, China and Vietnam, where years of unconditional engagement and business ties have strengthened those brutal dictatorships and where there's inarguably no will (or movement) towards political reform and the respect for human rights.

Thus, the question remains -- Freedom first or business first?

The answer should be obvious.