Remembering Danny Lopez de Moya

Monday, December 31, 2012
Today, we continue highlighting some of Cuba's newest political prisoners, which the Castro regime would like the world to forget.

Danny Lopez de Moya is a member of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in eastern Cuba.

UNPACU, led by former Cuban political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, has become one of the leading opposition movements on the island.

Thus, its members have been subject to constant repression.

Lopez de Moya was arrested on February 26, 2012 for wearing a t-shirt in public that read "Boitel, Zapata, Wilman Viven y UNPACU" (referring to three prominent political priosners killed by the Castro regime).

In April, he was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison for "disobedience."

He will not be forgotten.

A Voice of Solidarity From Spain

Sunday, December 30, 2012
Excerpts from an editorial in Spain's ABC newspaper by the President of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, entitled "Viva Cuba Libre!":

For all those who love freedom and, most importantly, for Spaniards who love freedom, the existence of such a brutal dictatorship in the nation of the Americas with closest ties to Spain, is shameful and should shock the conscience.

I say that the existence of the Castro dictatorship should shock the conscience of all free Western nations because those of us who enjoy the full exercise of freedom have an inexcusable responsibility to act, so that Cubans can recover the freedom that the Communists have deprived them of during these fifty-four years of tyranny [...]

It is the moral responsibility of all free people to raise their voices against the Communist dictatorship of the Castro's in Cuba. It is unacceptable that Cuba, whose people have demonstrated in their long years of exile an exceptional entrepreneurial and creative ability, continues to languish in economic misery and moral degradation. Cuba must be free sooner than later.

The only positive stemming from the fifty-four years of this Communist dictatorship is that it has become the best practical and irrefutable example of the nefarious effects Communism has on the well-being of its citizens. Similar to the comparison of the poverty and oppression in North Korea, under its Communist dictatorship, when compared to the prosperity of South Korea, its democratic and free market neighbor.

For those who may till be tempted to look for solutions of a Communist or "real Socialist" nature (in these times of crisis that we are living there will always be some), it would be enlightening to look at the statistics of the evolution of Cuba during these fifty-four years of Communism.

In 1958, per capita income in Cuba was $360, double that of Spain at the time. Today, Spain's per capita income is $32,244, while Cuba's (according to the World Bank in 2008) was $5,397*. Even within Latin America, Cuba's per capita income in 1958 was similar to that of Chile, while today Chile's is three times that of Cuba. These statistics should be enough to vaccinate against anyone that still looks at the Castro regime with some sympathy.

That's why, for the freedom and prosperity of Cuba, on this eve of its anniversary of falling into the hands of a Communist dictatorship, we must scream with more strength and hope than ever: Viva Cuba Libre!

(*CHC Editor's Note: The World Bank per capita figure of $5,397 is provided by the regime and obviously overstated. In reality, Cubans' average wage is nearly $20 a month, which would translate to an average income of $240 a year.)

On Carromero's "Trial"

Despite the revelations below, the Spanish government signed a memorandum accepting the Castro regime's sham "trial" against Angel Carromero, the youth activist imprisoned for driving the car that crashed and killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

(Paya's family -- and Carromero himself before being taken into custody -- holds that the car was rammed by another vehicle, presumably of secret police officials that had been following them for hours.)

This might seem like a good short-term strategy to ingratiate the Castro regime, but has serious long-term consequences that will endanger other Spaniards on the island.

From an interview by Spain's ABC newspaper with Carromero's lawyer:

"In an interview published by ABC Spain, José María Viñals Camallonga reveals that neither he nor the Cuban lawyers assigned to Angel Carromero were given access to the evidence presented in court by the prosecution, not even the car involved in the "accident," or the the roadway itself. In addition, neither he nor the Cuban defense lawyers were allowed to carry out their own investigations.

In other words, the prosecution was totally in control of the trial, and the impossible task of the defense team was to disprove the prosecution's charges without access to any evidence or witnesses. When asked by ABC whether Carromero had received a fair trial, Viñals Camallonga replied that the trial adhered scrupulously to Cuban law, but was grossly unfair by the standards commonly accepted in Spain and the European Union."

Translation courtesy of Babalu Blog.

The Price Paid For Carromero's Repatriation

Spanish political activist Angel Carromero, who was accused by the Castro regime of driving the car that crashed and killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, has now been repatriated to Spain.

Carromero will serve the remainder of his 4-year Cuban prison term in a Spanish prison, unless granted parole earlier.

Note that Carromero was accused of "vehicular manslaughter" by the Castro regime. However, Paya's family (and Carromero himself before being taken into custody) holds that the car was rammed by another vehicle, presumably of secret police officials that had been following them for hours.

Other details of the price paid for Carromero's repatriation are now being revealed.

According to sources involved in the negotiations (as revealed to Spain's Zoom News), the Spanish government formally recognized the sham trial against Carromero and paid the Castro regime a $3 million ransom.  Meanwhile, Carromero committed that he would remain silent regarding the details of the crash.

(This, of course, in addition to Spain's new push to change the EU's Common Position toward Cuba -- despite a historic spike in repression -- and new tourism investments.)

Overall, the price paid for Carromero's repatriation is absolute impunity for the Castro regime in the deaths of Paya and Cepero.

A heavy burden for their families, loved ones and future victims of Cuba's dictatorship.

Remembering Calixto Martinez Arias

Saturday, December 29, 2012
Today, we continue highlighting some of Cuba's newest political prisoners, which the Castro regime would like the world to forget.

Calixto Martinez Arias is a Cuban independent journalist.

This past summer, Calixto broke the news of a cholera outbreak in Cuba, weeks after the government declared it eradicated.

He then discovered five tons of humanitarian aid sent to Cuba by the Word Health Organization (WHO), which was left to spoil at Havana's airport.

For his independent investigative reporting, Calixto was arrested on September 16th and charged with "disrespect" to the figures of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Calixto is being held at the infamous Combinado del Este prison.

He will not be forgotten.

Where Trickle-Down Definitely Doesn't Work

Friday, December 28, 2012
Advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime argue that unilaterally lifting sanctions will somehow have a trickle-down effect toward the Cuban people.

They admit that lifting sanctions would greatly benefit the Castro regime, but believe the residual effect would be worth it.

This talking point has also been adopted -- or vice-versa -- by the Castro regime itself.

Yesterday, Cuba's Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero jubilantly announced that a record 2.85 million tourists visited the island in 2012 -- consisting mostly of Canadians and Europeans.

(So much for tourists spreading democracy).

Marrero went out of his way to note that the regime owned 300 hotels with 60,000 rooms, but there were also 4,280 "private" rooms for rent.

(Of course, Marrero failed to note that these are in homes of regime loyalists, who are specially-licensed, heavily-regulated and overwhelmingly-taxed).

In other words, once the regime fills its coffers, money will also flow to its "private" contractors.

Even some in the Obama Administration believe(d) this.

In February 2011, during a Senate hearing, former Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela testified:

"Let me just simply say this—that there may be some ancillary benefits [from the Administration's 2011 'people-to-people' trips] to the Cuban government, but it is our view that to be able to have direct contact with the Cuban people, that Americans have direct contact with the Cuban people, will provide them with a kind of space that will allow them to become much more independent of the regime."

Yet, all of the current "people-to-people" trips are pre-approved and hosted by the Castro regime, and frequent the regime's hotels, restaurants and nightclubs (worth thousands of dollars per traveler).

But hey, they might also buy a $2 trinket from an artisan in Old Havana.

Does an Administration that fundamentally disagrees with trickle-down economics, and is therefore looking to raise taxes on Americans that make more than $250,000, really believe this works?

As we've stated before, whether trickle-down economics works is debatable in open, democratic, capitalist societies, where hard-currency is freely and rapidly mobile and fungible.

But it's a laughable concept in totalitarian regimes with closed economies, where the dictator's funnel rules.

Quote of the Week

"The current Internet situation in Cuba is actually worse for our writers and readers now than it was a couple of years ago. Some of the workplaces that do have access, albeit excruciatingly slow, either block HT on their servers or let their employees know that they’d be wise not to visit it.

E-mail, the main way our articles are distributed, is still difficult for many Cubans. About half of our contributing writers do not even have their own account and must receive correspondence and send their work from someone else’s account. Many still do not have their own computer, which also makes writing difficult.

However despite the limitations, which are a fact of daily life for most Cubans, people continue writing with enthusiasm and contributing to our publication and would be in a position to do so more often if the operating environment were better."

-- Circles Robinson, editor of the online publication The Havana Times, 12/28/12

Cholera Hits Havana Tourism Zones

Thursday, December 27, 2012
From Environment News Service:

Cholera Spreads in Cuba After Hurricane Sandy

A rise in cholera cases in the Cuban capital Havana is being traced back to parts of the country hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, the worst natural disaster to strike Cuba in half a century.

The Cuban government is saying little about reported cases of cholera. But doctors who have recorded new cases of the disease during recent house-to-house inspections say the health ministry has declared a state of alert in the Jesús María and Belén communities of Habana Vieja municipality.

“They’ve found 47 cases in Habana Vieja municipality,” said a doctor, who requested anonymity [...]

The authorities have taken steps to address the new cases in Havana by setting up specialized hospital wards, cleaning up streets and buildings in the Jesús María and Belén communities, and distributing medicines that prevent dehydration.

Health staff have been driving around Old Havana issuing notifications by loudspeaker, telling people what precautions to take, urging them not to try to cure themselves, and announcing training sessions where medical staff will be taught how to contain the “epidemic.”

The authorities are also taking action to stop sales of food that fall short of health and hygiene standards, according to a health worker involved in the cholera identification and public information campaign in Habana Vieja municipality.

All the same, the health worker said, he feared “rising numbers of cases.”

A local doctor said he suspects the government is holding off on officially announcing a cholera outbreak because it might deter tourists from visiting Havana’s old town.

Fudging the Castro-Chavez Numbers

With the health of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez quickly deteriorating, Cuba "experts" are looking to minimize (perception-wise) the economic impact of his largesse towards the Castro brothers.

And, the AP has provided the platform.

Thus, they've ingeniously concluded:
Experts peg the total Venezuelan subsidy to Cuba at around $2 billion to $4 billion a year.
"A (loss of) $2 billion to $4 billion would definitely pinch. But it is not the same relative weight as the sudden complete withdrawal of the Soviet subsidies in the early '90s," said Richard E. Feinberg, a professor of international political economy at the University of California, San Diego.
Brilliant, except last year alone, Venezuela bankrolled Cuba to the tune of nearly $10 billion.

And this is a conservative estimate, for Venezuelan economists pegged trade in 2008 at almost $11 billion.

Consequently, the most renowned Cuban economist (coincidentally) observed yesterday:
“In nominal terms, the Venezuelan subsidy is higher than whatever subsidy the Soviet Union gave to Cuba,” says Carmelo Mesa, a Cuban economist who’s a visiting professor at Tulane University.  
But just as absurd as trying to fudge the numbers on Chavez's subsidies to Castro is the AP's analysis of Raul's "economic diversification" efforts.

The AP mentions "Cuba's successes in courting foreign investors for joint ventures."

Yet, only cites Brazil's Odebrecht (attention Miami-Dade County) as an example.

On this issue, we recommend a re-read of an article earlier this year in The Economist about foreign investors running away from Cuba in droves.  It's the one about how Raul has imprisoned many of his long-term foreign business partners, which is apparently easier for him than sharing profits or having to make debt payments.

And no AP article about the Cuban economy is complete without some mention of Raul's efforts with "independent and cooperative farming" and his new experiment with "non-farm collectives."

Except that the Castros have been experimenting with so-called "private" farming cooperatives since the 1970's and even The New York Times recognized last month that these have netted few results -- if any.

Bottom line: Raul's bogus "diversification" is not going to ameliorate the tens of billions in Chavez's largesse.

No matter how you fudge the numbers.

Unless, of course, the United States decides to unilaterally lift sanctions and become Castro's third major historic subsidy -- pursuant to the Soviet Union and Venezuela.

Something Raul and Cuba "experts" are keenly aware of.

Quote of the Day

You don’t appreciate being a Jew living in America until you get back from a place like Cuba. It’s not just the lifestyle and the resources here, it’s the personal freedom, the ability to say and do what we want.
-- Lori Klinghoffer, part of a Jewish delegation that visited the island, New Jersey Jewish News, 12/26/12

Remembering Sonia Garro

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
During the holidays, let's highlight some of the current political prisoners that the Castro brothers would like the world to forget.

Today, we remember Sonia Garro.

Sonia Garro, a member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, has been imprisoned by the Castro regime -- without trial or charges -- since March 18th, 2012.

In the wave of repression leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba, Castro's secret police raider her home, shot her with rubber bullets and imprisoned her.

She has been repeatedly abused and beaten in the infamous Manto Negro women's prison.

Garro's husband, Ramón Muñoz González, was also imprisoned on that day. He is being held -- without trial or charges -- in the Combinado del Este Prison.

Demand their freedom now.

This is Not a Joke

Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Although it sure seems like one.

It's the latest public relations campaign by some of the world's leading tyrants.

A mix between the old "benevolent dictator" bit and "anti-corruption crusader."

The fact is none of these brutal tyrants are benevolent and they believe graft is their exclusive domain.

In The South China Morning Post:

Xi learns from Castro and Putin in graft fight

Curbs on extravagance afforded to top party chiefs appear to be inspired by a traffic measure in Russia and his 2011 visit to Cuba

Cuban president Raul Castro and Russian president Vladimir Putin may not have much in common, but Xi Jinping seems to take inspiration from them both.

This can be seen in the president-in-waiting's effective measures to curb extravagance and over-the-top protocol customarily accorded to senior mainland officials.

The moves are part of Xi's broad efforts to tackle corruption and restore confidence in the party.

Earlier this month, in the first Politburo meeting since he came to power as the party chief, the 20-odd Politburo members vowed to set an example by banning welcome banners, red carpets and floral arrangements.

They also simplified security details on their outings and inspection trips. The announcement has proved popular with mainlanders, who used to see the over-the-top protocol as a sign of extravagance and officials losing touch with the ordinary people.

Over the past few days, top military officials and the Beijing municipal government have released similar rules.

In a recent internal speech to explain the new working practices, Xi said he drew inspiration from his meetings with Raul Castro during his visit to Cuba in June last year, according to several people briefed about the speech.

During the visit, Xi was invited to a banquet at Raul Castro's residence. But the Chinese side was told in advance that only six of them could go.

This perplexed the Chinese officials, who were accustomed to enjoying elaborate banquets as part of a big entourage.

When Xi arrived, he found that Raul's residence was small and the dining room could accommodate only a small number of people.

He recalled that Raul showed him several small plots of land in his backyard where the Cuban president grew food for his family and gave what was left over to the ordinary people. That encounter appears to have left a deep impression on him.

In the same speech, Xi also cited the example of Putin, who has reportedly refused to divert traffic to make way for his motorcade around the Kremlin, one of the most notoriously congested areas in Russia.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
    “For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1864)

New Political Prisoners on Noche Buena

Monday, December 24, 2012
While you celebrate Noche Buena with your families tonight, please don't forget some of the Castro brother's newest political prisoners.

They were convicted in "sham" trials just this week and have been forcibly separated from their loved ones.

Yelky Puig Rodríguez, a lawyer with the opposition Corriente Agramontista, was handed a one-year prison sentence for "disrespect." Puig is an advocate for judicial independence and the rule of law in Cuba.

Ulises González Moreno, an independent labor activist, was handed a two-year sentence for "social dangerousness." In reality, he was imprisoned for refusing to serve as an informant for the secret police. Gonzalez is an advocate for worker's rights and freedom of association.

Our thoughts and prayers are with them and with the countless other Cuban political prisoners.

They are not forgotten.

Fulton Armstrong's Unwitting Revelation

Sunday, December 23, 2012
The new edition of Foreign Affairs magazine has an article entitled "Our Man in Havana" about the Castro regime's imprisonment of American development worker Alan Gross and U.S. efforts to free him.

Sadly, the article is more akin to a novel (or ego-trip) narrated by former CIA analyst and Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Fulton Armstrong, transcribed and edited by Daily Beast editor R. M. Schneiderman.

The plot-line is quintessential Fulton Armstrong:

Alan Gross is not a victim of the repressive Cuban dictatorship, which has unjustly imprisoned him for over three years, but of the democratically-elected Cuban-American Members of the U.S. Congress, whom he refers to as "the Cuban lobby."

It'd be interesting to know whether Armstrong and Scheinederman similarly refer to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or other Jewish Members of Congress as the "Jewish lobby" or former U.S. Senator and now President Barack Obama as the "black lobby."

Such labels are insulting and reveal ethnic biases, as former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) is currently being reprimanded for.

In the case of Armstrong, it may be due to his blinding ideological bias.

Armstrong has long history of internally working against U.S. policy towards Cuba. During his time at the CIA, Armstrong authored, together with his former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, an oft-cited 1998 report that argued that Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States. Ironically, just three years later (in 2001), Montes was identified as a Cuban spy, arrested, convicted and is now serving life in a federal prison.

He has fervently opposed any endeavor that promotes freedom for the Cuban people, whether its USAID's democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, or a simple Senate resolution calling for the release of political prisoners.  If the Castro regime dislikes it, so does Fulton Armstrong.

Moreover, Armstrong is particularly insulted by  the concept of "regime change" in Cuba.  Perhaps he finds the alternative -- "regime preservation" -- to be more appropriate.

During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often forgot who was the elected Senator (obviously not him) and led a mostly unauthorized assault on all-things Cuba policy under the Senator's name.  This led to Armstrong's retirement in 2011.

However, in Armstrong's zeal to promote unconditional dialogue with the Castro dictatorship and to demonize elected Members of the U.S. Congress, the article contains an important Freudian slip:

"[T]he Cuban government adopted an attitude of wait and see. By fall, there had been little talk about easing the U.S. embargo or taking Cuba off the list of terrorist states -- two top priorities for Raúl Castro, who was by then in charge."

Easing the embargo is a priority for Raul Castro?

How could this be?

Cuba "experts" have assured us that Castro really doesn't want the embargo eased, for it gives him an "excuse" for his failures.

Of course, anyone who has witnessed first-hand how hard the Castro regime lobbies to have the embargo unilaterally lifted in Washington D.C. knows just how important it is for Raul.

This reality is reinforced by a second "slip" about former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba last year:

"Both Carter and Castro tried to minimize expectations; they made it clear this was still part of a trust-building dialogue. And to build that trust, Carter called for an end to the embargo."

In other words, to get in Castro's good graces, one has to lobby against the embargo for him.

Clearly, the unilateral ending of the U.S. embargo is Raul's end-game.

So much so, that he's even willing to take an American hostage.

And Armstrong unwittingly confirmed this.

U.S. Policy for Cuba: Libertad

Friday, December 21, 2012
By Ray Walser of The Heritage Foundation:

U.S. Policy for Cuba: Libertad

Speaking in Miami in May 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama outlined his proposed Cuba policy: “My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: Libertad [Liberty]. And the road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the rights of free speech, a free press and freedom of assembly; and it must lead to elections that are free and fair.”

In his 2009 inaugural address, President Obama said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

It is now 2012. The Obama Administration has opened the door for unrestricted travel by Cuban-Americans, a largely unrestricted remittance flow, and more liberal travel for educational and cultural groups.

Yet official U.S.–Cuban relations remain stalemated because of the Castro regime’s refusal to unclench its fist and take even the first steps toward true liberty.

Absence of political change in Cuba, many argue, is an insufficient reason to retain the U.S. embargo. Siege warfare against the embargo continues. Many Americans are on the tenterhooks of conscience, suffering from acute symptoms of guilt, democracy fatigue, and loss of self-confidence in American values. Others claim that South Florida Cuban–Americans are losing their political grip. They are quick to assume that more trade, travel, and investment in Cuba will soften the hearts of Cuba’s leaders, not just line their pockets.

It is much easier to apply pressure on the Obama Administration for economic concessions that will ensure an ordered succession from the reign of the Castro brothers to a new generation of still unknown Communist leaders. While most hope a Gorbachev or Deng Xiaoping is waiting in the wings, without democracy they might see a post-Castro hardliner emerge to take charge after Raul.

In May 2008, in his Miami speech, candidate Obama said, “I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: if you take significant steps toward democracy…we will take steps to begin normalizing relations.”

Americans are smart enough to recognize when a new Cuba begins to emerge from the long nightmare of communist rule. It will occur when Cuba moves away from one-party rule; when suppression of individual rights ends; when a free, uncensored media is able to report on the island’s reality; and when Cuban citizens select their leaders on the basis of consent—not coercion.

On January 21, 2013, President Obama has an excellent opportunity to recommit to his 2008 pledge to work for liberty for the Cuban people, not for concessions to the Castros and their regime.

Note to State: Mariela Castro is Now "Official"

Earlier this year, the State Department granted a visa to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, to deliver a host of anti-U.S. policy speeches in San Francisco and New York City.

In doing so, we argued at the time, the State Department was making an exemption for the dictator's daughter from Presidential Proclamation 5377, which denies visas to Cuban nationals affiliated with that country's totalitarian regime.

Moreover, that it threw a bucket of cold water on President Obama's Presidential Proclamation 8697 of August 2011, which sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators -- and singling-out "prolonged arbitrary detentions" as a main violation.

Mariela's father, is one of the world's worst offenders of such detentions.

Yet, some artfully argued that Mariela was not "officially" part of the Cuban government and, as such, not subject to the visa ban.

Today, Mariela's name was included in her father's list of appointees to his National Assembly.

Thus, she is now "official" and subject to the visa ban.

Bye Bye Alarcon

We wrote about Miguel Alvarez's (Ricardo Alarcon's top aide) purge earlier this year.

Now, it's Alarcon's turn to pay-the-Castro piper.

From The Miami Herald:

Cuba's Ricardo Alarcon out as head of legislature

Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, 75, one of Cuba's longest-serving officials and a specialist on U.S. relations, will leave the post of president of the National Assembly of People's Power in February after 20 years on the job.

The Cuban government made no comment on the departure, but Alarcon's name was not on the list of the 612 candidates in the upcoming elections for the legislative body published in the official newspaper Granma on Thursday.

Although Alarcon remains a member of the Cuban Communist Party's powerful Political Bureau, speculation that he was in disfavor has mounted since police arrested top aide Miguel Alvarez last summer on suspicion of corruption and spying [...]

Alvarez and his wife Mercedes Arce have been detained in Havana since March 3 for investigation, initially on charges of corruption but later for espionage, according to a close colleague who believes they were targeted in order to get at Alarcon.

Arce, an academic and part-time resident of Mexico, is suspected of obtaining sensitive Cuban information through her husband and using it in "business reports" sold to foreigners, according to one source. Former FIU professor Carlos Alvarez, convicted of spying for Cuba, identified Arce as one of his handlers in the 1980s and 1990s.

Miguel Alvarez, who is not related to the FIU professor, was a senior adviser to Alarcon on international and political affairs. Cuba's state-run media has not reported on the case.

Rubio Threatens to Hold Hagel

Thursday, December 20, 2012
From The Washington Free Beacon:

Rubio Threatens to Hold Hagel

Rubio comms director: 'I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions'

The office of Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is threatening to place a hold on former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, should he be nominated for the post of Secretary of Defense.

In a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, Rubio communications director Alex Conant said, “Promoting democracy in Latin America is a priority for Sen. Rubio, and he’s put holds on other administration nominees over the issue. If President Obama were to nominate Sen. Hagel for a cabinet position, I’m sure we would have questions about Cuba positions.”

The statement came in response to questions by the Free Beacon about Hagel’s past opposition to the trade embargo on Cuba.

In 2008, Hagel said “we have an outdated, unrealistic, irrelevant policy” in Cuba.

In 2002, Hagel said, “what Jimmy Carter’s saying… is exactly right: Our 40-year policy toward Cuba is senseless.” Hagel also called Fidel Castro “a toothless old dinosaur,” a comment sure to rankle those who have suffered under Castro’s regime.

President Barack Obama has done little to reorient U.S. policy toward Cuba, and has benefitted from his support for the embargo. In 2012, Obama received 47 percent of the Cuban-American vote, according to exit polls, a record for a Democratic candidate that gave Obama a major boost in his successful effort to secure Florida’s electoral votes.

Must-See: Forbidden Voices

Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Check out the trailer (below) for the new documentary, "Forbidden Voices: How to Start a Revolution With a Laptop," featuring Cuba's Yoani Sanchez, China's Zeng Jinyan and Iran's Farnaz Seifi.

Three extraordinary women using social media to fight the dictatorships that brutally repress them.

Castro's Problem With Women

If they throw us to the floor, we will get up.  It doesn't matter, we are not afraid.  We will continue to grow throughout the country.
-- Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, pursuant to the Castro regime's beating and arrest of another dozen of its activists yesterday, Twitter, 12/19/12

Glaring Contradictions and Revisionist History

Former New York Times foreign correspondent Joel Brinklley has penned an opinion column in Politico critical of U.S. policy towards Cuba, but full of contradictions and historical revisionism.

The first contradiction is Brinkley himself, who has written various columns about Burma, its repression and concerns that the U.S. doesn't jump the gun embracing the Burmese dictatorship simply because Aung Sun Suu Kyi is now free.

Yet, not a single concern about Castro's brutal dictatorship, the plight of Cuba's pro-democracy movement and the sharp rise in repression in Cuba.

Brinkley did, however, pick up on the second contradiction, which is worth noting:
"Looking at the embargo today (Cuba calls it “the blockade”), its principal accomplishment is that “it has given Fidel Castro and Raúl Castro the perfect scapegoat on which it can blame all their problems,” argued Ted Henken, a fervent Cuba expert at Baruch College in New York.
Ted Piccone [of The Brookings Institution] said most Cubans aren’t buying that argument. “The average Cuban is not blaming the U.S.” he said. “I’ve seen polling on this. They’re blaming the system.”
We don't usually agree with Piccone, but he's absolutely right on this point.

As an aside, what is a "fervent" Cuba expert?

Perhaps it is a realization that many of these Cuba "experts" are in essence "advocates" for their views, which is perfectly fine, but to be labeled an "expert" insinuates a certain non-bias that is fictitious.

Finally, a glaring piece of historical revisionism (or negationism):
Some Cuba experts argue that allowing American tourists to visit Cuba for the first time since 1960 might bring the beginnings of substantial change by fostering greater prosperity. They point to China, a passive agrarian society until the government opened the economy, pulling millions of Chinese out of poverty. Suddenly, these newly prosperous people began standing up to their government, demanding greater freedom and opportunities. The same could be true for Cuba, Henken said.
Did we miss something?

China remains one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world.

To the contrary, U.S. policy and business interests have helped turn China from an agrarian society into the most lucrative dictatorship in history, whereby the U.S. and Western nations are now too afraid to criticize the horrible abuses that take place due to potential financial repercussions.

Meanwhile, in the process, the Chinese regime has nearly systematically wiped-out (through imprisonments and murder) a thriving pro-democracy movement, which seemed unstoppable in the 1980s and early 1990s.

And the world remained silent.

Is that what we want for Cuba?

Please take a moment to read this column we penned last year in The New York Times on this very issue entitled, "Freedom First or Business First?."

Will Bankrupt Spain Subsidize Havana Travel?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Spain's flagship airline Iberia has announced that it will halt its flights to Cuba beginning on April 1st -- for they are no longer profitable.

Apparently, since the financial crisis, middle-aged Spaniards no longer have money to travel to exploit young Cuban prostitutes.

Now, Spanish businessmen want the government to intervene.

Will the Spanish government --  which is near default -- subsidize Iberia's Havana route in order to satisfy immoral businessmen that have chosen to partner with the Castro dictatorship?

Let's just say it wasn't good judgment that got Spain into its fiscal mess.

By EFE:

The association representing the more than 360 Spanish firms with operations in Cuba asked Iberia airline and Spain's government Tuesday for the carrier to reverse its decision to eliminate service between Havana and Madrid.

In letters to Iberia chief Antonio Vazquez and Spanish Development Minister Ana Pastor, the association expressed its "deep concern" about the upcoming suspension of Iberia flights between Spain and Cuba.

"We know the elimination of this and other routes to the Caribbean will have a negative effect on our productive activities as well as on the growing and, right now, very profitable economic relations between the Iberian Peninsula and the island (Cuba)," the letters said.

How Badly Does Castro Need Chavez, Pt. 2?

So badly, that he's willing to risk his tourism industry over the need to replace Chavez's energy subsidies, in case Chavismo fades with Chavez.

After three failed attempts at deepwater off-shore drilling -- in partnership with Spain's Repsol, Malaysia's Petronas and Venezuela's PDVSA -- the Castro regime is now going to attempt coastal drilling off its pristine beaches.

Thus, in partnership with Russia's Zarubezhneft, the Castro regime will attempt to drill right-off its popular beach resort of Cayo Santa Maria, in the Villa Clara province, which the Cuban military has spent over a decade developing.

Needless to say, if there was some sort of accident, Castro's tourism industry would be overwhelmingly affected, as would The Bahamas nearby. However, this coastal block, in the central part of the island, would have a near negligible effect on the U.S.

Tourism is the Castro regime's second largest source of revenue. The first is Chavez's generous subsidies, consisting of 115,000 barrels of oil per day.

Therefore, Castro needs Chavez's oil so badly, that he's willing to risk his second largest revenue stream to try to replace it -- and in the process, perhaps lose both.

Pictures Speak for Themselves

The pictures below are of 60-year old Cuban pro-democracy activist Maria Montes Pinon.

On December 15th, she was violently assaulted by a state security agent with a blunt object.

She has needed over 30 stitches on her skull.

See for yourself.

207 Political Arrests in 24 Hours

On December 9 and 10th, the Castro regime conducted at least 207 political arrests.

Ironically, December 10th is observed by the international community as Human Rights Day.

Of the 207 arrests, 129 were peaceful female activists.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Courtesy of Hablemos Press.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Monday, December 17, 2012
Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Roger Noriega, on his recently released "Action Plan for U.S. Policy in the Americas."

And Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the vote for Egypt's new Constitution and President Mohamed Morsi's power grab.

You can now listen to "From Washington al Mundo" seven-days a week on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 146) from 4-5 p.m. (EST) and again at midnight (EST).

Quote of the Week

Will they bring Angel [Carromero] on Iberia? Will he come in handcuffs?  Will he continue denying the first version that he and Aron (Modig) gave about the events on 7/22 or will he continue to be willing to serve an unjust sentence, despite being innocent, in his own country? Will the Spanish government be capable of keeping Angel in jail knowing, as they know, his innocence? Will that be the price to pay to keep its economic interests in Cuba? Will Angel's friends and colleagues in the new generation of the [governing] Partido Popular allow this?
-- Regis Iglesias Ramirez, former Cuban political prisoner (of the Black Spring's 75) who was banished to Spain in 2011, poses questions for the Spanish government upon the repatriation of Castro's Spanish hostage Angel Carromero, Facebook, 12/15/12

The Truth in the Deaths of Paya and Cepero

Sunday, December 16, 2012
In its continuous pursuit of the truth, the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) has just released a series of Facebook posts on the death of Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero:
No one should forget that the first version of the events that led to the deaths of Oswaldo and Harold came from [imprisoned Spanish youth activist] Angel Carromero, through SMS, to Europe.  That version, which was transmitted minutes after the incident and before Angel was under the control of the Cuban political police, has been ignored by many for the last five months.
'Help, get me out of here, we are surrounded by soldiers' was one of the messages from Angel Carromero from the hospital on July 22nd.
[On the day before], Saturday, July 21st, Aron Modig and Angel Carromero send texts saying Oswaldo Paya was being closely monitored.
Nurses were told Harold Cepero was a terrorist.  They let him die despite having arrived with a fracture.
Angel Carromero said Oswaldo Paya was alive when he was taken out of the car.
Since the beginning, the Spanish government, despite having information about the crime [Paya' and Cepero's murder], adopted a strategy of "self-blame." Now they have to accept that an innocent man, a member of the ruling PP [Partido Popular] serve a prison sentence in Spain for a crime he did not commit. Our problem no longer has a solution   We simply want to know the truth. The problem is now the PPs and its militants, who have remained quiet under an authentic "Law of Silence" imposed by its Foreign Ministry.

Paya's Family on Carromero's Repatriation

The following is a statement by Rosa Maria Paya, on behalf of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), on the repatriation to Spain of youth activist Angel Carromero.

Rosa Maria Paya is the daughter of deceased Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

Carromero was accused by the Castro regime of vehicular manslaughter in the crash that killed Oswaldo Paya.

Statement from the MCL:

Our family is happy that Angel can finally return to Madrid, to be with his mother and the rest of his family. We believe that he has been yet another victim of the Cuban government, which has kept him hostage and now returns him to Spain with the absurd condition that he remains in prison.

This is the same Cuban government that refuses to give us the report of my father's autopsy.

The same government that has not yet returned to the family of Harold Cepero (also deceased in the crash) the SIM cards of the cell-phones he was traveling with.

The same government that does not hesitate to use force against all who dare to work for changes and human rights, and which violently represses members of the opposition.

The same government that keeps me as a hostage and does not allow me to leave the country.

The same government that threatened my father with death for years, with more aggressiveness and frequency in recent months.

We do not believe in the version of those who govern. We insist and work for an independent investigation to clarify the facts. We hope the return of Angel will contribute in clarifying them and that he will explain the text messages that he himself sent saying that they had been rammed by another car at the time of the incident.

We are happy for Angel and his family. We hope that from Madrid he will help clarify the truth, which we will not rest until we find.

Rosa Maria Paya Acevedo movement Christian Liberation Havana, December 14, 2012 


How Badly Does Castro Need Chavez?

Saturday, December 15, 2012
So badly, that in a remarkable exercise in cynicism -- even for the Castro brothers -- they sent military officials to Mass to pray for Chavez's health.

See the picture below.

Of course, these are the same military officials that presided over the beating and arrest arrest last week of nearly 80 peaceful female activists -- from the Ladies in White organization -- as they sought to attend Mass.

And these are the same military officials, who on the very same day, allowed an armed mob to assault the Infanta and Santa Maria Temple, with over 20 worshipers (including children) inside.

Foreign Relations Shuffle

In The Chicago Sun-Times:

Source: Obama has chosen John Kerry as Secretary of State

President Barack Obama has chosen Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to be the next secretary of state, a source has told Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

His replacement as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Sneed source said.

Our Great Challenge

By Cuban pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles:

Our Great Challenge

The arbitrary arrest of the lawyer Yaremis Flores on November 7 was followed by two waves, one repressive, taken to the extreme by the regime against numerous activists of civil society, and the other, impressive and appreciated by us, of solidarity with the victims. Personally, what happened reaffirmed my vision of the fundamental challenge that we face as a country: the articulation of all of its parts in order to transition into a democracy in which the entire nation participates.

Visualizing and working in support of a transition towards democracy in the convoluted scenario in which we live is a process that implies, above all, political and intellectual maturity, honesty, and a high level of civic awareness. We need to understand that such dynamics would not involve just one axis, just one angle. It is impossible to imagine a transition that does not take into account Cubans in Cuba today who hold different points of view. And a transition without full participation of those Cubans outside the Island, who constitute an essential part of our nation, is also inconceivable. It is not possible to outline a transition without the workers, intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs both inside and outside the country.

To think that change in our country will happen magically, that in the blink of an eye we will generate a modern society, a state of rights, is too simple and deceitful a fantasy. We, the totalitarian regime’s opposition, have the duty and responsibility to show all segments of society the nature of the plural and inclusive country we are advocating and what we expect of democracy.

The strategy of the regime has always been the same. It has systematically tried to prevent by all possible means the growth of a civil society. Intimidation, repression, imprisonment, bleeding the country, generating mistrust within the opposition, creating internal conflict to undermine our work, “distracting” us so as to leave us little time to effectively advocate in society, is a strategy that has always borne fruit and should be dismantled now. We have to fix our ethics, our suppositions, our rhythm.

To responsibly work on a transition implies a true knowledge of the scenario confronting us in which are manifested the particularities of groups and individuals from a global perspective. To guarantee this range of interests and visions it is necessary they every Cuban enjoy his or her fundamental rights, thus the importance of the campaign “For Another Cuba” and our request for support from all Cubans and international public opinion.

Facing this peaceful citizen initiative, the government has responded by intensifying the repression and  excessive use of violence, slamming the door on yet another civic proposal. Nevertheless, this violent scenario begins to profile factions in society; on the one hand there are those who, although inside the system, believe a prosperous nation is possible, one where political and ideological differences are part of everyday life, where respect and decency are paramount; on the other there is a rarefied segment, formed by mixed interests, cynicism, and low ethical morals, which tries, with its irresponsible and arrogant acts, to lead us down a bruised path at the hands of violence and brutality.

It is time for Cubans to decide which side we are on, from which perspective we wish to advocate and act.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

CHC: Antonio Rodiles was beaten and imprisoned for 20 days last month.

Our Thoughts and Prayers

Friday, December 14, 2012
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and survivors of today's horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

From a Friend of Alan Gross

We couldn't agree more.

A Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post:

Helping Alan Gross vs. Hurting Cuba
 
Thanks for the Dec. 6 editorial “No deal with Havana,” about how the Obama administration should clamp down on the Cuban government for keeping my friend, Alan Gross, in prison for three years now. I have known Alan for more than 20 years. He is and always has been a selfless humanitarian worker trying to help underprivileged people, whether as a social worker in the United States or as an international development consultant working with Africans in Gambia (where I first met him 23 years ago) or with Palestinians on the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip.

The Obama administration should tighten the U.S. trade embargo, stop allowing any kind of tourist flights to Cuba and do everything legally possible — even work with Congress, if necessary — to tighten the financial and administrative regulations against any individual American or U.S. firm that wants to do business with Cuba until Alan Gross is released — unconditionally — and can come home to his wife, Judy, his ailing mother and his two daughters.

Tom Herlehy, Arlington

Interview With President Obama

Transcript of interview with U.S. President Barack Obama by Univision's Alina Mayo Azze:

AMA: Mr. President, regarding the past election, were you surprised that a lot more Cuban-Americans voted for you than in the previous election and to what do you attribute that?

PBO: Well, I obviously am very pleased to have won Florida although I do want to get the results sooner next time. So that's something I want.

AMA: But the Cuban American vote.  

PBO: Yes, we have seen a steady increase in support for the -- in the Cuban-American community since 2008. I think the outreach that we've done, some of the steps we've taken, for example, to allow remittances back to Cuba while still holding a firm line that we have to make sure that political prisoners are freed and that freedom of speech and religion takes place inside of Cuba. I think that that approach, that practical common-sense approach to a Cuba policy is something that the Cuban-Americans definitely care about. And I also think the Cuban-American community understands, the same way most Americans understand, that we're a nation of immigrants, that we should embrace our diversities, that we should pass comprehensive immigration reform, that we should make sure that our economic policy is focused on middle-class families, and not just those at the very top. So a lot of the issues that are important to all Americans are also important to Cuban-Americans.

AMA: One issue that Cuban-Americans are worried about is, they believe that you favor a socialist model for our country. Cubans and Venezuelans especially because of what they have gone through. What do you think of that?

PBO: I don't know that there are a lot of Cubans or Venezuelans, Americans who believe that. The truth of the matter is that my policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican. I mean, what I believe in is a tax system that is fair. I don't think government can solve every problem. I think that we should make sure that we're helping young people go to school. We should make sure that our government is building good roads and bridges and hospitals and airports so that we have a good infrastructure. I do believe that it makes sense that everyone in America, as rich as this country is, shouldn't go bankrupt because someone gets sick, so the things I believe in are essentially the same things your viewers believe in.

AMA: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is in Cuba, had surgery and has already named a successor. What message do you have for the Venezuelan people, in Venezuela and Miami, regarding the future of their country without Chavez possibly?

PBO: The most important thing is to remember that the future of Venezuela should be in the hands of the Venezuelan people. We've seen from Chavez in the past authoritarian policies, suppression of dissent. I won't speculate on what the medical condition is, but what our policy is constantly designed to do is to make sure that you have the voices of ordinary Venezuelans expressing themselves that they have freedom, that they're able to if they're working hard to succeed in that country, and we would want to see a strong relationship between our two countries, but we're not going to change policies that prioritize making sure that there's freedom in Venezuela.

Cuba to Strengthen Ties With Iran

Iran's state media made the following announcements today:

Cuba backs Iran’s nuclear program

At a meeting with Ali Asghar Khaji, the Iranian deputy foreign minister for Europe and Americas, in the Cuban capital city of Havana on Thursday, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, hailed Iran-Cuba ties as “strategic” and voiced his country’s support for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.

He expressed Havana’s preparedness to enhance bilateral ties with Tehran in high technology and exchange experience to counter the effects of the “plots and sanctions [imposed on both countries] by the common enemy.”

Cuban President to Visit Iran Next Year

Cuban President Raul Castro, who has on many occasions lauded Iran's campaign against imperialism, is scheduled to visit Tehran next year, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez announced on Thursday.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 13, 2012
They want to regulate everything: the bread we eat, the music we listen to, the websites we visit, the ideology in which are kids are educated.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger, on this week's session of the Castro regime's "parliament," Twitter, 12/13/12

So Much For Raul's Migration "Reforms"

In The Santiago Times:

Cuba denies visa for opposition leader wanting to study in Chile

The Cuban government denied the request Tuesday of opposition movement leader Rosa María Payá to leave the country to study in Chile.

Payá, who became the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement in July following the death of her father and previous leader Oswaldo Payá, was granted a visa and scholarship to study political theory and public management at Universidad Miguel de Cervantes in Santiago and was due to begin in January.

Mijail Bonito Lovio, a Cuban expat and the secretary of international relations for the Chilean chapter of the Independent and Democratic Cuba Party (CID), decried the Cuban government’s decision.

“It is the second time this year that the Cuban government denied the travel permit to Rosa María Payá,” Bonito Lovio told The Santiago Times. “The reason is very simple: Cuban dissidents on the island suffer repression and their statements abroad could cause the Cuban government to lose the image of sanctity it still has in many parts of the world.”

“(Her trip) threatened to show the world that Cuban dissidents are articulate young idealists and not the criminals that the Cuban government wants us to think,” he said.

No Easy Exit for Educated Cubans

By Osniel Carmona Breijo for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting:

No easy exit for educated Cubans

Although the Cuban authorities have announced the easing of travel restrictions by dropping the requirement to apply for an exit permit, some of the most anxious to emigrate are learning that they've been excluded from the streamlined process.

In order to prevent an exodus of qualified professionals, the government has decided that anyone with a university degree will have to wait five years before they can emigrate. Migration Law 1312, announced on Oct. 16 and due to take effect on Jan. 14, allows Cuban nationals to travel abroad freely as long as they have obtained the latest version of the passport. They no longer need to go through the onerous process of applying for permission to travel, or to produce a letter of invitation from someone living in their chosen destination. In addition, the authorities have abolished a law that stripped permanent emigrants of their rights and assets.

However, graduates will be barred from immediate travel, in order to "maintain a qualified workforce for the country's economic, social, scientific and technological development," the law says, noting that the waiting period reflects the time needed to "train a substitute." An editorial in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma said the measure was imposed in response to U.S. policies which encouraged a brain drain in Cuba.

Benigno Guerra, 58, has a degree in biology and has been teaching for 38 years.

"After so many years working in education on a measly salary, I'm planning to move to Germany with most of my family. But I'm going to have to be patient and wait for five years to see whether they give me approval to leave," he said.

Guerra says he understands the government's reluctance to allow the best and the brightest to leave the country.

"It's a step based on fear, to protect against the brain drain," he said. "They know that when (the borders) are opened up, most qualified personnel will leave in search of job markets with fairer wages." Jose Fornaris, an independent journalist and head of the Association for Freedom of the Press, said the easing of emigration rules will mean little to most people.

"Free entry to and exit from a country is a right recognized by the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Cuban government signed on Feb. 28, 2008, but still hasn't ratified," Fornaris said.

Of course, Cubans intent on leaving the country are still resorting to home-made boats and rafts to illegally sail to the United States and Central America, whether emigration rules are eased or not.

"It isn't known - and never will be known - how many people have lost their lives crossing the Florida Straits, because there are no normal options for emigrating," Fornaris said.

Osniel Carmona is an independent journalist in Cuba.

Is Castro Taking Aim at Cell Phones?

This month, the Castro regime was finally able to block -- for now -- Hablalo Sin Miedo (Speak Without Fear), a 911-type hotline that allows dissidents to call-in reports on arrests and abuses.

In a cat-and-mouse game, the regime had been chasing Hablalo Sin Miedo's numbers abroad for a long time and trying to block them on the island.

Now, Cuban state media has released the following:

"Commenting on the management report, officials from the Ministry of Informatics and Communications announced the reduction of the access to mobile phone services by the population."

This was part of a presentation to Castro's Parliament by the Minister of Informatics and Communications, Maimir Mesa, where he also stated that Internet access will remain restricted for the "collective benefit."

In other words, it will continue to be reserved for the regime.

This, despite the infamous fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, which Cuba "experts" has originally lauded as transcendental and believed would surely have a some sort of "trickle down" effect.

They were wrong.

The cable is now a state-secret, which no one talks about, and for the regime's benefit only.

Apparently, foreign news bureaus in Havana, which usually waste no time reporting snippets from Castro's official media, missed this one.

Castros Take Hostages, U.S. Serves Castros Pate

Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Can someone at the State or Treasury Department please explain how this "people-to-people" trip to Havana by a group of California gourmet chefs benefits the Cuban people?

Because it's absolutely clear how it benefits the Castro regime.

Moreover, is this appropriate behavior towards a dictatorship that is holding an American hostage and imprisoned over 100 peaceful activists on Human Rights Day alone?

According to AP:

"In the last week, members of the "Planting Seeds" delegation have held give-and-take seminars in Havana with chefs and culinary students about slow food. They also put on two massive dinners, including a five-course, five-star meal at the privately run Le Chansonnier, which drew culinary, artistic and influential leaders like President Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela. A 100-person bash was held at a state-run restaurant for luminaries such as Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, California state Sen. Loni Hancock and senior Cuban officials who are in position to affect agricultural policy."

Of course, the Castro regime's elite is delighted to have a new pate variety:

"Luis Ramon Batlle, for one, has seen plenty of guava during his long cooking career, but never thought to combine it with rabbit-liver pate atop a crispy wafer.

'The cracker is practically neutral. The pate gives you all the classic flavor of liver, a little acidic. But at the end you sense the guava as a very subtle, very delicate touch,' said Batlle, who is head chef at Divino in Havana."

Perhaps this is some new and sophisticated "pate diplomacy" we're unaware of.

Free Calixto Martinez Arias Now

From the Committee to Protect Journalists:

From Cuban prison, reporter speaks out

Cuba, historically one of the world's worst jailers of journalists, has returned to CPJ's prison census after a one-year absence. Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de Información Hablemos Press, was imprisoned in September after he started looking into why an international shipment of medicine was allowed to go bad, according to news reports.

In this recorded phone conversation with Hablemos Press (in Spanish), Martínez Arias describes the inhumane conditions in the Havana jail where he is being held. He spent the first few days of his imprisonment sleeping on the floor of a 14-by-6 meter cell that was packed with more than 30 other inmates.

Cuban authorities have talked about reform and, in fact, they have mostly abandoned the long-term imprisonment of prominent journalists. But a 2011 CPJ special report found that authorities have simply changed tactics--using short-term detentions and ongoing harassment of journalists--to achieve the same strategic goal--silencing dissent and independent reporting.

Martínez Arias had done the sort of nuts-and-bolts reporting that everyone around the world should be able to count on from journalists. In 2009, for example, he helped expose a cholera outbreak in Granma province.

Recently released prisoners told Hablemos Press that Martínez Arias is now kept in solitary confinement as punishment for a hunger strike he began in November. In the phone recording, Martínez Arias calls on Cuban authorities to declare the jail uninhabitable.

To his appeal, we'd like to add one more: Free Calixto Ramón Martínez Arías now.


Before Embracing Castro on any "Agenda"

During a presentation at the Council of the Americas in New York City, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, stated that there’s "no chance" for a broadening of U.S.-Cuba relations until Castro releases American development worker, Alan P. Gross.

Frankly, the State Department should have adopted this position since December 2009, when Gross was first taken hostage. Instead, they inexplicably chose to proceed with a new round of sanctions easing in January 2011.

Better late than never.

However, Jacobson then proceeded to say:

While we really wished that we could have moved forward with a broader agenda with the Cuban government, it is the Cuban government that has made that extremely difficult... There is a very easy way to resolve that part of the agenda and that is to release Alan Gross... just to be home with his mother, who has cancer, and his daughter, who went through breast cancer last year.”

Undoubtedly, the release of American hostage Alan Gross should be the priority of the U.S. government.

There's no argument there.

However, before rushing (at any point) to embrace the Castro dictatorship on a "broader agenda", we urge Secretary Jacobson to also consider the innocent Cubans being harassed, beaten and imprisoned on a daily basis by the regime.

For example, just this weekend, 95 members of the Ladies in White were violently beaten and arrested for peacefully demonstrating.

That's 95 mothers, daughters and sisters who were brutalized the Castro regime's thugs.

Below are their names as a reminder.

We should not be embracing the Castro regime on any "agenda" until the fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights of the Cuban people are recognized and respected.

Sandra Guerra Pérez
Aimé Cabrales Aguilar
Aniuska Fuente Arceo
Belkis Felicia Jorrín Morfa
Magela Lizama Roja Delgado
Gesica Casternao Jorrín
Victoria Díaz Morfa
Tatiana López Blanco
María Cristina Labrada Varona
Berta Soler Fernández
Laura María Labrada Pollán
Magaly Norvis Otero Suárez
Belkis Núñez Fajardo
Nancy Despaigne
Yamilé Garro Alfonso
Zahira Castro Casal
Deisis Ponce Arencibia
Barbará Remón Rivera
Lourdes Esquivel Vieto
Blanca Hernández Moya
Sonia Piña González
Yusmaris Martínez
Yosleidis González Martínez
Leonor Reinó Borges
Mirtha Gómez Colas
Yadira Rodríguez Bombino
Leydi Coca Quesada
Inés Antonia Quesada Lemus
Lilían Castañer Hernández
Julia Estrella Aramburu Taboas
Rosario Morales La Rosa
Mercedes Fresneda Castillo
Ivón Lemus Fonseca
Melkis Faure Hechavarria
Tania Maceda Guerra
Elianni Jiménez
Dora Martín Ricardo
Yaquelin Boni Hechavarria
Anisley Pavón Goberna
Alejandrina García de la Riva
Jani Mairelis Piloto Mirabal
Eralidis Frometa
Raquel Castillo Urquiza
Lazara Mitjans Cruz
Cecilia Guerra Alfonso
Niurka Luques Álvarez
Mari Blanca Ávila Esposito
María de los Ángeles Rojas Pereira
Yarisbel Aguilera Ramos
Barbará Cruz Proreira
Idania Álvarez Pérez
Mariely Jacomino Martínez
Yaquelin Morales
Yanelis Pérez Red
Hayme Moya Montes de Oca
Lisandra Farray Rodríguez
Marbelis González Reyes
Liliana Campo Bruzón
Nelda Molina Leiva
Adriana Aguilera Piña
Bárbara Bauza Drigg
Noemí Cecilia Hidalgo Gómez
Danay Mendiola Duquerme
Marlenis Abreu Almaquer
Gertrudis Ojeda Suárez
Gliselia Piña González
Eleiny Viamontes Cardoso
Romelia Piña González
Berta Guerrera Segura
Noralis Martin Hernández
Olga Lidia Torres Iglesia
Caridad Peinado Gutiérrez
Belkis Pérez Pérez
Amparo Milagro
Belkis Cantillo Ramírez
Aimeé Garcés Leiva
Yelena Garcés Nápoles
Kenia Fernández Rodríguez
Marta K. Martínez Labrada
Yurisleydi Peralta Alvares
Milagro Leiva Ramírez
Taimí Vegas Biset
Annia Alegre Pécora
Tatiana Martínez Rodríguez
Eduviges Isaac Rodríguez
Yanelis Elegica Despaigne
Vivian Peña Hernández
Yarisel Figueredo Valdez
Karina Salcedo Céspedes
Yuleidis Girón Ortiz
Yilka Ríos Rodríguez
Yailin González Lemes
Odalys Jardines
Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres
Liudmila Rodríguez Palomo
Ivonne Malleza Galano
Maira Morejón Hernández

Obama: U.S. Recognizes Syrian Opposition

Once again, better late than never.

From Politico:

The United States will recognize a Syrian opposition group as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people," President Obama said in an interview Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure on besieged leader Bashar al-Assad.

"We've made a decision that the Syrian Opposition Coalition is now inclusive enough, is reflective and representative enough of the Syrian population that we consider them the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime," Obama told ABC News's Barbara Walters in the White House.

Time to Rethink U.S.-Cuba Migration Policy

Tuesday, December 11, 2012
By Angel Castillo in The Sun-Sentinel:

Castro policy will push more Cubans to South Florida

Cuba, which had a net population loss of 83,991 this year, is about to lose more residents starting next month.  Most of them will end up living in South Florida.

Cuba now has 11,163,934 inhabitants; at the end of 2011, it had 11,247,925.

The two main reasons for the decrease are that fewer people want to give birth to babies on an impoverished island that has no prospect of improvement, and that some 38,000 Cubans on average have been moving out of the island each year.

Faced with the stark reality that his country is full of unhappy people and that his bankrupt government can't provide for even their basic needs, dictator Raul Castro has come up with a desperate plan to further reduce the population.

In a purported "liberalization" of travel rules to take effect on Jan. 14, Castro has thrown open the doors of the island gulag to just about every Cuban who can get a tourist visa from any country that will issue them, including the United States.

There's no real "liberalization." The Castro regime will retain the absolute and unreviewable authority to prohibit the departure of many people, in violation of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Technicians, professionals, members of the armed forces, doctors, scientists, and "vital" athletes and coaches will be among those not allowed to leave.

You don't have to be an immigration expert to foresee that most Cubans who can obtain visas are not going to return to the island. Or that most of them will leave with the intention of making their way to the United States, directly or indirectly.

A stealth influx of Cubans to the United States is thus about to be launched by Castro, although lacking the drama and numbers of 1980's chaotic boatlift to Miami from the port of Mariel.

For instance, a Cuban who can obtain a tourist visa next year to visit Mexico or a Central American country will almost certainly try to cross the Mexican frontier into the United States, and then seek permanent resident status under the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966.

Under that law's "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, any Cuban who is not stopped from entering the United States while at sea and who actually enters the country is allowed to stay as a permanent legal resident after a one-year stay.

President Obama has not yet announced whether the rules for Cubans to receive U.S. tourist visas, or the numbers of such visas to be issued in Havana, will change in response to Castro's new policy.

Obama also has not disclosed whether he will seek modification or outright repeal by Congress of the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act — or whether he intends to take any other action.

There are about 1.8 million Cubans living in the U.S. today, of whom 1.2 million live in Florida. Expect a considerable increase of Cubans living in the state during 2013. And a further decline in Cuba's population.

Angel Castillo Jr., a former reporter and editor for The New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami.

How Independent Journalists Are Harassed

By Laura Paz in The Institute of War & Peace Reporting:

Cuban Journalist Accused of Spreading "False News"

Yaremis Flores Marín’s arrest sparks two days of protests.

Independent Cuban journalist Yaremis Flores Marín has described how she was held for three days last month threatened with charges of spying and spreading false information.

Police accused her of being behind an article that she did not actually write.

Flores Marín is a lawyer by profession who also works as a journalist, collaborating with news websites like CubaNet, Diario de Cuba and Primavera Digital.

When she was freed on November 9 after 72 hours in detention, she described her experience.

“I was taking food to my dad, who had a suspected case of dengue fever, and when I arrived at Alamar Road, I saw a patrol car facing in the opposite direction on the road. Suddenly I heard a car braking behind me. Then officer Tomás came up to me and said, ‘You have to come with me.’”

Over the next three days, the authorities tried to portray Flores Marín as a counterrevolutionary. She was assigned a criminal record number and taken to the prison most feared by Cuban dissidents, 100 y Aldabó, located on the south side of central Havana.

She experienced first-hand the methods used against dissidents.

“They accused me of spreading false news because of [an article on] dead prisoners in Mar Verde,” she said, referring to a prison in eastern Cuba which was badly hit by rain and wind during Hurricane Sandy in late October.

“They showed me an article which was signed not by me, but by the editors [of Cubanet] who published it,” she said.

The authorities also accused Flores Marín, who set up the Cubalex project offering legal advice to people in need, of unlawfully publishing information about court cases.

According to Flores Marín, Officer Tamayo, who is in charge of her case, told her that this court information was classified so her actions therefore constituted “espionage”.

When Flores Marín was detained, other independent journalists, bloggers and activists tried to get information on what was happening to her from the State Security service’s Department 21, which deals with the press, in the Habanero de Marianao municipality.

This resulted in a wave of further detentions. Among those detained were Flores Marín’s husband Veizant Boloy, who is a lawyer as well; Laritza Diversent, journalist and co-founder of Cubalex; and Antonio Rodiles, founder of the independent television programme Estado de Sats.

Boloy and Diversent were released the next day.

Diversent refused to sign a record of her arrest, which said she was accused of counterrevolutionary activity. She says the authorities were “really annoyed” at having people turn up so quickly to ask about Flores Marín.

Rodiles was held until November 26, when a charge of resisting arrest was dropped and he was fined of 800 pesos, about 32 US dollars.

On November 8, a demonstration took place outside a police station in Havana in protest at the arrest of both Flores Marín and Rodiles. Well-known blogger Yoani Sánchez was among those detained; others in the group were beaten.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the average number of arrests since 2010 to date has tripled.

Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba.

How Important is Tourism to the Castros?

It's so important, that they have:

Prostituted two generations of young Cuban women (and men) -- in order to satisfy the sexual whims of foreigners.

Institutionalized a system of tourism apartheid, relegating Cubans to second-class citizens -- in order to "cleanse" the ambiance.

Focused their family's business empire (GAESA, Inc.) on the travel sector, with Raul's son-in-law at the helm -- in order to pocket the profits.

And now, exposed the Cuban people to a deadly disease -- in order to ensure that the profits keep coming.

(Not to mention imprisoned independent journalist Calixto Martinez Arias -- to punish him for exposing the regime's cover-up.)

From The Miami Herald:

Cholera outbreak in Cuba kept mostly quiet

Cuban dissident Walter Clavel says that when he took his 2-year-old son to a hospital Wednesday with a case of diarrhea, the boy was tested for a sometimes fatal disease that the government is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge - cholera.

Nurses told him the test was negative, and the boy was not quarantined in the three wards reserved for cholera patients at the North Pediatric Hospital in eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, Clavel said.

Cuba, especially the eastern third of the island, is suffering an alarming outbreak of cholera, brewed in its decrepit water and sewer systems and fueled by Hurricane Sandy's floods, according to residents.

More than a dozen deaths have been reliably reported. Hospitals and prisons have been quarantined at times. Schools have been shut down, and so have restaurants and street kiosks selling juices and others products made with water.

Government buildings have established hand and shoe disinfecting stands at their entrances. Some public health officials have gone door to door asking if anyone is suffering from diarrhea, vomiting or fevers, and others distributed water purification tablets.

Cuba's government has said nothing publicly about cholera since Aug. 28, when it announced that an outbreak in the eastern city of Manzanillo - the first in a century - had ended after 417 confirmed cases, three fatal.

Police stationed at hospitals are telling visitors to keep quiet about the cholera and other diseases, Clavel said - apparently to avoid upsetting the Caribbean island's $2.5 billion-a-year tourism industry.

"We have to question whether the Cuban government today prioritizes their need for tourism... more than local public health demands," wrote Sherri Porcelain, a public health expert at the University of Miami and researcher at its Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies.