Must-Read: Doing Business With The Castros

Saturday, September 15, 2012
By Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia in Desde La Habana:

Doing Business in Cuba Is Like Surfing Rough Seas

For a business relying on foreign capital to succeed in Cuba, it is essential to create a web of friendships with influential people in the government. Everyone knows how you cultivate these relationships. With good whiskey, gourmet meals and especially with thousands of convertible pesos. For ten years, Rómulo (not his real name) was the right-hand man to an entrepreneur who ran furniture businesses on the island.

Among the annual business expenses were the soirees and buffets in which the guest of honor was the former first secretary of the Communist Party in the capital. “These pesos are what open the door to a series of bids and sales of equipment to state agencies. But there is a cost. I remember that as part of one contract we had to furnish the party’s provincial headquarters for free,” he said.

Established laws are not an obstacle to juicy commissions. In spite of the creation of an office to fight corruption, headed by Gladys Bejerano and charged with halting under-the-table deals and the flow of “black money,” the biggest problems for any businessman in Cuba are the complicated and extensive laws on foreign investments and the need to have powerful friends who can guarantee you a market monopoly.

The island is certainly not a good place for serious capitalists to invest. It is more of a field for adventurers. There are the regime’s breaches of contract and absurd actions. At the drop of a hat they can shut down your business and confiscate all your equipment, or come up with a regulation that prevents you from withdrawing bank funds that exceed $10 million – a kind of "corralito" a la cubana.

Doing business in Cuba is like surfing on rough seas. Another problem is the hiring of contract workers through a government agency. Having to pay the government 100% of each worker’s salary in hard currency, which in turn pays them poverty-level wages, means that theft and shoddy workmanship are the order of the day. Foreign business owners often solve the problem by paying their employees a little extra on the side, or by giving them baskets of food and other essential consumer goods. Capitalism in Cuba is business practiced among friends.

Brazil under Dilma Rousseff has changed bidding procedures by transforming the state into an entity that does not hire, but rather adjudicates and awards contracts based on the lowest bid, eliminating corruption in the bidding process. In contrast, the golden rule in the Cuba of General Raúl Castro is to court influence with the regime’s officials by opening up the checkbook to make sure the machinery is running.

The more powerful the business partner, the better. In the 1990s, hotel investors like Melíá were promoted by Fidel Castro himself, who unveiled several tourism projects. We are not seeing the worst; it is yet to come. Cuba’s legal system is set up to turn it into the worst version of unbridled capitalism, with factories where employees work for a dollar a day, and without independent labor unions to defend the workers’ rights.

Suspicious capital consortiums like RAFIN, the majority shareholder of ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications company run by khaki-green businessmen, promise to be major players. Now the GAESA group, led by Luis Alberto López-Calleja, son-in-law of Raúl Castro, controls a broad sector of the Cuban business world. In ten years we could go from a capitalism of friends to a capitalism of family members. Everything points to this.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

AI: Why is Jorge Vazquez Chaviano in Prison?

Friday, September 14, 2012
From Amnesty International:

Cuba must say why they are holding Jorge Vázquez Chaviano or release him

The Cuban authorities must either explain why they failed to release detainee Jorge Vázquez Chaviano as scheduled on 9 September or let him go immediately and unconditionally, Amnesty International said amid an ongoing hunger strike by 26 dissidents in solidarity with their colleague.

Vázquez Chaviano, who is a member of the organization “Central Opposition Coalition” (Coalición Central Opositora), was charged with “unlawful economic activities” and sentenced to 18 months “correctional work without internment” in March 2011.

He believed the sentence to be politically motivated and a means of punishing his dissident activities.

“The justice system in Cuba is highly arbitrary and unfair for those deemed to be dissidents, but the failure to release prisoners on completion of their sentence is unusual and this is a worrying development,” said Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International's Cuba researcher.

“Unless the authorities are able to immediately explain on what grounds they have refused to release Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, Amnesty International calls on them to immediately and unconditionally release him, and to cease the harassment of his family.”

Vázquez Chaviano was arrested on 27 March this year when he tried to travel from his home in the province of Villa Clara to attend an open air mass said by Pope Benedict XVI in Havana, and was forced to serve the remaining six months of his sentence behind bars.

Since 9 September came and went, he is not believed to have been charged with a new offence or have been re-sentenced, nor has any reason been given by the authorities as to why he has not been released after completing his sentence. He is imprisoned at “Alambradas de Manacas” prison in Villa Clara Province.

Jorge’s wife and mother were detained along with several supporters on 10 September in their hometown of Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara Province, when they demonstrated for his release. His wife was held for 24 hours before being released and warned not to speak out publicly again.

Vázquez Chaviano began a hunger strike after hearing he would remain incarcerated and 26 other people across the island have since joined him, calling for his release and for greater civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

The group includes 67 year-old Martha Beatriz Pérez Roque, head of the Cuban Network of Community Communicators (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios) and a former prisoner of conscience, who is reported to be seriously ill.

“Given the government’s control of the justice system and media, and the repression of public protest, the only recourse dissidents feel they have to make their voice heard is to go on hunger strike,” said Gerardo Ducos.

Since 2010, two prisoners of conscience, Wilman Villar Mendoza and Orlando Zapata Tamayo have died in custody while on hunger strike, protesting their unfair incarceration.

What Corruption Means in Castro's Cuba

It has been farcical watching the various reports on Raul Castro supposedly "cracking down" on corruption.

What is corruption in a totalitarian state?

One of two things.

It means either either the Castros are not getting their 100% cut or they fear disloyalty among their business "managers."

Finally, The Economist has caught on:

Raúl Castro’s crackdown on corruption is another dampener. Malpractice and fraud have been discovered in every industry examined by investigators. Dozens of Cubans and several foreigners have been jailed. The latest probe, in which the president’s son, Alejandro Castro, played a role, concerned a project to expand a nickel-processing plant, a joint-venture with Canada’s Sherritt International. After a brief trial, 12 officials, including three deputy ministers, were jailed last month. In their defence, the officials said that all their talks with foreign partners were held openly. As evidence, Sherritt provided contracts, some signed by Fidel Castro.

One of the defendants, Antonio Orizón de Los Reyes, who served as a deputy minister of industry for 19 years, gave an impassioned speech to the court arguing that he was a scapegoat, and that it was inconceivable that his superiors did not know the details of all deals.

The Cause For The Hunger Strike

As we've noted in previous posts, over 25 Cuban pro-democracy activists have begun a hunger strike to protest the sharp rise in repression by the Castro regime.

Two of them, Martha Beatriz Roque and Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", are very gravely ill and their lives are currently at risk.

Their cause?

As Roque has stated:

"We're telling the world - wake up, wake up to what's happening with the opposition in Cuba. Don't look at all this like it's the routine of every day. Because the routine of every day is finishing off the opposition."

Among their specific demands is the immediate release of Jorge Vazquez Chaviano.

Who is Jorge Vazquez Chaviano?

On March 27th of this year, Vazquez Chaviano left his home in Sagua La Grande and headed towards Havana to attend the Mass of Pope Benedict XVI.

Pro-democracy activists, like Vazquez Chaviano, had been told by Castro's secret police they would not be allowed to attend the Pope's Mass.

In an act of extraordinary courage, he attempted to do so anyway. He was intercepted by the Castro regime (see actual picture of his arrest below), beaten and taken away.

He was handed a 6-month prison sentence under the false charge of "illicit economic activity." Just a few weeks ago, he was severely beaten and transferred to the prison of Alambradas de Manacas, one of the Castro regime's most nefarious facilities.

Vazquez Chaviano's 6-month sentence ended on Sunday, September 9th.

Yet the Castro regime refuses to release him.

State to Castro: Get Serious

Thursday, September 13, 2012
From AP:

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Thursday the U.S. does not see any willingness on Cuba's part to seriously discuss the release of imprisoned American contactor Alan Gross, and urged Havana to send him home as a humanitarian gesture.

State Department spokeswoman Neda Brown was responding to a senior Cuban diplomat's comment Wednesday that her country was prepared to negotiate a solution in the case and was awaiting a U.S. response [...]

"The Cuban government's assertion that it is waiting for a response from the United States on a standing offer to negotiate the release of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross is not true," Brown told the AP.

"We have always been ready to hear from Cuba about a humanitarian gesture on their part to immediately release Mr. Gross. We have not seen a willingness by the Cuban Government to discuss seriously a resolution to this issue," Brown said.

Cuban Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal gave no further details. It was the first time a Cuban official has hinted that a specific proposal has been made and indicated that the ball was in Washington's court.

U.S. officials say privately, however, that Havana has made it increasingly clear they want a quid pro quo, something Washington has repeatedly rejected.

Jared Genser, a Washington-based attorney for the Gross family, said in a statement that there was no sign that a deal was in the works.

Citing his contacts with the White House, State Department and members of Congress, Genser said: "It has been consistently reported to me that Cuban government officials have been unwilling to put a concrete proposal on the table."

"If Ms. Vidal is serious, I would urge her to convey through diplomatic channels a clear proposal to initiate meaningful discussions with the United States to secure Alan's release," Genser said.

He has said American officials had long made clear to the Cubans that trading Gross for the Cuban agents is a nonstarter.

The Oswaldo Paya Tattoo

Famed Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka "El Sexto", has just tattooed an image of deceased Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

He also has tattooed an image of the deceased founder of the Ladies in White, Laura Pollan.

Cuban photojournalist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has created an artistic video of El Sexto's tattooing.

Watch it here:

Martha Beatriz Roque's Life in Danger

From AP:

A veteran Cuban dissident appeared ashen and weak three days into her hunger strike, but says she has no plans to end the protest.

Martha Beatriz Roque tells The Associated Press she will not accept any medical attention.

The 67-year-old opposition activist has also stopped taking medication for her diabetes, adding to concerns for her health. At least a dozen other dissidents have joined her on the strike that began Monday.

Roque is demanding the government release a little-known dissident who she says was supposed to leave jail Sunday, and make several other concessions. Roque said Wednesday she is prepared to die.

Antunez in Critical Condition

Below is a statement given by Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, wife of Cuban pro-democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", regarding the health of her husband, who is currently on a hunger strike:

"My name is Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, wife of the former political prisoner Jorge Luís García Pérez Antúnez, I am denouncing the Castroite dictatorship for the damage being done to the strikers who are doing this just for (political prisoner) Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, demanding his freedom. At this moment my husband is in a critical situation. My husband has spent the morning with fever of 39 and a half Celsious (103 degrees Fahrenheit), a lot of pain in the joints, he does not talk, does not open his eyes. I am asking the international public opinion to raise its voice on behalf of those human right activists on hunger strike.”

Health of Hunger Strikers in Critical State

The health of some of the 26 pro-democracy activists currently on a hunger strike protesting the sharp rise repression by the Castro regime and demanding the release of political prisoner Jorge Vazquez Chaviano has quickly taken a turn for the worse.

Marta Beatriz Roque, the 67-year old leader of the protest, is a diabetic and in "critical" state.

Meanwhile, the wife Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez" reports that he is semi-unconscious and that his pulse and breathing can barely be felt.

Below is the full list of the hunger strikers:

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello - La Habana
Jorge Luis García Pérez (Antúnez) - Placetas
Jorge Vázquez Chaviano - Prisión La Alambrada, Santa Clara
Arturo Conde Zamora - Placetas
Alberto Reyes Morales - Santa Clara
Diosmel Martínez Corcho - Santa Clara
Luis Enrique Santos Caballero - Santa Clara
Yerandis Martínez Rodríguez - Prisión La Pendiente, Santa Clara
Orlando Almenares Reyes - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Luis Enrique Pous - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Robertley Villalobos Torres - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Israel Roberto Isaac - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Yuniel Álvarez Garcíá - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Omar Pedroso Suárez - Prisión Canaleta, Ciego de Ávila
Arsenio López Rojas - Prisión El Pre, Santa Clara
Yadira Rodríguez Bombino - La Habana
Ibis María Rodríguez González - La Habana
Fermín Zamora Vázquez - La Habana
Yazmani Nigles Abat - La Habana
Rosa María Naranjo Nieves - La Habana
Leornardo Cancio Santana-Ponce - Manzanillo
Pedro Fernández Vega - Manzanillo
Ramón Esteban Enamorado Santos - Manzanillo
Ángel Caballero Oduardo - Manzanillo
Jorge Luis Recio Arias - Holguín
Misael Valdés Díaz - Santiago de Cuba

Quote of the Week

"We ask that the world wake up to what is happening in Cuba."

-- Martha Beatriz Roque, 67-year old Cuban pro-democracy leader on a hunger strike to protests the sharp rise in repression by the Castro regime, 11/8/12

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an exclusive interview with Judy Gross, the wife of American development worker Alan Gross, who is currently being held hostage in Cuba.

(The Judy Gross interview can be listened to below).

And Scott Mastic, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Republican Institute (IRI) discusses the latest polling data on the Syrian opposition and the tragic events unfolding in Libya and Egypt.

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).

25 Dissidents Now on Hunger Strike

Wednesday, September 12, 2012
A great summary by Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

25 Cuban Dissidents Launch a Hunger Strike

This Monday several Cuban dissidents started a hunger strike which has already been joined by 25 people throughout the country. At a press conference, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello explained that that the strikers are demanding the immediate release of Jorge Vázquez Chaviano, age 42. In 2011 this activist was sentenced for the supposed crime of "illicit economic activity," although many believe this charge masks retaliation for his dissident activities. This legal maneuver is common in Cuba and is intended to make it difficult for the international organizations to count the "political prisoners" and "prisoners of conscience" on the Island.

Vázquez Chaviano is currently being held in the Alambrada maximum security prison in the central province of Villa Clara. His sentence ended this past Sunday, September 9, but the prison authorities, instead of releasing him, moved him to a punishment cell. The spokesperson for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), Elizardo Sanchez, also called for "an urgent response" from the government, for "the violation is such that it would justify a writ of habeas corpus."

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello was the only woman imprisoned during the so-called Black Spring of 2003. At the press conference held Monday she also denounced the repression that State Security carried out against the internal opposition, independent journalists and human rights activists. As examples, the well known economist listed the police cordons established around people's homes, the surveillance, the retention of identity documents -- which Cubans are required to carry at all times -- the arbitrary arrests, and the forced entry into their homes to arrest them and confiscate their property.

Several activists consulted by this writer said they were worried about the outcome of this situation. Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, declared, "We are women who love our families and our lives, we are not in favor of hunger strikes, but we morally and spiritually support those who undertake them."

For his part, José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) said, "Some feel they are forced to this as a last resort, mainly because the indifference of most Cubans has allowed this aggravation of the problems."

Former political prisoner and opposition leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez) is another who has joined the strike. As of Wednesday afternoon a total of 21 men and four women were among those refusing to ingest food. Nine of them are in prison. At Roque Cabello's house there are at least six members of the "Network of Community Communicators," which she heads, all refusing to eat until their demands are met.

Roque Cabello's health is deteriorating rapidly, in part because of her refusal to administer the medications necessary to control her diabetes. According to what I was able to verify, by the end of the second day of fasting she suffered from dry lips, trembling and numbness in her hands. At the end of the afternoon she had suffered a fainting spell.

The hunger strike has become a recurring method to put pressure on the Cuban government. One of the more publicized in recent years was carried out in 2010 by the journalist and psychologist Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize. After several days without food or water, Fariñas physically collapsed and was admitted to intensive care where he was fed intravenously. His persistence was the determining factor in the subsequent process of releases of the remaining prisoners of the Black Spring still in prison.

FWAM: Exclusive Interview With Judy Gross

Judy Gross Speaks With NLB's "From Washington al Mundo" in First Interview Upon Her Return From Cuba

The Wife of American Hostage Alan Gross Fear He Will Not Survive His Imprisonment and Urges Action on His Behalf

WASHINGTON D.C. – In her first interview since returning from Cuba this week, Judy Gross, the wife of Alan Gross, an American development worker being held hostage in Cuba by the Castro government, expressed fear that her husband will not survive his imprisonment.

"I found him physically disturbing. His bones are sticking out. He looks like a concentration camp victim," Judy Gross told Mauricio Claver-Carone, host of "From Washington al Mundo".

Judy Gross also desperately pleaded for more action from U.S. President Barack Obama to help secure Alan's release and expressed concern that foreign new bureaus in Havana are not reporting on his situation sufficiently due to fear of being expelled from the island.

"I think if Reuters and some of the other wire services tried to get in to see Alan, there's a chance the Cuban government might have them leave the country," she said.

Click here to listen to the interview in its entirety.

It will broadcast today on "From Washington al Mundo" at 4:00 p.m. ET on National Latino Broadcasting's (NLB) Cristina Radio, Sirius-XM Channel 146.

Alan Gross was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cuba setting up Internet access for Cuba's Jewish community. He was arrested on December 3, 2009 and held for 14 months without charges, then handed a 15-year prison sentence for “actions against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.”

Gross' legal team has just filed a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seeking a finding that Gross' detention is "in violation of Cuba’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."

On Monday, Mauricio Claver-Carone, host of "From Washington al Mundo" wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal ("Cuba's American Hostage", 9/10/12) expressing concern over the U.S. government's weak reaction to the imprisonment of Alan Gross.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have called for Alan Gross's "immediate release".

Cuban LGTB Leader Arrested

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Leannes Imbert, founder of the Cuban LGTB Rights Observatory, was arrested this morning at her home.

Agents of Castro's secret police arrived at her home at 9 a.m. this morning and took her away in a white Lada vehicle.

Imbert had been working on an exhibit on the UMAPs (Spanish acronym for Military Units to Aid Production), the forced labor camps created by the regime in the 1960s to confine gays, clergy and others the Castros considered "anti-social".

So much for Mariela Castro's bogus "gay rights" advocacy.

UPDATE: According to Cuba Archive, Leannes Imbert was released after spending nearly 12 hours in detention. She says regime officials took her to a house in a remote location outside Havana. She was pressured to call off the exhibit on the UMAP concentration camps originally scheduled for today, September 12th.

Leading Independent Journalist Missing

Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez, head of the independent news agency Hablemos Press, has been missing since noon on Tuesday.

Hablemos Press is widely known for its monthly compilation of political arrests in Cuba.

He was last heading to the Czech Embassy in Havana to use the Internet, accompanied by photojournalist Gerardo Youmel Ávila Perdomo.

Neither have been heard from since.

The day before, agents of the Castro regime's secret police visited his home.

They threatened him and gave him a citation to appear at police headquarters for Tweets he sent during this weekend's massive blackouts.

Alan Gross Petition to UNWGAD

The U.S. legal team of Alan Gross, an American development worker being held hostage in Cuba, has filed a petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) on his behalf.

The petition urges the Working Group to find Alan’s detention to be arbitrary and in violation of Cuba’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, including the right to receive and disseminate information freely through any media of choice.

“Alan’s detention is in flagrant violation of international law,” said Jared Genser, his counsel.

“It was clear from the court judgment he did nothing wrong and is merely being punished because of the Cuban government’s dislike of the U.S. government. But this cannot justify Cuba’s failures to abide by its obligations under international law,” he added.

See the official document below.

Gross Petition to UNWGAD - 8-7-2012 -

Thirteen Prominent Activists on Hunger Strike

Monday, September 10, 2012
Cuban pro-democracy leader Marta Beatriz Roque has begun a hunger strike, along with 12 other activists, seeking an end to the sharp rise in repression by the Castro regime.

The 67-year-old Roque announced that she will continue with the hunger strike "to the very end".

Over the weekend, more than 70 activists were arrested for trying to participate in a religious procession commemorating Cuba's patron saint, Our Lady of Charity.

Among the more specific demands, the activists also seek the release of political prisoner Jorge Vasquez Chaviano, whose sentence supposedly ended this week.

The activists on hunger strike include Jorge Vasquez Chaviano himself, and other political prisoners, including Yerandi Martínez Rodríguez, Orlando Almenares Reyes, Luis Enrique Ponce Sánchez, Roberley Villalobos, Israel Robert Isaac and Yuniel Álvarez.

The rest, currently not in prison, are Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”, Arturo Conde Zamora, Luis Enrique Santos Caballero, Yosmel Martínez and Alberto Reyes Morales.

Justice is Timeless

From AP:

Former communist minister taken into custody in Hungary, suspected of war crimes

A former Hungarian communist interior minister was taken into custody on Monday, suspected of war crimes for his responsibility in the fatal shooting of dozens of civilians after Hungary’s 1956 uprising, prosecutors said.

Bela Biszku, who will turn 91 on Thursday, denied the charges but refused to make any further statements to prosecutors, who have requested that he be placed under house arrest.

If the case goes forward, Biszku would be the highest-ranking former communist official, and one of the very few Hungarians, to be prosecuted in connection with the post-1956 reprisals.

WSJ: Cuba's American Hostage

Sunday, September 9, 2012
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in today's Wall Street Journal:

Cuba's American Hostage

The White House calls for the release of Alan Gross but puts scant pressure on Havana

Since December 2009, American development worker Alan Gross has been imprisoned by the Castro regime for trying to help Cuba's Jewish community connect to the Internet. For that Mr. Gross—who was in Cuba as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development—was arrested, convicted in a sham trial and sentenced to 15 years.

The White House and State Department have repeatedly called for Alan Gross's "immediate release." The Gross family's legal team urged the family to keep a low profile, thinking it could negotiate his release. (The family ended that representation earlier this year.)

But Fidel and Raúl Castro don't typically react to discretion and haven't felt much U.S. pressure on this case. Even after Mr. Gross was seized, the administration sought rapprochement with Havana and continued talks in 2010 and 2011. It also has continued to ease U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

Mr. Gross's sister, Bonnie Rubinstein, recently led a protest in front of the Cuban Interests Section—a de facto embassy—in Washington, D.C., seeking her brother's release. She feels "he's being ignored" and says, "Alan does not want to be forgotten. He doesn't want to be left there. He wants people to know about him."

It's easy to understand her concern. In April 2009, the Obama administration eliminated all restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances to Cuba, which became the centerpiece of our nation's new "Cuba policy." Those actions predated Mr. Gross's arrest. However, after Mr. Gross was seized in December of that year and throughout 2010, while he was being held without trial, the administration took various steps that, collectively, seem incomprehensible.

The administration initially used diplomatic mechanisms to try to negotiate Mr. Gross's release. These included a high-profile visit to Havana in January 2011 by then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.

Ostensibly this was for the Cuba Migration Talks, which are part of a process to ensure safe and legal migration from Cuba. But Ms. Jacobson was the highest-level official ever to represent the U.S. at the talks, and it was hoped she could intercede on behalf of Mr. Gross. Nothing happened.

Common sense suggests that at this point the Obama administration should have toughened its stance by making clear that there would be repercussions if Mr. Gross was not released. Instead, the administration began another round of easing sanctions the next week.

This time the concessions to Havana had nothing to do with advancing the humanitarian goal of allowing Cuban-Americans to visit and assist their families. Instead Washington agreed to establish a frivolous travel category under the banner of encouraging "people-to-people" visits.

Under the "people-to-people" program, the Cuban government approves package tours of Havana conducted by U.S. "nonprofit" companies. American tourists are accompanied by regime "guides." Tourists visit government ministries, confiscated cigar factories, censored art festivals, official cultural events and other places burnished by the Castros' propaganda machine. Evening mojitos and salsa dancing are included.

Such trips have become a great new source of "trouble-free" travelers and income for the Cuban regime. They're also lucrative for U.S. entities, including many state and local chambers of commerce, which license the dealings and now offer "Cuba tours" to members at a premium price.

The Obama administration followed up that all's-well message to the Communist dictator still holding an American hostage by granting a visa to Cuban dictator Raúl Castro's daughter, Mariela, to make a promotional tour across the U.S.

It's no wonder the Gross family has become more vocal and is now holding weekly protests at the Cuban Interests Section. Two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Jerry Moran (R., Kan.)—who have historically encouraged U.S. business ties with the Castro regime—stated in June that they have suspended their efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba trade. Sen Moran said he hoped this would "put pressure" on Havana to release Mr. Gross.

In July, the Obama administration did indefinitely postpone its yearly Cuba-U.S. Migration talks. But the Commerce Department is allowing shipments directly to Cuba out of the Port of Miami of food, medicine and other humanitarian items—and also of 32-inch flat-screen TVs.

Will the Obama administration—or a Romney administration—ever make it clear to the Castro brothers that their regime cannot take Americans hostage with impunity? The prospect of the U.S. rolling back non-humanitarian travel and transactions to the island would get Havana's attention. One thing is abundantly clear: Alan Gross needs stronger, tougher support than rhetorical demands that he be "immediately released."

Mr. Claver-Carone, an attorney, is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and host of "From Washington al Mundo" on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio.

Castro Regime Needs More Snitching

Last Friday, Raul Castro's "Vice-President" and 82-year old successor, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, addressed the leadership of the repressive neighborhood watch Revolutionary Defense Committees (Comites de Defensa de la Revolucion, CDR).

During the gathering, Machado Ventura stressed the importance of the CDRs and urged more vigilance and snitching against peaceful activists.

"It is inconceivable for a CDR not to be vigilant, that task is indisputable," he stated.

The fact that the Castro regime is concerned that CDRs aren't being sufficiently vigilant and need more snitching against pro-democracy activists is a sign that the regime's low-level bureaucrats are no longer willing to do so.