New American Foundation Receives "Regime Change" Funds

Saturday, October 6, 2012
How could this be?

According to Along the Malecon, the New American Foundation (NAF) will receive a 3-year, $4.3 million grant from USAID's Cuba democracy programs.

NAF applied for these funds through its Open Technology Institute, which has done great work in promoting Internet connectivity and innovative telecommunication networks for civil society throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

Similar to what American development worker Alan Gross, who has been held hostage by the Castro regime since December 2009, was doing in Cuba.

Yet, hypocritically, NAF also houses the U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative, led by Anya Landau-French, which has called USAID's Cuba democracy program a "regime change mandate".

NAF also hosts The Havana Note blog, whose contributors include the USAID Cuba program's most arduous critics and Castro regime apologists.

Can't wait to hear how they feel about their newly-financed parent organization.

A fascinating hypocrisy.

Quote of the Week

"The circus has ended for the night.  The authorities, by locking down the city, have proven everything they hide.  Everything they fear." 
-- Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, who was forcibly prohibited by the Castro regime from attending or even approaching the trial of Angel Carromero, the Spanish politician accused of vehicular manslaughter in her father's death, Twitter, 10/5/12

Yoani Describes Her Detention

In Spain's El Pais, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez describes her arrest in Bayamo for trying to attend the trial of Angel Carromero, the Spanish politician accused of vehicular manslaughter by the Castro regime in the death of pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

The Castro regime had previously announced that the "trial" was open to the public.  Obviously, this was another one its lies.

Her car was stopped in a police operation upon entering the city of Bayamo.  They authorities obviously expecting her, as she was called out by her first and last name.

Yoani was forced into a car and taken to a clandestine apartment, where officials attempted to strip her naked, while being videotaped.  She resisted and in the struggle, fell, hit her head on the floor and lost a tooth.

Her husband was told they would be charged with "disrespect for the heroes and martyrs of the Revolutions and its institutions."

(Is this one of those "laws" that advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime say should be respected?)

The next day, she was taken by Castro's secret police back to Havana.

From The State Department

Friday, October 5, 2012
From today's State Department briefing by Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner:

"[W]e’re very deeply disturbed by the Cuban Government’s repeated use of arbitrary detention to silence critics, disrupt peaceful assembly, and certainly to impede independent journalism. The media reports that we’ve seen, that Cuban human rights advocates, including the Sakharov Prize laureate Guillermo Farinas, being detained in Villa Clara, Cuba are accurate. 

But the U.S. interests section in Havana also confirms that the Cuban Government has released all detainees in Villa Clara. But as you note, Yoani Sanchez and her husband and another colleague continue to be detained after having been detained in a separate incident in Bayamo, Cuba. And we understand that Ms. Sanchez and these other detainees were en route to the trial of Angel Carromero, who’s a Spaniard who the Cuban Government is prosecuting for his alleged role in the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in the July 22nd car crash. 

But just speaking broadly, it’s very clear that human rights conditions in Cuba remain poor. The Cuban Government continues to limit fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech, including members – for members of the press."

Senator Menendez on Yoani's Arrest

Senator Menendez on Yoani Sanchez’s Arrest

WASHINGTON – US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released the following statement today in response to reports that Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has been detained by the police in Bayamo, Cuba where she planned to cover the trial of Angel Carromero, the Spanish politician who was driving the car in the fatal crash that killed Cuban dissident and pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Paya earlier this year. Paya's family believes that the car was intentionally forced off the road and that Carromero is being falsely charged to prevent him from talking about the crash.

Yoani Sanchez’s arrest is disconcerting and highlights both the unrelenting censorship and oppression of journalists in Cuba, as well as the extreme efforts being taken by the regime to obscure the facts about the crash that killed dissident Oswlado Paya. By arresting her, the Cuban government sought to censor Yoani's valued voice and prevent coverage of the case by independent reporters. In response, I urge the media and international community to cover the case, join in condemning Yoani’s arrest, call for the end of censorship and oppression in Cuban, and demand a full and unbiased investigation into the death of Oswaldo Paya."

From Today's Sham Trial on Paya's Death

During today's sham "trial" of Angel Carromero, a Spanish politician who the Castro regime has accused of vehicular manslaughter in the crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, he stated:

"My deepest apologies for the unfortunate accident... I am deeply sorry... I have lost many things during this time in prison, but nothing in comparison to the pain and suffering of [Paya's] family."

So why does the Castro regime have Paya's family surrounded by over 30 secret police agents far from the facility, where they can't see or speak with Carromero?

Why won't they let Paya's family in the "trial"?

Why won't they let the foreign media present at the "trial" approach and speak with Paya's family?

Why the need to arrest famed blogger Yoani Sanchez, who was covering the trial for Spain's largest newspaper El Pais?

Yoani Sanchez Has Been Arrested

Prominent Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has been arrested by the Castro regime, along with her husband Reinaldo Escobar and other pro-democracy activists.

Yoani was arrested last night in the city of Bayamo, where she traveled to attend the sham "trial" of Spanish politician Angel Caromero, who the Castro regime has accused of vehicular manslaughter in the crash that killed Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya.

She was going to cover the "trial" for the Spanish newspaper, El Pais.

Once again, the Spanish government, subject to the Castro regime's blackmail, has yet to comment on the arrests.

Yoani is being held in a cell at the Department of Police Instruction (Departamento de Instruccion Policial) of Bayamo.

Paya's family has also attempted to attend the trial, but has been intercepted by over 30 secret police officials and have not been allowed near the facility.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Over 20 Dissidents Arrested Today

Thursday, October 4, 2012
The Castro regime has arrested 22 Cuban pro-democracy activists who sought to attend a peaceful gathering in the town of Santa Clara to discuss the petition, "Citizen's Demand for Another Cuba."

This petition simply asks for the Cuban government to ratify and respect international political and civil rights covenants.

For this, they were brutally arrested.

Among those arrested are 2010 Sakharov Prize winner Guillermo Farinas and former political prisoner Librado Linares.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

What'll Be The New Excuse for Castro Apologists?, Pt. 2

For over five decades, apologists for the Castro brothers have sought to minimize the brutal and repressive nature of their totalitarian regime by heralding the "wonders" of its free health care and education.

In August, we posted how the Castro regime is now looking to make further cuts in its health care services (which is far from "wonderful" in the first place) and is beginning to quantify them in market terms.

Now, Reuters reports:

"Enrollment in the communist-run country's many and varied types of schools fell from 3 million students in 2008 to 2.2 million last year, a drop of 27 percent, according to the National Statistics Office.

The reductions include cuts in some of the most vaunted programs of the Cuban revolution, which from its beginning in 1959 emphasized the importance of education for all and incorporated ideas from Jose Marti, the intellectual father of the country."

The good news is that this might also means less indoctrination (read this LA Times editorial to understand how Castro's indoctrination of children works) -- but that takes place at the younger ages.

So what'll be the new excuse for Castro's apologists?

Spain Succumbs to Castro's Blackmail

The Spanish government has decided not to invite any Cuban dissidents to its National Day celebration at the Embassy in Havana on October 12th.

Two years ago, the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy criticized his socialist predecessor Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for adopting this immoral policy.

However, the Castro brothers have now taken a Spanish hostage:

Angel Carromero, the young politician accompanying Cuban dissident leader Oswaldo Paya during the tragic car crash that took his life.

The regime is now charging Carromero with vehicular homicide -- a charge that even Paya's family contends.

As such, the Spanish government has decided to succumb to every whim of the Castro regime in the hopes of dictatorial leniency for Carromero, who remains unjustly imprisoned.

Last week, a Spanish business delegation visited with the Castro regime to "strengthen ties" -- even though Spain's economy is on the brink of collapse (not to mention Castro's) -- and now they've turned their backs on the island's dissident movement.

Ironic, as supposedly, Carromero was originally in Cuba to support Paya and other dissidents.

Yet, that's why the Castros take hostages.

And tragically, Spain's weak reaction is exactly why they'll continue doing so.

The Castro Regime's Stupidest Quotes

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Diario de Cuba has great online poll, which asks:

What is the stupidest thing ever said by a Castro regime official?

The three finalists are:

1. "If everyone was allowed to travel, it would jam up the skies."

(National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon on why Cubans aren't allowed to enter and exit their own country at will).

2. "The Cuban Revolution has never been the butt of any joke among the Cuban people."

(Minister of Culture Abel Prieto, who is obviously unaware that the Cuban Revolution is the butt of most jokes in Cuba).

3.  "The exile community does not have enough money to invest in Cuba."

(Castro's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during a meeting in New York with a handful of ingenious Cuban-American sympathizers).

From The State Department

From today's Daily Press Briefing with State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland:

QUESTION: Alan Gross’s condition?

MS. NULAND: Yeah. I’m sorry. The question was: Do we have an update?

QUESTION: Yeah. And what do you make of the disconnect between what his physician has said and also what the Cubans are saying?

MS. NULAND: Well, my understanding of the situation is that the Cubans turned over some of the test results that they had done on Alan Gross, and it was as a result of those that the public statements were made. As you know, Alan Gross’s wife, Judy Gross, has long asked the Cuban Government to allow an American physician, his personal physician, to go and to see him, and we strongly support that request. More broadly, obviously, we think he ought to be released immediately.

Celia Cruz Portrait Unveiled at Smithsonian

From The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History:

It's a pop of vivid color and glimmering textures, tinted with memories of home, heritage, and, most of all, music. This biographical portrait by artist Robert Weingarten depicts Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, and was unveiled this morning. It will be on display until May 2013.

We hope you like it because you, readers of the blog, voted for it. We asked you to pick which of five iconic American figures should be memorialized in a new Weingarten portrait and Cruz's multifaceted story of immigration, music, and entertainment resonated with the most voters. "This was the first time I've agreed not to pick who I was working with," said Weingarten, who listened to Cruz's music as he worked.

Unlike most portraits, Weingarten's don't include an image of the subject. Instead, photographs of objects, documents, and other symbols that represent the person are layered into a composite image, conveying the individual's biography in a unique way.

"Celia left Cuba seeking freedom, which is the story of millions of Cubans," wrote one commenter. "However, Celia converted this pain into art—into cheerful songs which reminded all Cubans—even those inside of the island—about the beautiful things of the island." 

Here's the portrait:

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with renowned television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, who will discuss her career, interviews with foreign leaders and her new show.

Then S. Amer Latif of the Center for Strategic and International Studies will discuss the current state of U.S.-India relations.  Latif previously served as director for South Asian affairs in the Office of the U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (OSDP).

And former Venezuelan Congressman and opposition leader Leopoldo Martinez will discuss this weekend's elections in Venezuela.

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).

Freedom Collection Interview: Jose Luis Garcia Paneque

Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The Bush Institute has conducted a series of interviews for its Freedom Collection with Cuban pro-democracy leaders.

The first is with independent journalist and former political prisoner Jose Luis Garcia Paneque.

It is divided into ten parts.  See them all here.

Here's a preview of Garcia Paneque's views on foreign investment in Cuba:

Political Arrests Already Surpass 2011 Levels

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, there were over 533 documented political arrests in the month of September.

This brings the total number of political arrests in 2012 to 5,105, which already surpasses all of the political arrests in 2011 (4,123) and more than doubles all of the political arrests in 2010 (2,074).

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Members Outraged By "Educational" Meeting With U.S. Fugitives in Cuba

Diaz-Balart, King, and Garrett: Disgusted that U.S. Students Met with Fugitive from U.S. Justice During ‘Educational’ Trip to Cuba

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Peter King (R-NY), and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) sent a letter to President Obama expressing disgust that, due to abuses of weakened travel regulations under the Obama administration, U.S. students recently met with a fugitive from U.S. justice while purportedly on an "educational" trip to Cuba, which currently harbors more than seventy fugitives from U.S. justice.

You may view a copy of the letter here.

Diaz-Balart said: “It is an outrage that, while on a so-called ‘educational’ trip to Cuba, permitted by President Obama’s weakened sanctions, at least one U.S. university arranged for its students to meet with a potentially violent fugitive from U.S. justice. The Cuban regime, one of only four U.S.-designated State Sponsors of Terrorism, welcomes enemies of the United States with open arms. It is appalling that an American university, aided by the administration’s weakened regulations, would expose its students to enemy propaganda from the mouths of criminals. My heart goes out to the families of those who fell victim to U.S. fugitives still receiving safe harbor in Cuba. Their losses are not forgotten, and the murderers, who have enjoyed solace from an enemy state for far too long, must be brought to justice. In the mean time, it is incumbent on the President of the United States to ensure that his expanded travel no longer compounds the injustice by licensing travel to those who seek to meet with fugitives.”

King said: “The issue of Cuba providing safe harbor to an assortment of fugitives including - cop killers, FALN terrorists and other assorted thugs is an ongoing disgrace. The fact that impressionable, young American adults are provided an opportunity to meet with these individuals is an insult to the victims, their families and our justice system.  We need to know what is being done to extradite these fugitives, or are they now simply future ‘educational activities’ for American children to interact with while in Cuba?

Garrett said: "I am concerned that the Obama Administration’s definition of an ‘educational experience’ includes having American college students meet with fugitives in a country that sponsors terrorism and gives refuge to violent offenders. This incident puts a spotlight on the Obama Administration’s ineptness when it comes to enforcing sanctions and protecting American safety abroad. The victims of the crimes perpetrated by those being safely harbored by the anti-American Cuban regime deserve to know if this meeting was an isolated incident or part of a much larger systematic abuse of licensed travel."

Bruno's Shakedown of Cuban-Americans

During his visit to the United Nations in New York this week, Castro's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met with a handful of ingenious Cuban-Americans who seek an unconditional rapprochement with the brutal Cuban dictatorship.

In the meeting, he was asked about the possibility of business opportunities with Castro by Cuban-Americans or other Cubans abroad.

Bruno's response is a keeper:

"I don't know how many Cuban you know who can invest $200 million, $300 million or $500 million, which is the investment that Cuba now demands.  In other words, economic development in today's Cuba doesn't require and investment of $100 thousand, $200 thousand or $300 thousand.  Actually, there's a a natural process of market mechanisms that has reduced the presence of foreign partners in Cuba, most of which arrived during the difficult years of the 'Special Period'.  Part of them were 'chinchaleros' ('small-timers'); others were intermediaries; others couldn't fulfill their contracts to produce in Cuba, not only for the Cuban market, but for export.  Therefore, those businesses have been liquidated and more efficient companies have arrived.  A legal basis exists today for Cuban emigrants to invest.  I know it is very difficult; I know it doesn't fit within our policies and one of the principle reasons is what I have previously mentioned: Cuba is looking for investments of a magnitude that is generally out of the reach of emigrants."

In other words, the Castro brothers are only interested in the big-time hustle for their totalitarian mafia.

Courtesy of Emilio Echikawa.

Alan Gross May Have Cancer

Alan Gross, USAID Contractor Imprisoned in Cuba May Have Cancer; Independent Review of Medical Records Shows His Tumor "Has Not Been Evaluated to Modern Medical Standards"

Cuban Government Ignores Repeated Requests for Independent Medical Examination

Washington, D.C. - In an independent review of Alan Gross’s medical records transmitted yesterday to the Government of Cuba, Dr. Alan A. Cohen concluded “[i]t is my opinion that Mr. Gross has a potentially life-threatening medical problem that has not been adequately evaluated to modern medical standards.”

Dr. Cohen, a board-certified radiologist, reviewed a range of CT and ultrasound scans of Alan Gross’s right shoulder, where there has been an unidentified mass for more than five months. Beyond noting the mislabeling of some of the studies which raises questions as to whether the images are of Alan’s shoulder, he concluded the tumor was “probably not an organizing hematoma as diagnosed” by Cuban doctors.  This conclusion is reinforced by claims by Cuban doctors to Mr. Gross back in May 2012 that the “hematoma” would be reabsorbed within a few months at most.  This has not happened.  He adds “[a] soft tissue mass in an adult who has lost considerable weight must be assumed to represent a malignant tumor unless proven to be benign.”  Mr. Gross has lost 105 pounds since the beginning of his incarceration in December 2009.  Dr. Cohen concludes “Mr. Gross’s right-shoulder mass has yet to be properly evaluated and presents a potentially lethal outcome unless fully and properly evaluated with MRI prior to and following contrast and potentially a biopsy, preferably in a facility in the United States, immediately.”

Jared Genser, Alan’s international lawyer observed: “This report definitively rejects Cuban government claims that Alan Gross’s health is ‘normal.’ It is apparent it actually doesn’t have evidence to reach this conclusion. Cuban government doctors are either guilty of gross professional negligence or they are intentionally hiding what could be a lethal condition.

Judy Gross, Alan’s wife also responded to the report: “I am incredibly upset by this independent review of Alan’s medical records. The Cuban government keeps making public claims Alan’s health is ‘normal,’ but they have repeatedly denied him access to a private medical examination. President Castro, I beg you not to let my husband die on your watch. Your country claims to have such a wonderful health care system – yet why have your doctors misdiagnosed him and failed to order the right tests to determine what is actually happening? Please let us have Alan diagnosed by a doctor of his choosing before it is too late.”

No More Subsidies for Castro

Monday, October 1, 2012
From Reuters:

The 40-year-old governor, Henrique Capriles, who would be Venezuela's youngest president, also said he would steer foreign relations away from Chavez's alliances with nations such as Iran and Belarus that the West views with suspicion.

"What do we have in common with Iran apart from producing oil? Or Belarus?" Capriles asked. "Isn't its president a dictator? You tell me! We honored (late Libyan leader Muammar) Gaddafi twice. Are those the relations Venezuelans want? No!"

Capriles said he would also try to sit down with Cuban President Raul Castro to review the presence of more than 40,000 Cuban workers [worth $800 million] who are in Venezuela in exchange for oil supplies [worth $4 billion].

"And I've told the Russian ambassador here that we are going to stop buying weapons from Russia," he added, referring to Chavez's multibillion-dollar arms purchases from Moscow.

Ignore Raul's Siren Song

By Dr. Jaime Suchlicki in The Miami Herald:

Ignore Raúl Castro’s siren song

The Cuban leadership in Havana continues to try to woo the U.S. administration into providing unilateral concessions to Cuba. The embargo and the travel ban will be ended, they believe, as a result of internal pressures and a more accommodating Obama administration.

The latest attempt comes via Louis Farrakhan, the Muslim-American leader who met this month with Gen. Raúl Castro in Havana. “Raúl Castro asked me,” said Farrakhan, “to let the world know that Cuba is ready to talk with the U.S. authorities.” The same statement has been repeated recently by several Cuban officials.

Yet the issue is not about talking. The avenues for engagement between Cuba and the U.S. have never been closed. The U.S. and Cuba signed anti-hijacking and migration accords. They talk at the U.N., in Washington, and at cocktail parties. For the U.S. to change its policies there has to be a willingness on the part of the Cuban leadership to offer real concessions in the area of human rights and political change. No country changes its policies without a substantial quid pro quo from the other side.

We seem to cling to an outdated economic determinism in trying to understand events in other societies and the motivations of their leaders. Despite economic difficulties, Raúl Castro does not seem ready to provide meaningful and irreversible concessions for a U.S.-Cuba normalization. He may release and exile some political prisoners; he may offer more consumer goods and food to tranquilize the Cuban population; but no major structural reforms that would open the Cuban economy and no political openings.

Raúl’s legitimacy is based on his closeness to Fidel Castro’s policies of economic centralization and opposition to the U.S. He cannot now reject Fidel’s legacy and move closer to the U.S. A move in this direction would be fraught with danger. It would create uncertainty among the elites that govern Cuba and increase instability as some advocate rapid change while others cling to more orthodox policies. The Cuban population also could see this as an opportunity for mobilization to demand faster reforms.

Raúl is also unwilling to renounce the support and close collaboration of countries like Venezuela, China, Iran and Russia in exchange for an uncertain relationship with the U.S. At a time when the U.S. is seeking regime change in the Middle East, Raúl’s policies are more likely to remain closer to regimes that are not particularly friendly to the U.S. and that demand little from Cuba in return for generous aid.

Raúl is no Deng Xiaoping and no friend of the U.S. He has been the world’s longest-serving (48 years) minister of defense. He presided over the worst periods of political repression and economic centralization in Cuba and is responsible for numerous executions after he and his brother assumed power. While in Mexico and the Sierra Maestra before reaching power, Raúl also executed several “enemies.”

Raúl has been a loyal follower and cheerleader of Fidel’s anti-American policies and military interventions in Africa and elsewhere. In 1962 Raúl and Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev conspired to surreptitiously introduce nuclear missiles into Cuba. Raúl supervised the Americas Department in Cuba approving support for terrorist, guerrilla and revolutionary groups throughout Latin America. In 1996 he personally ordered the shooting down of two Brothers to the Rescue unarmed civilian planes in international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident from Florida.

I try to teach my students that not all problems in international relations can be solved. Some require the use of force; others, significant patience; still others, diplomacy and negotiation. In the case of Cuba, we should wait for the passing of the gerontocracy in power now and hope for a new, more flexible leadership later.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with Sanja Kelly, project director of Freedom House's latest report, Freedom on the Net, which rates Internet access, censorship and user access in 47 countries across the world.

And Dr. Majid Sadeghpour of the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates will discuss the U.S.'s delisting of Iran's Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) as a foreign terrorist organization.

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).

Castro Votes for Anti-Gay U.N. Resolution

Sunday, September 30, 2012
Meanwhile, Mariela Castro, who supposedly advocates for gay rights, was in Belgium on one of her international propaganda tours.

The U.S. and European nations opposed the resolution.

From Erasing 76 Crimes:

Anti-LGBT win at UN for Russia and ‘traditional values’

The U.N.Human Rights Council today adopted a Russian resolution supporting “traditional values,” which LGBT activists fear will be used to deny human rights to women and to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The resolution was adopted by a vote of 25-15, with seven abstentions.

It endorses “the important role of the family” and seeks “a better understanding of traditional values of humankind,” adding that “traditional values… can be practically applied in the promotion and protection of human rights and upholding human dignity, in particular in the process of human rights education.”

Does that sound worthy?  Activists’ objections include these:

Numerous UN experts have emphasized that traditional values are frequently invoked by States to justify human rights violations, such as family violence, marital rape, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

There is absolutely no recognition in Russia’s draft resolution that many practices inconsistent with human rights derive from traditional values. If this resolution is passed, there is no doubt that Governments in future will use “traditional values” to restrict human rights.

The resolution was presented by Russia in conjunction with Angola, Belarus, China, Cuba, North Korea, Ecuador, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation), Sri Lanka, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

As one activist noted, the list of countries supporting this alleged “human rights resolution” is tip-off that it’s not what it pretends to be.  After all, Saudi Arabia, Belarus, China, Cuba, North Korea, Kuwait, Pakistan, Russia and Syria have “hardly excelled in recent years by their contribution to human rights.”

Imprisoned Lady in White Receives Death Threats

Sonia Garro, a female pro-democracy activist and member of the Ladies in White, was imprisoned on March 18th of this year.

According to Garro's sister, she has been receiving numerous death threats at the women's prison of "El Guatao", where she remains incarcerated without charges or trial.

She was originally arrested in the wave of repression against dissidents prior to Pope Benedict XVI's trip.

Castro's secret police stormed her home, shot her in the leg with rubber bullets and dragged her away.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

A Must-Read on Raul's "Reforms"

By Cuban blogger Miriam Celaya:

The General, ‘Reforms’ and the Myth of the Renewal of the ‘Model’

Six years after the Proclamation in which Fidel Castro delegated almost all power to his brother, and four years after Raul Castro officially took the reins of government, almost all optimism about the possible beginning stages of transformations to advance the economy in Cuba have faded. Much less can there be any illusions regarding freedoms and rights.

Wrapped in his aura of “a pragmatic man” — based on projects carried out in the ‘90s, when he was Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and created joint ventures, with the participation of elite and “trusted” officers, in hard currency economic activities: tourist-hotel complexes, stores, restaurants, etc. — General Raul Castro has become another failed hope for those who aspire to any economic opening, even if moderate, with a greater involvement from ordinary Cubans, as well as for those who thought that such an opening would lead to a gradual lifting of the numerous restrictions that annul and restrict any possibility of citizen prosperity.

Four years is the usual time allotted to the president of a democratic society to develop a government program and demonstrate its effectiveness and capacities in a nation, a period during which the reduction in poverty and the creation of jobs are usually permanent objectives and two of the most important indicators of progress of every administration.

In Cuba, however, after this period of time, not only is there no government program with clearly established goals and timelines — even the mere promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban is an insoluble economic challenge for the government — but there exists an explicit demonization of individual prosperity endorsed in an open war against “enrichment,” while officially announced layoffs have affected more than 1,300,000 workers. No government of a free society could survive such nonsense.

This calamitous socioeconomic state has led the general-president to offer his oft repeated phrase of “introducing structural and conceptual changes,” a line meant to distract public opinion as well as to delude the unwary. It is, in reality, a diversionary tactic to allow the ruling elite, instead of improving the situation or generating social benefits, to gain what we Cubans are losing: time. An apparently reformist discourse to disguise a retrograde and twisted economic policy and the complete lack of any intention to introduce changes.

So, in the last two years the masquerade of an opening was carried forward through the proliferation of tiny businesses, while at the same time an attempt was made to legitimate a state of permanent experimentation — in both the economy and in issues inherent to citizens’ rights — which on the one hand justifies the slow application of the so-called “reforms,” and on the other gives the government impunity, the grace of eternity, and the present and future arbitration over every aspect of national life, be it the economy, politics, or any other niche of society.

Against the ‘reforms’

In any event, it was a timely retirement. The General himself was in charge of assuring that this time there would be no retreat on self-employment, as had happened during the ‘90s. Let no one doubt, under Raul’s regime self-employment had come to stay. What’s more, there would be no discrimination against the self-employed and the dignity of individual effort would be recognized. In the excitement of the economic plans of small family businesses as a palliative to the national misery, self-employed workers seemed to have become the Revolutionaries of our time.

But, indeed, it was barely the mirage of a moment, because it soon became evident that some family businesses, despite being in unequal and unfair competition with the State, not only survived, but were more attractive than their peers in the State sector. Many sellers of clothing, footwear and accessories have better prices, as well as products of better quality and variety which — in the absence of an internal wholesale market — are sent by their families abroad. Some even offer articles not sold in the hard currency stores.

Something similar happened with the private restaurants: the owners of these businesses receive products and supplies from abroad that cannot be purchased in this country, or whose prices in the domestic market are prohibitive. As a consequence, and given that their earnings depend on their own effort, the quality of the food and service in the private restaurants is greatly superior to that of the State’s.

The official reaction shows that retreat on the reforms is not only possible, but inherent in the system. Recent actions include the increase in customs tariffs against imports, and exaggerated hygiene-sanitary measures against the private restaurant sector (not also enforced on the filthy State establishments), added to the other burdens placed on self-employment such as abusive tax rates and the corruption of inspectors and other officials.

As an aggravating factor, self-employment remains illegal under the constitution, as to date there has been no repeal of Article 21, which established that “the ownership of the means and instruments of personal or family labor cannot be used to obtain profits through the exploitation of the work of others.” This is a situation that allows the authorities to walk back or stop the process “until adjustments are made in the pertinent laws.”

Currently, the issuance of license for self-employment has slowed greatly, while the return of licenses already issued has accelerated. Everything indicates that self-employment became too broad a task for State control, and too narrow a horizon for the aspirations for prosperity for many of the proto-entrepreneurs who chose this route as a possible path.

Now the most recent of the Raul regime’s proposals is the oldest “innovation” in the world, to be applied “experimentally” in Cuba: non-State cooperatives. Which, of course, shouldn’t be understood literally as cooperatives independent of the State. This initiative hides under the induced historical amnesia that the Cuban people suffer from, given that before 1959 there were numerous independent cooperatives on the Island which worked perfectly: taxi drivers, restaurants, various trades, and even doctors and lawyers. Why “experiment” in something that is known and whose efficiency is more than proven? Undoubtedly, this is another scam that is added to the list of well-tried reforms.

The Cuban “model” and its “renewal” that won’t be

We’ve all heard the general-president speak of “the Cuban model” when it comes to economics. To “renew” this “model” has been his roadmap, the backbone of his government endorsed program (?!) in a set of guidelines almost no one remembers.

Few Cubans, however, could describe the concept. What elements support the existence of a Cuban economic model? Did the numerous (innumerable) economic failures derive from the preposterous plans of Castro I, indisputable architect of the national ruin? Is the more than half a century record of moving from first place to last place in this Hemisphere surpassed only by Haiti in misery?

Are the galloping corruption, the chronic inefficiency, the insufficient salaries, the barriers and immobility, more appropriate hallmarks for defining a “Cuban model”? And if so, in what sense would it be renewed? Is there anything salvageable in the supposed model? It’s a rhetorical question.

The essential contradiction facing the government today lies in the impossibility of achieving economic progress or furthering reforms while, at the same time, repressing individual liberties. The system’s totalitarian character doesn’t allow any movement; this is the lesson that the government has learned over these four years.

What Cubans have learned is that there will be no true reforms generated from government initiatives, while all the conditions still have not matured for proposals for change to be generated by citizens. For the government, the only thing left is repression as a means of survival. For Cubans all that is left is the dilemma between rising up and emigrating.

There will be no solution to the crisis in Cuba as long as the United Nations Human Rights Covenants, signed by the government itself in February 2008 and never ratified, are complied with, but it is the job of Cubans themselves to see that these don’t become another waste of paper. The only possible and effective renewal in Cuba today is the recovery of civil society, the restoration of the Rule of Law, and of democracy.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba -- originally published in Spanish by Diario de Cuba.