German Intel Reveals Castro Ties to Ex-Nazis

Saturday, October 13, 2012
Unclassified documents from Germany's intelligence agency, BND, have revealed that in the early 60's, Fidel Castro hired ex-SS officers (Nazi paramilitary entity) "to train the Cuban military".

According to the German newspaper Die Welt, the documents reveal that Castro also used two ex-Nazi arms dealers, Otto Ernst Remer and Ernst-Wilhelm Springer, to purchase 4,000 Belgian rifles.

Not surprising, but absolutely repulsive.

Cartoon of the Week: Fidel Dies

Friday, October 12, 2012
One tweet at a time...


H/T Penultimos Dias

Odebrecht Can't Get Enough of Castro

Odebrecht keeps expanding its business ties with the Castro dictatorship, while simultaneously expecting Florida politicians to keep handing them millions in Cuban-American taxpayer funds.

Could they be any more disrespectful and unscrupulous? 

From Cuba Standard:

Brazil is providing Cuba a rotating credit facility of $400 million for food purchases in the South American country.

Early this year, Brazil’s Grupo Odebrecht said that a subsidiary will form a joint production agreement with state company Azcuba to operate a sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos. Although the production agreement is a notch below a direct investment, this is the first time a foreign company becomes active in Cuba’s sugar industry. Companhia de Obras e Infraestrutura (COI), an Odebrecht subsidiary that is also the foreign partner in the Brazilian-financed expansion of the Port of Mariel, said it will sign a 10-year agreement to operate the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill.

While Odebrecht has experience in operating sugar mills in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, the bigger prize for foreign investors in Cuba’s sugar industry is ethanol production and electricity generation. A Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman told reporters in January  that Cuba is about to engage in ethanol production, as “Fidel’s resistance in this field is being overcome.” The historic leader of the revolution has maintained in his opinion columns that ethanol reduces food production and raises food prices. Odebrecht’s bioenergy division is one of Brazil’s largest ethanol producers.

When Granma Influences Detroit's Free Press

After the Obama Administration tightened its regulations on "people-to-people" trips to Cuba, which had essentially become tourism junkets hosted by the Castro regime, there was an outcry by some in the media.

Mostly by "travel writers".

The first to complain about the streamlining of these regulations was Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press.

We've widely documented how these trips are essentially "people-to-Castro" tours, fully-hosted and controlled by the dictatorship. The travelers stay at the Cuban military's hotels, eat at their restaurants and, for the most part, their interaction is limited to Castro regime officials.

So much so, that U.S. participants in these trips even come back using the same rhetoric as Castro regime officials.

Case and point is Ms. Creager herself, who last week wrote:

"Then came a roadblock. In May, anti-Cuba legislators in Congress, suspicious that some trips were vacations in disguise, forced renewal applications to become so long and complex that nobody could get a renewal."

"Anti-Cuba legislators"?

That's the label the Castro regime uses for freely and democratically elected Cuban-American Members of the U.S. Congress.

So now for Ms. Creager, just like for Castro, U.S. legislators that support human rights and freedom for their homeland, who want to see an end to the Cuban dictatorship's violence against peaceful activists, including women, are "anti-Cuba".

Thus, by implication, the 53-year old dictatorship responsible for the torture, imprisonment and murder of hundreds of thousands of Cubans must be somehow "pro-Cuba"?

Travelers on these "people-to-people" trips should be required to be briefed by Cuban pro-democracy activists, independent journalists and former political prisoners on the tragic reality they live.

Otherwise, these remain nothing but shameful propaganda trips.

Sentenced for Shouting "Down With Fidel"

Cuban pro-democracy activist Reinaldo Castillo Martinez has been sentenced to one-year in prison for shouting "Down With Fidel, Down With Raul."

This is just the latest in a string of prison sentences for pro-democracy activists under the "crime" of "disobedience".

Six days ago, Emilio Plana Robert of the opposition group, UNPACU (Cuban Patriotic Union) was handed a similar sentence.

Meanwhile, independent journalist Calixto Martinez faces the same fate for reporting of the recent cholera epidemic on the island.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

AI Concerned For Safety of Ladies in White

Amnesty International Calls on Cuba to Allow “Ladies in White” Activists to Freely Commemorate Anniversary of Leader’s Death

Amnesty International said today it is concerned about the safety of the activist group “Ladies in White” as the one-year anniversary of their leader’s death approaches on Oct. 14, and called on authorities to ensure the women can mark the anniversary without harassment or intimidation.

“Given the Cuban authorities’ shameful record when it comes to the treatment of human rights activists, we are concerned for the safety of the Ladies in White as they commemorate the anniversary of the death of one of their members,” said Javier Zúñiga Mejía Borja, special advisor for regional programs at Amnesty International. “Our request is simple: the Cuban authorities must ensure that the Ladies in White and other activists in the country can express themselves freely.”

The activists will be travelling from across the country to attend mass at the Church of Santa Rita in Havana and carry out a silent march marking the death of Laura Pollán, who died on October 14, 2011 of cardio-respiratory arrest.

The Ladies in White have been subjected to a permanent campaign of intimidation, harassment and short term detentions to stop them from peacefully campaigning for the release of political prisoners and greater civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

On September 20, around 50 members of the group were arrested as they traveled to Havana to participate in activities to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy and in memory of late political activists.

They were held for several days before being released without charge. Various members of the Ladies in White based in the capital also received intimidating notes aimed at discouraging them from taking part in activities.

On March 17, 18 Ladies in White were arrested during a peaceful demonstration on the ninth anniversary of a crackdown on dissidents, which led to the imprisonment of 75 government critics.

All were released except for Niurka Luque Álvarez, who was released on October 5, pending trial on charges of “violence or intimidation” against a state official.

On March 18, Lady in White Sonia Garro Alfonso, and her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz González, were detained at their home in Havana when around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets at them. They remain in prison without charge.

In February this year, authorities in Cuba prevented members of the Ladies in White from reaching the group’s headquarters to attend an event in memory of the second anniversary of the death of activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo, who died on hunger strike in protest at his unfair incarceration.

The organization Ladies in White was formed by a group of female relatives of the 75 prisoners of conscience who were imprisoned in March 2003 for their peaceful expression of critical opinions of the government.

The group attends mass every Sunday in the capital, Havana, dressed in white, to pray for the release of their relatives. Afterwards they take part in a procession from the church to a nearby park, carrying white flowers. Following the release of all the prisoners of conscience from the March 2003 crackdown, the Ladies in White have been campaigning for the release of other political prisoners and to lift restrictions on fundamental civil and political freedoms in Cuba.

Video of Chavez Fainting

Thursday, October 11, 2012
For some reason, this video has gone somewhat unnoticed.

It's of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez fainting (or slightly fainting, at best) during a pre-election parade six days ago.

Chavez is wearing a blue shirt.

As you'll note in the video, Chavez's key allies, Nicolas Maduro and Jose Vicente Rangel, make the truck they were riding in stop to let Chavez off.

Chavez never made it to that afternoon's scheduled destination.

 

Castro's Fear of Jose Daniel Ferrer

The Castro regime is obviously concerned with the effectiveness of Cuban pro-democracy leader Jose Daniel Ferrer and the activists of UNPACU (Cuban Patriotic Union) in the eastern provinces.

As a result, Ferrer and the  UNPACU activists are targeted, beaten and arrested on a daily basis.

Currently, there are over two dozen UNPACU activists in prison.

These new political prisoners include Francisco Osorio, Rafael Matos, Yoandri Beltrán Gamboa, Ovidio Martín, Ernesto Riverí. Rogelio Tavío, Niorvis Rivera and Roelvis Cuba.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Another Cuban Repressor Seeks a U.S. Visa

Cuban pro-democracy activists have denounced that another agent of the Castro regime's repression, Saíly Freire Lachicot, is currently working to obtain a visa from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana to travel to the United States.

Freire Lachicot recently married Leoncio Agüero Pacheco, who currently resides in the U.S.

Yet, throughout the years, Freire Lachicot has been in charge of coordinating repressive acts against peaceful pro-democracy activists in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camaguey.

The picture below is of Freire Lachicot during a mob act at the home of a young pro-democracy activist on July 13, 2012.

The activists had organized a vigil to honor the lives of 41 Cubans murdered on that same day in 1994 by the Castro regime pursuant to the sinking of the tugboat "13 de Marzo".

Freire Lachicot sought to break-up this peaceful vigil with a violent mob.

What type of message is sent by rewarding these agents of the Castro regime's repression with U.S. visas? 

Courtesy of La Frontera Transparente.

Where's Fidel?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
From Havana Times:

Numerous readers of HT have asked us the question of where is Fidel Castro, out of the public eye for months? Unfortunately we don’t have the answer.

As the mentor of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it was expected that the first congratulations to him for winning a new term in office on Sunday would have come from Fidel.

Instead, Raul Castro congratulated Chavez and not a word from his older brother. Such silence is beginning to provoke speculation on Fidel’s health. The Cuban media has remained silent.

Must-Read: The Blood on Che's Shirt

Great piece by Caroline Carlson in The Diamondback (The University of Maryland's student newspaper):

The blood on Che’s shirt

The first time I saw a Che Guevara T-shirt was in the eleventh grade. I didn’t know who Che Guevara was, but was instantly able to recognize him whenever I saw kids walk through the halls wearing T-shirts and carrying backpacks or lighters with his face on them. The image – a young Argentinian man with long hair and a beret – became almost universally known and sparked a global marketing campaign.

Unbeknownst to many young people, Che Guevara was an international terrorist who aided Fidel Castro in the overthrow of the Cuban government in the late 1950s. After leading a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, he led firing squads against alleged war criminals, created a “labor camp” system in Cuba that imprisoned and killed Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals and oversaw the deaths of more than 1,000 people.

Tomorrow marks the 45th anniversary of Che’s death. College students and young people throughout the United States still treat Guevara, who once said his dream was to become a “killing machine,” as some sort of martyr. These fans, who choose to view the man as a symbol of rebellion, individualism and freedom of expression, are walking contradictions. They carry signs with Che’s face on it during anti-war rallies, but forget that he expressed pleasure in shooting people. Celebrities and musicians have worn some version of the Che icon, yet don’t remember that Che wanted to ban rock music and jazz music during the Cuban Revolution.

It makes no sense whatsoever for your average, independent-minded college student to support “equality” or wear Human Rights Campaign t-shirts while thinking the Hispanic version of Hitler is “really cool.” What some people don’t seem to realize is when you associate yourself with an image or icon, you are inherently adding yourself to a movement, whether you explicitly say it or not. Young people who join a cultural movement without doing their research undermine the intelligence of our generation. We are drawn in by the face of what’s supposed to represent individuality and idealism, yet once we look beyond the artwork and past the Hollywood favoritism, we see a man who was the enemy of freedom. We see a man who wasn’t an open-minded political figure, but a product of Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Some who have woken up to the realities of Guevara’s militant history have labeled this day as “No More Che Day,” a day to educate ourselves on the reality of Che and shine light on how vulnerable youth are to cultural trends. Young people’s willingness to jump on the bandwagon seems to be ever increasing, whether we are talking about slogans, images or entire political movements. It’s almost as if we consider the “coolness” of taking part in a political activity before we actually do our homework on the issues.

We can’t be brainwashed by marketing campaigns that treat sadistic killers as idols. Although some may argue the Che t-shirts simply represent “change,” it’s dangerous to take the face of a cold-blooded murderer and try to dilute it to something else. What if we wore shirts with Hitler or Mao Zedong’s faces on them, and told people we just want to represent “change?”

Some say that the Cult of Che has died down in relation to years past. Even if this is true, real change against collective thinking starts with enlightenment. Being armed with knowledge and research is the strongest way to fight an ignorant trend, rather than waiting to let it dwindle and let an even more ignorant trend emerge upon us again.

Caroline Carlson is a sophomore government and politics and marketing major.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the conflicts in the East and South China Seas with Douglas H. Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Paal was former Vice-Chairman of JP Morgan Chase International, unofficial U.S. representative to Taiwan as director of the American Institute in Taiwan, and senior national security official for Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Then Stephen Johnson, Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, discusses Defense Secretary Panetta's current trip to Latin America and the Pentagon's new "Western Hemisphere Defense Policy Statement".

And Dr. Rob Sobhani, renowned author, former professor, businessman and Iranian-American democracy activist talks about foreign policy and his current candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Maryland.

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 Day

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
I love Cuba and hope we can one day soon travel to a free Cuba, without having to ask for permission or having to take out a Cuban passport at a disproportionate price to enter our own country.
 -- Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Cuban baseball player and 4-time World Series champion, Cafe Fuerte, 10/9/12

Still Want To Do Business With Castro?

From Reuters:

Foreign executives arrested in Cuba in 2011 await charges

Executives of three foreign businesses shut in 2011 ostensibly for corrupt practices have been held by Cuban authorities for a year or more and still have not been charged with a crime, sources with knowledge of the cases said this week.

Their ongoing legal limbo has put a behind-the-scenes strain on Cuba's relations with their home countries - Canada and Britain - where the legal process protects suspects from lengthy incarceration without charges, western diplomats told Reuters.


Counter-Productive "People-to-People" Trips

By Jose Cardenas in Foreign Policy:

Obama defends, then changes, Cuba policy

The Obama campaign recently took umbrage with criticisms of the president's Cuba policy by Paul Ryan in a campaign swing through Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community. Ryan charged that the policy amounted to appeasement of the Castro regime, to which the campaign responded that Obama "has repeatedly renewed the trade embargo with Cuba, pressured the Castro regime to give its people more of a say in their own future, and supported democracy movements on the island."

Yet even as the campaign defended the president's policy, administration officials were furiously rewriting the rules of one of the president's signature Cuba initiatives that had gone scandalously awry.

Last year, the Obama administration significantly liberalized Bush-era restrictions on private travel to Cuba that were designed to deny hard currency transfers to the Stalinist dictatorship. The thinking behind the change was that "purposeful" or "people-to-people" travel can build relationships between Americans and Cubans and empower the latter to think and act as individuals rather than as vassals of the state.

Well, as it happens, the initiative came to serve no purpose other than to become a propaganda vehicle for the Castro regime with the complicity of fellow-traveling U.S. tour operators. Far from promoting contact with real Cubans, the trip itineraries revealed close collaboration with the Castro regime and featured interactions only with Cubans approved by the regime -- hapless minions who could only be counted on to spout the party line that all of poor, little Cuba's problems are caused by the big, mean old United States.

And where the indoctrination ended, it was rounded-out by frivolous tourist activities -- rum, salsa, Hemingway! -- that are carefully walled off from interaction with ordinary Cuban citizens.

In fact, the abuses became so flagrant that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) held up the nomination of a senior State Department official until the administration agreed to review a program that had egregiously gone off track.

Typical of the purposeless results is a recent report in which a professor at the University of Iowa gushed about an essay written by a student after meeting with "an American fugitive who had escaped the country and taken asylum in Cuba." That would likely be either Joanne Chesimard or Charlie Hill, two radicals wanted by U.S. authorities for the murders of U.S. law enforcement officials in the 1970s.

Then there is the Duke University Alumni Association promoting an "Art & Architecture Tour of Havana" next month. Not only is the trip wholly choreographed by the Castro regime, but the group is only allowed to meet with regime-approved artists. But the key line in their brochure is this: "The arts have long presented Cubans with an opportunity to cautiously express their views on society."

Such an assertion is patently false and only demonstrates the dishonest degree trip organizers will go to pretend they are serving a higher cause in traveling to Cuba -- and receive their coveted license to travel. And in it they provide the most salient lesson of all: that engagement with totalitarian regimes rarely changes them, but it does change us. It forces people to obfuscate their language, to compromise their values, and to accept unjust and immoral situations and arrangements they wouldn't tolerate anywhere else in the world.

It remains to be seen if the Obama administration will restore some sanity to its liberalized travel regime to Cuba by truly making it purposeful and people-to-people. They have an opportunity to act to demonstrate they really are working to help the Cuban people have more of a say in their own future and to support democracy movements on the island. Because the status quo is having the exact opposite effect: by further enabling the Castro brothers to suffocate the Cuban people's legitimate aspirations for freedom and a better future.

Must-Read: "Contempt for Authority"

These are the "laws" that advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro dictatorship believe should be "respected" due to "sovereignty".

What they don't understand (or care to understand) is that "sovereignty" is not an excuse to violate the Cuban people's fundamental rights of free expression and to receive and impart information, which are protected under international law.

By Cuba-based independent journalist and lawyer Yaremis Flores:

Hablemos Press Correspondent Calixto R. Martnez Will Be Charged for “Contempt for Authority”

Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias continues to be jailed in the Santiago de las Vegas police station, and “will be charged with the crime of aggravated contempt for authority,” according to precinct captain Marisela.

On September 19 the captain referred to Hablemos Press Information Center correspondent as having “disrespected Fidel and Raúl Castro and said that the investigator in charge of the case was sub-Lieutenant Rosmerty.”

For 72 hours after the detention, the police kept the details about Martínez Arias’ arrest secret, after he was detained last Sunday night for investigating an event that took place at the International Airport José Martí. Presumably, the event holds the Cuban government responsible for the deterioration of medicines sent by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, director of Hablemos Press, he and a group of friends showed up in the police station located at Avenidad Independencia and Calzada de Managua in the town of Santiago de las Vegas.

“The officer on duty at the station communicated to us that Calixto had been transferred to another station. We received no further details,” said Roberto. Nevertheless, according to the law, the police have the obligation to allow communication with the detainee.

For this reason, this Wednesday at one o’clock in the afternoon, at the Santiago de las Vegas police station, Roberto de Jesús and independent lawyer Veizant Boloy, demanded that information about Martínez Arias’ legal situation be given. “Last Monday they lied to us, because Calixto was in the station,” stated Roberto de Jesús.

“We asked the captain, Marisela, if we could see him and give him some toiletries, when a State Security agent named Yuri showed up, accompanied by another police officer. They asked us for identification and sent us to the cell,” explained Boloy after they were released that same day around midnight.

“As we walked down into the dungeons we yelled Calixto’s name, who was surprised to hear us and replied to us. We saw the wounds on his face, caused by the beatings inflicted by the police,” said both Guerra and Boloy.

“Our detention and everything that happened at the station took place under Major Arnaldo Espinoza’s watch, Unit Chief at the Santiago de las Vegas police station. His badge number was 00182. Although the ones that really give the orders are the State Security agents,” added Boloy.

According to information given this past Friday by Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Calixto R. Martínez was given medical attention at the National Hospital for a swollen left eye, and was transferred to a prison located to the West of the capital and known as “El Vivac.”

The Prosecution has not given notification as to when Calixto will be able to hire one of the lawyers from the National Organization of Lawyers’ Practice, who are the only ones authorized by the law to defend Cuban citizens in a Cuban court of law.

Calixto Ramón has been jailed on several occasions for his journalistic work, and has also been deported at least 12 times for remaining in Havana with an identity card that has an address from Camagey.

This time, the correspondent of Hablemos Press, who assured us his mission was “to break the wall of silence imposed by the island’s government and to denounce human rights violations,” could serve a sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison.

Translated by Eduardo Alemán.

Powerful Image of the Week

Here's a picture of deceased Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya's children being prevented from attending the "trial" of Spanish youth leader Angel Carromero last Friday in Bayamo.

The Castro regime seeks a 7-year prison term for Carromero, accusing him of "vehicular manslaughter" in Paya's death.

Paya's children have not pressed charges against Carromero and hold the government responsible for the car crash that killed their father.


Courtesy of Orlando Luis Pardo.

How to Free Alan Gross

Monday, October 8, 2012
A Letter to the Editor of The Washington Post:

How to free Alan Gross from Cuban prison
 
The news that Alan Gross, the contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who has been unjustly detained in Cuba since 2009, might have cancer is not just a personal tragedy [“Maryland man, jailed in Cuba, might have cancer,” news, Oct. 2]. Mr. Gross’s only “offense” to the Cuban government was trying to give a laptop computer and satellite telephone to one of the island’s small Jewish communities.

In addition to a five-month growth on his shoulder that Cuban doctors call “benign,” Mr. Gross reportedly has lost 100 pounds. His continuing detention and deteriorating health demonstrate the utter disdain that the Cuban government has for basic human rights. The Obama administration’s unilateral extension of a hand of friendship to the Castro brothers has not changed the nation’s brutal dictatorship.

President Obama holds the key that could open the door to Mr. Gross’s jail cell. He should tell Havana that U.S. patience has run short and that, until Mr. Gross is released, remittances that the Cuban government heavily taxes and relies upon will be cut off and the “people to people” policy allowing American tourists to travel to Cuba will end.

The United States has the largest diplomatic mission in Cuba. If U.S. diplomats there can’t protect someone like Mr. Gross from abuse and mistreatment, it is time that Mr. Obama consider bringing them home.

Frank Calzon, Washington

The writer is executive director at the Center for a Free Cuba.

From Romney's Foreign Policy Speech Today

From today's foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute by Republican Presidential nominee, Governor Mitt Romney:

"There is a longing for American leadership in the Middle East—and it is not unique to that region.  It is broadly felt by America’s friends and allies in other parts of the world as well— in Europe, where Putin’s Russia casts a long shadow over young democracies, and where our oldest allies have been told we are “pivoting” away from them… in Asia and across the Pacific, where China’s recent assertiveness is sending chills through the region… and here in our own hemisphere, where our neighbors in Latin America want to resist the failed ideology of Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers and deepen ties with the United States on trade, energy, and security.  But in all of these places, just as in the Middle East, the question is asked:  “Where does America stand?”

I know many Americans are asking a different question: “Why us?”  I know many Americans are asking whether our country today—with our ailing economy, and our massive debt, and after 11 years at war—is still capable of leading.

I believe that if America does not lead, others will—others who do not share our interests and our values—and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us.  America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.  I am running for President because I believe the leader of the free world has a duty, to our citizens, and to our friends everywhere, to use America’s great influence—wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively—to shape events in ways that secure our interests, further our values, prevent conflict, and make the world better—not perfect, but better."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for an in-depth analysis of yesterday's election in Venezuela with guests:

  • Otto Reich, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela
  • Joel Hirst, Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute and author of "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio"
  • Vanessa Neumann, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and Editor-at-Large of the London-based magazine Diplomat
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).

Cuba's Stake in the Chavez Presidency

Sunday, October 7, 2012
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Cuba's Stake in the Chávez Presidency

Deepening privation is making Cubans restless. That privation will get worse if Venezuela stops supplying oil.

All eyes were on the Venezuelan presidential election Sunday on the chance that incumbent Hugo Chávez might be forced to accept defeat. But few could have been watching more intently than the elite of the Cuban military dictatorship, who in recent years have become heavily dependent on virtually free Venezuelan oil, courtesy of Mr. Chávez, for its survival.

The day went relatively smoothly Sunday despite a heavy turnout that the Chávez-controlled National Electoral Council seemed ill-prepared to handle. Some voters claimed to have waited six hours in line. But Venezuelans were patient and there was no reported violence. As we went to press a winner had not been declared in the face-off between Mr. Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of the state of Miranda. But in Cuba, the regime has been preparing for a Chávez thrashing, and the possible loss of oil flows, for many months.

On Thursday, state security detained internationally acclaimed journalist Yoani Sánchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, as they traveled to the city of Bayamo. Ms. Sánchez was assigned to cover the trial of Spanish democracy advocate Angel Carromero there for the Spanish daily El Pais.

Mr. Carromero—who was at the wheel when Cuban human-rights defenders Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed in a car wreck in July on the eastern end of the island—stands accused of vehicular manslaughter. Payá was a popular and charismatic leader of Cuba's growing dissident movement, and after the crash rumors were flying that the Spaniard's rental car had been forced off the road. If found to be true, it would badly damage the Castro brothers' attempts to regain legitimacy on the international stage.

The Payá family has called for an independent investigation. The government has ignored their request. Foreign journalists were allowed to sit in an adjacent room at the courthouse and watch the Friday "trial" on closed-circuit television. But secret police kept the Payá family away from the premises. No verdict has been handed down. Ms. Sánchez and her husband were released late Friday.

Silencing critics, making examples of meddling foreigners and running closed, summary trials are nothing new. But Cuba watchers say that as the dissidents have grown in number and have increasingly learned how to organize, the regime has been ratcheting up the repression.

The same day Ms. Sánchez was detained the regime also arrested 22 "pro-democracy activists who sought to attend a peaceful gathering in the town of Santa Clara to discuss a petition titled, 'Citizens' Demand for Another Cuba,' " according to the website Capitol Hill Cubans. The arrests are part of a wider assault on government critics, among them the Ladies in White, who won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in 2005.

Deepening economic privation is making Cubans restless. And that privation is likely to get worse if Venezuela stops supplying oil to Cuba. According to Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of Miami, Mr. Chávez has been sending almost 100,000 barrels of oil a day to the island. In exchange, Cuba ships doctors and social workers to Venezuela to serve the poor.

But it is highly doubtful that Venezuela is getting its money's worth. Mr. Capriles said last week that the 40,000 Cubans that Venezuela receives have a value of some $800 million per year while the oil sent to Cuba annually is worth $4 billion. He warned that if elected he would change the policy. "If we need Cuban doctors, we will pay for them," he announced. But "we cannot give away" the oil.

Even a re-elected Mr. Chávez would be under heavy economic pressure to revise the terms of the oil-for-doctors exchange, because the gap between Venezuelan spending and revenues will undoubtedly grow in the coming year. Roads and bridges are rapidly deteriorating, hospitals are in disrepair, and public security is almost nonexistent. Analysts expect a large devaluation of the Venezuelan bolivar next year.

Last week the Venezuelan daily El Universal reported that "as many as 80 Cuban physicians have left [Venezuela] on a monthly basis over the last 90 days." The paper also said that this year "the exodus may exceed the figure recorded in 2011—500 doctors." Yumar Gómez, who now lives in Miami, is one of them. "Let me tell you this," Mr. Gómez told El Universal, "many do not want to return to Cuba."

In a 2010 paper for the Cato Institute, Ms. Sánchez wrote: "Now that the state is out of money and there are no more rights to exchange for benefits, the demand for freedom is on the rise." No one understands that better than Raúl Castro, which is why the dictator was rooting hard for the Venezuelan incumbent Sunday.

Chavez Declares Himself Winner

Hugo Chavez's own electoral council has given him a 10-point victory in today's elections.

According to Chavez's results, he won 54% versus Henrique Capriles Radonski's 44%.

This would seem to defy the logic of what was seen and felt on the streets in Venezuela -- and captured by independent polling data -- but it doesn't defy the logic of Chavez's absolute control over Venezuela's electoral process and institutions.

Chavez's 54% put him just below his friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin's 63% victory earlier this year.

Thus, authoritarianism prevailed today -- but not forever.

Finally, and most importantly, kudos to Venezuela's courageous opposition movement.

May they remain united in strength and purpose -- for Chavez's greatest victory would be their disintegration.

Chavez Minister Illegally Announces Victory

From Reuters:

Supporters of Venezuela's socialist leader Hugo Chavez began setting off fireworks and partying in the street on Sunday night in anticipation of victory over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles in the presidential election.

"Perfect victory! The fatherland has won," Tweeted Interior Minister Tareck el Aissami.

Various sources on both sides told Reuters that they believed Chavez had won. But there was no confirmation from election authorities who have stressed it is illegal to declare victory before an official announcement.

Useful Idiot of the Day

American actor Danny Glover in Caracas today to support his friend Hugo Chavez's re-election bid.

"I've never seen a process like this, not even in my own country... Here you see a democracy that includes true participation," Glover told Venezuela's Noticias24.

Most Cynical Tweet of the Night

Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, takes the prize for the most cynical tweet of the night:

"One doesn't have to be a fortune-teller to know Chavez is about to win.  When a nation conquers its freedom, no one can take it from them."

Venezuela Elections Update

Despite the polls officially set to close at 6 p.m., Venezuela's electoral council says voting stations will remain open where voters haven't cast ballots yet.

The exception, of course, is the Venezuelan Consulate in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the authorities sought to promptly end voting at 6 p.m., despite hundreds still waiting to cast their votes.

As you may recall, Venezuelans residing in Florida have been forced to travel to New Orleans to cast their votes, as the Venezuelan Consulate in Miami was shut down earlier this year.

GloboVision, the only Venezuelan TV network not controlled by Hugo Chavez, is offline.

And Chavez's red-shirt militias are roaming by polling centers on motorcycles.

Yet, an exit poll conducted by Spanish consulting firm Varianza shows opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Randonski leading with 51.3% over Hugo Chavez with 48.06% of the vote.

All Eyes on (Change in) Venezuela

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela eyes change

IF HUGO CHAVEZ is an autocrat, how could he be in danger of losing the Venezuelan presidency in an election on Sunday? The question, posed by one of Mr. Chavez’s dwindling band of American supporters, is a fair one: Polls show a race to the wire between the caudillo and challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski. An opposition victory would mean an epochal change of political direction in one of the world’s largest oil producers, with far-reaching consequences for Cuba and other leftist Latin American regimes.

The answer begins with the fact that Mr. Chavez, like his allies Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, feels obliged to stage elections; the totalitarianism of Cuba or North Korea would risk rebellion by his population and international isolation. So elections are held — but in an environment that heavily favors the regime. Mr. Chavez controls Venezuela’s courts, election commission and most television channels, which bombard the population with propaganda. That includes hours-long appearances by the president on all channels simultaneously. Mr. Capriles is allowed three minutes of air-time per day.

According to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, even media not directly controlled by the government have been reluctant to report critically on Mr. Chavez. Many voters, too, are intimidated by high-tech polling machines that read their fingerprints; polls show that they suspect their votes will not be secret. Those not motivated by fright might be lured by greed: The government has amassed a list of 3 million people it has promised new homes. There are about 12 million likely voters.

That Mr. Chavez is in danger of losing in spite of all this is testimony to the havoc he has wreaked in what was once Latin America’s richest country. At more than 20 percent, inflation is the highest in the region and is accompanied by chronic shortages of food, basic consumer goods and power. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling: Within the last two months an explosion at a state oil refinery killed 50 people, and a major highway bridge collapsed. Perhaps worst of all for average citizens, violent crime has become epidemic under Mr. Chavez. The murder rate, which has more than tripled, is one of the five highest in the world. Drug traffickers have made Venezuela a hub for shipments to the United States and Europe with the help of senior government officials, including the current defense minister.

Fortunately, Venezuela’s opposition has evolved from a collection of feuding has-beens to a united and dynamic movement spearheaded by youth who long to push the country onto the modernizing paths of Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Mr. Capriles has survived imprisonment and systematic harassment by Mr. Chavez while remaining a committed liberal democrat who cites Brazil’s social democrats as his model. A tireless campaigner, Mr. Capriles has visited more than 300 municipalities, while Mr. Chavez — visibly weakened by what several reports have said is a terminal case of cancer — has mostly stuck to television.

Mr. Chavez’s illness probably means that his days as Venezuela’s leader are numbered anyway. The question now is whether he will give way if he loses on Sunday. Venezuela’s neighbors, and the Obama administration, should be ready to react if he attempts to remain in power by force.