Castro Admits Alan Gross is a Hostage

Friday, November 30, 2012
Hostage (noun): a person seized or held as security for the fulfillment of a condition.

The Castro regime has replied to a letter by over 40 U.S. Senators asking for the humanitarian release of American development worker, Alan Gross, held in a Cuban prison since December 2009.

In its response, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Ramon Cabanas, states:
To demand from and hope for the Cuban Government to take the unilateral decision of releasing Mr. Gross without giving any consideration whatsoever to the legitimate concerns of our country is not a realistic approach... 
And what are the regime's "legitimate" concerns?
...[E]nclosed is a summary information on the case of the Five Cubans who remain unjustly imprisoned or retained in the United States, in respect of whom Cuba has legitimate humanitarian concerns.
Alan Gross is the person seized or held as security.

The so-called Cuban Five are the condition for his release.

That is a hostage-taking.

A Loving Wife's Plea

December 3rd, three days from now, marks the three year anniversary of Alan's wrongful imprisonment in Cuba. December 3rd, 2009 is when Alan was arrested in Cuba. He was then held in prison for 14 months without charges and then later convicted for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cuba. December 3rd, 2009 was the day my family's world began to fall apart... As Alan's wife, I continue to fear that his life is in jeopardy. I plead with the Cuban government to allow his condition to be properly evaluated by an independent doctor of his choosing. I cannot and I will not allow my husband to die in a Cuban prison. I urge the government of Cuba to release Alan on humanitarian grounds.
-- Judy Gross, wife of the Castro regime's American hostage Alan Gross, National Press Club, 11/30/12


From Pimps to "Neo-Puritans"

This is ironic coming from a regime that has turned Cuba into a brothel for European and Canadian tourists.

As a reminder, Cuba -- and its totalitarian regime -- is a major source country of child prostitution and sex trafficking.

Moreover, it's a regime that beats and arrests female pro-democracy activists -- on a weekly basis -- for simply trying to attend Church.

So needless to say, the announcement by Cuba's Institute of Music is really about censorship by the Castro regime and the critical political overtones of songs in the rap, reggaeaton and rock genres.

It is definitely not about decency; for the Castros have no decency.

From AFP:

Cuba to singers: wash your potty mouth, or else

Musicians that perform songs deemed vulgar or that "violate ethical standards" will now be punished in Cuba, the state-run Institute of Music said Friday.

In communist Cuba, most everything -- especially the airwaves -- belongs to the government. Aside from hotels that cater to foreigners, there is no MTV, VH1 or HBO. There are no independent radio stations or newspapers.

The move comes after authorities heard complaints for more than a year about "vulgar" songs from members of the state-supported intelligentsia.

Authorities are currently busy "purging" music catalogs, with the goal of "eradicating any practice that is... not in accordance with legitimate Cuban popular culture," Institute of Music head Orlando Vistel told the daily Granma.

A special focus is on lyrics that are "aggressive, sexually explicit, obscene, and that twist the innate sensuality of Cuban women, presenting them as grotesque sexual objects," Vistel said.

Meet Elaine Muñoz Garro

Elaine Muñoz Garro (pictured below) is the daughter of Sonia Garro Alfonso and Ramón Alejandro Muñoz.

Sonia Garro is a member of the Ladies in White, a Cuban pro-democracy movement.

She and her husband were arrested on March 18th, 2012, in the roundup of peaceful dissidents by the Castro regime prior to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba.

They remain in prison, without charges or sentencing.

Elaine has now been eight months without both her parents.

Where's the outrage?

On Raul's Economic "Reforms"

In other words, Raul's economic "reforms" are a scam.

And political and democratic reforms are inexistent -- to the contrary, political repression and abuse has intensified.

Excerpt by Cuban blogger Fernando Damaso:

The new possibilities within self-employment are approved by drips and drabs and only after long periods of unnecessary experimentation in the so-called provincial-laboratories (Artemisa and Mayabeque), when they should be adopted and spread more quickly

The physical planning regulations, forgotten and systematically violated over too many years, are very difficult to apply in a country where the deterioration and lack of housing constitutes a national tragedy, without conditions to truly solve things in the short and medium term, despite the aid and credits approved, and so the problem continually worsens, influencing widespread social breakdown.

The new customs rules, which by their volume seem to expand the possibilities of bringing goods into the country, actually limit them by weight and value.

The new travel and immigration law, to go into effect in the coming year, although it eases some of the paperwork, creates new limitations and trades the existence of one document for another (from the white card to the blue booklet), without eliminating them, as well as increases the price of a passport.

The new laws on taxation, also scheduled to go into effect, with some adjustments, this coming year, are still a mystery to be clarified as they are applied.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Castro Has Lost the War on Information

Thursday, November 29, 2012
By Ernesto Hernandez Busto in Penultimos Dias:

Cyberdissidence, information and activism in today’s Cuba

A few weeks ago, the Cuban official daily Granma published an interview with a Ministry of Education official. It was announced, almost as an afterthought, that the University of Computer Science (UCI) was no longer under the aegis of the Ministry of Information. It would now be under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education — where it should have always been.

During the last ten years the UCI has been the headquarters of the Cuban government’s propaganda cyberwar. Its students are organized in special units of commentators with privileged internet access, dedicated to neutralizing negative public opinion, to disseminating pro-government views and reporting “dangerous content” to the authorities, just like the so-called wumaodang or “50 cents commentators” in China.

One of these commentators was Eliécer Avila, who gained notoriety for his questions to Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban Parliament, during a closed-door discussion. Now he is a dissident. He graduated from UCI, but failed to find work, and then tried to start a business selling ice cream. And failed again, as he was burdened by excessive taxation. Today Avila writes for independent media, collaborates with independent projects like Estado de SATS, and is the anchor of an interesting Youtube program entitled “Un cubano más (“One more Cuban”). He also frequents activist and independent blogger circles.

The Granma news seemed important because it shows the end of an era: the time when the Cuban government believed itself capable of facing the free flow of information, the rise of the blogosphere and independent journalism using their own particular propaganda war. Another video, also leaked on the net a couple of years ago, showed their strategy; it was a sort of tutorial on how to use “the same weapons of the enemy” to respond in the “media battle.”

And here is where I have to give you some good and bad news. Good news first: the Cuban government has lost the war against the free flow of information. They fought thousands of exiles obsessed with getting information to the Cuban people in every way possible, using social networks and new technologies —and they lost. Now the real schedule for the high speed Internet cable from Venezuela remains a complete mystery. The official spokesmen themselves, including those tweeting and using the Internet in service to the State Security have entered into the scoop logic: they also want give some exclusive news to exile readers and foreign press agencies. Examples are Payá’s death or the recent arrest of Yoani Sánchez in Bayamo. Of course, they have first-hand information on issues that no Cuban journalist could cover. But it is curious that they have had to accept the laws of a free press to have some success in social networks.

Totalitarian societies do not have the resources to monitor and control web users nonstop, nor can they isolate information all the time.

Now, the bad news. The failure of the cyber strategy assures more power for the strong wing of MININT. The recent arrest of Antonio Rodiles is just a confession of the government’s failure to combat the growing civic activism with the official propaganda. Repressive methods are gaining ground in the government’s strategy. They prefer not to take the risks of the public debate. Rodiles has exposed the inability of Raul Castro to accept even a small portion of dissent. The problem posed by Estado de SATS and Demanda por Otra Cuba was not only the problem of information, but the question about the civic action.

Too much people take for granted that freedom of information leads, and must ultimately be tied to freedom of action. They believe that a better informed citizen will act out publicly and demand the government reinstate freedoms. This rule doesn’t seem to fit the equation. In the end, only a small minority demonstrates publicly against the repression of the Cuban regime. The vast majority, albeit well informed, continues to seek a best standard of living within the existing framework. And this is an evolving framework moving towards capitalism and in search of new forms of control.

The new activism, however, not only defends but better informed citizens who publicly claim their rights against the authorities. And that’s the reason why Rodiles spent more than two weeks in jail after going to the police station to require information about a detainee. This is the kind of citizen who can not be bought with the spoils of the changes and the new status. A well informed citizen seeking for explanations that anyone can’t give him.

Sexiest Pro-Democracy Activist

In May 2010, we wrote a post ("Chairman Castro's Dog") about a young pro-democracy activist, Alexandra Joner, who was literally bitten by a Cuban Embassy official in Norway.

It was on Cuban Independence Day (May 20th), when demonstrations were being held throughout the world on behalf of the Ladies in White and Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

That day, in a protest outside of the Cuban Embassy in Oslo, Norway, a Castro regime official came out, began shouting insults at the demonstrators and physically bit the hand of a young woman, Alexandra Joner, who was taping the event.

This week, Joner, who is a singer and model, was named 2012's "Sexiest Woman in Norway."

Democracy is sexy, indeed.

What Makes America Great

Democracy and civility.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto's visit to Washington D.C. with CNN contributor and Washington Post Group nationally- syndicated columnist, Ruben Navarrette.

And Dr. Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discusses Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's power-grab in Egypt.  She is an author of "Carnegie’s Guide to Egypt’s Transition," a website that provides analysis on issues that will shape Egypt’s political future.

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).

Celebrating Life in Union

They have seen their hopes for a free and democratic Cuba stolen from them, while the world continues to be indifferent, blind, and mute. It is my duty as a documentary filmmaker and an activist for freedom and democracy, to inform the world about the tragedies these men endured and to present them as a symbol of the past and present Cuban struggle.
-- Andy Garcia, Oscar-nominated actor, in narrating the new documentary film a bout a group of former political prisoners now residing in New Jersey, "Celebrating Life in Union," 11/29/12

Labor Activist Given Two-Year Sentence

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Cuban independent labor activist Ulises González Moreno has been sentenced to two-years in prison for his peaceful opposition and organizing activities.

González Moreno, 45-years old, was detained on November 15th at his home in Central Havana by two plain clothes state security agents who identified themselves as members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT).

He was tried under the charge of "Peligrosidad Social" ("Social Dangerousness"), a draconian law used by the Castro regime to imprison non-violent activists.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Courtesy of Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter.

Castro's New Shakedown

From Investor Business Daily's Editorial Board:

New Cuban Tax Just Same Old Communist Expropriation

The media praised Cuba for slapping taxes on its impoverished citizens for the first time, calling the move "market-oriented" and "modern." In reality, it's just a new kind of theft from the same old dictatorship.

To hear Reuters tell it, you'd think that Cuba, a brutal communist dictatorship for 53 years, has been a tax-free haven for all its lucky citizens.

"Most Cubans have not paid taxes for half a century, but that will change under a new code starting Jan. 1," the news-wire chirped, noting that the new taxes on private profits begin in the 35% vicinity.

They're new all right, but hardly the first: Last September, the regime initiated punishing customs taxes at $4.55 a pound in excess baggage fees on Cuban expats bringing in supplies for their relatives with businesses.

"The government's free-market reforms, introduced over the last two years, are designed to encourage small businesses, private farming and individual initiative," Reuters wrote. "Under the new tax code the state hopes to get its share of the proceeds."

Its share? Cubans earn about $19 a month, slave wages by any standard. They do the same work as other Latin Americans, often with more skill. But to the state, their sole employer, their wages are worth just $19, an implicit expropriation of their true market value.

Make no mistake, that's how the government sees it: Cuban dictator Fidel Castro even told one prominent medical professional, Dr. Hilda Molina, that she was not free to leave the country because her state-paid training made her "brain the property of the state."

Reuters helpfully points out that taxes have been all but nonexistent in Cuba because wages are low, so as to keep social services "free."

But that's just the point: The money workers could earn if free to choose their employers at wages that reflect their worth now all goes to the state and its "free" programs. Officially or not, it's a tax well beyond 99%.

And what a surprise, the Castro brothers just happen to have personal fortunes in the billions of dollars, according to the last Forbes estimate. That's a lot of taxes.

The Castro dictatorship is looking to take cash from the supposedly independent new businesses it's permitted to set up shop, originally as a way of cutting the bloated state employment rolls.

Far from being a market liberalization or modernization, the Castroite tax hike is nothing but a shakedown of businesses that are struggling to grow, and an effort to reassert the power of the state over its citizens.

It's communist in the extreme, and won't work.

Respectfully, Mrs. Gross is Wrong

In today's New York Times, the wife of Castro's American hostage Alan Gross, has unfortunately misdirected her frustration.

Alan is a victim of 50 years of failed policy with Cuba,” said Judy Gross.

Respectfully, Mrs. Gross, Alan is not a victim of U.S. policy.

Alan is the victim of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship, which has complete disregard for human rights and international law.

Providing Internet access to the Cuban people, as Alan was doing, is protected under international law.

It is encapsulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Our community understands Mrs. Gross's frustration better anyone else.  

We have seen our friends and families beaten, imprisoned and executed for 50 years.

Moreover, we understand what it's like to feel as if the world doesn't care.

Just this week, we have seen foreign news bureaus in Havana report on a new ballet for obese people and a fancy dog show, rather than on the spike in repression against peaceful democracy activists.

Mrs. Gross then sadly proceeds to state that she believes her husband is “a pawn of these very radical right-wing Cuba haters, for lack of a better word, who don’t want to see any changes happen, even to get Alan home.”

We undoubtedly stand in solidarity with Mrs. Gross in wanting to see her husband released.

Moreover, we want to see changes happen more than anyone else.

We long for fundamental change in Cuba, where human rights are respected and people are free to choose their own destiny -- a Cuba, where Alan Gross and others like him will not be taken hostage for helping Cubans connect to the Internet.

That is exactly what U.S. policy is conditioned towards.

But that doesn't make us "radical right-wing Cuba haters" any more than it would make Mrs. Gross one for stridently advocating for her husband's freedom.

Quote of the Year

Until the day Cubans unite to impede that another is repressed, until that day they will continue to repress us. It is that day, this is already the day.
-- Father Jose Conrado, Cuban priest, during his visit with recently released pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles, Twitter, 11/26/12

Interview With Antonio Rodiles

From an interview by Ivette Leyva Martinez in Cafe Fuerte:

After 19 days of detention in a police station in Havana, Antonio G. Rodiles was released convinced that the best path to a better Cuba is through the rejection of violence.

His violent arrest sparked an intense campaign of international solidarity.

The activist was fined 800 Cuban pesos [approximately $30 U.S.]. He will not go to trial.

CF: What do you take away from this experience?

AR: I say to my friends and others with whom I have spoken, that my main experience is that at this moment in Cuba there are a great many people who understand that the country has to change, and that people thinking differently, that people having different views of things, political, ideological, is not a reason for people to hate them or to not respect them but, sadly, there is a group of people who up to now have demonstrated that they have carte blanche to use violence, who are committed to creating situations like this one and I think, what’s more, they are committed to creating even more critical situations.

I think it’s very important that all national and international public opinion support civil society activists because these people are not the preponderance of the people in this country.

Definitely what they did to me was a vulgar beating and it was planned by them ahead of time.

CF: Your followers and the people who have followed your case insisted that there had been violence especially against you. What precisely happened that day of your arrest?

AR: An official who has become known for beating and abusing people, whose alias is “Camilo,” crossed Avenue 31 [in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre] with a group of people, crossed directly to beat me. He says “identificaiton” or “ID card,” something like that, but simply to mention it. No one in uniform came, they didn’t identify themselves, and they immediately pounced on me.

When I put out my hands so they wouldn’t grab me, they rained punches down on me. They grabbed me by the neck, and threw me to the ground, there was a group of between 10 and 15 people — people who were there said it was something like 12. And when they threw me on the ground they began to kick me, to punch me, and at that moment someone punched me in the left eye, thank God their knuckle didn’t go into my eyeball, only the edge, this gave me a strong contusion in the eye which even bled. After they picked me up, they took me to the cop car, and against the car they were still hitting me, in the chest, all my ribs, it was a total beating. Thank God I didn’t have any fractures but I certainly could have.

CF: In the dungeon, what else did they do and how did they treat you?

AR: When they took me to the detention center on Acosta Avenue, which is a center for ordinary crimes of the Police Technical Department of Investigations (DTI), on arriving there, there was still this individual Camilo with two other characters he goes around with, who were also trying to provoke me, manhandling me, trying to provoke an incident.

This individual Camilo recorded me with a video camera, everything that was going on, but there appeared a major from the police station itself and these things were stopped until they took me to the cell. And yes, the next day, the people who had charge of me in that place had a completely different attitude. It was one of total respect, both physically as well as my moral integrity. I had medical attention, the doctor was a very kind person, she checked me over completely, looked at my eye, healed the eye. And the officials there, of the police, they behaved with respect.

It’s also incredible how the prisoners identify with people who come there for political reasons and they always call you “political” and the people are in solidarity with you.

CF: Do you think the delay had to do with having you look better before they let you out?

AR: Yes, it’s possible that had some weight, evidently there was a lot of pressure from many different directions, I think. What they were trying, in my opinion, was a short detention, of a few months or something like that… but at first what they did was very rough, they made a circus out of it, including statements they made themselves that didn’t apply to the crime of “resistance” and then at the end they simply didn’t have much of a way to justify what was happening and well, they released me.

CF: The photo that was distributed showing you in the cell, is it real?

AR: As I have mentioned to several people I would have to look at it in detail, and since I got out the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. If it was taken, it was taken while I was sleeping. No one took any photo of me while I was awake, although they took a video on my arrival. But I can tell you, I have to see the photo calmly to be able to analyze it. I saw it from above, if it shows I was hit in the eye, and it was that area, I had a shirt like that, the color of the walls was similar and those things.

CF: What do you think the intentions are between the work of the police and the strategic tasks of the State Security?

AR: That’s hard to know being in a cell, is something that I can not fully distinguish, what I can tell you is that contrasting the treatment and attitude of the people of the State Security, who are clearly unscrupulous people, they strike without any restraint, and the treatment received at the DTI station, it was completely different.

CF: Will you continue Estado de Sats? What are your plans now?

AR: The project of course will continue and I would say even more forecefully. The idea of the project Estado de Sats, of the campaign “For Another Cuba,” has to do with respect for the rights of Cubans, with respect for the human being first and foremost, with the opportunity to debate, to openly discuss, and I think that with this beating this was the main thing they showed me: this way is the way for Cuba to change, and clearly violence is the enemy. Now more than ever I believe that the work requires total dedication.

I send a huge hug [to those who supported me], I’ve always said that in this type of situation those who most need support is the family and my elderly parents feel very very supported by everyone and this gave them tremendous strength.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

The Mockery of Sanctions Exceptions

Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Excerpt by Michael Rubin in Commentary Magazine:

The Mockery of Cuba Sanctions Exceptions

Not surprisingly, the idea of people-to-people and educational exchange appears to be interpreted liberally both by the Obama administration and by travel companies. This past week, I came across a “Journey to Cuba in 2013” brochure by the high-end travel company Travcoa. The brochure outlines a stellar 10-day itinerary, visiting Cienfugos, Santa Clara, Cayo Santa Maria, Remedios, the Bay of Pigs, Havana, and San Luis, all for around $7,000. The tourism must be great, but the educational opportunities appear fleeting: after lunch at a small paladar, the group can talk to its owner; at a small coastal village, talk to fisherman about fishing; visit a school and learn about Cuba’s education system; and visit a Santería priest to learn about the Santería religion. The museum guide at the Bay of Pigs will offer a Cuban perspective of that aborted invasion; while at another museum, guests can learn about Cuba’s efforts to promote literacy. At a Havana night club, tourists can learn about Cuban jazz.

I do not mean to diminish Travcoa—I’ve never been on their tours, but I know a number of people who have and speak very highly of their experience. The company is simply fulfilling a service to meet a demand, and it is not alone in doing so, as any Google search will indicate. The fact of the matter, though, is that the educational exchange the company promotes does not differ much from what tourists on non-educational trips to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, or Central Asia might do.

Now, the wisdom of Cuba sanctions is another issue. I support the sanctions, and will push back on those who wish to dismantle them simply because they see them as a relic from the past. The major problem with lifting the sanctions at this point is that the main beneficiaries of tourist dollars will not be the Cuban people, but rather the government which owns and operates most of the tourist facilities at which most high-end tourists will stay. Indeed, from what I understand from Cuba watchers, it is not simply the government which is invested most deeply in these facilities but the Cuban military and Raul Castro himself. The idea of pumping money into an aging and decrepit dictatorship risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

If the Obama administration is going to lift sanctions, however, it should simply declare its intention to do so, and defend its position against its critics. The idea that it can, however, with sleight of hand and an educational exemption eviscerate the remaining barriers to infusing the Castro regime with hard currency is an insult to intelligence, and diminishes legitimate educational exchanges elsewhere.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on the conflict in Gaza and the resignation of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak with Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry.

And U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will discuss what to expect from Congress this week on the Gaza conflict and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's power grab.

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

Castro Renegs on More Debt

According to the Romanian Finance Ministry, the Castro regime owes $1.2 billion to the Eastern European nation.

Meanwhile, EFE reports that Romanian officials are "shocked" by the "absolute refusal by the Cuban authorities" to negotiate this debt.

We could have spared them the "shock."

How Castro Exploits Cuban Workers

From The University of Miami's Cuba Transition Project:

The Plight of Cuban Workers: Rights Violations by the Cuban Government and Foreign Investors

For the past half century Cuban workers have been subjected to an oppressive system which violates the most elemental working class rights. The state controls labor employment and salaries. There is only one labor union and is controlled by the state. Strikes and collective bargaining are prohibited.  All major enterprises in Cuba are owned by the government and the ruling military elite manage over 60% of the country’s key economic activities, particularly in the tourist and mining industries. This militarized social and economic environment oversees Cuba’s “workers’ paradise.”

Major Cuban State Enterprises

GAESA, or Grupo de Administracion Empresarial S.A. (Enterprise Management Group Inc.), is the major holding company of the Cuban Defense Ministry’s vast economic interest. GAESA’s Board Chairman is Luis Alberto Rodriguez Calleja, married to Raul Castro’s oldest daughter Deborah. The company’s enormous holdings include the tourist group Gaviota S.A. in charge of operating some of the finest and largest resorts in Cuba. It has a large employee base of tens of thousands of laborers and manages over 13,000 hotel rooms throughout the island and over 150 restaurants.

Grupo CIMEX S.A. is also a major state controlled entity that employs over thousands in retail businesses such as department stores, cafeterias, gas stations, auto-part outlets, apartment rentals, and tourist operations managed by Grupo Internacional Havanatur. CIMEX, along with Cubanacan and Gaviota, promote joint ventures (empresas mixtas) with foreign investors doing business in hard currency.

Major Foreign Enterprises in Cuba

There are several international corporations that are financially associated with Cuban state owned entities. These corporations form joint ventures usually with more than one Cuban government enterprise. Following are some of the several international corporations operating in Cuba: Melia Cuba Hotel International (Spain), Sherritt International Corporation (Canada), Club Mediterranee S.A. (France), Elictricite de France (France), Telecom (Italy), Pernod Ricard (France), Mercedes Benz (Germany), Ibero-Star (Spain), and Viaggi de Venaglio (Italy).

In 1995, the Cuban regime, anxious for hard currency, approved Law 77, which regulates foreign investment and describes permitted businesses. Nine years after in 2004, the regime enacted Accord 5290 which complemented Law 77 by introducing new commercial regulations allowed in the communist island.

This law defines three permissible business varieties in Cuba. These are Joint Ventures (empresas mixtas), Contracts of International Economic Association, and Foreign Capital Companies. Joint ventures are the most common according to the European Union. Joint ventures are defined as a business enterprise between one or more “Cuban government mercantile companies…acting as domestic investors and one or more foreign investors.” Additionally, joint ventures can also have offices outside of Cuba. Cubans are not permitted to partner with foreign companies.  Only the State is allowed to form joint ventures.  Cubans are only allowed to own very small businesses such as pizza parlors, barber shops, etc.  No Cuban is permitted to own large businesses or those involved in exports.

The Plight of the Workers

Workers in Cuba are at the mercy of the State. The Cuban government denies workers the right to negotiate with corporations. In the specific case of joint ventures, the contract arrangement between the State and the foreign company establishes the pay rate for each employee. The salary is determined by the average pay rate of similar positions in the region. Although the foreign investor in the joint venture agrees to pay salaries in dollars or Euros for the services, it does not have authority to directly employ or pay the Cuban laborer. Instead it must sub-contract the service from a state controlled employment agency.  This agency pays the worker in Cuban pesos, pocketing a major portion of the foreign payments.

Cuban labor laws, as well as Resolution 3 (1996), states that Cuban employees cannot establish management-labor links for contract negotiation with joint ventures, or any other business modality that includes a foreign investor. Instead, joint ventures have to turn to state owned work agencies to provide them with workers. These labor agencies are owned and regulated by the state. They choose and assign workers to the various joint venture companies. They pay workers in Cuban pesos while receiving payment in Dollars and/or Euros.

Cuban government agencies pay laborers standard salaries in pesos as determined by the state. Based solely on the exchange rate (1 dollar = 24 pesos), Cuban workers receive only 1/24 of the salary or less paid by the foreign entity for their services.  In most instances Cuban workers’ payment are further reduced in the process.

Since his arrival in the United States, Miguel Castillo, Cuba’s former Vice-Minister of Foreign Commerce, and Jesus Marzo Fernandez, ex functionary of the Ministry of Economy, have documented the exploitation of the Cuban laborer by the state.  For example, the monthly salaries paid by the Spanish enterprise Ibero-Star for the services of a general manager and a mechanic were US$550 and US$460, respectively. However, the general manager receives 400 pesos and the mechanic 200 pesos. The Cuban State employment agency pays them instead the national average salary set by the Labor Ministry for that specific job and not what the foreign company paid for their services. Castillo described situations he witnessed where the joint venture’s contract established the salary for an auditor at US$1,200. The amount he received, however, was a mere 600 pesos. Another example provided was that of an electrician at a hotel facility where the foreign investor was paying the Cuban employment agency $600 dollars and the electrician only received 400 pesos.

These are but some instances of the systematic workers’ rights violations perpetrated by the Cuban regime’s economic apparatus. The Cuban government is in clear violation of international treaties such as the United Nations Convention concerning the Protection of Wages (No. 95), ratified in 1959. Article 6 states that “employers shall be prohibited from limiting in any manner the freedom of the worker to dispose of his wages.” Furthermore, Article 9 of this convention prohibits “any deduction from wages” made by “any intermediary (such as a labor contractor or recruiter).” Thus the payment mechanism enforced by the communist regime for Cubans laboring in joint ventures with foreign investors remains as a severe violation of Workers’ Legal Rights.

The foreign investors are aware of this system. They accept it because it provides them with a docile workforce at perhaps a lesser cost than in other countries. In a sense, foreign investors have become accomplices of the communist regime in the exploitation and violation of workers and their rights.  They seem, furthermore, unconcerned with future liabilities when there is a change in Cuba and workers exercise their legitimate demands and sue foreign corporations for underpayment of wages.

The policies and attitudes of the Cuban government toward workers in joint ventures, are a reflection of broader abuses being committed in Cuba. An abusive political system, an arbitrary legal system, a controlled press, human rights abuses, and a highly centralized economy are some of the problems Cubans experience in their daily life.

Quote of the Day

Monday, November 26, 2012
Now we must continue, of course, with greater strength.  The moral is that things have to change and the violence has to end.
-- Antonio Rodiles, Cuban pro-democracy leader, released this afternoon pursuant to a brutal beating and 19-day imprisonment for his peaceful advocacy, Diario de Cuba, 11/26/12

Castro Reshuffles His Travel Cartel

The news of the weekend has undoubtedly been the Castro regime's suspension of the landing rights of two of the biggest providers of U.S-Cuba charter flights, Airline Brokers and C&T Charters.

According to Cafe Fuerte, which first broke the news, both providers were notified of their suspension by Havanatur Celimar, the Castro brother's company in charge of the U.S. travel market.

That leaves six smaller charter companies operating U.S. trips to Cuba.  They are: Marazul, ABC Charters, Gulfstream Air Charter, Cuba Travel Services, Wilson International and Xael.

All of these charters companies were set up -- either directly or indirectly -- by the Castro regime.

Airline Brokers is owned by Vivian Mannerud, who gained notoriety in the 1990's for raising money for the Clinton-Gore campaign from drug smuggler Jorge Cabrera at the Copacabana Hotel in Havana.

In early January 1996, three weeks after having attended the Christmas reception at the White House, Cabrera was arrested and charged with importing 6,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States.

Meanwhile, C&T Charters is owned by John Henry Cabanas, a "former" Cuban intelligence official, who was quoted as saying, "I love Fidel like my father, and I believe he loves me like his son.”

There had been grumblings for years that some of their current business partners -- and previous handlers -- in Havana were upset that they were not appropriately "sharing the wealth" (particularly after the Obama Administration eased travel sanctions).

As a result, the Castro regime has shut them down.

And simultaneously, it is sending a message to the remaining six charter operators, its new favorites, who will now have an increase in revenues -- "pay up or you will be shut down."

A Look at Castro-Sponsored Terrorism

The Hartford Courant takes an in-depth look at the $7 million heist of a Wells Fargo depot in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1983 -- at the time, the biggest cash robbery in U.S. history.

Here's an excerpt:

Over the decades leading to [Norberto] Gonzalez's capture last year in the Puerto Rican mountains, the U.S. listed Los Macheteros as a terrorist organization and blamed it and a related group for more death and destruction than any other terror network operating in the U.S. until al Qaeda struck New York in 1994 and 2001.

The Macheteros killed two U.S. sailors, blew up eight National Guard jets and attacked two federal courthouses with Cuban supplied rockets, all in Puerto Rico. The related Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by the initials FALN, launched a bombing campaign against mainland targets, including Mobil Oil and the Fraunces Tavern in New York.

The Macheteros led the FBI on a chase around the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico to Mexico, Panama and Cuba, as the organization met to negotiate a division of the money and more guns with the government of their principal supporter and supplier, Cuban President Fidel Castro. The robbery confirmed a belief long held by FBI agents in the Caribbean that Castro had been training and supplying the militant wing of the independence movement since the 1960s.

The FBI was so alarmed by the robbery and related violence that the bureau sent a team to San Juan to end it. When the agents helped draft the first Wells Fargo indictment in 1985, they argued —unsuccessfully — to name senior Cuban government figures as conspirators [...]

Filiberto Ojeda Rios, the founder of Los Macheteros and an officer in the Cuban intelligence service, died in Puerto Rico in 2005 while exchanging gunfire with the FBI agents trying to arrest him. Of the 17 others, Gonzalez was the last to be captured. Authorities found a loaded machine gun and a bomb making manual in the apartment where he lived on the generosity of friends.

That leaves Gerena and $7 million in cash. Records seized from Los Macheteros and other evidence collected by the FBI leave little doubt about where both ended up: Cuba.

Independent Journalists Live on Razor’s Edge

By Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia:

Independent Journalists Live on the Razor’s Edge in Cuba

Every day when they go out to report or write some story about daily reality, invisible to official media, the murky Gag Law that can land them in jail for 20 years or more floats over their heads.

It’s not just the legal harassment. There is also their ration of slaps, subtle taekwondo blows in the ribs, insults by fanatics spurred on by the special services, threatening phone calls at the break of dawn or arbitrary detentions.

The further they live from Havana, the more brazen and open is the intimidation. Independent journalists of deep Cuba, after spending several hours in a pestilent cell, are released in the night, far from home, on a hidden roadway surrounded by sugar cane plantations.

None of the free journalists can collate his information with State institutions. All the officials shut the doors in their faces. Nor do they offer you facts or figures. But there is always a way of getting them. Sometimes, employees of state agencies, sick of Fidel Castro’s inefficient socialism, whisper to you first hand information or numbers.

Anonymous people bring you internal regulations, figures about suicides or the analysis of the latest meeting of the provincial Party. In exchange for nothing. They just want to broadcast aspects of the sewers of power. Nonconformist technocrats, beat cops, low ranking military soldiers, prostitutes with years in “office,” marginalized slum dwellers and budding athletes are the true architects of any story or news.

Each text that goes out from the mature laptops of many independent journalists has a dose of review filtered by those deep throats desirous of changing the Cuban political compass. Years of writing under the hostile barrage of fire and harassment have polished the style of these lone wolves.

When one speaks of journalism on the margin of state control in Cuba, some indispensable names must not be forgotten. From human rights activists Ricardo Bofill and Adolfo Rivero Caro, who in years of hard repression reported about the violations of essential rights of man, to Yndamiro Restano, Rafael Solano, Rolando Cartaya, Raul Rivero, Ana Luisa Lopez Baeza, Iria Gonzalez, Tania Quintero and Ariel Tapia, among others.

Rivero Caro is no longer with us. The rest sleep far from their homeland, anguished about the future of Cuba, dreaming that they walk along the Malecon or drink coffee brewed in their Havana homes. The repression, the jail and the harassment by the regime forced them into exile. We have had to get by without them.

There is Luis Cino. I present him to you if you are not familiar with harassment. He has a blog, Cynical Circle and writes high quality chronicles on Cubanet and Digital Spring, a newspaper managed in a Lawton apartment. It is a reference. For the quality of his work and his human condition.

In Downtown Havana, surrounded by empty lots and buildings that scream for repair, cradle of prostitution and con artists, of people who think twice as fast as the average Havanan, bastion of misery, prohibited games, children induced by their parents to beg for coins, stronghold of the sale of melca and imported marijuana, here, in the heart of the capital resides Jorge Olivera.

Tall and quiet mulatto. A softy in every sense of the word. He was one of the defendants of the Black Spring. Not even a walled cell could erase the perennial smile from his face. Seventeen years after beginning as an independent journalist, Olivera has not lost hope of greeting his friend Raul Rivero again and together founding a new kind of daily in a future Havana.

Meanwhile, Jorge keeps firing with his pen. Stories, opinion pieces and poetry drafted at night. In Santa Fe, surrounded by cats, we can find Tania Diaz Castro with a long track record in the Cuban opposition movement. In Regla, among quacks and religious syncretism, a reporter from the barricades, Aini Martin Valero also has a magnet for news.

Juan Gonzalez Febles is another sharpshooter, he currently directs Digital Spring. The lawyer Laritza Diversent lives in a village in keeping with its name: Calvary. According to a state decree, the majority of its inhabitants, natives of eastern provinces, are illegal. They survive in overcrowded cardboard and aluminum shacks.

To relieve legal illiteracy, Diversent opened in the dining room of her home a legal consultancy, Cubalex. And for various digital sites she writes articles on legal topics, without jargon. Some are very popular in her neighborhood.

If he ever aspired to be a councilor, Roberto de Jesus Guerra would succeed. There is no need to know the address of his home. The locals indicate to you the home of this communicator born in the east of Cuba, agile and tireless in the search for information. He ably manages the audiovisual equipment and has the instincts of a detective. It was Roberto de Jesus who got the scoop about the medical brutality that may have cost the lives of 27 psychiatric patients in January of 2010.

Miriam Celaya a reporter of the race. She resides near the “mall” of Carlos III in Downtown Havana. We independent journalists, who agree on almost nothing, do agree that Celaya is one of the best columnists of that other Cuba that the government tries to ignore.

On all the island there are independent journalists, some are better known and have more experience than others. But all report the vision of their community and their country. They are the cry of the citizens who have no echo in the official press.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Is Antonio Rodiles Not "Newsworthy"?

Sunday, November 25, 2012
Why haven't any of the foreign news bureaus in Havana written about the continuous imprisonment of young Cuban pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles, founder of the civil society project Estado de Sats?

Or how about the continuous imprisonment of independent journalist Calixto Martinez Arias, who broke the news of a cholera outbreak weeks after the Castro regime declared it eradicated and discovered shipments of spoiled medicines and other humanitarian aid at Havana's airport?

Or for that matter, how about Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of the Ladies in White imprisoned without charges or trial since Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Cuba in March?

Are they not newsworthy?

Hablalo Sin Miedo is Back On-Line

Cuban State Phone Company Blocks Hotline for Activists

“Hablalo Sin Miedo” is a Platform to Report Human Rights and Other Abuses on the Island

Cuban state-owned telecommunications company Etecsa has blocked access to the “Hablalo Sin Miedo” (translation: “Speak Without Fear") blog, which allows Cubans to dial a U.S. phone number and record three-minute messages about everything from deteriorating living conditions on the communist island to human rights abuses and other developments censored by authorities. Messages are then posted on a web site that can be accessed globally, for which the government’s action since October 29 indicates the service’s growing impact.

The blog has become an important communications channel for activists and other citizens on the island with the outside world. Despite the Cuban government’s sophisticated repressive methods to control access to such information, “Hablalo Sin Miedo” has circumvented state-imposed mechanisms by operating from the U.S. and Europe. However, by blocking access to the blog’s phone number, the government hopes to eliminate the blog. The site, launched in 2011, has received hundreds of calls from Cuba each month.

According to Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque, callers to the phone line get a message from Etecsa indicating that the line has been temporarily disconnected. Cuban award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez says she has received calls from activists inquiring as to when the service will be reinstated, particularly since the blog had become an important channel for Cubans to provide information on the government’s poor management of humanitarian assistance to eastern communities hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Hablalo Sin Miedo” bloggers who run the service are countering the government tactic by launching a new phone number (+34674279544) that can be accessed immediately. They also plan to announce new changes to the blog that will further improve its quality and function, for which they expect the number of calls from Cuba to continue to increase steadily, despite the Cuban government’s ongoing attempts to block the service.

For more information:

Blog: Háblalo Sin Miedo
Phone number: +34674279544