Remembering Calixto Martinez Arias

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

Calixto Martinez Arias is a Cuban independent journalist.

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

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

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

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

He will not be forgotten.

Where Trickle-Down Definitely Doesn't Work

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

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

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

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

(So much for tourists spreading democracy).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Week

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

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

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

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

Cholera Hits Havana Tourism Zones

Thursday, December 27, 2012
From Environment News Service:

Cholera Spreads in Cuba After Hurricane Sandy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fudging the Castro-Chavez Numbers

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

And, the AP has provided the platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No matter how you fudge the numbers.

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

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

Quote of the Day

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

Remembering Sonia Garro

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

Today, we remember Sonia Garro.

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

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

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

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

Demand their freedom now.

This is Not a Joke

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

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

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

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

In The South China Morning Post:

Xi learns from Castro and Putin in graft fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Bells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1864)

New Political Prisoners on Noche Buena

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

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

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

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

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

They are not forgotten.

Fulton Armstrong's Unwitting Revelation

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

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

The plot-line is quintessential Fulton Armstrong:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easing the embargo is a priority for Raul Castro?

How could this be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Armstrong unwittingly confirmed this.