In Some Good News

Saturday, January 5, 2013
From Cuba Standard:

Another Swiss bank pulls out of Cuba

Pressed by Washington, Switzerland’s fourth-largest bank dropped its business with Cuba, Swiss media reported.

Zürcher Kantonalbank (ZKB), which is state-owned, had picked up a Cuba portfolio after Swiss banking giants UBS and Crédit Suisse canceled their business with the island seven and five years ago, respectively.

The Obama Administration has increased the financial pressure on Cuba, partly as a side effect of a crackdown on Iran and drug-related money laundering. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently issued a record fine of $1.9 billion to Britain’s HSBC over alleged money laundering in Mexico and violations of the U.S. embargo.

ZKB “cannot avoid paying attention to embargoes and blacklists,” a bank spokesman told finance newsletter Inside Paradeplatz. “After prominent competitors bid farewell to the Cuba business long ago, due to the U.S. embargo, Zürcher Kantonalbank is now pulling out of Cuba for the same reason.”

From Havana Journal:

Golf course development projects dry up in Cuba

Seems as though all golf course development projects in Cuba have come to a complete stand still.

There is not even any hype of development let alone announcements of any development deals.

Of course this means Cuba is far away from breaking ground on any new golf courses in Cuba.

The world is still waiting for the liberalization of real estate laws that would give foreigners ownership of their golf villas and condos so maybe that is one reason that Cuba golf course developers have nothing to say recently.

Punishing Rosa Maria Paya

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso in Havana Times:

Punishing Cuba’s Rosa Maria Paya

The recent immigration reforms enacted by the Cuban government after a year-long push were greeted with joy by intellectuals, foreign governments and international organizations.

Some responded in that fashion out of diplomatic pragmatism, others out of ignorance, and others due to that diffuse motive where political loyalty mixes with complicity.

At the center stage of their jubilation was the elimination of exit permits, which means — following the logic of the cheerleaders of Raul Castro’s reforms — that Cubans will no longer have to ask permission to travel abroad.

Although the executive order has not yet come into force, I invite those doing the cheering to take a moment and pay attention to the case of Rosa Maria Paya.

She is the daughter of Oswaldo Paya, the recently deceased leader of the Christian Liberation Movement. This is a young woman who has not reached her first quarter-century. A recent university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in physics; she was invited by Chile’s Miguel de Cervantes University to pursue a degree in public policy. She was denied permission to leave the country and she was not even informed of the reason for the refusal.

Noting the articles summarizing the official reasons for deciding who can and cannot travel, one cannot determine in which category Rosa Paya fits.

Discounting technical reasons — though she’s a college graduate, the University of Havana rejected her as a teacher alleging procedural matters — I can’t imagine that this young woman could be placed in the sinister categories of being a threat to the “public interest,” “the foundations of the Cuban State” or “national security.”

In short, Paya is a young woman whose brief path in life has not allowed her to become a leader within the asphyxiating spaces of the opposition. She wasn’t invited to a hostile country or by an organization of the militant opposition; instead, she was invited by a recognized university that is linked to a political current that, while in no way sympathetic to the Cuban regime, is opposed to the blockade/embargo and to violence.

From the official Cuban point of view, Rosa Maria is punishable because she has adopted a position that is politically belligerent with regard to the government, which is completely her right, and because apparently she is attempting to assume the leadership dramatically abandoned by her father, which, needless to note, is also her right.

The Cuban government — hard and as brittle as the ice in which it keeps Cuban society embedded — is pathologically afraid of such civic challenges.

Rosa is not a threat to Cuban national security or a danger to the public interest of society. But she can become a nagging pebble in the authoritarian shoe.

This is why the Cuban government has decided to limit her visibility by preventing her from traveling abroad. It has decided to use the infamous tact of lesson-teaching punishment against Paya, with this understood as imposing example-setting punishment against a person whose behavior deviates from the social norms.

This means sending a message to the thousands of young Cubans who might otherwise eventually think freely, aspire to directly electing their leaders from among various alternatives and try to organize in ways they see fit.

Even if they finally do let her travel — one must always recognize that there’s a limit to political foolishness — the message is clear: travel isn’t a right but a concession.

I think it would be interesting to hear views concerning this case from all of the enthusiastic supporters of the recent immigration reform measures and the unlikely substantial change these represent.

It doesn’t matter if they cheer from the balconies out of prudence, fear, loyalty or complicity. I only ask them, as a compatriot, if political decency will allow us to leave Rosa Maria Paya by herself.

Cuba's Rosa Parks

Friday, January 4, 2013
By recently-exiled Cuban blogger Luis Felipe Rojas:

The Seat of Rosa Parks

The city of Miami surprised me. Many of its buses pay tribute to someone who is a symbol of defending civil rights in this country. On my daily comings and goings through its neighborhoods, I found that detail. Right behind the bus driver’s seat, there is a small plaque with the details. Miami does it, and so have other cities in the United States, as one day will be done in Cuba with some similar actions.

The fact that Rosa Parks decided, on that afternoon of 1955, not to give up her seat to a white person, ignited the spark among her fellow citizens, leading to known events like the public transport strike in Montgomery. It was a gesture, a pro-active action, an act of non-cooperation, doing. Just like a few women decided to take to the streets of Cuba in 2003, dressed in white and with a flower in hand, or how a group of men have said: “I do not cooperate with the dictatorship”. It is these citizen gestures which turn on the motor of grand human actions.

After so much blood has been shed on the island, years of unjust imprisonment, arbitrary detentions, beatings and harassment against political activists and their families, will the definitive spark be ignited? Everything seems to indicate that it will, although sometimes we may lose hope or think that the dictatorship which has governed us for 54 years is eternal. When Laura Pollan screamed in front of the guards: “We are not afraid of you”, when Marta Diaz Rondon and Caridad Caballero shouted at the top of their lungs: “My house is not a prison”, or when Iris Perez Aguilera protested in a small town of Cuba’s interior in front of a radio station because it was only reporting part of the truth, they too were also paying tribute to Rosa Parks. They are also like her. And although they did not have the immediate protection and coverage which the humble lady from Alabama had, there is still the hope that one day they will be acknowledged for their gestures of reasonable rebellion. Against brute force, reason stands firm, Rosa said it: “Freedom is not free”.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

The EU's Immoral Ambassador to Cuba

In an interview with Publico magazine, the European Union's Ambassador to Cuba, Herman Portocarero, reveals the real motivations behind the new push to end the EU's Common Position towards Cuba, which currently (and morally) conditions normalized relations to improvements in human rights.

Portocarero, a Belgian diplomat, says the first steps are being taken to end the Common Position because "they hope it will help foment more European investment" with the Castro regime.

And what about human rights?

After all, the Castro regime has intensified its repressive campaign against peaceful opponents, with a 60% increase in documented political arrests this year alone.

Portocarero's answer:

"In the field of human rights there are differences, but we have to focus on the issues where there are common interests."

That is -- profiting from repression, of course.

Portocarero makes another important public revelation:

"The EU is a universal partner and Cuba wants to have normal relations to gain international respect and a recognition it currently does not have."

How could this be?

Haven't Cuba "experts" assured us that it doesn't matter whether sanctions are lifted unilaterally (by the EU or the US) for the Castro regime enjoys overwhelming international recognition?

Like all rogue regimes, the Castro brothers are always seeking international recognition to justify their ruthless behavior and obsession with power. For them, it's a constant measure of how much they can get away with.

And some, like Portocarero, are willing to let them get away with murder.

(As an aside, it's not a coincidence that this is taking place just as the Spanish government negotiated the repatriation of its wrongfully imprisoned youth activist Angel Carromero. This was blackmail 101).

Dramatic Rise in Religious Freedom Violations

Thursday, January 3, 2013
Please note these are only reported violations -- probably just a fraction of the real, unreported number.

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Cuba: Dramatic increase in religious freedom violations in 2012

CSW documented a dramatic increase in violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba in 2012.

CSW has called on the Cuban leader, Raul Castro, to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2013 after recording a dramatic increase in violations across the country as the government cracked down on religious organisations and individuals.

Church leaders in different parts of the country reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of the year. An unregistered Protestant church affiliated with the Apostolic Movement in Camaguey was threatened with demolition on 29 December. The following day, nine women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement in Holguin were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prison until Sunday morning Mass had ended.

CSW documented 120 reported cases of religious freedom in 2012, up from a total of 30 in 2011, some of which involved entire churches and denominations and hundreds of people. The number does not include the men and women who were arrested and imprisoned for the duration of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in March which local human rights groups estimate to be upwards of 200.

While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected.  Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from state security agents. Additionally, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the fast-growing Protestant network the “Apostolic Movement”, threatening affiliated churches with closure, and shut down a Mormon church in Havana which had been denied official recognition.  One of the most severe cases involved the violent beating of Pentecostal pastor, Reutilio Columbie, in Moa, early in the year. Pastor Columbie suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the beating which he believes to have been orchestrated by local Communist Party officials. To date, no investigation into the beating has been carried out.

There were some improvements in the exercise of religious freedom inside Cuban prisons, however, even these were marred by government interference. A number of Protestant members of the clergy, appointed by their respective denominations to carry out prison ministry, were arbitrarily denied permission to join prison ministry teams. In addition, in the Provincial Youth Prison in Santa Clara only fourteen prisoners were permitted to participate in Christmas services. Forty prisoners, all practicing Christians, had requested permission to do so.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: “We are deeply concerned by the rapid deterioration in religious freedom over the past year in Cuba. Despite promises of privileges to some religious groups, Sunday after Sunday the government continues to violate the most basic of rights: the right to freely participate in religious services and form part of a religious community without interference.  Unregistered religious groups and registered groups that have resisted government pressure have come under intense pressure, been subjected to harassment and in the worst cases come under physical attack or seen their buildings confiscated. The Cuban government’s claims of reform and respect for human rights cannot be taken seriously unless these violations are addressed and real protections for religious freedom for all put in place. We urge Raul Castro to make this a priority of the government in 2013.”

How Castro Rules Venezuela

A favorite argument of advocates of normalizing relations with the Castro regime, and particularly of removing Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list, is that the regime purportedly no longer supports armed struggle, expansionism or revolutionary movements outside of its borders.

Yet, why are all Venezuela's top officials gathered in Cuba today to discuss the future of Venezuela?

According to Ultimas Noticias, a newspaper aligned with the government, National Assembly President (and Chavez-ally) Diosdado Cabello flew to Havana yesterday to join Chavez's handpicked successor Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and other top officials.

Doesn't Venezuela govern Venezuela?

Moreover, why is there a Cuban military presence in Venezuela led by General Leonardo Ramón Andollo Valdés, Deputy Chairman of Castro's Joint Chief of Staff?

This presence is composed of at least 4,500 infantry soldiers with batallions stationed in geographically strategic locations to even intercept movements by Venezuela's own military.

Moreover, Castro's military is in charge of all intelligence and counter-intelligence operations in Venezuela.

Isn't that interventionism?

Under Raul, Political Arrests Prevail

According to the Cuban Commission and Human Rights and National Reconciliation, there were 6,602 documented political arrests by the Castro regime in 2012.

Note these are only the arrests that are known and thoroughly documented. There are believed to be many more.

The same organization documented 4,123 political arrests in 2011 and 2,074 political arrests in 2010.

Thus, the one fact about Raul Castro's reign is a sharp increase in repression.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

(Yet) Another Repressor Gets a U.S. Visa

Cuban democracy activists are denouncing that (yet) another agent of the Castro regime's secret police has been rewarded with a visa to travel to the U.S.

The agent's name is Adalberto Sanchez Surit, also known as "El Nene."

He is known for the brutal beatings of peaceful pro-democracy activists in the city of Santa Cruz del Sur.

His brother, Ramon and sisters Mirta and Barbara live in the U.S.

To give this repressor a visa sends a horrible message: Beat up innocent people and get rewarded by the U.S.

Moreover, it goes against President Obama's Presidential Proclamation 8697 of August 2011, which supposedly sought to "close the gap" in granting visas to foreign nationals affiliated with human rights violators.

We hope the State Department reconsiders.

Raul's Hallucinatory GDP Growth

Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Cuban blogger Miriam Celaya on Raul Castro's fuzzy economic statistics:

I resigned myself to follow televised excerpts of the Seventh Legislature of the National Assembly and news of the schedules. In addition, I listened patiently to all the “reports” of each of the ministers, and I even stoically put up with the General’s euphoric speech in his eternal boring and nasal manner. It’s all in vain, it turns out I don’t understand a thing. The worst part is that Cuban TV seems to cause hallucinations.

I don’t understand, for example, why the “complete” repair of a stretch of 24 km of rail — which has a total of 800 km — conducted throughout the year 2012, is considered an achievement. If one adds the additional fact that the plan for 2013 is to “complete” 40 km of this important pathway (suggesting that only 16 km will be repaired in the coming year), is it not also a plan to go in reverse?

Another issue is that, if almost all parameters projected for 2012 have failed, such as agricultural production, housing construction, production of construction materials, the export plan (with an alarming increase imports of food and other goods), etc. If, in addition, the eastern region was hit by a vicious hurricane that caused huge losses to the economy and the already inadequate and deteriorating housing stock, if an important coffee crop and other crops were lost, among other items, and the few sugar mills we still have, which should have started producing sugar this harvest have been unable to do so… I wonder how it is that the economy has registered a growth in GDP of a respectable 3.1% and what indicators the General took into account to declare that, in the year about to end, “the favorable growth trend was preserved”; that we have been able to maintain a positive correlation between the growth in median income and productivity, which contributes to the internal financial stability” and that Cuba moves ahead in a “gradual reduction of its external debt, on the basis of strict compliance with its financial commitments”? I am so very confused!

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Tweet of the New Year

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Calls For Investigation Into Paya's Death

The President of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, visited today with Angel Carromero, the Spanish youth activist imprisoned for driving the car that crash and killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

Carromero was convicted in a sham trial by the Castro regime and repatriated to Spain this week, where he will serve the remainder of his Cuban sentence.

After the visit, Aguirre denounced the torture-like conditions Carromero was subjected to by the Castro regime and called for an independent international investigation into the deaths of Paya and Cepero.

Paya's family -- and Carromero himself before being taken into custody -- holds that the car was rammed by another vehicle, presumably of secret police officials that had been following them for hours.

Chavez on Life Support

According to Spain's ABC newspaper, sources have confirmed that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is in an induced coma.

He is currently on life support and will be soon disconnected.

Our New Year's Wish

Needless to say, our first and foremost wish for 2013 is for all Cubans to finally enjoy the same human, civil and political rights as the overwhelming number of citizens of this Western Hemisphere.

And in that struggle for freedom, we share in Yoani Sanchez's wish that the Ladies in White, the courageous pro-democracy movement composed of the wives, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners, receive the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

These extraordinary women face down weekly beatings and arrests by the Castro regime's thugs, as they assemble and march through the streets of Havana, Santiago, Holguin and cities throughout Cuba, to attend Mass.

Their heroic efforts for freedom, democracy and human dignity, deserve the world's recognition.

Happy New Year!

It's Time to Take Off the Gag

In today's Miami Herald:

New details on the case involving the death of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá case emerged after convicted Spanish politician returns home.

An attorney for Angel Carromero, the Spanish politician convicted in the car crash that killed Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, said his trial was not fair by western standards, while his political mentor denied that Cuba was paid $3 million for his freedom.

One of Payá’s brothers, meanwhile, said another Spanish politician who visited Cuba prior to Carromero’s trip this summer told him that a car he believes was driven by security agents rammed his vehicle, just as security agents allegedly did to Carromero’s vehicle.

Carromero flew home Saturday under a 1998 pact that allows citizens of Cuba and Spain to serve prison sentences in their home countries. He was sentenced to four years for speeding and causing the July 22 car crash that killed Payá and fellow dissident Harold Cepero.

His arrival in Madrid unleashed a string of reports and details about the crash and the trial previously kept under wraps to avoid upsetting the Cuban government and perhaps aggravating the charges against him, his sentence or prison conditions.

“Everyone always said that when Carromero was out of Cuba the truth will be known. Well, it’s time to take off the gag,” Carlos Payá, a brother and physician who lives in Spain, told El Nuevo Herald on Monday in a telephone interview.

Payá’s relatives maintain that a state security car rammed the vehicle driven by Carromero and carrying Payá, Cepero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig just before it crashed into a tree. Authorities said Payá was not wearing a seatbelt. The two Europeans suffered only minor injuries.

Carlos Payá said Pablo Vives, an activist in the Popular Party, the same conservative party that Carromero belongs to, told him that a state security car had rammed his car during his own visit to Cuba to meet with dissidents. Vives could not be immediately contacted for comment [...]

In a string of weekend interviews with journalists after Carromero’s arrival in Madrid, Carlos Payá also claimed that the Spanish Foreign Ministry at one point offered “indemnization” to the widow, Ofelia Acevedo. Under Cuban law, she could have filed her own charge against Carromero, and perhaps preempted a charge from prosecutors.

“The plan was this simple: Ofelia Acevedo accuses, Ofelia Acevedo receives an indemnization, case closed and in 72 hours (Carromero) is home,” the brother said. The family refused, he said, because it wants the full truth to emerge.

Remembering Danny Lopez de Moya

Monday, December 31, 2012
Today, we continue highlighting some of Cuba's newest political prisoners, which the Castro regime would like the world to forget.

Danny Lopez de Moya is a member of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in eastern Cuba.

UNPACU, led by former Cuban political prisoner Jose Daniel Ferrer, has become one of the leading opposition movements on the island.

Thus, its members have been subject to constant repression.

Lopez de Moya was arrested on February 26, 2012 for wearing a t-shirt in public that read "Boitel, Zapata, Wilman Viven y UNPACU" (referring to three prominent political priosners killed by the Castro regime).

In April, he was sentenced to one-and-a-half years in prison for "disobedience."

He will not be forgotten.

A Voice of Solidarity From Spain

Sunday, December 30, 2012
Excerpts from an editorial in Spain's ABC newspaper by the President of the Community of Madrid, Esperanza Aguirre, entitled "Viva Cuba Libre!":

For all those who love freedom and, most importantly, for Spaniards who love freedom, the existence of such a brutal dictatorship in the nation of the Americas with closest ties to Spain, is shameful and should shock the conscience.

I say that the existence of the Castro dictatorship should shock the conscience of all free Western nations because those of us who enjoy the full exercise of freedom have an inexcusable responsibility to act, so that Cubans can recover the freedom that the Communists have deprived them of during these fifty-four years of tyranny [...]

It is the moral responsibility of all free people to raise their voices against the Communist dictatorship of the Castro's in Cuba. It is unacceptable that Cuba, whose people have demonstrated in their long years of exile an exceptional entrepreneurial and creative ability, continues to languish in economic misery and moral degradation. Cuba must be free sooner than later.

The only positive stemming from the fifty-four years of this Communist dictatorship is that it has become the best practical and irrefutable example of the nefarious effects Communism has on the well-being of its citizens. Similar to the comparison of the poverty and oppression in North Korea, under its Communist dictatorship, when compared to the prosperity of South Korea, its democratic and free market neighbor.

For those who may till be tempted to look for solutions of a Communist or "real Socialist" nature (in these times of crisis that we are living there will always be some), it would be enlightening to look at the statistics of the evolution of Cuba during these fifty-four years of Communism.

In 1958, per capita income in Cuba was $360, double that of Spain at the time. Today, Spain's per capita income is $32,244, while Cuba's (according to the World Bank in 2008) was $5,397*. Even within Latin America, Cuba's per capita income in 1958 was similar to that of Chile, while today Chile's is three times that of Cuba. These statistics should be enough to vaccinate against anyone that still looks at the Castro regime with some sympathy.

That's why, for the freedom and prosperity of Cuba, on this eve of its anniversary of falling into the hands of a Communist dictatorship, we must scream with more strength and hope than ever: Viva Cuba Libre!

(*CHC Editor's Note: The World Bank per capita figure of $5,397 is provided by the regime and obviously overstated. In reality, Cubans' average wage is nearly $20 a month, which would translate to an average income of $240 a year.)

On Carromero's "Trial"

Despite the revelations below, the Spanish government signed a memorandum accepting the Castro regime's sham "trial" against Angel Carromero, the youth activist imprisoned for driving the car that crashed and killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero.

(Paya's family -- and Carromero himself before being taken into custody -- holds that the car was rammed by another vehicle, presumably of secret police officials that had been following them for hours.)

This might seem like a good short-term strategy to ingratiate the Castro regime, but has serious long-term consequences that will endanger other Spaniards on the island.

From an interview by Spain's ABC newspaper with Carromero's lawyer:

"In an interview published by ABC Spain, José María Viñals Camallonga reveals that neither he nor the Cuban lawyers assigned to Angel Carromero were given access to the evidence presented in court by the prosecution, not even the car involved in the "accident," or the the roadway itself. In addition, neither he nor the Cuban defense lawyers were allowed to carry out their own investigations.

In other words, the prosecution was totally in control of the trial, and the impossible task of the defense team was to disprove the prosecution's charges without access to any evidence or witnesses. When asked by ABC whether Carromero had received a fair trial, Viñals Camallonga replied that the trial adhered scrupulously to Cuban law, but was grossly unfair by the standards commonly accepted in Spain and the European Union."

Translation courtesy of Babalu Blog.

The Price Paid For Carromero's Repatriation

Spanish political activist Angel Carromero, who was accused by the Castro regime of driving the car that crashed and killed Cuban pro-democracy leaders Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, has now been repatriated to Spain.

Carromero will serve the remainder of his 4-year Cuban prison term in a Spanish prison, unless granted parole earlier.

Note that Carromero was accused of "vehicular manslaughter" by the Castro regime. However, Paya's family (and Carromero himself before being taken into custody) holds that the car was rammed by another vehicle, presumably of secret police officials that had been following them for hours.

Other details of the price paid for Carromero's repatriation are now being revealed.

According to sources involved in the negotiations (as revealed to Spain's Zoom News), the Spanish government formally recognized the sham trial against Carromero and paid the Castro regime a $3 million ransom.  Meanwhile, Carromero committed that he would remain silent regarding the details of the crash.

(This, of course, in addition to Spain's new push to change the EU's Common Position toward Cuba -- despite a historic spike in repression -- and new tourism investments.)

Overall, the price paid for Carromero's repatriation is absolute impunity for the Castro regime in the deaths of Paya and Cepero.

A heavy burden for their families, loved ones and future victims of Cuba's dictatorship.