Tweet of the Day

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cuba's Dissidents Clearly Gaining Influence

Monday, December 30, 2013
Pursuant to the brutal repression by the Castro regime against hundreds of peaceful dissidents on Human Rights Day (December 10th), former Cuban diplomat and social-democratic opponent, Pedro Campos, succinctly wrote from Havana:

"What is the government afraid of? That a few hundred people talking, listening to music and perhaps yelling anti-government slogans are capable of mobilizing thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, who will support them and overthrow the government in a massive, popular uprising? If that were the case, it would be a tacit acknowledgement of their political defeat."

Considering the rise in repression under Raul Castro's rule, it's clear that the regime isn't just afraid of these peaceful dissidents -- it is very afraid.

But perhaps there's no greater sign of the Castro regime's fear of these dissidents -- and the influence they are achieving both inside and outside the island -- than the smear campaign being mounted against them.

Of course, the regime has long smeared dissidents domestically -- even launching racist and sexist attacks.

Yet, now concerned about the international prestige they're garnering -- it's also intensifying the external smear campaign against them.

Case and point -- today's AFP article, where the Castro regime's favorite talking heads take aim at Cuba's dissidents.

Leading the charge -- as usual -- is "former" Cuban intelligence official-turned-doctoral student, Arturo Lopez-Levy ("Lopez-Callejas"), who stated that dissident's "verbal radicalism" is evidence of their "irrelevance" domestically.

"Verbal radicalism"?

What type of dictatorial jargon is that?

Are human rights, freedom and representative democracy symptoms of "verbal radicalism"?

For Lopez-Callejas, whose conflict-of-interest was omitted by AFP, anyone who disagrees with his point of view is a "verbal radical."

Apparently, you can take Lopez-Callejas out of Castro's MININT ("Ministry of the Interior"), but you can't take the MININT out of Lopez-Callejas.

After all, his family still calls the shots there.

"Los perros ladran, la caravana pasa."

Antunez Returns to Cuba

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissident Antunez calls for push against Castro regime

On the eve of returning to Cuba after a four-month trip abroad, democracy activist Jorge Luis García “Antúnez” said Monday that Cubans on the island and in exile must aggressively push to end the Castro government.

“We are returning to Cuba, not to wait for things to happen” but to continue attacking the government, García said, because “the Castro system is not going to fall and there’s no reason why we have to continue waiting for Fidel and Raúl to die so we can be free.”

“No dictatorship has fallen by itself,” he added. “The regime must be destabilized. An atmosphere of protest and tension, which the repression apparatus cannot control, must be recreated. The frustration and popular anger must be exploited."

The struggle to remove the Castro brothers from power requires a national strike and must lead to the release of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties and justice for government security agents who have “blood on their hands,” he added.

Antonio Villarreal Acosta: "Prison Ended My Life"

From Uncommon Sense:

Between the "Black Spring" of 2003, when the Castro dictatorship imprisoned political activist Antonio Augusto Villarreal Acosta, and 2010, when it forced him into overseas exile, the Castro dictatorship attempted to torture Villarreal to death.

On Saturday, in a Miami apartment, the regime finally succeeded.

Haunted by the memories of torture and other abuses he suffered in the Castro gulag, including a year alone in a darkened punishment cell, Villarreal apparently took his own life with an overdose of drugs. He was 63.

Miami police found his body in his apartment in Little Havana. His son Tony told Diario de las Americas that Villarreal was lying on his bed, with a Cuban flag, images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and his prison uniform.

"The history of my father was like a horror movie," Tony Villarreal told Cafe Fuerte.  "He felt alone, abandoned by all. He was under psychiatric treatment, but I never thought he was going to take such a radical decision."

Villarreal, an activist with the Christian Liberation Movement headed by the late Oswaldo Paya, was arrested during the "Black Spring" crackdown and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He was first sent to the Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba, where he spent a year in a punishment cell, and then to the La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara.

In July 2010, suffering from kidney ailments, hypertension and psychiatric disorders, he was one of the first of the Group of 75 prisoners released from jail under a deal arranged by Cuba, Spain and the Catholic Church, and forced into exile in Spain.

A year later, he moved with his wife and daughter to Miami, where life was no easier. Unable to work, he was on disability, and about a year ago he separated from his wife.

"Prison ended my life," Villarreal said in a 2011 interview.

WSJ: Mandela's Message Didn't Make it to Cuba

Sunday, December 29, 2013
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Mandela's Message Didn't Make It to Cuba

In Havana a small white clique rules a majority black nation.

Did Barack Obama bow to Raúl Castro when the two shook hands at a memorial for Nelson Mandela in South Africa earlier this month? It sure looked that way in a South African Broadcasting Corporation photo.

On the other hand Castro is a diminutive dictator. That may explain what seemed to be presidential stooping to the level of the tropical totalitarian. Let's hope so. After all, the Cuban military dictatorship, run by a white junta, held and tortured the black political prisoner Eusebio Peñalver for 28 years—one year more than Mandela endured.

The world barely noticed when Peñalver died in exile in 2005. If he had enjoyed the kind of international support Mandela had, things might have turned out differently for him and for Cuba's predominantly black population. Government statistics in Cuba are unreliable but according to a 2009 report in the Inter Press Service News Agency, "most Cuban academics estimate that between 60% and 70% of the population is black or 'mulatto.'"

Cuba was thrilled with the Obama encounter. A Dec. 19 commentary under Fidel's byline, published by the state media, congratulated Raúl for "his firmness and dignity" when the two met.

That's not the only reason Cuba had to be giddy about what went on in South Africa. The world used the Dec. 5 passing of Mandela to recall the courageous struggle for racial equality in South Africa. Cuba used it to brag about the close ties between Mandela and Fidel. No one mentioned Peñalver or the 55 years of racial exclusion under the Castro military dictatorship.

Cuba already had a long history of racial discrimination by the late 1950s, not unlike in the U.S. But after dictator Fulgencio Batista went into exile on Jan. 1, 1959 and Castro took over, things did not improve. In many ways, they got worse.

Peñalver was born in central Cuba in 1936, the eldest of six children. He had to give up going to school full-time in order to work. But he studied bookkeeping at night and graduated from a business school in Camaguey.

Peñalver opposed the Batista regime, like many young Cubans, and he fought with the rebel army in the hope of restoring the constitutional democracy. But when Castro hijacked the revolution for himself, Peñalver broke ranks rather than "sell my soul to the same devil that here on earth is Castro and communism."

Unlike Mandela, he never planned or launched attacks against civilians. But he took up arms against Castro's military in the Escambray Mountains, where he was captured in October 1960.

Peñalver became one of the legendary "plantados," prisoners who heroically resisted unfathomable cruelty at the hands of their jailers. In Oct. 1988, after almost three decades of incarceration, Peñalver was released and banished. From exile in Los Angeles he wrote about the "naked brutality" and round-the-clock beating and harassment that he had endured: "They made the men eat grass, they submerged them in sewage, they beat them hard with bayonets and they hit them with fence posts until their bones rattled."

Peñalver didn't carry the left-wing ideological identity card that made Castro a fan of Mandela. (Mandela never forgot it and was a life-long supporter of Cuba's dictator.) Peñalver fought against two dictatorships, but his cause was never racial. He wanted freedom for all Cubans. Yet it is clear that he suffered more because he was black: He interfered with the revolutionary narrative—so crucial to Castro's "progressive" international image—that the regime emancipated black Cubans.

Angel de Fana, who is white, is another of the exiled plantados. He told me last week in an email that during his many years in prison with Peñalver, "I witnessed how he was a victim of 'additional' punishment simply for being black."

Today Cuban economic and political power still resides with the military and the leadership is still a white men's club. But the subject of racism is taboo. In March, Roberto Zurbano, the Afro-Cuban publisher of Casa de las Americas publishing house in Havana, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times NYT -0.39%  headlined, "For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn't Begun," noting that black Cubans are "underrepresented in spheres of economic and political power." He was fired. Mr. Zurbano blamed the headline. Right.

At least he didn't go to lockup like Sonia Garro, another Afro-Cuban who threatens to unravel the Castro propaganda that he has elevated the black population. She first got into trouble by doing nonpolitical community work, unauthorized by the regime, in her heavily black neighborhood in Havana. In March 2012 she lobbied, along with others, for an audience with Pope Benedict during his visit to the island. The regime raided her house, shot her with rubber bullets and put her in jail. Others asking to see the Pope were detained at the same time, but only Ms. Garro remains in jail.

Black South Africans have won their struggle against official discrimination. Black Cubans wait.

Boston Globe: Cuba's Unhappy Birthday

By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

Cuba’s unhappy birthday

New Year's Day marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s communist revolution. It is the only full-blown dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. As Human Rights Watch noted in April, no other country in Latin America is ruled by a regime that “represses virtually all forms of political dissent.” More than half a century after Fidel Castro seized power with the promise that “all rights and freedoms will be reinstituted” — and more than seven years since Raul Castro succeeded his brother as tyrant-in-chief — Cuba is consistently rated “Not Free” in Freedom House’s annual index of political and civil liberties worldwide.

All this is borne out by the US State Department’s most recent report on Cuba’s human-rights practices. Although written in mostly dry bureaucratese, the document confirms that the island is no Caribbean paradise for Cubans who have the temerity to oppose the regime. Skim just the opening paragraphs and phrase after phrase stands out, evoking the reasons why Cubans remain so desperate for freedom that even now many will gamble their lives at sea to escape the Castro brothers’ nightmare:

Authoritarian state”... “Communist Party the only legal party”... “elections were neither free nor fair”... “government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment”... “record number of politically motivated [and] violent short-term detentions.”

So when dissidents and pro-democracy activists held peaceful gatherings across the island to commemorate International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, they knew what to expect. Security agents were deployed to threaten, beat, and arrest the protesters; meetings were violently broken up; as many as 300 people were detained. Among the victims were dozens of members of Ladies in White, a dissident movement comprising the wives and mothers of Cuban prisoners of conscience. At least one woman was so severely beaten that she was taken to the hospital in Santiago for emergency surgery.

It would be heartening to report that the world erupted in outrage at this latest illustration of the Castro government’s brutality, which was all the more vile given Cuba’s recent election to the UN Human Rights Council. Alas, no. While Raul Castro’s thugs were attacking and arresting nonviolent dissidents, Castro himself was at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Soweto, where Barack Obama greeted the dictator with a friendly handshake. That got plenty of attention. It certainly got more than any gesture Obama has ever made to show solidarity with Cuba’s beleaguered human-rights heroes.

When he was running for president, Obama told voters in Florida that he would “never, ever compromise the cause of liberty” and that his policy toward Cuba would “be guided by one word: libertad.” In reality his policy has amounted to little more than dialing back US restrictions on travel and business with Cuba. That has proven an ideal way to further enrich the Castros and the Cuban military. It has done nothing to mitigate human rights atrocities in the hemisphere’s most unfree country.

If the president wishes to send a powerful message of support and encouragement to the champions of Cuban libertad, he need only share their stories with the world. Men and women are still being persecuted, tortured, and murdered in the Castros’ hellhole. Dissidents still disappear. Or die in suspicious road accidents. Or are drowned while trying to flee the country.

Perhaps the president could spare a few minutes to look at a new report from the Cuba Archive, a US-based research project that seeks to meticulously chronicle every political killing or disappearance committed by Cuban rulers dating back to the Batista regime in 1952. For all the speculation that Raul’s accession to power would finally usher Cuba into a new era of pragmatism and reform, the toll in human lives keeps climbing higher and higher.

A president who has sworn to “never, ever, compromise the cause of liberty” might speak out, for example, about the fate of Roberto Amelia Franco Alfaro, who was warned by the police to stop opposing the government — and then disappeared when he wouldn’t. He might call attention to the death of Sergio Diaz Larrastegui, a blind human-rights activist who was threatened with revenge if he wouldn’t turn informer — then fell abruptly, fatally ill. There have been scores of such cases in recent years, many thousands in the last few decades.

There is only one dictatorship in the Americas. On New Year’s Day it turns another year older. Cry, the beloved island.

Remembering Marcelino Abreu Bonora

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

Today, we remember democracy activist, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who just spent his second Christmas in a political prison.

Abreu was arrested in 2012 for yelling “Long Live Human Rights,” “Down With Tyranny,” and "Freedom" on Fidel Castro's birthday (August 13th).

His peaceful protest was caught on video (see it here at 1:50 mark).

The Castro regime handed him a 4-year prison term in a sham proceeding, which he was not even permitted to attend.

Abreu has been on several hunger strikes protesting his arbitrary imprisonment -- most recently for 76-days.

He is currently in grave health.

Demand his freedom.

In the picture below, Abreu shows the blood-stained shirt he was wearing pursuant to a beating by Castro's secret police in 2010.

Tweet of the Week

Castro's Economic Woes

An excerpt from Vicente Morin Aguado's "Raul Castro's Questionable Optimism" in The Havana Times:

The essential economic data addressed [by Raul Castro at last week's National Assembly] was the following:

- During 2013, the Cuban economy grew by 2.7%, as opposed to the 3.6% predicted.

- In 2014, the economy is expected to grow by only 2.2 %

- Such unimpressive figures, we are told again, are primarily owed to a drop in hard currency export revenues, particularly to the deficit in tourism revenues.

- Another negative element is the expected drop, next year, of the prices of sugar and nickel, two of Cuba’s major exports.

I want to focus on a number of considerations surrounding these predictions before commenting on Raul Castro’s remarks.

For average Cubans, a yearly growth of 2% is tantamount to nothing or next to nothing, which might not be the same thing but is close enough. The two-currency system, coupled with the arbitrary prices that characterize the country’s State accounting system, make the figures quoted even more dubious.

Remembering Angel Yunier Remon

Friday, December 27, 2013
During the holidays, let's continue to highlight some of the current political prisoners that the Castro brothers would like the world to forget.

Today, we remember 30-year old dissident rapper, Angel Yunier Remon, who just spent his first Christmas in a political prison.

Yunier Remon, whose stage name is "el Critico del Arte" ('The Art Critic'), was attacked with tear gas and arrested on March 21st, 2013, for his criticism of the Castro regime.

In prison -- where he is being held without charges or trial -- Yunier has been continuously beaten, contracted various diseases, denied family visits and held naked in a punishment cell.

He has undertaken several hunger strikes to protest his cruel and arbitrary imprisonment.

Demand his freedom.

How Castro's Repressive Apparatus Works

The case of Andrés Carrión provides a great illustration of how a regular Cuban felt the need to speak the truth and how Castro's repressive apparatus works -- exerting unbearable pressure on Carrión and his family.

From The Miami Herald:

Andrés Carrión says security agents threatened to kill him, fired his wife, forced them out of their home and sent two snitches to get close to him.

Andrés Carrión Alvarez says he knew it would be up to him to shatter the image of peace and order clamped on Cuba by government security agents when then Pope Benedict XVI said Mass last year in Santiago de Cuba.

“I could not allow the international news media there to think everything was OK,” said Carrión, the man seen in a memorable video shouting “Down with communism!” before the Mass and then being pummeled and hauled away by plainclothes agents.

Carrión, 41, and his wife, physician Ariuska Galán, 38, received U.S. refugee visas and arrived Nov. 21 in Chattanooga, Tenn., where they have been filling out papers for work permits, Social Security numbers and medical checkups.

[I] am breathing freedom, an incredible sense of freedom,” Carrion told El Nuevo Herald in his first interview since leaving Cuba.

That was not what he was breathing in Cuba after his notorious outburst minutes before Benedict began the Mass in Santiago on March 26, 2012, on the first leg of a three-day visit to Cuba, the first papal tour of the communist-ruled nation since John Paul II visited in 1998.

Government officials threatened to kill him, fired his wife from a public clinic and evicted them from their apartment above the clinic. Two State Security infiltrators tried to get close to him. And an Interior Ministry car seemed to try to run him over, he said.

Carrión said he was not active in dissident groups before his outburst. A physical therapist who lived with his wife quietly in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, he had been dismissed from his job as part of a government belt-tightening, and was unemployed.

I was a normal person, with some political worries, but then little by little came an increase in my political consciousness,” he said in a telephone interview.

He realized he would have the perfect opportunity to attack the government publicly when it was announced that Benedict would say Mass in Santiago — an event sure to be attended by the international news media and Cuba’s ruling elites, but not by dissidents.

Carrión was right. Following past procedures, police detained hundreds of dissidents and blocked their phones during Benedict’s visit to make sure they could not get anywhere near the pope in Santiago and Havana.

“I took advantage of that moment because I was a person unknown in the political world,” he said. “If not, I could not have reached that spot.”

What Castro and al-Qaeda Have in Common

Thursday, December 26, 2013
They are both holding elderly, Jewish, American development workers hostage in order to coerce the U.S. into unilateral negotiations and concessions.

In other words, they both employ terrorist tactics.

Read carefully.

From AP:

A 72-year-old American development worker who was kidnapped in Pakistan by al-Qaida more than two years ago appealed to President Obama in a video released Thursday to negotiate his release, saying he feels "totally abandoned and forgotten."

The video of Warren Weinstein was the first since two videos released in September 2012. Weinstein, the country director in Pakistan for J.E. Austin Associates, a U.S.-based firm that advises a range of Pakistani business and government sectors, was abducted from his house in the eastern city of Lahore in August 2011.

"Nine years ago I came to Pakistan to help my government, and I did so at a time when most Americans would not come here, and now when I need my government it seems that I have been totally abandoned and forgotten," Weinstein said during the 13-minute video. "And so I again appeal to you to instruct your appropriate officials to negotiate my release."

Sound familiar?

From NBC:

Alan Gross, the 64-year-old American contractor imprisoned in Cuba since 2009, has written a letter pleading with President Obama for his "personal involvement" to secure his release.

"With the utmost respect, Mr. President,” wrote Gross, who was arrested in Havana four years ago today, “I fear that my government-- the very government I was serving when I began this nightmare-- has abandoned me."

The letter comes as Gross’s wife, family and supporters stage a vigil outside the White House to mark the anniversary and call on President Obama to appoint a special envoy to negotiate for his release. His supporters have also released new photos of Gross in his Cuban prison, where he has lost 110 pounds, according to a family spokeswoman.


Quote of the Day: A Stark Reminder of Cuba's Tragedy

While the fate of the people may never be known or what happened to them, our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this difficult time. For those who know of a loved one attempting to make the illegal voyage across the Mona Passage, do your best to reason with them. Tell them to not go out to sea, to not entrust their lives to a smuggler, and to not attempt the treacherous voyage. In doing so, they risk losing their lives.
-- U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Drew Pearson, pursuant to calling off the search for six Cubans (three men, three women) feared dead at sea, The Miami Herald, 12/26/13

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Remembering Sonia Garro

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, who is currently spending her second Christmas in a political prison.

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.

Eight Americans to Remember This Christmas

By Brett Schaefer in Heritage's The Foundry:

8 Americans to Remember This Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebration and family. It should also be a time for reflection, appreciation for all we have, and remembrance of those who are in need.

While most of us are gathering with loved ones, there are Americans being held prisoner in repressive countries around the world—often for doing nothing more than practicing their faith, aiding the poor, giving voice to the voiceless, or serving their country. Here are some of their heart-wrenching stories:

Saeed Abedini, an American pastor, was arrested in 2012 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard while visiting his family. He had worked for years to set up churches in Iran. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence on charges related to practicing his Christian faith.

Kenneth Bae was arrested in North Korea in November 2012. Bae was conducting visiting tours of North Korea and working quietly as a missionary to spread Christianity, which is prohibited in North Korea. He was convicted of committing hostile acts against North Korea and sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Bowe Bergdahl, a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, is a POW in Afghanistan. Sergeant Bergdahl was captured by militants belonging to the Haqqani terrorist network in June 2009. His captors have released several videos of Bergdahl since his capture to demonstrate that he was alive and healthy. The Pentagon believes that he is being held in Pakistan.

James Foley is a U.S. journalist who disappeared in northeast Syria in November 2012. Foley was in Syria to cover the civil war for Agence France-Presse. His family has had no contact with him since his disappearance, but he is believed to a prisoner of the Syrian government.

Alan Gross, a 64-year old U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contractor, has been imprisoned in Cuba since 2009. Gross was arrested by the Cuban government for fulfilling a USAID contract to distribute communications equipment to the Cuban Jewish community. He was convicted of crimes against the Cuban state and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He recently sent a letter to President Obama pleading for the Administration to take stronger steps to obtain his release.

Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine and decorated war veteran, was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned in Iran while visiting his grandmother in 2011. He was sentenced to death by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for allegedly spying for the CIA—a charge overturned by Iran’s Supreme Court and ordered for retrial.

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, has been missing since 2007. Levinson is believed to have been kidnapped and detained by the Iranian government. He is currently the longest-held hostage in U.S. history. Recent news reports indicate that Levinson may have been working with the CIA.

Austin Tice, former Captain in the United States Marine Corps and recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for War Reporting, disappeared in Syria in August 2012. Tice was in Syria as a freelance journalist to report on the civil war. The Czech ambassador to Syria stated that his sources indicate that Tice is alive and in the custody of the Syrian government. Tice’s parents recently traveled to Syria to try and raise awareness about Austin.

At Christmas, it is appropriate for Americans to remember their fellow citizens in distress abroad.

We should also take a moment to appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a country that respects our rights and freedoms. Totalitarian governments around the world torture and imprison thousands of people for opposing the government, practicing their religion, or simply expressing their thoughts and opinions. The U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 details arrest and arbitrary detention of political prisoners, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture in many countries, including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

It is a good time to remember these victims in our prayers, urge our government to try and help them, and support organizations that raise awareness of their plights.

Must-Read: The Myth of the Reformer Dictator

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Michael Moynihan has a great piece in The Daily Beast entitled, "Kim Jon Un & The Myth of the Reformer Dictator"

Read the whole thing here, but we've highlighted the Cuba section below:

Snap out of it, folks—tyrants don’t change their stripes. North Korea’s murderous boy king should crush that misguided hope forever.

Here is what we know about Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s fatheaded boy tyrant: he studied in Switzerland, is a fan of the Chicago Bulls, and excels at purging disloyal apparatchiks from his politburo (a required skill for every Juche dauphin). These minor biographical details were vigorously picked over when Kim replaced his father in 2012, with those first two data points—a love of basketball and a European education—frequently offered as evidence that the most illiberal society on Earth just might turn towards a path of liberalization.

Let’s acknowledge that the North Korea analyst has the least enviable job in political punditry, simply because there is so little information to analyze. So if not scrutinizing Kim’s teenage habits in an attempt to divine political intent, then what else?

Combine this with the almost universal hope that the Kim family’s private concentration camp might be limping towards reform, liberalization, or slow-motion de-Stalinization. But the North Korean leadership has a 60-year record of dashing such hopes. Indeed, it turns out that while Kim Jong Un is interested in professional basketball, he has also proved quite adaptive to the role of capo di tutti capi of Asia’s most brutal crime family.

Not surprising, that. But the trope that exposure to Western values and love of Western pop culture insulates one from personal fanaticism is favorite of journalists. We’re baffled as to how those swaddled in privilege and protected by democracy—if, as in Kim Jong Un’s case, only briefly—could end up choosing totalitarianism [...]

It’s no surprise that Kim Jong Un continues the legacy of his father and grandfather—no signs of reform in sight—because we have played this game a million times before. The world was long ago promised that Zimbabwean thug Robert Mugabe would be a great reformer. (In 1983, the Christian Science Monitor told readers that Zimbabwe’s “small but economically productive white community, which once dreaded Mugabe’s rise to power, now respects and even admires him.”) When writing a story on the naive and silly politics of the travel guidebooks, I came across this prescient passage in Lonely Planet’s guide to Syria and Lebanon: “Reforms by the young president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, may not have been as wide-ranging as many might have hoped, but there is certainly a feeling of optimism in the capital.” And remember the special case of Muammar Gaddafi, a discotheque-and-plane-bombing psychopath who later became a “reformer”—before his subjects protested the languid pace of change by murdering him.

But for those of us skeptical of wishful predictions of reformist dictators, there is no better example than the Cuban dictatorship, which has been said to be reforming every year since 1959.

In 1984, the Associated Press (AP) excitedly wrote that “visitors to Havana…note a new candor in the press—open criticism of unproductive factories, poor restaurant service and similar problems.” In 1990, the AP reported that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was giving its “first hint of making some reforms.” (There’s that word hint again.) In 1993, the AP again reported that Cuba was “open[ing the] economy with new reforms,” as the “nation moves farther from socialism.” In 1994, the Washington Post reported that new reforms would “improve Cuba’s economy,” while “blackouts lessen [and] tourism revives.” In 2008, the New York Times told us that Raul Castro was “nudg[ing] Cuba toward reforms.” And in 2012, the normally sober editorialists at The Economist indulged in some wishful thinking: “Under Raúl Castro, Cuba has begun the journey towards capitalism.”

One would assume with all of these reforms, Cuba would have by now morphed into a tropical facsimile of Norway. But Raul Castro’s “reforms” have been about as impressive as Gaddafi’s or Mugabe’s (they never include elections, do they?), yet one still can’t avoid the excited press notices that change is afoot in Castroville.

Last Sunday, the New York Times revealed that “in Cuba’s press, streets and living rooms” there were “glimmers of openness to criticism.” This new openness apparently lasted two days. Because on Tuesday, the AP reported that “Cuban government agents…detained about 20 dissidents arriving for an International Human Rights Day march, halting the demonstration before it started.” And a week later, the AP threw more cold water on the idea of reform with the following headline: “Raul Castro Issues Stern Warning to Entrepreneurs.”

For reasons that will forever confound me, Cuba has—and always will—maintain a dedicated following of fellow travellers and dim-witted sycophants; those who believe that preventing free elections and a free press is a reasonable price to pay for universal, undersupplied, and substandard health care. But it appears that the only person left on Earth who believes North Korea is on the precipice of change is former basketball star Dennis Rodman. On his latest visit to Pyongyang, Rodman told reporters that despite the summary executions, drumhead courts, labor camps, and frequent bouts of mass starvation, “it’s all love, it’s all love here.”

And reform is just around the corner.

State's Response to Raul

Monday, December 23, 2013
The United States government is open to forging a new relationship with Cuba when the Cuban people can enjoy the protection of their fundamental human rights and the ability to freely determine their own political future.
--Senior State Department official, in response to Cuban dictator Raul Castro's call for the U.S. to recognize and "respect" his totalitarian regime, AFP, 12/23/13

Petition UNICEF Against Cuba's Political Exploitation of Children

Please sign the following petition here.

To the Executive Board of UNICEF:

On December 9th, 10th and 11th, 2013, Cuban authorities laid siege to the home of peaceful activist Antonio G. Rodiles, leader of the civic group Estado de SATS, to prevent a meeting celebrating Human Rights Day.

Access to Rodiles’s house was cut by the political police (State Security) beginning at sundown on December 9th, and all those who tried to reach it were detained. Dozens of elementary and secondary education (high school) students were pulled from their classrooms and transported to the area on December 10th and 11th to take part in an improvised “cultural activity” designed to sabotage the human rights commemoration with loud music from their speakers.

The Cuban government had planned these acts of political mobilization in anticipation. During the month of November, fast action groups were created under the leadership of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (surveillance and control institutions on every block) and the collaboration of other official institution. The campaign began precisely on December 9th, and will continue until December 22nd.

On December 11th, Rodiles, and other activists who ventured outside the home were violently arrested in front of the minors that were on the streets. Rodiles was arrested under the false accusation, launched by official accounts of the regime on different social networks, that he had assaulted a minor. No such incident ever happened. However, in a video filmed by Estado de SATS, a police woman can be seen pushing a boy who falls to the ground (minute 3:08). Later on, high school students formed a celebratory conga line in front of Rodiles’s house.

As it is usual in these cases, the minors’ parents were not notified in advance of the activities in which their children were forced to take part. 

We ask UNICEF to demand from the Cuban government respect for children’s rights, that it stops exploiting children for political purposes, and that it does not use them again in acts of repression against the Cuban opposition.

Sincerely,

Sign Here

U.S. Court Indicts FARC Terrorists in Cuba

Sunday, December 22, 2013
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has indicted two regional leaders of Colombia's narco-terrorist guerrilla group, FARC.

According to El Tiempo, the indicted FARC leaders are Omar de Jesus Restrepo Correa, alias "Olmedo Ruiz," and Adan de Jesus Jimenez Garcia, alias "Conejo."

They are facing terrorism and narcotics trafficking charges.

Both terrorist leaders have been residing in Cuba as part of the FARC's (curiously large and non-essential) "peace talks" delegation.

But it's increasingly clear that they are simply being harbored by the Castro regime.

Quote of the Month

The most important source of income for the [Castro] regime are the family remittances and money that we emigrants leave when visiting Cuba. It's time to demand something in exchange for the money with which we sustain the dictatorship. Enough with the fear that they will no longer let us enter the island, for they need us to continue going and leaving our money earned abroad. Bury that fear. Otherwise, another 50 or 100 years of jineterismo, communism and governmental reggaeton await us.
-- Boris Larramendi, young Cuban rocker exiled in Spain, Diario las Americas, 12/22/13

Over 3,000 Cuban Doctors Defected From Venezuela

In 2013, over 3,000 Cuban doctors have defected from Venezuela.

According to El Universal, this represents a 60% increase from 2012, which illustrates the rapidly declining state of affairs in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government pays the Castro regime $6,000 per doctor.  

Meanwhile, each Cuban doctor only receives $300 -- which represents a 95% profit margin for the Castro brothers.

Raul's Hand

A political cartoon that needs no translation.

By Garrincha in Marti News:

Castro Wants U.S. to "Respect" His Totalitarian Dictatorship

Emboldened by an unmerited handshake with President Obama, Cuban dictator Raul Castro has called for the U.S. to unconditionally recognize and "respect" his totalitarian regime.

In remarks today to his puppet "National Assembly," Castro said:

If we really want to move forward in our bilateral relations, we have to learn to mutually respect our differences and become accustomed to peacefully living with them.

In other words, Castro wants the U.S. to recognize and "respect" his totalitarian dictatorship; his violation of the Cuban people's fundamental human, civil, political and economic rights; his beating, torture and harassment of peaceful opponents; his political prisoners; his regime's extrajudicial killings and disappearances; his violence against female activists; his subversion of democracy in the Western Hemisphere; his taking of American hostages; his weapons smuggling; his violation of international sanctions; his larceny of the Cuban people's assets; his military's business monopolies; his harboring of terrorists and fugitives; his intelligence sharing with fellow terrorist regimes; his use of children in acts of repression; his suppression of independent labor unions; his persecution of independent media; his censorship of information; his blockade of the Internet.

And while we're at it, the U.S. should throw away the Inter-American Democratic Charter, with its silly embrace of "representative democracy" in the Americas.

Just 'cos Raul says so.

Quote(s) of the Day: Raul and Response

We’re not ignorant of the fact that those pressuring to move faster are moving us toward failure, toward disunity, and are damaging the people’s confidence and support for the construction of socialism and the independence and sovereignty of Cuba.
-- General Raul Castro, Cuban dictator, on his slow, cosmetic and retracting economic "reforms," AP, 12/21/13
Change? What change? What I want is to get out of here. My mind’s made up, and I'm desperate.
-- Orlando Rivera, a 28-year-old unemployed Havana resident, AP, 12/20/13

The Silent Mariel Continues

From Cafe Fuerte:

According to official [Cuban government] statistics, a total of 184,787 Cubans were able to travel abroad during 2013 and more than half (55.2%) have not returned.

Meet Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva

Friday, December 20, 2013
Each day this holiday season, we'll be featuring an in-depth interview with a former Cuban political prisoner or democracy activist, in order to highlight the sacrifice and struggle of these courageous individuals.

The interviews are courtesy of the Bush Center's Freedom Collection.

We begin today with Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva of The Ladies in White.

Alejandrina García de la Riva was born on April 12, 1966, in Matanzas, Cuba. Her first years of life were spent on a sugar mill in the municipality of Calimente. She went to technical school at the Álvaro Reynoso Institute in order to study agriculture and agronomy and held jobs as a statistician, grocer, independent journalist, and a correspondent for Servicio Noticuba, a press agency considered illegal by the Cuban government.

In 1983, Alejandrina married Diosdado González Marrero, a decision that ultimately led her down the path of nonviolent civil resistance. Together the couple has two children and three grandchildren.

In March 2003, Alejandrina’s husband was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents to be arrested in a massive government crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In response, Alejandrina and other wives, mothers, and sisters of those imprisoned during the Black Spring founded the Ladies in White [Damas de Blanco].

The Ladies in White became a formidable civil society organization that planned weekly marches through the streets of Havana, peacefully protesting for the freedom of political prisoners and the expansion of civil liberties and political freedoms in Cuba. As a result of her participation, Alejandrina was arrested and harassed by the Cuban authorities on numerous occasions.

Alejandrina played a crucial role in orchestrating the release of her husband and other Black Spring political prisoners. The Ladies in White lobbied Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the leading representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, and convinced him to negotiate for the release of the prisoners. By 2011, after years of protests and several hunger strikes, the Black Spring dissidents, including Alejandrina’s husband, were released. While the majority of the prisoners went into exile, Alejandrina and Diosdado chose to remain in Cuba.

Alejandrina lives in Mantazas Province and remains active in the Ladies in White Movement.

In the video below (click here), Alejandrina talks about the inception and evolution of the Ladies in White:

Preparing the Noose Over Mariel

In his recent book about doing business with the Castro regime, French entrepreneur Michel Villand warned:

"Founding a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign company is the same as putting a noose around your neck."

This has been the constant experience of foreign businessmen in Cuba, ranging from Chile's Max Marambio to Britain's Stephen Purvis.

(Just yesterday, the Castro regime ordered the capture of Mexico's Alfredo Capetillo, whose ABC Export-Import was a major supplier of Cuba's tourism industry.)

They were all some of Castro's biggest investors. 

Then overnight, they were arbitrarily imprisoned and their cash and assets confiscated -- with no public information, explanation or details as to why.

Moreover, there's a large number of foreign businessmen currently sitting in Castro's prisons without trial or charges.  Some are well known cases, like Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, while there are unknown ones, including Ericsonn's Havana representative.

Yet, this month, the Castro regime began "accepting bids" from foreign investors for its new Mariel Special Economic Zone, modeled after North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Zone, and built by Brazil's Odebrecht (with a $700 million credit line from Brasilia).

The business model behind these "special zones" is for foreign companies to "enjoy" the benefits (low cost and exploitation) of Cuba and North Korea's captive slave labor.

According to the regime, there's been extensive interest -- not to mention media hype.

Yet, no bites.

Instead, last month, Castro sent his Minister of Foreign Commerce, Rodrigo Malmierca, back to Brazil to beg for (yet) another line of credit.

Can you feel the "noose" tighten?

Quote of the Week

I will travel to Cuba the day that I'm guaranteed the ability to meet freely with the opposition.
-- Arnold Vaatz,  prominent German parliamentarian with the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Marti News, 12/20/13

Over 30 Ladies in White Arrested Today

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Over 30 members of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, were beaten and arrested today, as they tried to gather for a meeting in Havana.

Just another day in Castro's Cuba.

Has the international community decided that such systemic violence against peaceful women in acceptable?

If not -- where's the outrage?

In case you missed it, here's a picture of Marina Paz, a member of The Ladies in White, being beaten and stripped of her symbolic white clothing last week:

Questions for Raul Castro

Excerpt by former Cuban diplomat and social-democratic critic, Pedro Campos, in Havana Times:

The Needless, Counterproductive Repression of Cuban Dissidents

I am going to pose a series of questions to President Raul Castro, the members of the Politburo, the generals of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT), those who directly participated in these repressive acts and to share some general opinions about these events.

What does the Cuban government achieve by breaking into people’s homes, imprisoning, kidnapping and even beating people who sought to celebrate Human Rights Day peacefully in Cuba? What benefit is derived and what good does it do its international credibility.

I believe it could have gained a lot more had it allowed these peaceful celebrations to take place.

What is the government afraid of? That a few hundred people talking, listening to music and perhaps yelling anti-government slogans are capable of mobilizing thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, who will support them and overthrow the government in a massive, popular uprising? If that were the case, it would be a tacit acknowledgement of their political defeat.

Doesn’t the Cuban government realize that, in the age of the Internet and smart-phones, when it’s no longer possible to keep such incidents from being divulged around the world, its repressive actions serve only to bolster the national and international prestige of these dissidents?

Should the slogan “the streets belong to revolutionaries” be made a reality by securing massive support from the people through popular measures, or by cleaning the streets of dissidents through violent means?

I sincerely believe that the Cuban leadership, still imbued with the spirit of the Cold War, Stalinism and military authoritarianism, blinded by its own inability to pull the country out of its crisis and its desire to remain in power at all costs, is unable to reason and see all of the absurd things it is doing at all levels – economic, political and social.

Raul Castro's Rule: Over 200 Deaths and Disappearances

Courtesy of Cuba Archive:

The Human Toll of Raul Castro's Rule: 7/31/2006-12/15/2013

As 2013 comes to an end, Raúl Castro remains Cuba's supreme leader after six and a half years —considerably longer than the average president's term in most countries.

The following is a compilation of deaths and disappearances attributed to the Cuban state under Raúl Castro from 7/31/2006 to 12/15/2013. 

Documented Cases: 166*

Forced Disappearances: 2
Extrajudicial / Deliberate Killings: 15
Suspected Extrajudicial / Deliberate Killings: 10
By Hunger Strike in Prison: 4
Denial of Medical Care / Medical Condition in Prison: 86
Suicide or Alleged Suicide in Prison or Provoked: 46
Accidents / Negligence in Prison: 3

*Forty-two (42) additional cases (for a total of 208 documented cases) are reported for which the Cuban state is considered directly or indirectly responsible. Many more cases are feared, particularly in prison and in exit attempts by sea, of which reports are very hard to come by.

Click here for profiles of selected cases and the full list.

Another Ridiculous "Reform": It's All About the Monopoly

In another "reform" only worthy of Castro, Assad and Kim's propagandists, the Cuban regime has granted its people "the right" to buy new or second-hand car -- but only from the state's monopoly.

Previously, Cubans were first required to request permission from the monopoly, in order to then try to purchase a vehicle -- that they can't afford -- from the monopoly.

Now, they can just try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly -- which the monopoly reserves the right to reject -- without first requesting permission from the monopoly.

Get it?

It's all about the monopoly.

Meanwhile, Havana's foreign bureaus herald this as "another step toward greater economic freedom."

Ridiculous.

From Reuters:

For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans will have the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without government permission, official media announced on Thursday, another step toward greater economic freedom on the communist-led island.

Under a reform two years ago, Cubans can buy and sell used cars from each other, but must request authorization from the government to purchase a new vehicle or second-hand one, usually a relatively modern rental car, from State retailers.

The Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said the Council of Ministers approved new regulations on Wednesday that "eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state."

As a result, Granma said, "the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up."

The Cuban state maintains a monopoly on the retail sale of cars. 

Is Venezuela on the Brink of Economic Collapse?

No wonder there's such a coordinated effort lately to lift U.S. sanctions, for the Castro brothers are desperately looking for their next bailout.

From Wall Street Journal:

Moody's Joins S&P in Downgrading Venezuela's Ratings

Moody's Investors Service slashed its ratings on Venezuela further into junk territory, the second major ratings firm to make such a move in recent days as the South American nation struggles with skyrocketing inflation and a weak economy.

On Monday, Moody's lowered its local and foreign currency ratings on Venezuela to Caa1, placing those ratings now seven notches into junk. The ratings outlook is negative, suggesting further downgrades could occur.

The cut comes after peer Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Friday cut its ratings on the oil-rich nation by one notch. S&P, which also has a negative outlook on Venezuela, rates the nation one level higher than Moody's.

Venezuela's economy has been stung by import bottlenecks and product shortages stemming from strict currency controls. The economy's modest 1.1% growth in the third quarter of 2013 was well below the 5% expansion posted in the same period last year, when the government poured money into social programs as it looked to win a key presidential race.

"Inflation is out of control having crossed the 50% mark," Moody's warned. Both ratings firms see inflation at around the 50% mark, up from 20% last year.

A Cuban Dissident's Belated Tribute to Mandela

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Miriam Celaya:

Mandela: My Belated Personal Tribute

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Pitching the Castro Family's Business Monopoly

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
CBS News has another speculative article regarding the U.S. embargo toward Cuba, pursuant to the infamous "handshake."

Like most of these articles, it fails to mention that the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified into law and requires an act of Congress to substantially alter or end, which is unlikely to happen (due to strong bipartisan support) until Cuba democratizes and recognizes the fundamental human rights of its people.

But hey, why stop a good story with inconvenient facts.

The other noteworthy part of the story are the remarks by "former" Cuban intelligence official, Arturo Lopez-Levy, who is apparently now the media's favorite Cuba "expert" (while failing to note his background and family interest).

Lopez-Levy, whose real name is Lopez-Callejas, states:

"By binding U.S. producers, U.S. business closer to Cuba, with the elimination of some of the restrictions, we can really start building up a business class in Cuba. As we see in all parts of the world entrepreneurs are the backbone of economies, but they are also global citizens."

Of course, what Lopez-Callejas fails to mention is that according to Castro's 1976 Constitution, all foreign trade in Cuba is the exclusive domain of the regime.

CBS knew this fact and chose to ignore it.

That means 100% of all imports, exports and investment in Cuba can only be exercised by the Castro regime, namely through a monopoly of the military called, Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, SA ("GAESA").

And who heads GAESA?

None other than Lopez-Callejas' cousin, Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, who was married to General Raul Castro's daughter, Deborah Castro Espin. 

So when Lopez-Callejas talks about bringing "U.S. business closer to Cuba" and Cuba's "business class," he's pitching his family's monopoly -- for the Cuban people are prohibited from engaging in any such foreign trade.

Another inconvenient fact.

Whether CBS knew this additional (and very pertinent) fact and chose to omit it -- or simply got snookered -- is another question.

Either way, it's sloppy and irresponsible.

Here's an old family picture of Lopez-Callejas and the Castros:

Missing: Cuba's Economy "Czar"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Both Penultimos Dias and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez have noted that Castro's economy "czar" Marino Murillo, has not been seen or heard from in quite a long time.

Murillo is the face of Castro's cosmetic "reforms."

There is strong suspicion that he has either defected -- à la Pedro Alvarez, the former head of Castro's foreign trade agency, Alimport, who is now residing in Tampa.

(Murillo's daughter, Glenda, defected to the U.S. in August 2012.)

Or has been purged -- à la Carlos Lage, Castro's previous economy "czar," and Felipe Perez Roque, the former Foreign Minister.

The last we heard regarding Murillo was in early November, when his $36,000 beach vacation at the Hotel Melia in Holguin was exposed.

Oh Marino, where art though?

Shaking Hands With "Libertad" in Cuba

By Rick Robinson and Alberto de la Cruz in Rare:

Shaking hands with libertad in Cuba

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama told a crowd in South Florida that his policy towards Cuba would be governed by one word: “Libertad,” Spanish for liberty.

“The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair,” Obama said. “That is my commitment. I won’t stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba. That will be my commitment as president of the United States of America.”

We’re pretty sure that’s not what President Obama told Cuba’s Dictator-in-Chief Raul Castro when he shook his hand at the funeral service for Nelson Mandela. If he did, it did not have much of an impact. The day after the handshake heard around the world, the Castro boys celebrated Human Rights Day by tossing over 150 Cuban dissidents in jail.

But the war over the handshake is lost. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart mocked those who feel true outrage that the Leader of the Free World would extend warm wishes to a tyrant responsible for the death of over 50,000 of his own countrymen. Like President Johnson losing Cronkite over Vietnam, losing Comedy Central over oppression in Cuba is deadly.

So let’s change the debate. The President wants to shake hands with Cuban leaders, let’s give him a few new ones. If President Obama were to shake these hands, he could live up to his campaign promise and truly change Cuba.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antúnez” - Arrested and imprisoned at the age of seventeen for openly criticizing the tyranny of the dictatorship, Antúnez spent the next seventeen years of his life in a Castro gulag. In spite of suffering countless beatings and arrests since his 2007 release, Antúnez continues to be an outspoken critic of the regime.

Gorki Águila -  As front man for the Cuban punk-rock band Porno Para Ricardo (Porn for Ricardo), Gorki’s music mercilessly skewers and mocks the Castro dictatorship. He has been arrested and detained for his protest rock numerous times, and the Castro regime has confiscated the band’s musical instruments and gear on various occasions. What the Cuban regime cannot confiscate, however, is Gorki’s determination to fight for his rights.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, known by many as the “Nelson Mandela” of Cuba - A medical doctor and devout Catholic, Oscar Elias Biscet had his first run in with the Castro dictatorship when he protested the regime’s policy of using unsafe drugs to induce pregnant women to have abortions. His opposition led to his firing and a prohibition from practicing medicine. Refusing to go away quietly, Dr. Biscet then became a leader in the human rights movement in Cuba. He was arrested during the Black Spring of 2003 (along with 74 other activists) and given a 25-year prison sentence. Finally released from prison in 2011 and placed on parole, Dr. Biscet continues to defy the dictatorship and valiantly advocates for democracy in Cuba.

Sadly, there are some Cuban hands President Obama will not be able to shake because they were murdered by the Castro regime since Obama took office in 2008.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo – Murdered, February 3, 2010 -  After a prolonged hunger strike to protest his inhumane incarceration, this Afro-Cuban was brutally beaten by Cuban State Security agents as they screamed racial epitaphs at him. He was initially refused medical care and died at the age of 33 from the injuries he had sustained.

Laura Pollán – Murdered, October 14, 2011 - As the wife of political prisoner Hector Maseda – one of the 75 dissidents arrested and given long prison sentences during the Black Spring of 2003 – Laura Pollan was one of the founders of Cuba’s Ladies in White. This group was made up of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of political prisoners in Cuba. After the group gained worldwide prominence and was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005, the Castro dictatorship became more aggressive towards the group. Following a 2011 violent, government-led attack on the Ladies in White, Pollan complained that one of the thugs had pricked her with what felt like a needle. A few days later she was hospitalized with an unexplained illness and mysteriously died a week later.

And, finally, while the President is in the mood to shake hands, extend one to American Alan Gross, who is currently dying in a Cuban prison for giving cell phones and lap tops to a Cuban synagogue.

LIBERTAD!

CNN's Fareed Zakaria (Unwittingly) Supports Cuba Sanctions

CNN's Fareed Zakaria wrote (what he believed to be) a critique of  U.S. policy toward Cuba this weekend.

He argues:

"The United States should shift from a policy of regime change in Cuba, which has not worked, to one that promotes reform and human rights aggressively."

So press the Castro regime to respect the human rights it has systemically violated for 50 years?

That's pretty ingenious.

Then, Zakaria recommends:

"President Obama should offer the Cuban government a series of steps that would relax restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba – but only if they are matched by real economic and political reforms in Cuba."

Amen.

But you realize that's exactly what current U.S. policy is, right?

Finally, Zakaria elaborates:

"Let the Cuban people know, for example, that if its government were to free all political prisoners, the United States would be willing to relax the embargo."

Great.

Except, sadly, the Obama Administration has already unilaterally relaxed some sanctions without the Castro regime freeing all political prisoners.

Result?

It has filled the Castro regime's coffers (to resist change) and sense of impunity (to increase repression).

Another "Reformer" Gone Bad

Monday, December 16, 2013
We're all familiar with the now infamous media narrative that had portrayed Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Cuba's Raul Castro as "reformers."

Time has proven that both Bashar and Raul are just as brutal -- if not even more -- than their predecessors.

Add North Korea's Kim Jong-un to that list.

This weekend, media outlets expressed "shock" at Kim's highly-publicized execution of his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, who was believed to be North Korea's second most powerful person.

Of course, the "shock" is of their own irresponsible making.

Does this all sound familiar?

From Time:

[Y]oung Kim, who spent a few years as a teenager going to school in Switzerland, may be willing to acknowledge the blindingly obvious: that what North Korea has been doing for decades economically doesn't work, and that there are plenty of examples right in the neighborhood — South Korea and China most obviously — that over the same period have gotten a lot of things right economically.

From Spiegel:

Young North Koreans are suddenly wearing chic outfits, men gel their hair like South Korean actors, and private markets have more flexible opening hours. Do these tiny differences signal a change in course by the country's new leader, Kim Jong Un?

From AFP:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for a "radical turnaround" in the impoverished country's economy in a rare New Year's address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.


In terms of the survival of his regime, the least perilous short-term option for Kim Jong-un is, in fact, to expand economic and political ties with China, while launching modest reforms to capitalize on newly designated special economic zones.

But hey, no worries -- for we were just reassured:

A senior North Korean official said yesterday that the execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle will not lead to changes in economic policies and vowed that the nation would push ahead with an ambitious plan to develop new economic zones.

Appeasement Has Only Emboldened Cuba’s Dictators

By U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in The Washington Times:

When a handshake is more than a polite gesture

The dangers of rapprochement with the Castro regime

Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. Sometimes it symbolizes much more. Let us not forget how the world watched and waited intently to see if there would be a handshake between President Obama and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at this year’s U.N. General Assembly.

Whether it is the brutal Castro regime 90 miles off our coast or thousands of miles away, we must scrutinize Mr. Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro in its totality, just as we did with the handshake that never was between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani. This action must be recognized for what it is: a mixed message to the people of Cuba, who are currently suffering under this dictatorship, and a propaganda coup for the Castro regime that will seek to exploit this situation to further undermine the democratic freedoms and human rights that the Cuban people deserve.

Cuba, like Iran, is designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism that harbors terrorists and U.S. fugitives, holds hostage a U.S. citizen, and routinely undermines our national-security interests. This is the same Castro regime that in August was caught red-handed sending weapons and military equipment to North Korea in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the same regime responsible for the killings of three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident when it ordered the attack against the Brothers to the Rescue planes over international waters in 1996. While shaking a brutal dictator’s hand that is stained with the blood of thousands of Cubans may be viewed as a mere cordial gesture by some, it is an action that is deeply painful to those of us who have experienced and fled the cruelty of the Castro regime, many of whom live in my congressional district.

While Mr. Obama was shaking Raul Castro’s hand, more than 150 Cuban pro-democracy leaders were being rounded up and thrown in prison in Cuba for exercising their rights of free speech, free press and free association. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that this roundup occurred on International Human Rights Day, considering that these courageous heroes’ attempt to exercise the fundamental freedoms observed on this day caused them to be thrown into jail.

Many in the international community and the mainstream media ignore the reality of the dire situation in Cuba. It cannot be disputed that the regime continues to have an abysmal human rights record and continues to harass and beat members of peaceful pro-democracy organizations such as the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

Words matter, but actions speak louder than words. This handshake was but another lamentable misstep in the conduct of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy throughout his time in office. For example, in his first inauguration speech, Mr. Obama said: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

I agree that leaders should not blame their nations’ shortcomings on the West. But Cuba under the Castros and the Venezuelan regime under Nicolas Maduro continue to do just that. Mr. Maduro continues to blame the United States for its own domestic problems and deteriorating economic situation, but the Obama administration desperately seeks a relationship with his regime. Despite Mr. Maduro having won his election through fraud and that he is ruling by decree, and despite the fact that he continues to oppress his own people, has expelled U.S. diplomats, and continues to threaten the opposition with cooked-up charges and arrests, the administration wants closer ties with him.

Meanwhile in Cuba, while temporary detentions and oppression continue to rise, the president granted the Castro brothers a huge concession: economic relief through tourism travel. As a result of the Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions to Cuba for tourism, the Castro regime is now receiving a large influx of money during a time that Cuba’s economy is failing, which in turn it can use to continue its oppression of those who are yearning for democratic freedoms. Does this plan sound familiar? It has not worked in Cuba, and it will not work in Iran, where the president wishes to give the Iranian regime an infusion of billions of dollars that may be used to further sponsor terrorist activities against U.S. citizens.

Ultimately, the Castro regime has shown its true colors time and time again. Engagement, accommodation and appeasement by the Obama administration have only emboldened Havana’s decrepit dictators. The Cuban regime’s policy is to lie and mislead the international community to achieve its selfish goals, while amassing huge personal fortunes for regime elites as the people of the island suffer.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and gestures matter. Shaking Raul Castro’s hand, while dismissed by some as only a handshake, not only emboldens the regime, but will not stop the atrocious acts against the Cuban people. Mr. Obama extended his hand to Raul Castro, even though the Castro brothers are unwilling to unclench their fist over the Cuban people.

The New York Times Adopts "Anti-Mandela Lobby" Talking Points

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Unsurprisingly, The New York Times' Editorial Board has again called for the lifting U.S. sanctions toward Cuba.

No news here -- but let's comment on its rationale anyway.

It begins:

"This page has long called for an end to America’s embargo..."

Sure -- and it also long claimed that Castro was some sort of freedom-loving democrat.

"...which has strengthened the hand of Mr. Castro, his brother Fidel and other hard-liners who have used it as an excuse for their disastrous misrule in Havana."

Apparently an "excuse" that only The New York Times believes, for the Cuban people aren't stupid.

Moreover, it defies common-sense to believe feeding tens of billions of dollars to Castro's monopolies will somehow "weaken the hand" of the regime.  Wonder how The New York Times feels about antitrust.

"...And it has hurt the Cuban people whom we claim to want to help."

This talking point is straight from "Operation Heartbreak," the infamous lobbying campaign by South Africa's apartheid regime and its allies.

Politico ran a great feature on that campaign this week, entitled "The Anti-Mandela Lobby."

Here was its favorite tactic:

"On the morning of June 8, 1988, dozens of children from Washington, D.C., schools spread out across the well-manicured lawns of the U.S. Capitol. Holding hands, the students walked one by one into the domed building, marveling at the large rotunda inside and giggling as their voices echoed off the spacious walls.

But this was no ordinary field trip. The children weren’t there just for a civic lesson—they were also there to deliver a message. Each child carried a small black doll to deliver to the lawmakers. And each doll represented a child who would be harmed by the sanctions that Congress had imposed on South Africa two years earlier in protest of the country’s apartheid government."

To conclude, The New York Times claims:

"Mr. Obama should press Congress to end the embargo and overhaul policy toward Cuba."

Considering the strong bipartisan support for Cuba sanctions in Congress -- that's just wishful thinking.