Quote[s] of the Week

Saturday, February 2, 2013
Communist party officials are not our rulers, they're our kidnappers.
-- Cheng Guangcheng, famed Chinese blind lawyer and democracy activist, Washington National Cathedral, 1/30/12

To be a #Blogger in #Cuba is a very dangerous profession, to behave as a #citizen with #rights is even more dangerous.
-- Yoani Sanchez, renowned Cuban blogger, Twitter, 2/2/13

Ladies in White Nominated for Nobel Prize

Friday, February 1, 2013
Led by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. Congress have sent a letter to the Nobel Committee nominating Cuba’s Ladies in White for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

In addition to Ros-Lehtinen, the cosigners of the letter are:

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Michael Grimm (R-NY), Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), Trey Radel (R-Fla.), Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), and Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), and Jared Polis (D-Col.).

Here's a copy of the letter:

February 1, 2013

His Excellency, Thorbjorn Jagland
Chairman
Nobel Peace Prize Committee
Henrik Ibsens Gate 51
0255 Oslo
Norway

Dear Chairman Jagland and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee:

As Members of the United States Congress, we nominate the Ladies in White to receive the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. These brave women come together every Sunday dressed in their signature all white garments carrying a symbolic gladiolus flower as they walk to attend Catholic mass to pray for the release of their loved ones. In response to these peaceful demonstrations, the Castro regime has employed its thugs to viciously harass, intimidate, and imprison the Ladies in White to disrupt their weekly walks.

The Ladies in White (Las Damas de Blanco) are a leading Cuba based pro-democracy group that was formed by the wives, mothers, sister and aunts of Cuban political prisoners to advance their cause in the call for freedom and human rights. By serving as non-violent and outspoken activists against the Cuban dictatorship, one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, they have struggled against everyday tyranny and dedicated themselves to political reform.

A leading founder of this movement, Laura Pollan became ill after enduring another beating at the hands of Cuban State Security and died in October 2011. She was an active critic of the Castro dictatorship after her husband was arrested in March 2003 with 75 other independent journalists and dissidents, during what is now referred to as the Black Spring. Since that time, the Ladies in White have projected a peaceful message of change and brought international attention to the plight of prisoners of conscience in Cuba. In 2005, the Ladies in White were even awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European parliament for their work, but the group was unable to accept the award because they were not granted authorization by the Castro regime to travel to France to accept it.

In the last year, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of arbitrary arrests, beatings, and abuse of peaceful dissident groups by the Cuban regime. In fact, just last week, over 35 members of the Ladies in White were beaten, threatened, and temporarily arrested while on their way to mass by Castro’s security forces. These abuses and restrictions of basic freedoms and rights are a commonplace occurrence in Cuba. Ms. Pollan understood this and even after her husband was released she continued the struggle for freedom stating, “I started fighting for my husband, then for the group, and now it’s for changes for the better of the country.” These words underscore that there will never be real change and freedom on the island until there is a political change from the current communist regime.

To this day, millions of Cubans continue to live under the oppressive Castro dictatorship. Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and due process of law continue to be forbidden by the communist regime. The courageous members of the Ladies in White understand this denial and have dedicated their lives to promote change through non-violent social action and resistance. They may not have started out as activists, but through their fearless efforts they have become the voices of a generation that will no longer tolerate the cruelty and violence of the Castro regime.

Their achievements have not gone unnoticed. Amnesty International has commented that, “Cuban authorities must stop repressing legitimate dissent and harassing those who are only asking for justice and exercising their freedom of expression.” In similar support, Freedom House noted that “the group helped raise awareness and expand the movement beyond the capital of Havana and was instrumental in the release of the political prisoners.”

By awarding these activists the Nobel Peace Prize, the international community has the opportunity to bring worldwide attention to the plight of the Cuban people and promote the fundamental freedoms that have been denied to the citizens on the island for so long. It is our moral obligation to join the voices of those who are suffering under oppression and help them achieve freedom.

Raul Castro Thanks Odebrecht

Now the question remains:

Will the Miami-Dade County Commission also continue to thank Odebrecht with millions more in taxpayer funds, despite the strong opposition of its constituents?

From Castro's state media today:

Cuban head of state, Raul Castro and visiting former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva toured the ongoing expansion works underway at Mariel Harbor in the eastern part of the island, which are co-financed by Brazil.

Raul Castro described the works as the most complex project ever carried out in Cuba, as both Latin American leaders toured the harbor that is expected to become the island’s main foreign trade hub.

The Port of Mariel Expansion, when it becomes operational, will allow Cuba to have one of the largest ports in all Latin America and the largest trading hub in the Caribbean.

The work at Mariel is being undertaken by Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht in partnership with the Cuban military’s construction division. The Brazilian government is also underwriting the port development.

And as The Economist noted this week:

In November Cuba [also] awarded a contract to invest in and manage sugar production, which has long been off-limits to foreigners, to Brazil’s Odebrecht. The firm is also part of an $800m project to build a container port at Mariel, just outside Havana, and is looking at making ethanol.


CDC Issues Cholera Travel Notice for Cuba

Thursday, January 31, 2013
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

On January 6, 2013, The Cuban Ministry of Health (MoH) confirmed an outbreak of cholera in Havana, the country’s capital. A total of 51 laboratory-confirmed cases of cholera have been reported in Havana.

In July 2012, the Cuban MoH confirmed the country’s first cholera outbreak in more than a century. That outbreak was in the city of Manzanillo, in eastern Granma province, and was declared over in late August. Cuba’s cumulative number of confirmed cholera cases since July 2012 is now more than 500.

Click here for more information.

Worst Place for Journalists in the Americas

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has just released its annual 2013 Press Freedom Index.

According to the report:

"Cuba, the hemisphere’s only country to tolerate no independent  media (or with few exceptions), got the region’s lowest ranking – 171st. The past year has seen a renewed crackdown on dissent and the island now has two journalists in prison, one of them a state media employee."

Add two more imprisoned independent journalists to this list, as just yesterday, the Castro regime also arrested Yusmila Reyna Ferrera and Hergues Frandín Díaz (pictured below).

Cuba ranked among the world's ten most repressive nations for journalists, along with Iran, Sudan, Syria and North Korea.

The Most Repressive Nation in the Americas

From Human Rights Watch's 2013 World Report:

Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raúl Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.

Although in 2010 and 2011 the Cuban government released dozens of political prisoners on the condition that they accept exile in exchange for their freedom, the government continues to sentence dissidents to one to four-year prison terms in closed, summary trials, and holds others for extended periods without charge. It has also relied increasingly upon arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions to restrict the basic rights of its critics, including the right to assemble and move freely.

Read the whole report here.

Senator Rubio Opposes Hagel Confirmation

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued the following statement announcing his intention to vote against the confirmation of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense:

After carefully reviewing Senator Hagel’s record on a number of issues, I cannot support his confirmation as our nation’s next Secretary of Defense. I oppose his confirmation because of his views on U.S. policy toward Cuba, his past opposition to tough Iran sanctions, his questionable comments in the past about U.S. support for Israel, his support for direct, bilateral negotiations with North Korea and, most importantly, my belief that he will usher in a new era of austere defense budgets that will severely impede U.S. national security by hampering readiness and radically limiting the global force projection of our military.

Senator Hagel served his country during the Vietnam War with great distinction and has an admirable record of public service. I also appreciate him taking the time to visit with me this week. Unfortunately, his policy views are too far apart from what I believe to be the way forward for preserving America’s proper role in the world as a force for security and peace. Now more than ever, I firmly believe the U.S. needs a robust military capability that includes a renewed commitment to our shipbuilding program, a reliable nuclear deterrent to defend against rogue nations and a nimble counter-terrorism force able to confront the asymmetric warfare of the 21st century.”

President Obama on Cuba Policy

Transcript of U.S. President Barack Obama's interview on Telemundo yesterday:

QUESTION:  Yesterday Secretary Clinton-- referring to Cuba said it's a dictatorship that must change in the near future. That policy of your administration, of no normalization until there's democratization, do you see that changing in your second term with a new secretary of State?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know-- we have tried to-- make overtures that were good for the Cuban people. You know, loosening up remittances from family members. Loosening up travel for family members back to Cuba. Because our view has been that that empowers civil society inside of Cuba. That empowers people-- who, you know, wanna have a voice in Cuba.

But what we've also said is-- is that-- in order for us to see an actual normalization-- of the relations between-- the United States and Cuba, that we have to do something about all those political prisoners-- who are still there. We've gotta do something about just basic freedoms of-- of the press and-- and assembly.

We don't expect every country to operate the way we do. And obviously we do business with a lot of countries around the world-- that don't meet our standards in terms of-- you know, constitutions and rights. But we do think it's important for us to continue to push to make sure that-- the Cuban people themselves-- have a voice in their lives.

And-- my hope is is that-- slowly but surely-- the Cuban leadership begins to recognize, "It's time to join the 21st century." You know, it's one thing to have cars from the 1950s. It's another thing when your whole political ideology-- is coming out-- is-- is 50 years or s-- or 60 years old and-- and it's been proven not to work.

And-- I think that we can have-- progress over the next four years. I'm happy to engage it. I think it would be good for the Cuban people. But-- but it's-- it's gotta be a two way street. It can't just be-- that we look away completely from-- you know, the very sad circumstances that a lot of Cubans-- still live in.

We Agree, Mr. President

From U.S. President Barack Obama's interview this week with New Republic:
I continue to believe that whenever we can codify something through legislation, it is on firmer ground. It's not going to be reversed by a future president. It is something that will be long lasting and sturdier and more stable.
Thus, the very clear conditions on human rights, democratic reform and the dismantling of the Castro regime's repressive apparatus that were codified into U.S. law in 1996 and 2000.

Pursuant to the legislation that codified these conditions into law, trade and travel sanctions cannot be lifted until those conditions are fulfilled.

Amnesty Names New Cuban "Prisoner of Conscience"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
From Amnesty International:

URGENT ACTION

Independent Journalistic Detained in Cuba: Calixto Ramon Martinez Arias

Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias has been detained since September 2012 in Cuba in relation to his work. Amnesty International believes he is a prisoner of conscience solely detained for peacefully exercising his freedom of expression. On 16 September 2012 Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, a journalist working for the unofficial news agency Hablemos Press, was arrested by the Cuban Revolutionary Police (Policía Revolucionaria de Cuba) at José Martí International Airport in Havana. He had been investigating allegations that medicine provided by the World Health Organization to fight the cholera outbreak (which began in mid-2012) was being kept at the airport instead of being distributed, as the Cuban government was allegedly trying to downplay the seriousness of the outbreak. Upon his arrest, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias was taken to the Santiago de las Vegas police station, located near the airport.

According to Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias’ relatives, when complaining in his cell at the Santiago de las Vegas police station about his detention, he was beaten and pepper-sprayed in his eyes, and then called out “down with Raúl”, “down with Fidel” (“abajo Raúl”, “abajo Fidel”). Although neither he nor his lawyer – who has not been allowed access to his casefile – have been informed of any official charges against him, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias is reportedly being accused of “disrespect” (“desacato”) towards President Raúl Castro and Fidel Castro. The Cuban criminal code provides sentences of up to three years’ imprisonment in this case.

After being held for 10 days at the Santiago de las Vegas police station, Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias was transferred to Valle Grande prison until 10 November. Since then he has been detained at Combinado del Este prison on the outskirts of Havana. On arrival at Combinado del Este prison he went on hunger strike, apparently to protest against being forced to wear a prison uniform and having his personal belongings confiscated. The hunger strike reportedly lasted 33 days.

Amnesty International believes Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias’ detention is politically motivated and related to his peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.


Freedom House Condemns Raul's CELAC Presidency

From Freedom House:

Freedom House condemns Cuba's presidency of CELAC

Freedom House condemns the decision by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to grant the presidency of the organization to Cuba. This decision is a contradiction of CELAC’s principles and values according to their foundational document, the Declaration of Caracas, which explicitly notes the protection and promotion of all human rights and democracy as core values of the organization.

On January 28, Cuban President Raul Castro assumed the presidency of CELAC, a regional grouping of 33 Latin American and Caribbean States, excluding the United States and Canada, and created in December 2011 under the stewardship of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The presidency was passed on to Cuba at the closing ceremony of the CELAC summit in Santiago that was hosted by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera, and which also included a European Union (EU)–CELAC summit.

“By putting Cuba at the helm of CELAC, member states are sending the message that they are not serious about their stated commitment to democracy and human rights,” said Viviana Giacaman, director for Latin America programs at Freedom House. “CELAC members should be embarrassed by this decision. With its decaying centralized economy and abysmal human rights record, Cuba is hardly the best ambassador of Latin America at the international stage.”

As part of its creation, member states of CELAC signed a “Special Declaration on Defense of Democracy and the Constitutional Order,” declaring that “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential conditions to participate in the different organs of CELAC.” This past year the Raul Castro regime unleashed countless waves of arrests to quell dissent throughout the island. Over the past several years, Cuba’s rate of arbitrary detentions has grown exponentially, to over 6,600 in 2012 and the number of political prisoners this year went up by approximately 30.

“While CELAC wants to send a message of protest against Cuba’s isolation, integrating Cuba also means holding it accountable to the democratic principles that underpin Latin American integration and global governance more broadly,” stated Cynthia Romero, senior program officer for Latin America. “CELAC’s unconditional embrace of the Cuba’s presidency will instead set the organization back from any real efforts to pursue an agenda of shared prosperity based on common values.”

Freedom House consistently places Cuba among the world’s most repressive societies.  The country is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2013, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2012. The island nation also received the second-lowest ranking in Freedom on the Net, a study of internet freedom in 47 countries released in 2012.

Quote of the Day

She told me, after consulting a database, that I was restricted and it couldn't be processed for reasons of public interest.
-- Angel Moya, Cuban pro-democracy leader and former political prisoner, on being told by a regime official that he could not receive a passport to travel outside of the country, AP, 1/30/13

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he formed part of the official U.S. Congressional delegation.

Then, former State Department Senior Advisor and Deputy Special Envoy for North Korea, Christian Whiton, discusses the latest aggressions by the Kim Jong Un regime and the case of an American pastor sentenced to 8-years in prison in Iran.

And former Yale University Professor and current American Enterprise Institute Resident Scholar, Dr. Michael Auslin, on a concerning Sino-Japanese standoff.

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

A Toast to Larceny at Sloppy Joes Havana

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Looking to further cash-in from foreign tourists and the Obama Administration's "people-to-people" travelers, the Castro regime is re-opening the famed "Sloppy Joe's" bar, which it had illegally confiscated from small business owners in 1965. 

"Sloppy Joe's" was founded in Havana nearly a century ago by a Galician immigrant. It was a favorite hangout of American tourists and demonized for this by the Castro regime.

But now, the Castro regime wants to profit from this illegally confiscated enterprise, which will be run by the state company, Habaguanex.

Surely, this location will become a staple for "people-to-people" travelers, whose stated purpose is to help promote the Cuban people's independence from the authorities -- yet, they stay at the Castro regime's hotels, dine at its restaurants and get drunk at its watering wholes (many of which were illegally confiscated).

Thus, the "people-to-people" travel policy also allows Castro to profit from stolen property.

Call it a toast to larceny.

Secretary Clinton Comments on Cuba

From today's "Global Townterview" with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at The Newseum:

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the diverse democracies in our region, and how do you see our future?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think I see a lot of progress, but still work that needs to be done. If you look at Colombia, you are not the country you were 15 years ago. You have consolidated democracy. You – I know President Santos is attempting to try to negotiate a peace agreement so that people will turn away from violence and participate politically. In Mexico, we see great economic growth but also a very vibrant political system in the last election. In Brazil, similarly, we see the same kind of trends. There are others that you can point to.

But there are some outliers. Unfortunately, we still have a dictatorship in Cuba, which we hope will change soon. We have democratic challenges in other countries in Latin America. But overall, I think that progress has been made and you have to stay the course. It doesn’t happen quickly, but there is great reason to be quite optimistic about the institutionalization of democracy throughout Latin America.

Another New Political Prisoner

Add Orlando Triana Gonzalez to a rapidly growing list of Castro's new long-term political prisoners.

On January 23rd, 2013, Cuban pro-democracy activist Orlando Triana Gonzalez, a member of the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR), was sentenced to 2 years and 8 months in prison for his political opposition to the Castro regime.

While the prison sentence was being dictated in the Tribunal of Camajuani, numerous dissidents were arrested throughout the central province of Villa Clara, as they tried to maketheir way to the "trial" to show solidarity with Triana -- among them Librado Linares Garcia, leader of the MCR.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Courtesy of Pedazos de la Isla.

Fulton Unhappy With Kerry's Commitment to Democracy

It seems that Fulton Armstrong, the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer known for a career of finding ways (many times under his superior's noses) to accommodate Cuba's brutal dictatorship, was not happy with U.S. Senator and Secretary of State nominee John Kerry's (his former boss) commitment to democracy programs and the rule of law during his confirmation hearing.

Thus, the following post from the American University's Center for Latin America and Latino Studies blog, where Fulton is now a Senior Fellow (and Senior Blogger).

Note that this ideological rant comes from an academic institution (God bless academic freedom, it's just too bad they don't feel Cubans should have those same rights):

As expected, Kerry did not advocate any major shifts or offer new ideas on U.S. policy toward Latin America – obviously preferring to avoid confrontation with Menendez and Republican Cuban-American Marco Rubio.  Kerry’s strategy was to ruffle no feathers.  His remarks about President Uribe, for example, appeared intended to assuage right-wingers unhappy with his focus as Chairman on the Colombian President’s dismal human rights record and lack of accountability for a host of abuses of power.  Likewise, agreeing with Menendez that President Chávez was a problem was thin gruel; eagerly awaiting the Venezuelan’s demise does little to address the shortcomings of U.S. leadership in the hemisphere.  

Latin America-watchers know well that Kerry and President Obama will be more focused on other regions, leaving space for the SFRC conservatives to weigh more heavily on Latin American policy than they already do.  Despite the Cuban-American community’s obvious shifts away from most elements of the right wing’s Cuba policy, Menendez and Rubio have already declared they will block any efforts toward better relations with Cuba even on a people-to-people level.  By extension, they will oppose any outreach to Venezuela before they believe regime change has occurred.  Nor did Kerry offer any departures from the U.S. war on drugs.

Must-Read: Dignity Cannot Be Killed Nor Caged

By Cuban author Angel Santiesteban Prats, who has just been sentenced to 5-years in prison by the Castro regime for his critical writings:

The majority of human beings share with the animal kingdom a love of liberty and respect for our neighbors. But not everyone, evidently. Because if it were so, dictators wouldn't exist, nor would other inferior spirits that – reincarnated into despicable henchmen and bullies – execute, literally, human dignity on a daily basis.

But dignity is unbeatable, and as many times as they assassinate it, it continues to live.

Cuba under the Castros is part of a lamentable list of states whose governments represent everything they shouldn't be.

Fortunately those countries also count on intellectuals who are ready to struggle with all their being to end the system that oppresses them.

To be a persecuted politico in Cuba because of defending liberty and dignity, and joining the list of other brothers in the world who also do it, even knowing what they are exposed to, fills me with pride. Dignity cannot be killed nor caged.

My attitude is that of the lion that faces a terrible crocodile.

Let the tyrant know we exist!

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

The Golden Rule For Regional Democracy

Monday, January 28, 2013
"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."

-- Confucius

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

-- Jesus of Nazareth

Why is one brutal dictator being (appropriately) tried?

From AP:

A judge in Guatemala has begun pre-trial hearings in a genocide case against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

Rios Montt is accused of overseeing hundreds of killings when he ruled Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, at the height of the country's 36-year civil war.

While another brutal dictator is being (tragically) feted?

From AP:

Cuban President Raul Castro will take over the presidency of the CELAC Community of Latin American and Caribbean States from his Chilean counterpart.

How would Guatemalans feel if Rios Montt had been handed the reigns of a regional organization -- or Chileans if it were Pinochet, or Argentinians if it were Videla?

It would have been a travesty.

The Americas are one (Cuba) and a half (Venezuela) countries away from being the first fully democratic region in human history.

But first, the region's leaders need to be statesmen and stop turning a blind-eye to the repressive plight of their neighbors, for they are sending a dangerous message of acquiescence to those with authoritarian tendencies within their own countries.

And then, who will defend their democracy?

Female Activist Was Sexually Violated

This weekend, Cuban pro-democracy activist Damaris Moya Portieles was arrested for participating in a peaceful demonstration demanding the release of political prisoners.

Moya Portieles is a prominent member of the Central Opposition Coalition and of the Rosa Park Movement for Civil Rights.

She was taken to police headquarters in the town of Santa Clara, where she was forcibly held down, stripped naked and had a pencil introduced in her genitalia.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Castro's Health Care Big Business

It's all about the regime's bottom line.

From The Economist:

Cuban Health Care: Nip and tuck in

Medicine is big business in Cuba

SET in a former naval academy overlooking the Florida Straits, the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) is supposed to symbolise Cuba’s generosity. Founded by Fidel Castro in 1999, the school’s mission was to provide free training to medical students from all over the world. But these days, visiting foreign dignitaries are given a sales pitch along with their campus tours.

As part of President Raúl Castro’s attempt to stem his brother’s spending, many nations that send students to the school are now expected to pay. Just how much isn’t entirely clear, but the rates are high enough to cause embarrassment to some of the customers. John Mahama, Ghana’s new president and a staunch ally of Cuba, has been obliged to defend what looks like a pricey deal he signed with ELAM as vice-president.

Cuba’s government has never been coy about the sale of its medical services abroad. Official figures show that professionals working overseas—largely in medicine—bring in around $6 billion a year (though the doctors themselves receive only a small fraction of the revenue). Most of that comes from Venezuela, which trades subsidized oil for legions of Cuban health workers. But reports in Namibia suggest that prices for services there are rising, too.

In Cuba itself, meanwhile, private medicine is readily available to paying foreigners and well-connected locals. The two best hospitals in Havana, Cira García and CIMEX, are run for profit. Both are far better than normal state hospitals, where patients are often obliged to bring their own sheets and food.

But health care is now also available on the buoyant black market. A current vogue for breast implants is providing extra income to many surgeons (whose state salary is around $20 a month). The director of one of Havana’s main hospitals was recently detained for running a private health network on the side. Alongside the new restaurants that are opening in the capital, as a result of Raúl Castro’s partial easing of economic restrictions, doctors are now less shy about selling their services. One private dental practice in the Vedado district is notably well-equipped with a snazzy dentist’s chair and implements.

These medical entrepreneurs run the risk of prosecution. If caught, they may be tempted to argue that they are simply following the government’s example.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation on immigration and foreign policy with former U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martinez. Senator Martinez is currently the Chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase for Florida and Latin America.

Then, a discussion on President Obama's inauguration speech with David Frum, author, journalist and former speechwriter for former President George W. Bush.

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

A Timely Historic Quote

When a people emigrate, their rulers abound.
-- Jose Marti, poet and Cuban independence hero, whose birth date was January 28th, (1853-1895).

Talking Points From Havana

Last week, the Castro regime's leading columnist, Nicanor Leon Cotayo, wrote an official editorial in Cuban state media praising President Obama's nominees for Secretary of State, U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Secretary of Defense, former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).

Leon Cotayo (channeling Castro) writes:

"Chuck Hagel has no problem with Cuba. To the contrary, he has demonstrated common sense to do away with one of the White House's most anachronistic foreign policies."

He then nudges the Obama Administration to ignore Congress and U.S. law, and exercise "real and legal options to maneuver and diminish tension in bilateral relations."

In other words, to keep providing them unilateral concessions (while they keep intensifying their repression of peaceful opponents).

Sure sounds like some of the "think-tank" policy papers floating around town, not to mention some of the recent analysis by Cuba "experts" in the U.S. media.

Now remember, according to these Cuba "experts", this is all a "Jedi mind trick" because despite all of the lobbying and the billions of dollars spent by Castro to have sanctions lifted, they really don't want them lifted -- for they need to have an excuse for their failures that Cubans don't believe.  Got it?

As for Castro's American hostage, Alan Gross, Leon Cotayo (channeling Castro) reiterated the regime's position that they will only discuss the issue pursuant to two conditions: "mutual respect and reciprocity."

In other words, blackmail and ransom.

Answering Yoani

Sunday, January 27, 2013
Today, renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted:

"I ask myself, like so many others do, from what budget does the money spent on such overwhelming [repressive] operations [against The Ladies in White] come from? #FromOurPockets."

That's an easy one.

It comes from Hugo Chavez's subsidies, Canadian and European tourists, Cuban-American remittances and most recently, U.S. "people-to-people" travel junkets.

For those wondering, these are currently the Castro regime's biggest sources of income.

How Badly Does Castro Want Sanctions Lifted?

So badly, that for a decade he spent billions -- in scarce hard-currency -- trying to influence the U.S. Congress to do so.

Why? Because the return would have been many billions more.

Fortunately, he ultimately lost that Congressional effort.

(Of course, Castro is now focused on how many smaller concessions he can receive from the Obama Administration without having to spend a dime.)

As The Miami Herald reminds us today in a story about the former head of Castro's trade monopoly, Alimport, Pedro Alvarez:

Before his hasty defection, [Alvarez's] job at Alimport made him the powerful main negotiator of contracts with chomping-at-the-bit U.S. exporters that hit a record of $711 million in 2008 and turned the United States into Cuba’s fifth-largest trade partner.

[I]n 2003, Alvarez masterminded the controversial scheme under which Alimport pressured U.S. politicians and exporters to sign written pledges that they would lobby the Congress to ease economic sanctions on the island. The pledge might have technically made them agents of the Cuban government, though no one was prosecuted.

With such a powerful job, Alvarez would have been routinely briefed by Cuban intelligence on his U.S. contacts, their weaknesses and any misbehavior that could be exploited in price negotiations, Intelligence Directorate defector Juan Antonio Rodríguez Menier wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald.

The directorate also had “collaborators that had been recruited within Alimport to identify possible targets to do industrial and corporate espionage,” said Juan Manuel Reyes Alfonso, who defected in 2000 from the DI’s science and technology section.

Alvarez was moved out of Alimport in 2009 and reassigned to head the Cuban Chamber of Commerce after it became clear that his lobbying campaign had failed to significantly change U.S. sanctions.