Real Reform Requires Legal Changes

Saturday, March 2, 2013
By Douglas J. Johnston in Canada's Winnipeg Free Press:

Real reform in Cuba must start with overhaul of its legal system, a system that offers no semblance of justice.

Peaceful political organizing, dissent and protest have no legal recognition or protection whatsoever in Cuba's courts. And Raul Castro's reversion to hardline language about the sanctity of socialism is a message from on high that law reform simply isn't in the cards.

Cuba's legal system, though it has Spanish roots, by and large mirrors that of its Cold War sponsor, the former Soviet Union. After coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro strove to build a Soviet-model system. He succeeded. And that unfortunate model continues, unreformed and unabated, today.

The result: Cuban law, especially where alleged offences against the state are involved, is short on due process, long on summary proceedings and given to unjust decisions.

Critical to a justice system worthy of the name is judicial independence. But judges in the island nation's Marxist-modeled system are state pawns.

Cuba's legal system doesn't recognize the judiciary as an independent branch of government. Although the Cuban constitution incorporates a principle of judicial independence, it also expressly subordinates the courts to the legislative branch, the National Assembly of People's Power, and the executive branch, the Council of State. Moreover, by executive fiat published in 1997, all courts must comply with "general instructions" given to them by the executive branch.

Nor are Cuban judges, by terms of office, independent of the state. They have no security of tenure to protect them from political interference. The Cuban constitution expressly allows the National Assembly to, by its vote, remove judges from the country's highest court, the People's Supreme Court. Likewise, provincial assemblies can remove provincial and municipal court judges.

Nor is removal subject to any review or inquiry process, or any rules of law. Legislatures can simply turf a judge from office at will and without reasons. Not surprising then, that there are no reported cases of a Cuban court ruling against the government in proceedings involving a political issue.

It's both permitted by law and accepted in practice that the judiciary kowtow to executive- or legislative-branch orders in cases before the courts. Nor is it unknown for judges to simply parrot pronouncements of the regime, or arguments presented by the prosecution, in rendering judgments or verdicts.

Raul Castro's announcement of his pending retirement means that for the first time a younger generation of Communist party leaders, a generation that didn't fight in the Cuban revolution that brought the Communists to power, will, come 2018, rule the island nation. Castro has already tapped Diaz-Canel Bermudez, a 52-year-old electrical engineer and former minister of higher education, as his top vice-president and potential successor.

It's a good thing for Cuba that the ruling clique of octogenarian Communists has, at last, admitted someone from a younger generation might be president.

But real change awaits someone from that younger generation seeing fit to jettison a legal system that codifies Soviet Cold-War-era notions of how a nation treats its citizens.

Tweet of the Month

By Univision News anchor, Jorge Ramos:

"Of course Cuba is a dictatorship. More than half a century under 2 dictators. And no, they shouldn't retire, they should be tried and jailed."

Cuba's Future Looks Bright

Friday, March 1, 2013
Cuba's present:
Cuba's future:

The Right to be Stupid

Below is a great example of what Secretary of State John Kerry referred to as American's right to "be stupid," if they'd like.

Sadly, this American is practicing his "stupidity" at the cost of millions of innocent North Koreans.

The Future of "Cubazuela"

Great article by Jose de Cordoba in The Wall Street Journal:

The Future of 'Cubazuela'

The ties between Castro and Chávez have kept the island nation afloat. What now?

Few people around the world are more keenly interested in the health of cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez than a pair of brothers in Cuba: Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Since becoming president of Venezuela in 1999, Mr. Chávez has developed an exceptionally close bond with Fidel Castro, who has served as the Venezuelan's mentor, medical adviser and father figure. The personal relationship between the old dictator and his younger autocratic pupil has evolved into a web of economic and political ties that today bind together the destinies of the two countries. It has given the poor, almost bankrupt island enormous power over its far wealthier and more populous oil-producing neighbor.

Cuba, ruled by the Castro brothers since 1959, has a lot to lose if Mr. Chávez dies. Since 2007, Venezuela has provided the Communist island nation about $10 billion a year in economic aid, mostly in the form of cut-rate oil and inflated payments for thousands of Cuban doctors and other professionals, according to the University of Miami's Cuban-studies center. Total aid and investment from Venezuela now amount to about 22% of Cuba's annual economic output, said Carmelo Mesa Lago, a professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh.

If the relationship between Havana and Caracas were to end or falter, many Cubans fear that the island's threadbare economy could be pushed into depression, as in the early 1990s, when Cuba lost Soviet aid and its economy plunged by about 40%. "It could lead to a social upheaval," said Riordan Roett, the head of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University.

In February, after Mr. Chávez had spent two months in Cuba's best hospital recovering from his fourth cancer surgery in 18 months, the ailing president was flown back to Caracas in the middle of the night and spirited off to a military hospital. His prognosis is a state secret, but most analysts believe he is fighting a terminal disease.

If Mr. Chávez dies, Venezuelan law calls for new elections. The country's political opposition has long railed against the aid to Cuba, promising to spend Venezuela's oil money at home.

The elder Castro has for years been Mr. Chávez's top adviser on the art of political survival, analysts say. The two countries have signed more than 300 trade and economic cooperation deals, many of them involving barter arrangements that appear to favor Cuba.

"Since when do poor countries run rich countries, small countries run big countries and weak countries run powerful countries?" asked former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda. "It's as if Puerto Rico ran the U.S. It's crazy."

Read more here.

Oswaldo Paya Was Murdered

The question remains:

Will the world allow the Castro regime to get away with impunity for the murder of this internationally-recognized democracy leader?

(*The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) has also released the text messages and other details about that tragic day -- see here.)

From McLatchy Newspapers:

The daughter and brother of noted Havana dissident Oswaldo Payá said Thursday the Spanish politician convicted in his death told them that another vehicle rammed his car and caused the fatal crash in Cuba last summer.

Angel Carromero “confirmed the events that we had already alleged,” Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo told El Nuevo Herald by phone after a Madrid news conference in which she revealed text messages that she said indicated Cuban security agents caused the crash.

Payá Acevedo also demanded an international investigation into the “probable murder” of her father and noted that her family is still considering whether it will file a lawsuit against Cuba in a Spanish court. Her father was a Spanish citizen.

Oswaldo Payá’s brother Carlos and Regis Iglesias, representative of Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement in Spain, said they also were at the meeting on Tuesday with Carromero and confirmed the daughter’s version.

Carromero, on parole in Madrid while serving the four-year sentence imposed by a Cuban tribunal for vehicular homicide, has said nothing publicly about the case. A prosecution video showed him stating that the car he was driving ran off the road but making no mention of any ramming. Friends have said his memory has been fuzzy but improving because of the painkillers he received at a Cuban hospital after the crash.

Payá’s daughter and brother said Carromero told them another vehicle caused the July 22 car crash near the eastern city of Bayamo. Aboard were Carromero, Payá, dissident Harold Cepero, who also died, and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig.

“He confirmed to us that the car in which they were traveling was rammed and forced off the road,” she said. The Spaniard added that unidentified men in a third car stopped at the crash and drove away the two Europeans while the Cubans remained at the crash site, she said.

“We don’t know what happened to my father and (Cepero) … but hours later they were both dead,” she said. Cuba says Payá died immediately in a single-car crash caused by Carromero’s speeding, and that Cepero died a few hours later in a Bayamo hospital.

Payá, one of Cuba’s most respected dissidents, was known to be followed by Cuban state security agents almost everywhere he went. Cuban officials have published photos of Carromero’s damaged car, a body on the ground next to it and a damaged tree.

Speaking on what would have been her father’s 61st birthday, Payá Acevedo also made public what she said were copies of text messages sent by Modig soon after the crash to a fellow Christian Democratic Party member in Stockholm.

“Angel says a car pushed him off the road,” said one message written in Swedish. Others, in Spanish, say “Help!” and “Surrounded by militants” – apparently military.

Who Speaks for the Cuban People?

By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Last week the Castro brothers announced the name of the man who, they said, will succeed Raul Castro when–or if–he retires at the end of the new five-year term as president to which he has just appointed himself.

The name is Miguel Diaz-Canel. He’s an apparatchik in the best Soviet style: thirty years in the Communist Party, starting with its youth groups. He’s not particularly well-known on or off the island, which may have recommended him to the Castros: previous heirs apparent sometimes got too big for their britches and had to be dumped. Of course, Canel may be dumped too, at any moment. He has no power base, and no apparent close ties with the Army and security services–who will be critical once the Castros are dead. The day Raul or Fidel is tired of him will be the day his “elevation” is undone. It will be interesting to see whether, in his new post as vice president, Canel is handed any real responsibilities by the Castros. This much is clear: nothing this man has ever done in his life suggests he believes in freedom, democracy, or human rights–or the Castros would never have selected him.

Meanwhile another Cuban is in the news: Yoani Sanchez.  She has achieved international recognition as a young (37 years old) blogger whose blog, Generation Y, is followed in 17 languages.

Here’s what President Obama had to say to Yoani in 2009:

"Congratulations on receiving the Maria Moore Cabot Prize award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for coverage of Latin America that furthers inter-American understanding. You richly deserve the award. I was disappointed you were denied the ability to travel to receive the award in person.

Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba. It is telling that the Internet has provided you and other courageous Cuban bloggers with an outlet to express yourself so freely, and I applaud your collective efforts to empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology. The government and people of the United States join all of you in looking forward to the day all Cubans can freely express themselves in public without fear and without reprisals."

Recently Yoani was permitted to travel, and after a visit to Brazil is now in the Czech Republic. She is thhankling the Czech government for its support of human rights in Cuba. She will also be coming to America on this trip.

Yoani has posted a comment on the Diaz-Canel selection, and here it is:

"The designation of the number two man in the Cuban nomenklatura has probably been more commented on and discussed outside the Island than inside. In part because for several months the national media has already been suggesting — with constant allusions to this 52-year-old engineer — that he could become the successor to Fidel Castro. So few were surprised when the former Minister of Higher Education became, as of Sunday, yesterday, the “dauphin” of the Cuban regime. Their biological clock has the octogenarians governing the Greater Antilles at a crossroads: either establish the inheritance now or forever lose the chance seems to be dictating the hands of history. So the line of succession has been left to a much younger figure. They have based their choice on their confidence in the fidelity and manageability of Diaz-Canel, trapped between a commitment to his superiors and a conviction of how limited his real power is.

History shows us that the behavior of these dauphins while they are being observed by their bosses is one thing, and something else entirely when those bosses are no longer around. Only then will we discover who the real man is who yesterday became number two in Cuba. However, I have hopes that the fate of our country will not be decided by this Council of State, nor by this presidential chair. I have hopes that the era of the olive-green monarchs, their heirs and their entourage is ending."

MH Editorial Board: Raul's Lipstick Changes

Thursday, February 28, 2013
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s Raúl Castro’s proclaimed changes are no more than lipstick on a zombie

In Juan of the Dead, an enterprising but admittedly lazy Cuban and his small band of friends face a Havana full of zombies (the regime claims they are dissidents but Juan knows better) by starting a zombie-disposal service. At one point in the comedic, award-winning Spanish film made in Cuba, Juan answers the phone and a plea to get rid of “the old man” with a subtle line: “ Compañero, you’ll have to handle that family matter yourself.”

After 54 years of the Castro brothers’ communist dictatorship, a new generation of Cubans want to take charge of their destiny, to rid themselves of the zombies who blindly follow the Castros.

On Sunday, Raúl Castro seemed to toss them a lifeline — the 81-year-old successor to his ailing brother Fidel says he’s leaving Cuba’s presidency in five years and that the communist island’s constitution will soon include term limits for future leaders.

Castro tapped Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 52-year-old engineer, now seen as his potential successor, for first vice president. He also shook up the rubber-stamp National Assembly by promoting 69-year-old Esteban Lazo Hernandez, Cuba’s highest ranking black official, to replace Ricardo Alarcon, 75, who served for two decades as assembly president.

No doubt, Raúl Castro expects the international community to see these changes as the Great Awakening for Cuba’s leadership gerontocracy, a “historic transcendence” for a new generation to take the mantle and for Afro Cubans to finally bust the iron ceiling that has kept black Cubans from key positions.

If only that were so. This is nothing more than lipstick on a zombie.

The dictatorship may get a new face but no one elevated by Fidel or Raúl Castro can be considered a Cuban leader in the image of, say, the former Soviet Union’s reformer, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Indeed, Diaz-Canel is not the first “young” leader to be seen as a potential heir to lead the one-party state. Remember former Foreign Ministers Roberto Robaina and Felipe Perez Roque? Or former Vice President Carlos Lage? All have disappeared from public view, ousted by the Castro brothers when they became too big for their political britches.

As for U.S. policy toward Cuba, there’s nothing in Sunday’s proclamations from Havana that would warrant a thawing of relations. The Obama administration already has made it easier for Cuban Americans to visit their loved ones in Cuba and send remittances. As the State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell noted on Monday, the United States remains “hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders. We’re clearly not there yet.”

Certainly the Helms-Burton law that maintains the U.S. embargo requires more than a promise of some elusive change five years from now when the dictatorship will be 59 years old.

Diaz-Canel, a former higher education minister and ex-head of the Communist Party in Villa Clara and Holguin provinces, has been traveling with Raúl Castro on key missions abroad and leading delegations on other trips. He is reported to have been in charge of many of Raúl Castro’s economic changes, such as allowing the sale of homes and lifting travel restrictions for some Cubans. All these are seen as efforts to bolster Cuba’s ever-depressed top-down economy, which Raúl Castro maintains are ways to “perfect socialism, not destroy it.”

Like we said, lipstick on a zombie.

U.S. Congressman Defends Cuban Spies

Cuban state media has revealed that during his recent visit to Havana, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) defended five Cuban spies tried by U.S. federal courts in 2001 and convicted on conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit murder, acting as an agent of a foreign government and other illegal activities in the United States.

According to Granma (exact quote):

"The legislator admitted that in prisons in his country 'there are five Cubans jailed for transmitting information about the (violent) activities of Cuban-Americans,' and that in talks with Raul Castro he ratified that 'those five Cubans don't deserve to be in jail.'"

It's not the first time McGovern is associated with such unsavory figures.

He was widely and infamously referenced in messages found in the hard-drive of Raul Reyes, the narco-terrorist FARC's second-in-command, who was killed by the Colombian military in 2008.

Thus, Cuban dictators and spies are right up his alley.

According to the U.S. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, the activities of these Cuban spies included: 

• The infiltration of the US Southern Command headquarters in Miami—according to Cuba, “one of the new prioritized objectives that we have in the Miami area.”

• The activities of Cuban exile groups in Miami and tactics to disrupt those groups by, among other things, “creat(ing) animosity” between specified groups and attempting to discredit certain individual leaders.

• The activities at the Boca Rica Naval Air Station as well as reports on an apparent military topic identified by Cuba that “continues to be of great importance to our comrades at DAAFAR (Cuban Air Force Command).”

• The manipulation of the media, political institutions, and public opinion, including using anonymous or misidentified telephone calls and letters to media and political figures.

Read the details here.

Must-See: Foreign Tourists Arrested in Cuba

Last week, we posted a video of Cuban pro-democracy activists Rosario Morales la Rosa and Melkis Faure Echevarria courageously leading a protest in Havana's Central Park, calling for an end to for the Castro regime's repression.

They were arrested pursuant to the protest.

A new video has surfaced showing the commotion caused by Castro's police -- simply due to a peaceful protest by two women in a park -- and foreign tourists being arrested for unwittingly taking pictures.

Ironically, only the images captured by a Cuban pro-democracy activist with a hidden camera saw the light of day.

Click below to watch.  Note the young woman arrested with two children.

Courtesy of Hablemos Press:

Five Months Later: Journalist Still Imprisoned

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
By Laura Paz in The Institute of War and Peace Reporting:

Five months after his arrest, Cuban journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias remains in jail on charges of insulting the country’s top leaders, with no trial date in sight.

At the end of January, the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International declared Martínez Arias a prisoner of conscience, arguing that the real reason for his detention was because he had reported on controversial subjects.

A reporter for the independent news agency Hablemos Press Information Centre, Martínez Arias was detained on September 16 while investigating a story about a damaged shipment of medicines that had been sent to Havana’s international airport by the World Health Organisation.

The Cuban prosecution service has accused him of an offence known as “disrespect”, alleging that he insulted Raúl and Fidel Castro, the country’s present and past presidents.

The authorities regularly detain journalists for short periods of up to two weeks.

Martínez Arias is one of two Cuban journalists who have been detained for much longer. The other is José Antonio Torres, a former correspondent for the official newspaper Granma who was detained in 2011 and given a 14-year sentence in June 2012. He was convicted of espionage, although his real offence seems to have been writing highly critical pieces about a construction project in the eastern Santiago de Cuba region.

Martínez Arias, 41, was born in the Campechuela municipality of the eastern province of Granma. After leaving school, he initially worked as a carpenter, but after joining the Cuban Pro-Human Rights Party, he decided to become a journalist in 2009.

Interviewed a month before his arrest in September, he said he chose this career “because I knew there was a possibility of creating a free press for the good of the people; and secondly because I always knew it was necessary to inform the world about the reality of Cuba”.

Martínez Arias wrote for Hablemos Press, which reports on human rights violations in Cuba, and was one of the first journalists to cover last year’s outbreak of cholera in eastern Cuba.

While detained at the Combinado del Este prison, he went on hunger strike on November 10 and demanded to be allowed to wear normal clothes as he regarded himself as a political prisoner, not a criminal.

In a phone call in which he told Hablemos Press director Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez of his decision, Martínez Arias urged international human rights organisations to visit the prison, which he said was not fit for human habitation.

There are 36 prisoners living in a space 13 or 14 metres by six metres. The day I arrived, I had to sleep on the floor due to the number of inmates,” he said.

He was punished for his hunger strike by being placed in a solitary confinement cell known as the “corridor of death”, but only abandoned his protest 33 days later because relatives begged him to.

While Martínez Arias was on hunger strike, the Inter-American Press Association, a regional media freedom group, called for his release and condemned the charge of “disrespect” brought against him. The Cuban Association for Press Freedom urged the authorities to heed his demands since he was prepared to put his life at risk to make them.

No trial date has been set, and the journalist’s lawyer Joaquín Hernando has not been granted access to the prosecution’s case files.

The international group Reporters Without Borders describes Cuba as “the only country in the Americas not to allow any independent press to operate outside the straight-jacket of the state.” The Committee to Protect Journalists, meanwhile, ranks Cuba ninth on its list of countries with the most censorship in 2012. It is the only country in the Americas on the list.

Cuban Dissidents Seek Greater Unity

In EFE:

Cuban Dissidents Hope to Build Mass Organization

Former political prisoners and prominent dissident Guillermo Fariñas announced on Wednesday the creation of a new group that seeks to become a “dynamic mass organization” and achieve greater unity within the opposition in Cuba.

The new organization will take the name of the existing Union Patriotica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba), or Unpacu, headed to date by Jose Daniel Ferrer and which will now merge with Fariñas’ Fantu group.

Fariñas, 2010 recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, said that the new Unpacu aspires to be a model in the face of the tradition of would-be strongmen “that has characterized Cuban politics” and it will be open to all members of the peaceful opposition who are ready to embrace teamwork.

The new Unpacu will have a “coordinating council” comprised of Fariñas, Ferrer and other former political prisoners along with Elizardo Sanchez, the spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, among others.

Among its objectives, the members of Unpacu intend for it to become “a solid and dynamic organization of the masses” that uses a range of methods to advocate civil disobedience on the Communist-ruled island.

“We want to get into every Cuban home with our proposal,” Ferrer said.

Regarding the recent election of Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, as Cuban first vice president and his embodiment of a generational shift within the government of octogenarian Raul Castro, Ferrer said that it is merely designed present a false image of change in Cuba.

He also said that, for the present, Diaz-Canel cannot be described as a “Cuban Gorbachev.”

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a conversation with former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts (R-OK) on INSIGHT America, a new nonprofit group designed to boost diversity within the GOP.

Then, U.S. Ambassador Dennis Hays, former Director of the State Department's Office of Cuban Affairs, on the Castro regime's recent leadership reshuffle.

And Dr. Vanessa Neumann, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, on the return to Venezuela of President Hugo Chavez and possible election scenarios.

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).

Canada Gave Dissidents Silent Treatment

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird talked a big-game before heading to Cuba last week.

Prior to leaving, Baird's spokesman said "he [would] use this opportunity to press the need for economic liberalization and respect for human rights."

One columnist in Canada appropriately asked, "human rights organizations in Cuba and abroad have reported an increase in the number of arbitrary detentions for political reasons over the past year (up to more than a thousand a month). Shouldn't our government condemn that publicly, and depart from a long bipartisan policy of silence on Cuba?"

Well, John Baird went to Cuba, and did exactly that.

He met with Castro regime officials to discuss tourism, natural resources and mining investments -- then quietly got on the plane and left. 

Baird didn't have the decency to meet with a single pro-democracy activist, not The Ladies in White, not independent journalists, not bloggers.  Nada.

It's not that he didn't have time to meet with anyone.  After all, the Venezuelan government cancelled his visit there, which was scheduled after the Havana stop.

He didn't do it because he didn't want to risk Canada's business deals with the Castro regime.

(Let's be clear: Canada does not have a single business partnership in Cuba with any entity that is not owned and operated by the Castro regime.  Cubans are prohibited from engaging in foreign commerce -- it's an exclusive monopoly of the dictatorship.)

John Baird gave Cuban dissidents the same treatment Canadian tourists and businessmen have been giving the Cuban people for two decades -- a shameful snub.

Sadly, this is what many advocates of normalizing relations with Cuba would like to see the U.S. do as well.

So what "influence" has doing business and sucking up to the Castro regime "bought" the Canadians?

None.

To the contrary, it has allowed the Castro regime to blackmail Canada into a collusive silence.

Must-Watch: Demand for Another Cuba

A must-watch video from the United Veto Expo held in Havana by the Citizen's Demand for Another Cuba campaign the day before the Castro regime's "[s]election" process.

The Citizen Demand for Another Cuba calls for the government immediately implement the legal and political guarantees endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by the Cuban authorities on 28 February 2008 in New York.

Click below:

Over 170 Political Arrests Last Weekend

According to Cuban independent journalists, over 170 pro-democracy activists were violently arrested by the Castro regime over the weekend.

The arrests were pursuant to various events commemorating the 3rd anniversary of the death -- by hunger strike -- of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the 17th anniversary of the murder -- by Castro's Air Force -- of four young Brothers to the Rescue pilots.

Among those arrested were 56 members of the Ladies in White.

This repression was overlooked by foreign news bureaus in Havana, which instead focused on the closed proceedings of Castro's "National Assembly" and the formal granting of titles to the regime's most loyal subjects.

The Case for Cuba Sanctions

By University of Miami Professor Jaime Suchlicki:

What If...the U.S. Ended the Cuba Travel Ban and the Embargo?

Lifting the ban for U.S. tourists to travel to Cuba would be a major concession totally out of proportion to recent changes in the island. If the U.S. were to lift the travel ban without major reforms in Cuba, there would be significant implications:

- Money from American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the Castro government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.

- American tourists will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban resorts are built in isolated areas, are off limits to the average Cuban, and are controlled by Cuba’s efficient security apparatus. Most Americans don’t speak Spanish, have but limited contact with ordinary Cubans, and are not interested in visiting the island to subvert its regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from receiving publications from tourists. Penalties include jail terms.

- While providing the Castro government with much needed dollars, the economic impact of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited. Dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most.

- Tourist dollars would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc., produced by state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned partially or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal airline shuffling tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by the Cuban military.

- The assumption that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments is at best naïve. As we have seen in other circumstances, U.S. travelers to Cuba could be subject to harassment and imprisonment.

- Over the past decades hundred of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more democratic today. If anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the state and its control apparatus having been strengthened as a result of the influx of tourist dollars.

- As occurred in the mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms. Cuba’s limited economic reforms were enacted in the early 1990s, when the island’s economic contraction was at its worst. Once the economy began to stabilize by 1996 as a result of foreign tourism and investments, and exile remittances, the earlier reforms were halted or rescinded by Castro.

- Lifting the travel ban without major concessions from Cuba would send the wrong message “to the enemies of the United States”: that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,” and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.

- Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries. The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the will of the people in free elections. U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, yet it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. While no one is advocating military intervention, normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.

- Once American tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would probably restrict travel by Cuban-Americans. For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends and relatives on the island, and to influence their views on the Castro regime and on the United States. Indeed, the return of Cuban exiles in 1979-80 precipitated the mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel in 1980.

- A large influx of American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating effect on the economies of smaller Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Florida, highly dependent on tourism for their well-being. Careful planning must take place, lest we create significant hardships and social problems in these countries.

If the embargo is lifted, limited trade with, and investments in Cuba would develop. Yet there are significant implications.

Trade

- All trade with Cuba is done with state owned businesses. Since Cuba has very little credit and is a major debtor nation, the U.S. and its businesses would have to provide credits to Cuban enterprises. There is a long history of Cuba defaulting on loans.

- Cuba is not likely to buy a substantial amount of products in the U.S. In the past few years, Cuba purchased several hundred million dollars of food in the U.S. That amount is now down to $170 million per year. Cuba can buy in any other country and it is not likely to abandon its relationship with China, Russia, Venezuela, and Iran to become a major trading partner of the U.S.

- Cuba has very little to sell in the U.S. Nickel, one of Cuba's major exports, is controlled by the Canadians and exported primarily to Canada. Cuba has decimated its sugar industry and there is no appetite in the U.S. for more sugar. Cigars and rum are important Cuban exports. Yet, cigar production is mostly committed to the European market. Cuban rum could become an important export, competing with Puerto Rican and other Caribbean rums.

Investments

- In Cuba, foreign investors cannot partner with private Cuban citizens. They can only invest in the island through minority joint ventures with the government and its state enterprises.

- The dominant enterprise in the Cuban economy is the Grupo GAESA, controlled by the Cuban military. Most investments are done through or with GAESA. Therefore, American companies willing to invest in Cuba will have to partner mostly with the Cuban military.

- Cuba ranks 176 out of 177 countries in the world in terms of economic freedom. Outshined only by North Korea. It ranks as one of the most unattractive investments next to Iran, Zimbabwe, Libya, Mali, etc.

- Foreign investors cannot hire, fire, or pay workers directly. They must go through the Cuban government employment agency which selects the workers. Investors pay the government in dollars or euros and the government pays the workers a meager 10% in Cuban pesos.

- Corruption is pervasive, undermining equity and respect for the rule of law.

- Cuba does not have an independent/transparent legal system. All judges are appointed by the State and all lawyers are licensed by the State. In the last few years, European investors have had over $1 billion arbitrarily frozen by the government and several investments have been confiscated. Cuba's Law 77 allows the State to expropriate foreign-invested assets for reason of "public utility" or "social interest." In the last year, the CEOs of three companies with extensive dealings with the Cuban government were arrested without charges.

Conclusions

- If the travel ban is lifted unilaterally now or the embargo is ended by the U.S., what will the U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to encourage changes in the island? These policies could be an important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.

- The travel ban and the embargo should be lifted as a result of negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful and irreversible political and economic concessions or when there is a democratic government in place in the island.

Something to Think About

Monday, February 25, 2013
For those who still believe that -- despite decades of their lies and deceit -- the Castro brothers can be trusted or reasonably negotiated with.
A good indicator of how committed a government is to upholding peace with its neighbors is its commitment to protecting the human rights of its own citizens.  Nations that disregard the freedoms of their own people are not likely to care much about maintaining peace with their historic enemies. 
-- David Keyes, from "Palestine's Democracy Deficit," The New York Times, 2/12/13

Kudos to the State Department

Some of these journalists should really learn some basic etiquette.

From today's State Department Daily Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell:

QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to Raul Castro saying he will not seek reelection in five years’ time?

MR. VENTRELL: So, Brad, we are indeed aware of the reports that President Castro, Raul Castro, announced his intention to step down in 2018 after another five-year term. We also saw the announcement that Mr. Miguel Diaz-Canel was named First Vice President.

We remain hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders in an open democratic process and enjoy the freedoms of speech and association without fear of reprisal. We’re clearly not there yet.

QUESTION: Hold on, hold on. I’m glad you’re aware. I guess that confirms that not everybody in the U.S. Government slept through the entire weekend. But do you have an actual reaction? Do you have a position on whether this is a good step, whether this is helpful in that process toward a freer, fairer, Cuba as you stated?

MR. VENTRELL: I think --

QUESTION: Or just that you know that things happened in the world over the last 48 hours?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. I mean, I think, Brad, what we’re saying is that we’ve noted that it’s happened, but clearly, a change in leadership that, absent the fundamental democratic reforms necessary to give people their free will and their ability to pick their own leaders, won’t be a fundamental change for Cuba.

QUESTION: So this is not enough; they still need to do more if they want to, one, improve the state of their country and, two, repair relations with the United States?

MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely.

Cuba Does Not Merit Terrorism Delisting

By Jose Cardenas in Foreign Policy:

Floating policy trial balloons is longstanding Washington custom. Not so common is when that balloon gets blasted out of the sky by the "senior official" leaker's own administration. That's what happened last week when the Boston Globe reported that, "High-level U.S. diplomats have concluded that Cuba should no longer be designated a state sponsor of terrorism."

Yet the ink was barely dry on that report before both the White House and State Department utterly repudiated any notion that Cuba would soon be de-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

As I have written in this space before, de-listing Cuba has been a long-sought goal of a die-hard cadre of critics of the United States' Cuba policy. Why? Well, it seems that the Castro regime, which was born in terrorist violence, aided and abetted it across four continents over three decades, and whose training camps produced such international luminaries as Carlos the Jackal, is upset that it continues to be listed as a state-sponsor of terrorism. And, what's more, Washington policymakers ought to be vexed by that, because it is an "obstacle" to normalized relations.

It turns out that the Globe report was simple mischief-making by some apparently inconsequential U.S. official, clearly meant to provide succor to the de-listing campaign. As was noted deeper in the story, "U.S. officials emphasized that there has not been a formal assessment concluding that Cuba should be removed from the terrorism list and said serious obstacles remain to a better relationship, especially the imprisonment of [development worker Alan] Gross."

Still, since the subject has been raised, it's worthwhile to examine just what it has taken for other countries to be removed from the state sponsors list. In 2007, Libya was de-listed after Muammar al-Qaddafi terminated his WMD program and renounced terrorism by severing ties with radical groups, closing training camps, and extraditing terrorism suspects. He also accepted responsibility for the Pan Am 103 bombing and paid compensation to the victims.

In 2008, in a controversial decision, the Bush administration de-listed North Korea for progress that was being made on ending the country's nuclear program.

Clearly, removal from the list usually follows some pro-active, game-changing actions by a country.  What pro-active measures has Cuba ever adopted? The answer is none. Just being too broke to support terrorism anymore hardly merits any action on the U.S. part.

Moreover, according to the law, before de-listing, an administration must not only certify to Congress that a country has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period, but that it has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

In Cuba's case, even if relevant U.S. agencies can conclude that the Castro regime has not provided material support for a terrorist act in the last six months -- that is, apart from its terrorizing of its own people, which continues apace -- where is the regime's public renouncement of its past support for international terrorism and assurance that it will not support any acts in the future?

Is even that too much to demand? Of course, it is. The Castro regime will not issue any such statement because it doesn't believe it has done anything wrong since 1959. They maintain that they are the victims of U.S. policy and are deserving of all the concessions, without any quid pro quo. The regime can no more renounce terrorism than renounce their totalitarian state -- and that is why they belong on the terrorism list until they give the U.S. government a real reason to be taken off.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a discussion on U.S.-Japan relations with the Asia Society's Jamie Metzl, former Director for Multilateral and Humanitarian Affairs at the National Security Council and Deputy Staff Director for then Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden.

Then, former Wall Street Journal publisher and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Karen Elliot House on her new book, "On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion and Fault Lines."

From Lesotho, The Atlantic's Neal Emery on the historic transformation of Rwanda's health care system.

And PETA's Ashley Byrne on the international trafficking of exotic animals.

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).

What CNN's Candy Crowley Didn't Ask Leahy

During an interview with CNN's "State of the Union," U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who just returned from a visit with Cuban dictator Raul Castro, said it will require "give and take on both sides" and "quiet negotiation" to secure the release of American development worker, Alan Gross.

CNN's Candy Crowley nodded along as Senator Leahy criticized U.S. policy, but here's what she failed to ask:

1. Upon Alan Gross's imprisonment in December 2009, the Obama Administration engaged the Castro regime in "quiet negotiations" and unilaterally eased sanctions in January 2011.  How much more "giving" is required before there's a "take-away"?

2. Since Raul Castro has been dictator-in-chief, repression in Cuba has dramatically risen, with political arrests reaching historic highs.  Did you express your concern to Castro about the rise in violence and repression by his regime?

3. Today, 56 peaceful female pro-democracy advocates, known as "The Ladies in White," and over 50 others, were arrested for peacefully demonstrating in Havana.  Did you meet with the Ladies in White while in Havana?  Did you meet with any pro-democracy leaders or activists?  Why not?

4. In February 2012, you took a similar trip to Havana, where you met with Cuban dictator Raul Castro and similarly wined and dined with senior regime officials -- to no avail.  How was this trip any different?

5. Pursuant to the murder of four Americans by the Castro regime seventeen-years ago today, you voted against any repercussions towards the Cuban dictatorship   Today, you feel the same way about the unjustified taking of an American hostage.  At what point should the Castro brothers be held accountable for their criminal acts?  How come you didn't feel the same way about the democratically-elected government in Colombia, to whom you consistently blocked aid for human rights violations?

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 41

Sunday, February 24, 2013
Can someone tell me who "elected" Raul Castro to a first or second term as "President," as some foreign news bureaus in Havana reported?

Moreover -- here's a novel idea -- how about letting the Cuban people choose their "new generation" of leaders?

In The Miami Herald:

Cuban President Raúl Castro said Sunday he will retire in five years and anointed 52-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel as his new No. 2, signaling the start of a long and desperately awaited transition to a younger leadership in the communist ruled-island [...]

But Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee, was less impressed. “It’s fascinating how everyone is closely watching and speculating on the closed circus show of a totalitarian dictatorship, where all of the positions are powerless smoke-screens, subject to the whim of two men named Castro.”

Shocking News: Raul Castro to Remain Cuba's Dictator

While Cuba "experts" stare at blank television sets awaiting the end of Castro's National Assembly meeting -- as it's closed to the media -- let us give you a quick preview.

Raul Castro will remain Cuba's dictator. 

Moreover, Cuba will remain a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by the Castro brothers.

The first item leaked out for "experts" to entertain themselves with -- Esteban Lazo, an old-time Communist, will replace Ricardo Alarcon, an old-time Communist, as the new powerless head of Castro's National Assembly.

Also, Miguel Diaz-Canel, an errand boy for Raul Castro, will serve on the Council of State, flanked by a bunch of Generals.

Diaz-Canel is the latest version of Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lage, Felipe Perez-Roque and Carlos Valenciaga -- the expendable younger smoke-screen for the island's octogenarian leaders.

And tomorrow morning everything will remain the same.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Havana, over 56 Ladies in White were violently arrested for peacefully commemorating the three-year anniversary of the death of pro-democracy activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the seventeenth anniversary of the murder of four young Brothers to the Rescue pilots.