Before It Was Called "the China Model"

Saturday, March 23, 2013
It was called fascism.

From Bloomberg:

The ranks of China’s ultra-wealthy in its legislature swelled 20 percent this year, highlighting the vested interests that may oppose any measures by incoming President Xi Jinping to reduce the nation’s wealth gap.

Ninety members of the National People’s Congress are on a list of China’s 1,000 richest people published by the Shanghai- based Hurun Report, up from 75 last year, according to a review of the data by Bloomberg News.

Everyone on the Hurun list had a fortune of at least 1.8 billion yuan ($289.4 million), more than former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

On the Idiotic Posthumous Cult of Hugo Chávez

By Bernard-Henri Lévy in The Daily Beast:

On the Idiotic Posthumous Cult of Hugo Chávez

Leaving aside his anti-Semitism and his dictator allies, why would the left celebrate a man who repressed his people and wrecked the economy? It’s an insult to Venezuelans.

The death of Hugo Chávez, followed by his elaborate funeral, has unleashed a wave of political idiocy, and thus of disinformation, of a magnitude not seen in some time.

I will not dwell—because this much is well known—on Chávez the “friend of the people” whose closest allies were bloody-handed dictators: Ahmadinejad, Bashar al-Assad, Fidel Castro, and, formerly, Gaddafi.

Nor will I dwell long, because this, too, is public knowledge, on the Chávez whose pathological anti-Semitism over his 14-year rule drove two thirds of Venezuela’s Jewish community into exile. (It is hard to image that this Chávez is viewed by a minister in François Hollande’s government in France as a “cross between Léon Blum and de Gaulle.”) Was not Chavez the devotee of the conspiracy theories of Thierry Meyssan, the disciple of Argentine Holocaust denier Norberto Ceresole, who professed his surprise that Israelis “like to criticize Hitler” even though they “have done the same and perhaps worse”? How was a Jew in Caracas expected to react upon seeing his president stigmatize a minority made up of “descendants of those who crucified Jesus Christ” and who had, according to Chávez, “made off with the world’s wealth”?

What is less known, something that we will regret overlooking as the posthumous cult of Chávez swells and grows more toxic, is that this “21st-century socialist,” this supposedly tireless “defender of human rights,” ruled by muzzling the media, shutting down television stations that were critical of him, and denying the opposition access to the state news networks.

What is less known, or deliberately not mentioned by those who would make of Chávez a source of inspiration for a left that seems to lack it, is that this wonderful leader, seemingly so concerned with workers and their rights, tolerated unions only if they were official. He allowed strikes only if controlled or even orchestrated by the regime. And, up to the end, he prosecuted, criminalized, and threw into prison independent trade unionists who, like Ruben Gonzalez, the representative of the Ferrominera mineworkers, refused to wait for Bolivarism to be fully realized before demanding decent working conditions, protection against mining accidents, and fair wages.

May Chávez the man rest in peace. But to pretend that the overall record of Chavezism has been positive is an insult to the Venezuelan people.

What has been omitted from most of the portraits broadcast during these sessions of global mourning—and what must be remembered if we want to avoid seeing post-Chavezism turn into an even worse nightmare—is the repression of the Yukpa Indians of the Sierra de Perija, carried out in the name of “cultural integration”; the targeted assassinations, covered up by the regime, of those of their chiefs who, like Sabino Romero in 2009, refused to bow down to Chávez; and, generally, the putting to sleep of democratic and popular movements that did not have the good fortune to be on Chávez’s agenda. Take women’s issues. It must not be forgotten that the rights of women suffered dramatic regressions during El Comandante’s reign. And would it be unfair to the deceased leader to observe that two provisions of family law—one protecting women victims of domestic violence; the other, divorced women—were repealed by the regime for being too petit-bourgeois by the standard of the prevailing machismo?

As for the good souls who remind us that Chávez’s national populism had “at least” the benefit of feeding the hungry, caring for the most vulnerable, and reducing poverty, they neglect to mention that these reforms were made possible only by budgetary recklessness, itself funded by colossal oil revenue inflated by the high price of crude. The result has been that the real economy of the country, the modernization of its infrastructure and equipment, and the formation of businesses capable of creating sustainable wealth were heedlessly sacrificed on the altar of a form of Caesarism designed more to buy social peace than to build the Venezuela of tomorrow.

Chávez imported, for a king’s ransom, tens of thousands of Cuban mercenary doctors—but let Venezuela’s hospitals die.

Rather than take the trouble to expand domestic production, he imported 70 percent of the bread he distributed to the people, without ever wondering what might happen if the price of a barrel of crude, now about $110, were to fall back down to near $20, where it was the year he came to power. This is the policy of the ostrich or the cicada. Very simply it is a policy of mortgaging the future.

And although the regime indeed provided work for many of those who had none, it has run up against that iron law of economics, which penalizes systems based on rent-seeking, widespread corruption, clientelism on a grand scale, and, last but not least, the creation of artificial wealth. Increases in the minimal wage, today about $250 a month, have, over 14 years, been overtaken by inflation. Half of the active population still just scrapes by, often by doing odd jobs on the margin of the formal economy. As a result, it is not unlikely that this long decade of oil-supported socialism will show a net deficit for those segments of the population who were supposed to benefit most (if at the price of renouncing freedoms that, like cancer, were supposedly imperialist exports) from the manna rained down on them by the profligate dictator.

May Chávez the man rest in peace.

But to pretend that the overall record of Chavezism has been positive is an insult to the Venezuelan people.

Young Cuban Rapper Kidnapped by Authorities

From Pedazos de la Isla:

Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, independent rapper best known as “El Critico de Arte” from the hip-hop duo “Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso” (‘The Unwanted Children’), based in the city of Bayamo, was brutally assaulted by political police agents on the night of March 21st. 

He was beaten and attacked with tear gas when agents broke in to the home of his aunt, Jaquelin Garcia, a member of the Ladies in White pro-democracy movement. During the raid, children also received physical blows at the hands of the officials. The whereabouts of Remon Arzuaga remain unknown.

“I witnessed how Yunier was taken from here and he was being choked, they hit him a lot…they shoved him into the cop car and he had about 4 uniformed agents on top of him”, said a desperate Jaquelin Garcia in an audio published on the YouTube channel of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a pro-freedom group which Angel Yunier also belongs to.

“I am very worried about Yunier, I don’t know where he has been taken to”, added Garcia.

Meanwhile, Jose Daniel Ferrer García, leader of UNPACU, explained on his Twitter account that “the police agents searched Yunier’s home... they took books, camera chargers and other objects.”

“Yunier’s mother suffered an epilepsy attack after witnessing the police violence against her son”, said another tweet by Ferrer.

The dissident adds that the brutality took place after the rapper handed out pro-freedom pamphlets in a popular avenue of Bayamo.

The young musician’s life runs danger, just because he has chosen to make rap without censorship and to fight for the rights of all Cubans.

Here's an interview with Remon Arzuaga from last year -- he's the second one from the left:

R.I.P. Bebo Valdes

Friday, March 22, 2013
I will not return to Cuba because I don't support dictatorships.
-- Bebo Valdes, Cuban pianist and former director of Havana's famous "Tropicana" nightclub, Dagens Nyheter, (1918-2013)

African Politicians Laundering Money Through Cuba

Letter to the Editor in the Zambian Watchdog:

Kabimba went to Cuba to open plunder accounts as M’membe gets diplomatic passport

Dear Editor,

I wish to bring to your attention of the mass plunder of our economy that is happening in this corrupt PF government.

Firstly, the PF leaders including their puppet master Fred Namakando M’membe are busy shipping hard currency to CUBA. Fred himself is flying to Havana with suitcases of Dollars at least twice a month using a diplomatic passport, so he cannot be searched at the airport.

Recently, Wynter went to CUBA to formalise the operations of his and his bosses’ bank accounts (remember the Trafigura Oilgate 'commissions' have be deposited somewhere) where illicit funds can be easily laundered.

These plunderers because they know that plundered funds deposited even in secret accounts in Swiss banks or any other off shore havens are extremely difficult to access (Frederick Chiluba failed to access the funds he had stolen, hence died a pauper). The CIA, the FED etc with our agencies will not allow access AFTER leaving the presidency. And the crooks in government know it (after all they were in charge of prosecuting chiluba and gained ‘valuable’ lessons on how to conceal and how not conceal plundered funds), hatched a scheme to hide these resources to ‘safe havens’ like Cuba and North Korea, Sudan and Iran. How do you think the increased closeness of the PF hierarchy and their friends towards Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan and to some extent Zimbabwe?


Odebrecht Rooting for Maduro in Venezuela

On Miami-Dade County's biggest partner for non-transparent, back-room deals, with taxpayer's money -- the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

Odebrecht is also Cuban dictator Raul Castro's most important foreign strategic partner.

So much so, that they are legally challenging the will of Florida's taxpayers -- who have stated unequivocally through the ballot box and the legislature -- that they don't want their money going to Castro's business partners.

From today's Reuters:

If Brazil's business leaders could vote in Venezuela's election next month, they would cast their ballots for Hugo Chavez's political heir, acting president Nicolas Maduro.

They never supported the anti-capitalist bluster of Chavez, who died of cancer last month, but they hope to hold on to lucrative contracts for food exports and construction projects that he signed with Brazil's former leftist leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

"In the near term, a Maduro win would be best," said Jose Augusto de Castro, head of Brazil's Foreign Trade Association [..]

Key infrastructure projects launched during the 14 years of Chavez's government, from the Caracas metro expansion to bridges across the Orinoco river that divides Venezuela, are run by Brazilian firms like Odebrecht.

Chavez's close ties with Lula protected Brazilian firms from Venezuela's frequent nationalizations, foreign exchange controls and barriers to repatriating profits that scared competitors out of the oil producing OPEC nation.

Odebrecht's presence is so strong that Chavez even joked that he had tried to convert the firm's president to socialism. The company has 8,000 employees in Venezuela, with nine projects, including a 2.15 megawatt dam in the Amazon.


Definition of Fraudulent Change

Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement:

FRAUDULENT CHANGE.  Economic changes without rights so that the military caste and its accomplices can become richer, while the people remain poor and repressed.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 42

In The Miami Herald:

A panel of skeptical federal appeals judges meeting in Miami Thursday sharply questioned a Florida law prohibiting the state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba [...]

Last year, 62 percent of Miami-Dade voters approved a nonbinding ballot question to ban the county from hiring companies that “actively” do business with state sponsors of terrorism. Since then, elected officials in several cities, including Miami Beach, Miami Lakes and Sweetwater, have approved identical measures opposing the hiring of Odebrecht for the Airport City project, citing the intent of the challenged law.

“It’s just about, I think, sensitivity to other people who suffered through atrocity,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who sponsored his city’s resolution. “They’re benefitting tremendously economically from a deal like this, and it just doesn’t seem right.”

The resolution has the support of Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington that pushed for the state legislation.

“How is it that the number one business partner of the Cuban dictatorship is the number one recipient of projects and money from the Cuban-American community?” he said. “That is unheard of.”

A Thorn in Castro's Side

Click below to watch:

Yoani Rejects Unconditional Lifting of Sanctions

In an interview with TV Marti, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez clarified that she supports the lifting of U.S. sanctions -- but not without pre-conditions.

Q:  Are you in favor of lifting the embargo without conditions?

Yoani: I am not if favor of that, I think that it is clear that there should be conditions [for the lifting the embargo] and that there should be a long process of debate before doing so.

Moreover, she stated her satisfaction in meeting with U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and their understanding of the need to help the Cuban people find ways to freely access the Internet.

See the full video below:

Quote of the Day

The police drag us around, beat us, pull our hair, scratch us and humiliate us... They simulate executions with a gun to the head and leave us dumped at dawn on the road or the beach, tied up with belts.
-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White on the Castro regime's repression against the peaceful female pro-democracy movement, AFP, 3/21/13

Salmon-Sires on Attacks Against Cuba's Ladies in White

Wednesday, March 20, 2013
From the U.S. House of Representative's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere:

Joint Statement on Cuban Government’s Continued Human Rights Abuses

Chairman Matt Salmon of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, and Ranking Member Albio Sires, issued the following statement condemning the Cuban government’s continued human rights abuses against pro-democracy activists on the island:

In another example of the deteriorating human rights situation in Cuba, this week we learned that Castro’s secret police had brutally attacked women and children at the home of Denia Fernandez, leader of a pro-democracy group ‘Ladies in White.’ Reports from brave activists on the ground confirmed that the home in the eastern municipality of Palma Soriano had been surrounded by Cuban government thugs known as the Rapid Response Brigade, wielding stones to intimidate the women and children inside. There have been reports that some sustained severe head injuries at the hands of Castro’s agents.

I am gravely concerned about the continued senseless acts of violence against champions of democracy perpetrated at the hands of the Cuban government. It is time for the international community to reengage and demand that peaceful groups like the Ladies in White are protected from government harassment and brutality” said Chairman Salmon.

I call on the Department of State to use every tool in its toolbox to step up pressure on the Cuban regime to end its human rights abuses, and its stranglehold on the freedom of expression and self-determination of the liberty-loving people of Cuba”, added Ranking Member Sires.

Cubans Are Losing Their Fear

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cubans are losing their fear of Castro regime

WHEN YOANI Sánchez talks about “alternative means of communication” in Cuba, she speaks with authority. Her blog Generación Y has become a beacon of democracy and freedom on the island, where the news media are still held in the tight grip of the Castro regime. Producing a blog hasn’t been easy; Internet access is spotty. But she reports that alternate networks are throbbing with information that the government wants to suppress.

When the dissident Oswaldo Payá and activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car wreck in Cuba’s eastern province of Granma on July 22, Cubans learned of it through these alternative channels. Ms. Sánchez, visiting Washington this week, told us that Cubans sense that “the government seems to be hiding something” about the Payá and Cepero deaths and there has been a “manipulation of facts.”

The suspicions are well founded. On these pages recently, Ángel Carromero, a Spanish politician, said that the car he was driving and in which Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero were riding was hit from behind by a vehicle with Cuban government plates and that he was threatened and intimidated by the authorities in an attempted coverup. Ms. Sánchez said that an independent, international investigation should be carried out as soon as possible, before the government manages to erase every last bit of evidence. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has just written to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, asking him to appoint a panel for such a probe, saying that Mr. Payá’s family, the Cuban people and the international community “all deserve to have the truth.”

Truth is not a currency well respected by Fidel and Raul Castro. Ten years ago this month, they launched a crackdown known as the “Black Spring,” in which 75 dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists were imprisoned. The authorities also crushed the Varela Project, Mr. Payá’s 2002 petition drive for guarantees of freedom; many of his colleagues were jailed. But Mr. Payá was not imprisoned.

Ms. Sánchez reminded us that such arbitrariness is characteristic of authoritarianism. “It is hard to think like a repressor, if you have never been one,” she said. “They have their own logic. One of the most paralyzing elements of the Cuban repression is its illogical nature.” While not in jail, Mr. Payá had no peace. According to family members, he was threatened repeatedly with death. The threats were often quite direct: You will die before the Cuban revolution does.

Cuba has lately seen some economic reforms and liberalizations; one of them allowed Ms. Sánchez to travel freely abroad for the first time. But she told us the real change in Cuba today is not from the top but rather from below. “People are losing their fear, moving from silent to open, from wearing a mask to showing their real face in public,” she said. Ms. Sánchez stands at the cutting edge of this change yet sees a long road still to be traveled. Cuba has not yet relinquished a stranglehold on individual liberties.

Senator Rubio on Meeting Yoani

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio today joined Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez in meeting with Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez, the author of Generación Y blog, as well as fellow blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.  Sanchez is visiting Washington today as part of her tour of the U.S. and other nations to share her insights about life in Cuba.

During the meeting, Sanchez and the senators discussed various topics, including expanding Internet access in Cuba, recently announced changes in Cuban travel and property policies, the future of Cuba's government, foreign tourism to Cuba, the U.S. embargo, the Helms-Burton law, the Cuban Adjustment Act and what her life in Cuba is like. 

Following the meeting, Rubio issued the following statement:

"Yoani is a remarkable woman and I was honored to meet with her to get her perspective on a broad range of issues regarding Cuba's people and their future.  Through her Generación Y blog, Yoani has given the rest of the world valuable insights into daily life in Cuba and, more importantly, given us a glimpse of what brave, Cuban democracy advocates like her can do with a little bit of Internet access.  I believe expanding Internet access to Cuba is an important foreign policy goal we should work towards, so that many more can follow Yoani's lead and help expose the reality of the regime's inept and repressive nature.

Yoani's tour is a testament to her relentless drive in all she does, having been denied this chance by the regime so many times but keeping at it until she was finally allowed to travel.  Her trip is invaluable in helping others better understand Cuba from the perspective of people like her who long to be free. 

It is critically important that, when it's time for her to return home, we remain vigilant about the abuse and acts of vengeance the regime is surely contemplating against her.  The Castro regime is full of thugs and murderers, and we must join other nations in continuing to demand the safety and human rights not only of Yoani but of all the Cuban people."

Yoani Goes to the White House

From The White House:

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on the Visit of Yoani Sanchez

After many years of being prohibited from travel outside of Cuba, Yoani Sanchez, a respected advocate for the freedom of information and winner of the State Department's International Women of Courage Award, is visiting the United States. Today we welcomed her to the White House to meet with White House staff, including Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ricardo Zuniga, to discuss her efforts to promote increased respect for freedom of expression in Cuba.  The United States looks forward to the day when all Cubans will have the opportunity to express themselves in public without fear and we will continue to support policies that encourage the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Tune in today to "From Washington al Mundo" for a discussion on U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Israel with Dr. Yoav Tenenbaum of Tel Aviv University.

Then, The Business Insider's Paul Szoldra on his expose of North Korea's prison camps.

The Washington Post's Babak Dehghanpishen on yesterday's chemical weapon attack against Syria's opposition.

And The Atlantic's Armin Rosen on why India is finally complying with Iran sanctions.

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).

Brookings Needs Five Minutes With Senator Rubio

Last week, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) famously said regarding travelers to Cuba:

"Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering... You just went to Cuba and to fulfill your curiosity — which I could’ve told you about if you’d come seen me for five minutes — you’ve left thousands of dollars in the hands of a government that uses that money to control these people that you feel sorry for."

One traveler who could have used five minutes with Senator Rubio is Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott.

Talbott traveled to Cuba earlier this month, wined and dined with Castro regime officials, and left them thousands of dollars, while probably shunning courageous democracy activists (as his Brookings colleagues have done in the past in order not to "offend" their regime hosts).

Then, he made this amazing "discovery":
Despite this, Talbott's subordinate at Brookings, Ted Piccone, who led some of the previous trips that shunned Cuba's courageous pro-democracy activists, argues this week that the U.S. should proceed to bail out the Castro regime -- by enhancing business ties with its monopolies (for Cubans are prohibited from engaging in foreign trade) -- in order to soften the blow from the prospective loss of billionaire subsidies from Venezuela.

(This was not a surprise, as in the past, Brooking's Cuba reports have completely glossed over human rights).

Piccone's column is entitled "Time to Bet on Cuba." However, unilaterally engaging the Castro regime and its business monopolies sounds more like "Time to Bet on Castro."

Ironically, this week, we have witnessed the extraordinarily talent and courage of Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in New York and Washington D.C.; Berta Soler in Madrid and Rosa Maria Paya in Geneva. Not to mention the leadership of Antonio Rodiles, Jose Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," Jose Daniel Ferrer, Guillermo Farinas and so many others back in Cuba.  

These outstanding individuals have shown the world that there is indeed a Cuban alternative to the Castro regime
-- that there is a bright future ahead.

Brookings is clearly making the wrong bet.

Senator Nelson Calls for a Paya U.N. Investigation

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has called for an independent investigation into the car crash that claimed the life of another Cuban dissident, Oswaldo Payá.

Nelson made the call in a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Here's the letter:

Cuba: Paradise for Sex Tourists

By The Toronto Star's Editorial Board:

Paradise for sex tourists

Cuba: land of sun, sand and cheap child prostitutes.

Cuba has long been a favourite sun-spot for Canadians. It’s relatively cheap, loaded with resorts and just 2,300 km away.

But some tourists are drawn by more its unspoiled beaches and fine cigars. The Caribbean island has become a magnet for men eager to engage in sex with pre-pubescent girls, some as young as four. A confidential 2011 RCMP report on child sex tourism, obtained by a Star investigative team using Canada’s Access to Information Act, identifies Cuba as one of the most popular destinations in the Americas for child sex tourism.

The Canadian government, while acknowledging sex offenders are going abroad to exploit children, has done little to stop them. The Cuban government, eager for hard currency, denies that a problem even exists.

“There are no exit records that are kept of these individuals so it’s very difficult for us to know whether someone is in fact leaving the country for these reasons,” Vic Toews, the federal minister of public safety, told the Star. “My preference is that these individuals are prosecuted within the jurisdiction where they are discovered.”

That is not likely to happen. Cuban police are willing to look the other way, if their palms are greased. The government rarely prosecutes foreign sexual predators. It refuses to release records of child exploitation to international or domestic relief agencies. And Raúl Castro – Fidel’s younger brother who succeeded him as president in 2008 – insists that the island is a family-friendly tourist mecca.

For four months, a team of Star reporters working with their counterparts from Miami’s Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, probed this illicit trade from the streets of Havana to the highest echelons of the law enforcement system, speaking to police, politicians, diplomats and citizens working to prevent the sexual abuse of children.

They found that sex with young girls in Cuba costs as little as $30 a night. A network of hotel staff, cabbies and pimps was eager to set up an encounter for a tourist – for a small fee. Impoverished families were so desperate for money – or so dazzled by gifts and material goods unavailable in Cuba – that they pushed their children into prostitution.

What they uncovered in Canada was equally shocking. The government of Stephen Harper, which trumpets its commitment to crack down on sexual predators, has so far turned an almost blind eye to sexual tourism. Only five individuals have been convicted for crimes against children outside the country.

Although Canada has had a law against abusing children abroad since 1997, it is undermined by the inability of law enforcement officials to monitor sexual offenders as they slip out of the country. Nor can border officials identify them when they return because they don’t have access to the national Sex Offender Registry. Under Ottawa’s privacy rules, the RCMP cannot share the list.

The result: Canadians are “among the most enthusiastic customers of the Cuban child sex trade.” Unless they do something stupid – such as take pornographic photos to a commercial outlet for printing – there is little chance they’ll be caught.

Canada can’t stop this blight alone. But there are some obvious steps it could take. It could exempt sex offenders from privacy rules that prevent border guards from recognizing them. Require anyone who has been charged or convicted of sexual crimes to report all trips outside the country. Increase fines and jail terms for those charged with sex tourism. Provide the RCMP’s Child Exploitation Unit with the resources it needs to investigate crimes against children abroad. Work more closely with American authorities to detect border-crossing sexual predators. And put pressure on the Cuban government to prosecute sex tourists.
In the wake of the Star’s reporting on this troubling issue, Toews is promising more action to fight international sex tourism. On Monday, he said the government is consulting with experts “in order to prevent traffickers and offenders from travelling abroad” and is “committed to putting an end to the sexual exploitation of children, no matter where it may occur.”

Those are welcome statements. The Conservatives never miss an opportunity to express their abhorrence for those who sexually exploit children. It’s high time the government backed up its rhetoric with strong action.

The Stoning of The Ladies in White

Monday, March 18, 2013
Castro's secret police has surrounded the home of Denia Fernandez, a prominent member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, in the eastern municipality of Palma Soriano.

The home has been surrounded and is (literally) being stoned by agents of the regime.

There are eight members of The Ladies in White inside the home, including the organization's leader of the Santiago de Cuba province, Belkis Cantillo.  There are also children inside the home.

Some of the women have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, various neighbors, including Jessica Hernández, Maricela Chea and four other women, have been beaten and arrested for expressing their solidarity with the besieged democracy activists.

Apparently, these activities didn't make-the-cut of the recent "women's rights" reports issued on the Castro regime.

Who Will Stand Up for Oswaldo Payá?

By Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post:

Two weeks ago a brave young leader of Spain’s ruling Popular Party stepped forward to offer a sensational, firsthand account of how one of Cuba’s leading dissidents, Oswaldo Payá, was killed last summer. Ángel Carromero said a car that he was driving in which Payá was a passenger was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing official Cuban license plates. He said he was then jailed in inhuman conditions, drugged and threatened by Cuban authorities with death if he did not tell a false story about what happened.

Naturally, Spanish journalists quickly approached Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margello, Mr. Carromero’s comrade in the Popular Party, to ask for his reaction. One might have expected an expression of shock at the revelation that the Castro regime might have deliberately killed one of the world’s best-known advocates of peaceful democratic change, a winner of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize, and then abused and framed a prominent Spanish citizen.

Nope: Garcia-Margello didn’t hesitate to throw the leader of his party’s youth wing under a bus. The foreign ministry, he primly told the reporters, “didn’t have evidence” of Carromero’s account. “The only evidence” it had, he added, was an agreement between the Cuban government and Spain allowing the repatriation of Carromero, which “recognized... the legitimacy of the verdict” of a Cuban court that found him guilty of negligent homicide.

In other words, the Spanish foreign minister was saying he thought the Cuban state security service was more credible than a 27-year-old leader of his own party who spoke out, at the risk of his career and his conditional release from prison, because, as he put it in an interview with The Post, “I could not live, being complicit through my silence.”

It’s worth considering why the Spanish government, like the Obama administration and Latin America’s democracies, ignored Carromero’s allegations. If legendary dissident Andrei Sakharov himself had died in a suspicious car accident in the Soviet Union, and a credible Western witness had then offered testimony like Carromero’s, it’s hard to imagine that Ronald Reagan and former Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez would have remained silent.

But first let’s examine the supposed lack of evidence. Carromero, Payá, Cuban Harold Cepero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig were driving down a rural road in eastern Cuba last July 22 when the crash occurred. The two Cubans riding in the back seat died, while Carromero and Modig in the front survived.

Carromero says the car was followed from the moment it left Havana; as anyone familiar with Cuba and its secret police knows, that is routine for dissidents such as Payá. Here’s a question for the Spanish foreign ministry: Is it credible that a vehicle bearing dissidents and two Western politicians would not be followed on a road trip? Right. So where are the occupants of the two cars, one with official plates, described by Carromero?

The Cuban version says Carromero’s car struck a tree. But the photo authorities released shows a sedan clearly smashed from behind. Unless the Spaniard somehow accelerated backward into the tree, the picture belies the official story. Then there are the texts: Payá’s family say they have SMS messages that Carromero and Modig sent to friends in Europe soon after the crash, saying they had been hit from behind and run off the road. And there is Modig himself: The young Swede, who was also detained for a time in Cuba, told Swedish radio last week that he did send the reported texts, and that while he did not remember the accident, “I don’t have any doubts about what is now revealed.”

Finally there is this: The crash marked the second time Payá had been in an accident in two months. In Havana, a car he was driving was also struck by a suspicious vehicle, injuring him slightly. His family says he regularly received telephone calls with death threats.

Perhaps the Spanish foreign minister disrespects Carromero enough to conclude that he is lying in spite of all the indications that he is not. Or perhaps he feels compelled to bow to political considerations: the Spanish government’s cultivation of the Castro regime, its gratitude for the release to Spain of several score Cuban political prisoners, its hopes that four Spaniards in Cuban custody will, like Carromero, be freed. Other Western governments desperately want to believe that Raul Castro is a reformer who is slowly liberalizing Cuba.

All these calculations assume that the possibility that the regime deliberately targeted and killed Payá is ultimately unworthy of international attention; that impunity for such a crime is a regrettable necessity; or that the case says nothing about the Castros’ real intentions. Were they alive, Andrei Sakharov and Oswaldo Payá would surely disagree.

Quote of the Day

The giveaways to other countries are going to end. Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros.
-- Henrique Capriles, Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate, Reuters, 3/18/13

Cuban Democracy Leaders Stress Importance of U.S. Sanctions

Sunday, March 17, 2013
Young Cuban democracy leader Antonio Rodiles has just released the latest episode of his civil society project "Estado de Sats" (filmed within Cuba), where he discusses the importance U.S. sanctions policy with two of Cuba's most renowned opposition activists and former political prisoners, Guillermo Fariñas and Jose Daniel Ferrer.

The question posed was: What consequences would the unconditional lifting of the U.S. embargo have at this time?

"If at this time, the [economic] need of the Cuban government is satisfied through financial credits and the lifting of the embargo, repression would increase, it would allow for a continuation of the Castro's society, totalitarianism would strengthen its hold and philosophically, it would just be immoral... If you did an opinion poll among Cuban opposition activists, the majority would be in favor of not lifting the embargo," said Fariñas.

"In a cost-benefit analysis, travel to Cuba by Americans would be of greatest benefit to the Castro regime, while the Cuban people would be the least to benefit.  With all of the controls and the totalitarian system of the government, it would be perfectly able to control such travel," said Rodiles.

"To lift the embargo at this time would be very prejudicial to us. The government prioritizes all of the institutions that guarantee its hold on power.  The regime's political police and its jailers receive a much higher salary and privileges than a doctor or engineer, or than any other worker that benefits society. We've all seen municipalities with no fuel for an ambulance, yet with 10, 15, 20, 50 cars full of fuel ready to go repress peaceful human rights activists," said Ferrer.

Listen to the whole discussion (in Spanish) on U.S. policy below, beginning at the 33:00 mark.

On U.S. Policy Toward Cuba

We have seen changes on the economic front, but we have not seen political changes, and the embargo law says that political changes are necessary in order for it to be lifted. There are no political parties and no free press. We need to see something big and something different to change that law, and it is up to Congress to do that.
-- Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, El Pais, 3/15/13

The Castro Regime and Child-Sex Tourism

Riddle me this:

The Castro regime can track down a flash-drive or a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from the most remote home of a pro-democracy activist.

The Castro regime can track down an older American man who travels to Cuba to help ordinary citizens connect to the Internet and exercise their fundamental right to receive and impart information.

Yet, the Castro regime cannot track down older Canadian and European men that travel to Cuba to sexually prey on young children in "casa particulares," which it closely monitors?

Please.

Fortunately, U.S. travelers are not contributing to this problem, for as The Miami Herald notes this morning:

"Perhaps the key reason for the lack of U.S. sex tourism to Cuba is Washington’s trade embargo on the communist-ruled island, which has limited travel there for more than half a century.

Cuban Americans can visit anytime, but they know 'that the police can throw them in jail anytime' and that U.S. consular officials in Havana 'cannot protect them,' said Cason, now the mayor of Coral Gables.

Non-Cuban Americans are barred from tourist trips and can go only on group “educational” trips that are tightly guided and can cost upwards of $5,000 a week. Only about 67,000 went to Cuba in 2011. In contrast, more than one million Canadians visited the island in 2012, and a week in Varadero beach can cost them as little as $600."

Who do you think the people of a future democratic Cuba are going to recall as their friends -- the Canadians and Europeans that took advantage of their suffering or the Americans that stood up for their freedom?