Definition of "Self-Employment" in Cuba

Saturday, April 20, 2013
Cuban democracy leader Manuel Cuesta Morua tweets the definition on "self-employment" in Cuba:

Self-employment in #Cuba: the sum of a Haitian bazaar, a Swedish tax-rate and North Korean political representation.  Quite a model for the XXI century.

Image of the Week

By Lisbet Korkov in Guamá:

Dissidents Continue Standoff in Santiago

Nearly a week ago, over 25 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) began a sit-in protest and hunger strike in the Central Park of the eastern city of Santiago.

They are protesting the increased repression against their colleagues -- 40 of whom are currently in prison.

The park has been surrounded by Castro's state security forces.

In towns near Santiago, activists have held solidarity protests, some of which have been violently attacked by the regime's forces. These include the homes of Maximiliano Sánchez Perera and Ramon Bolaños, where agents broke in, beat and arrested those gathered.

Meanwhile, flyers and stickers in support of the UNPACU hunger strikers have been found throughout the city.

Led by UNPACU founder Jose Daniel Ferrer, those on hunger strike in Santiago include:

Darmis Aguedo Zaldívar
Enrique Lozada Igarza
Arnoldo Lozada Igarza
Yoandris Veranes Hernández
Ana Celia Rodríguez Torres
Ramón Escalona Salinas
Yunieski San Martín Garcés
Yonnis Wilson Rauseau
Sirley Ávila León
Gohart Cruz Zamora
Daniel Barriel Sanjurjo
Lázaro Curbelo Mejías
Vladimir Alarcón Moré
Ángel Bess Beirides
Wilder Cervantes Guza
Doraisa Correoso Pozo
Jesús Dupotey Ferrer
Adriana Núñez Pascual
Roberto González Feria
Marcia Oduardo Mustelier
José Amado Estrada Varela
Roel Prado Mondejal
Norvis Pérez Reyes
Arnold Hernández Yen

Here's a picture of some of the UNPACU hunger strikers gathered in Santiago:

State Department Releases Human Rights Report

Friday, April 19, 2013
The U.S. Department of State has just released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012.

Here's the Executive Summary on Cuba:

Cuba is an authoritarian state led by Raul Castro, who is president of the council of state and council of ministers, Communist Party (CP) first secretary, and commander in chief of security forces. The constitution recognizes the CP as the only legal party and “the superior leading force of society and of the state.” The October municipal elections were neither free nor fair. A CP candidacy commission pre-approved all candidates for National Assembly elections anticipated for 2013. Security forces reported to a national leadership that included members of the military and conducted a range of oppressive actions and behaviors against civil rights activists and ordinary citizens alike.

The principal human rights abuses were: abridgment of the right of citizens to change the government; government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly; and a record number of politically motivated and at times violent short-term detentions.

The following additional human rights abuses continued: unlawful use of force, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrests, selective prosecution, and denial of fair trial. Authorities interfered with privacy and engaged in pervasive monitoring of private communications. The government did not respect freedom of speech and the press; severely restricted Internet access and maintained a monopoly on media outlets; circumscribed academic freedoms; limited freedom of movement; and maintained significant restrictions on the ability of religious groups to meet and worship. The government refused to recognize independent human rights groups or permit them to function legally. In addition, the government continued to prevent workers from forming independent unions and abrogated workers’ rights.

Most human rights abuses were official acts committed at the direction of the government. Impunity for the perpetrators remained widespread.

You can read the whole report here.

Imprisoned Cuban Rapper Suffers a Stroke

Cuban political prisoner Marcos Maikel Lima Cruz collapsed this afternoon and suffered a stroke at La Providencia Prison in eastern Cuba.

He is in grave health and has been sent to a nearby hospital.

Lima Cruz, 35-years old, was arrested on Christmas Day 2010 for celebrating a party and waving a Cuban flag while playing hip-hop songs critical of the Castro regime by the hip-hop duo, Los Aldeanos.

His father believes he suffered the stroke due to the stress and suffering he has been subject to in Castro's prisons.

Amnesty International has declared Marcos Maikel Lima Cruz a prisoner of conscience.

Castro Continues to Avoid Real Economic Reform

By Beatriz Casals in Americas Quarterly:

How Long will Cuba Avoid Economic Reform?

The framework of U.S.-Latin American relations, including relations with Cuba, has grown more complicated following the death of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Even if Nicolás Maduro remains the Venezuelan president after his controversial victory over Henrique Capriles, it is not likely that oil-rich Venezuela will continue subsidizing the economies of Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and various Caribbean states. Chávez’ largesse helped buy friends for his government, but Venezuela now has its own pressing needs.

At the same time, Cuban President Raúl Castro is searching for U.S. dollars just to avoid economic reforms. For 30 years, the Castro brothers depended on the Soviet Union to keep their communist government afloat with an estimated $5 billion in annual subsidies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chávez became Cuba’s patron benefactor.

As U.S. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper put it in testimony on March 12, 2013, to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Cuba’s leaders are urgently trying to attract foreign investment” now that Chávez is gone.

For investors, Cuba is not a good bet. It has no oil or other significant natural resources—with the exception of nickel, which has been set aside for the Canadian Company Sherritt International. Moreover, “investing in Cuba” means dealing with the Castro government. There’s no such thing as private enterprise in Cuba. And if things turn sour between a foreign investor and the Cuban state, there’s no independent judiciary to which to appeal. On the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks ahead of only North Korea, and is listed 176th of 177 countries.

Havana has waged a prolonged public relations effort to convince Washington to lift U.S. trade sanctions and to extend it credit despite the Castro regime’s history of unpaid bills. The campaign was predicated on Cuba’s expectation that off-shore drilling would strike oil, but the joint ventures between Havana and oil companies based in Venezuela, Malaysia, Spain, and Brazil have all come up dry.

Illiquidity makes things worse in Cuba today. Foreign investors operating on the island are not being allowed to withdraw their money from Cuba’s banks and some investors are being given vouchers that can only be spent in Cuban government-owned enterprises, such as the Tropicana nightclub in Havana.

As it renews its effort to sell that proverbial “used car” to Washington, Havana is trusting that neither the Obama administration nor potential American investors will recognize that Cuba’s real goal is to lift what remains of the U.S. trade sanctions and open its gates to a flood of American tourists. If Cuba can end the embargo, it will not only have U.S. dollars and credit but also qualify for substantial loans from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Cuba counts on everyone else’s short memories. The Castro government is burnishing old claims that the U.S. embargo has damaged the island’s economy and hurt the Cuban people—a claim that’s sometimes echoed by foreign policy makers. The latter should pause to review Fidel Castro’s statements on the subject in a mostly-forgotten Playboy interview in 1967, seven years after the embargo began:

In 1985, Fidel Castro told the world that other socialist countries “not only pay us much higher prices and sell their products to us at lower prices, but also charge us much lower interest for credit and reschedule our debt for 10, 15, or 20 years without interest.” He then went on to compare the Soviet Union to a cow and the United States to a goat. “In fact,” he added, “what are we supposed to do? There's an old folk saying that goes, ‘Don't swap a cow for a goat!’"

As second-in-command throughout Fidel Castro’s reign, Raúl Castro is just as responsible for the ruin of Cuba’s economy. Today, Raúl is the one shopping for gullible foreign investors willing to provide Havana with a cow or a goat. Under the current circumstances, Cuba’s president doesn’t have a lot of choices unless he frees the entrepreneurial abilities of the Cuban people.

*Beatriz Casals is an entrepreneur, a principal at Global Ethics Advisors, LLC, a founder of Casals & Associates, Inc. and served as president of the International Consortium on Governmental Financial Management and the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. 

Must-Read: WashPost Magazine Feature Story on Cuban Spy Ana Belen Montes‏

Thursday, April 18, 2013
This weekend, The Washington Post Magazine will run a feature story on imprisoned Cuban spy, former Defense intelligence official, Ana Belen Montes.

The title is, "Ana Montes did much harm spying for Cuba. Chances are, you haven’t heard of her."

The whole article is already on-line here.

Below are some excerpts: 

Montes spied for 17 years, patiently, methodically. She passed along so many secrets about her colleagues — and the advanced eavesdropping platforms that American spooks had covertly installed in Cuba — that intelligence experts consider her among the most harmful spies in recent memory [...]

Sources close to the case think that a friend at [Johns Hopkins University's] SAIS served as a facilitator for the Cubans, helping to identify potential spies. Cuba considers recruiting at American universities a “top priority,” according to former Cuban intelligence agent Jose Cohen, who wrote in an academic paper that the Cuban intelligence service identifies politically driven students at leading U.S. colleges who will “occupy positions of importance in the private sector and in the government.”

Montes must have seemed a godsend. She was a leftist with a soft spot for bullied nations. She was bilingual and had dazzled her DOJ supervisors with her ambition and smarts. But most important, she had top-secret security clearance and was on the inside. “I hadn’t thought about actually doing anything until I was propositioned,” Montes would later admit to investigators. The Cubans, she revealed, “tried to appeal to my conviction that what I was doing was right.”

CIA analysts interpret the recruitment a bit more darkly. Montes was manipulated into believing that Cuba desperately needed her help, “empowering her and stroking her narcissism,” the CIA wrote. The Cubans started slowly, asking for translations and bits of harmless intel that might assist the Sandinistas, her pet cause. “Her handlers, with her unwitting assistance, assessed her vulnerabilities and exploited her psychological needs, ideology, and personality pathology to recruit her and keep her motivated to work for Havana,” the CIA concluded.

Montes secretly visited Cuba in 1985 and then, as instructed, began applying for government positions that would grant her greater access to classified information. She accepted a job at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s major producer of foreign military intelligence [...]

Her tradecraft was classic. In Havana, agents with the Cuban intelligence service taught Montes how to slip packages to agents innocuously, how to communicate safely in code and how to disappear if needed. They even taught Montes how to fake her way through a polygraph test. She later told investigators it involves the strategic tensing of the sphincter muscles. It’s unknown if the ploy worked, but Montes did pass a DIA-administered polygraph in 1994, after a decade of spying.

Montes got most of her orders the same way spies have since the Cold War: through numeric messages transmitted anonymously over shortwave radio. She would tune a Sony radio to AM frequency 7887 kHz, then wait for the “numbers station” broadcast to begin. A female voice would cut through the otherworldly static, declaring, “Atencion! Atencion!” then spew out 150 numbers into the night. “Tres-cero-uno-cero-siete, dos-cuatro-seis-dos-cuatro,” the voice would drone. Montes would key the digits into her computer, and a Cuban-installed decryption program would convert the numbers into Spanish-language text.

Montes also took the unusual risk of meeting the Cubans face-to-face. Every few weeks, she would dine with her handlers in D.C. area Chinese restaurants, where Montes would slide a fresh batch of encrypted diskettes past tiny dishes of Chinese delicacies. The clandestine handoffs also took place during Montes’s vacations, on sunny Caribbean islands.

Montes even traveled to Cuba four times for sessions with Cuba’s top intelligence officers. Twice, she used a phony Cuban passport and disguised herself in a wig, hop-scotching first to Europe to cover her tracks. Two other times she got Pentagon approval to visit Cuba on U.S. fact-finding missions. She would meet at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana during the day but slip away to brief her Cuban superiors [...]

Inside the DIA, the star analyst remained above suspicion. Montes had succeeded beyond the Cubans’ wildest dreams. She was now briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council and even the president of Nicaragua about Cuban military capabilities. She helped draft a controversial Pentagon report stating that Cuba had a “limited capacity” to harm the United States and could pose a danger to U.S. citizens only “under some circumstances.” And she was about to earn yet another promotion, this time a prestigious fellowship with the National Intelligence Council. An advisory body to the director of central intelligence, the NIC was then at CIA headquarters in Langley. Montes was about to gain access to even more treasured information [...]

U.S. military and intelligence agencies spent years assessing the fallout from Montes’s crimes. At a congressional hearing last year, the woman in charge of the damage assessment testified that Montes was “one of the most damaging spies in U.S. history.” Former National Counterintelligence Executive Michelle Van Cleave told Congress that Montes “compromised all Cuban-focused collection programs” used to eavesdrop on high-ranking Cubans, and it “is also likely that the information she passed contributed to the death and injury of American and pro-American forces in Latin America.”

Former Senator Dorgan Lays a Cuba Whopper

During his Congressional tenure, former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) never missed an opportunity to seek business ties with Cuba's Castro regime.

His desire to sell North Dakota peas, lentils and soybeans to Castro's monopoly, Alimport, led him to carry water for the Castro regime on a host of non-agricultural issues -- from tourism to eliminating Radio and TV Marti.

Such efforts certainly earned him the good graces of the Castro regime.  North Dakota farmers would even gloat how mentioning Dorgan's name in Havana opened doors with regime officials.

In contrast, Dorgan never lifted a finger for democracy activists on the island -- for that would jeopardize his agricultural sales.

So it's no surprise that Dorgan (now a lobbyist at Arent Fox) wrote a column in Roll Call this week on easing travel sanctions towards the Castro regime.

However, it was the disclosure at the end of his column that raised eyebrows:

"Former Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, D-N.D., is a senior policy advisor at Arent Fox LLP, which does not have any clients that would benefit from the views expressed here."

Really, Senator Dorgan?

Because just last year, the Sun-Sentinel reported:

[Leonard Moecklin Sr., managing partner of Havana Ferry Partners LLC] said his company has contracted Washington, D.C. law firm Arent Fox and its senior policy adviser, former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, to press its case. 

Havana Ferry Partners is among a handful of U.S. and international companies that want to offer Florida-Cuba ferry service, which had been popular before the embargo. It first applied for a license in 2010. Also interested in the route are Orlando's United Caribbean Lines, Paris' Unishipping and Spain's Balearia, among others.

Oops!

Quote of the Day

Mr. Raul Castro, give [Nicolas] Maduro permission to count the votes.
-- Maria Corina Machado, Venezuelan opposition parliamentarian, during a speech in the National Assembly, 4/17/13

Two American Hostages in Two Terrorist States

Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Cuba and Iran are both on the U.S. Department of State's "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

Both countries are currently holding American hostages: Alan Gross is Cuba and Robert Levinson in Iran.

From AFP:

US working to free Americans held in Cuba, Iran: John Kerry

Washington is seeking to free two US citizens held in Cuba and Iran, but has rejected a deal with Havana to swap a jailed American for five Cuban spies, top diplomat John Kerry said on Wednesday.

Kerry told US lawmakers that officials were working hard to win the release of contractor Alan Gross held for more than three years in Havana.

Senator Patrick Leahy visited the island recently, met with Gross "and talked to the government," Kerry told the House foreign affairs committee.

"They were and have been attempting to trade Alan Gross for the five spies that are in prison here in the US, and we've refused to do that because there's no equivalency," the secretary of state said.

Gross, 63, was arrested on December 3, 2009 for illegally distributing laptops and communications gear to members of Cuba's small Jewish community. At the time, he was working for a firm contracted to the US State Department.

In March 2011, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for "acts against the independence or territorial integrity" of Cuba, and relatives fear his health is failing.

Kerry said he hoped the US could appeal to Cuban leaders to treat Gross's case as a "humanitarian" issue.

Kerry also said he had been working through back channels to try to find out more about retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared some six years ago while on a trip to Iran.

"On Levinson, I have actually engaged in some back-channel diplomacy in an effort to try to see if we can get something done there," Kerry said.

Problem Kids: Our Song is for Freedom of Cuba

Great interview today on NBC6:

Problem Kids Talk Jay - Z, Cuba

Miami natives Problem Kids aren’t simply a band or solely a hip hop group. Their frontmen are two emcees, who are joined by a full band and a DJ. Between all of those different group members, the band can easily flit through hip hop influences, bring in some Latin, and finish off with some blues – all in one song. Recently, they released an Open Letter to Jay Z entitled ‘Useful Idiot’, bringing in the Cuban American perspective into the debate. Before their show at The Stage this Friday, the Problem Kids shared why they felt the need to make this song, plus shared details about new upcoming music:

Your group has two emcees, a full band, and a DJ. How does each group member influence the overall sound you create?

What we love about the band is how many different ideas we can come up with for one song. It's like the song starts off very vanilla, with the original idea in place. By the time the song is finished and everyone has put their little touches on the track, it becomes that much more alive. The communication factor is incredible, so the ideas come together very easily.

There was the recent release of the Jay Z open letter track; why did you feel it was so important to put your perspective out there?

When we first heard the song, we just felt like we needed to inform Jay-Z of how we, as Cuban-Americans, viewed the whole vacation and the whole "Open Letter" song. We feel it's important because there are misconceptions about life in Cuba. When women can't walk in the streets and express themselves without getting beaten and thrown in a jail, that's something the whole world needs to know about. We felt that with music, the voices of of those being persecuted would be heard. The purpose of the song wasn't for recognition, it was for freedom and for the love of Cuba.

How do you hope the Cuban-American community reacts to this track?

The response has been pretty crazy already. We have had family members calling us and becoming very emotional at the fact that the younger generation has such passionate feelings about Cuba. Most of the older generations doesn't really think we care and keep up with what is going on in Cuba, but some of us actually do. And if you hear the song you can understand that these aren't made up emotions. This is us speaking for our grandparents and those before them who were persecuted and left with nothing. This is us speaking for our family. For our people.

Click here to listen to the song.

White House Statement on Venezuela

From The White House:

Statement by the Press Secretary on the Situation in Venezuela

The United States congratulates the Venezuelan people for their participation in the April 14 presidential elections in a peaceful and orderly manner. We call on the Venezuelan government to respect the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful assembly and free speech. We also urge everyone to refrain from violence and other measure that could raise tensions at this difficult moment. The United States notes the acceptance by both candidates for an audit of the ballots and supports calls for a credible and transparent process to reassure the Venezuelan people regarding the results. Such a process would contribute to political dialogue and help advance the country’s democracy.

Today on From Washington al Mundo

Must Listen: Cuban-American Rappers Educate Jay-Z

From Miami New Times:

Problem Kids are Miami Cubans with a message for Jay-Z about his trip to Cuba. Their response to his "Open Letter" is a new track called "Useful Idiot."

"He looks like he's praising the Castro regime, and we wanna give him a history lesson," say MCs Mario Obregon and Christian Martinez of the local hip-hop group that Public Enemy's Chuck D has described as "Yeeeaaaaah."

They also have words for Pitbull, who they agree should have gone harder with his own response to Jay. "He should have told him that what he did is stupid and this is the reason," says Martinez.

What do you think of Jay Z going to Cuba?

He made it seem like it's not a big deal to go there when there are Cuban rappers thrown in jail right now just for their freedom of speech. For him to make it seem like it's just a place to go on vacation was wrong, and it's a big deal to us who feel it's important to tell the truth about Cuba for our family and our heritage.

What do you think of his response song?

When he 's like, "I went to Cuba, I love Cubans," and in the background you hear someone smoking a cigar, It's like he's saying that's all Cuba is to him. He's not saying anything about the people making the cigars, he didn't mention what people there are going through, like people are being persecuted everyday. It's not just a good time. I'm sure where he was staying it might have seemed like it was beautiful, but what the real Cuba looks like is not what he portrayed. I'm sure the government knew he was coming and made sure to show him the nice side.

What do you think of him being involved with the U.S. Government and friends with Obama?

He's pretty much saying that he can get away with everything.

What do you think of Pitbull's response?

I thought he would have gone harder. I don't know if they're friends or what, he kind of reps him at the end. His song is more about Cuba, there's nothing really aimed at Jay Z. Ours is not a diss track either, just a history lesson.

You have a line about "Women beaten in the streets after Sunday morning mass..."

That line is for the Ladies In White, they go to church every Sunday and march in the street and the govt beats em' and it's crazy like mothers, daughters, everybody, and they even snatch a few up and send them to prison like it's nothing. Dimelo mentions them in the first verse of the song.

You opened for Chuck D (from Public Enemy), what do you think about politics in hip hop?

It's necessary, of course, especially on human rights. If you have a voice you have to use it. Jay Z has a big voice and he should have shed light since he has that power. We don't have that power, but we do have a voice in our community and hopefully people hear it and get a better idea of what's going on in Cuba.

Any shout outs?

To the Cuban people. We did this for our grandparents and parents, and a free Cuba, one day, hopefully. And shout out Pepe Billete too. He repped us hard on the song.

Quote of the Week

[G]iven the very close results, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles and a member of the electoral council, the CNE, as the – it’s referred to, called for a 100 percent audit, a recount of the results. Ruling party candidate Maduro also endorsed this idea. And we said yesterday, a full recount would be important, prudent, and necessary in ensuring that an evenly divided Venezuelan electorate is confident that the election meets their democratic aspirations. The OAS and the EU have expressed similar views. And there are also outstanding allegations of voting irregularities raised by the opposition. So the CNE’s decision to declare Mr. Maduro the victor before completing a full recount is difficult to understand, and they did not explain their haste in taking this decision.
-- Patrick Verell, U.S. State Department spokesperson, on the elections in Venezuela, 4/16/13

Two Poets, Two Ángels, Two Children Nobody Wanted

Tuesday, April 16, 2013
It has been nearly one-month since the unjust imprisonment of Cuban rapper Ángel Yunier Remón, from the hip-hop duo “Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso” (‘The Children Nobody Wanted’).

On March 21st, Ángel was beaten, attacked with tear gas and arrested, as Castro's secret police broke into the home of his aunt, Jaquelin Garcia, a member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy movement.

The Children That Nobody Wanted.

That is also the name of Cuban poet/author (and current political prisoner) Ángel Santiesteban-Prats' blog.

Two Ángels, Two Poets (one urban, one traditional), Two Children That Nobody Wanted.

Coincidence?

Only their first name.

For sadly it is the sentiment of those who courageously speak out  -- whether through art or advocacy -- for freedom in Cuba and are brutally punished by an intolerant Castro regime -- in the face of an oblivious world.

Let's make sure they are not forgotten.

If we don't, who will?

This week, Ángel (the traditional poet) was able to smuggle out the following verse from prison:

From Monday the 8th at 7pm. 

Without water, nor clothes, nor toiletries, without light, on a concrete bed.

God Inc.

Imitating my patriotic readings
they suppressed my horizon.
I took hold of your name,
of memory the last station.

Every letter engraved
on the silent walls of my cell,
swiftly came the hummingbirds
to applaud the end of my concert.

The  spit lost its reach,
roaches played on my face,
my mother gave me a one way ticket
although she knew that love wasn’t surrendering.

The train departed with one aboard,
smudging the image on the window,
for an instance two dried up cats
were following the shadow of a dream.

Prison. 1580  San Miguel del Padrón
In solitary confinement and starvation.

epitaph
Here lies Angel Santiesteban Prats, controversial, patriot, slandered and friend.
He lived and died as he imagined the best novels.

(Translated by Ernesto Suarez)


Dissident Leads Standoff in Santiago

Over 30 pro-democracy activists have gathered in the Central Park of the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba to denounce the Castro regime's increase in repression and demanding the release of imprisoned colleagues.

Led by Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), these activists have vowed to remain in the park and undertake hunger strikes to protest the arrest of colleagues, such as Luis Enrique Losada Igarza and rapper Angel Yunier Remon.

Castro's repressive forces have surrounded the park and have cut off Ferrer's cell phone, as well as that of other activists present.

The are over 40 members of UNPACU in Castro's political prisons.

Our Thoughts and Prayers With Boston

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased and injured by the senseless act of terrorism at the Boston Marathon.

Remain Vigilant: Rosa Maria Paya Returns to Cuba Today

Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013.

By Cuban blogger and artist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in Marti Noticias:

(Translation by Pedazos de la Isla)

Rosa Maria Paya Lives

Tomorrow, at dawn, Rosa Maria Paya returns to Cuba -- just as she promised at the Havana airport two months ago. Her word, contrary to what is common in Cuba, is honest.

Rosa Maria will return without bodyguards and without media uproar, vulnerable and smiling, caressing her tireless cross, back to her already classic humble home on Penon street, near Manila Park, where her father Oswaldo Paya Sardinas (1952-2012) will never return, nor her good friend Harold Cepero Escalante (1980-2012). Both were leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement, both died at the hand of strangers on a tragic Sunday of last July, under circumstances that remain uncertain, given that the official version has become unsustainable after all the evidence and testimonies exposed to the world by Rosa Maria Paya, without even having to raise her voice. Before the grotesque screaming of all forms of state totalitarianism stands the voice of a Cuban citizen, an orphan of friendship and love.

Rosa Maria Paya will return to the land where the mortal remains of the martyred leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement decompose. She will return alive and with a wish to resuscitate the sacred desires of living in truth in a socialist society, so panic-stricken and full of hypocrisy. Rosa returns and will sprout in Cuba without any complicit disease from our octogenarian regime. She will return without any pretensions of violating transit laws or declaring herself on hunger strike. She returns inflamed with life and freedom. She returns, with an L (for ‘Liberty’), just like she left on a Friday this past February.

Cuban State Security did not count on her 24 years of resistance to the horrors that the Paya-Acevedo family has been subjected. A family that still receives anonymous threats of “before the Revolution ends, we are will kill you.” As matter of fact, there is lots of that in the rheumatic rhetoric of the Revolution: anonymity, fear of having a face beyond Fidel and Raul (our Nuremberg trial will be of a minimal format).

Tomorrow morning Rosa Maria Paya will step out of the media’s hands, out of the hands of human rights organizations, parliaments, NGOs and democratic governments that have joined in solidarity. Because in Cuba only bodies count, and the new face of the Christian Liberation Movement, without a  vocation of sacrifice, returns to a perverted nation that may not let her travel again. It is possible we may never see her paused gesticulation, without the unlikely arrogance of our caudillos. We may never again hear the vehement tenderness of her valor. In this sense, we should bid a soulful farewell to Rosa Maria Paya.

The main issue lies -- not in her virtuoso image -- but in the legacy of a work that is still powerful and possible in the citizen initiatives of the Varela Project, the Heredia Project, the Path of the People and many other concrete proposals, which reduce the impunity of the Cuban government, forcing it to abide by its own laws and transform itself pursuant to popular will. An effort of tens of thousands of citizens, which continues to be ignored by our inoperative National Assembly, a governmental organ that apparently prefers to opt for its own suicide in the face a future transition.

It is precisely with this intimidating silence, the insulting impunity that is even on the margins of morality; it is with the malicious muteness of lies and death, that the authorities in Havana will lurk upon Rosa Maria Paya's return. The Cuban state continues to be deaf, to the point of insolence. Its operational logic is by no means institutional. It is that of a secret sect.

Consequently, any abuse of power can be expected against her and her family, both in and out of the island, now or during the survival of a decade in which they tortured her own father before her childhood eyes. Anything can be expected from that criminal boiler where the most "problematic" activists of the Cuban opposition have been, currently are, and will be converted from bodies to corpses.

World, take a better look.

Rosa Maria Paya is alive today.

The Great Cuban Oil Myth is Over

Monday, April 15, 2013
Upon returning from her trip to Cuba this month, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) stated that one of her "top concerns" is oil drilling off the coast of Cuba.

(Note: Castor had four-days worth of meetings with Castro regime officials during her trip.  Yet, she couldn't -- or wouldn't -- make time to meet with pro-democracy leaders on the island. You decide.)

Castor said:

I was very pleasantly surprised that the [Cubans] have been in productive, multilateral talks with the United States, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Mexico to the point where they have adopted many of the safety recommendations in America’s oil spill report.”

She then proceeded to give the sanctions ruse:

"They are prevented from importing or using any of the best equipment that is available. They are prevented, even, from importing any type of equipment that has American-made components.”

But apparently Castor didn't get the memo:

In today's Sun-Sentinel:

Companies abandon search for oil in Cuba's deep waters

Threat to Florida's environment reduced as drillers look elsewhere

After spending nearly $700 million during a decade, energy companies from around the world have all but abandoned their search for oil in deep waters off the north coast of Cuba near Florida, a blow to the Castro regime but a relief to environmentalists worried about a major oil spill.

Decisions by Spain-based Repsol and other companies to drill elsewhere greatly reduce the chances that a giant slick along the Cuban coast would ride ocean currents to South Florida, threatening its beaches, inlets, mangroves, reefs and multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

The Coast Guard remains prepared to contain, skim, burn or disperse a potential slick. And Cuban officials still yearn for a lucrative strike that would prop up its economy. A Russian company, Zarubezhneft, is drilling an exploratory well in shallower waters hugging the Cuban shoreline south of the Bahamas.

But though some oil has been found offshore, exploratory drilling in deep waters near currents that rush toward Florida has failed to reveal big deposits that would be commercially viable to extract, discouraging companies from pouring more money into the search.

Castor Should Stop Supporting Castros

By former New York Times reporter and Miami Herald editor, Angel Castillo Jr., in Florida Voices:

Castor Should Stop Supporting Castro Brothers

In the dying days of their failed communist revolution, Cuba’s Castro brothers, “President” Raul and dictator emeritus Fidel, have added a very useful Washington lobbyist to their roster of U.S. based propagandists.

She is Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a left-wing member of the Democratic Party from Tampa who, since 2007, represents the Tampa and St. Petersburg metropolitan areas. She believes that since 1959 the Castro brothers have merely conducted “an amazing experiment in communism that did not work” on the island.

For some time now, Castor, a 46-year-old lawyer, has been advocating on behalf of the termination of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the No. 1 priority of the Castros. Of course, the embargo has long been a joke, with Cuba buying food and medicine directly from the U.S., and other goods indirectly through multiple corporations based in Panama and other opaque corporate havens.

Not only does Castor want the embargo to end, she also is advocating on behalf of other urgent Castro goals: remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, increase commerce between Cuba and the U.S., and remove restrictions that keep American tourists from traveling freely to Cuba to spend Yankee dollars there.

Castor, however, does not call for Cuba to do anything at all in return for all the financial concessions that she wants the American taxpayers to generously lavish on the octogenarian oppressors of the Cuban people.

While she may not be required legally to register as a lobbyist for Cuba under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, Castor has certainly been acting like one, urging President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, among others, to make life easier for the Castros.

She also has been working hand in glove with several notorious pro-Castro U.S. propaganda organizations to promote the agenda of the Cuban government in this country. These include the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Center for International Policy, and the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation

Castor was a keynote speaker last month at a two-day Tampa conference titled “Rapprochement With Cuba: Good for Tampa, Good for Florida, Good for America,” during which she vigorously called for an immediate end to all U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba.

Among those participating with Castor at the conference were Castro diplomats Llanio Gonzalez Lopez, General Counselor of Cuba in the U.S., and Warnel Lores Mora, Counselor and First Secretary, both with the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

Last week, while Beyonce and Jay-Z were happily traipsing through tourist Havana as part of an “educational exchange trip,” Castor arrived in Cuba for a four-day “fact finding mission” ostensibly aimed at creating “business jobs in the Tampa area”.

No sooner did Castor return to Tampa than she hurried to meet with the local news media, including the editorial board of the Tampa Tribune newspaper, to preach about ending the embargo. After listening to Castor, the Tribune dutifully published an editorial calling for an end to the embargo.

Let’s hope all those rich Cuban tourists jam Tampa Bay’s hotels and beaches real soon and help create thousands of good business jobs there.

Watch: MSNBC Discussion on Cuba Policy

This morning, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry had a comprehensive discussion on Cuba policy on her show.

Despite being outnumbered 4-1 on the panel, Melissa was a gracious host. 

Click below to watch the full three-segment discussion:

 
Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Rubio: On Jay-Z, Imprisoned Cuban Rapper and Travel Policy

In Politico:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is of Cuban descent, says Jay-Z, who just visited Cuba, should get up to speed on the issues.

"Jay-Z needs to get informed," Rubio said Sunday on ABC's “This Week.” "One of his heroes is Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a racist. Che Guevara was a racist that wrote extensively about the superiority of white Europeans over people of African descent, so he should inform himself on the guy that he’s propping up."

He also pointed to jailed Cuban rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga.

"If Jay-Z was truly interested in the true state of affairs in Cuba, he would have met people that are being oppressed, including a hip-hop artist in Cuba who is right now being oppressed and persecuted and is undergoing a hunger strike because of his political lyrics," Rubio said. "And I think he missed an opportunity.  But that’s Jay-Z’s issue."

Rubio also criticized the current policy toward travel visas to Cuba.

"The bigger point is the travel policies," he said. "The travel policies need to be tightened because they are being abused. These are tourist trips, and they are – what they’re doing is providing hard currency and funding so that a tyrannical regime can maintain its grip on the island of Cuba, and I think that’s wrong."

Here's a picture of Angel Yunier:

Tweet of the Day

Watch the full MSNBC discussion here.

Pitbull Responds to Jay-Z's "Open Letter"

Sunday, April 14, 2013
Cuban-American hip-hop star Pitbull has just penned a response to Jay-Z's "Open Letter" on Cuba.

It uses the same music and cadence as Jay-Z's, but rather than selfishly focusing on himself, his bravado and his political connects -- it's a "Cuban-American Anthem" dedicated to freedom.

Listen here.

Dale!

Check Out Jay-Z's Cuba State of Mind

In his latest video for Reason TV, comedian Remy wonders why Jay-Z was chilling in a country that has imprisoned rappers such as Angel Remon Arzuaga and members of the punk band Porno para Ricardo.

Click below to watch, "Remy: Jay-Z's Cuba State of Mind":

Meet Imprisoned Cuban Rapper Angel Yunier Remon

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

His mother was finally able to see him in prison this week.  Here's what she told the blog Pedazos de la Isla:

I saw him in a very bad state, very pale, very weak (physically), practically without strength to even stand up. As his mother, it hurts me so much to know this because he is the only son I have, he is the only thing I have in this life, and I cannot just wait around for him to die.

Where's Jay-Z when you need him?

Click below to watch one of Angel Yunier's critical rap videos:

Afro-Cuban Loses His Job Through NYT

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

I Lost My Job Through the New York Times

The glowing reports about Fidel Castro that New York Times journalist Herb Matthews wrote from Cuba's Sierra Maestra have often been used to explain why, in the late 1950s, the U.S. so underestimated the Jesuit-educated megalomaniac who would destroy his own country. More than a half century later, the 1960 National Review cartoon featuring a smiling Castro above a caption that read, "I got my job through the New York Times," still resonates with exiles.

Now Cuban editor and writer Roberto Zurbano has the opposite problem: He lost his job through the New York Times. To be more precise, Mr. Zurbano, it seems, got fired from his job in Havana because he wrote a March 24 opinion piece for the New York Times that contradicted two of the dictatorship's most sacred teachings.

Cuban propaganda holds that the revolution elevated the island's black populations and ended oppression. It also holds that the island is now undergoing reforms that are creating opportunity for everyone. Well, not quite, according to Mr. Zurbano. "Change," he wrote, "is the latest news to come out of Cuba, though for Afro-Cubans like myself, this is more dream than reality."

He reminded Times readers that "racial exclusion" has deep roots on the island, adding that "a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it."

The subject, Mr. Zurbano stated, is taboo. "Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn't talked about. The government hasn't allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead as though it didn't exist. Before 1990, black Cubans suffered a paralysis of economic mobility while, paradoxically, the government decreed the end of racism in speeches and publications. To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act. This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: Racism is alive and well."

Fast-forward to today and things are even worse, Mr. Zurbano wrote. "In the 21st century, it has become all too apparent that the black population is underrepresented at universities and in spheres of economic and political power, and over-represented in the underground economy, in the criminal sphere and in marginal neighborhoods."

Mr. Zurbano has said that his troubles with the regime were caused by a misleading headline used by the Times that he did not approve. But the copy speaks for itself. For a revolution that has morally justified its criminal behavior in part on the grounds that it has created a just society for Afro-Cubans, speaking such things aloud in the international press was a humiliation that could not go unanswered.