Five New U.S. Fugitives in Cuba

Saturday, May 18, 2013
From Sun-Sentinel:

Investigators announced charges Thursday against 33 people they said were involved in staging accidents for insurance fraud — the latest hit in a three-year investigation that identified about $20 million in fraudulently obtained payouts from insurers.

Operation Sledgehammer, a state and federal investigation, has led to charges being filed against a total of 92 defendants from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Those already convicted have been ordered to pay more than $5 million in restitution to insurance companies so far, prosecutors said.

The fraud involved a "massive," complicated, highly organized scheme that investigators said included everyone from clinic owners and medical staff who provided fraudulent diagnoses and prescribed fake treatment, to office workers who billed for the services, and recruiters who found accident "victims" and trained them to stage collisions on the streets and highways of South Florida.

Of the 33 charged, 26 have been arrested or agreed to surrender, federal and state law enforcement officials said at a Thursday afternoon news conference in the U.S. Attorney's Office in West Palm Beach.

Five of the defendants, including alleged ringleaders Vladimir Lopez, 38, and Lazaro Vigoa Mauri, 45, both formerly of West Palm Beach, have fled to Cuba and they and the other defendants who have not yet been caught are considered fugitives, authorities said.

The other three are Dagoberto Milian Lopez, 57, Eduart Gonzalez, 35, and Obelio Rodriguez, 44.

Travelers Ignore Castro's Racism

By Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea y Bolivar:

The criticism thus far of the Cuban vacation taken by Beyonce and Jay-Z has been easy: celebrities doing as they please, regardless of the circumstances, above the letter or intent of the law and unconstrained to consider the consequences. However, these are the low hanging mangos. Consider the more disturbing aspects of this trip.

Unlike most Americans, the Knowles-Carter’s wealth affords them the resources to be enlightened about the evolving situation in Cuba (or anywhere). Should they have known of the severe racism and human rights abuses in Cuba and that overwhelmingly Afro-Cubans are the victims? Yes. In fact, detention and repression in Cuba are at all-time highs and like the Jim Crow South, they are arbitrary, unjustified and targeted towards blacks.

What has become of the Cuban revolution from a racial perspective? Blacks remain second class Cubans, worse than before. As Che Guevara said early on, “we’re going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing.” He was not promoting egalitarianism when he said, “the negro is indolent and lazy, and spends his money on frivolities, whereas the European is forward-looking, organized and intelligent.” Does it matter that he was referring to the Congolese?

More recently, Mark Sawyer, a political scientist at UCLA quotes a Cuban Interior Ministry official on page 119 of his book, Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba, “it is simply a sociological fact that blacks are more violent and criminal than whites. They also do not work as hard and cannot be trusted”. This from a government official. Jay-Z, please empty your pockets before you leave Cuba.

These reflect the unspoken and unintended consequence of Marxism in the Caribbean: the consideration of blacks as equals, which Fidel Castro, et al, despite popular belief (propaganda) never fully accepted or dealt with over 54 years. His fiat mandating the end of racial discrimination to avoid this critical issue had the opposite and pernicious effect of exponentially increasing culturally and institutionally inherent racism there; it was, to be charitable, a cop out.

Yet, when confronted with reality, the incredible poverty in Cuba, race has been a convenient excuse for failure. When asked after a few years why the revolution was struggling, Fidel Castro extemporaneously replied, referring to the mass exodus of professional whites, “you expect me to build a communist utopia with these people (blacks)?”

Amazingly, this has been lost on the regime's apologists, particularly among African-Americans, some of the regime's strongest supporters. Being anti-embargo or sympathetic to the Castro regime has become more than political fashion; it is a form of anti-establishmentarianism. They delight in the Castros habitually kicking Uncle Sam in the shins largely because they perceive Cuban socialism to be pro-black (or anti-white).

All this despite a ruling class in Cuba that remains predominantly white and that Afro-Cubans, who comprise the majority of Cubans, are paid in a worthless currency, are discriminated against for jobs and access to resources, overwhelmingly populate Cuban prisons and endure relentless racial harassment. This alone should have repulsed the Knowles-Carters.

Yet, African-Americans hold on to their largely uninformed and empirically racist views that the Cuban revolution represents black empowerment akin to our civil rights movement. This cognitive dissonance stems from their ignorance of the above and the simple, misguided predicate that if predominantly white, right-wing, Cuban-American exiles are against Fidel, then they are for him.

What is indisputable is that the pro-democracy movement in Cuba over the past 20 years has been embraced and championed by Afro-Cubans, who comprise its most prominent leaders and activists. Theirs is a model for racial unity in the struggle for a higher ideal: human rights. Beyonce and Jay-Z, shamelessly cavorting with and being used by Cuba’s oligarchs, dissed them.

The Knowles-Carter vacation is no different than any recreational travel to Cuba: it funds the elites in Cuba and strengthens the internal embargo between these elites and Cuba’s people. Such travel to Cuba by Americans, trafficking in stolen property and supporting this abhorrent apartheid further separates Cubans from their very basic freedoms that icons like Rosa Parks and MLK risked and gave their lives to secure. Cuba has dozens of these heroes marginalized by this activity.

So in this context Beyonce and Jay-Z escape to Cuba for a fairy tale anniversary, the forbidden fruit of a vacation enabled by the promiscuity that has infected licensed travel there, to a place that has become a metaphor for the plantation. Yes, they are elites, much like their Cuban hosts, who leveraged their celebrity with their counterparts in our government for pure pleasure without considering this disgraceful reality. While such narcissism may simply be entitlement run amok, they simply should have known better.

This is the disturbing hypocrisy of their trip and what they might stand for, if anything at all.

Cuba Libre

Click below to watch:

 

Why Cuba Travel Sanctions Are Important

Friday, May 17, 2013
The BBC's story this week about the Castro regime's upcoming golf resort illustrates why travel sanctions towards Cuba are important.

Here are some excerpts:

"Five decades after Fidel Castro ordered Cuba's golf courses to be closed down because he considered them 'elitist,,' the island's communist government has approved the construction of a luxury golf resort, complete with an 18-hole course."

In case you had any doubt that the Castro regime is simply another Latin American military dictatorship -- the longest lasting and most brutal one, at that.

"The move is a sign of the changing times here, as the government seeks new revenue sources to fund its socialist revolution."

The Castro regime is desperate to continue cashing-in on foreign travelers.

"[British resort executive Andrew McDonald] confirmed that a formal deal had been reached for a joint venture between Esencia and the Cuban government to develop the Carbonera resort, a short distance along the coast."

Because Cuba's travel industry is owned and operated by Castro's military.  Moreover, once Castro no longer needs him , Mr. McDonald will join some of his fellow British businessmen in a Cuban prison cell.

"Attempts to drill for oil and bring economic independence to Cuba have come up dry and the death of the island's key financial backer, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, has made the future more uncertain."

The U.S. should not bail out Castro's dictatorship.

"Tourism is now the second biggest source of income on an island once closed to the outside world."

U.S. tourists would make travel Castro's foremost source of income.

"Last year, 2.8 million people visited Cuba, mostly opting for all-inclusive hotel deals along palm-lined golden beaches."

So much for supporting the Cuban people -- or for tourists democratizing Cuba.

"But figures suggest golf tourists spend four times more than pure sun-seekers, and Cuba wants to tap into that potential."

Did anyone think it was a mere coincidence that Fidel's son reportedly "won" a golf tournament in Varadero last month, which state media reported and distributed internationally?

"A round costs five times the average monthly state wage here."

So much for the Cuban people.

"'You go to Florida and there's lots of choice. Here there's just the one,' said a Canadian golfer [referring to golf courses]."

Sadly, for Cubans that applies to all aspects of life.

"With more courses, 'you could have a helluva good time here,' added the Canadian golfer."

With choices and freedom, so could the Cuban people. But these tourists are underwriting their oppression.

Russia Frets Castro Can't Afford New Arms

Thursday, May 16, 2013
A senior Russian official stated this week that his country's military cooperation with Cuba continues, but it is limited by the Castro regime's limited financial resources.

Russia's military cooperation with Havana "is determined by the modest financial possibilities of our partners," said Alexandr Fomín, deputy director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation.

Just imagine what would happen if Castro did have financial resources -- say from unconditionally lifting U.S. trade and travel sanctions.

Meanwhile, Venezuela has currently signed $11 billion worth of arms deals with Russia -- yet it (literally) is running out of toilet paper.

Exposing the Myth of Racial Equality in Cuba

By Jon Perdue in The Miami Herald:

Crackdown on Afro-Cubans destroys myth of racial equality

At the time of Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba in 1959, “separate but equal” was the norm in much of the Western world. Castro won plaudits from early supporters for banning the practice of separate facilities on the island, promising a raceless, equal society under the new regime. Today, the regime instead targets any Afro-Cuban who dares challenge the historical fallacy that blacks on the island have fared better under the Revolution.

Afro-Cuban fealty to the Castro regime after the fall of Batista was certainly understandable. Fresh on their minds was the historical remembrance of having been a significant contingent of the forces that fought and defeated Spanish colonial rule, yet they were subsequently denied the respect and dignity that should have followed. A fledgeling 1912 resistance movement was so brutally put down by the white-dominated post-colonial ruling class that it served to drive the revolt underground for a generation or more. That memory has persisted through much of the Castro years, though it’s effect on their will to resist has waned in recent years as the island’s most visible political prisoners, and recent political martyrs, have been predominantly black.

The regime’s racially-focused crackdown received international attention last month when Roberto Zumbrano was fired from his job as editor of a publishing house in Havana after his New York Times article pointed out the reality for Afro-Cubans in Cuba: “To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act,” Zambrano wrote. “This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well.” About the same time, an overtly racist cartoon video, made by paid propagandists of the Castro regime and uploaded to YouTube, slandered Berta Soler, the head of the peaceful protest group Ladies in White, portraying her as an orangutan.

Soler took the mantle as the head of the Ladies in White after its former leader, Laura Pollán, died in mysterious circumstances after a run-in with the regime’s enforcers last year. The group has come under more aggressive attacks in the last year, enduring beatings while in the act of leaving their Havana church to walk silently and carrying a single flower in remembrance of their political prisoner husbands and family members.

Soler is in Oslo this week to receive the Václav Havel Prize at the Oslo Freedom Forum, an international human rights event that brings dissidents from throughout the world to a place where they can speak freely, out from under the gaze of their oppressors.

I asked Soler about the claim by the Castro regime of “solidarity” with the Afro-Cuban community in Cuba, and whether there was overt racism practiced by the government. “Blacks in Cuba not only have fewer relatives living and working abroad that can send money for food and other basics, but they are also excluded from having one of the few profit-making small businesses in tourism, or paladares (small, privately-owned restaurants), or taxi services that others can access to make a living and support their families. And those who control all of this are the majority white bureaucracy that will tell you to your face that, because your parents weren’t military or part of the government, that you can’t be hired or open a small business,” Soler said.

Soler recounted the beatings which she and the other Ladies in White have received for speaking out, and that the tactics of repression now included being stuck with needles to induce fear that one could be susceptible to infection and subsequently denied medical care, if the regime so chooses.

International human rights conclaves such as this can serve, to some extent, as an extra layer of protection for those courageous enough to speak out, though it is a dangerous trade off. Crossing the threshold from obscure voice against a violent oppressor to internationally-recognized dissident is the most perilous time for many of those who are here to share the stage with Soler.

The Human Rights Foundation, a New York-based human rights organization that puts on the conference, just published a harrowing tale of its multi-year effort to extract internationally-renowned free speech advocate Ali Abdulemam from Bahrain.

Though Abdulemam was given political asylum in the UK, his wife and children remain in Bahrain, still in danger until they can hopefully join him in London. To those like Soler, who will return to their home country, the vigilance of these international human rights defenders will be the only protection that they may have from a regime that has become so indifferent to criticism it allegedly killed well-known dissident Oswaldo Paya recently by running his car off the road. The speculation is that the senescence of the Castro brothers and their potential loss of Venezuela’s petroleum lifeline following the death of Hugo Chávez has spurred an increase in repression of the island’s dissident voices.

Asked whether she would consider seeking asylum outside of Cuba, Soler said defiantly, “I will always return to Cuba, no matter what they do to me.” Perhaps sharing the stage with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat and North Korean democracy activist Park Sang Hak, both of whom will share the Václav Havel Prize with the Ladies in White, will bring enough pressure against the regime to stop, or at least diminish, the racially-tinged repression that Soler and others have long struggled against in Cuba.

Cuba: A Totalitarian State on the Take

The Toronto Star and The Miami Herald have published an exclusive interview with one of the Canadian businessmen, Sarkis Yacoubian, imprisoned by the Castro regime.

It is a textbook example of the Castro brother's tactics.

Yacoubian has been clearly broken by the Castro regime, after being held in undisclosed locations and interrogated (and probably worse) for nearly two-years without charges or trial.

He's now serving as a ruse for one of the Castro brother's classic purgings, pointing his finger (better yet, having his finger pointed) horizontally -- but not straight to the top.

Yacoubian will plead guilty and play off Castro's script, hoping he will be allowed to return home soon.

Yet everyone knows that Yacoubian's business activities in totalitarian Cuba were conducted at the highest levels.

The closing quote says it all:

“Don’t be a hero,” Yacoubian says. “Heroes are so sad.”

Here are some excerpts from the story:

Speaking over a scratchy telephone line from inside a Cuban prison, Sarkis Yacoubian’s voice goes suddenly silent. He’s crying.

“I was so depressed at times, I wanted to commit suicide,” says the 53-year-old entrepreneur.

In exclusive interviews from the La Condesa prison, Yacoubian provides an insider’s view of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign by the government of Raúl Castro that has seen several foreign businessmen — including himself and another Toronto-area businessman — jailed.

A joint investigation by The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald has found that in a corruption-plagued country described in secret U.S. government cables as “a state on the take,” the two jailed Canadians are embroiled in a high-stakes diplomatic and legal stand-off between Havana and Ottawa, potentially jeopardizing millions in taxpayer dollars that underwrite Canada’s trade with Cuba.

Arrested in July 2011 and detained for nearly two years without charges, Yacoubian, who ran a transport and trading company, was finally handed a 63-page indictment last month accusing him of bribery, tax evasion and “activities damaging to the economy.”

A suspect who says he quickly pointed the finger at widespread wrongdoing by other Canadian and foreign businesses, Yacoubian now faces up to 12 years in prison after he pleads guilty at his trial set to begin next Thursday. The charges were filed in a special Havana court for Crimes against the Security of the State, which can effectively hold trials in secret [...]

[T]heir Havana offices are shuttered, their fortunes frozen and their future in limbo.

Cuban authorities in Havana and at the country’s embassy in Ottawa declined to be interviewed for this story.

Complicating matters is that millions in Canadian taxpayer dollars funded by the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) — a kind of broker that underwrites contracts between the Cuban government and select Canadian firms — may be at stake [...]

Whisked away to a “safe house” for questioning and allowed outside for only one hour a day, Yacoubian says he slipped into desperation and depression. “I had lost my mind,” he says. “I was talking to myself, banging my head.”

Then Yacoubian made a fateful choice: He blew the whistle. “Maybe in my conscience I wanted my company to be brought down so that I could tell once for all things that are going on,” he says. “It was just eating me alive.”

He told his interrogators that he had little choice but to hand over money to bureaucrats or officials to secure contracts or even to ensure they were honored after winning a bid.

“If I didn’t pay, at the end of the day they would just create problems for me,” he says. Prosecutors allege in their court filing that Yacoubian or his employees bribed at least a dozen state officials with everything from nice dinners and prepaid phone cards to cash — $300 for a tip on a deal, $50,000 for a 2008 contract on earth movers.

Cuba Leads Venezuela From Behind

Wednesday, May 15, 2013
From Reuters in 2009:

Cuba, in the grip of a serious economic crisis, is running short of toilet paper and may not get sufficient supplies until the end of the year, officials with state-run companies said Friday.

From CNN today:

To avoid getting caught with their pants down, Venezuelan officials say they will confront a toilet paper shortage by importing 50 million rolls to meet demand.

Toilet paper is just one of the basic goods and foodstuffs that have been disappearing from store shelves over the past few months, as the government and private companies blame each other for the scarcity.

Venezuelan Minister of Commerce Alejandro Fleming announced the toilet paper measure on Tuesday, the state-run AVN news agency reported.

Repeating the government's stance, he blamed the media for provoking fear in consumers, who in turn begin hoarding items.

"There is no deficiency in production, but an excessive demand generating purchases by a nervous population because of a media campaign that has been created to undermine the country," Fleming said. "We are going to saturate the market so that our people will calm down and understand that they should not let themselves be manipulated by the media that says there are shortages."

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"


Corrupt Regime Imprisons Business Partners

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
According to Reuters:

Canadian and British executives of three foreign businesses shut in 2011 by Cuban authorities, ostensibly for corrupt practices, have been charged after more than a year in custody and are expected to go on trial soon, sources close to the cases told Reuters.

This is fascinating in so many ways.

First of all, the most corrupt actors in Cuba are the Castro brothers themselves, who have militarized the economy, monopolized every sector on the island, conducted illicit activities, funneled billions into foreign accounts and perfected nepotism.

Note that the three foreign businessmen in prison were among the Castro brother's closest business partners for many years.

They are Sarkis Yacoubian of Canada's Tri-Star Caribbean, Cy Tokmakjian of Canada's Tokmakjian Group and Amado Fakhre of Britain's Coral Capital Group Ltd.

Like some of today's ingenious businessmen looking for deals in Cuba, they all believed they had a special relationship with the Castros, that their investments were secure from the brother's long-time larcenous practices and that they were smarter than everyone else.

They have now been held without trial or charges for over a year-and-a-half -- and their businesses and bank accounts confiscated.

Throughout this time, they have been held in undisclosed prison locations, where they have been subject to intense interrogations and God knows what else.

They have no rights and remain at the absolute whim of Cuba's dictators.

It's hard to feel sorry for any of these unscrupulous businessmen who for years sought to enrich themselves and Cuba's tyrants, at the cost of repressed people.

But it stands as a lesson for all those who want to engage in business with the Castros and their monopolies.

After all, who haven't the Castro brothers ripped off in the last five decades?

Tweet of the Week

"FAO highlights the commitment of Cuba and Venezuela to food security.  Each imports 80 to 90%.  FAO's parameters are ideological, evidently."

OLPL: For Cubans, the Revolution Hasn't Begun

By Cuban artist and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in Sampsonia Way:

For Cubans in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun

An Afro-Cuban writer pens an article about racism in the U.S. and loses his job on the Island.

In March the Cuban columnist Roberto Zurbano published an article in The New York Times entitled “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.”

Although the author himself has since said that his text suffered from editorial interventions (namely that the title should have read “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution is Not Yet Finished”), his perspective has still caused a huge reaction on and off the Island. Consequently, a variety of responses to the article appeared in the Cuban online press.

At the time it seemed that the Island’s racial polemic might finally come out of the closet of censorship into the public arena. But unfortunately, at the beginning of April, the Editorial Fund of the Casa de las Américas in Havana dismissed Zurbano from his post as its director.

Thus, the logic of totalitarian intolerance won another battle. Cuba isn’t changing, even though everything looks like it is.

And Afro-Cubans are not the only ones in Cuba left without their fundamental rights. Over the past half-century the anti-democratic tradition on our island has not set out to back racial apartheid, but rather civic discrimination, whereby the State claims that no dissident voice is legitimate, where no law is born out of the people’s wishes but instead by decree of the historic caudillos, where a human being’s fundamental rights are still held hostage in the name of utopia.

In his controversial article, Zurbano claims that “It is unrealistic to hope for a black president, given the insufficient racial consciousness on the island.” But in these historic circumstances what should urgently be made realistic is for Cuba to gain in social conscience and for the president of our country to finally be a public servant, not a demagogic messiah.

Vatican Insider: Pope Encourages Cuba's Ladies in White

From La Stampa's Vatican Insider:

Pope encourages leader of Cuba’s dissident “women in white”

Pope Francis blessed and encouraged Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s “Damas de Blanco,” to continue their peaceful, non-violent struggle for human rights and freedom

“Siga adelante!,” “Continue as you are doing!,” Pope Francis told Berta Soler, the leader of Cuba’s courageous “Damas de Blanco”  (“Women in White”), when he met her after the public audience in the Vatican on  May 8, and gave her and the women his blessing.

She was overjoyed at meeting the pope, and at receiving his blessing for the more than 230  “Women in White” who work for the release of “hundreds” of political prisoners and for the affirmation of human rights and freedom in Cuba, she told me after meeting the pope.

She had left Cuba on March 11 after receiving a passport for the first time in her life under the Government’s new policy, and was in Madrid when she received confirmation that she could finally meet the pope, and so she flew to Rome.

[Last week] she took her place with the other special guests on the steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican just before the first Latin American Pope in the history of the Church arrived at the podium for the public audience. After addressing some 100,000 pilgrims from all continents in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis then greeted the special guests individually.

Berta Soler, 48, dressed in white, waited with anticipation, and when he reached them she spoke rapidly in Spanish. She told him, “We are the ‘Damas de Blanco’ from Cuba, the relatives of hundreds of political prisoners, and we ask for your help, and also for your blessing on us and all the people who are in need in Cuba.”

Pope Francis listened attentively, smiled, held her hand, gave his blessing and told her, “Siga adelante!”  “Continue as you are doing!”

It was what she and the “Women in White” had long wanted to hear from the Pope. “It was a great day for me, we – the “Damas de Blanco” have always had great faith in Christ, and now it is doubled”

I had met her just over a year ago in Havana, on the eve of Benedict XVI’s arrival in Cuba and she told me then, “all we want is one minute with the Pope!” But she and the “Damas de Blanco” were disappointed on that occasion; the Cuban authorities did not want them to meet the Pope and the Church authorities in Havana and Rome acquiesced. 

But the “Women in White” never give up.  They re-presented their request for a meeting with the Pope at the end of 2012, and last February the papal nuncio in Havana, Archbishop Bruno Musaro, informed them that their request had been granted: they could meet Benedict XVI at a public audience in the Vatican.  But Pope Benedict resigned some days later and so they had to wait until May 8.  Berta Soler said the ‘Damas de Blanco” are most grateful to Benedict XVI for his willingness to meet them and, of course, they are overjoyed that the first Latin American pope blessed and encouraged them.

“We have great faith and hope in Christ, but not so much in man”, she said referring to the situation in Cuba. “We think a Latin American Pope is very good for us. Pope Francis knows a little better they problems that our peoples have, he comes from far down and he can help the people who are suffering”, she said.

She recalled the role the Catholic Church played in Poland and Czechoslovakia to help the people there have a new country and good things and said, “That is what we need in Cuba too.”

U.S. Taxpayers Paid for Visit by Dictator's Daughter

U.S. taxpayers flipped the bill for the extensive security personnel that escorted the Cuban dictator's daughter, Mariela Castro, throughout her visit to New York and Philadelphia earlier this month.

Mariela spent at least 12-days in the U.S., during which time the State Department provided her with a detail from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (BDS), its spokesman confirmed to Cafe Fuerte.

We all know about Mariela being feted by the Equality Forum in Philadelphia.

But also among her activities was a visit to the International Action Center (IAC) in New York, where she was thanked for her family harboring Joanne Chesimard in Cuba, who is on the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorists list.

Will taxpayers also paying for the Assad, Kim, Bashir and Ahmadinejad families to tour the U.S.?  Or is this a privilege reserved for the Castro family?

The State Department could have saved U.S. taxpayers their hard-earned money by complying with -- and not exempting Mariela from -- Presidential Proclamation 5377, which prohibits non-immigrant visas for Cuban government officials.

Why the FAO Praised Fidel

Monday, May 13, 2013
Last week, the head of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization ("FAO"), José Graziano, sent a congratulatory letter to Cuban dictator Fidel Castro for "reducing hunger on the island."

Graziano’s letter, which first appeared on the front page of Castro's official newspaper Granma, left regular Cubans scratching their head.

Thanks to the Castro dictatorship's food monopoly, Cubans face infamous food shortages (except in tourist zones, of course).

However, today, the FAO has released a new book that has shed light on its standard of praise for Fidel.

The FAO's new book, "Edible Insects: future prospects for food and feed security," promotes the nutritional value of insects, as well as the benefits that insect farming could potentially have on the environment and on the rapidly increasing demand for food worldwide.

No joke.

According to the U.N.'s News Center:

While the idea of eating a worm, grasshopper or cicada at every meal may seem strange, FAO says this has many health benefits. Insects are high in protein, fat and mineral contents. They can be eaten whole or ground into a powder or paste, and incorporated into other foods.

This is what Cuba has come to after having Latin America's highest per capita consumption rate of meats, vegetables and cereals -- in 1958.

Great job, Fidel!

The Cuban Women That Make Castro Tremble

Don't miss this homage by artist Rolando Pulido of the female leaders of Cuba's pro-democracy movement.

Day in and day out, these courageous women make Castro's military dictatorship tremble.

Otherwise, why does it seek to silence them through brute force and intimidation?

A Look at the Castro Clan

In The American Spectator, Alberto de la Cruz takes a look at the next generation of the Castros and their ambitions for power:

Those of Fidel’s children who live in Cuba have for the most part kept very low public profiles, either by choice or by force. None of them appears to hold any position of real authority. Two sons, Fidel Jr. and Antonio, might seem like natural candidates, but further examination tells a different story. Fidel Jr. wields no power, and his mother’s family history may be an important reason for that. He is Fidel’s firstborn son and only child with his first wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart. If her surname sounds familiar, it’s because she is the aunt of two Florida congressmen, brothers Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart. Both men, and their entire families, are staunchly opposed to the Castro dictatorship and are steadfast defenders of freedom and liberty in Cuba.

Antonio, or Tony as he is known, is an unlikely choice for other reasons. He is the team physician for Cuba’s highly regarded national baseball team, but Tony appears to be a typical rich kid: spoiled, reckless, and more interested in partying than in running the family business. A few years ago, an exiled Florida man posed as a Colombian woman, strung him along on a six-month Internet love affair, and later published his amorous advances. On several occasions, unflattering pictures of Tony enjoying the good life a bit too much—with women and booze aplenty—have surfaced online. This is not the image Cuba’s revolutionary, “workers’ paradise” government wants to portray, especially when the average Cuban earns $20 a month and must struggle on a daily basis to find enough food to survive. (Luckily for him the vast majority of Cubans have no access to the Internet.) Further, Tony’s behavior suggests that he lacks the ruthlessness required of a future dictator, and this cannot have gone unnoticed by his father and uncle.

The case is completely different with Raul’s children. Some have speculated that Mariela Castro, his daughter, could be next in line to take over the country. She is a sexologist who travels the world and extols the grittiness of Cuban women who turn to prostitution in order feed and shelter their children. Ms. Castro, however, has spent the little political capital she has advocating for sexual freedom and, even more so, for gay rights. Her choice of causes is interesting considering the fact that her uncle Fidel at the height of the revolution sent anyone considered to be among the dregs of society—vagrants, religious adherents, and gay men—to labor camps. These camps, known as UMAPs (Military Units to Aid Production), had banners at their entry gates that read: “Work will make men out of you.” Although Mariela Castro’s cause may win her fans outside of Cuba, it does not do her much good on the island. Gay rights do not top the list of concerns for Cubans starving under the yoke of tyranny. More importantly, she does not appear to have secured the influence necessary to consolidate power.

Mariela’s brother Alejandro, however, does hold considerable power. Alejandro is a colonel in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and head of the intelligence and counter-intelligence units of the nation’s two most powerful ministries: Defense and Interior. He is also a member of Cuba’s 14-member Military Junta, a group of generals headed by the Castro brothers who operate in secret and who are the true decision makers on the island. But there are some who believe Alejandro doesn’t have the intellectual wherewithal to keep a nation of 11 million people under complete control.

That leaves us with the apple of Raul’s eye, his grandson, Raul Guillermo Lopez-Calleja (known as El Cangrejo,“the Crab”), the son of Raul’s daughter Deborah. His father is Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja, another member of the Military Junta and the man who leads the commercial arm of the Cuban military, which owns and operates all the official tourist, import, and export businesses on the island. (As an interesting side note, Lopez-Calleja’s cousin, Arturo Lopez-Levy, is a former Cuban military intelligence officer turned Cuban-American scholar and supporter of the Castro dictatorship here in the U.S. who is often quoted by the American mainstream media as a “sensible” member of the Cuban exile community.)

Little Raul leads his grandfather’s security team, but there are some who feel that he is too young—though he is about the same age as Fidel was when he took control of Cuba in 1959.

The Castro-Coddled Cop Killer

By Humberto Fontova in The Washington Times:

The Castro-coddled cop killer

The ‘most-wanted terrorist’ mocks U.S. justice from Cuba

On May 2, the FBI announced a $1 million reward for “information leading to the apprehension” of Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who they named a “most-wanted terrorist.” Chesimard is the first woman to make the FBI’s list. The New Jersey State Police then added another $1 million to the reward pot.

Convicted cop-killer (of a New Jersey state trooper) and “domestic terrorist” Chesimard has been living in Cuba since 1984 as a Castro-coddled celebrity of sorts. And it’s not like bounty hunters can operate freely in a Stalinist country. So the $2 million may be symbolic. As in the U.S. Justice Department putting on a game face and saying: “Look, Castro, we’re serious here.”

In the early 1970s, Chesimard belonged to a Black Panther offshoot known as the Black Liberation Army. “This case is just as important today as it was when it happened 40 years ago,” according to a recent press release from Mike Rinaldi, of the New Jersey State Police. “Chesimard was a member of the Black Liberation Army, a radical left-wing terror group that felt justified killing law enforcement officers. … This group conducted assaults on police stations and murdered police officers.”

More than a mere member of these domestic terrorists, Chesimard was described by former FBI Assistant Director John Miller as “the soul of the Black Liberation Army.”

In 1973, while wanted for multiple crimes from bank robbery to murder, Chesimard and two accomplices were pulled over for a taillight violation on the New Jersey Turnpike. As the troopers were routinely questioning them, Chesimard (who was in the passenger seat) and her pals opened up on the lawmen with semi-automatic pistols (no word on whether these were properly registered.)

As Trooper Werner Foerster grappled with the driver, Chesimard shot him twice — then her gun apparently jammed. As Foerster lay on the ground wounded and helpless, Chesimard grabbed the trooper’s own gun and blasted two shots into his head, much in the manner of her Cuban idols Che Guevara and Raul Castro killing hundreds of their own (always defenseless at the time) “counterrevolutionary” enemies.

“This crime was always considered an act of domestic terrorism,” stresses Mr. Rinaldi.

She escaped, but was captured in 1977, convicted of murder and sentenced to life plus 33 years. Then in 1979 she escaped from prison — and with some professional help, probably by Cuban or Cuban-trained terrorists. “Two men smuggled into the prison, took guards hostages and broke her out,” explained John Miller to CBS News.

Chesimard’s 1979 escape from prison was well-planned, Mr. Rinaldi explained. “Armed domestic terrorists gained entry into the facility, neutralized the guards, broke her free, and turned her over to a nearby getaway team.”

“In 1984, they smuggled her to Mexico. Using a network of Cuban intelligence officers who worked with American radical groups, they got her into Cuba,” adds Mr. Miller.

Since then, according to New Jersey State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, Chesimard “flaunts her freedom. … To this day, from her safe haven in Cuba, Chesimard has been given a pulpit (by Castro) to preach and profess, stirring supporters and groups to mobilize against the United States by any means necessary. She has been used by the Castro regime to greet foreign delegations visiting Cuba.”

“Joanne Chesimard is a domestic terrorist,” declared FBI agent Aaron T. Ford, during a recent news conference. “She absolutely is a threat to America.”

Along with coddling Chesimard, Castro’s fiefdom provides haven for more than 70 other fugitives from U.S. law, including several on the FBI’s most-wanted listed. Cuba harbors convicted cop-killers Michael Finney and Charlie Hill, along with Victor Gerena, responsible for a $7 million heist of a Wells Fargo truck in Connecticut in 1983, as a member of the Puerto Rican terrorist group, Los Macheteros. All requests by U.S. authorities for these criminals’ extradition have been rebuffed, often cheekily by Fidel Castro himself: “They want to portray her as a terrorist, something that was an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie!” is how he answered a U.S. request for Chesimard on May 3, 2005.

Non-Communist Gays Need Not Apply

Sunday, May 12, 2013
This weekend, the Cuban dictator's daughter, Mariela Castro, held her highly-publicized parade for "gay rights" in Havana.

Of course, if Cuban gays were to have organized and held this parade on their own, they'd currently be sitting in jail-cells tonight.

So much for gay rights.

The parade was an official act were the chanted slogan was -- "Homophobia, no!  Socialism, yes!"

How does this differ from anything else in Castro's Cuba?

You can be a journalist, but only for Castro's state media.

You can join a union, but only the CTC (Castro's official labor union).

You can be an artist, but only with approval from the UNEAC (Castro's artist union). 

You can go to college, but only if you join the UJC (Castro's young communists league).

Now you can be openly gay, but only if you join CENESEX, support Mariela's dad and Cuban spies (see picture).

And if you don't follow these dictatorial rules, you get harassed, beaten and arrested.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Venezuelan Bank Sanctioned as Iran Front

And -- of course -- we all know who runs Venezuela.

From the Treasury Department:

The Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Iranian Venezuelan Bi-National Bank (IVBB).  IVBB was designated pursuant to E.O. 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their supporters, for engaging in financial transactions on behalf of the previously sanctioned Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI). 

EDBI was designated under E.O. 13382 on October 22, 2008, for providing financial services to Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL).

IVBB has been processing funds transfers on behalf of EDBI since at least January 2012. EDBI has used IVBB to act as a proxy to fund export activities and to transfer millions of dollars worth of funds from China’s Bank of Kunlun to EDBI. Additionally, senior EDBI staff is entitled to authorize transaction instructions to Bank of Kunlun on behalf of IVBB.

Quote of the Week

In Cuba, we are all equal, but [blacks] can't be in the media. We have the same education, but we can't have that job... We have no political or symbolic representation, no access to the emerging economy and no avenues to leadership positions.
-- Manuel Cuesta Morua, Afro-Cuban dissident leader, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 11th, 2013

Honoring an Imprisoned Mother

As we gather with our loved ones to celebrate Mother's Day, please keep in your prayers a special mother who remains forcefully separated from her daughter in Cuba.

For over a year, Sonia Garro, a member of the peaceful pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, has been imprisoned by the Castro regime.

She continues to be held arbitrarily -- under abusive conditions -- without charges or trial of any sort.

Garro was arrested on March 18th of last year, immediately prior to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba.

Castro's agents broke into her home, shot her with rubber bullets and dragged her away.

Her 16-year old daughter is being cared for by her aunt, while her mother remains a prisoner of Castro's dictatorship.

When will this injustice end?