Iran and Cuba: The Real "Mad Men"

Saturday, June 1, 2013
Last week, the U.S. State Department continued its designation of Cuba and Iran as "state-sponsors of terrorism" (along with Sudan and Syria).

Here's Iran's official response:

The U.S. is in no position to accuse other states of supporting terrorism. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a victim of state terrorism which has claimed the lives of thousands of innocent Iranians.”

And here's Cuba's official response:

"For decades now, Cuba has suffered the consequences of terrorist acts organized, financed and launched from US territory, which have resulted in 3,478 people killed and 2,099 wounded. The Cuban government does not recognize the U.S. government to have the slightest moral authority to judge Cuba."

They obviously share the same publicists.

Quote of the Week

And, what were the subjects of those books? Were they manuals on how to build a bomb? No, they were about critical culture, democracy, human rights... But apparently here that has the same impact as a bomb.
-- Eliecer Avila, pro-democracy leader on having his literature confiscated by the Castro regime upon his return to Cuba last week, Diario de Cuba, 5/31/13

Tweet of the Week

Friday, May 31, 2013
By Cecilia Rojas, a U.S. citizen of Cuban descent, who was arrested earlier this week by the Castro regime for visiting Cuba's courageous pro-democracy leaders.

On the roof of the home of Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ("Antunez) and Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera in Cuba. In their home, one can breathe love for the homeland.

Petition Filed for UN to Investigate Paya's Death

The Liberal International has filed a petition with the U.N. Secretary General asking for an international investigation into the death of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

The actual petition can be seen here.

Below is a summary.

Recognizing that: 

• the illegitimate laws which govern the exercise of fundamental rights in the Republic of Cuba allow for the constant repression and prosecution of human rights defenders and democracy activists in the country. Just last year there were 6,602 cases of arbitrary detentions which represents a 50% increase compared to the year 2011. The number of political prisoners who have been sentenced or are awaiting trial has risen to 82. The members of “Ladies in White”, an organization peacefully struggling for the liberation of political prisoners, continue to be harassed, beaten and arrested by the paramilitary groups organized by the political police.

• Cuban citizens are being punished on a daily basis simply because they strive to achieve a true democratic process allowing them to enjoy true economic prosperity and brighter future.

• the Cuban Constitution continues to consider the Communist party as the only legitimate political party while at the same time establishing that no dissent or protest can be used against the Cuban government. Independent journalists and activists who present or promote political ideas contradicting the postulates of the Cuban communist party are often expelled from their work place, denied studies at higher levels, and limited to their travels in and outside of the country.

• the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent group which monitors the violation of Human Rights in Cuba, has documented 6,602 cases of arbitrary detentions for the year 2012, which means an increase of 50% compared to 2011, and the number of political prisoners who have been sentenced or are awaiting trial has risen to 82.

• none of the changes that have taken place on the island could lead to a real opening unless the persecution and the repression against those who peacefully defend the free exercise and respect for Human Rights in Cuba ceases. The island will continue to have the worst record in the Western hemisphere with regards to respect for fundamental liberties.

Stressing that:

• the late political activist and founder of the opposition Christian Liberation Movement Oswaldo Paya had played a tremendous role in trying to bring a democratic change to the Republic of Cuba by initiating the Varela Project which called for a national referendum on free elections, free expression and releasing all
political prisoners.

• the circumstances surrounding the death of Oswaldo Paya are extremely suspicious as the driver of the car with which Mr. Paya crashed and the leader of Spain’s ruling party, Mr. Angel Carromero, reported that the car was struck from behind and he was heavily drugged by the Cuban authorities when he appeared to admit to reckless driving.

• the Cuban authorities had conducted an insufficient investigation into Mr. Paya’s death given the evidence collected at the scene of the accident which pointed to foul play.

• several months prior to the incident Mr. Paya and his family had received dozens of death threats.

• Mr. Paya’s daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, had delivered a petition to the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council signed by dozens of human rights activists and political leaders from around the world calling for an independent investigation into the death of her father.

• the administration of US President Barack Obama has called for an international investigation with independent international observers into the death of Mr. Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Liberal International Calls on the United Nations:

• to create an international committee in order to conduct an independent investigation into the suspicious death of the Cuban political activist Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Is Fidel Castro a Terrorist?

In response to its continued designation as a "sponsor-of-terrorism" by the U.S. Department of State, the Castro regime has stated:

"The territory of Cuba has never been used and never will be to harbor terrorists of any origin, nor to organize, finance or perpetrate acts of terrorism against any country in the world, including the United States."

This is an obvious lie, which is a good reminder of the lack of credibility of Cuba's dictatorship.

But no one knows a terrorist better than another terrorist.

In 2011, one of Castro's favorite pupils, the renowned international terrorist, Carlos "the Jackal," was interviewed about his victims and crimes.

Asked about civilians who lost their lives in his attacks, he said:

"There were very few. I calculated that they were fewer than 10 percent. So out of 1,500 - 2,000 killed, there were not more than 200 civilian victims."

Asked about his crimes, Carlos said his crimes were "minor" and stated:

"Fidel Castro killed more people."

Moreover, Castro himself in one of his arrogant tirades (below) warned the world of his terrorist prowess:

Tampa Travel Agency Closes

Despite local Tampa politicians adulation of the Castro dictatorship, earlier this year, Tampa International Airport lost one of its three Cuba charter carriers and two of its five weekly flights to the island.

And today, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reports:

Customers stiffed by U.S.-Cuba travel agency

Angry customers lined up outside of a travel agency demanding answers. They say they paid for trips to Cuba but have not received tickets from the agency, Flor Caribe Inc. of Tampa, according to ABC Action News.

The travel agency off West Tampa Bay Boulevard was closed and a sign on the door left no indication when or if it would reopen. ABC Action News attempted to call three numbers associated with the business and got no answer.

So much for Tampa becoming the "Gateway to Cuba" that U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) had professed.

State Releases Sponsors-of-Terrorism Report

The U.S. State Department has just released its 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism ("Report").

The report lists Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria as countries that continue to provide support for international terrorism.

We commend the State Department for maintaining Cuba's dictatorship on this list.

However, we remain concerned that the Report does not include the hostage-taking of American development worker Alan Gross as an act of terror, as the Castro regime is clearly trying to coerce the U.S. to release (now four) Cuban spies in return; the Castro regime's close ties and intelligence sharing with other state-sponsors of terrorism, namely Syria and Iran; and its efforts to subvert democracy in Venezuela.

For more on these concerns, please see our recent White Paper here.

According to the State Department's Report:

Cuba was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1982. Reports in 2012 suggested that the Cuban government was trying to distance itself from Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) members living on the island by employing tactics such as not providing services including travel documents to some of them. The Government of Cuba continued to provide safe haven to approximately two dozen ETA members.

In past years, some members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were allowed safe haven in Cuba and safe passage through Cuba. In November, the Government of Cuba began hosting peace talks between the FARC and Government of Colombia.

There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups.

The Cuban government continued to harbor fugitives wanted in the United States. The Cuban government also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has identified Cuba as having strategic anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism deficiencies. In 2012, Cuba became a member of the Financial Action Task Force of South America against Money Laundering, a FATF-style regional body. With this action, Cuba has committed to adopting and implementing the FATF Recommendations.

Castro's Oil Ruse is Over

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Remember when media reports made it seem as though Cuba was going to become the next Saudi Arabia?

Remember the Castro regime's highly publicized lease-block map (below)?

Remember when the Chinese were supposedly "drilling" off Cuba's shores?

Remember when "oil industry experts" testified to the U.S. Government that this was a sure thing?

Remember when the Castro regime's allies in the U.S. lobbied Congress to lift sanctions because American oil companies were going to be left out of the bonanza (argument for Republicans)?

Remember when the Castro regime's allies in the U.S. lobbied Congress to normalize relations with Cuba's dictatorship for the environment's sake (argument for Democrats)?

Remember when those of us who argued this was mostly a charade by the Castro regime, in conjunction with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, were mocked?

Well, last year, we learned that Cuba's deep off-shore drilling efforts failed -- the infamous Scarabeo 9 rig is long gone.

And now, even the smaller near-shore effort has failed -- bye bye Songa Mercur.

The ruse is over.

From Reuters:

Cuban Oil Hopes Sputter as Russians Give Up for Now on Well

Russian state-owned oil company Zarubezhneft said this week it was giving up for now on a problem-plagued exploration well off Cuba’s north-central coast, which brings to an end the communist-led island’s only active project in its search for offshore oil fields.

The premature end of the Zarubezhneft well was not totally unexpected because Songa Offshore, owner of the Songa Mercur, earlier said the rig would leave by June 1 for a project in Southeast Asia. It had originally been scheduled to stay in Cuba until July 1.

There was a Russian press report that the rig would come back for another attempt by Zarubezhneft, but Songa Offshore Chairman Jens Wilhelmsen told Reuters the report was “completely without foundation.”

“We have not any agreement that Mercur will return and we have not received any inquiries from Zarubezhneft that they want it back,” he said. “So I can just deny that Mercur will return.”

All Eyes on Yoani's Return

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Famed Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez returns to Havana tomorrow (Thursday) after a 3-month tour that has taken her throughout Europe and the Americas.

Some of her dissident colleagues have already returned to Cuba, where they have faced harassment by the Castro regime's authorities.

Activist Eliecer Avila was subjected to an intense four hour search at the airport. The authorities confiscated many of his books and other reading materials.

Various members of the Ladies in White were arrested as they headed to the airport to welcome back their leader, Berta Soler.

And Christian Liberation Movement leader, Rosa Maria Paya, has been under constant surveillance by Castro's state security since her return.

All eyes are now set on Yoani's return.

Sweden Should Be Commended

By  Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

An Honor Roll

In today’s Impromptus, I report some good news out of Sweden. What, Muslim immigrants assimilating? No, no — but almost as good: A group of Cuban dissidents and democracy activists met in Stockholm for a “week of hope.” They were sponsored by a Cuban exile group, of course. But look: They were also sponsored by the Swedish government. And they met right in parliament.

As I put it, “Sweden has come a long way since Olof Palme, who so loved mass-murdering Communists in Hanoi and elsewhere.”

Here in the Corner, I wanted to add something about Sweden and Cuba. At the recent Oslo Freedom Forum, Roberto de Jesús Guerra spoke. He is an independent journalist in Cuba — that takes incredible bravery, including the willingness to be imprisoned repeatedly — and he was on his first trip outside of Cuba. I wrote about him here.

I did not mention this — that he named the embassies in Havana that allow dissidents and democrats to come in and use the Internet. Would you like the complete list? The embassies of the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Holland, and the U.S. interests section (which is housed in the Swiss embassy). That’s it. “The rest of the diplomatic corps in Cuba does not give us any type of help,” said Roberto.

The Czechs have been helping the Cubans for a long time. That is a special relationship. Václav Havel was a great supporter of the Cuban opposition. In 2005, I wrote a piece called “Solidarity, Exemplified: The amazing story of the Czechs and the Cubans.” I’m glad the U.S. interests section is still allowing people to come in, even under an administration bent on making nice with the Castros. Sweden? A marvelous development, and a surprise to me.

Holland? That too is a surprise. Completely stumps me. Am glad and admiring, though.

Just about every other country would rather smooch the Castros’ geriatric, murderous butts than lift a finger for the Cubans. As Jeane Kirkpatrick put it to me, a long time ago now, that is “both a puzzling and a profoundly painful phenomenon of our times.”

Regurgitating Castro's Headlines

Check out this headline from Reuters:

"Cuba to increase unrestricted Internet access at new outlets"

Apparently, Reuters just took the Castro regime's announcement -- that it was going to "expand Internet access" -- at face value.

So much for investigative journalism, or at the very least, verification.

It's funny -- when a dissident gets beat up, assaulted or arrested, journalists covering Cuba seek all sorts of verification.

Yet they take Castro's dictatorship at face value.

How limited access points* (1st filter), controlled by the Castro regime's telecom monopoly ETECSA (2nd filter), through a State web portal called Nauta (3rd filter), under prohibitive costs (4th filter) and constant monitoring for conduct that "violates the State's norms of ethical behavior" (5th filter) can be referred to as "unrestricted Internet access" is mind-boggling.

*Offered in only 334 computers in the entire island of Cuba.

As Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez reminds us:
One expects this from Castro's dictatorship, but foreign journalists shouldn't partake in the charade.

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

Mariela Castro Has Been "Outed"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Cuban dictator Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela, has been "outed" by the organizers of the World Outgames ("Games"), which are to be held in Antwerp, Belgium from July 31st-August 11th.

Mariela wanted to serve as co-chair of the human rights chapter for the Games, but was told she could only serve as a speaker.

So, as a typical dictator's daughter, who is used to getting her way, Mariela had a tantrum and has now prohibited any Cuban from participating in the Games, which are organized by the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association.

In her typical cynicism, Mariela scolded the Games' organizers: "How am I going to be discriminated against for my politics? I, who am a fighter for human rights and the inclusion of all human beings?"

In Cuba, she would have just had daddy arrest them.

Cuba Adopts North Korean "Internet" Model

Here's our Tweet of the Day:

What #Cuba has done is imitate the [North Korean] "Internet": an intermediary portal and state connection points. But it also charges access in CUC [hard currency].
Now here's how Google's Eric Schmidt described North Korea's model:

There's a country-wide intranet, and the content consists of state news and message boards. A custom-built operating system, Red Star, includes a mandatory readme file about "how important it is that the operating system correlates with the country's values." 

And here's essentially what the Castro regime announced today:

There will be 118 outposts run by Castro's ETECSA, through its operating system "Nauta" (Cuba's RedStar) -- a country-wide intranet.

According to the announcement by the Ministry of Telecommunications, Cubans will be "immediately denied service if any violation of the norms of ethical behavior promoted by the Cuban state are detected."

Sound familiar?

The Cuban Official That Visited Foggy Bottom

As previously posted, last week the State Department confirmed that Josefina Vidal, a senior Castro regime official, was in Washington D.C.

During her visit, Vidal met with State Department officials at Foggy Bottom, reportedly including the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson.

However, in the original post, we forgot to note Vidal's troublesome background.

So here's a reminder:

In May 2003, the U.S. declared 14 Cuban "diplomats" as Persona Non Grata and expelled them for espionage. This was due to the Castro regime providing Iraqi intelligence with information on U.S. troop movements during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Among the "diplomats" expelled was the First Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Anselmo Lopez Perera. His wife, Josefina Vidal, also known to the U.S. as a Cuban Intelligence Officer, accompanied her expelled spouse back to Cuba.

And yet, she is (somehow) now welcome back at the State Department.

The names of the expelled Cuban "diplomats" were finally revealed in December 2011, pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by former U.S. Counter-Intelligence officer Chris Simmons.

Nearly Two Million Cell Phones in Cuba

Yesterday, the Castro regime announced a supposed expansion of "Internet access" on the island -- but not really.

It announced the creation of 118 official outposts for Cubans to "access the Internet."

However, only in convertible currency and at a quarter ($4.50) of a regular Cubans monthly salary ($20) per hour.

And, of course, connectivity times are not disclosed.

Moreover, these new outposts are run by Castro's ETECSA, through its operating system "Nauta" -- so it's really access to the regime's "Intranet" that's being provided.

Subscribers will be "encouraged" to change their email addresses to xxx@nauta.cu, in order to access the system -- and so the Castro regime can further monitor email communications.

According to the announcement by the Ministry of Telecommunications, Cubans will be "immediately denied service if any violation of the norms of ethical behavior promoted by the Cuban state are detected."

In other words, the Castro regime has announced even greater control over the Internet.

Nothing new here.

However, it did allow one interesting statistic to slip.

There are now over 1,700,000 known cell phones in use on the island -- officially surpassing the number of fixed lines on the island.

Now that's an opportunity.

Country Risk Remains High for Cuba

Monday, May 27, 2013
By money laundering expert and author Kenneth Rijock in Financial Crimes Blog:

Country Risk Remains High for Cuba

The Havana closed non-jury trial of Canadian businessman Sarkis Yacoubian has concluded after two days of hearings that will surely be regarded as a travesty of justice; a judgment is expected at the Peoples' Tribunal for Havana Province shortly. Mr. Yacoubian could receive as much as twelve years on corruption charges. The fact that he was the whistle blower of major institutional governmental corruption notwithstanding, he will be spending a substantial amount of time in one of Cuba's notorious prisons. Apparently, the embarrassing exposure of corruption will result in conviction of the messenger.

Since his arrest, several foreign business executives, as well as government officials, and leaders of state-controlled corporation have been detained. Inasmuch as bribes and kickbacks are required to open, and maintain, any foreign-owned business in Communist Cuba, you can expect the current purge, of officials as well as the foreign businessmen who paid them, to be extensive, and dangerous to foreign investors, businessmen and professionals.

Investing in Cuba, for foreign individuals and entities, appears to be out of the question at this time; keep your Country Risk for Cuba at the highest level, which strongly discourages investment, any banking relationships, and any expenditure of significant amounts of capital.

We Remember

Another U.S. Citizen Arrested in Cuba

Cecilia Rojas, a U.S. citizen of Cuban descent, has been arrested by the Castro regime after visiting a prominent Cuban pro-democracy leader.

Rojas had traveled to the town of Placetas, where she visited the home of Cuban pro-democracy leader, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez."

She was arrested upon leaving Antunez's home.

Her Florida drivers license has been confiscated.

Ironically, in her last tweet before departing to Cuba, she had taken a picture of a man who was asking for American hostage Alan Gross's release, in front of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.

So if you're an American traveling to Cuba on a Castro-hosted "people-to-people" tour, the regime welcomes you with open arms (and wallets).

But if you're an American traveling to Cuba to express solidarity with the democratic aspirations of the Cuban people, the regime arrests you.

UPDATE: Rojas was released this morning.

Tweet(s) of the Week

The winner:

#Cuba To think we were among the first to get radio, telephone, TV, railroads etc... and now, we'll be the last to get the Internet, if it ever gets there.
And runners-up:

Castro's Most Prominent Censor Dies

One of the Cuban dictatorship's most prominent censors, Luis Pavón Tamayo, 83, died this weekend.

Pavón presided over Castro's "National Culture Council" in the 1970's that led the Stalinist-type censorship and purging of some of Cuba's greatest artists and literary minds, including José Lezama Lima y Virgilio Piñera.

Under his watch, writers and artists were harassed, expelled from their jobs and imprisoned, accused of "being homosexuals."  Many were forced into exile.

Rock'n'roll and long hair were banned on the island.

Time is running out for Castro's clique.

Repressive Cuba

Sunday, May 26, 2013
From The Washington Times's Embassy Row:

Cuba is still politically repressive, poor and largely cut off from the Internet two years after the communist government adopted modest reforms such as term limits on politicians and allowing the sale of private property, a U.S. survey has found.

“Repression of free speech and civil liberties remains high,” the International Republican Institute said of its annual poll of Cubans’ attitudes toward their government.

The report also found that detentions of dissidents have increased.

“In 2012 alone, more than 6,000 politically motivated arrests and short-term detentions were recorded by the Cuban Commission on Human Rights Reconciliation,” the survey said.

Cubans also reject the island’s one-party Communist system, established after the 1959 Cuban revolution. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said Cubans, instead of the Cuban Communist Party, should choose their president. Only 14 percent support the current system.

Fifty-three percent accused the government of political repression, while 20 percent defended the regime of President Raul Castro. Another 20 percent declined to answer that question on the survey, and 7 percent said they did not know.

Sixty-nine percent said the government prohibits free speech, despite Mr. Castro’s 2011 promises of political reform. Only 21 percent claimed they could speak their minds openly.

“Repression and intimidation from the Cuban government is still a pervasive force in the lives of Cubans,” the institute said. “Many respondents were reluctant to answer certain questions they may have deemed sensitive.”

Cuban also live mostly without Internet service; only 4 percent of those surveyed said they could access the Web or email.

The Cuban economy continues to suffer, especially with cuts in government jobs and little private employment. Many are driven to a growing black market, the survey found.

The Washington-based pro-democracy group interviewed 688 Cubans throughout the island’s 14 provinces in January and February. The survey has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

Quote(s) of the Month

The love the exiles in Miami have shown us makes us discard what the [Cuban] government, over 54 years, has planted in our minds.
-- Guillermo Farinas, Cuban pro-democracy leader, AP, 5/23/13

We are here [in Miami] to be able to go [back to Cuba] and tell those people they are wrong, not to listen to what the Cuban government says, because those in exile are going to rebuild Cuba, not take away land or homes from anyone.
-- Berta Soler, leader of Cuba's Ladies in White pro-democracy movement, AP, 5/23/13