Must-Watch: Life of an Independent Journalist in Cuba

Saturday, June 15, 2013
Please watch below the amazing remarks (with English captions) of Roberto de Jesus Guerra at the 2013 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Guerra is the founder of the Cuban independent news agency, Hablemos Press.

Here's his opening statement:

"When I was 14 years old, I participated in a meeting in my neighborhood, organized by the Cuban Communist Party. The Party delegate said that 'we should be grateful to the Revolution for the food they sell us through the ration card.' I responded telling him that 'with 5 pounds of rice and 10 ounces of beans we can't live.' A few days later, I was arrested and imprisoned for pre-criminal social dangerousness, together with 196 other teenagers from my region. I was sentenced to one year-and-six months of forced labor at a center for minors where I was forced to cut sugar cane. My story was never published in the media. My name is Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez and I am an independent journalist." 

The Cowardice of Havana's News Bureaus

It's fascinating to watch the courage with which the AP and other news agencies have (rightfully) challenged the intimidation and attack on speech by the Obama Administration's Justice Department.

Yet, simultaneously, the cowardice with which the AP and some of the same news bureaus act in Havana towards the Castro dictatorship.

This week, Havana's foreign correspondents have spent most their time and resources focused on an Australian swimmer that unsuccessfully tried to cross the Florida Straits.

Then, the AP switched to a story about Cuban scientists expressing concern about climate change damage to Cuba's coastal towns.

(Of course, no mention of the ecological disaster being reaped on Cuba's coastline by Castro's military, in conjunction with Brazil's Odebrecht. Kudos to The Miami Herald.)

Yet not one word about the multiple human tragedies currently taking place in Cuba.

First and foremost among these, the imminent death of a Cuban democracy activist, Luis Enrique Santos, who is on a hunger strike protesting being evicted from his home for his political activities.

Sadly, this isn't new.

These same foreign correspondents wouldn't report one word on deceased political prisoners Orlando Zapata Tamayo or Wilman Villar Mendoza, who also died from hunger strikes, until it was too late.

Sure, maybe the Castro regime will get upset at the AP and the other news bureaus for reporting on these courageous democracy activists.

But at least they'd be standing for free speech and against intimidation, as they so courageously do here.

Canadian Convicted of Sex Crimes Against Cuban Children

From The Toronto Star:

Toronto man, 78, guilty of sex crimes against children in Cuba

On Friday, James McTurk of Toronto became the first Canadian convicted of sex crimes committed against children in Cuba.

After a Crown lawyer finished reciting the list of grotesque sexual offences James McTurk committed against Cuban girls as young as 3, the 78-year-old man was handcuffed and taken back to jail where he could spend the rest of his life.

McTurk, with close cropped hair and wearing a Canadian Legion jacket, had moments earlier uttered the word that Toronto police investigators have been waiting to hear since they arrested him last summer: “Guilty.”

On Friday, McTurk became the first Canadian convicted of sex crimes committed against children in Cuba, admitting to one count of making child pornography, another of importing child pornography, three counts of sexual interference involving touching young girls with his mouth, hands and penis, and a final count of invitation to sexual touching [...]

In an interview with detectives after his arrest, McTurk said he knew one of the grandmothers of the girls in the images, who he met two decades ago in Cuba.

“She was on the beach and was hungry, so he fed her,” Stanford told the court. “He maintained contact with her and stayed with her and her family regularly when he visited Cuba. He gave her a couple hundred pesos — approximately $240 — each time he visited.”

Which Stings Worse?

Friday, June 14, 2013
The news cycle is inundated with stories about Australian swimmer, Chloe McCardel, who ended her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida due to a jellyfish sting.

Yet, not a word on Sonia Garro, a member of the Ladies in White, who has been in a punishment cell for the last 10 days (and imprisoned for a over one-year and four-months without trial or charges).

Not a word on Luis Enrique Santos, a Central Opposition Coalition activist, who is about to die from a hunger strike pursuant to being unjustly and inexplicably expelled from his home.

Not a word on Werlando Leyva, a Christian Liberation Movement activist, who was the victim of a machete attack by a Castro regime operative this week.

Not a word on political prisoners Osvaldo Rodriguez and Wilber Parada, who have been on hunger strike for over 30 days protesting their unjust imprisonment.

Not a word on rapper Angel Yunier Remon "El Critico," arbitrarily imprisoned in a notorious facility for over a month without trial or charges.

Which stings worse?

The ‘Cubanization’ of Venezuela

By Jose Cardenas in The Washington Times:

The ‘Cubanization’ of Venezuela

Domination by the Castros has accelerated since Chavez’s death

One of the greatest ironies of the late strongman Hugo Chavez’s rule was that even as he attempted to personify Venezuelan nationalism, he was quietly outsourcing more and more of the country’s sovereignty to the Castro brothers in Cuba. Today, with conditions in the country spiraling after April’s tainted election to guarantee the continuation of Chavismo, Cuba’s flagrant interference in Venezuelan affairs has become downright obscene.

As Venezuela’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, put it recently: “Venezuela is an occupied country. The Venezuelan regime is a puppet controlled by the Cubans. It is no longer Cuban tutelage; it is control.”

His comments come after a series of events that began less than two weeks after the election in April that saw Chavez’s anointed successor, Nicolas Maduro, win by just 1 percentage point over challenger Henrique Capriles, prompting charges of electoral fraud by the opposition. In the midst of that controversy, Mr. Maduro quickly decamped to Cuba for a five-hour meeting with Fidel Castro, seeking advice on how to thwart the reinvigorated opposition and to promise more Venezuelan handouts for Havana, which already amounted to about 130,000 barrels of oil a day.

Since then, a stream of high-ranking Venezuelan officials have been regularly traveling to Cuba. This past weekend, Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly and widely seen as Mr. Maduro’s chief rival within Chavismo, was summoned to Havana for a meeting with Mr. Castro, who no doubt made him a deal he couldn’t refuse to unite behind Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Cabello’s trip to Cuba followed another egregious example of Cuban interference in Venezuelan affairs. Last month, the opposition released an audiotape of a briefing by a well-known Chavez acolyte to a top Cuban intelligence agent with a direct line to the Castros. In it, vitriolic radio broadcaster Mario Silva aired all manner of dirty laundry within Chavismo, including the bitter political infighting between Mr. Maduro and Mr. Cabello following Chavez’s death and the over-the-top corruption. Mr. Silva also complained to the Cuban agent about Mr. Maduro’s equivocation toward adopting Castro’s advice to “get rid of these bourgeois elections because [voters] make mistakes [and] here, with elections the way they are, we could be struck down. They could knock the revolution down.” Mr. Silva soon fled the country and is now residing in Cuba for “health reasons.”

Particularly sensitive is Cuban infiltration of the Venezuelan military. Earlier this year, retired Gen. Antonio Rivero, also a former Chavez ally, was arrested after he publicly denounced the presence of thousands of Cuban military and security personnel assigned to every level of the bureaucracy, up to and including the office of the minister of defense. When Mr. Maduro recently accused Mr. Capriles of “treason” for touring Latin American capitals protesting the tainted election, Mr. Capriles tweeted to his countrymen, “Treason is allowing the Cuban government to infiltrate our armed forces and their officers give orders to ours,” and “The great traitor is Maduro! Every day he gives away our national resources to his bosses, the Castro brothers.”

Indeed, since the death of Chavez in March, the “Cubanization” of Venezuela has only accelerated. From physical assaulting opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly, which occurred on April 30, to the ongoing militarization of Venezuelan society through the imposition of militant brigades patterned after Cuba’s notorious neighborhood-watch committees, to the recent imposition of Cuban-style rationing on certain products such as toilet paper that have disappeared from stores shelves, the hapless Maduro government is left to push nothing but Cuban-style policies.

For the mendicant Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, they have no choice but to increase their control to shore up Mr. Maduro’s faltering government. The spiraling political and socio-economic crises in Venezuela are rightly perceived by them as an existential threat, with opposition leader Mr. Capriles promising to end the billions in Venezuelan handouts to their bankrupt regime and expelling some 60,000 Cubans operating in the country.

Yet the biggest challenge that remains for the Castros and the dwindling numbers of hard-core Chavistas are those millions of Venezuelan voters who expect to have their own choice in the matter. Even under Chavez, the brazenness of Cuban intervention never achieved this degree. That is going to offend a great number of Venezuelans who consider themselves nationalists first and political adherents second. To sacrifice their sovereignty to become merely a Cuban satrapy may just be the bridge too far for Chavismo, and may just be the spark that ignites a real Venezuelan revolution.

More Questions on Cuba Remittances Report

Recently exiled pro-democracy leader Dr. Darsi Ferret raises some more questions on the Havana Consulting Group's report that remittances to Cuba totaled over $2.5 billion in 2012:

Of the million and a half Cubans in the U.S., the most well-established and prosperous have been out of Cuba for many years and the majority no longer have family on the island. More than 70% of exiles work in factories or other jobs that don't provide the opportunity to make fortunes. Many of those exiles are poor or belong to the lower middle class, which predominates, and can barely send $100 per month to their families. Some can't even send that. Thus, supposing that leaves 20% capable of sending large amounts of remittances, some 200 or 300 thousand Cubans, they would have to send around $20,000 per year each, which is around $2,000 per month.

It's also not difficult to prove that, contrary to the estimates of the firm, less than 40% of Cuban families have family members abroad, and even that doesn't guarantee they receive remittances. When taking these figures into consideration, the numbers of the supposed investigation start having very little credibility.

Moreover, it's important to note that the real sustenance of the regime are not remittances, which in reality do not surpass $2.5 billion per year in both cash and merchandise. The principal source of hard currency for the regime and the motor of the economy is the export of goods and services, whose centerpiece is the exploitation of health personnel as slave labor through the so-called international missions or collaborations. From Venezuela alone this nets $8 to $12 billion for the regime. And currently, there are 35,000 doctors laboring in 70 countries.

So let's remain vigilant of declarations of this type because, apparently, certain influential groups under the direction of dark interests that aim to take advantage and begin positioning themselves to participate in a future Cuba are trying to pass-off cats as elephants.

Quote of the Week

That person was prepared. He knew who I was, how I think and how to identify me. His goal was to end my life. Deprive me of my life. Why? Simply because I have demonstrated to the people that I know, and where I live, that Cuba needs freedom. It is the time for people to be free.
-- Werlando Leyva Batista, Cuban democracy activist  with the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), who was the victim of a machete attack by a Castro regime operative, 6/13/13

Must Watch: New Hip-Hop Song Refers to #FreeTheCuban11Million

Thursday, June 13, 2013
Cuban dissident rappers El Primario and Julito have just released a great new song protesting the repression of the Castro regime.

Julito is the son of renowned Cuba pro-democracy leader Sara Marta Fonseca.

Click below to see the video (in Spanish).

Favorite verse: #FreeTheCuban11Million at the 00:35 second mark.

More Questions Than Answers on Remittances Report

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Havana Consulting Group (HCG) is a firm that markets and advises on business opportunities with the Castro regime.

In their own words:

"Our expertise ranges from understanding company operations, identifying local consumer preferences, pinpointing various products and services in the tourist sector, and positioning national and international brands and services in more than 32 categories, to the identification of niche markets across various sectors of the Cuban economy."

It is headed by a former Castro regime business executive, Emilio Morales, and a long-time academic proponent of travel to Cuba, Dr. Joseph Scarpaci.

HCG has just released a new report entitled, "Remittances Drive the Cuban Economy."

The report states that $2.6 billion in cash remittances were sent to Cuba in 2012.

There is no doubt that remittances to Cuba have increased in the last four years thanks to the removal of caps by the Obama Administration in 2009.

In conjunction, there's no doubt that the Castro dictatorship's income has also proportionally increased from the predatory fees it charges to receive and exchange these dollar remittances.

However, this report reads more like a marketing tool than an analysis based on reliable data.

It raises more questions than provides answers (or reliable figures).

According to HCG, their data is calculated from internal undisclosed figures and the Castro regime's official figures (through its National Statistic Office, ONE).

That's not very helpful.

No word on whether HCG's estimates are based on scientific surveys of remittance senders, recipients or are simply ad hoc estimates.

For example, how did HCG conclude that remittances reach 62% of Cuban households?

A recent national survey conducted in Cuba by the International Republican Institute (IRI) showed that 78% of Cubans did not receive remittances from abroad. In other words, only 20% stated that they received remittances (2% wouldn't answer).

(Not to mention the major geographical and racial disparities between those who receive remittances and those who do not.)

IRI's scientific survey had a margin of error of +/- 3.7% -- a far stretch from 62%.

Moreover, HCG's estimates have always been historically high.

Back in 2008, HCG estimated cash remittances were $1.45 billion. (Note in 2008 there was still a remittance cap of $300 per household, per quarter).

Even the most hopeful experts calculated 2008 remittances to Cuba at around $1 billion. Yet, the Castro regime agreed with HCG (or vice-versa) that they were above $1.4 billion.

Finally, HCG has estimated that "in-kind remittances" (non-cash merchandise) were worth an additional $2.5 billion.

Once again, no data to back up this estimate.

Plus, remember the Ana Cecilia? The famous cargo ship that opened with great fanfare last year as the first ship to carry humanitarian cargo to Cuba in five decades.

It ground to a halt just a few months later.

Bottom line: Remittances are inherently difficult to measure, so it's all the more important to fully disclose the data used in calculating them.

And if relying on the Castro regime's estimates, then what's the point of this report? 

Just release the Castro regime's official 2012 "Economic and Social Outlook" instead.

Oh wait, the Castro regime just happened to do so this week as well. 

What a coincidence!

WaPo: State Throws Maduro a Lifeline

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela gets a lifeline from the United States

NICOLÁS MADURO, the former bus driver chosen by Hugo Chávez to lead Venezuela after his death, has been struggling to consolidate his position since being declared the victor in a questionable presidential election in April. With the economy stalling, inflation spiking and shortages spreading, the new president appears at a loss about how to respond, other than to blame domestic and foreign enemies. Nor has he been able to overcome a serious split in the Chavista movement between his own, Cuba-backed clique and another based in the military.

Perhaps most alarming for Mr. Maduro, an energized opposition has refused to accept the election outcome; its capable leader, Henrique Capriles, has been gaining sympathy around the region. The president of neighboring Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, met with Mr. Capriles on May 29, prompting paroxysms of rage from Mr. Maduro and his aides. Other Latin American governments, while avoiding a confrontation with Caracas, have made it clear they regard the new leader’s legitimacy as questionable; the regional group Unasur called for an audit of the election results.

One government, however, has chosen to toss Mr. Maduro a lifeline: the United States. Last week Secretary of State John F. Kerry took time to meet Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua on the sidelines of an Organization of American States meeting, then announced that the Obama administration would like to “find a new way forward” with the Maduro administration and “quickly move to the appointment of ambassadors.” Mr. Kerry even thanked Mr. Maduro for “taking steps toward this encounter” — words that the state-run media trumpeted.

What did Mr. Maduro do to earn this assistance from Mr. Kerry? Since Mr. Chávez’s death in March, the Venezuelan leader has repeatedly used the United States as a foil. He expelled two U.S. military attaches posted at the embassy in Caracas, claiming that they were trying to destabilize the country; he claimed the CIA was provoking violence in order to justify an invasion; and he called President Obama “the big boss of the devils.” A U.S. filmmaker, Timothy Tracy, was arrested and charged with plotting against the government — a ludicrous allegation that was backed with no evidence. Though Mr. Tracy was put on a plane to Miami on the day of the Kerry-Jaua encounter, Mr. Kerry agreed to the meeting before that gesture.

There’s nothing wrong, in principle, with diplomatic meetings or even in dispatching an ambassador to a country such as Venezuela. The State Department has also been meeting with senior opposition leaders and has yet to say it recognizes the presidential election results. But Mr. Kerry’s words amounted to a precious endorsement for Mr. Maduro — and the Obama administration appears bent on cultivating him regardless of his actions. Perhaps the increasingly desperate new leader has secretly promised concessions to Washington on matters such as drug trafficking. But with senior government and military officials involved in the transhipment of cocaine to the United States and Europe, he is unlikely to deliver.

In short, this looks like a reset for the sake of reset, launched without regard for good timing or the cause of Venezuelan democracy.

Help Save Luis Enrique Santos

Cuban democracy activist Luis Enrique Santos is quickly approaching his death.

He has been on a hunger strike since May 24th after being forcefully (and inexplicably) evicted from his humble home by the Castro regime.

The gravity of his health is worsened by the fact that he only has one kidney.

In addition to being expelled from his home, Santos has been kicked out of a Catholic Church in Santa Clara by its priest, had trash thrown on him when he took shelter in a local park and was refused medical treatment in a hospital.

Silence and indifference only hasten his death.

Please take a minute to raise your voice for Santos and his just cause.

Help save his life.

"The revolutionary urban reform will allow each Cuban to have a dignified home."

-- Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator, 1960.

Raul Counting on U.S. and Europe to Save Regime

This week, Cuban democracy activist Guillermo Fariñas visited the headquarters of the Belorussian opposition movement, Charter 97, in Warsaw, Poland.

According to Charter 97:

For his civic and political activities Guillermo Fariñas spent over 11 years in Cuban prisons. He went on hunger strikes 23 times. During one of the hunger strikes he nearly died and was taken to a resuscitation department. The Cuban regime was compelled to make concessions and fulfill his demands for the release of 52 dissidents from prisons.

In October 2010 Guillermo Fariñas became the winner of Andrei Sakharov prized, founded by the European Parliament. Cuban authorities for long refused to let him out of the country. Only this year, under the pressure of international community, the dissident was allowed to go abroad. The award ceremony will take place in Brussels on 2 June. Before this event Guillermo Fariñas visited Poland.

You are all heroes for me”, the Cuban dissident said, when the meeting’s participants were introduced to him.

Guillermo Fariñas told about the current situation in his country and how Cuban authorities fight the opposition. It turned out the situation was identical to the Belarusian.

Special services are constantly trying to separate their opponents. They create artificial competition and play off dissident groups one against another. It is important for Raul Castro for the opposition to remain scattered”, the dissident said.

He noted that the Cuban regime has been lately compelled to somewhat soften the repression against the opposition and make certain concessions in social and economic spheres. According to him, the authorities are preparing for a “transition stage” and counting on Western loans and lifting of the US sanctions. It is exactly for this reason that they are studying the experience of other dictatorial countries in Havana, including Lukashenka’s Belarus. At the same time Guillermo Fariñas is convinced that Raul Castro can take the reformer’s mask off any moment. There are still dozens of political prisoners in Cuba’s prisons. The dissident does not rule out new provocations against him.


Today on "From Washington al Mundo"

The Man Who Gives Color to Cuban Activism

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
From Cuban author Luis Felipe Rojas's blog, Crossing the Barbed Wire:

That poster in support of Orlando Zapata, Antonio Rodiles or Yoani Sánchez, which you are about to “Like” on Facebook and share with your friends, was designed by a man from Cienfuegos who lives in New York.

Rolando Pulido came to the United States twenty years ago and since then has worked as a sign-painter and graphic artist in the Big Apple. Passionate about the cause of freedom and democracy in Cuba, he has created more than 500 posters to promote various causes of Cuban civil society,  events and campaigns to gain the release of prisoners. His activism has put color and motif on many Cuban spaces on social networks.

Q. The digital site Capitol Hill Cubans has just implemented a campaign for free access to internet for all Cubans, #FreeTheCuban11Million and you have made the poster. What inspired you this time?

Pulido: This was a campaign that my friend Mauricio Claver, who maintains the blog Capitol Hill Cubans, gave birth to in Washington DC. He gave me the idea and I was immediately fascinated, it seemed a tremendous idea, one we could do a lot with, and I made this graphic immediately. It was released yesterday to a huge response.

It is a campaign that we’re launching more from Twitter. Is to free the 11 million Cubans who do not have Internet. It’s a campaign countering the one for the five spies, in which the Cuban government has spent a fortune, a tone of energy and immense resources. Right now in Washington DC there is a large group of people calling on the U.S. Government to release the “Cuban Five,” they have enthralled all those people. I think it’s time to turn the tables on them. So instead of Free Five Cubans, we have #FreeTheCuban11Million.

Look, what we are doing is advertising, they counter the advertising based on lies, on things that are not true. We have a pretty big media campaign, but in favor of the democratization of Cuba, on behalf of the freedom of our country. This is a tool that works well if you know how to use it, especially if you have the truth and you have so many millions of people who understand that and support you.

Q. In this time of the digital era, graphics and other arts are part of an ever wider river, are you afraid that your art will be lost?

Pulido: Not at all, I do this especially for Facebook, for a community looking for these things. I do it there, because to navigate in that sea, and to travel far, because it’s a message I want to give to you through the graphics. I have no fear, because the vast sea has many Cuban ports, and until then will offer my posters.

Q. You have led several campaigns, which do you think has been the most successful for you?

Pulido: No doubt it was the first, in 2009, with a friend I called for a virtual prayer for Orlando Zapata when he was involved in his hunger strike. We prepared, we launched it and right there I realized the number of Cubans everywhere who want to help, from every corner. Since then I have made over 500 posters because I came to the United States working as a sign painter, but new technological tools have allowed me to do other things.

Q. Facebook has been blamed in a thousand ways. However, we have seen campaigns that have come to fruition, you are on the same path, what do you think?

Pulido: I see everything as a great campaign that we are all conducting for the freedom of Cuba. There are others, I am not alone, many people in the world are doing something, we are creating events together, doing all sorts of things, but we are more united than ever thanks to the new technologies and tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Q. And right now, what is your latest project?

Pulido: In a few hours or maybe tomorrow I will release a poster because Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa want to come to the United States to promote the rights of LGBT people in Cuba. They are very active within the island and it is necessary that their voice is heard around the world, they have very interesting things to say and we have to listen. We will release the poster, to see if it can help raise funds for the trip of these two beautiful people who will say and tell us things that happen in Cuba and we must help them.

S.O.S. for Sonia Garro

The health of Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, continues to worsen as the Castro regime has confined her to a punishment cell during the last 10 days.

Garro has been in prison for over one-year and three-months without charges filed or a trial.

On the week leading to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba, Castro's secret police burst into her home, shot her in the legs with rubber bullets and took her away.

Her husband, Ramón Alejandro Muñoz, was also imprisoned at the time and is being held at the notorious Combinado del Este prison, where earlier this year he was savagely beaten for conducting a hunger strike demanding the release of his wife.

Their 16-year old daughter has been under the care of an aunt, who is also under constant harassment from the authorities.

Yet sadly, foreign news bureaus in Havana find an over-privileged Australian adventure swimmer to be more newsworthy.

FWAM's English Interview w/ Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

If you missed the "From Washington al Mundo" interview with famed Cuban artist, blogger and democracy activist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, check out the podcast here.

In 2010, Lazo founded the independent opinion and literary e-zine Voces, which was Cuba's first digital magazine.

He is the author of Boring Home, awarded the Czech literary award Novelas de Gaveta ("Romány ze šuplíku", Franz Kafka prize).

The interview is in English.

You can listen to "From Washington al Mundo" every day at 4 p.m. on Sirius-XM's Cristina Radio (Channel 153).

On Cuba's Economy

This week, Cuban economist, author and distinguished professor, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, has given two interviews to Spanish newspapers regarding the state of Cuba's economy.

Here's an excerpt from his interview in El Pais:

Q. Is it correct to talk about a transition in Cuba?

Mesa-Lago: Depends on how you define a transition. If we use the conventional definition, meaning, change towards a market economy and democratic pluralism that took place in Eastern Europe after the fall of the USSR, then no. Nor if we use as reference the market-style socialism of China and Vietnam. But if we compare today's Cuba to that of 2006, there's an economic transition, although I cannot foretell towards where.

Q. Is Cuban moving towards a China or Vietnam model?

Mesa-Lago: Cuba is very far from the models in China and Vietnam, where the market and private enterprise are the most dynamic sectors of the economy and the plan is not centralized, but serves as a guide. I don't see as feasible in the medium term a conventional market economy. The recipe proposed in Cuba didn't produce results in Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia, even though these were in better shape than the USSR itself. For me, the ideal would be a mixed economy, whereby the market has predominance, but the state has a role as regulator and guarantor of a social welfare system, based on a Scandinavian-style pluralistic democracy.

Q. How will the Venezuela factor affect the process of reforms in Cuba?

Mesa-Lago: Cuba's economic relationship with Venezuela is vital: 42% of the island's commercial trade in merchandise, 44% of the total deficit in the balance of trade, the provision of 62% of the oil consumed by Cuba, the purchase of Cuban professional services for nearly $5 billion per year and substantial direct investments. In total, it's equivalent to nearly 21% of Cuba's GDP, similar to its relationship with the USSR at its best times. The acceleration of the reforms since October 2012 could have been influenced by the gravity of Chavez's sickness. The controversial election of Nicolas Maduro and the subsequent political instability, aggravated by the severe deterioration of the economy, could affect this relationship with devastating effects for Cuba. Faced with these risks and problems, the logical thing would be to deepen and accelerate the reforms.

Here's an excerpt from his interview in La Vanguardia:

Q. Can Cuba progress with the current reforms, without changing the system?

Mesa-Lago: Raul's reforms are essential, but they are haphazard and with too many restrictions: ties to the State, deadlines, fixed prices and excessive taxes. They see no results, yet they begin a second phase. They are in the actualization of the model, but haven't defined the model. There's an expansion of the market and non-state enterprises, but in reality, minimal. It needs to be accelerated, deepened and impediments removed. The private sector needs to be more dynamic. Agriculture should not be state-run. There, the example of China and Vietnam is positive. It is also untenable that the majority of professionals (licensed and administrative) can't work, not become autonomous. And that's considering, as has been recognized, that there are 1.8 million state-workers -- from a total labor force of 5 million -- that are not necessary. As the reforms have currently been designed, they will not solve the fundamental problems that Cuba has accumulated  in more than 50 years.

Castro Launders Billions for FARC Terrorists

Monday, June 10, 2013
According to Juan Juan (J.J.) Almeida, son of Castro's former Vice-President, General Juan Almeida Bosque, in Marti News:

A significant part of the $2 billion that the [Colombian narco-terrorist] FARC has obtained from conducting "nomological and nomothetic" operations, such as kidnapping and narcotics trafficking, is today in a safe place and reporting excellent earnings.  It has been laundered, rinsed and well ironed in the purchase of modern equipment and sophisticated instruments that provide humanitarian services in hospitals like CIMEQ [for Castro's elite and foreign dignitaries], or the Cira Garcia clinic.  It is also invested as part of the Cuban contribution to the joint ventures that our island maintains with industrial conglomerates and large hotel groups based inside and outside Cuba.

Democracy Activist Suffers Machete Attack

A 30-year old democracy activist from Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), Werlando Leyva, was brutally attacked by a Castro regime operative with a machete.

He was accused of being a "counter-revolutionary" and "gusano" (worm).

Leyva has been rushed to the hospital with multiple wounds.

Cuba's MCL was founded by pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, who died last year pursuant to a mysterious accident.

International leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former heads of state, and parliamentarians from throughout Europe and the Americas, have called for an independent investigation into Paya's death.

Paya's widow, two sons and daughter sought refuge in the U.S. this weekend, pursuant to receiving multiple death threats.

Please Take a Minute of Your Life

We Cuban Prisoners ask each fair and decent citizen take a minute of your life and protest the abuses that occur in Cuban jails.
-- Angel Santiesteban, Cuban author and current political prisoner, in a manuscript smuggled out of Castro's maximum security prison 1580, 5/31/13

Today on "From Washington al Mundo"