No Ferry or Cruise Trips to Cuba

Saturday, September 14, 2013
The U.S. Treasury Department, through its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), has again clarified this week:
Licenses granted by OFAC for people-to-people exchanges do not authorize travel to and from Cuba, whether the origin or destination is the U.S. or a third country, via boat, including cruises.
-- Jeff Braunger, OFAC program manager for Cuba travel licensing, Cafe Fuerte, 9/11/13

Quote of the Half Decade

I want to elect the president by direct vote and not some other way.
-- Roberto Carcasses, Cuban artist, sang unexpectedly during a concert orchestrated by the Castro regime and transmitted live throughout the island, AP, 9/13/13

Click here to watch a video clip of the performance.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Keep an eye on how the Castro regime reacts. Carcasses will soon be either forced to absurdly "clarify" that Fidel and Raul are elected by direct vote, or he'll be marginalized professionally.  And these are the best case scenarios.

Miami Company Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Friday, September 13, 2013
From the U.S. Department of Treasury:

World Fuel Services Corporation (“World Fuel”), Miami, FL, has agreed to pay $39,501 to settle potential civil liability for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions Regulations (“ITR”), the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (“SSR”), and the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (“CACR”).

The alleged violations involve World Fuel’s facilitation of a sale by one of its non-U.S. affiliates of fuel for a vessel at port in Bandar Abbas, Iran, on or about June 23, 2008; the facilitation by a U.S. subsidiary of World Fuel of services and fuel purchases for an aircraft that stopped in Khartoum, Sudan, on or about January 29, 2009; and coordination services provided by two U.S. subsidiaries of World Fuel for 30 unlicensed flights to Cuba, between on or about March 18, 2007, and on or about April 13, 2009.

OFAC determined that World Fuel voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations of the ITR and SSR, but did not voluntarily self-disclose the alleged violations of the CACR, and that all of the alleged violations constitute a non-egregious case. The total transaction value for the alleged violations was $79,219, and the base penalty was $73,151.

Must-Read: League of Women's Voters Ignores Cuba's Repressed Women

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

On Cuba, League of Women Voters ignores repression

Here’s another entry from the absurd U.S.-Cuba files:

The honorable League of Women Voters of Florida, a 93-year-old organization with a distinguished history of supporting just causes, is “Sisters Across the Straits” — not with the suffering Ladies in White of Cuba or any other independent group of women — but with the Federación de Mújeres Cubanas.

The federation is the Cuban government’s official women’s organization, one of the many entities through which the Castro regime controls the population. It was founded in 1960 by Raúl Castro’s late wife, Vilma Espín, who was president until her death in 2007 because, as we should all know by now, for the Castro clan the presidency is an unquestionable birthright.

If there’s any doubt about what the organization represents, the federation’s logo — one of many propaganda images a clueless League member displays on a video of a trip to Cuba — offers a clue: a rifle-toting woman in military fatigues.

And then, there’s their historical record.

In one infamous chapter, the federation women lined up at the airports in Cuba to hurl insults at the would-be exiles leaving the country. And under the guise of a literacy campaign, they imposed Communist dogma on every school curriculum on the island and ousted from Cuba’s classrooms the teachers who refused to teach it.

Their mission hasn’t changed. They’re charged with rallying women around the country to carry out the Castro regime’s repressive agenda.

But the League of Women Voters of Florida boasts of having taken some 250 delegates since 2011 to meet their federation “sisters” in Cienfuegos, Cárdenas and Trinidad — and its director, Annie Betancourt, wrote me this week to plug their next two trips this fall.

That an American organization with the word “voters” in its name is “sisters” with an organization crucial to maintaining a dictatorship and helping quash any chance of a democratic vote in Cuba is outrageous enough in itself.

But when I bring up the subject of the Ladies in White — who are getting beaten up almost every Sunday now in cities across the island since they returned from trips to the United States and Europe to denounce abuses — Betancourt tells me that these abused women aren’t in the Florida organization’s agenda.

“Never had that conversation,” Betancourt, a Cuban American and former state representative from Miami, writes me. “We do engage in other type of exchanges related to daily hardships, domestic violence, child rearing practices, elderly services, self-employment (all non-political).”

So in the hierarchy of morality of the League of Women Voters, violence is not a problem when government goons beat, detain and jail women.

It’s only an issue when their husbands do.

“The travel license issued by OFAC [the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] is for ‘people-to-people’ engagement; those are the rules,” Betancourt says. “This has nothing to do with morality.”

But the politically engaged League’s alliance with a women’s group that, seen in the best light, remains silent when the basic rights of Cuban women are violated has everything to do with a faulty moral compass.

Would the League engage with the female-supporting group of any other dictator around the world?

I doubt it.

At a time when Cuba has the strongest opposition movement in the regime’s history — not in exile but on the islands — democracy-loving Americans should know better than to brown-nose and prop up official Cuban government organizations.

Sure, the highly structured trips to Cuba are legal under the failed Clinton policy of the 1990s resurrected by the Obama administration. But the licensed-travel policy encourages not independent travel and real people-to-people contact, but travel through government channels and entities.

The end result rewards the Cuban government and its supporters with cash ($2,700 per person for a six-day trip; last time I paid that to a tour operator I visited four European countries in two weeks) and foreign contacts at the expense of the Cuban people fighting through peaceful means to rid themselves of an almost 55-year-old dictatorship.

To the League of Women Voters of Florida, their quaint escapades to touristy Cuban cities may be a “project.”

But the brave Cuban women who risk their lives on their Sunday march to church deserve better than the League’s implicit endorsement of a tyrannical regime’s female army.

Brookings Blind Spot for Cuban Officials and Propaganda

In The Washington Post this morning, Charles Lane writes about "Cuba's Hard Truths Revealed."

He argues against the complacency of some Americans towards the Castro dictatorship.

Case and point is The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Currently, in Cuba, a thriving democracy movement is taking the dictatorship to task, despite the intensification of repression under Raul Castro.

Meanwhile, the regime has been caught red-handed smuggling weapons to North Korea and tried to cover-up a cholera epidemic on the island.

But why focus on reality.

Instead, Brookings has welcomed back (thanks to another State Department visa) Eusebio Leal, or as he's known in Cuba -- Eusebio "el Leal" -- for his loyalty to the Castro brothers.

This morning, he's giving a fascinating presentation in Brookings on "urban revitalization" in Havana.

Eusebio is the "cacique" of Old Havana. He controls all of the Castro brother's business enterprises in the historic and lucrative tourism area -- and even gets to stash some cash on the side.

But Brookings is no stranger to Castro's propaganda.

They publish reports about Cuba, which completely disregard human rights, and host trips to the island which ignore dissidents, civil society activists and anyone else its regime hosts disapprove of.

They've fully embraced the blindfold.

Canadian Company Wants U.S. Compensation For Cuba's Scam

Since 1999, Leisure Canada, Inc., has been "imminently" beginning the development of its flagship golf resort in Jibacoa, Cuba.

Fourteen years later, no construction has begun.

Despite various letters of intent from the Castro regime -- and even receiving approval from the "Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers" -- they have nothing to show for it.

So why doesn't Leisure Canada, Inc., which changed its name 360 VOX Corp. in 2011, sue the Castro regime?

Note to foreign investors: (Obviously) because there's no rule of law in Cuba.

Instead, they have chosen to sue the PGA ("Professional Golf Association"), which was supposed to be a strategic partner in the Jibacoa venture, in a U.S. court?

Isn't that convenient?

Do business with a bloody dictatorship, and then seek relief in the good ol' democratic U.S.A. when you get scammed.

The bogus lawsuit claims 360 VOX Corp. had to abandon plans to license the PGA trademark to a Cuban golf course due to pressure from our site, "Capitol Hill Cubans."

It seeks $130,000 that it claims to have paid the PGA, plus $5.5 million in expenses and $20 million in lost profits.

In other words, 360 VOX Corp. now wants the PGA to be its "scapegoat" and pay the full price of getting scammed by the Castro regime over the last fourteen years.

Any business that seeks to partner with Cuba's brutal dictatorship has no scruples.

This lawsuit proves it.

The Real Yellow Ribbons of Cuba

The Castro regime has begun a propaganda campaign composed placing yellow ribbons throughout Cuba to raise "awareness" (to provide a "distraction") regarding four spies imprisoned in the U.S.

However, as Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo tweeted yesterday, the Castro regime didn't have to do much work, as the island is already full of the yellow ribbons (pictured below).

The yellow ribbons of repression.

PNR stands for National Revolutionary Police.

Two Dead (Killed) for Trying to Escape Castro's Cuba

From The Miami Herald:

At least 2 migrants drown, 23 rescued trying to flee Cuba

At least two Cubans drowned and 23 were rescued after their boat capsized during an attempt to escape from the island, and Border Guards tried to deny assistance to a group that had been in the water for three days, one of the survivors said Tuesday.

The survivor, Mirja Yancy Naranjo Ortiz, a member of the anti-Castro group Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID), said Tuesday that two bodies have been recovered, one would-be-migrant remained missing and the 23 others were back in Cuba.

“What we went through was an odyssey,” Naranjo, a former star player in Cuba’s national women’s softball team, told El Nuevo Herald by phone from her hometown of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba. There was no way to immediately confirm her account.

Naranjo said the 26 met at 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 1 on the Cauto River near Manzanillo but were spotted around 10 a.m. still on the river by a Border Patrol boat that “made big waves to try to tip us over. They said it was to make sure our boat was good.”

“They tried to stop us and we screamed that we were ready to die but that we would not return,” she said.

That patrol boat escorted the group to a point about one mile offshore, then headed home, but another approached and launched the same big-wave maneuver a second time around 3 p.m. near a place known as la Cucharilla, Naranjo added.

The group kept going, but at 8 p.m. on Sept. 3 their boat started to take on water. They used cellphones to alert relatives in Manzanillo who went to the Border Guards to ask that a rescue boat be sent, she said. But the Border Guards said they were prohibited from going to sea at night.

After the boat sank, one group of 10 men and two women that included Naranjo swam in the darkness for hours and eventually latched onto a navigational buoy, taking turns climbing on the buoy itself to rest, Naranjo said.

The next morning, a small fishing boat named Two Grandfathers picked up the two women, left behind water and food for the men and was heading back to land when it picked up four other survivors but left one body in the water, according to the survivor.

The six were arrested and Naranjo was taken to the provincial capital, Bayamo, where she spoke with other survivors and was detained until Sunday.

Naranjo added that some of the survivors who organized the escape attempt remain jailed because authorities want to blame them for the deaths.

“The Border Patrol could have rescued us, but they did not,” she said. “And now they want to punish us and evade their own responsibilities.”

Quote of the Day

Thursday, September 12, 2013
I almost wanted to vomit.
-- Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on Russian President Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the NYTs criticizing American exceptionalism, CNN, 9/12/13

Unbelievable: Capitol Hill Cubans at Center of Lawsuit

Apparently, Castro's Canadian business partners don't appreciate freedom of speech.

PGA Sued for $20 Million in Cuban Snafu

WEST PALM BEACH (CN) - A Canadian real estate company sued the PGA for $20 million, claiming it had to abandon plans to license the PGA trademark to a Cuban golf course when the PGA truckled to "Capitol Hill Cubans."

360 Vox Corp. fka Leisure Canada sued the Professional Golfers' Association of America for tortious interference, in Palm Beach County Court.

Vox claims it paid $130,000 in fees and $5.5 million in expenses to license a golf course in Jibacoa, about 20 miles from Havana. It claims it lost $20 million in anticipated profits when the PGA caved in to protests from "Capitol Hill Cubans."

Vox claims that in 2011 it entered into the Cuban golf deal agreement with PGA's English sister company, the Professional Golfers' Association Limited (PGAL), which owns the PGA trademark in Cuba.

"The purpose of the agreement was for Leisure Canada to license the PGA brand for use at certain golf facilities and real estate developments in Cuba. In exchange for the exclusivity rights, Leisure Canada paid PGAL an $80,000 initial non-refundable fee in accordance with the terms of the agreement," the complaint states.

The United States has a trade embargo on Cuba, but Canada doesn't, nor does England. Vox is based in Montreal.

"At all material times germane to the interference as alleged in this lawsuit, the PGA of America had no interest whatsoever in golf in Cuba and held no rights regarding or licensing within Cuba," Vox says in the lawsuit.

Nonetheless, after Leisure Canada announced its plan to license the PGA mark to the Cuban golf course, "certain U.S. media outlets picked up on the story and questioned whether PGAL was violating U.S. sanction laws being spent in Cuba - even though Leisure Canada and PGAL are not American companies," according to the complaint.

"In particular, on March 17, 2011, a group by the name of Capitol Hill Cubans issued a statement criticizing Leisure and PGAL for the agreement, as well as Leisure Canada's press release, and suggested that PGAL was using its British brand to 'skirt sanctions' for violating U.S. law".

The PGA of America held a "Q and A" the next day to disavow any connection with the project, Vox claims.

It claims the PGA wrote to warn it that a Cuban golf course using the PGA trademark would "risk" a claim of infringement.

"Sometime in August 2011, PGAL officials met with the PGA of America officials to discuss the agreement in an attempt to resolve the objections of the PGA of America," the complaint states.

"... Based on the events that followed, it is clear that the PGA of America, as the largest and most influential member of the PGA, made sure that PGAL did not proceed forward with the substantial plans as outlined in the background sections of both the agreement and LOI [Letter of Intent]."

Finally, Vox claims: "Succumbing to pressure from the PGA of America regarding its objection to the agreement, on December 18, 2012, PGAL sent 360 Vox a letter stating that it was terminating the agreement and would no longer agree to work with 360 Vox in Cuba."

Vox demands the $130,000 it paid under the contract, $5.5 million in expenses and $20 million in lost profits.

It is represented by Glen Waldman with Heller Waldman in Coconut Grove.

Quote of the Week

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
The Spanish government told me to collaborate, or the [Castro] regime would do as it pleased with me.
-- Angel Carromero, Spanish activist who witnessed the death of Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Paya and who was accused by the Castro regime of vehicular manslaughter, on Spanish television, 9/9/13

If you speak Spanish, it's worth listening to the whole interview with Carromero, click here.

The Truth About "People-to-People" Travel

A Letter to the Editor of Florida Today:

Americans' visits to Cuba closely controlled

Regarding Sunday’s Florida Today Style story, “Cuba opens for cultural exchange,” one of the most deceptive — albeit perhaps well-intentioned — aspects of the Obama administration’s Cuba policy is its so-called people-to-people travel.

The people-to-people trips barely provide any contact with nongovernmental Cubans. To the contrary, these trips are approved by the Cuban dictatorship and their itineraries are almost entirely composed of visits with Castro regime officials.

Cuba is one of the few remaining totalitarian states. Both Amnesty International, which has been monitoring the human-rights situation in Cuba for decades, and Human Rights Watch confirm the Cuban government continues to enforce a wide array of repressive laws aimed at preventing political dissidents and human-rights defenders from exercising their freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The assumption that the Castro government would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution via approved cultural exchanges and personal interactions with average Cubans is, at best, naïve.

The truth is American visitors on these exchanges have limited contact with average Cubans, because hotels and resorts are generally off-limits to the average Cuban and controlled by Cuba’s security apparatus. If you do meet a Cuban scholar, environmentalist, artist, musician, community organizer or author on one of these trips, you will almost certainly do so only because the Cuban government has determined the person’s political views are sufficiently orthodox to permit interaction with foreigners.

Fernando Dominicis

Over 20 Democracy Activists Arrested in Protest Yesterday

Yesterday, in the town of Santa Clara, over 200 horse-carriage drivers gathered in front of the National Assembly's regional office to protest the Castro regime's predatory control and taxation of their economic activities.

Over 20 democracy activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), led by Sakharov Prize winner, Gulliermo Farinas, joined them in solidarity.

The dissidents were violently arrested.

In addition to Farinas, the others arrested include:

Damaris Moya, Jesús Arístides Hernández, Rolando Ferrer, Aimé Moya, Alexei Sotolongo, Sandra Rodríguez Gattorno, Jorge Luis Artiles Montiel, Frank Reyes López y Antonio Raúl Machado, Carmelina Álvarez Jiménez, Miguel Farinas, Guillermo del Sol Pérez and Idonis Pérez.

According to a witness, "they beat them savagely in order to arrest them and neighbors came out to repudiate the police actions."

AI: Cuba Must Release Prioner of Conscience Ivan Fernandez Depestre

From Amnesty International:

Cuba must immediately release prisoner of conscience

Authorities in Cuba must immediately and unconditionally release a political activist imprisoned solely because of his political views, Amnesty International said as it adopted Iván Fernández Depestre a “Prisoner of Conscience.”

The 40 year-old political activist, was arrested on 30 July in the central province of Santa Clara as he peacefully participated in a public event to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Cuban national hero Frank País.

“Iván Fernández Depestre is being held only because he holds opinions contrary to those of the Cuban authorities. He must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Javier Zúñiga, Special Advisor for Amnesty International.

Mr Depestre was charged with “dangerousness,” a pre-emptive measure defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes” after he was accused of “meeting with antisocial persons." He had no access to a lawyer during his trial and was sentenced to three years in jail on 2 August.  He is currently on hunger strike.

“The Cuban authorities seem to be using every trick in the book to punish those who dare to speak up about human rights. They are even using a law that punishes potential offences on account of ‘antisocial behaviour’ to imprison political dissidents, independent journalists and government critics,” said Javier Zúñiga.

“It is a sad reflection of the state of the rule of law in Cuba, when people are convicted to prison terms not for what they have done but for what they might do.”

On 4 September, local activists were arrested after they went to meet Mr Depestre at the Guamajal prison. They were later released.

Articles 78 to 84 of the Cuban Criminal Code established that those convicted of “special proclivity to commit crimes” can be sentenced to between one and four years of re-education in "specialized work or study establishments" or sent to "a work collective."

Who Are the "Cold Warriors"?

Our policy foes like to label us as "Cold Warriors" for our opposition to Cuba's dictatorship.

In their view, it's not the Castro regime that is misplaced and outdated, but our unwillingness to embrace its brutal rule.

In other words, we are "retrogrades" for not normalizing relations with a family dictatorship that has plundered, tortured, imprisoned and executed at will  -- and continues to plunder, torture, imprison and execute at will.

We are opposed to the Cuba's totalitarian military dictatorship -- period.

And we will remain opposed to it -- as to all dictatorships -- whether communist, fascist, theocratic or some hybrid form.

They are all the same thing, which is why Castro, Assad, Khamenei, Kim, et al., get along so well.

(They are also united and guided by their hatred of the U.S. and the democratic values it represents.)

In this club, Cuba remains the only dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, in violation of regional norms.

And despite Raul's so-called economic "reforms" -- it is also among the most economically repressive in the world -- second only to North Korea.

(Assad and Khamenei are bastions of economic freedom compared to Castro.)

Back to the point.

Thus, we couldn't help chuckling when we saw the "sponsors" of this week's protests in Washington, D.C. in favor of four imprisoned Cuban spies.

They are:

"All-African People's Revolutionary Party (GC), African Awareness Association, ANSWER Coalition, Code Pink, DC Metro Coalition to Free the Cuban Five, DC Labor Chorus, International Action Center, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Socialist Workers Party, Takoma Park Committee to Free the Cuban Five, The NLG Cuba Subcommittee, National Network on Cuba (NNOC), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), The Law Office of Jose Pertierra, Wayne Smith, Center for International Policy, Workers World Party"

It's straight out of Castro's 1966 Tricontinental Conference.

So who are the "Cold Warriors" again?

Why Are Castro's Art Traffickers Getting U.S. Visas?

Let's remember this is a same regime that traffics in stolen art.

Click here to learn more about the Castro regime's art trafficking.

Yesterday, columnist Fabiola Santiago asked some good questions in The Miami Herald:

[C]uban government entities — as many as four art galleries from Havana allegedly owned and operated by the state — are set to exhibit and sell art at the Houston Fine Art Fair, which runs Sept.19-22.

The best known are La Casona Gallery and Villa Manuela Art Gallery — both with official email addresses linked to the Cuban government. The other two are the lesser-known 308 Arte Contemporáneo and Collage Habana Gallery, with addresses in Cuba’s Miramar and Centro Habana.

Cuban artists exhibiting in the United States is nothing new. It’s perfectly legal under Treasury Department rules — and healthy for those of us who value freedom of expression. If art isn’t about freedom, then what is?

But extending that to the Cuban government setting up shop — four galleries in one art fair — to sell merchandise via state entities? Its representatives here on visitor visas operating a commercial enterprise?

A Treasury Department spokesman sent me links to U.S. regulations that say transactions related to informational materials (that includes art) are authorized and that specific licenses may be issued in a “case-by-case basis.”

If these were independent art galleries open to every Cuban artist, not just to those who toe — or pretend to toe — the government line, I’d say, you’re welcome, and not even pose the question, I explained.

But with the U.S. embargo supposedly in place and the Cuban government still waving the flag that this nation is its enemy, what are they doing here working in sales?

“Our license applies if they are given a visa, so you might want to check with the State Department about travel credentials,” Treasury spokesman John Sullivan wrote me.

But unless the gallery representatives were part of the group that arrived by boat on a Hollywood beach to the cheers of sunbathers — dry foot! — it’s pretty safe to say the gallery representatives are here on visas granted by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

Quote of the Night

Tuesday, September 10, 2013
When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory.
-- U.S. President Barack Obama, remarks on Syria, The White House, 9/10/13

Five Steps to Castro's Sunday Repression

Monday, September 9, 2013
In what has become a tragic ritual, every Sunday the Castro regime confronts, harasses and arrests members of Cuba's pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White.

This past Sunday, over 29 members of The Ladies in White were arrested in the Matanzas province alone.

It is documented in the five-steps (see pictures) below.

1. Secret police agents stand watch (wearing striped shirts and striking similar poses).

2. They encircle The Ladies in White with a crowd.

3. They bring out military personnel to block the premises. 

4. They confront and harass The Ladies in White.

5. They bring out uniformed female officers ("optics") to arrest them.

All in a Sunday's work.

Pictures courtesy of @IvanLibre

Tweet of the Week

The most worrying part is that whomever assaulted [Cuban actress] @analuisarubio will surely be in #Miami soon thanks to USINT's VISAS. #Cuba 

Must-See: Famed Cuban Actress Savagely Beaten

Ana Luisa Rubio was a popular television actress in Cuba until she began to openly criticize the Castro regime and participate in activities with the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White.

At that time, she became a target of its brutal repression.

According to Diario de Cuba, yesterday, Rubio was savagely beaten outside of her home by Castro regime officials, including the coordinator of her neighborhood's Revolutionary Defense Committee (CDR). 

(The same CDRs "people-to-people" visitors meet with.)

For weeks, Rubio had been warning (through her Twitter account) of physical threats against her by Castro regime officials.

The picture below of the result speaks for itself.

She was rushed to the hospital by fellow democracy activists, who overheard one of the aggressors state:

"We gave her a good beating. And if she comes back out, we'll f*@k her up."

No Really, Assad (and Raul) Are Innocent

This summer, when it was discovered that Cuban weapons were being smuggled to North Korea -- in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions -- the Castro regime's apologists immediately began arguing that Raul couldn't have known.

One even artfully explained that this incident revealed "a serious lack of coordination between Cuba's branches of government."

(Who knew there were "branches of government" in totalitarian dictatorships?)

After all, this tarnished years of their hard work in portraying Raul Castro as a "reformer" -- despite the increased repression, and his history of violence and narcotics smuggling.

Never mind that Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, whereby the Castros seek to exert control over everything (from "timbiriches" to weapons).

Yet, in furtherance of this cunning excuse, Cuba's Air Force chief mysteriously died in a car "accident" last week.

And the Kim regime in North Korea seems to have also "replaced" General Kyok-syk, the Army Chief of Staff who visited Havana earlier this year (and met with Raul).

So it shouldn't be a surprise that the Assad regime's supporters are similarly taking a page from this playbook.

Thus, today, The Guardian reports:

President Bashar al-Assad did not personally order last month's chemical weapons attack near Damascus that has triggered calls for US military intervention, and blocked numerous requests from his military commanders to use chemical weapons against regime opponents in recent months, a German newspaper has reported , citing unidentified, high-level national security sources.

Gotta love these dictators, they want absolute control -- yet impunity for their wrongdoings.

Sitting "On the Fence" Against Brutal Dictators

Sunday, September 8, 2013
This analogy should apply to all business and political dealings with brutal dictators.

From Nick Kristof's column in The New York Times:

If we were fighting against an incomparably harsher dictator using chemical weapons on our own neighborhoods, and dropping napalm-like substances on our children’s schools, would we regard other countries as “pro-peace” if they sat on the fence as our dead piled up?

The Unlimited Cruelty of Tyrants

Click here to watch the video presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria.

For the sake of humanity, such cruelty should not go unanswered.

A Cuban Priest Speaks Truth to Power

A great interview with Cuban parish priest and democracy advocate, Father Jose Conrado.

From Argentina's La Nacion newspaper:

How do you see the Cuba of today?

- Cuba is a bankrupt country, economically and morally bankrupt. From a family point of view, it’s an eroded country. There is not a single Cuban who doesn't have relatives abroad, including Fidel Castro, who has several grandchildren and a daughter outside of Cuba as political exiles. It is a country where everyone, for one reason or another, has suffered the imprisonment of a family member, the death of a family member, in front of a firing squad or in the Straits of Florida. It’s a country with a history of political imprisonment.

Why are there those in Latin America who still have a good impression of the Castro regime?

- I think there is a certain complicity of the Left that wants to see Cuba as paradisaical paradigm of what Revolution is and what social accomplishments are. There is also an ongoing press campaign on the part of the Cuban government. And there are the visitors to Cuba, because tourists see Cuba from air-conditioned buses and from five-star hotels.

People came out into the streets to protest in many countries, democratic and non-democratic, but they did not do it in Cuba.

- People in other countries saw a space for freedom that made them decide to forget the spaces of their fear. We haven’t gotten to that point yet. I believe we are near the point where this will happen, but we aren't there yet. In Cuba, a popular saying goes: There’s no one who can overturn the government,  nor is there anyone who can fix it. Everyone in Cuba knows we must have change. It is a silent and unanimous agreement among all Cubans.

Perhaps a minor incident will light the fuse, like in the “Arab Spring”?

-Yes, that could happen. I think the government stays away from large crowds.  They don’t have as many large demonstrations as before. I think the government has been very astute to not permit acts of unchecked violence on the part of the police. I think that people would throw themselves to the street [if such acts happened].

In this context, what prospects does the government have?

-The seriousness of the situation is forcing the government to think of another way out. Today they are proposing that those whom they have always considered their eternal and bitter enemies, Cuban exiles, invest in Cuba.

As a Latin American priest, how do you feel about the election of Pope Francisco?

-Francisco is a gift from God for a time of crisis. He is man who is above the conventions of the left and the right, because he goes for the essential, and the essential is God and the people who are suffering. Pope Francisco knows that he is a servant.

Could he influence, not only for Cuba, but democracies in trouble?

 -I think that he is going to have great influence, because the Church needs reform from within. Otherwise, how is he going to preach to politicians not to steal? A Church renewed from within is an example for these men who have great responsibilities.

In addition to being an example, could Francisco influence through his discourse, through direct denunciation?

-Yes, of course. I don’t ask the Holy Father to speak the language of the barricade, like I, a small town priest, do, but I do ask him to be very firm with political leaders. That when Dilma, Cristina, or whomever goes to kiss his hand, he tells them the truth.

Courtesy of  Translating Cuba.

Tourists Aid and Abet Cuba's Regime

A Letter to the Editor of The Vail Daily:

To paraphrase the late Sen. Moynihan, Mr. Trujillo is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts (“Time to open up to Cuba,” Aug. 27).

How did he arrive at the conclusion that economic opportunities in Cuba have slowly improved? Really? Before Castro, Cuba had a higher per-capita GDP than Italy and than many states in the southern United States. Today, it ranks lower than many poor African nations. Not much improvement, I am afraid.

How did Mr. Trujillo determine that in Cuba there is a long-standing misperception that the American embargo equates to American opposition against Cuba’s people? Is that why so many risk their lives and flee on anything that floats to gain access to the United States? Every Cuban has friends and family members who live abroad, mostly in the U.S., and frequent contact keeps them well informed of the reality of their situation.

And how did he conclude that American tourism would lead to economic reform in Cuba? Tourists from Canada, Central and South America, Europe and Asia visit Cuba regularly. Many of them speak Spanish fluently and can easily communicate with everyone they come in contact with, something that most American tourists would be unable to do. Why then, has this massive influx of foreign tourists not made one iota of difference in encouraging economic reforms in Cuba?

The answer, of course, is that since 1959 Cuba has been run by an illegitimate government, which for 54 years has managed to destroy what once was a prosperous country, and they have no intention of changing their repressive methods because tourists happen to be vacationing there.

The trade embargo was imposed by President Kennedy in 1960 to protest the illegal expropriation of all American property in Cuba by the Castro regime. (Castro later expropriated all Cuban property as well.) The embargo does not apply to food or medicine, and as a result, the United States is today the fifth-largest exporter to Cuba. And the illegal taking of American property remains an unresolved issue between the two countries.

Instead of asking whether the embargo has accomplished its objectives, Mr. Trujillo should ask why the same thugs who took over the country in 1959 are still there after 54 years.

Any visitor to Cuba, by spending money there, is aiding and abetting the Cuban government to continue its hold on power. Yes, you can get a cheap vacation, but you would be benefiting from the misery of those who have endured more than five decades of repression and you are delaying the day when true reforms may actually be put in place.

Without freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of the press, and with zero political freedom, not much will happen, tourists or no tourists.

Lino Piedra

Editor’s Note: Lino Piedra, a retired auto executive, was a member of the U.S. delegation to the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

Quote of the Month

Ladies and gentlemen, enough with dictatorships, with the last dictatorship of the Americas. Stop supporting the Castro government. Enough. Whomever supports the Castro government dirties their hands with blood.
-- Carlos Rafael Jorge Jimenez, Cuban doctor exiled in Brazil, during a presentation in Brazil's Congress, 9/4/13