The Low Standard of Cuba Reporting: On Athletes

Saturday, September 28, 2013
It's amazing the low standard of reporting that foreign news bureaus in Havana exercise.

They will not file articles about the Castro regime's repression against democracy activists without multiple sources and confirmation.

And, when they do, they go out of their way to minimize and trivialize these courageous activists.

Yet, they have no problem speculating and creating all sorts of hype based on one sentence in the state-newspaper, Granma.

This weekend's deluge of stories about Castro supposedly authorizing athletes to play professionally abroad is based on one sentence in Granma, which defines a "high performance" athlete as one who:

"Meets its commitments to national teams, and has the possibility of contracting in other teams abroad, protected by the National Institute for Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) and the Sports Federation, without being treated like merchandise."

That's it. Nada mas.

Absolutely no details or any credible information has been released about the "possibility" of Cuban athletes contracting professionally abroad.

But who cares about details, it's a great story line.

Some details, however, were released about Cuban athletes competing at the "highest levels" within the island and representing Cuba at international competitions (e.g. Olympics, Pan American Games):

Their remuneration will be raised from a whopping $20-$30 per month to $40-$50 per month (in order to "dissuade" them from fleeing).

Moreover, this will be done through a ridiculous formula based partly on their success at these competitions and composed of worthless Cuban pesos.

As Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez observed -- it will now take a Cuban athlete five Olympic gold medals to buy a refrigerator.

For the regime -- always apt at propaganda -- this it will now provide weeks of speculation and headlines as repression intensifies against peaceful democracy activists; athletes continue to defect and excel in U.S. professional leagues; the regime's violation of international sanctions (for weapons proliferation to North Korea) is exposed; and an American approaches his fourth year as Castro's hostage.

Same old strategy, same old regime.

Olbermann on Castro's Baseball Scheme

A great commentary by ESPN's Keith Olbermann.

See below or click here to watch:

Lawmakers: Cuba Should be Sanctioned for Weapons Proliferation

From National Journal:

U.S. Lawmakers Want Cuba Punished for North Korean Arms Shipment

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday called for Cuba to be punished for its illegal weapons dealings with North Korea, arguing the international-sanctions regime would be undermined if the U.N. Security Council does not penalize Havana.

The world learned of Cuba and North Korea’s secret arms commerce in July, when Panamanian authorities seized a North Korean freighter, the Chong Chon Gang, as it attempted to sail through the Panama Canal. A subsequent search of the cargo ship’s hold revealed 25 containers filled with Soviet-made conventional weapons. Havana quickly claimed ownership of the military hardware, saying it simply was being transported to North Korea for retrofitting, after which it would be returned to the Caribbean nation.

“Failure to hold the Cuban government fully responsible will … be a slap in the face to our allies,” Representative Matthew Salmon (R-Ariz.) said at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing. “If Cuba is allowed to get away with this this time, it would send a terrible message to Panama which put its resources and its reputation on the line to intercept this vessel.”

Salmon, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said not reprimanding Cuba “in the strongest terms available” risks sending the message to other countries it is not worth  pursuing future possible violations of the sanctions regimes targeting North Korea and Iran.

Other nations, such as Venezuela, could be emboldened to think they can violate Security Council sanctions targeting rogue nations and get away with it, he said.

The Arizona lawmaker said Cuba was carrying out a “charm offensive” at the United Nations aimed thwarting any punishment from the Security Council committee that is responsible for sanctions against North Korea.

“Laws… that are not enforced and defended will lose value and respect,” subcommittee Ranking Member Albio Sires (D-N.J.) said. “The U.S. and the U.N. should demonstrate that there are consequences to defying international laws.”

Subcommittee member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) criticized the Obama administration for holding talks with Cuba on migration and resuming mail services when Havana was carrying out secret weapon deals with Pyongyang.

“What message do you think it sends to our commitment to regional security, to move ahead with talks with the [Castro] regime, despite this blatant violation of international law like the one involving the North Korean ship?” the Florida representative said.

A full examination of the Chong Chon Gang’s hold by Panamanian officials turned up two anti-aircraft missile systems, nine broken-down missiles, anti-tank guns, small arms, artillery, rocket-propelled grenades and two MiG jet fighters,  among other assorted aging conventional weaponry, according to an August report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that was published by the website 38 North.

The entire weapons shipment was substantially larger and more diversified than what Cuba initially claimed ownership of back in July, the SIPRI report found.

North Korea predictably has denied doing anything wrong and demanded that Panamanian authorities give it back the Chong Chon Gang and release its crew from custody. Panama City has ignored those demands. The Panama Canal Authority on Thursday imposed a fine of up to $1 million on the ship’s owners, according to a Reuters report.

Sires said he doubted Cuba’s claim it was sending the weapons to North Korea for overhauling.

“If only for repairs, then why did Cuba not ask other nations instead of breaking various U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said. “With North Korea doing its best to refurbish its military hardware, it is more likely that fighter jets were intended to stay in North Korea.”

SIPRI senior researcher Hugh Griffiths, who co-wrote the report, told the subcommittee in an online video call that if Havana truly wants to show it was acting in good-faith in the Chong Chon Gang incident, it must first invite investigators from the U.N panel of sanctions experts to the Caribbean nation and provide full disclosure on all aspects of deal -- steps the Communist government there has not yet taken.

Griffiths said the Security Council sanctions panel should also investigate voyages to Cuban ports by North Korean cargo ships that took place prior to July.

“Some of these voyages may be assessed as carrying a high risk of proliferation concern on the basis of the vessel's flag, age, past registration, ownership patterns, its safety record and, most importantly, various voyage routing anomalies,” he said.

WaPo: Spain Turns Blind-Eye on Paya Case

Friday, September 27, 2013
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Spanish court turns a blind eye on Oswaldo Paya case

The Spanish National Court has dismissed a complaint from the family of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban dissident (and Spanish citizen) who was killed in a car wreck in eastern Cuba on July 22, 2012. The family, seeking a credible and independent investigation, pointed to evidence that the car in which Mr. Payá was a passenger was intentionally hit from behind and forced off the road, killing him and youth activist Harold Cepero. At the wheel of the car carrying Mr. Payá was a Spanish politician, Ángel Carromero, who had come to Cuba to assist Mr. Payá, a leading voice for democracy. The death of Mr. Payá was suspicious, not least because of his role in challenging the Castro regime. It is a shame that the Spanish court has turned a blind eye.

Mr. Carromero was tried and convicted in Cuba on a charge of vehicular homicide, sentenced to four years in prison and later released to Spain to serve out the remainder of his term. In accepting Mr. Carromero back, Spain acquiesced to Cuba’s verdict. But Mr. Carromero did not remain silent. On the opposite page in March, he described in harrowing terms how he was browbeaten into accepting the Cuban version of events — that he was speeding, lost control of the car and hit a tree. Mr. Carromero renounced his testimony and statements in Cuba, including a video interview in which he was ordered to read lines written by a Cuban security officer. Mr. Carromero told us, and he has told others, that the car he was driving was rammed by a vehicle bearing Cuban state license plates.

In dismissing the complaint and refusing to conduct a new investigation, National Court Judge Eloy Velasco said that Carromero’s description of events is “juridically incongruent” with the testimony he gave the Cuban court. Exactly right. Mr. Carromero had to leave the Cuban dungeon to speak freely. Why should this be a barrier to further inquiry? The judge also cited the lack of any witnesses who could confirm or deny Carromero’s account. Why not try to find out if there are other witnesses to the coverup? The Payá family’s complaint to the court quoted a text message, sent that evening to a friend abroad from Mr. Carromero’s cellphone, saying that someone had tried to run them off the road. That ought to be enough to warrant digging further. The Spanish judge also rejected the suggestion from Mr. Payá’s family that the case should be investigated under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” that certain crimes are so serious that they can be pursued across national boundaries. The court has carried out such investigations; the case against Augusto Pinochet comes to mind.

Judge Velasco’s dismissal can only be seen as a desire not to examine Cuba’s dark side. But looking the other way will change nothing. Mr. Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, has announced plans to appeal. Hopefully, other judges will be listening.

Tweet of the Day

Cuba: Where Rap is War

A great review of the documentary, "Viva Cuba Libre: Rap is War" in Canada's Globe and Mail:

This album will be the end of us,” predicts the wildly popular underground Cuban rap duo Los Aldeanos, who deeply love their country but despise the regime. Banned from radio play in Cuba, these outspoken outlaw hip hop stars burn their own CDs and distribute them by bicycle on the streets of Havana; and take long, winding bus trips to play secret shows – that may be cancelled at the last minute by nervous promoters. The danger is real, as we learn in a clandestine interview with a devastated mother, whose two sons are in jail, she explains, for simply listening to their music. Shot by an anonymous camera operator, this powerful and brave documentary points the (often hidden) camera at ordinary, oppressed lives – people who cannot find eggs or tomatoes to buy, while a few miles away oblivious tourists are treated to the overabundance of the all-inclusive experience. As Los Aldeanos – and this film – make clear, life for many Cubans is no beach.

And here's an interview with its director, Jesse Acevedo:

Cubans Show Hunger for Freedom

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Cuban dissidents still show hunger for freedoms

Cuba's Black Spring began in March of 2003. For three days, government security agents went around the country arresting peaceful dissidents, who Fidel Castro believed would endanger the stability of the longest dictatorship in the history of Latin America.

Seventy-five men were arrested and summarily tried and sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years. Their crime was to peacefully ask for changes to the Cuban Communist Constitution.

International condemnation of the arrests began immediately. Human Rights First said the arrest was "widely considered the most severe crackdown on civil society that Cuba has seen in years."

Inside Cuba, the arrests also mobilized the wives of the detained men, who went to mass at Santa Rita, a church on Fifth Avenue in Miramar (now called Playas), across the river from the city of Havana. After mass, the women walked peacefully, dressed in white and carrying a white gladiolus in their hands. On that March Sunday in 2003, the Ladies in White organization was born.

Yolanda Huerga remembers those days well. Her husband, Manuel Vázquez Portal, was one of the 75 men arrested. Ten or 12 of the wives of the men arrested gathered at Santa Rita to attend mass and then march silently in protest.

Today there are groups of Ladies in White throughout the island who on Sundays go to church to demand democracy and freedom of expression for Cuba. Huerga believes there are more than 260 Ladies in White in the group going to mass the then walk in silent protest. The women understand the difficulty of their task and the risks they now take. They had chosen Santa Rita to start because she is the patron saint of difficult causes.

At first the government ignored the women. By March 20, 2005, the government began to harass the women. On that day more than 100 women, organized by the government's state security apparatus, crashed into the group, began yelling and pulling our hair, Huerga said,

The Ladies in White responded by travelling to cities and towns inside Cuba and organizing groups throughout the country. Huerga said many had already heard of the group and traveled to Havana to march with them on Sunday. The group's first leader, Laura Pollán, who died of a suspicious ailment in 2011, believed in having the group spread to other parts of the country. Bertha Soler, who replaced Pollán, carried out her wishes.

As the group grew, the government decided to release the men arrested. They forced some to leave the island with their families. Others were denied the white card that would allow them to leave the island. The government hoped that by releasing the men, the marches would stop. They didn't.

Huerga, 54, and her husband were among the first to leave Cuba in June of 2005.

Huerga, who now works in Radio Martí, said news of the group spread despite the strict censorship in Cuba. Some heard about it from friends, some from the Internet and some from hearing Radio Martí, Huerga said. Cubans traveling back to the island also helped spread the word. Many carried with them flash drives with stories, pictures and video of the marches.

Frustrated by these brave women who now have groups in Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Guantanamo, a small group in Ciego de Avila and in Granma province, the government opted to use brute force to try and stop them. That did not work, either.

State security agents try and arrest the women before they get to the march. If they fail, government thugs beat them up in an attempt to disrupt their meetings.

Still the meetings continue to grow. On Sept. 8, at least 257 members of the Ladies in White and UNPACU, another large and important group of dissidents, gathered at the Basilica of Our Lady of Charity to honor Cuba's patron saint and demand Cuba honor basic human and political rights.

The struggle for Cubans to rid themselves of the Communist regime has been long and difficult. But it gives me hope to see that the desire to be free still burns in the hearts of these brave women and other dissidents in the island.

Highlights From Cuban Weapons Proliferation Hearing

1. From Dr. Hugh Griffith of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

The evidence and testimony provided today make clear that contrary to both the North Korean shipping declaration and Cuban government statements the shipment was without a doubt a violation of United Nations sanctions on North Korea. Following the seizure, Cuban authorities released a statement claiming that the ship was transporting “two anti-aircraft missile complexes... nine missiles in parts and spares, two Mig-21 jet aircraft and 15 motors for this type of airplane... to be repaired and returned to Cuba.”

The statement was misleading to say the least; the ship was also transporting a variety of small arms and light weapons (SALW) ammunition and conventional artillery ammunition for anti-tank guns and howitzer artillery as well as generators, batteries and night vision equipment, among other items.

The various rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and conventional artillery ammunition, many in mint condition, were unused and much of it was in original packing cases. They clearly were not “to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” Rather, these items were intended simply for delivery to North Korea for its own use.

The most obvious discrepancy between the Cuban government statement and North Korea’s illicit procurement practices has to do with the MiG-21 jet aircraft engines found on the ship. Here North Korea has a track record of attempted illicit or clandestine procurement of these engines as well as of the MiG-21 aircraft in general, having attempted to procure jet spare parts and engines on at least three separate occasions [...]

Within the context of Cuba-related North Korean vessel movements, I think it is important to note that prior to the seizure of the Chong Chon Gang, there were a number of other North Korean vessels calling at Cuban ports. Some of these voyages may be assessed as carrying a high risk of proliferation concern on the basis of the vessel’s flag, age, past registration and ownership patterns, as well as its safety record and most importantly, various voyage routing anomalies.

A number of these vessels were bulk carriers that may have contained hidden compartments or hold space similar to that found aboard the Chong Chon Gang. A number of these vessels switched off their AIS radar transponders – this is a common risk indicator for maritime trafficking. A number of these vessels were ultimately owned by the same company that owned the Chong Chon Gang. Given the illicit cargo and concealed hold space found aboard the Chong Chon Gang, it is my opinion that these earlier North Korean vessel voyages to Cuba would be worthy of investigation.

2. From Maria Werlau of Cuba Archive:

In the U.S., in February 2003, the directors of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA told Congress that North Korea had a ballistic missile, apparently yet untested, capable of hitting the western United States and possibly targets farther inland. North Korea had expelled U.N. inspectors and was reportedly taking steps to restart plutonium production plus pursuing a uranium-enrichment program. In Vienna, the 35-nation board of governors of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency issued a resolution reporting to the Security Council North Korea´s violations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and other accords. Cuba and Russia refused to endorse it.

A few months later, on October 5, 2003, David Kay, Special Advisor on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction Search, appeared on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos (“This Week” program) and offered an example of the United States´ “remarkable” findings in Iraq: evidence “of North Korean missiles going to Cuba.” 

This didn´t stop the allies from moving forward, after all, nobody seemed to take much notice or care. North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choi Su Hon, traveled to Havana in June 2004 “to strengthen” relations” with instructions from Kim Jong Il to “develop mutual ties in various spheres.” That November (2004), Vice-Marshal Kim Yong Chun, Chief of Staff of North Korea’s Army, led a delegation of senior generals that spent five days evaluating Cuba’s military infrastructure —including an aerial defense unit—and touring manufacturing and assembly facilities of the “Unión de Industrias Militares,” the island’s defense industry conglomerate. They met with President Fidel Castro, Defense Minister Raúl Castro, and the heads of all branches of Cuba’s military establishment.

3. From Mary Beth Nikitin of Congressional Research Service:

The Chong Chon Gang shipment raises questions about whether previous shipments of weapons from Cuba to North Korea have gone undetected, and more broadly about the nature of Cuban-North Korean relations. According to press reports, North Korean ships have made several other trips to Cuba since 2009. There is still not enough publicly available information to determine motivations for the shipment.Cuba has reportedly been seeking upgrades to its Soviet-era military planes, but North Korea also has been seeking MIGs as noted in the U.N. Panel of Experts June 2013 report. In addition, the recent visit of a high-level North Korean military delegation to Cuba in early July 2013, less than 10 days before the detention of the Chong Chon Gang, might provide some insight into the bilateral military relationship between the two countries, but no details from the meeting have been publicized. The North Korean delegation, led by General Kim Kyok Sik, Chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, met with Cuban President Raúl Castro, who stressed the historic ties between the two countries and efforts to boost cooperative relations.

Interdiction of banned goods to and from North Korea is a binding obligation on U.N. member states, but implementation has been uneven. Overall, the risk of interdiction has likely raised the cost of illicit transfers, and forced the North Korean regime to engage in more illicit trade with its limited number of trading partners, most of them already outlier states such as Cuba. However, multiple reported cases of conventional arms interdictions over the past five years show that North Korea continues to work to evade the sanctions.

Quote of the Day

The U.S. Administration must take concrete steps to hold the Castro regime accountable, such as denying visas to Castro family members and regime officials, and not allowing people to people travelers to stay at luxury resorts that are owned by the Cuban military.
-- U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), during today's hearing on the Cuban military's weapons proliferation and violation of international sanctions, House Foreign Affairs Committee, 9/26/13

Chairman Salmon's Statement on Cuban Weapons Proliferation

Opening Statement of Chairman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) at today's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere hearing, "A Closer Look at Cuba and its Recent History of Proliferation":

Earlier this summer, on July 16th, the Panamanian government discovered and detained the North Korean flagged Chong Chon Gang cargo vessel traveling from Cuba. Found on board were 25 cargo containers of Cuban weapons and other U.N.-sanctioned items bound for the rogue regime in North Korea. In anticipation of the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee’s impending report on the incident, I’ve convened our Subcommittee today to investigate further Cuba’s recent history of military proliferation and non-compliance with U.N. sanctions, and to review the options available to the Subcommittee to attempt to hold Cuba accountable for their violations.

The facts in this case are not in dispute. At the time of their discovery, the Cuban foreign ministry said that the tanker was carrying 10,000 tons of sugar and 240 metric tons of “obsolete defensive weapons” including disassembled missiles, two MiG-21 jet fighters, and two disassembled antiaircraft missile complexes, “to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” But here is what the Panamanian officials actually found hidden among the bags of Cuban sugar: night vision equipment, small arms and light-weapons ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery ammunition for anti-tank guns. This cargo is a clear violation of the U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after its series of nuclear-bomb tests.

This is a potentially groundbreaking case where a country in the Western Hemisphere is likely to be found in violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions on weapons proliferation. Many experts believe, and the Castro regime itself has actually admitted to the violation of international sanctions in this case. I am convinced that this case should and would be getting a lot more international attention if not for the daily and deadly news coming out of Syria, and now the heinous Al-Shabaab acts of terrorism at the mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

The narrative that defenders of the Castro regime would like us to believe is that much of the weaponry was to be repaired and/or modernized and returned to Cuba, and that it is no longer involved in such illicit activities. But at least in this instance, it is undeniable that they got caught red-handed in direct violation of the sanctions and they must be held accountable.

This Subcommittee has been told that knowing it is in violation of international sanctions, the Castro regime has begun a full “charm offensive” at the U.N. to convince the Sanctions Committee that it should in fact be applauded for its compliance and cooperation in this case, rather than punished and sanctioned for its intentional breach of the sanctions regime.

Failure to hold the Cuban government fully responsible will also be a slap in the face to our allies. If Cuba is allowed to get away with it this time, it would send a terrible message to Panama, which put its resources and reputation on the line to intercept this vessel. Even worse, other countries in the future might decide that it simply isn’t worth the cost and energy of pursuing similar violations -- to the benefit of the rogue regimes in North Korea and Iran.

Of further concern is that it appears that the Cuban military's rogue business activities are growingincreasingly dangerous, yet current U.S. travel policy continues to feed the Cuban military's businessinterests. For example, U.S. travelers to Cuba stay almost exclusively at the Cuban military's 5-star hotels. I believe that this policy should be halted, and that remittances from the U.S. should not be allowed to further fuel the moribund Castro regime.

If Cuba is not properly reprimanded in the strongest terms available, it could very well embolden Venezuela and other ALBA states to find ways to help other rogue regimes. We know Venezuela has already been helping Iran skirt U.S. financial sanctions, allowing Cuba to get away with violating international weapons sanctions would send a dangerous message to the international community at large. I very much look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses today as we delve further into these questions and how this Subcommittee can most effectively work to ensure international sanctions are upheld with meaningful consequences for any violations.

Tweet of the Day

By Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles:

#Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez speaks at the General Assembly.  Why don't the ratify and implement the #UN Covenants? 

Maduro Tried to Smuggle Cuban Agents into U.S.

Thursday, September 26, 2013
According to Spain's ABC newspaper, Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro tried to smuggle a dozen illegal Cuban agents into the U.S.

The Cuban agents were issued Venezuelan passports and were to accompany Maduro to the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City this week.

Maduro abruptly cancelled his trip yesterday.

The Cuban agents Maduro tried to illegally smuggle into New York were:

Leonardo Nuñez Zamora, Rosendo Julián Zacuta, Julio Marino Domínguez, Mary Monteiga Rodríguez, Giovanny Remond Mederas, Alberto Herrera Socarrás, Néstor Azcano Gonzalez, Carlos Guilveaux Cala, Danay Herrera Vallejera, Heriberto Rodríguez, Eduardo García Castillo and Guillermo Díaz.

Must-Read: Thirty Questions for the Cuban Regime on Religious Freedom

Cuban church leaders publish joint declaration on religious freedom 

Cuban religious leaders finished a visit to Washington, DC last week by publishing a joint declaration (see below) called “Thirty Questions for the Cuban Government”. Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, Missionary Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez and Apostle Omar Gude Perez drafted the statement and questions which they say show that freedom of religion or belief is not respected in Cuba.

The members of the group, who represent both a legally recognized, historic religious organisation and a newer religious movement considered by the Cuban government to be illegal, spent a week in Washington, DC in a visit facilitated by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). They met with policy makers and NGOs to brief them on continued violations of freedom of religion or belief in Cuba.

The declaration and questions outline the most pressing concerns raised by the group, including the government’s continued refusal to extend official recognition to newer religious groups, the approval or denial of legal rights to registered groups based on perceived political support and cooperation, and the sweeping authority over religious organisations and activities held by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The group pointed to mass arrests during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI and new restrictions, including a decree that as of January 2014, churches and religious groups will no longer be able to hold individual bank accounts and existing accounts must be consolidated into one per denomination or organisation as proof that the government is not interested in true reforms that would protect freedom of religion or belief.

Missionary Marcheco, a blogger and professor at the Luis Manuel Gonzalez Peña Baptist Theological Seminary, also pointed to excessive government intrusiveness into the internal affairs of religious organisations, pointing out that the minutes and decisions of every internal meeting must be turned over for the approval of ORA. Apostle Gude Perez, a national leader of the fast growing charismatic church group the Apostolic Movement, expressed frustration at the continued harassment of churches affiliated with his group, supposedly because of their unregistered status, at the hands of the same officials who have denied their repeated attempts to register.

While the group was composed of Protestant leaders, they were keen to point out that other groups, including Catholics and Afro-Cuban religious groups suffer the same abuses, and held up the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example of a group that suffers particularly severe persecution.

csw-30-questions-for-the-cuban-regime -

Hearing: On Cuba's Weapons Proliferation

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
A Closer Look at Cuba and its Recent History of Proliferation

Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
2172 House Rayburn Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Thursday, September 26, 2013, 2:00 pm

Chairman Matt Salmon (R-AZ) on the hearing:

On July 16, 2013, the Panamanian government discovered and detained the Chong Chon Gang cargo vessel traveling from Cuba to North Korea.  Discovered on board were 25 cargo containers of Cuban weapons and other UN-sanctioned items bound for the rogue regime in North Korea.  In anticipation of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee’s impending report, our Committee will investigate Cuba’s recent history of military proliferation and non-compliance with UN sanctions and review the options available to the Committee to hold Cuba accountable for their violations.


Hugh Griffiths, Ph.D.
Countering Illicit Trafficking – Mechanism Assessment Projects
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Ms. Maria C. Werlau
Executive Director
Cuba Archive

Ms. Mary Beth Nikitin
Specialist in Nonproliferation
Congressional Research Service

Panama: Cuban Weapons Shipment Violates U.N. Sanctions

At the U.N. General Assembly today, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli addressed his country's interdiction of a North Korean vessel smuggling Cuban weaponry.

From AP:

"After the ship was seized, an enormous amount of war materiel that, by definition and destination clearly violates Security Council Sanctions Committee mandates, were discovered hidden under 200 tons of raw sugar," Martinelli said.

A U.N. panel of experts monitoring sanctions against North Korea visited Panama in mid-August to investigate the arms seizure. But its report has yet to be made public.

The Panamanian Security Ministry said a preliminary report by the panel determined "without a doubt" that the Cuban weapons violated sanctions restricting weapons trading with North Korea.

"This is an unprecedented and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime situation, at least in our continent," Martinelli said. "Panama complied with its duty as a member state, even in the face of possible risks," and high costs, he added.

Panama wants "recognition that our conduct was based upon our unequivocal wish to comply with what has been established by this organization," the president said.

Sovereignty Cannot be a Shield for Tyrants

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Two noteworthy excerpts from today's remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the U.N. General Assembly:

Assad’s traditional allies [CHC: Such as Castro's Cuba, click here] have propped him up, citing principles of sovereignty to shield his regime. And on August 21st, the regime used chemical weapons in an attack that killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

We live in a world of imperfect choices. Different nations will not agree on the need for action in every instance, and the principle of sovereignty is at the center of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit wanton murder, or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye to slaughter.

Tweet of the Week

By Cuban democracy activist, Yusnaby Perez:

Raul Castro says that "the problem of population aging is of serious concern." I recommend that he analyzes his own Cabinet. #Cuba

U.S. Calls for End of Arbitrary Detentions by Cuban Regime

Excerpt from U.S. Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe's statement today at the U.N. Human Rights Council:

Over the past few years, we have witnessed dramatic developments in democracy and human rights globally – some positive, others negative.  One of the most concerning negative trends has been the use of arbitrary detention and unjust imprisonment, including against political leaders, opposition figures, lawyers, human rights defenders, family members of human rights activists, and people simply exercising their human rights.

We condemn these practices, which are pervasive in countries such as Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, and Syria, and call for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

Rubio Presses State on Paya Death Inquiry

From today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing of Keith Harper as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council:

See at 8:40 mark:

Senator Rubio's Letter to The New York Times

A Letter to the Editor of The New York Times:

Regarding “Cuba Opens Up, Group by Group” (Sept. 15):

Since United States laws prohibit American tourism in Cuba, I was surprised to see in the Travel section a full-page feature for Americans who want to visit Cuba.

As The Times highlighted, several American tour companies are exploiting President Obama’s “people-to-people” program to take American tourists to Cuba. Unfortunately, while going in-depth to detail the art, cigar-making and Latin dancing Americans might enjoy while visiting Cuba on one of these trips, The Times failed to make any mention of the ongoing human rights abuses being committed by the Cuban regime or how the regime benefits financially from American tourism.

The Times also neglected to recognize that the Cuban regime does not allow the tour companies profiled to facilitate visits between Americans and brave members of Cuba’s pro-democracy movement.

Considering these grim realities, I urge both President Obama and The Times to more carefully review Cuban travel in the future.

Marco Rubio
The writer is a Republican senator from Florida.

The Effects of Castro's Travel Blackmail

We highly recommend today's interview in The Miami Herald with Cuban pastor and democracy activist, Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart.

Note this part:

"The pastor added that some people in Miami surprised him by keeping their distance from him, apparently fearing that any contact with a dissident would trigger Cuba government reprisals against them, such as denials of permission to travel to the island."

As we've long argued, this is part-and-parcel of Castro's travel blackmail.

The Castro regime only "wants" subservient Cuban-Americans (with hard-currency) to travel to the island.

Cuban-Americans that dare criticize the dictatorship are placed on an "unwanted" list and prohibited from entering the island.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration's counter-productive travel policy is playing right into Castro's strategic and lucrative blackmail.

The regime is getting all of the benefit, at none of the cost.

Young Teacher Murdered in "Low Crime" (Low Information) Cuba

Note the murder took place on March 15th of last year and it's the first we hear of it.

However, this is not uncommon in Castro's Cuba -- recall the death of a child prostitute in 2011 kept under wraps and, currently, a number of unknown foreign investors that remain imprisoned.

Must be the "perks" of being a secretive totalitarian dictatorship -- and having foreign news bureaus in Havana that are blackmailed and oblivious to Cuba's realities.

From U.K.'s Telegraph:

Teacher who visited Cuba due to 'low crime rate' strangled in hotel room

A young British teacher, who chose to visit Cuba because of the country's "low crime rate", was ambushed and murdered by a security guard in her hotel room in an apparently "motiveless" attack.

Lara Jones, 26, had flown to Fidel Castro's Republic after travel guides said it "was a haven for female travelers'' and had the ''lowest crime rate in the Western Hemisphere'', an inquest heard.

But she was strangled and smothered after the guard crept into her room and sneaked up behind her when she checked in at a convent-turned hostel in Havana old town.

She was found dead the following day by a maid and a hostel worker when she failed to turn up for an organised day trip.

The unnamed killer was arrested 10 days later and was jailed for 22 years after he admitted murder - yet has given no explanation for the killing in March last year. There was nothing missing and no signs of sexual assault.

Details of Ms Jones's death emerged for the first time at an inquest, which was told how she had ''loved life and lived it to the full.''

Miss Jones booked for three nights into the Santa Clara Hostel which was owned by the Cuban government's Ministry of Culture and had 24 hour security.

Quote of the Day

The transition is inevitable. The question is, who will do it and who will benefit from it. The same communist elite that caused all the trouble, that threw away all the resources, now wants to be the capitalist elite, while the people continue under the same suffering.
-- Rev. Mario Felix Lleonart, Cuban pastor and democracy activist, El Nuevo Herald, 9/24/13

On Castro's (Perverse) Luxury Resorts

Monday, September 23, 2013
Excerpt by Che's nephew, Martin Guevara, on the Castro regime's luxury marinas and resorts aimed at wealthy foreign tourists, in The Havana Times:

Luxury Resorts for Cuba’s “New Man”

That this should be taking place while Fidel Castro is still alive, in the lifetime of someone who imprisoned, exiled, marginalized and drove to insanity anyone who expressed the desire for the material things of the capitalist world, is so cruel and perverse I can’t find the right words to describe it.

Perhaps I am simply being cautious and holding back the first impulses that bubble up in my guts.

It’s always been evident that you could put everyone in Cuba’s leadership together and not find a single virtue there, that they would end up wrestling in the mud for a slice of power when all was said and done, but not even the most fruitful imagination could have pictured this complete abandonment of all principles once held sacred.

We must denounce the practices of these repressors, who today lust after capital secured through any conceivable means.

Let us try and imagine who the mega-yachts parked in these beautiful marinas belong to.

Could they belong to communists who struggle in the name of proletarian internationalism?

Could they belong to exemplary Cuban workers?

Or do they rather belong to the exploiters of the people of Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, France and to a good many of the worst criminals who live in those countries?

We can’t be sure at this point. We’ll have to be patient and keep our eyes open and our ears perked to confirm it.

I cannot help but ask myself: what could be going through the head of someone like Huber Matos, who fought next to the most committed revolutionaries to bring democracy back to Cuba, to spread social justice in the country, to bring freedom and dignity to the people of Cuba, who was later imprisoned for twenty years for refusing to accept Fidel Castro’s sudden decision to become aligned to the Soviet Union?

As in the former Soviet Union, between the keepers of the capitalist pie and the destitute, militant masses, the Party nomenklatura will have a head-start in the vertiginous marathon of capitalist accumulation, towards which they are already heading at breakneck speed.

What could those whose properties were taken from them for belonging to the perfidious national bourgeoisie, a bourgeoisie that was doubtlessly far less wealthy than the guests of this “internationalist” resort, be thinking?

Foreign Investors Learn Hard (Albeit Late) Lessons

Bill Browder was -- until recently -- Russia's largest foreign investor.

Until he learned a hard lesson (below) about doing business with tyrants.

Now Browder is Putin's biggest foreign foe.

This is akin to British businessman Steven Purvis' experience in Cuba, where he was -- until recently -- one of Castro's most important business partners, until one day he found himself arbitrarily imprisoned and with all his assets illegally confiscated.

Now Purvis is warning other potential foreign investors about the dangers of doing business with Castro.

Of course, it would have been nice if Browder and Purvis would have consulted with their conscience before making billions for Putin and Castro. 

But better late than never.

(A good lesson for advocates of lifting U.S. sanctions.)

Excerpt from this weekend's Financial Times:

Bill Browder has a stark warning for western investors eyeing opportunities in Russia. “They are not only taking a financial risk – they are taking a very serious personal risk of being arrested or dying,” he says. The same applies to educated Russians: “Even Russians who have the ability and language skills should get out of Russia, because it is only going one way and that is in a very horrible direction.”

Browder should know: his experience over the past two decades provides a spectacular example. During that time, the head of Hermitage Capital Management – at one point one of the largest foreign investors into the country – has gone from staunchly rejecting what he once called western myths about Russia to being a crusader against President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Browder’s next goal is to persuade the British, Dutch, German and Swedish governments, as well as the EU, to pass their own versions of the Magnitsky law. For him such laws have not become ends in themselves but a way of putting pressure on the Putin regime. “It is my expectation that the Magnitsky Act, by freezing assets and banning visas, will become the new policy tool that the west uses not just in this case but in all terrible cases coming out of Russia.”

Browder views those western leaders who refuse to take a harsh line on Russia with disdain. This is particularly true of the British government for its failure to order a public inquiry into the death by radiation poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence officer who had taken refuge in the UK.

Castro Studies "Putinismo" to Survive

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

Cuba Studies 'Putinismo' for Survival Tips

If Havana uses a Russian recipe for clinging to power, investors beware.

Vladimir Putin's op-ed in the New York Times wasn't a big hit with Americans. But the Russian president does have admirers elsewhere. Some are in the Cuban military, which is rumored to be studying "putinismo." Would-be foreign investors, take note.

Ever since Fidel Castro's glorious revolution triumphed in 1959, Cuba has been in need of a benefactor. The Soviet Union played that role until it collapsed in the early 1990s. Cuba got another lifeline when Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, elected in 1998, began a state policy of providing it with cheap oil.

Even so, Cubans still live lives of privation. Venezuela's own fiscal woes are on the rise, which means that the oil subsidies are in jeopardy.

Revolutionary poverty is nothing new. But regime bigwigs in Havana fear that Raúl Castro, who is now in charge, could face serious social unrest when the ailing 87-year-old Fidel passes on. Their challenge is to find ways to feed the island without letting go of power, which might prove fatal for some of them.

The Putin model offers a way out. It permits nominal elections in which the opposition gets some seats in the parliament. On the economic front, Mr. Putin has created a loyal cadre of oligarchs who do business with foreigners.

The former KGB operative can say that Russia is no longer shaped by communist ideology. But behind the scenes, putinismo blends authoritarian political control and crony capitalism to produce a lock on power.

Writing from Russia in April 2012, development economist Deepak Lal described this mix of profits for the politically correct and repression for everybody else. His essay, in the Indian daily Business Standard, explained that "ordinary profit making has been criminalized." Citing the work of Russian lawyer Vladimir Radchenko, Mr. Lal wrote that "there are three million small and medium-scale business entrepreneurs in jail for economic crimes."

Mr. Putin is reportedly planning on forming his own personal national guard, Mr. Lal wrote. The Federal Security Service is more interested in running businesses than putting down dissidents and the hoodlums hired to do the job are unreliable. Mr. Lal also briefly described the state's renewed alliance with the Orthodox Church.

I was reminded of the parallels between Mr. Putin's Russia and Castro's promises of reform when former Cuban political prisoner Jorge Luis García Pérez Antúnez visited the Journal's New York offices this month. The 48-year-old Cuban, who spent 17 years in Castro's jails, calls claims of political and economic reform there "fraud."

Mr. Antúnez describes opposition to the regime as widespread and growing. It is not more visible, he says, because the "culture of fear" remains intense. Independent reports from the island say that detentions and violent assaults on opposition groups have been increasing.

As in Russia, Cuba can no longer rely on the armed forces to control government critics. They are busy running lucrative businesses in tourism, retail, cigar manufacturing and air travel. The Castros also seem to have a Putin-style relationship with the Church. Pope Benedict met with the Castros during his 2012 visit to the island while dissidents were carted off to jail for asking to see the pontiff.

Mr. Antúnez says that allowing Cubans to run microenterprises isn't reducing poverty. Perhaps that's because when entrepreneurs have succeeded during prior so-called liberalization periods, the regime has accused them of the crime of illicit enrichment.

Foreign investors sometimes don't seem to fare much better. In an Aug. 13 letter to the Economist magazine, British businessman Stephen Purvis, a former business partner of the regime, described the circumstances surrounding his incarceration in a Cuban jail for 15 months between 2011 and 2012.

Mr. Purvis says he was "accused of many things, starting with revelations of state secrets" but was eventually sentenced for "breaches of financial regulations," even though Cuba's central bank had "specifically approved the transactions in question for 12 years."

He was in prison with "a handful" of other foreign businessmen and says "there are many more in the system than is widely known." A few are charged with corruption, he wrote, but many face charges of "sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity."

What he didn't see in prison were his island business peers from Brazil, Venezuela and China. Mr. Purvis asks: "Why is the representative of Ericsson in jail for exactly the same activities as [its] Chinese competitor who is not?" Foreigners doing business in Russia have described a similarly risky playing field.

In May, Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas, who claims to have contact with a number of Cuban military officers from his high school days, told the Miami Herald that they are studying "putinismo" in order to prepare for a transition. "They don't want to suffer the same fate as the followers of [Libya's] Kaddafi," he said.

The Putin model may be the way to avoid that fate. But it's a far cry from a plan to liberate the nation.

Quote of the Week: Brazil's Collusion With Castro

The large South American nation does not care, nor pretends to care, about defending the democratic principles systematically violated by Cuba. To the contrary, ex-President Lula da Silva takes investors to the island to strengthen the dictatorship of the Castros. It's estimated in one billion the amount buried by the Brazilians in the development of the Port of Mariel super-port, near Havana. Cuban influence in Brazil is cunning and very intense. Jose Dirceu, Lula's former Chief of Staff, had been an agent of Cuba's intelligence services. He had been exiled in Cuba [during Brazil's military dictatorship], where he was submitted to a cosmetic surgery to change his face and returned to Brazil with a new identity (as a Jewish merchant named Carlos Henrique Gouveia de Mello). With Lula's help, he turned Brazil into one of the biggest collaborators of the Cuban dictatorship.
-- a former U.S. Ambassador, on condition of anonymity, Carlos Alberto Montaner's column in El Nuevo Herald, 9/21/13

R.I.P. Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Cuban dissident and former political prisoner Oscar Espinosa Chepe passed away early this morning.

Our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones.

We pray the aspirations of Chepe and other courageous dissidents will soon become reality:

A Cuba free of dictatorship.