Key West Should Not Fete Castro Regime

Saturday, October 19, 2013
By the Board of Key West's San Carlos Institute in The Miami Herald:

Key West officials dropped plans last week to invite Cuban officials to the Conch Republic and hold events at the historic San Carlos Institute after a controversy erupted about the political implications of such an event. Here is the open letter to the Key West community sent by San Carlos board members:

We, a broad group of members of the Cuban community in Key West and the Keys, firsthand victims of the totalitarian Cuban regime, feel deeply hurt by myopic plans by business interests to welcome and fete in Key West the de-facto ambassador and deputy ambassador of the Castro regime as part of a covert campaign to promote business with the regime. We rely on the people of Key West, known for their unwavering defense of freedom and democracy, to act in accordance with their conscience to instead empower the Cuban people in the island and reject the fallacies of a regime that continues to repress human rights advocates and the most basic civil rights we enjoy in this country.

We, the undersigned, are members of the Board of Directors of the historic San Carlos Institute, an educational and patriotic center founded in 1871.

The San Carlos’ board is mostly composed of persons of Cuban descent who were either born in Key West or have been long-time residents of the Conch Republic. Many of us have families in Cuba and all of us care deeply about the welfare of the Cuban people. This letter is an appeal to the conscience of the people of Key West and the Florida Keys who value principle over profit and who take pride in the city’s history as a defender of human rights and as a beacon of freedom and hope for the Cuban people.

The Key West community is being bombarded with a propaganda campaign led by the Cuban regime and a few powerful local business interests that advocate for an “Open Cuba” policy with the Castro regime. As a part of this campaign, the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Rodriguez Cabanas, and the First Secretary of said mission, Raul Sanchez Cordovi, will be visiting Key West this coming week to meet with local business leaders and attend receptions and cocktail parties in their honor. It is shameful that anyone in the Key West business community would extend a welcome mat or shake the bloody hands of Castro’s representatives.

The objective of the Cuban officials coming to Key West is to attract US investment in Cuba without making significant political reforms. The Castro elite wants to hold on to power in Cuba while making what appears to be economic reforms, which are already failing, to attract US investors. They want US investors to grease the repressive apparatus that keeps them in power.

To paraphrase the words of Baptist pastor and dissident Cuban blogger Mario Felix Lleonart Barrosol, who came from Cuba this week, the same communist elite who caused all the suffering, who took away Cubans’ freedoms and who led the economy to ruin now want to project themselves as its capitalist saviors. “They are the same people and the same communist party,” he said.

It hurts us deeply that those calling for an “Open Cuba” don’t seem to care about the suffering of the Cuban people under the Castro regime. They are calling for an “Open Cuba” where they can do business – not a Free Cuba where the Cuban people can enjoy the freedoms we can easily take for granted.

The proponents of an “Open Cuba” point to the virtues of free enterprise and argue that the policy of isolation has failed to open up Cuban society. On the surface, their argument sounds persuasive. But beware. Cuba has always been open to foreign investors from throughout the world who have profited from Cuba’s cheap and captive labor force. The foreign investment allowed in Cuba has only served to fill the coffers of Castro’s inner circle and help pay for the repressive apparatus that keeps them in power. There is no such thing as free enterprise in Cuba. Cubans are not allowed to freely pursue business opportunities with foreign investors nor share in the proceeds of those investments. All commercial activity in Cuba is strictly controlled by the regime. The Cuban regime uses the award of business licenses as a means to exert political control over its people. To qualify for a business license, foreigners are usually required to take as partner an operative of the Castro regime. Dissidents need not apply. The isolation of the Cuban people and the stagnation of Cuba’s economy come primarily from the embargo that the Cuban regime keeps on its own people.

For 54 years, Fidel and Raul Castro have held on to power in Cuba through a brutal and repressive military apparatus that denies the Cuban people the most elemental human and civil rights. Tens of thousands of Cubans have been executed by firing squads or suffered long political imprisonment. The once-proud and prosperous Cuban nation is destroyed. Over 2 Million of its citizens have fled to exile, often leaving their loved ones and all of their worldly possessions behind. Cuba has become the personal fiefdom of the Castro brothers. There have not been free elections Cuba for over half a century and any political dissent is violently suppressed. There is no freedom of speech, nor freedom of assembly, nor a free press. There is neither independent judiciary nor independent radio or television stations. Even access to the Internet is highly restricted. The totalitarian regime controls every aspect of Cuban society. The Castro brothers have no ideology other than doing whatever it takes to remain in power.

Key West holds a special place in Cuba’s history. Just 90 miles from Cuba, the city is a symbol of freedom and hope for the Cuban people. Key West’s San Carlos Institute, founded in 1871, served as cradle of Cuba’s independence movement. In recent years, thousands of Cuban rafters seeking to escape from Castro’s repression have perished at sea trying to reach Key West’s shores. Some of those rafters are buried in the Key West Cemetery.

The Castro regime, in need of foreign capital to maintain the repressive apparatus that keeps it in power, is trying to lure politically-influential US businessmen to partner with members of Castro’s elite to develop and exploit selected segments of Cuba’s economy – most notably tourism.

To project the appearance of reform for visiting tourists, the Cuban regime restored a section of Old Havana and allowed limited private enterprises to develop in that zone. Gullible tourists and prospective investors were given the false impression that things were changing in Cuba. True to its nature, however, the regime is again crushing the entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans through its economic “reforms” that do not allow Cubans to achieve economic independence and has forced many to close their small businesses. Behind the restored facades of Old Havana, Cuban dissidents are crushed and totalitarianism prevails.

The Castro regime offers foreign investors a cheap, enslaved labor force and controlled markets. Sweet deals that would not be possible in an open and democratic society. The same privileged investment opportunities that are now being offered to American businesses have been previously enjoyed by influential investors from throughout the world, most notably from Spain, Canada and Brazil. History shows that once foreign investors get their licenses to operate in Cuba, they exert their influence to make sure that there are no political changes in Cuba that could threaten their privileged positions.

It is a proven formula that has produced quick profits for foreign investors, kept the Castro brothers in power for 54 years and the Cuban people enslaved. The record shows that an “Open Cuba” for profiteers does not lead to a “Free Cuba” for the Cuban people. All the contrary.

Foreign investors are not free to choose any Cuban as a business partner. The regime tightly controls business licenses and its most valuable asset: the cheap and enslaved labor force. Cuban workers are forbidden from forming labor unions or demanding improved working conditions. Investors pay the regime in US Dollars but Cuban laborers and are paid in worthless “pesos” for their work.

Due to its geographic proximity and historical ties to Cuba, Key West would provide the perfect beachhead for the Castro regime to launch a charm offensive to lure American capital and perpetuate itself in power without providing the Cuban people the most sensible basic human and political rights.

We believe it is shortsighted for Key West business interests to jump in bed with dying dictators. Change is at hand in Cuba, with more Cubans taking to the streets and speaking out against the regime’s abuse of power, arbitrary arrests, and violence against its people. A new dawn of freedom is coming to Cuba. Once the Castro brothers are gone and the atrocities committed by the regime are fully revealed, foreign investors will be viewed as opportunists who sought to take advantage of a captive people.

It would be unfortunate for Key West to be on the side of the oppressors rather than the oppressed when that change comes.

We are appalled by the insensitivity of some of the proponents of the “Open Cuba” policy who sought to bring Castro’s representatives to the San Carlos Institute and to lay a wreath in the Cuban Martyrs’ plot at the Key West Cemetery. In no uncertain terms, the San Carlos board stated that Cuba’s representatives would not be welcomed at the San Carlos or the Cuban Martyrs’ Plot. Their visit would be an affront to the memory of the founders of the San Carlos, the tens of thousands killed at the hands of Castro’s thugs, to those who perished while escaping Cuba’s island prison, and to countless others in our community who still suffer as a result of atrocities perpetrated against them and their families.

The Castro regime still imprisons U.S. humanitarian aid worker Alan Gross for the “crime” of helping connect Cuba’s small Jewish community to the Internet, and continues to viciously oppress the Cuban people. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports that in 2012, there were a documented 6,602 political arrests, which is markedly up from 4,123 arrests in 2011 and 2,074 in 2010. Furthermore, the 2013 Human Rights Watch World Report states, “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the Raul Castro’s regime continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions, and forced exile.” The deaths of pro-democracy activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo (d. February 23, 2010), Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia (d. May 8, 2011), Laura Pollan (d. October 14, 2011), Oswaldo Paya (d. July 22, 2012) and Harold Cepero (d. July 22, 2012) demonstrate the regime’s callous brutality against activists in the pro-democracy movement.

Over one hundred years ago the noble people of Key West forged a legacy with the Cuban people. The Key West community should be proud of its legacy for standing on the side of the Cuban people rather than a tyrant.

Let Key West be again on the right side of history. Let us reject myopic opportunism and instead let us concentrate on ways of empowering the Cuban people and positioning Key West for a post-Castro Cuba.


Rafael A. Peñalver, President, Miami
Javier Garrido, Vice-President, Key West
Monica Faraldo Hill, Secretary / Treasurer, Key West
Diana Arteaga, Miami Beach
Julio Barroso, Key West
Barbara Edgar, Islamorada
Julio Estorino, Miami
Irving Eyster, Islamorada
Norma Faraldo, Key West
George Galvan, Key West
Joe Garrido, Key West
Gilda Niles, Key West
Alex Pascual, Key West
Elena Spottswood, Key West
Rosa Leonor Whitmarsh, Miami

Raul's Farm "Reforms" Are a Bust

In 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote (in "Seeds of Economic Reform on Cuba's Farms"):

"Cuba is in the midst of significant changes in its agriculture industry, as President Raul Castro presses a series of reforms aimed at boosting crop production. It's too early to see the results of these efforts, but analysts say their long-term impact could be substantial, and might herald further economic changes to come."

You can imagine who the "analysts" were.

And for the skeptical, the AP 's Havana bureau reassured us (in "Communist Cuban Solution: Private Farms") that things were different with Raul:

"Increasing food production has been a top priority for 76-year-old Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in February. While distributing farmland to individuals has been tried before in Cuba, this time the government seems willing to give up more control to get better results."

Well, here's today's reality.

From AFP:

More than 400 of Cuba's farm cooperatives on state-owned land have been dissolved over the last five years because they weren't profitable, despite reforms aimed at opening the market, an official said Friday.

Ricardo Monzon, an agriculture ministry official said 295 co-ops have closed since August 2012 alone, bringing the total since 2008 to 434.

And yet, despite the absolute failure, the Castro regime is now expanding (with media praise) this "cooperative" model to the non-farm sector.

There is No Private Property in Cuba

The only ones that haven't gotten the memo that there is no private property in Cuba -- nor that Raul's "reforms" establish any sort of private ownership rights -- are foreign correspondents in Havana and some U.S.-based "experts".

However, Castro's "economic czar" Marino Murillo has made the regime's scam perfectly clear (excerpt from Havana Times):

It is not correct to say that in Cuba today a transformation of government property into private property is taking place. The actualization of the Cuban economic model presupposes, above all, that social property is above the basic means of production. To actualize the model does not change the structural foundation of property over the basic means of production. A change in property is not taking place. [...]

Do not mistake transformation of property for modernization of management. They are two different things. The actualization of the Cuban economic model [...] presupposes modernizing management, making property efficient and developing the productive forces. It does not mean a change in the structure of property."

Any questions?

Quote of the Week: On Business in Cuba

There is no way to run a successful business in Cuba, other than illegally.
-- Karina Galvez Chiu, independent Cuban economist, ABC, 10/17/13

Quote of the Day: On Iran and Cuba

Iran has good relations with Latin American countries, with Cuba in particular.
-- Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President, Tasnim,10/19/13

A Stark Contrast in Journalism

Friday, October 18, 2013
Kudos to The Toronto Star and El Nuevo Herald for their award-winning reporting on child sex tourism in Cuba.

Their reporting was not only groundbreaking, investigative and informative -- but it helped bring awareness and hopefully save innocent lives.

However, questions remain:

Why did it take two newspapers without Havana bureaus to write this story?

Why didn't the various accredited foreign news bureaus in Havana take the initiative to write about this glaring problem? 

Were Havana's foreign news bureaus afraid their hosts, the Castro dictatorship, would expel them if they dared report about Cuba's reality?

Or were Havana's foreign correspondents too busy scouring the state-newspaper, Granma, for leads?

A stark contrast.

From The Toronto Star:

Reporters from the Toronto Star, in collaboration with el Nuevo Herald in Miami, have won an award for exemplary work covering child sexual abuse.

Jennifer Quinn, Robert Cribb and Julian Sher, with Miami journalist Juan Tamayo won a Beyond Borders ECPAT Canada Media Award for “The Ugly Canadians: Child Sex Tourism” published in March.

The series focused on Canadians who pay for sex with child prostitutes in Cuba, as well as why children are in the industry.

Disappearances on the Rise in Cuba

Thursday, October 17, 2013
The Castro regime is employing a new tactic in its repression against Cuban democracy activists: temporary disappearances.

Activists are being arbitrarily arrested and held "incommunicado" for 4-5 days, with the authorities refusing to give family members any information about their loved one's location or well-being.

Some believe this tactic is being employed pursuant to severe beatings, so the activists will have time to heal and not be able to document their immediate wounds.

Last week, former political prisoner Jose Diaz Leyva, was arrested after attending a workshop in favor of the "Campaign For Another Cuba," which simply calls for the Cuban regime to ratify the U.N.'s civil and political rights pacts.

The next day, his wife, Lourdes Esquivel, a member of The Ladies in White, was also arrested for inquiring about her husband's whereabouts.

They were both held "incommunicado" for several days, transferred to various prison facilities, while family and friends were denied any information.

Similarly, Carlos Pupo Rodriguez, Gregorio Diaz and Agustin Figueroa Galindo, supporters of Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet's Emilia Project, were also arrested and disappeared for several days.

Dr. Biscet discussed the disappearances on "From Washington al Mundo" this week.

Figueroa Galindo's wife, Misleidy Tellecier Marzo, who is now being threatened by Castro's secret police with having her children taken away, also gave her testimony.

Click here to listen.

Tweets of the Day

AI: Death Threats Against Blind Cuban Activist

From Amnesty International:


Activists Receive Death Threats in Cuba 

The head of a Cuban human rights organization and his wife, also an activist, have received death threats from government supporters.

Juan Carlos González Leiva, the President of the Cuban Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs (Consejo de Relatores de Derechos Humanos de Cuba, CRDHC) and his wife Tania Maceda Guerra, received death threats during and after a government-sanctioned demonstration. Their house, which doubles as the headquarters of the CRDHC was the site of a demonstration known as an “act of repudiation” for more than 48 hours. This was done to prevent them from travelling from their home city of Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba to the capital, Havana, for events to commemorate the death of Laura Pollán, the former head of the Ladies in White.

At 4 am on 12 October Juan Carlos Gonzáles Leiva headed to the bus station to travel to Havana, but was turned back by a police officer who said his name was on a list of people who were not allowed to leave Ciego de Ávila. Juan Carlos González Leiva, who is blind, informed Amnesty International that at 8:30 am government supporters accompanied by officers from the Cuban Revolutionary Police and Department of State Security Officials began to gather in front of his house. Three other members of the CRDHC who live in the neighborhood managed to get into the house, but all five of them were forced to stay there until midday on 14 October.

Music was played at extreme volume for eight hours on 12 October, and the crowd shouted insults calling CRDHC members “rats” and “worms” and one security official threatened to use tear gas against them. A group of government supporters shouted we’re going to kill you, worms (“les vamos a matar gusanos”) and one of them entered the house and assaulted Tania Maceda Guerra. Around an hour after the act of repudiation ended, Juan Carlos left his house with two other members of the CRDHC and was accosted by two of the government supporters. They repeated the death threats against Juan Carlos González Leiva and Tania Maceda Guerra.

On The Washington Post and "Cuban Five" (Spies)

In last week's Washington Post, Canadian Professor Stephen Kimber wrote an oped defending five Cuban spies, part of a broader and complex espionage network known as the Red Avispa ("Wasp Network"), who were duly convicted by a federal jury for their illegal activities against the United States.

We commend The Washington Post for allowing Prof. Kimber to present his defense, which stands in stark contrast to the five Cuban spies' bosses in Havana, who punish diverging opinions with torture, imprisonment and potentially even death, as famed Castro regime critic Oswaldo Paya may have recently been a victim of.

Perhaps for his next act, Prof. Kimber will defend the countless innocent Cubans who have been victims of the Castro regime's arbitrary and subjugated judiciary, with the same zeal as he defends these five convicted Cuban spies who were granted complete due process by our independent judiciary.

However, while Prof. Kimber is entitled to his own opinion, he's not entitled to his own facts.

For example, Prof. Kimber absurdly claims the so-called Cuban Five are venerated on the island as "national heroes." As he is surely aware, Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, where all means of communication are controlled by the Castro brothers. Thus, if the Cuban Five constantly appear on national television and billboards across the country, it's not because they are venerated by the Cuban people -- it's because the dictatorship compels it.

Prof. Kimber also seeks to justify the Cuban Five's penetration of U.S. military bases, including the U.S. Southern and Central Command and Ft. Bragg, by claiming  the Castro regime was somehow legitimately concerned about a U.S. invasion.  The Castro brothers didn't need such information from these spies, for it had been fully aware that the U.S. had no intention of invading Cuba, courtesy of its well-placed spies in the most senior levels of the Pentagon and the State Department -- namely Ana Belen Montes and Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers, who are all currently serving long prison terms.  Based on Prof. Kimber's rationale, where Montes and the Myers' convictions unmerited also?

And what about the eight other members of the Wasp Network, who cooperated with the U.S. authorities, received light sentences and were even permitted to stay here and live in freedom.  Were they treated unfairly?

Prof. Kimber then argues that the Cuban Five could not have been tried by a "reasonable jury" in Miami, home to so many Cuban exiles.  Yet, he fails to mention that not a single Cuban exile served on the juries that convicted the Cuban Five.

Throughout his defense, Prof. Kimber alludes to a host of alleged plots supposedly uncovered by Cuban agents.  It's worth noting that his source is the Castro dictatorship itself, which began lying since before it even took power in 1959, with the promise of free elections, and continues lying to this day, as was documented by this summer's attempt to smuggle Cuban heavy weaponry to North Korea hidden under 10,000 pounds of sugar.  Moreover, the Cuban regime itself remains a U.S.-designated "state-sponsor of terrorism."

Finally, to add insult to injury, Prof. Kimber unequivocally states that the ringleader of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernandez, was not aware of Castro regime's 1996 plan to shoot-down two civilian Cessna planes, belonging to the humanitarian group Brothers to the Rescue, which resulted in the murder of three Americans and a U.S. resident (see below). He must be unaware of Operacion Escorpion ("Operation Scorpion"), the code-name used by Hernandez and the spy network for the operation to shoot-down the civilian planes.

During an interview last month, Edgerton Ivor Levy, one of the members of the Wasp Network who cooperated with U.S. authorities, warned about the intention and determination of the Castro regime to harm U.S. national security.

Ivor stated that, "the real objective of Cuban espionage in the United States is to penetrate and influence the various spheres of government, the military, academia, the media and social organizations."

We hope The Washington Post gives its readers the opportunity to hear the facts that Prof. Kimber selectively omits.

Two-Years Later: Imprisoned Canadian Businessman Still Not Charged

Decades of friendship, commerce and complicity with the brutal Castro dictatorship seem to be really paying off for Canada.

From The Toronto Star:

Canadian entrepreneur jailed in Cuba two years still not charged

Two years after his arrest and with no charges laid, a Canadian entrepreneur remains imprisoned in Cuba — a situation his Member of Parliament says is worrying and could impact the international business community working on the island.

Peter Kent recently visited Cy Tokmakjian in Cuba’s La Condesa prison, where the 73-year-old is being held.

“After two years without charges we would respectfully and on the basis of the long relationship between Canada and Cuba — we don’t always agree, but we tend to work on our differences, whatever they are — it’s time to move ahead and get this case resolved in a timely fashion,” said Kent, who represents Thornhill, Tokmakjian’s hometown.

“We don’t want to interfere at all in the justice process, but we do believe the rule of law should be respected.”

Tokmakjian, founder of the Tokmakjian Group transportation firm, which operates in Canada, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, was arrested by Cuban authorities in September 2011. His company was one of the largest foreign operations in the country.

Letter from a Cuban Political Prisoner

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By renowned Cuban author and current political prisoner, Ángel Santiesteban-Prats:

Dear friends, this month marks eight months that I have been imprisoned.

I am not lying to you if I admit that I never could have believed the dictatorship would be capable of imprisoning me knowing that I’m innocent. Not because there remains an ounce of sanity or justice in them, but because it would provoke a wave of protests -- for after exposing the evidence of the prosecution and that of the defense, the political machinations behind the circus mounted against me is clear.

Of course, as a totalitarian regime they made a show of force. They have once again shown what they are capable of doing to voices that oppose the dictatorship, especially if they are within the Cuban archipelago. I know that my life has been thrown into danger, the mysterious deaths of opposition leaders expose their crimes. I have received constant death threats since my arrival in prison, where they have assured me that I will not leave with my life. What makes it difficult for them is that there are many eyes of solidarity watching me on an international level. They have also offered to release me if I desist from my opposition ways, or if I change them, they have proposed my definite departure from the country. In both cases, I have absolutely refused.

At any rate, even if the worst were to come, I took this path fully conscious and due to the necessity of my soul. I took it knowing the risks, because even before starting my blog, many family and friends predicted jail or death for me.

Of course, I don’t want to be a martyr. My dream is to continue being a writer and to be able to relay what is happening in my country -- the hopes and disappointments of my contemporaries. If this doesn't come to pass, I prefer it, since what I could not tolerate is to continue living in my country under the slavery of one of the most intelligent and ferocious dictatorships which has existed on the face of the earth.

When all is revealed, many will be ashamed of having supported it, claiming that they did not know.

To you all, my eternal gratitude, long live Cuba and may it be free!

Lawton prison camp. October 2013

Castro-Delahunt-Sununu Bio-Scam Gets Stranger

Tuesday, October 15, 2013
The latest Castro bio-scam gets stranger by the minute.

As of yesterday, we knew that former U.S. Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu (R-NH) were lobbying for Healiance Pharmaceuticals, a mysterious company owned by a (similarly mysterious) foreign company, Digen Pharmaceuticals.

Delahunt is registered to lobby for Healiance.  Sununu is not.

(Prior to Delahunt, Healiance's lobbyist was Janice O'Connell, former foreign relations staffer to U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and defender of the Cuban regime.)

We also knew that they successfully "pitched" U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) into supporting a Congressional letter asking for U.S. approval of a purported diabetes treatment concocted by Castro's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CGEB).

Neither Delahunt or Sununu are registered to lobby for Castro's CGEB under the Lobbying Disclosure Act or the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Today, the economic site, Cuba Standard reports (pursuant to an interview with Delahunt):

"A U.S. subsidiary of Chemo Group, a Vienna, Austria-based pharmaceutical company with roots in Spain, contracted a duo of former power players in Washington to pave the way for the sale of a Cuban diabetes drug in the United States.

Chemo Group, which does business in the United States from offices in New Jersey under the Everett Laboratories brand name, has contracted the lobbying services of former New Hampshire Gov. and Havana native John Sununu, and of Bill Delahunt, a former Congressman for Massachusetts who built a long track record seeking normalization with Cuba while in the House of Representatives."

Chemo Group and Everett Laboratories?

Why the complex web of company names?

Neither Delahunt or Sununu are registered to lobby for either Chemo Group or Everett Laboratories. As a matter of fact, nobody is.

So what are they hiding?

Why the lack of transparency?

Who is paying Castro for the licensing and how much?

Why lie about U.S. pharmaceutical research, treatments and efforts?  

These are all questions Congressman Garcia should have asked beforehand.

Brazil's (and Odebrecht's) Secret Deals With Dictators

A common denominator in these secret deals between the Brazilian government and some of the world's most repressive dictatorships is the conglomerate, Odebrecht Group (a shameful favorite of Miami-Dade County).

See the original article in Portuguese here.

Below is a (rough) translation:

From Brazil's O Globo newspaper:

Billionaire Secrets

Business worth over $6 billion shows how the government moves between secrecy and embarrassment in its relations with dictatorships

Brazilians are forced to wait another 14 years, until 2027, to have the right to know how their money was used in sensitive billionaire business deals with Angola and Cuba .

By most conservative estimates, Brazil has already extended $6 billion in public loans to the governments of Luanda and Havana. These should be undertaken as normal business operations, such as those carried out with 90 other countries in Africa and Latin America by the Treasury's agent, BNDES, which is the main financier of Brazilian exports. However, these contracts have become a state secret.

All documents regarding these transactions (protocols, reports, technical notes, memos and correspondence) were classified as "secret" 15 months ago, by decision of the Minister of Development, Fernando Pimentel, the current PT candidate for governor of Minas Gerais.

This is highly unusual, unprecedented since the military dictatorship. Therefore, doubts proliferate both in business institutions and in Congress - to whom the Constitution assigns the power to oversee the actions of the government in financial operations.

Asked at a recent Senate hearing, the Bank's president, Luciano Coutinho, outlined a hierarchical defense: "The BNDES does not treat such operations (export) confidentially, except in cases such as these two. Why? In observance of the legislation of the country of destination of the funding."

Senator Alvaro Dias (PSDB-PR) intervened: "Then should Brazil be lending under these conditions, given that the laws of these borrowing countries are against our own legislation that requires absolute transparency for public activities?"

Silence echoed in the plenary .

Of the $6 billion in loans classified as "secret", it is believed the largest share ($5 billion) is earmarked for financing sales of goods and services to Angola, where three dozen Brazilian companies have operations. That would leave the Angolan government as the largest beneficiary of export funds from BNDES. The remainder ($1 billion) has gone to Cuba, divided between exports ($600 million) and emergency food aid ($400 million).

The Rousseff administration moves between secrets and embarrassments in relations with tyrants like Jose Eduardo Santos (Angola), the Castro brothers (Cuba), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea), Denis Sassou Nguesso (Congo- Brazzaville), Odimba Ali Bongo (Gabon) and Omar al Bashir (Sudan) - this last one accused of genocide by the International Criminal Court and sought by Interpol.

The difference between secret and embarrassing subjects, taught Winston Churchill, is that some are dangerous for the country and others mean discomfort for the government -- especially during election season.

Castro's Goons Don't Belong in Key West

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Dalliance with Cuba a bad deal for Key West

The idea of quaint, historical Key West becoming best buddies with the dictator next door is repulsive.

Talk about a political hot potato.

A lot is at stake in the misguided dalliance of Key West politicians with high-ranking diplomatic representatives of the repressive Cuban regime.

We’re not talking about fisherman-to-fisherman contact here, but about the Castros’ goons coming to play in Key West.

The city can’t engage in cocktail party pleasantries and hypocritical wreath-laying ceremonies with officials whose government brutally beats up and detains peaceful women and dissidents — and get away with its paradisiacal image intact.

So it’s a good thing that the Key West City Commission’s short-sighted dive into heavyweight foreign relations — voting to host the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. and the diplomatic mission’s first secretary and stage a flurry of events in their “honor” — was aborted this week.

It might have all gone ahead if Commissioner Tony “Fat” Yaniz had not demanded a reception be held honoring the diplomats at the San Carlos Institute, a historic Duval Street building where Jose Martí spoke on behalf of independence from Spain in the 1800s, and that, technically, belongs to the Cuban government.

The decaying building was rescued in 1985 by Miami lawyer Rafael Peñalver, who fought for legal stewardship and won. With the help of a volunteer board culled from the Keys and Miami communities, Peñalver restored the gorgeous space, and for 20 some years, the San Carlos has been operating as a lively cultural center, hosting among other educational activities the Key West Literary Festival.

Not that it has been a smooth project. Pro-Cuban government activists have tried to take over the San Carlos post-restoration. One of the exiles who fought off a rowdy crowd, Armando Alejandre Jr., ended up being one of the Brothers to the Rescue men shot down and killed by Cuban government fighter jets while flying over international waters.

So imagine the consternation Yaniz — with the backing of Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia — caused when he asked that the red carpet be rolled out at the San Carlos for the Cuban diplomats.

Peñalver told Yaniz he couldn’t keep anyone from visiting the San Carlos, but the diplomats were sure to be received as personae non grata. When that didn’t sway Yaniz, the San Carlos board penned and distributed a lengthy open letter to the Key West community that eloquently expressed why it’s so morally wrong, not to mention bad business, for the Keys to befriend oppressors.

“It is shameful that anyone in the Key West business community would extend a welcome mat or shake the bloody hands of Castro’s representatives,” the letter says. Their uproar nixed the plans — this time.

Yaniz reacted by talking tough — not to the oppressors he’s courting but to the regime’s victims: Cuban-Americans.

“Cold War dinosaurs,” he called us.

Some of us, however, would rather be a dinosaur than a weasel.

Getting in bed with an aging dictatorship when its bravest citizens are fighting for change is the last thing a storied place like Key West needs.

People drive to Mile Marker 0 to get away from it all. People flock to the San Carlos to revel in history and heritage. The humblest of people have arrived in these shores seeking refuge.

How unwise it is for Key West to pick a fight with friends, to replace the Jimmy Buffett vibe with Raúl Castro’s ugly fare.

There goes laid-back, high-occupancy Margaritaville. There goes the nibbling-on-key-lime-pie charm, the strumming the six-string persona the world knows and loves.

All for the sake of the narrow business interests of people who think they can profit from cosmetic changes in Cuba they perceive as a lasting opening.

“An open Cuba is not a free Cuba,” Peñalver told me Tuesday.

So true.

In the opportunistic alliance with today’s Cuba, Key West has a lot to lose.

Dissident Awareness Campaign: Yoani Sanchez

Today, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group released the third installment of its dissident awareness campaign, featuring Yoani Sanchez:

Born in Havana, Yoani Sanchez is one of Cuba’s best-known opposition leaders. She studied philology at the University of Havana, focusing on Latin American literature. Her thesis topic was “Words under Pressure: A Study of the Literature of the Dictatorship in Latin America.”

Sanchez left Havana for Geneva in 2002 and returned in 2004 for family reasons. During this time, she learned Computer Science and in 2007, started her world-renowned blog Generación Y. While originally focusing on every-day challenges, Sanchez’s writings have become more political as the government increases its harassment of her. In 2008, Sanchez was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and Foreign Policy magazine named her one of the 10 Most Influential Latin American Intellectuals of the year. In 2008, she also received the “Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism.” Her blog continues to receive global recognition, although the Cuban government blocks access to her blog within Cuba.

Quote of the Day

The pain I have is that I was unable to say goodbye. I was prepared for his death as he was elderly, but I was not prepared for them not to let me kiss him or touch him again. It makes no sense anywhere in the world that for thinking differently you are denied entry into to your own country. The only thing I did was dissent.
-- Blanca Reyes, representative in Europe of The Ladies in White, who was denied entry to Cuba by the Castro regime to visit her dying father, Diario de Cuba, 10/15/13

Reporters Without Borders: Release Imprisoned Cuban Journalists

Monday, October 14, 2013
From Reporters Without Borders:

Three dissident journalists arrested in space of 24 hours

Reporters Without Borders (RWB) calls for the immediate release of three dissident journalists who were arrested within the space of 24 hours at the end of last week in Havana.

Mario Echevarría Driggs, a reporter for the Misceláneas de Cuba website, was arrested while covering a demonstration near the National Capitol on 10 October. David Águila Montero, head of the Independent Journalists’ Social Agency (ASPI), was arrested as he left his home the next morning.

William Cacer Díaz, a reporter for the Hablemos Press news center, was arrested by State Security (the political police) a few hours later as he was going to Hablemos Press headquarters.

“These targeted acts of repression are the unfortunate continuation of Cuba’s rejection of the UN Human Rights Council’s recommendations on freedom of expression in Geneva on 20 September,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“This attitude is all the more incomprehensible in the light of Cuban civil society’s growing debate about information, a debate in which the official media have now joined. You cannot hope to debate and reform everything while continuing to resort to censorship, brutality and arbitrary measures. The detained journalists and netizens must be freed at once.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “As current holder of the rotating presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Cuba has all the more reason for honouring its obligations on civil liberties and human rights, as President Raúl Castro himself promised. Ratification of the UN covenants on civil and political rights can wait no longer.”

Two other news providers are currently detained in Cuba: the writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats, who has been held since 28 February, and José Antonio Torres, a journalist with the Communist Party daily Granma, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison in July 2011 on unexplained charges of “spying.”

The three latest arrests follow an increase in repressive measures in recent weeks.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the “acto de repudio” (act of public vilification) organized outside dissident journalist Juan Carlos González Leiva’s home on 12 October, a week after the police summoned the blogger and activist Isbel Díaz Torres after a debate on the future of the Labor Code that was organized by the Communist Party and Workers Central.

Click below to enlarge image of RWB's latest Cuba campaign.

Religion and Repression in Castro's Cuba

By Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in Sampsonia Way:

30 Questions on the Repression of Religion

In September, two religious leaders living in Cuba, Reverend Mario Félix Lleonart and his wife, the missionary Yoaxis Marcheco, both of the Baptist Convention of Western Cuba, travelled to Washington, D.C. as guests of a Christian Solidarity Worldwide event. With them was Apostle Omar Gude of the Apostolic Movement, who was previously a political prisoner in Cuba and today lives in exile in the US.

At the end of their visit, they released a joint statement on religious freedom on the island, titled “Thirty Questions for the Cuban Government,” which has already gone down in history. It’s a manifesto that in some ways recalls Martin Luther’s redemptive discourse in the absolutist Europe of the sixteenth century.

The revolutionary Cuban state, which according to the Constitution is communist and atheist, officially became “secular” in the early 1990s. However, religious education has been banned for half a century and there is not a single space available to utter God’s name in the Cuban media. The Cuban Communist Party Central Committee’s all-powerful Office of Religious Affairs monitors, controls, and manipulates any situation of this kind.

The thirty questions range from demands for the return of property confiscated from Cuban churches, to remembrance for the atheist apartheid against believers (the latter were sent to re-education camps in the 1960s). The statement also asks for a denunciation of the repression that has taken place during the few authorized religious processions and during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in March 2012 (at which there were hundreds of preemptive arrests without charge), as well as revelation of high-level infiltration of cult organizations (such as the Great Masonic Lodge) by State Security agents. There is also a call for the release of US contractor Alan Gross (imprisoned in Cuba for improving internet access for the Jewish community) as well as an independent investigation into the unexpected deaths of dissident Christian leaders such as Laura Pollán of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) and Oswaldo Payá of the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación (Christian Liberation Movement).

If the Cuban government today wants to feign even a small amount of legitimacy, it should take responsibility for responding to these thirty questions, which our citizens should have posed decades ago.

Why Are U.S. Reps. Garcia, Lee and Rangel Lying for Castro Pharma?

The recent letter devised by U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia (D-FL), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Charlie Rangel (D-NY), among others, pushing for Castro's latest bio-scam makes the following accusation:

"Despite the high burden of disease, patients and physicians in the U.S. are frustrated, not only by the lack of an effective treatment, but by the lack of a U.S. Pharmaceutical/Biotech effort at developing potential treatments for severe DFU (diabetic foot ulcers)."

This statement is blatantly dishonest.

With the help of medical professionals, we've been able to easily track down a host of treatments for DFU, most of which have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

These include Terrasil, Apligraf, Excellagen, MIST Therapy, Regranex, Dermagraft, ArterioFlow 7500, HealOr, dermaPACE, Grafix, et. al.

You get the point.

Why do these Members of Congress, led by former U.S. Representative-turned-lobbyist Bill Delahunt (D-MA), find it necessary to lie and defame the U.S. pharmaceutical/biotech industry?

Moreover, why is the company that Delahunt is representing in this endeavor, Healiance Pharmaceuticals, so mysterious?

(It's nearly impossible to find any information about them, except for their extensive lobbying efforts.)

Because this whole scam is more about anti-U.S., pro-Castro propaganda, than any serious medical effort.

So at least be honest.

Laura Pollan Continues to Lead

Two years ago today, Laura Pollan, leader of The Ladies in White, died under mysterious circumstances.

Since then, repression has only intensified against the peaceful democracy group.

Yet, the purpose, will and courage of The Ladies in White remains stronger than ever.

Laura continues to lead through her life's example.

Castro Business: Monopolies, Manipulation & Margins

There's an interesting article in South Coast Today about a UMass MBA student (Trai Dang), who interviewed a group of foreign businessmen in Havana.

It shows how Castro's monopolies exert absolute control and exploit Cubans to make a high profit for (itself and) its foreign partners.

Case and point:

The Finnish man Dang interviewed owned a travel agency in his country. He told Dang that although joint ventures with the Cuban state only allow foreign companies to own a 49 percent stake, it's worth it for the high return.

"When you want to do business with Cuba you have to follow (the rules) in forming a joint venture," Dang said. "The Cuban counterpart wants to own 51 percent, so they're making all the decisions, they have control of the joint venture."

The Finn told Dang that the Cuban hotels only offer three and four-star service, but charge a five-star rate.

"So that's how they make money, and they're making a lot of money in the short term, so they don't care about the long term. They're not afraid of the government taking away their property — they just make too much money."

Take Action for Democracy Leader Damaris Moya Portieles

Sunday, October 13, 2013
From Front Line Defenders:

Human rights defender Damaris Moya Portieles physically attacked at her home and arrested

On 4 October 2013 human rights defender Ms. Damaris Moya Portieles was attacked and arrested by Cuban police while at home with her two young children.

Damaris Moya Portieles is an activist and member of the Movimiento Femenino por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks (Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights) and is vice-president of the Coalición Central Opositora (Central Opposition Coalition), which works to protect the well-being of children and the elderly and has protested against unjust evictions carried out by government forces.

On 4 October 2013 Damaris Moya Portieles was attacked at her home by police. She received so many hits to her head that she lost consciousness and was taken away from her home by the agents, to an unknown location.

This is the ninth attack she has experienced since 4 August 2013 when Jorge Luis García Pérez (known as Antúnez) and his wife Yris Perez Aguilera, respectively President's of the Central Opposition Coalition and the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights, left the country.

Damaris Moya Portieles' home has been broken into on three occasions and her belongings have been destroyed, her two young children have been physically assaulted and she has been victim of so called actos de repudio (acts of repudiation), when pro-government mobs acting as “Rapid Response Brigades” harass, threaten, insult and attack peaceful human rights defenders.

Previously, on 25 January 2013, Damaris Moya Portieles was sexually violated during her detention when she was forcibly restrained, stripped naked and had a pencil inserted into her genitalia. The authorities claimed they were "searching for a cell phone". On 2 May 2012, Damaris Moya Portieles was participating in a candlelit vigil in Santa Clara to demand the release of all Cuban political prisoners when she was forcefully arrested and escorted to a police unit with several other activists. While in her cell, State Security Agent Eric Francis Aquino Yera ordered two common prisoners to threaten her. They proceeded to give full details about how they would rape the human rights defender's 5 year-old daughter.

Front Line Defenders expresses its serious concern at the actions of the Cuban police in harassing Damaris Moya Portieles as these attacks are solely motivated by her work defending human rights in Cuba.

Spanish Court Indicts Dictator

We welcome the decision by Spain's National Court to hear genocide charges against former Chinese dictator, Hu Jintao.

Yet, the same Spanish courts recently declined to uphold a judicial investigation -- stating lack of jurisdiction -- into the alleged murder of Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya, who held dual Spanish citizenship.

How could Spain's courts have "universal jurisdiction" (or "universal competence") to preside against Hu Jintao, but not against Castro regime officials? 

As The Washington Post's Editorial Board correctly asserted in August 2013, Spain has a "universal" obligation to pursue an investigation into Paya's death.

It's time to appeal the Paya case.  No more hypocrisy.

From South China Morning Post:

Spanish court indicts China's ex-president Hu Jintao on genocide charges

Spain’s National Court has agreed to hear charges of genocide against former Chinese President Hu Jintao.

On Thursday, the court’s criminal division ruled in favour of an appeal by Tibetan exile groups allowing the indictment of Hu, a request which had been dismissed in June by the same court.

The court, which handles crimes against humanity and genocide, argued that the earlier decision had to be overturned because one of the plaintiffs, Thubten Wangchen, is a Spanish citizen and because China had not carried out its own investigation into the allegations.

Spanish courts can hear cases of crimes against humanity wherever they occur outside its national territory on the legal principle of universal competence. In 2009, the universality was limited to cases in which Spanish citizens are victims of such crimes.

The court’s decision follows lengthy proceedings which started in 2008, when Tibetan activist groups, one of them headed by Wangchen, asked the court to hold seven Chinese state leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin and former Premier Li Peng, responsible for crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Chinese government in Tibet. China denounced the trial proceedings.

US-Spain Legislators Discuss Paya Investigation

This week, the head of the Spanish Congress's Foreign Affairs Committee, Josep Antoni Duran i Lleida, led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to discuss issues of mutual interest.

Duran i Lleida held a bilateral meeting with several U.S. legislators, led by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to EFE, among the issues discussed were Cuba and the need for an independent investigation into the death of democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

In the picture below, the Spanish delegation with Chairman Menendez and U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).

Say NO to Fraudulent Change

Without political freedom,
There's no democracy.

Don't accept fraud as change.
Demand legitimate, just and transparent change.