Over 900 Political Arrests in October

Saturday, November 2, 2013
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 909 political arrests by the Castro regime for the month of October 2013.

This is one of the highest monthly tallies in over two decades.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Pissing the Mexican People's Money Away

Apparently, Mexico no longer has serious poverty, infrastructure and security issues to deal with, so it now has the luxury of directly gifting hundreds of millions to a brutal dictatorship.

From Reuters:

Mexico says it will waive most of $487 million debt owed by Cuba

The Mexican government is ready to waive 70 percent of a debt worth nearly $500 million (313.9 million pounds) Cuba owes it, Finance Minister Luis Videgaray said on Friday, as Mexico seeks to improve ties with the communist island.

Speaking on Mexican radio, Videgaray said a loan issued by Mexico's foreign trade development bank Bancomext to Cuba more than 15 years ago had become a debt worth $487 million.

"Seventy percent of the debt is to be waived," Videgaray said, adding that a formal announcement would be made later.

Yoani Harassed Upon Return to Cuba

Friday, November 1, 2013
Here's the Tweet of the Day by Cuban democracy leader, Yoani Sanchez, as she's harassed by Castro's airport authorities upon her return to Cuba:

#Cuba. They are so afraid of free speech and information!!!  They have taken my books, USB drives, pamphlets. #PowerofFreeSpeech

Castro's Post-Oil Ruse: Mariel Special Economic Zone

Over the last decade, the Castro regime executed its great "oil ruse" -- whereby it seduced a handful of foreign oil companies to purchase concessions and drill for supposed oil riches off Cuba's shores.

Of course, this was never commercially viable, for even if oil was found (which was a long-shot), it would have been too expensive to extract, transport and refine (thanks to U.S. sanctions).

And thus, the intense lobbying campaign unleashed by the regime's D.C. advocates to lift U.S. sanctions based on "lost commercial opportunities"; "environmental concerns"; the "red scare" of China allegedly drilling 45 miles from our shores, etc.

The goal was never about energy production, but to have U.S. sanctions lifted.

None of this materialized and Castro's "oil ruse" is over.

(Click here for more on Castro's "oil ruse".)

Now Castro's new ruse is the Mariel Special Economic Zone (MSEZ).

With the MSEZ, Castro seeks to lure foreign investors to take advantage of Cuban slave labor.

The model for this project is North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park, a special administrative industrial region of its totalitarian brethren, whereby South Korean companies employ cheap North Korean labor (rather than relocating to China), while providing the Kim regime with an important source of foreign currency.

The difference is that the market for Kaesong's products is the thriving South Korean economy.

But what will be the market for Mariel's products?

Jamaica?  Haiti?  The Bahamas?

Definitely not Cuba, with its dismal purchasing power.

The answer is: the U.S.

For Mariel to be commercially viable, the U.S. would have to lift sanctions and open its huge consumer market to Cuban slave labor.

Even Castro's Brazilian financiers for the MSEZ project have admitted to this.

So, once again, the lobbying campaign to lift U.S. sanctions will surely ramp up -- for the sake of Castro's economic rescue.

Raul's Ridiculous "Reforms"

It took the Castro regime seven-pages to explain the scope of its new license to bestow upon Cubans the "privilege" of serving as "public bathroom attendants."

Also, note to The Miami Herald:

The use of the terms "market forces" and "fixed prices" in the first sentence are contradictory, for "fixed prices" are antithetic to "market forces."

From The Miami Herald:

Cuba legalizes rent-a-toilets in its effort to expand private business

Pushing on with its effort to open its economy to market forces, the Cuban government Thursday legalized the business of renting out public bathrooms, providing fixed prices for five categories of facilities.

A pilot rent-a-toilet program, which was started in 2011 in Havana province, now has been expanded to the entire island.

It allows the rental of state-owned bathrooms to private persons who hold government licenses as “public bathroom attendants” — one of 182 categories of self employment permitted by the government.

Details of the change were contained in a seven-page resolution signed by Minister of the Economy and Planning Adel Yzquierdo Rodriguez and published in the latest edition of the Official Gazette.

Did U.S. Hedge-Fund Billionaire Violate Cuba Sanctions?

Thursday, October 31, 2013
A Vanity Fair profile of billionaire hedge-fund manager Dan Loeb has revealed:

In March 2002 there was a strange blip in Loeb’s biography, when he traveled to Cuba with his friend Alexander von Furstenberg (son of the designer Diane von Furstenberg, a Vanity Fair contributor) for what was supposed to be a long weekend. Things unexpectedly took a dark turn, and according to a lawsuit later filed by Youlia Miteva, a former Third Point analyst who accused Loeb of breach of contract, among other things, “Cuban authorities had refused to allow him to leave.” Asked what had happened in Cuba, Loeb told me earlier this year, for a previous Vanity Fair story, that he had been involved in a car accident, stuck around for a couple more weeks, had a legal hearing, and everything turned out fine.

But, according to Chapman, a desperate and sobbing Loeb had called him from Cuba, where he was confined to his hotel after the accident. “I remember how scared Dan sounded when describing the incident involving his hitting a local Cuban kid with his car,” recalls Chapman. “I truly felt so sorry for him when he told me he had found himself unable to leave the country, curled up in a ball on the floor of his room crying, promising God that he’d do anything if the Almighty got him out of his predicament. It wasn’t as if Dan had done it on purpose, and who really knows what ended up happening to the kid?”

A question:

Under what specific travel license did Loeb spend "a long weekend" in Cuba? 

For, as we all know, tourism travel to Cuba is illegal -- and no one is above the law.

Dissident Awareness Campaign: Sonia Garro

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

After injuring and violently raiding her home, Cuban government officials arrested Sonia Garro on March 17, 2012. The arrest was part of a strategically timed crackdown on Cuban dissidents on the eve of Pope Benefit XVI’s visit to the island.

Garro is a courageous member of The Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), a pro-democracy and human rights grassroots movement in Cuba that passively protests the Castro regime’s repressive tactics and demands the release of political prisoners. After sitting in one of Cuba’s most notorious prisons without charges for over a year, prosecutors have scheduled a show trial for Garro this Friday, November 1st where she faces many more years in prison for daring to speak about human rights. Do not let your voice or Sonia’s be silenced.

Tweet of the Day

By Cuban independent journalist Yaremis Flores:

Twitter is addictive. How frustrating when I return to Cuba and my cell phone says "No WiFi signal available." We have a right to Internet!

A Calm and Silent Mariel

By Cuban blogger Enrique del Risco:

Colonel Lamberto Fraga, deputy director of Cuba's Office of Immigration, declared that 57.8% of Cubans who have traveled abroad since the migration reform have returned home, and concluded:

"Cubans are not fleeing, they are traveling normally."

Phew.

P.S. 42% of 226,877 (based on their figures) are 95,888 Cubans. Three times more than during the rafter crisis (of 1994). It's what you call a calm Mariel.

Dissidents Testify on Human Rights at OAS

Wednesday, October 30, 2013
In The Miami Herald:

Seven top Cuban dissidents alleged during testimony before the human rights branch of the Organization of American States Tuesday that security officials regularly beat, strip search and evict government opponents from jobs and schools.

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights announced at the hearing that it had issued a “cautionary measure” urging the Cuban government to investigate complaints from the dissident group Ladies in White and to adopt measures to protect its members.

An IACHR official noted, however, that Havana never acknowledges any communications from the panel, which is part of the OAS. Cuba’s membership in the hemispheric organization has been suspended since the 1960s.

The testimony by Berta Soler — president of the Ladies in White, three other members of the organization, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez — known as Antúnez, his wife Yris Tamara Perez and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina marked one of the rare times when Cuban dissidents have appeared in person before the human rights commission.

Soler said she was especially concerned with the fate of Ladies in White member Sonia Garro and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, scheduled to be tried Friday on charges of trying to kill one of the policemen who raided their home last summer. They have been jailed since then, and prosecutors are seeking 10-year sentences for each.

Sayli Navarro testified that over the past six months police intensified the repression against her fellow Ladies in White, strip-searching some, performing body cavity searches on others and releasing many of them in remote places.

Magaly Norvis Otero complained that relatives of dissidents are regularly kicked out of their jobs or expelled from schools. She asked the IACHR to urge the Cuban government to observe international norms for the protection of human rights activists.

Garcia Perez, who served 17 years in prison, said the Cuban government has launched “an intense and systematic escalation” of abuses against dissidents and human rights activists in recent months that included beatings, arrests and home detentions.

His wife said she was beaten so badly during one arrest this summer that she suffered a loss of memory, and added that Havana activist Sara Martha Fonseca could barely walk after one police beating earlier this year.

Dissidents also are regularly subjected to government-organized “acts of repudiation” in which mobs often throw rocks and other materials at their homes and chant pro-government slogans, said Rodriguez Lobaina, who spent six years in prison.

Garcia Perez, his wife and Rodriguez Lobaina also alleged that state security agents were responsible for the deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero who both died in a car accident, Orlando Zapata Tamayo and several other dissidents.

How Terry McAuliffe Got Scammed by Castro

Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The Washington Post has an interesting story about Virginia gubernatorial candidate (and former DNC Chair) Terry McAuliffe's "agricultural sales" trip to Cuba in 2010.

It shows how:

1. These trips are nothing more than political propaganda for the Castro regime.

2. The questionable practices (and "hot air") of U.S.-based Cuba business consultants; and

3. It contains the "Quote of the Year" from a Virginia vineyard owner, Jim Turpin, who backed away from accompanying McAuliffe on the trip:
With a name like Democracy Vineyards, I didn’t think it would sell very well in Cuba,” Turpin said.
Here's an excerpt:

Over the course of three days, the delegation met with officials from the Cuban trade agency, Foreign Ministry and other departments. The sessions, some lasting well over an hour, would begin with long speeches from Cuban officials about how the U.S. trade embargo has ravaged the island’s economy, according to participants..

Officials at Alimport, Cuba’s official trade agency, did not seem the least bit interested in learning from McAuliffe about Virginia apples or wine — or any potential business deal, according to people familiar with the meeting.

McAuliffe at one point grew visibly exasperated. He interrupted an Alimport official’s discussion of the embargo and pleaded for time to speak. “I came here to talk about apples and wine,” he said, according to participants in the meeting.

Wharton said he was perplexed at how unresponsive the Cuban officials were to McAuliffe’s efforts. After all, participants said, the consultant that Wharton had hired to arrange the meetings, longtime Cuba expert Kirby Jones, had e-mailed the group before the trip to say that deals were “very possible” and that they should be prepared to sign contracts.

“We’d get into these meetings, and Terry was Terry,” said Blaze Wharton, a McAuliffe friend and Utah-based lobbyist who organized the trip. “He was really aggressive on the apples and the wines.”

Few of the executives in the delegation expected to do much real business there, said one person familiar with the trip who, like several others friendly with McAuliffe, spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss the goings-on. Most participants were excited to experience Cuba.

The meetings were “pretty perfunctory,” said one person with knowledge of the trip. “I bet you a billion dollars there was not one more phone call made [following the trip] about doing business with Cuba.”

Tensions were mounting, however.

On the last night, Wharton confronted Jones, the consultant. Jones, who got to know Fidel Castro while interviewing him for TV documentaries in the 1970s, ran a Bethesda-based consulting firm specializing in helping U.S. businesses navigate Cuba’s regime.

Wharton said Jones tried on several occasions to steal time alone with McAuliffe, including insisting at one point that only Jones and McAuliffe could attend a hastily arranged visit with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the top-ranking Catholic prelate in Cuba.

The argument escalated, in public, on the patio of the famed Hotel Nacional in Havana. Wharton’s voice rose and he cursed at Jones. “You’re fired,” Wharton recalls yelling.

Must-Read: Where's the Reciprocity?

Former U.S. Ambassador James Cason discusses his experience as head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana for the "Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History" series of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST):

Read the full transcript here.

Below is a noteworthy excerpt regarding the lack of "reciprocity" in the treatment of U.S. diplomats by the Castro regime:

The playing field was never level. I couldn’t meet anybody in their legislature or in their courts or talk to professors or their journalists. Yet in Washington they could go up and lobby Congress, visit universities and get their articles published. So it was not a level playing field. They had a much freer range under our democratic system than we did in a totalitarian country.

Washington was too timid in enforcing reciprocity. They didn’t want to bother. We had a system during the Cold War that made the communist diplomats get all their support via the State Department. That had been dismantled and our bureaucrats didn’t want to go to the trouble of reestablishing it. For example, the Cubans had cards that exempted them from taxes. We didn’t. They could choose where to live. CUBALSE showed us only certain homes and told us what we had to pay. The Cubans could get services at will whereas we had a strict limit on how many technicians could come to Havana to fix elevators, copy machines, etc. The Cubans used their offices in DC to issue visas to tourists and make a lot of money for the government, and as a base for their extensive spying networks. They had very large spy networks running out of there and from their UN offices in New York.

They were eager to keep their Interests Section open. I told [Ministry of Foreign Affairs official] Dausa that if they ever crossed the line in harassing us, or if they PNG’ed [declared persona non grata and expelled from the country] any of our officers for their support of dissidents, that they would suffer the consequences in terms of their operation in Washington. That threat gave me a lot of freedom to operate. If their conduct towards us ever got really egregious, we would throw out their spies. And we did that after discovery of the Ana Montes spy operation. She was the head of the Cuba desk at the Defense Intelligence Agency and had been a long time Cuban agent. Right before our invasion of Iraq the FBI arrested her and disrupted her operations. She was trying to get information on what was going to happen in Iraq and elsewhere, our plans for invasion. We booted out quite a few Cuban intelligence agents in reprisal but they didn’t expel any of our officials in retaliation.

Tweet of the Day

Quote of the Day

The United States strongly supports the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their own future. It’s the Cuban government that continues to deprive the Cuban people of this aspiration. As do all Member States, the United States conducts its economic relationships with other countries in accordance with its national interests and principles. Our sanctions policy toward Cuba is just one of the tools in our overall effort to encourage respect for the civil and human rights consistent with the Universal Declaration, to which the United Nations itself is committed.
-- Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Area Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, at the U.N. General Assembly vote on the Cuban embargo, 10/29/13

U.N. Should Focus on Cuba's Violation of Multilateral Sanctions

Today, Cuba will ask the U.N. General Assembly to oppose U.S. unilateral sanctions towards the Castro dictatorship.

This yearly ritual is yet another symbolic U.N. exercise in anti-Americanism, for U.S. policy towards Cuba does not fall within the jurisdiction of the U.N. General Assembly.

It falls exclusively within the legal purview of the democratically-elected U.S. Congress and Executive Branch.

Doing business with the U.S. is not a right -- it's a privilege.  

Thus, it's the sole decision of the U.S. who it decides to transact business with.

It's ironic how some countries use the concept of "sovereignty" to excuse the behavior of some of the world's most ruthless dictators -- from Assad to Castro.  Yet, they oppose the "sovereign" decision of our democracy not to engage in commerce with these ruthless dictators.

What does fall within the purview of the U.N. are the various multilateral sanctions regimes adopted by the U.N.'s Security Council.

Notable among these are the U.N.'s multilateral sanctions towards North Korea weapons proliferation.

These U.N. multilateral sanctions have been clearly and egregiously violated by the Cuban regime, which recently sought to smuggle (aboard the Chong Chon Gang freighter) an active and offensive weapons arsenal to North Korea hidden under 10,000 pounds of sugar.

Thus, once the U.N. General Assembly finishes its symbolic exercise against U.S. laws, let's hope it focuses on enforcing the multilateral sanctions that actually fall within its jurisdiction. 

Tweet of the Day

How Raul Can Fix Cuba's Economy

Excerpt from Carlos Alberto Montaner's "Cuba and the Two Currencies" in The Miami Herald:

What can Raúl Castro do to really straighten up Cuba’s economy? Unquestionably, he must bury that asinine way to produce and organize society. The system cannot be fixed. Mikhail Gorbachev, who also tried to save communism, ended up admitting that such a goal was impossible, as happened in practically all of eastern Europe.

Why doesn’t Raúl Castro do this? For three reasons at least, I suppose: for muddled ideological convictions that he has never shaken off; for clinging to power, and — the weightiest — for being emotionally incapable of accepting that he has spent 80 years defending wrong ideas.

It must be very hard to admit that the work of one’s whole life was a perfect blunder that generated massive damage.

Of course, the end of communism would mean the political extinction of the ruling caste in Cuba, but if Raúl Castro really wanted that poor country to begin producing the way God intended, and if he wanted Cubans to live decently, as he claims he does, he would have no alternative but to totally renounce the collectivist error, admit the democratic freedoms, and return to the existence of private property as the principal economic agent and the market as a way to assign resources, even if he has to tear down the maze into which his brother Fidel irresponsibly led the Cuban people.

So long as the foundations of communism remain, even if mitigated by some lateral reforms, it makes no difference whether one currency or four exist. The country will remain on its back and the Cuban people will desperately continue to flee.

The problem lies elsewhere. Let’s see if he realizes it.

Castro's Hostage-Taking Two-Step

Monday, October 28, 2013
This weekend, the Castro regime and the Norwegian Embassy in Bogota announced the release of 26-year old Kevin Scott Sutay, an American held hostage by Colombia's narco-terrorist FARC guerrillas.

As a result, Cuba is now being "thanked" for its role in Sutay's release.

Note Castro's hostage-taking two-step:

The Castro regime, who has been holding 64-year old American development worker Alan Gross hostage since December 2009, makes itself a mediator in the release of another American hostage held by a terrorist group (FARC) that it has harbored, guided and supported for over five decades.

And now, the criminals are being "thanked" for their crime.

This is why the hostage-takings never seem to end -- for the criminals keep getting away scot-free.

Quote of the Week

Sunday, October 27, 2013
I asked for the embargo remain in place, for that isn't the problem in Cuba, the problem is the system.
-- Berta Soler, leader of the democracy group The Ladies in White, pursuant to her meeting with U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, Diario de Cuba, 10/25/13

No Joke: Castro Doesn't Want Cubans to See 3D

The Castro regime has launched an attack against Cubans who host private 3D movie screenings in their homes.

Apparently, they're afraid the 3D glasses will also magnify Cuba's realities.

These viewings have become a craze in Havana and are widely attended.

As we all know, the Castro regime is afraid of what can happen when large groups of people independently gather.

So, after mandatingthat 3D viewings are "illegal" due to lack of "artistic quality,"Cuba's Vice-Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, also launched the following general warning:

"The principles established in the cultural policies of the Cuban revolution, which regulate cultural institutions, apply the same to CD-DVD vendors, to the owners of home restaurants ('paladares') who hire or invite artists to perform, to movies movie makers and to all the self-employed."

In other words, the only "culture" in Cuba is that approved by the dictatorship.

The Imprisoned Cuban Rapper Jay-Z Ignored is Gravely Ill

During Jay-Z's highly publicized vacation in Cuba earlier this year, we continuously urged the celebrity rapper to make a statement -- or at least inquire -- about the well-being of his imprisoned Cuban colleague, Angel Yunier Remon.

However, helping the Cuban people was not part of Jay-Z's "people-to-people" itinerary.  Instead, he stayed at the Cuban military's luxury hotels and partied at its restaurants and nightclubs.

Today, Yunier's life is at risk.

Cuban dissident rapper Angel Yunier Remon, whose stage name is "el Critico del Arte" (the 'Art Critic'), was attacked with tear gas and arrested on March 21st, 2013, for his criticism of the Castro regime.

In prison -- where he is being held without charges or trial -- Yunier has been continuously beaten, contracted various diseases and is being held naked in a punishment cell.

He has begun a hunger strike to protest his cruel and arbitrary imprisonment.

Yunier is on his sixth day without food or water.

Who will speak out for the life of this outspoken and courageous Cuban rapper?

How Technology Challenges Censorship

Excerpt from Mirta Ojito's op-ed in The Miami Herald:

[I]n a panel before [Columbia University's Maria Moors Cabot awards] ceremony, [Yoani Sanchez] talked about the importance of the Internet and the impossibility of censorship at a time when very little, if anything, can be kept private.

She told me how, more 20 years after his death, she learned who Pedro Luis Boitel was and how he died after a hunger strike in a Cuban prison in 1972. Yet, she learned that Orlando Zapata had died an hour after he succumbed to his own hunger strike in 2010.

Censorship nowadays, she said, is “like placing a door in the open sea.” Futile.

Attempting to stop Yoani is like that too. She’s placed her foot firmly against the crack in the door the government of Raúl Castro has created, and she’s pushing it open with all her might. There is no telling what she might do or how far she can get if she keeps pushing against that door, but not alone.

It is said that ants can lift many times their body weight, but it is also known that ants of the same colony work together. Yoani and others like her, who have chosen to remain in Cuba to transform the island from within, need our help and our vigilance.