What Advice is Castro Giving Maduro?

Saturday, November 16, 2013
For everyone knows Maduro doesn't move an inch without Castro.

By Rob Wile in Business Insider:

Venezuela Arrests More Than 100 'Bourgeois' And 'Barbaric Capitalist Parasites'

Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro has announced the arrest of 100 " bourgeois" businessmen accused of price gouging, Reuters' Andrew Cawthorne and Deisey Buitrago report.

"They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!" the pair say Maduro thundered in a speech heralding the round-up. "We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment."

You'll recall "parasites" is the same word used by Vladimir Lenin to describe landowning former peasants who were subsequently killed by the thousands in Soviet Russia.

The arrests come three weeks before local elections agreed to be a consensus on Maduro's administration since the 50-year-old former bus driver succeeded Hugo Chavez.

Inflation in Venezuela has soared more than 50% in the past month, which Maduro blames on a conspiracy by an amorphously defined opposition seeking to bring down the socialist regime. In the past week, soldiers and inspectors have raided more than 1,400 shops and occupied an electronics firm and a battery manufacturer.

The government has also shut down websites showing the bolivar at 10 times the official rate of 6.3 to the dollar. Many blame an artificially overvalued bolivar for the malaise. We've previously explained how Venezuelans were exploiting black market exchange rates.

Maduro says he is waging "economic war." Reuters says the campaign will likely help consolidate his base among the poor and unite factions in the Socialist Party. But a prominent anti-Maduro columnist has likened the campaign to moves made by Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Opposition party Justice First says Maduro is producing a dystopian society.

"This shows the economic chaos Maduro has got us in where prices have no logic. The government created this monster and now tries to pretend it will control it, but Venezuelans cannot be deceived by this electoral show," Justice First said.

Herald Online Poll: Odebrecht USA Helps Castro Regime

Nearly 70% of voters in yesterday's online poll by El Nuevo Herald believe that the Brazilian conglomerate, Odebrecht, and its U.S. subsidiary, Odebrecht USA, are helping the Castro regime stay in power.

The question asked: "Do you think Odebrecht USA is contributing to the Castro regime remaining in power?"

The answer has been overwhelmingly YES.

As of 9 p.m. last night, nearly 1650 readers had taken part in the poll.

In a ballot initiative last November, Miami-Dade voters had overwhelmingly stated -- by a 62%-37% margin -- that their taxpayer funds should not be used to contract with companies that have ties to dictatorships identified by the U.S. State Department as "sponsors of terrorism."

It seems like Odebrecht's greedy and unprincipled strategy of trying to simultaneously profit from the Castro dictatorship and from its exiled victims is coming to a head.

U.S. Silent Amid U.N. Human Rights Farce

By John J. Metzler in World Tribune:

The UN’s Human Rights Council farce: U.S. silent as brutal regimes take seats

You can’t make this up.

In recent elections for the UN’s 47 member Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) some of the winners of the coveted seats are ironically the countries who are among the major global human rights transgressors. This hypocrisy ironically evokes the old adage of the foxes guarding the henhouse or of Tony Soprano chairing a Senate Subcommittee on organized crime.

Here’s the setting. Sixteen countries were running for fourteen seats on the Geneva-based Council tasked with monitoring and reporting on the pulse of human rights worldwide. As is usual in the UN, the countries were competing in regional groups for the two year tenure.

So for the African group there’s Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and South Sudan. Algeria remains an authoritarian state with few human rights nor press freedoms. Yet the Algiers government won a seat. So too did the Kingdom of Morocco, generally ranked as a partly free country as well as South Africa and Namibia, listed as “free” by New York’s Freedom House but dabbed as a “flawed democracy” by the Economist of London.

Now it gets interesting viewing the Asian Group, whose four contenders are predictably unopposed; China, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam.

People’s China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam all share the dubious distinction of “authoritarian regimes,” according to the Economist, while Freedom House lists the three countries as “not free.” As to press freedoms there, you have to be kidding.

The Maldives in the Indian Ocean are listed as partly free.

Turning to the Latin American group there were three contenders for two seats; Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay. Guess who won? Cuba came in first with 148 votes followed by Mexico 135 and sadly with democratic Uruguay in the dust. Without question Cuba is rated as “not free” by Freedom House and an “authoritarian regime,” by the Economist.

Mexico is viewed as “partly free” by Freedom House but a “flawed democracy” by the Economist. Uruguay a genuine democracy, fell by the wayside in this contest.

For a positive break, let’s look at the West European group. Both France and the United Kingdom won two year terms on the Council. Happily both are free countries and vibrant democracies, though the Economist, a British publication after all, describes France as a “flawed democracy.”

The Eastern European Group fielded two candidates for two seats; Russia and Macedonia.

Need I say more? Freedom House rates Russia as “not free” while the Economist describes the Moscow government as an “authoritarian regime.” Macedonia (known officially in the UN as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is viewed as “partly free” and a “flawed democracy” respectively.

According to Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch “China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia systematically violate the human rights of their own citizens and they consistently vote the wrong way on the UN initiatives to protect the human rights of others.”

“Regrettably, “added Neuer, “so far neither the U.S. nor the EU have said a word about the hypocritical candidacies that will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the UN human rights system.”

In a program sponsored by UN Watch and the Human Rights Foundation, famed Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng stated “China wants to join the UNHRC not to promote human rights, but rather to prevent democracies from questioning their human rights record.”

Chen, a former blind political prisoner, was spirited out of China last year in a high profile case, and now lives in New York.

Rosa Maria Paya, a Cuban dissident added, “The presence of the Chinese, the Russians and the Cuban regimes, is disappointing for the victims of repression, and it sends a message of complicity from the international community. “ She lamented that “democratic governments should not share seats with criminals which behave with impunity since they are not suffering any consequence.”

The UNHRC election offers a stunning wake-up call that despite the surge of freedom throughout the world, there’s still a strong and entrenched group of authoritarian regimes who will use and abuse these very human rights mechanisms to cynically counter civil and political rights everywhere.

Chasing the Ghost of Castro's Oil

Friday, November 15, 2013
Remember when media reports made it seem as though Cuba was going to become the next Saudi Arabia?

Remember the Castro regime's highly publicized lease-block map?

Remember when the Chinese were supposedly "drilling" off Cuba's shores?

Remember when "oil industry experts" testified to the U.S. Government that this was a sure thing?

Remember when the Castro regime's allies in the U.S. lobbied Congress to lift sanctions because American oil companies were going to be left out of the bonanza (argument for Republicans)?

Remember when the Castro regime's allies in the U.S. lobbied Congress to normalize relations with Cuba's dictatorship for the environment's sake (argument for Democrats)?

Well, the specter of Cuban oil (both off-shore and near-shore) was a charade.

But apparently, the U.S. Government still hasn't gotten the memo.

So today, U.S. and Cuban officials are meeting in St. Petersburg to hash out a technical agreement on how to deal with the "possibility" of future oil spills.

Except there is no "possibility."

(Learn more about Castro's oil charade here.)

In other words, they are meeting for no reason whatsoever -- other than to give the Cuban dictatorship another platform to conduct "business as usual."

Of course, today's story in the The Tampa Tribune downplays this fact:

"Recent oil exploration on Cuba’s northern shore led by Spain’s Repsol oil company came up dry. However, experts expect more exploration because of estimates that some 5 billion to 20 billion barrels of oil and 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas will be found beneath Cuban waters."

First of all, it wasn't just Spain's Respol that pulled out.

It was Repsol, Malaysia's Petronas, Venezuela's PDVSA and Russia's Zarubezhneft that pulled out.

Even before them, Brazil's Petrobras warned of the hype.

Thus, there are no credible plans for future off-shore or near-shore Cuban oil exploration.

Moreover, we've been hearing "expert" estimates about Cuban oil for over a decade.

The only difference now is that the "experts" are too embarrassed to be identified by name.

But why stop a good narrative for the Castro regime (and chasing ghosts), rather than focusing on the very real concerns its dictatorship poses (i.e. increasing repression, violation of international norms, weapons proliferation, etc.).

Former Cuban Political Prisoners Ask for Odebrecht Investigation

Thursday, November 14, 2013
From The Miami Herald:

Former Cuban political prisoners ask for investigation of Coral Gables firm

Former political prisoners of the Cuban regime asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Odebrecht USA, a Coral Gables branch of a Brazilian conglomerate, has violated U.S. laws by failing to register as an agent of a foreign country.

The company is active in several major construction projects around South Florida and its parent firm, Odebrecht Group, is building a $900 million expansion in the Cuban port of Mariel and about to start a $150 million remodeling of Cuba’s airports.

“Some of us political prisoners have been worried for some time because the work of this company in Cuba is helping the Cuban regime to remain in power,” said Angel de Fana, director of the Miami-based Unyielding ("Plantados") Until Liberty and Democracy in Cuba.

The letter, signed by Antonio Castro of the Coral Gables law firm of Infante/Zumpano, says that Odebrecht “is a known proxy of the Brazilian government’s foreign policy agenda and the ties between the governments of Brazil and Cuba are widely known.”

It was sent to the Justice Department office that enforces the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, and dated Nov. 1. The law requires agents of foreign entities to register with the department.

Odebrecht Group spokesperson Thais Reiss denied any wrongdoing in an email to el Nuevo Herald from the conglomerate’s offices in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “Odebrecht vehemently rejects any allegation that it has violated United States law and is extremely proud of its record of performance and economic investment in the State and local communities where we operate,” the email said.

“Our focus remains on the delivery of outstanding service to our clients and the continued growth of a sustainable business presence in the United States,” it added.

The letter to the Justice Department said the Brazilian government is financing the Mariel and airport projects in Cuba as a way of challenging U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba, and has classified all documents on the Cuba deals as “state secrets.”

Odebrecht USA had been involved in the construction in Miami of the American Airlines Arena, the North and South Terminals at Miami International Airport, the Adrienne Arsht Center, and the Metromover.

Kerry Commends Panama's Interdiction of Cuba-DPRK "Illicit Cargo"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Excerpt from remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pursuant to today's meeting with Panamanian Foreign Minister Fernando Nunez Fabrega:

[W]e have a lot of cooperative efforts with Panama, obviously a critical nation in terms of both its interests, its values, our work we do together, as well as its location – their very important interdiction of a North Korean ship with illicit cargo. Panama has been working hard to do the job, get the job done, and to be a cooperative partner, and we’re very grateful for that.

Obama Told Cuban Dissidents He Wouldn't Lift Embargo

Excerpt from Spain's ABC:

Barack Obama told Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas that his Administration would not lift the U.S. embargo imposed since 1962 because "it would provide oxygen" to the dictatorship of the Castro brothers. The historic meeting last Friday between the U.S. President and Berta Soler, head of The Ladies in White, and Fariñas, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) has been considered a recognition and "support" for the dissident movement.

Fariñas appreciated the President asking "what he should do or rectify to help Cuba become a democracy." During the event, Obama mentioned that Washington should revise its relations with Havana.

The independent journalist, protagonist of more than 20 hunger strikes, insisted that the President "should not be swayed by the false signs on change" and that he should not negotiate with the regime without including the exile community and internal dissidence. Fariñas also stressed that he should not lift the embargo until "there are clear signs that Cuba is transitioning toward democracy." Meanwhile, Barack Obama communicated his intent to continue insisting on a policy of "people to people, not government to government" in relations with Cuba.

Must-Read: Meet Young Cuban Democracy Leader Sayli Navarro

There's a must-read interview in Cafe Fuerte (translated by Havana Times) with young Cuban democracy leader Sayli Navarro.

Here's an excerpt:

One of Sayli Navarro’s earliest of childhood memories is going to the headquarters of Cuba’s State Security in the province of Matanzas at the age of six, when she went to visit her father, who had been detained there.

“I still remember his purple pants, how he showed us some bruises on his knee after his first arrest,” 27-year-old Navarro, now visiting Miami, recalled.

In December 1992, Felix Navarro was detained in the town of Perico, where the family lives, for writing anti-government graffiti. In October 1993, he was sentenced to three years in prison for the crime of “enemy propaganda.”

This was a turning point in Sayli Navarro’s life. She spent a good part of her childhood and youth visiting her father in prisons, which she can name like someone quoting from books they’ve read, and remember like landscapes one has seen on a trip: Aguica, Combinado del Este, Canaleta, Ceiba Mocha, Bayamo and Guantanamo, among others.

In 2003, when she was only 17, her father became one of the 75 people imprisoned during Cuba’s Black Spring.

As of that point, Sayli began accompanying her mother to church, in company of Cuba’s Ladies in White. Today, she is one of the main activists of this organization in Matanzas.

This past July 14, authorities unleashed a wave of repressive measures against the Ladies in White who attempt to participate in the Sunday mass held in the town of Colon, Matanzas. Some twenty Ladies in White from different municipalities in the province regularly attempt to meet at the local Catholic Church, but they are generally detained on the street and dropped off in remote locations, far from their homes and any populated area.

Sundays of Repression

Navarro has been keeping tabs: this past Sunday was the 18th time of repressive measures against the Ladies in White. Throughout her life, she has been detained 15 times, mostly for attempting to participate at mass in the Colon church.

“The fear is always with you. I always say I’m never going to lose the fear. When I go to mass, however, I leave it behind,” young Navarro says. “One Sunday, they picked me and my father up and left us out in a field, where loose cattle were grazing, six kilometers from the municipality of Maximo Gomez. On another occasion, they left us near the municipality of Marti, more than 20 kilometers from my house. Luckily, a horse-driven carriage stopped and took us part of the way back.”

The aim, she explains, is to prevent them from going to mass and, at the same time, to avoid having to issue the detention order they have to draw up if the activists are taken to a police station.

“I never resist arrest, but they always use excess force and hit you. I am able to overcome my fear because I know they are the ones who are committing a crime,” Navarro added.

To carry out reprisals, the government’s repressive forces are increasingly relying on people employed in prisons and individuals from municipalities near Perico, particularly young people from the city of Cardenas, who are offered jobs in the tourist industry in Varadero in exchange for harassing the Ladies in White, Navarro explained.

“State Security agents are increasingly repressive. What’s more, they are corrupt. There’s one who goes by the name of Orestes Martinez, whose real name is apparently Yosvani, whom we call the “transporter”, because he steals meat from the Los Arabos plant to sell in Havana,” Navarro told us.

Another individual, identified as Orlando Figueroa (his real name), is an officer at the Aguica prison. Before that, “he stole and sold animal fodder to make ends meet and now he rents out rooms in the prison’s conjugal areas for 20 CUC,” she reported.

The repressors also fear being exposed in the video recordings made by the opposition.

“They’re so afraid of being filmed by us that, when they detain us, the first thing they take away are our telephones,” she said. “New technologies have changed the rules of the game.”

DOJ Investigation of Odebrecht Sought for Foreign Activities

Attorneys for a group of Cuban political prisoners have formally requested a U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") investigation into whether the Brazilian conglomerate, Odebrecht Group ("Odebrecht"), has acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal in the United States, in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

According to the filing, "Odebrecht is a known proxy of the Brazilian government's foreign policy agenda."

The Brazilian government recently subsidized $800 million of the Castro dictatorship's Port of Mariel expansion, the island nation's largest contracted project, which Odebrecht completed in partnership with the Cuban military.

A 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia revealed how this project was aimed at challenging the U.S.'s sanctions policy towards Cuba.

The filing contends that, "Odebrecht acts at the order, request, and under the direction or control of the Brazilian government and has its activities financed and subsidized by the same."

In so doing, "it has woven a complex web to conceal its active presence in the United States."

See the official request below (or click here).

11.1.13 Letter to H. Hunt _FARA_ -

Dissident Awareness Campaign: José Daniel Ferrer

Today, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group released the seventh installment of its dissident awareness campaign, featuring José Daniel Ferrer García:

José Daniel Ferrer García is a Cuban dissident from Santiago de Cuba. He is a member of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU), a pro-democracy organization in Cuba whose members have been the victim of repeated abuses and beatings for their advocacy. 

Ferrer participated in collecting signatures for the Varela Project with now deceased Oswaldo Paya, in which 25,000 signatories petitioned the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as well as institute a multi-party democracy. 

For his human rights and democracy advocacy, Ferrer was detained during a March 2003 crackdown and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment. As a result, Amnesty International declared Ferrer a prisoner of conscience. Since being released in 2011, Ferrer has bravely continued to advocate for human rights in Cuba and was again detained in April 2012 for "public disorder", and in August 2012 for continued activism with UNPACU.

What Cuba's Dissidents Told President Obama

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissident Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas donned a crisp suit and tie to meet the president of the United States in Miami, but it was his battle wounds that spoke volumes.

The former psychologist and veteran Cuban soldier of the Angolan war — a humble man from central Santa Clara who has become an internationally recognized human rights activist after staging some two dozen hunger strikes to protest government abuses — was sporting bruises and cuts from the latest beating by pro-government mobs and police.

When Fariñas told President Barack Obama, leader of the free world, that repression in Cuba is increasing despite what appears to be positive economic-driven changes, he wasn’t citing a report but speaking from personal experience. So was Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, who also met the president at the Friday night Democratic Party fund-raising event. It was a momentous gathering because of the presence of these two brave Cubans — black dissidents who have severed the racial divide the Castro regime has tried to create between Cubans on the island and in exile.

And here they were, meeting with not just any American president, but with a black man who made history breaking through this nation’s own racial divide in a historic election.

Yet this is a president who, until this moment, had been publicly absent from the topic of Cuba, even as beatings and detentions of activists like Fariñas and Soler have become commonplace.

It was a welcome and symbolic meeting, one that many people hope translates into greater international protection for all of Cuba’s dissidents, and particularly for these two brave leaders taking the physical blows at ground zero.

Surprisingly, the meeting has generated little commentary. I’d venture to say perhaps because the event at the home of Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, was closed to the media. Or perhaps the lack of enthusiasm shows we’ve become a people weary of presidential gestures high on rhetoric but short on results. It’s been five decades of “ Cuba sí, Castro no” chants, and policies, isolationist and otherwise, that continued to expand exile and didn’t yield democratic changes.

Not that Obama broke any ground beyond the symbolism.

His speech touched on some of the predictable talking points of his administration — business creation, the nature of Washington politics, and energy policy — but gave few specifics about Cuba beyond the mention of his administration’s increased “people-to-people” travel and family remittances.

His policy of supporting and engaging civil society, the president said, is beginning to show results.

“We’ve started to see changes on the island,” Obama said. “Now, I think we all understand that, ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.

“And I think that partly because we’re of the same generation, we recognize that the aims are always going to be the same. And what we have to do is to continually find new mechanisms and new tools to speak out on behalf of the issues that we care so deeply about.”

But perhaps what is equally, if not more important, than what Obama said was what Fariñas and Soler told the president.

They counseled him to listen to dissidents who live on the island: Repression in Cuba has increased, not decreased. They advocated keeping “tough sanctions” until the government goes beyond “cosmetic changes” and moves toward real democracy.

And they told Obama that any negotiations on the future of Cuba must include dissidents in the island as well as Cuban exiles.

It takes guts to publicly disclose those elements of a conversation with the president — then return to Cuba.

Maybe therein lies hope.

How Obama Can Be "Creative" on Cuba Policy

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Kudos to U.S. President Barack Obama for graciously meeting and embracing Cuban pro-democracy leaders Berta Soler, of The Ladies in White, and Guillermo Farinas, of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

Both Soler (through The Ladies in White) and Farinas are past recipients, 2005 and 2010 respectively, of the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

This simple encounter has sent a message of hope and encouragement to all those risking their lives for freedom and democracy in Cuba.

Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., this important encounter has been overshadowed by speculation regarding some open-ended remarks by President Obama on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Here's what the President said, verbatim:

"[W]e’ve started to see changes on the island. Now, I think we all understand that, ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn't make sense.

And I think that partly because we're of the same generation, we recognize that the aims are always going to be the same. And what we have to do is to continually find new mechanisms and new tools to speak out on behalf of the issues that we care so deeply about."

Fair enough. Here are four simple recommendations:

I. Don't hurt the "extraordinary activists" that you recognize will ultimately achieve freedom in Cuba.

Both Soler and Farinas have made it very clear that the U.S. should not lift sanctions towards Cuba. This would provide the Castro regime with a spigot of economic relief at a time when its Venezuelan subsidies are steadily declining and it's desperately seeking a new foreign bailout for its failed policies.

Moreover, it would provide a pipeline of hard currency to the Castro regime's totalitarian apparatus, as political arrests and repression spike. This would further uneven the playing field for these democracy activists.

As Farinas said about the meeting, "it was an opportunity to express to the U.S. President that there have been cosmetic economic changes in Cuba, that the repression has increased and that he must not let himself be carried away by siren songs."

Last month alone, nearly 1,000 activists were arbitrarily arrested. This increase in repression is perhaps the most dramatic "change" taking place in Cuba today. It should not be rewarded.

II. Focus on updating access to technology.

One aspect of U.S. policy that should continue to be updated in this "age of the Internet and Google" is -- simply -- finding ways to help the Cuban people access the Internet and Google. That is what American development worker, Alan Gross, was doing when he was taken hostage by the Castro regime in December 2009.

Technology has been the key to the growth and strength of Cuba's democracy movement in recent years. The impact of President Bush's 2008 regulations authorizing the non-commercial export of cell phones to Cuba, extended by President Obama, have proven to be transcendental.

The Obama Administration should now launch an initiative to help the Cuban people gain free, uncensored access to the Internet, perhaps through satellite WiFi transmissions -- call it e-Marti.

In the "age of the Internet and Google" this is eminently doable.

III. Ensure current U.S. travelers help the Cuban people, not the Castro regime.

In 2011, the Obama Administration authorized a category of non-degree seeking, educational trips to Cuba, known as "people-to-people" travel. These trips are essentially organized "tourism junkets", whereby travelers stay in the Castro regime's five-star hotels, dine at its restaurants and party at its nightclubs.

Let's stress this important point: 100% of current U.S. "people-to-people" travelers stay in the Cuban military's luxury hotels.

That is absurd.

Why doesn't the Obama Administration require current "people-to-people" travelers stay at "casa particulares," which are private homes that rent rooms to foreigners?

Why not require "people-to-people" travelers to solely dine at "paladares," which are small restaurants run out of private homes (excluding the fancy ones run by the Ministry of the Interior)?

It seems this would be a more "creative" way to help the Cuban people, rather than increasingly feeding the coffers of the Cuban military (which was recently caught violating international sanctions by proliferating weapons to North Korea).

After all, the President's stated purpose for these trips was to help "promote the [Cuban people's] independence from the authorities."

These trips do the exact opposite.

IV. Stop granting visas to human rights violators.

In 2011, the Obama Administration launched a broad initiative to prohibit the issuance of visas to human rights violators throughout the world.

Yet, it seems Cuba has been the exception.

Castro regime officials, including its jailers, torturers and other state security officials keep popping up unexpectedly on the streets of Miami.

Imagine how Cuba's "extraordinary activists" feel seeing the same people that harass, beat and imprison them being rewarded with U.S. visas.

It's incredibly disheartening and sends a message to these human rights violators that there are no consequences for their reprehensible actions.

In other words, it doesn't "help" Cuba's democracy activists, as President Obama acknowledged the U.S. should do.

Security Council Commends Panama for Cuba-DPRK Interdiction

Monday, November 11, 2013
Questions remains:

Will it hold Cuba and North Korea accountable for this violation of international sanctions?

New Book: My (Bad Business) Partner Fidel Castro #Cuba

Michel Villand, a French businessman and owner of the brand "Pain de Paris," has written a tell-all book on his experiences in Cuba.

It's called "My Partner Fidel Castro. Cuba, a Detour in Paradise."

As EFE reports:

Villand wanted to be "faithful" to the reality of a foreign investor in Cuba and expose the "mountain of difficulties" suffered in this journey .

"Founding a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign company is the same as putting a noose around your neck," says the entrepreneur, who set up two bread factories – one inaugurated by Fidel in 1997 – and up to thirteen stores for direct sale to consumers under the brand "Pain de Paris."

"Fidel knew we’d had the courage to invest in Cuba, despite the Helms- Burton Act,” he recalls.

Despite this, it wasn't the Americans that prevented the project from succeeding.  After a few years, the company worked “very well,” so the state unilaterally decided to keep the business without compensation.

The book also tries to provide some lessons: "Many foreign investors that go in good faith to Cuba, North Korea and China have no idea what they are risking there. They go with their money, with all their enthusiasm, but the barriers are such that, unless you are the size of a multinational, you can never win."

Quote of the Week

It was an opportunity to express to the U.S. President that there have been cosmetic economic changes in Cuba, that the repression has increased and that he must not let himself be carried away by siren songs.
-- Guillermo Fariñas, Cuban democracy leader, on meeting U.S. President Barack Obama last week, EFE, 11/11/13

Three Cuban Prisoners of Conscience Near Death

Report from The Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU):

- Repression in Cuba is reaching its highest levels in decades. Activists from the UNPACU, an umbrella organization that has united 90% of peaceful dissidents in Cuba, with more than 8,000 affiliated members, are taking to the streets everyday.

- In the month of October alone, there were 909 reported political arrests, as compiled by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR). The monthly average of political arrests has reached 721 over the last three months and continues rising.

- Among these arbitrary political arrests, some are being detained, beaten and released within days; while others are being charged with "counter-revolutionary activities" or are being falsely accused of common crimes.

- Three of these activists have begun hunger strikes after months in prison, where they were tortured, beaten and humiliated to the point where they now chosen to stand for "freedom or death."

These political prisoners are:

- Angel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, of Bayamo, is a hip-hop artist known as “El Critico”. He is also an UNPACU leader in Bayamo and Manzanillo. A Twitter campaign with the hash-tag #FreeElCritico has sought to call attention to his cause. His case was reported to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and to other human rights organizations. He has been 27-days on a thirst and hunger strike.

- Roilán Alvarez Rensoler and Rubislandy Ávila Gonzálezhave been imprisoned for months. They have been beaten and tortured, which led them to begin a hunger strike. Only Roilán remains on hunger strike and is in being held in the intensive care unit of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Hospital. His case has also been reported to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and other human rights organizations.

- Marcelino Abreu Bonora, was imprisoned for yelling “Long Live Human Rights,” “Down With Tyranny,” and "Freedom" on Fidel Castro's birthday. His protest was caught on video (see it here). He was severely beaten and has been on a hunger strike for 52-days.

On This Veterans Day

We honor sacrifice and service.

Tweet of the Day

Any semblance of reality is purely coincidental. #MaduroLooter #Venezuela and #Cuba

Wonder If They Used Cuban Munitions?

Sunday, November 10, 2013
From AFP:

North Korea 'publicly executes 80 people'

North Korea publicly executed around 80 people earlier this month, many for watching smuggled South Korean TV shows, a South Korean newspaper reported Monday.

The conservative JoongAng Ilbo cited a single, unidentified source, but at least one North Korean defector group said it had heard rumours that lent credibility to the front-page report.

The source, said to be "familiar" with the North's internal affairs and recently returned from the country, said the executions were carried out in seven cities on November 3.

In the eastern port of Wonsan, the authorities gathered 10,000 people in a sports stadium to watch the execution of eight people by firing squad, the source quoted one eyewitness as saying.

Most were charged with watching illicit South Korean TV dramas, and some with prostitution.

Several of the cities, including Wonsan and Pyongsong in the west, have been designated as special economic zones aimed at attracting foreign investment to boost the North's moribund economy.

WaPo Editorial Board: Keep Cuba Off Rights Council

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Keep the human rights abusers off U.N. council

In recent weeks, an imprisoned Cuban human rights activist and rapper, Angel Yunier Remón, known as “El Critico,” has been on a hunger strike against his incarceration, and is reported to be near death. An innovative artist with an underground following among impoverished Cuban youth, he was jailed March 26 after an altercation at his home staged by Castro’s goons, a gambit to coerce him into silence. But instead he has been resolute, and fought back.

Recently, friends and supporters organized a campaign in social media to call attention to his plight. But the pace of repression in Cuba is not slowing. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reports 909 political arrests in October, the highest in months. Many of those detained have been part of the “Ladies in White” movement, wives and mothers of political prisoners who are arrested on Sundays as they walk to and from Mass.

In an expression of rank hypocrisy, Cuba is seeking a seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council. The General Assembly votes Nov. 12 for 14 new members . Recently, Rosa Maria Payá, daughter of the Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, who died in a suspicious car wreck last year, appealed to the body to reject Cuba, noting that death threats, arbitrary arrests and violence are routinely used to repress dissent.

According to a General Assembly resolution, candidates for the council are supposed to be countries that “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Cuba does not meet that criterion. Other regimes that resort to brutality and violence because they lack genuine political legitimacy are also bidding for seats. Admittedly, the council is not the most effective force, but why bestow membership on those who brazenly violate basic principles of human dignity?

Should China, which brooks no challenge to the ruling party’s monopoly on power and maintains a gulag of political prisoners and the largest Internet censorship operation in the world, be sitting in judgment about human rights? Many are reluctant to speak out because of China’s vast economic power. This is shameful. Russia, too, wants a place. Its qualifications? Two young women of Pussy Riot, the girl band, remain imprisoned for staging a protest in a cathedral; a dozen people face arbitrary prosecution for participating in the Bolotnaya square demonstrations; oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky is entering his 10th year behind bars; a regressive wave of legislation in recent months has further suffocated civil society.

Also seeking a seat is Vietnam, which has been rounding up human rights defenders, political dissidents, lawyers, journalists, bloggers, democracy advocates, religious activists and others. Saudi Arabia wants to be on the council, even though it has routinely thrown people into prison without charge or trial, and refuses to allow women to drive on their own.

If these countries are given seats, what message does it send to the rest of the world? To those like El Critico, bravely standing up to repression?

Amnesty Should Take Action for Cuba's Sonia Garro

U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Joe Garcia (D-FL), have sent a letter to Amnesty International urging the international organization to take action on behalf of Sonia Garro Alfonso, a Cuban pro-democracy advocate and member of The Ladies in White, who has been unjustly imprisoned by the Castro regime for over a year-and-a- half.

See the letter here.

Tweet of the Day

By Cuban democracy leader, Ailer Gonzalez Mena:

Today's Berlin Wall shows that nothing or no one can stop the desire for Freedom.