WaPo: For Cubans, Freedom Remains Elusive

Saturday, November 30, 2013
By Elsa Morejon in The Washington Post:

For Cubans, freedom remains elusive

A few weeks ago, President Obama invited my husband, Oscar Elías Biscet, and me to a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Many thought that in light of Obama’s efforts to improve relations between the United States and Cuba, Gen. Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president, would approve a passport for Oscar so that he could attend. Such was not the case.

Oscar is a physician, but he is not allowed to practice medicine. Amnesty International has named him a prisoner of conscience for his years in jail for defending human rights. He is a follower of the philosophy of Gandhi and King. In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Oscar the Medal of Freedom. But he could not receive the award in person because he was in prison, where he had been sentenced to a term of 25 years. Oscar was released in 2011, but in many ways he's still a prisoner because he can't leave the island.

I, however, was permitted to travel to Washington, and I attended the recent dinner, where the president and Secretary of State John Kerry told me that they regretted Oscar’s absence.

Because of the widespread belief that Cubans now have the right to travel abroad, some have expressed surprise that Oscar was not allowed to leave the island. The right to travel is enjoyed without restriction by billions of people worldwide. It is recognized by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But there is much confusion about what is happening in Cuba today. For example, the political prisoners released a few years ago through the offices of the Catholic Church were compelled to accept that their release was conditioned on their exile, and that of relatives including children, to Spain.

My husband is grateful to Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, to Americans and to people in Europe and Latin America for their support of Cubans’ desire for freedom. Oscar would have wanted to speak to the president about the tragic conditions in which the Cuban people live:

● Regime repression has increased to a level unparalled since the 1960s. Hundreds of arbitrary arrests have been made this year, as well as physical attacks on peaceful demonstrators.

● Raúl Castro does not permit Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross or similar organizations to visit Cuban prisons.

● The promises of Raúl Castro are all too reminiscent of ones made by his brother Fidel. In 2007, Raúl Castro said that every Cuban would have a glass of milk. We are still waiting.

● International humanitarian aid sent to the island after Hurricane Sandy was not distributed to people in flooded areas but instead given to armed forces and directed to stores where it could be resold at prices well beyond the reach of ordinary Cubans.

● Despite Obama’s efforts to improve bilateral relations, the Cuban regime continues to hold an American hostage. Alan Gross was condemned to 15 years in prison for giving a portable computer and a cellphone to Cuban Jews, actions not recognized as crimes in the civilized world.

Many thought that Raúl Castro’s accession to power would end the government’s support of international terrorism and of terrorist anti-American regimes around the globe. But just this summer Panama intercepted a North Korean ship carrying a load of Cuban sugar. Beneath the more than 200,000 sacks of sugar were Soviet-era missile radar equipment and other weapons — in violation of U.N. sanctions against the provision of weaponry to North Korea’s tyrannical regime. In recent days, the Cuban regime has been carrying out a vast military maneuver, known as Bastion 2013, to defend the island against an American invasion that will never come.

As the Christmas season approaches, my husband and I pray to God that the resources the Cuban government devotes to its armed forces and to the repression of the civilian population will instead be used to ameliorate the poverty and hunger of the Cuban people. We pray also for the prompt arrival of freedom in Cuba.

Elsa Morejon is a human rights activist and registered nurse who resides in Cuba. She has been forbidden from medical work since 1998.

Reuters (Poor and Irresponsible) "Analysis" of Cuba's Banking Woes

Friday, November 29, 2013
Reuters "news" agency has published a so-called "analysis," which loosely claims that U.S. sanctions are at fault for Cuba's inability to secure private banking services in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Reuters' piece is neither "news" or "analysis."

It's a de facto op-ed, which conveniently omits key facts, contains mistakes and relies solely on sanctions foes who make false (and unchallenged) assertions.

To begin, Reuters omits the key fact that the Castro regime has a long-standing, Treasury-licensed exemption from U.S. sanctions for banking transactions related to the operation of the Cuba's Interests Section in Washington, D.C. and its U.N. Mission in New York.

Thus, U.S. sanctions do not prohibit these types of banking transactions.

Moreover, the U.S. is not totalitarian Cuba, where all banks are the personal piggy-banks of the Castro brothers. Banks in the U.S. are not owned by the U.S. government, nor can they be compelled to do pro-bono work for the U.S. government or the Cuban dictatorship.

Banks are businesses, whose sole legal duty is to act in good faith to earn value for its shareholders. Thus, if no U.S. banks want to conduct business with Cuba's dictatorship, it's because they don't find it to be of commercial value. Too bad, so sorry.

As to how Cuba's U.S. banking woes may affect Cuban-American travel to the island, Reuters fails to ask:

Why are Cuban-Americans being charged by the Castro regime to travel back to their birth-land in the first place?

If the Castro regime cared about Cuban-Americans visiting their relatives for the holidays, then how about not charging them exorbitant fees? Or just charge them at Havana airport?

Because this is not about families or travel.

The Castro regime has perceived this as an "opportunity" to coerce the U.S. government, which is why it waited until the holiday season to wage a public battle over an issue that arose back in June.

So it's now "threatening" to further separate Cuban families unless the U.S. further eases sanctions. That's called coercion.

But rather than providing balance or reporting the facts, Reuters chose to solely quote "experts" who have either fallen for -- or support -- Castro's coercion, making all sorts of irresponsible and unfounded claims.

First, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) claims Cuba's banking woes are a result of "arcane" and "cumbersome" rules "created three decades ago."

Not sure what rules Congressman Garcia is referring to, but if he's referring to the bipartisan U.S. laws that regulate financial institution's transactions with "state-sponsors of terrorism," these have been created by the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations since 1996 -- and they are far from "arcane" and "cumbersome."

They have actually been very effective in curbing transactions by regimes and rogue actors who risk the safety and integrity of the U.S. banking system. We'd also point out that Cuba's banking system does not meet minimum international standards of money laundering enforcement and transparency.

And yet, despite this concern, Cuba's diplomatic missions are still explicitly licensed and exempted by the Treasury Department to conduct their banking activities in the U.S.

Next, a nameless Miami lawyer claims that this matter could be resolved by "the Office of the Controller of the Currency, which regulates all national banks."

Note to Reuters: It's "Comptroller of the Currency" not "Controller" -- remember, in the U.S. the government doesn't "control" banks, so don't get too caught up in the spin of your "experts."

(It's unbelievable that not a single editor from any newspaper that run this story has caught Reuters' glaring mistake.)

Furthermore, M&T Bank, which dropped Cuba's business, is not a national bank, so it's not even regulated by the Comptroller of the Currency. M&T Bank's primary regulator is the Fed. Get your banking law straight.

Finally, there's the Brookings Institution's Richard Feinberg, who recently wrote about his dreams of another "business-friendly" dictatorship in Cuba.

Never missing an "opportunity" to advocate for such a dictatorship, Feinberg argues that Cuba is suffering the unintended consequences of broader U.S. sanctions -- "a heightened sanctions compliance regime in recent years was more directed at Iran, North Korea and Syria, [Feinberg] noted, but Cuba suffered the consequences by being stuck in the same boat."

In other words, not only do Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba share brutal dictatorships. Not only do they collect and exchange intelligence among themselves. Not only do they provide each other political, economic and diplomatic support. But they also share the same unscrupulous business partners and practices.

It isn't a coincidence that banks and companies caught by Treasury violating Iran, Syria and North Korea sanctions, are usually also violating Cuba sanctions. It's actually a cause for even greater concern.

Feinberg probably also believes that Cuba should be excused for its weapons trafficking to North Korea, in blatant violation of U.N. sanctions.

(We already know that Reuters -- in another recent "analysis" -- believes the "pragmatic" thing for the U.S. to do is sweep this illegal weapons shipment under the rug.)

After all, the U.N. sanctions are aimed at North Korea, Cuba's weapons were just "stuck in the same boat."

Perhaps Reuters should re-focus on being an honest arbitrator of news -- or at least of facts, for that matter.

Must-See Images: Castro's Special Forces Arrest Dissidents

Thursday, November 28, 2013
Yesterday, we posted how 23 peaceful dissidents were arrested in eastern Cuba by Castro's special forces and anti-riot police.

The images below speak for themselves.

And yet, the U.S. keeps allowing "people-to-people" travelers to frequent and finance the Cuban military's finest hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.

Here's what they're paying for:

Cuba Shuts Down Consular Services in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The Castro regime will now issue all sorts of "threats" and "propaganda" in an effort to coerce the Obama Administration into compelling a private bank to do business with it.

Sorry, Raul -- but this is not totalitarian Cuba.

UPDATE- Or, maybe the coercion will work after all.

From the State Department:

"The Department of State has been actively working with the Interests Section in Washington to identify a new bank to provide services to the Cuban missions. The U.S. government seeks to help foreign missions in the United States that have problems obtaining banking services, while ensuring the ongoing security of the U.S. financial system through adequate regulatory supervision. We would like to see the Cuban missions return to full operations."

From AP:

Cuban mission in US halts consular services

Cuba's mission to the United States said it has been forced to halt nearly all consular services effective Tuesday because the bank that handled its accounts was severing the relationship, and diplomats have been unable to find another with which to do business.

M&T Bank told Cuba in July that it had decided to stop providing banking services to foreign missions and said Havana would have to close its accounts, the Cuban Interests Section in Washington said in a statement.

Despite efforts with the U.S. State Department and multiple banks, Cuba has been unable to line up either an American bank or a foreign one with branches in the country to take its business, the statement said.

Cuba said that until further notice, consular services such as passport and visa processing will be cut at both of its outposts in the U.S. except in "humanitarian" and other unspecified cases.

23 Democracy Activists Arrested in Eastern Cuba

Yesterday, 23 democracy activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested in the eastern Cuban city of Palma Soriano.

The arrests were pursuant to raids undertaken by Castro's political police and riot forces at the home of local UNPACU leader, Victor Campa Almenares.

Security forces also raided the home of Campa's neighbor, Rodolfo Hernandez Guerrero, and stole books, records and money from the residence.

The 23 arrested democracy activists are:

Rodolfo Hernández Guerrero
Ramón Chang Sigas
Andres Lugo Perez
Yunisel Rodriguez Gonde
Laudelino Rodríguez Mendoza
Leodán Ardinez Morales
Román Barrientos Zayas
Equisander Benitez Moya
Angel Enmanuel Tabarcia Colón
Víctor Campa Almenares
Pedro Campa Almenares
Yeroslandis Calderín Alvarado
Yosvani García Rusindo
Ileana Cedeño Ávila
Santiago Batista de la Rosa
Luisa Guerrero Naranjo
Yunaysis Martínez Céspedes
Rosalina Hernández Guerrero
Rosa María Hernández Guerrero
Yanelys Elégica Despaigne
Yunaysis Carracedo Milanés
Elsa Litsy Isaac Reyes
Odelis Calderín Alvarado

Oil & Gas Company Fined for Violating Cuba Sanctions

Treasury Announces $91 Million Settlement with Weatherford International LTD. for Apparent Sanctions Violations

Treasury Settlement Part of Combined $100 Million Settlement for Company’s Activities Involving Iran, Cuba, and Sudan Sanctions Programs

WASHINGTON – Today the U.S. Department of the Treasury reached the largest ever settlement outside of the banking industry for apparent violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran, Sudan, and Cuba with Weatherford International Ltd. and a number of its subsidiaries and affiliates (Weatherford). As part of a combined $100 million settlement with several federal government partners, the Treasury Department announced a $91 million agreement with Weatherford to settle its potential liability for these apparent violations. Today’s action is the result of an exhaustive investigation by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), along with other Federal agencies, which are also levying civil and criminal penalties against Weatherford for its egregious actions which compromised U.S. sanctions.

From 2003 to 2007, Weatherford conducted extensive oilfield services business in Iran which involved the direct or indirect exportation of goods, technology, and services to Iran, and the facilitation of those transactions by U.S. persons, totaling $23,001,770.

From 2005 to 2008, Weatherford conducted extensive business that provided oilfield equipment and services in which the government of Cuba or blocked Cuban nationals had an interest, including travel-related transactions by Weatherford employees to and from Cuba, totaling $69,268,078.

From 2005 to 2006, Weatherford conducted oilfield services business in Sudan which involved the exportation of goods, technology, and services from the United States to Sudan, totaling $295,846.

Tweet of the Day

By Cuban blogger and democracy advocate, Yusnaby Perez:

When we talk about the #Blockade, we should remember that in Cuba there are @pepejeans and @benetton stores that are state property.

"People-to-People" Travel Finances Human Rights Violators in Cuba

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Yesterday, we posted how Conde Nast's "best places to drink, dance and dine" in Havana are all owned by the repressive Cuban military and state security forces.

We also noted how one of Conde Nast's featured restaurants, El Aljibe, which it falsely describes as "family-run," was actually founded by a Ministry of the Interior front-company, Cubanacan, in 1993.

However, we incorrectly noted that El Aljibe was still owned by Cubanacan.

Even worse, El Aljibe is now owned by the Grupo Palmares, another Ministry of the Interior front-company, which is infamously run by senior officials of Cuba's state security apparatus.

These are the same officials that directly order brutal and sadistic acts of repression against peaceful Cuban activists.

Grupo Palmares also owns the Cabaret Tropicana, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita.

A quick search of currently-approved "people-to-people" itineraries shows how El Aljibe is a favorite stop. (See here, here and here.)

And, of course, Cabaret Tropicana, La Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridita are also major "people-to-people" staples.

So why are U.S. "people-to-people" travelers being allowed to directly finance establishments owned by those who are directly responsible for grave human rights abuses against the Cuban people?

It is shameful, irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

Must-Read: Welcome to (the Real) Cuba

Monday, November 25, 2013
In World Affairs Journal, journalist and author Michael J. Totten discovers the Cuba that foreign correspondents (willfully) and tourists (ingeniously) ignore.

Here are some excerpts:

Fidel Castro made a liar out of me.

Okay, I didn’t have to lie to immigration, customs, and security officials at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. I could have just applied for a journalist visa and hoped they’d approve me. But colleagues warned I’d have to wait months for an affirmative, and the authorities wouldn’t tell me if the answer was no. They’d simply toss my application into the trash if they thought I’d write anything “negative.” Six months, nine months, a year would finally pass and I’d still be waiting and wondering if I’d ever hear from them.

I have a job to do. I can’t wait six to twelve months in bureaucracy hell. So I lied.

“Tourism” I said when the nice woman at Passport Control asked what I was doing there.

The Cubans knew I was coming. My name was on the flight manifest. If anyone Googled me, they’d find out at once that I work as a journalist. And if they checked their records they’d know I didn’t have the right visa. Reporters who work in Cuba on tourist visas are arrested, interrogated, and deported. It makes no difference whether or not off-the-books journalists are friendly to the government. They must register with and—more important—get permission from the proper officials.

I had to stay off their radar.

*

I know what it’s like to wear a false face. Not only did I have to lie at the airport, I had to conceal my identity from every single person I met in the country, including other Americans, lest someone say the wrong thing about me in public in front of the wrong person at the wrong time. I vowed to myself before I even left the United States that I wouldn’t tell a single human being in Cuba who I am or what I was doing no matter how much I felt like I trusted them. I hated having to do that, and I felt a little self-loathing because of it, but I had to be careful and consoled myself with the fact that I could be honest about everything later in writing.

Likewise I have little choice but to conceal the identities of many people I spoke to. Occasionally I can quote Cubans by name—especially if they’re in exile—but for the most part I can’t. Those on the island had no idea they were speaking to a journalist and that I might quote them, and I won’t risk their safety.

However, I will tell you this much: None of the Cubans I quote are high profile dissidents except when I cite what they’ve written for public consumption. Those who aren’t in prison live under total surveillance. The regime posts guards outside their houses and points cameras at their windows and doors. I’ve been told by reliable sources that state security agents will sometimes commandeer next-door apartments and houses to tighten the screws even more. If I were to walk into that kind of surveillance umbrella, there’s virtually no chance I’d get in and out without being questioned and tailed, and there was a strong chance I’d be arrested.

*

There is no product advertising in Cuba. Every billboard in the entire country is plastered with propaganda from the Communist Party.

The first one I saw featured a hangman’s noose and said “BLOQUEO -- El genocidio mas largo de la historia.” BLOCKADE – The longest genocide in history.

The government is referring to the embargo, or sanctions, put in place against Cuba in 1962 after Castro nationalized US property. But the sanctions are not a blockade—which is an act of war—and they certainly don’t constitute genocide.

Another billboard showed the logo of the UJC, the Union of Communist Youth, which is composed of the faces of three communist leaders—Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and Julio Antonio Mella—men who are dubbed “The protagonists of our time.” The UJC’s motto is “study, work, rifle.”

I groaned to myself at these absurd slogans and images, but was delighted when I later heard Cubans dismiss it all as “state propaganda.”

*

“Is there any private enterprise in Cuba?” I heard an American man in my hotel lobby say to his Cuban tour guide.

“No,” said the tour guide—which is not strictly true, but it might as well be.

I couldn’t resist butting into their conversation.

“How do people here feel about that?” I said. “Honestly.”

“We hate it, of course,” she said. “But there’s nothing we can do about it but leave.”

*

I had no laptop and no notebook, but I had to take notes. How?

I could have typed something up in the business center and emailed it to myself, but incoming and outgoing Internet traffic is heavily monitored, so that solution was out. I know of two people who got in trouble doing that sort of thing, and one of them really was just a tourist. All he did was criticize Fidel Castro on Facebook.

*

Private Internet is banned. You can only get online in hotels, Internet cafes, and government offices. Regular citizens are effectively prohibited from accessing the Web by the price. It cost me seven dollars an hour to use a dial-up connection. The government caps Cuban salaries at 20 dollars a month, so it costs a citizen ten days of income just to get online for an hour. Once they do get online, the connection will be so slow that surfing around is impossible. It took me the better part of my hour to get connected, to open my inbox, and to send a single email to my wife telling her I had arrived safely and without incident.

The government strangles the Internet because it fears free information. There can be no other reason. That’s also why they vet journalists in advance and require special visas. Information can barely get in and barely get out. There can be no Twitter or Facebook revolution in Cuba’s near future.

And there are apparently no real newspapers or magazines, at least none that I saw. No International Herald Tribune. No Newsweek and Time in the dentist’s office. No Google News since there is no Google. Certainly not the Wall Street Journal or The Economist.

I hadn’t even been there a full day and I already felt umbilically severed from the rest of the planet. My awareness of the world narrowed to what I could see right in front of me. I felt as though I had lost one of my senses. I had no real access to the Internet. No CNN, no New York Times. No blogs, not even my own. Nothing at all. I could not use my iPhone. I may as well have been at the bottom of the ocean.

*

Nobody hurries. They have all the time in the world. And it’s a good thing, too, because, as one Cuban said, “our national sport is standing in lines.”

It reminded me a bit of Libya under Moammar Qaddafi, which I visited for the first time in 2004, only Cuba is better educated, more advanced culturally, and—even though much of its architecture is thoroughly ravaged—more pleasing aesthetically.

But there’s a reason I’m comparing it to Libya under Qaddafi and to the Soviet Union. Qaddafi modeled his government on Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist regime in Romania. The Brother Leader of the Al-Fateh Revolution never called himself a communist; he insisted his Libyan brand of socialism was the “third way” between liberal capitalism and Soviet-style collectivism. But he was effectively a communist in all but name, and Libya at the time looked even more the part than Havana.

*

After the revolution the State Security Department, known locally by some at the time as the Red Gestapo, recruited thousands of chivatos (rats), internal secret police who operated more or less like the Stasi did in East Germany. Repression was out in the open back then. Thousands were murdered and tens of thousands thrown into prison for political reasons.

In an essay titled “Interminable Totalitarianism in the Tropics,” collected in The Black Book of Communism by Harvard University Press, French historian Pascal Fontaine describes the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Castro’s ruthless enforcers of ideological correctness. One was set up on each block in urban areas to keep watch on everybody. Everything about them intimidates. Next to the front door of one CDR office I saw the image of a faceless man wielding a sword above the words “Always in combat.”

Always in combat against whom, you might ask?

The neighbors.

“The surveillance and denunciation system is so rigorous,” Fontaine writes, “that family intimacy is almost nonexistent.”

Family intimacy is almost nonexistent.

Aside from the slave labor camps and the staggering body counts, I can think of no more devastating an indictment of totalitarian government than that sentence.

*

An oblivious tourist could be blissfully unaware of all this and have a nice time in Cuba, I guess, but I was not an oblivious tourist and knew perfectly well that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara turned the entire island nation into Benthem’s Panopticon.

Sadistic Torture of Cuban Independent Journalist

According to the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs, Cuban independent journalist Yoeni Guerra Garcia was "drugged" and "raped" over the weekend in the Nieves Morejon prison of the town of Sancti Spiritus.

The attack against this independent journalist was ordered by the Castro regime's state security officials.

Guerra Garcia has now been transferred to a psychiatric hospital, where he remains physically tied to a bed.

Family visits have been denied.

More "reform" you can't believe in.  

Conde Nast Makes Pitch for Repressive Cuban Military

Sunday, November 24, 2013
We've seen Vogue make the pitch for Syria's Assad, Elle for North Korea's Kim and now Conde Nast for Cuba's Castros.

What do the bars El Emperador, El Floridita and Vista al Golfo; the restaurants El Aljibe, Bodeguita del Medio and Cafe del Oriente; and the clubs Cafe Cantante Mi Habana and Club Tropicana, have in common?

They are all featured as best places to "drink, dance and dine" in Conde Nast's "One Night in Havana."

But more importantly, they are all owned by the repressive Cuban military and state security forces.

You know -- the same Cuban military that was caught proliferating weapons to North Korea, in violation of international sanctions.

Of course, to mislead (as has become an increasing trend), Conde Nast describes Al Aljibe as "family-run," pursuant to a latest false narrative of "independent" businesses in Cuba.

However, the fact is that Al Aljibe was founded in 1993 (and remains owned) by the notorious Ministry of the Interior's tourism company, Cubanacan.

You know -- the same Ministry of the Interior that oversees the harassment, torture and imprisonment of peaceful Cuban democracy activists.

Note to the State Department: These are also the favorite locales that U.S. "people-to-people" travelers frequent in Cuba.

Absolutely shameful.

On the Iran Nuclear Pact

The Sunday news shows were full of debate regarding the interim pact between Iran and the United States +5.

There have been many robust arguments in favor and against the pact.

Instead, we'd like to underscore the two points in which everyone seems to agree:

First, that the intentions of the Iranian regime should be viewed with great skepticism.

Second, that sanctions worked in providing the U.S. with significant leverage, particularly sanctions "with teeth."

Hopefully, the Obama Administration will also heed these lessons in dealing with other "state-sponsors of terrorism," namely Cuba and Syria.

U.S. policymakers should continue to view the intentions of the Castro and Assad regimes with great skepticism.

Moreover, sanctions towards these nations should not be further weakened -- to the contrary -- in order to temper the dangerous and illegal behavior of these regimes.

Castro Regime: Political Parties Will "Never" Be Permitted

From Spain's EFE:

Cuba's Minister of Foreign Commerce, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, stressed on Friday that political parties, other than the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which has been in power since 1959, will "never" be allowed to participate in elections in his country.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

MH Editorial Board to Obama: Listen to Cuba's Dissidents

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Listen to Cuba’s dissidents  

OUR OPINION: U.S. policy should not be misled by cosmetic changes in Cuba.

The Obama administration is dropping broad hints of possible changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Any change should come with a cautionary note: Watch what Cuba’s leaders do to dissidents and the average citizen alike, not what they say about “modernizing” Cuba.

It’s encouraging to hear that the administration is thinking about how to move the needle on Cuba, as President Obama told an audience in Miami recently. Too often Cuban issues are deemed politically risky and shoved aside.

But policy toward Cuba should not be forged in a vacuum. Raúl Castro and his octogenarian colleagues show that they’re determined to hang onto power. They’re not interested in genuine democracy and they’re not about to tolerate any changes that could threaten their survival. The regime’s actions speak volumes about its true intentions:

• November began with a delay in the trial of three democracy activists arrested last year during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The church has a new pope, but these dissidents are still in jail.

• The following weekend, Cuban security officials detained 30 members of the Ladies in White in yet another crackdown on freedom advocates, and a government mob pummeled a prominent dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, when he dared complain to the police.

• On Oct. 14, police and a pro-government mob arrested 22 members of the Ladies in White who were marking the anniversary of the death of their founder.

• In September, more than 700 short-term detentions of dissidents were reported by Cuban human rights groups, one of the highest totals in years.

This goes to the heart of what Cuba’s dictatorship is all about — power. It’s important to put events in this context and not the false reality portrayed by the regime.

President Obama sparked speculation about upcoming changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba when he told a private Democratic Party fund-raiser here that “we have to continue to update our policies” toward that beleaguered nation. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry repeated those same words in a major speech on Latin America.

The president said his administration would have to be “creative” and “thoughtful” in updating U.S. policy, words that Mr. Kerry echoed while noting that the two governments “are finding some cooperation on common interests.”

Mr. Kerry properly noted changes in Cuba that make life a bit easier for people by allowing more Cubans to travel freely and work for themselves. But such changes and selective actions don’t portend a change in the nature of the regime. The secretary of State noted that this “should absolutely not blind us to the authoritarian reality of life for ordinary Cubans.”

Exactly. Fortunately, that same message was delivered to Mr. Obama by two prominent dissidents when the president was in Miami.

Mr. Fariñas and Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, met with President Obama at a Democratic fund-raiser hosted by Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation. Mr. Mas Santos deserves credit for providing a useful venue for the president to hear directly from two brave dissidents.

Listen to opposition leaders who live in Cuba, they told Mr. Obama. Keep “tough sanctions” in place, disregarding “cosmetic changes” until the regime moves toward real democracy. Ensure that dissidents and civil society have a place at the table in any negotiations on Cuba.

That advice should be heeded as the administration ponders new moves toward a nation held captive for almost 55 years.

Quote of the Week: On Cuba's Mariel Industrial Zone

Sweat shops, exploitation, prohibitions, misery, layoffs, high taxes, edicts in place of democratic laws and a new labor code so that ‘employers’ — a euphemism for capitalist exploiters — do as they wish with defenseless workers. Those are the possibilities they’re offering to investors so they can squeeze workers as much as they want.
-- Pedro Campos, Cuban social-democrat opposition activist, on the Castro regime's new Mariel industrial zone, Global Times, 11/23/13

Tweet of the Day: On Censorship in Cuba

By Cuban poet and novelist, Wendy Guerra:

It doesn't matter that I'm not published in my own country, we photocopy and distribute our words so that literature won't be prohibited in CUBA.