Check Out "Hard Rock Havana"

Saturday, December 7, 2013
"Liberty is what we're missing more than anything," says a young Cuban metal-head at the end of the clip (below).

From Blabbermouth:

On the margins of Cuba, an isolated country better known for cigars and Castro, a vibrant heavy metal scene flourishes.

Flocking to concerts around the communist-controlled island, tattooed fans wearing black METALLICA t-shirts listen to the screaming shouts of the country's metal bands.

The celebrities in this scene are the members of ZEUS, the country's oldest heavy metal band. They've performed in Havana since the 1980s, when this American-influenced music was officially banned by the Castro government. The long-haired rockers — called "freakies" — were thrown in jail and concerts were broken up by state police.

Thirty years later, rock music is tolerated, but barely. A government bureaucracy called the Agency Of Rock controls Cuba's heavy metal scene. Every concert and every record must be cleared with the Agency's director of rock.

It's a sign of the changing situation in Cuba, but it's also an absurd position for the country's heavy metal musicians. To play their music, ZEUS and their diehard fans must fight to be true to themselves within the confines set by the Cuban government.

"People always listen to the hardest music because it is a way of reaffirming their passion and liberty against everything that is imposed on them," says Ivan Vera, the guitarist for ZEUS. "That, I believe, is the reason for heavy metal."

American filmmaker Nicholas Brennan has spent the past four years capturing ZEUS's story and the broader history of heavy metal in Cuba in the feature-length documentary film "Hard Rock Havana".

With over 120 hours of footage filmed in Cuba, Brennan has launched a Kickstarter campaign to edit the film and share this band's story. The campaign runs through December 18.

The film is executive produced by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney, with Dave Lombardo, Cuban-born former drummer of SLAYER, serving as the music advisor.

Socialism in the Time of Cholera

The latest protest from Cuban hip-hop group, Los Aldeanos, entitled "Toda Una Nacion" ("All One Nation"):

North Korea Releases Hostage, Cuba Keeps Hostage

North Korea has unconditionally released American hostage, Merrill Newman, from captivity.

(However, it tragically continues to hold another American hostage, Kenneth Bae.)

Meanwhile, Cuba's Castro regime refuses to unconditionally release its American hostage, Alan Gross.

Is North Korea's totalitarian regime more tolerant than Cuba's?

Neither are tolerant by any measure.

Could it be that Newman was a "spare" hostage for North Korea, while it continues to hold Bae for its coercion?

Perhaps.

Or maybe it's just that North Korea doesn't have as many U.S.-based lobbyists and politicians peddling its ransom demands.

Well, except for Dennis Rodman, of course.

From CNN:

American Merrill Newman heads for freedom, 'deported' from North Korea

Merrill Newman -- the 85-year-old American detained by North Korean authorities earlier this fall -- is on a flight back to freedom after being locked up in North Korea.

Video showed him smiling as he walked past a cavalcade of reporters through the airport in Beijing. He felt good, he said, and looked forward to seeing his wife.

"I'm very glad to be on my way home," Newman told reporters.

Castro Continues to Subvert Democracy in Venezuela

By former Panamanian Ambassador to the OAS, Guillermo Cochez, in El Pais:

Cuba's penetration of the land of Bolivar has been very intense and coordinated.  There is not a fundamental strategic area that is not dominated by the Cuban apparatus, particularly at the military level, where they control everything that the Venezuelan military command does and does not do, and which prevents any attempts at revolt.

I've been told by a knowledgeable source that, upon Fidel's death, those who govern Cuba today need Venezuela to be a refuge for when they are displaced from power. Thus, regardless of electoral results, the Cubans intend to continue exerting control over the country.

Image of the Week: From the Ukraine

Friday, December 6, 2013
A Ukrainian democracy activist tells us how he feels about Lenin and Viktor Yanukovich's authoritarian regime:

On Mandela and Fidel Castro

We've received some criticism for previously failing to mention the friendship of Nelson Mandela with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The fact remains Nelson Mandela felt gratitude toward Fidel Castro. That was unfortunate, for Fidel Castro is the anti-thesis of everything that Mandela represents.

But there's an important lesson here.

During Mandela's time in prison, rather than standing unequivocally against the repressive apartheid regime in South Africa, the U.S. mistakenly chose a policy of "constructive engagement" with his jailers.

This culminated in 1986, when the U.S. Congress found it necessary to override President Reagan's unfortunate veto of strong sanctions toward South Africa.

As all victims of dictatorships know, such lack of solidarity is extraordinarily demoralizing. And as we always warn those who seek to unconditionally embrace tyrants -- their victims never forget.

Needless to say, a policy of strong sanctions proved to be the right path.

But Fidel Castro astutely took this opening to portray himself as a champion and supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Hypocritically, of course, as Castro himself heads an undemocratic, apartheid regime.

However, to Castro's chagrin, upon being democratically-elected as President of South Africa, Mandela rejected everything Castro stood for.

Mandela could have taken the path of Castro or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He could have become ruler-for-life, confiscated the nation's vast wealth and made it his personal fiefdom.

Yet, Mandela chose the path of human rights, free markets and representative democracy. Moreover, he refused to serve more than one-term.

There is no greater test of a man than when he is given power.

Mandela passed that test.

And Cuba's Mandela, whether currently organizing a protest on the streets of Havana or sitting in a cell in Castro's infamous Combinado del Este political prison, has taken note.

On Nelson Mandela's Life and Legacy

Nelson Mandela is no longer physically among us, but his legacy of sacrifice, perseverance and freedom will endure forever.

Despite first espousing violence during the early days of his activism, Mandela's life journey demonstrates the transformational power of peaceful, civil disobedience.

During his 27-year imprisonment, Mandela never relented on his dream of a free, representative and democratic South Africa. He not only lived to see his dream come true, but led his country through its liberation and post-democratic process of national reconciliation.

His passing is also a reminder of the sacrifice of the world's historic political prisoners, such as Cuba's Eusebio Penalver Mazorra, the longest serving political prisoner of African descent in modern history, having served 28-years. Sadly, Penalver passed in 2006, without seeing his beloved homeland free.

Along with former Czech leader Vaclav Havel, Mandela is the ultimate representation of a political prisoner-turned-freely elected leader. From Cuba to North Korea, his extraordinary life gives endless hope to the democratic aspirations of dissidents, political prisoners and activists throughout the world.

Rest in peace and freedom.

Tweet of the Day

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Must-Read: Welcome to (the Real) Havana

Author Michael Totten has posted the second part -- see the first part here -- of his reflections on the real Cuba in the World Affairs Journal.

It's entitled, "The Once Great City of Havana."

(Timely on a week in which 49 historic building collapsed pursuant to a rain storm.)

Here are some excerpts:

Havana is like Pompeii and Castro is its Vesuvius.” – Anthony Daniels

The reason restored Old Havana is ignored by photographers, I believe, is because it looks and feels fake.

It was fixed up just for tourists. Only communist true believers would go to Cuba on holiday if the entire capital were still a vast ruinscape. And since hardly anyone is a communist anymore, something had to be done.

But it doesn’t look fake because it looks nice. Czechoslovakia was gray and dilapidated during the communist era, but no one thinks Prague isn’t authentic now that it’s lovely again. The difference is that the Czechs didn’t erect a Potemkin façade in a single part of their capital just to bait tourists. They repaired the entire city because, after the fall of the communist government, they finally could.

Nothing like that has occurred in Havana. The rotting surfaces of some of the buildings have been restored, but those changes are strictly cosmetic. Look around. There’s still nothing to buy. You’ll find a few nice restaurants and bars here and there, but they’re owned by the state and only foreigners go there. The locals can’t afford to eat or drink out because the state caps their salaries at twenty dollars a month. Restored Old Havana looks and feels no more real than the Las Vegas version of Venice.

It’s sort of pleasant regardless, but it reeks of apartheid. The descendents of the people who built this once fabulous city, the ones who live in it now, aren’t allowed to enjoy it. All they can do is walk around on the streets outside and peer in through the glass.

*

I’ve seen cities in the Middle East pulverized by war. I’ve seen cities elsewhere in Latin America stricken with unspeakable squalor and poverty. But nowhere else have I seen such a formerly grandiose city brought as low as Havana. The restored part of town—artifice though it may be—shows all too vividly what the whole thing once looked like.

It was a wealthy European city when it was built. Poor nations do not build capitals that look like Havana. They can’t. Poor nations build Guatemala City and Cairo.

“Havana” Theodore Dalrymple wrote in City Journal, “is like Beirut, without having gone through the civil war to achieve the destruction.” Actually, it’s worse even than that. Beirut pulses with energy. Parts of it are justifiably even a little bit snobbish like Paris. Even its poorest neighborhoods, the ones controlled by Hezbollah, aren’t as gruesome as most of Havana.

*

Baghdad in the middle of the Iraq war was in better shape physically. I know because I spent months there and wrote a book about it.

Roofs have collapsed. Balcony doors hang not vertically but at angles, allowing passersby to see inside homes where the interior paint is just as peeled as it is on the outside. I could even see inside some people’s homes through gashes in exterior walls. The weight of rain water knocks whole buildings down as if they were dynamited.

When your roof caves in, you can’t just call a guy and have him come over and fix it. You have to wait for the government.

You will wait a long time.

Trust me: you would not want to live there, especially not on a ration card and the government’s twenty dollar maximum salary. Not that additional money would do you much good. Where would you spend it? Not even in the slums of Mexico have I seen such pitiful shops. They are not even shops. They are but darkened caverns on the ground floor which stock a mere handful of items that could be scooped up and placed in one box.

That is the real Havana, and it is soul-crushing. Life there is a brutal scramble for scraps to survive amidst ruins. The city looks like it was hit by an epic catastrophe…and it was.

The only hope is escape.

*

Havana outside the tourist bubble is painful to look at. It actually hurt me and brought to mind a line from Dustin Hoffman’s character in Andy Garcia’s film The Lost City. “She was a beautiful thing, Havana,” he said. “We should have known she was a heartbreaker.”

It hurts because, unlike in liberal capitalist countries, poverty is imposed. Abolishing private property and implementing a dismal maximum wage requires extraordinary repression. Free people would never vote for it, which is why Cuba hasn’t had a single free election since Castro came to power.

Struggle for Freedom Vibrant Among Cubans

By Guillermo Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

Struggle for freedom still vibrant among Cubans

Back in 1978 and 1979, I covered the release of 3,600 Cuban political prisoners. Many had been in jail for close to 20 years, yet their spirit was never broken. In exile they continued to fight against the Cuban Communist regime. They protested the constant violation of human rights in the island. And they stood tall and straight in opposition to Fidel Castro.

At the time I thought that Fidel Castro was releasing the prisoners because he had broken the spirit of all those who opposed his government in the island.

Boy, was I wrong!

Castro cannot survive without political prisoners. Such is the essence of totalitarian regimes. He has never been able to curb the indomitable spirit of Cubans, who still dare oppose the regime in and outside the island.

Jorge Luis García Pérez, better know as Antúnez, is one of many who still oppose the regime, even though he served 17 years and 338 days in Castro´s jails. Antúnez and hundreds of other dissidents are the heirs of the political prisoners of the early decades of Cuba's Communist regime.

Antúnez was jailed March 15, 1990. Raúl Castro was giving a speech when Antúnez shouted out his opposition to the regime in the main plaza of the city of Placetas.

He was sentenced to six years in jail, but would serve many more because he refused to bow to prison authorities that insisted he was a common prisoner, not a political prisoner.

"I was accused of spreading enemy propaganda," Antúnez said this week in a telephone interview.

The 43-year-old black man, who helped found the National Movement for Civic Resistance Pedro Luis Boitell and his wife Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, an activist in the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, are an important part of a rapidly growing dissident movement inside Cuba.

In recent months, Antúnez and his wife were allowed to travel outside Cuba. Raúl Castro wanted to demonstrate to the world that Cuba was moderating its stance towards dissidents inside the island.

Castro's efforts have failed miserably because Antúnez and dozens of other dissidents allowed to travel have made use of their time outside the island to tell world leaders of the plight of the Cuban people. Antúnez and his wife met with Cuban American congressmen and senators. Others have talked to President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden.

Antúnez talks of the current generation of dissidents. The only Cuba he and many of today's dissidents have known is one where the Castro brothers live like kings and repress all its citizens.

"As children they tried to indoctrinate us. They forced us to chant revolutionary slogans," Antúnez said. "And yet, here we are today, part of a growing number of dissidents opposed to the Castro dictatorship."

He said that the regime is not able to stop the growth of today's dissidents. They are men and women from the provinces, many black like him.

Despite the government's repression, the public beatings, and the multiple times they are arrested, the dissident movement is stronger today than ever inside Cuba, according to Antúnez.

He has been pleasantly surprised by the militancy and love for Cuba of those in exile. Yet he does not want to live as an exile. Antúnez favors the U.S. embargo and is opposed to anything that would allow the Cuban government to continue its repression of its citizens.

He will return to Cuba shortly to continue his fight for human rights, democracy and freedom.

"I will not stop crying out for freedom, and I will not leave the country," Antúnez said. That is his motto. "The streets belong to the dissidents, not the government."

He is optimistic for among the dissident he sees many Cubans who were sent on international missions by the government to Angola and Ethiopia. The censorship in Cuba starts the day you are born and ends the day you die, Antúnez added.

"Yet our cause keeps growing," he added. "We will not stop until Cuba is free again."

Antúnez and all dissidents I met in recent weeks have impressed me. Despite the censorship and repression in Cuba, the dissidents clamor for the day that Cuba is free and live in a pluralistic democratic regime that respects the human rights of all.

For those who say Cubans have not fought against the Castro regime, those early political prisoners and the dissidents of today are proof that the struggle for freedom has always been present in the island.

Does Anyone Still Think Alan Gross is NOT a Hostage?

The Castro regime's blackmail and coercion could not be any clearer.

Questions now remain:

Will the U.S. government allow itself to be blackmailed?

Or will it make it unequivocally clear to the Castro regime that such coercive actions have serious consequences? 

Here's how.

From NBC:

Cuba won't budge on jailed American contractor, insists on prisoner swap

Cuba’s government on Wednesday continued to tie the fate of an American contractor jailed there for four years to the release of four Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S. since 1998.

Responding to renewed calls for Havana to free 64-year-old American contractor Alan Gross, Director General of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, said in a statement that the government is open to negotiations for a swap of prisoners.

"The Cuban government reiterates its readiness to immediately establish a dialogue with the United States government to find a solution to the case of Mr. Gross on a reciprocal basis, and which addresses the humanitarian concerns of Cuba relating to the case of the four Cuban anti-terrorist fighters in prison in the United States,” she said.

Ferreiro was referring to four remaining members of the “Cuban Five” held in U.S. prisons after being convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and other charges in 1998.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice Talks Cuba, Human Rights

Excerpt from yesterday's remarks by U.S. National Security Advisor, Amb. Susan Rice, at the Human Rights First Annual Summit:

Around the world, we call to account the world’s worst abusers, from Iran to Syria, from Eritrea to Zimbabwe, from North Korea to Sudan. These governments crush the rights of their people and use the tyrant’s toolkit of repression to retain power. Some have systematically slaughtered their own citizens, as in the genocide in Darfur.

In Syria, even as we provide humanitarian assistance and make rapid progress toward eliminating the threat of chemical weapons, our work continues to end the violence that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and to see the perpetrators of atrocities held accountable. In Iran, as we test the potential for a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, we are mindful that another key test is whether we begin to see progress on human rights. We call on the government to allow the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to visit the country. Our sanctions on Iran’s human rights abusers will continue and so will our support for the fundamental rights of all Iranians. The Iranian people deserve the same right to express themselves online and through social media as their leaders enjoy.

Closer to home, we note modest steps toward economic reform in Cuba, but we condemn continued arrests of human rights activists and other government critics. As we mark the fourth year of his imprisonment, we call on the Cuban government to release our innocent, jailed compatriot, Alan Gross. Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms. And that’s why President Obama has increased the flow of resources and information to ordinary citizens. The Cuban people deserve the full support of the United States and of an entire region that has committed to promote and defend democracy through the Inter American Democratic Charter.

These extreme examples are in many ways the most clear-cut. They are egregious cases, where the weight of our concern and the tenor of our relationship make it easier to chart a clear policy course.

From The White House

From Tuesday's Press Briefing with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney:

Q. On a separate topic, American Alan Gross is marking his fourth year in a Cuban prison. He’s written a letter to the President asking that he personally get involved in trying to seek his release. Do you know if the President has seen that letter, and does he have any plans to get more personally involved in trying to seek Mr. Gross’s release?

MR. CARNEY: Well, thank you for the question. Today is the fourth anniversary of Alan Gross’s incarceration in Cuba. Cuban authorities arrested Mr. Gross on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced him to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored Internet contact between a small religious community on the island and the rest of the world.

Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We reiterate today our call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross’s detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.

Regarding your question about the President’s engagement on this, the President has, himself, personally engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote Mr. Gross’s release. The State Department has kept Mr. Gross’s case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban government and made clear the importance the United States places on his welfare. They have also engaged a wide range of foreign counterparts and urged them to advocate for Mr. Gross’s release.

Q. Do you know if the President has received this letter, though?

MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if he has seen it. I’m aware of it. I can tell you that he is engaged in this in the ways that I described, and that this is always very much a part of any discussions we have with the Cuban government and also with those governments and others who have influence with the Cuban government.

Are Cuban-Americans Responsible for Iran and North Korea's Hostages Also?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
In today's Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus outrageously claims:

"Gross is, first and foremost, a victim of the repressive Cuban regime. But he is also a casualty of Cuban-American politics, and Cuban-American politicians."

Then, she proceeds to advocate for a swap of Castro's American hostage, Alan Gross, for the so-called "Cuban Four" (spies imprisoned in the U.S.).

Does Ms. Marcus similarly believe that Iran's American hostages, Saeed Abedini, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati and Robert Levinson, are a "casualty" of the Iranian-American community?

Or that North Korea's American hostages, Merrill Newman and Kenneth Bae, are a "casualty" of the Korean-American community? 

Or are they all casualties of the Cuban-American community as well?

And what are Cuban-American politics?

Are Cuban-Americans not entitled to want freedom, human rights and democracy for their homeland?

Are Cuban-Americans incorrect in rejecting a totalitarian dictatorship, which has brutally imprisoned, tortured and executed its loved ones; subverts democracy in the Western Hemisphere; proliferates weapons to North Korea; violates international norms, etc.?

Have Cuban-Americans not constantly warned about the nature and brutality of the Castro regime, against a back-drop of whitewashing from many in the U.S. media?

The fact is brutal totalitarian regimes take hostages when they perceive an opportunity for coercion.

Ms. Marcus' irresponsible comments and absurd claims only add fuel to such coercion and endanger more American lives abroad.

An apology would be in order.

Leahy Prolonging Castro's Hostage-Taking

As we've posted on various occasions (here and here), U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has recently tried to mislead with an innocuous letter that asks President Obama to take "whatever steps are in the national interest" to secure the release of Castro's American hostage, Alan Gross.

Leahy's ulterior motive is to try to broker a "swap" of Gross for four Cuban spies, who were convicted by U.S. federal courts for various crimes, including the murder of three Americans.

After all, that's the price for Gross's release that Raul Castro communicated to Leahy during his February trip to Havana.

Of course, the letter does not outright state this, for he would have gotten little to no support.

Moreover, Leahy assured many of his colleagues that the letter didn't contemplate such a "swap," nor is its intended purpose.

Unfortunately though, the Castro regime didn't get that memo.

Thus, like clockwork, Castro's Foreign Ministry put out a statement today specifically referring to Leahy's letter and doubling-down on its demand for a "swap."

The statement was signed by Josefina Vidal, currently head of U.S. relations at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, but is a know intelligence operative who was previously stationed at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. until her husband was expelled for espionage activities.

In other words, Vidal knows how to maneuver among U.S. politicians very well.

So long as any ingenuous U.S. politician continues to give them hope -- no matter how unintended, unwittingly or unrealistic -- for a "swap" (or other ransom), they will continue to hold Alan Gross hostage and up their ante.

Leahy is irresponsibly prolonging Castro's hostage-taking.

From The State Department

From today's U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing with spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION: Mr. Gross’ fourth anniversary is today. And I’m noting some comments that were just made by the Secretary – currently engaged in some discussions on that. Is there anything that you can tell us, even an update on him? What is the Secretary talking about?

MS. HARF: Well, you are right; the Secretary did just address this. Today is the fourth anniversary of Mr. Gross’ imprisonment in Cuba. Securing Alan Gross’ immediate release remains a top priority of the United States. We use every appropriate diplomatic channel to press for Mr. Gross’ release, both publicly and privately. I think that’s what the Secretary was referring to. Obviously, there’s reasons we don’t outline all of that, private diplomatic conversations. We have urged governments as well around the world and prominent figures who travel to Cuba, including religious leaders, to press for Mr. Gross’ immediate release.

The U.S. Interests Section in Havana officials visit Mr. Gross monthly. The last visit took place on November 27th. There is a pending request with the Government of Cuba for permission to visit him again on December 26th. And as we’ve said, we reiterate our call on the Cuban Government to release Alan Gross immediately. And as the Secretary made very clear, it’s a top priority and we’ll continue working this diplomatically.

QUESTION: But does he mean or you mean that there is something actually new, or is this a continuing process?

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve – from the very first moment of Alan Gross’s imprisonment, we’ve called on the Government of Cuba to release him and have been working very hard to do just that. So I don’t have anything new for you. This has been a very high priority for the U.S. Government for the last four years.

Elian: Fidel is My God

Tuesday, December 3, 2013
In a scene worthy only of Havana and Pyongyang's propagandists, Elian Gonzalez appeared in a Cuban regime blog this week professing his adoration for dictator Fidel Castro.

Elian, now 19, who was returned to Cuba in 2000 after his mother died in the Florida Straits while attempting to seek his freedom, said:

"Fidel is a father to me. I don't practice any religion, but if I did, my God would be Fidel... He means everything to Cuba. He means everything to the world."

This is what happens when Castro's U.S.-based lobbyists, talking heads and Janet Reno decide what's in the "best interest" of a child, rather than a court of law.

Of course, everyone who had ever fled from a totalitarian state warned how Elian would simply become a propaganda pawn of the regime -- but those pleas fell sadly on deaf ears.

Tweet of the Day

A Test Case for Alan Gross's Release

Since American development worker Alan Gross was unjustly imprisoned by the Castro regime on December 3rd, 2009, the Obama Administration has sought diplomatic engagement (in 2010) and easing sanctions (in 2011) as means to secure his release.

(See "Cuba's American Hostage" in The Wall Street Journal).

Neither have been successful.

The one thing the Administration hasn't tried is tightening sanctions.

This would likely secure Gross's release.

Don't believe us?

Here's a test case:

The Castro regime is currently threatening to cut off travel to Cuba during the holidays, unless the U.S. government secures banking services for its diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Knowing the U.S. government can't compel private banks to provide service to anyone -- let alone to a foreign dictatorship -- what the Castro regime really seeks is to coerce the U.S. into further easing sanctions, namely removing it from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list.

Presuming the Obama Administration won't allow itself to be coerced, the Castro regime will soon blink.

How?  As observed in a good story in today's Miami Herald (Reuters should take note):

"Tom Popper, whose New York-based Insight Cuba Company arranges people-to-people trips, said he expects any concerns over how his clients will pay for their visas will be fixed in a few days — likely by having them pay in Havana rather than in Washington."

Bottom line: These trips are key to the economic subsistence of the Castro dictatorship. 

Thus, it cannot afford to cut them off.

It's like when Venezuela's government threatens to cut off oil sales to the U.S. It would never do so, as these sales represent over 80% of its income.

Want to secure Alan Gross's release?

Squeeze the Castro regime's key travel income and send an unequivocal message that taking Americans hostage is unacceptable.

Watch the Castro's blink.

State Department: On 4th Anniversary of Alan Gross's Unjust Imprisonment

From the U.S. State Department:

Four-Year Mark of the Continued Incarceration of Alan Gross

Tomorrow, development worker Alan Gross will begin a fifth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. Cuban authorities arrested Mr. Gross on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced him to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small, religious community on the island and the rest of the world. It is gravely disappointing, especially in light of its professed goal of providing Cubans with internet access, that the Cuban Government has not allowed Mr. Gross to return to his family, where he belongs. Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We reiterate our call on the Cuban Government, echoing foreign leaders and even Cuba’s allies, to release Alan Gross immediately and unconditionally.

Leahy and WaPo Misrepresent Senator's Views

A story in today's Washington Post regarding Cuba's American hostage, Alan Gross, states the following:

"In a letter to the president last month, a bipartisan group of 66 senators, spearheaded by Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), called Gross’s case 'a matter of grave urgency' and urged Obama to 'act expeditiously to take whatever steps are in the national interest to obtain his release.' The senators told Obama that they 'stand ready to support your administration in pursuit of this worthy goal.'

A week earlier, a separate group of 14 lawmakers, led by Cuban American Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), exhorted Obama to continue his policy of demanding Gross’s 'immediate and unconditional release.'

In a statement Monday, Leahy countered that 'instead of simply demanding Mr. Gross’ unconditional release — which has achieved nothing in four years, and which his family regards as a death sentence — they should not shrink from the obligation to negotiate for his freedom.'"

First, by suggesting that the Obama Administration negotiate the freedom of an American hostage, Senator Leahy is proposing a dangerous deviation from long-standing policy that the U.S. does not negotiate -- let alone provide ransom or concessions -- with hostage-takers.

Second, the Washington Post incorrectly notes that "a separate group" of Senators signed the Menendez-Rubio letter.  This is untrue. Some of the signatories of the Leahy letter also signed the Menendez-Rubio letter (e.g. Blunt, Casey, Schumer, Manchin, Cruz, Nelson), for these letters are not competing or contradictory. Leahy's letter does not call for "negotiations" -- but for steps that are in the "national interest."

What is in the "national interest"?

In a December 2012 resolution, the U.S. Senate unanimously called for Alan Gross's "immediate and unconditional" release.

Third, Leahy should not misrepresent his colleague's views. He knows very well that most of the signatories of his letter do not support negotiating concessions for the release of hostages, whether in the case of Cuba, North Korea, Iran or any other rogue regime. They made that clear to him upon signing the letter. Otherwise, Leahy would have explicitly called for "negotiations" in his letter.

Finally, Leahy already unilaterally sought to negotiate Gross's release with Raul Castro in Cuba earlier this year. Yet, other than a nice break from the cold Vermont winter, he only returned from Havana with more demands from the Cuban hostage-takers.

For more information on Leahy's letter, click here.

Over 761 Political Arrests in November

Monday, December 2, 2013
According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR), at least 761 democracy activists were arrested by the Castro regime in the month of November 2013.

This represents the second highest monthly tally of political arrests in over 20 months.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Kim and Castro's Hostage Mea Culpas

North Korea and Cuba share many things in common:

They are both totalitarian dictatorships; they are major violators of universally-recognized human rights; they engage in illegal arms trafficking; they set up slave-labor industrial zones (Kaesong and Mariel); and they use hostages to extort the United States.

So what's step one in Kim and Castro's hostage-taking manual?

The Stalinist mea culpa.

Sound familiar?
I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people... Please forgive me.
-- Merrill Newman, 85-year-old American hostage of North Korea's Kim regime, 11/30/13
I do deeply regret that my actions have been misinterpreted as harmful and a threat against the security and independence of Cuba... I have an immense fondness for the people of Cuba, and I am deeply sorry.
-- Alan Gross, 64-year old hostage of Cuba's Castro regime, 3/4/11


Castro Lies and Misleading News Reports

Last month, we asked: "Why Are Cuban Baseball Players Still Defecting?"

After all, hadn't foreign news bureaus assured us in September (based on one-line in Granma) that Cuban athletes would now be permitted to play abroad?

Bogus.

Similarly, in October, foreign news bureaus had assured us (again based on Granma) that Cuba was ready to scrap its absurd "two-currency" system.

But apparently it's going to be quite a while before that happens.

So why do foreign news bureaus keep taking the Castro dictatorship at its discredited word?

(Kudos to AFP for being the only foreign news outlet to caveat its previous reporting on this issue.)

From AFP:

The unification of Cuba's dual currency system will take at least three years, the architect of the unpopular two-decades old policy of using dollars and convertible pesos has said. The government announced last month that it would phase out the existing system as part of President Raul Castro's gradual attempt to streamline Cuba's Soviet-style economy.

Amid uncertainty about when the change will happen, Jose Luis Rodriguez, the communist state's minister of economy and planning between 1993 and 2009, said it would take time to devalue the exchange rate. "This process will likely take at least three years," he said, referring to the need to first devalue the exchange rate for business transactions, and then secondly for private individuals. 

Dissident Awareness Campaign: Berta Soler

Sunday, December 1, 2013
Today, the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group released the ninth installment of its dissident awareness campaign, featuring Berta Soler:

Berta Soler is a Cuban dissident and leader of the Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco), a group founded by wives and mothers of 75 political dissidents arrested in Cuba in a 2003 crackdown. In March 2012, Soler was one of the many dissidents detained in anticipation of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba.

Soler and the Ladies in White march together on Sundays, wear white to represent peace, love and purity, and carry gladiolus flowers while zealously calling for freedom in Cuba. Despite being the victims of constant surveillance and frequent beatings by the Castro regime, the Ladies in White continue to organize peaceful protests to call for the release of all political prisoners in Cuba. 

For their bravery, Soler was one of five members of the Ladies in White to be selected to receive the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which she formally received in 2013 after years of being denied an exit visa by the Cuban Government. Recently, Soler met with President Obama and Vice President Biden and urged them to support Cuba's democratic opposition movement.

Quote of the Week

It was strong sanctions, not the goodness of the hearts of the Iranian leaders, that brought Iran to the table.
-- U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), expressing concerns about easing sanctions toward Iran, The Hill, 11/26/13

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