Meet Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva

Friday, December 20, 2013
Each day this holiday season, we'll be featuring an in-depth interview with a former Cuban political prisoner or democracy activist, in order to highlight the sacrifice and struggle of these courageous individuals.

The interviews are courtesy of the Bush Center's Freedom Collection.

We begin today with Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva of The Ladies in White.

Alejandrina García de la Riva was born on April 12, 1966, in Matanzas, Cuba. Her first years of life were spent on a sugar mill in the municipality of Calimente. She went to technical school at the Álvaro Reynoso Institute in order to study agriculture and agronomy and held jobs as a statistician, grocer, independent journalist, and a correspondent for Servicio Noticuba, a press agency considered illegal by the Cuban government.

In 1983, Alejandrina married Diosdado González Marrero, a decision that ultimately led her down the path of nonviolent civil resistance. Together the couple has two children and three grandchildren.

In March 2003, Alejandrina’s husband was one of 75 nonviolent dissidents to be arrested in a massive government crackdown known as the Black Spring. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In response, Alejandrina and other wives, mothers, and sisters of those imprisoned during the Black Spring founded the Ladies in White [Damas de Blanco].

The Ladies in White became a formidable civil society organization that planned weekly marches through the streets of Havana, peacefully protesting for the freedom of political prisoners and the expansion of civil liberties and political freedoms in Cuba. As a result of her participation, Alejandrina was arrested and harassed by the Cuban authorities on numerous occasions.

Alejandrina played a crucial role in orchestrating the release of her husband and other Black Spring political prisoners. The Ladies in White lobbied Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the leading representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Cuba, and convinced him to negotiate for the release of the prisoners. By 2011, after years of protests and several hunger strikes, the Black Spring dissidents, including Alejandrina’s husband, were released. While the majority of the prisoners went into exile, Alejandrina and Diosdado chose to remain in Cuba.

Alejandrina lives in Mantazas Province and remains active in the Ladies in White Movement.

In the video below (click here), Alejandrina talks about the inception and evolution of the Ladies in White:

Preparing the Noose Over Mariel

In his recent book about doing business with the Castro regime, French entrepreneur Michel Villand warned:

"Founding a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign company is the same as putting a noose around your neck."

This has been the constant experience of foreign businessmen in Cuba, ranging from Chile's Max Marambio to Britain's Stephen Purvis.

(Just yesterday, the Castro regime ordered the capture of Mexico's Alfredo Capetillo, whose ABC Export-Import was a major supplier of Cuba's tourism industry.)

They were all some of Castro's biggest investors. 

Then overnight, they were arbitrarily imprisoned and their cash and assets confiscated -- with no public information, explanation or details as to why.

Moreover, there's a large number of foreign businessmen currently sitting in Castro's prisons without trial or charges.  Some are well known cases, like Canada's Cy Tokmakjian, while there are unknown ones, including Ericsonn's Havana representative.

Yet, this month, the Castro regime began "accepting bids" from foreign investors for its new Mariel Special Economic Zone, modeled after North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Zone, and built by Brazil's Odebrecht (with a $700 million credit line from Brasilia).

The business model behind these "special zones" is for foreign companies to "enjoy" the benefits (low cost and exploitation) of Cuba and North Korea's captive slave labor.

According to the regime, there's been extensive interest -- not to mention media hype.

Yet, no bites.

Instead, last month, Castro sent his Minister of Foreign Commerce, Rodrigo Malmierca, back to Brazil to beg for (yet) another line of credit.

Can you feel the "noose" tighten?

Quote of the Week

I will travel to Cuba the day that I'm guaranteed the ability to meet freely with the opposition.
-- Arnold Vaatz,  prominent German parliamentarian with the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Marti News, 12/20/13

Over 30 Ladies in White Arrested Today

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Over 30 members of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White, were beaten and arrested today, as they tried to gather for a meeting in Havana.

Just another day in Castro's Cuba.

Has the international community decided that such systemic violence against peaceful women in acceptable?

If not -- where's the outrage?

In case you missed it, here's a picture of Marina Paz, a member of The Ladies in White, being beaten and stripped of her symbolic white clothing last week:

Questions for Raul Castro

Excerpt by former Cuban diplomat and social-democratic critic, Pedro Campos, in Havana Times:

The Needless, Counterproductive Repression of Cuban Dissidents

I am going to pose a series of questions to President Raul Castro, the members of the Politburo, the generals of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and Ministry of the Interior (MININT), those who directly participated in these repressive acts and to share some general opinions about these events.

What does the Cuban government achieve by breaking into people’s homes, imprisoning, kidnapping and even beating people who sought to celebrate Human Rights Day peacefully in Cuba? What benefit is derived and what good does it do its international credibility.

I believe it could have gained a lot more had it allowed these peaceful celebrations to take place.

What is the government afraid of? That a few hundred people talking, listening to music and perhaps yelling anti-government slogans are capable of mobilizing thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, who will support them and overthrow the government in a massive, popular uprising? If that were the case, it would be a tacit acknowledgement of their political defeat.

Doesn’t the Cuban government realize that, in the age of the Internet and smart-phones, when it’s no longer possible to keep such incidents from being divulged around the world, its repressive actions serve only to bolster the national and international prestige of these dissidents?

Should the slogan “the streets belong to revolutionaries” be made a reality by securing massive support from the people through popular measures, or by cleaning the streets of dissidents through violent means?

I sincerely believe that the Cuban leadership, still imbued with the spirit of the Cold War, Stalinism and military authoritarianism, blinded by its own inability to pull the country out of its crisis and its desire to remain in power at all costs, is unable to reason and see all of the absurd things it is doing at all levels – economic, political and social.

Raul Castro's Rule: Over 200 Deaths and Disappearances

Courtesy of Cuba Archive:

The Human Toll of Raul Castro's Rule: 7/31/2006-12/15/2013

As 2013 comes to an end, Raúl Castro remains Cuba's supreme leader after six and a half years —considerably longer than the average president's term in most countries.

The following is a compilation of deaths and disappearances attributed to the Cuban state under Raúl Castro from 7/31/2006 to 12/15/2013. 

Documented Cases: 166*

Forced Disappearances: 2
Extrajudicial / Deliberate Killings: 15
Suspected Extrajudicial / Deliberate Killings: 10
By Hunger Strike in Prison: 4
Denial of Medical Care / Medical Condition in Prison: 86
Suicide or Alleged Suicide in Prison or Provoked: 46
Accidents / Negligence in Prison: 3

*Forty-two (42) additional cases (for a total of 208 documented cases) are reported for which the Cuban state is considered directly or indirectly responsible. Many more cases are feared, particularly in prison and in exit attempts by sea, of which reports are very hard to come by.

Click here for profiles of selected cases and the full list.

Another Ridiculous "Reform": It's All About the Monopoly

In another "reform" only worthy of Castro, Assad and Kim's propagandists, the Cuban regime has granted its people "the right" to buy new or second-hand car -- but only from the state's monopoly.

Previously, Cubans were first required to request permission from the monopoly, in order to then try to purchase a vehicle -- that they can't afford -- from the monopoly.

Now, they can just try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly -- which the monopoly reserves the right to reject -- without first requesting permission from the monopoly.

Get it?

It's all about the monopoly.

Meanwhile, Havana's foreign bureaus herald this as "another step toward greater economic freedom."

Ridiculous.

From Reuters:

For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans will have the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without government permission, official media announced on Thursday, another step toward greater economic freedom on the communist-led island.

Under a reform two years ago, Cubans can buy and sell used cars from each other, but must request authorization from the government to purchase a new vehicle or second-hand one, usually a relatively modern rental car, from State retailers.

The Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said the Council of Ministers approved new regulations on Wednesday that "eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state."

As a result, Granma said, "the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up."

The Cuban state maintains a monopoly on the retail sale of cars. 

Is Venezuela on the Brink of Economic Collapse?

No wonder there's such a coordinated effort lately to lift U.S. sanctions, for the Castro brothers are desperately looking for their next bailout.

From Wall Street Journal:

Moody's Joins S&P in Downgrading Venezuela's Ratings

Moody's Investors Service slashed its ratings on Venezuela further into junk territory, the second major ratings firm to make such a move in recent days as the South American nation struggles with skyrocketing inflation and a weak economy.

On Monday, Moody's lowered its local and foreign currency ratings on Venezuela to Caa1, placing those ratings now seven notches into junk. The ratings outlook is negative, suggesting further downgrades could occur.

The cut comes after peer Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Friday cut its ratings on the oil-rich nation by one notch. S&P, which also has a negative outlook on Venezuela, rates the nation one level higher than Moody's.

Venezuela's economy has been stung by import bottlenecks and product shortages stemming from strict currency controls. The economy's modest 1.1% growth in the third quarter of 2013 was well below the 5% expansion posted in the same period last year, when the government poured money into social programs as it looked to win a key presidential race.

"Inflation is out of control having crossed the 50% mark," Moody's warned. Both ratings firms see inflation at around the 50% mark, up from 20% last year.

A Cuban Dissident's Belated Tribute to Mandela

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Miriam Celaya:

Mandela: My Belated Personal Tribute

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

Courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Pitching the Castro Family's Business Monopoly

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
CBS News has another speculative article regarding the U.S. embargo toward Cuba, pursuant to the infamous "handshake."

Like most of these articles, it fails to mention that the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified into law and requires an act of Congress to substantially alter or end, which is unlikely to happen (due to strong bipartisan support) until Cuba democratizes and recognizes the fundamental human rights of its people.

But hey, why stop a good story with inconvenient facts.

The other noteworthy part of the story are the remarks by "former" Cuban intelligence official, Arturo Lopez-Levy, who is apparently now the media's favorite Cuba "expert" (while failing to note his background and family interest).

Lopez-Levy, whose real name is Lopez-Callejas, states:

"By binding U.S. producers, U.S. business closer to Cuba, with the elimination of some of the restrictions, we can really start building up a business class in Cuba. As we see in all parts of the world entrepreneurs are the backbone of economies, but they are also global citizens."

Of course, what Lopez-Callejas fails to mention is that according to Castro's 1976 Constitution, all foreign trade in Cuba is the exclusive domain of the regime.

CBS knew this fact and chose to ignore it.

That means 100% of all imports, exports and investment in Cuba can only be exercised by the Castro regime, namely through a monopoly of the military called, Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, SA ("GAESA").

And who heads GAESA?

None other than Lopez-Callejas' cousin, Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, who was married to General Raul Castro's daughter, Deborah Castro Espin. 

So when Lopez-Callejas talks about bringing "U.S. business closer to Cuba" and Cuba's "business class," he's pitching his family's monopoly -- for the Cuban people are prohibited from engaging in any such foreign trade.

Another inconvenient fact.

Whether CBS knew this additional (and very pertinent) fact and chose to omit it -- or simply got snookered -- is another question.

Either way, it's sloppy and irresponsible.

Here's an old family picture of Lopez-Callejas and the Castros:

Missing: Cuba's Economy "Czar"

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Both Penultimos Dias and Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez have noted that Castro's economy "czar" Marino Murillo, has not been seen or heard from in quite a long time.

Murillo is the face of Castro's cosmetic "reforms."

There is strong suspicion that he has either defected -- à la Pedro Alvarez, the former head of Castro's foreign trade agency, Alimport, who is now residing in Tampa.

(Murillo's daughter, Glenda, defected to the U.S. in August 2012.)

Or has been purged -- à la Carlos Lage, Castro's previous economy "czar," and Felipe Perez Roque, the former Foreign Minister.

The last we heard regarding Murillo was in early November, when his $36,000 beach vacation at the Hotel Melia in Holguin was exposed.

Oh Marino, where art though?

Shaking Hands With "Libertad" in Cuba

By Rick Robinson and Alberto de la Cruz in Rare:

Shaking hands with libertad in Cuba

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama told a crowd in South Florida that his policy towards Cuba would be governed by one word: “Libertad,” Spanish for liberty.

“The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair,” Obama said. “That is my commitment. I won’t stand for this injustice; you will not stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba. That will be my commitment as president of the United States of America.”

We’re pretty sure that’s not what President Obama told Cuba’s Dictator-in-Chief Raul Castro when he shook his hand at the funeral service for Nelson Mandela. If he did, it did not have much of an impact. The day after the handshake heard around the world, the Castro boys celebrated Human Rights Day by tossing over 150 Cuban dissidents in jail.

But the war over the handshake is lost. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart mocked those who feel true outrage that the Leader of the Free World would extend warm wishes to a tyrant responsible for the death of over 50,000 of his own countrymen. Like President Johnson losing Cronkite over Vietnam, losing Comedy Central over oppression in Cuba is deadly.

So let’s change the debate. The President wants to shake hands with Cuban leaders, let’s give him a few new ones. If President Obama were to shake these hands, he could live up to his campaign promise and truly change Cuba.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antúnez” - Arrested and imprisoned at the age of seventeen for openly criticizing the tyranny of the dictatorship, Antúnez spent the next seventeen years of his life in a Castro gulag. In spite of suffering countless beatings and arrests since his 2007 release, Antúnez continues to be an outspoken critic of the regime.

Gorki Águila -  As front man for the Cuban punk-rock band Porno Para Ricardo (Porn for Ricardo), Gorki’s music mercilessly skewers and mocks the Castro dictatorship. He has been arrested and detained for his protest rock numerous times, and the Castro regime has confiscated the band’s musical instruments and gear on various occasions. What the Cuban regime cannot confiscate, however, is Gorki’s determination to fight for his rights.

Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, known by many as the “Nelson Mandela” of Cuba - A medical doctor and devout Catholic, Oscar Elias Biscet had his first run in with the Castro dictatorship when he protested the regime’s policy of using unsafe drugs to induce pregnant women to have abortions. His opposition led to his firing and a prohibition from practicing medicine. Refusing to go away quietly, Dr. Biscet then became a leader in the human rights movement in Cuba. He was arrested during the Black Spring of 2003 (along with 74 other activists) and given a 25-year prison sentence. Finally released from prison in 2011 and placed on parole, Dr. Biscet continues to defy the dictatorship and valiantly advocates for democracy in Cuba.

Sadly, there are some Cuban hands President Obama will not be able to shake because they were murdered by the Castro regime since Obama took office in 2008.

Orlando Zapata Tamayo – Murdered, February 3, 2010 -  After a prolonged hunger strike to protest his inhumane incarceration, this Afro-Cuban was brutally beaten by Cuban State Security agents as they screamed racial epitaphs at him. He was initially refused medical care and died at the age of 33 from the injuries he had sustained.

Laura Pollán – Murdered, October 14, 2011 - As the wife of political prisoner Hector Maseda – one of the 75 dissidents arrested and given long prison sentences during the Black Spring of 2003 – Laura Pollan was one of the founders of Cuba’s Ladies in White. This group was made up of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of political prisoners in Cuba. After the group gained worldwide prominence and was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005, the Castro dictatorship became more aggressive towards the group. Following a 2011 violent, government-led attack on the Ladies in White, Pollan complained that one of the thugs had pricked her with what felt like a needle. A few days later she was hospitalized with an unexplained illness and mysteriously died a week later.

And, finally, while the President is in the mood to shake hands, extend one to American Alan Gross, who is currently dying in a Cuban prison for giving cell phones and lap tops to a Cuban synagogue.

LIBERTAD!

CNN's Fareed Zakaria (Unwittingly) Supports Cuba Sanctions

CNN's Fareed Zakaria wrote (what he believed to be) a critique of  U.S. policy toward Cuba this weekend.

He argues:

"The United States should shift from a policy of regime change in Cuba, which has not worked, to one that promotes reform and human rights aggressively."

So press the Castro regime to respect the human rights it has systemically violated for 50 years?

That's pretty ingenious.

Then, Zakaria recommends:

"President Obama should offer the Cuban government a series of steps that would relax restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba – but only if they are matched by real economic and political reforms in Cuba."

Amen.

But you realize that's exactly what current U.S. policy is, right?

Finally, Zakaria elaborates:

"Let the Cuban people know, for example, that if its government were to free all political prisoners, the United States would be willing to relax the embargo."

Great.

Except, sadly, the Obama Administration has already unilaterally relaxed some sanctions without the Castro regime freeing all political prisoners.

Result?

It has filled the Castro regime's coffers (to resist change) and sense of impunity (to increase repression).

Another "Reformer" Gone Bad

Monday, December 16, 2013
We're all familiar with the now infamous media narrative that had portrayed Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Cuba's Raul Castro as "reformers."

Time has proven that both Bashar and Raul are just as brutal -- if not even more -- than their predecessors.

Add North Korea's Kim Jong-un to that list.

This weekend, media outlets expressed "shock" at Kim's highly-publicized execution of his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, who was believed to be North Korea's second most powerful person.

Of course, the "shock" is of their own irresponsible making.

Does this all sound familiar?

From Time:

[Y]oung Kim, who spent a few years as a teenager going to school in Switzerland, may be willing to acknowledge the blindingly obvious: that what North Korea has been doing for decades economically doesn't work, and that there are plenty of examples right in the neighborhood — South Korea and China most obviously — that over the same period have gotten a lot of things right economically.

From Spiegel:

Young North Koreans are suddenly wearing chic outfits, men gel their hair like South Korean actors, and private markets have more flexible opening hours. Do these tiny differences signal a change in course by the country's new leader, Kim Jong Un?

From AFP:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for a "radical turnaround" in the impoverished country's economy in a rare New Year's address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.


In terms of the survival of his regime, the least perilous short-term option for Kim Jong-un is, in fact, to expand economic and political ties with China, while launching modest reforms to capitalize on newly designated special economic zones.

But hey, no worries -- for we were just reassured:

A senior North Korean official said yesterday that the execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s once-powerful uncle will not lead to changes in economic policies and vowed that the nation would push ahead with an ambitious plan to develop new economic zones.

Appeasement Has Only Emboldened Cuba’s Dictators

By U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in The Washington Times:

When a handshake is more than a polite gesture

The dangers of rapprochement with the Castro regime

Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. Sometimes it symbolizes much more. Let us not forget how the world watched and waited intently to see if there would be a handshake between President Obama and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani at this year’s U.N. General Assembly.

Whether it is the brutal Castro regime 90 miles off our coast or thousands of miles away, we must scrutinize Mr. Obama’s handshake with Raul Castro in its totality, just as we did with the handshake that never was between Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani. This action must be recognized for what it is: a mixed message to the people of Cuba, who are currently suffering under this dictatorship, and a propaganda coup for the Castro regime that will seek to exploit this situation to further undermine the democratic freedoms and human rights that the Cuban people deserve.

Cuba, like Iran, is designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism that harbors terrorists and U.S. fugitives, holds hostage a U.S. citizen, and routinely undermines our national-security interests. This is the same Castro regime that in August was caught red-handed sending weapons and military equipment to North Korea in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the same regime responsible for the killings of three U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident when it ordered the attack against the Brothers to the Rescue planes over international waters in 1996. While shaking a brutal dictator’s hand that is stained with the blood of thousands of Cubans may be viewed as a mere cordial gesture by some, it is an action that is deeply painful to those of us who have experienced and fled the cruelty of the Castro regime, many of whom live in my congressional district.

While Mr. Obama was shaking Raul Castro’s hand, more than 150 Cuban pro-democracy leaders were being rounded up and thrown in prison in Cuba for exercising their rights of free speech, free press and free association. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that this roundup occurred on International Human Rights Day, considering that these courageous heroes’ attempt to exercise the fundamental freedoms observed on this day caused them to be thrown into jail.

Many in the international community and the mainstream media ignore the reality of the dire situation in Cuba. It cannot be disputed that the regime continues to have an abysmal human rights record and continues to harass and beat members of peaceful pro-democracy organizations such as the Ladies in White and the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

Words matter, but actions speak louder than words. This handshake was but another lamentable misstep in the conduct of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy throughout his time in office. For example, in his first inauguration speech, Mr. Obama said: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

I agree that leaders should not blame their nations’ shortcomings on the West. But Cuba under the Castros and the Venezuelan regime under Nicolas Maduro continue to do just that. Mr. Maduro continues to blame the United States for its own domestic problems and deteriorating economic situation, but the Obama administration desperately seeks a relationship with his regime. Despite Mr. Maduro having won his election through fraud and that he is ruling by decree, and despite the fact that he continues to oppress his own people, has expelled U.S. diplomats, and continues to threaten the opposition with cooked-up charges and arrests, the administration wants closer ties with him.

Meanwhile in Cuba, while temporary detentions and oppression continue to rise, the president granted the Castro brothers a huge concession: economic relief through tourism travel. As a result of the Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions to Cuba for tourism, the Castro regime is now receiving a large influx of money during a time that Cuba’s economy is failing, which in turn it can use to continue its oppression of those who are yearning for democratic freedoms. Does this plan sound familiar? It has not worked in Cuba, and it will not work in Iran, where the president wishes to give the Iranian regime an infusion of billions of dollars that may be used to further sponsor terrorist activities against U.S. citizens.

Ultimately, the Castro regime has shown its true colors time and time again. Engagement, accommodation and appeasement by the Obama administration have only emboldened Havana’s decrepit dictators. The Cuban regime’s policy is to lie and mislead the international community to achieve its selfish goals, while amassing huge personal fortunes for regime elites as the people of the island suffer.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and gestures matter. Shaking Raul Castro’s hand, while dismissed by some as only a handshake, not only emboldens the regime, but will not stop the atrocious acts against the Cuban people. Mr. Obama extended his hand to Raul Castro, even though the Castro brothers are unwilling to unclench their fist over the Cuban people.

The New York Times Adopts "Anti-Mandela Lobby" Talking Points

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Unsurprisingly, The New York Times' Editorial Board has again called for the lifting U.S. sanctions toward Cuba.

No news here -- but let's comment on its rationale anyway.

It begins:

"This page has long called for an end to America’s embargo..."

Sure -- and it also long claimed that Castro was some sort of freedom-loving democrat.

"...which has strengthened the hand of Mr. Castro, his brother Fidel and other hard-liners who have used it as an excuse for their disastrous misrule in Havana."

Apparently an "excuse" that only The New York Times believes, for the Cuban people aren't stupid.

Moreover, it defies common-sense to believe feeding tens of billions of dollars to Castro's monopolies will somehow "weaken the hand" of the regime.  Wonder how The New York Times feels about antitrust.

"...And it has hurt the Cuban people whom we claim to want to help."

This talking point is straight from "Operation Heartbreak," the infamous lobbying campaign by South Africa's apartheid regime and its allies.

Politico ran a great feature on that campaign this week, entitled "The Anti-Mandela Lobby."

Here was its favorite tactic:

"On the morning of June 8, 1988, dozens of children from Washington, D.C., schools spread out across the well-manicured lawns of the U.S. Capitol. Holding hands, the students walked one by one into the domed building, marveling at the large rotunda inside and giggling as their voices echoed off the spacious walls.

But this was no ordinary field trip. The children weren’t there just for a civic lesson—they were also there to deliver a message. Each child carried a small black doll to deliver to the lawmakers. And each doll represented a child who would be harmed by the sanctions that Congress had imposed on South Africa two years earlier in protest of the country’s apartheid government."

To conclude, The New York Times claims:

"Mr. Obama should press Congress to end the embargo and overhaul policy toward Cuba."

Considering the strong bipartisan support for Cuba sanctions in Congress -- that's just wishful thinking.

Why Did Obama Shake Hands With My Father's Killer, Raul Castro?

A mist-read article in The Sunday Times (U.K.):

Why did Barack Obama shake the hand of my father's killer, Raul Castro?

When President Barack Obama shook hands with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last week, American diplomats insisted the encounter held no significance.

“Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake,” said Roberta Jacobson, the US State Department’s top Latin America official.

She told The Sunday Times, during a visit to Miami, that the meeting with the communist leader had been “accidental” and unplanned. “Leaders were lined up on the dais and very much in the spirit of the day he greeted each of those leaders in turn,” she said.

But in nearby Little Havana, the heart of Miami’s 1.6m Cuban-American community, there was suspicion and dismay at Obama’s warmth towards Castro, 82, who was appointed president in 2008 by his ailing brother Fidel, now 87.

Rosa Maria Paya, 24, fled the island this summer, a year after her father, Oswaldo Paya, a leading opposition activist who demanded an end to one-party rule, was killed. She said his car had been repeatedly rammed by a vehicle with a Cuban intelligence agent behind the wheel.

“They tried to kill him the month before and this time they succeeded. They have never released the autopsy report. The rest of my family left after the intimidation and threats increased. There was a call to my house at 4am warning they would kill me.

“President Obama was shaking the hand of the killer of my father. People think that he is more reasonable than Fidel but they are mistaken. Violence has increased under Raul.”

Miriam de la Peña’s son Mario, 24, was among four pilots killed in 1996 when two Cessna aircraft from Brothers to the Rescue, an anti-Castro humanitarian group, were shot down by a Cuban air force MiG jet.

A tape later emerged of what sounded like the voice of Raul Castro, then defence minister, saying: “I made it clear that had to be decentralised if we wanted it to be effective, so we gave the power to five generals.”

De la Peña, who left Cuba when she was 12, said: “Raul Castro has the blood of many people on his hands and one of those people was my boy.

“I know how communism works. It was propaganda for the outside world. Of course, in Cuba people didn’t know about it because if the evil Yankees are blamed for all Cuba’s problems then why is he shaking hands with their leader? It’s a double game.”

Speaking from Havana, the Cuban human rights activist Sara Marta Fonseca said the handshake had been played down locally. “We have been shown by Castro to feel hate towards all US presidents... in Cuba, no act of solidarity from the Americans is recognized.”

Frank Calzon, a veteran anti-Castro activist who leads the Center for a Free Cuba, pointed out that more than 150 democracy activists were violently detained during meetings held to mark International Human Rights Day.

“I’m sure President Obama meant well but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Policies of unilateral concessions to Havana have always failed. It is troublesome that he was shaking the hand of Raul Castro on the day Raul Castro’s thugs were at work.”

Calzon noted that state funerals were planned to the smallest detail and it was likely Obama knew he would meet Castro — just as aides made sure he was not confronted by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

Last month, Obama told party donors in Miami that the US “had to be creative and we have to be thoughtful” about Cuba policy while a US diplomat briefed that there was now “a willingness on both sides to engage more pragmatically”. A former senior US official said Obama’s Cuba policy was a futile one of “aggressive niceness”.

Jacobson conceded it was a “hideous irony” that Mandela’s memorial had coincided with Cuban violence. But she rejected any notion that the handshake added to the irony.

“No,” she said. “The president was treating everybody with courtesy and then went to the lectern and spoke about our principles.”

U.S. Lawmakers Regret Not Supporting Sanctions

There's a great article in The Hill about the regrets of some Members of Congress for not supporting sanctions against South Africa in 1986.

Do any of these tactics sound familiar?

Former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), who led the push for sanctions, remembered his colleagues facing significant pressure to oppose the effort.

The former head of the Foreign Relations Committee said senators like the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) were receiving targeted warnings from the South African government about how their home state industries would be hurt.

“There was a strong attempt to lobby and even become very specific about agriculture or specific items in someone’s state that would be hurt by this thing,” he said, adding that calls from South Africa were received “even in the Republican cloak hall” just off the Senate floor.

And  a lesson to recall:

Lugar recounted Mandela telling lawmakers during a Washington visit that he was profoundly relieved to see action.

“Mercifully, the Congress of the United States really was the force that saved me,” Lugar recalled Mandela saying.

A Cuban Connection to North Korea's Purges?

Are the recent purges (executions) in North Korea's leadership a punishment for getting caught smuggling weapons from Cuba?

After all, Cuba's air force chief, General Pedro Mendiondo, was already "killed" in a mysterious car crash after the incident.

It's clear Castro and Kim are trying to wash their hands -- totalitarian style -- after getting them caught in the "proliferation" jar.

From The Economist:

The Cuban connection

This is not the best time to be a confidante of Jang Sung Taek, the uncle of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, who was executed in Pyongyang this week. One man who is apparently already counting the cost of close association with Mr Jang is the North Korean ambassador to Cuba.

Ambassador Jon Yong Jin is a veteran diplomat who boasted what were considered, until very recently, impeccable credentials: he is married to Mr Jang's elder sister. South Korean officials say he was ordered back home on around December 6th. (Another diplomat to be recalled to Pyongyang was North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia, a nephew of Mr Jang’s.) Mr Jon’s appointment in February 2012, together with a high-profile five-day visit in June 2013 to Havana by the head of the North Korean army's general staff, General Kim Kyok Sik, had been seen as a sign of closer alliance between two enduring communist powers.

Despite a broadly-shared ideology, Cuba and North Korea have had their differences. President Kim Il Sung, a proponent of the non-aligned movement, was apparently unimpressed by Fidel Castro's admiration of the Soviet Union. Castro only visited Pyongyang once, in 1986. His decision that no statues to living persons (ie, himself) would be put up in Cuba appeared to be an attempt to distance Cuba’s version of communism from the personality cults of North Korea. In the 1980s Cuba did receive (apparently for free) 100,000 AK47s from North Korea, but trade had been minimal until recently.

Under Raul Castro (who formally took over the Cuban presidency in 2008), military and commercial co-operation appears to have increased. The nature of the relationship was dramatically exposed in July, when the Panamanian authorities intercepted a North Korean ship carrying arms from Cuba. The ship had plied the same route at least once before. Cuba initially described the intercepted cargo as nothing more than aid in the form of sugar. When weapons were discovered under the bags of sugar, the authorities in Havana then attempted to dismiss the cache as "obsolete" items that were en route to North Korea for repairs (the UN prohibits all arms transfers to North Korea).

But a thorough inspection suggests that was not the case. The vessel was carrying 25 shipping containers with military equipment inside. The cargo included two Mig-21 jet fighters. The jet fuel inside their tanks, along with maintenance logs, indicated that they had recently been flown. Ammunition and 15 apparently new MiG engines were also discovered. Panama’s foreign minister, Fernando Nuñez Fabrega, says he believes the shipment was "part of a major deal" between the two countries. The United Nations is preparing a report on the episode.

Shortly after the ship’s interception, General Kim Kyok Sik, the army chief who had met Raul Castro in August, was dismissed (although some reports suggest his appointment was always temporary). In its unprecedented character assassination of Mr Jang before his summary execution, North Korea said, among other things, that he "stretched his tentacles" into areas where he should not have been interfering. Whether the arms deal with Cuba was an example of that may never be known. But it does seem likely that North Korea will need a new man in Havana.