Cuba Policy is Not About Partisan Politics

Saturday, January 4, 2014
We all know that -- for whatever reason -- the Associated Press (AP) dislikes U.S. policy toward Cuba.

In Havana, it constantly whitewashes the Castro dictatorship's repression, lauds its leaders, exaggerates its "reforms" and scorns its dissidents.

In Washington, it went as far as reprimanding a State Department spokesperson over Cuba policy.  That's journalism?

And now, in Miami, it deceptively seeks to make Cuba policy about partisan politics.

Thus, in the latest variant of the old theory (dates back to The New York Times in 1965) that the Cuban-American community's attitudes toward Cuba policy are changing, the AP tries to present the 2012 election of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) as its gauge.

In an article today, the AP theorizes:

"For more than two decades, running for Congress in this sun-soaked capital of Cuban exiles has required two things: a Republican registration card and a hard line toward the Castro regime.

So when Joe Garcia became the first Cuban-American Democrat from the state to win election to the House in 2012, it signaled a crack in a critical GOP constituency."

That's a cute story-line, but factually deceiving:

First, Cuba policy is not -- nor has been -- about partisan politics in the Cuban-American community.

Cuban-American majorities have elected Cuban-American Democrats on many occasions, from Alex Penelas and Kathy Fernandez-Rundle in Miami-Dade County to Bob Menendez and Albio Sires in New Jersey.

Cuban-American majorities have also voted for non-Cuban Democrats on many occasions, from Bob Graham to Bill Nelson.

All of these Democrats have been strong supporters of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

In contrast, Joe Garcia was not elected to represent Florida's 26th Congressional District (CD) with a majority of the Cuban-American vote.

Here are some facts the AP ignored in its story:

Unlike the CDs represented by U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Garcia's CD is not a majority Cuban-American CD.

Actually, Garcia's CD is barely even a majority Hispanic CD. Florida's 26th CD is just over 55% Hispanic -- period -- of which Cuban-Americans are a fraction.

Despite running against a flawed candidate in 2012, Garcia did not receive the support of a majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida's 26th CD.

Moreover, Garcia is the only Cuban-American elected official not to have received the support of the majority of his Cuban-American constituents.

As such, Garcia's election in not a good gauge -- by any measure -- of Cuban-American policy attitudes.

And even more so when Garcia -- to his credit -- has publicly and privately stated his support for the Cuban embargo and tourism travel ban.

(The AP did bury this last fact at the end of its story).

However, Garcia does support the Obama Administration's policy nuances regarding unlimited Cuban-American travel and "people-to-people" travel.

(He's also loyal-to-a-fault to some of Castro's biggest apologists, e.g., former Congressman Bill Delahunt -- but that's another story).

We oppose these policy nuances, particularly the "people-to-people" trips, whereby U.S. travelers go on Castro-hosted tours of the island and all stay at the repressive Cuban military's tourism complexes.

It's safe to say that Garcia's Cuban-American constituents also have strong reservations regarding these policy nuances, which is why he has yet to be able to garner a majority of the Cuban-American vote.

However, such disagreements, which will continue to be hashed out, have nothing to do with partisan politics.

Let's keep it that way.

Must-Read: Once Again, Castro Regime Lies

Friday, January 3, 2014
By Fabio Rafael Fiallo in Real Clear World:

Once Again, the Castro Regime Lies

Cuba's communist regime is commemorating 55 years of existence this month. However, looking at the dismal economic situation and the contempt for human rights that prevails therein, the gerontocracy in command of the country will have little to boast about, barring one exception: the regime has invariably excelled in creating false expectations -- particularly among journalists and analysts who may regard themselves as as "progressives."

For starters, it is worth recalling how much the international media underestimated, and even turned a blind eye to, the curtailment of basic freedoms during Fidel Castro's reign. The enthusiasm surrounding the Cuban Revolution was so high that human rights infringements -- including summary executions by the hundreds -- were seen as mere transitional measures designed to eliminate the remnants of the overthrown dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Once that task was completed, "progressives" asserted, democracy would shine over Cuba.

It took less than three years for those hopes to evaporate. In December 1961, Fidel Castro revealed his Marxist-Leninist agenda, announcing that his real objective was to establish a Communist dictatorship in his country.

False expectations have arisen again and again in the economic domain.

An early bout of optimism was triggered by the decision to eliminate the so-called "monoculture" (in reference to the significant weight of the sugar sector in the Cuban economy at that time). For "progressives," dismantling the sugar industry, as Castro had embarked upon, was a sine qua non condition for reorienting the Cuban economy around the dual objectives of achieving food self-sufficiency and promoting industrialization.

Ten years later, with the Cuban economy in tatters, Fidel Castro had no other remedy but to backpedal. He placed his bets on the sugar sector and decreed that the sugar crop of 1969-70 must attain 10 million tons.

Despite an all-out mobilization of Cuba's population and resources towards that objective, the crop didn't live up to centrally-dictated expectations.

In the end, the Cuban regime has lost on both grounds. It has failed to enhance food self-sufficiency and it has failed to give a renewed impetus to the production of sugar. Today, imports represent 80 percent of total food consumption. Sugar production, for its part, hovers around 1.8 million tons, which represents less than one half of what the country used to produce a century ago.

New expectations in the economic domain arose in 1986, when Fidel Castro indulged in an exercise of self-criticism (he and his brother are the only ones allowed to criticize their "revolution") and launched a process of "rectification." Hopes were so high then that the Miami Herald -- a newspaper usually critical of the Cuban regime -- went so far as to say "dramatic changes are sweeping Cuba." The "dramatic changes" proved to be yet another flop.

The fiction of "reform" has once again been in full swing since 2010, as President Raúl Castro has introduced a new set of policy changes labeled as an "updating" of Cuba's socialism. The purpose of the exercise is to inject the economy with homeopathic doses of capitalism -- the very capitalism that the regime took so much care to wipe off.

The "updating" looks inconsequential at best. One must suffer from acute ideological stiffness to think that it is by decriminalizing the importation and commercialization of automobiles, encouraging self-employment or exporting physicians that Cuba can revive its moribund economy. 

A feature that speaks volumes about the innocuousness of Raúl Castro's reforms relates to how little effect a credit policy instituted by Cuba's Central Bank in 2011 has had.

That policy was intended to provide finance to self-employed workers. Cuba's official press, however, recently recognized that out of a total of 218,400 loans granted since the policy entered into effect, only 550 (i.e., not even one percent) went to Cubans having applied for credit with the aim of running their own businesses.

A cornerstone of the "updating" exercise relates to the creation of a "special economic zone" in the west designed to host foreign firms and expected to operate according to criteria other than those applied in the rest of the country.

These kinds of special economic zones have been tested already in a country ruled by another staunch communist regime: the Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea, where some 100 South Korean enterprises, staffed by 50,000 North Korean workers, are allowed to operate. The complex has not halted the continued decline of the North Korean economy, nor the recurrent famines. And there is no reason to believe that the Cuban version will perform any better.

And much like North Korea, the Cuban regime fails to realize that it is not by insulating several hundreds of square miles from the rest of the country -- so as to keep the bulk of the population immunized from the "virus" of capitalism -- that an economy can possibly take off.

Still more unfounded are the expectations that the Cuban regime is trying to nurture the political realm. While Raúl Castro proposes to President Obama to establish a "civilized relationship" between their two countries, the Cuban regime continues to repress members of the dissidence, denying them the right to express their views, beating them brutally and submitting them to recurrent arrests.

Arrests of dissidents have in fact been on the rise: 4,000 in 2011, 5,000 in 2012 and more than 5,300 in 2013. Some leading dissidents -- such as Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá -- lost their lives under strange circumstances.

Tellingly, the very day President Obama shook hands with Comrade Raúl Castro, more than one hundred dissidents were detained in Cuba. Their crime: to try to organize a gathering on the International Human Rights Day.

Did you say "civilized," Raúl?

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a Dominican-born economist and author and a retired official of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Castro Cracks Down on Toys for Children

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissidents arrested in attempt to foil toy distribution drive gov’t supporters describe as “provacation”

Cuban police Friday detained several dissidents in what a pro-government blogger described as a coordinated crackdown on a planned “provocation” — giving children toys paid for by Miami exiles with alleged U.S. government backing.

Among those detained were José Daniel Ferrer, a former political prisoner and founder of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and her husband, former political prisoner Angel Moya.

UNPACU members reported that more than 40 State Security agents and police raided Ferrer’s home in the eastern town of Palmarito de Cauto early Friday and arrested him and several other group activists.

The police search warrant specifically mentioned toys, the members said. UNPACU and the Ladies in White in Havana planned to distribute toys to children this weekend to mark the Three Kings Day — Cuba’s traditional gift-giving day for children, which is on Jan. 6.

The Castros Never Change

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Raúl Castro's Warning

This is the time of year when the world looks forward, no matter what the disappointments of the past. It's called hope. But Raúl Castro is warning Cubans who are hoping to build wealth in the newly "reformed" economy not to waste their time. The state, he said in a Christmas-week speech to the national assembly, is not about let that happen.

It was only two years ago that Castro boasted a loosening of the rules in the state-owned economy. He did it under duress: The bankrupt government couldn't continue to pretend to pay people who pretend to work. The dictatorship forecast that it had to unload more than a half-million Cubans from state payrolls. To ease the pain and potential social unrest, Castro pronounced 178 trades "legal."

A gullible foreign press swooned over Castro's words as if he was getting ready to admit the defeat of the 55-year-old communist revolution and let the market take over. Yet it was easy to see, by the list of the approved "professions," that Castro's exercise in reform was nothing but a bad joke. Cuban writer José Azel subtly pointed out the absurdity of it all by naming a few of the newly legalized businesses in a January 2011 Wall Street Journal op-ed: "Trade No. 23 will be the purchase and sale of used books. Trade 29 is an attendant of public bathrooms (presumably for tips); 34 is a palm-tree pruner (apparently other trees will still be pruned by the state). Trade 49 is covering buttons with fabric; 61 is shining shoes; 62 is cleaning spark plugs; 69 is a typist; 110 is the repair of box springs (not to be confused with 116, the repair of mattresses). Trade 124 is umbrella repairs; 125 is refilling of disposable cigarette lighters; 150 is fortune-telling with tarot cards; 156 is being a dandy (technical definition unknown, maybe a male escort?); 158 is peeling natural fruit (separate from 142, selling fruit in kiosks)."

The regime undoubtedly expected that the narrowness of the list of approved activities would contain ambitious upstarts. No such luck. The whiff of oxygen was enough to stir the animal spirits on the island and the central planners were, as they always are, caught off guard by the spontaneity of the market. In December the Associated Press reported that "the government has banned the resale of imported hardware and clothes and cracked down on unlicensed private videogame and movie salons." It has also sharply hiked in license fees for motor-bike taxi drivers.

Castro's remarks before the assembly shed light on his reasoning. The regime, he said, is not about let "private business people" go around "creating an environment of impunity and stimulating the accelerated growth of activities that were never authorized for certain occupations." Illegal activities like "competing excessively with state enterprises," will not be tolerated, he warned. In other words, Cuban poverty is here to stay.

In a world full of dynamism and uncertainty, isn't it comforting to know that some things never change?

Cuba's Scandalous Blood (Literally) Exports

On July 26, 2013, the Montevideo-based El País reported $0.9 million in 2012 sales by Cuba to Uruguay of “human or animal blood for therapeutic uses.” A subsequent El Pais editorial clarified that these were mostly of "human blood." Yet, there is no mention of blood exports in Cuba's official statistics.

The Castro regime has sold blood under false pretense from the earliest days of its dictatorship. Dating back to the 1960’s, blood was massively drained from political prisoners on their way to execution.

Are the Castro brothers once again using the blood of Cubans (literally) to run an international moneymaking enterprise?

Cuba Archive's Maria Werlau has just released an extensive report on this troubling issue.

Read the full report here.

Dissident Leaders Arrested Following Raul's Speech

On Wednesday, Cuban dictator Raul Castro gave his dictatorship's anniversary speech in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, a hotbed of dissident activity.

In his remarks, Raul expressed concern about the inroads that dissident groups are making among Cuba's disenchanted youth.

Not coincidentally, this morning, Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of Santiago's most prominent dissident group, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), was arrested.

Ferrer's home was assaulted and ransacked at dawn by Castro's secret police and over 40 shock troops.

Over a dozen other UNPACU activists have also been arrested, including Ovidio Martin Castellanos, Vladimir Martin Castellanos and Raul Perera.

Their whereabouts all remain unknown.

UPDATE: In Havana, reports are coming in that Berta Soler, head of The Ladies in White, and her husband, Angel Moya, have been arrested as well.

Cubans Now Allowed to Buy $263,182 Peugeots

Thursday, January 2, 2014
The media has been abuzz about dictator Raul Castro's latest "reform," which purportedly (after 55 years) grants Cubans "the right" to buy a new or second-hand car -- but only from the state's monopoly.

This "reform" takes effect on Friday.

Previously, Cubans were first required to request permission from the monopoly, in order to then try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly.

Now, they can just try to purchase a vehicle from the monopoly without first requesting permission from the monopoly.

But wait, there's more.

Today, Raul's fine print has been released, which reveals that each car will be marked-up (at least) an additional 50% in fees for the monopoly.

Call it the "Castro cut."

As such, Cubans will now have "the right" to purchase a 2013 Peugeot for $263,185.50.

Of course, all sales must be cash -- no financing available.

Think we're kidding?

Click here.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Quote of the Day: Cuban Rapper "El B"

The [Cuban] government boasts about its reforms, but I should have always had a right to those things. There were people who died because of the impossibility of leaving the country or trying to be entrepreneurial. There were those who couldn't escape, drowned at sea or ended up in prison. Although the most terrible thing is that people live forgetting. Independently of what those who wield power try to invent now, the system they established doesn't work. It's simple math.
Bian Oscar Rodriguez Gala, known as "El B" from the famed Cuban hip-hop duo "Los Aldeanos," Diario de Cuba, 1/1/12

Tweet of the Day

Raul Recognizes Growing Dissident Influence

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
While AFP's Havana bureau and Castro's lobbyists try to falsely portray Cuba's internal democracy movement as "irrelevant," General Raul Castro today recognized and expressed concern about dissident's growing appeal among young people.

During a speech marking the 55th anniversary of his family's dictatorship in Santiago de Cuba -- a hotbed of dissident activity led by the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) -- Castro fretted about the island's democracy movement:

"They deceptively toil in selling to the youth the supposed advantages of dispensing with ideology and social consciousness. They pretend to induce a rupture between the historic leaders of the revolution and the new generations, and to promote uncertainty and pessimism regarding the future. All with the purpose of dismantling socialism from within."

Coupled with Castro's dramatic rise in repression against these peaceful activists, it's clear that Raul is very worried.


Cuba's North Korean Playbook (and Vice-Versa)

The similarities between the Castro and Kim regimes are truly mind-boggling.

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

And during year's end, they give virtually the exact same speech calling for their major democratic foes to unconditionally "recognize and respect" their brutal dictatorships.

(Note to media: Why is it "acceptable" to call Castro "President" and not Kim?)

From New York Times:

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, on Wednesday called for improving relations with South Korea and boasted of his regime’s tightened grip on power in his first public speech since the purge and execution of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, last month.

“North and South Korea should create a mood to improve relations,” Mr. Kim said in a nationally televised New Year’s Day speech. “It’s time to end useless slandering, and the North and the South should no longer do things that harm reconciliation and harmony.”

From BBC:

Cuban President Raul Castro has called for "civilised relations" with the United States, saying the two countries should respect their differences.

President Castro said the US should drop its demand for regime change on the communist-run island.

That would allow both sides to continue work on improving relations, he said.

"If we really want to make progress in bilateral relations, we have to learn to respect each other's differences and get used to living peacefully with them. Otherwise, no. We are ready for another 55 years like the last."

Castro's Pullback Measures Take Effect

From NTDTV:

Ban Prohibiting Sale Of Imported Garments Goes Into Effect In Cuba

Cubans rush to purchase clothes as reform prohibiting the sale of imported garments goes into effect on January 1.

Cuban entrepreneurs are struggling to meet a December 31 deadline to sell off their imported clothes as a reform established by the Cuban government banning the sale of imported goods at lower prices than those offered by the state, goes into effect on January 1.

Three years ago communist-run Cuba allowed retail services in the form of 200 individual activities from clowns, seamstresses, food vendors, taxis and the building trades, to small businesses such as restaurants, cafeterias, bed and breakfasts and home-based movie theatres.

The new regulations, announced in September, will put the brakes on these individually owned and run businesses.

Enterprising residents took advantage of some of the categories, for example seamstress and household supplies salesman, offered imported clothing and supplies in greater variety and at lower cost than the state.

Others bought out available supplies at state stores and resold them at higher prices, which is now also banned by the new regulations.

Some of the clothes sold here were often not available locally or were sold by the state at a minimum 240 percent markup.

A year ago, the state dramatically increased customs duties on travelers with the apparent aim of protecting state-run stores from the growing flow of merchandise imported informally.

Tweet of the Day

Happy New Year: A Toast to a New Beginning

For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
-- T. S. Eliot, English poet and Nobel laureate (1888-1965)

May 2014 bring the Cuban people a new voice. 

And most importantly -- a new beginning.

Cuba's False Dichotomy: New Year's Edition

Cuban blogger Yusnaby Perez captured this video yesterday of two apparent Fidel and Che supporters on the streets of Havana.

Yet, check out what they actually say (see below or click here):

Tweet of the Day

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cuba's Dissidents Clearly Gaining Influence

Monday, December 30, 2013
Pursuant to the brutal repression by the Castro regime against hundreds of peaceful dissidents on Human Rights Day (December 10th), former Cuban diplomat and social-democratic opponent, Pedro Campos, succinctly wrote from Havana:

"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."

Considering the rise in repression under Raul Castro's rule, it's clear that the regime isn't just afraid of these peaceful dissidents -- it is very afraid.

But perhaps there's no greater sign of the Castro regime's fear of these dissidents -- and the influence they are achieving both inside and outside the island -- than the smear campaign being mounted against them.

Of course, the regime has long smeared dissidents domestically -- even launching racist and sexist attacks.

Yet, now concerned about the international prestige they're garnering -- it's also intensifying the external smear campaign against them.

Case and point -- today's AFP article, where the Castro regime's favorite talking heads take aim at Cuba's dissidents.

Leading the charge -- as usual -- is "former" Cuban intelligence official-turned-doctoral student, Arturo Lopez-Levy ("Lopez-Callejas"), who stated that dissident's "verbal radicalism" is evidence of their "irrelevance" domestically.

"Verbal radicalism"?

What type of dictatorial jargon is that?

Are human rights, freedom and representative democracy symptoms of "verbal radicalism"?

For Lopez-Callejas, whose conflict-of-interest was omitted by AFP, anyone who disagrees with his point of view is a "verbal radical."

Apparently, you can take Lopez-Callejas out of Castro's MININT ("Ministry of the Interior"), but you can't take the MININT out of Lopez-Callejas.

After all, his family still calls the shots there.

"Los perros ladran, la caravana pasa."

Antunez Returns to Cuba

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban dissident Antunez calls for push against Castro regime

On the eve of returning to Cuba after a four-month trip abroad, democracy activist Jorge Luis García “Antúnez” said Monday that Cubans on the island and in exile must aggressively push to end the Castro government.

“We are returning to Cuba, not to wait for things to happen” but to continue attacking the government, García said, because “the Castro system is not going to fall and there’s no reason why we have to continue waiting for Fidel and Raúl to die so we can be free.”

“No dictatorship has fallen by itself,” he added. “The regime must be destabilized. An atmosphere of protest and tension, which the repression apparatus cannot control, must be recreated. The frustration and popular anger must be exploited."

The struggle to remove the Castro brothers from power requires a national strike and must lead to the release of all political prisoners, the legalization of all political parties and justice for government security agents who have “blood on their hands,” he added.

Antonio Villarreal Acosta: "Prison Ended My Life"

From Uncommon Sense:

Between the "Black Spring" of 2003, when the Castro dictatorship imprisoned political activist Antonio Augusto Villarreal Acosta, and 2010, when it forced him into overseas exile, the Castro dictatorship attempted to torture Villarreal to death.

On Saturday, in a Miami apartment, the regime finally succeeded.

Haunted by the memories of torture and other abuses he suffered in the Castro gulag, including a year alone in a darkened punishment cell, Villarreal apparently took his own life with an overdose of drugs. He was 63.

Miami police found his body in his apartment in Little Havana. His son Tony told Diario de las Americas that Villarreal was lying on his bed, with a Cuban flag, images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre and his prison uniform.

"The history of my father was like a horror movie," Tony Villarreal told Cafe Fuerte.  "He felt alone, abandoned by all. He was under psychiatric treatment, but I never thought he was going to take such a radical decision."

Villarreal, an activist with the Christian Liberation Movement headed by the late Oswaldo Paya, was arrested during the "Black Spring" crackdown and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

He was first sent to the Boniato prison in Santiago de Cuba, where he spent a year in a punishment cell, and then to the La Pendiente prison in Santa Clara.

In July 2010, suffering from kidney ailments, hypertension and psychiatric disorders, he was one of the first of the Group of 75 prisoners released from jail under a deal arranged by Cuba, Spain and the Catholic Church, and forced into exile in Spain.

A year later, he moved with his wife and daughter to Miami, where life was no easier. Unable to work, he was on disability, and about a year ago he separated from his wife.

"Prison ended my life," Villarreal said in a 2011 interview.

WSJ: Mandela's Message Didn't Make it to Cuba

Sunday, December 29, 2013
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Mandela's Message Didn't Make It to Cuba

In Havana a small white clique rules a majority black nation.

Did Barack Obama bow to Raúl Castro when the two shook hands at a memorial for Nelson Mandela in South Africa earlier this month? It sure looked that way in a South African Broadcasting Corporation photo.

On the other hand Castro is a diminutive dictator. That may explain what seemed to be presidential stooping to the level of the tropical totalitarian. Let's hope so. After all, the Cuban military dictatorship, run by a white junta, held and tortured the black political prisoner Eusebio Peñalver for 28 years—one year more than Mandela endured.

The world barely noticed when Peñalver died in exile in 2005. If he had enjoyed the kind of international support Mandela had, things might have turned out differently for him and for Cuba's predominantly black population. Government statistics in Cuba are unreliable but according to a 2009 report in the Inter Press Service News Agency, "most Cuban academics estimate that between 60% and 70% of the population is black or 'mulatto.'"

Cuba was thrilled with the Obama encounter. A Dec. 19 commentary under Fidel's byline, published by the state media, congratulated Raúl for "his firmness and dignity" when the two met.

That's not the only reason Cuba had to be giddy about what went on in South Africa. The world used the Dec. 5 passing of Mandela to recall the courageous struggle for racial equality in South Africa. Cuba used it to brag about the close ties between Mandela and Fidel. No one mentioned Peñalver or the 55 years of racial exclusion under the Castro military dictatorship.

Cuba already had a long history of racial discrimination by the late 1950s, not unlike in the U.S. But after dictator Fulgencio Batista went into exile on Jan. 1, 1959 and Castro took over, things did not improve. In many ways, they got worse.

Peñalver was born in central Cuba in 1936, the eldest of six children. He had to give up going to school full-time in order to work. But he studied bookkeeping at night and graduated from a business school in Camaguey.

Peñalver opposed the Batista regime, like many young Cubans, and he fought with the rebel army in the hope of restoring the constitutional democracy. But when Castro hijacked the revolution for himself, Peñalver broke ranks rather than "sell my soul to the same devil that here on earth is Castro and communism."

Unlike Mandela, he never planned or launched attacks against civilians. But he took up arms against Castro's military in the Escambray Mountains, where he was captured in October 1960.

Peñalver became one of the legendary "plantados," prisoners who heroically resisted unfathomable cruelty at the hands of their jailers. In Oct. 1988, after almost three decades of incarceration, Peñalver was released and banished. From exile in Los Angeles he wrote about the "naked brutality" and round-the-clock beating and harassment that he had endured: "They made the men eat grass, they submerged them in sewage, they beat them hard with bayonets and they hit them with fence posts until their bones rattled."

Peñalver didn't carry the left-wing ideological identity card that made Castro a fan of Mandela. (Mandela never forgot it and was a life-long supporter of Cuba's dictator.) Peñalver fought against two dictatorships, but his cause was never racial. He wanted freedom for all Cubans. Yet it is clear that he suffered more because he was black: He interfered with the revolutionary narrative—so crucial to Castro's "progressive" international image—that the regime emancipated black Cubans.

Angel de Fana, who is white, is another of the exiled plantados. He told me last week in an email that during his many years in prison with Peñalver, "I witnessed how he was a victim of 'additional' punishment simply for being black."

Today Cuban economic and political power still resides with the military and the leadership is still a white men's club. But the subject of racism is taboo. In March, Roberto Zurbano, the Afro-Cuban publisher of Casa de las Americas publishing house in Havana, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times NYT -0.39%  headlined, "For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn't Begun," noting that black Cubans are "underrepresented in spheres of economic and political power." He was fired. Mr. Zurbano blamed the headline. Right.

At least he didn't go to lockup like Sonia Garro, another Afro-Cuban who threatens to unravel the Castro propaganda that he has elevated the black population. She first got into trouble by doing nonpolitical community work, unauthorized by the regime, in her heavily black neighborhood in Havana. In March 2012 she lobbied, along with others, for an audience with Pope Benedict during his visit to the island. The regime raided her house, shot her with rubber bullets and put her in jail. Others asking to see the Pope were detained at the same time, but only Ms. Garro remains in jail.

Black South Africans have won their struggle against official discrimination. Black Cubans wait.

Boston Globe: Cuba's Unhappy Birthday

By Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe:

Cuba’s unhappy birthday

New Year's Day marks the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s communist revolution. It is the only full-blown dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere. As Human Rights Watch noted in April, no other country in Latin America is ruled by a regime that “represses virtually all forms of political dissent.” More than half a century after Fidel Castro seized power with the promise that “all rights and freedoms will be reinstituted” — and more than seven years since Raul Castro succeeded his brother as tyrant-in-chief — Cuba is consistently rated “Not Free” in Freedom House’s annual index of political and civil liberties worldwide.

All this is borne out by the US State Department’s most recent report on Cuba’s human-rights practices. Although written in mostly dry bureaucratese, the document confirms that the island is no Caribbean paradise for Cubans who have the temerity to oppose the regime. Skim just the opening paragraphs and phrase after phrase stands out, evoking the reasons why Cubans remain so desperate for freedom that even now many will gamble their lives at sea to escape the Castro brothers’ nightmare:

Authoritarian state”... “Communist Party the only legal party”... “elections were neither free nor fair”... “government threats, intimidation, mobs, harassment”... “record number of politically motivated [and] violent short-term detentions.”

So when dissidents and pro-democracy activists held peaceful gatherings across the island to commemorate International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, they knew what to expect. Security agents were deployed to threaten, beat, and arrest the protesters; meetings were violently broken up; as many as 300 people were detained. Among the victims were dozens of members of Ladies in White, a dissident movement comprising the wives and mothers of Cuban prisoners of conscience. At least one woman was so severely beaten that she was taken to the hospital in Santiago for emergency surgery.

It would be heartening to report that the world erupted in outrage at this latest illustration of the Castro government’s brutality, which was all the more vile given Cuba’s recent election to the UN Human Rights Council. Alas, no. While Raul Castro’s thugs were attacking and arresting nonviolent dissidents, Castro himself was at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in Soweto, where Barack Obama greeted the dictator with a friendly handshake. That got plenty of attention. It certainly got more than any gesture Obama has ever made to show solidarity with Cuba’s beleaguered human-rights heroes.

When he was running for president, Obama told voters in Florida that he would “never, ever compromise the cause of liberty” and that his policy toward Cuba would “be guided by one word: libertad.” In reality his policy has amounted to little more than dialing back US restrictions on travel and business with Cuba. That has proven an ideal way to further enrich the Castros and the Cuban military. It has done nothing to mitigate human rights atrocities in the hemisphere’s most unfree country.

If the president wishes to send a powerful message of support and encouragement to the champions of Cuban libertad, he need only share their stories with the world. Men and women are still being persecuted, tortured, and murdered in the Castros’ hellhole. Dissidents still disappear. Or die in suspicious road accidents. Or are drowned while trying to flee the country.

Perhaps the president could spare a few minutes to look at a new report from the Cuba Archive, a US-based research project that seeks to meticulously chronicle every political killing or disappearance committed by Cuban rulers dating back to the Batista regime in 1952. For all the speculation that Raul’s accession to power would finally usher Cuba into a new era of pragmatism and reform, the toll in human lives keeps climbing higher and higher.

A president who has sworn to “never, ever, compromise the cause of liberty” might speak out, for example, about the fate of Roberto Amelia Franco Alfaro, who was warned by the police to stop opposing the government — and then disappeared when he wouldn’t. He might call attention to the death of Sergio Diaz Larrastegui, a blind human-rights activist who was threatened with revenge if he wouldn’t turn informer — then fell abruptly, fatally ill. There have been scores of such cases in recent years, many thousands in the last few decades.

There is only one dictatorship in the Americas. On New Year’s Day it turns another year older. Cry, the beloved island.

Remembering Marcelino Abreu Bonora

During the holidays, let's continue to highlight some of the current political prisoners that the Castro brothers would like the world to forget.

Today, we remember democracy activist, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who just spent his second Christmas in a political prison.

Abreu was arrested in 2012 for yelling “Long Live Human Rights,” “Down With Tyranny,” and "Freedom" on Fidel Castro's birthday (August 13th).

His peaceful protest was caught on video (see it here at 1:50 mark).

The Castro regime handed him a 4-year prison term in a sham proceeding, which he was not even permitted to attend.

Abreu has been on several hunger strikes protesting his arbitrary imprisonment -- most recently for 76-days.

He is currently in grave health.

Demand his freedom.

In the picture below, Abreu shows the blood-stained shirt he was wearing pursuant to a beating by Castro's secret police in 2010.

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Castro's Economic Woes

An excerpt from Vicente Morin Aguado's "Raul Castro's Questionable Optimism" in The Havana Times:

The essential economic data addressed [by Raul Castro at last week's National Assembly] was the following:

- During 2013, the Cuban economy grew by 2.7%, as opposed to the 3.6% predicted.

- In 2014, the economy is expected to grow by only 2.2 %

- Such unimpressive figures, we are told again, are primarily owed to a drop in hard currency export revenues, particularly to the deficit in tourism revenues.

- Another negative element is the expected drop, next year, of the prices of sugar and nickel, two of Cuba’s major exports.

I want to focus on a number of considerations surrounding these predictions before commenting on Raul Castro’s remarks.

For average Cubans, a yearly growth of 2% is tantamount to nothing or next to nothing, which might not be the same thing but is close enough. The two-currency system, coupled with the arbitrary prices that characterize the country’s State accounting system, make the figures quoted even more dubious.