More Uneducated Attacks from The New York Times

Friday, October 31, 2014
The weight of The New York Times' pen is apparently too heavy for its newest editorial writer, Ernesto Londoño, and his overnight Cuba "expertise" (obsession).

In (yet) another piece today, Londoño resorts to more uneducated attacks against the Cuban-American community's democratically-elected Members of Congress.

This time, he's upset at U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (FL) for telling some truths about Cuba's doctors.

Truths that The New York Times is all-too-willing to ignore.

Thus, Londoño snarks, "thankfully, theirs are becoming increasingly lonely voices in the debate over Cuba policy."

He's alluding to his last editorial on "the shifting politics of Cuba policy."

Of course, the irony is that he claims Cuban-Americans are "changing their views" -- yet Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart represent the only two majority Cuban-American Congressional Districts in the nation.

More dramatically, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart numerically represent -- with widespread support -- the majority of Cuban-Americans in the entire nation. 

Needless to say, their voices are far from "lonely" in our community.

As for Congress, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart's voices are also in the majority, which supports U.S. sanctions towards Cuba.

Again, this harks back to Londoño's last editorial, where he fretted:

"Ending the embargo, which requires congressional action, remains challenging because a small but passionate group of Cuban-American lawmakers is adamant about maintaining the status quo."

The irony here -- as we've previously documented -- is that the only thing small and continuously shrinking are the number of Members of Congress that support lifting the embargo.

Moreover, yes, the seven (perhaps eight after Tuesday) Cuban-American Members of Congress are passionate and adamant about Cuba policy -- for they are a reflection of their constituencies and their own life experiences.

However, there are only six Members of Congress that are adamant about lifting sanctions -- U.S. Senators Pat Leahy (VT) and Jeff Flake (AZ), and the far-left House cabal of U.S. Reps. James McGovern (MA), Barbara Lee (CA), Kathy Castor (FL) and Charlie Rangel (NY).

Why are they so strangely adamant about embracing Castro's regime?

Now that's a real confounding issue.

Image below: U.S. Rep. James McGovern (MA) having a great time with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Cuba's "Medical Diplomacy" is Commercial, Not Humanitarian

This week, Germany's Deutche Welle newspaper looked beyond Castro's propaganda to note how Cuba's "medical diplomacy" is really a commercial endeavor for its dictatorship.

As documented in the story, it's a low-profit, high-margin business for Castro -- a quintessential "human trafficking" business model -- whereby the regime gets paid handsomely in hard currency, while the health workers get a pittance.

What remains unclear is how much Castro is getting paid -- aside from the propaganda dividend -- for the health workers currently being sent to West Africa.

Thus far, we know the Cuban health workers have been compelled to agree that if they contract the Ebola virus, they will not be repatriated to the island.

We also know that there has been a life insurance policy taken out for these health workers with the World Health Organization (WHO) -- with the Castro regime, not their families, as the beneficiary.

Many of the commercial arrangements for Cuba's health workers throughout the world are funneled via the WHO.

For example, Castro was paid for Cuba's much-propagated role in Haiti via contributions from Norway and Brazil.

So how much is the WHO paying the Castro regime for these Ebola health workers?

We'll surely find out at some point.

However, as a first clue, it was revealed last week that Mexico alone was transferring at least $1 million to the WHO for these Cuban health workers.

Deutche Welle has some of the numbers:

"A staggering 50,000 employees of the Cuban health ministry are currently serving abroad in 66 countries, according to the ministry. Of those, 30,000 are stationed in Venezuela. There are 12,000 in Brazil, 2,000 in Angola, and a further 2,000 in other parts of Africa.

In total, almost a third of Cuba's 83,000 doctors are working in foreign countries.

The government in Havana earns more than six billion euros a year ($7.6 billion) through these doctors, because only a fraction of what the doctors cost these foreign nations are paid out in their salaries."

Unfortunately, the article overlooks Castro's medical-commercial deals with South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Portugal, which also directly pay him top-dollar.

These arrangements are all in clear violation of international labor standards.

Yet, this billionaire enterprise has become one of the Castro regime's main sources of income.

Must-Read: Revelation by Cuban Democracy Leader Guillermo Fariñas

There's a fascinating interview today in El Nuevo Herald with renowned Cuban democracy leader and Sakharov Prize recipient, Guillermo Fariñas.

Below are some translated excerpts.

On current efforts -- led by The New York Times -- to normalize relations with the Castro regime, Fariñas states:

"I think that a normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States would be a betrayal to the Cuban people and to democracy. [Ladies in White leader] Berta Soler and I asked President Barack Obama during a meeting we had in November 2013, that in any negotiation, the Cuban government's counterpart should be present -- meaning, the opposition."

On the upcoming Summit of the Americas:

"It's Panama's prerogative whether to invite Cuba, but we believe Barack Obama and the U.S. authorities have a moral commitment to democracy. Therefore, we'd prefer for Obama not to attend the Summit. He can send someone in his place, but shouldn't attend as a means to protest that Cuba doesn't meet the series of requirements that had been agreed to for a country to be invited."

On travel restrictions:

"President Obama said that he has taken various steps towards the Cuban government and that it has not responded in kind. It would be a mistake to unilaterally lift the restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba because that would mean an unexpected revenue stream for a government that is desperate to obtain hard currency to continue politically controlling the country -- particularly now that its life-preserver, Venezuela, is deflating."

Finally, Fariñas makes the following revelation:

"We were contacted in 2013 by various [very rich] people with interests aligned to the Cuban government, who wanted us to change our views, and tried to buy us with millions of dollars. We rejected it."

Asked who these multimillionaires were, he responds:

"Everyone knows who it is."

Quote of the Day: On U.S. Official at ALBA Meeting in Cuba

ALBA, the brainchild of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, was created solely to oppose U.S. interests in our hemisphere. It enjoys the support of other anti-American regimes such as Syria and Iran. That the U.S. would send a representative to such a meeting is by itself ludicrous. Furthermore, there is nothing charitable about the Cuban dictatorship's actions in Africa, and there is no parity between American doctors, who are expertly trained and voluntarily travel to risky destinations on their own terms, and Cuban medics. Cuban doctors are hastily trained, poorly equipped, and forced to work in dangerous conditions while most of their pay is siphoned to the Castro dictatorship. That a U.S. official would condone their overt exploitation is outrageous.

-- U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), in a statement, 10/30/14

Rodiles: We Must Accept Nothing Less Than Fundamental Freedoms

Thursday, October 30, 2014
Excerpt by Cuban democracy leader and head of the independent think-tank, Estado de Sats, Antonio Rodiles:

The temptations of some political actors to enter into a political dialogue with the regime and defend a quasi-unconditional reconciliation can be many. Some dissidents, like [Catholic activist] Dagoberto Valdes, defend this thesis. Yet, it's important to note that without a broad social base to exercise sustained pressure against the old elite and its allies, it would be very difficult to advance in the direction of political changes. Venezuela, where the Cuban regime has already shown its cards, is a good example. They used those who decided to dialogue in order to silence and weaken the student movement and -- once that movement was under their control -- they ended the supposed dialogue as well.

The Cuban situation can become even more complicated. Missteps would create conditions that would place us on the path to becoming a failed state, whereby in addition to our current economic and social disaster under iron-fisted political control, we would have high levels of insecurity and the establishment of criminal organizations. The embargo, like every other international sanction, should be a tool to pressure the regime to accept the substantive measures necessary to prevent the tragic experiences that many former Communist republics encountered on this journey. Why repeat the same mistakes?

We are faced with a regime on a regressive count, but with the ability to transmute. It's not the time to grant anything to oppresors who treat their citizens with such disdain. The time for our fundamental rights has come -- a simple and powerful idea, which should not be overshadowed by any other argument or supposed strategy. We are weary of those who would be satisfied by less or who wish to "dialogue" for less. Politically, the door should not be closed, but neither opened to the point where we become a loyal opposition.

That every Cuban, inside and outside the island, can fully exercise their fundamental rights. That we obtain a firm commitment with respect to our freedoms by ratifying and implementing the U.N.'s human rights conventions. Only then would we be talking about real reforms.

Dr. Biscet: First Freedoms for the Cuban People, Then Lift Embargo

Never mind this idea of lift the embargo first and respect human rights later, for we know [the Cuban regime] lies. First freedom and human rights for the Cuban people. Then progressively lift the embargo.
-- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Cuban democracy leader, prisoner of conscience and 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, La Nueva Nacion, 10/29/14

Must-Read: Armenian-Canadian Businessmen Lose Millions in Totalitarian Cuba

By Vilen Khlgatyan of the Political Developments Research Center (PDRC):

Money Trumps Morality: Armenian-Canadian Businessmen Invest and Lose Millions in Totalitarian Cuba

Late last month the regime of Raúl Castro sentenced a Canadian businessman of Armenian origin, Cy Tokmakjian to 15 years in prison on corruption-related charges. The sentence follows a three-year ordeal which began as part of a wider campaign targeting foreign investors in Cuba by the Castro regime. Cuba follows the Soviet model slavishly, including the treatment of foreign investors. On the one hand, they are wooed for their money and know-how, on the other scapegoated for their crimes – real and imagined – in an eerie tropical morality play straight from the USSR’s New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s. Tokmakjian was arrested in September of 2011, only two months after another Canadian businessman of Armenian origin, Sarkis Yacoubian, had been arrested. Cy heads the Tokmakjian Group, which is an Ontario-based automotive firm. Prior to its closure in Cuba it was one of the largest foreign companies to have operated on the Communist island over the past 20 years. Through the sale of construction and mining equipment, as well as being the exclusive Hyundai distributor in Cuba, the company took in roughly $80 million per annum. This sum made it the second largest Canadian operation in Cuba. It all came crashing down on that September day in 2011 when agents of the Cuban State Security seized and shut down the local headquarters. Predictably, the regime confiscated the company’s assets which were worth over $100 million.

Fashioned after the Soviet NEP, the Cuban regime under Raúl has been carefully crafting an imaginary economic liberalization that includes major “reforms” such as stamping out corruption. The early Soviets ran a seminal disinformation operation to induce Westerners and some Russian exiles to successfully promote foreign investment in the USSR. The Soviets, who always intended this state capitalism as a temporary measure to improve the economy, later arrested many investors known as the NEP-men on trumped-up charges and confiscated their investments without recourse.

After nearly three years of detention without formal charges leveled against him, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), Granma, reported that Tokmakjian was accused of corruption to obtain benefits in contract negotiations, unauthorized financial transactions, illegally taking large amounts of money out of the country, falsifying documents to avoid taxes and payroll irregularities. Cy Tokmakjian and his family who help run the business back in Canada deny any wrong doing. His lawyers made the decision to appeal the verdict in Cuba’s Supreme Court. Concurrently, Canadian MP Peter Kent, whose district includes the Tokmakjian Group’s headquarters, has warned other businessmen with projects in Cuba to be careful. Curiously, the New York Times is now forcefully advocating for the lifting of the U.S. embargo evidently so that American investors can seize the same “opportunities” as Mr. Tokmakjian.

Sarkis Yacoubian, the other Canadian-Armenian businessman targeted by the Cuban regime, started out as Tokmakjian’s junior partner before creating his own company. Yacoubian’s Tri-Star Caribbean, a transport and trading company developed into a burgeoning $30 million a year business. Regime officials accused Yacoubian of bribery, tax evasion and “activities damaging to the economy.” Unlike Tokmakjian though, Yacoubian decided to cooperate with his captors and provided them the ins and outs of how foreigners conduct business in Cuba. This may be the reason why he was expelled from a Cuban prison this past February and does not have to finish the rest of his nine-year sentence in a Canadian penal institution.

A practical as well as patriotic question arises. Why were Tokmakjian and Yacoubian investing millions of dollars in one of the most corrupt and totalitarian regimes in the world, whilst their ancestral home is in dire need of investments from the Diaspora and foreign businessmen in general? All the hazards, real and imagined, of doing business in Armenia pale in comparison to the hoops and hurdles with which one is confronted in order to succeed in the Cuban business environment. Armenia is under a Turkish and Azerbaijani embargo over which it has no control. Cuba, in contrast, faces only a unilateral American embargo that would end, or at least ease, were the regime to accept the timeless principle that all men are created equal and all deserve to be ruled by a government of their own choosing. In the meantime, any country in the world can and does invest in Cuba helping to prop up a regime that does not respect the rights of its own citizens. It can hardly be expected that this regime will somehow respect the rights of foreign investors. In fact, it would behoove Armenian and other investors to understand that Cuba’s NEP is just an elaborate deception operation. They will soon be victimized one way or another.

The Tokmakjian family released a statement following Cy’s conviction in which they write that since the beginning of their father’s legal ordeal in Cuba, he has been “denied the most fundamental human and civil rights recognized under both Canadian and international law.” What they failed to mention is that the Cuban judicial system is a mockery of law and order.  Any disinterested party could have warned them that investing in Cuba is fraught with pitfalls. When Tokmakjian was doing business in Cuba, making profits, and everything was peachy he willingly ignored the myriad misdeeds of the Castro regime. Investing in Cuba bankrolls the regime by providing much-needed hard currency to support secret police operations and other repressive forces. It propagandizes the illusion of a legitimate place of business. Additionally, the Cuban military leadership controls foreign investment and the Cuban employees of those businesses. This has allowed them to siphon millions of dollars for themselves while paying Cuban workers a pittance.

The moral question in all this is why two individuals who are the descendants of genocide survivors, whose ancestors and fellow Armenians lost property running into the hundreds of billions of dollars at the hands of the Ottoman Empire and now the Republic of Turkey, would invest in a totalitarian state like Cuba. A state which also has profited handsomely from the wholesale murder, looting, and usurpation of properties and other assets once owned by Cubans from all walks of life. It should be noted here that thousands of Armenians found refuge in an ethnically diverse Cuba after the Genocide. In a repeat of history, Armenians were forced to flee their adopted Cuban homeland as the Communist regime still in power today arrested their friends, executed their neighbors and confiscated their properties. If Armenians wish for non-Armenians to take our pain and suffering seriously, if we wish for non-Armenians to join with us in our drive to reclaim our lost properties, then as a community we must condemn any and all activities which profit from the suffering of others.  Hypocrisy is not an option.

On U.N. General Assembly's Vote Against Cuba Sanctions

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Last week, 181 nations voted in the U.N.'s General Assembly ("UNGA") to give Venezuela a seat in the U.N.'s Security Council, despite that government's violations of human rights; subversion of democratic institutions; involvement in international narcotics trafficking; and blatant support for the world's rogue regimes and terrorist organizations.

Today, by a similar margin, the nations of UNGA voted against the United States' policy of conditioning the lifting of Cuba sanctions to the release of political prisoners; the recognition of universally-recognized human rights; and the legalization of political parties, an independent media and labor groups.

Both votes are representative of the moral deficiencies and institutional contradictions plaguing UNGA. Yet, while the Venezuela vote is within UNGAs multilateral purview, the U.S.'s bilateral policy towards Cuba is clearly not.

The decision of which nations the U.S. chooses to conduct commerce with belongs to the U.S. government; specifically, to our democratically-elected Congress. It does not belong to UNGA.

If other nations choose to do business with Cuba's dictatorship, that's (for worse) their prerogative. As a matter of fact, practically every other nation in the world does business with Cuba's dictatorship and we've seen first-hand how those billions are all funneled through Castro's monopolies, while serving no benefit to the Cuban people.

In contrast, the U.S. rightfully believes it's not in its national interest to finance the sole remaining dictatorship in the Americas.

UNGA should instead devote its time to reflecting on its debilitating institutional contradictions.

For example, why does it allow Cuba, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Vietnam to sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council?

Why does it always target Israel for human rights violations, but not the world's worst dictatorships?

And last, but not least:

Why did it allow Cuba to escape without reprimand for the most egregious violation -- ever recorded -- of its own Security Council sanctions towards North Korea?

Quote of the Day: In Opposition to U.N. General Assembly's Cuba Resolution

The United States conducts its economic relationships with other countries in accordance with its national interests and its principles. Our sanctions toward Cuba are part of our overall effort to help the Cuban people freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and determine their own future, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the democratic principles to which the United Nations itself is committed.
-- Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Area Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, statement in opposition to the U.N. General Assembly's Cuba resolution, 10/28/14

U.S. Must Continue Challenging Tyrants

From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Editorial Board:

U.N. Watch: A diminished U.S.

As Venezuela easily claims its prize — a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council — the Obama administration remains as disengaged as ever.

“Unfortunately Venezuela's conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the charter's letter,” remarked U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power. In other words, “Oh, well.”

Even the U.N.'s own Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions was more convincing when it slammed Venezuela for imprisoning government protesters. Venezuela's relentless crackdown has led to more than 40 deaths and thousands of unlawful arrests, reports The Daily Signal.

And never mind Venezuela's extensive ties to Cuba. No doubt Venezuela will be Raul Castro's puppet on the Security Council.

With good reason, the United States worked diligently to block Venezuela's Security Council nomination in 2006 after 47 rounds of voting. Venezuela was blocked again in 2008.

Where was the U.S. outcry this time?

“(T)he geopolitics of 2014 are far worse than they were in 2008, and the U.S. does not have the diplomatic clout it once had,” write Ana Quintana and Brett Schaefer for The Signal.

That's clearly evidenced as the United States meekly shrugs and returns to business as usual at Turtle Bay.

How to Relegate Human Rights and Democracy in U.S.-Cuba Policy

Monday, October 27, 2014
In light of recent lobbying efforts by the Castro regime and its cohorts, along with The New York Times, to unilaterally and unconditionally ease U.S. sanctions, El Nuevo Herald recently interviewed four of Cuba's most renowned democracy leaders.

They are The Ladies in White's Berta Soler, the Cuban Patriotic Union's (UNPACU) Jose Daniel Ferrer, Estado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and Arco Progresista's Manuel Cuesta Morua.

All four strongly agree that human rights and democracy should remain the priority of U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Moreover, three of the four -- Soler, Ferrer and Rodiles -- support current U.S. sanctions and believe they should remain in place until the Cuban regime takes significant steps towards human rights and democracy.

Only Cuesta Morua was not against the lifting of sanctions, though he is quite weary of those who intentionally obliviate human rights and democracy to further their Cuba policy objectives (i.e. this year's Council of the Americas letter, which he strongly criticized).

So how does he reconcile the two?

Essentially, through wishful thinking.

Cuesta Morua stated:

"I don't think the United States, if it takes a step towards normalization, will abandon the agenda of human rights."

Think again.

If relations with Cuba were normalized, the United States might occasionally raise the issue of human rights and democracy rhetorically -- but in practice it would be relegated to the bottom of the agenda.

The United States' agenda towards Cuba would become subject to the priorities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau, the National Foreign Trade Council, every major agribusiness and oil conglomerate, etc.

None of whom care one bit about the human rights of the Cuban people -- nor of the Iranian people, Syrian people, Burmese people, et al.

This is not a theory. It is a fact.

Just take a look at U.S. policy toward China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia or even Venezuela.

Let's not forget, the State Department passionately opposed -- until it was embarrassed by the General Hugo Carvajal fiasco -- simple visa restrictions against individual human rights violators from the Venezuelan government.

(For that matter, why hasn't the rest of the Western Hemisphere lifted a finger on behalf of human rights and democracy in Venezuela, despite no U.S. sanctions and normalized relations with everyone?)

Or take a look at Obama's current Hong Kong "quandary."

As Politico wrote this week:

"Despite calls from some American lawmakers and democracy advocates in Hong Kong that the president speak out more forcefully on the side of student demonstrators, who want less interference from Beijing, Obama has publicly held his tongue."

Of course, Castro's D.C. lobbyists and apologists know that if relations with Cuba were normalized, human rights and democratic reforms would be relegated, which is why they are marketing the The New York Times' "bag of goods" that, "[normalizing relations] would better position Washington to press the Cubans on democratic reforms."

Most Cuban democrats know -- and the facts show -- that this would not be the case.

Image Below: Cuban dictator Raul Castro with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.

Quote of the Day: Oppressors Should Not be Rewarded

Those who flagrantly violate human rights cannot not be rewarded with concessions and treated well. Dictatorships are dictatorships, and like all those who violate what should be respected, they should be punished and made clear that their bad actions will not be applauded.
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, co-leader of Cuba's largest opposition group, Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), El Nuevo Herald, 10/24/14

Rosa Maria Paya: No Rewarding the Cuban Regime

By Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of deceased Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya, in The Washington Post:

No rewarding the Cuban regime

Conversations with the Cuban government, which have been maintained for decades by U.S. congressmen, lobbies, nongovernmental organizations, businessmen, journalists, religious leaders, intelligence and government officers, have hardly served democracy in Cuba. Neither has the U.S. trade embargo.

What Wayne S. Smith, Cuba project director for the Center for International Policy, said in an Oct. 26 letter [“Keep the trade embargo?”] is a Cuban move “toward liberalization,” my father, Oswaldo Payá, called “fraudulent change.” The Cuban dictatorship that is supposedly changing is the one responsible for taking the life of my father and Harold Cepero on July 22, 2012. They refuse to allow an investigation of these deaths.

How can anyone know what “the overwhelming majority” of Cubans agree on if we have no access to mass media on the island and no citizen under the age of 80 has ever voted in free and pluralistic elections? Cubans deserve and have asked for a plebiscite to change our law so that we can choose a legitimate government and hold it accountable.

Lifting the U.S. embargo is not the solution because it is not the cause of our lack of political and economic rights. I’m in favor of coherent communication, but engagement and dialogue should not be a reward for the military elite from Havana that imposes its monologic agenda on my people while fostering intolerance and hostility with absolute impunity.

Let’s not speak for the Cubans but support the right of Cubans to have a voice in Cuba.

Castro Must be Held Responsible for Gross' Continued Imprisonment

By Frank Calzon in The Washington Post:

The Oct. 21 editorial “Truth and freedom in Cuba” said that the Cuban government “continues to imprison Alan Gross on false charges.” Mr. Gross is a development aid subcontractor who was sentenced to 15 years for giving a satellite telephone and laptop computer to a handful of Cuban Jews seeking access to the Internet. I hope President Obama and his foreign policy advisers read the editorial carefully.

Mr. Gross is a U.S. hostage trapped in Cuba. He committed no internationally recognized crime and was held more than a year before charges were made against him. His “trial” was a sham, and his sentence is the same as the one imposed on Fidel Castro in 1953 for attacking an Army base where many died. Mr. Castro served less than two years. Mr. Gross has served more than four years, lost 100 pounds and vision in one eye and cannot walk. He was denied a compassionate furlough to visit his dying mother in the United States. Yet a Cuban spy convicted of infiltrating U.S. military bases was allowed to visit his sick mother in Cuba.

Mr. Gross’ emotional state is deteriorating. If Mr. Gross dies in prison, Raúl Castro, who now heads Cuba’s government, should be held personally responsible.

The Post is absolutely right when it says “fully lifting the embargo now would reward and ratify [Havana’s] intransigence.”

The Miami Herald's Editorial Board: Cuba Hasn't Earned Embargo's End

Sunday, October 26, 2014
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba hasn’t earned embargo’s end

In October of 1960, the United States imposed an embargo on exports to Cuba covering all commodities except medical supplies and certain food products. That was the beginning of a trade embargo that still endures and still inspires heated debate.

The anniversary of the embargo, plus this week’s upcoming vote in the United Nations condemning it — which the United States will lose, as usual — have prompted calls for a reassessment. Dropping the embargo altogether would require action by Congress. Meanwhile, anti-embargo advocates say, there’s a lot the president can do to soften or minimize its effects and open the door to restoring full ties with Cuba.

We disagree. Such a move would be premature and utterly lacking in justification at this time.

Granted, Raúl Castro has loosened the reins on the tightly controlled economy to permit more individual businesses. Some citizens can own property, and new rules are designed to encourage foreign investment. But it’s only because Cuba has been frozen in time for so long that such minimal change seems so dramatic. The Cuban nomenklatura still runs the Soviet-style planned economy that largely remains in place, and its members remain its major beneficiaries.

Some see vague government statements from Havana welcoming renewed diplomatic ties with the United States as a sign that it’s willing to negotiate longstanding differences. We would attribute that not to any goodwill but rather to Cuba hedging its bets as it nervously watches the slide in oil prices and the rise of political instability in Venezuela.

The Andean country has been the Castro brothers’ main benefactor in the last few years, helping prop up Cuba’s chronically weak economy with cheap oil. But if oil prices continue to drop, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro will need every penny he can get selling oil on the international market. He won’t hesitate to throw Cuba under the bus if it means survival for the Chávez movement in Caracas.

That makes the timing of any move by Washington toward Havana particularly inappropriate. Why throw it a lifeline now?

Yet even if these objections could be met, the greater issue remains unresolved: Cuba is still an unforgiving, authoritarian police state that will stop at nothing to stifle those it deems enemies of the state.

Here’s what Human Rights Watch says: “The Cuban government continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights. Officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employment and threats of long-term imprisonment.”

Arrests of dissidents are going up, not down. Press freedom? Forget about it.

Nor has the Cuban government bothered to investigate the death of Oswaldo Payá, perhaps Cuba’s most prominent advocate of democracy, nor to allow an independent investigation of his supposed “accident” by anyone else.

Then there’s the case of American Alan Gross, sentenced to 15 years in prison for “acts against the independence or the territorial integrity of the state.” Translation from the Kafkaesque: He was caught bringing a satellite phone to Cuba’s small and beleaguered Jewish community.

Is there any doubt that the Castro brothers remain committed to maintaining their dictatorship over Cuba? Of course not. As long as that remains the case, the United States has no incentive to extend a welcoming hand.

Desperate and Shameless: The New York Times' Latest Cuba Editorial

Last Sunday, The New York Times treated us to an editorial on U.S.-Cuba policy, which was full of glaring contradictions, misrepresentations and omissions.

Today, it's treating us to a similarly deceptive -- and absolutely shameless -- editorial on Cuban-American politics.

Just how shameless?

It finally admits in its opening paragraph:

"There was a time, not too long ago, when any mainstream politician running for statewide or national office in Florida had to rattle off fiery rhetoric against the Cuban government and declare unquestioning faith that the embargo on the island would one day force the Castros from power."

What? Not too long ago?

Is the NYT recognizing that it has been absolutely wrong about Cuban-American politics for the last 40 years?

After all -- this is the same NYT that on December 20th, 1965, sought to convince politicians and public opinion that:

The very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Then again, on October 10, 1974:

Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

And on March 23, 1975:

For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

And on August 31, 1975:

A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

And on July 4, 1976:

A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

Et al.

Yet, now again, today -- on October 25th, 2014 -- claims:

"In recent years as younger members of the diaspora have staked out views that are increasingly in favor of deepening engagement with the island."

In recent years?

The NYT has been making that same political argument since 1965!

Beyond this glaring contradiction, the editorial weaves, bobs and turns in desperate search for a selective gauge that favors its long-discredited narrative on Cuban-American politics.

Of course, it omits the two simplest, factual and most relevant indicators:

-- Every Cuban-American elected official supports U.S. sanctions towards Cuba. Surely, there's no greater indicator of political attitude than the democratic process.  This transcends generations -- with some of the policy's most visible and vocal defenders being young, i.e. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

-- There are only two majority Cuban-American Congressional Districts in the whole country -- Florida 27, represented by U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Florida 25, represented by U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). Both ran unopposed this year due to the strong support they enjoy from their majority Cuban-American electorate.

Then, the NYT frets:

"Still, ending the embargo, which requires congressional action, remains challenging because a small but passionate group of Cuban-American lawmakers is adamant about maintaining the status quo."

That's right, in our democracy, Congress makes laws -- and only Congress can repeal laws. But it takes more than a "small passionate group" to pass or repeal a law -- it takes a majority of Congress.

Just this week, one of the Castro regime's most outspoken Congressional apologists, U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), stated:

"Right now we would not win a vote to repeal Helms-Burton or to remove the travel restrictions."

He's right.

Moreover, in recent years, any Congressional support for easing sanctions towards Cuba has continued to whither, as the Castro regime has taken an American hostage; dramatically increased repression; illegally trafficked 240 tons of weapons to North Korea; fomented violence and subverted democracy in Venezuela; arbitrarily imprisoned and confiscated the investments of foreign businessmen from Europe and Canada; and become a diplomatic mouthpiece for its terrorist brethren in Syria and Iran.

Legislators have also been heeding the calls from Cuba's largest and most active internal democracy groups (i.e. UNPACU, The Ladies in White, Estado de Sats, National Resistance Front) that it is not the time to ease sanctions.

Case and point:

In the 111th Congress, a bill to ease travel restrictions garnered 179 co-sponsors in the House of Representative -- still short of the 218 needed to pass.

In this 113th Congress, the very same bill garnered only 18 co-sponsors.

Apparently, the NYT doesn't want you to know this.

Finally, the NYT resorts to taking desperate potshots at the former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

It states that Ros-Lehtinen -- the democratically-elected representative of the most highly-concentrated, Cuban-American Congressional District in the country, who meets and interacts on a daily basis with Cuba's leading democracy leaders, civil society activists and recent arrivals of all stripes -- "is strikingly out of touch with what is happening on the island."

That is unbecoming (at best). Particularly, coming from a young, new editorial writer at the NYT, Ernesto Londoño, who recently discovered Cuba and is obviously regurgitating the cliches of his biased sources.

Then it criticizes Chairman Menendez for giving an impassioned Cuba policy speech on the Senate floor "during the height of the crisis set off by Russia’s invasion of Crimea."

That is ironic (at best). Particularly, coming from the NYT's Editorial Board, which among the world's multiple crises, has now dedicated three editorials to Cuba (the first two praised by Castro himself, as surely this latest one will) in just one week.

It's even more ironic, as the NYT is precisely lobbying President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief, to deviate from the world's many crises, in order to unilaterally and unconditionally embrace Cuba's undeserving dictatorship.

Absolutely shameless.

Why is Dilma Hiding Business Deals With Cuba?

Saturday, October 25, 2014
After last night's presidential debate, Brazilian opposition candidate, Aecio Neves, tweeted:

Aecio asks what Dilma [Rousseff] has to hide from investments in the Port of Cuba [Mariel] that her government does not disclose, it's secret

Neves is referring to last year's decision by Rousseff to officially "classify" documents related to Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht's (taxpayer-funded) business dealings with the Castro regime until the year 2027.

Adding further concern is how the Port of Mariel was then specifically chosen (before completion) for the Cuban regime's arms smuggling operation to North Korea, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail.

Neves also revealed some of the questionable preferential terms Rousseff gave Cuba's regime for these Brazilian "investments" -- see here.

Image: Arms Trafficking from Cuba's Port of Mariel

The image below is of the Captain's Note from the North Korean ship that was intercepted last year trafficking 240 tons of weapons from Cuba.

It shows his instructions to pick up the shipment at the Port of Mariel and identifies the Cuban military contact.

Note that the Port of Mariel was officially inaugurated in January 2014. Yet, the weapons were loaded on June 20, 2013.

The only two entities with access to the Port of Mariel were the Cuban military and its Brazilian partner, Odebrecht.

Heated Cuba Exchange in Brazil's Presidential Debate

Here's the exchange on Cuba during last night's Brazilian presidential debate between incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and her opponent, Aecio Neves:

Neves: We know there is an absolute lack of infrastructure, we need everything -- railways, waterways, ports. Instead, your government opted to fund the construction of a port in Cuba, spending R$2 billion in Brazilian money, in the money of Brazilian workers. Meanwhile, our ports are there awaiting investments. None of them have investments of that amount. To make matters worse, this funding has been stamped "secret" -- it is not accessible to the Brazilian people. What does your government have to hide in relation to the financing of the port of Mariel in Cuba ?

Rousseff: My government. Nothing. Now, I think you have a lot to hide when it comes to ad spending, which are clearly connected to his family's newspapers and television stations. I believe, Senator, that we need to stop and look at this issue of the Port very carefully. We financed a Brazilian company that has created jobs in Brazil. It generated so many jobs that, with the R$800 million contracted, we were able to generate 456,000 jobs. And I want to remind you that the government of Fernando Henrique also funded Brazilian companies to export and place products in Venezuela and Cuba. So I do not understand the dismay. Now, I want to return the issue of employment. Candidate, you left the country with 11,400,000 unemployed people. Candidate, that was the highest rate, second only to India, which had 41 million. You beat the record of unemployment, had record low salaries and when the gentleman refers to inflation, he's talking about the Itamar government, not the Fernando Henrique government.

Neves: Another lie madam, but back to Cuba which was my question, for perhaps I can reveal here today to Brazil the real reasons why this loan has been labeled a "secret," which is different from what she has spoken about. I received a document today and I am asking that it be sent to the Attorney General to investigate. It's a document from the Ministry of Economic Development, which says that the financing for Cuba is not like that normally given to other countries, where the deadline for payments is between 12 and 25 years. But the most concerning part is that all the financing solicitations by the Brazilian government and technical group were for guarantees to be given in a hard currency, usually U.S. dollars or Euros, from a credible international bank. Instead, the Brazilian government accepted that the guarantees be given in Cuban pesos from a bank on the island of Cuba. Is it fair to use the Brazilian people's money to do favors for a "friendly" country that does not even respect democracy?

Must-Read: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

Friday, October 24, 2014
By Maria C. Werlau in Spain's ABC:

Paying for The Port of Mariel: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

The Brazilian government has committed huge taxpayer funds —in loans, subsidies, and direct humanitarian assistance— to support infrastructure projects, food exports, and other initiatives in or for Cuba. Brazil has also provided decisive international political backing to the Cuban military dictatorship. This support is nowhere more evident than in the Port of Mariel, refurbished to great fanfare with Brazilian public financing of over one billion dollars.

Brazil’s massive lending for Cuba seems reckless from a financial/due diligence perspective, as Cuba does not meet basic standards of creditworthiness. The island is technically insolvent; it has US$75 billion in external debt, a long history of defaults, and a classification from The Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the four riskiest countries on the planet to invest in. Meanwhile, the port project is apparently not viable, as the two main reasons given to justify the gigantic investment are shaky at best. Several ports in the vicinity look better positioned to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion and the U.S. embargo does not seem anywhere close to ending.

Brazil’s huge government loans and subsidies for Cuba have been granted with unprecedented levels of secrecy and are currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, kickbacks, and favoritism towards the port builder, Odebrecht, which received Brazil´s development bank (BNDES) loans for the port construction and is a large campaign contributor of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (P.T.). Moreover, while Brazil has greatly increased financing for projects of politically-compatible foreign governments such as Cuba’s —growing the deficit to 4% of GDP—, public funding for infrastructure projects within Brazil has been lacking. The manifest commitment to support Cuba at all costs may seem puzzling, but can be explained by the strong political-ideological alliance of P.T. leaders with the Cuban regime in the pursuit of a radical hemispheric agenda (inspired in the Foro de Sao Paulo). The hyped-up business opportunities surrounding the port seek to exert pressure against the U.S. embargo and attract investors.

While the Mariel port project does not meet standard repayment conditions, Brazilian officials insist Cuba is meeting its financial commitments, presumably the amortization of its own loans from Odebrecth. In fact, it appears that repayment is coming from exploiting Cuba’s citizens as export raw material for goods and services —purchased mostly by public entities in Brazil— in what arguably constitutes a government-to-government collaboration in human trafficking. Referred to as “health cooperation,” these exports consist of:

Export services provided by approximately 11,400 Cuban doctors hired out for a Brazilian government program launched in 2013 that generates Cuba estimated annual net revenues of US$404 million.

Export products reported under standard trade codes for blood — including plasma and medicines and other products derived from blood — and for extracts of glands and organs. Both have grown exponentially since former Brazilian president Lula da Silva launched the Brazil-Cuba alliance in 2003. Blood imports by Brazil from Cuba were only US$570 thousand in 2002, grew to US$16.9 million in 2011, and totaled US$4.8million in 2013; imports of extracts of glands and organs increased phenomenally from almost nothing in 2003 (US$25,804) to US$88.4 million in 2013.

These exports raise serious ethical concerns. The doctors are deployed as “exportable commodities” to remote zones of Brazil in violation of several ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions as well as of international standards and agreements on the prohibition of human trafficking, servitude, and bondage. Regarding the export products, details are lacking, but if the trade is in products of human origin, as it appears, it would have very troubling implications. In Cuba, blood and organs/tissues/body parts are obtained from voluntary and uncompensated donors unaware of a profit motive by their government and practices involved in their collection —some quite scandalous— are unacceptable by standards of the World Health Organization and other international bodies. Additional concerns pertain to safety, quality, effectiveness, and the potential political purpose driving the purchases.

While the service of Cuban doctors has raised ample debate and media coverage in Brazil, the import of products purportedly derived from human blood and body parts has, as of yet, remained out of the public sphere. In addition, while Brazilian authorities move forward with plans to integrate its biopharmaceutical production with Cuba, that this industry is under the absolute control of the secretive Cuban military regime or that it collaborates with rogues states such as Iran and Syria —including with exports of dual-use technology— have yet to raise attention in Brazil. In Cuba, this discussion cannot be had, as all media and mass communications belong to and are run by the state.

Maria Werlau, a former banker, is Executive Director of CubaArchive.org. The above is based on a detailed paper to be published by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Foreign Policy: Cuba Leads Diplomatic Offensive to Protect North Korea's Dictator

Not wanting to be the last totalitarian standing, the Castro regime is clearly obsessed with helping its North Korean brethren -- whether through arms smuggling or in leading a comprehensive diplomatic offensive to protect Kim Jong Un.

Also, note PR blitz the North Korean's are currently undertaking.  It's textbook Havana.

From Foreign Policy:

North Korea Enlists the Help of Cuba and China in Shielding Kim Jong Un From ICC

North Korea has long used ballistic missile tests and underground nuclear explosions to proclaim its intentions to the world.

But fearing that the West wants to prosecute their leader, Kim Jong Un, for human rights abuses, North Korean officials are beginning to rely on soft words instead of hard power. In an appropriately bizarre new tact for the Hermit Kingdom, North Korean officials are engaging in an intensive charm offensive designed to persuade world powers to leave their "dear leader" alone.

As part of a rare PR blitz, North Korean diplomats have reached out to reporters, diplomats, and regional experts to derail any efforts to pursue prosecution of senior North Korean officials. This week, Jang Il Hun, a North Korean diplomat who oversees North Korean outreach to the United States, went to the Council on Foreign Relations to denounce a U.S.-led "plot" to overthrow his government. Earlier this month, another North Korean official, Choe Myong Nam, defended Pyongyang's human rights record at a U.N. press conference. Although he also acknowledged the existence of "reform-through-labor" camps where wayward individuals can be "improved through their mentality and look upon their wrongdoings." And on Wednesday, Oct. 22, a delegation of North Koreans diplomats attended a U.N. panel on human rights that featured two former inhabitants of North Korea's extensive prison network. When the session ended, a North Korean official passed out CDs to journalists that denounced efforts by "the United States and other hostile forces" to engage in childish plots to mislead public opinion in the U.N. arena with nonexistent "human rights violations" in the North Korea.

The intent of North Korea's extraordinary charm offensive is to convince the United Nations and key governments that North Korea is prepared to allow the world unprecedented, though extremely limited, scrutiny of its human rights record. But Pyongyang has been stymied by its diplomatic estrangement from key governments with which it has no diplomatic relations, forcing it to rely on sympathetic allies such as Cuba and China to do its diplomatic bidding.

The move follows the release of a damning 372-page report in February by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, which concluded that "widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," according to a 36-page summary of the report. The summary also concluded that such crimes have been committed "pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State." The "gravity, scale and nature" of these abuses "reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," according to the summary.

In response, the European Union and Japan have introduced a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the "ongoing, systematic, widespread and gross violation of human rights" in North Korea. The resolution asserts that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea, and it encourages the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," including imposing sanctions on those responsible for or who ordered such crimes and authorizing a criminal investigation by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Never mind that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and the prospect of the Security Council's adopting a resolution triggering an ICC investigation is remote, given China's reluctance. North Korea is clearly spooked.

On Oct. 17, North Korea enlisted Cuba to reach out to the European Union on its behalf. In essence, Cuba was offering a trade: North Korea would invite the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to Pyongyang to discuss the situation in exchange for European assurances that the North Korean leader would be off-limits. China subsequently delivered the same appeal to the European Union.

"The Cubans have been doing their [the North Koreans'] diplomacy basically because they are not so skillful," said a European diplomat. "The Cubans came forward with a proposal to drop the ICC referral from our text. In exchange, they would accept a visit from the high commissioner for human rights. The reaction was very negative to such a deal. We don't trust them -- that's for sure. But even if we trusted them, we wouldn't trade a referral to the ICC for a visit to the country. It's a little late for that."

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jang, the North Korean diplomat, dismissed the commission's contention that North Korea has hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in labor camps spread across the country, saying they are simply "reformatories."

He said the "major obstacle" to improving human rights in North Korea is the United States and its "hostile policy" aimed at isolating North Korea and stifling its ability to prosper. In contrast, he said, North Korea's young leader has made a "constant effort … to improve the human rights situation of my country by improving the people's livelihood and giving more freedom and rights to the people."

"The United States and other European countries are making very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it, in my country," he said. This "is a political plot to demonize our system."

Asked why North Korean officials -- after years of diplomatic discretion -- have mounted such a public campaign, Jang said they think the resolution is directed at their leader: "We hold … our respected Martial Kim Jong Un in highest esteem," he said, employing a title North Korean officials use to highlight their leader's supposed military prowess. "We could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to -- we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot."

But Michael Kirby, an Australian judge who led the commission of inquiry, said no one should be fooled by North Korea's new geniality, which included the release of American Jeffrey Fowle, whom Pyongyang was holding prisoner, as well as its recent, first-ever commitment to accept a series of human rights recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council. "This house, the United Nations, speaks endlessly of universal human rights … and the obligation of those who are guilty of crimes against humanity to answer before justice for their crimes," Kirby said at Wednesday's panel discussion on North Korean rights. "And the question that is before the United Nations now is, when we face such a moment of truth, will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea?… And my hope is that the answer to that question will be 'no. We don't back away. We stand for the principles of the United Nations, and we expect accountability for great crimes before justice. And that is the right of the people of North Korea."

Tweet of the Week: An Editorial That Won't Please Castro

From The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl:

Cuba's Democracy Movement Converges, Deserves U.S. and E.U. Support

Thursday, October 23, 2014
Last month, Cuban democracy leaders from throughout the island gathered in Havana to create a consensus of immediate demands.

They converged upon four simple points:

1. The release of political prisoners;
2. The end of political repression;
3. The ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights; and
4. The recognition of Cuban civil society within the island and the diaspora.

This week, a delegation of democracy leaders visited Warsaw and met with Polish government officials to discuss their plight and the European Union's relations with Cuba.

See the images below.

It's hard not to be impressed by the youth, diversity and dynamism of these Cuban democracy leaders.

They include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", intellectual Antonio Rodiles, blogger Yoani Sanchez, journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra, attorney Yaremis Flores, Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart and Catholic scholar Dagoberto Valdes.

Why is Castro's regime so afraid to meet face-to-face (in the same manner as below) with these Cuban democracy leaders?

Instead, it resorts to harassing, beating and imprisoning them.

Shamefully, The New York Times, along with Castro's lobbyists and propagandist, are working diligently for the U.S. to unilaterally and unconditionally normalize relations and invest billions in Cuba's brutal dictatorship.

However, the United States and the European Union must continue conditioning any improvement in relations with Castro's regime upon the fulfillment of these fundamental demands by Cuba's democrats.

Such a principled stance is the best investment in Cuba's future.


Tweet of the Day: NYT's Wishful Thinking, Castro's Intransigence

Yesterday, New York Times reporter Damien Cave discovered that the "wishful thinking" of his Editorial Board is naïve (at best):

Must-Read: Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

By Cuban democracy activist Karel Becerra in the PanAm Post:

Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

If Economic Pressure Forces Reforms, Up the Pressure

A few days ago the New York Times asked for an end to the “embargo on Cuba.” However, they should have asked for an end to the embargo on Castro. Cubans have nothing to impound: no properties, no houses, no cars, no furniture not even intellectual property; everything belongs to the communist government.

This misunderstood contradiction means people such as the Times editorial board see a generous leader fighting against imperialism and a country “that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961.” Meanwhile, the Cuban people who know the truth see a civil society impoverished by a dictatorship in Cuba that has held power for over five decades.

The Times presents two main arguments: “shifting politics in the United States” and “changing policies in Cuba.” Therefore, they contend, it is now “politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.”

The first argument is supported by a telephone survey of a sample of one thousand respondents in nation of 300 million citizens and a Cuban community of over one million. It lacks of scientific rigor and is meaningless.

The second argument falls flat after a mere glance at Cuba’s Official Gazette, where allowed private activities are nothing but “topping palms, fixing shoes, and selling plastic bags.” The Times adds that, as part of these reforms, it is now possible for Cubans to “sell properties like cars and houses,” although they fail to mention buying them. Even the Times knows it is impossible for a Cuban who fixes shoes or sells plastic bags to pay US$25,000 to buy a car.

However, the Times argues that “in recent years, a devastated economy has forced Cuba to make reforms.” Here begs the question: if the reforms have been forced on the government, they are not really open to a freer market, so why ask for an end to the embargo?

The Times‘ logic only holds if they can show that lifting the embargo would have a negative impact in the economy, since then Castro would be forced to make additional reforms.

The Times ignores the facts that shape the real world. Castro’s regime only reacts under pressure, from inside or from outside.  The pseudo reforms in Cuba are nothing but “a process that has gained urgency with the economic crisis in Venezuela.” Yet, the Times editors ignore the interference of Castro in Venezuela, which has contributed to their sister nation’s economic crisis.

Last but not least, the Times tries to defend Odebrecht, a Brazilian enterprise involved in cases of corruption. This has occurred while investing billions of dollars in El Mariel, helping to build a seaport in Cuba with Brazilian capital.

Do the Cuban workers receive their salaries directly from the investing company? Will Cuban entrepreneurs be able to import or export their products? The answer to both is no!

The Mariel seaport investment only serves the regime and its heirs. This investment constitutes explicit support for Castro’s regime and its planned successors. No matter how hard the Times tries, there is no way to hide that fact.

But apparently the “great project [will] be economically viable only if American sanctions are lifted.” After five years of construction, it has become evident that they need an end to the embargo! It seems that a dam was built without a river.

Well, that’s how socialism works: mourn and blame someone else.

“End the economic embargo! Lift the sanctions!” go the cries of the Times. First the seaport and now the river to North American markets. Fortunately for the people of Cuba, they are running out of time and the river is not available for navigation.

Hotels Magazine: Cuban Military is Latin America's Largest Conglomerate

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, has released its compilation of the world's 325 largest hotel companies and consortia.

The list is topped by the likes of the U.K's InterContinental Group (#1), the U.S.'s Hilton (#2) and Marriott (#3), and France's Accor (#6).

Meanwhile, the largest Latin America-based hotel conglomerate is Cuba's Grupo Turismo Gaviota (#55).

Think about this: Gaviota -- on its own -- is larger than any Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Argentinian, etc., hotel company.

Of course, Gaviota is owned by the Cuban military ("MINFAR"), through a conglomerate called GAESA (headed by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas).

Also appearing independently on the list are Cuba's Grupo Cubanacan (#171), Hoteles Islazul (#231), Grupo Hotelero Gran Caribe (#287).

These are all also owned by Cuba's MINFAR, through GAESA.

Thus, if calculated together, GAESA would be the 34th largest hotel company in the world -- ahead of the Walt Disney Company.

And that's just hotels. It doesn't include all of the other business sectors (retail, transportation, arms trafficking, etc.) under GAESA's direct control.

This is the sad legacy that millions of Canadian and European tourists have left Cuba over the last two decades.

Has it brought freedom to the Cuban people? Or prosperity? Quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime, along with its apologists, operatives and cohorts, lobby tirelessly for the U.S. to add millions of its tourists to this calculation.

That would surely place GAESA in the Top 10.

Rubio to Kerry: U.S. Must Defend Summit's Democracy Clause

October 21, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

With the Seventh Summit of the Americas quickly approaching, I am deeply concerned that the Administration has sent mixed messages to the Panamanian government regarding the participation of undemocratic countries. During the 2001 Summit in Quebec City, the United States made a formal commitment that a democratic system is an “essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits”. Thus, as a non-democracy, Cuba should remain excluded from the Summit.

Just last month, State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, stated: “[O]ur view is that at the 2001 Summit of the Americas, all participating governments agreed to consensus that ‘The maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are at the same time a goal and a shared commitment and are an essential condition of our presence at this and future summits.’ So we should not undermine commitments previously made, but should instead encourage – and this is certainly our effort – the democratic changes necessary for Cuba to meet the basic qualifications.

Then, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, emphasized: “I think we have made clear that we believe the Summit process is committed to democratic governance and we think that the governments that are sitting at that table ought to be committed to the Summit principles, which include democratic governance.

Those words will stand hollow if our country fails to stand by these principles. Furthermore, allowing a country that is a habitual violator of human rights and has not allowed a free election in over 50 years would damage everything that the Summit wishes to accomplish. Cuba should not be allowed to undermine the commitment to democracy made by the remaining nations of the Western Hemisphere during the Summit process.  Moreover, the United States should not stand idly by if Panama does indeed intend to invite Cuba to the Summit.

Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the mixed message sent recently by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, John Feeley, who told the Panamanian media that "it’s not so important the guests at the table but the meal that’s served."

I urge you to reaffirm the United States’ position that Cuba should only be welcome to participate in the Summit when the Castro regime abandons its repression of the island’s population and to ensure that the nations of the Western Hemisphere are left with no doubt that the United States will stand firmly behind the formal commitment it made at the Quebec Summit.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Are Cuba's Political Prisoners Not Newsworthy?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Last week, a young Cuban rapper, Angel Yunier Remon "El Critico", was handed a 6-year prison sentence for his opposition to Castro's regime.

Angel Yunier had been imprisoned since March 21st, 2013, without "trial" or charges.

He is now on a hunger strike protesting his unjust sentence.

Also handed sentences were democracy activists:

Alexander Otero Rodriguez, to a five-year prison term;
Rudisnei Villavicencio Figueredo, to a four-year prison term; and
Yohannes Arce Sarmiento, to a three-year prison term.
.
This week, Sonia Garro, a member of Cuba's Ladies in White, who has been imprisoned since March 18th, 2012, without "trial" or charges, had her "trial" indefinitely postponed again.

Obviously, you won't hear about these political prisoners from The New York Times' Editorial Board.

But more egregiously -- why haven't any foreign journalists in Cuba covered this tragic story?

Perhaps they're too caught up in Castro's Ebola propaganda.

Maybe.

Yet, the AP took time this week to run two fascinating stories on "glossy cars" and "children wrestling" in Cuba.

Are cars and wrestling more newsworthy than the harrowing repression and sacrifice of Cuba's courageous democracy activists?

Washington Post: Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Its Repression

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cuba should not be rewarded for denying freedom to its people

The other day, Fidel Castro wrote an opinion column for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, as he has done periodically from retirement. He lavished praise on an editorial in the New York Times that called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. But Mr. Castro had one complaint: The Times mentioned the harassment of dissidents and the still-unexplained death of a leading exponent of democracy, Oswaldo Payá, and a younger activist, Harold Cepero, in a car wreck two years ago.

The assertion that Cuba’s authoritarian government had yet to explain the deaths was “slanderous and [a] cheap accusation,” Mr. Castro sputtered.

So why has Cuba done nothing to dispel the fog of suspicion that still lingers over the deaths? If the charge is slanderous, then it is long past time for Mr. Castro to order a thorough investigation of what happened on an isolated Cuban road on July 22, 2012. So far, there has been only a crude attempt at cover-up and denial.

We know something about what happened, thanks to the eyewitness account of Ángel Carromero, the young Spanish politician who was at the wheel of the rental car that was carrying Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero to a meeting with supporters. Mr. Carromero, who visited Washington last week, told us the car was being shadowed by Cuban state security from the moment it left Havana. He said his conversations with Mr. Payá as they traveled were mostly about the Varela Project, Mr. Payá’s courageous 2002 petition drive seeking to guarantee democracy in Cuba. Many of Mr. Payá’s supporters in the project were later arrested and imprisoned.

After the wreck, Mr. Carromero was pressured by the Cuban authorities to describe it as an accident caused by his reckless speeding. But he reiterated to us last week that what really happened is that the rental car was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates. Mr. Carromero showed us photographs of the damaged car, damage that seemed inconsistent with a wreck caused by speeding. But the precise details of what happened are unknown and need to be cleared up by a credible investigation. Mr. Payá’s family has sought one for two years, without success. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States sent a query to Cuba about the case, they got no answer. Nothing.

The U.S. embargo has been substantially relaxed in recent years to allow hundreds of millions of dollars of food and medicine exports, in addition to consumer goods supplied to Cubans by relatives in this country. The question is whether a further relaxation is merited. The regime’s persecution of dissidents is unceasing; it continues to imprison American Alan Gross on false charges. While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalization and lifted travel restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are loosening their grip. Fully lifting the embargo now would reward and ratify their intransigence.

A concession such as ending the trade embargo should not be exchanged for nothing. It should be made when Cuba grants genuine freedom to its people, the goal cherished by Mr. Payá.

Quote of the Day: On Congressional Support for Cuba Policy

Right now we would not win a vote to repeal Helms-Burton or to remove the travel restrictions.
-- U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), advocate of normalizing relations with the Castro regime, fretting over Congressional support for U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, El Nuevo Herald, 10/18/14

Implications of Ending the Cuban Embargo

By Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of The University of Miami:

Implications of Ending the Cuban Embargo

If the U.S. were to end the embargo and lift the travel ban without major reforms in Cuba, there would be significant implications:

- Money from American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the Castro government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro.

- Tourist dollars would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc., produced by state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned partially or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal airline shuffling tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by the Cuban military.

- American tourists will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban resorts are built in isolated areas, are off limits to the average Cuban, and are controlled by Cuba’s efficient security apparatus. Most Americans don’t speak Spanish, have but limited contact with ordinary Cubans, and are not interested in visiting the island to subvert its regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from receiving publications from tourists. Penalties include jail terms.

- While providing the Castro government with much needed dollars, the economic impact of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited. Dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most.

- The assumption that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments is at best naïve. As we have seen in other circumstances, U.S. travelers to Cuba could be subject to harassment and imprisonment.

- Over the past decades hundred of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more democratic today. If anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the state and its control apparatus having been strengthened as a result of the influx of tourist dollars.

- As occurred in the mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms. Cuba’s limited economic reforms were enacted in the early 1990s, when the island’s economic contraction was at its worst. Once the economy began to stabilize by 1996 as a result of foreign tourism and investments, and exile remittances, the earlier reforms were halted or rescinded by Castro.

- Lifting the embargo and the travel ban without major concessions from Cuba would send the wrong message “to the enemies of the United States”: that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,” and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.

- Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries. The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the will of the people in free elections. U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, yet it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. While no one is advocating military intervention, normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.

- Once American tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would probably restrict travel by Cuban-Americans. For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends and relatives on the island, and to influence their views on the Castro regime and on the United States. Indeed, the return of Cuban exiles in 1979-80 precipitated the mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel in 1980.

- A large influx of American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating effect on the economies of smaller Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Florida, highly dependent on tourism for their well-being. Careful planning must take place, lest we create significant hardships and social problems in these countries.

If the embargo is lifted, limited trade with, and investments in Cuba would develop. Yet there are significant implications.

Trade

- All trade with Cuba is done with state owned businesses. Since Cuba has very little credit and is a major debtor nation, the U.S. and its businesses would have to provide credits to Cuban enterprises. There is a long history of Cuba defaulting on loans.

- Cuba is not likely to buy a substantial amount of products in the U.S. In the past few years, Cuba purchased several hundred million dollars of food in the U.S. That amount is now down to $170 million per year. Cuba can buy in any other country and it is not likely to abandon its relationship with China, Russia, Venezuela, and Iran to become a major trading partner of the U.S.

- Cuba has very little to sell in the U.S. Nickel, one of Cuba's major exports, is controlled by the Canadians and exported primarily to Canada. Cuba has decimated its sugar industry and there is no appetite in the U.S. for more sugar. Cigars and rum are important Cuban exports. Yet, cigar production is mostly committed to the European market. Cuban rum could become an important export, competing with Puerto Rican and other Caribbean rums.

Investments

- In Cuba, foreign investors cannot partner with private Cuban citizens. They can only invest in the island through minority joint ventures with the government and its state enterprises.

- The dominant enterprise in the Cuban economy is the Grupo GAESA, controlled by the Cuban military. Most investments are done through or with GAESA. Therefore, American companies willing to invest in Cuba will have to partner mostly with the Cuban military.

- Cuba ranks 176 out of 177 countries in the world in terms of economic freedom. Outshined only by North Korea. It ranks as one of the most unattractive investments next to Iran, Zimbabwe, Libya, Mali, etc.

- Foreign investors cannot hire, fire, or pay workers directly. They must go through the Cuban government employment agency which selects the workers. Investors pay the government in dollars or euros and the government pays the workers a meager 10% in Cuban pesos.

- Corruption is pervasive, undermining equity and respect for the rule of law.

- Cuba does not have an independent/transparent legal system. All judges are appointed by the State and all lawyers are licensed by the State. In the last few years, European investors have had over $1 billion arbitrarily frozen by the government and several investments have been confiscated. Cuba's Law 77 allows the State to expropriate foreign-invested assets for reason of "public utility" or "social interest." In the last year, the CEOs of three companies with extensive dealings with the Cuban government were arrested without charges.

Conclusions

- If the travel ban is lifted unilaterally now or the embargo is ended by the U.S., what will the U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to encourage changes in the island? These policies could be an important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.

- The travel ban and the embargo should be lifted as a result of negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful and irreversible political and economic concessions or when there is a democratic government in place in the island.

Is Cuba Sending Unqualified Health Workers to West Africa?

Monday, October 20, 2014
The Cuban dictatorship is willing to sacrifice anything -- or anyone -- for the sake of propaganda.

This appears to be the case of the health workers it has sent to West Africa to work on the Ebola virus.

The details that have been filtering out of Cuba regarding the terms and conditions that the Castro regime has given to these health workers are very concerning.

For example, the Cuban health workers have been compelled to agree that if they contract the Ebola virus, they will not be repatriated to the island.

Moreover, they have been warned of a 90% chance of no return.

As such, there has been a life insurance policy taken out for these health workers with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Surely the families are the beneficiaries of the policies, right?

Nope -- the Cuban state is.

(It remains unclear whether the WHO is further paying the Castro regime for these health workers.)

Those fortunate enough to return have been "promised" nearly $10,000 per month -- to be deposited in a Cuban state bank account during their absence -- as well as a house and car.

This would set them up extremely handsomely -- for life -- in Cuba.

Of course, whether the Castro regime intends to actually fulfill this "promise" is another question. Just ask the veterans of Cuba's African wars.

Castro knows that Cubans are desperate enough to accept these terms. After all, there's at least a chance for survival if you contract Ebola, while there's no chance for survival if you're caught by sharks in the Florida Straits.

But it seems that the Castro regime is not counting on their return.

Adding to this concern is the fact that the Cuban health workers sent to West Africa appear to be poorly trained (at best) or utterly unqualified (at worst).

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

An Australian World Health Organization official responsible for training them on Ebola care watched in concern as the Cubans swapped hand-clasps, pats on backs and other potentially hazardous displays of physical affection. Public-health officials warn Ebola can spread on contact, with the virus carried in bodily fluids like sweat.

“They’re a very cuddly people,” said Katrina Roper, a technical officer with the U.N. agency. “Tomorrow will be me explaining why they have to stop shaking hands and sharing things.”

Such irresponsibility may only exacerbate the problem.

But hey -- sacrifice anything, or anyone, for propaganda.

Meanwhile, in another simplistic, haphazard and obviously ill-informed editorial today, The New York Times tells us this approach should be "lauded and emulated."