Tweet of the Day

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Handicapped Dissidents Brutally Beaten

While Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Lee was seemingly romancing Castro's dictatorship this week, here's what was really taking place in Cuba:

Brutal Violence Against Peaceful Human Rights Defenders, Including a Blind Lawyer

The Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs of Cuba makes an urgent appeal to the national and international community on behalf of the life and physical integrity of ten peaceful human rights activists who live in Ciego de Avila, a city in the center of the island.

They denounce the brutal beating that they were subjected to on January 9, 2014 at 10:35 a.m. by the repressive forces of the Cuban political police when said activists were publicly disseminating among the citizens of Ciego de Avila a bulletin they publish: "Voz Avileña".

The activists who were violently beaten and arrested were: Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, whose right knee, left hand and leg, as well as his right shoulder were injured. The left side of the face and head of Gonzalez Leiva are presently swollen since both of his arms were forced behind his back by one officer while another one beat him repeatedly with his fists. All of this occurred inside a patrol car that was taking the blind activist and his wife, who also brutally beaten, to the First Police Unit in Ciego de Avila. The military personnel had to get a doctor with urgency to attend Gonzalez Leiva after he was dragged out of the patrol car and choked from behind to such a point that he lost consciousness and past out. After this violent episode, the activist is having trouble swallowing.

The wife of Gonzalez Leiva, Tania Maceda Guerra, who also belongs to the human rights movement, Ladies in White, had locks of hair pulled out, she was bitten, her arms were twisted behind her back and she was choked while held down against the floor of the patrol car. In that position she was savagely beaten by the officers.

The other human rights activists who were beaten are: Junior Ortega Ribero, president in Ciego de Ávila of the Cuban Independent and Democratic Party, Yoandi Quintana Sarría, who is deaf, is president of the Independent Association of the Deaf,  the ex-political prisoner Daniel Camacho Marchena, Fernando Santana Vega, Luís Gilberto Vila León, Ulice Cintra Suárez and Daniel Martínez and the independent journalist Alberto Plas Rico.

All ten activists belong to the Democratic Municipal Circles of Cuba and the Council of Human Rights Rapporteurs of Cuba with their national headquarters located at: calle Honorato del Castillo, # 154, E/ República y Cuba, in Ciego de Ávila.

All of the above mentioned NGOs are considered illegal by the Cuban government.

Courtesy of the Coalition of Cuban-American Women.

From The State Department on Migration Talks

From the U.S. Department of State:

Migration Talks with Cuba

On Thursday, January 9, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana to discuss the implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. This marks the second time since January 2011 that these talks have been held. Under the Accords, both governments pledge to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on Cuba-U.S. migration issues, as well as cooperation on aviation security, search and rescue, and consular document fraud. The U.S. delegation highlighted areas of successful cooperation in migration, exchanging information on the interdiction of undocumented migrants, and clarifying aspects of Cuba’s recent changes in migration policy.

The U.S. delegation reiterated its call for the release of Alan Gross, who was arrested by Cuban authorities on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small, religious community on the island and the rest of the world.

The U.S. delegation was led by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee and the Cuban delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.

Video: Ladies in White and Small Children Being Arrested

Friday, January 10, 2014
The video below (or click here) shows three members of the peaceful Cuban democracy group, The Ladies in White, being arrested, along with their small children.

Note they are first approached by a secret police official, who then calls in uniformed personnel to forcefully haul them away.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Mysterious Death of Young American in Cuba

Last November, a young American traveler, Brandon Ross, died under mysterious circumstances during a visit to Cuba.

Ross, 31 years-old, visited the island with his Cuban-American mother, Onelia.

On the morning of November 22nd, Ross went out to take pictures in the area surrounding Havana's Hotel Nacional.

According to Telemundo 51, he was later found dead on the rooftop of the Hotel Nacional.

According to his mother, Ross' face was all bruised and his jaw broken, as if he had been beaten up.

The official report by the Cuban authorities state Ross died accidentally the night before.

Yet, his camera was full of pictures from that morning.

The Cuban authorities quickly cremated Ross' body and his mother has not received a copy of his autopsy.

This secretive process is typical operating procedure of the Castro regime when it seeks to hide information or cover-up the criminal activity of its cohorts.

Note it has taken nearly two months for this tragedy to come to light.

Homophobic, Neo-Nazi Criminal Flees to Cuba

From Towleroad:

Maxim Martsinkevich, the leader of the homophobic vigilante group "Occupy" that has lured and tortured a number of gay teens in Russia before posting its exploits to social media, has been on the lam for several months now, and Vocativ reports that he has turned up in Cuba:

Heads up, Cuba. The muscular, mohawk-sporting Maxim Martsinkevich, head of fascist “Okkupay” groups in Russia that track and beat up anyone they consider aberrant, has left the motherland for Castro’s tropical socialist paradise.

Maxim, also known as “Tesak” (Russian for cleaver), bounced to Ukraine first, and is now in Cuba. Russian news site Life News ran an interview with him Wednesday.

According to posts on Martsinkevich’s VKontakte social networking page, he was in Cuba as early as December 10. According to the visa agreement between Russia and Cuba, Russians are allowed to stay without a visa for 30 days. That means he either needs to get a visa now, stay illegally or leave. And he says he doesn’t have the money to fly home.

In a post on his blog today, he talks about flying from Kiev to Havana via Frankfurt, and expounds on the lack of virtues of the German airport. Martsinkevich does not find German women attractive. He says nothing about his visa situation or future travel plans.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, January 9, 2014
There could hardly be a stronger signal that this remains a controlled economy. 
-- Foreign diplomat in Havana, on the Castro regime's exorbitant prices for new car sales and other "reform" reversions, The Economist, 1/11/14

Going Dutch on Cuba

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans just concluded a two-day visit to Cuba, where he signed a (rather meaningless) agreement with Castro regime to engage in bilateral "political consultations" and urged the European Union to adjust its Common Position.

"I think dialogue is a better way than turning our backs to each other," he argued.

Yet, Timmermans had no problem "turning his back" on Cuba's courageous democracy activists, who unsuccessfully asked to meet with him during the visit.

As Kees van Kortenhof, president of the Amsterdam-based NGO, Glastnost in Cuba, responded, “a dialogue without contacts with the peaceful opposition will not be successful over the long-term.”

"[The Dutch Foreign Minister's] visit could only be successful if dialogue is established with the whole Cuban society,” he added.

However, Timmermans didn't want to offend his totalitarian hosts and risk hindering any opportunities for the Dutch businessmen accompanying him.

So Timmermans did Castro's bidding and (Timmermans hopes) Castro will do his.

And Cuba's democracy activists are on their own.

Free Yosvani Melchor

Yosvani Melchor is the son of Cuban democracy activist Rosa Maria Rodriguez, a leader of Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

Yosvani, who is mentally handicapped, was arrested in June 2010 and sentenced to 12-years in prison in retribution for his mother's opposition activities.

More specifically, for her unwillingness to become an informant for Castro's secret police.

Yosvani's mother has been told that as long as she continues her dissident activities, her son will not be released.

This week, Rosa Maria's home was surrounded by the security officials, who physically prevented her from staging a peaceful protest for her son's release.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Castro Regime Attacks Children of Democracy Activist

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
From the European NGO, Frontline Defenders:

Physical attack against the children of human rights defender Damaris Moya Portieles

On 2 January 2014, the 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter of human rights defender Damaris Moya Portieles were beaten by Cuban state security agents in Santa Clara. Damaris Moya Portieles is a member of the Movimiento Femenino por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks (Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights), and president of the Coalición Central Opositora (Central Oppositional Coalition), an organization that works against evictions carried out by state agents and protects the well-being of children and the elderly.

On the morning of 2 January 2014, the son and daughter of the human rights defender were on their way to visit the president of the Movimiento Feminino por los Derechos Civiles Rosa Parks, Yris Pérez Aguilera, when they were beaten by the National Revolutionary Police. Damaris Moya Portieles had to bring them to a medical center for immediate attention. At this moment, the children are physically recovered but are suffering from psychological trauma.

Throughout the past year, Damaris Moya Portieles was the subject of various intimidatory acts, sexual abuse in detention, and the threat of the rape of her young daughter. Front Line Defenders previously issued an urgent appeal on her case on 10 October 2013.

In December 2013, particularly in the context of vigils and protests around International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2013, there was an increase in the number of detentions. 1,123 people were arbitrarily detained over the month, amongst these dissidents, political opposition figures, protesters and human rights defenders.

Front Line Defenders expresses its profound concern at the physical attack against the children of Damaris Moya Portieles, especially as it appears to be linked to her legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights in Cuba. Front Line Defenders views this attack as part of an ongoing campaign against the human rights defender, as well as part of a broader campaign to silence critical voices and those working for human rights in Cuba.

Quote of the Day

The cars on sale had either been priced by callous, greedy idiots, or the Cuban government had become the most incompetent automobile retailer in the world.
-- Nick Miroff, Havana-based journalist, on Cuba's $250,000 Peugeots, Global Post, 1/7/14

The More Cuba "Changes", the More it Remains the Same

By Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea in Babalu Blog:

Reforms in Cuba 1959 to Present: Déjà vu all over again

Arguably the biggest surprise of 2013 has been recent negativity in the press regarding the goings on in Cuba. Each New Year (now at fifty-five) reliably brings out the parade of hypocrites calling for an unconditional end to the Cuban embargo, the erstwhile economic sanction for the confiscation of all private property in Cuba, or lauding how Cuba is “changing.” Apparently, the more Cuba changes, the more it remains the same.

The breaking news from Cuba asserts how, despite Raul Castro’s so-called “reforms,” Cuba’s private enterprises are doing poorly and “liberalization” and prosperity has not occurred. In fact, Raul was pulling back, warning entrepreneurs that the ruling oligarchy will not be pushed to change too fast. If this sounds familiar, it should. This has happened every decade in Cuba since 1959.

Nonetheless, as one pundit recently noted, that if one relied solely on the touting by the American press of reforms there since 1959, Cuba should now be a “tropical facsimile of Norway”.

Instead, Cuba is the only remaining dictatorship and totalitarian regime in the West. Two brothers, unelected, have ruled for fifty-five years. Dissent is brutally repressed and hundreds of thousands of Cubans have been killed. There is no independent press or rule of law. Racism is toxic. Cuba is a tropical North Korea.

These reports attribute the lack of cash in Cuba for the failure of these reforms. Cash is certainly problematic; the average Cuban receives about $20 per month in a worthless currency (and legal tender for Cubans). Foreigners and communist party elites exclusively use another currency. Ironically, the Cuban-exile community is a veritable Fed, sending $2.5 billion yearly to Cuba’s mostly white minority.

The significance is that all transactions in Cuba are cash only with no credit. There is no credit because there is no secure collateral and no secure collateral because there is no clear title to any property in Cuba.

Since 1959, all property has been stolen by the Cuban government from a Cuban or foreign entity. Some foreigners were paid as required by international law. However, the largest group of foreign claimants has never been compensated, the US owners.

More importantly, the Cubans have refused to compensate Cuban nationals, despite such provisions in the confiscatory decrees. These are the fortunate million who escaped and the unfortunate millions who remained, unable to leave.

Cubans were only recently permitted to “own” homes (not the land) and obsolete (Soviet) cars. Many homes were “redistributed,” so the threat of a property claim by another Cuban, especially a Cuban-American, remains real. Without clear title, there is no home equity.

Moreover, there are no protections to their so-called property rights: no contract sanctity, no independent judiciary and no transparent enforcement/regulatory agencies. The thriving culture of theft, fraud and corruption also prohibits lending.

Yet, Americans want to trade with this Cuba and traffic in stolen properties, including confiscated brands and trademarks, and the misery of Cubans. This already occurs to a large degree with the bogus “people to people” travel licensed through the US Treasury.

The hypocrisy of condemning theft here, but not Cuba is as obvious as it is disgraceful. We must stand for the rule of law, certainly if we want commerce with Cuba.

In a recent conversation, a Cuban entrepreneur whose car service business is flourishing rightly feared that when it no longer suited the Castros, his activity will be criminalized and assets seized. He’s become a “conservative” and is very concerned.

He should be. He has the same protections today as in 1959. Accurate journalism may help. For now, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Raul is the Hard-Liner

Since the beginning of the Castro family's totalitarian dictatorship, Raul has served as the regime's chief executioner -- responsible for thousands of deaths (including those of Americans).

Raul was nearly indicted in U.S. federal courts (politically scrapped at the last minute by President Clinton) for trafficking seven and a half tons of cocaine into Florida.

Raul has stolen and hoarded nearly all of the island's wealth under the control of his military cronies and phantom corporations.

And since Raul's "promotion" to dictator-in-chief, Cuban pro-democracy activists are suffering the highest number of political arrests in 30 years.

Yet -- à la Assad, Kim and Gaddafi -- Raul's propagandists have astutely created the myth that he is really a "reformer" being held back by the regime's "hard-liners" -- whom no one can seem to identify.

That's because Raul is the hard-liner.

In a thoughtful piece in Foreign Policy today, Amherst Professor Javier Corrales writes:

"Why is Havana so cautious about reform? Perhaps because its reformer-in-chief is also a stalwart of the revolution."

The obvious is finally starting to sink-in.

"Cultural Exchange" Farce Not Limited to Cuba, But Hypocrisy Is

Would CNN be as (rightfully) critical of Dennis Rodman if his "cultural exchange" stunt was with Cuba, rather than North Korea?

After all, Cuba and North Korea share brutal totalitarian regimes and are similarly holding American hostages -- as is the CNN host's expressed concern.

Sadly not.

From CNN:

Angry Dennis Rodman defends North Korea basketball game

Basketball star Dennis Rodman on Tuesday defended his controversial visit to North Korea with a team of former NBA players, saying it was a "great idea for the world."

In an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day" from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, Rodman reacted angrily when pressed on whether the group should have traveled there given recent events in the secretive country.

The trip takes place just weeks after North Korea shocked the world by announcing the purge and execution of Kim's once-powerful uncle. There are also concerns for the welfare of U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, who's been detained there for more than a year.

The other former NBA players are due to take part in a controversial basketball game on the birthday of Kim Jong Un, the country's young, unpredictable leader. The friendly contest with North Korea's team is planned for Wednesday, when Kim is believed to turn 31.

Apparently referring to Kim, Rodman said, "I love my friend. This is my friend."

Asked if he would take the opportunity to ask North Korean leaders about Bae, Rodman suggested the Korean-American had done something wrong but did not say what that was.

Fellow player Charles D. Smith also sought to defend Rodman, saying the visit was about basketball, not politics.

The players were invited by North Korea, Smith said, and are there as a kind of "cultural exchange" and to "put smiles on people's faces," not to influence the country's leaders.

The Tragic Truth Behind Cuba's Old Cars

By Mark Wallace in The Guardian:

Cuba's classic cars are icons of oppression that deserve scrapping

It's deeply distasteful that we prefer to admire an Oldsmobile than consider the communist dictatorship that led to its survival

Most western travelers visiting Cuba will have come across the island's cars long before their plane lands. They appear in every travel guide, and you can buy calendars and posters of the 1950s classics that still drive through the streets of Havana.

They've become an icon of the island – considered a quaint, unmissable feature of Cuba's unique atmosphere. So, it was against a background of nostalgia that the news broke that they may at last be retired. It was portrayed almost as a saddening shame that these majestic beasts of the road might disappear.

This is patronizing nonsense. As the experience of the rest of the world shows, if Cubans had the choice they would have abandoned their clapped-out Studebakers and Oldsmobiles long ago. The only reason they didn't is that the communist dictatorship that rules them did not allow it.

In a classic example of some being more equal than others, only senior party officials and a smattering of celebrities deemed of use to the party have been allowed to buy new vehicles from abroad over the past 60 years.

The motor museum driving Cuba's roads each day might seem quaint to tourists, who can go back to their air-conditioned, reliable and safe modern cars when their holiday is over – in reality the sight is a symptom of the way in which dictatorship runs down the lives of those forced to labour beneath it.

The tourist attitude is a form of rubbernecking at misfortune, of the type that has commonly become unacceptable in decent society. While our Victorian ancestors thought it quaint to set up villages of what they considered to be primitive Africans at shows in Britain, today we rightly act to end the misery of poverty instead of gawping at it. Somehow Cuba has managed to escape that trend. While Iran and North Korea are seen for what they really are, the last outpost of dictatorship in the Americas is let off lightly, all Buena Vista Social Club tracks, mojitos and sun-soaked beaches.

Maybe it's that the cars, along with the island's music, are a leftover from what is to the west a vanished age of style and romance. Maybe it's simply part of the wider fashion for excusing the actions of the Castro regime, hand in hand with the incongruous sight of western liberals wearing T-shirts of the racist and murderer Che Guevara.

Whatever the cause, it's deeply distasteful that we prefer to admire old cars than consider the system that led to their survival – extensive censorship of the media, vast police surveillance, near-total restrictions on freedom of assembly and speech, arbitrary arrest and torture of journalists and dissidents. There is a good reason why large numbers of Cubans have fled to the US in recent decades, and why people still take the desperate measure of cobbling together rafts and trying to float across the Caribbean, risking their lives to be free.

Raúl Castro's relaxation of the rules on car imports is only a baby step towards true freedom in Cuba, of course. For a start, the state still imposes huge taxes on car imports, leading to Peugeot 508s going on sale for $262,000 under the new rules. But it's a start. Once a little freedom is let into a society, inevitably people demand more.

As ever, communist autocrats struggle to let go. After 60 years, it will take a long time to unravel the oppressive web of permits, snoopers, secret policemen and torturers that propped up Fidel and now prop up his brother.

As the icons of that age, the cars, fall by the wayside, the rest, one must hope, will follow.

More Record Repression Under Raul Castro

Monday, January 6, 2014
Independent journalists have documented at least 853 political arrests in Cuba during the month of December 2013.

According to a report released by Centro de Informacion Hablemos Press (CIHPRESS), this brings the year-long total of 2013 political arrests to 5,718.

Separately, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHR) has documented 1,123 political arrests for December 2013.

CCHR's year-long tally of 2013 political arrests is 6,424.

Unlike some foreign journalists, these courageous Cuban independent journalists and human rights observers have thoroughly and painstakingly documented each political arrest -- at great risk.

In the four years since CIHPRESS has been producing these reports, it has documented over 16,555 political arrests in Cuba.

All under the rule of General Raul Castro.

These are only those arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Sloppy Reporting on Cuba Travel

The U.S. government does not release any data on the number of licensed American travelers to Cuba.

As such, figures reported on the number of licensed American travelers to Cuba are based on best-guesses, which make them highly inaccurate.

This should make journalists more cautious about loosely throwing around figures for licensed Americans traveling to Cuba.

Except, apparently, The Miami Herald.

In a story today about charter trips to Cuba, The Miami Herald took the liberty to present its travel figures as fact, without citation or documentation.

To be fair, the overall premise of The Miami Herald's story is correct:

Since 2011, when the Obama Administration authorized charter travel to Cuba from over a dozen U.S. cities -- from New York to Los Angeles -- none of them have taken off.

Literally.

Despite great speculation and fanfare, none of them are offering a single charter flight to Cuba.

Currently, charter flights to Cuba are only available from Miami, Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale.

This is easy to document -- just confirm whether any chartered planes are flying to Cuba from the authorized airports.

But then, The Miami Herald gets sloppy in presenting overall travel figures:

"Even though 98,050 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2012 on people-to-people tours designed to increase links with the Cuban people, and almost as many took the tours through Nov. 15, 2013, Cuban-Americans visiting family members, and increasingly to do business in Cuba, account for the majority of the trips."

Where did this 98,050 figure come from for "people-to-people tours"?

The Miami Herald fails to disclose its source, but it comes from the Castro regime's official statistics agency, Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas (ONE).

Interestingly enough, the same ONE chart claims that 63,046 of these American travelers visited Cuba in 2010. 

Except "people-to-people" travel wasn't authorized by the Obama Administration until January 2011.

Oops.

Moreover, the quote above suggests that Cuban-Americans are traveling to Cuba "...increasingly to do business."

That would be illegal.

So please do tell who these Cuban-Americans are and what business they are "increasingly" traveling to Cuba for.

For that would be a story.

The Miami Herald then proceeds to state:

"During 2012, 475,936 Cuban-Americans traveled to the island; through Nov. 15, 2013, the figure was 471,994, making it likely the 2012 number was surpassed by the end of the year."

Once again, no citation or documentation.

In a similar story, Reuters had recently written "...more than 350,000 Cuban-Americans estimated by travel agents and U.S. diplomats to have visited the island last year."

So where did The Miami Herald get its figure?

The next paragraph offers a clue.

"Miami-based The Havana Consulting Group estimates that combined number of Cuban-American and people-to-people travelers will probably exceed 600,000 in 2013."

Ah, it got the figure from a recent "study" by the Havana Consulting Group, an outfit run out of Miami by former Castro regime officials.

So how does the Havana Consulting Group conjure up its figures?

Unlike The Miami Herald, the Havana Consulting Group -- to its credit -- actually discloses its methodology -- albeit highly questionable.

Basically, it "extrapolates" information and conjures up its numbers from Castro's ONE statistics, estimating charter flights and -- get this -- a non-scientific survey at Miami's Sedanos Supermarket.

No joke.

Havana Consulting Group conjures up these figures, which The Miami Herald then regurgitates without disclosure, based on a non-scientific survey it conducted of 822 people, nearly half of them cherry-picked at Sedanos Supermarket, while some others at El Presidente Supermarket and a couple of dozen at Publix.

It must be highly embarrassing for The Miami Herald to disclose this "Sedanos survey" -- but its readers deserve better.

Raul's a Laughing Stock

Sunday, January 5, 2014
News sites are full of stories poking fun of dictator Raul Castro's latest "reform" allowing Cubans to purchase $263,182 Peugeots.

Of course, just a few weeks ago, some of these same sites were lauding this "reform" -- while choosing to ignore basic economic fundamentals.

Yet, we'd warned that this was simply a monopolistic smoke-screen -- a "ridiculous reform."

And there you have it.

The following story is full of great (thought-provoking) quotes capturing reaction in Havana.

By Fernando Ravsberg in Havana Times:

New Cars in Cuba: The Joke’s on You

In practice access to cars in Cuba is more forbidden than before, only now for the price.

“Who is the last in line to buy a car?” asks a Cuban in front of the Peugeot dealership and everyone else laughs out loud. Today was the first day of unrestricted new car sales but the joy received a bucket of cold water: a car costs between US $90,000 and a quarter of a million dollars.

Things are no better with the used cars being offered.  A Chinese car with several years of use and tens of thousands of miles costs more than $20,000. “I read it on the internet and I came to see for myself because I couldn’t believe it,” said Vicente Gomez, adding “this has to be a joke.”

Trucker Dorian Lopez loudly showed his indignation saying: “The prices are outrageous; it’s just so they can say they are selling cars in Cuba but it’s really disrespectful.”

It’s because “they are really Peugeot-Ferraris,” laughs another looking at the dealership window.

“This is a trap because if I show up with $260,000 to buy a Peugeot, the next day I’ll have the DTI (police) in my house to arrest me,” explains another person who went to the dealer to verify the prices.

Quote of the Week

Brazil is becoming Argentina, Argentina is becoming Venezuela, and Venezuela is becoming Zimbabwe.
-- Excerpt from David Luhnow's "The Two Latin Americas," on the continental divide between nations that favor state controls vs. free markets, The Wall Street Journal, 1/3/14