Dissident Leaders React to Possible Review of EU Common Policy

Saturday, January 18, 2014
Diario de Cuba has reaction from dissident leaders on news that the European Union may begin talks to review its Common Position toward Cuba, which symbolically focuses on human rights and democracy:
We are worried and expressed our concern to members of the European Parliament. We asked them to keep the Common Position. If with it, the Cuban government violates our human rights with total impunity, just imagine what would happen if the European Union diminishes its role.
-- Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White
Any type of relations with the Cuban government should be conditioned on the absolute respect for human rights.
-- Antonio Rodiles, head of the Estado de Sats project
To eliminate the Common Position would be like giving a green light to repression.
-- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (Antunez), leader of the National Resistance Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo (FLN-OZT)
It's very important that any type of dialogue is preceded by the absolute respect for human rights and a demand that democratic principles, similar to those enjoyed by the members states of the EU, be respected.
-- Dr. Eduardo Cardet, coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL)

Celebrating Modern-Day Terrorism in Havana

A recent event in Havana commemorated the launch of modern-day terrorism and the Castro regime's key role in its development.

From The Middle East Monitor:

Commemorating Palestinian armed struggle in Cuba

During a political and cultural event organised by the Embassy of Palestine in Cuba and the Arab Union of Cuba, representatives of both organisations reiterated the importance of revolutionary struggle against colonialism and imperialism. The event commemorated the launch of Palestinian armed struggle against Israel in 1965, founded by Yasser Arafat through the establishment of Fatah.

According to reports by Prensa Latina and Radio Havana Cuba, Palestinian Ambassador to Cuba Akram Samhan endorsed the continuation of armed struggle for the liberation of Palestine and denounced the Western imperialist plunder of Arab countries. Samhan also referred to the UN proclamation of 2014 as the year of international solidarity with Palestinians, adding that more countries should clamour for Palestine's full recognition at the international organisation.

Secretary General of the Arab Union of Cuba, Juan Dufflar, emphasised Cuba's "permanent, militant and irrevocable solidarity with the Palestinian cause."

Tweet of the Day: Warning Dissidents Prior to CELAC

#Cuba Political police begins to visit opposition activists warning them to be "very calm" during Summit #CELAC  

A Not-so-Veiled (and Irresponsible) Threat Against Menendez

Friday, January 17, 2014
Foreign Policy's Yochi Dreazen seems to only have one assignment: to attack Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Last November, Yochi attacked Menendez for refusing to barter with the Cuban dictatorship for the release of American hostage Alan Gross -- a move that would only risk more American lives.

Now today, he's attacking Menendez for wanting to hold Iran's mullahs accountable -- ensuring that they don't take the international community for (yet another) dangerous ride.

Whether Yochi's attacks are his own volition or he's acting as a surrogate for someone else is unknown.

However, in today's attack, Yochi risks opening a dangerous Pandora's Box.

He features this not-so-veiled threat against Menendez:

"Menendez's hard-line positions on the Cuban issue could leave him vulnerable to White House retaliation. The White House has long signaled a willingness to pursue better ties with the Castro government by relaxing some of the decades-old sanctions against the island nation, making it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel home, and cutting back on U.S.-funded pro-democracy programs in the country.

Menendez opposes each of those initiatives and has managed to prevent several of them from being put into practice [...]

This time around, the administration could decide to punish Menendez for his support of the Iran sanctions bill by cutting those programs, promoting cultural exchanges with Cuba, further easing travel restrictions, or taking other concrete steps to build a stronger relationship with Havana.

'That's Menendez's soft underbelly,' said one senior congressional aide. 'Menendez has become the principal Democratic thorn in the administration's side. If I'm president and I want to stick it to Menendez, I would take it out on his Cuba policy.'"

What Yochi and this ingenious "congressional aide" don't realize is that such outrageous propositions are two-way streets.

In the same manner as the Obama Administration can use Cuba policy to threaten Menendez on Iran, Menendez can use Iran policy to threaten the Obama Administration on Cuba.

Surely, the latter would be seen as outrageous -- as should the first.

Needless to say, both would be highly irresponsible.

Cuba and Iran policy should be conducted on their own merits, pursuant to U.S. law.

But this is what happens when journalists and bureaucrats confuse their own personal agendas with policy-making -- they create unfortunate scenarios that can lead to serious political brinkmanship.

Then, everybody loses.

Granma Editor Defects to U.S.

From AP:

Granma Newspaper Editor Leaves Cuba for Miami

A high-ranking editor with the Communist Party newspaper Granma has left Cuba to live in Miami.

Aida Calviac Mora told America TeVe Thursday that she arrived in the U.S. through Mexico and plans to stay.

The former international news page editor criticized the state media monopoly and said there is a "crisis of credibility" in the relationship between the public and the Cuban news media.

She said whenever she approached the paper's directors with new ideas and different perspectives for news coverage she was told "it's not a good time" or "the enemy could use it against us."

Show host Juan Manuel Cao called her one of the most important Granma journalists to leave in recent years.

The 29-year-old journalist joins her husband in Miami, a former Radio Rebelde reporter.

Our Opposition to Odebrecht

This week, Miami-Dade aviation authorities decided to scrap Odebrecht's Airport City boondoggle in favor of expanding Miami-Dade Airport's airfield and to "grow the airport economically."

In other words, all of those talking points from Odebrecht's lobbyists and "economists-for-hire" that Airport City would be the greatest thing to happen to Miami since Henry Flagler were misleading -- at best.

Kudos to Emilio Gonzalez, director of Miami-Dade's Aviation Department, for putting the taxpayer's interest first.

But the point of this post is to answer a question posed by The Miami Herald:

"Left unsaid was what impact the smaller proposal would have on opposition from some Cuban-American leaders who were angered over Odebrecht’s involvement in two projects in Cuba – the expansion of the Mariel port through an Odebrecht affiliate, and a partnership to help revive the island’s sugar industry."

We're happy to respond.

In sum, our opposition to Odebrecht will continue until it ends its unscrupulous and immoral business partnership with the Cuban dictatorship's military.

Until that time, we will oppose its efforts to simultaneously profit from the victims of that dictatorship.

Moreover, in case you didn't read our detailed rationale for opposing Odebrecht last year, allow us to (once again) reiterate:

- For over a decade, Odebrecht has received billions of dollars in taxpayer money from Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, a community that has suffered greatly at the hands of the brutal Castro dictatorship.

- Insensitive to this, in 2010, Odebrecht entered into a strategic partnership with the Cuban military to modernize the Port of Mariel, a priority business objective of the Castro regime.

- It is also partnering with the Cuban military to create the Mariel Special Development Zone, in order to facilitate "maquilas" (and exploit slave labor) for the Castro regime, a known violator of international labor norms.

- Odebrecht's business partners in Cuba routinely harass, torture and imprison thousands of peaceful democracy activists -- including women and children -- each year.  Not to mention deprive 11.5 million human beings of internationally-recognized human, political, civil and economic rights.

- Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva inked the Port of Mariel deal in Havana between Odebrecht and the Castro regime on the same day that Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died from an 85-day hunger strike.

- In order not to offend the Castro regime and complete the deal for Odebrecht, Lula compared Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Cuban dissidents to "common criminals."

- Despite concerns raised by Miami-Dade County officials in 2011 about Odebrecht's partnership with the Castro regime, Odebrecht decided to double-down on its business ties with Cuba and in 2012 also contracted with the Castro regime to help manage its sugar industry.

- Today, Odebrecht remains the Castro regime's most trusted foreign business partner.  Odebrecht was similarly one of former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez's closest business partners.  Chavez boasted of his close friendship with Odebrecht's executives.  As Reuters reported last week, now Odebrecht is pushing for Chavez's appointed successor in order to protect its business ties with the Venezuelan government.

- During her recent trip to Brazil, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez publicly questioned the Brazilian government's indifference to human rights violations in Cuba.  The answer is simple: Brazil's silence and indifference is to protect Odebrecht's business ties with the Castro brothers.

- Florida taxpayers spoke nearly unanimously - through their elected representatives - not to have their money spent on companies that do business with the brutal dictatorships of Cuba and Syria.

- Due to Odebrecht's absolute unwillingness to sever ties with the Castro dictatorship, it instead decided to legally challenge the democratic will of Florida's taxpayers.

- Nearly 62% of Miami-Dade County voters said during the November 2012 election that they did not want their taxpayer funds used to contract with companies that partner with the regimes of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

- Odebrecht has proven it has no respect for Florida's taxpayers, let alone for the victims of Castro's dictatorship.

- Used to inking back-room deals with the Castro brothers in Havana, Chavez in Caracas and Gaddafi in Tripoli, Odebrecht wants to force its will upon the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County.

Tweet and Quote of the Day: A Rogue's Resort

Thursday, January 16, 2014
Like a villain scene in a James Bond movie, except this is very real:
And from the story itself, this quote is the envy of Dennis Rodman:
Iliana Almaguer Rodriguez, wife of the Cuban ambassador to the DPRK, said the ski resort was built under the wise guidance of Kim Jong Un, who devotes his all to the people. She congratulated the DPRK on building another edifice, adding that she had full enjoyment.

The Cuban Five and The Taliban Five

Last month, we posted how Cuba's Castro regime and Al Qaeda are both holding elderly, Jewish, American development workers hostage in order to coerce the U.S. into unilateral negotiations and concessions.

The similarities are quite startling.

Now today, video has surfaced of the Taliban's American hostage, a young soldier being held captive in Afghanistan, who they want exchanged for five senior terrorists ("Taliban Five") imprisoned by the U.S.

Once again, striking similarity to the Castro regime's hostage-taking of American development worker Alan Gross, who it wants exchanged for the infamous "Cuban Five" (though now four).

The Castro regime reiterated its ransom demand last week to Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Alex Lee, during migrations talks in Havana.

While Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior Administration officials have outright rejected the possibility of such an exchange, Lee instead decided to take it upon himself to simply "take note" of the Castro regime's ransom demand -- in order to not offend his hosts.

(Lee also heaped praise on the "tone" of his talks with the Castro regime, while simultaneously scores of dissidents were being "actively" beaten and arrested, including some who are physically handicapped.)

Great way to keep emboldening such reprehensible behavior.

From USA Today:

'Proof of life' video of captured soldier surfaces

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the military's only missing service member in Afghanistan, is alive although in declining health, according to a video obtained by the Pentagon.

Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed that the video shows Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban more than four years ago.

Bergdahl was 23 when he disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. Last June, the Taliban said it would free Bergdahl in exchange for five senior officials held by the United States at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Cuban General Upset His "Paladar" Was Exposed

Earlier this week, Leon Padron Azcuy, an independent journalist from Cubanet revealed that "Star Bien," one of those famed (and supposedly "private") Havana "paladares" featured in travel magazines, is owned by the son of Cuba's Minister of the Interior, the infamous General Abelardo Colome Ibarra.

Yesterday, General Colome Ibarra's son unexpectedly visited the independent journalist, scolded him and warned that "his father was very upset and would personally be dealing with this."

We urge the international community, including media watchdogs, to monitor Padron Azcuy's safety and well-being.

Cuba Supports Nuclear Iran

From Iran's Tasnim:

Cuba Stresses Iran’s Right to Use Peaceful N. Energy

The Cuban foreign minister, in a meeting with visiting Iranian deputy foreign minister in Havana, said Iran has inalienable rights to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The issue was raised by Bruno Eduardo Rodríguez Parrilla in his Wednesday evening meeting with the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for the European and Latin American Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi.

The Cuban official expressed satisfaction with the achievements made by Iran, specially during Tehran’s negotiations with the Group 5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany), and said based on the international laws, Iran is entitled to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

He also voiced Cuba’s support for Iran’s stance on the nuclear issue.

Cuba: 2nd Least Free Economy in the World

Wednesday, January 15, 2014
The Heritage Foundation, in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal, has just released its prestigious 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.

Cuba ranked 177th out of 178 countries.

Only North Korea fared worse.

Cuba and North Korea are the world's remaining totalitarian regimes.

Meanwhile, countries like Iran, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma were considered more economically-free than Cuba.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Quote of the Day: On Cuba's "Self-Employed"

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
They sell their submission to the government in exchange for the "privilege" to have a small private enterprise.

-- Rosa Maria Paya, on the obedience premium the Castro regime requires for issuing a self-employment license, 25th anniversary event of the Sakharov Prize in Washington D.C., 1/14/13

Kerry Talks Cuba at The Vatican

Excerpt from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks today after meeting in Rome with Secretary of State of the Holy See, Pietro Parolin:

We talked also about Cuba and the need for respect for freedom of religion and freedom of – and respect for human rights. I raised the issue of Alan Gross and his captivity, and we hope very much that there might be able to be assistance with respect to that issue. 

A Year for (Mostly) Leaving Cuba

By Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

Cuba: One Year of Immigration And Travel Reform...What Changed?

This time she couldn't enter the terminal to watch him leave. A sign warns that the interior of José Martí International Airport can only be accessed by travelers, not their companions. So she said goodbye at the door. He is the second son who has left since Immigration and Travel Reform was implemented a year ago. For her, like so many Cubans, it's been a year of goodbyes.

In the first ten months of 2013 some 184,787 people traveled outside the Island. Many of them for the first time. Although the official statements try to deny that people flee the country, more than half of all travelers hadn't returned as of the end of November. Nor do we need the numbers. It's enough for each of us to just look around to quantify the absences.

From the personal and family point of view each trip can transform a life. Whether escaping for good from a country where you don't want to live, learning what exists on the other side, rediscovering relatives or simply some time away from the daily routine. The question is whether the sum of all these individual metamorphoses serves to change a nation. The answer -- as with so many things in the world -- can be a "yes" and a "no."

In the case of Cuba, the departures have served, in part, as an escape valve for the dissent. The most rebellious sector of society packed its bags to leave for a short or a long time. The government took advantage of this and also of the material benefits of the journeys, which result in more remittances sent, more imported consumer goods, and more airport taxes collected. The smokestack-free travel industry.

For civil society activists who took international tours, the opportunity was extraordinary. Bringing their voices to places where, before, only officialdom was heard, has already been a good step forward. They have been able to get closer to the topics debated in the world today and this has helped them to modernize their approaches, to better define their civic role and to involve themselves in issues that transcend national frontiers.

During all this time, however, they have refused to let the former prisoners of the Black Spring travel outside the country. Also the number of exiles blocked from entering Cuba has maintained an upward trend. Lamentably, after the huge headlines announcing Decree-Law 302, those dramas did not find sufficient coverage in the international press or organizations.

A good part of the population still can't afford a passport. For all these Cubans, the Immigration and Travel Reform takes place only in the lives of others, on television screens, or in the pages of newspapers. Coincidentally, this is the same sector that still has not been able to contract for a mobile phone, stay in a hotel, or even peek into the markets for houses and cars.

So 2013 was a mix of suitcases, goodbyes, returns, names added to phone directories, sighs, long lines outside the consulates, reunions, listings of homes for sale to pay for airplane tickets... A year for leaving and a year for staying.

Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations Increase in 2013

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Cuba: religious freedom violations continued to increase in 2013

CSW has renewed its call for Cuban leader Raul Castro to ensure that significant improvements are made in upholding religious freedom in 2014, after research showed a steady increase in religious freedom violations across Cuba in 2013 as the result of an ongoing government crackdown on religious organizations and individuals.

CSW documented 185 reported cases of religious freedom in 2013, up from a total of 120 in 2012. Many of the individual documented cases involved entire churches and denominations and large numbers of people. While Roman Catholic churches reported the highest number of violations, mostly involving the arrest and arbitrary detention of parishioners attempting to attend church activities, other denominations and religious groups were also affected. Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist churches in different parts of the country reported consistent harassment and pressure from state security agents. Additionally, government officials continued to refuse to register some groups, including the large Protestant network the “Apostolic Movement”, threatening affiliated churches with closure.

Church leaders in different parts of the country reported ongoing violations in the final weeks of the year. On 20 December, six members of an inter-denominational protestant group were beaten and imprisoned for nine hours in a windowless cell with no ventilation or light after attempting to carry out open air evangelism in the city of Bayamo. A few days later, on 22 December, 60 women affiliated with the Ladies in White movement were arrested in the early hours of the morning and held in prisons, police patrol cars and police stations across the country to prevent them from attending Sunday morning Mass.

Based on the documentation and information received from church leaders, the Cuban government seemed most concerned with control over religious groups, some of the only established independent civil society organisations tolerated by the regime. Various denominations told CSW that they are under heavy pressure from the Office of Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party to change internal governing structures, statutes and constitutions to make them less democratic and therefore easier to control. The government also announced that in 2014, bank accounts would be restricted to one per denomination or religious association; individual churches will no longer be permitted to maintain their finances independently.

The government continued to push religious groups to expel or bar Cubans associated with human rights or pro-democracy groups from their congregations. Religious groups that refused to comply with these government demands saw their bank accounts frozen and entire denominations found their requests to receive foreign visitors on religious visas denied.

There were some improvements, notably in the elimination of the need for Cubans to receive an exit visa, or ‘white card’ from the Cuban government in order to travel abroad. However, while many church leaders were able to travel outside Cuba for the first time some continued to see their right to travel curtailed. At least two leaders in the Apostolic Movement were informed in 2013 that they would not be permitted to leave Cuba with no reason given.

Quote of the Day: On the Cuban Military's Businesses

It's humiliating to see how the majority of little businesses opened by regular Cubans have to close, or cannot prosper, due to the number of limitations placed on them. Yet, the big businesses of the military flourish like flowers.
-- Former night watchman at a Cuban General's business establishment, speaking on condition of anonymity, Cubanet, 1/10/13

The MININT's Paladares

Monday, January 13, 2014
It has been long-known -- though some prefer to ignore or mislead -- that Cuba's most famed "paladares" (supposedly "private" restaurants) are "connected" to the Castro regime's military or intelligence elite.

A cable from the State Department first noted this charade back in 2006:

(C) The [Government of Cuba] stopped giving licenses to new paladars (home-based restaurants) several years ago, raising questions as to what the remaining operations had done to stay open. An American specialist on the topic posited that all upscale paladars were in some way "connected." For example, a USINT officer outside the XXXXXX paladar XXXXXX spotted the supposedly "self-employed" owner drive up in a car with Ministry of the Interior (MININT) plates. A one-table paladar in the Santa Fe neighborhood (known as the "fish paladar") reportedly enjoys an elite clientele - Raul Castro. In these days of heightened state control, merely bribing inspectors is not enough to stay open.

Continuing this trend, Cubanet has revealed that "Star Bien," one of those famed (and supposedly "private") Havana "paladares" featured in travel magazines, is owned by the son of Cuba's Minister of the Interior, the infamous General Abelardo Colome Ibarra.

This is also a favorite stop of the Obama Administration's so-called "people-to-people" travelers.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Quote of the Day: On Death of Young American in Cuba

In that miserable country there are no laws.
-- Onelia Ross, mother of the 31-year old American who was mysteriously found dead on the rooftop of Cuba's Hotel Nacional, The Miami Herald, 1/11/14

Free Ivan Fernandez Depestre

Ivan Fernandez Depestre, an Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience,” remains unjustly imprisoned by the Castro regime.

The 40 year-old democracy activist was arrested on July 30th in the central province of Santa Clara for peacefully participating in a public event with fellow dissidents.

Depestre, an Afro-Cuban, was charged with “dangerousness,” a pre-emptive measure defined as the “special proclivity of a person to commit crimes” after he was accused of “meeting with antisocial persons." 

He had no access to a lawyer during his show-trial and was sentenced to three-years in prison.

Under Articles 78 to 84 of Castro's Criminal Code, any Cuban accused of “special proclivity to commit crimes” can be sentenced to between one and four years of re-education in "specialized work or study establishments" or sent to "a work collective."

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Bob Graham Being "Propagandized" w/ Moot Cuba Trip

Sunday, January 12, 2014
Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham is heading to Cuba this week to (strangely) explore the Castro regime's moot offshore oil drilling efforts.

He is being hosted by long-time Castro regime admirer and propagandist, Julia Sweig, of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Obviously, Senator Graham hasn't gotten the memo that -- after much-hyped and failed efforts -- the chapter on the Castro regime's offshore drilling has been closed.

Moreover, the Castro regime has no means with which to try do so again. There aren't currently any offshore drilling rigs in Cuba, nor any foreign companies willing to invest in sending another one there.

It is simply commercially and logistically implausible.

Even those "oil experts" who were the Castro regime's biggest cheerleaders have admitted that the offshore drilling chapter has been closed.

More troubling are Senator Graham's comments regarding the trip.

According to the Naples Daily News, Graham said he had not seen an itinerary for the trip.

Maybe that's why he's also unaware that his trip is moot.  

"I feel I’m sophisticated enough to know when I might be propagandized,” said Graham.

That's true, Senator.

That's why we strongly recommend that you do your research beforehand on the fact that this issue is moot.

Furthermore, on the fact that your host, Julia Sweig, is one of the Castro regime's biggest propagandists.

U.S. counter-intelligence officials have even suspected her to be an "agent-of-influence" of the Castro regime.

Otherwise, it's pretty clear that you're already being propagandized.