Are Cuban Special Forces Shooting Venezuelan Protesters?

Saturday, March 1, 2014
From Vice News:

Are Cuban Special Forces Shooting at Venezuelan Protesters?

Eduardo Barreto isn’t sure if the armed guards that have been shooting at him were even Venezuelan.

Since joining his country’s protests earlier this month, the 20-year-old economics student from Valencia has been tear-gassed and chased by officers on motorcycles. He has watched his friends get shot in the back as they fled, and he was marching on the same street where student and beauty queen Génesis Carmona was killed last week.

He has little love for the National Guard, which the government has unleashed on protesters, but if he’s going to get shot, he’d like it at least to be done by a countryman.

“We know there are Cuban officers within our National Guard,” said Barreto, repeating widespread but unconfirmed reports that president Nicolás Maduro’s government might have tapped its island neighbor for help in protecting its Bolivarian revolution. “Can you imagine Russian officers joining the US National Guard to shoot at American citizens there? That’s unacceptable.”

Barreto says he has no doubt that at least some of the officers he has come across are Cuban. Early on in the protests—before guards started shooting at him—he brought them water bottles to cool off while they watched over demonstrators.

“They were in the streets standing in the sun all day, and I wanted to be friendly,” Barreto said. “One of them, when he thanked me, had a Cuban accent. I know a Cuban accent; I have uncles there.”

Venezuelan officials have neither acknowledged nor denied the accusations. But reports like Barreto's have multiplied over the last several days, also fueled by Ángel Vivas, a retired Venezuelan general and government critic. The embattled former military man tweeted to more than 200,000 followers that “Cuban and Venezuelan henchmen” were coming to his house after Maduro ordered his arrest, according to several reports.

In Caracas, students singing the Venezuelan national anthem gathered at a heavily guarded Cuban Embassy on Tuesday, protesting the involvement of Cuban troops in the repression and calling for an end to Cuba’s longstanding influence on Venezuelan politics.

“We won’t let the Castro brothers keep controlling Venezuela,” student leader Gabriela Arellano told local reporters. “Enough with Cuban interference.”

Opposition party Voluntad Popular tweeted photos of heavily armed Venezuelan guards protecting the Cuban Embassy on Tuesday. Protesters said they handed out a document to a national-police representative outlining their concerns, then withdrew peacefully.

It’s not the first time that anti-government protesters have gathered at the Cuban Embassy in Caracas. Back in 2002, during a coup that briefly ousted former president Hugo Chávez, protesters broke the windows, pierced the tires, and poured white paint into cars parked by the embassy, the AP reported then.

Venezuela’s close relationship with Cuba dates back to Chávez’s early days in power and was largely defined by Fidel Castro’s personal friendship with the former Venezuelan president, who was widely perceived as his ideological successor until his death last year.

But money also keeps the two nations’ interests aligned.

Venezuela is Cuba’s top trading partner and aid provider, to the tune of $3.5 billion a year and 115,000 barrels of oil a day, according to The Economist. Cuba pays its neighbor back in doctors, as well as in intelligence and security officers. It can also lend a hand in times of crisis.

Former intelligence officer and Cuban government critic Uberto Mario said in an interview that the elite Cuban troops known as Avispas Negras—literally the “black wasps”—have been traveling to Caracas undercover.

“They know how to infiltrate the protests, dressed as civilians, and this way they move all around Venezuela to neutralize the protests' advance,” Mario said. “They’re here for that, to repress.”

Several hundred people have been detained since the protests started, and there have also been reports of torture, including one of a student who was sexually assaulted with a rifle.

“The G2, the Cuban equivalent of the CIA, they have practice torturing citizens,” Barreto said. “We believe the reason they are here is to do those things.”

Tweet of the Day: Venezuela Is Not Subject to Negotation

From the Mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma:

They want to negotiate democracy, they want to negotiate rights, they want to negotiate freedom. Note to regime, VENEZUELA IS NOT SUBJECT TO NEGOTIATION.

Quote of the Day: Venezuelan Blogger to Jimmy Carter

Please, desist from your trip: you have absolutely no credibility in Venezuela... I can assure you that half of the country has no respect for you and the other half thinks you are a mere fool that they can use and discard as needed. I think that not only you should desist from your trip, but should never mention us again. You have cursed us enough as it is. We will appreciate your future silence since nothing good ever comes from your statements on Venezuela. Worry not, I am sure we will find more worthy mediators.
-- Daniel Duquenal, Venezuelan blogger, in a open letter to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who recently invited himself to (once again) "mediate" the South American nation's conflict, 2/26/14

Image of the Day: Fidel and Venezuela

This Venezuelan protester's sign reads:

"Fidel, you ruined your country and now your coming for ours."

How Cuba Exports Repression to Venezuela

By U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in The New York Post:

How Cuba is exporting repression to Venezuela

Excerpted from the Florida senator’s Feb. 24 remarks on the Senate floor, following a speech by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

The senator from Iowa bragged about a number of things that he learned on his trip to Cuba that I’d like to address.

He bragged about their health-care system — medical school is free, doctors are free, clinics are free, their infant-mortality rate may be even lower than ours.

I wonder if the senator was informed, No. 1, that the infant-mortality rate of Cuba is completely calculated on figures provided by the Cuban government — and totalitarian regimes don’t have the best history of accurate reporting. I wonder if he was informed that, before Castro, Cuba was 13th in the whole world in infant mortality.

I wonder if his hosts informed him that in Cuba there are instances reported, that if a child only lives a few hours after birth, it’s not counted as a person who ever lived and therefore doesn’t count against the mortality rate. I wonder if he was informed that in Cuba, any time there’s any problem with the child in utero, the mothers are strongly encouraged to undergo abortions.

I wonder if they spoke to him about the outbreak of cholera that they’ve been unable to control, or about the three-tiered system where foreigners and government officials get health care much better than what’s available to the general population.

I heard about their wonderful literacy rate. Here’s the problem: They can only read censored stuff. They’re not allowed access to the Internet. The only newspapers they’re allowed to read are Granma or the ones produced by the government.

We heard about Alan Gross, who is not a prisoner. He is a hostage. I heard allusions to the idea that maybe there should be a spy swap. Here’s the problem: Gross was not a spy. You know what his “crime” was? He went to Cuba to hand out satellite radios to the Jewish community.

Let me tell you what the Cubans are really good at: shutting off information to the Internet and to radio and TV and social media. And they’re not just good at it domestically, they’re good exporters of these things. They’re exporting repression in our hemisphere right now.

Leopoldo Lopez is the former mayor of a municipality in Caracas. The National Guard of Venezuela pulled him into an armored truck last week. You know why? For protesting against the government of Venezuela, which is a puppet of Havana, completely infiltrated by Cubans and military-affairs agents from Havana.

You know why? Because the Venezuela government is giving them cheap oil and free oil, in exchange for help in these sorts of repressions.

The featured photo shows Genesis Carmona, a beauty queen and a student in a city called Valencia. She’s on that motorcycle because the government in Venezuela and the so-called civilian groups that it has armed — another export from Cuba — they shot her in the head. This is her being taken on a motorcycle to the hospital where they were unable to save her life. She died last week.

This is the government that the Cubans support. Not just verbally, but with training and tactics. This is who they export — this is what they do.

Lopez’s supporters are being hit with by water cannons in the street because they’re protesting against the government. This has been going on now for two weeks.

This is the ally of Cuba, the puppet of Cuba. And this is what they do to their own people. Water cannons knocking people to the ground for protesting.

It is shameful that only three heads of state in this hemisphere have spoken out forcefully against what’s happening in Venezuela. It is shameful that many members of Congress who traveled to Venezuela and were friendly with [late strongman Hugo] Chavez sit by saying nothing while this is happening in our own hemisphere.

And this wonderful Cuban paradise government? This is what they support. The dictator Raul Castro just announced he’ll help with whatever the Venezuelan government needs.

What’s the first thing the Venezuelan government did when the protests broke out? It cut off access to Twitter and Facebook and the Internet. It ran CNN out of there. Years before, it had closed down all the independent media that criticized the government.

Where did they learn that from? From Cuba.

And yet we have to listen to what a paradise Cuba is.

Well, I wonder how come I never read about boatloads of American refugees going to Cuba. Why have close to 1½ million people left Cuba to come here, but the only people that leave here to move there are fugitives from the law, people who go there to hide?

The senator from Iowa cited a poll: “More Americans want normal relations with Cuba.” So do I — a democratic and free Cuba. But you want us to reach out and develop friendly relationships with a serial violator of human rights, which supports what’s going on in Venezuela and every other atrocity on the planet? And this is who we should be opening up to?

We have sanctions on North Korea because they’re a terrorist government and an illegitimate one. Against Iran we have sanctions,because they support terrorism and they’re an illegitimate government. And against the Cubans we have sanctions. Why? Well, you just saw why.

Sanctions are a tool in our foreign-policy toolbox, and we, as the freest nation on Earth, are looked to by people in this country, and all around the world, to stand by them in their moment of need when they clamor for freedom and liberty and human rights. They look for America to be on their side, not for America to be cutting geopolitical deals or making it easier to sell tractors to the government there.

I would suggest to my colleagues, the next time they go to Cuba, ask to meet with the Ladies in White. Ask to meet with the dissidents and the human-rights activists that are jailed and repressed and exiled. Ask to meet with them.

I bet you’re going to hear something very different than what you got from your hosts on your last trip to the wonderful Cuba, this extraordinary socialist paradise. Because it’s a joke. It’s a farce.

Over the last week, I have tweeted about these issues. I get thousands of retweets from students and young people, until they shut them out, in Venezuela who are encouraged by the fact that we are on their side. What they want is what we have, the freedom and the liberty. That’s what all people want.

And if America and its policy-makers aren’t going to be firmly on the side of freedom and liberty, who in the world is? Who on this planet will? If this nation is not firmly on the side of human rights and freedom and the dignity of all people, what nation on the Earth will?

And if we’re prepared to walk away from that, then I submit to you that this century is going to be a dangerous and dark one. I don’t believe that’s what the American people want from us.

Tweet of the Day: On Cuba's Violation of Venezuelan Sovereignty

RWB: Dissident Blogger Completes Year in Detention

From the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB):

Dissident blogger completes year in detention

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the release of Angel Santiesteban-Prats, a writer who completes a year in detention today and who began a blog in 2008 called Los hijos que nadie quiso that was openly critical of the government.

Santiesteban-Prats was arrested on 28 February 2013 to begin serving the five-year jail sentence on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” that he received at the end of a hasty and arbitrary trial on 8 December 2012. No hard evidence was produced in support of the charges.

After his first six weeks in detention, he was transferred on 9 April 2013 to a prison in the Havana suburb of San Miguel del Padrón where he was repeatedly subjected to acts of mistreatment and torture.

Reporters Without Borders learned on 18 February that the National Association of Law Offices (ONBC) has suspended his lawyer, Amelia Rodríguez Cala, for six months, considerably hampering her efforts to obtain his release.

Rodríguez also defends other dissidents, including the musician Gorki Aguila and Sonia Garro of the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), a group formed by wives, daughters and other close relatives of imprisoned dissidents that demonstrates peacefully for their release. The European Parliament awarded it the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2005.

“We already criticized the draconian and cruel treatment of Santiesteban-Prats and other independent news providers a year ago,” said Reporters Without Borders head of research Lucie Morillon. “We urge the Cuban authorities to overturn his conviction and free him at once.”

“The intimidation to which journalists are constantly subjected in Cuba is extremely worrying. Cuba is ranked lower than any other country in the Americas in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – 170th out of 180 countries.”

Although Santiesteban-Prats is the only blogger currently serving a jail sentence, the authorities continue to harass any news provider who challenges the government’s propaganda.

Reporters for independent news websites such as Hablemos Press are often arrested arbitrarily and then released a few hours later. The journalist William Cacer Díaz was one of the latest victims of this form of harassment on 14 February.

At least six other independent news providers - including Magaly Novis Otero, Pablo Morales Marchán, Ignacio Luis González Vidal, Denis Noa Martínez and Tamara Rodríguez Quesada – were briefly detained in January.

An open letter to President Raúl Castro that Santiesteban-Prats wrote from his prison cell was posted on his blog today.

Santiesteban-Prats is registered as one of Cuba’s two detained news providers in the Reporters Without Borders Barometer. He is listed as a detained netizen (blogger). The other is José Antonio Torres, a Santiago de Cuba-based reporter for the Communist Party daily Granma who has been held since May 2011. Torres is listed as a detained journalist.

Senate Resolution Targets Venezuelan Rights Violators

Friday, February 28, 2014
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced a Senate Resolution deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Venezuela, calling for full accountability for human rights violations, and supporting the right of the Venezuelan people to live freely and democratically.

“This action sends an unequivocal message by condemning the violence perpetrated against innocent Venezuelans by President Maduro, Venezuelan security forces, and armed pro-government supporters," said Chairman Robert Menendez. "Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation. Venezuelans today are denied basic rights, freedoms, and the ability to peacefully protest the dire economic circumstances caused by President Maduro and his government. We stand with the Venezuelan people and the brave opposition leaders in their pursuit to build a more hopeful Venezuela that embraces a bright future while discarding a failed past."

“With the Venezuelan people struggling and sacrificing for freedom, liberty and human rights, they deserve to have their voices be heard, and they deserve the world’s leading defender of human rights to be on their side,” Rubio said. “Nicolás Maduro and his thugs must be held accountable for the atrocities committed against the people of Venezuela, including unjust incarcerations, violent repression and killing of innocent protestors.

“This Resolution urges President Obama to immediately impose targeted sanctions that are already possible under existing law and encourage a process of dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the political opposition,” Rubio added. “It is time for the United States to support the Venezuelan people’s pursuit of a safe and democratic way of life, as guaranteed under their constitution.”

The full text of the resolution is below:

Resolution deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela, calling for full accountability for human rights violations taking place in Venezuela, and in support of the Venezuelan people’s right for the free and peaceful exercise of representative democracy

Findings:

Whereas the Government of Venezuela’s chronic mismanagement of its economy has produced inflation that exceeds 50 percent annually, currency shortages, economic distortions, and the routine absence basic goods and foodstuffs.

Whereas the Government of Venezuela’s failure to guarantee minimal standards of public security for its citizens has led the country to become one of the most violent in the world, with the per capita homicide rate in the city of Caracas exceeding 115 per 100,000 people.

Whereas the Government of Venezuela has taken continued steps to remove checks and balances on the executive, politicize the judiciary, undermine the independence of the legislature through use of executive decree powers, persecute and prosecute its political opponents, curtail freedom of the press, and limit the free expression of its citizens.

Whereas on January 23rd, 2014 National Representative Maria Corina Machado and Mr. Leopoldo López, leader of the political party “Popular Will”, among others, called on the Venezuelan people to gather on street assemblies and debate a popular, democratic and constitutional “ way out” of Venezuela’s crisis of governability.

Whereas since February 4, 2014, the people of Venezuela - responding to ongoing economic hardship, high levels of crime and violence, and the lack of basic political rights and individual freedoms – have turned out in demonstrations in Caracas and throughout the country to protest the Government of Venezuela’s inability to ensure the political and economic well-being of its citizens.

Whereas the government of Nicolás  Maduro responded to the mass demonstrations by ordering the arrest without evidence of senior opposition leaders, including Mr. Leopoldo Lopez, Carlos Vecchio, and Antonio Rivero, and by violently repressing peaceful demonstrators with the help of the Venezuelan National Guard and groups of armed, government-affiliated civilians, known as ‘collectives’;

Whereas, on February 18, 2014, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to Venezuelan authorities, was arrested, and charged unjustly with criminal incitement, conspiracy, arson, and intent to damage property;

Whereas the Maduro government has sought to censor information about the demonstrations and the government’s violent crackdown by blocking online images and threatening the few remaining uncensored domestic media outlets;

Whereas Venezuelan leader Nicolás  Maduro threatened to expel the United States news network CNN from Venezuela and has taken off the air the Colombian news channel NTN 24, which transmits in Venezuela, after news outlets reported on the nation-wide protests;

Whereas the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a statement on February 14, 2014, which `expresses its concern over the serious incidents of violence that have taken place in the context of protest demonstrations in Venezuela, as well as other complaints concerning acts of censorship against media outlets, attacks on organizations that defend human rights, and acts of alleged political persecution'

Whereas, as of February 27, 2014, there have been 13 people killed, over 100 injured, and dozens have been unjustly detained due to pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Venezuela:  Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the Senate,

(1) Reaffirms U.S. support for the people of Venezuela in their pursuit of the free exercise of representative democracy as guaranteed by the Venezuelan constitution and defined under the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States;

(2) Deplores the use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators, and the inexcusable use of violence and politically-motivated criminal charges to intimidate the country's political opposition;

(3) Calls on the Government of Venezuela to disarm and dismantle the system of ‘colectivos’ or ‘collectives’, and any other government-affiliated or supported militias or vigilante groups;

(4) Calls on the Government of Venezuela to allow an impartial, third-party investigation into the excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrations on multiple occasions since February 4th, 2014;

(5) Urges the President to immediately impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or perpetrating gross human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other members of civil society in Venezuela; and

(6) Calls for the United States to work with other countries in the hemisphere to actively encourage a process of dialogue between the Government of Venezuela and the political opposition through the good offices of the Organization of American States so that the voices of all Venezuelans can be taken into account through their country's constitutional institutions as well as free and fair elections.

Quote of the Week: Secretary Kerry on Imprisoned Cuban Rapper

The truth is that some of the greatest accomplishments in expanding the cause of human rights have come not because of legislative decree or judicial fiat, but they came through the awesomely courageous acts of individuals, whether it is Xu Zhiyong fighting the government transparency that he desires to see in China, or Ales Byalyatski, who is demanding justice and transparency and accountability in Belarus, whether it is Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, who is rapping for greater political freedom in Cuba, or Eskinder Nega, who is writing for freedom of expression in Ethiopia. Every single one of these people are demonstrating a brand of moral courage that we need now more than ever.
-- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, remarks at yesterday's release of the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights, 2/27/14

Cuba Sanctions Serve U.S. Interests

Thursday, February 27, 2014
By Jorge Benitez in U.S. News & World Report:

Lining a Dictator's Pockets

No good would come of lifting the embargo on Cuba.

Based on a new poll it commissioned on U.S. relations with Cuba, the Atlantic Council issued a report recently calling for a “policy shift” that would end the U.S. embargo on the Castro regime. But when asked to respond to the statement that “after more than 50 years of no U.S. relations with Cuba the Castro regime remains in power,” 51 percent of those polled want to keep the current policy in place.

Nevertheless, the key issue is not whether the embargo is popular. Rather, the main question is, would dropping the embargo better serve the interests of the United States? The answer to this question remains a strong "no," because ending the embargo would be bad business, strengthen an oppressive government and abandon American values.

The U.S. should not normalize trade with the Castro regime for the plain and simple reasons that his ventures lose money and his government is an international “deadbeat.” Any economic partnerships with authoritarian regimes are morally suspect, but making deals with the Castro government is pouring billions of dollars down the drain. In 1986, Cuba defaulted on its multibillion dollar debt to the Paris Club of nations. That debt is now estimated to be around $37 billion and the Castro government refuses to pay it. A couple of months ago, Russia had to write off 90 percent of Cuba's $32 billion debt. That’s almost $29 billion dollars that Castro will never pay back to Moscow. In November, Mexico wrote off $340 million of Cuba’s debt to its development bank, Bancomext. It is no wonder that, according to Moody’s, Cuba’s credit rating is Caaa1, which means worse than highly speculative and a “substantial risk” to investors.

It makes no business sense to drop the embargo for the sake of trading with a government that reneged on so many loans its credit rating is now at the subprime or “junk bond” level. Yet, loans are what would be necessary to “normalize” relations with Cuba. The embargo allows for U.S. food and humanitarian supplies to be sold to Cuba. In fact, the U.S. is currently the fifth largest exporter to Cuba. The big difference is that, according to the embargo, the Castro government must pay for all U.S. imports with cash, no credit allowed.

This brings us to the most overlooked and dangerous factor in trading with Cuba. Most of the Cuban economy is owned by the Castro government and all foreign trade is channeled through agencies that support the regime. For example, all foreign companies must pay wages in hard currency (dollars or euros) to the Cuban government, and from those wages the state pays in local currency (Cuban pesos) a small percentage to the individual employees. As a report by the Brooking Foundation described it: “If the firm pays the employment agency $500 a month and the employment agency pays the workers 500 pesos, over 90 percent of the wage payment disappears in the currency conversion; the effective compensation is instantly deflated to $21 per month.” Brookings said this may be “the world’s heaviest labor tax.” Or as one Cuban worker disclosed: “In Cuba, it’s a great myth that we live off the state. In fact, it’s the state that lives off of us.”

This is why decades of trade between Cuba and market economies in Europe, Canada and Latin America have only lined the pockets of the Castro government and not produced any of the promised political or economic benefits for the people of Cuba. This is what “normalized” relations with Cuba looks like. If the U.S. dropped the embargo, our companies would join those from around the world that pay dearly to the Castro regime as it exploits the Cuban people. It is this corrupt system, not the embargo, which deprives the people of Cuba of the benefits of trade and the skill of their labor. As the U.S. argued in the United Nations, “the Cuban Government’s own policy was the largest obstacle to the country’s own development, concentrating political and economic decisions in the hands of the few and stifling economic growth.”

Ending the embargo on the Castro regime would be a blow not only to American wallets, but also to American values. The American people want “free trade with free people,” not manipulated trade that strengthens an authoritarian government’s oppression of its people. The Castro regime is on its last few breaths and the Cuban Spring will soon come to millions who will remember that for decades the U.S. chose solidarity with the Cuban people instead of business partnerships with the dictator in Havana.

Castro Regime Requires Firm Hand, Not Velvet Glove

By Jason Poblete & Yleem Poblete in National Review:

Call Cuba to Account

Obama should implement LIBERTAD as Congress intended.

This week marks the 18th anniversary of the downing of two U.S. civilian planes by the Cuban military over international waters. On February 24, 1996, Cessnas flown by members of the organization Brothers to the Rescue were patrolling north of Havana for Cuban refugees, who risked life and limb at sea in makeshift craft in search of freedom. Cuban fighter pilots in Russian MiGs encircled the planes and attacked. The planes disintegrated. Killed were three Americans: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre Jr., and Mario de la Peña, along with U.S. resident Pablo Morales.

The killing of Americans once again brought home the true nature of the Cuban regime. The political repercussions were felt in Washington, D.C. Until then, the Clinton administration had thought, as the Obama administration thinks today, that the U.S. could negotiate with the Cuban government. But facing the political embarrassment of the downed aircraft, Clinton reversed course and signed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (LIBERTAD), which had bipartisan support. It was as far as the Clinton administration was willing to go in taking a hard line on Cuba.

Implementation of LIBERTAD, also known as Helms-Burton, was haphazard at best. The air attack was soon forgotten. A mere two years after it, many had turned their focus to easing sanctions and expanding relations with Havana. That effort continued despite the arrest of the Wasp network of Cuban spies in 1998, the expulsions of Cuban “diplomats” for espionage, and the arrests of Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belén Montes in 2001, and, more recently, of State Department officials Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers for spying for Cuba. These are just the ones we know about.

The trend toward engagement and appeasement of the Cuban dictatorship has worsened under President Obama. His national-security team has eased economic sanctions in several key areas without demanding or securing any concessions whatsoever from Havana. This is backwards. Like Iran and North Korea, Cuba is a regime that calls for a firm hand, not a velvet glove.

In his first inaugural address, President Obama said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” The rhetoric does not match up with the action. The Obama administration has not only given an economic lifeline to this pariah state but also lent it diplomatic legitimacy. The president chose a widely publicized event to make his point and shook dictator Raúl Castro’s hand. Meanwhile, back in the island gulag, the crackdown against pro-democracy advocates has intensified; American citizen Alan Gross was taken hostage in December 2009 and is still being held in a Cuban prison.

U.S. law and policy are supposed to isolate the Cuban government economically while supporting the Cuban people. Cuba desperately needs sanctions eased to secure more dollars and access to the global financial system. The U.S. has an opportunity to leverage that need to press for true democratic change and advance U.S. interests. The Helms-Burton law provides a clear roadmap. Easy? No, but not impossible, if the political will exists.

In LIBERTAD, Congress called on the president to fully enforce, through the Departments of State and Justice, existing regulations and deny visas to Cuban nationals who represent or are employees of the Cuban government or of Cuba’s Communist party. Unfortunately, such travel continues essentially unfettered. The regime uses both diplomatic and unofficial cover to spy on the United States and make business deals that contravene U.S. law and policy.

LIBERTAD prohibits indirect financing of the Castro regime and bars aid to governments that provide assistance to the Cuban dictatorship or engage in barter-type agreements or non-market-based trade with it. However, many nations that have received U.S. foreign economic aid, whose debt to the U.S. has in some cases been reduced or forgiven, have turned around and from their improved condition provided non-market-based relief and benefits to Havana. Those governments should be held accountable and forced to choose between expanding their relationship with the U.S. or with the pariah regime in Cuba.

Requirements that the president report to Congress concerning the intelligence activities of the Russian Federation in Cuba are also stipulated by LIBERTAD. While the Russians are assumed to have withdrawn from the signals facility at Lourdes, Cuba, in 2002, the Kremlin has been expanding its economic, military, and intelligence ties with its Cold War client state in other ways. Just last summer the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship cruiser, the Moskva, the Northern Fleet’s Vice Admiral Kulakov destroyer, and a fuel tanker all docked in Havana, signaling a strengthening of the Russian–Cuban relationship; a Russian warship was reported to have docked in Havana only yesterday. Combined with Moscow’s giving safe haven to Edward Snowden, reports that it now wants to return to the Lourdes listening post to enhance its capabilities of eavesdropping on the U.S. make it critical for the Obama administration to revisit the Helms-Burton language about monitoring Russian intelligence activities in Cuba.

The national-security community continues to rely on assessments developed, directed, or influenced by Americans convicted of spying for Havana, but policymakers need updated estimates on the full spectrum of Cuban-regime activities that pose a threat to U.S. security, interests, and allies. All damage assessments relating to the Wasp network, as well as to the Ana Belén Montes and the Myers cases, should be released to the congressional intelligence, foreign-affairs, and defense committees and be available for review by their members. No further Wasp-network spies should be released to Cuba, particularly since the Havana authorities protect fugitives from U.S. justice, including murderers and kidnappers.

The president should work to reverse the fiasco of the U.S.’s agreement to revoke Cuba’s suspension from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2009. He should follow Section 109 of LIBERTAD, which requires the president to instruct the U.S. permanent representative to the OAS to secure support from other member states in urging the Havana regime to allow the immediate and unrestricted deployment of independent human-rights monitors throughout the island and to allow visits by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Most important, the administration should turn its attention to securing justice for Americans. In multilateral forums, it should pressure Havana to unconditionally release Alan Gross and should obtain immediate INTERPOL Red Notices for the three Cuban air-force officials indicted for the wanton killing of Americans in February 1996. Since these pilots acted under the orders of Fidel and Raúl Castro, the Castro brothers should also be indicted and prosecuted in the U.S. Further actions should be taken under Section 116(B)(3) of LIBERTAD, which urges the president to seek, in the International Court of Justice, indictments for this attack carried out by the Cuban regime and defined as “an act of terrorism” in LIBERTAD. Since Fidel Castro is not the titular head of state, there is no longer an excuse for doing nothing.

Every nation’s transition to freedom, rule of law, and democracy is unique. What works in Kiev may or may not work in Caracas or Damascus. For Cuba, the road has been long, and the days ahead are tough. The roadmap that the U.S. has had in place since the late 1990s should be implemented as Congress intended. With respect to the shooting down of Brothers to the Rescue, the president should at least declassify all records relating to the incident. These documents will afford the families of the victims an opportunity to seek justice in international tribunals. They will do what presidents have refused to do: face evil head-on and ensure that the United States is on the right side of history.

Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana

Must be on a "people-to-people" tour.

Seriously speaking, spy ships from Russia, violence in Venezuela, weapons to North Korea and delegations from Iran.

Sounds like the Castro brothers have really "changed" their ways.

From AFP:

Russian spy ship docked in Havana

A Russian warship was docked in Havana Wednesday, without explanation from Communist Cuba or its state media.

The Viktor Leonov CCB-175 boat, measuring 91.5 meters (300 feet) long and 14.5 meters wide, was docked at the port of Havana's cruise ship area, near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

The Vishnya, or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, Russian media sources said.

Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship's visit, unlike on previous tours by Russian warships.

Quote of the Day: Damaris Moya Portieles

I come here today to denounce the deceptions and lies of the military and totalitarian regime of the Castro brothers. I am a victim, my family is a victim, of this regime. But I will not remain silent, nor will I abandon my country. Before I arrived in Geneva, my house remained completely surrounded, and the corners militarized by State Security and the National Revolutionary Police. As I prepared for this trip, I was arrested on two occasions and threatened by Lt. Col. Enrique of the Santa Clara Penal Center, who told me to be very careful what I said here because it could have consequences. The threat is based on reprisals that the police says it could take against me upon my return.
-- Damaris Moya Portieles, Cuban democracy activist, in remarks to the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, 2/25/14

Tweet of the Day: Russian Bases in "Zone of Peace"?

By Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez:

#Cuba If #CELAC declared Latin America a "zone of peace," it can't allow Russian military bases in our territory! 

Image of the Day: Venezuela's Ladies in White

Similar to their Cuban counterparts, these courageous women marched through the streets of Caracas today demanding the respect for human rights and freedom.

The Castro Caucus

Tuesday, February 25, 2014
By Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

The Castro Caucus

Even in liberal democracies, there are people friendly to dictators, and that is of course true in the United States. And it’s especially true when it comes to Castro (either of them, but especially Big Brother).

Who are the Castro-friendliest people in the U.S. Congress? Well, you can probably call the roll as well as I can: Charlie Rangel, José Serrano, Jim McGovern, Maxine Waters, Sam Farr, Barbara Lee. That’s on the House side. And in the Senate, the two Vermonters: Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders. And Iowa’s Tom Harkin. And probably some others.

My apologies to those in either chamber I’ve left out.

There are alumni who deserve mention too, of course — former congressmen. First and foremost, Ron Dellums (Barbara Lee’s mentor). Well, actually, maybe Bill Delahunt should be called “first and foremost.” He was indefatigable. In addition to being Castro-friendly, he was extremely friendly to Chávez, the would-be Castro of Venezuela. It was perfectly natural that President Obama sent Delahunt to Chávez’s funeral.

All the Americans I have named are left-wing Democrats, of course, ideologically in sympathy with these brutes. And then there’s Jeff Flake, the Republican senator from Arizona, a libertarian darling. I was one of the few on my general side who rooted against him when he ran for the upper chamber in 2012. It was bad enough that he was in the House. The other conservatives rooting against him were those who know his record on Cuba.

You might excuse him on libertarian grounds: He believes you should travel where you want, for any reason, and he believes you should be able to do business with a totalitarian dictatorship, no matter what its effect on people. (There is no doing business with independent companies or individuals in Cuba. You have to deal with the regime, which enriches itself.) Okay, fine. I’m open to argument, sort of. But how do you excuse the following?

As Capitol Hill Cubans reported, Flake and Jim McGovern are hosting six “religious leaders” from Cuba. (To recall McGovern’s peculiar relationship with the FARC, go here.) The “religious leaders” are actually stooges of the dictatorship, loyal soldiers to Castro, denouncers of dissidents.

They remind me a little of the old Soviet Anti-Zionist Committee, which was composed of Jewish stooges.

The mission of these “religious leaders” is to lie about Cuba, telling a gullible world that the Castros’ island is a haven of religious liberty. I have spent much of my career covering Cubans who have been brutalized by the dictatorship, including for their religious views. There was René Montes de Oca, for example, whom I interviewed by phone when he was on the lam. (He wanted to tell someone what was happening to him.) He is Pentecostalist.

Then there is the great Dr. Oscar Biscet, the democracy activist whose courage comes from the Bible. He was in prison for twelve years. I interviewed him shortly after he was released, in 2011 (go here). In 2007, President George W. Bush, who had a spine of steel, gave him the Medal of Freedom (in absentia, of course). (Bush is stupidly anathematized by the Right today. How odd that we don’t appreciate moral leadership.)

This morning, Biscet was arrested again, and had the living sh** beat out of him, by state security, as always happens. (To read about this, go here.) It is people like Montes de Oca and Biscet who ought to get a hearing on Capitol Hill, not these Flake-McGovern stooges. The United States is supposed to be looked to for liberty.

I realize there is not much appetite on the right for human rights (and the Left, you can forget). “Neocon! Neocon!” they cry (as though they knew what the word meant). But I know of no “realist” or libertarian principle that encourages the abetting of official liars for totalitarian dictatorships.

Earlier today, I was talking to Mauricio Claver-Carone, the editor of the Capitol Hill Cubans site. Essentially, I thanked him for getting out of bed every morning to do battle with these Castro apologists. I know how thankless this task can be. He quoted the slogan of Leopoldo López, the Venezuelan oppositionist who is now a guest in Delahunt’s friends’ prisons: “El que se cansa, pierde” — “He who tires, loses.” The Castros and the Chávezes and the Maduros and their apologists never tire — ever. Their opponents must not either, if they can possibly help it.

P.S. I have a song in my head (believe it or not). Bonus points if you can sing the spiritual that begins, “Walk together, children. Don’t you get weary.”

Cuban Democracy Leader Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet Beaten and Arrested

This morning, Cuban democracy leader, Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, and seven other members of his Emilia Project movement, were brutally beaten and arrested for leading a march in solidarity with Venezuelan protesters.

During the peaceful march, they carried images of Venezuelan opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Dr. Biscet is a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Others arrested include Agustín Figueroa Galindo, Guillermo Rodríguez Cárdenas, Gregorio Díaz Torres, Emilio Rodríguez Otero, Ramón Mora Hernández , Alejandro Torres Samón and Midalis Pelier.

El Que Se Cansa, Pierde

Venezuelan opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, at the statute of Cuban independence hero, Jose Marti, prior to being arrested by the Maduro government.

His motto is "He who tires, loses."

Must-Watch: Rubio Floor Speech on Cuba, Venezuela

This afternoon, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) went on the Senate floor to praise the "wonders" of Cuban healthcare pursuant to his recent propaganda trip with the Castro dictatorship.

Immediately after, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) offered a rebuttal.  It's extraordinary.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Jeff Flake Hosts Religious (Political) Persecutors on Capitol Hill

This week, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) are hosting a briefing on Capitol Hill by six so-called Cuban "religious leaders" in order to attack U.S. policy.

Except these "religious leaders" are -- in fact -- Castro regime officials, who represent the state's Cuban Council of Churches ("CCC"). 

The CCC is the Castro regime's official network of churches and "religious" organizations. It is a branch of the Communist Party's Office of Religious Affairs, which controls all religious activity on the island.

Below is a video (or click here) of the head of the Cuban Communist Party's Office of Religious Affairs, Caridad Diego, explaining how the regime planned to persecute churches or religious organizations not affiliated and controlled by the CCC.

The "religious leaders" hosted by Flake/McGovern are all Protestant. Yet, they won't tell you that the CCC represents only a small minority of Protestants on the island, for most Cuban Protestants prefer to face repression than be affiliated with the Castro regime.

Flake/McGovern also won't tell you that of the six so-called "religious leaders" they are hosting, four (Arce, Yi, Gonzalez, and Suarez) signed a letter in 2003 justifying the Castro regime's imprisonment of independent journalists, union leaders and democracy activists during the infamous "Black Spring" crackdown.

Who are these so-called "religious leaders" hosted by Flake/McGovern?

-- Rev. Joel Ortega DoPico is the current President of the Castro regime's CCC.

-- Bishop Griselda Delgado is a Bolivian national who moved to Cuba in the 1980s due to her support of the Cuban Revolution. She's a central figure in the Castro regime's propaganda campaign for the release Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S.

-- Rev. Dr. Reinerio Arce is the former President of the Castro regime's CCC.

-- Rev. Raúl Suárez is a personal friend of Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro, and a former member of the regime's National Assembly, who since the 1980s has been traveling the world proclaiming there is "absolute religious freedom in Cuba."

-- Pastor María Yi is current Vice-President of the Castro regime's CCC. Also a central figure in the propaganda campaign to release Cuban spies.

-- Rev. Rhode González is another former President of the CCC and longtime regime apologist.

And there you have it.

So why aren't Flake/McGovern hosting any independent religious leaders, or the victims of religious persecution in Cuba?

Maybe they won't like what they hear.

In case they missed it, here are 30 questions independent Cuban Protestant Church leaders recently posed to the Castro regime.

To Confront Maduro is to Confront Castro

Excerpt by Moises Naim in The Atlantic:

The struggles and sacrifices of Venezuela’s young people could have surprising and unintended consequences beyond their nation. To confront Maduro’s government is to simultaneously confront Cuba’s grotesque influence in Venezuela. Absent the massive economic aid that the Venezuelan regime has been giving Cuba, the island’s precarious economy would have already collapsed—and it yet might with any reduction in this support. Such an economic collapse could accelerate the political change that sooner or later will take place in Cuba. It is only natural, then, that for the ruling elite in Havana no other goal is more critical than ensuring the continuity of Venezuela’s economic lifeline. Over its many decades in power, the Cuban government has perfected the art of successfully running a repressive police state. Additionally, the Cuban intelligence services—the fabled G2—has a long history of intervening in Latin American countries, and in politically manipulating and physically or morally “neutralizing” its opponents. It is not hard to imagine that these skills, methods, and capabilities have been put at the service of the nation’s top priority: securing a friendly government in Venezuela.

But repressive techniques are not Cuba’s only exports. The island has long been the source of bad political and economic ideas in Latin America—from the disdain for democracy to the cult of the centrally planned economy. A different government in Cuba, one willing to make political openness and deeper economic integration with the rest of the world as much a priority as “exporting the revolution” has been during the long Castro era, would have significant consequences for Latin America. Cuba’s harmful continental influence would wane without Venezuela’s free oil. And, incredibly, this seminal change may hinge on the success of students who are still in the streets even after more than a week of brutal repression.

Polling With an Agenda

Monday, February 24, 2014
By Dr. Jose Azel of The University of Miami:

Polling With An Agenda

If one tortures the data enough, it will confess to anything. I recalled this old adage of analytical work as I prepared to dispute the findings of the recent poll on U.S.-Cuba policy changes conducted by the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

In its own words the “survey looks at whether there is overall support for normalizing U.S. relations (or, engaging more directly) with Cuba...” It concludes that “Nationwide, 56 percent of respondents favor changing our Cuba policy...”

Regrettably these purported findings have been uncritically retold by numerous news outlets and are parroted as a truism without judicious review or analysis. The heading in a February 10 article in The New York Times reads “Majority of Americans Favor Ties with Cuba, Poll Finds.” Reuters echoes the heading in a February 11 article: “Majority of Americans favor closer U.S.-Cuba ties: poll.”

Indeed, the survey’s colorful brochure subtitled “A New Public Survey Supports Policy Change” deliberately implies that Americans support a unilateral, unconditional change in U.S. policy without concessions from the Cuban government. But there is nothing in the survey to support that conclusion; in fact, not a single question in the survey asks about the United States changing its Cuba policy without seeking concessions from the Cuban government.

For example, the survey asks respondents if they support “normalizing relations or engaging more directly with Cuba.” This is a featureless question of the “would you be in favor of world peace?” variety and it is actually surprising that engagement is strongly favored by only 30% and somewhat favored by 26% -totaling the 56% cited above.

It is disingenuous to present the answer to this question as evidence of support for a unilateral and unconditional change in U.S. policy. But thematically, that is precisely what this survey does- it equates the desire for more effective policy-making with support for the abandonment of current policy without seeking any concessions from the other side.

Suppose, for example, that we were to ask a more developed question using the reports own factual language: “The Castro government continues to repress liberties, abuse human rights, and, despite some openings, deny its citizens access to basic economic freedoms,” should the United States end its economic sanctions now without seeking any concessions from the Cuban government?

Or: Should the United States unconditionally seek to normalize relations with Cuba even though the Cuban government has sentenced Alan Gross, a 64 years old U.S. citizen and U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor, to a fifteen-year prison sentence for working to help the Cuban Jewish community on behalf of the U.S. government?

Or: Do you favor a unilateral, unconditional elimination of economic sanctions or do you favor a process of negotiations that would lead to concessions from the Cuban government?

Questions of this level of specifity would be required to support the logical leaps regarding policy implications advocated in Atlantic Council report. But I suspect the answers would not support the report’s conclusions.

The Atlantic Council is a reputable organization and it commissioned experienced pollsters for this report. To their credit, Peter Schechter, Director of the Latin American Center responsible for the survey, graciously invited me to be a panelist in the Miami presentation of the report, knowing that I would be very critical.

Why did the Atlantic Council not see these issues when extrapolating conclusions way outside the data scope of the survey questions? Why did the Council produce what appears to be a “push poll” designed to elicit a predetermined result pushing an ideological agenda?

Perhaps an explanation can be found in a revealing parapraxis, or slip of the pen, I came across while researching their work. In the Atlantic Council’s web page promoting the Cuba poll, there is a sentence that makes reference to the United States’ “financial blockade” (of Cuba).

Experienced Cuba watchers will recognize immediately that the word “blockade,” when making reference to the U.S. embargo, is the term used only by the Cuban government and by regime sympathizers. “Blockade” is an inaccurate and politically charged term that elicits the imagery of U.S. Navy ships blocking shipping lanes to Cuba. It is not a term that would be used by anyone seeking to establish objectivity. How did this term end up in the Atlantic Council’s work - a Freudian slip?

Arsht Center's Week-in-Review: Ignore Venezuela, Team-Up With Cuban Agents

Philanthropist Adrienne Arsht gave $5 million to the Atlantic Council last year in order to create a self-named center "dedicated to broadening awareness of the transformational political, economic, and social changes throughout Latin America."

She might want a refund.

As we all know, Venezuela was at the center of "transformational political, economic, and social changes" this last week. Yet, a look at the Arsht Center's Twitter-feed (image below) shows they have been too busy politicking throughout the U.S. to care.

Instead of focusing on Venezuela, they have taken their push-poll on the road, with the hopes of influencing decision-makers to (ironically) embrace the regime responsible for the beating, imprisonment and murder of young students in Venezuela.

This is part of the latest DC trend of using "think-tanks" as lobbying guises.

To add insult to injury, they have now teamed up with some of the Castro regime's biggest supporters and suspected agents-of-influence (a term we don't use lightly).

At The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, they teamed up with Alberto Coll, who pleaded guilty in 2005 for lying about trips to Cuba while at the Navy War College and has long been suspected by the FBI of being an agent-of-influence.

This week, they are being hosted at The Council on Foreign Relations by none other than Julia Sweig, head of Castro's U.S. fan club and also long-suspected by U.S. counter-intelligence officials of being an agent-of-influence.

And last week, the Arsht Center's push-poll got an "endorsement" from the official head of Castro's Interests Section in Washington, D.C., during a speech to National Press Club members.

And Venezuela? Bien gracias.

Check out the Arsht Center's profound Latin American "thinking" ("politicking") and "insight" ("insults") last week:

Over 70 Ladies in White Arrested Sunday

On Sunday, over 70 members of The Ladies in White, a peaceful pro-democracy group composed of the wives, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners were arrested by the Castro regime as they gathered to commemorate the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Zapata Tamayo, a political prisoner arrested during the "Black Spring" of 2003, died of a hunger strike on February 23, 2010.

His death, and consequent domestic and international pressure, led to the release (and banishment) of other political prisoners from the "Black Spring" later that year.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

An Act of Terrorism by Cuba's Regime

Eighteen-years later -- justice awaits.

From the final judgment by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence King in the civil lawsuit against the Castro regime and the Cuban Air Force (FAR):

The government of Cuba, on February 24th 1996, in outrageous contempt for international law and basic human rights, murdered four human beings in international airspace over the Florida Straits. The victims were Brothers to the Rescue pilots, flying two civilian unarmed planes on a routine humanitarian mission, searching for rafters in the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

As the civilian planes flew over international waters, a Russian built MiG 29 of the Cuban Air Force, without warning, reason, or provocation blasted the defenseless planes out of the sky with sophisticated air-to-air missiles in two separate attacks. The pilots and their aircraft disintegrated in the mid-air explosions following the impact of the missiles. The destruction was so complete that the four bodies were never recovered.

As regards the criminal case:

In August 2003, a federal grand jury returned the indictment against General Ruben Martinez Puente, who at the time headed the Cuban Air Force, and fighter pilots Lorenzo Alberto Perez-Perez and Francisco Perez-Perez. The defendants were charged with four counts of murder, one count of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and two counts of destruction of aircraft.

And Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro admitting they gave the order:

WSJ: Cuba's Role Behind the Turmoil in Venezuela

Sunday, February 23, 2014
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Behind the Turmoil in Venezuela

Cuba is worried about losing 100,000 barrels of oil per day if its man in Caracas falls.

The bloodshed in Caracas over the past 12 days brings to mind the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, where President Obama greeted Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez with a huge grin and a warm handshake. A couple of months later the State Department attempted to force Honduras to reinstall pro-Chávez president Manuel Zelaya, who had been deposed for violating the constitution.

Brows were knitted throughout the Americas. Why did the U.S. president favor the Venezuelan dictator, protégé of Fidel Castro, over Honduras, which still had a rule of law, press freedom and pluralism?

Fast forward to last Wednesday, after four peaceful student-protesters had been confirmed as having been killed by the government's armed minions. Mr. Obama took notice, pronouncing the brutality "unacceptable." That must have been comforting to hear amid the gun shots and pummeling on the streets of Caracas.

That same night the government of Nicolás Maduro —Chávez's handpicked successor—unleashed a wave of terror across the country. According to Venezuelan blogs and Twitter posts, the National Guard and police went on a tear, firing their weapons indiscriminately, beating civilians, raiding suspected student hide-outs, destroying private property and launching tear-gas canisters. Civilian militia on motor bikes added to the mayhem. The reports came from Valencia, Mérida, San Cristóbal, Maracaibo, Puerto Ordaz and elsewhere, as well as the capital.

Venezuela has promised 100,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba, and in exchange Cuban intelligence runs the Venezuelan state security apparatus. The Cubans clearly are worried about losing the oil if their man in Caracas falls. Opposition leader Leopoldo López, who heads the Popular Will political party, spent several years building a network of young recruits around the country. Last week's unrest is a testament to that organization, and it is why the 42-year-old Mr. López is now behind bars.

In Ukraine, the European Union has pressured the government to reach a compromise with the opposition. Venezuelans are getting no such help from the neighbors. Only Colombia, Chile and Panama have objected to the crackdown. The rest of the hemisphere doesn't have even a passing interest in human rights when the violations come from the left. The Organization of American States is supposed to defend civil liberties, but since Chilean Socialist José Miguel Insulza took the OAS helm in 2005, it has earned a disgraceful record as a shill for Cuba.

Venezuelans seeking change face daunting odds. The crowds in the streets of Caracas in recent days have not been significantly bigger than in many prior-year protests, including 2002, when a march in Caracas almost unseated Chávez.

This time the repression has been fierce. Besides injuries and death, hundreds have been detained and it would not be surprising if many are given long sentences. Mr. Maduro needs scapegoats for the violence he unleashed. Iván Simonovis, the former head of the Caracas Metropolitan Police, has been a political prisoner since 2004. Chávez made him take the fall for the 17 people killed in the April 2002 uprising even though video evidence points to chavista snipers. Photos of the once-fit policeman, frail and gravely ill from the inhuman circumstances of his long incarceration, are chilling.

Another problem is the division within the opposition. The governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, represented a broad coalition of anti-chavista parties when he ran for president in 2013. But when he conceded to Mr. Maduro amid strong evidence that the election had been stolen, Mr. López and other members of the opposition broke with Capriles supporters.

Students have also been hamstrung by a communications blockade. The government controls all Venezuelan television and radio airwaves. When the violence broke out, it forced satellite providers to drop the Colombian NTN channel. Internet service has been cut in many places.

Getting the very poor on board for a regime change is a challenge. Some still see chavismo as their government, even if they have no love for Mr. Maduro and suffer from high inflation. Others don't dare speak out, for fear of losing state jobs or their lives. The barrios are terrorized by the chavista militia.

Mr. Maduro says he will use every weapon to quell the unrest. On Friday afternoon the son of a Venezuelan friend sent me photos from Caracas of troops massing at the Francisco de Miranda air base in the middle of the city. The Cuban-backed Venezuelan high command, Cuban intelligence (the country is thick with agents) and plainclothes militia will play rough.

On the other hand, the government is bankrupt, and food and other shortages will get worse. Mr. Maduro may pacify Caracas, but food is harder to find in the interior of the country than in the capital. It is there that the fires of rebellion, burning for the first time under chavismo, might race out of control. Many army officers come from lower-middle-class families, and it is not clear that they will stand by and watch large numbers of civilians being slaughtered. Many resent the Cuban occupation.

What comes next is hard to predict. But no one should underestimate Cuba's comparative advantage: repression.

Maduro Wants Talks With Obama, Not Opposition

In a strategy straight out of Castro's playbook, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro is calling for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, while (with the help of Castro) continuing to imprison, beat, torture and kill opposition leaders and activists.

For Castro and Maduro, talks with the U.S. serve a dual purpose: it gains them legitimacy and makes their opposition irrelevant.

That is what proponents of unconditional engagement don't seem (or want) to understand.

Let's hope the U.S. isn't  foolish enough to come to Castro and Maduro's rescue.

The only people Castro and Maduro need to talk with at this time -- and not brutally repress -- are their domestic opponents.

From CNN:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called Friday on the United States to exchange ambassadors just days after expelling three American diplomats from the country.

The request came during an hours-long news conference aired on state-run TV, where Maduro called on President Barack Obama to begin talks, even as he repeatedly accused the United States of interfering in Venezuelan internal affairs and stoking sometimes violent anti-government protests in recent days.

"I call for a dialogue with you, Obama," Maduro said. "You can designate (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry or whoever you want to come to this dialogue and I will send my foreign minister ... for this high-level meeting."

Their Sacrifice Will Not Be in Vain

Last night, over a thousand people gathered in South Florida for the dedication of the new Memorial Cubano, a beautiful tribute to those who have lost their lives at the hands of the Castro regime.

The towering monument is surrounded by a wall with over 10,000 inscribed names of victims of the Castro dictatorship throughout the years.

Their sacrifice will not be in vain.

Iran Delegation Heads to Cuba, Syria & Lebanon

Surely a "peace-loving" mission.

From Iranian state media:

Iranian Parliamentary Delegation to Leave for Cuba, Syria, Lebanon

An Iranian parliamentary delegation is scheduled to leave Tehran for Cuba, Syria, Lebanon and some Latin American countries by the next few days, Chairman of the Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi announced.