Honoring the Women of Cuba and Venezuela

Saturday, March 8, 2014
On this International Women's Day, we honor the extraordinary courage and resilience of the women of Cuba and Venezuela, who are leading the struggle for freedom and democracy in their countries.

Does the Media's Cuba Misreporting Extend to Venezuela?

Apparently so.

An excerpt by Alek Boyd's "Misreporting Venezuela" in Infodio:

Then we see how opposition's political dynamics are misreported. Henrique Capriles is goooood. He represents the "moderate" wing. Leopoldo Lopez, Maria Corina Machado and Antonio Ledezma, they are all baaaad. They represent the "radical" wing. No mention of protests having been driven solely by students. No mention of arrest, on trumped charges, of Leopoldo Lopez by the military. No mention of imprisonment of Lopez in a military jail. No mention of conditions of arrest of Lopez. No mention of violations to due process, such as holding audiences in a bus parked outside the prison. No mention of campaign to strip Maria Corina Machado of her parliamentary immunity by the very thugs (colectivos) terrorising and killing innocents indiscriminately and with total impunity. No mention of Maduro's threats to jail democratically elected politicians, as he promised he would do, and did, with Lopez. No mention of statements by chavista Minister of Education saying poor Venezuelans must be kept poor, otherwise they will turn against the 'revolution'. Nada. For none of that goes well with preconceived ideas about what the Venezuelan crisis is all about. It's a bit like what goes in Ukraine: U.S. imperialism = BAD. Russia's imperialism? No word from the left. As Nick Cohen brilliantly explained: "the relativist Western left is interested only in the West, and cannot even think about ‘the atrocities of someone else’." The world must be reminded in every single article, for instance, that Dilma Roussef was tortured. But similar antics, and worse such as sodomizing a student with a rifle or beating partially disabled people, get no mileage at the BBC and AP, nor from utterly hypocritical Dilma, who nowadays claims that Brazil sticks to the principle of non-intervention. As if we didn't know what Lula did in Venezuela in 2002, in Honduras in 2009, or what his resented successor did in Paraguay in 2012.

In the opinion of Goodman et al, what we have here is a government supported by a majority of brown-skinned, poor, disenfranchised people trying to survive a wave of violence, unleashed by a minority of radical, conservative, educated, white middle classes, bent on wresting control through undemocratic means, to then surrender sovereignty to U.S. interests. Never mind the brutality, torture, and assassinations of innocent, and unarmed, students and civilians. Never mind the excessive use of military force to placate peaceful demonstrations. Never mind the presence of a de facto Cuban occupation army. Never mind the fact that chavismo has never won overall control of student and authorities bodies of Venezuelan universities, where voting is still done manually.

Chavismo needs/must advance this notion of it being democratic. Since parts of its discourse marry well with widespread anti-Americanism, the BBC, Goodman et al do a fantastic job at misinforming the uninformed and the ignorant. Not only do they misrepresent the crisis, they also misrepresent the parties. No word would be read from this lot on how the "moderate" wing is supported by utterly corrupt chavista bankers and political operatives that are, in no small part, responsible for the current situation, or how Chavismo relies on impossible-to-be-described-as-leftists Boligarchs for many of its deals. However, no amount of manipulated subjectivity passing as objective journalism can win the day against social media. While the reach of BBC and AP is, most certainly, global, it pales next to that of Twitter and Facebook, where the Venezuelan crisis is being reported in real time, unedited, by hundreds of thousands of citizen reporters armed with smartphones. In the days, months and years to come, irresponsible reporting will be taken to task more and more often. Perhaps someone should pass that message to the irresponsible dinosaurs manning editorial desks at AP and the BBC.

French Banks Investigated for Sanctions Violations

From RFI:

US probes three major French banks over sanctions-busting

US finance officials have accused the French banks Société Générale, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole of sanctions-busting and money-laundering, sources say.

The three French banks are being investigated for violating US embargoes and sanctions on countries like Cuba, Iran and Sudan and for embezzlement and money-laundering," the source told the AFP.

Obama Sanctions Russian Aggressors. And Venezuela's?

Friday, March 7, 2014
Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order to sanction Russian individuals and entities responsible for the aggression in Ukraine and for stealing the assets of the Ukrainian people.

Kudos to the President.

However, when will President Obama sanction the individuals responsible for the repression against peaceful students in Venezuela and for stealing the assets of the Venezuelan people?

It's more than distasteful for the U.S. to keep allowing Venezuelan "boligarchs" and their families to fly their private jets to Miami on the weekends for shopping sprees at Dadeland and Aventura, while they continue murdering, torturing and harassing protesters.

This Executive Order regarding Ukraine serves as a legal road-map for similar action regarding Venezuela.

It should be taken.

Cuba Reaffirms Intervention in Venezuela, Supports Russian Intervention in Ukraine

Thursday, March 6, 2014
We express the invariable and total solidarity to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and its constitutional President Maduro, to the government and the political-military leadership before the foreign interference, especially the United States, the attempts to defeat violently the legitimate government elected democratically, the events organized by fascist groups that have provoked deaths, wounded and destruction, the sabotage and the economic aggression and the transnational media campaigns. Cuban collaborators will continue working to the benefit of the Venezuelan people and will comply with their duty under any circumstance as it was demonstrated by their presence during yesterday’s civic-military parade.
Those who threat the Russian Federation with sanctions and reprisals are the governments who hastened a change of regime in Ukraine and have previously launched wars of conquest, interfere or intervene directly in the internal affairs of different States that do not go along with their interest of domination and defend their sovereignty and independence. Cuba rejects the hypocrisy, the double standard and the manifested aggressiveness of NATO’s actions and discourse related to this matter.
-- Bruno Rodriguez, Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, 3/6/14

Tweet of the Week: On Meeting Insulza

By Cuban democracy leader, Rosa Maria Paya:

Today I was able to have a personal dialogue with Jose M Insulza. I felt as if I was talking to one of the men accompanying him in this picture. 

Only One Poll Matters in Cuba Policy

By Robyn Wapner in The Los Angeles Times:

Just how do Americans see Cuba?

Nothing about U.S. relations with Cuba is simple. But a recent Atlantic Council poll examined none of the nuances.

The Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council released a poll last month that has been touted by many as marking an unprecedented shift in support for a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Media outlets, including the L.A. Times, jumped on the bandwagon, citing the poll as evidence that Americans are now eager for engagement. But a closer look shows that many of the most consequential results of the poll are based on push-polling tactics.

Push polling is the craft of designing survey questions to shape and influence the results. In this case, several questions in the Atlantic Council Cuba poll appear to "push" respondents toward assuming a position against current U.S. policy.

Nothing about U.S. relations with Cuba is simple. The many facets of our estrangement span such a spectrum of interests and time that few have a clear understanding of the intricate web of current policy.

For example, despite the absence of official diplomatic relations, Cuba remains a major component of U.S. foreign policy. Unbeknown to many, official high-level meetings continue to take place between our two countries. Just last month, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Havana for semiannual migration talks. In addition, despite a supposed embargo, Cuba has purchased billions of dollars in products from the United States since 2001. And there are numerous ways Americans can get to Cuba. Just ask Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Granted, not everything is great.

A few weeks ago, United Nations experts reportedly concluded that a shipment of Cuban weapons to North Korea last summer violated U.N. sanctions. Since the 2001 arrest of Ana Belen Montes (a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who spied for Cuba for 16 years), there have been multiple cases of additional Cuban espionage in the U.S. As recently as 2009, Walter and Gwendolyn Myers (a retired State Department employee and his wife) were arrested for spying for Cuba for three decades.

Cuba has also shot down aircraft and killed American citizens in the past; it is reportedly training armed groups in Venezuela; and it has been holding U.S. citizen Alan Gross prisoner for more than four years because he was providing Internet communications equipment to Cuba's Jewish community.

The Atlantic Council's survey examined none of these nuances. It barely got beyond simple talking points. For example, the question that garnered the most touted finding read:

"As you may know, since 1961 the United States has had no diplomatic relations with Cuba and restricts trade and travel with Cuba for the vast majority of American citizens and businesses. Would you favor or oppose normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba / the U.S. engaging more directly with Cuba?"

And if a respondent answered no, he or she was subjected to this follow-up:

"The United States has formal relations or at least talks and negotiates with many countries that are not friendly to us, have poor human rights records, or both, including China, Russia and Iran. Yet we continue NOT to have any relations or discussions with Cuba. Knowing this, let me ask you again, do you favor or oppose normalizing U.S. relations with Cuba / the U.S. engaging more directly with Cuba?"

Another question asked whether Cuba deserves to be a designated state sponsor of terrorism. Those who said yes were prompted with this:

"Thousands of Al Qaeda terrorists are in Sudan or Syria, and Iran has been aggressively building its nuclear program. Despite human rights abuses, Cuba poses none of the active dangers to the United States and our security that these other countries possess. Thinking again, does Cuba pose the same threat as Sudan, Syria and Iran, and thus belong on the state-sponsored terrorism list?"

Ask a question enough different ways with enough leading statements and pollsters are bound to get the answer they want.

Further, while the poll asked respondents about ways U.S. policy toward Cuba could be changed, none of the options provided the opportunity to demonstrate support for components of current U.S. policy.

One of the takeaways promoted by the Atlantic Council was that "more than 6 in 10 people want all economic restrictions lifted." But respondents were never actually asked about the total lifting of economic restrictions, or about current U.S. law, which does provide for the conditional removal of sanctions.

To be fair, the highly complex nature of U.S. policy toward Cuba makes any poll seeking to gauge public perception difficult to pull off. However, rather than acknowledging the complexity of U.S.-Cuba relations, this poll centered on questions that made it seem the choice was an all-or-nothing proposition. This is simply not the case.

The February poll is one survey, one snapshot of public opinion, and one that appears to have had an agenda. By contrast, millions of Americans have voted for and elected congressional representatives who have shaped and debated U.S. policy toward Cuba for more than five decades. Hundreds of thousands of Floridians continue to vote election after election for representatives who espouse a nuanced yet sanctions-focused policy.

The only way we will know when Americans really want a change in policy toward Cuba is once they force that change through their representatives in Congress.

What NYT Doesn't Say About "Private Enterprise" in Cuba

This week, The New York Times ran a story about Cuban exiles providing humanitarian relief to their homeland.

Apparently, the NYT has been unaware that Cuban-Americans have always been the main source of humanitarian relief to the island. They may also be surprised to find out that the U.S. provides more humanitarian aid to Cuba than the rest of the world combined.

To that end, U.S. sanctions have always had humanitarian exemptions. With one important caveat -- to ensure such aid is not funneled through the Castro regime.

And there's good reason for this.

In recent examples, pursuant to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we saw how foreign aid supplies ended up in the regime's hard-currency stores and tourism facilities. Also, how a Cuban independent journalist was imprisoned, pursuant to discovering medical aid to fight a cholera outbreak was being kept at Havana's airport, rather than being distributed.

But then, in a neat trick, the NYT story tries to confabulate business support with humanitarian relief.

It romanticizes a program called, Cuba Emperende, which through the Catholic Church (whose senior leadership has been supportive of the current dictatorship), trains Cuban entrepreneurs.

First and foremost, Cubans don't need help being entrepreneurial. It's in our DNA. All Cubans need is freedom and a rule of law -- and they overwhelmingly tend to succeed.  This has been proven generation-after-generation in the U.S. and any democratic country throughout the world where Cubans have established themselves.

More pertinently, it's disingenuous to talk about "private enterprise" or "small business" in Cuba, for both of these terms imply private ownership. And unfortunately, private ownership is illegal in Cuba. Thus, Cuba Emprende may be training entrepreneurs in Cuba, but their enterprises are owned by the Castro regime.

For example, the "paladar" featured in the NYT story is run on a self-employment license. That means, the licensee has permission to run a small restaurant and keep some of the earnings, but the licensee has no ownership rights -- intellectual or tangible -- over the "paladar." Moreover, they have no legal recourse.

Sure, the licensee may be making a bit more money than working at the government factory, but it is still working for the owner and landlord -- the Castro brothers.  And at their whim, as we've seen time and again, the license and "paladar" is no more.

Of course, the most successful "paladares" are fairly safe, as they tend to have the "protection" of a senior military or intelligence official.

A State Department cable -- released by Wikileaks -- once noted:

"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."

And recently, another Cuban independent journalist revealed how the true "owner" of Havana's chic (and supposedly "private") Star Bien restaurant was the son of Castro's repressive Minister of the Interior, General Abelardo Colome Ibarra.

(Notice how these things never tend to be discovered by foreign investigative journalists?)

So when Cuba Emprende (not surprisingly, run by Carlos Saladrigas and Co.) states that it is "interested only in incubating small businesses, in line with the government’s stated economic policy" -- it is cause for great skepticism.

It's also reason why the current safeguards in U.S. law remain in place -- and be enforced.

For the goal should not be training, financing and managing businesses (unwittingly or not) for the Castro brothers.

Venezuelan Legislators Denounce Cuban Interference

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
From MNI:

Venezuela Reps Denounce Cuba Influence

Venezuelan legislators of widely different political stripes Wednesday denounced the influence of Cuba in the country, saying it is to blame for the erosion of the Venezuelan economy, security and human rights while warning that if no peaceful path is found to resolve the month-long, nationwide popular demonstrations the situation could deteriorate into something much more severe.

Addressing the nearly four weeks of protests, Leomagno Flores, deputy from the social democratic Democratic Action (AD) party, said, "We are protesting on the streets against the Cuban presence as well, which threatens Venezuelan sovereignty."

Americo de Grazia, a representative of the leftist Radical Cause Party (Causa R), said the presence of Cubans in Venezuela - security forces, doctors and other officials - "is now normal, no one is surprised by it."

But this influence has resulted in "techniques for repression never before seen in Venezuela," de Grazia said in response to a question at a forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

Cuba Manipulates Health Care Statistics

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Cuba Manipulating Health Care Statistics

Experts: Socialist regime trying to enhance its legitimacy
Cuba’s socialist regime continues to engage in widespread manipulation of its health care statistics to enhance its legitimacy abroad, experts say.

The issue of Cuba’s health care record came up again recently after Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) visited the island in January, telling reporters afterward that Cuba is a “poor country” but “their public health system is quite remarkable.” He said Cuba has a lower child mortality rate than the United States and a higher life expectancy.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) contested Harkin’s claims in an impassioned floor speech last week.

“I wonder if the government officials who hosted him, informed him that in Cuba there are instances reported, including by defectors, that if a child only lives a few hours after birth, they’re not counted as a person who ever lived, and, therefore, don’t count against the mortality rate,” he said.

Dr. Rodolfo Stusser, former adviser to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, said in an email that the ministry has contrived its health data since Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Stusser conducted his own personal research on Cuba’s health care system since 1800, but has been unable to review more data in recent years. Officials at Cuba’s Health Statistics Bureau told him in 2009 that old archives had been lost in a fire.

Stusser presented research last year to the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE) showing that declining infant and gross mortality rates predated Castro’s takeover. However, health care successes in Cuba’s colonial and republican eras “have been systematically erased or distorted,” he said in the report.

Cuba had the 14th lowest infant mortality rate in the world in 1958, lower than France, Germany, Italy, and Japan. Cuba has the 42nd lowest rate today, according to 2013 estimates in the CIA’s World Factbook.

While Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than the United States, Stusser said Cuban authorities use heavy-handed methods to keep it that way.

Doctors in Cuba’s public health system are pressured to induce abortions for potentially problematic pregnancies in order to artificially lower the infant mortality rate. Stusser estimated that if the deaths of living fetuses older than 21 weeks had been reported, Cuba’s infant mortality rate would be at least 50 percent higher.

Katherine Hirschfeld, chairwoman of the anthropology department at the University of Oklahoma, said in an email that she observed similar practices in Cuba in the 1990s.

One doctor told Hirschfeld that not encouraging abortions for fetuses with abnormalities “might raise the infant mortality rate.” She said Cuba lacks neonatal intensive care wards that would prevent the deaths of infants with genetic defects, creating additional pressure to abort them and keep mortality rates low.

“The Cuban government’s approach to health and health care seems to prioritize the health of ‘the revolution’ above the health of individual patients,” she said. “This means doctors must hit specific statistical targets for their communities.”

Cuba’s life expectancy statistics are also disputed.

The United States has a life expectancy of 78.62 years compared to 78.05 in Cuba, according to CIA estimates. Data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), by contrast, gives Cuba a slightly higher life expectancy.

Hirschfeld said there is reason to be “skeptical” of PAHO’s data because it relies on self-reported health statistics that are not independently verified.

Cuban officials have been reluctant to acknowledge disease outbreaks in the last couple decades despite multiple reports. A cholera outbreak beginning in July 2012 sickened hundreds and killed at least three people.

Hirschfeld said she contracted dengue fever while in eastern Cuba and was placed in a crowded hospital, where no medications were offered and medical assistance was limited. Patients who could walk helped the more severely ill, and all of them were expected to have their own dishes and utensils.

Cuba actually eradicated diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever in the early 1900s—before the United States did, Stusser said. However, Castro’s nationalization of the health system banned private initiatives and public-private partnerships, hampering Cuba’s biotechnology industry and drug development.

Cuba now has a glut of poorly trained family doctors, and many of the best health care facilities are reserved for elites and foreigners, Stusser said. Thousands of doctors have defected.

A spokesperson for Harkin did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

Chavez Mentor: Venezuela Has Been Occupied by the Castros

Venezuela today is a country that is practically occupied by the henchmen of two international criminals, Cuba's Castro brothers.  They have introduced in Venezuela a true army of occupation.  The Cubans run the maritime ports, airports, communications, the most essential issues in Venezuela. We are in the hands of a foreign country. 
-- Luis Miquilena, former Venezuelan Minister of the Interior, head of the National Assembly and mentor to deceased leader Hugo Chavez, El Nacional, 3/4/13

Will Miami-Dade County Keep Supporting Maduro's Ally, Odebrecht?

Kudos to the Board of Commissioners of Miami-Dade County, which passed a resolution yesterday condemning the repressive actions of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.

But the question now is:

Will Miami-Dade County continue handing billions in taxpayer funds to Odebrecht, the Brazilian conglomerate that has been a main backer of the Chavez and Maduro governments?

Or was the resolution an exercise in empty rhetoric?

Similar to its partnership with Castro's military, Odebrecht has been a strategic ally of Chavez and Maduro.

We reiterate, Odebrecht is not a company that casually cuts a deal or two with tyrannical regimes. It is the gold standard of companies that profit from repressive regimes throughout the world.

In Venezuela, this company is behaving very well,” Chavez said in 2008, recalling that Odebrecht refused to participate in the opposition's 2002 strike that shut down Venezuela.

Odebrecht has partnered with Chavez-Maduro in infrastructure, real estate, industrial, oil and gas and petrochemical projects.

Chavez loved Odebrecht so much that he once "joked" he was converting its CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, to "21st century socialism."

Odebrecht even donated money for a book on Simon Bolivar for Chavez to distribute during one of his political campaigns.

And when Chavez died, it rooted for Maduro to replace him.

So will Miami-Dade County really stand with Venezuelan-Americans against their brethren's repressors?

Or will it keep forking over their taxpayer funds to Maduro's business partner, Odebrecht?

Miami Congressman Talks Cuba Policy w/ NYT

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The New York Times has an extensive interview with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) -- one of two Members of Congress who represent majority Cuban-American districts (the other is U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL)) -- on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

With the exception of the journalist's pithy editorializing in the intro and his proclivity to debate (rather than interview) -- leaving us no doubt of his bias -- it's a good piece.

It's long, so you can read it in its entirety here.

If you're not subscribed to NYT -- and don't want to -- see below or click here:

3-4-14 NYT Times Damien Cave Cuba

U.S. House Condemns Venezuela's Deadly Repression

From AFP:

US House condemns Venezuela's deadly crackdown

The House of Representatives voiced near-unanimous condemnation of Venezuela's government and its "inexcusable" deadly crackdown on opposition leaders and protesters.

The chamber passed a resolution blasting President Nicolas Maduro's forces for their oppressive tactics in some of the most serious South American unrest in years.

At least 18 people have died and more than 260 injured since protests erupted on February 4.

Congress "deplores acts which constitute a disregard for the rule of law, the inexcusable violence perpetrated against opposition leaders and protesters in Venezuela, and the growing efforts to use politically motivated criminal charges to intimidate the country's political opposition," the non-binding resolution states.

It also urges other governments and organizations in the region to stand in solidarity with the protesters and help bring about a dialogue to end the crisis.

Six-Years Later: Raul's Signature "Reform" Fails

Our translation from AFP:

Agriculture, which Cuban leader Raul Castro had declared the centerpiece of his economic reforms six years ago, remains stalled due to lack of investment and other issues, while the millions in food imports continue to pose a fiscal drain.

The Ministry of Agriculture notes that the major pitfalls in Cuban farming are financial, even though there also exist "deficiencies" in the investment process, like badly executed projects and the misuse of technologies, according to the state daily Granma.

[The 2013 Report] revealed that "86 companies (agricultural, 21% of the total) closed with losses, which total more than $210 million."

Financial Times Proposes Castro (Putin) as "Peaceful" Mediator in Venezuela (Ukraine)

We're not kidding.

In today's Financial Times "analysis" entitled, "Venezuela: In search of a solution," the byline reads:

"Cuba is helping its closest ally find a peaceful resolution to violent protests."

(UPDATE: Since our post, the byline has now been updated to read, "Cuba has the most at stake in helping find a peaceful resolution to violent protests.")

In other words, the Financial Times believes that the Castro regime, which is largely responsible for the conflict and violence in Venezuela, can be a "peaceful" mediator in ending it.

Apparently, the Financial Times is unaware of the over 50,000 Cubans sent by the Castro regime to Venezuela, including military, intelligence and security officials.

Or perhaps, it's (the only one) unaware of the Castro regime's control of Venezuela's repressive apparatus.

Or, of the decades of conflict the Castro regime has planted throughout the world through the training and support of Venezuela's very own Carlos "the Jackal" -- or ETA, FARC, ELN, PLO, M-19, Medellin Cartel, Montoneros, Macheteros, FLN, EGP, MIR, IRA, FALN, NLF, MRTA or PFLP, just to name a few.

Or, of the Castro regime's recent trafficking of weapons to North Korea, in violation of international law.

Or, of the Castro regime's welcoming of a Russian spy ship this week to the Port of Havana.

Or, of the Castro regime's harboring of violent criminals, including a U.S. most wanted terrorist and the leaders of Gaddafi's former political assassination squads.

Or, of its tacit support for Russia's intervention in Ukraine, Assad's genocide in Syria and Iran's procurement of a nuclear weapon.

Or simply, of the Castro regime's refusal to peacefully mediate with its own citizens, rather than employing violent and repressive tactics.

When a serious newspaper appears so clueless, it's either because of biased editors in London or questionable "experts" (hacks).

Wonder what their next act will be?

To propose Putin as a "peaceful" mediator in Ukraine?

Or perhaps, Hezbollah as a "peaceful" mediator in Syria?

Over 1,051 Political Arrests in February

Monday, March 3, 2014
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 1,051 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of February 2014.

During the last two months, political arrests have averaged between 1,000 and 1,200.  That's close to double the monthly average of arrests in previous years.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Putin (Castro) Has Europe's Number

In Politico, author Ben Judah explains "Why Russia No Longer Fears the West."

It's for the same reason that the European Union has decided to begin talks with the Castro regime and unilaterally revert its Common Position, despite an increase in hostile acts and repression.

Here's an excerpt:

"Putin [is] confident, very confident – confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. The evidence is there. After Russia’s strike force reached the outskirts of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, in 2008, there were statements and bluster, but not a squeak about Russia’s billions. After Russia’s opposition were thrown into show trials, there were concerned letters from the European Union, but again silence about Russia’s billions.

The Kremlin thinks it knows Europe’s dirty secret now. The Kremlin thinks it has the European establishment down to a tee. The grim men who run Putin’s Russia see them like latter-day Soviet politicians. Back in the 1980s, the USSR talked about international Marxism but no longer believed it. Brussels today, Russia believes, talks about human rights but no longer believes in it. Europe is really run by an elite with the morality of the hedge fund: Make money at all costs and move it offshore."

Iran Delegation Departs for Venezuela, Cuba in Russian Airliner

From Iran's state media, Press TV:

Iran parliamentary team heads for Cuba, Venezuela

An Iranian parliamentary team has embarked on a six-day trip to Cuba and Venezuela despite attempts by the US to disrupt the visits by denying its airspace to the Russian plane carrying the lawmakers.

The parliamentary delegation, headed by Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Majlis, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, left Tehran for the two Latin American countries early Monday.

The Iranian delegation was scheduled to travel to Cuba and Venezuela on Sunday. However, the trip was postponed after the US warned Aeroloft Russian Airlines that its airliner was not allowed to pass through US skies with the Iranian Majlis team on board.

Washington’s move made Iranian lawmakers set off for the two Latin American countries with a one-day delay, taking a different aerial route than the one previously planned.

Boroujerdi had earlier said that the planned trip was aimed at further strengthening Iran’s relations with the Latin American countries.

Obama Warns Russia on Ukraine Intervention, Silent on Cuban Intervention in Venezuela

U.S. President Barack Obama has rightfully warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin against military intervention in Ukraine.

The question remains whether Putin will heed Obama's warning after so many unconditionally extended hands; inconsequential breached "red lines"; and unilateral concessions to tyrants around the world.

Let's hope so, but it's not clear.

Unfortunately, in dealing with tyrannical leaders, our policymakers sometimes forget how concessions -- or even apparent concessions -- are interpreted as acts of weakness that embolden misbehavior.

The "nuances" of our policies are lost on them, for these tyrants aren't reasonable, peace-loving actors -- they're anti-American megalomaniacs, obsessed with absolute power.

For example, extending permanent normal trade relations ("PNTR") to Russia (with the help of Congressional Republicans) in December 2012, while Putin was enabling a genocide in Syria, showed him the fickleness of our priorities. This would later come to bear in his giving U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden refuge and protecting Assad after he breached Obama's chemical weapons "red line."

(This is also a reminder of why the Chamber of Commerce should not formulate U.S. foreign policy.)

Similarly, this was the problem with easing travel sanctions for "people-to-people" trips to Cuba in January 2011, while the Castros hold a U.S. hostage and increase repression against their own people. This untimely decision showed the Castros that there are no consequences to misdeeds -- hence the illegal trafficking of weapons to North Korea, welcoming Russian military ships to Cuba and committing acts of violence against the Venezuelan people.

Yet, in contrast to Russia's intervention in Ukraine, the Obama Administration remains silent regarding Cuba's ongoing intervention in Venezuela.

Perhaps Obama should borrow from his statement on Ukraine, and issue a similar warning to Cuba's regime:

"Over the last several days, the United States has been responding to events as they unfold in Ukraine (Venezuela). Throughout this crisis, we have been very clear about one fundamental principle: The Ukrainian (Venezuelan) people deserve the opportunity to determine their own future... We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation (Cuba) inside of Ukraine (Venezuela)... It would represent a profound interference in matters that must be determined by the Ukrainian (Venezuelan) people... The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine (Venezuela)."

The Venezuelan people deserve no less.

Video: Female Dissident's Protest in Central Havana

Sunday, March 2, 2014
On Thursday, Melkis Faure Echevarria, a member of The Ladies in White pro-democracy group, took to a busy street in Central Havana to courageously protest against Castro's regime.

Holding a sheet with slogans against Cuba's dictatorship, Faure Echevarria called for freedom and human rights.

Note in the video how people quickly gathered around her.  Moreover, when she was violently taken away by the authorities, bystanders sided with her against the repressors.

See the video below (courtesy of Hablemos Press):

Kudos to Jared Leto, Kevin Spacey & Kerry Washington #SOSVenezuela

To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight, in places like Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight.
-- Jared Leto, upon receiving an Academy Award tonight for Best Supporting Actor, 3/2/14

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 47

Excerpt from The Tampa Tribune's "Venezuela-Cuba alliance’s shaky future fuels debate":

Another scenario comes from Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a Washington D.C. lobbying group promoting democracy in Cuba.

During the Special Period, Claver-Carone said, Cuba began making economic reforms. For instance, farmers were allowed to sell surplus production and some self-employment was permitted.

Fidel Castro made these exceptions, he said, to retain power. When the people get antsy, the philosophy goes, promise them changes.

Recent reforms started when Venezuela’s Chavez grew ill in 2011. Raul Castro, Claver-Carone said, knew the partnership would be in jeopardy once Chavez died.

All this argues for tightening the embargo, Claver-Carone said.

“It’s hard to believe anyone would think a 55-year dictatorship would do anything for reasons other than to stay in power,” he said. “If they believed in democracy and open markets, they wouldn’t have headed a totalitarian regime for 55 years.”

Tweet of the Day: Dictators Must be Confronted