Tweet of the Week: Kudos to Kevin Spacey

Saturday, April 5, 2014
Make sure to click and read the post by actor, Kevin Spacey:

Bloomberg View Spot On Regarding "Cuban Twitter"

While we disagree with Bloomberg's view on sanctions, its Editorial Board is spot on regarding the "Cuban Twitter" project:

Freeing Cuba One Tweet at a Time

Rarely is a government program shut down because it is too successful. Yet that is essentially what happened to a U.S. initiative to create a Cuban version of Twitter.

From 2009 to 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development funded and developed -- through contractors, front companies and offshore accounts -- a mobile-phone text-messaging service for sharing news and exchanging opinions that attracted more than 40,000 Cubans, according to the Associated Press. As the service gained popularity, however, U.S. officials realized that the only way to keep its Yanqui origins under wraps was to spin it off as an independent company, an effort that failed when they could find no way to generate sufficient revenue or recruit new private management.

Some commentators are spinning this as yet another cautionary tale of a U.S. covert operation run amok. The program undermined USAID’s integrity, they say, and reinforced the reputation of the U.S. government as a surveillance-mad rogue operator. It also showed that, when it comes to Cuba, the U.S. still has a Cold War mentality.

These points may be good enough for Twitter, but they don’t withstand more thorough scrutiny. First, this was not some kind of super-spooky deal. Not many “covert operations” get reviewed by the Government Accountability Office: As it noted last year, the U.S.'s efforts to promote democracy in Cuba “have included a greater focus on information technology, particularly on supporting independent bloggers and developing social networking platforms.” The GAO found nothing unlawful about the program.

Promoting democracy and human rights is squarely in USAID’s bailiwick -- it's right there on its website, on a page titled "Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Strategy." The idea that USAID is some kind of vestal virgin dispensing surplus wheat and well pumps ignores the “U.S.” before the AID.

None of this is to say that humanitarian aid programs should be used as a cover for intelligence programs. What the Central Intelligence Agency did in Pakistan -- use a vaccination program to try to locate Osama bin Laden -- was outrageous and wrong. But USAID’s democracy assistance programs are designed to strengthen the ability of citizens to peacefully resist and undermine authoritarian and abusive governments. In Cuba -- which has an aggressive intelligence service that actually had an agent within USAID -- a certain amount of subterfuge is necessary for those programs to be effective and to protect their intended beneficiaries.

The biggest weakness of USAID's Cuba program was that the agency wasn't prepared for its success. When the messaging platform began growing beyond easy control, the agency's concerns about disclosure and cost led to its shutdown. Maybe the agency should have put some of those government lawyers to work creating a less ad hoc structure that would have provided stable financial support while maintaining a more formal arms-length separation from the U.S. government.

Yes, the Cold War is over, and the end of the Cuba embargo is long overdue. But the Cubans are not gentle socialists. And there is a kind of Cold War 2.0 -- between democratic nations and a growing cadre of repressive states that stretches from Russia to Egypt and onward to Latin America. These countries will use any digital means necessary to stifle free expression. USAID's so-called "Cuban Twitter" plan was by no means perfect, but arguing that such programs are unnecessary is the equivalent of bringing pen and paper to a flame war.

CNN Dinero on Cuba's Foreign Investment Law

CNN Dinero discusses Cuba's "new" Foreign Investment Law with Mauricio Claver-Carone.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Quote of the Day: On "Cuban Twitter"

To admit, without complexes, authorship of the project was the right thing to do by Washington. What is so immoral about exercising its solidarity with those who suffer under the last remaining dictatorship of the Western Hemisphere?  The United States should be thanked for being the only country that exercises some type of pressure against the Castro regime.  A pressure not free of errors, but at the end of the day, the only one that exists.
-- Editorial, by the Madrid-based news-site, Diario de Cuba, 4/5/14

Senator Leahy's Fake (Hypocritical) Outrage on Cuban "Twitter"

Friday, April 4, 2014
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) appeared on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell slamming U.S. efforts to provide Cubans with a Twitter-like social media network.

This was part of a broader, global U.S. program to provide connectivity to the censored citizens of closed regimes.

As a matter of fact, Senator Leahy has been a champion of these programs throughout the world, but apparently feels the Cuban people aren't worthy of the same support merited by Syrian, Iranians, North Koreans and the victims of other repressive regimes.

Here's language from Leahy's very-own 2014 State, Foreign Operations Appropriations bill:

SEC. 7072. (a) Of the funds appropriated under titles 8 I and III of this Act, not less than $44,600,000 shall be made available for programs to promote Internet freedom globally: Provided, That such programs shall be prioritized for countries whose governments restrict freedom of expression on the Internet, and that are important to the national interests of the United States: Provided further, That funds made available pursuant to this section shall be matched, to the maximum extent practicable, by sources other than the United States Government, including from the private sector.

Thus, we ask Senator Leahy:

Is Cuba not a government that restricts freedom of expression on the Internet?

Is Cuba not important to the national interests of the United States?

Or, are Cubans just second or third-class citizens less deserving of Internet freedoms?

In Leahy's false outrage on MSNBC, he also stated:

If you’re going to do a covert operation like this for regime change, assuming it ever makes any sense, it’s not something that should be done through USAID."

Really, Senator?

So how come your very-own bill states:

Funds made available pursuant to subsection (a)  shall be—made available to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for programs to implement the May 2011, International Strategy for Cyberspace and the comprehensive strategy to promote Internet freedom and access to information in Iran, as required by section 414 of Public Law 112–158.

Senator Leahy should be commended for his global commitment and leadership on Internet freedom.

However, Senator, be consistent -- for Cubans are no less deserving of these freedoms.

In My Humble Opinion, Pt. 48

From today's Miami Herald:

‘Cuban Twitter’ raises question: Is it OK for U.S. to help Cubans?

The USAID programs are branded as subversive by critics, and by others as support for democracy.

Cuba democracy advocate Mauricio Claver-Carone said it was no surprise for the U.S. media and some politicians to complain about U.S. policies in Cuba but praise the same policies when they are applied to other countries.

A global outcry followed Turkey’s ongoing attempts to cut off Twitter amid the ongoing anti-government protests, he said, and USAID runs similar programs to expand the flow of information in dictatorships such as Syria, North Korea and Iran.

“That’s not controversial. Everybody supports that. But it seems Cuba is the only place where we have to accept a totalitarian government’s control over communications,” said Claver-Carone, director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee.

Cuba’s communist government controls all newspapers, radio and TV stations, makes access to the Internet very expensive and and blocks access to many web pages and the transmissions of the U.S. government’s Radio/TV Marti stations.

White House on "Cuban Twitter"

From yesterday's White House Press Briefing with Press Secretary, Jay Carney:

Q. Can you tell me if the White House was aware prior to 2014 of this social media network that the AID engineered in Cuba?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me say a couple of things about that. We’ve seen the story by the AP this morning. The program referred to by the Associated Press was a development program run by the United States Agency for International Development. And that program was completed in 2012.

As you know, USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency. Suggestions that this was a covert program are wrong. Congress funds democracy programming for Cuba to help empower Cubans to access more information and to strengthen civil society. These appropriations are public, unlike covert action. The money invested has been debated in Congress. 

In addition, GAO reviewed this program in detail in 2013 and found that it was conducted in accordance with U.S. law and under appropriate oversight controls. In implementing programs in non-permissive environments, of course the government has taken steps to be discreet. That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public. This is not unique to Cuba.

So more details about the program are available at USAID. And I think that veterans of this briefing room know that when I say a program like this is not covert and then I talk about it, that’s how you know it’s not covert -- because I’m talking about it.

So on the question of the White House, our involvement would be the same that it would have been in similar development programs of this type. The President and his administration support efforts to help Cuban citizens communicate more easily with one another and with the outside world. So I’m not aware of individuals here who knew about it; this was part of a development assistance program.

Q. Can you say if Secretary Clinton was aware of it?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the State Department and Secretary Clinton.

Q. And given the enormous lengths that AID went to to keep this quiet, how can you say it wasn’t covert?

MR. CARNEY:  It was not a covert program. It was debated in Congress; it was reviewed by the GAO. Those kinds of things don’t happen to covert programs. It was a development assistance program about increasing the level of information that the Cuban people have and were able to discuss among themselves. And that’s part of an effort that we undertake not just in Cuba but elsewhere.

So again, when you have a program like that in a non-permissive environment, i.e. a place like Cuba, you’re discreet about how you implement it so that you protect the practitioners, but that does not make it covert.

Kudos to USAID on "Cuban Twitter" Statement

USAID Statement in Reference to the Associated Press Article on "Cuban Twitter":

It is longstanding U.S. policy to help Cubans increase their ability to communicate with each other and with the outside world. Working with resources provided by Congress for exactly this purpose, USAID is proud of its work in Cuba to provide basic humanitarian assistance, promote human rights and universal freedoms, and to help information flow more freely to the Cuban people.  All of our work in Cuba, including this project, was reviewed in detail in 2013 by the Government Accountability Office and found to be consistent with U.S. law and appropriate under oversight controls.

It is also no secret that in hostile environments, governments take steps to protect the partners we are working with on the ground.  The purpose of the Zunzuneo project was to create a platform for Cubans to speak freely among themselves, period.  At the initial stages, the grantee sent tech news, sports scores, weather, and trivia to build interest and engage Cubans.  After that, Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that. USAID is a development agency and we work all over the world to help people exercise their universal rights and freedoms.

AP Considers Twitter "Subversive" -- for Cubans

Thursday, April 3, 2014
Last week, the Turkish government blocked access to Twitter after users posted audio recordings revealing government corruption on the social media site.

We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Soon Erdogan did the same with YouTube.

Needless to say, this arbitrary decision was met with widespread condemnation as an affront to human rights and freedom of expression.

This morning, the AP even touted how: "Many tech-savvy users... found ways to circumvent the ban on both Twitter and YouTube."

Yet, simultaneously, the AP releases a "big story" sensationalizing a tech-savvy effort that sought to circumvent the Castro dictatorship's ban on Twitter by creating a site (called "ZunZuneo" -- slang for hummingbirds tweet) that would allow Cubans to independently communicate with each other.

In other words, Twitter for Turks is good.  Twitter for Cubans is bad.

Circumventing censorship for Turks is good.  Bad for Cubans.

We're just using Turkey as an example due to recent events there, but it would be hard to imagine the AP sensationalize similar efforts -- including those supported by the U.S. government -- in Syria, Iran, Belarus or North Korea.

And "breaking news" -- there are surely similar efforts taking place there as well.

Not surprisingly, this story was written by the same team of AP reporters who in 2012 sought to portray American development worker, Alan Gross, unjustly imprisoned by the Castro regime since 2009, as some sort of "spy" conducting "covert" activities.

In fact, Gross was simply helping Cuba's Jewish community gain Internet access. Instead, the AP wrote a "spy novel" oft-repeating the terms "covert, CIA and Pentagon" to add intrigue.

And, of course, the AP relies (once again) almost exclusively on the insights of former CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong.

Armstrong has long history of internally working against U.S. policy towards Cuba. During his time at the CIA, Armstrong authored, together with his former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, an oft-cited 1998 report that argued that Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States. Ironically, just three years later (in 2001), Montes was identified as a Cuban spy, arrested, convicted and is now serving a 25-year term in a federal prison.

He has fervently opposed any endeavor that promotes freedom for the Cuban people, whether its USAID's democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, or a simple Senate resolution calling for the release of political prisoners.  If the Castro regime dislikes it, so does Fulton Armstrong.

Thus, it's not surprising that Armstrong would be so hostile to efforts that provide Twitter use for Cubans or the creation of an alternative social media site that would allow Cubans to inter-connect independent of the Castro regime.

Perhaps for its next "big story", the AP could investigate why the Castro regime is so afraid to allow the Cuban people to freely access Twitter and independent social media sites.

Or, even better, why the Castro regime won't allow the Cuban people to freely access the Internet.

For everywhere else in the world, it's considered an affront to human rights and freedom of expression.

In Cuba Policy Debate, Theories Don't Cut It

Wednesday, April 2, 2014
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Huffington Post:

In Cuba Policy Debate, Theories Don't Cut It

It's time for those who theorize that closer business ties to Cuba will trigger economic and political reform, and want to scuttle U.S. sanctions, to face some inconvenient truths.

First and foremost, from an economic perspective, the very concept of trade and investment in Cuba is grounded in a misconception about how "business" takes place on the island. In most of the world, trade and investment means dealing with privately-owned or operated corporations. That's not the case in Cuba. In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. Fidel and Raul Castro. There are no "exceptions."

Here's a fact: In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state. The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

The state's exclusivity extends also to what the rest of the world considers to be "humanitarian" transactions. The U.S. government frequently cites the cash sales of U.S. foodstuffs and medicine to Cuba to refute those who exaggerate the "totality" of the U.S. embargo. Indeed, since passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act ("TSREEA"), more than $4 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba. It is an unpleasant fact, however, that all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer, the Castro government.

It should be no surprise then that these U.S. products end up with huge, price mark-ups, on the shelves of the stores set up by the Castro regime that only accept "hard currencies," such as the U.S. dollar or Euro. These are stores where mostly tourists shop. Little of the food or medicine is made available to Cuba's general population. Neither does it end up on the ration cards Cubans are condemned to using.

It requires a tremendous leap of faith or belief in some extreme and unprecedented model of trickle-down economics, to argue or theorize that current or more U.S. sales to Castro's monopolies have or can ever benefit the Cuban "people."

This being the case with limited, cash-only sales of U.S. food and medicine, try imagining the disproportionate benefit the state has derived from three decades of trade with the Soviet bloc, or the billions in European and Canadian trade and investment in the Cuban state since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest any of the benefits got beyond the Castro regime.

Because trade and investment entails dealing only with the Castro's monopolies -- a reality people would (or should) find unpalatable -- it begets the question: How can these monopolies be weakened and dismantled?

Various approaches can reasonably be debated, but it is undeniable that "doing business" with state monopolies strengthens and enriches them. If that were not the case, then democratic nations wouldn't need antitrust laws. Democracies would simply feed their monopolies more business and allow them to magically weaken and fall apart. Imagine what "might have been" if in the early 20th Century, the United States' approach to Big Oil was to strengthen its then monopoly. Today many Americans think the oil industry exerts a disproportionate influence, but if it hadn't been for the "trust-busting" efforts of the last century, we might well have become the United States of Rockefeller, working at the behest of monopolists.

Cubans have no choice; they work for the monopolies of Cuban government under the Castro brothers. Increasing U.S. trade and investment in those monopolies is nonsensical. It defies logic to believe that doing more business with monopolies weakens them.

Even so, in the latest round of the continuing debate on U.S. sanctions, it is asked: Can lifting U.S. trade and investment sanctions benefit Cuba's "self-employment" (cuentapropistas) sector?

The short answer is: Not really.

Cuba's military and intelligence services control and run the conglomerates of Cuba. The "self-employment" sector represents a very small part of the island's economy and it is important, in the debate over sanctions, to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. The world's news media refers to these jobs as "private enterprise," which implies "private ownership." Yet Cuba's "self-employed" licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or "intellectual" outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.

A central tenet of capitalism is recognition of property rights and it's precisely such rights that the Castro regime avoids through its distorted, licensing model. It's also why, despite these "self-employment" licenses, Cuba remains ranked 177 out of 178 nations in the world in the Index of Economic Freedom, a yearly joint compilation of The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation. Only North Korea is considered less economically free.

Based on the lessons of history, those who still believe "self-employment" licenses are "a step in the right direction" toward capitalism, actually have all the more reason to support U.S. sanctions. Self-employment was a temporary reaction to loss of Soviet subsidies, and with the remnants of the Chavez regime in Venezuela now imploding, Cuba will likely continue allowing it. Yet the historic lesson is clear: The Castro regime only responds when it is economically pressed. Once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to "bounce back," the Castro government reverses itself to freeze or revoke self-employment licenses. Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba's government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change. Thus, U.S. sanctions are the best friends that "cuentapropistas" now have.

These are the economic facts in Cuba under the Castro brothers' unyielding brand of totalitarianism. Economics aren't, however, the only consideration for U.S. policymakers. They must also take cognizance of the Castro regime's grave violations of human rights; its harboring of U.S.-designated terrorists; subversion of democracy in Venezuela; support of rogue regimes in Syria and Iran; and illegal trafficking of weapons to North Korea. Evaluated in context and entirely, the facts about Cuba under the Castro regime inevitably trump theories that lifting U.S. sanctions would stimulate economic and political change in Cuba.

Yoani Meets Biden

Castro More Dependent on Subsidies Than Ever

The Castro regime has forecast revenues of $8.2 billion from the contracting of its captive medical personnel abroad this year.

This has become -- overwhelmingly -- the regime's main export and source of income.

Of course, the problem is that over 80% ($6.8 billion) of the $8.2 billion comes from one source -- Venezuela.

This has nothing to do with the quality of Cuban doctors, or any market forces -- it's simply a subsidy.

For perspective, this subsidy alone (Venezuela provides various other handouts to Castro) is greater than the total sum of $3-5 billion in yearly subsidies that Castro received from the Soviet Union prior to 1991.

In 2009, Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa Lago had already corroborated that: "Venezuela's subsidy is higher in nominal terms than any historical subsidy provided by the Soviet Union to Cuba."

It is practically impossible for the Castro regime to overcome its serial dependency -- unless it fundamentally alters its political and economic system.

Yet, unfortunately, Castro is also a serial monopolist.

So it's laughable when "experts" argue that Castro's "new" (yet same as "old") foreign investment law will help wean Cuba off its dependency.

For example, this quote in Reuters by long-time Castro friend and apologist, Kirby Jones, who pushed back on the widespread (and well-founded) skepticism regarding the "new" law arguing that:

"[Cuba's] still a place to do business. Ask the Brazilians. They just put $800 million in there."

Sorry, Kirby -- but that too was a subsidy (from Brazil's government).

Note of caution to Brazil: Subsidies are never a good investment. Even worse in the case of Cuba, where history has shown how countries that subsidize Castro tend to implode economically.

Cuba: Over 810 Political Arrests in March

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 813 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of March 2014.

This brings the tally of political arrests for the first quarter of 2014 up to 2,909.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Silence on Venezuela

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela’s neighbors watch as it spirals downward

Venezuelans despair at the lack of international interest in the political crisis that is rocking their country. Since anti-government protests began early last month, at least 34 people have been killed, most of them opposition supporters gunned down by security forces or government-backed gangs. Some 1,600 people have been arrested, and many say they were beaten or tortured. One of the opposition’s top leaders has been jailed for more than a month.

Yet when another senior opposition figure, National Assembly member María Corina Machado, attempted to address an Organization of American States meeting in Washington on March 21, the OAS permanent council first voted to close the meeting to the media , then to prohibit her report. The shameful stifling — which was entirely at odds with the organization’s Democratic Charter — was enabled by some 15 Caribbean countries that depend on heavily subsidized Venezuelan oil, but it was also supported by regional powerhouse Brazil.

A delegation from the UNASUR group — promoted by Venezuela as an alternative to the OAS — subsequently visited Caracas and won a commitment from President Nicolás Maduro to accept a “good-faith witness,” possibly from the Vatican, to mediate talks with the opposition. But there’s not much reason to believe that Mr. Maduro — who refers to opposition leaders as “Chucky,” in a bizarre reference to the horror movie — is ready to compromise, or that the UNASUR group will pressure him to do so.

The problem with this fecklessness is that Venezuela desperately needs outside help. With one of the world’s highest inflation rates and one of its highest murder rates, severe shortages of basic goods, chronic power outages and now daily street confrontations, the country is in danger of collapse. Its polarized political leaders, with no elections in sight, are attempting to destroy each other rather than to compete within the rule of law — much less to negotiate.

The chief protagonist of this meltdown is Mr. Maduro, the former bus driver who succeeded Hugo Chávez a year ago and has since proved himself as crude in his political tactics as he is ignorant of economic fundamentals. The president portrays moderate opponents as “fascists,” claims that he is the target of incessant plotting by the CIA and increasingly depends on force — delivered by riot police or organized groups of thugs — to answer popular protests.

The opposition, for its part, is splintering between those who favor a patient strategy of winning over Venezuelans who still support the Chavista movement and militants who hope that building street barricades will somehow trigger the regime’s collapse — or perhaps a military coup. The violent clashes may be driving away citizens who would support a movement that aimed for change by peaceful and democratic means.

The Obama administration, too, has been a non-factor in the Venezuelan crisis, other than as a foil — even though the United States, as a major buyer of Venezuelan oil, has plenty of potential leverage. So it was encouraging to hear the senior State Department official for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, say Thursday that sanctions against the Maduro government could be “a tool” if “there isn’t a possibility of dialogue, if there is no space for the opposition.” (Ms. Jacobson spoke in Spanish.) That might get the attention of the regime’s more rational minds.

Congress is considering legislation that would sanction Venezuelan officials guilty of human rights offenses; that, too, could be useful. It may be that nothing can stop Venezuela’s downward spiral. But it is shameful that its neighbors have not made more of an effort.

Image: A Prayer for Democracy

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
A nun provides a prayer and a blessing for a Venezuelan student protester:

How Castro Manipulates Foreign Investors

Excerpt from Reuters:

The communist government sometimes lets investment proposals die on the shelf without explanation. It has, for example, entered talks with several groups about building golf resorts only to let proposals wither after once appearing to favor them.

"The problem with the new law is that except for taxes, little has changed, which means their attitude hasn't changed," said one European diplomat who declined to be identified. "In the end, the entire law remains discretionary."

Experts say Cuba's approach to foreign business has been arbitrary. If a venture is successful, the government often wants a bigger stake. It welcomes foreign financing, but once a project is operational it wants to take charge, they say.

"Use the foreigners where it suits you. Spit them out as soon as their usefulness is over," said another European diplomat who requested anonymity.

Cuba has closed more joint ventures than it has opened since the ruling Communist Party adopted wide-ranging economic reforms in 2011, and last year the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods group Unilever ended a 15-year joint venture after failing to resolve a dispute with the government over who would have the controlling interest.

More chillingly, Cuba jailed executives in British investment and trading firm Coral Capital Group Ltd on unspecified fraud changes. They were found guilty of minor charges last June and released for time served, more than a year each.

The government was previously more likely to deport such suspects. Now it has made clear it is willing to find executives criminally liable.

French entrepreneur Michel Villand stopped doing business in Cuba after establishing a chain of bakeries called Pain de Paris, now in the hands of the government. He wrote a book entitled "My Associate Fidel" in which he said his government partners defrauded him by keeping two sets of books, then offered a ridiculously low sum for his stake.

"Starting a joint venture in Cuba for a small or medium-sized foreign business is the same as putting a noose around your neck," Villand told the Spanish news agency EFE.

Cuban and Russian Security Chiefs Discuss Repression

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, known by its Russian initials SKP, was created by Putin in 2007 to centralize law enforcement under his direct control, conduct political investigations and crackdown on anti-government protests.

The SKP Chief, Bastrykin, is an old friend and classmate of Putin’s at Leningrad State University.

He shares many (negative) things in common with his nefarious Cuban counter-part.

From Cuban state media:

Cuban Interior Minister Meets Top Russian Official

Cuban Interior Minister Abelardo Colome met with the chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, Alexander I. Bastrykin, who is visiting Cuba.

According to Granma newspaper, the two officials discussed issues of interest of their respective areas, and exchanged on ways to strengthen work relations and collaboration between their institutions.

New ID Card Expands Cuba's Control Over Venezuelans

Venezuela's new ID system for food rationing will be implemented and administered by the Cuban state firm, Albet SA.

It's simply another mechanism by Castro's regime to expand control over the Venezuelan people.

From AP:

Battling food shortages, the government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet toward rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.

Battling food shortages, the government is rolling out a new ID system that is either a grocery loyalty card with extra muscle or the most dramatic step yet toward rationing in Venezuela, depending on who is describing it.

President Nicolas Maduro's administration says the cards to track families' purchases will foil people who stock up on groceries at subsidized prices and then illegally resell them for several times the amount. Critics say it's another sign the oil-rich Venezuelan economy is headed toward Cuba-style dysfunction.

Registration begins at more than 100 government-run supermarkets across the country Tuesday, and working-class shoppers who sometimes endure hours-long lines at government-run stores to buy groceries at steeply reduced prices are welcoming the plan.

Over 70 Ladies in White Arrested Yesterday

Monday, March 31, 2014
Yesterday, 71 members of The Ladies in White, a peaceful pro-democracy group composed of the wives, mothers, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners, were brutally arrested by the Castro regime as they tried to attend Sunday Mass.

As dissident leaders have denounced, these women are being targeted by the regime's security services solely for walking in a group to Sunday Mass, dressed in white.

Every week, scores of women are being arrested, beaten, dragged on the streets, fired from their jobs and mistreated by the Castro dictatorship.

It is state-sponsored gender violence.

Here are some pictures of their "crime" yesterday:

Must-Read: The Extent of Castro's Control in Venezuela

There's a story in Spain's El Pais this weekend regarding Cuba's extensive control in Venezuela.

Here are some excerpts:

Thousands of Cubans work today in Venezuela's public administration.  In the presidency, ministries and state companies. As bureaucrats, doctors, nurses, dentists, scientists, teachers, computers programmers, analysts, agricultural specialists, electricity technicians, workers and cultural collaborators.  Also, in security, intelligence and even in the Armed Forces.

The majority also serve in the militias. "We have in Venezuela over 30,000 'cederristas' [militias] from the 8.6 million members our organization has," Juan Jose Rabilero, then head of Cuba's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), revealed in 2007 at a public event in the Venezuelan state of Tachira. Nothing indicates this figure has decreased. Nearly 70% of the Cuban population forms part of this system of vigilance and delation.

The Cubans run Venezuela's identification system, its passports and identity cards; mercantile exchanges and public notaries. They know who has what properties and what transactions are made. They also co-direct the ports and have a presence at the airports and migration controls, where they act at will. The Cuban firm, Albet SA, of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), which controls the systems of the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Customs (SAIME), has so much power that it doesn't allow Venezuelans access to the top floor of its headquarters in Caracas. The Cubans also control the computer systems of the presidency, ministries, social programs, police entities and of the state oil company, PDVSA, through a joint venture called, Guardians of Alba.

The Cubans know almost everything about Venezuelans, but Venezuelans are kept unaware of just how many Cubans work in the country, how much they charge for their services and the terms of the agreements for these services, which are kept secret by the Venezuelan government.

According to the latest official figures, in mid-2012, in Venezuela there were a total of 44,804 collaborators in so-called social missions; 31,700 in health care (11,000 doctors, 4,931 nurses, 2,713 dentists, 1,245 optometrists and 11,544 non-specified), 6,225 in sports, 1,905 in culture, 735 in agricultural activities, 486 in education and 54 in handicapped services. Yet, it is believed the actual numbers could be double. There are no officials statistics regarding those who work in the electricity sector, construction, information technology and security advisers to the government, among others.

"The Cuban doctors are sent in a form of modern slavery," according to the NGO, Solidarity Without Frontiers.

Retired General Antonio Rivero, a former Chavez collaborator, assures that there are currently more than 100,000 Cubans in Venezuela, among them 3,700 in the intelligence services, the G2. "Just in security and defense, we estimate there are around 5,600 of them." And he confirms that there are Cubans in the most important military bases in the country. "In the Armed Forces, there are some 500 active Cuban military officers serving as advisers in strategic areas, such as intelligence, weaponry, communications and military engineering. Also, in operations and in the office of the Minister of Defense, which has a permanent Cuban adviser with the rank of General."

According to Rivero, which served chief of communications for the presidency and was the national director of Civil Protection, the presence of Havana goes back to 1997, when 29 undercover Cuban agents established operations in Margarita and in 1998 helped Chavez's electoral campaign with intelligence, security and information technology.

Tweets of the Day: Castro's Labor Monopoly

From Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez:

#Cuba The new Foreign Investment law leaves the Employment Agency in the hands of the Cuban state, which must approve all hired personnel
#Cuba The Employment Agency in the exclusive hands of the state generates favoritism and the placement in key positions of those who are "trustworthy" 
#Cuba That way the Cuban state guarantees that foreign businesses only hire personnel who has been ideologically filtered. 

The Farce of Castro's "Reforms"

Sunday, March 30, 2014
Today, the Financial Times observed regarding Castro's "reforms":

"The Communist Party passed a more than 300-point plan to 'update' the economy in 2011, which included moving 20 per cent of five million state workers to a non-state sector made up of farms, small businesses, co-operatives and joint ventures.

Yet to date the reforms have not led to increased growth which is expected to come in at 2.2 per cent this year, compared with 2.7 per cent in 2013."

We'd correct the FT in that the "farms, small businesses, co-operatives and joint ventures" it's referring to are still owned by the state.

Thus, it is not a "non-state sector."

Of course, the reason for the negative results is that Castro's so-called "reforms" -- like his "new" foreign investment law -- are farcical.

And just imagine if Venezuela's subsidies were subtracted from the equation.

As a foreign businessman with years of experience in Cuba correctly told the FT:

"What Cuba really needs to attract investment is a functioning economic system."

Quote of the Day: Cuban State Reigns Supreme

The state will always be a participant to avoid the concentration of property.
-- Marino Murillo, Castro's "economic" czar on the new foreign investment law, CNN, 3/29/14

Tweets of the Day: The Cuban Apartheid

By Cuban blogger, Yusnaby Perez:

The only requirement to invest in #Cuba (according to the new Investment Law) will be to "reside abroad." The Cuban apartheid!

The Foreign Investment Law was approved: any human being on the planet will be able to invest in #Cuba except Cubans. Blockade?

Image: Cuban Spy Chiefs Receive Repatriated Agent

For those still in "la-la land" regarding the so-called Cuban Five, see the images (below) of Cuba's former Minister of the Interior, the infamous General Ramiro Valdes, and current Minister of the Interior, General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, embracing released spy Fernando Gonzalez upon his repatriation last month: