Cuba’s Mariel Development Zone (Labor Violations) Unmasked

Saturday, April 19, 2014
This arrangement by the Castro regime is in violation of the International Labor Organization's Convention on the Protection of Wages.

By former Cuban diplomat, Pedro Campos, in Havana Times:

Ana Teresa Igarza, director general of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) Regulations Office, recently announced that a special hard-currency exchange rate had been established for Zone employees.

Contracted employees will receive 80 percent of the salaries agreed to by Cuban employment agencies and investors, and payments are to be made in regular Cuban pesos (CUP), at a “special” exchange rate of 1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) to 10 CUP. This is as “special” as the Special Period.

That is to say, if the employment agency negotiates a 1,000 CUC salary (or its equivalent in US dollars) for a Cuban worker, the agency will pocket the 1,000 CUC (or its equivalent in US dollars) and pay the Cuban worker (in CUP) 80 percent of the sum agreed to, at the special exchange rate of 10 CUP to 1 CUC.

If mathematics hasn’t also been deformed by “State socialism”, this means the worker will receive 10 Cuban pesos for each CUC, which means that their salary would be 8,000 CUP (10 x 800).

When that worker comes out of the ZEDM, in order to purchase anything at the hard-currency stores operated by Cuba’s military monopoly, they will have to resort to government exchange locales (or CADECAS), where they are required to buy CUC at an exchange rate of 25 to 1. Thus, their 8,000 Cuban pesos become 320 CUC.

This means that, of the 1,000 CUC (or their equivalent in US dollars) paid by the investor, Cuban workers will only receive 32%. To this, we must add that the wage worker must pay an additional 5 percent for State “social security”, which means that they are ultimately only receiving 27 percent of the original 1,000 CUC.

A total of 63 percent will go to the State, which will sit back and not “get its hands dirty” – it will pocket this only for acting as an “intermediary” between the investor, a euphemism for a foreign capitalist exploiter, and Cuban salaried workers.

A crafty maneuver, true, but it can’t hide the double exploitation they would submit Cuban workers to, between the foreign capitalists and the extortionist State which, to add insult to injury, leaves workers helpless, deprived of laws that could protect them from their employers.

Having accustomed Cuba’s working class to hyper-exploitation, the State of course expects workers to content themselves with 32 % of their salaries. The other 68 % goes to the “nation.”

The benefits that the Mariel port mega-project brings the Cuban working class are becoming clear.

The much publicized Mariel project thus takes off its “progressive” mask to show its true face, to reveal itself as the extortionist of Cuban wage workers.

It is a clear illustration of the sought-after alliance between Cuba’s State monopoly capitalism (which has sought to pass itself off as “socialism”) and international capital, coming together to jointly exploit Cuba’s workforce.

Picture below: Cuban dictator Raul Castro discussing the ZEDM with former Brazilian President Lula Da Silva, of the "Workers Party."

Video: Democracy Activist Scolds Cuban Police

Don't miss this video footage of Cuban police officials being scolded by a democracy activist.

For those who don't understand Spanish, the activist is telling them that the Castros have destroyed the country and should resign.

See below (or click here):

Travel Provider Fined for Cuba Sanctions Violations

Friday, April 18, 2014
From U.S. Department of the Treasury:

CWT B.V. Settles Potential Civil Liability for Apparent Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations

CWT B.V. (“CWT”), of the Netherlands, has agreed to pay $5,990,490 to settle potential civil liability for apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (the “CACR”), 31 C.F.R. part 515. From on or about August 8, 2006, through on or about November 28, 2012, CWT dealt in property in which Cuba or its nationals had an interest when its business units mostly outside the United States provided services related to travel to or from Cuba, assisting 44,430 persons. In 2006, CWT, a travel services provider incorporated in the Netherlands, became majority-owned by U.S. persons and thus subject to U.S. jurisdiction pursuant to the Trading With the Enemy Act, 50 U.S.C. App. §§ 1-44 and the CACR.

On Gabo's Passing

Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 87, died last night at his home in Mexico City.

Known as "Gabo," he was one of the most popular and talented Latin American novelists of our time.  His writings include the epic 1967 novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Love in the Time of Cholera.

They also include Chronicle of a Death Foretold and Autumn of the Patriarch, both with strong political undertones and stinging critiques of Latin American dictators.

Unfortunately, Gabo's criticism spared dictators of the left.

His intimate friendship with Latin America's longest-serving, deadliest and only totalitarian dictator, Cuba's Fidel Castro, was legendary.

Throughout his life, Gabo's condemnation of dictators always stopped short of Havana, where he was provided a home with all of the privileges and luxuries denied to ordinary Cubans.

His double-standard became emblematic. It is practiced today by some of Latin America's leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica -- all of whom were once themselves victims of military dictatorships and scorned those who coddled their repressors.

Yet inconceivably, these Latin American leaders now coddle the sole remaining military dictatorship of the Americas.

Goodbye Gabo. 

May your literary legacy live forever.

But close an unfortunate chapter in Latin America's ideological double-standard.

Quote[s] of the Day: Cuba Remains High-Risk Investment

[Cuba's] new investment law will not improve a generally poor contractual risk environment.
-- Daniel Sachs, Latin American analyst with the international consultancy firm Control Risks, Global Post, 4/17/14

And here's why:
[W]hile insisting on a role in almost every foreign investment in the country, the Cuban state has jailed foreign executives, seized many ventures that did turn out to be viable, and generally proved a miserable “partner.” An independent judiciary would help mitigate that risk. But nothing in the new law appears to change that reality.
-- Michael Moran, Vice-President of Global Risks Analysis at Control Risks, Global Post, 4/17/14

Intervention for Dummies: Cuba-in-Venezuela Edition

A simple video (in Spanish) explaining how Cuba's Castro regime took control of Venezuela.

See below (or here):

Reporters Without Borders: Free Imprisoned Cuban Journalist

Thursday, April 17, 2014
From the Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders:

Journalist Held for Past Ten Days, Charged With "Terrorism"

Reporters Without Borders condemns independent journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz’s detention since 7 April, three days before the publication of a by-lined report she wrote for the Miami-based independent news platform Cubanet about a case of ordinary police violence she had witnessed in Havana.

Michelena, who was arrested in a heavy-handed police operation, is a member of the Cuban Network of Community Journalists (RCCC), an organization that defends freedom of information. The police often break up its meetings and arrest participants, but the arrests are usually of short duration.

The charges against Michelena have changed since her arrest. Initially accused of “threatening a neighbour,” she is now charged with “terrorism.” Despite the absence of any evidence, the nature of the charge prevents a quick release, which is otherwise often the case with arbitrary arrests in Cuba.

“We urge the authorities to free Michelena without delay and drop all charges against her,” said Lucie Morillon, head of research at Reporters Without Borders. “The decision to bring a more serious charge indicates a desire to silence her and put a stop to all her critical reporting. Police violence is nonetheless far from being a subject that Cubans can easily forget.”

Independent journalists are subject to constant judicial harassment in Cuba. Arbitrary arrests are used to undermine their ability to work and to restrict the flow of information.

Michelena was already arrested on 26 March, when she was released after a few hours. Police officers attacked the independent journalist Dania Virgen García on 12 April, as she was dropping her nephew off at school. Two state TV journalists who began to film the attack were also immediately arrested. The three women were released that evening.

Reporters Without Borders wrote to French foreign minister Laurent Fabius ahead of his visit to Havana on 10 April asking him to raise the issue of arrests of journalists. RWB believes that an improvement in economic relations between Cuba and European Union countries should not be at the expense of Cuba’s journalists.

Three other journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Cuba. They are Yoenni de Jesús Guerra García, who was arrested last October and was given a seven-year jail term in March; Angel Santiesteban-Prats, who has been held for more than a year; and José Antonio Torres, a reporter for the official newspaper Granma who was given a 14-year sentence in July 2012.

Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – the lowest position of any country in the Americas.

Picture below: Juliet is the Afro-Cuban woman in the middle.

Was Alan Gross Arrested Because He's Jewish?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in Fox News:

Prayers for Alan Gross' freedom on Passover 2014

I never met Alan Gross. But on Monday night, when I gather with 700 other American Jews in Phoenix to celebrate the Passover Seder, his plight will be one of the hot-button issues, along with the post-mortem on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Mideast peace talks and Iran’s imminent nuclear breakout.

That’s because it is increasingly clear that Gross, an American, is caught in a no-man’s land between the U.S. and Havana, a hostage to the Cuban authorities’ desperate desire to free five of their freedom fighter/terrorists from U.S. custody.

Gross, 64, was not convicted of espionage, but of bringing computers and satellite phones paid for by a grant from a U.S. agency to a Jewish group serving the tiny Jewish community in the communist island nation 90 miles from Florida.

I learned of Gross’ plight in 2012 from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used a very public meeting with 200 Jewish leaders at the State Department to denounce Havana for jailing him – while distancing the U.S. government from any responsibility to get him out!

“Try to help him,” Clinton told me.

My chance came two years ago, when the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Shoah Foundation were asked to prepare a permanent Holocaust exhibition for a synagogue in Havana.

From the moment I landed, I asked to see Gross. It never happened, but I did have a formal meeting with a government official who dealt with “religious” issues (including the visit of Pope Benedict XVI that took place a few weeks later).

I urged the Cubans to release Gross on humanitarian grounds. The official emphasized that Gross had “violated the law,” but he did not accuse him of being a spy or try to justify his draconian 15-year sentence.

Later, during an informal discussion with a well-informed Cuban, it became clear that one of the reasons they threw the book at Gross was because Alan Gross is a Jew. Not that he is being mistreated in jail because he is Jewish. To the contrary. But some Cubans were convinced that his value as a hostage went up because he was a Jew.

“Everyone knows that the Jews have a lot of clout in Washington,” this person told me somewhat sheepishly – so sentencing Gross to 15 years could be the key to win the freedom of their agents jailed in the U.S., the thinking went.

Well, I guess they never Googled Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who, despite decades of protests from members of the Jewish community over the harshness of his sentence, is still in Federal Prison in North Carolina for spying for Israel 30 years later!

So, for now, Gross remains a prisoner of unfortunate circumstances and unrealistic expectations. I have no idea what it will take to win his release. He is reported to be on a hunger strike and has myriad medical issues. I can only hope the Obama administration will make his release a priority before further economic concessions are made to the Cuban regime.

Geopolitics aside, it is true that the mitzvah (good deed) of Pidyon Shvuim (ransoming Jewish hostages) is considered of great importance. Jewish law dictates that a community can sell its last holy Torah scroll to save the life of a fellow Jew.

So if Washington or Havana were to ask this rabbi (and they have not) how to solve the Gross quandary, here would be my simple game plan: Have President Castro release Gross on humanitarian grounds, and I am sure that an interfaith group of clergy, myself included, would undertake to bring much needed medicines to help Cubans in need .

In the meantime, I will be thinking of Alan Gross and his family while eating the bitter herbs at our Passover Seder, and saying a prayer he will soon be free.

Quote of the Day: Definition of Chavistas

The best definition of chavistas is that they are people who think like Marx, give orders like Stalin and live like Rockefeller.
-- Casto Ocando, Venezuelan author and journalist, from a must-read interview (in Spanish) on Chavez elites in the U.S., Diario las Americas, 4/15/14

The Cubans-in-Venezuela Deniers

Excerpt by Victoria L. Henderson in PanAmPost:

Why does the mention of Cuba’s influence in Venezuela throw otherwise reasonable people into a seeming state of incredulity?

This week, Moisés Naím (a former minister of trade and industry for Venezuela and a former executive director of the World Bank) published an article in the Financial Times arguing that the “enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times.”

I shared Naím’s article on my Twitter feed, one of many articles I have posted on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Oddly, none of the articles I have shared about state repression and censorship by the Venezuelan regime has elicited as much push-back from the intellectual and media set as those articles I have shared drawing attention to Cuba’s role in the Venezuelan crisis.

An article I tweeted a few weeks ago on the Cuban connection in Venezuela prompted a series of responses (some public, some private) from people who suggested that Cuba is a “red herring” of the “extreme right wing” in Venezuela and Latin America more broadly.

In response to my tweet of Naím’s recent article, a distinguished Associated Press reporter on Latin America (seconded by a reporter from Al Jazeera) responded: “documentation/testimony, please” — ostensibly referring to the need to further substantiate Naím’s claim.

That such a distinguished reporter would ask me for documentation instead of Naím seems a bit odd. Perhaps the reporter was simply taken aback that a scholar outside of the Miami and Washington enclaves would give airtime to an argument portraying the Cuban regime in a less-than-flattering light.

As I see it, there are two main points of contention with respect to Naím’s article: one is whether Cuba does, in fact, play a critical role in Venezuela; the other is whether this role has been underreported in the media (and the latter, it seems to me, is the main point of Naím’s latest article).

With respect to Cuba’s role in Venezuela, Naím quotes Juan José Rabilero, ex-head of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). A neighborhood surveillance and intelligence-gathering network, CDRs were established to ensure “revolutionary vigilance”: “Militia battalions will be created throughout Cuba,” explained Fidel Castro on launching the CDRs in 1960. “Each man for each weapon will be selected. A structure will be given to the entire mass of militiamen so that as soon as possible our combat units will be perfectly formed and trained.”

Naím notes that Rabilero, giving a speech in the Venezuelan state of Táchira in 2007, confirmed the presence of 30,000 cederristas (members of the CDRs) in Venezuela. Surely even a skeptic will accept statements about Cuba’s role in Venezuela when these statements come from officials themselves?

Additionally, Naím reports having received information from a Latin-American minister of defense who alleges Cuba’s infamous G2 intelligence service is active in Venezuela. This corresponds with statements from former allies of ex-President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and with secret recordings released by the Venezuelan opposition.

As I have argued previously, one can oppose or embrace Cuba’s presence in Venezuela, but the grounds for denying its existence are circumspect.

A Lesson for the Ingenuous: How Cuba Took Over Venezuela

Tuesday, April 15, 2014
A lesson for those who ingenuously believe the Castro regime is a passive, non-threatening dictatorship.

By Moisés Naím in The Financial Times:

Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela

The enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the most under-reported geopolitical developments of recent times. It is also one of the most improbable. Venezuela is nine times bigger than Cuba, three times more populous, and its economy four times larger. The country boasts the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet critical functions of the Venezuelan state are either overseen or directly controlled by Cuban officials.

Venezuela receives Cuban health workers, sports trainers, bureaucrats, security personnel, militias and paramilitary groups. “We have over 30,000 members of Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in Venezuela,” boasted Juan José Rabilero, then head of the CDR, in 2007. The number is likely to have increased further since then.

A growing proportion of Venezuela’s imports are channelled through Cuban companies. Recently, Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader, revealed the existence of a large warehouse of recently expired medicines imported through a Cuban intermediary – drugs allegedly purchased on the international market at a deep discount and resold at full price to the government.

The relationship goes beyond subsidies and advantageous business opportunities for Cuban agencies. Cuban officers control Venezuela’s public notaries and civil registries. Cubans oversee the computer systems of the presidency, ministries, social programmes, police and security services as well as the national oil company, according to Cristina Marcano, a journalist who has reported extensively on Cuba’s influence in Venezuela.

Then there is military co-operation. The minister of defence of a Latin American country told me: “During a meeting with high-ranking Venezuelan officers we reached several agreements on co-operation and other matters. Then three advisers with a distinctive Cuban accent joined the meeting and proceeded to change all we had agreed. The Venezuelan generals were clearly embarrassed but didn’t say a word.... Clearly, the Cubans run the show.

Why did the Venezuelan government allow this lopsided foreign intervention? The answer is Hugo Chávez. During his 14-year presidency he enjoyed absolute power thanks to his complete control of every institution that could have constrained him, from the judiciary to the legislature. He could also use Venezuela’s oil revenues at will.

One of the most transformational ways in which Chávez used the complete power he wielded was to let the Cubans in. He had many reasons to throw himself into the arms of Fidel Castro. He felt a deep affection, admiration and trust for the Cuban leader, who became a personal adviser, political mentor and geopolitical guide. Mr Castro also fed Chávez’s conviction that his many enemies – especially the US and the local elites – were out to get him and that his military and security services could not be trusted to provide the protection he needed. But the Cubans could reliably offer these services. Cuba also provided a ready-to-use international network of activists, non-government organisations and propagandists who boosted Chávez’s reputation abroad.

In return, Chávez instituted a programme of financial largesse that keeps Cuba’s economy afloat to this day. Caracas ships about 130,000 barrels of oil a day to the island on preferential terms – a small part of an aid programme that remains one of the world’s largest.

The extent to which Chávez was beholden to the Cuban regime was dramatically illustrated by the way in which he dealt with the cancer that would eventually kill him last year: he trusted only the doctors whom Mr Castro recommended, and his treatment mostly took place in Havana under a veil of secrecy.

Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, has deepened Caracas’s dependency on Havana even further. As students have taken to the streets in protest against an increasingly authoritarian regime the government has responded with a brutal repression that relies on many of the tools and tactics perfected by the police state that has run Cuba for too long.

Quote of the Day: Cubans Are Hungry for Internet

It's like asking a child if he wants milk. You don't ask about something like that, you just give it.
-- Oscar, anonymous young Cuban, asked whether he wants access to the Internet, BBC, 4/15/14

Tweet of the Week: Indifferent Tourists

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Yusnaby Perez:

"Yupiii... Communism is so much fun." The tourists are here!

Brookings Claims Cubans Like Being Second-Class Citizens

We already know that for the Brookings Institution, human rights for the Cuban people are optional.

Now Brookings wants you to believe that Cubans are happy being second-class citizens.

No reasonable observer has been able to argue that Cuba's "new" foreign investment law is anything but a farce.

Other than a few menial tax breaks for foreign companies, the "new" foreign investment law contains the same provisions as the 1995 version, violates international labor law and reinforces the state's exclusive control over foreign trade and investment.

In other words, it continues to treat the Cuban people as second-class citizens, with absolutely no rights to own a business, receive foreign investment or even be directly hired by a non-state company. Meanwhile, those few Cubans "obedient" enough to be hired by the regime to work at a foreign company will continue to have the overwhelming majority of their salary kept by the state.

However, according to Brookings' Richard Feinberg, this is absolutely fine with Cubans. He writes:

"From my informal conversations in Havana, Cubans on the street seem to accept with enthusiasm the government’s dual message: that the new guidelines will not compromise Cuban sovereignty – a key gain of the 1959 revolution – but will encourage badly needed inflows of foreign capital and technology."

That's right -- Feinberg claims Cubans told him that they are perfectly fine with the Castro brothers continuing to enrich themselves at their cost.

It's interesting, for every other observer has written that Cubans were appalled by their continued relegation.

For example, CNN's Havana correspondent, Patrick Oppmann, tweeted:

"Hearing from Cubans who are indignant that new law allows exiles who left #Cuba right to invest but not those who stayed."

Of course, Brookings doesn't want you to hear that because they have been lobbying to allow its three Cuban-American patrons (Carlos Saladrigas, Paul Cejas and Alfie Fanjul) to invest in Castro's foreign trade monopolies and play the role of "barbarians at the gate."

That'll really win the Cuban people over.

Meanwhile, Cuban blogger Miriam Celaya wrote:

"An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws -- in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law."

So who are the Cubans that Feinberg is talking to?

The answer is pretty clear.

Former CIA Official: Cuba Remains Primary Threat for U.S. Counterintelligence

From Texas A&M's The Batallion:

James Olson, former chief of counterintelligence at the CIA and senior lecturer at Texas A&M’s Bush School, and Michael Waguespack, former senior counterintelligence executive with the FBI, described how the U.S. faces a threat rarely seen or heard of by the public — spying.

“There are friendly countries, but there are no friendly intelligence services,” Olson said.

Olson and Waguespack described a world hidden from the public, where countries use sophisticated spy networks to steal U.S. political and technological secrets and to compromise U.S. spy networks abroad.

Olson named China, Russia and Cuba as the primary threats in U.S. counterintelligence.

“Never in my memory has our country been more in peril at home and abroad than it is right now,” Olson said.

Olson said foreign intelligence agents use a wide variety of covers to seek U.S. intelligence, from business and diplomatic covers to student identities. Olson said the Chinese, for example, have gained access to U.S. nuclear weapons data and sophisticated technology that has allowed them to upgrade their combat aircraft and submarines to levels more advanced than their domestic technology would allow.

Revisiting the Cuban Embargo

Excerpt by Michael Totten, author, journalist and contributing editor at World Affairs Journal:

For years now, the embargo has appeared to me as outdated as it has been ineffective [...]

After spending a few weeks in Cuba in October and November, however, I came home feeling less certain that the embargo was an anachronism. The ailing Fidel Castro handed power to his less ideological brother Raúl a few years ago, and the regime finally realizes what has been obvious to everyone else for what seems like forever: communism is an epic failure. Change is at last on the horizon for the island, and there’s a chance that maybe—just maybe—the embargo might help it finally arrive [...]

Any decent person should want to see political liberalization alongside economic liberalization, but a limited amount of progress can be made without it. The Chinese Communist Party figured out how to do it. China hasn’t caught up to the West, but it’s way ahead of where it was when Mao Zedong micromanaged the country into famine.

But what’s left of the US embargo might put a major crimp in Raúl Castro’s plans to partially capitalize the economy. Going full China, where Cuba produces a massive amount of merchandise for American consumers, is not an option if the embargo is not lifted first.

Sanctions against Cuba would be lifted at once if the regime were to hold just one free election and adhere to the human rights norms in our hemisphere. Since that hasn’t happened, only one conclusion is possible: Cuba’s Communist Party would rather rule alone in a poor country than share power in a prosperous one. No matter what the United States does or does not do, Cuba will underperform until that changes.

The regime does want Cuba to prosper, but within limits. Otherwise its officials wouldn’t even consider economic reform. They would just plod along North Korean–style. Therefore, keeping the US embargo in place will sooner or later force them to choose prosperity or power. They cannot have both. The Communist Party might finally cry uncle. It’s possible. If so, the sanctions will finally produce their intended effect—the democratization of Cuba. But if not, the embargo will continue looking like a spiteful anachronism that pointlessly punishes Cuban citizens who have already been punished enough by their own government.

If the US were to unilaterally lift what’s left of the embargo right now, the standard of living for the average citizen would probably go up a little as a result of Raúl’s concurrent reforms. Cuba could become in time a Caribbean China—a clear improvement over what it has been since Fidel came to power. Yet Cubans would still suffer under a power-mad police state, and the US would have exhausted its leverage for nothing.

The question at this point is who will blink first.

Deceptive Cuba Lobbying Schemes

Monday, April 14, 2014
From The Washington Free Beacon:

A former Lexington vice president [Phil Peters] reportedly took money from a business operating in Cuba to push U.S. policymakers, under the guise of an objective Cuba scholar, to ease U.S. economic sanctions against foreign corporations operating in the country.

Congress strengthened the U.S. embargo against Cuba in 1996. The Helms-Burton Act barred executives of foreign companies that “trafficked” in expropriated American property in Cuba from entering the U.S.

The law gives the president the authority to waive the travel ban if he deems it in the national interest. President Barack Obama did so most recently last year.

A number of executives from Canadian mining company Sherritt International fell under that prohibition due to its operations on land initially owned by Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoRan Inc.

“Sherritt works quietly in Washington to get its personnel off the exclusion orders,” according to a 2003 memo from Robert Muse, an attorney who represented a number of foreign businesses operating in Cuba.

Sherritt enlisted then-Lexington vice president Phil Peters in the effort, according to Muse. “[Sherritt] has given money to … Peters, to advance its interests,” he wrote. “The money to Peters goes through contributions to the Lexington Institute.”

“Because the Lexington Institute is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, there is no public record of Sherritt’s funding. This has allowed Peters to advise and direct the [House Cuba] Working Group in ways beneficial to Sherritt while presenting himself to the Group as an objective think-tank scholar with a specialization in Cuba.”

According to the memo, Peters convinced members of the working group to visit Sherritt facilities in Cuba and to stay in a hotel partially owned by the company.

“I suspect that Phil Peters was also directly behind the Cal Dooley (D., Calif.) bill to ‘sunset’ the Helms-Burton Act,” Muse wrote.

Four months after Muse wrote that memo, Peters testified before the Senate Finance Committee that Congress should get rid of Helms-Burton.

“Congress should sunset Cuba sanctions laws that violate WTO norms by penalizing foreign nationals who do business in Cuba,” he told the committee.

“The Helms-Burton Act … create[s] needless conflict with American trade partners, and are obstacles to greater diplomatic cooperation with our allies on political issues involving Cuba.”

It is not clear whether Sherritt continued supporting Lexington. Peters did not return requests for comment. He left the group to found the Cuba Research Center last year, where he is still pushing to roll back the Helms-Burton Act.

Tweet of the Week: Cuba's No Fun for Imprisoned Journalists

By Washington Post journalist, Radley Balko:

Raul Even Lies About Milk

In his first speech as dictator-in-chief, Raul Castro spent most of his time focused on milk.

To the point that Cubans jokingly dubbed it "the milk speech."

In the 2007 speech, Raul dramatically called for an increase in the manufacturing of milk:

"We will continue to work in this direction until all of the country's municipalities that produce the needed quantities of milk become self-sufficient and can complete, within their jurisdiction, the cycle which begins when a cow is milked and ends when a child or any other person drinks the milk, to the extent that present conditions allow.

That is to say, the chief aim of these efforts is to produce as much milk as possible, and I say this is possible in the overwhelming majority of municipalities, except for those in the capital of the country, that is, those which are not in the outskirts of the city, because there they can produce milk too. There are already some capital cities in various provinces that can produce enough in their main municipalities; such is the case of Sancti Spiritus. And, we must definitely produce more milk!"

Nearly seven years later, here are the results of Raul's milk "reform."

From CBS News:

Cubans getting squeezed by soaring milk prices

Cubans are taking another hit to their wallets as the government announces an increase in the cost of powdered milk, a staple of every home with children and basic to the diet of nearly everyone on the island.

The measure will not affect the state-subsidized supply of powdered milk to children aged seven and under. They receive three kilograms of powdered milk at the equivalent of 40 U.S. cents a kilogram, paid for in ordinary Cuban pesos.

But at hard-currency stores, the price of a half-kilogram package will go up 45 cents from $2.90 to $3.35. A kilogram package will go up by 85 cents or from $5.75 to $6.60. These stores sell in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) comparable to the U.S. dollar and already have a 240 percent markup on their products.

The average state employee earns the equivalent of between $20 to $30 USD a month and spends up to 80 percent of their income just on food so any price hike puts the family budget into a tailspin.

Quote of the Week: Cubans Do Have a Voice

Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.
-- Miriam Celaya, Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Translating Cuba, 4/8/14