"Cuban Twitter" Modeled After U.S. Programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Saturday, April 26, 2014
Will U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) express the same "outrage" toward these programs?

Or is Leahy's outrage reserved only for Internet freedom programs that offend Cuba's dictatorship?

From The New York Times:

The United States built Twitter-like social media programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were models for a program in Cuba aimed at encouraging open political discussion in the countries, Obama administration officials said Friday.

But like the program in Cuba, which was widely ridiculed when it became public this month, the services in Pakistan and Afghanistan shut down after they ran out of money because the administration could not make them self-sustaining.

In all three cases, U.S. officials appeared to lack a long-term strategy for the programs beyond providing money to start them.

Administration officials also said Friday that there had been similar programs in dozens of other countries, including a "Yes Youth Can" project in Kenya that was still active. Some programs operate openly with the knowledge of foreign governments, but others have not been publicly disclosed.

The Kenya project, like the Cuba program, is the work of the Agency for International Development. The projects in Afghanistan and Pakistan were run by the State Department. All such programs have come under greater scrutiny since the administration acknowledged the existence of the Twitter-like program in Cuba, which ran from 2008 to 2012, when it abruptly ended, apparently because a $1.3 million contract to start up the text-messaging system ran out of money.

The Associated Press, which first published a detailed article about the Cuba program, reported that it was set up to encourage political dissent on the island. But administration officials, while acknowledging that they were discreet about the program when it existed, said it was set up to provide Cubans with a platform to share ideas and exchange information.

Administration officials provided no information about the purpose and scope of the Afghan program, which had not been previously disclosed. In contrast, in 2009, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, announced the Pakistani program during a meeting with students in Lahore, Pakistan. The State Department worked with Pakistani telecommunications companies to create the network.

Called "Humari Awaz" or "Our Voices," the program was run out of the office of Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died in 2010.

At its peak, State Department officials said, the program cost about $1 million and connected more than 1 million people who sent more than 350 million messages.

"30 Days for Freedom" Campaign: Release Cuban Journalist Juliet Michelena Diaz

From World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers:

Juliet Michelena Díaz, Cuba, jailed since April 7th, 2014

Day 22
Country: Cuba
Journalist: Juliet Michelena Díaz
Media: Citizen journalist
Jailed since: April 7, 2014

Citizen journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz was detained earlier this month shortly after photographing a police operation in Havana. Díaz is a contributor to the Cuban Network of Community Journalists (La Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios or RCCC), a group known for its critical coverage of the government that has fallen victim to government harassment in recent months.

Díaz's arrest followed an incident on March 26 in which she and other contributors to RCCC witnessed police officers using dogs to break up a neighborhood brawl. The Miami-based daily El Nuevo Herald said the use of dogs resulted in one person being bitten. Díaz was briefly detained after the incident along with other observers and people involved in the fight, but she was able to hide her photographs from the police. However, two weeks later, the director of the group Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello said police returned to Díaz's home to arrest her after they learned that she still had photographs and was writing a report about police violence.

Authorities had initially charged Díaz with threatening a member of a pro-government mob who had applauded her initial detention, but when the article was published three days later on the Florida-based website Cubanet, officials escalated the charges to an "attack".

While Cuba has by-in-large abstained from long-term jailing of journalists, the trend of short-term, arbitrary detentions has not abated. The country has also taken small, but primarily cosmetic steps in opening press freedoms, and the impact on the independent media has been minimal, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Cuba’s government still has full control over all newspapers and radio and television stations, and is the ninth most censored country in the world, according to CPJ.

Quote of the Week: Elena Poniatowska on Fidel

The Fidel I see now in the newspapers is an ugly old man.  He would have done good if he had only stayed in power for a few years and then handed it over to another Cuban capable of leading the country, rather than "eternilizing" himself as he has done.
-- Elena Poniatowska, renowned Mexican journalist and author, 2013 recipient of the Cervantes Prize in Literature, Milenio, 4/25/14

@NETmundial: Russia and Cuba Push for Internet Censorship

Friday, April 25, 2014
From The Hill:

While most countries are signing on to a new agreement on Internet governance, Russia and Cuba have pushed back, according to U.S. officials.

The nonbinding agreement was drafted at NETmundial, a meeting in Brazil this week that brought together representatives from governments, the tech industry and civil society to discuss Internet governance issues.

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel called the agreement drafted at NETmundial “a critical step forward in the global discussions around the Internet." He said the meeting was “a huge success” for reaffirming global support for bottom-up governance of the Internet.

NETmundial was initially scheduled in response to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s concerns about Internet freedom after last year’s revelations on U.S. surveillance.

The nonbinding agreement developed at the meeting lays down basic Internet governance principles — such as free speech, privacy rights, security and protections for the Internet companies that connect people online — and calls for a global approach to Internet governance and oversight.

Specifically, the transition of oversight over the Internet’s Web address system, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), away from the U.S. government “should be conducted thoughtfully with a focus on maintaining the security and stability of the Internet, empowering the principle of equal participation among all stakeholder groups and striving towards a completed transition by September 2015,” the document said.

The agreement also addresses government mass surveillance, saying it “should not be arbitrary or unlawful,” a standard that the U.S. government “is very comfortable” with, according to Scott Busby, deputy assistant secretary of State.

That principle is “consistent with standards that have already been articulated in international law,” he said.

“There is nothing groundbreaking new here in terms of mass surveillance or surveillance generally.”

Some countries, including Russia, Cuba and India, raised concerns about the agreement, according to Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, the State Department’s coordinator for international communications and information policy. Russia and Cuba in particular have supported language allowing governments to block certain content.

Major Hurdles for Foreign Investors in Cuba

Cross-border debt and equity specialist, William A. Wilson, summarizes them in FDi Intelligence:

There are multiple hurdles for foreign investors in Cuba. Among the most important are:

  • a highly ‘political’ approval process;
  • the near impossibility in practice of a 100% ownership interest;
  • difficulty in obtaining majority control of a local joint venture;
  • limitations of local sales (whether of local or foreign products);
  • a communist model for employing local staff;
  • capricious enforcement of laws; and
  • risks of leakage for intellectual property and confidential financial information.
Law number 77 (1995) is the main legal authority governing investment in Cuba. Although Article 13 of the law permits a foreign investor to own 100% of a Cuban entity, this has almost never been granted. Therefore, investors must find a Cuban entity with which to form a joint-venture company. Finding a partner is difficult in every country, but in Cuba the choice is very limited. Almost all Cuban entities with any degree of market presence or expertise are owned by the state or ‘co-operatives’. Not surprisingly, such Cuban partners often have different business goals and are subject to different outside pressures than the foreign investor.

In theory, the foreigner may control the joint venture, but in reality this is not encouraged. In fact, the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Cuba only accepts the foreign investor having majority control in “justified cases”, but does not expand on what this would entail.

Moreover, the approval process for an investment is complicated and lengthy. It typically takes 18 months or longer (even though the law says a decision should be made in 60 days). The application requires the foreign investor to provide lots of confidential information about the proposed operations. Even more troubling, if the foreign investor has a proposed joint-venture partner (as it almost always will), the foreigner must give all that confidential information to the Cuban partner before knowing whether the investment will be approved. As the Cuban partner may well be a competitor (at least in Cuba), the foreigner risks ending up with no approved investment, no partner and a competing Cuban company with proprietary or confidential information about the foreigner’s business. This information could include know-how, production costs and financial margins.

Finally, an analysis of projects that have been approved by the Cuban government shows it is advantageous if the foreign entity is itself a state-owned entity, a quasi-public entity or a ‘national champion’ from a country with its own dirigiste mentality. For example, among the major projects now in progress is construction of a major port facility by Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, which is supported by Brazilian government credits.

Cuba is still far from welcoming capital for capital’s sake. As Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states on its website: “It [cannot] be said that in Cuba the foreign investment opening is part of an ongoing privatisation process… national policy is aimed at defending the prevalence of state property in all forms of joint ventures.

Provocative, But True: Cuba's Modified-Nazi Wage Policy

By renowned economist, Professor David R. Henderson, in EconLog:

Cuba's Wage Policy: Modified Nazi

The writer of Schindler's List would understand.

The Economist writes:

"[O]n March 29th Cuba's parliament approved a new foreign-investment law that for the first time allows Cubans living abroad to invest in some enterprises (provided, according to Rodrigo Malmierca, the foreign-trade minister, they are not part of the "Miami terrorist mafia"). The aim is to raise foreign investment in Cuba to about $2.5 billion a year; currently Cuban economists say the stock is $5 billion at most.

The law, which updates a faulty 1995 one, is still patchy, says Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist living in Colombia. It offers generous tax breaks of eight years for new investments. However, it requires employers to hire workers via state employment agencies that charge (and keep) hard currency, vastly inflating the cost of labour."

Why do I give this post such a provocative title? Because, if you recall Schindler's List, you will recall that Oskar Schindler was not allowed to pay his Jewish workers anything. Instead, he paid their wages to the Reich. My impression is that the Reich, in turn, paid the Jews nothing. That's why I refer to the Cuban government's wage policy as "modified" Nazi. I'm sure the Cuban government pays the workers something.

Pentagon: Russian Spy Ship Operating Near Cuba

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Pentagon: Russian spy ship operating near US

A Russian intelligence-gathering ship has been operating off the U.S. East Coast and near the Gulf of Mexico for the past month, the Pentagon said Thursday.

"We are aware that the Russian ships Viktor Leonov and Nikolay Chiker are currently operating in waters that are beyond U.S. territorial seas but near Cuba," said Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman. "We respect the freedom of all nations, as reflected in international law, to operate military vessels beyond the territorial seas of other nations."

The Leonov is an intelligence gathering ship outfitted with high-tech electronic spying gear. The Chiker is an ocean-going naval tug that has been accompanying the spy ship on its mission. Pentagon officials suspect the ships were part of a spying operation since March against the U.S. nuclear missile submarine base at Kings Bay, Ga. and other U.S. military facilities.

Garcia Marquez: Gifted Writer, But No Hero

Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Charles Lane in The Washington Post:

Gabriel García Márquez was a gifted writer but no hero

Statesmen eulogized Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who died at age 87 on April 17. “The world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers — and one of my favorites from the time I was young,” President Obama said; he called the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” “a representative and voice for the people of the Americas.” Juan Manuel Santos, president of García Márquez’s native country, hailed him as “the greatest Colombian of all time.”

The obituary of García Márquez that I would most like to read will never be written. That is because its author would have been the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla — who passed away 14 years ago. No one was better qualified to assess the weird blend of literary brilliance and political rottenness that characterized García Márquez’s long career.

In 1968, just as “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was propelling García Márquez to fame, Padilla published a collection of poems titled “Out of the Game.” Cuba’s cultural authorities initially permitted and even praised Padilla’s book, despite its between-the-lines protest against the official thought control that was already suffocating Cuba less than a decade after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Then instructions changed: The Castro regime began a campaign against Padilla and like-minded intellectuals that culminated in March 1971, when state security agents arrested Padilla, seized his manuscripts and subjected him to a month of brutal interrogation.

The poet emerged to denounce himself before fellow writers for having “been unfair and ungrateful to Fidel, for which I will never tire of repenting.” He implicated colleagues and even his wife as counterrevolutionaries.

Intellectuals around the world, led by García Márquez’s fellow star of the Latin American literary “boom,” Mario Vargas Llosa, condemned this Stalinesque spectacle. Many cultural figures who had backed the Cuban revolution soured on it because of the Padilla affair.

For García Márquez, however, it was a different kind of turning point. When asked to sign his fellow writers’ open letter to Castro expressing “shame and anger” about the treatment of Padilla, García Márquez refused.

Thereafter, the Colombian gradually rose in Havana’s estimation, ultimately emerging as a de facto member of Castro’s inner circle.

Fidel would shower “Gabo” with perks, including a mansion, and established a film institute in Cuba under García Márquez’s personal direction.

The novelist, in turn, lent his celebrity and eloquence to the regime’s propaganda mill, describing the Cuban dictator in 1990 as a “man of austere habits and insatiable dreams, with an old-fashioned formal education, careful words and fine manners, and incapable of conceiving any idea that isn’t extraordinary.”

To rationalize this cozy relationship, García Márquez offered himself as an ostensible go-between when Castro occasionally released dissidents to appease the West.

What Gabo never did was raise his voice, or lift a finger, on behalf of Cubans’ right to express themselves freely in the first place.

Far from being “a representative and voice for the people of the Americas,” he served as a de facto spokesman for one of their oppressors.

García Márquez went so far as to defend death sentences Castro handed out to politically heterodox Cuban officials — one of whom had been personally close to the writer — after a 1989 show trial.

One can imagine many motivations for this shabby behavior, some more comprehensible than others. A youthful dabbler in Communist Party activity in the 1950s, García Márquez belonged to a generation of Latin American intellectuals for whom anti-imperialism was an ideological given, as well as a badge of sophistication; perhaps he never outgrew that.

“Friendship” with men like Fidel Castro is hard to escape — though, given the benefits he reaped from that relationship, tangible and otherwise, it’s doubtful García Márquez ever contemplated a break with Fidel, even secretly.

Whatever their causes, García Márquez’s Cuba apologetics will forever mar his legacy. True literary greatness is a function of not only narrative skill and linguistic creativity, which García Márquez possessed in abundance, but also moral courage, which he lacked. Against the multiple evils, social and political, that plagued his native region, he bore witness too selectively.

Castro finally let Heberto Padilla leave Cuba for the United States in 1980. In his 1989 memoir, “Self-Portrait of the Other,” the poet noted that he sought García Márquez’s aid for an exit visa but that the writer tried to dissuade him from going, saying that Cuba’s enemies might use his departure for propaganda purposes.

Apart from that book, Padilla produced little. He bounced from one college job to another before dying, a broken man, in Auburn, Ala. He was 68.

In truth, Heberto Padilla did not have half the talent Gabriel García Márquez had. Still, some of us admire him more.

Background: MLB's Requirements for Cuban Players Go Beyond Law

Excerpts from the August 2013 article, "MLB Slows Down Process For Cuban Signings," in Baseball America:

[A]t some point before the end of 2012, MLB stiffened its requirements for Cuban players, telling teams they are not allowed to sign a Cuban national until the player has been issued a specific license [as an "unblocked national"] from OFAC.

[CHC: Despite the fact that Cuban players in the U.S. would already be considered "unblocked nationals" under an existing general license, which requires no time or paperwork].

What MLB is asking for from Cuban players goes beyond the minimum government requirement and will have the effect of slowing down their signing process, with some having to wait six months to get a [specific] license [...]

The easiest way for a Cuban player to become an "unblocked national" would be to come directly to the United States, but then the player would be subject to the draft. For players like Puig, Soler or Jose Abreu, that would cost them and their handlers significant money. So they want to avoid the draft, and at the same time they want to sign as quickly as possible. Every day the player doesn’t get signed creates more expenses for his handlers.

The process also creates incentive for fraud to expedite the process. It’s not difficult to acquire false passports or other documents in countries like Haiti or Mexico, no different than the way drug traffickers or arms dealers acquire fake identities [...]

If MLB allowed Cuban players who are exempt from the international bonus pools—those age 23 or older with at least three seasons in Serie Nacional—to sign as free agents even if they established residency in the United States, that might simplify things, but there’s no indication that will happen.

FL Lawmakers to MLB: End Disparities for Cuban Players

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Two Florida Lawmakers Take Stand To Change MLB Cuban Player Policy

Florida Reps. Matt Gaetz and Jose Felix Diaz today said Major League Baseball (MLB) facilities in the state should receive no new tax incentives unless League rules treat Cuban ball players fairly and equitably. The bold move by Gaetz and Diaz calls on MLB to repeal an outmoded policy that unfairly places additional barriers to the majors for Cuban players that are not in place for those from other nations. The proposed legislation would thwart human traffickers who prey on these baseball players.

“Major League Baseball is inadvertently forcing players to make a deal with the devil”

The lawmakers are seeking to protect Cuban ballplayers after reports detailed a Los Angeles Dodgers star’s escape from the island. Yasiel Puig’s harrowing journey, first reported by Los Angeles Magazine, reportedly involved a Mexican drug cartel, death threats and demands for 20 percent of his major league salary in exchange for getting Puig out of Cuba.

Reps. Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and Diaz (R-Miami) said an antiquated rule established by Major League Baseball is to blame. The rule has the unintended effect of enticing talented Cuban ballplayers to first establish residency in another country rather than come directly to the United States.

If Puig had come to freedom in America first, the MLB policy would have forced him to wait and then be placed in the Major League draft. But because the star outfielder established residency in another country first, he was allowed to sign as a free agent and earn significantly more money.

This disincentive to come directly to America led Puig – apparently like many other Cuban athletes – to turn to human smugglers and their drug cartel financiers for help, according to published reports.

“Major League Baseball’s rule punishes Cuban ballplayers by forcing them into the arms of human traffickers,” Gaetz said. “The taxpayers of Florida should no longer subsidize human smuggling.”

Gaetz noted that players from Cuba are the only ones subject to the current restriction.

“Major League Baseball is inadvertently forcing players to make a deal with the devil,” Diaz said. “It is time for Major League Baseball to treat Cuban players the same way they treat a player from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela or Mexico. For me this is simply a matter of equity and fairness under the law.”

The Gaetz-Diaz proposal would amend CS/HB 7095, legislation related to the Professional Sports Facilities Incentive Application Process.

“Florida should not stand idle as baseball players are exploited by the Castro Brothers and international drug cartels,” Diaz said. “We are making a request of Major League Baseball: Treat Cuban major league prospects the same as players from other countries. Whatever system MLB crafts must treat Cubans equally. It is that simple.”

Raul's Distorted Reforms

Excerpt by Simon Lester of The Cato Institute:

Welcoming new foreign investment is great. Here’s the problem, though: In order to liberalize investment, a government really doesn’t need to do anything fancy. It can just say, “foreign investment is permitted, and will be treated like domestic investment.” Very simple. Furthermore, lower tax rates and reduced regulatory burdens can help encourage such investment. Again, very simple.

In practice, though, governments make this process difficult and less liberalizing. Here, what Cuba seems to have done is offered special tax breaks for new foreign investments, and then subjected receipt of these tax advantages to certain hiring conditions. In effect, it introduces two distortions as part of the liberalization process: favoring new foreign investors over other investors through the tax code and then subjecting the favored investors to additional regulation.

The FARC's (and Castro's) Favorite Congressman

Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Here's what international human rights monitors have recently said about repression in Cuba:

"Repression of independent journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists increased."

-- Amnesty International, 2013 Annual Report

"Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent."

-- Human Rights Watch, 2013 Annual Report

"The principal human rights abuses were abridgment of the right of citizens to change the government and the use of government threats, extrajudicial physical violence, intimidation, mobs, harassment, and detentions to prevent free expression and peaceful assembly."

-- U.S. Department of State, 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights

In contrast, here's what U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), one of Congress' staunchest opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba, told the Boston Globe this weekend:

"It is difficult but it is not oppressive. It is not to minimize the human rights challenges, but there have been changes here that have resulted in more political space."

No Congressman, white-washing Castro's human rights abuses is exactly what you are doing.

Ironically (or hypocritically), this is the same U.S. Rep. McGovern, who stood on the House floor in 2011 to virulently oppose a free trade agreement with our democratic ally, Colombia, arguing:

"We should not be debating this FTA today. We should be waiting until we see real, honest-to-goodness results on the ground in terms of improvements of human rights. When it comes to human rights, M. Chairman, the United States of America should not be a cheap date. We should stand firm, and we should be unabashed in our support for human rights. Vote NO on the Colombia FTA."

No wonder he's the FARC's (and Castro's) favorite Congressman.

Recommended Reading for "Cuban Twitter" Critics: Development as Freedom

Critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba have tried to use the sensationalist reports about the Zunzuneo program ("Cuban Twitter") to renew their attacks on USAID's democracy programs.

Amid their fake outrage, they pose the rhetorical question:

Why is a development agency administering a democracy program?

The answer is simple:

Because "freedoms are not only the primary ends of development, they are also among its principal means." 

That quote is from Harvard economist and Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen.

It's from his book, "Development as Freedom," which should be recommended reading for those critics who pose the question above.

Here's the book's Introduction:

Development can be seen, it is argued here, as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy. Focusing on human freedoms contrasts with narrower views of development, such as identifying development with the growth of gross national product, or with the rise in personal incomes, or with industrialization, or with technological advance or with social modernization. Growth of GNP or of individual incomes can, of course, be very important as means to expanding the freedoms enjoyed by the members of the society. But freedoms depend also on other determinants, such as social and economic arrangements (for example, facilities for education and health care) as well as political and civil rights (for example, the liberty to participate in public discussion and scrutiny). Similarly, industrialization or technological progress or social modernization can substantially contribute to expanding human freedom, but freedom depends on other influences as well. If freedom is what development advances, then there is a major argument for concentrating on that overarching objective, rather than on some particular means, or some specially chosen list of instruments. Viewing development in terms of expanding substantive freedoms directs attention to the ends that make development important, rather than merely to some of the means that, inter alia, play a prominent part in the process.

Quote of the Day: "Cuban Twitter" is a Good Thing

Using a Twitter feed or a messaging system that allows Cubans to communicate with each other is a good thing, no matter who pays for it.
-- U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), on USAID's Zunzuneo ("Cuban Twitter") program, AP, 4/22/14

Another Reason Why Cuba Remains a State-Sponsor of Terrorism

From The Miami Herald:

U.S. fugitive and renegade CIA agent Frank Terpil is still living in Havana and easily recounting his days helping former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to murder his political enemies, according to a recently released British documentary.

Co-producer Michael Chrisman said Terpil, 74, was interviewed at his Havana home in December and gave the impression of leading a somewhat bored life, “with little to do (and) spending much time frequenting Havana watering holes nursing a drink.”

He has a much younger Cuban girlfriend, and asks friends and visitors to supply him with the occasional English language book, said Chrisman. The Showtime documentary is titled “Mad Dog: Inside the Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi.”

The interview focused on Terpil’s relations with the Libyan dictator, killed in a 2011 revolt, and not on his links to his Cuban hosts because “he was no doubt taking a gamble upsetting them by doing the interview,” the co-producer added.

Terpil, a CIA operative who resigned from the agency in 1970, is one of more than 70 U.S. fugitives reported to have received safe haven in Cuba. Many are viewed by Havana as victims of U.S. political persecution, such as black-rights militant Joanne Chesimard.

He fled the United States in 1980 to escape a U.S. indictment on charges of conspiracy to murder and delivering more than 20 tons of plastic explosives to Gadhafi and turned up in Lebanon but eventually settled in Cuba.

Cuba’s General Intelligence Directorate recruited Terpil, gave him the code name of Curiel — guinea pig — and used him in 1987 to try to recruit a CIA worker in the former Czechoslovakia, retired agency analyst Brian Latell wrote in his book, Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA and the Kennedy Assassination.

Why Raul's Reforms Don't Work

Answer: Because they are cosmetic.

There's no clearer evidence that Cuban dictator Raul Castro's reforms are cosmetic than the fact that they fail to deliver results.

Last month, AFP reported on the agricultural "reforms," which were the centerpiece of Raul's policy:

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.

And today, AP reports on the failure of Raul's real estate "reforms":

Despite reforms in recent years to address the island’s housing problem, such building collapses remain common in Cuba, where decades of neglect and a dearth of new home construction have left untold thousands of islanders living in crowded structures at risk of suddenly falling down.

When President Raul Castro legalized a real estate market for the first time in five decades, it was supposed to stimulate both new construction and maintenance of existing homes. But 2½ years later, there has been only a minimal impact on easing one of Cuba’s biggest challenges: a chronic lack of suitable housing.

Regardless of the rhetoric, both of these "reforms" share the same obstacle:

That the Castro regime refuses to give up absolute control.

41st Sunday in a Row: Ladies in White Beaten, Arrested

For the 41st Sunday in a row, dozens of the The Ladies in White were beaten and arrested throughout the island.

The Ladies in White is a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners,

At least 17 were arrested in Havana, 18 in Matanzas, 7 in Bayamo and 8 in Holguin.

Meanwhile, in the easternmost province of Santiago de Cuba, over 29 were arrested, including the regional leader of the group, Belkis Cantillo.

To add insult to injury, at a funeral yesterday for the father of Ibis Maria Rodriguez, a member of The Ladies in White, the political police physically assaulted Ibis and other dissidents. It also arrested her husband, Fermin Zamora Vazquez.

Pictured below: Police operation ready to confront The Ladies in White, as they peacefully walk together after Eastern Mass in Matanzas.

Tweet of the Day: In Mariel, Castro Will Only Steal 2/3 of Worker's Salary

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Henry Constantin:

Good news for workers in #Cuba. In #Mariel, the state will only steal two-thirds of the salary that foreign companies offer you. 

WSJ: Three Easters in a Cuban Prison

Monday, April 21, 2014
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

Easter No. 3 for a Prisoner of Castro

Bearing witness to Cuba's political persecution costs Sonia Garro her freedom.

Christians the world over celebrated the resurrection of their savior on Sunday with worship services and family gatherings. Thirty-eight-year-old Sonia Garro shares the faith too, but she spent the holiday in a Cuban dungeon as a prisoner of conscience, just as she has for the past two years.

Ms. Garro is a member of the Christian dissident group Ladies in White, started in Havana in 2003 by sisters, wives and mothers of political prisoners to peacefully protest the unjust incarceration of their loved ones. It has since expanded to other parts of the country and added many recruits. The group's growing popularity has worried the Castros, and they have responded with increasing brutality.

Cuba's military government wants us to believe that the Brothers Fidel and Raul Castro are "reforming." To buy that line you have to pretend that Ms. Garro and her sisters in Christ don't exist. Of course that's often the impression one gets from Havana-based reporters working for foreign media outlets.

They've been invited into the country not to serve the truth but to serve the dictatorship. Fortunately, there are brave and independent Cuban journalists who continue to tell the Ladies' story, despite scant resources.

In the late winter of 2012, Cubans were looking forward to a visit from Pope Benedict XVI and the Ladies were lobbying the Vatican for an audience. Their relentless pleading was embarrassing the dictatorship, which had been beating them in the streets on their way to Sunday Mass for almost a decade. It was also making the Church, which had already cut its own deal with the regime on the terms of the visit, look bad. On the weekend of March 17 Castro sent the Ladies a warning by locking up some 70 of their members.

Most of those detained, including leader Berta Soler, had been freed by the time the pontiff touched down in Cuba nine days later, but Ms. Garro was not. Benedict celebrated some Masses, did photo ops with the despots and left.

It was a clever strategy: The world saw the release of the many Ladies, which obscured the continued detention of the one. That one—poor, black and not well known internationally—serves, to this day, as a constant reminder of the wrath Castro will bring down on anyone in the barrios who gets out of line.

By 2012 Ms. Garro already had experience with state violence. Her record of counterrevolutionary activities included running a recreation center in her home for troubled youths. For that she was twice beaten by government-sanctioned mobs. She suffered a broken nose in police detention in 2010.

When security agents took her home to put her under house arrest ahead of the pope's visit, she was met by a mob sent to harass her. Her husband, Ramon Alejandro Muñoz, had climbed to the roof and was chanting anti-dictatorship slogans. Two neighbors took the couple's side. Special-forces police were called in. They raided the home, shot Ms. Garro in the leg with rubber bullets and hauled the couple and two neighbors to jail.

Eighteen months later prosecutors charged Ms. Garro with assault, attempted murder and public disorder. Her husband and one neighbor, Eugenio Hernández, are accused of attempted murder and public disorder. The prosecution is seeking a 10-year prison sentence for Ms. Garro, 14 years for Mr. Muñoz, and 11 years for Mr. Hernández.

Anyone who has ever read about Soviet show trials will recognize the state's case. The prosecutors claim that Messrs. Muñoz and Hernández were both on the roof and knew a police officer could have been killed when they threw things to try to stop him from climbing a ladder to reach them.

The regime alleges that the couple had been planning street disturbances. The "evidence" confiscated from their home included bottles, machetes, rebar and cardboard protest signs. The state claims that containers with fuel found in the home were Molotov cocktails.

Every household item or piece of scrap found in a poor Cuban household is considered a weapon when the state wants to convict a prisoner. By its logic the frying pan and the iron should have been cited too. With good aim, they can be deadly. As to the combustibles inside the home, Ms. Garro's sister Yamilet Garro told independent journalist Augusto Cesar San Martín Albistur, "the items were for lighting during the blackouts that are quite common in the area." For Castro, the most dangerous items were the antigovernment signs.

Ms. Garro's real crime is her refusal to surrender her soul to the state. That makes her an exemplary Christian but a lousy revolutionary. The peril she presents is showing Cubans how to be both.

Confiscations Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

This weekend, The Boston Globe ran an interesting article on the early confiscations of American property by the Castro regime.

These confiscations, worth over $7 billion today, comprise the “largest uncompensated taking of American property by a foreign government in history.”

That was yesterday.

Today, the Castro regime continues to confiscate businesses and properties -- albeit no longer of Americans thanks to U.S. sanctions.

We've seen a slew of Canadian and European businesses confiscated by the Castro regime in recent years; the illegal and compulsory confiscation of Cuban worker's wages; of "self-employment" activity; and even the confiscation of remittances through a byzantine foreign exchange mechanism.

And, unfortunately, these confiscations will continue tomorrow, so long as Cuba is ruled by an absolute and arbitrary dictatorship, without an independent judiciary, recourse and rule of law.

Excerpt from The Boston Globe:

What’s often forgotten... is that the embargo was actually triggered by something concrete: an enormous pile of American assets that Castro seized in the process of nationalizing the Cuban economy. Some of these assets were the vacation homes and bank accounts of wealthy individuals. But the lion’s share of the confiscated property—originally valued at $1.8 billion, which at 6 percent simple interest translates to nearly $7 billion today—was sugar factories, mines, oil refineries, and other business operations belonging to American corporations, among them the Coca-Cola Co., Exxon, and the First National Bank of Boston.

Dilma Hearts Dictators

Sunday, April 20, 2014
Excerpt from The Financial Times:

Brazil’s foreign policy stance leaves it in wings on global stage

Inability to contradict authoritarian partners weakens influence

This month, Brazil marks a particularly grim moment in its history. Fifty years ago, the country’s military took power in a coup that ushered in two decades of brutal dictatorship.

President Dilma Rousseff, who as a young leftist guerrilla fighting the generals was jailed and tortured, marked the occasion with a speech at Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport earlier this month.

Shedding a quiet tear, she cited a song by the bossa nova artist Tom Jobim, “Samba do Avião”, that recalls the emotions of a Brazilian landing in Rio, saying the lyrics were about exiles returning home with the end of the military regime.

This was a gaffe – the song was written in 1962, before the coup. But the sentiment was clear: democracy may be messy, but it is far better than the horrors of dictatorship and authoritarianism.

How strange then that on the international stage, Brazil sometimes seems more at odds with the US and Europe, whose governments share its political and cultural values, than it is with countries averse to them – such as Venezuela, China, Cuba and Russia.

This apparent contradiction between Brazil’s identity as the world’s fourth-largest democracy and its stance on foreign affairs could eventually inhibit its attempts to establish itself as an important force in global geopolitics.

The latest incidence of fence-sitting by Brazil was during the UN vote last month on Crimea. Brazil was one of the countries that abstained – others included China, India and Argentina – on a UN resolution declaring invalid the Crimean referendum that led to its annexation by Russia.

Brazil has been silent on the issue of Ukraine and Crimea, aside from limited statements describing the issue as “complex” and calling for a “pacific” solution.

While Brazil has a right to its opinion on Ukraine, its apparent tolerance of Russia’s interference in Crimea runs counter to its previous opposition to what it saw as meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. It has regularly abstained on western initiatives to criticise Iran, Libya and Syria, although on the latter it has recently become more vocal.

It also occasionally finds itself befriending and defending dictators, such as those in Venezuela and Cuba.

The need to engage authoritarian regimes is a reality for all democracies. But Latin America’s largest nation can seem a soft touch for some of the world’s strongmen. They can expect little criticism, at least publicly, from Brasília, while enjoying the increased legitimacy their diplomatic contact with Brazil affords them.

This is perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Brazil`s external relations. In contrast to its delicacy when dealing with Russia or China, Venezuela or Cuba, Brazil seems unafraid to lash out at Washington or Europe.