Cuban Democracy Leader's Remarks at Johns Hopkins University

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Remarks by Cuban author and democracy leader, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C.:

Dear friends:

As a Cuban from the Island —and all Cubans are, no matter how far and how much time has passed since we left or were expelled from the Island—, as a critical intellectual —that is, a writer and photographer who believes in the beauty of truth, even when nobody listened— and also as a Cuban from the exile, of course —because all Cubans are as well, no matter if we still live inside the Island, where we are “inxiles”—, it’s a privilege and a great honor to be invited here to share my experiences and my vision with you today.

I hope that my words can give voice to the countless alternative voices that exist and resist in my country. These are real men and women who cannot live normal lives in their birthplace, since their whole existence is disrupted day by day —and decade after decade— by the perverse nature of a regime never elected by my people, by the propaganda machinery and the impunity of the political police, in a despotic version of socialism that, as in any totalitarian State, starts by abolishing private property, only to end up destroying private life as such, harassing citizens whether or not they become aware of the power of the powerless and decide to bear witness to their own reality. Indeed, the concept of citizen itself is officially obsolete inside Cuba, since the term is used exclusively by the authorities when the police carry out a detention or when a tribunal opens a trial. So, if they call you “ciudadano” (citizen), then you know you are lost even if you are innocent or, worse —as in a Kafka novel—, even if you don’t have any idea of what you are guilty of. Therefore, perhaps the crime is the social process itself.

On the one hand, I speak here quite confident, after so many walls that seemed would never fall and yet they did fall in the last 25 years. On the other hand, I also speak so very worried in front of other walls that should have been brought down already and still have not been. I’m particularly concerned about the new walls that many governments seem to be building, in a battle that may well be developing in perfect peace, little by little, corroding the basis of democracy on our planet, by the use of democratic disguises that hide the intentions of the system, until it’s too late for the people to react and get rid of the oppressors.

The Cuban people might have suffered this process twice:

1. Not only after the military takeover of January 1st 1959, but before the victory of the so-called Revolution, the confidence of a whole nation was betrayed by secret agendas that involved the hegemonic powors of the Cold War world back then, plus the never-ending hunger for power of Fidel Castro and his closest followers. Believe it or not, many of those men —those who were not devoured by the rage of a Revolution so similar to Saturn, who eats his own children— those men are still alive and in absolute control in Cuba now, although they are not mentioned in the manipulative billboards of the CubaNow campaign that this month is being displayed in the stations of Washington DC metro. This gerontocracy is an elite so cynical as to call themselves “the historical generation”. Or maybe they are just being transparent, since it’s really impossible that history will forget or forgive this generation created in the image and likeliness of the Maximum Leader. Thus, despite the previous dictatorship, in 1959 Cuba lost a democratic republic with a then recent Constitution that even today would be considered a paradigm in the recognition of differences within unity.
                                                                                                                 
2. In the 21st century itself, in this 2014 that looked like science-fiction for the teenagers that we were in the late 80’s, a Transition is now taking place in my country, but not from Law to Law —as in the Spanish democratization model— but from Dictator to Dictator, in the Caribbean style, including a dynastic tradition of blood: from the original Castro to his brother Raul; then, when he steps down most likely after 2018, to his daughter Mariela (now Deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power) or to his son Alejandro (a high-ranked intelligence officer, the much feared tropical version of Vladimir Putin and other autocrats of the kind), or to both. Indeed, since its independence from Europe centuries ago, Latin America is a region devastated by criminal caudillos that call themselves Liberators, Saviors, and ultimately Fathers of our homeland. So, 55 years after the enthusiasm of a Revolution, just when the light at the end of the tunnel is a growing illusion in the soul of my nation —inside and outside the Island—, once again a secret operation is on its way to abort our hopes to be free.

However, nowadays an emerging civic society is peacefully struggling in Cuba, face to face against such a transition from Communism to State Capitalism, a strategy for the system’s survival that relies on the populist regimes of the region, on geopolitical globalization, and on the irresponsible greed for profits of both foreign and, most sadly, Cuban investors living abroad, the majority in the United States, now under an administration that, like European Union, seems more than willing to “normalize” the relations with an “abnormal” regime, disregarding the violations of human rights in Cuba, as part of a time left behind long ago. Thus ensuring, by the way, a fossil future for all Cubans wherever we may live. The rationale here appears to be that, if democracies cannot prevail over the enemies of freedom, then it’s better to make an alliance and, preferably, to do business with them. In free nations maybe nobody conceives a Cold War II scenario, but the rationale of totalitarianism is totally different for sure.

Please, allow me to re-write the famous poem of Allen Ginsberg: America, you’ve given them all and now you’re nothing… I wouldn’t like to be the spokesman of bad news for the Western world, but next time we take a close look at the politic equilibrium in our hemisphere, for example, we might be surprised that it will be too late to react and get rid of the oppressors.

Dear friends: since I became an independent blogger and journalist in Cuba, I was told, by the former Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, and the former director of the Cuban Book Institute, Iroel Sanchez, that I will never publish again in my country. They were both removed from their positions later (Saturn’s law), but the unholy war of the Castros against critical intellectuals goes on and on.

While I talk here, the Havanan novelist Angel Santiesteban languishes a 5-year sentence for a common crime announced to him —by State Security agents— as a punishment for his opinion columns in his blog: Los hijos que nadie quiso /The Children Nobody Wanted.

While I talk here, a journalist from the free-lance agency Hablemos Press / Let’s Talk Press, Calixto Ramon Martinez was kept many months in prison for reporting an outbreak of cholera in Cuba, which still constitutes a serious health risk there, even for tourists, a fact that the Cuban government refuses to recognize in its due importance. Finally he was released without any explanation, documentation of his case, or at least an attempt to give him an apology or indemnify him.

While I talk here, a Catholic Afrocuban young mother and her husband, both peaceful pro-democracy activists, Sonia Garro and Ramon Alejandro Muñoz, have been for two years and two months in several Cuban prisons, subject to physical abuse and isolation periods, just because they protested when they were forbidden to attend the Holy Mass of the Pope Benedict XVI in the Revolution Square of Havana city, in March 2012. Hundreds of human rights activists were then arrested, including me, kidnapped for three days with my girlfriend, apparently accused of attempting to take counter-revolutionary photographs of His Holiness with the Heroic Guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara behind him, in the façade of the mysterious Ministry of Interior where the mass took place.

While I talk here, an American citizen under contract by USAID, Alan Gross, is being held hostage since December 2009 in a Cuban jail, serving a 15-year sentence for charges that included espionage. A Jew himself, he was just helping the Cuban Jewish community to have a ready access to the internet, since the right to independent information is not recognized by my government. In fact, it constitutes a major crime: enemy propaganda, diffusion of negative news, among other brutalities of our actual Penal Code. This was a miserable mafia message thrown to the fair-play face of America: mind your own business, do not dare to try to help the Cuban civic society or you will pay a dirty price too.

Besides, dozens of well-known terrorists have found safe haven to grow old in Cuba and take care of their families and their fortunes, after a whole life devoted to international delinquency, including USA fugitives, ex CIA agents and hit-men associated with dictators and paramilitary bands worldwide.

To put an end to this very limited list —which cannot explain the thousands of death penalties by firing squad nor the untold number of Cubans dead in the Florida Straits trying to escape from our proletarian paradise— on July 22nd 2012, a car with two Cubans and two foreigners was intercepted in a remote province of Cuba. The two foreigners, young politicians from Spain and Swede, were beaten, taken away from the scene, drugged in a hospital, incarcerated, and threatened with death if they did not accept —in a public video shown by Cuban TV— that they just had had a car crash.

The two Cubans were assassinated, God knows if after one of those private “revolutionary trials” on the spot, so frequent at the beginning of the Revolution, on the very highway that remained closed to car traffic for over an hour. Their names were —their names are and will always be— Harold Cepero and Oswaldo Payá. Payá was the leader and is the founder of the Christian Liberation Movement. He won the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought from the European Parliament in 2002. He was a dear friend to Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. And certainly he was the main candidate to conduct a true Transition to Democracy in Cuba, and maybe he could have turned into the first president of the free Cuba that is to come. A liberated Cuba that our government is indeed delaying thanks to deaths like these and that of Laura Pollan, the leader and founder of the Ladies in White Movement, also a winner of the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament, in 2005.

The family of Oswaldo Payá is now looking for solidarity to open an independent investigation upon this extrajudicial killings, where Harold Cepero was cruelly considered just a “collateral damage” to the murderers paid by La Habana (maybe they were not even Cubans, so that’s easier to make them disappear now).

In the middle of all this tragedy, I kept writing and taking pictures out of the ruins and the splendor of my beloved and lost La Habana. In the middle of all this pain, hypocrisy coming from my neighbors and relatives and even from the hierarchy of the Cuban church, many have kept informing the world about our unreal reality. Surrounded by a lot of apathy, but also with the pleasure of staying to work for the well-being of the only spot on the planet that we can call our home. Surrounded by hatred and hopelessness, I hopelessly fell in love there, with someone more courageous and with much more peace in her heart to struggle for freedom in my homeland, after half a century of civil apartheid, military impunity, lack of solidarity from the international community, and a massive anthropological damage that has turned Cuba into a post-national country that only cares about escaping from itself, and where disappointment is paving the way to defeat for those of us who still cherish hope.

We, Cubans, do need your help now, please, to overcome all the frustration that is extending its roots in a people that has been traditionally noble, friendly, truthful, hard-working, brave, fond of freedom and also full of joy.

Dear friends: I won’t be the spokesman of bad news for this session, but let’s not forget for a minute that the oppressors are active out there, and they have an incisive instinct for self-preservation. Allow me to finish by re-writing the Cuban repressed and finally exiled poet Heberto Padilla, with his “Prayer for the end of the century” / “Oración para el fin de siglo”: Nosotros, hijos y nietos de terroristas melancólicos y de científicos supersticiosos, sabemos que en el día de hoy está el error que alguien habrá de condenar mañana. We, children and grandchildren of melancholy terrorists and superstitious scientists, we do know that deep in today lies the error that someone shall condemn tomorrow.

Contrary to the famous and infamous speech of Fidel Castro in 1953 —“La Historia me absolverá” (History will absolve me) —, the world may absolve them, it doesn’t matter. History will condemn them anyway.

Thank you very much.

MH Editorial Board: Tighten the Screws on Venezuela

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Tighten the screws on Venezuela

OUR OPINION: Maduro government’s failure to negotiate strengthens case for U.S. sanctions

The failure of Venezuela’s government to bargain in good faith with leaders of the pro-democracy movement strengthens the case for imposing U.S. sanctions on President Nicolás Maduro’s cronies and the beneficiaries of his corrupt regime.

Given the government’s slide into authoritarian rule, there never seemed to be much chance that it would use the talks to engage in political healing, but opponents gave it a try. On Tuesday, however, the head of the democratic umbrella group, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, labeled the talks a farce and said the negotiations had yielded little except insults from the government side.

And, while the government paid lip service to its supposed desire to ease the crisis, security forces stepped up political repression against its foes, and Mr. Maduro’s bureaucrats imposed new economic measures that offer fresh evidence of their incompetent management.

Police last week raided four makeshift camps in Caracas set up by anti-government demonstrators and detained 243 students. At least a dozen were charged with a variety of felonies designed to cow the protest movement. The raids came one day after the government said it would start rationing water in Caracas and electricity in western Zulia state, adding to shortages of everything from toilet paper to flour.

Three months of protests against the declining standard of living have cost at least 42 lives. Even so, Mr. Maduro apparently has decided to tough it out rather than find a non-confrontational way out of the crisis.

He has refused to make any concessions to the opposition, such as allowing the release of political prisoners or finding room for non-government members on an electoral commission. The refusal of a Maduro ally who leads the National Assembly to step down as head of the commission investigating the street clashes and political violence of the past few months was the last straw for Mr. Aveledo and pro-democracy forces.

Up to now, the Obama administration has made a good case for restraint in order to avoid giving the Maduro government a pretext to frame the issue as a fight between Venezuela and the United States. The political battle in that country is between the government and its own citizens, who are understandably fed up with 15 years of corrupt and increasingly undemocratic rule.

But as Sen. Marco Rubio astutely pointed out at a Senate hearing on Venezuela last week, the die is already cast. Mr. Maduro’s government has repeatedly pronounced itself a foe of the United States. At the same time, the Miami lawmaker pointed out, some of Mr. Maduro’s associates have gotten rich from political deals with Venezuela’s rulers. They have stashed their money in this country and used their profits to buy property in Miami, among other places. What is to be lost, at this point, by imposing sanctions on them?

During the hearing, Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a clearly disbelieving Mr. Rubio that members of the opposition wanted the government to refrain from imposing sanctions while talks are under way. On Wednesday, Ms. Jacobson said she had been mistaken and that no such request had been received from the opposition.

No one should expect that sanctions will produce rapid changes. But until now, only those courageous enough to raise their voices on behalf of democracy in Venezuela have felt any pain. It’s time for Mr. Maduro’s cronies to get a taste of their own medicine.

Taking China's (Cuba's) Statistics at Face Value

If this is the case with China, just imagine totalitarian Cuba.

From Christopher Whalen's "The Truth About China's Economy" in The National Interest:

The World Bank just put out a report suggesting that the Chinese economy would overtake that of the United States by next year to become the world’s biggest economy measured by its currency's purchasing power [...]

Even the Chinese government itself expressed reservations about the methodology used by the World Bank. But the more fundamental issue for analysts should start with the nature of the Chinese political economy and the veracity of economic data in China. There is no separation between church and state in China. There is only the state.

The economic statistics issued by the Chinese government are designed to help maintain the control of the Chinese Communist Party in a political sense, not to better inform China’s people or foreign investors. The fact that the World Bank, foreign news agencies and investors are willing to take Chinese statistics at face value says more about the credulity of foreign audiences than it does about China’s authoritarian government.

Heeding Foreign Businessmen's Advice: Reasons Not to Invest in Cuba

Friday, May 16, 2014
In the 1990's, Spanish businessman Jose Fernandez Gonzalez, wrote the following piece (below) in Spain's ABC newspaper.

It's fascinating how Fernandez Gonzalez's experience is identical to the recent fate of Britain's Stephen Purvis, France's Michel Villand, Canada's Cy Tokmakjian and countless other foreign businessmen who have made millions for Castro prior to being expropriated.

Yet, we keep hearing about so-called "reforms."

Please read below, then click and read the stories of Purvis, Villand and Tokmakjian.

Ask yourself -- what has changed? 

(Other than CUBALSE being dismantled in 2009 and folded into the Cuban military's holding company GAESA -- further consolidating all business within the Castro family.)

If Purvis, Villand and Tokmakjian had heeded Fernandez Gonzalez's advice, they would have avoided much suffering, loss and profit for Castro's regime.

Today, Castro's lobbyists work diligently to seduce U.S. businesses to do the same.

They should heed all of these foreign businessmen's advice.

Here's Fernandez Gonzalez's experience (courtesy of Carlos Alberto Montaner's blog and our translation):

A few years ago, I created in the Hemingway Marina, a tourist zone near Havana, a bar/restaurant, which quickly became the gathering place for people with hard currency.  In other words, for tourists, members of the nomenclature and for Cubans who enjoy the paradoxical privilege of having exiled relatives. It was called La Tasca Española and its success was my loss.

One of the "bosses" of the Cuban economy, Mr. Abraham Maciques, became obsessed with taking it from me, and via a simple resolution from the Ministry of Foreign Commerce -- a farce that would not hold water in any Western judicial system -- my business was taken from me and I became "an enemy of the people." Today, I remain deprived, without recourse, of the property that I steadfastly and honorably worked to create for many years. The point of this text is very simple: I don't want other foreign investors, who travel to Cuba under the siren song of a revolution whose outer facade has nothing to do with the real and profound sordidness of the system, to suffer the same fate as I did.

Thus, here are the reasons for which I recommend, I beg, that you don't contribute with your money and knowledge to shore-up Cuba's dictatorship:

First: Because there is not the slightest judicial guarantee. There is no Rule of Law that protects investors, nor anyone else.  You are always at the mercy of a high-ranking official, who can decide to forcibly expropriate your property and there's no human way to dispute it in the tribunals.  In Cuba, what prevails are not rights, but the will and whim of those who govern.  The same thing that happened to business owners at the beginning of the revolution can happen, and does happen, to today's investors and businessmen.

Second: Because transactions and businesses in Cuba are not done withing an atmosphere of real entrepreneurs, but in a dark universe of police and spies.  Practically all of the of the officials who work with foreign investors are members of the Ministry of the Interior and form part of the political police, which is the organ that controls every single dollar that enters or exits the country.  In Cuba, one does not deal with economists, accountants and marketing experts: one deals with colonels, lieutenant colonels or generals.

Third: This police atmosphere leads to the creation of a state of terror from which foreign investors cannot separate themselves, even if they want to. First, they are compromised as victims, for the secretary or driver assigned to them are always political police informants who control all of their movements. Then, the investors and businessmen end up becoming accomplices themselves.  They are asked for information about other businessmen and other foreigners, they are asked to spy for the benefit of the Cuban government.  I myself had to do so on various occasions, if I wanted to stay in Cuba and if I didn't want the revolution to distrust me.

Fourth: Also, for moral reasons that for many years have bothered me, it's unjustifiable to make money in Cuba by participating in a slave labor regime that is absolutely inhumane.  Let me explain: as a businessman, you don't hire Cubans directly, but through an office of the Ministry of the Interior called CUBALSE, which is paid in U.S. dollars for every worker that is provided, while the "corporation" (as it's referred to in Cuba) pays the worker in the worthless and devalued national currency.  I would pay CUBALSE  $330 for each worker and CUBALSE would pay the worker 200 Cuban pesos. The value of the U.S. dollar in the black market, which is the only place Cubans can acquire basic necessities to survive, is 120x1. Thus, my employee was really making less than $2 a month, while the "corporation" that rented him to me like a slave, received 300 times that.

Fifth: This violation, of which no foreign businessman can get around, explains the profound hatred that many Cuban workers feel for us.  They know that the businessman is not at fault for this unjust rule, but they can't help but seeing us as part of a system of absolute, arbitrary and cruel exploitation.

Sixth: This same attitude exists, in general, towards all foreigners in Cuba, who simply because they have dollars, can access everything that Cubans cannot buy with their hard work: food, clinics that don't lack medicines, good clothing, gasoline or the electricity that hotels enjoy.

There are many reasons for not going to Cuba.  I appeal, first of all, to the pockets of my compatriots: don't go, because you are going to lose it all and will not be able to do anything to regain it. My case is not unique. Also, I have to appeal to ethical and moral reasons: those who believe in freedom, democracy and simple decency should not become accomplices of a sinister dictatorship that requires all sorts of dark collaborations.

Quote of the Day: Dictators Should Die in Jail

Dictators shouldn't die in power. They should die in jail.
-- Jorge Ramos, Univision News anchor, in "The Slow Demise of the Castros in Cuba," Fusion, 5/15/14

Maduro Confidant Represses in Caracas, Does Business in Miami

While the State Department remains "confused" about sanctioning Venezuelan regime officials for their egregious human rights violations, Diario las Americas reports on the U.S. business activities of Miguel Rodriguez Torres, Venezuela's Minister of the Interior and Justice and a long-time confidant of Nicolas Maduro.

His business, Importadora Alzuro, is run by his wife, Zuleima Rosana Medina Rodriguez.  It imports food products from the United States, which are then sold to the Venezuelan state's food distribution network.

Medina Rodriguez enjoys a tourist visa to the United States, where she and her daughters frequently travel, shop, party and conduct business.

Meanwhile, her husband continues to arrest, torture and murder Venezuelan student activists.

Godspeed Yoani: On 14ymedio

Our best wishes to Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Yoani Sanchez, on the May 21st launch of her new digital newspaper: 14ymedio.

The announcement in Yoani's blog, Generation Y:

Yesterday I was arguing with a friend about the importance of journalism in the current Cuban situation. He wanted to convince me to join his opposition party and I reminded him that a reporter should not have any kind of militancy. It was an affectionate conversation, peppered with jokes, but one which made clear the different positions that must be taken by a reporter versus a politician.

Now here I am, remembering the conversation of a few hours ago and posting on my personal blog the face and name of a shared dream. A medium that we hope will support and accompany the necessary transition that is going to take place in our country. A space dedicated to narrating a reality where there are people like my friend, but also other people who applaud the current system, out of conviction, opportunism or fear. A space to report on Cuba from within Cuba.

It will be a difficult road. In recent weeks we have seen a preview of how official propaganda will demonize us for creating this medium. Already, in fact, several people on our work team have received the first warning calls from State Security. However, we have no reason to be hesitant. 14ymedio emerges with nothing to hide. Information regarding its editorial approach, ethics and financial commitments will be available on our web page which will go live on May 21. Although we had hoped to have it working today, I have to admit that technology is, at times, extremely capricious.

For those who are wondering why this name, so unique and different, the fact is that we originate from the fourteenth floor in the fourteenth year. In addition, it includes the “Y” that has accompanied me all these years, and the word “media” with all its journalistic connotations. We wanted to shy away from appropriating the name of Cuba for use on our masthead, and instead we have chosen the most universal of codes: numbers.

Now, all that’s missing is that it pleases you, generates debate, and provides you with information. Thanks in advance!

Pope Francis Meets With Family of Deceased Cuban Democracy Leader Oswaldo Paya

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Today, His Holiness Pope Francis received the family of deceased Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya, during a private meeting at his residence.

Attending the meeting (see image below) were Oswaldo Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, as well as their daughter, Rosa Maria Paya, and sons, Oswaldo J. Paya and Reinaldo Paya.

Among the issues discussed were the deaths of Oswaldo Paya and democracy activist, Harold Cepero; the Castro regime's repression against peaceful democracy activists; the Cuban reality of "fraudulent change"; the Christian Liberation Movement's proposed plebiscite; and the status of the Catholic Church in Cuba.

Oswaldo Paya died on July 22, 2012, when the car he was traveling in was rammed off the road by Castro's secret police.

Tweet of the Day: Where Are the Cuba-in-Venezuela Critics?

Russia, Cuba Deepen Intelligence-Sharing Links

Raul's dauphin and Deputy Minister of the Interior, Col. Alejandro Castro Espin, was in Moscow this week to deepen intelligence-sharing links and confirm Cuba's support for Russian aggression in Ukraine.

From VOA:

Russia, Cuba Agree on Security Cooperation

Russia’s Security Council and Cuba’s Commission for National Security and Defense have signed a memorandum on cooperation and agreed to establish a joint working group, the secretary of the Russian Security Council said Wednesday.

“The situation in the world is changing fast and it is dynamic. That’s why we will need the ability to react to it promptly,” Nikolai Patrushev said.

A Cuban delegation led by Col. Alejandro Castro Espin arrived in Moscow on Tuesday and held a meeting with the leaders of the Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Russia’s primary external intelligence agency.

The delegation is also scheduled to meet with representatives from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the principal security agency of the Russian Federation and the main successor agency to the Soviet Union’s Committee of State Security, or KGB.

“Russia and Cuba need an effective cooperation tool to respond to sensitive issues. The memorandum may define priorities for cooperation to ensure effective security of both states,” said Castro Espin, who is Cuban leader Raul Castro's son.

Patruschev has been linked in recent years to the rapprochement between Moscow and Havana. In the 1970s, he worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the KGB.

#KeepCuba on the Terrorism List

Wednesday, May 14, 2014
University of Florida student leader, Andy Garcia, began the following campaign this week on Facebook:

I ask you to support the State Department's decision to keep Cuba as a state that sponsors and harbors terrorists who plot against our country. Since the beginning of the revolution, the Cuban government has funded, trained and given refuge to paramilitary groups openly hostile to the United States and our values of democracy, freedom, defense of human rights and free enterprise. Through the years these action have only intensified and taken on new covered ways. An American citizen, Alan Gross, has been taken hostage by the Cuban government in its failed aim to trade him for three Cuban spies and terrorists who are jailed in the United States and who killed three Cuban-American heroes in South Florida from the Brothers to the Rescue, an NGO that saved Cuban rafters from drawing in the sea while they escaped Castro's regime. Last year, Cuba tried to smuggled weapons into North Korea in open violation of the UN embargo against that country and more than five wanted terrorists and criminals from the United States are living freely in Cuba. #KeepCuba

Jacobson "Confused" About Venezuela Sanctions

From El Universal:

Jacobson says she got confused about Venezuela in US Senate

Despite Roberta Jacobson's confusion, the US government insists in awaiting the outcome of the talks launched last month by the Venezuelan government and the opposition on the problems facing Venezuela and the political conflict affecting the country

United States Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson said on Wednesday that no member of the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD) taking part in negotiations with the government of Nicolás Maduro has asked her to waive sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations.

Jacobson told reporters that she was mistaken when she said last week -before a Senate panel- that Washington viewed as premature imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials, because members of the opposition alliance had requested so, AP reported.

"I was wrong in the hearing. Some people have said no (to sanctions), but they are people outside the dialogue,'' Jacobson told journalists at the Embassy of Uruguay, after signing a memorandum of understanding to promote social, ethnic and racial equality with the South American nation.

"I did wrong. There was confusion during the hearing, when I remembered wrong,'' she added.

A Cause We've Inherited: Cuban-American Millennials and the Fight for a Free Cuba

By Rudy Mayor:

A Cause We've Inherited: Cuban-American Millennials and the Fight for Freedom in Cuba

Both of my maternal grandparents passed away within six months of each other last year.  As with anyone who’s lost a close relative, it’s a time of deep sadness mixed with fond memories. Even the seemingly mundane, like drinking a cafécito on the porch of my Hialeah home with them is today a fond and longed for memory.

As someone who has always been interested in advocating for democracy in Cuba, I also long for their old stories about the island. Of course, to my grandfather they were stories of a time and country long lost. To me, they were much more. These stories were rich in history, significance and deeply personal. I quickly realized that I would never hear another story of theirs again. Today I regret all the times I tuned out when Cuba would once again become the subject of conversation at the dinner table.

Whether we’re ready for it or not, millennial Cuban-Americans are inheriting the cause for freedom and democracy in Cuba. It is indeed a heavy burden and responsibility considering the giants that we are inheriting it from - the Rafael Diaz-Balart’s, the Ricardo Nuñez-Portuondo's, the Eusebio Peñalver's, the Huber Matos’, our grandfathers – who are without a doubt members of the greatest generation of Cuban-Americans.

As more Cuban-Americans are American born, the further we are from Cuba’s reality. The pain of losing Cuba to totalitarianism is not as heartfelt to millennials as it was to our forefathers. They – not us - personally witnessed the rise of Fidel Castro and the accompanying loss of freedom. Having our business and homes confiscated, the pain of exile and struggles of immigrating to a new country are struggles we are lucky to not have experienced.

There is no generational shift in Cuban-American views toward the embargo, but there is a generational disconnect. The Castro regime is banking on the Cuban-American millennial’s relative indifference to the issue of democracy in Cuba to achieve its long-sought goal of normalizing relations with the U.S. The ultimate goal of the regime, of course, is the unconditional lifting of the embargo; a policy that has limited their ability to profit, repress and export Castro style dictatorships to other countries. To the Castro brothers, the only thing better than the overnight influx of billions of US dollars and tourism would be the symbolic victory over the exiled community; a victory which would effectively legitimize and absolve the regime of its crimes and tortures.

As a millennial myself, the more I talked to Cuban pro-democracy activists and studied the American civil rights leaders who continue to inspire them, the more supportive I became of sanctions against the Castro regime. I, along with other young professionals, have helped found the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group to bridge the informational gap we ourselves had to overcome. Our group’s intentions are clear: the more we inform millennials about the uninterrupted fifty year history of repression in Cuba the more likely they are to support sanctions against a regime that deserves them.

Millennials must make it a priority to understand the nature of the Castro regime to form informed opinions about issues like the embargo. No university professor’s narration of Cuban history or analysis of the nature of the regime can replace the oral histories of those who lived through it. More importantly, no oral history is a more moving call to action than your own family’s. It is only when the Cuban-American millennial understands his or her place in this cross-generational struggle for freedom that they will feel the heavy burden of this inherited cause and responsibility to pursue it.

Rodolfo "Rudy" Mayor, 25, graduates this month from The George Washington University's Law School in Washington, D.C.

A Likely 5th Cuban-American House Member

Last night, Alex Mooney won the Republican nomination for the 2nd Congressional District (CD) of West Virginia.

Mooney is Cuban-American and a strong supporter of sanctions against the Castro regime.

The 2nd CD of West Virginia is a Republican-leaning district.  It is currently held by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is heavily favored to win the open U.S. Senate seat.

Thus, Mooney is likely to win in November.

As such, it will make him the fifth Cuban-American Member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The current four Cuban-American Members of the House are U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (NJ) and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (FL).

Also, there are three Cuban-American Senators -- U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (FL) and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (TX).

All of whom support sanctions towards the Castro regime.

Almost forgot, Mooney is 42-years old. So we're still awaiting some fact-based evidence on the "generational change" theory.

Congratulations, Alex!

New Arrest in $240 Million Medicare Fraud Involving Cuba

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
In The Miami Herald:

New arrest in case of money laundering to Cuba

A case that started out alleging $70 million in Medicare fraud now puts the figure at nearly $240 million.

A Miami man has been arrested in an unprecedented money-laundering case that alleges some part of as much as $238 million gained from Medicare fraud was secretly pumped into the Cuban banking system.

Eduardo Perez de Morales, 26, was arrested by FBI agents Monday on one charge of conspiring with his fugitive brother, Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, who owned a remittance company, Caribbean Transfers.

The company is suspected of bankrolling a Florida check-cashing business that prosecutors say cashed checks for Medicare fraud offenders and transferred the dirty dollars through Canada to Cuba.

Jorge Emilio Perez, who owns a seaside home in Havana, is wanted by the FBI and was last reported to be living in Cuba. Charged in 2012, he also could be in the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Spain, authorities said.

The revised indictment now charging his brother alleges that as much as $238 million in stolen Medicare proceeds were laundered in the scheme, but it does not say how much ended up in Cuba’s national bank. The indictment further alleges that the Perez brothers laundered some of those dollars through Caribbean Transfers’ bank accounts in Canada and other locations.

Havana: The Last Communist City

Author and journalist, Michael Totten, describes Havana in City Journal.

It is entitled, "The Last Communist City."

(To be fair, we'd note Pyongyang is also one of the last Communist cities.)

Here are some excerpts:

Outside its small tourist sector, the rest of the city looks as though it suffered a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina or the Indonesian tsunami. Roofs have collapsed. Walls are splitting apart. Window glass is missing. Paint has long vanished. It’s eerily dark at night, almost entirely free of automobile traffic. I walked for miles through an enormous swath of destruction without seeing a single tourist. Most foreigners don’t know that this other Havana exists, though it makes up most of the city—tourist buses avoid it, as do taxis arriving from the airport. It is filled with people struggling to eke out a life in the ruins.
...

In the United States, we have a minimum wage; Cuba has a maximum wage—$20 a month for almost every job in the country. (Professionals such as doctors and lawyers can make a whopping $10 extra a month.) Sure, Cubans get “free” health care and education, but as Cuban exile and Yale historian Carlos Eire says, “All slave owners need to keep their slaves healthy and ensure that they have the skills to perform their tasks.”

Even employees inside the quasi-capitalist bubble don’t get paid more. The government contracts with Spanish companies such as Meliá International to manage Havana’s hotels. Before accepting its contract, Meliá said that it wanted to pay workers a decent wage. The Cuban government said fine, so the company pays $8–$10 an hour. But Meliá doesn’t pay its employees directly. Instead, the firm gives the compensation to the government, which then pays the workers—but only after pocketing most of the money. I asked several Cubans in my hotel if that arrangement is really true. All confirmed that it is. The workers don’t get $8–$10 an hour; they get 67 cents a day—a child’s allowance.

The maximum wage is just the beginning. Not only are most Cubans not allowed to have money; they’re hardly allowed to have things. The police expend extraordinary manpower ensuring that everyone required to live miserably at the bottom actually does live miserably at the bottom. Dissident blogger and author Yoani Sánchez describes the harassment sarcastically in her book Havana Real: “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.” Perhaps the saddest symptom of Cuba’s state-enforced poverty is the prostitution epidemic—a problem the government officially denies and even forbids foreign journalists based in Havana to mention. Some Cuban prostitutes are professionals, but many are average women—wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers—who solicit johns once or twice a year for a little extra money to make ends meet.
...

Education is free, and the country is effectively 100 percent literate, thanks to Castro’s campaign to teach rural people to read shortly after he took power. But the regime has yet to make a persuasive argument that a totalitarian police state was required to get the literacy rate from 80 percent to 100 percent. After all, almost every other country in the Western Hemisphere managed the same feat at the same time, without the brutal repression.
...
Cuba has two economies now: the national Communist economy for the majority; and a quasi-capitalist one for foreigners and the elite. Each has its own currency: the Communist economy uses the Cuban peso, and the capitalist bubble uses the convertible peso. Cuban pesos are worth nothing. They can’t be converted to dollars or euros. Foreigners can’t even spend them in Cuba. The convertible pesos are pegged to the U.S. dollar, but banks and hotels pay only 87 Cuban cents for each one—the government takes 13 percent off the top. The rigged exchange rate is an easy way to shake down foreigners without most noticing. It also enables the state to drain Cuban exiles. A million Cuban-Americans live in south Florida, and another half-million live elsewhere in the United States. They send hundreds of millions of dollars a year to family members still on the island. The government gets its 13 percent instantaneously and most of the remaining 87 percent later because almost every place that someone can spend the money is owned by the state.
...

Shortly before I left Havana, I met a Cuban-American man and his wife visiting from Miami. “Is this your first time here?” he asked. I nodded. “What do you think?” I paused before answering. I wasn’t worried that I would offend him. He lives in Miami, so his opinions of Cuba are probably little different from mine. But we were in a crowded place. Plenty of Cubans could hear us, including the police. They wouldn’t arrest me if I insulted the government, but I didn’t want to make a scene, either. “Well,” I finally said. “It’s . . . interesting.” He belted out a great belly laugh, and I smiled. His wife scowled.

“I hate this place!” she near-shouted. Fidel himself could have heard, and she wouldn’t have cared. She wasn’t going to be quiet about it. Tourists who visit Cuba and spend all their time inside the bubble for the “haves” could leave the country oblivious to the savage inequalities and squalor beyond the hotel zone, but this woman visits her husband’s family in the real Cuba and knows what it’s really like.

“His family is from here,” she said, “but mine’s not, and I will never come back here. Not while it’s like this. I feel like I’m in Iraq or Afghanistan.” I visited Iraq seven times during the war and didn’t have the heart to tell her that Baghdad, while ugly and dangerous, is vastly freer and more prosperous these days than Havana. Anyway, Iraq is precisely the kind of country with which Castro wants you to compare Cuba. It’s the wrong comparison. So are impoverished Third World countries like Guatemala and Haiti. Cuba isn’t a developing country; it’s a once-developed country destroyed by its own government. Havana was a magnificent Western city once. It should be compared not with Baghdad, Kabul, Guatemala City, or Port-au-Prince but with formerly Communist Budapest, Prague, or Berlin. Havana’s history mirrors theirs, after all.

Confirmation Hearing: Rubio Raises Mistreatment of Cuban Refugees in Bahamas

During today's confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for Cassandra Butts as U.S. Ambassador to The Bahamas, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) raised the issue of the mistreatment of Cuban refugees by the Bahamian authorities.

See below (or click here):

Cuba's "New" Foreign Investment Law Violates International Norms

We've long argued how Cuba's "new" foreign investment law -- almost exactly like its old one -- violates international labor law.

A new report by Dr. Jose Alvarez, Emeritus Professor at The University of Florida, confirms this position and elaborates on the specific International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions it violates.

It's shameful how some lobby the U.S. to allow American companies to partake in such gross violations of international law.

1. Forced Labor Convention (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (No. 105) - Cuba has used forced and compulsory labor by sending workers to permanent agricultural camps as a means of political coercion and education and punishment for holding expressing opposing political views. In addition, labor mobilizations to work in specific agricultural development projects also violate these Conventions.

2. Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention (No. 87) - Article 1(g) of the new Labor Code grants the workers “the right to associate themselves voluntarily and establish Unions.” In practice, it is not allowed.

3. Protection of Wages Convention (No. 05) - Cuba violates this Convention that prohibits deductions from wages with a view to insuring a direct or indirect payment for obtaining or retaining employment made to a state intermediary agency.

4. Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98) - Collective bargaining is nonexistent in Cuba.

5. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111) - By selecting the workers to supply to foreign enterprises, Cuba does not follow the mandate of equality of opportunity or treatment in employment and occupation.

6. Employment Policy Convention (No. 122) - Cuba’s policy is of selecting who works where, regardless of skills or endowments, and transfers are not the result of the will of the worker.

And also:

7. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) - Nonexistent in Cuba are: the right to work; free choice of employment; just and favorable working conditions; protection against unemployment; the right to equal pay for equal work; just and favorable remuneration; and the right to form and join trade unions.

As Predicted, Travel Income is Indispensable For Castro Regime

The Castro regime has just announced another extension of its consular services in the U.S. until September 2014.

This the second such extension, despite M&T Bank's decision last year to terminate Cuba's banking services and the Castro regime's hollow "threats" to cut off consular services ("travel") as a result.

As we have predicted all along -- the Castro regime is never going to sacrifice the hundreds of millions (if not billions) it reaps from current U.S. travel to Cuba.

It also sadly demonstrates -- despite what some in the U.S. government argue -- that the benefits the Castro regime reaps from U.S. travel greatly outweigh any costs it may impose to its rule.

Proving the indispensable value of U.S. travel income to the Castro regime -- we (once again) remind the State Department:

Want to see American hostage Alan Gross immediately released? 

Here's how.

From Havana Times:

Cuba to Renew Passports of Citizens Living in the USA

The Cuban Interests Section in Washington today announced that it will renew expired passports of Cubans residing in the United States who plan to travel in the coming months to the island, reported dpa news.

The good news from the island’s diplomatic mission comes despite having yet to find a solution to the suspension of consular services because of not having a bank that will handle its accounts.

The Cuban Interests Section issued a statement calling the measure “temporary” that will “create conditions in our Consular Office to renew expired passports or those coming due from those citizens residing in the United States who are booked to travel to Cuba in the period May 15 to August 31, 2014.”

Does D.C. Stand for "Donate to Castro"?

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, in Sampsonia Way:

Does D.C. Stand for “Donate to Castro?”

New campaign pushes for an update in Cuba-US relations.

Snoozing on the Washington, D.C. subway early one morning with my dreams still flitting between Franz Kafka and Stephen King after a evening filled with nightmares of State Security bursting into the apartment I’m staying in—which is near to where they shot The Exorcist—I finally wake up when I see the CubaNow banners through the train’s windows.

CubaNow is a media campaign run by a group of young Cuban-Americans who prefer not to disclose the source of their funding. Their secrecy echoes the recent scandal of USAID’s not “undercover” but “discrete” operations with the ZunZuneo project, an SMS network designed to work in Cuba. Their secrecy is also a reminder of the opacity with which the Havana government operates, in its domestic matters that ought to be in public view, as well as its smuggling of weapons on civilian ships, and its spies in the United States disguised as scholars, entrepreneurs, and even Pentagon analysts.

It’s curious how similar the political propaganda is starting to look in the capital cities of those two once irreconcilable enemies.

Perhaps CubaNow is a part of the pressures that President Obama needs to feel before he takes each controversial step, even though his administration has already shown enough signs of goodwill towards Castro’s Cuba, as these banners implicitly recognize. For their part, the leaders over in the Plaza de la Revolución have always rejected any rapprochement that does not fit with their monolithic model for continued power.

“It’s time to try something new,” suggest the CubaNow banners. Also, “It’s time to bring the discussion of politics between the United States and Cuba into the 21st century.” Then they add a quote from the blogger and famous Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez, plus a photo that I took of her.

As far as I know, we were never asked whether we wanted to lend our support to this campaign. As compensation, CubaNow ought to do a better job of launching itself in today’s Cuba, where the people need something more than economic concessions, in a denaturalized nation that has lived for 55 years under a single press, a single party, and a single person.

The "Dialogue" in Venezuela Is a Fraud

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

The 'Dialogue' in Venezuela Is a Fraud

More than 500 citizens have been arrested since negotiations began.

Lenin bragged that the "capitalists" would sell him the rope he would use to hang them. Fidel Castro is still putting that wisdom to good use. Observe Venezuela.

Since April 10, when Castro's puppet in Caracas, Nicolás Maduro, launched a so-called negotiation with the political opposition, more than 500 citizens linked to anti-government demonstrations have been detained. The Supreme Court has put new restrictions on the right to assemble in public. The newspaper El Nacional announced it has to suspend publication because it is being denied dollars to buy newsprint.

The government-controlled Congress announced that no opposition legislators will be included in a "truth commission" established to investigate political violence since Feb. 12. Chavista militias continue to terrorize the population. In other words, the dialogue with the opposition, cheered by the U.S. State Department, is a fraud.

The university students who continue their street demonstrations despite being abandoned by the official opposition leadership know this. Trapped in the poverty, crime and despair of the Bolivarian Revolution, they know there is no future in a country without free speech or access to hard currency, and where they have to scrounge for food. They reject life in a world where they are spied on, brainwashed and forced to conform.

They have risked much since February. Now they are told by the official opposition, led by former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, that it does not support regime change. Instead there will be "a dialogue" with the Cuban-backed police state.

The opposition leadership seems to have fallen into this trap because it is worried about the high cost of civil disobedience, in both blood and treasure. The State Department talks a good game about human rights, but its priorities are stability and predictable oil flows. Yet there is no peace in our time. Instead, the pretense of dialogue has given the military dictatorship time to regroup and helped it gain legitimacy internationally.

Negotiations aimed at winning concessions from a criminal organization make no sense without leverage, which the opposition had in March when the people were on the streets. But Mr. Capriles called off the big marches and went to the table without securing preconditions like the release of political prisoners, the disarming of the militia or the restoration of press freedom. Mr. Maduro slipped the noose.

It was not Mr. Capriles's first costly miscalculation. After a flawed April 2013 presidential election, hundreds of thousands in Caracas were ready to march to the electoral tribunal to demand an audit. Mr. Capriles said he was worried about bloodshed. He told them to stay home.

Fast forward to Feb. 4, when students in the city of San Cristóbal hit the streets to peacefully protest a sexual assault on campus. The police detained some of the students and jailed them far from their homes. When they were released they claimed they had been abused. More protests were followed by more arrests. Word spread. On Feb. 12, students around the country began local protests against "the tyranny." Civil-society groups joined in.

Mr. Maduro blocked the signal from the only source of independent television news (coming from Colombia) so that the public could not learn from uncensored sources of the wildfire of unrest. In the days that followed, the government cut Internet service to thousands of homes. In Caracas, tens of thousands of people went to the streets. They were met by tear gas, batons and rubber bullets. Hundreds of students were arrested while the government's civilian-clothed militia beat protesters. When opposition politician Leopoldo López was carted off to prison, the students doubled down on their protests.

The government had the firepower but it was rapidly losing control of the streets. Food shortages were worsening. The protests were centered in the wealthiest section of the city but many protesters were coming from poorer neighborhoods.

Chavistas had already infiltrated student groups. But Mr. Maduro needed more help. In March he began offering business some concessions including limited relief from price controls. What some view as a sign of hope is only more manipulation: The regime needs someone to feed the nation or, as Lenin advised, someone to sell the rope.

Meanwhile Mr. Capriles took the "dialogue" bait, pledging to reject any effort to topple Mr. Maduro. Dialogue with Castro and his cronies doesn't have a good track record. Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá challenged the regime legally. He wound up dead, run off the road by state security. In 2011 Colombian President Manuel Santos was suckered into "talks" with Colombia's Cuban-backed narcoterrorists. In 2012 he pledged they would last months not years. They drag on.

Thousands of Venezuelans have been detained since February and an estimated 41 are dead. Some were killed by a single sniper's bullet through the head. A state that practices such cruelty won't voluntarily surrender its power. That will have to be taken away by patriots who are willing to pay the price.

On Mother's Day, Dozens of Ladies in White Arrested

Monday, May 12, 2014
Not even for Mother's Day did the Castro regime take a reprieve from the beating and arrest of female democracy activists, known as The Ladies in White.

For the 44th Sunday in a row, dozens of peaceful activists were beaten and arrested as they tried to gather and attend Sunday Mass.

In Colon, province of Matanzas, 13 were arrested.

They are Tania Echeverria, Caridad Burunate, Asunción Carrillo, Aleida Cofiño, Yenisleydis Millo, Zaida Hernandez, Làzara Rodríguez, Maritza Acosta, Maira Garcìa, María Teresa Castellano, Alejandrina Garcìa, Niurka Perdomo and Yudaimis Fernandez.

In Cardenas, seven were arrested.

They are Leticia Ramos Herreria, Katiuska Rodriguez, Odalis Hernandez, Marisol Fernandez Socorro, Mercedes La Guardia, Hortensia Alfonso and Yamila Sendra Ruiz.

Meanwhile, over 20 were intercepted on the eve of Mother's Day in Santiago de Cuba, as they tried to gather at the home of one of the group's leaders. Six of them were arrested.

Finally, 17 were arrested in Palma Soriano.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Debate: U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (in Spanish)

In Diario las Americas, CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone provides the counter-argument to Rafael Hernandez, Cuban regime academic and editor of the magazine Temas.

Click here to read Hernandez's argument.

And here to read Claver-Carone's counter.

Then, you decide.

Shocking: Despite Raul's "Reforms," Chronic Shortages Persist

Sunday, May 11, 2014
There's no greater indictment of the fact that Raul Castro's economic "reforms" are cosmetic and simply serve as bait for the international community to react with financial concessions.

(We've made a couple of important corrections to Reuters' reporting below.)

From Reuters:

Raul Castro's reforms fail to end Cuba's chronic shortages

In a land where the potato is scarce, black marketeers peddle tubers in hushed tones, like drug dealers on a big city street corner. A months-long reduction in the beer supply has made Cubans cranky. Worse still, some lovers have struggled to find condoms.

Despite market-oriented reforms enacted by President Raul Castro, the communist-run country still encounters chronic shortages [...]

The persistence of shortages reveals the limits of reform.

While a nascent retail market has proliferated, Cuba has yet to establish a wholesale market, impeding some new 450,000 small business owners who need inventory.

(CHC Editor: "Cuentapropistas" are not business owners. They are licensees with no legal ownership rights, including real or intellectual property. All they have is temporary "permission" to perform a service.)

Agricultural reforms have been among the most successful after the government handed over idle or unproductive land to farm cooperatives, but for unexplained reasons potato-growing remains firmly in state hands.

(CHC Editor: According to Reuters itself, agricultural reforms have been among the most resounding failures. Don't they check their own reporting?)

"The consequences are devastating in economic terms," said Sebastian Arcos of Florida International University's Cuban Research Institute. "(Raul Castro) has indicated that economic progress is one of the fundamental sources of his political legitimacy. If the economic situation doesn't improve in the short or even the medium term, his political legitimacy is reduced to being Fidel Castro's brother."

Most shortages pass without official comment, but the recent lack of beer sounded so many alarms that government-controlled media reported a wave of complaints.

Demand was being met for only 55 percent of bottled beer and 73 percent for canned beer, officials said.

After the shortage dragged from February to March without explanation, Cuban brewer Bucanero S.A., a joint venture with the global beer company Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, finally addressed it on Tuesday in the official daily, Granma, saying there were delays in the import of Czech malted barley.

No further explanation was given, and Bucanero said the problem was resolved in the first half of April, implying the shortage should soon be over because it takes 23 days to produce beer for retail sale.

The recent condom shortage was due not to a lack of product, officials said, but to a batch of condoms with the wrong expiration date stamped on the wrapper. An emergency order was placed, and teams went to work erasing the old date, November 2012, and stamping them anew with December 2014. Condom supply should stabilize in the second quarter, the official weekly Trabajadores said.

Tweet of the Week: Every 24 Hours a Woman is Beaten by Cuba's Regime

In #Cuba EVERY 24 HOURS a woman is beaten by State Security. The difference is: No one knows about it #AwakenCuba

Urgent Action: 243 Venezuelan Protesters Detained, at Risk

From Amnesty International:

Venezuela: Protesters Detained, at Risk of Ill Treatment

Security forces in Caracas detained 243 people involved in ongoing anti-government demonstrations between 7 and 8 May. The whereabouts of those who have not yet been released remain unknown. They are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

Between 7 and 8 May security forces in the Chacao and Baruta Municipalities of Caracas, the capital, detained 243 people in four makeshift camps built as part of anti-government demonstrations that have been ongoing throughout the country since February 2014. Some of these 243 people have already been released, including some minors.

The relatives of those detained have expressed concern at the reports of excessive use of force by security forces in their operation to dismantle the four makeshift camps built by protesters. The relatives have also stated they have been unable to establish the exact whereabouts of their family members following the detention.

In the context of the ongoing protests in Venezuela, Amnesty International has received dozens of complaints about torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees by members of the security forces, at the time of detention, during transfer and at detention centres. The detainees’ safety and right to due process are at grave risk.