Over 60 Ladies in White Arrested to Impede Meeting

Saturday, May 24, 2014
Over 60 Ladies in White were arrested yesterday as they tried to meet at their headquarters on Neptuno Street in Havana.

Dozens of others were intercepted and turned away as they made their way to the meeting.

Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, stressed that what Cuban democracy activists need at this time is "solidarity" against repression, not "easing sanctions and engagement" toward their repressors. 

The group holds monthly meetings, known as "literary teas," which are heavily repressed by the Castro regime.

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

This is a "crime" in Cuba:

Quote of the Day: On the MININT

Those vile men, capable of beating women, are a danger for the elite themselves for they can become a praetorian army that changes emperors whenever they please. That's why the resources [Castro] invests in the MININT will never be enough. So long as the Castros remain in power, children and the elderly will not be able to have a miserable glass of milk. That's the price of living in a nation of cowards.
-- Rolando D., a Cuban accountant asked about Castro's secret police, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), Diario de Cuba, 5/24/14

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Castro Edition

In The Miami Herald:

Former bodyguard to Fidel Castro describes dictator’s luxe life in new book

With luxury homes, diamonds, women and more, Fidel Castro ‘lives in a luxury that most Cubans can’t even imagine,’ says a former bodyguard who wrote a book of memoirs on the dictator.

Fidel Castro once claimed that he lived a life of exemplary revolutionary frugality on a salary of merely $36 per month.

“Lies,” said Juan Reinaldo Sanchez, 65, who served as a bodyguard for the former Cuban leader for 17 years and has published a book of memoirs portraying Castro as a sort of feudal lord who ran the island like it was a personal fiefdom.

Castro controlled about 20 luxury homes, a Caribbean island getaway with a pool and dolphins, the 88-foot yacht Aquarama II, and several fishing vessels whose catch was sold for dollars deposited in his accounts, according to Sanchez.

“He always claims he lives frugally. Lies. He lives in a luxury that most Cubans can’t even imagine,” Sanchez told El Nuevo Herald in his first interview after writing his book, The Secret Life of Fidel Castro, published Wednesday in France.

His 325-page book says Castro, now 87, controlled several numbered bank accounts abroad as well as the finances of several state enterprises — including a small gold mine in the Isle of Youth — that reported to him as president of the ruling Council of State. When Castro received a Cohiba cigar box full of Angolan diamonds, he told an aide to sell the gems on the international market “and you know what to do,” Sanchez said.

Two large elephant tusks that once stood in his home also came from Angola. None of the bank accounts or enterprises were in Castro’s name, but they didn’t have to be, the bodyguard said. “He didn’t have to report to anyone. He had sole control” over economic activity he estimated at “hundreds of millions of dollars” over 10 years.

But after Forbes magazine included the Cuban ruler in its 2006 list of 10 richest “Kings, Queens and Dictators,” he declared that his salary was about 900 pesos per month, or $36. The former bodyguard said part of the book focuses on Castro’s luxurious life because so little is known about it even within the communist-ruled nation. The leader has said his personal life is a “state secret” because of the multiple attempts to assassinate him.

“Contrary to what he has always said, Fidel has never renounced capitalist comforts or chosen to live in austerity. Au contraire, his mode de vie is that of a capitalist,” says the book, written with Axel Gyldén, a senior journalist at L'Express magazine in France. “This is the first time someone from Castro's intimate circle, someone who was part of the system and a first-hand witness to these events, has spoken,” Gyldén told journalists.

Visitors to Castro’s home west of Havana, known as Punto Cero, have described it as relatively modest, perhaps on the level of an upper-middle-class home in the United States yet far better than what most Cubans can even imagine. But Sanchez said that away from the public eye, Castro enjoyed a life of luxury, spending a month each year in the paradisiacal Cayo Piedra south of the Bay of Pigs and often spending weekends on a duck hunting preserve in Pinar del Rio called La Deseada.

Cayo Piedra, which includes a dolphin and turtle lagoon, was serviced from a Castro-controlled marina with several hundred workers who manned three large yachts, including the Aquarama II, Sanchez said. Finished with precious woods from Angola, it was powered by four torpedo boat motors sent by former Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev.

Castro also controlled two other large yachts, including one equipped as a floating hospital, and two commercial fishing vessels that supplied Cayo Piedra and sold the surplus in Havana for dollars that went into his bank accounts, the bodyguard recalled.

Only special friends were allowed on the island, according to Sanchez. Welcomed in were the late Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, CNN owner Ted Turner and Erich Honecker, head of then communist-run East Germany.

Castro also controlled a complex of Havana buildings and grounds, including a basketball court, a fully equipped medical center and rooftop bowling alley, first established for him by one of his lovers and closest aides, the late Celia Sanchez.

Castro later married the mother of five of his dozen or so children, Dalia Soto del Valle, but still had affairs later on with a flight attendant, a translator and another woman, he said. Soto del Valle had her own affair with a chauffeur, but Castro forgave both his wife and the chauffeur.

Everything the Cuban leader received, including clothes, food and even official documents, was first checked for germs and radiation, Sanchez said. And each morning an aide delivered to him a bundle of reports on Cuban intelligence activities around the world plus international news reports.

Castro moved about with at least 10 bodyguards, including two with matching blood types who could give him a direct transfusion in case of an emergency because he did not trust stored blood.

Miami Herald Editorial Board: No Time to Ease Up on Cuba

Friday, May 23, 2014
From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

No time to ease up on Cuba  

OUR OPINION: Havana has done nothing to warrant U.S. concessions

Just as interest groups in this country mount a renewed effort to improve U.S. relations with Cuba, the regime in Havana offers fresh evidence that this is no time for Washington to ease restrictions on trade and travel.

A letter signed by more than 40 prominent American business figures and former diplomats urged President Obama to take advantage of Raúl Castro’s efforts to reform the moribund economy by changing the rules on trade, travel and investment.

The impressive list of signers included two former heads of the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana, as well as Thomas Pickering, Strobe Talbott and Arturo Valenzuela, all former ranking State Department officials. “Timing matters,” said the letter, “and this window of opportunity may not remain open indefinitely.”

Well, yes, timing does matter. On that, we would agree wholeheartedly. So let’s take a look at recent events in Cuba and consider the timing:

• The island’s top human-rights group reported a sharp rise in short-term arrests of Cuban dissidents in the first four months of this year. The total came to 3,821, more than double the figure for the first quarter of 2013. Human-rights leaders say this reflects rising popular discontent and the government’s grim determination to stifle it.

• This week, prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez attempted to break the government’s 55-year monopoly on distribution of information by launching a digital newspaper called 14ymedio (“14 and a half” in English). It was hacked shortly after its morning launch, and visitors inside the island were redirected to a page devoted to criticizing Ms. Sánchez — the work of a regime incapable of tolerating freedom of expression.

• This week, also, a publication of the U.N. Security Council issued a report playing up Cuba’s role in trying to break the international embargo on shipping arms to the rogue regime in North Korea last July. Although the Security Council may wimp out by giving Cuba a mere slap on the wrist, the report leaves no doubt that Cuba’s role in the Chong Chon Gang incident was an egregious violation of the international arms embargo.

• Meanwhile, four and half years after his initial arrest, U.S. citizen Alan Gross spent his 65th birthday earlier this month in a Cuban jail. The pretext for his incarceration amounts to no more than a Customs violation, but he’s actually being held as a political hostage in hopes the United States will swap him for Cuban spies in U.S. jails.

And that’s just a partial list of recent Cuban violations of internationally recognized rules of conduct, violations that occur with depressing regularity on the beleaguered island.

In March, the dissident group Ladies in White reported, for example, that State Security officers detained several members handing out toys at a park and seized the 60 to 70 toys. That’s right — toys. During Easter here in Miami, Archbishop Thomas Wenski asked that masses at the Our Lady of Charity shrine say special prayers for Cuban dissident Sonia Garro and two others jailed without trial in Cuba since shortly before a papal mass in Havana in 2012.

This continuing display of unbending authoritarian rule makes it imperative that the Obama administration take no actions that would be deemed a concession to the unreformed, intransigent despots in Havana. That is especially true regarding the plight of Alan Gross. Until he is released, there can be no easing of sanctions against the Cuban regime.

Antunez Sends Message to Council of the Americas

From Cuban democracy leader and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez":

Keep your millions for we have more than enough dignity to keep on fighting.

Tweet of the Day: State Department on #14ymedio

Thursday, May 22, 2014
From U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson:

Ros-Lehtinen: Hold Cuba Accountable for Illegal Arms Smuggling to North Korea

U.N. Refuses to Hold Cuba Accountable for Illegally Smuggling Arms to North Korea; U.S. Should Work to Sanction Violators, Says Ros-Lehtinen

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement regarding reports that members of the United Nations are preparing to submit an implementation assistance notice to Cuba for its role in the trafficking of military equipment to North Korea. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

Weak does not begin to describe the laughable ‘sanction’ that news reports have indicated the U.N. is planning on proposing for Cuba’s role in trafficking military equipment to North Korea. Let's not forget that this is the largest intercepted shipment of weapons to North Korea since U.N. Security Council sanctions were implemented in 2006. This is yet another example of the Castro regime gaming the international community for its own political agenda. With this feckless proposal, the U.N. has again shown that it is becoming little more than a club for dictators who, if they violate the rules, face little to no sanction. Instead of a slap on the wrist, the Obama administration should submit a list of Cuban officials and enterprises involved in this illegal operation to be sanctioned by the United Nations. We must show we will not turn a blind eye to conduct that only serves to assist those who would do us harm. Otherwise, the U.S. should further sanction these entities ourselves.”

Rubio's Letter to U.S. Chamber on Cuba

Below is a letter sent by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Tom Donohue, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, on his upcoming trip to Cuba:

Dear Mr. Donohue:

I understand that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be leading a business delegation to Cuba next week. As you know, I have a strong interest in the freedom and well-being of the Cuban people. And because I have great respect for much of the U.S. Chamber’s work, I want to share my perspective about why I believe the Chamber’s trip is misguided and fraught with peril of becoming a propaganda coup for the Castro regime – to the detriment of America’s strategic interest in protecting human rights around the world, as well as the Cuban people.

As you attempt “to develop a better understanding of the country’s economic environment and the state of its private sector,” keep in mind that whatever new opportunities the regime claims to have made available to some Cubans, those opportunities are systematically denied to those who criticize and oppose the regime. Also consider the reality that no supposed economic change can be real or lasting since it can be unilaterally taken away at the regime’s discretion – without any independent judicial system to appeal to, and no way to seek meaningful policy changes through the political process, since free and fair elections are nonexistent in Cuba.

The irony should not be lost on the U.S. Chamber that an independently operated Cuban chamber of commerce – modeled after America’s, free to criticize the government, and free to advocate against state control of the economy – is simply not allowed by the Castro regime.

In essence, the Cuban regime’s claims of economic change actually represent the antithesis of “free enterprise” that the U.S. Chamber promotes.

Since your last visit to Cuba 15 years ago, some things have changed, though much has remained the same. For example:

Fidel Castro no longer runs the regime’s day-to-day dictatorial duties, because his brother does. Meanwhile, a pro-democracy leader named Oswaldo Payá, who in 1999 was just starting to gain momentum for his pro-democracy Varela Project, is now dead – the victim of a mysterious car accident that many, including me, have good reason to believe was orchestrated and covered up by the regime.

On a positive note, there is less fear now among the Cuban people who have increasingly spoken out against the regime’s abuses and in favor of their democratic aspirations. However, this has resulted in the regime stepping up its repression, with exponentially more documented cases of unjust incarcerations, physical abuse, intimidation, murders and other forms of repression. Under Raul Castro, political arrests have at least tripled, reaching nearly 1,000 per month.

The Cuban regime continues to violate international norms. For example, it was recently caught smuggling illicit weapons to North Korea, marking the largest weapons shipment uncovered in violation of United Nations sanctions against the Kim regime.

Since your last visit, Raul Castro has attempted to extort the U.S. into releasing convicted Cuban regime spies by taking an American hostage, Alan Gross, who was in Cuba helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet.

Since your last visit, perhaps no greater transformative innovation has occurred than what we’ve seen with the Internet, which has expanded economic opportunities, along with new platforms to engage in free speech. However, this positive change that has changed most of the world has left Cuba behind. According to the most recent Freedom on the Net report by Freedom House, Cuba ranked as the world's 2nd worst violator of Internet and digital media freedom. Only Iran ranked worse.

To be clear, I have great respect for the U.S. Chamber's work promoting job creation through free enterprise, but from the day it endorsed my campaign in 2010, I've made my view clear that the U.S. Chamber is dead wrong on U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Until the Cuban people are free to choose their destiny, their fundamental freedoms are respected and Cuban prisons are empty of political prisoners, the U.S. should not make it easier for the Castro regime to enrich itself and fund its repression with American dollars. At a time when the regime unjustly holds American Alan Gross as a hostage, repression continues in the streets and political prisoners are desperately waging hunger strikes, we should not be setting up propaganda opportunities like this for the Castro regime.

But at the very least, the U.S. Chamber should use its considerable clout to draw attention to the regime’s treatment of dissidents and Alan Gross, as well as its unwillingness to change its political system to enshrine the guarantee of freedom and human rights. The Castro regime, not the U.S., is the biggest impediment that exists toward normalizing relations with Cuba.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
U.S. Senator

The Impunity of 21st Century Tyrants

Syria's Bashar al-Assad slaughters over 160,000 people and crosses President Obama's "red-lines." Why?

Because he can get away with it.

Russia's Vladimir Putin storms into the Ukraine and annexes the Crimea.  Why?

Because he can get away with it.

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro arrests and tortures thousands of student protesters, and murders dozens. Why?

Because he can get away with it.

Iran's Ayatollah Khameini remains intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.  Why?

Because he can get away with it.

North Korea's Kim Jong-un fires artillery shells at South Korean ships and conducts nuclear tests. Why?

Because he can get away with it.

Cuba's Raul Castro smuggles 240 tons of illegal weapons, including artillery shells, to North Korea's regime. Why?

Because he can get away with it.

Inaction breeds impunity.

Every time the U.S. and its democratic allies succumb to the whims of Russia and China at the U.N. Security Council, the world becomes less free and secure.

From The Miami Herald:

U.N. may go lightly on Cuban weapons to North Korea

Chinese and U.S. diplomats at the United Nations may turn a Cuban shipment of weapons to North Korea last year into a sort of “teaching moment” on violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Pyongyang, according to a U.N. publication.

The publication also indicated that U.S. diplomats have prepared proposals to add people or enterprises involved in the Cuban shipment to the U.N. Security Council’s list of violators of the U.N. embargo, but might not submit it.

The report appeared to signal that Cuba will suffer little more than a slap on the wrist for the arms shipment, said Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy political action committee, which supports U.S. sanctions on Havana.

“Apparently, they feel Cuba just didn’t understand the rules” of the 8-year-old U.N. arms embargo on North Korea, Claver-Carone said. “Unbelievable.”

North Korea’s Chong Chon Gang freighter was seized in Panama on July 15 with a load of Cuban weapons, hidden under tons of Cuban sugar. It was described by U.N. experts as the largest single shipment intercepted under the U.N. embargo on Pyongyang.

A panel of U.N. experts on the weapons ban ruled in February that the shipment clearly violated the embargo despite Cuba’s claim that the equipment was not being transferred to Pyongyang, but rather was to be repaired, serviced and returned to Havana.

The panel of experts recommended the issuance of “an implementation assistance notice (IAN) to remind states that the arms embargo also includes services and assistance,” said a report in What’s In Blue, a publication of the U.N. Security Council.

“It appears that the U.S. has already conducted negotiations with China on a draft IAN that could be presented” to the committee of the Security Council that supervises enforcement of the arms embargo, added the report, dated Monday.

The United States “has also prepared designation proposals that could be taken forward, but it is not expected to do so unless there is a good chance of getting the approval of all Council members,” the report added, giving no further details.

The enforcement panel, officially called the “1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee,” maintains a list of “designated” people and enterprises that have violated the U.N. embargo. No Cubans are listed in the current list.

The report by the panel of U.N. experts said that the Cuban government had refused to provide the identities of the Cuban officials and companies involved in the Korean shipment because the contract with Pyongyang required secrecy.

The U.S. diplomatic mission to the United Nations did not reply to requests for comment on the What’s in Blue report. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month that the Obama administration is working with other U.N. countries “to ensure a vigorous response, to shine a light on this activity and get accountability.”

But China and Russia, both allies of Havana with vetoes in the Security Council, would be unlikely to approve strong sanctions on Cuba, said an expert on the North Korea arms embargo who asked for anonymity because she was not authorized to comment.

The embargo is part of the U.N. sanctions slapped on Pyongyang starting in 2006 as a result of its nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs. Entities on the “designated” list can come under travel and banking sanctions.

Cuba’s shipment included 240 tons of mostly Soviet-era weapons and munitions, including anti-aircraft missile systems, two MiG-21 warplanes and 15 engines and afterburners for the jets.

The weapons were loaded aboard the freighter in the port of Mariel west of Havana, then hidden under more than 200,000 sacks of sugar loaded later in a different port to the east. The ship did not declare the weapons as it prepared to cross the Panama Canal on its trip back to North Korea.

Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement Rejects Council of the America's Proposal

Excerpt from today's statement by Cuba's Christian Liberation Movement, founded by deceased democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, on the Council of the America's open letter to President Obama lobbying him to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

"There seems to be confusion. It's illusory and unreal to think the so-called 'cuenta-propistas' ('self-employed' licensees) form part of a 'broad spectrum of civil society.' The laws enacted in our country do not recognize rights, nor economic freedoms, that guarantee the free exercise of a market economy. In Cuba, the totalitarian regime has made some concessions within an environment and legal order that is under the absolute control of the government. To support and applaud this logic of no-rights is an act of complicity that infringes, precisely, against the potential birth of a real 'civil society.'"

Rubio Condems Cuba's Censorship of Yoani's News Site #14ymedio

From POLITICO:

Rubio condemns Cuba on press freedom

Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday condemned the regime of Raúl Castro for shutting down a new website launched by Yoani Sanchez, the country's most prominent and outspoken blogger.

"Yoani Sanchez has long been one of Cuba's most courageous pro-democracy and human rights voices, giving the world insights on life inside Cuba through her blog," the Florida Republican said in a statement emailed to POLITICO. "She is now an aspiring Cuban media entrepreneur who the Castro regime shut down yesterday by hacking into her news website, 14ymedio, on the day of its launch."

"Imagine for a moment, if the U.S. government had shut down POLITICO the day it launched in 2007 — or any conservative, liberal or mainstream online news outlet for that matter," he said. "As Americans, we would be outraged."

Sanchez, 38, has become an international icon for her forthright criticisms of the Castro regime. In 2013, she visited Washington to brief members of congress on the need for greater press freedoms and human rights in Cuba.

Sanchez's new website, 14ymedio, launched Wednesday morning and was hacked shortly thereafter, redirecting readers to a website critical of the blogger. Sanchez immediately denounced the hack as a government attack.

"Press freedom is a universal human right, and we should be outraged that yet another blatant instance of repression has taken place in Cuba," Rubio said in his statement. "I recognize it's not the role of government officials to tell the press how to do their jobs, but I do believe it's the responsibility of Yoani's fellow journalists everywhere to stand in solidarity with her as the Castro government blocks her from doing her job and help her shine a light on the regime's repression, its failures and the Cuban people's aspirations for freedom."

"This is also a reminder about the dangers of potentially turning over governance of the Internet to any entity that gives any influence whatsoever to regimes and governments that view the Internet as a threat to their power," he said.

The Venezuelan Nightmare

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
By Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in CNN:

The Venezuelan Nightmare

Images of repression and brutality against peaceful protesters demanding democracy and the elimination of corruption are not limited to Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, Venezuelans are suffering at the hands of their own government. Violence and systematic human rights abuses have resulted in 41 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands detained.

These rights violations in Venezuela were chronicled this month by Human Rights Watch in a 103-page report, entitled "Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela's Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System."

The study pulls back the veil of President Nicolas Maduro's administration and shows its willingness to go to dangerous extremes to silence political dissent.

It depicts an unraveling situation in Venezuela far worse than suspected. The litany of rights violations is illustrated in graphic fashion: the unlawful use of force, violent mass arrests, crackdowns on free speech and press freedom, blanket denial of due process, and abuses in detention facilities, including electric shock torture.

Employing tactics perfected by the Cuban regime, marauding Venezuelan security forces are shown teaming up with armed gangs known as colectivos to beat unarmed demonstrators, firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds.

In one instance, according to the report, a member of the National Guard "stepped on (a young protester's) head and fired rubber bullets at point-blank range in his thigh. The shot struck a set of keys in his pocket, dispersing metal shards as well as rubber pellets into his leg." He was then taken to a military detention facility, denied medical treatment for hours, and lost so much blood that he was near death when finally permitted to see a doctor.

While pro-democracy protesters are not fault-free in the use of violence, the primary responsibility for the horrifying, unjustified use of force rests with Maduro and his band of apparatchiks.

Venezuela's alleged socialist paradise has morphed into a verifiable real-life nightmare.

At a time when many countries in the Americas are experiencing an economic ascent underpinned by growing middle classes, every indicator reveals that Venezuela is regressing at an alarming rate.

Frightening levels of criminal violence are coupled with economic freefall, punctuated by sky-high inflation and a scarcity of basic food items.

In Venezuela today, the rule of law is abandoned, the judiciary is hollowed out, freedom of the press is nonexistent, and corruption runs rampant. Drug traffickers collude regularly with government officials and the free flow of narcotics out of the country poses a threat to hemispheric security, as well as to the United States.

Last month, Maduro pleaded in The New York Times that "Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward" -- but instead, he has delivered discord and suffering.

With no alternative recourse against the crisis consuming their country, Venezuelan citizens young and old have been turning out in mass demonstrations since early February. Their courage has been met with repression, and the images flooding social media networks induce an outpouring of sympathy, mixed with terror and grief.

Attempts by South American governments and the Vatican to mediate talks between the Venezuelan government and political opposition have collapsed and mass arrests continue. The Organization of American States must take a forceful position and demand respect for human rights and democratic inclusion in Venezuela.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, playing the role of a bystander to this chaos is unacceptable.

My response to Maduro-inspired mayhem is authoring bipartisan legislation imposing targeted sanctions on those individuals responsible for violating the rights of peaceful demonstrators.

While designed to avoid hurting the Venezuelan people, these hard-hitting penalties include asset freezes and visa bans for high-ranking members of the Maduro administration who have terrorized large segments of the population with unflinching impunity.

The legislation also authorizes $15 million to defend human rights, support democratic civil society, and strengthen the rule of law.

The moment of action is upon us.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will pass this legislation. As a nation of the Americas guided by principles of liberty and democracy, we are duty bound to respond when the light of freedom is threatened.

#SOSVenezuela is a constant refrain on social media networks, galvanizing international attention to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

The U.S. Congress hears your cries and stands in solidarity.

Graffitti in Havana: #PorOtraCuba #ForAnotherCuba

This week, neighborhoods throughout Havana awoke to graffiti with the logo of "Por Otra Cuba" ("For Another Cuba"), a campaign that demands the Castro regime ratify the U.N. Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Both Conventions were signed by Raul Castro in 2008, in a propaganda move widely praised by international news outlets.

However, they have yet to be ratified or applied in Cuba.

What the U.S. Chamber Won't Tell You About Cuba

In announcing his upcoming trip to Cuba, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue stated:

Since I was last in Cuba 15 years ago, a reform program has reportedly taken 600,000 workers from government payrolls and allowed the number of self-employed entrepreneurs in the country to triple to more than 450,000."

Sort of.

According to the Castro regime's official statistics, 600,000 workers have supposedly been removed from government payrolls, though well-short of its announced goal of 1 million layoffs by the end of 2011. A major concern is that very few of the laid-off workers have transferred to the "self-employment" sector.

Then, the fuzzy math begins.

The number of "self-employed entrepreneurs" has not tripled to more than 450,000.  During Donohue's 1999 trip to Cuba there were nearly 210,000 self-employed licensees. Thus, according to the Castro regime's official, unverified statistics, in the last 15 years there has been a net gain of 240,000 new licensees. That's hardly triple.

Deduct the one-in-four ratio (confirmed through 2012) of self-employed licenses that have been canceled or returned due to frustration with state control -- probably an even higher ratio now -- and the net gain (over 15 years) is of 180,000 new licensees.  That's not even double.

But anyone can miscalculate, particularly when relying on a dictatorship's manipulated data.

Most importantly, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about "self-employed" licensees:

- Cuba's "self-employed" licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or "intellectual" outputs, commodity they produce, property, or personal service they offer.

- Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment.

As Havana-based lawyer and pro-democracy blogger Miriam Celaya has previously explained:

"The fact that no legal document exists that clearly explains how measures are established for each [self-employment] activity, the particular requirements of each and the obligations and rights of investors, only creates a vagueness and formlessness that favors speculation and corruption on behalf of the regime officials in charge of the process, as well as the defenselessness for those that risk investment in the private sector. To summarize it in a simple phrase: in a State where no citizen rights exist, there are no legal guarantees for slaves that aspire to freedom."

- Licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments.

- Effectually, licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.

- The only thing licensees have is a "get out of jail free card" (license) that (in theory) doesn't punish them for selling some widgets (like they would in the black-market), though (in practice) the authorities' harassment remains arbitrary and constant.

Moreover, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about foreign investment in Cuba:

- In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. Fidel and Raul Castro. There are no "exceptions."

- In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state.

- The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

- Since passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act ("TSREEA"), more than $4 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba. However, all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer -- a company called Alimport, which is the Castro's import monopoly.

- Castro's 2014 Foreign Investment Law offers absolutely not rights to Cubans on the island.  They remain prohibited from transacting business with any foreign entity.  Even more fundamental, they remain prohibited from owning a business, period.

- The 2014 Foreign Investment Law violates six International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

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.

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.

Finally, here's what the Chamber won't tell you about Cuba's current political reality:

- Cuba's regime was recently caught red-handed smuggling weapons to North Korea - the largest weapons cache discovered since U.N. Security Council sanctions towards the Kim regime were enacted.

- Cuba's regime has wrested political and operational control of the most resource-rich nation in Latin America, Venezuela; it has undermined that nation's democratic institutions; and led a campaign of repression resulting in the arrest and torture of thousands of innocent student protesters, and the murder of over 40.

- Repression has risen dramatically under Raul Castro; political arrests have at least tripled (reaching nearly 1,000 per month); opposition activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto and Wilmar Villar have been murdered; and democracy leaders Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement have died under mysterious circumstances.

- European and Canadian businesses in Cuba have been illegally confiscated, their bank accounts frozen and an unknown number of foreign businessmen imprisoned without charges or trial.

- Democracy activists, including Sonia Garro, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White, and Angel Yunier Remon, a young Cuban rapper critical of the Castro regime, remain imprisoned after years without charges or trial.

- Raul Castro has taken an American hostage, Alan P. Gross, who was in Cuba helping the island's Jewish community connect to the Internet, in order to extort the United States into releasing five (now three) spies convicted in federal courts of targeting military installations and conspiracy to murder three American citizens and a permanent resident of the U.S.

Welcome to the real Cuba.

Cuba's Ladies in White Reject Council of the America's Proposal

Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Below is a statement from Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, a democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

The Ladies in White are recipients of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

If the U.S. government lifted restrictions or softens them, it will give oxygen to the Cuban government to strengthen its repressive machinery against the people of Cuba and human rights activists.

Giving oxygen to the Cuban government would mean that the U.S. is turning its back on the Cuban people. This country is plunged into hunger and need because of a totalitarian government. An improvement of bilateral relations or authorization of trade between the U.S. and Cuba will benefit the Cuban government, not the Cuban people. Self-employed people would not benefit either, because in Cuba there is a state monopoly.

With regard to the embargo, the position of the Ladies in White is that it should be strengthened. No oxygen to the Cuban government, no diplomatic overtures, because this will not benefit the people of Cuba. When there was a socialist bloc and the Soviet Union, rather than evolving we regressed.  What the Cuban government wants is to buy time to stay in power.”

Translation courtesy of InterAmerican Security Watch.

What a Rockefeller Coincidence

Last month, CHC Editor Mauricio Claver Carone wrote in The Huffington Post:

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

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

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

Just over a month later, the Council of the Americas, whose founder, Honorary Chairman and main financier is David Rockefeller, would publish an open letter to President Obama lobbying him to bypass Congress in easing trade and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

Rockefeller, and his associate, Peter Johnson, were (of course) featured signatories of the open letter.

What a coincidence!

Pictured below: David Rockefeller with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Young Cuban-Americans Remain Committed to a Free Cuba

By 40-year old, Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera in The Miami Herald:

Younger Cubans still committed to a free Cuba  

Much is said about the views of the younger generation of Cuban Americans and how they see Cuba. As we commemorate another 20 de mayo, while Cuba still remains hostage to the cruelty of sibling dictators, it’s an appropriate moment to look a bit closer at the sentiments of my generation.

Our parents and grandparents were given refuge by the most generous nation on Earth, making us proud Americans. Decades later, I believe, we remain deeply committed to a free Cuba. Why?

Cuba’s independence in 1902 was achieved despite insurmountable odds. The tenacity and courage of the Mambises forever marked Cuba’s national identity. I was raised knowing the stories of a generation that in their youth had to abandon Cuba; family members that were imprisoned; and countless examples of bravery from the Plantados to Bay of Pigs to the Escambray.

They never surrendered nor never gave up. More important, they never lost hope. Many from that generation have passed away without seeing a free Cuba, but that has served to strengthen our commitment to continue their cause. Not just out of loyalty to our heritage but also because there are countless men and women in Cuba today that are sacrificing their lives for its freedom.

It was moving to see a photo of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas’ family, as they met last week with His Holiness Pope Francis. Payá Sardiñas, an activist for democracy in Cuba and one of the more recent victims of that brutal government, instilled in his family the importance of faith, a strong code of ethics and a profound love of country.

Those values drive Rosa Maria Payá, the youngest of the Payá siblings, to travel the globe in search of justice for her father’s murder and solidarity for Cuba’s freedom. You would think that after the pain that that family has endured that they would look to live a less tumultuous life, but the legacy is strong and the responsibility to freedom greater.

The same holds true when we reflect on the life of Jorge Luis García Pérez, “Antunez,” who spent 17 years as a political prisoners whose only “crime” was to suggest publicly that Cuba was not free. Upon his release, he was given the option to leave Cuba, to seek a more peaceful existence. His reply: “Ni me callo, ni me voy:” I will not shut up and I will not leave. Today, Antunez courageously leads a national pro-democracy movement on the island under constant intimidation by the ruling government.

It is from these modern-day Mambises that the children of exiles find today’s inspiration to never forget. That is a sentiment that will never be captured in any opinion poll. The generosity of spirit and meritocracy that is the United States of America allows the son of a refugee to become the first Hispanic lieutenant governor of Florida.

That makes me keenly aware of the responsibility that comes with doing what I can so that the counterparts of my generation in Cuba, can one day, in the not too distant future, live in a society where citizens have the opportunity to reach their ultimate potential.

It is in the love of freedom and in the commitment to never forgetting that the Cuban tyranny will find its demise. Because there are legions of Cuban Americans born in freedom and legions of young Cubans on the island yearning for freedom, who believe in a day where Cuba’s genuine independence will be realized.

What may have started as our parents’ and grandparents’ desire that we not forget our history has become a charge inspired by the lives of those willing today to sacrifice it all for freedom. The best way to honor their life’s work is with our unconditional solidarity.

Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera is a former state representative from Miami and House majority leader from 2010 to 2012.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Venezuela Sanctions

From AFP:

US Senate panel approves Venezuela sanctions

A US Senate committee on Tuesday green-lighted new sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for violent crackdowns against anti-government student protesters that have left 42 people dead.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 13-2 in favor of the sanctions draft, which now goes to the Senate floor and is on track for possible passage by Congress.

The bill would allow President Barack Obama to freeze assets and ban US visits by any current or former Venezuelan government official responsible for "directing significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela."

It also allows the White House to crack down on those who ordered the arrest or prosecution of demonstrators, or who are deemed as having provided assistance including financial support for such acts.

The bill would commit $15 million to help non-governmental organizations, including pro-democracy groups as well was independent media in Venezuela.

Cuban Dissidents Reject Council of the Americas' Proposals

Reaction from some of Cuba's most prominent dissidents regarding the Council of the Americas' proposal for President Obama to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

These opinions were compiled by Diario de Cuba (our translation):

It's not a very viable proposal for dealing directly with self-employment in Cuba. It shows ignorance about how it works here [...] Also, I don't see that this letter stands for a clear defense of human rights and freedoms, which makes it suspicious.
-- Manuel Cuesta Morua, Afro-Cuban dissident leader and President of the Partido Arco Progresista


Fundamental rights have never derived from complacency with the oppressors. Those who are currently afraid that time is not on their side should be hearing straight talk, with the respect for freedoms and the rights of citizens as the priority [...] Oxygen for the tyrants implies increased suffering for Cubans.  If you give dictators a blank check, we can predict an unflattering ending, for the costs of becoming a democratic nation will become much higher.
-- Antonio Rodiles, young Cuban democracy leader and Director of the think-tank, Estado de SATS


From where we stand today, [the proposal] would be unethical, politically unhelpful, for the regime is condemned to disappear.  It's not right for people or institutions, in search of economic benefits, to seek engagement at this time. Moreover, due to reality and the rule of the Castros, it would be impossible for 'self-employed' workers or other independent organizations to receive those credits or support. 
-- José Daniel Ferrer, Executive Secretary of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba, the largest opposition group on the island

A Lesson From U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue's Last Cuba Trip

When U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue concluded his last trip to Cuba in 1999, he sold us the following bill-of-goods, via The Cato Institute:

"One thing Cuba must do is allow its private sector to grow. This would help open Cuban society and help the Cuban economy. We want to be the catalyst for this change. For that reason, we hope Congress will give us a hand and support legislation to exempt food and medical sales from unilateral sanctions as soon as possible."

First, we commend Donohue for (at least) having correctly lobbied Congress to change the codified policy, as opposed to asking the Clinton Administration (at the time) to circumvent the law.

(A lesson the Council of the Americas hasn't learned.)

Donohue got his way and Congress authorized the sale of food, medicine and medical products to Cuba.

Since then, over 250 privately-owned U.S. companies have sold over $4 billion in mostly food-products to Cuba.

- So, in over a decade, how many Cuban companies have purchased these U.S. products?

One -- Castro's import monopoly, Alimport.

- How many "independent companies" or "private entrepreneurs" purchased these U.S. products (Note: such purchases are not prohibited by sanctions)?

None.

- What did these sales do for the so-called Cuban "private sector"?

Nothing.

- Why?

Because Cuban law only permits Castro's monopolies to engage in foreign trade.

That's not called trade -- it's called mercantilism.

A False Version of Independent Entrepreneurs and Civil Society

Diario de Cuba's editorial on the Council of the Americas' letter:

A group of former government officials, politicians and businessmen have asked the Obama Administration to enact a series of measures to ease the U.S. embargo. The initiative, coordinated by the Council of the Americas, rests on two concepts that deserve to be examined: "independent entrepreneurs" and "civil society."

Who assured the signatories of the existence of independent entrepreneurs on the island? Cuban laws prohibit the autonomous exercise of any professional activity. Even the authorized [self-employment] activities, mostly artisan and for survival, are not independent. The self-employed do no have the right to free association. Thus, they cannot be considered civil society.

Yet, it's towards these fictitious independent entrepreneurs that the letter refers to when it talks about "increasing support to civil society," while not considering other groups of citizens, religious groups, independent labor unions, human rights organizations or political opposition activities.

Under the pretext of strengthening it, the Council of the Americas letter, assumes a false version of what is today, although still rudimentary, civil society in Cuba. Forgetting that the origin of the Cuban crisis is national, and not in its relations with the U.S., the letter does not demand greater reforms from the Castro regime. While, on the other hand, it proposes a demobilizing version of civil society.

Rather than focusing on the democratization of a whole country, the promoters of this letter seek the exaltation of some self-employed workers. They seek help from Washington to invent in Cuba the "super-timbiriche."

Here We Go Again: U.S. Chamber of Commerce Edition

Monday, May 19, 2014
Read the following article very carefully.

It sounds eerily similar to the preview of next week's U.S. Chamber of Commerce trip to Cuba.

Except this article is from July 17, 1999.

Haven't Cuba "experts" assured us that the "small private sector" and "reform process" are unprecedented changes resulting from Obama's "extended hand" policy?

Yet, they were using the same talking points in 1999.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Chamber Of Commerce Leader Sees Opportunities In Cuba

The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Friday after a visit to Cuba that the emergence of a small private sector on the island offers "a small but hopeful opening" that the chamber wants to help develop.

Thomas J. Donohue, chamber president and chief executive officer, said at a news conference and in a written statement that while there is no evidence of a change in Cuba's communist ideology, it is significant that certain entrepreneurial activities are now permitted as part of a reform process.

"In this small way, the process of change in Cuba has begun and we ought to seize the opportunity to spur it on."

He said the chamber will work with Cubans over the next few weeks to flesh out the details on building relationships with independent companies and public corporations.

Donohue's three-day visit was the first by a chamber of commerce president to Cuba since the 1959 communist revolution. He spent six hours with President Fidel Castro and also met with other top government officials along with dissidents and church leaders.

The Council of the Americas' Derelict Cuba Letter

This morning, the Council of the Americas released an open letter to President Obama lobbying him to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

A few observations regarding this letter:

1. Policy is not made in a vacuum. It's mind-boggling how this letter purposefully ignores major issues in Cuba policy, including the Castro regime's three-fold rise in political arrests during the last couple of years; its illegal weapons smuggling to North Korea; its subversion of democracy in Venezuela; and its taking of an American hostage to extort the U.S.

2. U.S. policy toward Cuba was specifically codified into law by the Congress. Yet, this letter is asking the Obama Administration to ease sanctions toward the Castro dictatorship by circumventing the rule of law.

3. This is a low information letter - full of theories, void of facts. The entire premise of this letter is that it seeks to help so-called "independent entrepreneurs" in Cuba. They use the terms "independent entrepreneurs," "micro-enterprise" and "self-employed individuals" inter-changeably and loosely. Yet, they don't define them. Who are the "independent entrepreneurs" they are talking about? What qualifies as an "independent entrepreneur"? Is it someone with a "self-employment" license? Licensees have no ownership rights -- property or intellectual. Moreover, they only have a license to perform a service -- there's no legal entity owned by them. The underlying owner is the regime. So who would the financial transactions they propose be with? The regime, which would then "trickle-them-down"? Click here for more on this issue.

4. It ignores a basic historic premise.  History has proven that the Castro regime only eases economic control when forced to, not as a "good-will" measure. That's what happened in the 1990s, when it was forced to create "self-employment licenses" as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but then reverted and pulled the licenses once the Cuban economy stabilized -- courtesy of Chavez's oil in 1998 and the Clinton Administration's easing of sanctions in 1999-2000. This letter is (once again) reacting to Castro's bait.

5. There's an easier, legal and less costly alternative. The Obama Administration doesn't have to circumvent U.S. law to help "independent entrepreneurs" in Cuba. Rather than opening a financial spigot for the Castro regime, simply require all current U.S. travelers to stay at "casa particulares" and "paladares" -- "self-employed licensees" who rent rooms and host diners at their homes -- during their visits to Cuba. Currently, every single U.S. "people-to-people" traveler stays at a Cuban military-owned 4 and 5 star hotel and dines at its restaurants.  Thus, the biggest financial beneficiary of current U.S. travel to Cuba is the Castro regime's tourism conglomerates. Let's change this twisted dynamic. Click here for more on this alternative.

Quote of the Week: Cuba Sanctions Are Bilateral Issue

Sunday, May 18, 2014
The issue of the commercial embargo between the U.S. and Cuba is not a regional issue, as the rest of the region has commerce with Cuba.  It's a U.S. issue and we're awaiting political changes in Cuba.
-- Roberta Jacobson, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, on Uruguayan President Jose Mujica's lobbying of President Obama to lift Cuba sanctions, Subrayado, 5/14/14

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