Obama Should Stick to Principled Cuba Policy

Saturday, May 31, 2014
By former Assistant Secretary of State, Amb. Roger Noriega, in The Washington Times:

Selling out Cubans

U.S. trade concessions without regard for human rights would betray principle

For the past 15 years, the Castro regime has sought to entice foreign companies to Cuba by offering slave wages and stolen property. The cost of doing business there is that you pay workers’ salaries to the regime, take the government as your business partner and agree to lobby against the U.S. embargo.

As astonishing as it sounds, there are American businessmen who look upon these woeful conditions and ask, “How do I get in on this?” U.S. policy bars “trading with the enemy.” People who have no particular interest in changing “the enemy” set out to change U.S policy.

For example, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue, just wrapped up a visit to Cuba, citing “evidence that we’re seeing an extraordinary expansion of free enterprise .” Of course, that is utter nonsense, demonstrating that Mr. Donohue has learned nothing since he first hyped Fidel Castro’s “reforms” 15 years ago.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom 2014, Cuba actually recorded “double-digit declines in business freedom and investment freedom” in the past year. That is quite a feat, because only North Korea ranks worse than Cuba among the 178 countries rated in the annual Heritage study. If Mr. Donohue is interested in touting economic freedom, almost literally the last people on the planet he should be courting are cronies of the Castro dictatorship.

In recent weeks, several other groups have appealed for reform on Cuba — not for reform in Cuba, but reform of U.S. policy. The New York-based Council of the Americas issued a May 19 “Open Letter to President Obama” recommending initiatives to support “independent economic activity.” The signers of this message include retired U.S. officials, most of whom, in my personal experience, never showed the slightest interest in the cause of freedom in Cuba when they were in a position to do something about it. Many of the ideas they endorse for encouraging economic freedom have some merit. However, the fatal flaw is their call for a dialogue that would legitimize the regime that is an intractable obstacle to political and economic liberty in Cuba.

“Giving oxygen to the Cuban government would mean that the United States is turning its back on the Cuban people.” That’s how dissident leader Berta Soler sized up the council’s proposal. Dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua assessed that the signers “don’t know how things work here,” and questioned their failure to refer to human rights. “Given the reality and the rules imposed by Castro, it would be impossible” for Cubans to benefit from the initiatives recommended in the letter, according to Jose Daniel Ferrer of Cuba’s Patriotic Union.

The Chamber of Commerce trip and Council of the Americas letter come on the heels of a February poll on Cuba policy released by a Washington website committed to ending the U.S. embargo. For decades, these same pundits sneered at U.S. policy, saying it was driven merely by crass politics. Their monumental contribution to this debate is an appeal for unilateral concessions to the Castro regime because of a poll. You can’t make this stuff up.

Three things these initiatives have in common is that they would benefit the regime, they could end up hurting average Cubans, and they are being offered by people who have no real stake in what happens on the island. These pundits have a hunch that they know better than people with knowledge, experience and family ties. With very few exceptions, they don’t know anyone on the island who will pay the price if the United States clumsily helps the gasping regime catch its breath.

Of course, not everyone who cares about the Cuban people thinks the same about how best to bring about change there. However, most draw the line at concessions that would clearly benefit the regime without helping 11 million Cubans.

Then there’s Charlie Crist — who, as governor of Florida, looked into the eyes of Cuban exiles, heard their heartbreaking stories and maybe wiped away a tear or two. In his bid to win his old job back, Mr. Crist has flip-flopped on Cuba policy, pledging to confer and trade with the Castro regime — playing the angles on an issue in which he knows lives are at stake.

President Obama has relaxed some restrictions on family travel and cash remittances. He has refused to make more concessions, though, unless the regime makes meaningful changes in how it treats the Cuban people. Let’s hope he sticks to that simple, principled position.

Castro's Stalinist Law

By Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

Many times in this column, I have mentioned a criminal charge in Cuba — a charge on which a great many innocent people have been jailed (and subsequently tortured, etc.). That charge is “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” You have not done anything wrong, in the eyes of the Communists, yet. But something tells the Communists that you might.

I have always associated this charge, this concept, with Cuba. But I found something interesting in Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Montefiore. In August 1937, Nikolai Yezhov, the secret-police chief, “decreed that children between one and three were to be confined in orphanages but ‘socially dangerous’ children between three and fifteen could be imprisoned ‘depending on the degree of danger.’”


Enrique Krauze on Cuba, Castro & Gabo

Excerpt by famed Mexican historian Enrique Krauze in The New York Times:

García Márquez’s Blind Spot

[F]or me and many other Latin-Americans, his undeniable literary achievement has been overshadowed by a moral failing: his long, intimate friendship with Fidel Castro and (far more important) his unflinching acceptance of the worst abuses of the Cuban regime.

Gabo, as he was affectionately known, once wrote that “all dictators ... are victims” — which he may have really believed. It’s a sentiment one finds throughout “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” published in 1975, the year he began to firmly establish a personal link (which he had long desired) with Castro.

In three famous dispatches (a journalistic series entitled “Cuba From Head to Tail”), García Márquez wrote of the “almost telepathic communication” he saw between Castro and the Cuban people and asserted “he has survived intact from the insidious and ferocious corrosion of the daily application of power” and “set up a whole system of defense against the cult of personality.” He called Fidel “a genius reporter” whose “immense spoken reports,” made the Cuban people “one of the best informed in the world about its own reality.” Soon after this, however, when Alan Riding of The New York Times asked him why he didn’t move to Cuba, García Márquez replied: “It would be very difficult to ... adapt myself to the conditions. I’d miss too many things. I couldn’t live with the lack of information.”

When he finally did get a house in Cuba, García Márquez began to share culinary adventures with Castro. Fidel’s Cuban master chef named a lobster dish “Langosta a la Macondo” in honor of Gabo, its great enthusiast. When questioned about his closeness to Castro, García Márquez responded that, for him, friendship was a supreme value. That may well have been so, but there was certainly a hierarchy to his friendships — with Fidel at the top.

In 1989, while García Márquez was living in his Cuban home, the murky trial of Gen. Arnaldo Ochoa and the brothers Tony and Patricio de la Guardia took place, resulting in death sentences for General Ochoa and Col. Tony de la Guardia, charged with drug trafficking and betraying the revolution. There was much opposition to the death sentence for General Ochoa, a hero of the Cuban victory in Angola over the invading army of the South African apartheid regime, and Colonel de la Guardia was a close personal friend of García Márquez. The colonel’s daughter Ileana, implored García Márquez to intercede with Castro to spare the life of her father. But he did nothing, and Ileana reported that he had even secretly attended a part of the trial, screened behind “a large mirror” in the company of Fidel and his brother Raúl.

In March 2003, Fidel suddenly ordered a massive show trial of 78 dissidents, sentencing them to between 12 and 27 years in prison, some for crimes as minor as “possessing a Sony tape recorder.” Shortly after, he had three men executed for trying to flee to the United States in a small boat. At a book fair in Bogotá, Colombia, Susan Sontag confronted García Márquez and, after first praising him as a writer, said that it was unpardonable for him to have said nothing against the Cuban regime’s actions. García Márquez’s public response to this and his justification in saying nothing restated one of his old arguments for his personal relation to Castro: “I cannot calculate the number of prisoners, dissidents and conspirators that I have helped, in absolute silence, to be freed from jail or emigrate from Cuba over at least 20 years.”

But if he actually did so, then why “in absolute silence”? He must have considered the imprisonments unjust. Instead of continuing to support a regime that committed such injustices, wouldn’t it have been far more valuable to issue a public denunciation and so help shut down Cuba’s political prisons?

U.S. Chamber is Missing a Huge Opportunity

Friday, May 30, 2014
We've all seen those pictures of Cuba, where everyone is happy and content with the Castro dictatorship.

But wait until you see the following pictures (in U.K.'s Daily Mail) of North Korea taken by Singaporean photographer Aram Pan.  

Compared to Havana, Pyongyang looks like New York City.  

This is the real opportunity the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is missing.

Moreover, U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue has nothing to worry about, for just as he was assured of the ability to interact freely in Cuba, Mr. Pan assures us:

"He was escorted throughout his time in the country but said he had no schedule to follow and was given the ability to move around 'quite freely'."

Wonder when the U.S. Chamber's trip to North Korea will be?

Can't wait to see Donohue meeting with young Kim, praising his "reforms" -- which happen to be eerily similar to Cuba's.

And where are the proposals for engagement with North Korean "entrepreneurs"?

After all, here's North Koreans partying at the beach:

Look at the new cars:

Hustle and bustle at the first-class subway station:

They have "cuenta-propistas" too:

And "independent" hair salons:

And modern hotels:

U.S. Chamber CEO Meets Cuba's Only CEO

Apparently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's CEO, Tom Donohue, realized during his trip to Havana that (tragically) all foreign commerce with Cuba is required to be done through the Castro regime.

Thus, he acquiesced to a highly-propagandized meeting with Cuba's only CEO, General Raul Castro.

The image is below:

From Cuba: An Overwhelming Response Against Lifting Sanctions

By Cuban democracy leader and head of Estado de SATS, Antonio Rodiles, in Diario de Cuba:

Judge or Participant?

The debate set off by the letter from more than 40 personalities asking for the relaxation of restrictions towards the Havana regime has been copious. There has been an intense response from those who advocate, as a premise, that Cubans must first regain their fundamental rights and freedoms. They have been very explicit in declaring that it would be members of the regime who would have the most to gain from relaxing restrictions. Meanwhile, the silence of those who support this document on the Island has been noteworthy. I haven’t read a single article defending it.

Amid the controversy, I came across an interview today on the new site of Yoani Sanchez, who in the past has expressed support for the agenda of Carlos Saladrigas, one of the principle promoters of the anti-embargo missive. The interview refers to the debate and its headline caught my attention. I quote:

The proposal has unleashed passions and speculation, also fueled by the imminent arrival in Havana of representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Cuban society, however, seems to remain on the margins of the headlines, the hot articles, the replies — or support — like the so-called 'letter of the 40' already circulating on the networks and in emails. Thinking about this uninformed population submerged in the big problems of everyday life, I did this interview with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who received me in Washington a few weeks before the launch of 14ymedio.”

Cuban society has not remained on the margins. More and more one hears the opinions of citizens of “this uninformed population submerged in the big problems of everyday life,” who openly acknowledge that it is not the embargo that is responsible for so much hardship, but a dictatorship intent on continuing to prey on the country.

The writers, intellectuals, journalists, activists, political prisoners, readers and forum members, from outside and within the island, who have recently expressed their views on the subject through articles and comments in DiariodeCuba.com, Cubanet.org and other sites, also make up the Cuban nation. Those who offer their opinions from within, support projects and other independent media, and who constantly confront the repression of the dictator and his regime, also belong to Cuban society.

Amid this intense debate and without even taking part in it, to pretend to be to be the voice or the channel that can enlighten the Cuban people about what is happening is pretentious and disrespectful toward those who have engaged in this controversy.

The need for political honesty is fundamental. Fifty-five years of Castrismo has been too long a time for simulation. Now is the time for greater transparency and clarity. Hopefully, frankness will be an essential part of the political game, even if it hurts. Hopefully those in Cuba who have their agendas, and their companions, will lend something of interest to the just demand for rights of those who are totally defenseless, and don't resort to justifying themselves in relativism.

When the future of a nation is at stake, it is important to respect diverse opinions and visions. But it is also essential to pay special attention to those, well summarized in an phrase by the journalist Raul Rivero, who are “very close to the fire.”

The debate about the embargo occupies a primordial space in Cuba today. But it should contain as an essential element the demand for our basic rights. And there we have the United Nations Covenants as fundamental tools. Ratifying them and implementing them would give us a real scenario of change and then, perhaps, we could begin to catch a glimpse of another Cuba.

Castro and Maduro (Also) Share U.S. Congressional Supporters

This week, 14 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to President Obama urging him not to sanction Venezuelan officials responsible for human rights violations.

Not surprisingly, the signatories are overwhelmingly the same Members of the Havana travel circuit, who regularly visit Cuba to meet with the Castro brothers and regime officials.

Then, they return to the United States singing the regime's praises, glossing-over human rights abuses and urging "normalization."

They are:

John Conyers (D-MI)
Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
Karen Bass (D-CA)
Barbara Lee (D-CA)
James McGovern (D-MA)
Sam Farr (D-CA)
Chellie Pingree (D-ME)
Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Jan Schakownsky (D-IL)
Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO)
Jose Serrano (D-NY)
Michael Capuano (D-MA)
Peter Welch (D-VT)

Mexican Companies Shun Investing in Cuba

From Monitor Global Outlook:

More than 50 Mexican business leaders paid an official visit to Cuba on May 26-27 to look at new business opportunities.

Soon after Cuba passed a law seeking to increase foreign investment, Mexico’s promotion agency traveled to Havana, where it opened an office and signed an agreement to stimulate economic development.

More than 50 representatives from Mexico’s business community, including large transnationals such as Nestlé México, Unilever, and Omnilife, were part of the official visit on May 26-27. According to Rodolfo Balmaceda, who was invited to Cuba as commercial director for the industrial park developer Vesta, opportunities abound for exports to Cuba, but direct investment on the island by Mexican companies is not likely in the short term.

“There are very clear opportunities for exporting to Cuba, especially in the sectors of food, pharmaceuticals, and auto parts,” Mr. Balmaceda tells Monitor Global Outlook. “I don’t see at this moment much opportunity for Mexico to go and build hotels, industrial parks. This is very incipient, but the route it’s taking is to open opportunities for business with Cuba.”

Yoani Stumbles Upon an Important Contradiction

Thursday, May 29, 2014
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has a great op-ed in The New York Times entitled, "The Castros in Their Labyrinth."

She's spot-on regarding the general premise -- that the Castros are quickly headed towards a dead end.

Yoani concludes:

"Castrismo is losing the battle. Biology is ending the historic generation, while the economic opening is creating a class that does not depend on government salaries, the growing dissident faction is slashing the regime’s international prestige, and the loss of control over information is reducing its leverage over people. All of these are, at the very least, death-threatening obstacles in its way."

Can't disagree with that.

However, she stumbles upon a contradiction in describing the "class that does not depend on government salaries," which she loosely labels the "private sector."

Yoani writes:

"In 1993, spurred by an economic crisis, Fidel Castro permitted the reopening of the private sector. This turned out to be Mr. Castro’s worst defeat — one he tried to mask as a victory, as he usually did whenever he stumbled... Since taking power in 2008, Raúl Castro has granted a series of concessions that spin the island’s compass toward a system without paternalism, but also without rights. Permission to set up small private companies coincided with the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of Cubans, who held government positions for decades and are now unemployed."

Once again, she's spot-on that the lack of rights of this so-called "private sector"

But therein lies her contradiction -- for there can be no private sector without rights.

A private sector requires a legal framework for its existence, including business structures, an independent judiciary, contractual sanctity and recourse.  In other words, a rule of law.

Moreover, a private sector requires physical and intellectual property rights.

None of this exists in Cuba. 

In 2011 (the last time Cuba's statistics agency released its "official" numbers), there were 11,857 registered "legal entities" in Cuba.

Ironically, that represented a 6% decline from 2005, when there were 12,614 registered entities.

What happened to the explosion of self-employment and entrepreneurial activity?

What about the 250,000 self-employment licensees that existed at the time?

Are they operating without legal recognition (in "illegality")?

Pretty much.

They simply have permission (or a "get out of jail free" card) to perform a limited service.

Permission that can be taken away at a blink of an eye (as Fidel did across the board in 2000 and Raul did for some services in 2013, e.g. clothing sales and home movie theaters).

Did the licensees have any rights or recourse?  Nope.

Why?  Because the state remains the underlying owner.

Why is this "important" (as we mention in the title)?  It's important because should call a "spade a spade."  

Otherwise, the Castros get a pass for their distorted economic models.

Let's remember (which Yoani eludes to, but not clearly enough):

Fidel was forced grant self-employment licenses in 1993 due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but then reverted as soon as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez helped him stabilize the economy in 2000.

Raul was forced to ease it again in 2010 due to the imminent demise of Chavez.

They have been forced to make changes, they don't grant them out of "good-will."

Thus, the Castros need to be pressed to give Cubans the economic rights they deserve.

As we recently explained in The Huffington Post:

"[T]he historic lesson is clear: The Castro regime only responds when it is economically pressed. Once the Cuban economy stabilizes or begins to 'bounce back,' the Castro government reverses itself to freeze or revoke self-employment licenses. Lift U.S. sanctions and Cuba's government will solely focus on strengthening its state conglomerates and the repression required to suppress change. Thus, U.S. sanctions are the best friends that 'cuentapropistas' now have."

Tweet of the Day: What Private Enterprise?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
By Cuban democracy leader, Ailer Gonzalez Mena:

The President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praises the expansion of private enterprise in Cuba. What private enterprise? Castro's no? 

Russia's Defiance, Europe's Shame & Cuba's Scam

Over the weekend, in a diplomatic power play by Vladimir Putin, Russia's energy giant Rosneft formalized 12 foreign deals.

The deals were defiantly signed by Igor Sechin, Rosneft's CEO, who was recently sanctioned by the Obama Administration (placed on the U.S. Treasury Department's blacklist).

Putin has bet that these business deals will buy him complacency from European nations and counter-pressure from other major players, such as China and India.

Sadly, he's probably right.

As we've posted before, "Putin (Like Castro) Has Europe's Number."

Among the major deals were:

A gas contract worth $400 billion with China.

A $1 billion chunk of Italy's Pirelli tire company.

A major shale gas exploration deal with British Petroleum (BP).

A potential controlling stake in the world's largest offshore driller, Norway's Seadrill.

A deal with India's ONGC Videsh to jointly explore hydrocarbons in the offshore Artic.

A long-term oil supply contract, including a $2 billion prepayment, with Venezuela's PDVSA (to shore up the Maduro government).

And what did Cuba's regime get from this billionaire jamboree?

A student exchange program -- and more evidence that Castro's oil seduction is a scam.

According to Cuban state media:

The Russian oil giant Rosneft and the Cuban oil company CUPET on Saturday signed a memorandum of cooperation that will enable Cuban oil technicians to study in Russia.

Under the terms of the first pact, Rosneft will enroll Cuban engineers at the Moscow-based Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas, which specializes in petroleum engineering. Beginning in September, Cuban engineers will begin studies leading to a Master’s or a Doctor’s degree in petrochemistry.

Rosneft will not only provide financial support for the project but also allow the Cuban students to serve an internship in its production facilities, where they will be introduced to innovations in the field of oil and gas production.

Putin is sleazy and strategic, but not stupid.

Quote of the Day: Human Rights are National Security Issue

America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism -- it is a matter of national security. 
-- U.S. President Barack Obama, remarks at the United States Military Academy commencement ceremony, 5/28/14

House Passes Sanctions Against Venezuelan Officials

It passed by voice vote, which means opponents were too embarrassed to have a Roll Call and go on the record against the legislation.

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. House Passes Bill To Penalize Venezuela

Move Ratchets Up Pressure on President Nicolás Maduro's Beleaguered Government.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday to penalize Venezuelan government officials found to violate human rights in that country's crackdown on a protest movement, ratcheting up pressure on President Nicolás Maduro's beleaguered government.

The bill calls for President Barack Obama to draw up a list of Venezuelan officials who are alleged to have violated human rights, freeze any assets they might have in the U.S., and bar them from entering the country by either withdrawing or denying visas.

A similar bill has been approved by a Senate committee, and is headed for a vote on the Senate floor in coming days.

Chairman Menendez's Letter to U.S. Chamber on Cuba Trip

Chairman Menendez Expresses Serious Concern Regarding United States Chamber of Commerce Trip to Cuba

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote United States Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue today and expressed serious concern about the Chamber of Commerce’s upcoming trip to Cuba.

In the letter, Sen. Menendez wrote: “I would like to reiterate my concerns about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s trip and the desire to strengthen its relationship with the Government of Cuba – a government that jails foreign business leaders without justification, violates international labor standards, and denies its citizens their basic rights. Such conditions hardly seem an attractive opportunity for any responsible business leader.

The letter can be found below:

Mr. Thomas J. Donohue
President and CEO
United States Chamber of Commerce
1615 H St NW
Washington, DC 20062

Dear Mr. Donohue:

I write to express my serious concern about the Chamber of Commerce's trip to Cuba and its efforts to promote and enhance engagement with the Cuban regime, which controls nearly all economic activity in the country.

While the Cuban government may be undertaking cosmetic changes in an attempt to attract badly-needed foreign investment and revive an economy that has suffered from a half-century of chronic mismanagement, I believe it is imperative to detail the frequently hostile operating environment that international business leaders have encountered in Cuba.  The case of British businessman Stephen Purvis of Coral Capital is an irrefutable reminder of the ongoing risk faced by foreign businesses working in the country.  Although Coral Capital was one of the largest private investors in Cuba – working closely with the Cuban government to renovate the Saratoga Hotel and develop the Bellomonte Country Club – the government eventually turned on Mr. Purvis, accused him of espionage and breaches of financial law, seized all of his assets, and imprisoned him for 16 months prior to his release in July 2013.

It is important to emphasize that Mr. Purvis’ misfortune is hardly uncommon. Canadian citizen, Cy Tokmakjian, President and CEO of the Tomakjian Group, has languished in a Cuban prison for nearly three years and still awaits trial. After providing the Cuban government with transportation, mining and construction equipment for several years, Mr. Tokmakjian was jailed in September 2011.  The Cuban government seized his personal assets and those of his business, but never formally charged him with any wrongdoing. These examples are a clear indication of the complete lack of protection for foreign investment in Cuba, and should serve as a sharp warning for any company, including any U.S. business group, studying conditions in the country.

Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the U.S Chamber of Commerce’s willingness to seek out a relationship with a regime that is in constant violation of international labor rights. More specifically, the Cuban government’s labor and employment practices are in direct violation of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, discrimination, the protection of wages, and the abolition of forced labor. Regrettably, Cuba’s recent foreign investment law makes no efforts to bring the country’s poor labor conditions into accordance with international standards and, therefore, bears a paradoxical implication – it proposes beneficial changes for the state but ultimately ignores the benefits of the people.

Lastly, as codified by Congress, U.S. law stipulates specific conditions before the lifting of commercial and financial sanctions against Cuba can occur. These conditions are contingent upon the unconditional release of political prisoners and the implementation of guarantees for internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights – none of which have been met. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks as the world’s second most repressive country, just one place above North Korea.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my concerns about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s trip and the desire to strengthen its relationship with the Government of Cuba – a government that jails foreign business leaders without justification, violates international labor standards, and denies its citizens their basic rights.  Such conditions hardly seem an attractive opportunity for any responsible business leader.


Robert Menendez

Quote of the Day: Biden on Cuba

We support the development of a prosperous, secure and democratic Cuba and continue to support the brave Cubans who seek to exercise their freedoms. Our position is firm: only Cubans can or should determine the future of Cuba.
-- Joe Biden, Vice-President of the United States, 14ymedio, 5/27/14

Castro's Men in Caracas

Good information in this article, despite its head-scratching closing paragraphs.

From the U.K.'s Guardian:

Their men in Caracas: the Cuban expats shoring up Maduro's government

From military advisers to aid workers, thousands of Cubans form an information network across Venezuela's economy

When asked how many Cubans are working in Venezuela, minister of foreign affairs Elías Jaua cites the 25,000 medical aid workers in the programme launched by the late president Hugo Chávez, adding "about 1,000 sports trainers and 600 farming technicians". The opposition claims the number is higher, particularly as there are Cuban advisers in all the ministries and state-owned companies.

At the end of February the student leader Gaby Arellano tried to present a petition to the Cuban ambassador in Caracas. "We will not allow Cubans to interfere in our affairs any longer," she said. "We don't want them to go on controlling the media, directing military operations or indoctrinating our children." Teodoro Petkoff, a leftwing opposition figure, is not convinced Havana exerts that much influence. "Such claims play down the responsibility of the Chavistas for what's going on," he says.

Defence specialist Rocío San Miguel believes Cuba really does influence policymakers in Venezuela. She recalls the way Chávez's illness was managed, his hospitalisation in Havana clothed in secrecy, and the transfer of power to Nicolás Maduro, who was educated in Cuba. "Cuban officers attend strategic planning meetings for the armed forces," she says, basing her claim on insider sources.

"It's not a myth, it's the reality," says General Raúl Baduel, minister of defence under Chávez and now in custody at the Ramo Verde military prison. The Cubans have modernised the intelligence services, both the Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) that reports directly to the president, and military intelligence. They also set up a special unit to protect the head of state.

Furthermore Cubans have computerised Venezuela's public records, giving them control over the issue of identity papers and voter registration. They have representatives in the ports and airports, as well as supervising foreign nationals. They took part in purchases of military equipment and work on the Maracaibo airbase.

"All Cuban 'internationalists' have had military training and must, if required, fulfil combat duties," San Miguel asserts. "Cubans form an information network which keeps Havana up-to-date on shifts in public opinion," says political observer Carlos Romero.

The Cuban regime, says Romero, wants to avoid three "worst-case scenarios", which have in the past led to the downfall of governments sympathetic to Havana. The first was the overthrow of Chile's President Salvador Allende in 1973. This explains its efforts to placate the Venezuelan military. The national guard, which has been in the frontline quelling demonstrations, has been awarded bonuses for its good offices.

The second case was Granada in 1983, where Cuban influence was undermined by the regime's mistakes, prior to invasion by American troops. Havana is consequently determined to shore up Maduro's authority and end the dispute with his rival, Captain Diosdado Cabello, who is head of the National Assembly and deputy leader.

The third scenario to avoid is an election in the throes of an economic crisis, as occurred in Nicaragua in 1990. So the priority in Venezuela is to stop inflation and end the shortages that are sapping popular support for the Chavistas. An election is due next year.

Havana is clearly keen to maintain the status quo. But killing demonstrators, imprisoning political opponents and members of parliament – making martyrs of them in the process – is a far cry from the low-intensity repression that Raúl Castro has inflicted on Cuban dissidents since he took over from his brother Fidel. Nor is Cuba in the habit of engaging in dialogue with the opposition, as Maduro did on 10 April, broadcast live on television.

(CHC Editor: Actually, political arrests in Cuba vastly outnumber those in Venezuela. Moreover, Raul Castro is no stranger to killing political opponents.)

It remains to be seen whether the thousands of Cubans scattered all over Venezuela will fan the flames of radical revolt or help restore calm.

(CHC Editor: Help restore calm? Seriously?)

Edward Snowden Admits He Was Trying to Reach Cuba

From Secretary of State John Kerry's interview this morning with Savannah Guthrie of NBC's Today Show:

QUESTION: I want to talk to you about the drawdown in Afghanistan that the President announced yesterday, but let’s start with these remarks from Mr. Snowden, and actually, we have a new piece of that interview to play for you this morning. And in it, he basically lays the blame that he is in Russia right now squarely on the United States. Take a look.

QUESTION: What are you doing in Russia?

MR. SNOWDEN: All right. So this is a really fair concern. I personally am surprised that I ended up here. The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia. I had a flight booked to Cuba, onwards to Latin America, and I was stopped because the United States Government decided to revoke my passport and trap me in Moscow Airport. So when people ask, why are you in Russia, I say, please, ask the State Department.

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, what about it? Does he have a point? He’s basically saying but for the U.S. State Department revoking his passport, he wouldn’t be in Russia at all.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, for a supposedly smart guy, that’s a pretty dumb answer, frankly. Look, I’m not going to get into the – who he was, what he was. Let me just say this: If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today. We’d be delighted for him to come back. And he should come back, and that’s what a patriot would do. A patriot would not run away and look for refuge in Russia or Cuba or some other country. A patriot would stand up in the United States and make his case to the American people. But he’s refused to do that to this date, at least.

The fact is that he can come home, but he’s a fugitive from justice, which is why he’s not being permitted to fly around the world. It’s that simple and he knows it.

QUESTION: Have you softened your stance at all with regard to his alleged conduct here? I noticed earlier this year you said that there were disclosures about the NSA made because of Snowden that you yourself were not aware of that constituted NSA overreach. Does that change the calculus at all for you?

SECRETARY KERRY: That’s entirely up to the justice system. Let him come back and make his case. The fact is that he should – if he cares so much about America and he believes in America, he should trust in the American system of justice. But to be hiding in Russia, an authoritarian country, and to have just admitted that he was really trying to get to Cuba, I mean, what does that tell you, really? I think he’s confused. I think it’s very sad.

But this is a man who has done great damage to his country, violated his oath which he took when he became an employee, and yes, in fact, stole an enormous amount of information and released it to the public, to the detriment of his country.

Like Cuban-American Barbarians at the Gate

Tuesday, May 27, 2014
The most telling reaction to last week's Council of the Americasletter, which lobbies President Obama to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba, didn't come from exile organizations.

The U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, the Democratic Directorate, Mothers Against Repression, the Cuban-American National Foundation, every single political prisoner organization. You name it, they opposed it.

Moreover, it wasn't from Cuba's largest internal opposition groups.

The Ladies in White, with hundred of members throughout the island; the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), with thousands of activists; Estado de Sats, the largest independent think-tank; the indefatigable men and women of the Civil Resistance Front, led by Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez"; The Emilia Project, led by Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet; and the Christian Liberation Movement, with its nation-wide presence. They all opposed it as well.

It wasn't even from some of the most renowned Cuban intellectuals, such as famed poet and former political prisoner, Raul Rivero, author Carlos Alberto Montaner and philosopher Alexis Jardines. None of whom are known for their strong advocacy in favor of U.S. sanctions. Their opposition is worth contemplating (here, here and here).

The most telling opposition came from those Cuban dissident leaders, who have supported the lifting of U.S. sanctions in the past, but rightfully view the Council of the Americas' letter with suspicion.

Such is the case of Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc Movement, who stated:

"I find it interesting that this initiative is based in the United States and not Cuba. It is dangerous for Cuba, like the hug of a bear, because Cuba is very weak as a nation. Nor do I see in this letter a clear defense of human rights and freedoms, and that makes me a little suspicious."

Much of the reason for this suspicion stems from some of the Cuban-American signatories of the letter.

It is the result of a crisis of confidence created by a handful of Cuban-American businessmen, who travel to Cuba, "wheel and deal" with Castro regime officials and ignore the plight of courageous democracy activists -- but then return saying their intention was to "help Cuban civil society."

It is the result of actions by businessmen like Carlos Saladrigas, for whom the end justifies the means in his efforts to unconditionally lift commercial and financial U.S. sanctions. If Saladrigas has to partner with pro-Castro groups to lobby, so be it. If he has to be a cheerleader for Raul Castro's "cosmetic reforms," so be it. If he has keep silent about Castro's murder of renowned democracy leaders, illegal weapons smuggling to North Korea and the subversion of Venezuela's democracy, so be it. The state-sponsors of terrorism list? Take Castro off. American hostage Alan Gross? Exchange him for the imprisoned Cuban spies. These have nothing to do with "civil society," but Saladrigas says -- so be it.

It is also the result of actions by businessmen like Alfy Fanjul, who traveled to Cuba with the Brookings Institute and met solely with Castro regime officials, purposefully shunning Cuba's brave democracy leaders in order to not offend their "regime hosts." It is worth noting that Alfy did not sign The Council of the Americas' letter. Perhaps this indicates some regret for his insensitive behavior. Let's hope. However, his relatively unknown younger brother, Andres, signed. Whether as a proxy for Alfy or on his own volition is unclear.

Or businessmen like Jorge Perez, the Miami real estate developer. Perez is not known for having ever lifted a finger or raising his voice in support of Cuba's democracy activists. Yet now, according to the BBC, he's "challenging Cuban-American support for the embargo." Are we to believe that Perez has suddenly taken this stance because he wants to help "civil society"? Or was he enticed by meetings with Eusebio Leal, the notorious regime official in charge of Castro's Habaguanex S.A., who controls the real estate development of Old Havana and the Malecon seaside harbor?

These Cuban-American businessmen talk ambiguously about Cuban "civil society" -- but their actions speak louder than their words.

Moreover, the notable absence in the Council of the Americas' letter of the primacy of freedom, democracy, human rights and security -- the cornerstones of U.S. policy toward Cuba, as codified by Congress into law -- is glaring.

The Castro regime has always sought to depict Cuban-Americans as greedy "barbarians at the gate" (popular term referring to the infamous corporate raiders of the 1980s) who want to financially prey upon the Cuban people.

The historic integrity of the overwhelming majority of Cuban-American business leaders has always proven this depiction to be nonsense.

Unfortunately, Saladrigas, Inc., is playing the part to a tee.

The Priority is Freedom, Not Capital

Monday, May 26, 2014
Cuban philosopher and former University Havana Professor, Dr. Alexis Jardines, also opposes the Council of the Americas' open letter to President Obama lobbying him to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

Here's an excerpt of his rationale in Diario de Cuba (our translation):

The specific theme of the letter is civil society. However, I get the impression that the authors are addressing this tendentious issue in order to disguise their true intentions of engagement with the regime, rather than to find a solution to the Cuban problem, which should be said once and for all, is political.

Those who distract with economic issues are, often times without knowing it, doing a service to those who govern the island. We shouldn't forget that in state socialism, misery is artificially provoked.

In effect, any attempt to deal with the issue of a transition to democracy should have civil society as an obligatory reference point, for its a corresponding act of liberation and its expansion. Totalitarianism is nothing more than the consequence of the kidnapping and total absorption of the structures of civil society by the state, which are then exercised by the state itself (fascism) or the Party (national socialism, Stalinism).

Castro's Cuba is an offshoot of Stalinist totalitarianism. Independent of the virtual process of reforms started by Raul Castro, the essence of the Cuban political system remains totalitarian. This means that "self-employment" ("cuentapropismo") is irrelevant, whether more or less developed. It is part of Castro's totalitarian logic and is, therefore, under the control of the state-Party. Let's not forget that it was conceived by the "Lineamientos" (Raul's economic directives) with the sole purpose of generating liquidity. Thus, its reach is limited to the will of the Party bosses.

To provide oxygen to civil society by means of U.S. money, through the "self-employed," is one of those ingenuities that some members of the exile community and the U.S. government have fallen into and which have permitted the Castros to rule the island for five decades. The reforms were implemented with the firm purpose that a class of new rich would not appear. There are already some who are rich within the "self-employed" sector, but they are the same rich as always. The rest is pure "timbiriche."

My opinion is that without a liberation of the political shackles -- not necessarily the economic ones -- that maintain civil society constricted, the 40 signatories of the letter would not be negotiating with entrepreneurs, real or imaginary. They would be negotiating with transmuted militants of the sole Party.

Therefore, we should deal with this issue from its core, without distorting the embargo, which means implementing (intensifying, according to Castroite terminology) the embargo in the same measure as we strengthen -- as much as possible -- contact and exchange with all of the independent projects of civil society. This doesn't exclude "self-employment," but doesn't prioritize it either. The priority here is freedom, not capital. If the "self-employed" fight for an independent labor union, then they would be welcome. That has been, and will continue to be, my position.

Ease the embargo? The Castros are laughing inside.

Say No to Castro's Oligarchs

In the following thoughtful review, former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and current Covington & Burling partner, Amb. John Veroneau, reminds us of the dangers of prematurely and unconditionally lifting sanctions towards Cuba.

While we don't agree with some of the methodology proposed by the Peterson Institute's study, its cautions against the unconditional lifting of U.S. sanctions are right on point.

In The National Law Review:

Reciprocity Should Drive US-Cuba Normalization

Much has been written about current US-Cuba economic relations and whether the embargo should be ended. However, little has been written about what principles should shape US policy when the tectonic plates of US-Cuba relations eventually begin to shift — whenever that might be. A study released last week by the Peterson Institute for International Economics nicely fills this void.

The study, entitled, “Economic Normalization with Cuba: A Roadmap for Policy Makers”, was done by Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Barbara Kotschwar and provides a blueprint for restoring normal economic relations in a manner that serves the mutual best interests of the United States and Cuba.

The study calls on US policymakers to pursue a new economic relationship based on reciprocity and avoid a situation as occurred in Russia where US markets were opened without appreciation that the Russian economy would become dominated by oligarchs to the detriments not only of US exporters but the Russian people themselves. The Peterson study urges US policymakers to assure that, before US tourists start spending millions in Cuba and before US consumers begin buying imports from Cuba, that US businesses and workers have reciprocal access to the Cuba market.

On This Memorial Day

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, American poet, 1803-1882

Ten Reasons Why Obama Shouldn't Ease Cuba Sanctions

Cuban author and intellectual, Carlos Alberto Montaner, also opposes the Council of the Americasopen letter to President Obama lobbying him to bypass Congress in easing travel and financial sanctions towards Cuba.

Here's his rationale in Diario de Cuba (our translation):

Those who wrote the letter -- presumably some Cuban-American businessmen -- think the strategy of embracing the enemy, while trying to strengthen civil society, will result in the weakening of the tyranny.

Will it achieve its purpose? I doubt it. It shouldn't for the following reasons:

1. Incoherence has its limits, beyond which it becomes schizophrenia. Washington has just officially re-designated the Cuban government as a state-sponsor of terrorism and Raul Castro has proven them right by sending military weaponry to North Korea camouflaged under tons of sugar. Why embrace a terrorist regime while sanctions are being applied to Russia or Venezuela for similar anti-democratic behavior?

2. As the aforementioned letter was being released, Col.Alejandro Castro Espín, the son of Cuban dictator Raul Castro, was signing a cooperation agreement with Putin's intelligence services in Moscow. Then, the head of China's Armed Forces traveled to Havana, presumably to formalize a similar agreement. In the past, Fidel Castro, while in Tehran, warned that together they can force the imperialist enemy to its knees.

3. Raul Castro has said, over and over again, and his senior officials have reiterated that his economic "reforms" are aimed at perfecting the one-party communist dictatorship. Why should the United States cooperate with an old and failed tyranny that, despite its power structure knowing that Marxism-Leninism has failed, is trying to overcome difficulties and consolidate power amid the worst economic and psychological challenges it has ever faced?

4. The Cuban regime is a persistent and permanent enemy of the United States. Its leaders are convinced that every wrong in the planet is Washington's fault. They don't tire of repeating it. In the past, Havana has pacted with the Soviet Union and even asked for a preemptive strike during the Missile Crisis. Today, Cuba colludes with Iran, North Korea, Russia and the so-called nations of "21st Century Socialism" to cause harm on its neighbors. Does it make sense to treat such a government benevolently?

5. There is also an ethical issue. Throughout the 20th century, the United States was rightfully accused of moral indifference due to its cordial relations with the dictatorship of Trujillo, Somoza, Batista or Stroessner. Yet, today it's on the right side of history. In Cuba, human rights are aggressively violated. Last year, the number of dissidents arrested doubled. Cubans have no access to the Internet. Thee hours after Yoani Sanchez's new media outlet, 14y medio, went online, it was blocked inside Cuba. The United States should not return to the moral indifference that has previously affected its good image.

6.  There is an electoral reality.  The White House should listen to Cuban-American legislators and not necessarily to these businessmen. In a way, these legislators express the majority sentiment of Cubans living in the U.S. The important Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Democratic Congressmen Albio Sires and Joe Garcia, and the Republican Congressmen Ileana Ros and Mario Diaz-Balart, disagree on many things, but they agree on maintaining a policy of firmness against the dictatorship.

7. The objective of the United States should be for Cuba to become a plural and prosperous democracy that will stop expelling its citizens towards its northern neighbor, with which is can then establish respectful and normal relations. Common sense dictates that this will not be achieved by helping the tyranny of Raul Castro during its crisis.

There are also three Cuban reasons to oppose the unconditional reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba:

8. It's not in the best interests of Cuban democrats for the Castro dictatorship to side-step the opposition and establish political negotiations with the United States. The main problem in Cuba is not the rivalry between two governments, but the fact that in Cuba there's a Stalinist one-party dictatorship that doesn't listen to society. Transitions begin when those in power recognize the existence of real opponents. The step prior to U.S.-Cuba reconciliation should be the recognition that on the island there exist Cubans who have a right to opine about the destiny of their nation.

9. An unconditional reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba would send a powerful signal to the international community that the dictatorship of Raul Castro is a normal government with which it could -- and should -- establish any relationship. Pursuant to the normalization of links both countries, there would be subsequent support and economic subsidies motivated by interests that lack a moral compass. This would reinforce the permanence of the dictatorship in power.

10. Such a cordial understanding between both countries would further isolate dissidents, political prisoners and, in general, democratic opponents that want and seek peaceful (but real) political change. They would find it to be a betrayal of the ideals of freedom and the respect for human rights that the United States claims to support. It's essential that the dictatorship officially ratify the commitment to respecting human rights that then-Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque made at the United Nations in 2007. At that time, it committed that the Cuban government would subscribe to the 1976 Conventions on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights approved by the U.N. It would be a weak sign of rectification, but it would be a start. In any case, until democratic dissidents give the nod, Washington should not move. It's what's in the best interests of both Americans and Cubans.

Democracy Rang Loudly on Sunday

Sunday, May 25, 2014
It was an inspirational day for democracy throughout the world this Sunday.

In Venezuela, the wives of two Mayors unjustly imprisoned by Nicolas Maduro for their opposition to his government, won resounding victories to replace their husbands. Rosa de Scarano won 87.7% of the vote in the municipality of San Diego, and Patricia de Ceballos won 73.7% of the vote in San Cristobal. Both faced Maduro puppets.

In Colombia, former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won the first-round of Colombia's presidential election Sunday with 29 percent of the vote. Incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos came in second with 26 percent.  Both will head to a runoff on June 15th. Many Colombians remain distrustful of Santos' negotiations with the narco-terrorist group, FARC, in Cuba, and his deferential approach in dealing with Venezuela.

In Ukraine, pro-European businessman Petro O. Poroshenko was elected President with 56% of the vote. Meanwhile, Vitali Klitschko, the famous boxer who led led the street protests that deposed the Yanukovych regime, was elected as Mayor of Kiev. The election took place despite threats by pro-Russia separatists to prevent citizens from casting their ballots. Voters were defiant and turnout was strong.

From Inside Cuba's Burning Fire

By famed Cuban poet and former political prisoner, Raul Rivero, in Spain's El Mundo (our translation):

Distance and Fire

They are nearly fifty former U.S. government officials, politicians, ex-military officials, cultural figures and businessmen of Cuban origin. They have written an open letter to President Barack Obama asking him to ease the embargo toward the dictatorship because they believe it will help grow civil society in Cuba and improve bilateral relations.

It's a call to take steps to make more aggressive and fluid the wave of engagement and contacts that the Obama Administration enacted with caution and firmness a few years ago. The document was written in an impeccable and measured tone.

As tends to happen with analysis, petitions and proposals that are planned and signed outside the country, it ignores the reality of life on the island. It has happened on this occasion as well. In Cuba, civil society is tied to a puppet string controlled by the government. Major sectors of the population are more interested in living freely and in harmony, than in any cordiality between the leaders of the U.S. and the regime.

The majority of opposition groups, the Ladies in White and independent journalists have reacted with indignation towards this letter, which seems more inclined to the interests of some in the U.S., to the aspirations of some businessmen who want a space within the ruins of the Cuban economy and seek to fan those in power with a palm branch.

Cuban democracy advocate Antonio Rodiles stated from Havana that the letter was shameful because it's an "anti-embargo onslaught associated with the silence or support of political actors inside and outside the island. Basic freedoms have never come from complacency with the executioners."

"Those who today are afraid that time is running out must hear direct words, based on the premise of respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens," he added.

For Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, the embargo should remain in place. The oxygen spigot should never be opened for the government as its would strengthen and supply the repressive machinery against human rights activists.

One thing is distance and another is being inside the burning fire.

The embargo that must be eliminated is the one which totalitarianism has imposed on the Cuban people. When that nation is democratic, the issues between both governments can be resolved diplomatically in 24 hours.