From The White House: On Mujica and Castro

Saturday, June 21, 2014
Cuba’s continued incarceration of Alan Gross represents a significant impediment to a more constructive bilateral relationship and securing his immediate release remains a top priority of the United States. President Obama asked that President Mujica use any opportunity he might have to convey this same message to President Castro. With respect to Cuba, President Obama urged President Mujica to use his considerable credibility as a regional leader to encourage political and economic reforms in Cuba, noting that such measures would be well received by the United States and other members of the international community.
-- Patrick Ventrell, National Security Council spokesman, The White House, 6/20/14

Cuba's Censors Slip

But wait a minute.

Aren't we told by anti-sanctions advocates that it's U.S. policy that hinders Cubans from accessing many of these sites?

Needless to say, that's bogus.

In The Miami Herald:

Cuba ends censorship — NOT  

For a brief and shinning moment, it seemed that Cuba had unblocked access to several websites censored for years because of their criticisms of the government, including the U.S. government’s Radio/TV Marti.

And it wasn’t even April Fools’ Day.

On Thursday afternoon, Cuba’s Web surfers began noticing that they had access to Radio/TV Marti; Cubanet in Miami, which publishes work by independent and dissident journalists; and the Spain-based Cubaencuentro, also critical of the government.

Also unblocked were Twitter, Skype and Revolico, a portal for Cuban classified ads blocked apparently because it competes with state-run stores on the island nation, according to several Havana residents and Miami contacts.

The Raúl Castro government never said a word, and Cuba watchers began wondering whether Havana had taken a step forward in allowing more freedom of information in the Communist-ruled island nation.

Nope.

By Friday afternoon, the blocks were back in place, and there were unconfirmed reports that their brief removal had been the result of a mistake on the part of a Cuban government technician.

“Everything seems to indicate that it was an error,” wrote Alejandro Ulloa, who first reported the lifting of the blocks, in a tweet Friday around 5 p.m. “In other word, yes, these sites are prohibited for Cubans.”

MSNBC Questions FIU's Cuba Poll

On Friday's Daily Rundown, MSNBC's Chuck Todd recognizes that FIU's Cuba poll uses sloppy methodology and fudged the numbers.

N.Y. Post: Let Cuba Know Holding U.S. Hostage Carries High Price

By The New York Post's Editorial Board:

Gross Injustice

It’s now been almost five years since Alan Gross, the US aid worker imprisoned in Cuba, last saw his elderly mother.

Now he’ll never see her again.

Evelyn Gross died this week of lung cancer at age 92, two months after persuading her son to end a nine-day hunger strike to protest his continued imprisonment.

Evelyn’s son is serving a 15-year term for a “crime against the state”: trying to help Cuba’s Jewish community connect to the Internet. During his mother’s illness, Gross repeatedly begged Cuban authorities to be allowed to visit her, to no avail.

Instead, the regime continues to link his freedom to that of Cuban spies serving long sentences in American prisons.

Defending his decision to trade five Taliban commanders for a US soldier accused of deserting his post, President Obama said America leaves no man behind.

If true, America especially owes Alan Gross, who’s rotting away in a foreign prison for service to America while in a hostile country.

Back in 2009, President Obama famously shook Raul Castro’s hand at an international summit. We now learn the President Obama has asked the left-wing government in Uruguay to help persuade Cuba to let Gross go and open up to political reform.

Maybe we should try demanding the release of our man in Havana — and let Cuba learn that holding hostage a US citizen serving his nation carries a high price.

State: Cuba Remains Major Child Sex, Forced Labor Violator

Friday, June 20, 2014
Today, the U.S. State Department released its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report ("Report").

Cuba received the lowest ranking (Tier 3), as a country that does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

The only other country in the Western Hemisphere to receive a Tier 3 rating was Venezuela. Other Tier 3 violators include Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic and Congo.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which mandates this Report, countries ranked in Tier 3 may not receive funding for participation by officials or employees of such governments in educational and cultural exchange programs.

In light of the Administration's continued focus on educational and cultural exchanges with Castro's Cuba, the question remains:

Will the Obama Administration adhere to these sanctions, or will it (once again) give the Castro regime a waiver?

According to the Report:

Cuba is a source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking, and possibly forced labor. Child prostitution and child sex tourism occur within Cuba. Cuban authorities report that young people from ages 13 to 20 are most vulnerable to human trafficking in Cuba. Cuban citizens have been subjected to forced prostitution outside of Cuba. There have been allegations of coerced labor with Cuban government work missions abroad; the Cuban government denies these allegations. Some Cubans participating in the work missions have stated that the postings are voluntary, and positions are well paid compared to jobs within Cuba. Others have claimed that Cuban authorities have coerced them, including by withholding their passports and restricting their movement. Some medical professionals participating in the missions have been able to take advantage of U.S. visas or immigration benefits, applying for those benefits and arriving in the United States in possession of their passports—an indication that at least some medical professionals retain possession of their passports. Reports of coercion by Cuban authorities in this program do not appear to reflect a uniform government policy of coercion; however, information is lacking. The government arranges for high school students in rural areas to harvest crops, but claims that this work is not coerced. The scope of trafficking involving Cuban citizens is difficult to verify because of sparse independent reporting, but in 2013 the Cuban government, for the first time, provided information to U.S. authorities regarding human trafficking in Cuba.

The Government of Cuba does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. While the government has yet to establish a legal and policy framework prohibiting all forms of human trafficking and providing explicit victim protections, the government advised that it intends to amend its criminal code to ensure that it is in conformity with the requirements of the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, to which it acceded in July 2013. For the first time, the government released and reported concrete action against sex trafficking, including 10 prosecutions and corresponding convictions of sex traffickers in 2012 and the provision of services to the victims. Also, the Cuban government launched a media campaign to educate the Cuban public about trafficking and publicized its anti-trafficking services.

Cuba and Venezuela Reps. Clash With Dissidents at U.N.

From U.N. Watch:

Clash at UN: Venezuela and Cuba Reps Heckle Dissidents Testifying at UN Human Rights Council

Dissidents from Cuba and Venezuela testified at a UN panel yesterday about being subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture and other human rights abuses, sparking shouts and accusations from delegates of both governments, who sat in the corner of a packed Geneva hall huddled with allied delegates from Syria, North Korea and other dictatorships.

However, U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper delivered strong remarks (see below) in support of human rights protection in both countries.

“We were afraid to come here today,” said 33-year-old Alejandro Suarez Teppa, a Venezuelan philosophy student and protest camp leader who was arrested and brutally detained last month.

He was joined on the podium by Eusebio Costa, 22, also a student protest leader from Caracas.

Also, an outdoor rally to honor the young activists was held in front of the UNHRC after the panel.

Invited by the non-governmental human rights group UN Watch, which organized yesterday’s panel at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as well as a press conference today, both students made the journey in defiance of a televised attack against them by powerful National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

“These students are human rights heroes who put their freedom and safety on the line for the basic democratic freedoms that so many of us take for granted,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

“Despite the real risk of reprisal back home, and insults hurled at them here at the UN by their own countries’ delegates, the students succeeded in speaking truth to power.”

Neuer called on the UN to "heed their calls and send an expert mission to investigate the worsening situation in Venezuela, which must be held to account as an elected member of the Human Rights Council.”

Addressing the outdoor rally, Neuer echoed the banner of the students' Caracas protest camp, asking "ONU, donde estas" -- "UN, where are you?"

Yesterday’s panel also heard from Ángel Carromero, the driver in the suspicious crash that killed Cuba’s most famous pro-democracy figure, Oswaldo Payá.

María Corina Machado, a leading Venezuelan opposition figure with 2 million Twitter followers, sent a video message expressing solidarity.

QUOTES FROM VENEZUELAN DISSIDENTS

Eusebio Costa 22-year-old student activist, President of the Student Center at the Catholic University Santa Rosa in Caracas; member of the protest camp in Las Mercedes:

"We came to Geneva to ask the U.N. to send a mission to Venezuela to evaluate the cases of human rights violations that students have been subjected to."

[The Venezuelan government] has been talking about a conspiracy that we are part of a war, that we were sent here by the CIA, which we weren’t.”

"Thirty-two people were murdered while protesting; I hope that the United Nations will not remain indifferent to violations in Venezuela."

Alejandro Suarez Teppa – activist and philosophy student; National Board Member of the United Active Youth of Venezuela (Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida), and leader of protest camp in Santa Fé.

He recalled witnessing students being shot in February and said his student camp was attacked on the night of May 8: "They put drugs and weapons inside the camps and U.S. dollars to indicate we were financed by foreign powers," he told reporters, saying he was beaten then held in isolation for 72 hours."

"We urge the United Nations to investigate the abuses."

Julieta Lopez - Aunt of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez who has been imprisoned since February

"My nephew [Leopoldo Lopez] has been imprisoned for speaking on behalf of an ill-treated nation. He was put in solitary confinement in harsh conditions for promoting peaceful protest."

 “[The Venezuelan government] are accusing him [Lopez] of having used subliminal language inciting people to take to the streets, and having killed the students; it was not him, but the police!

QUOTES FROM ACTIVISTS ON CUBA

Ángel Francisco Carromero Barrios- Spanish politician, driver of the car in deadly accident of Cuban democracy leader Oswaldo Payá:

"We ask the Council to condemn the arbitrary arrest of Jorge Luis García Pérez."

"The main road has huge holes, but the Cuban government said we were going 160km per hour, which is impossible."

"The accident took place two years ago and the family hasn't had any access to the autopsy; I'm asking you to have common sense."

Regis Iglesias, Cuban poet, arrested with 74 other dissidents during the notorious 2003 Black Spring crackdown, Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Exiled to Spain in 2010, he is spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement:

"Cuba's socialist system is an oppressive system."

"Listen to the victims of oppression; we've been governed for the last 50 years by the same family."

QUOTES FROM U.S. AMBASSADOR KEITH HARPER

 On Venezuela:

Venezuela cannot solve its problems by criminalizing dissent.

Venezuela infringes upon fundamental freedoms, using violence against protesters and journalists, restricting the media and Internet.”

On Cuba:

We call for the release of Alan Gross, detained since 2009 for merely facilitating access to the Internet Cuba.”

We reiterate our call for an independent international investigation into the death of Oswaldo Payá.”

"We have a simple question: What is Cuba afraid of?"

 Tweet: "Cuba [is] trying to stifle dissent at the UN, just as it does at home."

RESPONSE FROM VENEZUELAN REPRESENTATIVE

Venezuela to Amb. Harper:

"We have the greatest amount of oil; you [the United States] have the greatest empire and you are trying to take our resources.”

On Leopoldo Lopez:

He [Lopez] is in a civil and military government prison and protected by all constitutional and legal rights.”

RESPONSE FROM CUBAN REPRESENTATIVE

This is clearly a program of the United States to undermine Cuba, and they have given these speakers money to participate."

Angel Carromero, the U.S. is your boss!"

NGO Statement for Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antúnez" and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera, read out at UNHRC press conference in Geneva, 18 June 2014

On June 11, 2014, Cuban authorities arbitrarily detained and assaulted Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antúnez" and Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera. Government agents twice choked Antúnez into unconsciousness, reviving him with injections of an unknown substance.

They were released on Friday, June 13, only to be again arbitrarily arrested and detained on Sunday evening, June 15. The two human rights defenders are currently being threatened with a political trial and lengthy prison terms.

Reports from other activists indicate that officials have been subjecting Yris Tamara Pérez Aguilera to beatings during her ongoing detention.

We call upon UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay, EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to demand that Cuba comply with its obligations under international law, and with its obligations as an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, to immediately release both pro-democracy activists, and to cease and desist from any further acts of violence against them.

Signatories

Directorio Democratico Cubano
UN Watch
Christian Liberation Movement
Iniciativa por Veneuzela
Angelo Carromero, Spanish politician
Alejandro Suarez Teppa, Venezuela student protest leader
Eusebio Costa, Venezuela student protest leader

Cuba Crackdown

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Cuba Crackdown

Human rights advocates see increased threats against press in Cuba

A recent wave of governmental threats and attacks on Cuban journalists has led to heightened concern among human rights and press freedom advocates.

Last week, Cuban journalist Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez alleged that on June 11 a government agent beat him as he waited outside the Czech Republic embassy in Havana to connect to the Internet.

“An unknown man intercepted and attacked Guerra without warning, punching and kicking him in his head and face, and leaving him with a broken nose, as well as cuts, scrapes, and bruises all over his body,” according to the Human Rights Foundation (HRF).

Guerra is the founder of Centro de Informacion Hablemos Press (CIHPRESS), an online news site critical of the Cuban Government that frequently publishes stories on the affronts its reporters encounter.

Roberto Gonzalez, a legal associate with HRF, was in contact with Guerra following the beating.

Gonzalez told the Washington Free Beacon Guerra had gone to the police and filed a complaint after the event.

Gonzalez said Guerra identified the man who beat him outside the embassy as a state agent. Four others on two motorcycles showed up during the thrashing—one urging the assailant to cease.

According to Gonzalez, the aggressor finally stopped, then told Guerra, “This is so you know what we do to dissidents.”

Guerra had received various threats of violence over the phone the day leading up to the incident and many times before, Gonzalez said.

Because the alleged assault involves a state agent Guerra’s formal complaint to police will likely go untouched.

On the day of the assault, CIHPRESS published an article regarding three of its journalists, including Guerra, whose phones had been blocked by the state-owned cellular service provider ETECSA as part of a campaign against members of the island’s media who criticize the government.

Through the phone service, customers pay to load their phones with minutes, which are frequently depleted, rendering an essential tool for journalists very expensive, Gonzalez said.

On June 8, CIHPRESS correspondent Magaly Norvis Otero and Guerra’s wife were called to the police station in Havana where they were told CIHPRESS must change the tone of its writings or there would be consequences, according to HRF.

The constant threats of censorship, surveillance, imprisonment, and physical harm among many others make being a journalist in Cuba a very difficult job, said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists Americas, a press-freedom advocacy group.

Lauría said chasing stories about topics the Cuban government does not want reported requires great courage and commitment.

Lauría has spoken with Guerra and other reporters from CIHPRESS in the past regarding similar situations, but reaching journalists in Cuba can be difficult, he said, because calls are frequently blocked or intercepted.

Name This Lede: On Cuban-American Policy Attitudes

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Is this the opening paragraph ("lede") from this week's news stories on FIU's manipulated Cuba poll?

Or is it from this week's story about an unscrupulous Cuban-American businessman?

A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

Neither.

It's from The New York Times on August 31st, 1975.

And just like in 1975, these manipulated polls and regurgitated stories have yet to translate into political reality.

Note that those who were labeled "young" in this 1975 article are today considered part of the "hardliner" demographic.

Tweet of the Day: Chairman Menendez Meets With Young Cuban Democracy Leaders

Click here to lean more about these courageous, young Cuban democracy leaders and their views on U.S. policy.

Will the Media Correct its FIU Cuba Poll Stories?

In yesterday's The Miami Herald, Professor Guillermo Grenier, who led FIU's 2014 Cuba poll, admitted to manipulating the results.

"Grenier acknowledged his numbers reflect only those respondents who said they favored or opposed the embargo and did not include 'don’t know/no answer' replies. Including those numbers in the tally would change the percentages to 45-41 (from the reported 52-48) against the embargo — short of a majority and with 12 percent replying 'don’t know/no answer.

Leaving out the don’t know/no answers — and reporting percentages as if those numbers didn’t exist — raised eyebrows among other pollsters.

'What you’re telling me is unusual. Really unique. Very, very extremely rare,' David Hill, a nationally known pollster with Hill Research Consultants in Washington D.C., said of FIU’s method. 'The ‘unsures’ tell us many things about an issue: how strongly people feel about it, how well an issue is known.'”

Moreover, there are a host of other omissions, contradictions and conflict of interests.

This casts doubt on all of the poll's released numbers.

Will those journalists who wrote that a majority of Cuban-Americans support lifting the embargo correct their stories?

This is false for many reasons -- in this case, by Grenier's own admission.

Moreover, will those journalists who are citing FIU's Cuba poll numbers demand that the actual results be released with all of the respondent's answers?

Once again, by Grenier's own admission, answers were omitted from the results and the percentages purposely distorted.

Or, despite Grenier's own admission, will these journalists simply continue to regurgitate manipulated data and distorted results?

From The State Department: On Alan Gross

We of course express our deepest and sincerest condolences to Mr. Gross and his family on their loss. We obviously feel it is a tragedy that he was unable to be home in the United States at his mother’s bedside for her passing. We’ve urged the Cuban Government to grant Mr. Gross a humanitarian furlough so that he can travel to the United States and be with his family during this time of mourning, and we’ve made very clear that this is a strong priority for us.
-- Jen Psaki, State Department spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, 6/18/14

Democracy Leaders v. Country Club Elites, Pt.2

Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Earlier this year, we wrote a post entitled "Democracy Leaders v. Country Club Elites."

It's about the contrast between Cuba's democracy leaders, who are overwhelmingly calling on the U.S. not to lift sanctions, and a handful of Cuban-American businessmen, who seek more business for Castro's trade and tourism monopolies.

Read it here.

This scene was literally played out this week by Cuban-American businessman Joe Arriola, who conducted an interview with Reuters from the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables, and chided President Obama for "not having the guts to do the right thing."

The "right thing" for Mr. Arriola is for the United States to unilaterally and unconditionally lift sanctions towards the Castro regime.

Never mind that all trade, tourism and investment towards Cuba must be conducted through Castro's monopolies.

Never mind that -- like the billions in European and Canadian trade, tourism and investment over the last two decades -- the Cuban people won't see a penny of it.

But most importantly, never mind that Cuba's courageous democracy leaders are telling him that lifting sanctions would be prejudicial to their critical efforts.

Currently, Cuban democracy leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez," is sitting in a prison cell, after being viciously beaten, chocked unconscious and injected with unknown substances.

His crime? Organizing a letter of over 830 Cuban democracy activists calling on the U.S. not to lift sanctions.

Antunez, who has already spent over 17-years as a prisoner of conscience (a little less than half of his life), led this effort to counter the selfish and misguided efforts of such businessmen to lift U.S. sanctions.

These democracy leaders are shedding blood, sweat and tears -- and some have made the ultimate sacrifice -- for the freedom of all Cubans.

Joe Arriola has a lot to learn about "guts" and "doing the right thing."

Our Condolences to the Gross Family

Evelyn Gross, the mother of Castro's American hostage Alan Gross, has died at the age of 92.

Alan Gross had repeatedly asked the Castro regime for permission to see his mother before she died.  He had promised to return to Cuba if he had been allowed to visit.

His humanitarian request was denied.

In 2012, a U.S. federal judge granted imprisoned Cuban spy Rene Gonzalez a two-week furlough to visit his dying brother, who suffered from lung cancer.

Needless to say, Cuba's dictator is less than humane.

Since Alan Gross' imprisonment in 2009, the Obama Administration has taken various steps to secure Gross' release -- but only in the form of easing sanctions and unconditionally engaging his Cuban hostage-takers.

The time has long come for the Castro regime to face serious, tangible repercussions for its illegal hostage-taking.

FIU's Cuba Poll: Manipulations, Omissions and Contradictions

When a poll is more concerned about meeting its sponsor's expectations, than about being thorough and scientific, then manipulations, omissions and contradictions abound.

That's exactly what has happened in the 2014 edition of FIU's Cuba poll, sponsored by the for-profit "progressive" lobbying firm, Trimpa Group, which works to lift the embargo towards Cuba.

In this morning's The Miami Herald, FIU Professor Guillermo Grenier, who led the poll, admitted to manipulating the numbers.

"Grenier acknowledged his numbers reflect only those respondents who said they favored or opposed the embargo and did not include 'don’t know/no answer' replies. Including those numbers in the tally would change the percentages to 45-41 (from the reported 52-48) against the embargo — short of a majority and with 12 percent replying 'don’t know/no answer.'"

That casts even further doubt on all of the poll's numbers.

Why would an academic institution do this? Such manipulations are highly questionable.

What you’re telling me is unusual. Really unique. Very, very extremely rare," David Hill, a nationally known pollster with Hill Research Consultants in Washington D.C., said about FIU’s method.

The Miami Herald had also first noted that:

"Although only 62 percent of all the Miami-Dade Cubans surveyed by FIU said they were U.S. citizens, 90 percent also reported that they were registered to vote."

Remember -- only U.S. citizens can vote.

Could FIU have been so sloppy?

We can't say for sure, as they purposely don't disclose all of their data.

But let's take a closer look.

Here is the tab for the question: Are you a U.S. Citizen?

Overall, 62% answered YES, while 32% answered NO.

According to the tab's breakdown, 14% of those not registered to vote were U.S. citizens, while 86% were not and 1% did not respond. For a total of 101%!

But then, they have a whole separate tab asking the question: Are you registered to vote?

Overall, 90% answered YES, while 10% answered NO.

Needless to say, those numbers don't mesh.

(It also shows how heavily FIU weighed the poll with non-U.S. citizens and non-voters.)

Similar contradictions are found policy-wise. Here's our favorite:

The poll asks, "do you think people living in the US should be allowed to invest in new non-governmental small businesses in Cuba?"

Overall, 60% said NO, while 40% said YES.

Yet, the poll claims these same Cuban-Americans support lifting the embargo by a 52-48% margin (or 45-41% margin).

In other words, Cuban-Americans purportedly support doing businesses with Castro's monopolies, but not with "cuentapropistas"?

Here's another one:

The poll asks, "the US Department of State [or US Government] includes Cuba on a list of four countries which the US government considers to be State Sponsors of Terrorism. This designation penalizes persons and organizations engaging in certain activities with Cuba and the other countries on the list. The other countries on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria. Do you believe that Cuba should be kept on that list of penalized countries that support terrorism, or be taken off the list?"

Overall, 63% said YES, while 37% said NO.

Yet, the poll claims these same Cuban-Americans support lifting the embargo by a 52-48% margin (or 45-41% margin).

In other words, Cuban-Americans purportedly want to sanction the Castro regime for supporting terrorism, but do business with its monopolies?

That's rubbish.

This sloppy poll was designed for a sensationalist headline.

FIU should be ashamed of itself.

Quote of the Week: On Repression of Cuban Activists

Every Monday we head out to the house where we meet, which is located on Missionary Street. They start to arrest us from the corner of my own house. These arrests include beatings by members of the special brigade — known in Cuba as boinas negras (black berets) — who have specific orders to beat the male members of our organization.
-- Guillermo Farinas, Sakharov Prize recipient and co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union, 14ymedio, 6/16/14

Castro Losing Battle to Control the Internet

From The Miami Herald:

Cuba clamps down on Wi-Fi networks

The little-known nets allow members to exchange information and entertainment materials.

When the illegal Wi-Fi network in the Havana neighborhood of Mantilla was up and running, 120 members could play computer games and exchange news, movies and TV shows with each other far from the watchful eye of the communist government.

But then, a May 25 raid by State Security agents, police and employees of the state-owned ETECSA telecommunications monopoly seized several computers and powerful Wi-Fi signal boosters, and shut down the network.

The raid also cast a spotlight on the island’s Wi-Fi networks, one of several semi-secret and mostly illegal ways that a growing number of tech-savvy Cubans use to exchange uncensored information and entertainment.

There are applications that allow smartphone owners to chat and search the Web — without actual Internet access. There are programs that allow them to send encrypted messages to each other, and that automatically send them the day’s top news — and even horoscopes — as emails.

In the country with the worst Internet penetration in the Western Hemisphere, illegal telephone and Internet “companies” use satellite phones to bypass ETECSA and State Security. And there are social media platforms for Cubans with names like La Cubanada and Despierta Cuba (Wake Up Cuba).

Cuban authorities regularly attack such innovations, calling them part of a U.S. “cyber-war” to topple the regime. Indeed, the U.S. Agency for International Development financed the development of ZunZuneo, a controversial Twitter-like platform for Cubans.

But many of the new technologies used on the island are off-the-shelf, developed abroad and imported by Cubans for their personal use — and are evidence that the government is losing the battle to control access to the Internet and uncensored information.

Cuban officials “are setting up a wall that is leaking and putting fingers on the leak. Pretty soon there will be more leaks than fingers,” said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York who studies Cuba’s blogosphere.

The latest leak to become public: Wi-Fi networks, essentially groups of friends and neighbors who started out linking their personal routers about a decade ago to play multiplayer computer games and exchange entertainment programs.

Wi-Fi networks “are widely in use in Cuba these days to exchange information not offered by the official media,” said Alvaro Yero, a computer technician and journalist who was a member of the Mantilla network, known as the Vibora Park Team.

Government censors initially turned a blind eye to them, even as they increasingly used powerful signal boosters to extend the areas of coverage and transmission speeds, according to the blog La Singularidad, which helps Cubans find uncensored information.

“But what’s been happening recently is that they have been attacking [the networks] with more virulence” since the ZunZuneo program made headlines in early April, the blog added.

Two other networks in Havana and one in Cienfuegos, 140 miles to the east, were reported to have been shut down by authorities this year. But Yero said Havana alone has at least a dozen still operating, and Cienfuegos residents said they know of two others that are still working.

The Vibora Park Team had 120 members who used passwords to access the network, free of charge, and the games, movies and TV programs stored on a makeshift server, said Yero, whose report on the closing appeared on the Miami-based website Cubanet. He said he did not know the name of the computer program used to coordinate the multiple connections.

The network had its own home page but no access to the Internet, he added. Others said, however, that while most of the Havana networks did not have Internet access, some obtained occasional access by bribing government officials who have accounts because of their work.

Yero said the same man who ran the Mantilla network ran an even bigger one, with 400 members, that police broke up in early May. That network was linked to a string of others that stretched the coverage as far as 10 miles away, he told el Nuevo Herald.

It charged members up to $10 a month for the access plus a weekly paquete — a compilation of movies, telenovelas, sports and news reports usually put together abroad and more often passed around among Cubans using DVDs or USB flash drives.

Police seized equipment valued at nearly $1,100 during that first raid, and fined the network’s operator $1,000. He was fined an additional $180 after the latest raid, but was not charged with a criminal violation.

ETECSA officials also shuttered a Wi-Fi network last month that had operated for barely a week out of an apartment building in the Pastorita neighborhood of Cienfuegos, with a reach of up to 300 feet, according to another report on Cubanet.

“No matter how much I explained to them that I only used it to play games, the officials did not understand. They alleged that what I was doing was illegal and proceeded to seize the equipment,” said the network’s owner, Carlos Daniel.

Cuban laws are apparently unclear on Wi-Fi equipment, and several Nano-brand signal boosters are listed for sale for up to $250 on the website Revolico, a Cuban version of eBay. But the government blocks Cubans’ access to Revolico.

USAID subcontractor Alan P. Gross is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Havana for using satellite phones to create three Wi-Fi hotspots and Internet access for Cuban Jews outside state controls. He was convicted of endangering Cuban sovereignty, a national-security crime.

New International Appeal to Free Cuban Rapper #ElCritico

Tuesday, June 17, 2014
From the Czech NGO, People in Need:

New international appeal to free El Critico

The striking case of Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga, a young Cuban rapper from Bayamo who is more commonly known by the stage name El Critico del Arte, has been made public through the Twitter campaign #FreeElCritico and a petition in his name on change.org. He has been illegally imprisoned and is still waiting for a date to be set for a proper trial. Rumor has it that El Critico del Arte will be given an eight year sentence for resisting arrest.

This member of the group Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso has freely expressed his discontent with the current regime in Cuba through his lyrics: “Yo no inventé lo de los actos de repudio/ yo no hundí el remolcador 13 de marzo/ yo no fui el que asesinó a Boitel/ yo no soy el culpable del Mariel/yo no reprimo al que piense diferente/ yo no tranqué a 75 inocentes/ mira cuantos delitos en la gaveta tú has guarda’o/ este sí es mi delito/ hablar de lo que tú no has habla’o” which means: “I did not invent the acts of repudiation / I did not sink the March 13th tugboat / I was not the one who killed Boitel / I am not guilty for Mariel / I do not repress those who think differently / I did not lock up 75 innocent people / Look how many offenses you have kept hidden under lock and key/ Yes this is my crime /To talk about what you have not”.

He has paid dearly for exercising freedom of speech. Angel was violently arrested in March 2013 following a “counter-revolutionary” speech he gave in front of his house in Bayamo. He was beaten repeatedly, denied family visits, and was not given medical treatment. Just six months after being jailed he contracted cholera. His wife has also been subject to aggressive actions and was detained by the State Police, when she participated in a march of The Ladies in White – which take place every Sunday – to protest against his unfair detention and to denounce the political motivation behind it. He has already held both hunger and thirst strikes three times and has had to be hospitalized as a result.

His situation has been made more difficult by the isolated nature of the region where he lives, where media access is limited and the visibility of such cases is lower, which typically allows the State National Security forces to act with a higher degree of impunity. Despite public support from politicians and artists, El Critico remains imprisoned more than one year after his detention.

We at People In Need strongly believe that the basic rights of freedom of expression, the manifestation of ideas, and freedom of belief must be available to all without fear of repression. We are convinced that anyone would stand up against someone that was overtly trying to oppress them for their beliefs. As the situation of El Critico has remained unchanged and his health is in peril, we are appealing to you, to speak up about his case to increase its visibility, and to give back to him the voice that was taken away in such an unlawful and violent way.

Cuban rappers continue to risk their freedom to criticize the regime

Although criticizing the Cuban government through music is a risky business, Cubans still use it to express their discontent with the communist regime. Whether they are established names in the industry, like Los Aldeanos, or younger musicians like Los Censurados or Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso, they all rap their truth regardless of the risks they are undertaking. As difficult as it is to get information about this musical scene because of constant censoring, we have discovered that their struggle continues on a daily basis.

Los Censurados, a young Cuban rap duo, spoke about the harsh repression they face back home when they performed in Prague last March, following an invitation from People In Need. They dedicated their concert to all the imprisoned Cuban dissidents and in particular to El Critico del Arte, the rapper and human right activist.

Tweet(s) of the Day: Cuba Stifles Dissent at U.N.

By the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Keith Harper:

FIU's Fungible Cuba Poll

For over two decades, FIU has conducted polls of Cuban-American attitudes regarding U.S. policy.

And for over two decades, these "low-information" polls have never translated into political reality.

Part of the reason is that FIU's polls are not an academic exercise. 

Their results can be predicted by their sponsors.

Past FIU Cuba polls have been sponsored by the Brookings Institution, the Cuba Study Group, the Christopher Reynolds Foundation and Mariela Castro's favorite international patron, the Ford Foundation.

All of these groups lobby heavily in favor of unconditionally lifting sanctions towards the Castro regime.

This year's poll (released this morning) was brought to you courtesy of The Trimpa Group and George Soros' Open Society Foundation.

We all know George Soros and his policy views.

For those unfamiliar with The Trimpa Group, it's a self-described "progressive consulting, philanthropic and political investment advising, and government relations firm."

Most recently, The Trimpa Group was hired to engineer the lobbying campaign of an off-shoot of the Cuba Study Group called #CubaNow, which placed ads in the Washington, D.C. Metro advocating for the lifting of sanctions.

In other words, FIU has gone from having its polls sponsored by ideological non-profit organizations to ideological, for-profit lobbyists.

That's a whole new low.

So let's call a spade-a-spade. This is not an FIU poll, it's a Trimpa Group poll.

And of course, in the spirit of The Trimpa Group's lobbying campaign, its poll purports Cuban-Americans support lifting the embargo by a 52-48% margin.

Moreover, it purports Cuban-Americans support travel to Cuba by a laughable 69-31% margin.

Ted Trimpa is also Chairman of the Tectonic Theatre Project, which is hosting an upcoming "people-to-people" trip to Cuba, so it was important for his poll to show strong support for such boondoggles as well.

Compare these results to last week's poll sponsored by The Miami Herald -- a more neutral observer -- and conducted by Democratic pollsters Bendixen & Amandi (no stalwarts of Cuba sanctions).

According to The Miami Herald's poll, Cuban-Americans oppose lifting the overall embargo by a 56-36% margin.

Meanwhile, Cuban-Americans oppose lifting travel restrictions by a 51-42% margin.

The huge differences between The Trimpa Group's poll and The Miami Herald's poll are nowhere near the margins of error.

These differences would probably be even greater if any of them had bothered to conduct a "high-information" poll, which actually addressed current events on the island, e.g. overwhelming support for sanctions in the pro-democracy movement, increased human rights violations, Castro's American hostage, arms smuggling to North Korea, harboring terrorists and subverting Venezuela's democracy.

Even The Atlantic Council's poll included one "high-information" question, which referenced Castro's human rights abuses. In that poll, when Cuba's realities were referenced, purported support for "normalizing relations or engaging directly" with the Castro regime dropped dramatically -- from 56% nationwide and 63% in Florida, down to 43%.

To preserve some semblance of academic integrity, FIU should at least consider being more scrupulous about its content and push-poll sponsors.

For this is a joke.

Another Prominent Cuban Dissident: Lifting the Embargo Would be a Mistake

Monday, June 16, 2014
It appears that the Cuban government is looking for someone to pay for its bills and vices amid the decline of Venezuelan subsidies.  And since it has run out of doors to knock on, it has focused on the United States.  The regime is making efforts towards this goal. It would be be the height of insult for the Castro government, which has poisoned Latin America with its anti-American policies, to end up receiving U.S. subsidies. Lifting the embargo would be a mistake without Cuba first respecting its people's fundamental human rights. Any negotiation that does not have this as its foundation, is detrimental to Cuba and the United States. If the U.S. allows financing towards Cuba, it will be U.S. taxpayers who would be sustaining the Castro regime.  
-- Rene Gomez Manzano, renowned Cuban dissident, former prisoner of conscience and independent lawyer, Diario las Americas, 6/16/14

U.N. to Hear Testimony of Foul Play in Oswaldo Paya's Death

By U.N. Watch:

UN to hear testimony of foul play in Cuban dissident’s death

Angel Carromero, driver in the suspicious crash that killed legendary Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, to address UN Human Rights Council

As world figures continue to call for an independent investigation into the July 2012 car crash that killed Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch is bringing Angel Carromero – the Spanish politician who drove the car that many allege was targeted by Cuban security agents – to testify before diplomats, rights activists and journalists at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Carromero’s first-ever presentation at the UN will take place tomorrow, Tuesday, June 17th, on a panel that will also featuring Cuban poet and former political prisoner Regis Iglesias.

UN Watch is organizing the event as part of a coalition of human rights groups that include the German NGO International Society for Human Rights, Iniciativa por Venezuela, Human Rights Foundation, Humano y Libre, and Directorio.

Last year, the U.S. government joined calls for an international investigation into the car crash in eastern Cuba that killed Payá and Harold Cepero, a fellow activist in the Christian Liberation Movement.

After the crash, Cuba blamed Carromero, claiming he accidentally slammed the car into a tree killing the two passengers. In a one-day trial, a Cuban court sentenced Carromero to four years in prison for vehicular homicide.

In December 2012, Carromero returned to his native Spain, where he was allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence, which has since been relaxed to allow his freedom of movement with an ankle monitor.

Carromero will testify how Cuban security forces coerced him into recording a video confession—and will instead reveal what really happened.

Is Cuba Headed Towards Another "Black Spring"?

By the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders:

Is Cuba Headed Towards a Repeat of the 2003 Black Spring?

Reporters Without Borders is worried about the situation of journalists in Cuba, where there have been cases of physical attacks, arbitrary detention, death threats and blocking of access to information in recent days.

Hablemos Press, an independent news agency and free speech NGO, has been directly targeted by the Internal Security Department. Police physically attacked its editor, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, in Havana on 11 June. According to his wife, Hablemos Press reporter Magaly Otero Suarez, he is currently immobilized at home with multiple injuries to the face and right foot.

A car ran down Raúl Ramirez Puig, a Hablemos Press correspondent in Mayabeque province, on 7 June. One of the two people in the car told him: “Anything can happen.”

Mario Hechavarría Driggs, who also works for Hablemos Press, was the latest victim of arbitrary arrest when Internal Security Department officials arrested him on 8 June. Journalism student Yeander Farrés Delgado was also arrested while photographing the capitol building in Havana (now the headquarters of the science, technology and environment ministry) and was held for five hours.

“Although the Castro regime gives the appearance of opening up politically, the methods used by the authorities to silence dissident journalists are clearly becoming more and more brutal,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The last of the journalists arrested in the Black Spring of 2003 was freed in 2011, but since then we have seen a gradual increase in repression.”

Hablemos Press reported on 11 June that it has received repeated telephone threats in the past two months. After taking several threatening calls on the Hablemos Press phone line, Otero was summoned by the Internal Security Department on 12 June, and told to moderate the tone of the agency’s articles, which have irritated the government.

The authorities have also gone so far as to disconnect the mobile phones of De Jesus Guerra, Otero and Arian Guerra, another Hablemos Press journalist, from Cuba’s sole mobile phone network, provided by state-owned ETECSA, to hamper their communications.

“What happens to the right to information if the government blocks phone connections at will and Internet use is extremely limited in Cuba?” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk. “We call on the Cuban authorities to restore the phone connections of Hablemos Press’ journalists without delay.”

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the conditions in which the authorities have been holding the independent journalist Juliet Michelena Díaz in Havana since 7 April without any court decision in her case. She was initially accused of threatening a neighbour, but the charge was changed to “terrorism” within a week of her arrest.

Yayabo Press journalist Yoenni de Jesus Guerra García has meanwhile been held since October 2013 and was given a seven-year jail term in March. And the blogger Ángel Santiesteban-Prats, one of the 100 “information heroes” profiled by RWB in May, has been held on trumped-up charges since February 2013.

Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This is the lowest ranking of any country in the western hemisphere.

Is Hillary Clinton Using the Cuban Embargo as Her "Excuse"?

In her new book "Hard Choices," former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argues that the Cuban embargo is “holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.”

What agenda is "broader" than freedom and democracy in the Western Hemisphere?

Are we to throw out the monumental accomplishment of the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter, signed by 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere, which holds "representative democracy" as the backbone of hemispheric relations?

In the interests of some unclear "broader agenda," is the U.S. going to re-open the door to the dictatorships -- whether leftist or rightist -- that once ruled Latin America?

Is U.S. diplomacy not sophisticated, robust and muscular enough to overcome Raul Castro's cohorts (pictured below this weekend), which precisely want the U.S. to "fully integrate" Cuba's dictatorship in the inter-American system, so that they can fully unleash their own authoritarian ambitions?

(See more on this point here).

During a recent hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone, ominously testified regarding Raul Castro and his wanna-be authoritarian cohorts:

"This trend is reversible -- but the leadership of the United States is vital. 

Undoubtedly, the democrats of Latin America need to step up to their own responsibilities, but in the cost-benefit analysis that all political leaders make, they need to be left with no doubt that the benefits of standing up for freedom and democracy in Cuba outweigh the costs. Whether we like it or not, only the United States can tip that balance. 

To be clear, the United States is not the cause of Latin America's problems. To the contrary, it represents the solution. U.S. leadership in the region should be public, unquestionable and unwavering, particularly as regards the shared values of freedom, democracy and security. 

Our democratic allies in the region should know and anticipate the benefits derived from embracing and promoting democratic practices. Likewise, autocrats should know and anticipate the consequences of undemocratic practices and illegal acts."

Undoubtedly, U.S. diplomats are up to this task. They are the best in the world.

If they didn't under Secretary Clinton's tenure, then the poor leadership falls upon her.

But it's unbecoming to instead use the Cuban embargo as her "excuse."

Cuban Democracy Leader Antunez Re-Arrested, to be Processed

Last Wednesday morning, the Castro regime ransacked the home of Cuban democracy leader, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez." He was arrested, along with his wife, Yris Perez Aguilera.

During his two-day imprisonment, Antunez was the subject of violent interrogations and beatings. He was thrown against walls, strangled twice until passing-out and injected with unknown substances.

According to Antunez, the authorities arrested him for his support of U.S. sanctions towards Cuba.

In particular, for leading a document, signed by over 830 democracy activists, opposing recent efforts to ease U.S. sanctions toward Cuba.

Last night, Antunez and Yris were re-arrested and were being formally processed for their political views.

Antunez has already spent 17-years as a prisoner of conscience.

Stay tuned for more details.

Riddle Me This: If the Embargo is "Castro's Best Friend"...

Author Humberto Fontova notes in Babalu Blog:

[I]f Castro “secretly favors the embargo,” then why did every one of his secret agents campaign secretly and obsessively against the embargo while working as secret agents? Castro managed the deepest and most damaging penetration of the U.S. Department of Defense in recent U.S. history. The spy’s name is Ana Belen Montes, known as "Castro’s Queen Jewel" in the intelligence community. In 2002 she was convicted of the same crimes as Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and today she serves a 25-year sentence in Federal prison. Only a plea bargain spared her from sizzling in the electric chair like the Rosenbergs.

Prior to her visit from the FBI and handcuffing, Ana Belen Montes worked tirelessly to influence U.S. foreign policy against the embargo. The same holds for more recently arrested, convicted and incarcerated Cuban spies Carlos and Elsa Alvarez and Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers. All of these worked tirelessly to influence U.S. policy against the "embargo"-- while working as secret agents.

It’s one thing for some talking heads with their typically overworked and harried research staff to remain ignorant of these vital matters. But shouldn’t a former U.S. Secretary of State be familiar with matters so vital to U.S. security?

On Cuba's Brave Democrats

By Jay Nordlinger in National Review:

On Friday, I wrote about a statement signed by hundreds of Cuban democracy activists. One of the things they were pleading for was a continuation of U.S. sanctions on Cuba (i.e., the Castro dictatorship). At the time, there were over 550 signatories. Now I see that the list is over 800. On Friday, I wrote,

"The list includes some of the people I admire most in all the world — starting with the first name, Antúnez, the moniker of the leader who has been in and out of prison more times than I can count, and who has had the living hell beaten out of him (his wife has, too), and who never, ever breaks (neither does she)."

There ought to be a statue of Antúnez somewhere (of Iris, too). If I had the nerve and the ability, I’d do it myself.

Antúnez and his wife have, once more, been arrested. And brutalized. State security agents told Antúnez that he had become a barrier to the normalization of relations between Havana and Washington. He was strangled and lost consciousness twice. He was also injected with an unknown substance. Before he was released, he was told that he is more at risk than ever. Which is believable.

To read a press release from the Directorio Democrático Cubano, go here. To hear Antúnez give his testimony, over the phone (in Spanish), go here.

In Cuba, opposition to the lifting of sanctions is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The 800-some signatories have risked this. I wish that our anti-embargo people here in America would remember this risk, once in a while. Maybe remark on it. They are free to express their view. People such as Antúnez have a different view — and they are not free to express it. If they do, they are strangled, one way or another.

Cuban democrats are, honestly, some of the bravest and best people on earth. I hardly have the words to express my admiration for them, or to express my contempt for their enemies.

Castro Intensifies Support for Nuclear Iran

From Trend News Agency:

Iran says it will never give up nuclear program

Iranian First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that his country will never give up on its right to develop peaceful nuclear program.

"Iran is ready to clarify ambiguities in regards to its nuclear program," he said, adding that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can supervise the country's program.

"Some countries own nuclear weapons but they are signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT. They also never let the IAEA experts visit their nuclear sites," he explained

He made the remarks at a meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Bolivia on Sunday, Iran's IRNA news agency reported.

"Iran and Cuba has similar stance in regards to world bullies," Jahangiri added.

Castro, for his part, said that the US has caused trouble in each and every region it interfered.

"Washington's presence in the Middle East aims at influencing Iran," he explainred.

The meeting was held on the sidelines of the Group-77 plus China Summit in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

During the meeting, the two sides also underlined the need for the further expansion of relations.

Hillary Should Say "Cuba Si, Castro No"

Sunday, June 15, 2014
An editorial in today's New York Daily News praises former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for "saying si to Cuba." ("Hillary Says Si to Cuba".)

Here's its rationale:

"[T]he maturing of new generations of Cubans who are less hard-line has opened the door to overhauling our relationship with a still repressive Cuban regime that has been forced to take tiny steps toward economic liberalization."

Let's put aside the misguided political assumption regarding the "new generations of Cubans" -- an argument we've heard since the 1970s -- for this post.

From a policy perspective -- why would the U.S. want to "overhaul its relationship with a still repressive Cuban regime?"

Shouldn't policy overhauls be merited?

Shouldn't Hillary have learned this lesson from the policy overhauls she led towards Russia, Syria and Iran?

"Still repressive" regimes become "more repressive" when unchallenged -- and rhetoric doesn't cut it.

Moreover, why has the Castro regime "been forced to take tiny steps toward economic liberalization"?

Is it because they have so much money they don't know what to do with it?

Or to the contrary -- is it due to its failed policies and the crisis it faces from Venezuela's imminent collapse?

So why would we want to bail out the Castro regime with billions in U.S. trade, tourism, financing and investment -- all delivered and funneled through its monopolies?

For that's precisely what lifting the embargo would do.

History has clearly proven that the Castro regime only makes changes when forced to -- namely in times of crisis.

Thus, lifting U.S. sanctions and financially accommodating Castro's regime would be counter-productive (at best).

Perhaps Hillary (and the New York Daily News) should take note from Cuba's courageous democracy leaders, like The Ladies in White's Berta Soler (below).

It's "Cuba si, Castro no."

The Fate of Castro's Business Partners

Sooner or later, all of Castro's closest business partners seem to face the same fate.

Frankly, Mr. Tokmakjian and other foreign businessmen should have though about "the lack of due process, transparency and independence in the Cuban system" before they decided to partner with -- and profit from -- Cuba's repressive dictatorship.

From Canada's Globe and Mail:

Canadian fears foregone verdict in Cuban court

More than 2 1/2 years after his arrest in a wide-ranging corruption investigation, a Canadian business executive accused of bribery and tax evasion is pleading his case before a Cuban court – but his family fears the outcome has been predetermined.

Cy Tokmakjian, 74, appeared before a Cuban court on Monday for the beginning of a trial that is expected to last two weeks. His charges relate to bribery, contractual issues, and commercial crimes against the Cuban economy and he is being tried alongside at least 16 other individuals who either worked for or had dealings with his company’s operations in Cuba.

Originally from Armenia, Mr. Tokmakjian founded a transportation company in Canada in the early 1970s and later expanded the firm’s operations to Cuba, Barbados and several other countries. He was arrested in September, 2011, and held in a Cuban jail for nearly 2 1/2 years before any charges were laid.

Lee Hacker, a spokesman for Mr. Tokmakjian’s family and vice-president of finance for the Tokmakjian Group, said Mr. Tokmakjian maintained high ethical standards in his work and did not break Cuban laws.

“The allegations and charges made against the Tokmakjian Group by Cuban authorities are completely baseless and the defence will show that clearly,” Mr. Hacker said in a written statement that was provided to The Globe and Mail. “However, because of serious concerns with the lack of due process, transparency and independence in the Cuban system, we fear that the outcome has already been predetermined.”

A statement outlining Mr. Tokmakjian’s defence, obtained by The Globe, says the businessman invited Cuban officials for meals at his home and gave Christmas and New Year’s gifts to a range of recipients but made no attempt to obtain any favours in return.

Earlier this year, the Tokmakjian Group filed a claim against the Cuban government with the Ontario Superior Court. A statement of claim alleges that the company’s assets were improperly seized and that the Cuban government interfered with Tokmakjian Group’s commercial relations with its customers.

The trial comes one year after another Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubian, was sentenced to nine years in prison on corruption-related charges after he reportedly co-operated with Cuban authorities in their investigation. Mr. Yacoubian was expelled from Cuba in February and has since returned to Canada. He did not have to serve the remainder of his sentence when he returned to Canada because Cuban authorities did not arrange a transfer.

The 2011 arrests of Mr. Yacoubian and other business executives and their trials came as a surprise to foreign investors and raised questions about the security of their assets in Cuba. Experts say the arrests, combined with attempts to increase the Cuban government’s control of some foreign businesses, have clouded the country’s business environment at a time when the government is trying to attract more capital to the communist economy.

Conservative MP Peter Kent has followed Mr. Tokmakjian’s case and visited him in prison last fall. He said he is troubled by reports the Cuban court may not review all the evidence Mr. Tokmakjian’s lawyers had asked to present.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development would not say whether it is assisting Mr. Tokmakjian, citing privacy concerns. “Consular services are being provided to the Canadian citizen who is detained in Cuba,” Beatrice Fenelon wrote in an e-mail when asked about Mr. Tokmakjian’s case. “Canadian consular officials in Havana are engaging local authorities and continue to monitor the case closely.”

Officials at the Cuban embassy in Ottawa could not be reached to comment on the matter.

Asking Dictators For Permission

From Cuba's Raul Castro to North Korea's Kim Jong-un; from Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro to Syria's Bashar al-Assad; from Russia's Vladimir Putin to Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei.

Why are these tyrants acting more emboldened and impunely than ever?

Because -- although the Obama Administration might have the best intentions -- these are the types of mixed signals being sent.

From Daily Beast:

Obama’s Budget Fails Democracy Promotion Abroad

The administration is proposing to remove language from next year’s budget that would safeguard American foreign aid from repressive foreign leaders.

The Obama administration is proposing to omit a longstanding legislative provision aimed at preventing American foreign aid being blocked or manipulated by repressive foreign leaders.

The proposed removal from the administration’s budget and appropriations request for next fiscal year of a provision instructing the Secretary of State not to seek the prior approval of host governments when funding nonprofits and civil society groups overseas is infuriating American democracy-promotion and human-rights activists, who argue the omission marks a retreat in U.S. leadership.

They warn the Obama administration is in effect signaling to repressive regimes that they can dictate where U.S. democracy-promotion and human rights money goes in their countries—a problem the provision introduced a decade ago was meant to combat.

Obama aides and State Department officials dismiss the criticism—they also bristle at claims that the administration has been decreasing funding for democracy and governance promotion and support. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, claims democracy transitions in Indonesia and Tunisia as Obama successes. “We’ve made a democracy a central part of our approach in every region that we operate,” he told The Washington Post.

The dropping of the legislative provision instructing the Secretary of State not to seek prior host government approval when funding civil society groups in their countries isn’t helping the administration make its case that democracy is a fundamental aim of Obama foreign policy.

The provision the administration is proposing to remove from the foreign appropriations bill is called the “Brownback Amendment.” Named after GOP Senator Sam Brownback, now the governor of Kansas, the amendment was first passed in 2005 and was attached initially to funding for democracy and governance activities in Egypt, allowing the Bush administration to provide aid directly to civil society organizations regardless of whether the Egyptian government approved or whether the organizations were registered as NGOs.

Every year since 2009, Brownback language has been included in FY budget and appropriation requests with the provision stating that when providing “assistance for democracy, human rights, and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval of the government of any foreign country.”

Asked why the Brownback Amendment was being omitted from the foreign appropriations request for the first time since 2009, a State Department spokesperson said: “The administration’s requests frequently recommend that Congress remove restrictions and requirements that constrain flexibility to manage foreign policy, are overly burdensome, and/or are unnecessary due to policy or procedures already in place.”