Putin, Cuba and Propaganda Ploys

Saturday, July 12, 2014
Under international scrutiny for his illegal incursions and hostile acts against the Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Havana yesterday, where he was warmly received by Cuban dictators Fidel and Raul Castro.

The first propaganda ploy of the trip was to announce that Russia would forgive 90 percent of Cuba's $32 billion debt to the former Soviet Union.

That's nice, except the Castro regime has never recognized that debt and it was never going to be paid. Thus, Putin has forgiven a whole lot of nothing.

The second propaganda ploy was to announce that Russia would re-invest the remaining 10 percent ($3.5 billion) into development projects in Cuba.

That's nice also, except for the caveat: That Castro's bankrupt regime would have to first pay Russia the $3.5 billion, plus 10% interest. Not going to happen either.

Yet, Reuters writes that "both measures inject much-needed foreign investment into Cuba."

How exactly?  Apparently, only Reuters knows.

The third propaganda ploy was to announce that Putin would help Castro revive his defunct offshore oil exploration ambitions.

Just like former Vice-President Dick Cheney warned of the Chinese drilling for oil off Cuba's shores last decade -- and thus advocated for U.S. companies to do the same -- former U.S. Senator Bob Graham and others will pick up a similar mantle warning of the Russians.

And the choir of anti-sanctions lobbyists will follow.

Never mind -- as we correctly predicted then and do so again -- that it remains commercially and logistically unfeasible.

Bottom line: This trip is about propaganda and a sobering reminder that the world's rogue regimes stick together (and do harm together).

In the last couple of years alone, Castro's regime has supported Assad's genocide in Syria; has supported a nuclear Iran; has led the dismantling of democracy in Venezuela; and has illegally smuggled weapons to North Korea.

In the same fashion, it has supported Putin's illegal annexation of the Crimea and stands by the violent actions of his separatist commandos in the Ukraine.

Thus, Putin goes to Havana to propagandize and say thanks.

That's what rogues are and that's what rogues do.

Cardinal Ortega's Not-Loyal-Enough Opposition

Friday, July 11, 2014
Earlier this month, the editors of the Cuban Catholic Church's magazine, Espacio Laical, resigned.

Espacio Laical had been considered one of the very few "tolerated" non-state publications in Cuba.

Its editors, Roberto Veiga and Lenier Gonzalez, cited pressure from inside the Catholic Church as the reason for their departure. 

What's fascinating is that it was Veiga and Gonzalez who introduced the controversial, insulting and illogical (in the context of a totalitarian dictatorship) concept of a "loyal opposition" in Cuba.

Yet apparently, even a "loyal opposition" is too much for Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.

To Castro's liking, Ortega seems to prefer "no opposition" at all.

Why Does Castro Feel So Threatened by Independent Teachers?

Over 15 independent teachers were arrested by the Castro regime today as they tried to attend an education conference they had organized.

The purpose of this conference was to discuss issues related to education, and prepare a document of critiques and recommendations to present to the Ministry of Education.

The Independent Teachers Association of Cuba is a dissident organization composed of hundreds of teachers who have been fired for their "political views" or for their criticism of the island's education system.

Since this morning, the home of the Association's president, Roberto Lopez Ramos, has been surrounded by state security officials.

Among those arrested were Luis Díaz Díaz, Ada Becerra, Yoel Medrano Espinosa, Osmel and Orisbel Borges Rodríguez, Niurka Gómez Roy, Nelson Acosta Rio, José Hernandez López, Felix Navarro, Francisco Rangel, Milaidis Quimero and Sandy Quintana Alfonso.

Why does the Castro regime feel so threatened by these teachers?

The picture below is from a similar conference in 2009:

How Google Could Easily Help the Cuban People

The post below by Larry Press of The Internet in Cuba is worth noting.

We'd highlight and add a few points: 

1. Despite the PR offensive trying to depict Raul Castro as a "reformer," Mr. Press is correct to note that Raul has been a "hard-liner" against the Internet.

2. Unfortunately, those "hard-liners"-- led by Raul Castro -- remain in power today.

3. As was proven during last month's slip by Cuba's censors, the only obstacle to providing the people with Internet access is Castro's absolute refusal.

4. Even without Castro's permission, Google should pursue technological means to circumvent the dictatorship's censors and provide Internet access directly to the Cuban people.

5. There's nothing in U.S. law that prohibits the recommendation below, which shows how many of those who are currently lobbying for a change in U.S. policy care less about Internet connectivity for the Cuban people, than about providing the Castro regime with a new U.S.-financed domestic infrastructure for its monopolistic control.

From The Internet in Cuba:

Could Google provide Internet access in Cuba?

The obstacles are political, not technical

Eric Schmidt and other Google executives traveled to Cuba where they met with members of the Internet community and the government. Google is providing Internet access in a few US Cities and is considering others -- might they provide Internet access in Cuba?

Consider the following:

- Cuba has very little domestic backbone infrastructure, but they could afford to extend Internet connectivity via satellite.

- Google has satellite projects that could serve Cuba.

Of course, both governments would have to agree for Google or any other satellite ISP to connect Cubans. I believe that, if the Cuban government would agree, the US would as well.

But, the Cuban government has feared the Internet since the time of their first IP connectivity in 1996. At that time, there was high level debate about the Internet. The hard liners, led by Raúl Castro, argued against the Internet while others argued for a "Chinese" approach of supporting Internet use while censoring content and surveilling users. (It seems Fidel Castro was ambivalent).

The hard liners won in 1996, but what about today? Schmidt reports that a "number of the people" he spoke with said "the eventual model of Cuba would be more like China or Vietnam than of Venezuela or Mexico." If some of those were young government officials, there may be a glimmer of hope.

The Fate of Cubans if the U.S. Normalizes Relations

Thursday, July 10, 2014
A must-read Letter to the Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

What fate awaits Cubans if Cuba and the U.S. normalize relations?

Cuban Ambassador Jose Cabanas is looking for trade opportunities in the United States (“Cuban Diplomat Promotes Trade Opportunities,” July 2). The Cold War language is over. No need to wear uniforms any longer, but expensively correct suits. Ideology has committed suicide 25 years too late — that’s the image from outside the island.

A revolution turned into reform, without the uncomfortable concept of “democracy.” Dictatocracy replaces dictatorship.

By direct blood lineage, general Raul Castro, brother of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro — both in their 80s — conducts this transition to thawcialism while securing stability in the United States’ violent backyard: Latin America and its autocratic regimes. The winning card is barely hidden: Uncontrolled mass migration into the U.S. will occur unless prevented by a flow of capital into our victimized nations.

Many U.S. representatives, politicians and academics hope to pave the way for more contacts with Cuba. U.S. companies look for opportunities everywhere, every time. Legal or not, this cannot be more legitimate. But will this guarantee free trade and markets and competition and civil society? Or will this foster a state capitalism in which post-communist caudillos will perpetuate their monopoly, and Cubans will still be second-class citizens?

“There’s the danger of lost opportunity” indeed, as Mr. Cabanas promoted for profits in Pittsburgh last week.

We Cubans, whether subject to the military in the island or exiled for eternity, are in danger of losing the opportunity of reestablishing the rule of law in our country. American money could end up being complicit of the Castroism without Castros that is to come.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
Arlington, Va.
The writer is a Cuban blogger, photographer and activist from Havana.

Quote of the Week: On Raul's "Reforms"

They are small transformations caused by necessity and not by political will.
-- Yoani Sanchez, Cuban blogger, asked by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa about the reality of Raul's "reforms,"VII Atlantic Forum, 7/9/14

Images: Vigils Honor Victims of Cuban Tugboat Massacre

Vigils were held today honoring the 37 men, women and children murdered by the Castro regime on July 13, 1994, as they tried to escape the island.

At the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.:


At the Cuban Mission to the U.N. in New York City:

The Nerve of Odebrecht

According to The Miami Herald, the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht has sent a letter to Miami-Dade County threatening to sue if the Commission doesn't present for consideration -- and approve -- the controversial Airport City project.

Thus, not only does Odebrecht feel entitled to Miami-Dade taxpayer money, but it also feels entitled to control the agenda of the democratically-elected County Commission.

Can you imagine the uproar if Exxon-Mobil or Halliburton threatened to sue the U.S. Congress if it didn't consider federal projects it had an interest in? Or if the Fanjuls threatened to sue the U.S. Congress if it didn't pass a Farm Bill?

Who elected them?

In the letter, Odebrecht claims it has spent $11 million preparing for the Airport City project.

That's quite presumptuous considering the fact that the Miami-Dade County Commission hasn't even voted to approve the project.

Did Odebrecht think that Miami-Dade County was a rubber stamp? Or has Odebrecht gotten unduly used to so many hand-me-outs throughout the years?

The irony here is that Odebrecht is a company notorious for costing Miami-Dade taxpayers millions in chronic cost-overruns and reimbursements.

To wit: What do the MIA South Terminal, Miami Intermodal Center, MIA North Terminal and the Carnival Center all have in common?

They were tens of millions over-cost and behind schedule -- all courtesy of Odebrecht.

Let's not forget the $25.5 million in cost-overruns that Odebrecht cost Miami-Dade taxpayers for the Performing Arts Center.

Yet now it wants to sue taxpayers?

Perhaps Miami-Dade taxpayers should sue Oderbecht to recoup all of their wasted money.

But we can't really expect too much from a company that partners with some of the world's most brutal dictators, which is being investigated for corrupt practices, and engages in slave labor and human trafficking.

And please spare us the line that Odebrecht USA is a separate subsidiary. Odebrecht USA is wholly-owned and controlled by its Brazilian parent company.  Odebrecht USA's CEO answers directly to headquarters in Salvador. Moreover, the documents presented for the Airport City project were signed by its parent company, not by Odebrecht USA.

Adding insult to injury, in a last ditch effort to save their boondoggle, Odebrecht is resorting to divisive racial politics -- pitting Cuban-Americans vs. African-Americans.

In the past, we have clearly outlined the reasons why every Cuban-American (and Venezuelan-American) should be repulsed by the behavior of Odebrecht.  Click here for more details.

But African-Americans have just as many reasons to be outraged.

Just take a closer look at the degrading, exploitative practices that Odebrecht has employed against black Africans and Brazilians.

Odebrecht is currently under investigation by Brazilian prosecutors for slave labor, inhumane conditions, international human trafficking, curtailment of freedom, retention of documents and other violations. These violations stem from a construction project in Angola and involve some 500 workers. Click here for more details.

And spare us the line that Odebrecht has hired African-American subcontractors and is a big charity contributor. Yes -- and Donald Sterling hired African-American basketball players and was a major contributor to the NAACP.  But it's how they behave when they think no one is watching that matters.

Odebrecht's illegal, insulting and immoral behavior has no place in the 21st century. Nor should it be tolerated by Miami-Dade County.

Famed Cuban Artist Arrested, Faces Summary Trial

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Famed Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," was imprisoned three days ago and has been held in isolation, without any communication.

He is being accused of "verbal assault" and is facing a summary trial tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

El Sexto is known for his art, paintings and graffiti, with political overtones.

He has been arrested on multiple occasions and has had his art confiscated.

#FreeElSexto

Confession of a Cuban State Security Agent

Another important sign that the balance of power is shifting away from Castro's dictatorship and toward Cuba's democracy movement.

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban ‘dissident’ says he was really an infiltrator

Lawyer Ernesto Vera said his main task was to attack and sow discord within two key Cuban opposition groups in the island.

A Cuban lawyer has confessed that he was a State Security collaborator for the four years he spent portraying himself as a dissident and harshly attacking two of the country’s most active opposition groups.

Ernesto Vera, 34, had been accused of being a collaborator last year but his confession cast a rare spotlight on how State Security agents recruit informants and pays them thousands of dollars to discredit dissidents and generate rivalries among them.

Vera also pointed a finger at five other Cubans who in his view have been suspiciously critical of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) and the Ladies in White, the largest and most aggressive dissident groups on the communist-ruled island.

“My mission within State Security was to disparage and discredit UNPACU, especially its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, and the Ladies in White,” Vera told El Nuevo Herald by phone Wednesday from his home in the eastern city of Santiago De Cuba.

But he sat for a 44-minute video taped confession to Ferrer earlier this month because he was “disgusted with so many lies, the double life and faking a friendly relationship with people I hated so much.”

The two men shook hands at the end of the video.

Click here to watch the video.

State Department on Migration Talks With Cuba

From the U.S. Department of State:

Migration Talks With Cuba

On Wednesday, July 9, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Washington to discuss the implementation of the 1994 and 1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords. These talks are held semi-annually. The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Alex Lee and the Cuban delegation was led by the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro.

Under the Accords, both governments pledged to promote safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the United States. The agenda for the talks reflected longstanding U.S. priorities on U.S.-Cuba migration issues, as well as certain areas where cooperation is in the U.S. national interest, including aviation security, search and rescue at sea, and visa processing. The U.S. delegation also highlighted other areas of ongoing cooperation relevant to migration, including the exchange of information on the interdiction of undocumented migrants, and related issues.

The U.S. delegation reiterated its call for the release of Alan Gross, who was arrested by Cuban authorities on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored internet contact between a small, religious community on the island and the rest of the world.

If the Embargo is "Castro's Best Friend"...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Last month, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton frivolously stated that “the embargo is Castro's best friend,” during a presentation at the Council on Foreign Relations of her new book, "Hard Choices."

Clinton adopted this talking point from some of her friends, who habitually make this counter-intuitive argument against U.S. policy and are apparently (or willfully) unaware of the great lengths to which the Castro regime goes in order to have sanctions unilaterally and unconditionally lifted.

For the moment, let's put aside the quiet, constant and intense lobbying that Castro regime officials (through the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.) conduct on Capitol Hill to persuade lawmakers to oppose Cuba sanctions.

Instead, just based on yesterday's Washington Post story:

If the embargo is "Castro's best friend," then why would the Cuban regime seek to conduct a smear campaign against U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in order to try to prevent him from becoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he would become an insurmountable obstacle to having sanctions lifted?

If the embargo is "Castro's best friend," then why would the Cuban regime try to recruit agents to generate scandalous information about Menendez and other Cuban-American Members of Congress, whom it blames for "tough U.S. policies towards Cuba," as former undercover FBI agent Rober Eringer details in his 2008 book, "Ruse: Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence"?

It the embargo is "Castro's best friend," then why would former high-ranking Cuban intelligence official, Enrique Garcia Diaz, corroborate that it's precisely the "modus operandi" of the regime's agents to fabricate scandals, lies and distortions in order to tarnish pro-embargo, Cuban-American Members of Congress?

Or based on some recently-apprehended spies:

If the embargo is "Castro's best friend," then why would the Cuban regime task its spy Ana Belen Montes, a former high-level official at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, with manipulating and intentionally downplaying U.S. threat assessments against Cuba (which she authored), in order to persuade the Clinton Administration to ease sanctions in the late 1990s?

If the embargo is "Castro's best friend," then why would the Cuban regime's U.S. State Department spy, Walter Kendall Myers, work to discreetly pursue the lifting of sanctions? As a matter of fact, the FBI operation that busted Myers in 2009 specifically sought his guidance regarding the new Obama Administration and its Cuba policy.

Someone should ask Secretary Clinton.

Bipartisan Senators Support Probe of Cuban Plot Against Menendez

Pursuant to The Washington Post's story on the potential involvement of Cuban agents in the smear campaign against U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues have voiced their concern and support for a federal probe into the matter.

Excerpt from Northjersey.com:

“I think we really should get to the bottom of it,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “If it’s true, and apparently it is, I think Senator Menendez has been deeply wronged.”

“I think he’s right to want to know the truth,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and former federal prosecutor. “That kind of skullduggery, which potentially is illegal, ought to be investigated.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and member of the Foreign Relations Committee that Menendez heads, said he already had a low opinion of Cuba because of its imprisonment of Alan Gross, a constituent who was working for an American foreign aid program.

“But this goes beyond what you would expect in the conduct of any legitimate government,” Cardin said. He said there was little the Senate could do to Cuba, but the incident could make it tougher to relax future restrictions on trade.

“It makes it much more problematic improving that relationship,” Cardin said. “And five years ago we were on the path, I think, for a stronger relationship with Cuba.”

While not commenting on Menendez directly, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who like Menendez is the son of Cuban immigrants, said the power of the Cuban intelligence service is underestimated by the United States.

“It is in fact one of the three or four most active intelligence agencies in the United States,” Rubio said.

Thursday: D.C. Vigil to Honor Victims of Cuban Tugboat Massacre

Young Leaders Group, Center for a Free Cuba and the Cuban Democratic Directorate Call for Twenty Minutes of Silence for Twenty Years of Impunity

Human rights and civil society organizations have called for a symbolic nonviolent protest action in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the murder of 37 Cuban passengers of the "13 de Marzo" Tugboat, who on July 13, 1994 were killed by agents of the Cuban government for trying to escape the island. The demonstration will take place on July 10 at 12:00 noon outside of the Cuban Interests Section located on 2630 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C. Human rights activists, members of international civil society and Cuban exiles will gather in front of the embassy in order to hold twenty minutes of silence for each of the twenty years that this crime has remained unpunished.

Rudy Mayor Director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC’s Young Leaders Group outlined what happened and what is being remembered: "On this 20th anniversary of the Cuban tugboat massacre, we are again reminded of the cruelty of the Castro regime and its willingness to kill innocent men, women and children to deny them the chance of freedom. It is important for all of us who value and cherish liberty to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in their search for freedom from oppression.”

Jose Luis Garza of the Cuban Democratic Directorate explained the purpose of the demonstration: "We are holding this nonviolent activity to remind the Castro regime that their crimes will not remain in impunity, and that both Cuban civil society and the international community remember the brutal manner in which they killed men, women and children. Today we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Island to tell them they are not alone.”

On July 13, seventy two Cubans tried to escape the island on board the “13 de Marzo” tugboat at 3:00am. The boat used for the escape belonged to the Maritime Services Enterprise of the Ministry of Transportation. Upon leaving the port two boats from the same state enterprise began pursuing it. About 45 minutes into the trip, when the tug was seven miles away from the Cuban coast two other boats belonging to said enterprise appeared, equipped with tanks and water hoses, proceeded to attack and sink the tug.  "Polargo 2" blocked the "13 de Marzo" tug in the front, while the other, "Polargo 5," attacked from behind, splitting the stern.  Two other government boats positioned themselves on either side and sprayed everyone on deck with pressurized water, using their hoses.” According to survivors another vessel that appeared to be directing operations was believed to belong to the Cuban Coast Guard, which is part of the Ministry of the Interior. Sergio Perodin, one of the survivors who lost his wife and young son during the incident, explained how the massacre ended in a 1998 Nightline program: "We saw in the distance a boat with a Greek flag that appeared to be what stopped them. lt looked like the boat was watching what they were doing, the murder they were committing. So they stopped and decided to pick us up."

Thirty seven people were slain that day, including 13 women and 10 children.

“Twenty years after the killing of innocent men, women, and children who were seeking freedom, the Castro regime continues to deprive its citizens of their basic rights. The victims must not be forgotten and those responsible for their deaths should be held accountable”, stated Frank Calzón, Executive Director of the Center for a Free Cuba.

Twenty years after the events, and despite the exhaustive reports and conclusions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other international organizations on the responsibility of the Cuban State in the massacre, the authors of this crime continue enjoying absolute impunity while both the victims who survived and the families of the dead have been denied justice, and any kind of moral compensation.

Rubio: Cuban Intel Capability in U.S. is Underestimated

From Time:

Rubio Says Cuban Intelligence Capability in U.S. ‘Grossly Underestimated’

"The Cuban government punches well above their weight"

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Tuesday that the Cuban intelligence presence in Washington and the United States is “grossly underestimated.”

“I think Cuban intelligence is much more active in this country than people believe,” Rubio said in response to questions about New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez’s claim that he was the target of a Cuban intelligence smear scheme. “It is in fact, one of the three or four most active intelligence agencies operating in the United States today.”

“This is an ongoing challenge for all administrations,” added Rubio, a Florida native of Cuban descent who sits on both the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees. “It’s an espionage issue. When it comes to intelligence gathering and the ability to carry out intelligence operations, the Cuban government punches well above their weight.”

WaPo: Cuban Agents Suspected in Menendez Smear Campaign

From The Washington Post:

Sen. Robert Menendez seeks probe of alleged Cuban plot to smear him
   
Sen. Robert Menendez is asking the Justice Department to pursue evidence obtained by U.S. investigators that the Cuban government concocted an elaborate plot to smear him with allegations that he cavorted with underage prostitutes, according to people familiar with the discussions.

In a letter sent to Justice Department officials, the senator’s attorney asserts that the plot was timed to derail the political rise of Menendez (D-N.J.), one of Washington’s most ardent critics of the Castro regime. At the time, Menendez was running for reelection and was preparing to assume the powerful chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

According to a former U.S. official with firsthand knowledge of government intelligence, the CIA had obtained credible evidence, including Internet protocol addresses, linking Cuban agents to the prostitution claims and to efforts to plant the story in U.S. and Latin American media.

The alleged Cuba connection was laid out in an intelligence report provided last year to U.S. government officials and sent by secure cable to the FBI’s counterintelligence division, according to the former official and a second person with close ties to Menendez who had been briefed on the matter.

The intelligence information indicated that operatives from Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence helped create a fake tipster using the name “Pete Williams,” according to the former official. The tipster told FBI agents and others he had information about Menendez participating in poolside sex parties with underage prostitutes while vacationing at the Dominican Republic home of Salomon Melgen, a wealthy eye doctor, donor and friend of the senator.

A spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which functions as the island’s U.S. diplomatic outpost, did not respond to requests for comment.

The allegations against Menendez erupted in public in November 2012, when the Daily Caller, a conservative Web site, quoted two Dominican women claiming Menendez had paid them for sex.

The FBI investigated the prostitution claims but was unable to corroborate them. Last year, three Dominican women who had initially claimed to reporters that they had been paid to have sex with Menendez recanted their story.

Investigators in the Justice Department’s public-integrity division continue to probe whether Menendez used his position to benefit Melgen’s business interests, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.

The April letter from Menendez’s attorney to the Justice Department has not been made public. The attorney, Stephen M. Ryan, confirmed that he sent the letter but declined to comment on its contents.

“It is deeply disturbing that a foreign government whose intelligence service is an enemy of the United States might try to influence U.S. foreign policy by discrediting an elected official who is an opponent of the Cuban regime,” Ryan said.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment. Spokesmen for the Justice Department and FBI declined to comment on whether their offices were made aware of the intelligence information or whether they took any actions as a result.

There was no indication that the information gathered by U.S. intelligence officials alleging Cuba’s role in the Menendez case had been fully investigated or proved.

According to the former U.S. official familiar with the intelligence, the information suggested that Cuban operatives worked through business allies and lawyers in the Dominican Republic to create the fictitious tipster.

The former official said the U.S. intelligence community obtained information showing that Cuban operatives allegedly attempted to lend credence to the timeline of the prostitution allegations by tracking flights on Melgen’s private plane that Menendez made for visits to the elite Casa de Campo resort, where the eye doctor has a home.

The FBI’s investigation into the prostitution claims was part of the broader and more substantive Justice Department inquiry into the Menendez-Melgen relationship.

Menendez twice intervened with top federal health-care officials to dispute their agency’s finding that Melgen had overbilled Medicare by $8.9 million for eye treatments at his clinics. The senator also urged top officials at the State and Commerce departments to use their influence over the Dominican Republic to enforce a port security contract for a company in which Melgen was part owner.

The status of the larger probe is uncertain. But according to two people familiar with the investigation, the Justice Department’s public-integrity section and FBI agents are actively pursuing the inquiry and eyeing possible charges against Menendez.

If assertions of Cuban involvement in the prostitution claims were ever proved true, they would represent another flash point in a lengthy history of tensions between the United States and Cuba. In recent months, the U.S. Agency for International Development was forced to confirm the existence of a secret program to create a Twitter-like network in Cuba. The two nations have been at odds over the imprisonment in Havana of a USAID contractor, Alan Gross, accused by Cuba of spying, and they have clashed over the imprisonment of Cuban spies in the United States.

Havana has sought to build support within the United States for ending the half-century trade embargo that has squelched development on the island. And increasingly, U.S. businesses seeking untapped new markets have been pushing to ease the sanctions.

Last month, Thomas J. Donohue — president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a critic of Cuba sanctions — argued for more-open business relations between the countries after a visit to Havana. Some prominent Cuban American executives who have long backed the embargo have also begun to soften their stance, such as sugar tycoon Alfonso Fanjul, who revealed this year that he had visited the island and was open to doing business there someday. And President Obama, who has loosened some restrictions, has signaled a willingness to do more.

But Menendez, with a long-hardened resolve and a key seat overseeing U.S. foreign policy, is perhaps the single most important obstacle to normalizing relations.

Enrique Garcia Diaz, a former high-ranking Cuban spy official who defected and is now living in the United States, said in an interview that it was routine for Cuban intelligence officials to plant damaging news stories about opponents of the regime.

“From the moment that article about Senator Menendez was published, I suspected that it was an invention of Cuban Intelligence, because that is the way they work. It is their modus operandi,” he said. “They fabricate lies. They look to create intrigue.”

The Cuban government has previously sought to embarrass Menendez, according to a book by an FBI informant who worked undercover in Cuba. In “Ruse: Undercover with FBI Counterintelligence,” Robert Eringer wrote that the Cuban government asked him to try to dig up unflattering information to “expose and humiliate” Menendez.

Eringer said Cuban officials who approached him were “obsessed” with generating scandalous information about Menendez and other Cuban Americans in Congress who opposed normalized relations.

The FBI’s Miami field office began its probe into the Menendez prostitution allegations in August 2012 after receiving copies of e-mails that “Pete Williams” sent to a liberal watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. CREW said the tipster began corresponding with its investigators that spring, but they told the FBI they were unable to meet Williams in person or corroborate the claims.

“My duty as a US citizen obligates me to report what I consider a grave violation of the most fundamental codes of conduct that a politician of my country must follow,” the tipster, identified as Williams, wrote to CREW in an April 2012 e-mail, claiming “first hand information” about Menendez’s participation in “inappropriate sexual activities with young prostitutes.”

The allegations first became public on Nov. 1, 2012, days before Menendez stood for reelection, with the Daily Caller reporting that two women said they had met Menendez around Easter that year at the Casa de Campo resort and that Menendez paid them for sex acts.

ABC News said it was introduced to the women and their story by Republican operatives at the same time but decided against publishing the story, because the women appeared coached and were not able to provide identification cards.

The FBI spent months in 2012 and 2013 looking into the prostitution claims against Menendez, executing search warrants and sending multiple agents to the Dominican Republic to question people on the island, including Melgen’s housekeeper and staff.

But agents visiting strip clubs and Casa de Campo haunts that fall and winter never turned up evidence tying Menendez to prostitutes, two people familiar with the case said. They also were never able to link the “Pete Williams” e-mails back to a real person.

The FBI spokesman for the Miami field office, Michael Leverock, declined to comment for this article.

Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of the Daily Caller, said in a phone interview that it would be a major shock to him if the Cuban government spooled out a story that his reporters ran with — but that it’s also a hard claim for him to verify.

“I really can’t assess it without more information,” Carlson said. “It’s bizarre on its face but also fascinating.”

Tweet of the Day: Venezuelan Official Vacations in NYC

By Cuban blogger and democracy activist, Yusnaby Perez:

A Venezuelan "chavista" who works for PDVSA in Havana is on vacation in New York. Someone please explain this to me.

Foreign Policy: Don't Believe Castro's "Gay-Friendly" PR

In Foreign Policy:

Cuba Wants You To Think It’s a Gay Paradise. It’s Not.

Cuba has come a long way on LGBT rights since putting gays in labor camps. But don't believe the Castro family's gay-friendly PR.

I'm surprised to see a rainbow flag outside a tiny bar called Gats Loco in Trinidad, an old sugar town on Cuba's Caribbean coast. With a population of just under 75,000 and a reputation for well-preserved colonial architecture, not cruising, a gay bar seems an improbable niche-filler.

As of 1979, being gay is no longer a crime in Cuba, although under Article 303a of the country's Penal Code, "publicly manifested" homosexuality remains illegal, as does "persistently bothering others with homosexual amorous advances." While I wonder whether or not Gats Loco's conspicuous signage qualifies as a violation of Cuban law, I watch a stray dog's legs collapse underneath it in the withering midday heat. Gats Loco is the only bar in the area and they claim to have cold beer. I head inside.

I sit down at the small counter, getting the impression that I am the first customer they've had in a while. I ask the bartender for a Bucanero Fuerte, the watery lager that is Cuba's go-to brew. He hands me a cold one and sits down beside me. He says his name is Osmel, but everyone calls him SiSi.

SiSi is an English professor who moonlights at the bar for extra cash. He sharpens his grasp of American idioms by listening to heavy metal and writing out the lyrics every night when he gets home. I figure he'll love the copy of the Atlantic that I'm carrying in my backpack, which features a headline across the cover reading, "What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples." But when I hand it to him with a conspiratorial wink, he looks perplexed. Then he breaks into a wide grin.

"Are you gay?" SiSi asks.

I tell him I am not. Neither is he. Nor is the owner. Nor are any of the employees. Though incongruity is practically an art form in Cuba -- a place where cabdrivers outearn cardiologists and Fidel Castro's son is a golf champion -- I'm too curious not to ask how Gats Loco came to be.

"You know our president, yes?" SiSi asks, seeming to make a point of not saying "Raúl Castro" out loud. "In 2010, he changed the rules and we were allowed to open our own businesses. So, a friend of mine, he opened this place."

He can see that he hasn't answered my question.

"Okay, so, this rainbow flag outside -- we are the only place in Cuba with this flag in front," SiSi says. "I think it is European, and means 'inclusiveness.' Some people, I guess, know it as the gay flag, too. I think the owner figured it might be good for business."

The gambit has already started to pay dividends. Not because Gats Loco offers something unique to Cuba's gay community. Rather, it's because Mariela Castro, daughter of Raúl, niece to Fidel, and the director of the state-run National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), has emerged as Cuba's leading voice for the LGBT community in recent years. As the story goes, when the straight, married mother of three heard about Gats Loco and its rainbow flag, a representative sent word that Mariela would be making an official visit to "sponsor" the bar. SiSi isn't sure what the sponsorship entails beyond something about uniforms and logoed aprons for the staff.

There are other gay bars on the island, but a gay bar willing to work with the regime rather than against it is unusual. For Mariela, it's a ready-made propaganda opportunity. And Gats Loco's owner wasn't going to pass up a chance to ingratiate himself with a Castro.

The island is undoubtedly evolving, experiencing its first glimmers of free enterprise in 55 years, but one thing has remained very much the same: In Cuba, the regime is your ultimate customer. LGBT rights have undeniably improved in Cuba over the past 50-odd years. But while there have been some gains, many problems remain. The social stigma attached to being gay in predominantly Catholic Cuba is present in the same ways it is everywhere else in the world. Though the Castro family is no longer sending LGBT people to labor camps as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, the only permitted LGBT movement in Cuba is the official, state-run one that Mariela Castro has created. To that end, while the rest of the world was celebrating Pride Week over the past several days, Cubans weren't. The government in Havana refuses to recognize the international week of LGBT rights celebrations, allowing only an officially sanctioned gathering on May 17 -- under Mariela's patronage -- to mark the World Health Organization's "International Day Against Homophobia."

With Cuba essentially having been run as a family business since the Castros took over in 1959, it's only natural that 52-year-old Mariela ended up working for her dad. Daughter of President Raúl and niece to "Maximum Leader" Fidel, Mariela, known pretty much exclusively by her first name, occupies an interesting place in the Cuban zeitgeist, a sign of a liberalizing society -- but only so far. "Brokeback Mountain" may have aired on Cuban state television in 2008, but the control Mariela and CENESEX wield over the LGBT agenda doesn't give many Cubans a sense of ownership in their own cause.

On paper, Mariela is perfectly qualified to run CENESEX, where she has been since 1990. She has degrees in psychology and human sexuality from two of Cuba's premier universities. However, the LGBT Cubans I spoke to almost universally described Mariela as a creation of the state propaganda machine, a benevolent face the world can see calling for tolerance while the regime's usual brand of everyday totalitarianism continues. After all, Cuba's biggest industry is tourism, with more than 2 million visitors last year. Western tourists prefer a "friendly Cuba" to a notorious human rights violator.

The state announced in 2008 that, per Mariela's direction, the national health-care system would begin providing free gender-reassignment surgeries to those who qualified. In May 2013, Mariela traveled to Philadelphia to receive the Equality Forum's International Ally for LGBT Equality Award, followed by a trip in October to Montreal, where she was honored by the Conseil Québécois LGBT. This past December, the Cuban parliament passed a new labor code that included a clause outlawing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. (It can't hurt Cuban Communist Party legislators to keep the boss's daughter happy.) On its face, it would seem that Mariela has tried -- and continues to try -- valiantly to move the LGBT agenda forward.

But not everyone's buying it.

"The reality for the LGBT community in Cuba is very different from that described by the international media," Ignacio Estrada, a 33-year-old gay man from Santa Clara, tells me. "We live under constant government surveillance and harassment, while at the same time being manipulated for their political purposes."

Ignacio is married to Wendy Iriepa, 40, a transgender Havana native who once worked very closely with Mariela Castro at CENESEX. Under a 2007 pilot project, after pledging loyalty to the Revolution, she became the first Cuban to receive government-sponsored sex-reassignment surgery and underwent a full male-to-female transition.

Wendy may have been in Mariela's good graces, but as the founder of the independent, and thus illegal, Cuban League Against AIDS, Ignacio was considered a dissident. When Wendy marched with Ignacio and about 20 others in a small, unauthorized Pride Day parade in Havana in June 2011, Mariela confronted Wendy, asking how she "could live, in bed and in a home, with an enemy of the revolution." Wendy resigned from her position at CENESEX immediately. Two months later, she and Ignacio were married in Havana. The nuptials took place on August 13, 2011 -- Fidel Castro's 85th birthday. The guest list also sent a powerful message. Opposition bloggers Yoani Sánchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, were there. Mariela wasn't invited.

"Mariela is a chameleon; she can change her character very easily," says Ignacio. "She is very sociable with the people who work for her, but never does anything for anyone without expecting something back in return."

Mario Jose Delgado is a gay activist and independent journalist in Havana who also believes the outside world is being duped by Mariela. He and other LGBT Cubans are "very unhappy about the awards and recognition" she has received abroad, insisting, "It does not reflect the feelings of the gay community on the island." Delgado says the realities of LGBT life in Cuba are much uglier.

Last November, Delgado was headed home to the Alamar section of Havana when three men in civilian clothes threw him into the backseat of a car. They drove him to the outskirts of town, where he was beaten in the face with a rock.

Delgado says the men, who have never been identified, were interested only in the information he was carrying, which included names of members of a Christian LGBT group Delgado belonged to called Divine Hope. The attackers took his cellphone and USB drive, as well as his notes and calendar, where the details of a demonstration Divine Hope was planning to hold the next month were stored. They also took his baseball cap for good measure.

Delgado is certain his attackers were state security agents, though it is impossible to know for sure what exactly prompted the beating. He's gay, he's Christian, and he's a blogger who is outspokenly anti-regime. It's a volatile combination in Cuba, where activists of all stripes who dare to organize independently are regularly targeted by the security services.

Delgado doesn't have much to lose by speaking to reporters. But there are plenty of LGBT Cubans who have settled into relatively comfortable lives by not calling too much attention to themselves.

In Havana, I rent a room in a private home (the Cuban government legalized this in 1997). Two men live here and it is obvious they are a couple, though they never say it. One of them has carved out a successful career working for the state theater, something that doesn't happen by making waves on social issues. The dial-up connection in their duplex apartment is a luxury in Cuba, but looks like an antique to me. What also seems oddly outdated is the way they refer to one another as "friends," something I haven't heard since the 1970s.

They obviously feel awkward about their situation. But living in relative peace like this is a quantum advance from the era when same-sex couples lived in fear of being rounded up and sent to a labor camp.

Even Fidel has come a long way. In a 2010 interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, he placed the blame for Cuba's historical persecution of gays squarely on his own shoulders, calling it "a great injustice."

"If anyone is responsible, it's me," he said. "We had so many and such terrible problems, problems of life or death. In those moments, I was not able to deal with the matter of homosexuals."

Mariela, on the other hand, tends to adopt an oddly casual, even defensive, tone when discussing Cuba's history of homophobia. She seems to view the people sent away by her father and uncle as some sort of accidental by-catch, human turtles mistakenly caught in tuna nets. In May 2012, Mariela was questioned by a Cuban-American audience member about her uncle Fidel's "concentration camps for gay men" during an appearance at the New York Public Library. Mariela quickly corrected her interlocutor, taking exception to the term and insisting they were segregated "training camps."

The exchange between Mariela and her audience brings to mind a Cuban saying: Cada cual habla de la feria según le va en ella. "Everybody experiences reality in a different way." The reality Mariela packages and sells may not be anyone else's but her own. Similarly, the reality of Cuba's LGBT population is unknowable to the rest of the island.

"As a country, we are so isolated and lost that we don't even know what is going on in the neighboring town," says Mabel Cuesta, a lesbian who left Cuba in 2006 and is now a professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston.

Cubans are prevented from fully communicating with one another. Internet access is scarce, expensive, and slow. Mobile phone penetration is the lowest in Latin America, at 11 percent. Vehicle ownership has been described by analysts as "exceptionally low," and the public transportation system is a disaster, hampering intercity travel.

This explains a lot about life on the island, Cuesta says -- including some misperceptions about Gats Loco. "The first bar in Cuba with a rainbow flag was actually El Mejunje, an LGBT center in Santa Clara that opened in the early '90s," she says.

Like Gats Loco, Cuesta says, El Mejunje also began as an independent operation. And, like Gats Loco, they also quickly found themselves being offered "assistance" by the government. "Following the usual practice that the Cuban regime has always had toward anything powerful and out of their control, they made it official very soon."

For Raul, Reforms Are About "Permanent Control"

Monday, July 7, 2014
Over the weekend, Raul Castro's puppet National Assembly convened to analyze Cuba's economic woes.

During the session, it was announced that Cuba was -- once again -- downgrading its GDP forecast to 1.4%, after recording only 0.6% during the first half of the year.

In order to achieve economic growth, the Castro regime needs to raise its GDP by 5-7% per year.

Needless to say, they are nowhere near this.

Despite constant media reports praising Raul's "reforms" and anecdotes about Cuba's new "entrepreneurs" (without rights), the fact remains that all economic indicators show the economy is in the tank.

Thus, a). Raul's "reforms" are cosmetic (and thus -- a failure). b). the institutionalized "self-employment" sector is negligible (in real economic terms). c). all of the above.

Answer: c.

If you have any doubt, note Castro's own words regarding the "reforms":

"This process, to be successful, must be conducted with the appropriate gradualness and be accompanied by the permanent control of different party and government structures at all levels."

It's not about openness. It's about Castro's "permanent control."

Over 100 Ladies in White Arrested

Over 100 members of The Ladies in White were arrested yesterday in Havana, Santiago, Matanzas, Guantanamo and Holguin, as they tried to attend Sunday Mass.

According to their leader, Berta Soler, over 50 were arrested in Havana alone.

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

In two particularly egregious cases, Cira Vega de la Fe, the 75-year old aunt of Hortensia Alfonso Vega, a member of The Ladies in White, was intentionally hit by a police vehicle as she headed to the station in Cardenas to inquire about her niece's imprisonment. She suffered various injuries.

Meanwhile, Yida Hernandez Pena, a member of The Ladies in White in Holguin, was knocked off her bicycle by a state security vehicle, as she made her way to Mass.  She was hospitalized with head injuries.

Additionally, over a dozen activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were arrested, including its co-leader, Felix Navarro.

Also arrested was the President of the Association of Independent Cuban Educators, Roberto Lopez Ramos.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

Anniversary of the Canimar River Massacre

Another criminal act ordered by General Raul Castro, as head of the Cuban Armed Forces (MINFAR).

Courtesy of The Cuba Truth Project:

The Canimar River Massacre

56 assassinated by the Castro government on July 6, 1980 for attempting to flee Cuba

The Canimar is a scenic Cuban river that flows into Matanzas Bay, near Varadero beach. In 1980, a tourist excursion service was inaugurated using the "XX Aniversario," a large boat with two decks of chairs and capacity for 100 passengers. It was to navigate for approximately 5 miles inland along the Canimar river.

On 6 July, 1980, the excursion boat was hijacked by three youngsters who wanted to flee Cuba and take the boat to the United States – Ramón Calveiro Leon (15-years old) and the brothers Silvio Aguila Yanes (18-years old) and Sergio Aguila Yanes (19-years old). Sergio was a Sergeant in the Cuban Armed Forces. Another youngster involved in the plot, Humberto Martínez Echazabal (19-years old), reportedly never made it when the hijacking took place.

Upon taking control of the vessel, the youngsters shouted: "To Miami!" amid screams of approval on the part of the surprised 100 passengers. The security guard resisted and shot at the youngsters, who wounded him with firearms they had brought aboard. Concerned for his health, they placed him on a fisherman’s boat that came along, together with a passenger who wanted to leave, sending them back to shore. Upon arriving, they alerted authorities. Meanwhile, the "XX Aniversario" had turned around and heading out to open seas.

Julián Rizo Alvarez, Secretary of the Communist party in Matanzas Province, commanded a chase. He dispatched two high-speed Cuban Navy patrol boats with orders to prevent the escape, sinking the vessel if necessary. They opened fire on the excursion boat and the youngsters fired back. When the patrol boat withdrew, several dead and wounded passengers were left on the deck of the “XX Aniversario.” A Cuban Air Force plane then opened fire, leaving more dead and wounded on the bloodied deck.

The excursion boat was very close to international waters when a huge boat rammed it the middle, sinking it. The surviving passengers, now in the water, soon had to contend with sharks attracted by all the blood. Silvio Aguila Yanes dove into the water and saved several survivors from drowning. Ten survivors were taken ashore by authorities.

The Cuban government claims that the “XX Aniversario" was accidentally sunk when waves forced the larger vessel to collide with it. It did not allow communal funerals for the victims. Survivors were ordered to keep silent and to never gather in groups with more than two of them present. For several years, government agents monitored their activities while they and victims' relatives were offered gifts of televisions and appliances usually reserved for high government officials.

The Cuban government claims that Sergio Aguila Yanes committed suicide, while others report he was taken from the water by the crew of the Cuban Navy patrol boats and never seen again. Silvio Aguila Yanes serves a 30-year prison sentence at “Combinado del Este” prison in Havana. Witnesses report he has been subjected to psychiatric torture with large doses of psychotropic drugs. Fifteen-year old Roberto Calveiro served time in prison but reportedly was released and lives in exile.

The toll of this disaster was 56 victims: eleven bodies recovered and forty-five went missing at sea. Among the children assassinated, Lilian González López, age 3, Marisol Martínez Aragonés, age 17, Osmanly Rosales Valdés, age 9, and Marisel San Juan Aragonés, age 11.

Haydée Santamaría Hart, veteran of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Army barracks, Director of the “Casa de Las Americas,” and wife of the then Cuban Minister of Education, was a final indirect victim of this tragedy. Immediately after the Canimar River tragedy, she visited the hospitals in the city of Matanzas, where survivors were receiving medical attention. One month later, on July 26, 1980. Haydee, already in despair after the “Mariel” boat exodus, committed suicide.

When Dollars Trump Democracy

Remember this next time the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders call for commercial relations with Castro's monopolies and claim that it will "help the Cuban people."

By Harold Meyerson in The Washington Post:

When dollars trump democracy in China
 
That was quite the demonstration by the citizens of Hong Kong on Tuesday — half a million protesters, by some estimates, braving tropical downpours to tell the Politburo in Beijing that they wanted to choose their own leaders. Though China’s top officials had pledged to allow Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” when the British handed the colony over to China in 1997, a government white paper released three weeks ago stipulated that a committee controlled by supporters of the Chinese Communist Party would determine who could run in 2017 for the post of chief executive.

The predominantly young protesters would have none of it. They called for an open nomination system. They carried banners reading, “Say no to Communist China.”

Just the sort of thing you’d expect Western institutions based in Hong Kong to support, yes? Well, actually, if we’re talking about some major Western corporations, no.

The big four multinational accounting firms — Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers — took out ads in three Hong Kong papers saying that they are “opposed” to the democracy movement and complaining that the demonstrations are a threat to the rule of law. As reported in the Financial Times, the four accounting firms warned that the protests could disrupt the stock exchange, banks and financial service firms, causing “inestimable losses in the economy.” If such displays continued, they cautioned, their clients might pull up stakes and relocate to a city where the business climate isn’t dampened by pro-democracy demonstrators.

For years, American businesses argued that bringing capitalism to China would transform that nation into a democracy. In fact, it seems to have had the opposite effect: U.S. and other Western companies doing business in China have become defenders of authoritarianism. Of course, the lure of China for U.S. business was never the opportunity it posed for missionary work on behalf of democratic values; it was cheap labor, access to a huge market and high profit margins. That was certainly true for Apple and other corporations that offshored production to the factory cities in southern China, just across the border from Hong Kong. It was certainly true for Rupert Murdoch, who reportedly cooperated closely with government censors during a long but ultimately fruitless attempt to make inroads in the Chinese television market. Indeed, as Murdoch was successfully maneuvering to buy the Wall Street Journal, some of that paper’s China correspondents accused him of “sacrificing journalistic integrity to satisfy personal and political aims.”

If pressed, the big four accounting firms would undoubtedly affirm their support for capitalism and democracy. The firms’ global headquarters have disavowed any advance knowledge of the ads — but then again, none has condemned them. The firms’ egregious conduct in Hong Kong makes painfully clear their willingness to dump democracy the moment they think it may threaten their bottom line.

Happily, perhaps the canniest democracy advocate in all Hong Kong — Han Dongfang, founder and editor of the China Labor Bulletin — visited Washington a couple weeks ago. During the occupation of Tiananmen Square in 1989, Han co-founded and became the spokesman for China’s first independent union since the Communists took power. Arrested by the regime, he spent 22 months in a prison populated almost entirely of people suffering from tuberculosis — a disease he contracted, and to which he lost a lung. He was able to come to the United States for medical treatment, but when he tried to return to China, the government expelled him to Hong Kong. There, he established the Bulletin, which, from afar, helps the thousands of Chinese workers who walk off the job for better wages and working conditions conduct their strikes, select their leaders and negotiate with their employers.

“The workplace was the historic foundation of democracy in 19th-century Europe,” Han told me after he’d delivered a talk at the Albert Shanker Institute. “Chinese democracy will begin in the workplace, too.”

The institute — full disclosure: I’m a member of its unpaid board — is a project initiated by the American Federation of Teachers. This union is much reviled by many U.S. business leaders, in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, who don’t think twice about offshoring jobs to China, where independent unions are illegal, even if strikes are irrepressible. U.S. labor has a long history of helping democracy activists like Han and Poland’s Lech Walesa. That’s more than can be said for some major players in corporate America, whose true feelings about democracy are seldom more apparent than when they go abroad to spread the worst kind of values our nation has to offer.

Image of the Week: Cuban Soldiers Marching in Venezuela

Sunday, July 6, 2014
Yesterday, Cuban soldiers marched in the official parade marking Venezuela's Independence Day in Caracas.

This could also be the "Irony of the Week," as Venezuela today is far from independent.

See the image below (or here):

Then and Now: On Car Sales in Cuba

Here's Reuters (on December 19, 2013) praising Raul's new "reform":

"For the first time since the 1959 revolution, Cubans will have the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without government permission, official media announced on Thursday, another step toward greater economic freedom on the communist-led island."

Here's Reuters (this week) on the sobering reality:

"Cuban dealers sold 50 cars and four motorcycles nationwide in the first six months of the year under a new law that removed limits on auto purchases for the first time in half a century but came with prices so high few people could afford them.

Long-frustrated Cubans welcomed the law that took effect in January until they saw sticker prices were marked up 400 percent or more, pricing family sedans like European sports cars."

Tweet of the Day: Cuban Regime Demolishes House Church

A Sunday reminder of Cuba's continued violations of religious freedom.

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Maduro Names New Cuban Economic Adviser

From The PanAm Post:

Che’s Battle Comrade Becomes Maduro’s New Economic Adviser

Cuba's Dominance over Venezuela Out in the Open for All to See

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro announced a new economic adviser for his cabinet, Orlando Borrego. Unlike the rest of his presidential team, Borrego’s appointment has caused quite a stir. His past as Che Guevara’s battle companion during the Cuban revolution, along with high-level posts under the Castro’s regime, has fueled speculation of a eventual radicalization for Maduro’s socialist model.

With an implied annual inflation rate of 140 percent, Maduro has had little choice but to shuffle the staff of his economic bureau. With former Minister of Planning Jorge Giordani out of the picture, the potential for a less-orthodox socialism arose. However, such hopes faded with Maduro’s most recent appointment:

Orlando Borrego … is assigned to a special team alongside the minister for planning, Ricardo Menéndez, Jesús Martínez [minister for labor] and other colleagues who are preparing a set of plans… to execute a complete and deep revolution in the public administration, in the state administration, a revolution inside the revolution,” the president stated on Tuesday during his weekly radio show, In Contact With Maduro.

Borrego, a 77-year-old economist who acquired his education in Havana and Moscow, “was a peer of Ernesto Che Guevara in the battles of the revolution,” Maduro explained.