Must-Read: The Very High (Personal and Financial) Cost of Doing Business in Cuba

Saturday, August 9, 2014
Canada's City Life Magazine has an in-depth, feature on Cy Tokmakjian, one of Castro's biggest foreign business partners, who remains arbitrarily imprisoned in Cuba since September 2011.

As we've stated before, it's difficult to empathize with Tokmakjian, who for decades profited off the repression of the Cuban people.

However, it serves as an important lesson for those foreign investors who advocate doing business with the Castro regime.

From City Life Magazine:

Cy Tokmakjian – Imprisoned in Cuba No Charges. No Justice

On Sept. 10, 2011, Cy Tokmakjian was in Havana, about to hop into his car. He had a quick chat with his son Raffi, who had arrived in Cuba a week earlier with a delegation of young company presidents to encourage them to invest in the island, which appeared to be opening up for foreign businesses. While Raffi was talking up Cuba’s virtues, the Tokmakjians’ import/export company, the Tokmakjian Group, was being audited by the country’s Communist regime. “My father said: ‘They’re doing an audit, it shouldn’t be a problem. It should be over in a couple of days. I’m driving myself to the investigators to try and get this done.’”

That was the last time Cy spoke to his son as a free man. “This is a tricky situation,” says Raffi. Cy, 74, the Tokmakjian Group’s founder and owner, has been a prisoner in Cuba since that day, imprisoned without charges and then accused of bribery and “economic crimes” that the family and many others insist are false and which appear to be part of a political struggle.

Headquartered in Vaughan, Ont., the Tokmakjian Group is a transportation and import company that has done business in Cuba for two decades. It was the largest private business in Cuba. As the exclusive distributor for Hyundai product, it had approximately $80 million in total annual revenues. “Obviously, it’s a struggle for us,” Raffi says. “Our father, the grandfather of our kids, has been gone for three years. We’ve had illnesses in the family that we’ve kept hidden from him, so as not to upset him. We’ve gone through everything that comes with having a family member locked up.”

Cy was on good terms with Fidel Castro, who was Cuba’s president from 1959 to 2008. Things went sour for the Tokmakjian Group — and other Canadian and international businesses — when Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, became president. The Raúlistas profess to be open to foreign investment and new business. They have been easing relations with long-time enemy the United States and passing a package of tax cuts, tax breaks and investment security guarantees in the Cuban National Assembly this year. Symbolically, at Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013, Raúl Castro shook hands with American President Barack Obama, though their two countries have not had diplomatic relations since January 1961.

Yet Cy was held for nearly two and a half years before even being charged, and his top managers, fellow Canadians Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche, were also arrested. “I’ll just tell you that he has been thrown in prison for a large part of his stay there,” says Raffi, his 37-year-old son and now president of the Tokmakjian Group. “That’s what happens to convicted criminals [not people who face charges and await trial]. He was in a cell with 48 other people.”

Cy has spent much of his time languishing in La Condesa, a prison for foreigners in the middle of a sugar cane plantation. “It’s better than an ordinary prison, but it’s still jail and it’s dangerous,” says Lee Hacker, spokesperson for the family and vice-president of finance of Tokmakjian Ltd. La Condesa may be better than a domestic jail in Cuba, but that’s not saying much, explains Raffi. “There are four small complexes there,” he says, estimating the inside of each 48-prisoner building to be about 20 feet by 80 feet.

Going by his memory of a drawing shown to him by a former prisoner, Raffi says, “There are two rows of 12 bunk beds, separated by a walkway. There’s a substandard-level kitchen facility, and they share doorless toilets.”The prisoners have a common dirt field for exercise. “Apparently the mosquitoes, flies and other insects are horrendous, and in the summer months the heat is overwhelming — they don’t put in any air conditioning,” Raffi says.

The prisoners in La Condesa are all foreigners, but that’s small comfort, he adds. “There are other Canadians, South Americans, Europeans.” Some are business people accused of “economic crimes” like his father, but others range from “drug smugglers, contract killers to pedophiles.” It’s not pleasant. “He’s in a military hospital right now,” Hacker adds. “He had some health issues; he was bitten by a scorpion at one point. But he sounds OK when I speak with him on the phone.”If Cy is indeed “OK,” it speaks to his resilience and determination to weather an ordeal that has already cost him years of freedom and could cost more, including the fortune he and his company built doing business with Cuba since 1996.

His family and friends hope that, even if he is convicted this summer, he will be expelled, free to go to Canada. Then the Tokmakjian Group can pursue recovery of the millions seized by the Cubans in court. While waiting for an outcome from the Cuban justice system, the Tokmakjian Group has launched its own proceedings in the Ontario Superior Court and in the Barbados, where it also does business, as well as at the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, seeking more than $250 million from the Cubans in restitution and damages.

“Cy is a very personable man and he gets along with people very well. He had no reason to see why he would be targeted,” Hacker says. “We’ve been very upfront. We tell them [the Cubans]: we’re taking you to international court and you’re going to lose. But it’s like talking to a ghost.” After waiting since 2011 to find out what they might face from the Cuban justice system, Cy and his co-managers were put on trial from June 9 to 21. A verdict is expected any day.

The Cubans have already seized more than $91 million in personal and company assets. If convicted, Cy could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, and his managers for up to eight to 12 years. As well, 10 Cuban officials of the company face imprisonment. Cuba’s Communist Party daily, Granma, said that Cy and the others accused “were afforded all rights associated with their defence, and their lawyers presented evidence and arguments which they considered necessary.”

Nonsense, says Hacker. “We use the word ‘infirmities.’ The process is really embarrassing,” he says. “You have Cuban lawyers that represent you. They’re generally pretty good, but you know they can’t do everything they might want to do.” The Cuban defence lawyers were restricted in the evidence they could call that might exonerate Cy and the other defendants, Hacker says. “The charges were trumped up and the trial was a farce,” says Peter Kent, Member of Parliament for Thornhill, the Tokmakjians’ home, and a former minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas).

“It’s a warning that any investor today is at risk of running into the same, unacceptable fate as Cy Tokmakjian,” says the Conservative MP, who has followed the case closely, visited Tokmakjian in Cuba and offered his support. The Canadian government, which maintains diplomatic relations with Cuba, has also been supportive, and both the current and former Canadian ambassadors to Cuba attended the 12-day trial.

Nevertheless, Raffi (who was advised by the Canadian government not to attend because of security concerns), says the outcome seems preordained: “What I can say is that we expect them to find him guilty. Not because he’s guilty but because that’s the way they do things down there.”It’s hard for outsiders to understand why the Cubans, who are desperate for investment and economic growth, would send a shivering signal to investors around the world by arresting and trying someone like Cy Tokmakjian. He is by no means the first foreign businessman to suffer such a fate in Cuba. In February, another Canadian businessman, Sarkis Yacoubian, was suddenly expelled from Cuba where he had first been held without charges like Cy and then sentenced to nine years at La Condesa. Yacoubian, who operated a $30-million transport company called Tri-Star Caribbean, was arrested in July 2011, two months before Cy, yet was only charged in April 2013, accused of bribery, tax evasion and “activities damaging to the economy.”

Yacoubian was convicted and sentenced even though he agreed to cooperate with Cuban authorities. French national Jean-Louis Autret and British businessman Stephen Purvis were also jailed, and later freed, with their assets being seized by the Cuban interior ministry.

“Their stories, like Cy’s, have created a climate of uncertainty and concern among foreign companies that remain invested in Cuba,” says Kent. Last year, Purvis, who was freed after 15 months in jail, wrote to the British magazine The Economist saying that he met other foreigners in Cuba who faced charges of “sabotage, damage to the economy, tax avoidance and illegal economic activity.”

The widespread crackdown seems to have cast a chill on other businesses. While 50 per cent of Cuba’s tourists are still Canadians desperate to escape the harsh winter, other Canadian companies who once worked happily in Cuba are escaping the island.

“We are no longer doing business with Cuba and don’t have any comments,” says Domenic Primucci, president of the popular Pizza Nova chain, once prominent in Cuba. Pizza Nova had expanded to six restaurants since 1994, but pulled out abruptly in 2011. (The company’s departure coincided with the regime’s moves against foreign businesses, though Primucci has said the decision was unrelated to the Tokmakjian case.)

Raffi says none of the accusations levelled against his father should apply. “Everything we did was according to the jurisdictions we dealt with. Everything was kosher.” What seems to be happening is that certain foreign businesses are being targeted by Raúl Castro’s regime to send a message to other would-be investors, says John Kirk, professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“My interpretation is that he [Raúl Castro] wants to set down a marker that business has got to be done with great transparency,” he says. “Strategically it seems to me to be the wrong way to encourage foreign investment,” Kirk adds. But the one-party regime may have its own internal reasons for picking on foreigners.

The regime believes that a number of its own senior officials have been taking kickbacks from foreign companies, and the government wants to send a message that there is only one way to do business in Cuba — the government’s way.

This would explain why only some businesses and executives seem to face jail — and, maybe later on, charges — under the Cuban justice system. Brazil, for example, has invested with impunity, putting some $10 billion into new harbour facilities at Mariel, just west of Havana, Kirk says. Hacker suggests that another reason for the harsh treatment of Cy and other executives might be a power struggle within the regime. “All the Fidelistas are out and all the Raúlistas are in,” he says.

But Kirk says this is likely overblown; the regime is fairly consistent, even if its principles are hard for outsiders to understand or condone. “Cuba at the moment is in the midst of massive social change,” Kirk adds. The Cuban government now allows people to sell those exotic vintage American cars from the 1950s that were lovingly held together by ingenious mechanics since the United States embargo banned imported American vehicles more than 50 years ago. “They’re opening economically to a mixed economy, but they also want you to play by their rules of the game,” Kirk says. Indeed, in a 25-minute televised speech in July, Raúl Castro signalled that the regime will continue to be cautious — and maybe continue to be harsh — when it comes to economic reforms.

Reforms are advancing “but have great complexity,” Castro said. “The 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. “Gradualness is not a whim, much less a desire to delay the changes that we must make,” he added. “On the contrary, it is about a need to ensure order and avoid gaps that would lead us directly to mistakes that distort the proposed objectives.”

Reading between the lines, it might seem that the regime is not about to remove its firm grip on the way business is done in Cuba. Hacker concedes that Cy has been outspoken and candid with his Cuban colleagues, but both he and Raffi say that’s partly because he has always considered himself among friends.

“One of the things [Cy] kept on saying in court is ‘I’ve done more to help people than your own government has.’ That’s something they hate to hear,” Raffi says.

If he sees his father again, Raffi says, “I guess I would just hug him, say good for you, that I’m proud that he stuck by his morals and that he didn’t give up.” Raffi can’t see how businesses can continue to operate in Cuba when people can be thrown in jail without charges as his father was. Yet Hacker says that Cy might think differently.

“Cy’s been there for 22 years, he loves the country, he loves the people. For them to do this to them, it’s really hurting him in his heart.”

As of printing this article, Cy Tokmakjian is still being held in Cuba, waiting for the final verdict of his case.

The Economist's "Not-So-Big" Changes in Cuba

This week, The Economist has an interesting article on how the Castro regime is looking for Russia (and maybe China) to bail it out (again).

Here's the key quote:

"Despite reforms that have brought some big changes to Cuba in the form of private restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts and new co-operatives, the economy has virtually ground to a halt."

That's quite a contradiction.

We know The Economist only cares about economic issues, for politically there have been absolutely no changes in Cuba. To the contrary, political repression has intensified under Raul Castro.

Moreover, that it has been Raul's cheerleader.

But how can you state that Raul's "reforms" have brought "big changes" -- while simultaneously recognizing that the economy has "ground to a halt"?

The data clearly indicates those changes were "not-so-big" after all.

Quote of the Week: From a Cuban "Cuentapropista"

As long as this regime exists, business people like me will always be treated like suspects and possible criminals. To be a real small businessman you have to live in a climate of democracy.
-- Humberto, a 74-year old Cuban "cuentapropista" interviewed by independent journalist Ivan Garcia, Diario de Cuba, 7/31/14

Senator Rubio on the Cuban Adjustment Act

I’ve never criticized anyone who wants to go back to Cuba to visit a loved one, their mother is dying, their children are there. What I do think is that if you come to this country and say you are in exile, fleeing oppression and a year and day after you lived here you travel back to Cuba 20-30-40 times a year, it really undermines that argument. And other groups look at that and say, 'They’re no different than we are, why are we treated differently?’ That sort of travel puts at risk the status Cubans have, so I’ve always been open to re-examining that given changes in migratory patterns.
-- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), in an interview with Florida reporters, Tampa Bay Times, 8/8/14

Solidarity Short Videos 2014: Vote for "Vibration" #Cuba

Friday, August 8, 2014
Check out the video below (or here) by Cuban democracy activist, Lia Villares, featured in the 2014 Solidarity Shorts International Film Contest.

To vote, click here and "like" on Facebook.  The video with the most "likes" wins.

Why is AP Using Secret, Encrypted Communications in Cuba, Venezuela?

The AP's charade on USAID's Cuba programs becomes more revealing by the minute.

This afternoon, the AP's Senior Managing Editor posted an "inside look" at how its reporting team "broke an important story about the U.S. government’s secret activities in Cuba."

It even awarded the eight reporters involved with a $500 prize for "best story" of the week.

With all the current crises in the world -- Russia-Ukraine, Israel-Gaza, ISIS-Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. -- things must be pretty bad in the AP's newsroom when a story about a 2009-2010 USAID program gets top billing.

But more importantly, this "inside look" provides us with some revealing insight, irony, irresponsibility and suspended disbelief.

First, the insight:

"Several weeks after that explosive [Cuban Twitter] piece hit the wire, reporter Desmond Butler‘s source gave him a new batch of documents."

As we've previously noted, the source is former CIA analyst and Senate staffer, Fulton Armstrong, which in itself explains the distortions, bias and hyperbole of the end-product.

(Click here to learn more about Fulton Armstrong.)

Then comes the irony:

"[The AP's Venezuela reporter] Hannah Dreier, like everyone else who joined the project, had to learn to use [a secure phone]. She also set up an account to receive encrypted email because communications in Venezuela, like Cuba, are not considered secure."

Why is the AP using secret, encrypted communications in Cuba and Venezuela?

Are they part of some nefarious, covert operation?

In case you missed the irony -- the AP's entire story is based on the assumption that the USAID program in question was some secret, covert operation, due to the prudent security measures taken by the Latin American NGOs involved.

It's also ironic because in the first chapter of the AP's series of attacks on the Cuba programs, it portrayed development worker Alan Gross as some "super-spy" due to the encryption technology he used to help the Cuban people overcome Castro's Internet censors.

Next, the irresponsibility:

"Dreier found four of the Venezuelan travelers, and got the money quote from a woman who acknowledged they were trying to 'stir rebellion.'"

Yet, as the Venezuelan human rights NGO, Renova, has denounced:

"[T]he AP published false testimonies from our members, completely changing the information that was given to them and textually placing words that were never said."

Finally, the suspended disbelief:

"In Cuba, [AP reporters Andrea] Rodriguez and [Peter] Orsi doggedly hunted down the Cuban participants, and Rodriguez persuaded them to speak to AP on camera, no small feat given the backlash they could have faced."

Talk about la-la land.

First, Rodriguez and Orsi asked Castro's International Press Center for permission to travel to Santa Clara.

They probably told their regime interlocutors who they were looking for -- and those "participants" were handed to them on a platter.

One thing is for sure: getting the "participants" on camera was no "feat" all. To the contrary, if they didn't go on camera to denounce the programs, they would have faced serious repercussions.

They may have now even been rewarded with an old Lada or something.

Cuban Authorities Urged to Explain Detained Blogger's Disappearance

From the Paris-based NGO, Reporters Without Borders:

Cuban Authorities Urged to Explain Detained Blogger's Disappearance

When detained Cuban writer and blogger Angel Santiesteban-Prats disappeared from San Miguel del Padrón prison on 21 July, the authorities said he had escaped but his daughter managed to talk briefly with him in a police station ten days later. His present whereabouts are unknown.

After reporting his disappearance from the prison where he had been held since April 2013, his family is now worried that the authorities will charge him with escaping. As they do not known his version of events, they fear that a trumped-up escape charge will be used to give him an additional jail sentence.

His daughter is the only relative who has seen him since his disappearance. As a police officer accompanied her during their ten-minute meeting, Ángel Santiesteban-Prats was unable to talk freely. Since then, no information about his situation has been provided while rumours continue to circulate.

We urge the authorities to provide a clear explanation of Santiesteban-Prats’ current situation,” said Camille Soulier, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk.

Each day without news increases the risks for this blogger. We demand his immediate release and the withdrawal of all charges against him. The repressive methods being used by the regime recall the worst days of the ‘Black Spring’ of 2003.”

An outspoken critic of regime in his blog, called “Los hijos que nadie quiso” (The children no one wanted), Santiesteban-Prats was given a five-year jail sentence after being convicted on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” in a summary trial in December 2012.

He began serving the sentence in April 2013 in San Miguel del Padrón prison on the outskirts of Havana, where he was subjected to mistreatment and acts of torture.

His disappearance followed an interview that his son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, gave to Miami-based Televisión Martí on 15 July in which he said he was forced to testify against his father and that the prosecution’s claim that his father physically attacked his former wife was a complete fabrication.

Santiesteban-Prats is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “information heroes .” Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index – the lowest position of any country in the Americas.

POLITICO: How Senator Landrieu Held Venezuela Sanctions at Behest of Citgo

As we had posted last week, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) held a Venezuela sanctions bill -- at the very last minute -- at the behest of Venezuela's Citgo.

An article in today's POLITICO reveals the details

It's a great article, though it fails to stress an important point: Citgo is owned by the Venezuelan government. It's a tool of Nicolas Maduro.

In other words, Senator Landrieu held up the sanctions bill at the behest of the Venezuelan government.

Furthermore, as the story explains, the sanctions bill does not affect the oil industry -- it simply sanctions Venezuelan government officials involved human rights violations.

Thus, all Senator Landrieu has done is protect Venezuelan government officials involved in human rights violations.

From POLITICO:

Emails: Mary Landrieu, Citgo fend off Venezuela sanctions

Oil company Citgo teamed up with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu to block a package of Venezuelan sanctions that senators were considering last week, emails obtained by POLITICO reveal.

Citgo — the wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Venezuela’s national oil company — raised concerns that the package targeted at human rights abusers would hurt the company’s ability to import crude oil to its Gulf Coast refinery in Port Charles, La., eliminating jobs, according to the documents.

Landrieu’s office confirmed her involvement in heading off the sanctions package. The Louisiana Democrat faces a tough reelection fight and is under pressure to show she can wield her energy chairmanship to help her state.

According the emails, Citgo’s concerns set off a last-minute scramble on Capitol Hill to determine what Landrieu’s objections to the bill were and whether they could be resolved before Congress left town. Her concerns ultimately resulted in Landrieu placing a hold on the bill late last week, right before the Senate adjourned for August recess.

“We were working back and forth with Citgo,” acknowledged a spokesman for Landrieu when shown the email thread. The senator “asked for there to be to a second layer of protection” for the company’s interests in the sanctions package, and the committee said no, said Matthew Lehner, Landrieu’s communications director.

Citgo did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday, including an emailed question on whether it was acting on behalf of the Venezuelan government or its own corporate interests.

The Senate had been trying to get a bipartisan sanctions package approved by unanimous consent before the members left. The Senate calendar was crowded with lots of last-minute bills, along with friction over issues like immigration and the border — and staffers assumed the Venezuela bill would coast to an easy passage.

The package — introduced earlier this year by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) — would have imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials involved in a violent crackdown against peaceful pro-democracy protesters. The legislation also includes a travel ban and an asset freeze.

Foreign Relations Committee staffers were moving forward with plans to hold a full Senate vote when aides got wind of Landrieu’s intent to place a hold on the bill. A Senate Foreign Relations staffer reached out to a top Landrieu aide to find out the details of the objection.

“I was asked to get a message to Senator Landrieu on this and need to ask her whether she wants to hold the bill,” wrote Landrieu staffer and Energy Committee staff director Elizabeth Craddock in an email to Democratic colleagues last Thursday night.

Craddock asked her Democratic colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee to circle back with committee staff on the next morning, and then wrote back: “We have a refinery in Louisiana that takes Venezuelan crude. The fear is that this bill will prohibit future shipments of that crude, thereby essentially shutting in the refinery and as a result, there will be a large loss of jobs at the refinery. If this is indeed the case, or can potentially happen, my boss is unwilling to support this bill.”

Foreign Relations staffers tried to assure Landrieu’s office that the bill would have no bearing on Citgo’s operations in the United States.

“No need for Senator Landrieu to be concerned about any implications for refineries in Louisiana,” wrote one staffer. “The scope of [the bill] is very narrow. It focuses on individuals that have committed human rights abuses against protesters in the past 6 months, has unlawfully jailed protesters, or supported either of those first two provisions.”

Craddock shared the response with the company, and then shared the company’s response and what appear to be its talking points with the Foreign Relations Committee.

In particular, Citgo worried that “the interpretation of the legislation by the executive branch/ and Congress could change over time,” according to the talking points. Citgo raised worries that it could be considered a “person” under U.S. law and that its association with state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela might implicate it in human rights abuses in the country.

Citgo has no Washington, D.C., office or in-house lobbyists. It hired two powerhouse D.C. lobbying shops in May — the same month that the House passed its own version of the sanctions bill.

Citgo hired the firms Squire Patton Boggs and Cornerstone Government Affairs — paying the two firms a whopping $450,000 in combined lobbying fees in the second quarter of 2014. It also has long had the firm Grayling representing it in Washington, and paid it $100,000 in the same quarter.

Squire Patton Boggs, in particular, has had a long relationship with Landrieu. Former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux — who co-chairs the firm’s lobbying practice — served in the Senate with her. The Squire Patton Boggs PAC and the firm’s employees have together given more than $75,000 in donations to the Louisiana Democrat over the years, making the firm her seventh largest benefactor, according to numbers compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

A spokesman for Landrieu said neither Breaux nor any other Squire Patton lobbyists distributed the talking points or intervened in the case, but did not respond to questions about which firms or Citgo executives it was working with on the sanctions issue.

The Venezuelan government has not had lobbying representation in the United States. Lobbying and advocacy by foreign governments is much more tightly controlled than lobbying by corporations. Corporate lobbying is disclosed to the Senate and House, and enforcement of registration requirements and disclosures is generally light.

Citgo has at times been the subject of controversy and boycott threats in the U.S. because of its relationship with Venezuela, especially during the years of friction between the United States and former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Don't Believe Everything You Read About USAID's Cuba Democracy Program

By Jose Cardenas in Foreign Policy:

Don't Believe Everything You Read About the United States' Cuba Democracy Program

For the second time in four months, the Associated Press has published a gross distortion of USAID's Cuba Democracy Program that has made it the subject of unjust derision from the legions of U.S.-Cuba policy critics. The news agency evidently believes it has stumbled upon a vast, sinister U.S. conspiracy to overthrow the Castro regime, calling to mind those halcyon days of exploding cigars and poisoned wetsuits. It is nothing of the sort.

Previously, AP reported that USAID sought to foment an uprising in Cuba by introducing a rudimentary Twitter service for Cubans to utilize free of regime snooping. Now, we are told that USAID sent hapless youths from Latin America to Cuba to recruit agents to lead that national uprising.

Such assertions are ridiculous on their face. Moreover, it is distressing to see how easily people can apparently accept the notion that their government would involve itself in such lunacy.

The good news is, we don't. As I have written previously, I was intimately involved in implementing USAID's Cuba Program in the latter years of the George W. Bush administration. I wrote about the Twitter program back in April, and I participated in discussions during the Bush administration about ways to encourage purposeful foreign travel to Cuba by fellow Spanish-speakers to break down the Cuban people's isolation.

These were not spotty spring-breakers or members of loopy tourist groups that are licensed to travel to Cuba today on "cultural exchanges." They were seasoned members of Latin American NGOs with a commitment to democracy, civil rights, and human development. Their task was to develop relationships with ordinary Cubans outside of regime control for the express purpose of restoring to them some sense of individual self-worth and dignity that has been systematically trampled upon by the Castro regime for three generations. The idea that the U.S. government was running a "clandestine operation" to lead an uprising is simply risible.

Our real target was breaking down the barriers that the Castro regime imposes on Cuban citizens to keep them isolated from one another and civil society atomized. Helping individual Cubans to see themselves as human beings with natural rights -- indeed, in control of their own destiny -- and connecting them to the outside world was part of the strategy. I would venture to say that people on the streets of Peoria would hardly find such a policy as scandalous as AP apparently does.

Beyond the gross mischaracterization of the program, however, there appear to be other serious problems with AP's reporting, not least of which is that some of the groups interviewed by its reporters have subsequently complained about the reporters' ethical violations, including quotes out of context, identifying interviewees despite their request for anonymity, and bullying them into giving answers that fit a predetermined narrative. USAID also criticized the report as "sensationalist" in a strongly worded defense of the program.

As for the critics who have had a field day with the latest AP report, it's all so much faux high-mindedness and rectitude. The bottom line is that what matters to them is less what is being done under the program than the fact that the program exists at all. It represents an irritant and obstacle in the long-sought dream of U.S. reconciliation with the Castro regime. Frankly, one of the biggest ironies is their charge that we are "interfering" in the internal affairs of a country whose government has been interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbors for five decades.

Be that as it may, the Cuba program isn't going anywhere, because it is doing good work on behalf of the people of a captive nation. And because serious foreign policy practitioners understand that such programs are vital tools in the foreign policy toolkit in the 21st century. Indeed, some of the techniques developed under the Cuba program have been implemented elsewhere in similar situations. That means that, in the end, all the critics have is their self-satisfying ridicule for a program that exists only in their imagination.

AP Gets Defensive on Cuba Programs, Contradicts Itself

Thursday, August 7, 2014
Yesterday, the Costan Rican human rights NGO, Fundación Operación GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), released a statement accusing the AP of misrepresenting its work in Cuba, extorting its members and having a pre-conceived narrative.

(Click here for FundaOGI's statement, in Spanish.)

This morning, a Venezuelan human rights NGO, Renova, lodged similar accusations against the AP.

"The deliberate distortions in an article published by the AP have generated dangerous opinions for members of our organization who are in Venezuela, and for the young people we collaborated with in Cuba," Renova said in a statement today's El Nuevo Herald.

(Click here for Renova's statement.)

Apparently, there are also others ready to come forward to denounce the AP's misrepresentations and coercive practices in its series of attacks against USAID's programs in Cuba and other Latin American nations.

In response to yesterday's statement from FundaOGI, we received a note from Paul Colford, the AP's Director of Media Relations, defending the media organization's story by stressing:

"Mr. [Fernando] Murillo [President of FundaOGI] is listed on an internal security protocol whose focus was to keep his activities on the island secret, including code language for how to communicate with contractors if he or his workers landed in trouble."

It seems the AP can't make up its mind.

On the one hand, it criticizes the programs for not taking sufficient security measures. Then, strangely seeks to justify its story based on the fact that they actually did take security measures.

The AP knows very well that Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship.  Moreover, that anyone who slightly criticizes it or who runs (or supports) any civil society initiative (independent of the regime) risks serious consequences.

The AP knows this so well that it asks the Cuban regime permission to report on issues and vets its stories through Castro's censors ("International Press Center"). Why Because its journalists could be arbitrarily detained or booted out, as has happened repeatedly to foreign journalists in Cuba.

The AP's journalists in Cuba even have to ask the Castro's International Press Center for permission to buy a new refrigerator or air conditioner (both helpful in the tropics).

(Click here to learn more on how the Castro regime exerts pressure on foreign journalists.)

In other words, the AP knows Cuba's reality, but chooses to gloss over it. Perhaps due to a guilty conscience, it wants everyone else to do the same.

So rather than distracting, the AP's leadership team should launch an investigation into the practices of some of its reporters, who are now facing multiple accusations of unethical practices.

Moreover, the AP should also launch an internal investigation into its reporting practices in Cuba, North Korea and other closed societies, where its reporting standards have obviously been compromised.

(Click here to read about AP's similar, questionable, practices in North Korea.)

The AP is a serious news organization -- it should act that way.

Venezuelan NGO Denounces AP's Story (Tactics) on Cuba Programs

In response to this week's AP story on USAID's Cuba democracy programs, the Venezuelan human rights NGO, Renova, released a public statement with the following troubling accusations:

1. We did not [travel to Cuba] as spies, nor undercover, nor to create groups to destabilize.

2. We denounce that the AP published false testimonies from our members, completely changing the information that was given to them and textually placing words that were never said.

3. We denounce that the principle of anonymity was violated, which had been demanded.

4. We denounce harassment, threats and injuries suffered by one of our members for not wanting to be interviewed.

Must-See Video: Cuban Democracy Leader Violently Attacked

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
On Monday, 24 Cuban democracy activists were violently beaten and arrested in the city of Santa Clara.

Among those assailed was 2010 Sakharov Prize recipient, Guillermo Fariñas.

The video below (or click here) shows the moment when Fariñas was first struck.

He was thereafter threatened with death by a secret police official.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

What the AP Got Wrong About Efforts to Promote Freedom in Cuba

By Ana Quintana in The Daily Signal:

What This Media Outlet Got Wrong About Efforts to Promote Freedom in Cuba

Earlier this week, the Associated Press ran an investigative piece on the U.S. Agency for International Development and its democracy promotion efforts in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Concerns about USAID’s overall efficiency are warranted.

The AP’s piece noted the “extensive lengths” used to avoid monitoring by Cuban authorities, but it failed to mention the objective of these programs. From the USAID:

The United States has a long history of confronting human rights abuses, connecting the oppressed to the outside world, and helping people have a say in how they are governed. Within repressive environments such as Cuba, civil society and development practitioners alike are often subject to abuse, harassment, threats, verbal defamation, and unjustifiable prosecution and imprisonment.”

U.S. efforts to promote freedom in Cuba and elsewhere are not new and are in our national interest. The program the AP chose to examine serves a dual purpose–it both provided support to HIV stricken communities and promoted human rights.

What the AP did not manage to figure out is that Cuba remains a dangerous place for human rights and freedom.

In 2014 alone, the Castro regime has arrested more than 1,000 peaceful activists. Religious freedom is not protected either. A group of women known as the Ladies in White, relatives of oppressed activists, have been beaten and harassed on their way to church.

Cuba activists always have viewed AP’s reporting with suspicion, and that only heightened in April when AP slammed USAID for providing Cubans with an uncensored media platform.

It continues to consider Alan Gross, who has served five years of a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison for helping the disenfranchised Jewish community on the island, a spy.

Its leftward bias extends beyond Cuba. In late July, AP tweeted, “As much of world watches Gaza war in horror, members of Congress fall over each other to support Israel.”

I again urge the AP to take a look at the “freedoms” granted to Cuban journalists for their next investigative piece. I can recommend a few newsworthy items:

  • The suspicious murder of peaceful democracy advocates, Oswaldo Payá , Harold Cepero and Laura Pollán by Cuban security forces
  • The continued harassment and repression of peaceful human rights activists
  • The more than 100 political prisoners on the island serving long-term detentions
  • The hypocrisy behind the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus and its support of the Castro dictatorship
Criticizing U.S. efforts to promote to human rights is a matter of opinion. But telling half the story is just bad journalism.

Human Rights Group Says AP Misrepresented Work in Cuba, Extorted Interviews

Read the entire statement (in Spanish) by the Costan Rican human rights NGO, Fundación Operación GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), here.

From The Tico Times:

Human rights group says AP misrepresented work in Cuba for USAID

A Costa Rican human rights organization founder accused The Associated Press of “misrepresenting” his group’s humanitarian work in Cuba for the United States Agency for International Development and claimed that an AP reporter “extorted” interviews from his staff and broke his agreement with a source, in a statement Monday.

Fernando Murillo, founder of the Fundación Operación GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), accused AP reporter Alberto Arce and his editor, Trish Wilson, of twisting his organization’s humanitarian work in Cuba to fit a predetermined narrative about USAID’s “clandestine” plot to use young volunteers – including some from Costa Rica – to recruit pro-democracy activists and to destabilize the Castro regime. At the heart of the exposé, “US sent Latin youth undercover in anti-Cuba ploy,” was the alleged use of an FundaOGI HIV-prevention workshop to identify prospective provocateurs.

Murillo said that Wilson told him in a telephone call that their interest in the article was to “hurt the United States.”

“[The AP] manipulated information in order to make it look like FundaOGI had instructions to set up cultural and artistic activities in an undercover way for destabilizing ends, which is totally false,” Murillo wrote in a statement published on the foundation’s website Monday.

The AP’s report Monday was the second in a series about Washington, D.C.-based Creative Associates International’s work in Cuba, including the ZunZuneo micro-blog, funded by USAID and reportedly operated out of Costa Rica.

The FundaOFI founder said he sent an email on Aug. 3 to Wilson stating that their activities in Cuba took place in a government school and were observed by other culture groups, including the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC) and local authorities.

He said that the quote attributed to a FundaOGI report calling the HIV-prevention workshops a “perfect excuse” to recruit political activists was taken out of context.

Murillo countered that the decision to dovetail discussion of human rights with a focus on youth issues and HIV-AIDS was made because human rights remain a “sensitive” topic on the island, despite the regime’s professed support for universal rights. Murillo said that human rights discussed as part of the workshop – including freedom of expression, equality and assembly, among others – were based on the Ibero-American Youth Rights Convention to which the Cuban government is a signatory.

“To suggest that these acts are destabilizing is nothing more than a subjective interpretation of the AP and is not substantiated by the facts or the documents,” Murillo said.

Murillo denied that FundaOGI volunteers carried money to pro-democracy Cuban groups and said that the group’s work was not undercover.

Murillo also accused the AP of publishing his photo without his permission, despite assurances that nothing would run without his say-so. The Heredia-based human rights group leader acknowledged that he confirmed facts with both Arce and Wilson but alleged that the AP disregarded other information he provided and ran a version of the story that best suited their preconceived narrative.

Where's the AP Story (and Senator Leahy's Statement) on Imprisoned Cuban HIV Activist?

This week, the AP released the third chapter in its series of sensationalist attacks against USAID's Cuba democracy programs.

In the latest edition, it was particularly "outraged" by a program that sought to support young, independent civil society activists, through an HIV/AIDS workshop in the city of Santa Clara.

And, like clockwork, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proceeded to feign similar "outrage."

Yet, there's still no AP story on David Bustamante Rodriguez, a 21-year old gay rights activist, who was arrested on May 26th for peacefully protesting on the rooftop of his home -- also in the city of Santa Clara.

During the protest, he chanted "food and freedom" and held signs demanding the respect for human rights.

(Here's a video of his protest.)

David, who is HIV positive, was arrested and taken to an AIDS prison, where he was brutally beaten.

He was left with a broken arm, ribs and hip.

David remains in the Santa Clara Provincial AIDS prison -- without charges or trial.

His mother, Sandra Rodriguez, is a member of The Ladies in White, a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

(See The Washington Blade's story on David here.)

Thus, the AP sent its "connected" Cuban reporter to Santa Clara to "investigate" the USAID program -- but couldn't spare a minute for imprisoned HIV activist, David Bustamante Rodriguez, while there.

Nor has there been any statement by Senator Leahy.

Apparently, their outrage is only geared towards the United States.

Over 650 Political Arrests in July, First Seven Months Surpass 2013 Year-Long Tally

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 652 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of July 2014.

This bring the total number of political arrests in the first seven months of the year to 6,556.

As such, it has already surpassed 2013's year-long tally of 6,424.

The Castro regime is clearly en route to have the most repressive year in decades.

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

More "reform" you can't believe in.

NY Post: Castro Should Pay High Price for Gross' Imprisonment

From The New York Post's Editorial Board:

America’s Gross neglect

Remember Alan Gross, the 65-year-old American rotting away in a Cuban prison for the “crime” of helping the island’s Jewish community gain Internet ­access?

The married father of two recently said good-bye to his wife and daughter Nina, while his lawyer said Gross “has withdrawn” and told him “life in prison is not a life worth living.”

Since his 2009 arrest while working for the US Agency for International Development, his health has declined dramatically.

This week, 300 American rabbis signed a letter to President Obama insisting that Gross’ “immediate release from prison in Cuba and return to the U.S. must be a priority for our nation.”

At almost the same time, the Associated Press reported that another USAID program — this one involving an HIV prevention workshop — was part of a larger effort to use civic and health programs to promote freedom and democracy.

So far, the Obama administration has defended the program against criticism.

According to a State Department spokeswoman, it “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.”

On this point, we’re with President Obama. America should never apologize for using its resources in a peaceful way to promote freedom in hostile soil — and to help people claim their God-given right to liberty.

It may be true the operation could have been handled much better.

But sending Alan Gross to Cuba to help its Jewish community connect with the ­outside world was not the great mistake. The mistake is not exacting a high price from Havana for keeping him there.

Quote of the Day: Leading Dissident on Cuba Democracy Programs

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
[The U.S.] is right to help opposition and civil society activists because the Cuban government controls every aspect of their lives, denies them the right to speak freely and even fires them from their jobs. [UNPACU's activism] would be impossible without the help of friendly democratic nations and Cubans abroad.
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), the island's largest opposition group with over 5,000 members, The Miami Herald, 8/4/14

Bipartisan Congressional Letter to Obama: Reaffirm Commitment to U.S. Policy Towards Cuba

A bipartisan group of 17 Members of Congress has sent a letter to President Obama asking him to reaffirm his support of U.S. policy towards Cuba, as codified into law.

The letter, led by U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the House's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, is composed mostly of Democrats.

It raises concerns about the Castro regime's increase in repression, its illegal smuggling of weapons to North Korea, continued imprisonment of development worker Alan Gross and ties to other state-sponsors of terrorism.

The letter concludes: "We hope that you will affirm to us, in no uncertain terms, that you remain committed to longstanding U.S. policy which supports the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom while denying the pretense of legitimacy, and access to dollars, to their oppressors."

Signatories include all of the Cuban-American House Members, U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Joe Garcia (D-FL); the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL); the Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ); and senior Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats, U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), William Keating (D-MA) and Lois Frankel (D-FL).

Read the letter below (or here).

Final U.S. Cuba Policy Letter to President Obama.pdf

AP Should Next Investigate How to Regain Its Objectivity

Monday, August 4, 2014
This morning, the AP released the third chapter in its collaboration with former CIA analyst and Senate staffer, Fulton Armstrong, on how to smear USAID's Cuba democracy programs.

USAID's democracy programs throughout the world, whether in Iran, Syria, Belarus or Cuba, are aimed at fostering and supporting independent civil society in closed societies. (Read USAID's statement here.)

The United States should never apologize for helping the victims of brutal dictatorships throughout the world. To the contrary, it's emblematic of our nation's finest moments in the 20th century -- from World War II through the Cold War.

Yet, for whatever reason, in the case of Cuba, support for independent civil society has long displeased Armstrong -- and now the AP. Instead, he's argued for the U.S. to collaborate with the Castro regime and to (absurdly) give it discretionary authority over USAID's Cuba programs.

Armstrong has a long history of internally working against U.S. policy towards Cuba. During his time at the CIA, Armstrong authored, together with his former colleague at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Belen Montes, an oft-cited 1998 report that argued that Cuba no longer posed a security threat to the United States. Ironically, just three years later (in 2001), Montes was identified as a Cuban spy, arrested, convicted and is now serving 25-years in a federal prison.

As a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, he fervently opposed any endeavor that promoted freedom for the Cuban people, whether through USAID's democracy programs, Radio and TV Marti, or a simple Senate resolution calling for the release of political prisoners. If the Castro regime dislikes it, so does Fulton Armstrong.

His strategy (and now the AP's) in the case of USAID's democracy programs is simple -- use little facts and regurgitate the terms "covert," "regime change" and "sovereignty" over-and-over again.

The first chapter in the AP's collaboration with Armstrong sought to portray American development worker (and hostage of the Castro regime), Alan Gross, as some sort of "super-spy" who smuggled highly-sophisticated communications systems into Cuba.

(After all, if Alan Gross is a "spy", then he could be swapped for other spies. Get it?)

Of course, the fact is that Alan Gross went to Cuba to help the Jewish community gain unhindered access to the Internet. Nothing more, nothing less. Moreover, he had declared all of the technology he was carrying with him to Cuban Customs.

The second chapter in the AP-Armstrong collaboration sought to portray a popular program to provide Cubans undetected access to a Twitter-style social media platform ("Zunzuneo"), as a plot to overthrow the Castro regime.

The fact is the Cuban Twitter program ("Zunzuneo") simply tried to provide Cubans -- as similar programs do in other closed societies -- with access to a social media platform that allowed them to exchange all sorts of uncensored content.

Today's chapter of the AP-Armstrong collaboration claims USAID sent young Latin Americans to recruit young Cubans to "gin up rebellion" against the Castro regime.

It also sought to highlight a recent favorite (propaganda) talking point that young Cubans may be dissatisfied and disenfranchised, but that they're pro-Castro. With that end, the AP dispatched its very own Cuban journalist, with well-known ties to the regime, to "find" one of the young Cubans that was "manipulated" by the foreigners.

The fact is that USAID's program simply sought to support the various social projects and campaigns of young activists in Cuba -- independent of the Castro regime. In this case, the support was provided by their Latin American peers.

Note each chapter in the collaboration is written by the same team of AP reporters and they all stem from information dating back to 2009-2011, while Armstrong was still at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Perhaps for its next chapter, the AP can investigate how to regain it objectivity on Cuba issues.

Tweet(s) of the Day: When Will AP Investigate...

By Cuban democracy leader, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo:

USAID Responds to AP's Latest Sensationalist Attack

USAID Statement on Cuba Civil Society Story

The United States has a long history of confronting human rights abuses, connecting the oppressed to the outside world, and helping people have a say in how they are governed.

Within repressive environments such as Cuba, civil society and development practitioners alike are often subject to abuse, harassment, threats, verbal defamation, and unjustifiable prosecution and imprisonment. In these environments, USAID works with our implementing partners to ensure they are able to perform their work safely.

Congress funds democracy programming in Cuba to empower Cubans to access more information and strengthen civil society. USAID makes information about its Cuba programs available publicly at foreignassistance.gov. This work is not secret, it is not covert, nor is it undercover. Instead, it is important to our mission to support universal values, end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies. Chief among those universal values are the right to speak freely, assemble and associate without fear, and freely elect political leaders. Sadly, the Cuban people and many others in the global community continue to be denied these basic rights.

One paragraph in the article captures the purpose of these and many civil society programs, which is to empower citizens to "tackle a community or social problem, win a 'small victory' and ultimately realize that they could be the masters of their own destiny." But the story then goes on to make sensational claims against aid workers for supporting civil society programs and striving to give voice to these democratic aspirations. This is wrong.

USAID remains committed to balancing the realities of working in closed societies -- particularly in places where we do not have a USAID mission and governments are hostile to U.S. assistance -- with our commitment to transparency, and we continuously balance our commitment to transparency with the need for discretion in repressive environments. In the end, USAID’s goal is to continue to support democracy, governance and human rights activities in multiple settings, while providing the maximum transparency possible given the specific circumstances.

Harvard Professor Claims There Are No Political Prisoners in Cuba

Sunday, August 3, 2014
In an online interview in CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS, Harvard University Professor Jorge Dominguez stated:

"The trend line... is now the number of political prisoners is effectively zero. The Cuban government changed its strategy to deal with dissidents away from locking you up and throwing away the key. The new strategy is they will arrest you and hold you for a week and release you. Then if you do something they don’t like they’ll arrest you again and hold you for 72 hours. So the number of people who get arrested is now much higher; the number of people who spend a long time in prison has pretty close to vanished."

He is correct about the high number of short-term detentions, which average nearly 1,000 per month..

However, Dominguez's claim that "the number of political prisoners is effectively zero" -- is both dangerous and irresponsible.

It's exactly what the Castro regime wants -- for the world to forget those it has unjustly imprisoned.

We understand that Dominguez is sometimes unfazed by tyrants -- like when he went to Damascus to deliver a speech at an event "under the esteemed patronage of Her Excellency Mrs. Asma al-Assad, The First Lady of Syria."

Thus, for the sake of clarity, below is a list of nearly 100 Cuban political prisoners (and the date of their arrest) currently serving long prison terms.

Despite Dominguez, they will not be forgotten.

Marcelino Abreu Bonora (2012)
Harold Alcala Aramburo (2003)
Anoy Almeida Perez (2013)
Claro Fernando Alonso Hernandez (1996)
Miguel Alvarez (2012)
Lewis Arce Romero (2003)
Mercedes Arce (2012)
Yohanne Arce Sarmiento (May 2014)
Ariel Arzuaga Pena (2011)
Jose Asencio Lopez (2013)
Lazaro Avila Sierra (2003)
Ernesto Borges Perez (1998)
David Bustamante Rodriguez (May 2014)
Juana Castillo Acosta (2012)
Eliso Castillo Gonzalez (2012)
Jorge Cervantes Garcia (2012)
Maikel Delgado Aramburo (2003)
Jose Angel Diaz Ortiz (2003)
Darian Ernesto Dufuss Preval (May 2014)
Ivan Fernandez Depestre (2013)
Alexander Fernandez Rico (2012)
Angel Figueredo Castellon (May 2014)
Carlos Figueroa Alvarez (May 2014)
Enrique Figuerola Miranda (2012)
Eider Frometa Allen (February 2014)
Angel Frometa Robaina (2012)
Haydee Gallardo Salazar (April 2014)
Sonia Garro (2012)
Alexander Gonzalez Estrada (2003)
Alcibiades Guerra Marin (February 2014)
Miguel Guerra Astie (2013)
Alexis Guerrero Cruz (April 2014)
Ramon Henry Grillo (2003)
Jose Herman Aguilera (1993)
Mario Hernandez Leyva (May 2014)
Roberto Hernandez Barrios (2013)
Eugenio Hernandez Hernandez (2012)
Ricardo Hernandez Ruiz (2011)
Hector Hierrezuelo Marquez (March 2014)
Luis Enrique Labrador Diaz (2011)
Wilmer Ledea Perez (2003)
Rider Lescay Veloz (2007)
Jose Leyva Diaz (2013)
Ruberlandis Maine Villalon (2013)
Sandalio Mejia Zulueta (May 2014)
Yordenis Mendoza Cobas (June 2014)
Juliet Michelena Diaz (2014)
Vladimir Morera Bacallao (2013)
Reinier Mulet Levis (2013)
Ramon Munoz Gonzalez (2012)
Vladimir Ortiz Suarez (2014)
Alexander Otero Rodriguez (2013)
Wilberto Parada Milan (2013)
Leonardo Paumier Ramirez (June 2014)
Ricardo Pelier Frometa (May 2014)
Jorge Perez Puentes (2003)
David Piloto Barcelo (2011)
Emilio Plana Robert (2012)
Daniel Quesada Chavieco (2013)
Jorge Ramirez Calderon (2013)
Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga (2013)
Rolando Reyes Rabanal (May 2014)
Francisco Reyes Rodriguez (2003)
Aracelio Ribeaux Noa (2012)
Niorvis Rivera Guerra (2012)
Ernesto Riveri Gascon (2012)
Osvaldo Rodriguez Acosta (2012)
Osvaldo Rodriguez Castillo (2012)
Jose Rodriguez Navarro (2013)
Lazaro Romero Hurtado (2012)
Yoelkis Rosabal Florez (May 2014)
Cesar Sanchez Perez (2010)
Angel Santiesteban-Prats (2013)
Rolando Sarraf Trujillo (1995)
Ruben Sintes Rodriguez (2009)
Miguel Angel Tamayo Frias (May 2014)
Ernesto Tamayo Guerra (May 2014)
Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez (2003)
Juan Antonio Torres Fernandez (2011)
Miguel Ulloa Guinar (2013)
Alexei Vargas Martin (2012)
Diango Vargas Martin (2012)
Bianco Vargas Martin (2012)
Juan Carlos Vazquez Osoria (2012)
Julio Vega Santisteban (2013)
Hector Velazquez Gomez (2013)

Tweet(s) of the Week: Prohibited for Cubans

By Cuban blogger and photographer, Yusnaby Perez:

Did you know that in #Cuba there is a state-owned cable television company with CNN, Discovery...? Prohibited for Cubans! Only for foreigners!

#ETECSA is the state monopoly in #Cuba that provides Internet service in homes.  Prohibited for Cubans. Only for foreign residents.

The government of #Cuba strictly prohibits Cubans from opening a simple store of imported shoes.