Castro's WTO Blackmail

Saturday, August 16, 2014
Here's another case study of how the Castro regime uses blackmail to achieve its propaganda goals.

Last month, the World Trade Organization ("WTO") was set to ratify an international Trade Facilitation Agreement ("TFA") that would have streamlined customs procedures and added over $1 trillion to global GDP.

WTO ratification requires the unanimous approval of all 160 member states.

Yet, at the very last minute, India controversially objected over a non-related food subsidy issue.

Never missing an opportunity to coerce a concession, Cuba, and its two minions, Venezuela and Bolivia, thereafter joined India in its non-related objection.

Note that every other WTO member, including China and Russia, had supported the deal.

Failure to ratify the TFA has put the entire existence of the WTO at risk, which is seen as increasingly irrelevant and ineffective.

Thus, like clockwork, the WTO's Director General, Roberto Azevêdo, flew to Havana this week, where he participated in highly-publicized meetings with Castro regime officials and even toured the new (and underutilized) Port of Mariel.

And predictably, he criticized U.S. policy and gave Cuba's desperate search for foreign investors -- despite no property rights or rule of law -- a begrudging seal of approval

"There is a need to capture foreign investors, and it seems to me that Cuba is in the process of finding its recipe," Azevêdo told journalists during his visit.

[As Castro knew,] whatever it takes for a global trade deal.

Quote[s] of the Week: A Cuban's Biggest Dream

The biggest dream a Cuban has is to leave.
--  Dairon Morera, a Cuban rafter who made the perilous journey across the Florida Straits in April of this year, AP, 8/15/14

Señora, if you see freedom anywhere, please send her here. Tell her I’ve been looking for her for a very long time.
-- Jorge Santos, a young Cuban rafter in 1994, columnist Fabiola Santiago's look back at that year's "Balsero Crisis," The Miami Herald, 8/16/14

Image of the Day: The Cuban Police State


Image courtesy of Luzbely Escobar in Translating Cuba.

Hold Cuba Accountable for Illegal Arms Trafficking

Friday, August 15, 2014
By Mauricio Claver-Carone in Newsmax:

Hold Cuba Accountable for Illegal Arms Trafficking

In July 2013, a North Korean vessel, the Chong Chon Gang, was intercepted by the Panamanian authorities, as it attempted to cross the Canal carrying 240 tons of illegal weapons acquired from Cuba's regime.

According to the United Nations' Panel of Experts ("POE"), which subsequently investigated the incident and issued its findings in a March 2014 report: "This constituted the largest amount of arms and related materiel interdicted to or from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea since the adoption of [U.N. Security Council] resolution 1718 (2006)."

It was the first time in recent history that a nation in the Western Hemisphere — namely Cuba — was implicated and found guilty of violating international sanctions.

Yet, earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council announced punitive measures only against the North Korean operator of the Chong Chon Gang vessel, Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd.

The fact that the U.N. Security Council allowed Cuba to get away unscathed is concerning. However, it's not surprising, considering the presence of the Cuban regime's allies, China and Russia, on the Council.

However, the following day, the Obama administration would follow suit.

It announced its own set of sanctions against Ocean Maritime Management Company, Ltd., and took an additional step by also blacklisting the Chong Chon Gang Shipping Company, the North Korean owner of the vessel.

But just like the U.N. Security Council — it gave Cuba's regime a free pass.

Why not sanction the owners of the Cuban weapons that were being smuggled?

Or the Cuban port operators (Mariel) who colluded in the shipment?

Or the Cuban officials that made the deal with their North Korean counterparts?

Why is the administration unwilling to sanction the Cuban entities and officials involved in this illegal smuggling operation?

Some have speculated that further punitive measures were unnecessary due to already existing U.S. sanctions against Cuba. But the U.S. has long-standing, existing sanctions against North Korea as well.

Others believe Cuba got away scot-free due to its unwillingness to cooperate with the U.N.'s investigation. But that should be even more reason to hold it accountable.

Perhaps the administration is concerned that Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, was allegedly involved.

This may disrupt its current (and thus far, fruitless) diplomatic engagement with Castro's regime.

Moreover, it may upset European companies, which to do business in Cuba must go through the GAESA military conglomerate (run by General Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas).

This may also be the case with Cuba's Minister of Defense (MINFAR), General Leopoldo Cintas Frias, who hosted a visiting delegation of senior North Korean military officials shortly before the weapons shipment.

Unfortunately, General Pedro Mendiondo, head of the Cuban Air Force and Air Defense Systems, is no longer an option, as he was mysteriously killed in a car accident (without an entourage) a few weeks after the shipment was intercepted.

Such impunity is particularly irresponsible considering the POE's investigation and conclusions, which are a detailed indictment of Cuba's role in the illegal smuggling operation; its coordination with North Korean officials; and its subsequent attempts to lie and cover it up.

Even U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power recently recognized:

"This was a cynical, outrageous, and illegal attempt by Cuba and North Korea to circumvent United Nations sanctions prohibiting the export of weapons to North Korea . . . Irrefutable facts clearly prove Cuba and the DPRK's intentions to violate sanctions by employing highly sophisticated deception and obfuscation techniques."

Consider some of the POE's conclusions:

  • The panel concluded in its incident report submitted to the committee that both the shipment itself and the transaction between Cuba and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were sanctions violations.
  • The panel found that the hidden cargo amounted to six trailers associated with surface-to-air missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous arms-related materiel.
  • On 20 June, the ship docked in the port of Mariel [Cuba], where it took onboard the arms and related materiel.
  • The incident involving the Chong Chon Gang revealed a comprehensive, planned strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo.
  • [The panel] notes that the voyage of another Democratic People's Republic of Korea-flagged and -owned vessel to Cuba presents a very similar pattern to the recent voyage of the Chong Chon Gang.
And yet, the Cuban regime will suffer no consequences for this egregious violation of international sanctions. Just think of the dangerous message that sends.

It should be of no surprise that other North Korean vessels continue making similar trips to Cuba, while turning off their transponders (in violation of international norms) to avoid detection.

Just last month, another North Korean vessel, the Mu Du Bong, took the same route as the Chong Chon Gang in Cuba and turned off its transponder for nearly 10 days.

Could the Castro and Kim regimes be so brazen?

Why not? They've gotten away with it before.

Young Cuban Rapper Spends Another Birthday as Political Prisoner

Thursday, August 14, 2014
Today is the 31st birthday of dissident rapper, Angel Yunier Remon.

It's the second birthday he spends as a Cuban political prisoner.

Yunier Remon, whose stage name is "el Critico del Arte" ("The Art Critic"), was attacked with tear gas and arrested on March 21st, 2013, for his criticism of the Castro regime.

In prison -- where he is being held without charges or trial -- Yunier has been continuously beaten, contracted various diseases, denied family visits and held naked in a punishment cell.

He has undertaken several hunger strikes to protest his cruel and arbitrary imprisonment.

Demand his freedom.

Cuba's "Self-Employment" is Not Private Enterprise

Earlier this year, we had explained:
Cuba's military and intelligence services control and run the conglomerates of Cuba. The "self-employment" sector represents a very small part of the island's economy and it is important, in the debate over sanctions, to understand its nature and limits. During economic crises, the Castro regime typically authorizes a host of services that Cubans can be licensed to provide, keeping at least a portion of what they may be paid. The world's news media refers to these jobs as "private enterprise," which implies "private ownership." Yet Cuba's "self-employed" licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or "intellectual" outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer. Licensees have no legal entity (hence business) to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse.
-- Mauricio Claver-Carone, "In Cuba Policy Debate, Theories Don't Cut It," The Huffington Post, 4/2/14


This week, it was recognized by a Cuban "cuenta-propista" being toured (along with four other "cuenta-propistas") through the United States that:
None of us around this table is actually a business. We don’t have yet legal status as companies. We are individuals authorized to be self-employed, por cuenta propia. Legally, Decorazón or Atelier [the restaurant] or D’Brujas [the soap manufacturing and sales business], don´t exist as companies.
-- Yamina Vicente, a Cuban event planning "cuenta-propista" (DeCorazon), Knight Foundation, 8/11/14

OLPL: Invest in Cuba, History Will Confiscate You

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Presentation by Cuban democracy leader, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, at the 24th annual congress of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE):

Investment in Cuba? What for?

1.

In Cuba during the 1970s, historian Manuel Moreno Fraginals challenged poet Jose Lezama Lima with his trendy scientific notions about the laws of objectivity and the transition to a colonial/pseudo republic/revolution from the slave mills to the Slavic sugarcane cutters; the now forgotten Soviet KTP. Exhaling an asthmatic counterpoint through his cigar, Lezama Lima responded to Moreno Fraginals without foregoing the Marxist irony of a convenient Catholic: “Ah… But when will we have a history that is qualitative?”

Are we Cubans lacking the type of analysis that at the margins of academic exactitude and author-centered erudition would also require ethicality? Is a qualitative economy that can escape the comparisons of percents and profits and the tendency to always side with the expounder at all conceivable? Is a qualitative political system that rises above the lowbrow politics practiced in our country unthinkable? How about a qualitative sociology without ideological determinism and infallible founders? When all is said and done, is the anthropology of a quality Cuban one that is multidimensional, subjective, and liberated from the consensus imposed upon on us with the rhythm of a conga drumbeat?

No wonder the Professor did not answer the Master’s question. Today, when it comes to Raul Castro’s reforms that in an ever-changing and capricious landscape that hides a clan’s control while a new image of legitimacy is created, would Moreno Fraginals rely on the laws of objectivity in a transition from communism to capitalism? And would Lezama Lima respond to him with an “Ah… And when we will Cuba have a history of qualitative capitalism?” Poetry asks impossible questions that history can answer, though it finds it inconvenient to do so.

2.

Today, by either vocation or duty, Cubanologists discuss their theories about the island. They have placed their bets for quantitative changes on the seat of power, avoiding any consultation with the will of the Cuban people. For many of them the Revolution is a victim, not the victimizer, and as such is granted the right to not disappear. Because of this, throughout all of American academia, an anti-Castro stance is practically considered intellectual harassment.

Therefore, Cubans are supposed to have no other alternative than to collaborate with the government in the construction of controllable capitalism that is already irreversible while the country’s socialistic constitution remains “irrevocable.” In this scam of a transition, borne of short memories where horrors become simply errors, liberty becomes an encumbrance threatening to make everything end in a debacle. And it is this astute death threat that forces us to be loyal as a post-socialist substitute for legality.

“A country is not run like a campsite,” another poet once told to another general. But those who once dressed in olive-green uniforms and now as the new generation wear business suits, have turned the country into a campsite so as not to fully contradict Jose Marti’s words to Maximo Gomez. Citizens are abundant, but soldiers are saviors: the disinterest of the former is secondary to the discipline of the latter. The year 2018 is being called the new 1958. After 60 years of solitary power, biology finally brings us a calendar without the Castros. But after waiting for so long, we Cubans can now wait a little more. We have become accustomed to the family legacy that leaves us the choice between a parliamentarian sexologist and a colonel –like Putin– from the Ministry of the Interior. One is in charge of reproduction and the other of repression; she is in charge of pleasure, he of power; academia and military; diplomacy and impertinence; masquerade and malice.

The inverted logic behind investing in such a Cuba is that after the profits, it would precipitate a multi-party political system: vouchers that will promote voting; underdevelopment erased by cash flowing through banks; from Che to checks. Like dissidents without God, layman Lenier Gonzalez might call them “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” because the nation teeters on collapse between a war of economic action from the outside and peaceful resistance from the inside.

Perhaps to sidestep such suspicions, foreign investors avoid showing off the profit gained from a captive and insular market. They seem to invest with almost-humanitarian intentions, although their “good deed” will be repaid by having their property seized and not a few of them will end up deported, imprisoned, or dead from a heart attack during interrogations performed by State Security. As for Cuban exiles, they are not even given the right to live in their own country. And the illusion of investing in the island -- out of nostalgia or some kind of labor therapy -- is justified by the notion that money can make a dictatorship dynamic much more effectively than dynamite. If we cannot live in a democracy, at least we will be able to live in a dictocracy. One-party companies and a tinsel opposition. Like a person who draws a North Korean doodle and ends up with an exquisite Chinese calligram. Or like in those childhood cartoons where a tyrant is defeated by a golden antelope that drowns the villain by throwing gold coins at him and when he can no longer take the weight screams “enough!”

3.

When I hear the word “economy,” I reach for my gun.

First-world paradoxes: The possible Democrat party candidate for the White House mumbles something to President Obama in the latest of her hard choices: “Lift the embargo on Cuba because it’s holding back our broader agenda across Latin America”. And from the Chamber of Commerce, its president travels to a country that is presided over by a general that for decades has denigrated chambers of commerce, and tells him: Yes, you can.

The economy is too important to be left in the hands of economists.

Executives from the goliath Google land in David’s kingdom of ruins and are received at the University of Computer Sciences, a bunker of digital censorship, the cradle of Operation Truth, where there is daily smearing of those Cubans convinced that it is still possible to live a life of truth. How do you google a government that like the dog in the manger will not allow us to connect to the internet or allow anyone else to connect us?

Within the economy, everything.

The president of a hemispheric organization who since 2009 has been begging Cuba to rejoin the international community goes to Havana and does not dare to ask the reason behind Cuba’s snub of the world. He is accompanied by a Secretary General who gets a haircut there but does not question why there were dozens of illegal detentions taking place during his visit.

Outside the economy, nothing.

Former brigadier generals of the military and intelligence agencies, ambassadors to NATO, the OAS, and the Interests Section in Havana (in their heyday categorized by Castro propaganda as torturers, coup instigators, agents of the anti-Cuban dirty war, and other extremists etc.). Hawks now clothed in sheep feathers who advocate an ultimatum not to their archenemy in the continent, but to the President who extended his open hand and in return received a closed fist, including weapons smuggling, the kidnapping of an American to trade as a hostage for Cuban Talibans, agreements with enemies of democracy and the free market, and the State-run attempts on our Sakharov Prize winners for Freedom of Thought: Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya.

Economy or death; we will sell.

Contrary to the stampede of Cubans mentioned in Wendy Guerra’s novel Everyone Leaves, everyone is going to Cuba, everyone is investing in the first opportunity that presents itself. No one wants to miss out on their slice of the despotic pie that is on the brink of transition.

4.

Investment is critical for the material development of the country, but investment should not come regardless of the political price. It would be a shame to fall into an economy that would leave us dependent on foreigners and no less vulnerable to domestic impunity. Under those conditions, sovereignty is nothing more than a joke.

Foreign capital has not brought democratization to the island, but neither has denying investment been a fountain of political liberty. Although they are opposite concepts, investments are just like the commercial embargo the United States has against Cuba: they have had no influence on the blockade imposed by the Castro regime on Cuban citizens. Oswaldo Paya believed in a human personal redemption that would transcend the State as well as the market. And that simple but ethical vision proved to be qualitatively impracticable for a perpetual seat of power that relies on complicity by the majority of the nation. Because if a people elect a single leader and a single party, that single leader and single party have a moral obligation to downplay that quantitative blindness, not enthrone themselves upon it. Along with the Anglicism of a “loyal opposition,” Cubans deserve a government faithful to the people that will step down according to logical legislation, even if it goes against the popular will of the people.

For now, the private investment initiative in Cuba does nothing to obtain or guarantee rights to association, property, participation, expression, or the means of production. Self-employed Cubans exhibit their implausibility even in Washington D.C., but in the Plaza of the Revolution, they can only march en masse with their propaganda banners. For that very reason they are not invited to invest in Cuba and their self-employment licenses are nothing more than economic privileges. As soon as they achieve some type of cash liquidity, they will escape without much noise or fuss, as our population pyramid tends to do since that is always preferable in a transient nation: post-totalitarianism is the same as post-trampolinism. That plebiscite with one’s feet is unstoppable, with investments or sanctions, with lack of solidarity or interference. After spending so much time exporting guerillas and wars, we learned to make our living at the expense of someone else, allowing ourselves to be exploited by taxes rather than enjoying state security (or suffering it if the words are capitalized).

At the start of the Revolution, throughout the paternalistic lying during the march to power, Fidel Castro strictly applied his repetitive slogans: “Elections? What for?”; “Guns? What for?”; Amnesty? What for?” These were among the other “What for?” slogans that emptied out all the common sense that previously existed in our nationality. The Revolution not only installed itself by decree as the source of all rights, it also made itself the arbiter of reason. Everything else became an afterthought: money, for example. We should then publicly confront that same philanthropic octogenarian before senility turns him into ashes and ask him: “Investment? What for?

And maybe he will respond with that European fascist plagiarism of himself in 1953: Invest in Cuba, it does not matter, history will confiscate you.

Translation by Alberto de la Cruz.

Yoani: Cuba's Mechanisms of Control Over Foreign News Bureaus

By Cuban independent journalist, Yoani Sanchez, in 14ymedio:

A few years ago I met a foreign correspondent based in Cuba who related an absurd and revealing anecdote. The International Press Center (CPI) had called him in to warn him about the content of an article. Receiving the summons didn’t surprise him, because warning calls like that were a common practice of this agency in charge of registering and controlling foreign journalists living on the Island. Nor could he refuse to appear, because he depended on the CPI for his credentials to report on a nature reserve and even to interview a government minister. So there it was.

The reporter arrived at the centrally located building on 23rd Street, where the CPI is headquartered, and was led to an office with two annoyed looking men. After bringing him coffee and talking about other things, they got to the point. They reproached the journalist for a report where he had referred to Cuba as “the communist Island.” This was a huge surprise to the correspondent because previous warnings he’d received were for “reporting only on the bad things about the Cuban reality,” or “not treating the leaders of the Revolution with respect.” But he never imagined that this time he would be scolded for the complete opposite.

But yes, the censors who minutely examine the cables written by foreign agencies had not been at all pleased with the use of the adjective “communist” to characterize our country. “But the Communist Party governs here, right?” asked the incredulous reporter. “Yes, but you know the word looks bad, it doesn’t help us,” responded the higher-ranking official. The man stood there in shock for a few seconds while trying to comprehend what they were saying to him and think of a response other than laughing.

The correspondent knew that annoying the CPI could bring more than just a slap on the wrist. Also in the hands of this institution is permission for foreign journalists to import a car, rent a house and—at that time—even to buy an air conditioner for their bedroom. The dilemma for the reporter was to give in and not write “the communist Island” any more, or to engage in conflict with the institution, where he had everything to lose.

The mechanisms of control over the foreign press go far beyond warning calls from the CPI. Should a correspondent get married on the Island, start a family in this land, his objectivity comes into doubt. The intelligence organs know how to pull the strings of fear to cause damage or pressure to a loved one. Thus, they manage to temper the level of criticism by these correspondents “settled” in Cuba. The perks are also an attractive carrot to keep them from touching on certain thorny issues in their articles.

I know one foreign journalist who, every time she writes a press release about the Cuban dissidence, adds a paragraph where she declares, “the Government considers this opposition to be created and paid from Washington”… But her texts lack the phrase she could add to give the readers another point view, briefly communicating, “the Cuban dissidence considers the Island’s government a totalitarian dictatorship that has not been subjected to scrutiny at the ballot box.” This way, those who consult the press release could draw their own conclusions. Sadly, the objective of correspondents like her is not to inform, but to impose an opinion framework that is as stereotyped as it is false.

Press agencies need to strengthen and carefully review their codes of ethics when dealing with Cuba. They should control the time their representatives spend on the Island, because as the long years pass here emotional bonds are created that the regime can use for blackmail and pressure. An objective examination—every now and again—wouldn’t be a bad thing, given the possible coercion and Stockholm Syndrome their employees might suffer. The credibly of an information giant sometimes depends on whether a new imported car, or a beautiful young Cuban partner, is valued more than a commitment to journalism.

Take care foreign press agencies! Your representatives in these parts are always in danger of becoming hostages, first, and then collaborators, of the ruling regime.

English version courtesy of Translating Cuba.

If There Was Any Doubt That Fulton Armstrong Was the AP's Source...

Fulton himself has dispersed it.

We've never had any doubt that former CIA analyst and Senate staffer, Fulton Armstrong, was the source of the AP's attacks on USAID's Cuba democracy programs. (See more here).

He's been connivingly (and unsuccessfully) trying to smear and eliminate these programs (along with any other irritant to the Castro regime) for years. Remember this?

Moreover, the AP's tone and exaggerations are quintessential Fulton.

Asked directly yesterday whether he was the source, he didn't deny it.

And today, Fulton has published an op-ed in The Tico Times, which is an homage to the AP's stories.

Let's not forget, the democracy programs targeted by the AP -- Cuban Twitter ("Zunzuneo") and the Latin American NGOs -- were both conducted between 2009-2011, during his tenure at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And in today's op-ed, his updated bio reveals:

"Fulton T. Armstrong, a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (Washington, D.C.), has lived in Costa Rica for the past year and a half."

That's right. Fulton has been living in Costa Rica for the past year and a half.

An important detail -- both the Cuban Twitter and Latin American NGO programs were run out of Costa Rica.

In sum, the AP's stories -- printed within the last year (April and August 2014) -- regurgitate Fulton's infamous hyperbole; are based on two programs he had direct knowledge of as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer; both programs were run out of Costa Rica; and most of the information came from Costa Rica, where he's been living for the past year and a half.

Any questions?

Ladies in White Activist Suffers Miscarriage After Beating (Warning: Contains Graphic Images)

Below is a tweet (with tragic images) by Liudmila Cedeño of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU):

#Cuba The #UNPACU activist and also member of the Ladies in White who miscarried her baby due to a beating is Yilennis Aguilera.

According to witness testimony (see here, in Spanish), she was viciously kicked in the stomach by Castro's agents.

Learn More About Fulton Armstrong

By former U.S. Counterintelligence official, Chris Simmons, in Cuba Confidential:

AP Story Renews Focus on Fulton Armstrong; Former Confidant of Ana Montes Reply

Recent articles by the Washington Free Beacon and other media outlets have challenged the credibility of the Associated Press. A central figure in the newswire’s use of suspect sources is Fulton Armstrong, the one-time National Intelligence Officer for Latin America.

Following the conviction of career spy Ana Montes, several administration officials – including Otto Reich – sought the reassignment of NIO Fulton Armstrong, one of the government’s senior specialists on Cuba. The New York Times cited critical officials as describing Armstrong as overly “soft” on Cuba threats to U.S. interests. Behind the scenes, they were deeply concerned not only with Armstrong’s strong ties to Montes, but how closely his analytic conclusions mirrored or endorsed hers.

In Newsmax, Kenneth Timmermann wrote that Armstrong would minimize or trivialize everything “derogatory to Castro, Venezuela, or to the FARC.” Several former U.S. intelligence officers confirmed that Armstrong, aided by Janice O’Connell, Senator Christopher Dodd’s top staffer, went so far as to continuously defend Montes “in closed-door sessions with top policy-makers” long after her arrest.

Armstrong is well-known for consistently minimizing Cuba’s ability to threaten U.S. interests and its continued support to terrorists. In one interview, Scott Carmichael – the senior Counterintelligence investigator for the Defense Intelligence Agency – said Montes was “on a first name basis” with the Armstrong. In fact, Montes and Armstrong confided in one another by phone into the final stages of her investigation.

Dr. Norman Bailey, who previously served as the Issue Manager on Cuba & Venezuela for the Director of National Intelligence noted, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Fulton Armstrong had something to do with Ana’s products not being pulled.”

In his book, Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA, Rowan Scarborough recalled a meeting convened by Fred Fleitz, a CIA officer on an interagency tour with the State Department. Representatives from most of the Intelligence Community attended, including Fulton Armstrong. Citing the damage caused by Montes, Fleitz called for a review of all intelligence products on which she’d worked. He felt such a review might provide insights into disinformation and biases built into her analysis. Armstrong opposed any such review as wholly unnecessary. “He had worked on the same assessments as Montes and was sure she did not distort them,” wrote Scarborough.

Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, was so repulsed by Armstrong’s openly biased stance that he banned him from his office. In a view shared by many, Noriega said: “I didn’t question his patriotism. I questioned his judgment.” Noriega went on to tell his assistant he “didn’t want to see a single scrap of paper he was involved in. I was not interested in a person with such a profound lack of judgment.”

In conclusion, a 2012 post by Capitol Hill Cubans reported the following:  “During his three-year stint as a staffer to Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Armstrong often forgot who was the elected Senator … and led a mostly unauthorized assault on all-things Cuba policy under the Senator’s name.  This led to Armstrong’s retirement in 2011.”

Cuba Ends Deepwater Oil Exploration Illusion

Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Perhaps former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and others who have (ingenuously) advocated facilitating deepwater exploration for the Castro regime will finally get the memo -- that it's simply not happening.

And, as we've long-argued, it's partly thanks to U.S. sanctions.

(See "How the Cuban Embargo Protects the Environment, in The New York Times, 7/25/08).

(Also, see 2011 Congressional testimony in the House Natural Resources Committee here.)

From Reuters today:

After offshore oil failure, Cuba shifts energy focus

Cuba has shifted its focus away from offshore oil, concentrating on renewable energy and improving output from onshore wells due to a lack of interest by foreign companies for further deepwater exploration, sources close to the industry say.

With so much oil readily available around the world, oil companies including those from allies China and Russia see little incentive in drilling off the Caribbean island, delaying the Cuban dream of oil wealth that could inject vigor into its socialist revolution.

With the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba further complicating drilling plans, the country is seeking investors in renewable energy such as biomass and wind while attempting to increase output from existing onshore and shallow water wells.

Russia's state-run Rosneft and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) separately agreed last month to help Communist-run Cuba extract more oil along the traditional northwest heavy oil belt, but did not sign on to deepwater exploration.

The northwest heavy oil belt is a 200-mile (320-km) stretch of the northern coast from Havana to Villa Clara and reaching up to 3 miles (5 km) offshore. It produces poor quality oil that meets 40 percent of the country’s needs.

Rosneft and CNPC will also support the horizontal drilling of new wells from shore and join Canadian firm Sherritt International (S.TO) and another Russian state-run oil company, Zarubezhneft, which are already carrying out similar work.

Cuba had hoped Russia and China, whose presidents visited in July, would explore deepwater offshore fields that it says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil and end its dependence on socialist ally Venezuela.

Venezuela sends 115,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba under favorable terms.

"The Cubans have stopped talking about offshore oil exploration in the state-run media and in private appear more interested in new recovery methods for existing wells, biogas projects and windmill farms," a European diplomat said.

Three deepwater wells drilled in 2012 by Spanish, Norwegian, Indian, Malaysian, Russian and Venezuelan firms came up dry. All but the Norwegian state firm Statoil ASA and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA have pulled out, and those companies are inactive. Future drilling has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

Difficult geology from hard rock encountered while sinking the wells, alternative prospects elsewhere and U.S. sanctions that require oil rigs to carry less than 10 percent U.S. technology are discouraging further drilling, according to Western diplomats.

"Exploration is not a one-shot deal, but in Cuba due to many factors it is. Drilling is like playing once at a roulette wheel with $100 million chips," said a diplomat whose country was involved in exploration.

Cuban Dissidents Have Long Distrusted AP's Correspondents

As questions continue to arise about the AP's most recent attack on Cuba democracy programs, it's important to remember that there has long been concern about the AP's reporting team in Havana.

As Cuban independent journalist, Yoani Sanchez, wrote in Foreign Policy (October 2011):

"The dilemma of foreign correspondents -- popularly called 'foreign collaborators' -- is whether to make concessions in reporting in order to stay in the country, or to narrate the reality and face expulsion. The major international media want to be here when the long-awaited "zero day" arrives -- the day the Castro regime finally makes its exit from history. For years, journalists have worked to keep their positions so they will be here to file their reports with two pages of photos, testimonies from emotional people, and reports of colored flags flapping all over the place."

That same year, Cuban blogger Miriam Celaya also wrote:

"An article by a foreign news agency recently reported on the Internet, 'Cuban Dissidents at a Crossroads' by Paul Haven and Andrea Rodríguez of the Associated Press, suffers from, at least, two of the most common and serious limitations of accredited journalism in Cuba: contempt for the nationals of this Island and an almost total disregard for the history and idiosyncrasies of the country about which they aim to 'inform.'"

And, as we're reminded by Notes from the Cuba Exile Quarter:

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas,on September 20, 2011 videotaped his interview with Andrea Rodriguez of the Associated Press and released it because he believed that what he had told her was not fairly reflected in the article she had written.  In the interview he described how victims in Cuba are criticized because no one dare criticize the executioner and offered a critique that Ms. Rodriguez did not publish:

"There is a real 'moral inversion,' in what the foreign media, intellectual circles, ecclesiastical circles, diplomats and politicians are doing against the people of Cuba and against the dissident right now. They judge the persecuted, the poor, those who are silenced, but they do not dare to judge the government."

Questions Raised About AP's Sources on Cuba Programs

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Critics Question Sources for AP Report on Cuba Democracy Program

Say sources had political agenda to undermine U.S. policy

Critics are raising questions about the Associated Press’s recent report on a U.S. program to foster civil society in Cuba and have accused the news organization of cooperating with sources who have a political agenda against U.S. policy toward the island.

The AP recently reported on the program that sent Spanish-speaking youth to Cuba to help build health and civil society associations, which the news organization described as a “clandestine operation” with the goal of “ginning up rebellion.” Human rights groups involved in the program criticized the report and said it mischaracterized the nature of the civil society projects.

Defenders of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program say the AP has been less than forthright about the sources for its reporting. They also allege that the AP obtained information and documents from longstanding critics of U.S. policy toward Cuba’s communist government.

The anti-Castro website Capitol Hill Cubans alleged that the key source for the AP’s reporting on both the civil society program and a separate project, an attempt to develop a Twitter-like social media service for Cubans, was Fulton Armstrong. Armstrong is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and senior intelligence analyst for Latin America.

Armstrong told the Washington Free Beacon in an email that although the AP contacted him, he was not the main source of information and documents. “The AP’s reports are pretty obviously based on documentary evidence provided by insiders concerned about the regime-change programs,” he said, adding that he was never fully briefed on what he called USAID’s “clandestine, covert operations.”

“Because the SFRC had investigated these scandalously run secret programs during my tenure on the Committee staff, and because my boss (Chairman [John] Kerry) was concerned enough to put a hold on the programs for a while, I was logically among the dozens of people to be called by the AP reporters,” he said.

Armstrong has long raised the ire of U.S. officials and activists advocating a tough line against the Castro regime. Foreign policy officials in the George W. Bush administration attempted to reassign Armstrong from Latin American intelligence after arguing that he was “soft” on threats from Cuba, according to a 2003 report by the New York Times.

He wrote in a 2011 op-ed that “it’s time to clean up the regime-change programs” and focus on securing the release of Alan Gross, a former USAID subcontractor who has been imprisoned for almost five years in Cuba. Gross worked to provide Internet access to small Cuban communities, but authorities arrested him on charges of attempting to destabilize the government.

Armstrong also served as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Latin America when a widely criticized Pentagon report about Cuba was drafted. The 1997 report from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) determined that Cuba’s military “poses a negligible conventional threat to the U.S. or surrounding countries.”

The original drafter of the report was Ana Montes. Montes was later revealedto be a top Cuban spy in the U.S. government and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Armstrong said one of his responsibilities as a senior intelligence officer at the time was to “shepherd it through interagency coordination.”

“The draft was very weak and was heavily rewritten by representatives of all 15 agencies at the table,” he said. “All 15 agencies endorsed the rewritten paper without reservation.”

He added that he was “deeply shocked by her arrest” and that “not one of the dozens of [intelligence community] professionals with whom Montes interacted suspected she was a spy.”

Critics of Cuba’s government note that it continues to be a U.S.-designatedsponsor of terrorism and authoritarian regimes, and that it attempted an arms shipment to North Korea last year that violated U.S. and international sanctions.

An AP spokeswoman declined to comment on what information its reporters received from Armstrong or other sources. “We don’t discuss our sourcing,” said senior media relations manager Erin Madigan White in an email.

Jose Cardenas, a former senior USAID administrator in the George W. Bush administration who helped oversee the Cuba program, said in an interview that the AP “jumped to too many conclusions” and “misinterpreted” internal documents about the program. Although some security protocols were necessary to not arouse the suspicion of Cuban authorities, the projects were more about developing relations between young Cubans rather than instigating a rebellion, he said.

The AP’s source is “acting on a political agenda,” Cardenas claimed.

“It raises serious questions about the veracity and integrity of their whole story,” he said.

The AP published a blog post on Thursday that provided some background on its reporting. It said reporter Desmond Butler’s “source gave him a new batch of documents” for the article, and noted that one of the investigative reporters used a secure phone and encrypted emails “because communications in Venezuela, like Cuba, are not considered secure.”

The AP also described how one of its reporters repeatedly attempted to contact the main organizer of a group of Venezuelans who traveled to Cuba for the program, including filming the woman as she refused to talk outside her house and slammed her door. A Venezuelan human rights group involved in the program denounced the AP’s reporting on Thursday and accused it of harassing one of its members.

The reporters who covered the story won a $500 prize for keeping “the AP out front on American secret activities in Cuba,” according to the AP.

Cuba: Religious Freedom Violations Doubled in First Half of 2014

Monday, August 11, 2014
From the U.K.-based, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Cuba: religious freedom violations continue to rise, Baptist leader goes into exile

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has today released a new report on religious freedom in Cuba, which shows that the number of documented violations of religious freedom almost doubled in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013.

From the beginning of 2014 to mid-July, CSW recorded 170 separate religious freedom violations, many of which involved dozens of victims. This followed the record of 180 documented cases in 2013, compared with 120 in 2012 and 40 in 2011. According to the report, which covers January 2013 through July 2014, religious groups across the spectrum of denominations all reported varying degrees of hostility from the government, while only a few reported any notable improvement.

CSW’s investigation showed that government agents continued to employ more brutal and public tactics than witnessed in previous years. Week after week, scores of women affiliated to the Ladies in White were physically and violently dragged away from Sunday morning church services by state security agents. Most were arbitrarily detained until after the conclusion of religious services. There were also increased reports of threats of forced closure, confiscation and demolition of church buildings, including historic, registered churches. Some of these threats were carried out. One of the most serious cases involved the destruction of a large church and pastoral home in Santiago de Cuba on 2 July 2014. Some religious leaders reported being temporarily detained and imprisoned multiple times over the course of the past year.

The report details the regular, severe and sustained harassment of Protestant pastors and lay workers in different parts of the country, as well as sporadic reports of violent beatings. This situation prompted Reverend Homero Carbonell, who for more than 50 years has been a leader in the Western Baptist Convention, a denomination recognized by the government, to accept asylum in the US on 31 July. In 2010, Reverend Carbonell published an open letter denouncing a sustained campaign of harassment against the Trinidad First Baptist Church in the city of Santa Clara. In the letter he announced his resignation as pastor and expressed hopes that his retirement would result a cessation of government persecution of the church. Despite his retirement, however, the Cuban government maintained pressure on the church, freezing its bank accounts, and continue to target Reverend Carbonell and his family.

The case of Reverend Carbonell and the Trinidad First Baptist Church is illustrative of some of the root causes behind the more general increase in religious freedom violations across Cuba, which include increased government efforts to separate perceived political dissidents from communities of faith, and heavy-handed attempts to control public manifestations of faith. Church leaders believe that Reverend Carbonell and the Trinidad First Baptist Church were singled out because of their refusal to cooperate with government demands to expel and shun members of dissident groups and their families, as well as their involvement in unauthorised pubic ecumenical activities, including a well-attended inter-denominational Easter parade through the city centre of Santa Clara in 2010.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “It is distressing to see such a significant and sustained increase in reported violations of religious freedom in Cuba, even as the government claims to be committed to reforms in this area and others. We are deeply saddened that Reverend Carbonell, who dedicated so much of his life to ministry inside Cuba, was pushed by government harassment to the point of going into exile. It is disturbing to see some groups outside Cuba interpret concessions or privileges extended to a few religious groups as an overall improvement in religious freedom, even as other groups report continued and worsening persecution, resulting in religious inequality. As long as the Cuban government refuses to allow all religious organisations to function legally, to register all places of worship, including house churches, and to remove authority over all religious activity from the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, whose decisions are issued arbitrarily and cannot be appealed, there can be no religious freedom in Cuba. We call on the United States, on the European Union and other members of the international community, to hold the Cuban government to account and to set measurable benchmarks, including the three mentioned above, in order to judge more accurately any improvement in religious freedom in Cuba.”

Click here to read the full report.

Tweet of the Week: Anti-Castro Signs in Holguin

From Cuban blogger and photographer, Yusnaby Perez:

The streets of Holguin awoke full of anti-Castro signs. #Cuba

(Graffiti reads: No More Repression. Down With Communism.)

Summary: AP Attacks Cuba Programs, Human Rights NGOs Push Back

Sunday, August 10, 2014
The Washington Free Beacon has a good summary of last week's AP story on USAID's Cuba democracy programs and the push-back its gotten from Latin American human rights NGOs.

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Human Rights NGOs dispute AP report on Cuba Democracy Program

Group says AP “manipulated” information about the program to fit preconceived narrative

A Costa Rican human rights organization is disputing a report by the Associated Press (AP) this week that its activities in Cuba were covertly designed to foment a revolution against the communist government.

Fernando Murillo, founder and CEO of Fundacion Operacion GAYA Internacional (FundaOGI), accused the AP in a statement of “manipulat[ing]” information about the group’s HIV-prevention workshop in Cuba. The AP reported on Monday that the workshop was part of a “clandestine operation” overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with the goal of “ginning up rebellion” on the island.

“[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 said.

Additionally, other defenders of the USAID program have raised concerns about the AP’s characterization of the projects.

The AP mentioned FundaOGI’s HIV-prevention workshop as an example of the type of projects USAID supported to “provoke political change” in Cuba.

USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, reportedly sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican, and Peruvian young people to Cuba to pose as tourists and secretly recruit political activists, according to the AP. Memos obtained by the AP called the HIV-prevention workshop “the perfect excuse” for promoting political change.

However, Murillo said in his statement that the suggestion that his group’s actions were destabilizing “is merely a subjective interpretation of the AP” and “is not substantiated either by the facts or by the documents.”

The “perfect excuse” quote was taken out of context, he said. He argued that the HIV-prevention program was an “appropriate vehicle” to discuss not only health issues, but also other rights outlined in the Ibero-American Convention on Rights of Youth—a document signed by Cuba and supported by the youth rights organization UNICEF. Those rights include freedom of thought, protection of health, and freedom of assembly and participation.

Human rights issues remain “sensitive” in Cuba, but the goal of FundaOGI’s project was to educate people about HIV prevention, the rights of youth, and the importance of volunteering in local communities, Murillo said. The workshop took place in a government school and was observed by local cultural groups and authorities, he added.

The Cuban government continues to be one of the most repressive regimes in the Americas. Authorities arrest thousands of dissidents every year and suppress unfavorable media reports.

Murillo also alleged that the AP published images and video of him without his permission. Additionally, he accused the AP of disregarding some information he provided and publishing an article that fit a preconceived narrative. AP editor Trish Wilson told him over the phone that the story was of interest because it could “hurt the government of the United States,” he claimed.

An AP spokesman directed the Washington Free Beacon to comments it provided to the Tico Times, an online newspaper based in Costa Rica, about Murillo’s allegations.

“Mr. Murillo, secretly funded by the U.S. government, knew full well he was engaging in activity that was intended to help bring social and political change to Cuba,” said Paul Colford, director of media relations for the AP. “The evidence is clear.”

Colford pointed to a security protocol in the documents the AP obtained, which advised Murillo to “continue acting like just another tourist, play the fool and pretend you don’t know why you’re being questioned” if authorities asked about the workshop.

The Venezuelan human rights organization Renova also denounced the AP’s story in a statement on Thursday. The group’s members said they were not “spies” that sought to “destabilize” the Cuban government, and they accused the AP of publishing “false testimonies,” violating the anonymity of sources, and subjecting one of its members to “harassment.”

Jose Cardenas, a former senior USAID administrator in the George W. Bush administration who helped oversee the Cuba program, said in an interview that the AP’s assertion that it was intended to stir up rebellion was “risible” and “absurd.”

The program sent Spanish speakers—who would be less conspicuous than Americans—to Cuba primarily to build civil society, he said. The Castro regime maintains control by “atomizing” Cubans to prevent them from thinking freely and forming groups, he added.

“There was nothing that was supposed to be provocative, “ he said. “It was basically trying to reach out, develop relations, and restore some sense of humanity to average Cubans—that they matter as individuals and they should have control of their own destiny.”

Some security protocols were necessary because even the hint of discussing rights draws attention from Cuban authorities, Cardenas said.

“Even if you’re not supposed to be doing anything provocative, you still have to be careful,” he said.

Reactions on Capitol Hill to the nature of the Cuba program have been mixed.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), a frequent critic of USAID’s efforts to promote civil society in Cuba, said the potential use of an HIV-prevention workshop for political purposes “tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.”

However, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a Cuban American, said in a statement that USAID’s efforts in Cuba were “no secret.”

“We must continue to pressure the Castro regime and support the Cuban people, who are oppressed on a daily basis,” she said. “I wish the press would dedicate more of their time to reporting the rampant human rights abuses in Cuba perpetrated by the Castro regime instead of manipulating the coverage of programs promoting freedom of expression and justice on the island.”