Chinese Military Illegally Sold U.S. Telecom Equipment to Cuba's Regime

Friday, September 19, 2014
Castro's propagandists and anti-sanctions lobbyists argue that greater collaboration with Cuba's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, will somehow lead to greater Internet access for the Cuban people.

Yet, from 1995 until 2011, Telecom Italia owned 27% percent of ETECSA.

Moreover, the 2011 Cuba-Venezuela fiber optic cable was laid by France's Alcatel-Lucent.

And now we learn that the Chinese military, through Huawei, has been selling U.S. telecom equipment -- albeit illegally -- to Cuba's regime.

Have any of these lead to greater Internet access for the Cuban people?

Absolutely not. 

But they've been a great boon for Castro's regime.

From The Washington Free Beacon:

Chinese Military-Linked Telecom Firm Shipped U.S. Equipment to Cuba

Commerce probing whether Huawei sale of U.S. gear violated sanctions

A Chinese telecommunications company linked to the People’s Liberation Army provided U.S.-origin equipment to Cuba in apparent violation of U.S. economic sanctions on the communist-ruled island.

U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports said the equipment included U.S.-made modems, routers, and switches for telecommunications networks.

The transfer took place within the past two months and was reported by the U.S. Southern Command, the military command with responsibility for Latin and South America in internal channels, said officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

One official said the transfer violated U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Cuba and that the transfer is under investigation by the Commerce Department.

No other details could be learned on the U.S. companies or company involved. However, administration officials said it is illegal to export any U.S.-origin telecommunications equipment to Cuba without an export license.

President Obama in 2009 loosened controls on Internet and telecommunications services for Cuba in an effort to promote greater openness. But telecommunications equipment remains banned under the 1964 embargo.

Huawei, a global network equipment manufacturer based in Shenzhen, China, has been identified by the Pentagon in reports to Congress as one of several companies that maintain close ties to the PLA.

Along with two other firms, Huawei, “with their ties to the [Chinese] government and PLA entities, pose potential challenges in the blurring lines between commercial and government/military-associated entities,” the 2012 report said.

Huawei also was identified by the U.S. government as posing a cyber espionage risk. A House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report in 2012 warned U.S. businesses not to use equipment made by Huawei and another firm, ZTE, over concerns the gear can be used by China’s government to conduct cyber espionage.

The transfer of equipment to Cuba appears similar to another deal involving Huawei and Iran in 2012. Documents obtained by Reuters revealed that Huawei offered to sell Iran’s state-run telecommunications firm $1.7 worth of computer and network equipment made by Hewlett Packard. Huawei denied that it sought to evade U.S. sanctions in the proposed 2010 deal.

Bringing Freedom of Expression to Cuba, One Story at a Time

Thursday, September 18, 2014
By Cuban independent journalist, Roberto de Jesus Guerra, in Harvard's Nieman Reports:

It’s Good to Talk

Hablemos Press is trying to bring freedom of expression to Cuba, one story at a time

Members of Cuba’s mass media, which is completely in the hands of the state, cover only what’s convenient for the government. Because of that, in February of 2009, a group of seven independent journalists and human rights activists in Havana founded Hablemos Press—Let’s Talk—as an independent news agency to break through government censorship and inform the world about events the official media tries to silence.

Our objective was to create a system for gathering and disseminating information and for training journalists and collaborators all over Cuba. Our only equipment was one old computer, one voice recorder, and one telephone line. Today, 38 people work for Hablemos Press. We are active in nine of the country’s 16 provinces and have more than 100 collaborators. We report from and for Cuba on politics, culture, commerce, finance, art, literature, and sports—anything that’s news. And we have done this despite government repression against our journalists.

We have been arrested, deported to our hometowns when police find us elsewhere, threatened with death, harassed, and accused of “pre-criminal dangerousness,”a vague charge that can lead to anything from a ban on foreign travel to a prison sentence. Police and State Security agents beat us, fine us, and confiscate our equipment, including cell phones, cameras, flash drives, computers, recorders, and even interview notes. Our relatives also have been victims of this psychological warfare.

We Cubans live in absolutely horrible conditions. We enjoy no freedoms. We do not trust one another because the government has ground us down to the point where we believe other people could be policemen. We cannot organize peaceful public gatherings to voice our true feelings. We do not have the right to speak our minds—and those of us who do risk going to prison.

For my work as a journalist, I have served more than three years in prison and been detained more than 180 times since 2003. In prison, I witnessed daily beatings, medicine and food shortages, overcrowded cells, torture, suicide, and self-mutilation, things some people cannot believe actually happen in this dictatorship that calls itself “the Cuban Revolution.”

But we keep working as journalists because we are committed to supporting freedom of expression. Journalism must be impartial, but we in Cuba report mostly on government violations because we live under a military dictatorship that abuses the people and civil society every day.

We work in chaotic conditions, in a small and hot room about 12 feet by 20 feet, sometimes with up to six people working on three computers that are not connected to the Internet. We file our reports to supporters abroad when foreign embassies give us a few hours of Internet access in their offices.

We receive more than 15 daily visits from correspondents, collaborators, friends, and others who come by to give us information or ask for it. We make videos, do interviews, copy documents—a lot of work. Right now it’s 3:50 a.m. and I have not slept. I slept just three hours last night, and even less the night before. Despite the challenges, we have been first to many stories the regime tried to hide—the deaths of more than 20 elderly people in a Havana mental hospital during a cold snap in January of 2010; the first outbreak of cholera in Cuba in nearly 100 years; the first cases in Cuba of Chikungunya fever; street protests near the Capitol in Havana; and the deaths of several people after eating rotting meat in the eastern city of Manzanillo.

We have a Web portal for our news reports, www.cihpress.com, that is administered by a friend abroad and is updated three times a week. It gets more than 1,000 visitors per day. Our YouTube channel, with more than 250 videos, has received more than one million visits. In the last year, we also have printed 400 to 600 copies per week of a small Hablemos Press newspaper with national and international news and disseminated DVDs with TV and radio programs not available through official media.

My principal challenge is to confront the repressive apparatus each day, to grow within the repression, to evade government censorship and fill the news pages without fail.

Tweet of the Week: Venezuela on U.N. Security Council

The Speech Cuba's Regime Didn't Want You to Hear

Below are this week's remarks by blind lawyer, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

As we previously posted, the Castro regime's delegation interrupted Gonzalez Leiva three times and became threatening.

Item 3
United Nations Human Rights Council
September 15, 2014

My name is Juan Carlos González Leiva. I've spent 20 years as a blind lawyer defending human rights, suffering beatings, arbitrary arrests and organized mobs. From March 4, 2002 to April 26, 2004, I was detained in the Police Center of Pedernales, Holguín, without trial, for celebrating a congress about human rights. There, they systematically sprayed chemical substances over me that burned my skin and occasioned hallucinations, strong headaches and allergies.

I was confined without access to the press, telephone, correspondence, or religious assistance. Murderous prisoners threatened me and prevented me from sleeping night and day. In my cell were left exposed electric cables with current.

Human rights defenders in my country are victims of a constant policy of repression.

For example: In 2014 I was beaten together with 10 activists in the street. Agents dislocated my left leg and right shoulder and I lost consciousness when they applied a choke hold. Jorge Luis García Pérez “Antúnez”and his wife Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera were arrested, beaten and transferred to the local police headquarters where Antúnez was placed in a choke hold losing consciousness several times and was injected by state security agents with an unknown substance. His home was invaded and sacked.

Other activists arbitrarily detained and beaten were: José Daniel Ferrer García, Yusmila Reina Ferrera, Geobanis Izaguirre Hernández and Ernesto Ortiz Betancourt.

I ask the United Nations protection for me and all the activists inside Cuba because soon I will return to my country to continue defending human rights.

(Courtesy of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.)

Imprisoned Cuban Labor Leader in Critical Condition

Independent labor leader, Vladimir Morera Bacallao, is in critical condition pursuant to over 90 days on a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

In November 2013, Morera Bacallao was sentenced to eight years in prison by the Castro regime for his independent organizing activities.

He's been recently transferred to the Orlando Milan Castro Hospital in Santa Clara.

"All of us, his family, are opposed to the hunger strike.  But he asks us not to insist, to respect his decision.  He wants to prove his innocence with his life," his wife, Vilma Morera Bacallo, told Diario de Cuba.

More on Cuba's Continued (Tragic) Exodus

From Reuters:

As migrants flee eastern Cuba, a town mourns those lost at sea

Eighteen-year-old Miguel Lopez Maldonado boarded a homemade boat last month with 31 others, leaving behind this sleepy fishing town on Cuba's southeast coast to seek a new life in the United States.

The motor broke down after a couple days, and the craft drifted for three weeks. One by one, the passengers died of thirst, the survivors left with no option but to throw the bodies overboard.

By the time the Mexican navy spotted them 150 miles off the Yucatan peninsula, 15 had died, including Lopez Maldonado. Of the 17 rescued, two died in a Mexican hospital.

Lopez Maldonado's parents say they don't understand why their son left. But others here say many young Cubans see no future in a state-run economy, under U.S. sanctions for 50 years, with few opportunities for private enterprise.

"Young people today do not think like my generation did. They are looking for something more that they can’t find here," the dead teen's father, Miguel Lopez Vega, said, sobbing, in the living room of the family's home as neighbors stopped by to offer comfort.

"My son wanted to leave Cuba since he was 15. He didn’t want to live in this country."

The tragedy, the worst Cuban migrant boat disaster in two decades, is part of a growing illegal exodus from eastern Cuba - a region famous as the launching pad of the 1959 revolution in the nearby Sierra Maestra mountains.

U.S. authorities say 14,000 Cubans arrived without visas at the border with Mexico in the past 11 months, the highest number in a decade.

In Manzanillo, a run-down colonial city of 130,000 in eastern Granma province, residents say as many as five boats, with up to 30 passengers, depart in weeks with favorable weather.

Passengers in last month's voyage, who were aged 16 to 36, each paid the equivalent of $400 to $600 for the 675-mile trip.

The situation threatens to further strain relations between Cuba and the United States. Cuba argues that U.S. policy foments illegal and dangerous departures by granting Cubans a special right of entry not offered to other nationalities.

The wave of migration also exposes the fragility of President Raul Castro's market-oriented reforms, in which independent farming and small businesses have been legalized in an attempt rebuild a private sector wiped out in 1959.

Joaquín de La Paz, who works at a rice mill, lost a daughter, a son and two grandsons in last month's tragedy. He said economic hardship and a lack of jobs in Manzanillo, once a busy port handling sugar from nearby cane fields, had made people desperate.

De La Paz, 62, said that even though his daughter was a teacher and his son worked for the health ministry, neither earned enough to satisfy their needs.

"The kids see people leave Cuba who never even had a bicycle, and then by the time they return within a year their family situation is improved," he said.

"Look at me. After 43 years of work, I haven't been able to acquire anything, except sadness and sorrow for my family."

One granddaughter decided at the last minute not to join her mother and brother, but De la Paz frets that she will be next. The girl’s 16-year-old brother, Hector, was rescued, but he died on the way to a hospital.

De la Paz's wife, Xiomara Milan, sobbed alongside him as she recounted how they raised pigs to feed the family. She said all she had left was the hope her grandson would be returned for burial, adding the family did not have the money to repatriate his body.

Family members and neighbors said the government and state-run media have been silent about the tragedy. Only the Catholic Church has offered solace, they said.

A Mass for the victims was held in the town's main Catholic church on Friday, and prayers were offered "for those who feel the need to find another country to live." One speaker urged people to think hard about the decision and "look for safer paths."

There were also prayers that Cuban authorities "achieve the necessary material and spiritual progress" of the country.

Relatives of the victims said their only information has come from survivors detained by immigration authorities in Mexico, who have been allowed to call home twice a week.

They are pleading with Mexican authorities not to deport the survivors back to Cuba, and to allow them to continue their journey to the U.S. border.

Niurka Aguilar, the mother of one survivor, Maylin Perez, said it was her daughter's fifth attempt to leave. Perez, 30, was hoping to join her husband, who made the trip nine months ago and now lives in Texas.

"If they send her back, she will just try again," said Aguilar.

PR Firm Pays Celebrities for Foreign Propaganda Junkets

Wonder who's paying Danny Glover's tab for his Cuba junkets.

By Washington Free Beacon:

For Ecuador’s PR Firm, Celebrity Backing Carries Hefty Price Tag

MCSquared paid more than $500,000 for Mia Farrow, Danny Glover junkets

A public relations firm’s legally suspect work on behalf of the Ecuadorian government included hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to talent agencies representing prominent celebrities who traveled to the country to bemoan environmental damage there.

The firm, MCSquared, organized junkets to Ecuador last year, where actors Danny Glover and Mia Farrow promoted an Ecuadorian lawsuit against oil company Chevron over alleged environmental contamination.

According to documents filed with the Justice Department last week, MCSquared paid more than half-a-million dollars to two prominent talent agencies to recruit celebrities for the events.

Those payments were part of a $6.4 million PR contract on behalf of the government of Ecuador. MCSquared undertook much of the work last year, but only notified the DOJ, as is required by federal law, in July after the Washington Free Beacon reported that it had failed to disclose its contract with that government.

Ecuador hired the firm specifically to go after Chevron, which has resisted paying a $9 billion judgment the company claims was obtained by fraud and corruption on the part of American plaintiffs’ attorneys.

MCSquared filed an amended Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosure on Wednesday detailing nearly $2 million in disbursements related to work attacking Chevron and promoting efforts to enforce the judgment in other countries where the company has assets.

Among MCSquared’s listed disbursements were payments of $188,391.12 to Greater Talent Network, which represents Mia Farrow, and $330,000 to the American Program Bureau, which represents Danny Glover.

A False Choice for Cuban Baseball Players

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
There's an article today in Vox, which states:

"Because of the US embargo, most Cuban players have to use smugglers to get themselves to the United States. What's more, due to a quirk in Major League Baseball rules around contracts, those Cuban players often first have to travel to a third country, like Mexico — a difficult process."

The first sentence is patently false. However, the second is definitely true.

This topic has garnered a lot of attention recently, pursuant to an LA Magazine feature on Dodgers star Yasiel Puig's harrowing journey out of Cuba, where he had to promise smugglers and Mexican cartels a percentage of his future MLB earnings under physical duress.

First of all, the reason why Cuban baseball players have to resort to smugglers is because the Castro regime will not let them leave the island to independently pursue contracts anywhere.

Hence -- it's due to the Castro regime that most Cuban baseball players have to use smugglers to get themselves to the United States.

Recently, General Raul Castro has "generously allowed" some baseball players to play in Mexico and Japan -- but only as a tool of the regime, whereby he negotiates the contracts and keeps a substantive portion of the salary.

To reiterate -- under this scheme, foreign teams do not sign contracts with the Cuban players themselves, but with Castro's sports monopoly, known as INDER.

Perhaps some people (including the author of this Vox story) would like to see MLB teams directly contract with the Castro regime for "permission" to use -- and profit -- from Cuban players.

But for Cuban baseball players, it would mean either handing over a small percentage of their earnings to smugglers or a large percentage to the Castro regime.

That's a false choice.

In any other country in the world -- perhaps with the exception of North Korea -- athletes are allowed to sign contracts with foreign teams, play wherever they'd like and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

But in Castro's Cuba, athletes are owned by the state. Thus, they are currently deprived of normalcy -- the ideal solution.

In the interim though, MLB could prevent these Cuban players from dangerous entanglements with smugglers and criminal gangs by simply allowing them to sign as free agents upon arrival in the U.S., rather than encouraging them to travel to third-countries and take further risks, i.e. Yasiel Puig.

Currently, if Cuban baseball players arrive in the United States, they are not allowed to sign as free agents. Instead, they have to go through the draft, where their potential income is severely limited.

This is not due to U.S. sanctions. It is due to on an internal (and discriminatory) MLB rule -- for no other foreign baseball players are treated in this fashion.

Why MLB created -- and continues -- this discriminatory practice against Cuban players is truly beyond understanding. Perhaps it was a deal MLB Commissioner Bud Selig cut with his buddy, Fidel Castro (see picture below).

In this regards, Vox is absolutely right about what MLB could do to alleviate the problem:

"Allow all Cuban players to negotiate with all 30 teams — even if they came directly to the US. This would eliminate the incentive for players to try to get to a third country like Mexico in order to make more money — which is the phase where traffickers have generally gotten involved."

Cuban Spy Signals Intercepted

From SWLing Post:

Numbers Stations: A Bad Day to Be a Cuban spy

While band scanning last Sunday (September 8, 2014) I stumbled upon the Cuban numbers station HM01 on 11,530 kHz at 17:30 UTC.

It’s always intriguing to hear shortwave numbers stations, but I prefer those that stick to pure vocal number strings; HM01 has numbers with digital bursts between number sets, which is a more fatiguing listening experience. Nonetheless, I kept it playing in the background as I tooled around the radio room Sunday afternoon, putting away supplies from my recent three week road trip.

WFL_015Several times during the HM01 broadcast, I heard the audio (not the AM carrier) drop in the middle of numbers sets and digital bursts. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard hiccups on HM01 (see this post from last year, for example), so I wasn’t terribly surprised. Then, close to the top of the hour, HM01 audio dropped for a minute or so, then switched back to five-number sets with no digital bursts between; though I wasn’t copying the message, I suspected that someone in the studio intentionally, perhaps in frustration–or else accidentally–started the broadcast from the beginning again.

At this point, I started recording. The five-number sets continue for about a minute, then the carrier unexpectedly drops.

Since it was near the top of the hour, and HM01 broadcasts only tend to last one hour, I didn’t expect to hear the broadcast repeat–and it didn’t, at least on 11,530.

Via a little band scanning, I discovered that HM01 had unexpectedly migrated 105 kHz higher, to 11,635 kHz. This broadcast audio also begins a little awkwardly. You’ll hear the audio drop; I scan for a few seconds, then return to 11,635, and HM01 comes back. And this time, the numbers set sounds cleaner, with fewer problems.

I couldn’t help but chuckle over this…

Evidently, this message had some important content–otherwise they wouldn’t have re-broadcast the entire set the following hour, 105 kHz up from the original frequency (most likely protocol after technical difficulties). I imagine spies huddled around their radios, cursing at the interruptions and frustrated they had to listen for an additional hour; and I imagine the confusion at the broadcast site as they tried to diagnose the problem in a live broadcast. It’s during these little mistakes that numbers stations inadvertently tell us who they are (Radio Havana Cuba content has accidentally been played before on Cuban numbers stations).

Click here to listen to the recordings.

S&P Downgrades Venezuela, Faces One-in-Two Chance of Default

From The Wall Street Journal:

S&P Downgrades Venezuela on Worsening Economy

Rising Inflation, Economic Pressures Prompt Rating Cut

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services on Tuesday cut Venezuela's credit rating further into junk territory, citing President Nicolás Maduro's failure to take steps to combat rising inflation and a deepening economic crisis.

S&P downgraded Venezuela's rating from B-minus to triple-C-plus. The new rating indicates that there is a one-in-two chance that the South American country defaults on its sovereign debt in the next two years.

U.N. Agency: Cuban Intelligence Defector is a Refugee

Among the sensitive information Major Abrahantes has already disclosed are claims regarding the involvement in narcotic trafficking by two senior Castro regime officials and about the murder of Cuban democracy leader, Oswaldo Paya.

From The Bahamas' Tribune 242:

Cuban Officer Held At Detention Center Classed As Refugee

The Cuban military officer being held at the Carmichael Road Detention Center has been classified as a refugee by the United Nations, according to legal counsel for the detainee yesterday.

Lawyer David Alvarez confirmed to The Tribune that he is also in talks with a US federal agency, which has requested the approval of the Bahamas government to interview his client Mayor (Major) Ortelio Abrahantes.

After more than five months at the detention center, Mr Alvarez said his client was optimistic for a possible resolution to the “political tug of war” over his life.

“It has been very frustrating,” he said, “it seems like he’s in a political tug-of-war, and he’s caught in the cross fire of what I’m trying to do, which is save his life, and the Cuban officials. He has a lot of information, sensitive information that may be of interest.” Mr Alvarez said: “the Bahamian government is in the middle of this, I know they have a relationship with both American and Cuban officials.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday that he had “no comment on the matter.”

Mr Abrahantes is said to be an officer of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, who has defected with sensitive information involving operations conducted by the Cuban government.

According to reports, Mr Abrahantes was taken to the Bahamas on March 27 after a sail boat he was aboard was intercepted by the US Coast Guard.

Requests for assistance from the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) have been successful, according to Mr Alvarez, who said the agency has submitted their recommendations to the Bahamas government.

(UNHCR) said my client classifies as a refugee and should not be sent back to Cuba for his own safety and in compliance with international law. They are also going to start asylum proceedings.”

Calls placed to UNHCR representative for the Bahamas, Katie Tobin, were not returned up to press time.

The claims were first reported on Miami-based news network Television Marti (TV Marti) last month. It was suggested that if deported, Mr Abrahantes will be court marshalled and could face execution by firing squad or a long-term prison sentence.

Yesterday, Mr Alvarez said he met with representatives from a US federal agency, the name of which he said he’d been asked not to disclose, last Wednesday in Nassau.

He met with Mr Abrahantes at the detention center on August 27.

Mr Alvarez said: “They (US) are looking at the case, they want to meet with him but the hold up is that they keep postponing the meeting. I am hoping to meet with my client and those representatives next week at some point. As soon as the Bahamian government gives the go-ahead to interview him.”

Mr Alvarez said that he believes that his client has been treated “okay” at the facility because of the political pressure and media exposure. “He’s doing well, he has his hopes up,” he said.

“I’ve been keeping him up to speed and he knows about this potential meeting coming up. At the same time, he’s very concerned about his safety and for his wife and his daughter who are still in Cuba.”

Must-Watch: Cuban Regime Tries to Silence Blind Activist at U.N. Rights Council

Below is the video of yesterday's session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

At the 31:45 mark is the testimony of blind Cuban democracy activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, who describes the tortures and abuses he's been subjected to by the Castro dictatorship.

As you'll see the in the video, the Castro regime's delegation interrupts Gonzalez Leiva's remarks three times, with the support of Pakistan and Venezuela.

The Castro regime's delegation then becomes visibly agitated and threatening towards the end.

Meanwhile, the United States and the United Kingdom intervened on behalf of Gonzalez Leiva being able to deliver his remarks.

Click below (or here) and watch at the 31:45 mark:

Quote(s) of the Week: On American Hostages in Cuba and North Korea

Cuban government interlocutors frequently attempt to compare Mr. Gross' imprisonment to that of the convicted Cuban intelligence agents from the Wasp Network, three of whom remain in prison in the United States. The situation of Alan Gross is not comparable to that of the Cuban intelligence members.
-- Susan Bridenstine, State Department press officer, responding to a recent AP interview with Cuban intelligence agent Fernando Gonzalez, where he reiterates the Castro regime's swap demand, Radio Marti, 9/10/14

It is increasingly clear that the DPRK seeks to use these U.S. citizens as pawns to pursue its own political agenda. 
-- Marie Harf, State Department spokesperson, on this week's conviction of another American, Matthew Miller, by North Korea's regime, State Department, 9/15/14

Image of the Day: Another Rogue Regime, Another American Hostage

After being imprisoned for months without charges, another American, Matthew Todd Miller, was sentenced to six-years of hard labor by North Korea's regime for undefined "hostile acts."

Another day, another rogue regime, another hostage -- and surely, another ransom (coercion) demand.

Cuba's "Doctors Without Freedom"

Monday, September 15, 2014
Perennially searching for a headline, the Castro regime mounted a press conference last week at the World Health Organization (WHO), to announce it was sending a team of health specialists to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa.

Cuba's Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, was recently named president of the WHO's World Heath Assembly -- hence becoming a convenient propaganda platform for the Castro regime.

Consequently, the weekend's headlines exaggerated, "Cuba sending hundreds of doctors to fight Ebola."

What the Castro regime is actually sending (in its own words) is, "100 nurses, 50 doctors, 3 epidemiologists, 3 intensive care specialists, 3 infection control specialist nurses and 5 social mobilization officers."

(The latter being the secret police officials tasked with keeping tabs on the health specialists, holding their passports and preventing defections. And yes, Cubans have defected in some of the most inhospitable places in the world. Moreover, if Cubans are desperate enough to face the perils of sharks in the Florida Straits, they will face the perils of Ebola, if an opportunity to escape arises.)

Why haven't any of the media outlets or propagandists praising the Castro's regime "medical diplomacy" asked any of these Cuban health specialists what they think?

Because they can't.  These health specialist are "captive labor" of Castro's regime -- they have no voice, choice or opinion.

Where's the praise for the hundreds -- if not thousands -- of American doctors who have volunteered with NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders, Samaritans Purse, CARE International, SIM USA, et al?

Have we already forgotten about the American doctors who contracted Ebola and nearly died helping fight the deadly virus in West Africa?

These American doctors volunteer their time, and sacrifice their own resources and comfortable lifestyles to help those in need. They are not compelled by a dictatorship for profit or propaganda.

Where's the praise for the $250 million the United States has already committed in equipment, treatments and personnel to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa through its Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)?

Or the additional $500 million the Pentagon has asked Congress (for that's how democracies work) to set up field hospitals in the region, provide equipment, transportation and security for international health workers?

And where are the Cuban NGOs?

Oh, that's right, Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship, where only governmental entities are permitted -- NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are prohibited.

Cubans are some of the most charitable people in the world. There's no doubt that if the Cuban people were free, and able to create and participate in NGOs, they'd be among the first to volunteer. We see it in the diaspora daily.

But praising the Castro regime for its brand of "Doctors Without Freedom", which it only dispatches for its own profit (to places like Venezuela, Brazil and Qatar) or propaganda (to West Africa), is irresponsible and insincere.

Quote of the Day: Venezuela's Military Neo-Tyranny

Venezuela is being governed by a military neo-tyranny headed by the Castro brothers.
-- Eleonora Bruzual, renowned Venezuelan journalist, in an interview with Spain's ABC, 9/14/14

Cuban Doctors Flee Venezuela in Record Numbers

From the Los Angeles Times:

Exported to Venezuela, miserable Cuban doctors clamor to get into U.S.

Worsening conditions in Venezuela are causing increasing numbers of Cuban medical personnel working there to immigrate to the United States under a special program that expedites their applications, according to Colombian officials who help process many of the refugees.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Washington said the number of Cuban doctors, nurses, optometrists and medical technicians applying for U.S. visas under the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program is running as much as 50% ahead of last year's pace, which was nearly double that of the year before.

At the current rate, more than 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers will be admitted to the United States this year.

For geographical reasons, neighboring Colombia is a favored trampoline for Cubans fleeing Venezuela, whose leftist government has struggled to rein in runaway inflation, shortages of goods and services and rising social unrest.

Cuba, which prides itself on a comprehensive healthcare system and has long exported doctors and nurses to friendly countries, maintains an estimated 10,000 healthcare providers in Venezuela. The medical outreach program is intended as partial payment for 100,000 barrels of oil that President Nicolas Maduro's government ships to the Castro administration each day.

Nelia, a 29-year-old general practitioner from Santiago de Cuba, arrived in Bogota last month after what she said was a nightmarish year working in Venezuela's Barrio Adentro program in the city of Valencia. She declined to disclose her last name for fear of reprisal back home.

Nelia said her disillusionment started on her arrival in Caracas' Maiquetia airport in mid-2013. She and several colleagues waited there for two days, sometimes sleeping in chairs, before authorities assigned her to a clinic in Valencia, she said.

"It was all a trick. They tell you how great it's going to be, how you will able to buy things and how grateful Venezuelans are to have you. Then comes the shock of the reality," Nelia said. Her clinic in Valencia had no air conditioning and much of the ultrasound equipment she was supposed to use to examine pregnant women was broken.

She described the workload as "crushing." Instead of the 15 to 18 procedures a day she performed in Cuba, she did as many as 90 in Venezuela, she said. Crime is rampant, the pay is an abysmal $20 per month and Cubans are caught in the middle of Venezuela's civil unrest, which pits followers of the late President Hugo Chavez — whose handpicked successor is Maduro — against more conservative, market-oriented forces.

"The Chavistas want us there and the opposition does not. And there are more opposition people than Chavistas," said Nelia, who was interviewed in a Colombian immigration office in Bogota.

A 32-year-old Cuban optometrist who identified himself as Manuel and who also fled Venezuela to apply for U.S. residency said that at his clinic in Merida he was prescribing and grinding up to 120 pairs of eyeglasses a day, triple his pace in Cuba.

"As a professional you want to be paid for what your work is worth. What we were getting, $20 a month, was not enough to pay even for food and transportation, much less a telephone call to Cuba now and then," Manuel said. "That's the main reason I want to go to Miami, to earn what I'm worth."

Cubans have long had favored status as U.S. immigrants. Virtually any Cuban is guaranteed automatic residency and a path to citizenship simply by setting foot on U.S. territory, legally or not. The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program gives medical personnel a leg up by allowing them to apply for residency at U.S. embassies.

Though some Cubans apply at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, others say they fear being seen there. Also, airfare to the United States from Colombia is much cheaper than from Venezuela.

The increasing flow of Cuban doctors is only part of a rising tide of Cubans seeking to reach the United States, many through Colombia. Lacking the special status of medical personnel, many U.S.-bound Cubans first land in Ecuador, where the government requires no visas. They then typically pass through Colombia to Panama with the help of coyotes, or human traffickers. However, many are detained in Colombia.

Of 1,006 illegal immigrants detained in Colombia from January through July of this year for failing to have proper visas, 42% were Cuban, according to Colombia's immigration agency director, Sergio Bueno Aguirre. The flow of Cubans had more than doubled from the year before.

North Korea-Cuba Arms Trafficker Continues Operating With Impunity

Sunday, September 14, 2014
If North Korea's regime feels this brazen after its "slap-on-the-wrist" for trafficking 240 tons of Cuban weapons, just imagine how emboldened Castro's regime must feel, which suffered no consequences whatsoever for this blatant violation of international sanctions.

It should also come as no surprise that another North Korea-Cuba vessel is currently under investigation.

Rogues will be rogues.

From South Korea's Yonhap News Agency:

N. Korean shipping firm operating in Chinese waters despite U.N. sanctions

A North Korean shipping company slapped with U.N. sanctions after its freighter was seized last year for smuggling weapons from Cuba is operating as normal in Chinese waters, a website that monitors events in the North said Saturday, citing an analysis of shipping data.

The U.N. blacklisted the North Korean company, Ocean Maritime Management (OMM), about two months ago for operating the freighter, which was detained by Panamanian authorities in July last year while carrying Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and other arms-related cargo hidden under sacks of sugar.

Under a U.N. Security Council resolution, all U.N. member states, including China, are required to freeze the North Korean firm's assets and enhance inspections of OMM-owned ships.

"But analysis of ship inspection records shows that the frequency of inspection on OMM linked ships has not increased, indicating that Chinese inspection authorities have not upped the scrutiny on the company's vessels despite recent resolutions," the website NK News said.

Out of 14 vessels operated by the North Korean firm, 10 ships have broadcast location data since June in Chinese waters, indicating that they are still operating in Chinese ports, it said.

One of the vessels operating in Chinese waters is the Chong Chon Gang, the ship seized by the Panamanian government, according to the website.

Political ties between China and North Korea have appeared to be strained since Pyongyang apparently ignored Beijing and detonated its third nuclear device in February last year.

China has grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea's wayward behavior, but many analysts believe that Beijing will not suspend all economic support for Pyongyang out of fears it could precipitate the collapse of the regime in the impoverished country.

Remembering the Cuban-Americans of 9/11

Last Thursday, September 11th, was the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center towers in New York City.

We honor and remember all of the victims of those horrible acts of terrorism.

However, we'd like to take the opportunity to highlight the stories of the Cuban-Americans who perished that fateful day.

Courtesy of Yoani Sanchez in The Huffington Post:

The Cubans of 9/11


Born in Havana in 1945, Marco Motroni emigrated with his family at age 11. In 1963 he graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan. He started playing in la Típica Novel, one of the most successful Latin orchestras in New York. Years later he began working as a broker at Carr Futures, whose offices, in 2001, were on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.


Born in 1940 in Cuba, Juan LaFuente emigrated to the United States to attend university. In 1964 he married Colette Merical, who was the mayor of Poughkeepsie between 1996 and 2003. LaFuente worked at IBM for 31 years and at the time of the events was working for Citibank. On September 11 he was attending a meeting at a restaurant North Tower.


Niurka Davila was 47 years old when she died in the attacks. Her real name was Rosa, but she changed it when she was naturalized as an American citizen. She worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


Born in Cuba in 1965, Nancy Peréz emigrated with her family five years later and settled in New York, She was a supervisor at the Port Authority at One World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.


Born in Matanzas in 1961, George Merino emigrated with his family when he was only 7 and settled in New York. He lived in Bayside, Queens, and was a securities analyst at Fiduciary Trust, located in the World Trade Center.


The son of Cuban emigrants, Carlos Domínguez was born in New York in 1967 and lived in Nassau County, New York. In 2001 he was in charge of computer system security for Marsh & McLennan, on the 95th floor of the North Tower.


Michael Díaz Piedra III was born in Cuba in 1952. His family, plantation owners, emigrated to the United States in 1960. They settled in Florida and later, in New Jersey. He was 49 years old in 2001 and was a vice president for the Bank of New York in charge of disaster recovery planning. His family said his desire was to return to Cuba the day it became a democracy.

Twenty Years Later: Cuba's Raft Exodus Continues

An important (and tragic) reminder by Reuters:

Twenty years after Cuban raft exodus, they keep coming

Alicia Garcia vividly recalls her rescue at sea 20 years ago during a mass exodus from Cuba, a dramatic event that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and reshaped relations between the communist-run island and the United States.

"We didn't think we'd make it. We prayed, and put ourselves in God's hands," she said of her six-day ordeal clinging with five others to a raft made of truck inner tubes and rope.

Illegal departures by sea from Cuba are on the rise again, U.S. officials say, with more than 2,000 migrants picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard over the last 12 months. That is the highest rate in six years.

Many more are passing undetected, mostly headed west aboard flimsy home-made vessels in a risky bid to cross the Caribbean to Honduras, in hopes of getting across the Mexico-U.S. border.

Late last month 17 Cubans were rescued by the Mexican navy after almost a month at sea, 20 days without food. Details are unclear, but more than a dozen others may have died from dehydration - the survivors forced to throw their bodies overboard.

The town of Manzanillo in eastern Cuba, where most of the victims are from, planned a church Mass on Friday night.

"My wife, she can't bring herself to tell me what really happened. It's too terrible," said Jose Caballero, husband of one of the survivors, who left Cuba via a similar route in December and now lives in Texas.

According to the latest U.S. figures, more than 14,000 Cubans have crossed the southwestern U.S. border illegally since Oct. 1, almost triple the number four years ago.

The spike is attributed to delays of up to five years for Cubans seeking to emigrate legally to join relatives in the United States. Economic reforms designed to open up Cuba's state-controlled system and create private sector jobs have also failed to improve living conditions for most people.

"We left (Cuba) because there are no jobs or the basic items for living," said Angel, a former fishing boat captain who reached Honduras with 11 others aboard a home-made boat last week after a two-week journey via the Cayman Islands.

The boat was built clandestinely with cannibalized parts, including a car engine, a propeller and aluminum sheets sealed together with resin, he said.

It wasn't much different in 1994, said Garcia, except on that occasion Cuba lifted restrictions, opening the flood gates for anyone who wanted to jump on a raft.

That summer, between Aug. 12 and Sept. 13, some 31,000 Cubans were detained at sea by U.S. ships. It was the largest exodus since the 1980 Mariel boatlift that brought 120,000 Cubans to Miami.

The 1994 crisis led to a major shift in U.S.-Cuba policy and an accord under which Washington agreed to grant visas to 20,000 Cuban migrants a year.

As a result, since 1995 more than 600,000 Cubans have emigrated to the United States, the largest flow since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.

The 1994 crisis also led to the establishment of a so-called "wet foot, dry foot policy," under which Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain, while those intercepted at sea are turned back.

Rafters have kept coming in smaller numbers, though these days they make few political or media waves.

A series of seminars and exhibitions are being held to mark the 1994 exodus. An exhibition at the Spanish Cultural Center in Miami, opening on Saturday, features the work of Willy Castellanos, a young photographer in Havana in 1994 who chronicled the exodus as homes were ripped apart to build rafts, lowered by pulleys onto the street below.

"Living in Havana at that time and watching the exodus felt like the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the end of the utopia, the socialist model we grew up with," he said.

Garcia said she will never forget the five months she spent in 1994 at a makeshift refugee camp at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base before making it to Miami.

She has not been back to Cuba to visit the grandparents who raised her.

Garcia and other rafters say the 1994 exodus has not been fully appreciated by Cubans who arrived in Miami in the 1960s, or on the Mariel boatlift.

"The Cubans who came before, in 1980, were never in agreement with the revolution. We were supposed to be different," added Garcia, born in 1974. "We were the children of the revolution."