State: Summit's Commitment to Democracy Should be Upheld

Saturday, September 27, 2014
During a press conference today on "U.S. Priorities in the Western Hemisphere," Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, was asked about the possibility of Cuba's participation in next year's Summit of the Americas in Panama.

Her response:

"On the Summit of the Americas, I think we've been pretty clear in our position on the summit, which is that obviously Panama is the host country for the summit, and as the host country they will make the decisions on invitations to that summit. I think the invitations in a formal sense have not yet been made, but we obviously have seen the same commentary that you have. And the fact of the matter is we have said from the start that we look forward to a summit that can include a democratic Cuba at the table. We also have said that the summit process, ever since Quebec in 2001, has made a commitment to democracy, and we think that’s an important part of the summit process. But the decision about invitations is not ours to make, and obviously there’s been no invitations formally issued to the United States and other countries. And so there is no acceptance or rejection yet called for or made."

Asked whether the U.S. might refuse to participate if Cuba attends, Jacobson stated:

"I think you won’t be surprised to hear me say that we’re really not going to answer hypotheticals in the future yet. Obviously, the Summit of the Americas is in April and that’s not a situation that we can answer, although I think we have made clear that we believe the summit process is committed to democratic governance and we think that the governments that are sitting at that table ought to be committed to the summit principles, which include democratic governance. And therefore that’s our position at this point. Obviously, we have a position on Cuba which does not at this point see them as upholding those principles."

Two Cuban Fellows

Kudos to Cuban bloggers and democracy activists Yoani Sanchez and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on their prestigious new fellowships at Georgetown and Brown University, respectively.

From Georgetown University:

Cuban Blogger, Journalist Now Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown

An internationally recognized Cuban blogger known for her promotion of online freedom of expression is Georgetown’s new Yahoo! Fellow in International Values, Communications, Technology and the Global Internet.

Yoani Sanchez, an award-winning journalist and author, will focus on digital journalism and her recently launched online daily during the 2014-2015 academic year, the School of Foreign Service and its Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) announced today.

“The Yahoo! Fellowship at Georgetown is an opportunity for me to improve the quality of my own work, to empower independent journalism in Cuba,” Sanchez says, “and to interact with students and faculty in order to broaden my perspective on the world and on Cuba itself.”

Sanchez’s blog, Generation Y, is translated into nearly two-dozen languages and receives more than 14 million visits per month. This past spring, Sanchez launched Cuba’s first digital daily newspaper, 14ymedio.

A graduate of the University of Havana, where she studied language and literature, Sanchez says that challenging herself and “constantly learning are central goals in my personal life and in my journey as an eternal student.”

As the Yahoo! Fellow, Sanchez will share her experience of launching an online newspaper in a closed society and issues covered on 14ymedio with the Georgetown community to inform an exploration of online information and values.

From Brown University:

Pardo Lazo named International Writers Project fellow

Cuban writer and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has been chosen as this year’s 2014-2015 International Writers Project (IWP) Fellow. The IWP fellowship is given annually to one writer who has been subjected to political harassment, imprisonment, or oppression in his or her country of origin. The fellowship provides a stipend and working space for the writer.

According to Erik Ehn, director of the International Writers Project, “The rigor of the word, the bravery of the writer, the ethic of solidarity and the faith in steady witness are celebrated at Brown through the mission and practices of the IWP, where we line up the disciplinary depth of literary programs at Brown with the University’s international mandate. IWP provides writers at risk time to write and engagement with our community of faculty and students, sharing fellowship across the school and beyond through festivals, performances, and special presentations.”

Born in Havana, Pardo Lazo is the author of five novels. He is a columnist for Madrid’s Diario de Cuba, Sampsonia Way Magazine and El Nacional in Caracas, and is webmaster of the photoblog Boring Home Utopics and the opinion blog Lunes de post-Revolución (available in English at orlandolunes.wordpress.com).

Pardo Lazo’s novel, Boring Home, was censored by the Letras Cubanas publishing house in 2009. Following its subsequent publication by Garamond (Prague) and El Nacional (Caracas), he has not been permitted to publish, study, or work in Cuba. He was arrested on three occasions and prevented from leaving the island by Fidel Castro’s secret police. He was finally allowed to leave Cuba in 2013 following the advent of migratory reforms launched by the government of Raul Castro.

Pardo Lazo has continued his literary and political activities since his arrival in the United States. In 2014, O/R Books in New York published Cuba In Splinters, an anthology of Cuban stories edited by Pardo Lazo. In October 2014, Restless Books will publish his digital photobook, Abandoned Havana, “a collection of surreal, irony-laden photos and texts” about the city.

More Options for Cubans to Have Internet Connectivity

Friday, September 26, 2014
Earlier in the week, we posted "How Cubans Can Have Internet Access Overnight."

It's about the O3b Network -- a next generation satellite constellation that provides fiber quality Internet connectivity.

It was specifically created to service emerging and insufficiently connected markets in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, with a collective population of over 3 billion people (hence the name O3b).

Cuba is well within its service coverage.

The only obstacle for this low-cost, fiber-speed satellite network to provide quick and easy connectivity to the Cuban people is the Castro regime.

However, it's not the only option available (without empowering Castro's domestic telecom monopoly, ETECSA).

Over the summer, Dr. Larry Press, a California State University Professor, who has long studied global diffusion of the Internet and has closely followed Cuba, posted various other satellite ("extra-terrestrial") options.

(Note: None of these are prohibited by U.S. sanctions law.)

Below is his post.

One thing is for sure, the worst thing the U.S. could do is allow telecom companies like AT&T to invest in Castro's monopoly, ETECSA.  Similar foreign investments in the past have only proven to help the Cuban dictatorship.  

Monopolies are bad in open, democratic societies; they are even worse in closed, totalitarian ones.  

From Dr. Larry Press' CIS 471:

During the last couple decades, NGOs, governments and entrepreneurs have worked with four extra-terrestrial connectivity technologies:

1. High Altitude Platform
2. Low Earth Orbit Satellite
3. Medium Earth Orbit Satellite
4. Geostationary Satellite

Let's look at Google's projects in this context.

High altitude platforms (HAPs) are blimps, drones or balloons that hover or circulate in the stratosphere. They have cloudless access to solar energy and being above the weather helps with control, but their signals must travel through rain and clouds. They are the lowest flying technology, so packet latency is relatively small, but so is their "footprint" -- the area their signal covers on the ground. 

The most visible HAP Internet effort has been that of Sanswire, which has run well-publicized tests for over a decade. Sanswire has gone through bankruptcy, announced projects in Latin America that never materialized and faced complaints by suppliers and employees, but they are still working on Internet connectivity.

Google has two HAP projects, Project Loon, using balloons and a drone project using technology from recently purchased Titan Aerospace. There have been reports of Google blimp trials, but I've not seen any details on those. 

Most satellites -- like the Space Station and sensing satellites -- are in low Earth orbit (LEO). LEO satellites move relative to the ground, which means that either communication windows are intermittent or many satellites -- a "constellation" -- are needed to cover the planet. 

The first LEO Internet project I know of was used for intermittent connectivity in Africa during the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter, a number of entrepreneurial LEO projects were announced. The most ambitious was Teledesic, which proposed Internet connectivity for the entire planet using a constellation of 288 satellites orbiting at 700 kilometers. Teledesic had high-profile backers like Bill Gates, Paul Allen and a Saudi prince, but the technology of the day was not up to the task and the company failed.

Today, the best-known LEO communication system is Iridium's satellite phone service, consisting of 66 LEO satellites. (Iridium was conceived by Motorola as an Internet project, but was scaled back to telephony, went bankrupt and reemerged as a phone service). 

This week, Google acquired Skybox Imaging, a company that has put a LEO satellite in a 600 kilometer orbit. The company was formed for data gathering, for example for providing real time video and images of traffic on roads, the sea and in the air, environmental monitoring, or map and earth imaging. 

This sort of imagery has both economic and military value, so it will provide Google both revenue and expertise in the short run. Might they be planning to parlay that into a constellation of Skybox communication satellites -- Teledesic II with modern technology -- in the long run?

Medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites are used for communication and navigation. Google recently announced a project with O3b Networks (other three billion). O3b currently has four satellites in 8,000 kilometer equatorial orbits and they plan to launch four more this year. They say those eight satellites will enable them to offer continuous service to all parts of the Earth within 45 degrees of the Equator. 

The project with Google is headed by two O3b executives and they speak of spending billions dollars and putting at least 180 satellites in orbit. When they speak of 180 satellites, one wonders whether they are considering a LEO constellation.

Today's commercial satellite Internet connectivity is provided by geostationary satellites, which are positioned above the equator and remain stationary with respect to the surface of the earth since they orbit exactly once per day. Their orbit altitude enables multi-country footprints, but latency and launch costs are high. 

Geostationary satellites have been used in rural areas and developing nations since the early days of the Internet, and the industry has remained viable as a result of technical progress in launch technology (public and private), antennas, solar power, radios and other electronics, as well as tuning of TCP/IP protocols to account for the 1/4 second latency due to the orbital altitude. (I've had surprisingly natural voice over IP conversations with people on geostationary satellite connections).

Have those technologies progressed to the point where HAPs and lower orbit satellites are now viable as well?

Google, along with Facebook, is a founding partner of Internet.org, which seeks "affordable internet access for the two thirds of the world not yet connected." Since the beginning years of the Internet, NGOs, government agencies and entrepreneurs has been working on the Grand Challenge of connecting developing nations. They have not succeeded, but Google, with improved technology, deep pockets, a long-range viewpoint and economic motivation (ads) may be able to pull it off. 

Finally, I cannot end this post without wondering whether Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic are eyeing those other three billion people.

Tweet of the Day: Obama Applauds Cuba's Berta Soler

Thursday, September 25, 2014
From the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson:

Tweet of the Day, Pt. 2: Countries Supporting Assad

By the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power:

Castro Supports Assad at U.N.

Guess which 5 countries voted to protect Assad's crimes against humanity?

Algeria, China, Cuba, Russia and Venezuela.

From AP:

UN Rights Body to Share Syria War Crimes Evidence

The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted overwhelmingly to share its evidence of Syrian atrocities in hopes it will be forwarded to the world's war crimes tribunal.

By a vote of 32-5, with 10 abstentions, the 47-nation council adopted the resolution Thursday strongly condemning lack of cooperation by President Bashar Assad's government with a U.N. commission investigating alleged rights violations since March 2011 in Syria, whether by the government or the opposition or the Islamic State group that controls broad areas along the Syria-Iraq border.

The resolution emphasizes that The Hague-based International Criminal Court can play an "important role" if the United Nations agrees to send it the commission's findings on war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly being committed in Syria.

The New York Times Celebrates Censorship in Cuba

The New York Times has applied for a Treasury license to host a "people-to-people" trip to Cuba.

As we all know, "people-to-people" trips are Castro-hosted tourism boondoggles, whereby U.S. travelers are fed a dose of official propaganda while enjoying the finest amenities the Cuban military's four and five-star hotels have to offer.

According to President Obama, who authorized these trips in 2011, the purpose of these measures was to:

"[I]ncrease people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities."

Thus, surely The New York Times' proposed "people-to-people" itinerary includes meetings with Cuba's courageous independent journalists (i.e. Roberto de Jesus Guerra of Hablemos News), or perhaps with the families of imprisoned writers (i.e. Angel Santiesteban-Prats)?

Or maybe a visit with Pedro Pablo Oliva, a renowned artist who this month had his exhibit, "Utopias and Dissidents," shut down and has suffered continuous harassment by Castro's secret police?

You know -- in order to "help promote the Cuban people's independence from the authorities."

Nope.

Instead, The New York Times' itinerary features:

"- A meeting with journalists from Granma, Cuba’s national newspaper, as well as with reporters at a small regional newspaper, to learn about the papers and their role today in delivering news in Cuba.

- A reception with members of The National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba."

In other words, The New York Times' trip is to "learn" from the Castro regime's information monopoly and enjoy "daiquiris and mojitos" with the entity responsible for censoring writers and artists.

That's not a promotion of independence -- it's a promotion (and celebration) of censorship.

Apparently, old habits die hard for The New York Times.

Castro Loves "People-to-People" Trips

So much so -- that his regime is now marketing their own brand.

Sadly, we're not joking.

In 2011, President Obama authorized "people-to-people" trips to Cuba, seeking to:

"[I]ncrease people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities."

Unfortunately, these trips have done none-of-the-above.

Instead, they are propaganda junkets, hosted by Castro-minders, which frequent the Cuban military's finest tourism facilities.

So now, the Castro regime is marketing its own brand of "people-to-people" trips internationally through the regime's Amistur tourist agency, a subsidiary of the "Cuban Friendship Institute."

For those who don't follow the issue closely, the "Cuban Friendship Institute" is a well-known tool of the Cuban intelligence services.

No wonder the FBI found it necessary to recently put out an advisory.

From Castro's state media:

Cuba Presents People-to-People Tourist Modality at French Fair

Cuba's Amistur tourist agency presented at France's Top Resa International Tourism Fair a proposal based on visits that combine history, culture and identity in order to promote people-to-people exchange.

This is a modality we have practiced for some time now, said the agency's sales manager Argelio Martinez in statements to PL news agency.

This is the first time we attend this international fair with an offer of tourist packages and tours that allow the contact with Cuban reality through different areas, such as education, health, the environment, social projects, said Martinez, whose agency Amistur is under the Cuban Friendship Institute.

A Harrowing 10 Days at Sea

From AP:

Cuban migrant: 10 days at sea before reaching shores of Florida were 'the worst of my life'

On their sixth day at sea, the nine Cuban men aboard a small homemade metal boat watched in despair as their motor ran out of gas. They had only one can left and there were miles of sea still ahead.

"We were very afraid," Antonio Cardenas Viejo, 50, recalled.

They dumped food and even the boat's sail into the water to make the vessel lighter. Then they began to row.

Four days later, they reached the shores of South Florida. Beaching their craft beside an upscale Florida condominium Tuesday, they jubilantly ran ashore as residents greeted them with cries of, "Welcome to the land of liberty!"

On Wednesday, the men recounted their 10-day journey from Cuba to the U.S. Dressed in new jeans and matching blue and white striped polo shirts given to them by aid workers, the men said the trip was much longer and arduous than they had imagined. They warned other Cubans thinking of leaving by boat not to take to the sea.

"There's a fever right now," Jose Ramon Fuente Lastre, 23, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There are a lot of people making rafts, many people who want to come."

"I would advise them that it's dangerous," he said. "We made it by a miracle."

The number of Cubans leaving on homemade boats has risen significantly in the past year. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 3,639 have been stopped at sea or made it to shore in Florida and other parts of the Caribbean, up from 2,129 in the 2013 fiscal year.

Just along the shores of South Florida, 780 Cubans have arrived in the last 12 months, compared to 423 in the previous year.

Under the "wet-food, dry-foot" policy, Cubans who reach U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay. Those who are caught at sea are almost always returned to the island.

The men who arrived Tuesday said they chose to flee because of mounting economic difficulties. None could afford to buy an airplane ticket and travel to a third country, as thousands of Cubans do to escape each year, making their way to the U.S. by plane or across the Mexican border. But they could pool their money together to build a boat.

"Let's try our luck," Viejo said. "If others have done it, why not us?"

Viejo sold his horse and other farm animals, which brought in about $650. Lastre put in his life's savings, about $550, earned by selling food on the black market. Two other men pawned their houses on the black market.

Three times the men put their boat into the sea, only to have the motor break down and the vessel fill up with water just barely offshore. Each time, they bought a new motor and tried again.

On Sept. 13, they boarded the boat at 2 a.m. This time, it chugged far out to sea.

"Adios!" fishermen yelled out to them. "Adios!" they yelled back.

The first six days went relatively smoothly, the men said. Then the motor ran out of gas and fear set in.

None of the men had been on a boat before. They had only a compass and an old map of Cuba, the southern tip of Florida stretching down from the top, to guide them.

Viejo, the oldest of the group, urged them to press on.

"Let's keep rowing," he told them. "We're going to arrive."

The next day, they saw lights in the distance. They rowed on, through stretches of rain and one powerful storm with waves more than 13 feet high.

"Those 10 days were the worst of my life," Yennier Martinez Diaz, 32, said. "I thought we were going to drown."

As they came within sight of Key Biscayne, Florida, they put the last can of gas into the motor engine and sped toward land, fearful they would be caught by the Coast Guard just before reaching the shore. They came ashore along the beach outside the Mar Azul condominium, where a few residents were outside on a gray day.

"Are you Cubans?" they asked excitedly.

"Yes, we're Cubans," the men responded.

"Welcome to the land of liberty!" the residents cried.

Viejo raised his hands into air, a smile stretching across his face as he remembered the moment.

Obama (and Hillary) Should Heed The Ladies in White's Advice

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Kudos to President Obama for recognizing the courageous efforts of Berta Soler and The Ladies in White during his remarks yesterday at the Clinton Global Initiative.

President Obama (and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) should also heed Berta Soler and The Ladies in White's advice (see here) on how easing U.S. sanctions would only hurt their struggle.

Moreover, that the U.S. should not follow Europe's shameful collusion with Cuba's dictatorship.

Tweet from Cuba's Ladies in White:

"While President Obama expresses concern for The Ladies in White, the Spanish government and the European Union remain silent and ease relations with the Cuban government."

Obama Highlights Cuba's Ladies in White in Remarks Today

"As we do every time this year, Presidents and Prime Ministers converge on this great city to advance important work. But as leaders, we are not the most important people here today. It is the civil society leaders who, in many ways, are going to have the more lasting impact, because as the saying goes, the most important title is not president or prime minister; the most important title is citizen.

It is citizens -- ordinary men and women, determined to forge their own future -- who throughout history have sparked all the great change and progress [...] It’s citizens who, right now, are standing up for the freedom that is their God-given right.

And I’ve seen it myself, in the advocates and activists that I’ve met all over the world. I’ve seen it in the courage of Berta Soler, the leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White who endure harassment and arrest in order to win freedom for their loved ones and for the Cuban people."

-- U.S. President Barack Obama, during remarks today at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York City, 9/23/14

Click below (or here) to watch President Obama's remarks:

Issues Reports: Cuban Baseball's Open Secret

Click here (or the image below) to watch this week episode of Issues Report on "Smuggling: Cuban Baseball's Open Secret."

How Cubans Can Have Internet Access Overnight

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Opponents of U.S. policy toward Cuba insist that allowing U.S. companies to invest in Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, will somehow "trickle-down" into more Internet connectivity for the Cuban people.

Of course, the facts prove otherwise.

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

Did this provide connectivity for the Cuban people?

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

Did this provide connectivity for the Cuban people?

And we're now learning that the Chinese military's company, Huawei, has been illegally selling U.S. telecom equipment to Cuba's regime.

Has this provided connectivity for the Cuban people?

Of course not.  All its done is benefit Castro's regime.

Rather than focusing on ways to collaborate with the Castro regime's monopoly and its censors, here's an easy way to provide Cubans with Internet connectivity overnight.

The O3b Network is a next generation satellite constellation that provides fiber quality Internet connectivity.

It was specifically created to service emerging and insufficiently connected markets in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, with a collective population of over 3 billion people (hence the name O3b).

Cuba is well within its service coverage (see below).

Moreover, there's nothing in U.S. law that would prevent O3b from providing Internet connectivity to the Cuban people.

So why won't Cuba's regime allow this low-cost, fiber-speed satellite network to provide quick and easy connectivity to the Cuban people?

Four Species of Journalists in Cuba

By Yoani Sanchez in Harvard's Nieman Reports:

Island in the Storm

How Cuba’s network of independent and citizen journalists keeps the country informed

In Cuba, it’s called “D-Day”—that hypothetical future date on which the Castro regime falls. D-Day is a date long-awaited by broad sectors of the population, the Cuban diaspora, media outlets around the world, and foreign correspondents based on the island, who want to be there to report the story firsthand.

However, given government controls and the lack of laws that protect freedom of the press, reporting on any story on the island, let alone D-Day, is complicated. In Cuba, there are at least four species of journalists: foreign correspondents based on the island, official journalists, independent journalists, and citizen journalists. Each occupies a unique niche in Cuba’s journalism ecosystem, and each faces a slightly different set of challenges.

The International Press Center (IPC), which registers and monitors non-Cuban journalists who live on the island, exerts control over foreign media in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. Reporters who write pieces that displease the IPC are summoned to its offices for a scolding. Foreign media that do not comply with IPC limits may end up losing accreditation, as happened in 2011 to Mauricio Vicent, the El País correspondent who had his residence visa withdrawn. So much for reporting on D-Day.

Once a foreign correspondent settles on the island, gets married, and has a family, his or her objectivity begins to be tested. The intelligence agencies know how to cause pain or put pressure on a loved one to temper criticism. It offers perks to incentivize journalists to stay away from thorny issues. Foreign agencies have exchanged objectivity and journalistic freedom to keep their correspondents in place. The result has been timid journalism, complacent in many cases and fearful of getting in trouble. The government has managed to domesticate these journalists, save for a few honorable exceptions, so much so that popular phraseology sometimes refers to them not as “foreign correspondents” (corresponsales extranjeros) but instead as “co-responsible foreigners” (co-responsables extranjeros).

Cuba’s “official” journalists, those who work for state-run outlets, are lucky to be practicing at a time when the national media is attempting to better reflect social problems. Official journalism is living through a tentative glasnost, an attempt at informational transparency. The same power that contributed to the creation of newspapers that only praised the regime now insists on applauding its critics. But it isn’t quite that simple.

The original sin of the official press is that it is not the press at all, but rather a propaganda unit. The official press is structured so that nothing escapes into the headlines or the microphones or the cameras that has not been previously inspected. Official outlets are financed entirely by the government, which defines the editorial line. These organizations do not generate enough revenue to cover their print runs or broadcasts, hence the need for government subsidies. All Cubans sustain the Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers, the Cubavisión TV channel, and the Radio Reloj broadcasts, whether we like them or not.

Cuba has one of the most sophisticated methods of information supervision in the world, and official journalists have to contend with at least three strong censorship mechanisms. At the height of this architecture of control is the Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR). The DOR analyzes and classifies all journalistic content and also monitors certain themes and authors. The DOR is responsible for drawing up a “thematic plan” that determines when specific topics reach the Cuban press and for how long and at what level of intensity they are covered. Right now, for example, the development of the Port of Mariel is a hot topic.

The editors of official news agencies are required to meet regularly with “the comrades of the DOR” to ensure that the schedule of topics is followed. Newspaper editors and heads of special pages can only be appointed with the approval of the DOR. The journalism program at the University of Havana also receives direct attention from the DOR, which controls its curricula and intervenes in the selection of new students.

Ministers running state institutions impose a second mechanism of control. The disclosure departments of these entities work to “encourage” journalists to do stories on specific subjects. Only with the authorization of these state institutions can correspondents get access to press conferences, offices, factories, farms, or schools. Journalists working within a specific sector—agriculture, public health, or education, for example—receive periodic evaluations from the relevant institutions. Good evaluations mean better salaries, promotions and even possible honors. This mechanism has created the jingoistic “everything is perfect” kind of journalism that has done so much damage to Cuban society.

The third mechanism of control produces fear whenever its name is mentioned: the Ministry of the Interior. Every daily newspaper, radio station, and television channel has on staff one or more persons hired to investigate troublesome journalists and the personal activities of every writer, photographer, and graphic designer. They also watch what is said in the hallways, what journalists ask interviewees (especially if they are foreigners), and whether they have contact with members of the opposition or independent journalists.

Perhaps the most efficient and sophisticated control of all is self-censorship, the omissions every journalist makes to stay safe.

Independent journalism survives solely underground, disseminating information censored by the government, such as the dengue fever epidemic in the province of Camagüey that an independent journalist recently informed me about via a text message filled with spelling errors. Denied access to institutions and ministries, independent journalists gather information from the streets. Most of their notes and articles are closer to allegations than to verified information.

The majority of those who work in the independent sector are not journalism graduates. Very few boast a diploma of higher education. Some barely know how to write a story in the professional sense. But these reporters act as instigators to the official press, which then feels obligated to address certain problems. Independent journalism has huge challenges to overcome, foremost among them being quality. It is imperative to improve the level of correspondents through education and training. The constant exodus of independent journalists into exile makes the problems worse.

Tweet of the Day: On Foreign Interference in Venezuela

By Cuban blogger, Yusnaby Perez:

Maduro: "We will not tolerate foreign interference in Venezuela." 

5 minutes later: "Cuban doctors are coming to investigate biological warfare."

Misreporting (and Deceiving) on Cuba's "Private" Restaurants

Monday, September 22, 2014
Over the weekend, CNN reported from Havana, "Cuba says 9,000 restaurants can now be privately owned."

Meanwhile, AFP reported, "Cuba to privatize 9,000 restaurants."

Both stories allege the Castro regime announced that some state-owned restaurants will be "sold" to "private owners."

They refer to comments in Cuban state media by Deputy Domestic Trade Minister, Ada Chavez Oviedo.

Yet nowhere in the state media stories, which CNN and AFP cited as sources, are the terms "privately-owned", "privatize" or "sold" mentioned.

(To the contrary, the state media stories stress continued state-ownership.)

As a matter of fact, the only transfer term used in the state media is "arrendado" -- meaning "leased."

The rest is fabricated by CNN and AFP.

What the Castro regime actually announced is that it will continue to "gradually and orderly" lease some state restaurants to "cuenta-propistas" ("self-employment licensees").

However, the restaurants will remain state-owned.  These licensees would simply manage the restaurants -- for the state.

There are no "privately-owned" restaurants in Cuba, nor any "privatization" taking place.

Cuban "self-employment" licensees have no ownership rights. They don't even have any leaseholder rights.

They perform a service -- for the state -- at the arbitrary whim of the state -- with no rights or recourse.

CNN and AFP can plead ignorance or sloppiness in its reporting.

However, anti-sanctions lobbyists who repeat this jargon are seeking to purposefully deceive -- for they know better.

All they have to do is listen to the five "self-employed" licensees they've been parading around Washington, D.C. and Miami.

As Yamina Vicente, a Cuban event planning "self-employed" licensee (Decorazon), explained at a recent forum:

"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, Decorazon or Atelier [the restaurant] or D’Brujas [the soap manufacturing and sales business], don't exist as companies."

Note to the media and anti-sanctions lobbyists: Playing along with the Castro regime's injustices and distortions only facilitates them.

Foreign Investment Continues to Fall in Cuba

Despite the propaganda offensive by the Castro regime, foreign investment in Cuba fell by 1.8% during the first half of 2014 (compared to the same period in 2013).

And this figure is according to Cuba's National Statistics Office (ONE), which means it's probably even worse than that.

Throughout the last year, there has been a flurry of news stories regarding the new Port of Mariel and the so-called "new" Foreign Investment Law.

Meanwhile, anti-sanctions lobbyist continue parroting the line about "lost opportunities" for U.S. business.

Well, here are the actual results.

Cuban Military Desperate for Chinese Tourists

A good reminder of who benefits from tourism to Cuba.

From Cafe Fuerte:

Cuba’s Military on the Hunt for Chinese Tourism

The Grupo Gaviota, one of the pillars of the commercial chain operated by Cuba’s Armed Forces, has launched an aggressive campaign to attract Chinese tourists to Cuba.

The Cuban government is laying its bets on the mid-term potential of the Chinese tourism market, today the top source country (reporting 100 million travelers every year)

The number of Chinese tourists that travel to the island is infinitesimal when compared to other destinations (a mere 22,218 Chinese traveled to Cuba last year), despite the 100 % growth experienced since 2008. China ranks 15th among the island’s tourism source countries.

According to a report issue by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), a delegation of the Grupo Gaviota company headed by general manager Ileana Pilar Martinez traveled to China at the beginning of September and held a meeting at the Cuban embassy with the three agencies that were the main sources of Chinese tourism to the island in 2013.

Martiez invited the Chinese companies to assess the possibility of joint ventures in the tourism sector, from the building of hotels to the creation of golf courses.

The visit to China by Gaviota representatives coincided with the launching of a six-minute promotional video, with Chinese subtitles, about Cuba’s touristic charms.

By the close of the year, the Grupo Gaviota S.A. will operate 55 hotels, 12 of them in the Varadero beach area, for a total of 29,400 rooms. The company is also planning the development of marinas and a range of other tourist facilities.

The expansion of the Gaviota Varadero Marina, expected to become Cuba’s largest and most modern facility of its kind (with a mooring capacity of 1,200 vessels), will be completed next year.

The first Cuba-China forum was held in Havana last year. It was aimed at the promotion of Cuban products that could contribute to an increase in Chinese tourism.

At the forum, there was talk of raising the number of Chinese visitors to the island to 100,000 a year. The Chinese ambassador in Havana, Zhang Tuo, went as far as predicting “a sea of Chinese tourists for the near future."

Some of the issues to be addressed in order to encourage more visits to Cuba from China are the scarce availability of Chinese food on the island, the training of tourist guides who speak Mandarin and the search for better flight connections between the two countries.

(Translation courtesy of Havana Times.)

Caught on Film: Female Activists Protest in Havana, Violently Arrested

Sunday, September 21, 2014
The video below shows two female democracy activists holding a banner on the rooftop of a building in central Havana, while calling for "Freedom!" and "Down With the Dictatorship!"

Pamphlets with messages from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were dispersed throughout the streets.

Towards the end, note the violence with which the female activists are yanked from the rooftop; the size of the police operation mounted against them; the gathering crowd's rejection of the violence used against the peaceful activists (chants of "Abusers!"); and the secret police officials dispersed through the crowds.

Click below (or here) to watch:

How MLB Can Protect Cuban Baseball Players

By Helen Aguirre Ferre in The Miami Herald:

Unfortunately, cash, smugglers rule

Human trafficking is not new, but smugglers have new clients: Cuban baseball players. That became clear with revelations about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s flight from Cuba through violent smugglers who left a trail of death and deceit along the way.

Cuban boxer Yunior Despaigne, who fled with Puig, signed an affidavit claiming that Gilberto Suarez and others financed Puig’s escape to Islas Mujeres and Mexico for $250,000. Realizing Puig’s dollar value to a Major League Baseball team — there are 30 — the smugglers doubled the amount to be paid for his release.

Puig was held until the ransom was paid. As it turns out, the smugglers were working for the notorious Zetas Mexican drug cartel, which allegedly killed one involved in the plot over a dispute about money.

Is the trip worth the risk?

Baseball is a way of life in Cuba. Cuban baseball players are considered national icons; every time one defects, it is an embarrassment to the government. They are leaving to escape poverty and to fulfill a dream of playing for the MLB. In Cuba, a baseball player lives in poor conditions. earning between $12 and $16 a month. In the United States, the minimum salary reported by the MLB in 2013 was $490,000. Some, of course, earn much more. Puig has a $42-million contract with the Dodgers; White Sox star Jose Abreu earns $68 million. The difference in salaries between both countries would be almost comical were it not so sad.

Joe Kehoskie, a baseball agent and president and CEO of Joe Kehoskie Baseball has represented more than a dozen Cuban defectors. In an interview for Issues Reports, which I host 11 a.m. Sunday on WPBT2, Kehoskie says that professional smugglers work with U.S. sports agents to target and seduce players to leave Cuba. The smugglers/agents get up to 30 percent of the value of the player’s contract in return. He paints an ugly portrait of a sport that is considered America’s pastime.

Facing the embarrassment of the growing number of prominent ball players who are fleeing the island, the Cuban regime is softening its position now allowing some to play abroad as long as they return to Cuba to fulfill their commitments at home. Mexico and Japan have taken advantage, reportedly signing deals that range from $980,000 to $1.5 million. There are two catches: The Cuban government receive the players’ salaries, and none can play in the United States. It could become a lucrative business for the communist country that never lets its workers directly negotiate or be compensated by companies.

The Cuban government has long profited from the human trafficking of its best talent. That is the perspective of Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, who calls out MLB Commissioner Bud Selig as a frequent visitor to Cuba and friend of members of the regime.

Photographs of Selig in Cuba sitting next to Fidel Castro support his view: “The real problem is that MLB does not treat Cuban players in the same way as they do other international players,” says Claver-Carone.

Under MLB rules, only Cubans who arrive in the United States via a third country are allowed to negotiate as free agents; that is where the lucrative contracts lie. MLB policy ignores Cubans who arrive legally by other means such like a visa or wet foot-dry foot. They can only be hired by a team as an amateur draft pick who earns far less. It is a rule the MLB could easily change, thus eliminating the stain of corruption and immorality associated with human trafficking.

There are those who say that the Cuban embargo is the culprit behind the human trafficking of ball players, but that clearly isn’t true. By changing its rules, the MLB could let all Cuban arrivals negotiate as free agents like other international players.

Cuban baseball players might not care how they get off the island, but the rest of us should. Human exploitation is wrong. The Florida Legislature was right in unanimously passing a law that attempts to pressure the MLB to level the playing field for all Cuban ball players. The story is out that sports agents and drug cartels are smuggling Cuban players; MLB needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing for all international ball players, including Cubans.

Venezuela Shouldn't Get U.N. Security Council Seat

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Venezuela doesn’t deserve a seat on the U.N. Security Council

The odds that Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest country, will suffer a catastrophic economic collapse shortened significantly this month. Nicolás Maduro, the economically illiterate former bus driver who succeeded Hugo Chávez as president last year, rejected the advice of pragmatists proposing common-sense measures to rein in soaring inflation of more than 60 percent and crippling shortages of basic goods such as milk and toilet paper. Instead he gave a speech claiming that “our problems are the result of economic war waged by the opposition and private business.”

Now Mr. Maduro’s government is attempting to prove his point. It is pressing forward with the prosecution of several top opposition leaders, including Leopoldo López, the former mayor of a Caracas district who heads the more militant wing of anti-government forces. “Militant” is a relative term here: Earlier this year Mr. López and several allies called for peaceful street demonstrations under the slogan “the way out.” The hope was they would create irresistible pressure for change, similar to the “people power” revolutions of Asia and Eastern Europe.

As Human Rights Watch documented , the regime responded violently. More than 40 people were killed, and 1,700 were criminally charged. Some 70, including Mr. López, remain incarcerated. Since voluntarily surrendering on Feb. 18, Mr. López has been held in isolation on a military base. Now he is undergoing a trial that can only be described as farcical. The government claims that Mr. López is somehow responsible for violent clashes in Caracas, even though he was not present when they took place and had publicly called on his followers to remain peaceful. A judge has disallowed all but one of the more than 60 witnesses he called, while scheduling more than 100 for the prosecution. As The Post’s Nick Miroff recently reported, Mr. Maduro has already declared the trial’s outcome: “He has to pay, and he will pay.”

Average Venezuelans are already paying heavily for Mr. Maduro’s practice of substituting political persecution for economic remedies. Now the question is whether he and his cronies will be held responsible for their behavior by outside powers with leverage, including the United States. The Obama administration has been resisting legislation that would provide for sanctions against leading members of the regime. In July, it offered the weaker measure of canceling the U.S. visas of some two dozen officials, without naming them.

It’s time for more visible action. One opportunity is at the United Nations: Next month Venezuela will stand for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, where it would be able to advocate for allies such as Syria, Iran and Cuba. Though unopposed, the Maduro government must win the votes of two-thirds of the General Assembly in a secret ballot. The Obama administration could help itself and send a message to Mr. Maduro by rounding up the 65 votes needed to keep Venezuela off the Security Council.

Solidarity or Propaganda?

By Cuban blogger Fernando Damaso in Translating Cuba:

Solidarity or Propaganda? 

I wish I could be happy about the quick response by the Cuban government to the request for assistance from the World Health Organization and the UN general secretary in their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, but I cannot.

I am all too aware of the deteriorating state of our hospitals, the lack of hygiene, the poor medical care — provided mainly by students rather than doctors — the poor nutrition provided to patients, the shortage of drugs and many other problems.

I am referring, of course, to the medical centers which serve the average Cuban, which are the majority, not to the specialized centers catering to foreigners, VIPs or people who can pay for their services in hard currency.

A similarly rapid response should be applied to the serious problems that have afflicted our health care system for years. We make the mistake of trying to solve the world’s problems without due regard for our own. This seems to have paid off in that at least it generates a lot of free propaganda.

However, no one who speaks or writes about the magnificent Cuban health system has had to have their illnesses or those of their loved ones treated here. Furthermore, many Cuban bigwigs prefer to seek treatment in other countries, even that of the enemy. There must be some reason for this.

At a press conference in Geneva, Cuba’s minister of public health took the opportunity to propagandize about the country’s achievements and to emphasize yet again how many medical personnel have provided and are now providing care in other countries.

He also talked about the thousands of overseas volunteer workers, though without mentioning how much Cuba charges in dollars for this service — currently one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange — or how doctors, nurses and other specialists are not being properly paid.

At one point during the press conference the minister stated that the Revolution did not wait for its health services to be developed before beginning to provide assistance to other peoples.

He neglected to mention that Cuba’s health services were already well-developed before 1959 and were among the best not only in the Caribbean but in all of Latin America. One need only look to official statistics from international organizations of the time to confirm this.

Given these questions, I am concerned that what we are dealing with here has more to do with propaganda than with solidarity.