Castro's Monstrous Legacy

Saturday, October 11, 2014
By renowned U.S. scholar, Walter Russell Mead, in The American Interest:

The Castro Legacy: Untold Thousands of Watery Graves

More than half a century of building socialism; billions of dollars in aid, first from the Soviet Union and later Venezuela; decades of repression in the name of socialist idealism. Yet Cuba is still such a mess that tens of thousands are risking their lives to get out. The NYT reports that skyrocketing numbers of Cubans are attempting to flee their country in unsafe, homemade boats headed for the United States. It’s the largest attempted migration we’ve seen since the 1994 rafter crisis:
More Cubans took to the sea last year than in any year since 2008, when Raúl Castro officially took power and the nation hummed with anticipation. Some experts fear that the recent spike in migration could be a harbinger of a mass exodus, and they caution that the unseaworthy vessels have already left a trail of deaths.
On the whole, the Coast Guard has reported sighting 3,722 Cubans fleeing their home country for America in 2013, which is twice the number of would-be immigrants intercepted in 2012. Many of these people will die trying to make the crossing. If Fidel Castro had been more like Lee Kuan Yew, he’d be leaving a prosperous and dynamic country behind. If he had been more like Augusto Pinochet, he would still have done more good for Cuba than he has. Even a leader as repressive as Francisco Franco in some ways left Spain better off than he found it. But Castro was wrong about how the world works, about what makes countries prosperous, and how Cuban nationalism could best be secured. One thinks of the lines about Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London: “If you seek a monument, look around you.” The Castro brothers’ monument is also all around them, and untold thousands have died trying to escape from it.

Fidel Castro was a man of great personal, political and intellectual gifts, but he was dead wrong about social development and the direction of history. Now, a third generation of Cubans is paying for his mistakes.

Quote of the Day: From FL's Gubernatorial Debate

I believe in the embargo. Here is why. The Castro brothers are terrorists. They are terrorists. There is no democracy in Cuba. There are human rights violations in Cuba. People on the ground in Cuba, the Ladies in White and [Jorge Luis Garcia Perez] Antunez, say we need to keep the embargo. We need to keep the embargo to make sure everybody knows that Cuba is not a democracy. Cuba is a terrorist state. Look at what the Castro brothers are now doing in Venezuela. They are moving their problem of Cuba into Venezuela now. They are supporting the Maduro regime and we see peaceful protesters being murdered, being arrested in Venezuela. So, no I don't support at all the lifting the embargo on Cuba. I believe in democracy. I believe in freedom. I believe in standing our ground to make sure the Castro brothers change. And if they don’t change, when they die, we want to stand with the Ladies in White and Antunez to make sure they are at the table to talk about democracy.
-- Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, Telemundo debate, 10/10/14

Must-Read: Interview With Angel Carromero

Yesterday, Angel Carromero, the young Spanish activist who accompanied Cuban democracy leaders, Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero, when their car was crashed by Castro regime agents, visited The Miami Herald's Editorial Board.

Carromero emphasized, “What happened on July 22 [2012] wasn’t an accident, it was an assault.”

Here's the Q&A:

What arguments were presented at trial to sentence you?

The formula used to sentence me and to calculate the speed at which the car supposedly traveled has no validity, it's the one of rectilinear motion uniformly accelerated.

This movement doesn't exist and doesn’t account for the acceleration made when you brake, the friction. The international experts contacted by my lawyers broke all of this down. Experts from the CUJAE (Cuba’s University of Engineering) said it was nonsense.

Did those experts go to the trial?

In Cuba, if they accuse you, you’re sentenced. Cuban legislation doesn’t allow for experts to come and testify. This doesn't happen in countries which are not dictatorships.

Did you have access to documents relating to your case?

I never saw the report of my case. They didn't give my defense lawyer a copy. The lawyers has to travel from Havana to Bayamo to transcribe 800 documents by hand. Why didn't they give them a copy the way it's done in all cases? Because they knew that when they copied it that the documents would make it out of Cuba and the case would be read. The drawings of the supposed tests which they had done to me to accuse me had to be done by hand too, like children. You can laugh, but it's not a joke.

When did you send that text message stating, “Help! We're surrounded by military men”?

They let us keep our cellphones at the beginning of our stay in the hospital in Bayamo but later on they took them from us. I sent that text when I was in my hospital bed surrounded by military men. In that moment, they had obligated me to change my version of the story and were filming me with a handycam and I knew it was going to end badly.

The first thing he said was that they had run us off the road and had hit us. This made them nervous, and they hit me. Later on a Cuban official who introduced himself as an expert told me the version that I was to repeat: that I pressed the brake pedal and “fell in an embankment.” In Spain this has another meaning and the phrasing of the words is different too.

Was Modig sleeping when the accident happened as he has alleged in interviews?

There were times when he was asleep but he was the copilot. If he chose to remain quiet and turn the page, well I don't share in that sentiment. I respect it but I've chosen a more complicated road and one with worse consequences for me but I couldn't stay silent.

Has it been a long time since you last spoke to him?

Yes. The last time he came to Spain he simply told me he didn't remember anything.

How did you find out about the deaths of Payá and Cepero?

I asked in the hospital and in the interrogation in Bayamo they told me about it again.

At what speed where you traveling when all this happened?

Well, I don't remember the speed, but whoever has been in Cuba knows that on the main highway, even if you want to, you can't go too fast because it's full of potholes. Also it was a rental car and didn't work so well. I was with Rosa Maria [Payá] yesterday and we remembered that the day before the trip we were about to cancel it because the car didn't accelerate well.

At the time you traveled to Cuba was your driver's license in good standing?

Yes. Not even my family or my friends could defend me in Spain because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to return. The leftist party and the Cuban government took advantage of that silence to try to destroy my credibility. So, I took the heat from the media on my own.

In the book you're very blunt about why you filmed those videos in which you take the blame...

There's something very clear here, I was surrounded by soldiers, in a loathsome dungeon-like cell without access to lawyers and without being able to call anybody. I was alone and at the mercy of what the soldiers wanted to do to me. This is in Cuba, not a country with rights, and so they told me that if I collaborate, that they'll let me go.

What were you afraid of the most?

Of them killing me. They can do with you whatever they want. You have no cellphone, no outside contact, you're in a dictatorship. It was collaborate and do what I'm told or I wouldn't be here with you today. It's like a video from al-Qaida, my face was swollen and I could barely speak. ...

In which jails were you?

I was in Bayamo and later I was moved to Cien and Aldabo, it's an instructional jail. They stick you in there until you confess, and if not, they won't let you out. I was there until November in a cell in which they'd take me out once a day every two or three weeks. It was psychologically trying and I clung on to the fact that I wanted to go back and that if I did, I wanted to be well and I did it.

What did you do in jail?

Think. Think about my family and friends. Try to keep feeling alive, part of my life. Think about what I'd be doing if I was with my loved ones. I tried to not let the isolation they imposed on me affect me. I don't know if it's mental tricks or what but it helped me.

Did councilmen come see you at your jail cell?

Of course, they didn't let me out but a slew of military men passed by there. They talked to me and told me that Cuba was gorgeous. Of course, I had to act docile towards them because they were my captors and the ones who brought me food. It's difficult. I also fought with myself over that.

But on trial, despite having been docile, you decided to say you were innocent.

Of course, because the regime created a friction and did so in such a bad way that there were elements to defend myself from their version of the facts. My lawyers told me to declare myself innocent because even with their version they had proof to show that I was innocent. It was also an act of rebellion on my part, even though later I regretted it because an official threatened me. It's complicated to act without consulting anyone. One day they told me that I hadn't support from my party and my government. I lived in a contradiction, without knowing, and making decisions blindly is very hard.

When did you have that initial contact with the Spanish embassy?

When I was in Bayamo, the Swiss ambassador and the auxiliary consul from Spain. The ambassador manages to have her national sent home with her and the Spanish consulate just asks me how I'm doing and doesn't provide me with any further instruction.

It's also strange that they sent an auxiliary consul.

They told me that they tried to treat it as a case between consulates, but from that first moment, they didn't send an ambassador and only sent an auxiliary consul.

Why did the Nacional Audience in Spain disregard a petition to investigate the death of Oswaldo Payá, who was a Spanish citizen?

My return to Spain wasn't free. The Cuban government isn't stupid and got a lot out of my return. One of the conditions they put was that the Spanish government has to accept the validity of my sentence and can't revise my case. This was part of a prisoner extradition treaty that both governments signed.

Can Spanish authorities pardon you?

Yes, but they have to communicate that to Cuba first.

Cuban Diplomat Arrested, Wife Seeks Asylum

Friday, October 10, 2014
From Cafe Fuerte:

Cuban Diplomat Requests Asylum in U.S.

Cuban journalist and diplomat Sonia Franco Cervera has abandoned her post as consul at the Cuban Embassy in Germany and is currently in Miami, after having requested political asylum from US authorities.

Sources told Cafe Fuerte that the 31-year-old Franco arrived in the United States in July this year, accompanied by her 3-year-old son Franco, after travelling from Berlin to Mexico and crossing the US border to invoke the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA).

Apparently, Franco’s decision was prompted by the unexpected trip and subsequent arrest in Havana of her husband Daciel Alfonso Guzman, who was the deputy chief of Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Germany.

“We don’t know much about what happened, but it is confirmed that Daciel [Alfonso] was called to a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) in Havana and that he suspected something was wrong,” a source involved in the case stated in Berlin. “They made the decision that she go to the United States with the kid.”

Erased from the Official Site

According to another testimony, Franco’s first move was to request aid from the US Embassy in Berlin. Her request didn’t yield any results and she decided to use her diplomatic passport to travel to Mexico. She is currently staying in the home of some friends in Miami.

Cafe Fuerte tried to contact Franco in Miami, but desisted after several unsuccessful attempts. A person involved in this situation said that the former diplomat is going through a very tense moment and does not wish to make any declarations about what happened.

For the time being, Alfonso’s name has been removed from the webpage of the Cuban Embassy in Germany and a blank space has been left under the heading of Deputy Chief, with an email left as reference. Belkis Rodriguez Hidalgo appears as the First Secretary in the Consular Section page.

“We’ve heard versions of the story here that Daciel was called to give a full accounting following complaints about the performance of his duties, but nothing concrete has been leaked and people suspect there is something more serious behind this,” a source linked to MINREX said in Havana.

Veteran Intelligence Official

Rene Juan Mujica Cantelar, who presented his credentials in October of 2013 to replace Raul Becerra Egaña, currently figures as Cuban Ambassador in Berlin. Mujica is a veteran Cuban intelligence officer who has served as diplomat at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, Cuba’s UN mission in New York and as Ambassador in London.

Alfonso began at the Cuban Embassy in Germany as Deputy Secretary and was promoted to First Secretary and Deputy Chief last year. Franco had been the head of the Consular Office since September of 2012.

Born in Moron, Ciego de Avila, Franco obtained a journalism degree from the Faculty of Communications of Havana in 2005 and completed a Master’s at the Higher Institute for International Relations (ISRI) before joining the diplomatic service. The couple married in 2007.

This is the first defection by a Cuban diplomat since March of 2010, when 25-year-old Yusimi Casañas and her husband, 32-year-old Michel Rojas, left the Cuban Embassy in Mexico and crossed the border to request asylum in the United States. Casañas, who had worked at Cuba’s UN mission, was the head of the Passports Section of the Cuban Embassy in Mexico.

Translation courtesy of Havana Times.

Quote of the Week: Better to Live on Your Feet Than Die on Your Knees

Even if half the people who leave from Cuba do not survive, that means half of them did. I would tell anyone in Cuba to come. It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
-- Yannio La O, a 31-year-old wrestling coach who fled Cuba on a raft last month, in a powerful story about the sharp rise in Cubans fleeing the island, The New York Times, 10/9/2014

Tweet of the Day: Cuban Democracy Leader on U.S. Sanctions

By Cuban democracy leader (co-head of the Cuban Patriotic Union, UNPACU) and Sakharov Prize recipient, Guillermo Fariñas:

We disagree with those who want to see the embargo towards #Cuba lifted unilaterally.

Human Rights Panel to Cuba: Guarantee Jailed Blogger's Safety

From the Paris-based NGO, Reporters Without Borders:

Rights Panel Asks Cuba to Guarantee Jailed Blogger's Safety 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has formally asked the Cuban government to guarantee the safety of Angel Santiesteban-Prats, a writer and blogger held since April 2013 who has repeatedly reported being the victim of mistreatment and torture in detention.

The IACHR submitted its request on 26 September after being contacted by Elisa Tabakman, who edits his website and who already provided the IACHR in June 2013 with details of the threats, mistreatment and psychological torture to which Santiesteban-Prats has been subjected.

Her approach to the IACHR was also prompted by rumours that Santiesteban-Prats might be transferred to a high-security detention centre operated by Cuba’s border protection force. It was after this that Tabakman contacted the IACHR again, asking it to take rapid action.

On the 21 July, the Cuban authorities announced that Santiesteban-Prats had escaped from San Miguel del Padrón. The blogger recently confirmed on his blog that he did indeed manage to leave the prison, enjoying five days of freedom before surrendering himself to the authorities, saying he had been using his right to leave prison and had not been on the run.

His position was based on the fact that his sentence provided for 72-hours of parole after two months in prison, a provision the prison authorities refused to implement. On his return to prison, he was indeed transferred to a high security detention centre.

Given the gravity of the situation, the IACHR asked the Cuban government on 26 September to adopt the necessary protective measures in order to guarantee Santiesteban-Prats’ physical safety.

“We urge the Cuban authorities to comply with this request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and we reiterate our request to them to free Santiesteban-Prats at once and quash his conviction,” said Reporters Without Borders deputy programme director Virginie Dangles.

Santiesteban-Prats has been jailed because of his outspoken criticism of the government. He was given a five-year jail sentence after being convicted on trumped-up charges of “home violation” and “injuries” in a summary trial in December 2012.

In an interview for Miami-based Televisión Martí on 15 July, his son said he was forced to testify against his father and that the prosecution’s case was a complete fabrication.

Cuba is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

State Department Must Avoid Being Perceived as Pushovers

Thursday, October 9, 2014
Surely, the most important foreign policy lesson that President Obama has learned while in office is that the United States must always stand by its word, commitments and principles.

It's the source of the apparently endless criticism he's receiving -- from Democrats and Republicans alike.

The U.S. simply cannot continue to re-draw "red-lines". Otherwise, the credibility of the nation comes into question -- weakening the trust of our allies and emboldening the aggressiveness of our foes.

We become perceived as pushovers.

This doesn't only apply to Russia and the Middle East. It applies to Latin America as well.

Take the case of Venezuelan General Hugo Carvajal, the former military intelligence chief wanted by the United States for narcotics trafficking.

U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement agencies took a huge gamble by having Carvajal arrested in Aruba under a U.S. warrant.

Yet, within a few days, U.S. diplomats were blindsided and Carvajal was headed back to Caracas unscathed.

Let's be clear, U.S. diplomats tried their absolute best to convince the Dutch and Aruban authorities otherwise -- but they miscalculated.

And were perceived as pushovers.

Now we have the case of next year's Summit of the Americas, where Cuba's cohorts insist on Castro's attendance -- and the region's democrats are too intimidated (and unincentivized) to resist.  

What's at stake here is the 2001 "democracy clause" of the Quebec Summit and the Inter-American Democratic Charter -- the greatest accomplishments in hemispheric diplomacy since the end of the Cold War.

To the State Department's credit, they have -- thus far -- been forceful in defending these commitments.

Here's State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, on September 3rd, 2013:

"[O]ur view is that at the 2001 Summit of the Americas, all participating governments agreed to consensus that 'The maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law and strict respect for the democratic system are at the same time a goal and a shared commitment and are an essential condition of our presence at this and future summits.' So we should not undermine commitments previously made, but should instead encourage – and this is certainly our effort – the democratic changes necessary for Cuba to meet the basic qualifications."

Then, Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, emphasized on September 27th, 2013:

"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."

Unfortunately, not clear enough.

Upon arriving in Panama yesterday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, John Feeley, apparently sought to play down the significance of Cuba's participation by comparing the Summit of the Americas to Sunday brunch:

"It's not so important the guests at the table but the meal that's served," Feeley told the media.

John Feeley is a good man, who honorably serves his country.

So hopefully, this was just an inartful quote.

But it may very well be the State Department's new position on the Summit.

If so, it would only propagate the existing notion that the U.S. doesn't stand by its word, commitments and principles.

In other words, that we are pushovers.

Creepy Tweet of the Day: From Cuba's MINREX

Castro's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) tweeted the following creepy image of today's anti-U.S. policy event at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. -- and simultaneous video-conference from Havana -- featuring some oft-cited U.S.-based "experts."

Cuban state media hailed the propaganda event as, "U.S. Experts Oppose Blockade Against Cuba."

Another Letter From Canada

A Letter to the Editor of Canada's Grimsby Lincoln News:

Boycott Cuba over actions

An open letter to Member of Parliament (MP) Dean Allison

As a Canadian and one of your Grimsby constituents, I am communicating with you to express my outrage over the bogus charges and conviction levied on Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian by the Cuban government.

This is outright piracy, an attempt on Cuba’s part to expropriate a $100-million Canadian enterprise. My expectation is that our federal government will protest in the most vigorous manner possible and that strong economic sanctions by our country will ensue should this travesty not be rectified in very short order.

Canadians must curtail any vacations planned for Cuba forthwith. A prompt response from you is both appreciated and expected.

Larry Rendall,
Grimsby

Canadian Company Highlights Castro's Economic Absolutism

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Attorneys for Cy Tokmakjian, the 74-year old Canadian businessman who was recently handed a 15-year prison sentence (after being held for 2-years without "trial") by the Castro regime, have released a series of documents that counter the trumped-up charges he faced.

According to Tokmakjian's attorneys:

a) What the [Cuban] Court considers as "illicit economic activity" not only is a generally accepted international business practice, but is also contemplated as a legal activity in the Cuban Court of Commerce, such as the discount of bills of exchange or the endorsement of letters of credit.

b) According to independent expert reports, there are no legal grounds to establish a criminal offence for tax evasion when neither a tax determination nor a tax payment request have been made as mandated by Cuban criminal laws of tax evasion. Furthermore, the court decision ignores the Double Taxation Agreement in force between Cuba and Barbados.

c) It was proven in court that courtesies/client attention were really simple, low level and inexpensive gestures that weren't meant to, nor did they result in any favors or benefits to Tokmakjian. Furthermore, there is no possibility for bribery in the case of Cy Tokmakjian given the strong control by the Cuban authorities of all economic activities. This control is translated into a complex and detailed authorization process. No import or supply by Tokmakjian companies was possible without the express prior approval by the highest Cuban authorities including the Central Bank of Cuba.

Tokmakjian's attorneys are correct.

However, as we've said all along, why didn't they think about this (or care) while they were profiting from Castro's dictatorship (and the repression of the Cuban people).

N.Y. Post: A Critique of Obama's Foreign Policy

Over the weekend, The New York Post's Editorial Board critiqued President Obama's foreign policy, pursuant to the concerns raised by his former Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta.

It concluded:

"In truth, no one needs ex-Obama officials to see that the president’s foreign policy is up in flames. All anyone need do is look around the world: to Iraq, where we are again at war; to Russia, where the 'reset' has only made Vladimir Putin more aggressive; to nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Mexico, which imprison Americans without any fear of paying a price for it."

We fully agree on that final point.

A Lesson From Hong Kong

An excerpt by Russian democracy leader and  former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in The Washington Post:

The protests in Hong Kong also rebut what I mock as “the genetic concept of democracy.” For years I have been told that Russians (or Arabs, or Chinese) simply aren’t disposed to democracy. They require a “strong hand” or they “love a tough leader.” This is just one of many theories people born in the free world use to mask their privilege, their inaction, and their shame. It’s condescending and ridiculous when you look at the two Germanys, the two Koreas, or Taiwan.

What is true is that no one is simply entitled to democracy, or even to basic human rights. No, these things must always be fought for, and if the brave students in Hong Kong can remind the world of this then their protest is already a success.

Fraternal Relations: Cuba and Russia

The National Review's Jay Nordlinger examines Cuba-North Korea relations in his piece entitled, “Thorns and Daggers: The Castros and their allies”:

You can sometimes discern the shape of the world by looking at votes in the United Nations. In fact, these votes are very handy indicators. Who’s aligned with whom? What’s the correlation of forces in the world?

Last March, the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution supporting the “territorial integrity of Ukraine.” This resolution, in effect, condemned Russia for its annexation of Crimea. There were just ten votes against the resolution, other than Russia’s.

Two of the votes came from former Soviet republics: Belarus and Armenia. The former is essentially a Communist dictatorship, complete with a KGB. The latter resents Ukraine for its support of Azerbaijan, Armenia’s neighbor and enemy.

Three of the votes came from genocidal or quasi-genocidal states: North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. There was also Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

Finally, there were four Communist or would-be Communist states in Latin America: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.

- With all that support in Latin America, it made sense for Vladimir Putin to undertake a Latin American tour last summer — and to begin in Havana. He met both Castros: the titular boss, Raúl, and the power behind the throne, big brother Fidel.

In the company of Raúl, Putin laid a wreath at the Monument to Soviet Internationalist Soldiers. Each leader had a delegation with him. Raúl pointed out that everyone was wearing a business suit, in the tropical sun. “We have to change the protocol,” he said to Putin. “We don’t wear ties in this country. It’s guayaberas and sombreros, shorts and sandals.” (A guayabera is a light, semi-formal shirt, typical in the tropics.) “This isn’t a country for working, much less for making war,” he continued. “This is a country for relaxing.”

- The Soviet Union began life 42 years before Communist Cuba, and Communist Cuba has outlived the Soviet Union by 23 years. Still, they had more than 30 years of overlap. And Russians left a deep mark on Cuba.

Names such as “Vladimiro” are common. Cuban ballet dancers are good, both before and after they defect. (Where there are Russians, there is good ballet.) Children of the elite, such as Fidel Castro Jr., studied in the Soviet Union. The old man required Junior to study physics. (Where there are Russians, there is good science.)

Christopher Hitchens relates something interesting in his memoir. He went to Cuba in the late 1960s, as many leftists in free countries did. (They still make these journeys, of course — pilgrimages.) Hitchens was English, as you know. And when Cuban urchins in the streets saw him, they threw pebbles and dog crap at him, saying, “Soviético!”

- Raúl Castro told Putin that Cuba is a country for relaxing, not working — but the Castros and Putin inked a dozen deals while the Russian was there. These deals related to air travel and energy, among other things. Russia will explore for oil off Cuban coasts.

Also, Putin forgave 90 percent of Cuba’s debts to Russia. Maybe we should say debts to Moscow: They are left over from the Soviet period. Putin forgave $32 billion, leaving just $3 billion and change on the books. This money is to be paid in the next ten years, and reinvested in Cuba.

Said Raúl, “It’s a great sign of the generosity of Russia toward Cuba.” Said Putin, “We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the illegal blockade of Cuba” (meaning American trade and travel sanctions).

- Why was Putin in such a generous mood? A report in the Russian newspaper Kommersant may well have provided the answer: It said that Cuba had agreed to reopen Moscow’s old spy base at Lourdes, not in France, where the miracles occur, but outside Havana. This base was once the Kremlin’s largest facility abroad. It took up 28 square miles, and was just 150 miles from America. Some 3,000 people from the Soviet Union and its bloc worked at Lourdes, cocking an ear to America, gathering all the intelligence they could.

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed — but Russia kept the base. There was this difference, however: Where Castro hosted the base for free before, now the Russians would have to pay — $200 million a year (reportedly).

A decade later, in 2001, Putin decided to close the base. His government portrayed this decision as a gesture of goodwill to the United States. It is probably more relevant to say that the Russians were tired of paying the cost. What purpose did the base serve? The Cold War was over.

After the Russians left, the base went to pot. There is a computer-science university on the premises, but the buildings are decrepit, like most things in Cuba. Goats wander around, looking for food.

- In the wake of the Kommersant report, Putin issued a denial. “Russia is capable of fulfilling its defense-capacity tasks without this component,” he said, meaning Lourdes. Whether Putin’s denial can be credited, it’s hard to say. The reopening of Lourdes would make sense for him. So does his Latin American sweep in general.

No better analysis was given than that of Nina Khrushcheva, the professor in New York who is the granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, boss of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964. Speaking to Newsweek, she said, “What Putin is doing is reestablishing the relationships that, when Russia was turning west, planning to become part of wider Europe, and giving up the legacy of the Soviet Union, were actually neglected. I think that stands at the core of his reengagement.”

There is also the matter of Russian pride, and overcoming the shame that derived from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Listen to a former Russian spy chief, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, speaking to Kommersant: “Lourdes gave the Soviet Union eyes in the whole of the Western Hemisphere. … For Russia, which is fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community, it would be no less valuable than for the USSR.” There is a lot in that phrase, “fighting for its lawful rights and place in the international community.”

And here is Ruslan Pukhov, director of a think tank in Moscow, speaking to the Guardian: “Any country that is supporting us, whether it’s Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela, is welcome. And we are not as poor as in the 1990s. We are ready to pay for this. Since we have very big problems with spy satellites, which are full of Western components, and our spy ships are not in good shape and can’t get close to U.S. shores, this base is extremely important for us.”

Plenty of observers spoke of fingers: By reopening Lourdes — if that’s what he was doing — Putin was sticking a finger in America’s eye. Or flipping America his middle one.

Putin himself made a telling statement to the Castros’ paper, Granma: “We are disposed to recover lost possibilities.” What he almost certainly meant was, Enough of playing footsie and trying to make nice with the democracies. Let’s get the band back together.

Raúl made an equally telling statement, and slip of the tongue: “We support the current policy of firmness and the intelligent policies being pursued in the international arena by the Soviet Union.” Then he corrected himself. “I mean Russia.”

- After Cuba, Putin went to Nicaragua to visit Daniel Ortega, an old Soviet client and proxy. Ortega said that Putin’s visit was a “ray of light.”

Rubio: Cuba’s Participation Would Undermine Summit of the Americas

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today urged Panama's President, Juan Carlos Varela, to reconsider Cuba’s invitation to participate in the VII Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama.

Here's the full text of the letter:

October 6, 2014

His Excellency Juan Carlos Varela
Palacio de las Garzas
Eloy Alfaro Avenue
Panama City, Panama

Dear President Varela:

Congratulations on your recent election. I look forward to working with your government to deepen our nations’ historical relations, and advance our shared interests in a democratic, prosperous and secure Western Hemisphere. To that end, I deeply regret your government’s invitation for Cuba’s authoritarian regime to participate in the VII Summit of the Americas to be held in Panama.

Over the last three decades, the Western Hemisphere has gone through a remarkable transformation. Free markets, open economies and transparent governments accountable to the people through regular and free elections have become the norm; while security cooperation against transnational criminal activities is taking hold. Much of this consensus has been enshrined in the declarations of previous Summits and in the commitment of each member of the Organization of American States to govern democratically in accordance to the Inter-American Democratic Charter. By any measure, the actions of the Cuban regime stand in stark contrast to these principles and obligations.

The Cuban people have been denied the right to freely choose their government for more than 55 years, and Cuba’s one-party regime enjoys the dubious distinction of having the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. The regime routinely uses beatings, violent mobs, long-term imprisonment and arbitrary arrests to silence its critics, human rights defenders, and independent journalists. The Cuban regime remains the Hemisphere’s only U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism, and just last year it was caught attempting to use the Panama Canal to illicitly transfer military equipment and weapons to North Korea in violation of multiple United Nations’ Security Council resolutions.

The Cuban regime’s record of human rights abuses and violations of international law are not matters open for debate, but undeniable and appalling facts. Therefore, Cuba’s participation in the Summit of the Americas in Panama will undermine its credibility and have grave consequences for the region’s consensus to promote and defend democratic rule. I urge you to avoid this outcome, and instead work with the Cuban people to support their demands for a democratic future for their country.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Quote of the Day: A Rise in the "Havana Stock Exchange"

Hopeful that an end to the U.S. embargo will unleash a party of financial credits, and on the verge of obtaining better relations with Europe, Raul Castro continues to postpone key reforms. Meanwhile, as this takes place, the Havana Stock Exchange, which conducts its trading on top of rafts, reaches its highest levels.
-- Editorial Board, the Spain-based news website, Diario de Cuba, 10/7/14

A Grueling (and Tragic) Journey to Freedom

From Reuters:

Cuban migrants drank own blood, urine, adrift at sea for 23 days

A group of Cuban migrants drank their own urine and blood after the engine of their homemade boat failed, leaving them adrift in the Caribbean for three weeks without food or water, according to survivors who reached the United States this week.

"I'm happy I made it, alive, but it was something no-one should have to go through," said Alain Izquierdo, a Havana butcher, and one of 15 survivors of the 32 passengers.

Six passengers are missing after they tried to swim to shore, while 11 others died of dehydration.

"I just feel sad for those who didn't make it," said Izquierdo, sitting under a sun shade by the pool of his uncle and aunt's home in Port St Lucie, on Florida's east coast.

The survivors were rescued by Mexican fishermen 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and were briefly detained in Mexico before being released late last month.

Their story is one of the most tragic Cuban migrant disasters in decades. Reuters spoke to several of the passengers and their relatives in Florida and Texas, although some were still too traumatized to talk publicly about the experience.

Cubans seeking to flee the communist-run island are heading in increasing numbers by sea to Central America and then making a long journey overland to reach the United States.

Under Washington's "wet foot, dry foot policy," Cuban migrants who make it onto U.S. soil are allowed to remain, while those intercepted at sea are turned back.

The group set off from eastern Cuba in early August, but ran into trouble about 40 miles from the Cayman Islands when the boat's motor - a Hyundai diesel car engine, attached to a homemade propeller - failed on the second day at sea, said Izquierdo, 32.

The 20-foot, home-made craft, made from aluminum roofing sheets riveted together and sealed with cloth and resin, drifted up the Cuban coast as the passengers tried to flag down passing ships.

"No-one stopped even though they could see we were desperate," said Mailin Perez, 30, another survivor recovering in Austin, Texas.

The passengers heaved the engine overboard to reduce weight and fashioned a makeshift sail from sheets sewn together with cord.

Six of the men decided to swim for the Cuban coast clinging to inner tubes, but have not been heard from since.

Brief rain showers every three or four days provided the only water, rationed out in doses by medical syringes. One woman who was six months pregnant received extra rations.

One by one, 11 passengers died. Their bodies, lips swollen, were slid overboard, and floated off into the distance, a sight that one survivor said haunts her in nightmares.

The first to die was Izquierdo's friend, 50-year-old Havana car mechanic, Rafael Baratuti O'Farrill.

"That was the saddest day," said Izquierdo.

After running out of water, some passengers began drinking sea water, as well as their own urine. O'Farrill was one of several who also used syringes to draw their own blood to drink.

"That was a mistake, the ones who drank their blood became faint. Gradually they lost their minds and faded away," said Izquierdo.

Where's the Beef in Cuba?

There's a long article in Vice about the Cuban people's "quixotic quest" for beef, which they refer to as "red gold".

Here's an excerpt:

[T]the anxiety I saw in his eyes that night, an anxiety that I saw reflected over and over as I reported this story, was a fragile reminder that Cuba remains a part of the world where you cannot speak openly about democracy or freedom. The revolutionaries and freedom fighters had ostensibly liberated their people from the shackles of oppression and imperial capital, yet here they were, 55 years later, an isolated island autocracy spending billions on food, much of it from its main enemy, with an impoverished populace—despite having access to free education and health care. Cubans are “liberated” to the extent that they are forbidden from traveling, nervous about speaking their minds for fear of government reprisal, and not just suffering from malnutrition but incapable of even procuring their beloved beef.

To them, moringa is nothing compared to bistec de palomilla. Cubans describe themselves as “carnivorous” people; they want beef more than any other food. But even sadder than the government’s attempts to replace steaks with fruit rinds and root vegetables is the fact that there’s no milk for children. This is what happens when all the cows belong to the government—and the state is an authoritarian regime whose guerrilla leaders ate all the cows and made their own laws.

“Life is meaningless without ideas,” Fidel once declared. “There is no greater joy than to struggle in their name.” It’s a glorious sentiment, yet Cubans today face an incessant parade of state-sanctioned tribulations—few of which seem all that meaningful. You can be killed for speaking out; no wonder you can go to jail for slaughtering a cow. Fifty-three hundred dissidents were arbitrarily detained in 2013 alone. Those who become too successful in the private sector can still find themselves being summoned to a meeting with government representatives. They are given two choices: hand over the business to the state or go to prison. That’s what la libertad means in this Kafkaesque never-never land, a place where people still risk their lives at sea trying to flee the ideas Fidel and Che fought for so valiantly.

On 50 Years of Failed Negotiations With Cuba's Regime

Monday, October 6, 2014
Two long-time apologists of Cuba's dictatorship, Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive and William LeoGrande of American University, have written a new book entitled, "Back Channel to Cuba."

According to its authors, "nearly every U.S. administration for the past 50 years has engaged in some sort of dialogue with the Cuban government."

Ironically, Kornbluh and LeoGrande constantly criticize U.S. sanctions as a "failed" policy. Yet, their book documents how all attempts at high-level negotiations with Castro's regime have clearly failed.

Even worse, in each of these negotiation attempts, the U.S. has been intentionally manipulated, misinformed and misled by Cuba's regime.

Predictably, the authors claim that these failed negotiations have all been the U.S.'s fault -- mainly for three reasons:

1. The U.S. isn't showing Cuba's dictatorship enough "respect."

Here's a novel idea: If Castro wants the U.S. to treat Cuba like Costa Rica, perhaps it should act like Costa Rica.

2. The U.S. needs to wholesale, unconditionally lift all sanctions and normalize relations -- regardless of Castro's illegal behavior.

Because the U.S. should be blackmailed into directly handing Castro's monopolies billions of dollars, while the Cuban people are brutally repressed and precluded from engaging in foreign trade and investment. After all, see the wonders that billions in subsidies from Russia and Venezuela -- not to mention billions in trade and investment from Canada and Europe -- have done for the Cuban people.

3. The U.S. presses Cuba on human rights and democracy too hard.

Because the Castros are really "closet democrats" who would respect the Cuban people's fundamental human rights, if only the U.S. wouldn't insist. The authors really want to test everyone's intelligence with this one.

Fittingly, Kornbluh and LeoGrande will be joined today by the Council of Foreign Relation's Julia Sweig, believed by U.S. counter-intelligence officials to be a Cuban "agent-of influence," to "present" these brilliant conclusions at the Brookings Institution.

As part of their book promotion (and obvious motives), the authors have also written a piece this week in The Atlantic entitled, "The Real Reason It's Nearly Impossible to End the Cuba Embargo."

It's a novel-esque narrative fretting about the U.S. Congress' codification of the embargo in 1996. Imagine that: a democratically-elected legislature having the audacity to write and pass laws.

Rather than focusing their rant on the President's legal inability to lift the embargo, perhaps they should reflect on their own inability to make a compelling case to Congress to do so. 

Finally, without digressing too much, a note on The New York Times story last week on the book, which focuses on former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's purported plans to launch military strikes against Cuba in 1976.

According to the book (and story), Kissinger was miffed that after secretly negotiating with Castro to normalize relations, that Castro would then turn-around and send Cuban troops to launch military interventions in Africa.

(Just one early example of these failed negotiations, where the Cuban regime manipulated, misinformed and misled the U.S.)

Of course, The New York Times trivializes this as Castro, "sending troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas."

We're no fans of Kissinger, particularly of his wrong-headed China policy, which turned a brutal, bankrupt and agrarian regime into the most lucrative dictatorship in modern history. However, such historical revisionism is unacceptable.

First of all, Castro sent Cuban troops to fight proxy wars for the Soviet Union throughout Africa. This was of key strategic importance to the Soviets (and to Castro's delusional expansionism).

As then Columbia University Professor Pamela Falk explained, "the value of [Africa's] mineral and oil resources is estimated at several trillion dollars. The Horn of Africa provides easy access via the Red Sea to the Middle East; the Ethiopian ports of Assab and Massawa allow Cuba and the Soviet Union access to the Gulf of Aden and the ports of South Yemen. In addition, the Red Sea passage to the Suez Canal is of vital importance for transporting Soviet goods. North Africa gives Cuba proximity to U.S. bases around the Mediterranean as well as to critical sea lanes. The southeast African states such as Mozambique and Tanzania afford the Cubans access to the Indian Ocean. Off the coast of southern Africa are the 'choke points' of the Cape of Good Hope and the Channel of Mozambique."

Rationale aside, some just like to focus on Angola, where there were clearly no good guys on either side. However, let's not forget Castro's military support for some of Africa's most brutal tyrants, including Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile-Mariam, whose forced famine and genocide cost more than 400,000 lives.

But back to the point.

Kornbluh, LeoGrande and Sweig now purport to give President Obama advice on how to deal with Cuba's regime -- by bending over backwards to accommodate, finance and embolden Castro's dictatorship.

But the facts and history are unequivocal.

For the U.S., negotiating with Castro's regime is a fool's errand.

Moreover, the Cuban people deserve better.

Adding to Record-Breaking Year, More Political Arrests in Cuba

Sunday, October 5, 2014
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 411 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of September 2014.

This bring the total number of political arrests during the first nine months of this year to 7,599.

In just nine months, these 7,599 political arrests surpass the year-long tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests), 2011 (4,123 political arrests), 2012 (6,602 political arrests) and 2013 (6,424 political arrests).

As such, 2014 (under Raul "the reformer") is clearly the most repressive year in recent history.

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

More "reform" you can't believe in.

The Economist: On Cuba's Foreign Investment Climate

This week, The Economist's Intelligence Unit analyzed the Castro regime's imprisonment of Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian.

Here's it's simple -- and straightforward -- conclusion:

The event underlines our forecast scenario that concentration of power in the one-party system, which leads to unpredictable and sudden policy changes or decisions and to a de facto limited autonomy of the judiciary, will remain one of the major drawbacks in Cuba's business environment.