Must-Read: Raul Castro's Desperate Offensive

Saturday, October 18, 2014
Excerpt by Cuban author and intellectual, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in Diario de Cuba:

Raul Castro fears that Venezuela's subsidies will dry out in the short-term. He sees it coming. The price of oil is falling and the chaos generated by the absolute inefficiency of "chavismo" has Venezuela about to close the spigot. The Cubans selected Maduro, but he has turned out to be an absolute disaster. It's a question of survival. Two drowning people can't mutually save themselves.

Thus, the offensive. Raul needs, desperately, to be saved from the burning ship. What exactly does he need? A deluge of American tourists to flood his hotels with their fresh dollars. Today, they can't travel to Cuba. The law prohibits it. He also wants credits to import U.S. products. They sell him food and medicine, but he has to pay cash-in-advance and lacks dollars.

Raul Castro is not willing to change the system, nor tolerate freedoms, but he thinks he can change Obama and eliminate the restrictions imposed or maintained by eleven U.S. Presidents.

His hypothesis is that he'll succeed in doing so after the November elections, in the last two years of the Obama Administration. To achieve this goal, he has his entire intelligence services diligently working, along with a few exiles who subscribe to the strange and illogical rationale that the way to end Castro's tyranny is by endowing it with resources.

The main obstacle -- Havana believes -- is Democrat Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Therefore, Cuba's intelligence services concocted an operation to try to destroy him by creating a smear campaign that he had relations with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. This was discovered to be a repugnant lie.

The tentacles of Castro's lobby are extensive. They reach Congress, the media, and the academic and cultural worlds. They infiltrated the Pentagon. The person who used to evaluate Havana's activities for The White House was senior intelligence analyst, Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban spy, captured in 2001 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Since 1985 she had been spying for the Castros.

Scott W. Carmichel, the U.S. counter-intelligence agent who discovered her, believes there are many more spies placed and seduced by Cuba in various sectors of the U.S. government and civil society. He's probably right. And they are all working tirelessly to obtain Raul Castro's current objective.

Lobbying for Sanctioned Countries

Haven't "experts" assured us that Mugabe really wants sanctions to remain in place, so that he could use them as an excuse for his failings?

That's clearly not the case.

One day, we'll surely learn a lot more about the Castro dictatorship's lobbyists and its Congressional allies.

From Roll Call:

Zimbabwe Lobbying Case Yields Another Conviction

A Chicago man who bragged to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe in 2008 about his close ties to then President-Elect Barack Obama was convicted Friday of violating federal law as he lobbied for relief of sanctions against the African nation.

The $3.4 million conspiracy scheme involved coordinating meetings between Mugabe and members of Congress in Africa and New York, attempting to set up Zimbabwean officials with visas to speak to an issues forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by a House lawmaker from California, plus other political consulting on Mugabe’s behalf.

C. Gregory Turner is the second man convicted in a case that was reported to the FBI by the Obama transition team, one month after the November 2008 election. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois said the office could not comment when asked about further investigation into the matter, which has been tied to current and former members of Congress.

A federal jury found Turner, 72, guilty of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for his involvement in the lobbying scheme, and acquitted him of two other charges. Co-defendent Prince Asiel Ben Israel, 73, of Chicago, was sentenced in August to seven months in prison after pleading guilty to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

The bizarre case unearthed an FBI informant’s claim that Illinois Democrat Roland Burris – potentially a key witness for the prosecution – was involved in a shakedown scheme during his time in the Senate. Burris was never called to the stand after defense attorneys questioned his credibility. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing related to the claim.

Reps. Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush, were identified by Chicago media last year as two targets of the scheme, given they were the only Illinois Democrats to have sponsored a failed 2010 resolution for review of sanctions against Zimbabwe. According to FBI testimony unsealed in federal court, “U.S. Representative A” and “U.S. Representative B” were linked to Turner’s communications with Zimbabwean officials.

The affidavit alleged U.S. Representative A sent a letter on official congressional letterhead to Mugabe in August 2009 requesting a meeting, then followed up in an October letter to Mugabe thanking him for “the most positive and productive meeting in New York” and confirming the best dates to travel to Zimbabwe for a follow-up. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative B’s travel itinerary for an official U.S. congressional delegation to Africa in August 2009 was shared with Zimbabwe officials.

Cuba and North Korea Expand Commercial Ties

Probably more "sugar deals".

From China's state media:

Cuba, DPRK sign agreements to expand trade ties

Cuba and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) signed agreements Friday designed to expand bilateral trade ties, state daily Granma reported.

The two documents on commercial exchange and commercial payments were signed during a meeting between Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and the new ambassador of Pyongyang in Havana, Pak Chang Yul.

The two officials also "agreed to a protocol on the general conditions for the delivery of goods between the two ministries," the daily said.

Malmierca highlighted the traditional ties of friendship that exist between Cuba and the Asian country, and called for continued cooperation for mutual benefit.

Pak Chang Yul, in turn, said the new agreements "will contribute to the diversification of Cuba's trade exchange," according to the daily.

Quote of the Day: Will Congress Lift the Cuban Embargo?

Friday, October 17, 2014
[T]he chance that Congress will take any action to end the Cuban embargo is about the same as the chance that Castro will shave his beard and join the cast of Dancing with the Stars, and the opinion of the [New York] Times editorial board is unlikely to change these odds.
-- Clif Burns, Washington, D.C. attorney, in "New York Times Futilely Calls for End to Cuba Embargo", Export Law Blog, 10/16/14

Caracas 181, Kerry 0

Thursday, October 16, 2014
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Caracas 181, Kerry 0

Venezuela gets a U.N. Security Council seat with no U.S. resistance.

Venezuela’s economy may be imploding, with a debt default looming, but the enemy of the United States on Thursday managed the diplomatic coup of being elected to the United Nations Security Council. So much for the Obama Administration’s political and moral influence with the “international community.”

“This is a moment of great pride for all of Venezuela,” said President Nicolás Maduro from Caracas. “The world has given us support. We should feel happiness in our hearts that we are a country that is admired and loved.”

The vote, after a long campaign by Caracas and its friends in Havana and Moscow, ought to be an embarrassment to the Obama Administration, which barely lifted a hand to stop Venezuela’s accession for a two-year term through 2016. Secretary of State John Kerry apparently felt it wasn’t worth the effort, or perhaps that the effort wouldn’t succeed.

That’s in contrast to the George W. Bush Administration, which managed to block Venezuela when Caracas was last on the ballot. A country can be defeated with the votes of one-third plus one of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly. This time Venezuela received 181 votes, and the U.S. wouldn’t say how it voted. Ten countries abstained.

“Unfortunately, Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the Charter’s letter,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, in a statement. She’s right, but now she’ll have the privilege of listening to Venezuela denounce the U.S. on a regular basis.

Venezuela will be one of the 10 rotating members of the Security Council, and with any luck it won’t matter. The Security Council has become increasingly irrelevant as Russia and China exercise their vetoes against concerted action in Syria or the world’s other despotisms.

Still, President Obama usually insists on the world’s blessing before the U.S. acts even in its own defense, so it will be a particular irony if Cuba’s best friend in the Americas now bedevils the U.S. security agenda through the end of the Obama Presidency.

Cuba: Baptist Pastor Threatened With Criminal Charges

UPDATE: Rev. Lleonart's wife, Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, was arrested this afternoon and interrogated for over two hours by the Castro regime.

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Cuba: Baptist Pastor Threatened With Criminal Charges

Cuban Baptist pastor and religious freedom activist Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso has received official notice that he may face criminal charges if he does not break ties with “counter-revolutionary elements” in and outside of Cuba,  and if he does not stop giving radio interviews. His wife, Yoaxis Marcheco Suarez, was summoned for an interview with security services on 15 October.

Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a prominent religious freedom activist and church leader, was officially summoned to the State Security Unit in Camajuani, Villa Clara on 8 October. He was threatened with arrest if he did not appear. At the unit a Lieutenant Colonel read out an Official Warning or “Acta de Advertencia”, a document that can be used as justification for future arrests and criminal charges. Two witnesses, whom the pastor did not recognize, were present and offered testimony of his “counter-revolutionary” links. This is the third time that government agents have unsuccessfully attempted to pressure Reverend Lleonart Barroso into signing an Acta de Advertencia.

According to Reverend Lleonart Barroso, who leads the Ebenezer Baptist Church in the town of Taguayabon in Villa Clara Province, and who is a member of the Western Baptist Convention, one of the largest registered religious organisations on the island, the Lieutenant Colonel told him verbally that the government was unhappy about the pastor’s recent visit to the eastern part of the country. The official added that if the pastor did not change his behaviour soon, a criminal case would “probably be filed.”

The purpose of Reverend Lleonart Barroso’s visit was to meet with church leaders who had reported violations of religious freedom. Reverend Lleonart Barroso met with Pastor Yiorvis Denis, the leader of a church in Camaguey which has come under repeated threat of forced closure and confiscation of property. He also met with Pastor Esmir Torreblanca, the leader of a large church in Santiago that was razed by the government in July.

Reverend Lleonart Barroso told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), “I intend to continue on with my activities in the defense of religious freedom in Cuba.

Cuba's "Pijamas Plan"

From the Prague-based NGO, People in Need:

Have you ever heard of the "Pijamas Plan"in Cuba?

The term has been used informally for quite some time in Cuba. What does it actually mean? In the past it was mainly used in instances when a politician, who had started to get too big for his britches or that the regime had decided they had no use for anymore, would be stripped of his position. It also represents a violation of a basic human right: the right to work.

Thanks to the Eye on Cuba project, we have been able to learn more about some of these cases and to bring them to the public’s attention.

Nowadays ordinary citizens from civil society are also “benefiting” from this plan. The new twist is that the victims are not always political dissidents, although they represent the majority of the cases. People are being left without a job at the first sign of openly showing opposition towards any rules and orders coming from above, or if they have a family member who is opposed to the regime.

Another important aspect of this is that the targeted individuals are typically accused of false charges and thefts, threatened and humiliated, sometimes in public, which leads them to being isolated within their own communities. In this way the authorities are deliberately trying to disrupt their social lives.

They are also left without a source of income. So the consequences of being deprived of work may result in other universal human rights being violated, such as the right to decent housing, the right to have decent living conditions or the right to not be discriminated against in general.

Yoleidis Alfonso Nava is a specialist in urban agriculture by profession, but in her free time she has been doing independent reporting as a citizen journalist on the current issues affecting the local community of Holguin. For this reason, she was notified in 2013 that she was going to be relocated to another work place. However, a year later, she is still waiting for news about a new position from the authorities.

Armando Gonzales Benitez was fired from his job at the International School Miramar allegedly for incompetence after having worked in this school as a custodian for ten years. Armando is the husband of the independent blogger Dora Leonor Mesa Crespo, who is also the leader of the Cuban Association for the Development of Early Childhood Education (ACDEI) based in Havana. He had been constantly questioned about his wife’s activities during his employment. Since being laid off, he hasn’t been allowed to appeal to any court to challenge this decision.

Geovanis Fixto Cuza was fired from his workplace as an entrance security guard at a school in 2013 for allowing a Cuban residing in the USA to visit a family member who was studying at the Center for Pedagogical Studies. When the director learned that he had allowed this person free access into the student center, a commission was set up to decide whether or not he should leave. Fixto tried to appeal this decision in the municipal court without success. He claims there isn’t any law that prevents a foreign citizen from entering a school.

These are just a few examples meant to show how the “Pajamas Plan” works in Cuba and how citizens are being unfairly repressed.

Chairman Menendez Responds to The New York Times' Cuba Editorial

By U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in The New York Times:

Re “The Moment to Restore Ties to Cuba” (editorial, Oct. 12):

To suggest that critical foreign policy challenges facing President Obama around the world should motivate him to normalize relations with Cuba could not be more counterproductive.

Why would President Obama see it in our strategic interest to waste finite diplomatic resources on a country that abuses human rights and diametrically opposes our democratic ideals, at a time when the Islamic State is waging a brutal war and Russia continues to undermine all international norms through its continuing invasion of Ukraine?

Cuba’s reputation and American policy aren’t relics of the past. Cuba still silences dissent on the island, with more than 7,500 political arrests documented this year alone. An American contractor, Alan Gross, remains imprisoned on false charges, and Cuba last year tried to smuggle illegal weapons to North Korea in violation of Security Council sanctions.

Cuba’s heralded economic reforms are a euphemism for foreign investors to funnel money to state-owned enterprises and military monopolies. A select few enjoy prosperity while ordinary citizens are denied even basic needs. Instead, we’ve seen a rise of Cubans fleeing on rafts, as you reported last week.

I meet with the Cuban opposition, including Berta Soler, leader of Ladies in White, as do President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. The dissidents passionately argue against lifting sanctions without reciprocity by Cuba.

Give the Cuban regime an inch, and it will take a mile.

Ill-conceived political or economic engagements rewarding tyranny do not represent American values, nor are they in the national interest.

While New York Times Lauds Castro, Four Political Prisoners Handed Long Sentences

This week's New York Times editorial shamefully lauded the Castro dictatorship, stating that "in recent years officials have released political prisoners who had been held for years."

Of course, it forgot to mention that the political prisoners it's referring to -- from the "Black Spring" of 2003 -- were not "released". They were banished from their homeland.

Moreover, it omits any mention of all those who are still serving long prison terms, as well as new political prisoners who have been arrested in recent years and remain arbitrarily imprisoned.

Ironically, just this week, the Castro regime sentenced Cuban rapper Angel Yunier Remon (known as "El Critico" -- "the Critic") to a six-year prison term.

It also sentenced democracy activists, Alexander Otero Rodriguez, to a five-year prison term, and Rudisnei Villavicencio Figueredo, to a four-year prison term.

Finally, former law student, Yohannes Arce Sarmiento, was handed a three-year sentence, for protesting with anti-regime signs.

All of them are members of the opposition group, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

Once again, allow us to reiterate:

These democracy activists were sentenced on the very same week that The New York Times shamefully white-washed Castro's repression.

Cuban Prison Labor, Foreign Investors and Castro's Monopolies

By Cuban blogger Ivan Garcia in Translating Cuba:

Of Jails in Cuba

For Saul prison is like his second home. He celebrated his 63rd birthday behind bars, fabricating cement and gravel blocks for a Cuban state enterprise called Provari, which makes everything from bricks, tiles and mattresses to insecticides and sells them for hard currency.

Saul knows the island’s penitentiary map like few do. Since 19 years of age he has been held in the main prisons: La Cabana, Chafarinas in Guantanamo, Boniato in Santiago de Cuba and the jails built by Fidel Castro like the Combinado del Este in Havana, Aguica in Matanzas and Canaleta in Ciego de Avila.

“In all, since I was a prisoner for the first time in 1970 because of the Vagrancy Law. I have worked cutting cane, in construction, making tourism furniture or insecticides with hardly any physical protection,” comments Saul, who has been a "free man" since April.

According to a former prison official, 90 percent of detainees in Cuba work with scarce security and are paid poverty wages.

I am convinced that the work of prisoners is one of the main productive engines of the country. Exploiting them allows high profits. Until 2006, when I worked in a Havana jail, they were paid 150 or 200 pesos a month for working up to 14 hours (remember that the minimum salary in Cuba is 484 pesos) or they were paid not a cent. Those who were paid also had deducted expenses like food and lodging. The government gives degrading treatment to the majority of common Cuban prisoners,” says the ex-official.

Throughout the green alligator it is calculated that there exist more than 200 prisons. Cuba is the sixth nation on the planet in per capita prisoners. In 2013, the regime recognized that the penal population is around 57 thousand inmates.

The internal dissidence claims that the figure might approach 100 thousand. Cuban jails are rigorous. Physical mistreatment and abuses by the penitentiary guards are standard.

Suicides, mutilations and insanity within the prisons are a secret statistic that the government handles with tight clamps. Prestigious companies, like the Swedish Ikea, have been accused of complicity in prisoner slave labor in Cuban factories.

In the 1980’s, Ciro was a prisoner for five years for illegal exit. In his pilgrimage through the detention centers, he worked in a transportation parts warehouse for the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) in the Lawton slum, some 30 minutes from downtown Havana.

MININT is the main beneficiary of cheap prison labor. In Workshop One I worked with hardly any protection on an assembly line for cars with plastic bodies and VW German motors. I also worked in an upholstery shop where fine furniture was given its varnish. Years later, I learned that they were for Ikea. They never paid me a cent,” says Ciro.

Thousands of inmates participate in construction of hospitals, schools, housing, food production and the most dangerous work. “We do what no one wants to do. Clean streets, sewers and cut the invasive marabou weed,” says Evelio, who is completing a two-year sentence scrubbing urban buses.

Military or state enterprises like Provari are at the head of labor exploitation and captive work. In a brochure published in 2001, the firm Provari was said to have 150 production installations on the island.

In the prison Combinado del Este, on the outskirts of Havana, Provari produces insecticides. A report published in the daily Guerrillero in 2013, said that the Provari branch office in Pinar del Rio in 2010 had sales valued at 200,000 dollars.

According to that report, the Pinarena branch production included chlorine and muriatic acid, beach chairs, baby cribs, concrete and clay blocks, paints, paint brushes, plastic tubes and ornamental plants.

In a workshop in the women’s prison in Havana, jeans are made for export by different brands, as well as uniforms for police, armed forces and the prisoners themselves.

Provari also produces the insecticide Lomate, anti-bacterials for lice and ticks, as well as other products destined for sanitary hygiene. And there are plans to build a solar water heater of 170 liters according to official media.

In that 2001 brochure, among other activities of Provari was mentioned carpentry with precious wood, sale of textiles under the brands Oeste and Hercules and upholstery of office furniture by the Ofimax brand.

“The most worrying thing is that they work without special uniforms, adequate for producing chemical substances.  We prisoners do not have options or a legal representative where we can complain and make demands of the government,” comments the former prisoner Saul.

And he adds that almost all the prisoners work voluntarily. “It’s a way to get air, eat better and escape the abuses of the jailers.”

While the autocratic Castro government prepares “tours” for credentialed western diplomats and correspondents in Cuba to model prisons like La Lima in Guanabacoa, a township to the southeast of the capital, thousands of inmates work in precarious conditions and without the required remuneration.

The odd thing is that state enterprises in the style of Provari, with all signs of participating in slave prison labor, expect a foreign partner to expand their businesses.

Fidel Castro Glowingly Endorses The New York Times' Cuba Editorial

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
In a column in Cuban state mediadictator Fidel Castro gave a glowing endorsement of this week's New York Times editorial.

And why wouldn't he?

The editorial calls for the U.S. to unilaterally lift sanctions and hand billions of dollars in trade, tourism and investment to Castro's monopolies.

Moreover, it calls for the U.S. to unconditionally normalize relations with Castro's brutal, totalitarian dictatorship.

And what does Castro have to do in return for all of this generosity?

Absolutely nothing.

In a particularly emotional moment (apparently overwhelmed by all this generosity), Castro gushes in the column about his old friend and propagandist, former NYT reporter Herbert Matthews.

To add insult to injury, the NYT's naive (or perhaps embarrassed) editorial writer, Ernesto Londoño, finds it remarkable that Castro cut and paste the entire editorial -- "for one main reason: by quoting nearly every paragraph in the editorial, he amplified the reach of an article that included significant criticism of the Cuban government."

No, Mr. Londoño, Castro cut and paste your entire editorial precisely because it did not include significant criticism of the Cuban government.

To the contrary, as we've previously noted (click here), the NYT's editorial shamefully omitted Cuba's reality and minimized Castro's repression.

Adding to Castro's praise of the NYT's editorial today were Rev. Jesse Jackson and Chavez/Maduro propagandist Eva Golinger.

That's quite a fan club.

Must-Read: Responding to The New York Times' Cuba Editorial

By Clive Rudd Fernandez in The Havana Times:

Responding to The NYT editorial “End the US Embargo on Cuba”

I was surprised to read the editorial from the New York Times on October 11, 2014, not because of the subject but because of the unconvincing and poor arguments presented. As a Cuban who’s lived in exile in Europe for more than 20 years, this subject is in my thoughts very often.

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, which was imposed on October 19, 1960, should be relaxed by Barack Obama by doing “a major policy shift [that] could yield a significant foreign policy success”.

This argument appears on the first paragraph of the op-ed with an implicit message to Barack Obama urging him to do a major policy shift regarding the relations with the Cuban government and as a result he’ll improve his ratings.

This is where I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “Fully ending the embargo will require Congress’s approval. But there is much more the White House could do on its own.” So the op-ed is not asking the United States to modify the law; the intention here is to go the less democratic way: the President with his executives powers should do some policy changes to undermine the embargo so much that could render it irrelevant and the objective: to score a political goal for the president!

Few paragraphs down in the text, it reads: “The generation that adamantly supports the embargo is dying off. Younger Cuban-Americans hold starkly different views”. So, I wonder, why the need to bypass the democratic route?

The editorial goes on and states that “a devastated economy has forced [the government in] Cuba to make reforms” and “over the decades, it became clear to many American policy makers that the embargo was an utter failure”. Both statements are clearly contradictory arguments.

The trade embargo affects the Cuban economy to the point that it’s a “devastated economy” so it “has forced Cuba to make reforms”, and on the same text it says that the embargo is not working? As a popular English proverb says: “You can’t have your cake and eat it (too)”.

Another clear contradiction is that the editor is stating that “for the first time in more than 50 years, shifting politics in the United States and changing policies in Cuba make it politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo”. So the fact that Alan Gross has been unjustly imprisoned in Cuba for nearly five years and that “the authoritarian government still harasses and detains dissidents” is not a deal breaker?

After arguing poorly against the trade embargo the op-ed goes to the implementation plan. This is a manual for the President on how to go about executing the policy changes:

“As a first step, the Obama administration should remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of nations that sponsor terrorist organizations” and “Cuba was put on the list in 1982 for backing terrorist groups in Latin America, which it no longer does.”

“Which it no longer does?” How on Earth can the editorial board of the NYT make a statement like this? Most human rights organizations in Europe and the U.S. are at least skeptical on this. Cuba is a closed society where the government persecutes and imprisons investigative journalism; therefore we could assume a statement like this is at least unfounded. On top of that, the Cuban government has gone on record supporting Bashar al Assad in Syria, Hamas in Gaza and various people in power in Iran over the years.

The article also argues “It could also help American companies that are interested in developing the island’s telecommunications network but remain wary of the legal and political risks”.

This statement completely ignores what Bloomberg BusinessWeek published in April of 2009 the “[U.S.] Administration would let U.S. telecom network providers set up—and Americans pay for—fiber-optic cable and satellite communications facilities linking the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. government will also license those companies to provide cell-phone services in Cuba, and allow satellite-radio and satellite-TV service providers to do business in that country”. This was more than 5 years ago, but the Cuban government doesn’t seem to be interested in losing its monopoly on telecommunications on the Island, so the answer by the Cuban government was: “thanks, but no thanks”.

After all failed arguments the op-ed ends with the same driver that it started. “Given the many crises around the world, the White House may want to avoid a major shift in Cuban policy.” So, Mr. President, don’t miss this opportunity for a political win, go ahead a put your ratings back up.

Leaving completely aside the argument of how beneficial or not the embargo is for the United States and its taxpayers is already a big miss from this editorial- it also shows a dangerous historic amnesia. Don’t believe me? Ask President Clinton or Carter what happened when they tried to score on this particular front and you will see how quickly what seemed an easy score became mayhem.

Cuba in Brazil's Presidential Debate

From Reuters:

Brazil's two presidential candidates traded accusations of lies, corruption and nepotism on Tuesday night in a bruising television debate that had no clear winner ahead of the hotly contested Oct. 26 election runoff [...]

[Aecio] Neves denied he would reduce the role of state banks such as Brazilian development bank BNDES, whose loan book is almost three times the size of the World Bank's. But he called for more transparency in the bank's lending, and disclosure of loans to communist-run Cuba to build a container port at Mariel.

Neves criticized [Dilma] Rousseff's government for paying 11,400 Cuban doctors working in Brazil one third of their salaries with the rest going to the Cuban government.

The (Real) Hidden History of "Back Channel to Cuba"

Monday, October 13, 2014
We've previously posted about the new book by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, "Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana."

Namely, about how 50 years of ingenuous attempts to negotiate with Castro's dictatorship have backfired and failed.

But there's clearly much more to the motives behind this book (and its authors).

Just follow this chronological timeline:

- The authors feed it to the media through a sensationalist article in The New York Times about Kissinger-Castro.

- The authors fret in The Atlantic about President Obama's limited Cuba policy options (without Congress' approval).

- The authors begin a marketing campaign: that now is the time to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba's dictatorship -- one of Obama's few unilateral options.

- The New York Times writes a shallow and ill-informed editorial echoing this message -- lobbying the Obama Administration to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba.

- The authors officially unveil their book today at a presentation in Havana -- at the UNEAC's headquarters (Castro's official censorship bureau).

- A Cuban counterpart of the book is simultaneously unveiled in Havana by two official Cuban "academics," Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales.

(Note that Esteban Morales has been previously denied a U.S. visa by the Obama Administration on suspicion he's a Cuban intelligence officer.)

And now, we find out that the Havana presentation was "moderated" by another well-known Cuban intelligence official.

Quite the coincidences -- or not.

Suddenly, the timeliness of last month's FBI advisory makes a lot of sense.

According to U.S. counter-intelligence official, Chris Simmons, in Cuba Confidential:

Today in Havana: Career Spy to Moderate Discussion of Professor LeoGrande’s New Book, “Back Channel to Cuba” 

Today in Havana, the new book by William M. Leogrande and Peter Kornbluh, "Back Channel to Cuba. The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana," will be presented at the Villena room of the Cuban Association of Writers and Artists (UNEAC). Also being discussed is the expanded second edition of a book on Cuba-US relations by a pair of Cuban authors. According to Cubarte, the session is being moderated by Ramón Sánchez Parodi.

Ramón Sánchez Parodi Montoto was the first chief at the Cuban Interests Section when Washington and Havana re-established diplomatic mission on September 1, 1977. This career spy served in Washington for 12 consecutive years. During this assignment, Sánchez Parodi was exposed as an intelligence officer during the Senate testimony of Dr. Daniel James of the Congressional Research Service. James said Sánchez Parodi, whom he cited as either Directorate of Intelligence (DI) or America Department (DA), targeted the Congressional Black Caucus to foment opposition to existing US policies towards Cuba. According to the New York Times, Sánchez Parodi was extremely well connected to the US academic, civic, cultural, and business communities. He was promoted to Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs immediately following his US tour. His portfolio was the Western Hemisphere.

During the latter half of the 1990s, Sánchez Parodi was Cuba’s Ambassador to Brazil. Following this tour, he returned to Havana to head the Department of International Relations for Cuban Customs.

Here's LeoGrande and Kornbluh in Havana today -- courtesy of Castro's state media:

Image of the Week: Honoring The Ladies in White's Laura Pollan

On Sunday, nearly 100 members of The Ladies in White and other democracy activists took to the streets of Havana to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the death of the group's leader, Laura Pollan.

Pollan died under mysterious circumstances on October 14th, 2011.  The Castro regime didn't permit an autopsy to be performed and cremated her body just two hours after her death.

See the image below of this week's commemoration:

Contradictions, Misrepresentations and Omissions: The New York Times' Latest Cuba Editorial

Today, The New York Times published another one of its periodic editorials asking President Obama to "End the Embargo on Cuba."

The editorial begins by highlighting President Obama's many foreign policy crises -- or as they put it, "the dismal state of troubled bilateral relations" throughout the world.

Yet ironically, many of these crises (Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, etc.) have transpired -- or been aggravated -- precisely due to foreign policies that the NYT has long advocated.

Now, as regards Cuba, the NYT claims to really know what it's talking about.

Except, clearly it doesn't.

This latest editorial was primarily penned by Ernesto Londoño, a new young member of the NYT's Editorial Board, who was a fine field reporter in Afghanistan and Iraq, but whose knowledge of Cuba policy is limited to regurgitating what his "sources" selectively told him this week.

Such inexperience on this topic leads to contradictions, omissions and misrepresentations.

Let's begin with a glaring contradiction.

The editorial itself recognizes that, "in recent years, a devastated economy has forced Cuba to make reforms."

That's right.

So why stop forcing it?

History has proven that Castro only pursues "reforms" out of necessity -- never voluntarily or out of "good-will."

So how exactly would replacing billions in former Soviet and now Venezuelan subsidies, and in plummeting European and Canadian investments, with U.S. trade and investments, further "reforms"?

It wouldn't.

As a matter of fact, many observers argue that the reason why Castro refuses to tackle major reforms is because he's hopeful that the U.S. will lift the embargo and bail-out his regime. This NYT editorial only adds to Castro's (false) sense of hope.

Now let's look at the laundry list of misrepresentations and omissions.

First, the editorial purports that lifting the U.S. embargo would "help a population that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961."

The Cuban population hasn't suffered enormously "since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961." It has "suffered enormously" since Castro installed a repressive, totalitarian dictatorship, which let's not forget -- the NYT's infamous reporter, Herbert Matthews, white-washed for years.

Moreover, it fails to explain how lifting the embargo would actually help the Cuban population.

In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade and investment" transaction with Cuba has been with a state entity, or individual acting on behalf of the state. The state's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

Thus, how would allowing U.S. companies and tourists to transact business with Castro's monopolies help the Cuban people?

Better yet -- how have the billions in foreign trade and investment that countries throughout the world have conducted with Castro's monopolies benefited the Cuban people?

Needless to say, the NYT editorial eludes this key point.

Instead, it talks about Cuba's "new" foreign investment law.

But omits how it violates international labor law, or the dozens of foreign businessmen who have been arbitrarily imprisoned in recent years and had their companies confiscated by Castro. These include some of Castro's (now former) biggest foreign business partners, e.g. Britan's Coral Capital and Canada's Tokmakjian Group.

It talks about the new Port of Mariel.

But omits the most significant cargo to have gone through this new port: 240 tons of Cuban weapons destined for North Korea, which was found in blatant violation of international sanctions.

(Note that the editorial contains absolutely no mention whatsoever of this major Cuban arms trafficking scandal, despite it being the largest weapons shipment to North Korea ever interdicted and the first time a nation in the Americas was found in violation of international sanctions.)

It minimizes how Cuba's regime "still harasses and detains dissidents."

But omits that political arrests are at historic highs. Already this year, there have been over 7,599 documented political arrests -- quadrupling the year-long tally of 2,074 political arrests in 2010.

It lauds how "in recent years officials have released political prisoners who had been held for years."

But omits any mention of all those who are still serving long prison terms, as well as new political prisoners who have been arrested in recent years and remain arbitrarily imprisoned, e.g. The Ladies in White's Sonia Garro, rapper Angel Yunier Remon, labor leader Ulises Gonzalez Moreno, LGBT advocate David Bustamante and activist Ivan Fernandez Depestre.

It praises Cuba's "constructive role" in the long and inconclusive Colombian peace negotiations.

But omits how Cuba's regime has effectively undermined Venezuela's democratic institutions; wrested political and operational control of its government; and led direct a campaign of repression that has resulted in the arrest, torture and murder of innocent student protesters

It focuses on the Castro regime preparing for a "post-embargo" Cuba.

But omits any mention of a democratic transition, nor of Cuba's courageous opposition groups, including The Ladies in White, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), the National Resistance Front, the Estado de Sats project, or The Emilia Project -- all of whom oppose the U.S. lifting the embargo.

It alleges normalizing diplomatic relations will somehow lead to a "breakthrough" in the case of Alan Gross.

But omits that the Castro regime is holding Gross hostage in order to extort the United States into releasing five (now three) spies convicted in federal courts of targeting military installations and conspiracy to murder three American citizens and a permanent resident of the U.S.

It then discusses the upcoming Summit of the Americas, suggesting Cuba has been "traditionally excluded at the insistence of Washington."

This is a complete misrepresentation.

Cuba remains excluded due to a formal commitment made at the 2001 Quebec Summit that held democracy was an "essential condition" for participation in the Summit. Surely, the U.S. should not take its formal commitments lightly.

And last -- but not least -- it wouldn't be a NYT editorial without mention of its long-standing "generational shift" argument that young Cuban-Americans hold "softer views" regarding relations with Cuba's regime.

Yet, it fails to disclose that the NYT has been pitching this "generational shift" argument since December 5th, 1965, when it first gleefully suggested that:

The very active anti-Castro groups in Miami have faded into virtual obscurity.”

Then again, on October 10, 1974:

Virtually all of several dozen Cubans interviewed would like to visit Cuba either to see their relatives or just their country, which they have not seen for 10 years or more; and some segments of the exile community, especially young refugees brought up and educated here, are not interested in the Cuban issues.”

And on March 23, 1975:

For the first time significant number of exiles are beginning to temper their emotion with hardnosed geopolitical realism.”

And on August 31, 1975:

A majority of the persons interviewed — especially the young, who make up more than half of the 450,000 exiles here — are looking forward to the time when it will be possible for them to travel to Cuba. Even businessmen, who represent a more conservative group than the young, are thinking about trading with Cuba once the embargo is totally lifted.”

And on July 4, 1976:

A new generation of professionals between 25 and 35 years of age has replaced the older exile leadership.”

Et al.

So much for credibility.

Herbert Matthews’ Ghost

From The New York Sun's Editorial Board:

Herbert Matthews’ Ghost

Herbert Matthews’ ghost seems to be prowling the editorial rooms of the New York Times. How else to explain the editorial this morning calling for an end to America’s embargo of Cuba and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the communist regime on the island? Matthews was the Times’ correspondent who broke the story that Fidel Castro was, despite the assurances of the president, Fulgencio Batista, alive and leading a revolutionary army. The Timesman had been smuggled up into the Sierra Maestra mountains and given an interview with the future communist dictator, and was the tyrant’s apologist ever since.

The Times wants to placate this poltergeist before the devil lights Castro’s last cigar.* It starts by acknowledging the “dismal state of troubled bilateral relationships” that the Obama administration “has sought to turn around.” It then tries to assert that President Obama “would be smart to take a hard look at Cuba, where a major policy shift could yield a significant foreign policy success.” Let us acknowledge other possibilities: Maybe, say, the Times didn’t really intend to suggest something so ridiculous but suddenly got the frights when the Shade of Mr. Matthews just appeared through the wall.

In any event, a response to the contradictions, misrepresentations, and omissions in the Times latest editorial has been put up on the Web by the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, Mauricio Claver-Carone. He points out that many of the bilateral crises the Times cites have been aggravated by “precisely,” as he puts it, “foreign policies that the NYT has long advocated.” He cites Syria, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The Times says if we don’t lift our embargo, Cuba’s new port won’t be viable. Fine by him (and us): It was used to ship “240 tons of Cuban weapons destined” to Pyongyang.

Click here to continue reading.

Cuba Doesn’t Deserve Normal Diplomatic Relations

By renowned Cuban author and intellectual, Carlos Alberto Montaner, in The New York Times:

Cuba Doesn’t Deserve Normal Diplomatic Relations

The United States should not normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for several reasons.

First, the Cuban government has been officially declared “a state sponsor of terrorism" by the State Department. It's inconceivable to oppose the terrorists in the Middle East while treating them normally in the United States' neighborhood.

There's also a bipartisan consensus in Washington against the Castro regime. All three Cuban-American senators and four Cuban-American representatives, Democrats and Republican, agree that sanctions should be maintained. They are the best interpreters of the opinion of the almost three million Cubans and descendants of Cubans living in the United States.

Cuba systematically engages in undermining the interests of the United States. It is an ally of Iran, North Korea (to whom it furnishes war matériel), Russia, Syria, the FARC terrorists in Colombia and Venezuela. The F.B.I. recently warned that Cuban intelligence is trying to recruit people in the academic world as agents of influence. It once infiltrated them into the Pentagon and the State Department; today, they are in prison.

The Cuba dictatorship continues to violate human rights and shows no intention to make amends. The small economic changes it has made are directed at strengthening the regime. Why reward that behavior? During the entire 20th century, the U.S. was (rightfully) reproached for maintaining normal relations with right-wing dictatorships. For the first time, the U.S. maintains a morally consistent position in Latin America and should not sacrifice it.

A reversal of policy would be a cruel blow against the Cuban democrats and dissidents who view the United States as their only dependable ally in the world. Normalizing relations would be the proof needed by the Stalinists in the Cuban government to demonstrate that they don't have to make any political changes to be accepted. Not to mention a premature reconciliation without substantial changes would also be a harsh blow to the reformists in the Cuban government who are pressuring toward a democratic opening.

Castros Are Responsible for Cuba’s Failures, Not the U.S.

By The Atlantic Council's Jorge Benitez in The New York Times:

The Castros Are Responsible for Cuba’s Failures, Not the U.S.

Let's avoid all the rhetoric about Cuba and focus on the facts. The first relevant fact is that Cuba trades with 99 percent of the world. Thus, the poor health of the Cuban economy is due to the disastrous policies of the Castro government and not because it is deprived of trade.

This is not the fault of the United States, because we have the right to prefer to trade with other countries that do not oppress their people. The poverty in Cuba is also not the fault of the Cuban people because the Castro regime has robbed them of the power to make economic decisions.

It is the Castro regime that is totally responsible for the misery in Cuba. The most overlooked fact in this debate is that every euro, ruble, peso or Canadian dollar invested in Cuba goes directly to Castro and his cronies. Foreign businesses are not allowed to pay wages to their Cuban employees. Instead, they are required to turn the money over to the state. The Castro government keeps most of the foreign money and hands out only pennies to the Cuban people. Lifting U.S. sanctions would only add our dollars to this corrupt trade.

Another relevant fact is that since John F. Kennedy imposed sanctions on the dictator in Havana in 1962, every U.S. president and every Congress, as well as the majority of the American public have supported sanctions against the Castro government. Therefore, critics of the sanctions need to stop their racist campaign of blaming a small ethnic group for controlling U.S. policy on this issue.

The time to end U.S. sanctions is after Cuba has a democratically elected government that allows fair trade. Until then, changing U.S. policy to subsidize the Castro regime’s exploitation of 11 million Cubans will remain unpopular with the American people and against our national interests.

No Legitimacy for Cuba's Dictators

By Center for a Free Cuba's Frank Calzon in The New York Times:

No Legitimacy for Cuba’s Dictators

There is no useful purpose served by legitimizing the Castros’ communist dictatorship in Cuba and giving it an international propaganda victory that would embolden the world’s other dictators.

U.S. policy has changed dramatically since the 1960s when Havana confiscated $1.8 billion in American properties. “Interests sections” are open in both capitals. Cuba annually buys hundreds of millions of dollars worth of American foodstuffs. The U.S. "embargo" requires they pay cash, because Cuba owes billions to European governments that have extended trade credits. Putting American taxpayers on the same hook is what the current push to “normalize” diplomatic relations is all about. But why do so? There are no “trickle-down” benefits to the Cuban people. Foreign trade and investment in Cuba is solely with the Castro government. There is no civil “rule of law” that settles disputes, orders payments or protects investors from government seizures and arbitrary arrests.

The 15-year prison sentence handed to an American aid contractor, Alan Gross, for giving a satellite telephone and laptop to a Jewish group should be a warning to anyone who thinks relations with Cuba can be "normalized." Gross was held for more than a year before the Castro government even concocted a charge. Now the Castros are trying to barter his release in exchange for the release of spies sentenced in U.S. prisons for spying on military bases in Florida (one of whom was allowed to visit his ailing mother in Cuba, whereas the regime denied Gross's request to visit his dying mother).

For good reason, the State Department keeps Cuba on its list of states supporting international terrorism. Cuba has trained terrorists, supplied troops to Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America and Africa, is an important member of the anti-Israel coalition at the U.N. and elsewhere, and last year was caught smuggling two war planes and missile parts to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. Today, the Castros are close allies of Syria and Iran. Cuba’s terrorist designs are undeniable and Havana is as repressive as ever.