Why is Dilma Hiding Business Deals With Cuba?

Saturday, October 25, 2014
After last night's presidential debate, Brazilian opposition candidate, Aecio Neves, tweeted:

Aecio asks what Dilma [Rousseff] has to hide from investments in the Port of Cuba [Mariel] that her government does not disclose, it's secret

Neves is referring to last year's decision by Rousseff to officially "classify" documents related to Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht's (taxpayer-funded) business dealings with the Castro regime until the year 2027.

Adding further concern is how the Port of Mariel was then specifically chosen (before completion) for the Cuban regime's arms smuggling operation to North Korea, in order to prevent detection and avoid any paper trail.

Neves also revealed some of the questionable preferential terms Rousseff gave Cuba's regime for these Brazilian "investments" -- see here.

Image: Arms Trafficking from Cuba's Port of Mariel

The image below is of the Captain's Note from the North Korean ship that was intercepted last year trafficking 240 tons of weapons from Cuba.

It shows his instructions to pick up the shipment at the Port of Mariel and identifies the Cuban military contact.

Note that the Port of Mariel was officially inaugurated in January 2014. Yet, the weapons were loaded on June 20, 2013.

The only two entities with access to the Port of Mariel were the Cuban military and its Brazilian partner, Odebrecht.

Heated Cuba Exchange in Brazil's Presidential Debate

Here's the exchange on Cuba during last night's Brazilian presidential debate between incumbent, Dilma Rousseff, and her opponent, Aecio Neves:

Neves: We know there is an absolute lack of infrastructure, we need everything -- railways, waterways, ports. Instead, your government opted to fund the construction of a port in Cuba, spending R$2 billion in Brazilian money, in the money of Brazilian workers. Meanwhile, our ports are there awaiting investments. None of them have investments of that amount. To make matters worse, this funding has been stamped "secret" -- it is not accessible to the Brazilian people. What does your government have to hide in relation to the financing of the port of Mariel in Cuba ?

Rousseff: My government. Nothing. Now, I think you have a lot to hide when it comes to ad spending, which are clearly connected to his family's newspapers and television stations. I believe, Senator, that we need to stop and look at this issue of the Port very carefully. We financed a Brazilian company that has created jobs in Brazil. It generated so many jobs that, with the R$800 million contracted, we were able to generate 456,000 jobs. And I want to remind you that the government of Fernando Henrique also funded Brazilian companies to export and place products in Venezuela and Cuba. So I do not understand the dismay. Now, I want to return the issue of employment. Candidate, you left the country with 11,400,000 unemployed people. Candidate, that was the highest rate, second only to India, which had 41 million. You beat the record of unemployment, had record low salaries and when the gentleman refers to inflation, he's talking about the Itamar government, not the Fernando Henrique government.

Neves: Another lie madam, but back to Cuba which was my question, for perhaps I can reveal here today to Brazil the real reasons why this loan has been labeled a "secret," which is different from what she has spoken about. I received a document today and I am asking that it be sent to the Attorney General to investigate. It's a document from the Ministry of Economic Development, which says that the financing for Cuba is not like that normally given to other countries, where the deadline for payments is between 12 and 25 years. But the most concerning part is that all the financing solicitations by the Brazilian government and technical group were for guarantees to be given in a hard currency, usually U.S. dollars or Euros, from a credible international bank. Instead, the Brazilian government accepted that the guarantees be given in Cuban pesos from a bank on the island of Cuba. Is it fair to use the Brazilian people's money to do favors for a "friendly" country that does not even respect democracy?

Must-Read: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

Friday, October 24, 2014
By Maria C. Werlau in Spain's ABC:

Paying for The Port of Mariel: Are Cuba and Brazil Partners in Human Trafficking?

The Brazilian government has committed huge taxpayer funds —in loans, subsidies, and direct humanitarian assistance— to support infrastructure projects, food exports, and other initiatives in or for Cuba. Brazil has also provided decisive international political backing to the Cuban military dictatorship. This support is nowhere more evident than in the Port of Mariel, refurbished to great fanfare with Brazilian public financing of over one billion dollars.

Brazil’s massive lending for Cuba seems reckless from a financial/due diligence perspective, as Cuba does not meet basic standards of creditworthiness. The island is technically insolvent; it has US$75 billion in external debt, a long history of defaults, and a classification from The Economist Intelligence Unit as one of the four riskiest countries on the planet to invest in. Meanwhile, the port project is apparently not viable, as the two main reasons given to justify the gigantic investment are shaky at best. Several ports in the vicinity look better positioned to take advantage of the Panama Canal expansion and the U.S. embargo does not seem anywhere close to ending.

Brazil’s huge government loans and subsidies for Cuba have been granted with unprecedented levels of secrecy and are currently under investigation for allegations of corruption, kickbacks, and favoritism towards the port builder, Odebrecht, which received Brazil´s development bank (BNDES) loans for the port construction and is a large campaign contributor of the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (P.T.). Moreover, while Brazil has greatly increased financing for projects of politically-compatible foreign governments such as Cuba’s —growing the deficit to 4% of GDP—, public funding for infrastructure projects within Brazil has been lacking. The manifest commitment to support Cuba at all costs may seem puzzling, but can be explained by the strong political-ideological alliance of P.T. leaders with the Cuban regime in the pursuit of a radical hemispheric agenda (inspired in the Foro de Sao Paulo). The hyped-up business opportunities surrounding the port seek to exert pressure against the U.S. embargo and attract investors.

While the Mariel port project does not meet standard repayment conditions, Brazilian officials insist Cuba is meeting its financial commitments, presumably the amortization of its own loans from Odebrecth. In fact, it appears that repayment is coming from exploiting Cuba’s citizens as export raw material for goods and services —purchased mostly by public entities in Brazil— in what arguably constitutes a government-to-government collaboration in human trafficking. Referred to as “health cooperation,” these exports consist of:

Export services provided by approximately 11,400 Cuban doctors hired out for a Brazilian government program launched in 2013 that generates Cuba estimated annual net revenues of US$404 million.

Export products reported under standard trade codes for blood — including plasma and medicines and other products derived from blood — and for extracts of glands and organs. Both have grown exponentially since former Brazilian president Lula da Silva launched the Brazil-Cuba alliance in 2003. Blood imports by Brazil from Cuba were only US$570 thousand in 2002, grew to US$16.9 million in 2011, and totaled US$4.8million in 2013; imports of extracts of glands and organs increased phenomenally from almost nothing in 2003 (US$25,804) to US$88.4 million in 2013.

These exports raise serious ethical concerns. The doctors are deployed as “exportable commodities” to remote zones of Brazil in violation of several ILO (International Labor Organization) conventions as well as of international standards and agreements on the prohibition of human trafficking, servitude, and bondage. Regarding the export products, details are lacking, but if the trade is in products of human origin, as it appears, it would have very troubling implications. In Cuba, blood and organs/tissues/body parts are obtained from voluntary and uncompensated donors unaware of a profit motive by their government and practices involved in their collection —some quite scandalous— are unacceptable by standards of the World Health Organization and other international bodies. Additional concerns pertain to safety, quality, effectiveness, and the potential political purpose driving the purchases.

While the service of Cuban doctors has raised ample debate and media coverage in Brazil, the import of products purportedly derived from human blood and body parts has, as of yet, remained out of the public sphere. In addition, while Brazilian authorities move forward with plans to integrate its biopharmaceutical production with Cuba, that this industry is under the absolute control of the secretive Cuban military regime or that it collaborates with rogues states such as Iran and Syria —including with exports of dual-use technology— have yet to raise attention in Brazil. In Cuba, this discussion cannot be had, as all media and mass communications belong to and are run by the state.

Maria Werlau, a former banker, is Executive Director of CubaArchive.org. The above is based on a detailed paper to be published by the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Foreign Policy: Cuba Leads Diplomatic Offensive to Protect North Korea's Dictator

Not wanting to be the last totalitarian standing, the Castro regime is clearly obsessed with helping its North Korean brethren -- whether through arms smuggling or in leading a comprehensive diplomatic offensive to protect Kim Jong Un.

Also, note PR blitz the North Korean's are currently undertaking.  It's textbook Havana.

From Foreign Policy:

North Korea Enlists the Help of Cuba and China in Shielding Kim Jong Un From ICC

North Korea has long used ballistic missile tests and underground nuclear explosions to proclaim its intentions to the world.

But fearing that the West wants to prosecute their leader, Kim Jong Un, for human rights abuses, North Korean officials are beginning to rely on soft words instead of hard power. In an appropriately bizarre new tact for the Hermit Kingdom, North Korean officials are engaging in an intensive charm offensive designed to persuade world powers to leave their "dear leader" alone.

As part of a rare PR blitz, North Korean diplomats have reached out to reporters, diplomats, and regional experts to derail any efforts to pursue prosecution of senior North Korean officials. This week, Jang Il Hun, a North Korean diplomat who oversees North Korean outreach to the United States, went to the Council on Foreign Relations to denounce a U.S.-led "plot" to overthrow his government. Earlier this month, another North Korean official, Choe Myong Nam, defended Pyongyang's human rights record at a U.N. press conference. Although he also acknowledged the existence of "reform-through-labor" camps where wayward individuals can be "improved through their mentality and look upon their wrongdoings." And on Wednesday, Oct. 22, a delegation of North Koreans diplomats attended a U.N. panel on human rights that featured two former inhabitants of North Korea's extensive prison network. When the session ended, a North Korean official passed out CDs to journalists that denounced efforts by "the United States and other hostile forces" to engage in childish plots to mislead public opinion in the U.N. arena with nonexistent "human rights violations" in the North Korea.

The intent of North Korea's extraordinary charm offensive is to convince the United Nations and key governments that North Korea is prepared to allow the world unprecedented, though extremely limited, scrutiny of its human rights record. But Pyongyang has been stymied by its diplomatic estrangement from key governments with which it has no diplomatic relations, forcing it to rely on sympathetic allies such as Cuba and China to do its diplomatic bidding.

The move follows the release of a damning 372-page report in February by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK, which concluded that "widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," according to a 36-page summary of the report. The summary also concluded that such crimes have been committed "pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State." The "gravity, scale and nature" of these abuses "reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world," according to the summary.

In response, the European Union and Japan have introduced a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the "ongoing, systematic, widespread and gross violation of human rights" in North Korea. The resolution asserts that there are "reasonable grounds" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in North Korea, and it encourages the U.N. Security Council to "take appropriate action to ensure accountability," including imposing sanctions on those responsible for or who ordered such crimes and authorizing a criminal investigation by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Never mind that General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and the prospect of the Security Council's adopting a resolution triggering an ICC investigation is remote, given China's reluctance. North Korea is clearly spooked.

On Oct. 17, North Korea enlisted Cuba to reach out to the European Union on its behalf. In essence, Cuba was offering a trade: North Korea would invite the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to Pyongyang to discuss the situation in exchange for European assurances that the North Korean leader would be off-limits. China subsequently delivered the same appeal to the European Union.

"The Cubans have been doing their [the North Koreans'] diplomacy basically because they are not so skillful," said a European diplomat. "The Cubans came forward with a proposal to drop the ICC referral from our text. In exchange, they would accept a visit from the high commissioner for human rights. The reaction was very negative to such a deal. We don't trust them -- that's for sure. But even if we trusted them, we wouldn't trade a referral to the ICC for a visit to the country. It's a little late for that."

Speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations, Jang, the North Korean diplomat, dismissed the commission's contention that North Korea has hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in labor camps spread across the country, saying they are simply "reformatories."

He said the "major obstacle" to improving human rights in North Korea is the United States and its "hostile policy" aimed at isolating North Korea and stifling its ability to prosper. In contrast, he said, North Korea's young leader has made a "constant effort … to improve the human rights situation of my country by improving the people's livelihood and giving more freedom and rights to the people."

"The United States and other European countries are making very great fuss about human rights violations, as they call it, in my country," he said. This "is a political plot to demonize our system."

Asked why North Korean officials -- after years of diplomatic discretion -- have mounted such a public campaign, Jang said they think the resolution is directed at their leader: "We hold … our respected Martial Kim Jong Un in highest esteem," he said, employing a title North Korean officials use to highlight their leader's supposed military prowess. "We could no longer sit idle, just watching and responding back, and we have to -- we think we have to take action on our own in response to such a political plot."

But Michael Kirby, an Australian judge who led the commission of inquiry, said no one should be fooled by North Korea's new geniality, which included the release of American Jeffrey Fowle, whom Pyongyang was holding prisoner, as well as its recent, first-ever commitment to accept a series of human rights recommendations from the U.N. Human Rights Council. "This house, the United Nations, speaks endlessly of universal human rights … and the obligation of those who are guilty of crimes against humanity to answer before justice for their crimes," Kirby said at Wednesday's panel discussion on North Korean rights. "And the question that is before the United Nations now is, when we face such a moment of truth, will the United Nations back away because of the steps belatedly taken by North Korea?… And my hope is that the answer to that question will be 'no. We don't back away. We stand for the principles of the United Nations, and we expect accountability for great crimes before justice. And that is the right of the people of North Korea."

Tweet of the Week: An Editorial That Won't Please Castro

From The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl:

Cuba's Democracy Movement Converges, Deserves U.S. and E.U. Support

Thursday, October 23, 2014
Last month, Cuban democracy leaders from throughout the island gathered in Havana to create a consensus of immediate demands.

They converged upon four simple points:

1. The release of political prisoners;
2. The end of political repression;
3. The ratification of International Covenants on Human Rights; and
4. The recognition of Cuban civil society within the island and the diaspora.

This week, a delegation of democracy leaders visited Warsaw and met with Polish government officials to discuss their plight and the European Union's relations with Cuba.

See the images below.

It's hard not to be impressed by the youth, diversity and dynamism of these Cuban democracy leaders.

They include former political prisoner Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez", intellectual Antonio Rodiles, blogger Yoani Sanchez, journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra, attorney Yaremis Flores, Baptist pastor Mario Felix Lleonart and Catholic scholar Dagoberto Valdes.

Why is Castro's regime so afraid to meet face-to-face (in the same manner as below) with these Cuban democracy leaders?

Instead, it resorts to harassing, beating and imprisoning them.

Shamefully, The New York Times, along with Castro's lobbyists and propagandist, are working diligently for the U.S. to unilaterally and unconditionally normalize relations and invest billions in Cuba's brutal dictatorship.

However, the United States and the European Union must continue conditioning any improvement in relations with Castro's regime upon the fulfillment of these fundamental demands by Cuba's democrats.

Such a principled stance is the best investment in Cuba's future.


Tweet of the Day: NYT's Wishful Thinking, Castro's Intransigence

Yesterday, New York Times reporter Damien Cave discovered that the "wishful thinking" of his Editorial Board is naïve (at best):

Must-Read: Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

By Cuban democracy activist Karel Becerra in the PanAm Post:

Naïve New York Times Comes to Aid of Cuban Dictatorship

If Economic Pressure Forces Reforms, Up the Pressure

A few days ago the New York Times asked for an end to the “embargo on Cuba.” However, they should have asked for an end to the embargo on Castro. Cubans have nothing to impound: no properties, no houses, no cars, no furniture not even intellectual property; everything belongs to the communist government.

This misunderstood contradiction means people such as the Times editorial board see a generous leader fighting against imperialism and a country “that has suffered enormously since Washington ended diplomatic relations in 1961.” Meanwhile, the Cuban people who know the truth see a civil society impoverished by a dictatorship in Cuba that has held power for over five decades.

The Times presents two main arguments: “shifting politics in the United States” and “changing policies in Cuba.” Therefore, they contend, it is now “politically feasible to re-establish formal diplomatic relations and dismantle the senseless embargo.”

The first argument is supported by a telephone survey of a sample of one thousand respondents in nation of 300 million citizens and a Cuban community of over one million. It lacks of scientific rigor and is meaningless.

The second argument falls flat after a mere glance at Cuba’s Official Gazette, where allowed private activities are nothing but “topping palms, fixing shoes, and selling plastic bags.” The Times adds that, as part of these reforms, it is now possible for Cubans to “sell properties like cars and houses,” although they fail to mention buying them. Even the Times knows it is impossible for a Cuban who fixes shoes or sells plastic bags to pay US$25,000 to buy a car.

However, the Times argues that “in recent years, a devastated economy has forced Cuba to make reforms.” Here begs the question: if the reforms have been forced on the government, they are not really open to a freer market, so why ask for an end to the embargo?

The Times‘ logic only holds if they can show that lifting the embargo would have a negative impact in the economy, since then Castro would be forced to make additional reforms.

The Times ignores the facts that shape the real world. Castro’s regime only reacts under pressure, from inside or from outside.  The pseudo reforms in Cuba are nothing but “a process that has gained urgency with the economic crisis in Venezuela.” Yet, the Times editors ignore the interference of Castro in Venezuela, which has contributed to their sister nation’s economic crisis.

Last but not least, the Times tries to defend Odebrecht, a Brazilian enterprise involved in cases of corruption. This has occurred while investing billions of dollars in El Mariel, helping to build a seaport in Cuba with Brazilian capital.

Do the Cuban workers receive their salaries directly from the investing company? Will Cuban entrepreneurs be able to import or export their products? The answer to both is no!

The Mariel seaport investment only serves the regime and its heirs. This investment constitutes explicit support for Castro’s regime and its planned successors. No matter how hard the Times tries, there is no way to hide that fact.

But apparently the “great project [will] be economically viable only if American sanctions are lifted.” After five years of construction, it has become evident that they need an end to the embargo! It seems that a dam was built without a river.

Well, that’s how socialism works: mourn and blame someone else.

“End the economic embargo! Lift the sanctions!” go the cries of the Times. First the seaport and now the river to North American markets. Fortunately for the people of Cuba, they are running out of time and the river is not available for navigation.

Hotels Magazine: Cuban Military is Latin America's Largest Conglomerate

Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, has released its compilation of the world's 325 largest hotel companies and consortia.

The list is topped by the likes of the U.K's InterContinental Group (#1), the U.S.'s Hilton (#2) and Marriott (#3), and France's Accor (#6).

Meanwhile, the largest Latin America-based hotel conglomerate is Cuba's Grupo Turismo Gaviota (#55).

Think about this: Gaviota -- on its own -- is larger than any Mexican, Brazilian, Chilean, Argentinian, etc., hotel company.

Of course, Gaviota is owned by the Cuban military ("MINFAR"), through a conglomerate called GAESA (headed by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas).

Also appearing independently on the list are Cuba's Grupo Cubanacan (#171), Hoteles Islazul (#231), Grupo Hotelero Gran Caribe (#287).

These are all also owned by Cuba's MINFAR, through GAESA.

Thus, if calculated together, GAESA would be the 34th largest hotel company in the world -- ahead of the Walt Disney Company.

And that's just hotels. It doesn't include all of the other business sectors (retail, transportation, arms trafficking, etc.) under GAESA's direct control.

This is the sad legacy that millions of Canadian and European tourists have left Cuba over the last two decades.

Has it brought freedom to the Cuban people? Or prosperity? Quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime, along with its apologists, operatives and cohorts, lobby tirelessly for the U.S. to add millions of its tourists to this calculation.

That would surely place GAESA in the Top 10.

Rubio to Kerry: U.S. Must Defend Summit's Democracy Clause

October 21, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

With the Seventh Summit of the Americas quickly approaching, I am deeply concerned that the Administration has sent mixed messages to the Panamanian government regarding the participation of undemocratic countries. During the 2001 Summit in Quebec City, the United States made a formal commitment that a democratic system is an “essential condition of our presence at this and future Summits”. Thus, as a non-democracy, Cuba should remain excluded from the Summit.

Just last month, State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, stated: “[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 Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, emphasized: “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.

Those words will stand hollow if our country fails to stand by these principles. Furthermore, allowing a country that is a habitual violator of human rights and has not allowed a free election in over 50 years would damage everything that the Summit wishes to accomplish. Cuba should not be allowed to undermine the commitment to democracy made by the remaining nations of the Western Hemisphere during the Summit process.  Moreover, the United States should not stand idly by if Panama does indeed intend to invite Cuba to the Summit.

Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the mixed message sent recently by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, John Feeley, who told the Panamanian media that "it’s not so important the guests at the table but the meal that’s served."

I urge you to reaffirm the United States’ position that Cuba should only be welcome to participate in the Summit when the Castro regime abandons its repression of the island’s population and to ensure that the nations of the Western Hemisphere are left with no doubt that the United States will stand firmly behind the formal commitment it made at the Quebec Summit.

Sincerely,

Marco Rubio
United States Senator

Are Cuba's Political Prisoners Not Newsworthy?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Last week, a young Cuban rapper, Angel Yunier Remon "El Critico", was handed a 6-year prison sentence for his opposition to Castro's regime.

Angel Yunier had been imprisoned since March 21st, 2013, without "trial" or charges.

He is now on a hunger strike protesting his unjust sentence.

Also handed sentences were democracy activists:

Alexander Otero Rodriguez, to a five-year prison term;
Rudisnei Villavicencio Figueredo, to a four-year prison term; and
Yohannes Arce Sarmiento, to a three-year prison term.
.
This week, Sonia Garro, a member of Cuba's Ladies in White, who has been imprisoned since March 18th, 2012, without "trial" or charges, had her "trial" indefinitely postponed again.

Obviously, you won't hear about these political prisoners from The New York Times' Editorial Board.

But more egregiously -- why haven't any foreign journalists in Cuba covered this tragic story?

Perhaps they're too caught up in Castro's Ebola propaganda.

Maybe.

Yet, the AP took time this week to run two fascinating stories on "glossy cars" and "children wrestling" in Cuba.

Are cars and wrestling more newsworthy than the harrowing repression and sacrifice of Cuba's courageous democracy activists?

Washington Post: Cuba Should Not be Rewarded for Its Repression

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Cuba should not be rewarded for denying freedom to its people

The other day, Fidel Castro wrote an opinion column for Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, as he has done periodically from retirement. He lavished praise on an editorial in the New York Times that called for an end to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. But Mr. Castro had one complaint: The Times mentioned the harassment of dissidents and the still-unexplained death of a leading exponent of democracy, Oswaldo Payá, and a younger activist, Harold Cepero, in a car wreck two years ago.

The assertion that Cuba’s authoritarian government had yet to explain the deaths was “slanderous and [a] cheap accusation,” Mr. Castro sputtered.

So why has Cuba done nothing to dispel the fog of suspicion that still lingers over the deaths? If the charge is slanderous, then it is long past time for Mr. Castro to order a thorough investigation of what happened on an isolated Cuban road on July 22, 2012. So far, there has been only a crude attempt at cover-up and denial.

We know something about what happened, thanks to the eyewitness account of Ángel Carromero, the young Spanish politician who was at the wheel of the rental car that was carrying Mr. Payá and Mr. Cepero to a meeting with supporters. Mr. Carromero, who visited Washington last week, told us the car was being shadowed by Cuban state security from the moment it left Havana. He said his conversations with Mr. Payá as they traveled were mostly about the Varela Project, Mr. Payá’s courageous 2002 petition drive seeking to guarantee democracy in Cuba. Many of Mr. Payá’s supporters in the project were later arrested and imprisoned.

After the wreck, Mr. Carromero was pressured by the Cuban authorities to describe it as an accident caused by his reckless speeding. But he reiterated to us last week that what really happened is that the rental car was rammed from behind by a vehicle bearing state license plates. Mr. Carromero showed us photographs of the damaged car, damage that seemed inconsistent with a wreck caused by speeding. But the precise details of what happened are unknown and need to be cleared up by a credible investigation. Mr. Payá’s family has sought one for two years, without success. When the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States sent a query to Cuba about the case, they got no answer. Nothing.

The U.S. embargo has been substantially relaxed in recent years to allow hundreds of millions of dollars of food and medicine exports, in addition to consumer goods supplied to Cubans by relatives in this country. The question is whether a further relaxation is merited. The regime’s persecution of dissidents is unceasing; it continues to imprison American Alan Gross on false charges. While Cuba has toyed with economic liberalization and lifted travel restrictions for some, we see no sign that the Castro brothers are loosening their grip. Fully lifting the embargo now would reward and ratify their intransigence.

A concession such as ending the trade embargo should not be exchanged for nothing. It should be made when Cuba grants genuine freedom to its people, the goal cherished by Mr. Payá.

Quote of the Day: On Congressional Support for Cuba Policy

Right now we would not win a vote to repeal Helms-Burton or to remove the travel restrictions.
-- U.S. Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), advocate of normalizing relations with the Castro regime, fretting over Congressional support for U.S. sanctions towards Cuba, El Nuevo Herald, 10/18/14

Implications of Ending the Cuban Embargo

By Dr. Jaime Suchlicki of The University of Miami:

Implications of Ending the Cuban Embargo

If the U.S. were to end the embargo and lift the travel ban without major reforms in Cuba, there would be significant implications:

- Money from American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the Castro government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro.

- Tourist dollars would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc., produced by state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned partially or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal airline shuffling tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by the Cuban military.

- American tourists will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban resorts are built in isolated areas, are off limits to the average Cuban, and are controlled by Cuba’s efficient security apparatus. Most Americans don’t speak Spanish, have but limited contact with ordinary Cubans, and are not interested in visiting the island to subvert its regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from receiving publications from tourists. Penalties include jail terms.

- While providing the Castro government with much needed dollars, the economic impact of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited. Dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities, while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most.

- The assumption that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or businesses to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments is at best naïve. As we have seen in other circumstances, U.S. travelers to Cuba could be subject to harassment and imprisonment.

- Over the past decades hundred of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more democratic today. If anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the state and its control apparatus having been strengthened as a result of the influx of tourist dollars.

- As occurred in the mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper economic reforms. Cuba’s limited economic reforms were enacted in the early 1990s, when the island’s economic contraction was at its worst. Once the economy began to stabilize by 1996 as a result of foreign tourism and investments, and exile remittances, the earlier reforms were halted or rescinded by Castro.

- Lifting the embargo and the travel ban without major concessions from Cuba would send the wrong message “to the enemies of the United States”: that a foreign leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the United States; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the world; and eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,” and reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.

- Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President Bush, Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S. landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries. The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the will of the people in free elections. U.S. policy has not been uniformly applied throughout the world, yet it is U.S. policy in the region. Cuba is part of Latin America. While no one is advocating military intervention, normalization of relations with a military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of the continent.

- Once American tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would probably restrict travel by Cuban-Americans. For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a far more subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends and relatives on the island, and to influence their views on the Castro regime and on the United States. Indeed, the return of Cuban exiles in 1979-80 precipitated the mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel in 1980.

- A large influx of American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating effect on the economies of smaller Caribbean islands such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Florida, highly dependent on tourism for their well-being. Careful planning must take place, lest we create significant hardships and social problems in these countries.

If the embargo is lifted, limited trade with, and investments in Cuba would develop. Yet there are significant implications.

Trade

- All trade with Cuba is done with state owned businesses. Since Cuba has very little credit and is a major debtor nation, the U.S. and its businesses would have to provide credits to Cuban enterprises. There is a long history of Cuba defaulting on loans.

- Cuba is not likely to buy a substantial amount of products in the U.S. In the past few years, Cuba purchased several hundred million dollars of food in the U.S. That amount is now down to $170 million per year. Cuba can buy in any other country and it is not likely to abandon its relationship with China, Russia, Venezuela, and Iran to become a major trading partner of the U.S.

- Cuba has very little to sell in the U.S. Nickel, one of Cuba's major exports, is controlled by the Canadians and exported primarily to Canada. Cuba has decimated its sugar industry and there is no appetite in the U.S. for more sugar. Cigars and rum are important Cuban exports. Yet, cigar production is mostly committed to the European market. Cuban rum could become an important export, competing with Puerto Rican and other Caribbean rums.

Investments

- In Cuba, foreign investors cannot partner with private Cuban citizens. They can only invest in the island through minority joint ventures with the government and its state enterprises.

- The dominant enterprise in the Cuban economy is the Grupo GAESA, controlled by the Cuban military. Most investments are done through or with GAESA. Therefore, American companies willing to invest in Cuba will have to partner mostly with the Cuban military.

- Cuba ranks 176 out of 177 countries in the world in terms of economic freedom. Outshined only by North Korea. It ranks as one of the most unattractive investments next to Iran, Zimbabwe, Libya, Mali, etc.

- Foreign investors cannot hire, fire, or pay workers directly. They must go through the Cuban government employment agency which selects the workers. Investors pay the government in dollars or euros and the government pays the workers a meager 10% in Cuban pesos.

- Corruption is pervasive, undermining equity and respect for the rule of law.

- Cuba does not have an independent/transparent legal system. All judges are appointed by the State and all lawyers are licensed by the State. In the last few years, European investors have had over $1 billion arbitrarily frozen by the government and several investments have been confiscated. Cuba's Law 77 allows the State to expropriate foreign-invested assets for reason of "public utility" or "social interest." In the last year, the CEOs of three companies with extensive dealings with the Cuban government were arrested without charges.

Conclusions

- If the travel ban is lifted unilaterally now or the embargo is ended by the U.S., what will the U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to encourage changes in the island? These policies could be an important bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.

- The travel ban and the embargo should be lifted as a result of negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide meaningful and irreversible political and economic concessions or when there is a democratic government in place in the island.

Is Cuba Sending Unqualified Health Workers to West Africa?

Monday, October 20, 2014
The Cuban dictatorship is willing to sacrifice anything -- or anyone -- for the sake of propaganda.

This appears to be the case of the health workers it has sent to West Africa to work on the Ebola virus.

The details that have been filtering out of Cuba regarding the terms and conditions that the Castro regime has given to these health workers are very concerning.

For example, the Cuban health workers have been compelled to agree that if they contract the Ebola virus, they will not be repatriated to the island.

Moreover, they have been warned of a 90% chance of no return.

As such, there has been a life insurance policy taken out for these health workers with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Surely the families are the beneficiaries of the policies, right?

Nope -- the Cuban state is.

(It remains unclear whether the WHO is further paying the Castro regime for these health workers.)

Those fortunate enough to return have been "promised" nearly $10,000 per month -- to be deposited in a Cuban state bank account during their absence -- as well as a house and car.

This would set them up extremely handsomely -- for life -- in Cuba.

Of course, whether the Castro regime intends to actually fulfill this "promise" is another question. Just ask the veterans of Cuba's African wars.

Castro knows that Cubans are desperate enough to accept these terms. After all, there's at least a chance for survival if you contract Ebola, while there's no chance for survival if you're caught by sharks in the Florida Straits.

But it seems that the Castro regime is not counting on their return.

Adding to this concern is the fact that the Cuban health workers sent to West Africa appear to be poorly trained (at best) or utterly unqualified (at worst).

As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

An Australian World Health Organization official responsible for training them on Ebola care watched in concern as the Cubans swapped hand-clasps, pats on backs and other potentially hazardous displays of physical affection. Public-health officials warn Ebola can spread on contact, with the virus carried in bodily fluids like sweat.

“They’re a very cuddly people,” said Katrina Roper, a technical officer with the U.N. agency. “Tomorrow will be me explaining why they have to stop shaking hands and sharing things.”

Such irresponsibility may only exacerbate the problem.

But hey -- sacrifice anything, or anyone, for propaganda.

Meanwhile, in another simplistic, haphazard and obviously ill-informed editorial today, The New York Times tells us this approach should be "lauded and emulated."

Full Disclosure on Columbia's Cuba Conference

There's a story today in El Nuevo Herald about this weekend's conference at Columbia University's School of Journalism entitled, "Covering Cuba in the Era of Change."

The event was (supposedly) "designed to deepen journalists' reporting on a wide range of issues involving Cuba and Cuban-American relations at a critical moment of transition."

It featured a "who's who" of the most vocal opponents of U.S. policy towards Cuba.

However, not one U.S.-based proponent of Cuba policy was invited.

Moreover, not a single foreign journalist who has been honest -- and even written books -- about their "self-censorship" in Cuba was invited.

So much for "objectivity" in journalism.

To the organizer's dismay, the only participants (out of dozens) who were not adverse to U.S. policy were three Cuban dissidents. In other words, those closest to Cuba's reality.

One of these, Cuban blogger and democracy activist Miriam Celaya, wrote her take on the event in 14ymedio -- click here (in Spanish).

It's a must-read.

Celaya notes -- in clear dismay -- how this event could have easily been produced by Cuba's "officialdom."

Sadly, she's not too far off.

Unfortunately, El Nuevo Herald failed to disclose in its story who funded Columbia University's conference.

According to its organizers, it was financed "by a generous grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies, with supplemental funding from the Ford Foundation."

For those unaware, The Atlantic Philanthropies has been one of the main financial arms for propagating Castro's "medical propaganda" abroad.

Since 2002, it has contributed nearly $17 million to the Oakland-based, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC), headed by Castro apologist (and former "Venceremos Brigade" member) Gail Reed.

Reed has been married to renowned Cuban intelligence official, Julian Torres Rizo, who had been Castro's Ambassador to Grenada in the early 80s. (See the image below).

"I feel a very strong identification with the Cuban revolution," Reed has said.

Meanwhile, the Ford Foundation has infamously become Mariela Castro's (daughter of Cuban dictator Raul Castro) booking agent in recent years, financing her travels and presentations throughout the world.

That's quite a conference they produced.

Falling Oil Prices Pressure Venezuela (Cuba)

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Falling oil prices put pressure on Russia, Iran and Venezuela

The silver lining in the recent financial market turbulence has been the continued decline in the price of oil, which is down about 25 percent since June. In addition to creating a windfall for U.S. consumers — one analysis reckoned the savings could amount to $600 per household — the drop, if sustained, will place considerable pressure on three problematic petrostates: Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The aggressively anti-American foreign policies pursued by all three countries in recent years have been financed in large part by soaring oil revenue.

Though separated by culture and continent, the regimes of Vladi­mir Putin, Ali Khamenei and Nicolás Maduro have in common autocratic government and ambitions to dominate their regions. More than half of their state budgets come from petroleum exports, and their spending plans depend on high prices: $100 a barrel in the case of Russia, $120 for Venezuela and $140 for Iran, according to the Economist. Last week, benchmark Brent crude was selling for just $85 a barrel, while Venezuela’s heavy oil dropped below $80, according to the VenEconomía Web site.

The falling prices could compound the effect on Iran and Russia of international sanctions. Iran, which lost some 45 percent of its oil revenue in the past two years, has been able to increase its exports and return to economic growth under an interim agreement on its nuclear program. That advance could be nullified by the drop in prices, which in turn could increase the pressure on the regime to strike a long-term nuclear agreement with a U.S.-led coalition by a late-November deadline.

Mr. Putin has embarked on an expensive military ad­ven­ture in Ukraine, but his finance minister warned this month that the country can no longer afford an ambitious 10-year defense spending plan — not to mention promised social spending. As the Kremlin well knows, a drop in oil prices during the early 1980s helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union. While he has yet to give up his ambitions in Ukraine, the Russian ruler may soon have to cope with a domestic economic recession and the unrest it could provoke.

Venezuela’s government is celebrating its election on Thursday to the U.N. Security Council — a position it secured thanks in part to its long-standing policy of buying the support of Caribbean and Central American countries with heavily subsidized oil. Venezuela also props up the Cuban economy with energy deliveries estimated to be worth $10 billion annually. The oil price drop may be most painful in Caracas, where the government is already failing to deliver hard currency to drug importers and international airlines. The cost for insuring Venezuelan debt has recently soared amid speculation about a default. If one is to be avoided, Mr. Maduro may have to adopt painful domestic measures, including a major currency devaluation and cuts in gasoline and electricity subsidies. That will make it hard to maintain the unpopular largesse for Cuba, Nicaragua and other clients.

The willingness and ability of Russia, Iran and Venezuela to challenge the United States and the post-Cold War order has steadily risen along with oil prices since the turn of the century. If, as seems possible, the recent decline is sustained over several years, the geopolitical dividends for the United States may be even greater than those reaped by consumers.