Silence Enables Violence Against Cuba's Dissidents

Saturday, November 29, 2014
On Tuesday night, an agent of Castro's secret police forced his way into the home of Cuban democracy leader, Guillermo Fariñas, and stabbed four dissidents, seriously injuring two members of The Ladies in White.

Despite this violent (and potentially lethal) attack, days later, the agent continues to roam the streets freely, harassing and threatening peaceful democracy activists.

Not one Havana-based foreign journalist has investigated or reported on this violent attack.

Moreover, not one European or Latin American diplomat, or government official, has had the moral decency to condemn this violent attack.

The one international exception has been U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, who tweeted her concern.

Meanwhile, New York Times editorial writer Ernesto Londoño has been busy in Havana touring Castro's state media rag, Granma; the pro-Castro publication, On Cuba; and giving interviews on why the U.S. should unconditionally embrace the last remaining dictatorship in the Americas.

Londoño's itinerary shouldn't be surprising. After all, Granma tours are a centerpiece of The New York Times' official "people-to-people" trips to Cuba. (Sadly, we're not joking -- see here.)

Moreover, his editorials have infamously downplayed Castro's repression.

Under Raul Castro's rule, not only has repression dramatically risen (political arrests have quadrupled), but we've seen the mysterious deaths of two renowned Cuban democracy leaders (and Sakharov Prize recipients) -- Laura Pollan of The Ladies in White and Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement.

It's believed the target of this week's attack was Guillermo Fariñas himself, who is also a Sakharov Prize (a recognition bestowed by the European Parliament) recipient. Where's the European Union's outrage?

Such immoral silence -- from foreign journalists and diplomats -- only enables Castro's impunity and violence against peaceful dissidents.

It's precisely this silence that some want U.S. policy and policymakers to emulate.

Caught on Film: Castro Agent Threatens Dissidents With Gun

Young Cuban democracy activist, Sayli Navarro, captured the following image of a Cuban secret police official threatening dissidents by revealing the gun under his shirt.

Below is her tweet and image:

#Cuba During an operation in Cardenas, agent Villamir lifts his shirt to show his gun.

Tweet(s) of the Day: Castro's Stategy to "Clean the House" of Opposing Views

By Cuban democracy youth leader, Anyer Antonio Blanco:

#Cuba The Cuban regime has begun a new strategy to eliminate dissidents. Violent, strange and even casual events will occur.

#Cuba Seeking to negotiate with Europe and the U.S., the Cuban regime wants to "clean the house" of opposing views. 

In the past days, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Carlos Oliva, Victor Campa and other leaders of #UNPACU have been attacked.

WSJ: Cuban Embargo Punctuates Florida’s Presidential Politics

Friday, November 28, 2014
In The Wall Street Journal:

Cuban Embargo Punctuates Florida’s Presidential Politics

Both Parties Traditionally Court State’s Large Cuban-American Community—Now With Heightened Importance

For decades, Democrats and Republicans with sights on the White House have trekked to the heart of the Cuban-American community in Florida to declare their support for the U.S. trade embargo against the island. No candidate has won the state otherwise.

This staple of presidential politics in the nation’s largest swing state is taking on heightened importance as the 2016 presidential field takes shape.

Democrat Hillary Clinton , who backed the trade ban in her 2008 campaign, reversed her position earlier this year, calling for an end to the sanctions. Her potential GOP opponents include Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, both sons of Cuban immigrants for whom maintaining sanctions against the Castro regime is not just political, but personal.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, once dubbed the state’s first Cuban-American governor because of his kinship with the community and fluency in Spanish, is expected to defend the embargo in a speech on Tuesday, marking a contrast with Mrs. Clinton as he nears a decision on a 2016 campaign.

While Cuba policy is unlikely to be a major issue in the presidential contest, it has the potential to resonate in Florida in a way not seen since Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist fervor rallied Cuban-Americans in the 1980s.

“Hillary is going to be testing history and political reality in Florida and highlighting a contrast with Republicans that we haven’t seen before,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, a director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, the pro-embargo group hosting Mr. Bush in South Florida on Tuesday.

Some allies of Mrs. Clinton are already expressing qualms about how a presidential bid by Mr. Bush would make it harder to lock down the state’s bounty of 29 electoral votes. Those who hoped Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist could offer Mrs. Clinton some political cover among Cuban-Americans—he came out in favor of lifting the embargo in February—were disappointed when he lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the Nov. 4 election.

“Hillary will be a formidable candidate, but I think her position on the embargo could heighten the intensity against her,” said former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican and longtime ally of Mr. Bush who described him as the first Cuban-American governor when they addressed the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC in 2006.

To embargo proponents such as Mr. Martinez, who fled Cuba as a child and rose to become the first Cuban-American senator, lifting sanctions would reward a repressive regime that denies basic human rights and civil liberties.

Critics of the trade ban say that after half a century, it’s time to try a different approach. In a June appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ms. Clinton called the embargo “Castro’s best friend,” because, she said, the regime uses it as a scapegoat for the island’s problems.

In her memoir published earlier this year, Mrs. Clinton said that as secretary of state she urged President Barack Obama to consider lifting the embargo. “It wasn’t achieving our goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America,” she wrote.

Democrats dismiss the notion that Mrs. Clinton’s position would be a political liability in Florida, should she run for president. They point to changing demographics and public opinion. Support for the embargo has been steadily declining among Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, from 87 percent in 1991 to 48 percent today, according to polling by Florida International University.

“Hillary is never going to get the hardliners to vote for her, but there is a new generation of younger Cuban-Americans who do not have that vitriolic emotion tied to Cuba,” said Democratic consultant Ana Cruz, who helped run Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign in Florida, where she overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary.

The state is home to three-quarters of the nation’s estimated 2 million Cuban-Americans. A Pew Research Center analysis of 2013 survey data found that less than half of Cuban voters nationwide lean Republican, down from 64% a decade ago. Over the same period, the share of Cubans who favor the Democratic Party doubled from 22% to 44%.

Exit polling in 2012 showed President Obama winning 49 percent of the Cuban vote, a high-water mark for a Democrat.

“The Cuban-American population is starting to look more like other Latino populations, and that has major implications, because it changes the political calculus for winning the state,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center.

No major Republican presidential candidate has yet to come out in favor of lifting the embargo. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee , who as governor had advocated ending the trade ban to expand opportunities for farmers in his state, changed his mind during his 2008 presidential campaign. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan had voted against the embargo but as the vice presidential nominee in 2012 talked about having a change of heart. Messrs. Huckabee and Ryan are both viewed as potential candidates in 2016.

One possible wild card in the nascent GOP field on Cuba policy is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul , who shares many of the libertarian views espoused by his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul . The elder Paul spoke out against the embargo during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Sen. Paul’s office said he had not recently taken a public position on the embargo, a policy void unlikely to last if he were to visit Florida as a presidential candidate.

Cuban Regime Operative Stabs Two "Ladies in White"

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Last night, a Castro regime operative forcefully entered the home of Cuban democracy leader and Sakharov Prize recipient, Guillermo Fariñas, and physically assaulted dissidents gathered there.

Jose Alberto Botell Cardenas, a known regime operative, stabbed four dissidents with a knife, various of whom had hovered to protect Fariñas.

Among those stabbed were two members of the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White -- Maria Arango and Isabel Fernandez Llanes.

Arango remains hospitalized in critical condition, as she was stabbed in the chest.  This morning she suffered respiratory arrest.

Also, stabbed were two male dissidents, Miguel Fariñas Key and Jesus Aristides Hernandez.

Pursuant to the stabbing, Botell Cardenas (the regime operative) was cheerfully greeted by a senior secret police official, Captain Reinier Rodriguez Conde, who had been staking-out the dissident's meeting.

He was later seen drinking alcoholic beverages at a local park in Santa Clara.

Despite dissident's calls for his arrest, Botell Cardenas remains free.

This morning, he also threatened to kill another member of The Ladies in White, Dayami Villavicencio, and her son.

Tweet of the Day: State Department Official on Stabbing Attack

By U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson:

Internet Connectivity (Further) Regresses in Cuba

According to the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ specialized agency handling international telecommunications matters, Cuba is "falling further behind" as regards Internet connectivity.

Moreover, it is the only "least connected country" (LCC) in the Americas.

The ITU's 2014 report states progress was recorded in nearly every country in the world -- except Cuba.

Cuba ranks 125th in the world in the ITU's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Development Index.

That's three slots lower from its previous 122nd place ranking.

As regards access, Cuba ranks even lower, 160th (out of 166 ranked nations) in the world.

Only Burma, Congo, Madagascar, Chad, Central African Republic and Eritrea rank worse.

Meanwhile, while countries like Panama, Argentina and Uruguay have mobile-cellular penetration exceeding 150 percent. Cuba's penetration is a mere 18 percent.

As the report notes, Cuba's ETECSA is one of the world's last state telecom monopolies.

Finally, household Internet access in Cuba has gone down from 3.8% last year to 3.4% this year.

This, despite the new, much-heralded fiber optic cables to-and-from Venezuela and Jamaica.

So long as the Castro regime (though ETECSA) keeps its monopoly over all telecom on the island, the only beneficiary of these new cables is (and will continue to be) the government.

Thus, circumvention technology remains key to helping the Cuban people's desire for connectivity.

Praising Cuba's "Dialogue" Without Democracy, "Business" Without Property Rights

Tuesday, November 25, 2014
There's an old saying in Spanish -- "pasar gato por liebre" ("trying to pass off a cat for a hare").

That's precisely what two articles, one in The New York Times and another in the U.K.'s Guardian, sought to do this week as regards Cuba.

In the first, The New York Times profiled the founders of "Cuba Posible", a new project by the former editors of the Cuban Catholic Church's magazine Espacio Laical, where they'd infamously advocated for a "loyal opposition" to Castro's regime.

It was an article full of praise for their apparent efforts at "political dialogue" -- and then, a key disclosure:

"Cuba Posible does not advocate democracy, [one of its two founders] said in a telephone interview."

Sounds like more "loyal opposition" to the dictatorship.

The best response came from Cuban blogger, Walfrido Lopez, who noted:

A space is either free and open, or it’s not a space.

Couldn't have said it better.

Meanwhile, The Guardian ran another all-too-familiar article praising Cuba's new "businesses," with particular (silly) regard for its artisan cheese shops.

And then, a key disclosure:

"In a sense, of course, it’s all more appearance than reality: the shops are all owned by the government, and the shopkeepers pay a lion’s share of their profit to the state."

Oh yes, that "small" detail.

Repatriated Cuban Rafter Imprisoned, Found Dead

Monday, November 24, 2014
Last week, an 18-year old Cuban rafter, Dario Andino Leon, who had been repatriated by the U.S. Coast Guard after being intercepted at sea and imprisoned by the Castro regime, was found dead in a prison cell.

Andino Leon apparently committed suicide.

He had been intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard just 25 miles off the coast of Florida and given a routine asylum interview by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") officer.

Despite the interview, Andino Leon was repatriated to Cuba, where he was transferred -- along with two fellow travelers -- to a military hospital.

The rest of the repatriated rafters were released, but Andino Leon was placed in an isolation cell at the headquarters of Cuban State Security.

He was denied contact with his family and purportedly accused of deserting from mandatory military service.

Three days later, the authorities transferred Andino Leon to a military prison in Cienfuegos, where he died.

Why didn't the USCIS official grant this young man asylum?

State Department: Spanish Minister Not Carrying U.S. Message to Cuba

This weekend, a story in Spain's El Pais claimed that Spanish Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, was carrying a "very concrete message" to Havana from the Obama Administration.

Today, a senior Obama Administration official clarified that this "is not true."

The fact remains this week's trip to Havana by Garcia-Margallo is one of "gratitude" (or coercion) for Cuba not mobilizing diplomatically to oppose Spain's bid last month for a seat in the U.N. Security Council.

This high profile Spanish gesture -- free of meetings with Cuba's dissidents and independent civil society (an immoral snub Garcia-Margallo had previously promised he'd never do) -- was the price to pay for Cuba's support at the United Nations.

And Spain obliged.

The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus

By Mary Anastasia O'Grady in The Wall Street Journal:

The Iran-Cuba-Venezuela Nexus

The West underestimates the growing threat from radical Islam in the Americas.

Oranjestad, Aruba - Regular readers of this column will remember that in July the U.S. asked local officials here to arrest Venezuelan Gen. Hugo Carvajal and to extradite him on suspicion of drug trafficking with Colombian guerrillas. He was detained but the Netherlands stepped in, refused the extradition request and let him go.

The general had been sent here to become Venezuelan consul and spread Bolivarian propaganda. He would have been an important intelligence grab for the U.S. So it wasn’t too surprising that Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua and Cilia Flores, the wife of Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro, celebrated the Dutch decision by meeting his plane when he returned to Caracas.

The third person in the high-level greeting party at the airport—the governor of the state of Aragua, Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah—seemed out of place because he is not in the national government. That is until you consider his résumé: One part master of Middle-Eastern networking, one part honorary Cuban revolutionary, and one part highly ambitious chavista, Mr. El Aissami is a dream come true for Tehran and Havana. That makes him a powerful man in Venezuela.

Although President Obama is being lobbied by left-wing activists to change U.S.-Cuba policy before the next Summit of the Americas in Panama in April, his options are limited by laws that require congressional action to change. But one important decision in his hands is whether to remove Cuba from the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism. Before the president does that, Americans ought to learn about allegations by a regional security analyst of Cuba-supported work by Mr. El Aissami on behalf of radical Islam.

The West is well aware of the growing presence of Islamic fundamentalism in the Americas, but policy makers may be underestimating the threat. Joseph Humire is a security analyst and co-editor of “Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America,” a book published earlier this year. In an interview in New York last week, Mr. Humire described Iran’s significant progress, over three decades, in setting up operations in the region.

The earliest stages of the process have featured clandestine operatives using mosques to make connections inside Muslim communities and then using those connections to access wealth and gain political prominence. Where these initial forays have been successful, says Mr. Humire, Iran has opened embassies and established commercial agreements that allow operatives to create businesses, which can be used as fronts for covert operations.

In Venezuela and Bolivia, Iran has moved to the next level, developing a military presence through joint ventures in defense industries. In Venezuela, the state of Aragua, where Mr. El Aissami is now governor, is ground zero for this activity.

Havana applauds this Islamic intervention. Since the rise of chavismo, Cuba has supplied intelligence services to Venezuela and its regional allies, notably Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador. Mr. Humire says it has also supplied passport-information technology to allow these countries to process individuals from the Middle East, hand out new documents and maintain the secrecy of true identities. Cuba has used this capacity to exchange information with like-minded nations, including Russia and Iran.

Raised in Venezuela by a Lebanese-born Muslim father and mentored in the “Utopia 78” left-wing student movement at the University of the Andes, he was Venezuela’s interior minister from 2008-12. According to a June 2014 paper from the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society, where Mr. Humire is executive director, “regional intelligence officials” believe that Mr. El Aissami’s office used information technology developed by Cuban state security to give some 173 individuals from the Middle East new Venezuelan identities that are extremely difficult to trace.

The paper, “Canada on Guard: Assessing the Immigration Threat of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba,” says that regional intelligence officials believe that “of the more notable persons of interest” who received false papers from Caracas was Suleiman Ghani Abdul Waked, an important member of Lebanese Hezbollah. The same paper, citing interviews with unnamed Latin American intelligence officials, says Mr. El Aissami has built “a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and sending illicit funds from Latin America to the Middle East.” Mr. Humire told me the Venezuelan government dismissed the report as U.S. propaganda.

Mr. El Aissami’s Aragua state is where Parchin Chemical Industries (PCI) and Qods Aviation, two Iranian military-owned companies, have joint ventures with Venezuela’s military industry, according to “Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America.” PCI is a maker of explosives, ammunition and rocket propellant for missiles. Qods is a maker of unmanned aerial vehicles. Both companies have been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council under Resolution 1747.

The chapter written by Mr. Humire says Havana is now “trying to clear its debt to Iran” in order to receive economic assistance from Tehran. This aid will doubtless be conditioned on greater Iranian access to nations under Cuban influence, including Venezuela, he says. They will likely turn to Mr. El Aissami for help.

Quote of the Week: On the Cuban Embargo

There's no embargo against Venezuela and we see how every day the human rights of Venezuelans are being violated. There's no embargo against China and we see how millions live in slave-like conditions. There's no chance that lifting the embargo towards Cuba would guarantee respect for our rights. The embargo is the only genuine international act of solidarity with the Cuban people. The little changes that are taking place in Cuba are due to the pressure of the embargo and the persistence of the opposition.
-- Liu Santiesteban, Cuban journalist and blogger, Cubanet, 11/20/14

Don't Negotiate Away Cuba's Future (Without Democracy)

By Cuban blogger Fernando Damaso in Translating Cuba:

Where There’s Smoke

For months Cuban authorities have been waging an intense campaign to end the blockade (or embargo) imposed by the US government against the Cuban government. Among Cuba’s demands are the release of three spies now serving time in US jails and removal of the country from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

All this is in the context of an “invitation to the government of the United States to a mutually respectful relationship based on reciprocity, sovereign equality, the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter,” in the wording of a speech by the Cuban foreign minister at the sixty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly in New York on October 28, 2014.

Moreover, in recent weeks the New York Times has published several editorials in support of the same position, which have been reproduced verbatim by Cuba’s government-run press — something never seen before — which has added its own severe criticism of civil society, accusing it among other things of corruption.

The convergence of opinion among Cuban authorities, the New York Times and some political, business and social figures of the United States is striking. It is no secret, though the parties involved refrain from confirming it, that something has long been cooking behind the backs or with the participation of only some members of Cuba’s civil society.

At the end of the 19th century the governments of the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities in Cuba as well as Spanish control over the island. Neither the Cubans who had launched the initial revolt nor their political representatives took part in the treaty negotiations. This weighed heavily on Cuban-American relations during the era of the Cuban Republic and was considered by many responsible Cubans to be a politic mistake on the part of our neighbor to the north.

Trying to resolve the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba today, well into the 21st century, without the participation of Cubans who are neither part of the government nor in agreement with it would be making the same mistake twice.

The desires of Cuba’s current leaders to prolong the life of their failed system — albeit with surface embellishments and new faces — and the interests of certain American political figures cannot take precedence over the interests of the majority of the Cuban people who, unable to truly exercise their democratic rights, are hoping and fighting for real change.

How Castro Bilks U.S. "Purposeful" Travel

Sunday, November 23, 2014
If this is how Castro squeezes Cuban-American and "people-to-people" travel, just imagine the windfall it would receive from tourism.

After all, Americans (unlike Europeans and Canadians) are famously "generous" travelers.

And this doesn't include the huge profits (which stymie the landing fees) being made from U.S. travelers -- "people-to-people" in particular, which goes directly to the regime -- as they all stay at Cuban military-owned hotels and resorts, dine at their restaurants and party at their nightclubs.

Excerpts from The Tampa Tribune:

Fees for Americans a sore spot in Cuba travel

The battle for the Cuban charter flight business out of Tampa International Airport has landed in federal court, exposing what U.S. citizens must pay the secretive Cuban government for use of Havana’s José Martí International Airport.

The annual total is somewhere between $31 million and $62 million — more than any other nation pays, said one Cuba analyst — enough to make critics question whether the fee is covering actual costs or going to support Cuba’s ruling Castro regime.

Tampa International Airport, by comparison, received $14.6 million in landing fees during 2014 for flights from airlines based in every nation that lands here.

On a per-flight basis, the same U.S. plane that pays $275 for landing fees at Tampa International pays up to $24,000 in Havana.

The cost estimates on U.S.-Cuba flights is based on two factors: the revelation in court documents that landing fees range as high as $148 for each U.S. passenger, coupled with the projection that two-thirds of the 635,000 Americans traveling to the island nation in 2014 are destined for the capital city of Havana.

The $148 figure listed in the lawsuit is consistent with a U.S. charter company contract for landing rights in Havana obtained by the Tribune.

“All that money goes to the government, who then decides where it is spent, including military and security forces for surveillance,” said Jim Cason, mayor of Coral Gables, who was chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002 to 2005. “Anyone who believes otherwise is very naive.”

Cuba might even charge different fees to different U.S. charter companies, said Cason, the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.

“There is a tremendous amount of bribery in all of this,” Cason said. “If someone offered Cuba money for lower rates, they would take it. The system is totally open to corruption.”

Must-Watch: Cuban Family Stops Traffic in Protest

In the video below, an opposition activist in Santiago de Cuba, whose family has been evicted from their home and children kicked out of school, stops traffic to protest this injustice.

Listen to his calls for freedom. Moreover, note the gathering crowds as they film with their phones.

Finally, watch as Castro's secret police (as opposed to uniformed police) storms in to arrest him and his family -- and the repulsion of the gathering crowd.

Why is this young activist and his family such a threat to Castro's regime?

See video below (or here):