Final Tally: 240 Dissidents Arrested in Cuba During Human Rights Day

Saturday, December 13, 2014
Last Wednesday, December 10th was Human Rights Day.

In Cuba, it was commemorated with widespread arrests against peaceful opposition activists.

According to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, at least 240 known political arrests took place throughout the island that day.

See images taken of some of these arrests here.

They were broken down geographically as follows:

Havana: 101
Las Tunas: 16
Santiago de Cuba: 63
Pinar del Rio: 1
Holguín: 26
Granma: 3
Villa Clara: 7
Camagüey: 23

Tweet of the Day: Venezuela's Rights Violators

Ortega Bans Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen from Nicaragua

From AFP:

Nicaragua's Ortega says US senator, congresswoman on official list of banned foreigners

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega confirmed Friday that U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senator Marco Rubio – both from Florida – are on an official list of foreigners banned from entering the country in retaliation for travel restrictions placed on Nicaraguan officials by the U.S. government.

“Just like they [U.S. officials] have their lists, we can make our own lists in Latin America of those who shouldn’t enter our country,” Ortega said during a meeting with Venezuelan officials in Nicaragua.

Ortega did not say when the ban went into effect. He said it responded to “a list of Nicaraguan officials who cannot enter the United States.”

“La señora Lleana Ros is on there [the list], and she wanted to enter here [last June]. Her story was that she was going to come to foment democracy in our country, but she was on the list of people who can’t enter and she didn’t enter,” Ortega said.

The Republican congresswoman is an outspoken critic of the leftist governments in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba, and she had planned last June to meet in Managua with leaders of the political opposition. However, she had cited health problems as the reason for the trip’s cancellation.

Ortega said Florida Senator Marco Rubio, also a Republican, is banned from Nicaragua for his strong criticisms of the administration of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Ortega did not say who else is on the list of banned foreigners, or how many.

Ortega’s comments followed the recent announcement by the U.S. of more sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of committing human rights violations against members of the opposition during recent violent protests in that country.

Must-Watch: On Senate Floor, Rubio Talks Cuba, Summit, Blinken and Venezuela

Friday, December 12, 2014
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has given a wide-ranging foreign policy speech on the Senate floor, in which he discussed Cuba, the Summit of the Americas, Deputy Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken and Venezuela.

In January, Senator Rubio is slated to become Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

Here are some major takeaways:

On Cuba: "I will fight with every marrow in my bones against any sort of unilateral change to U.S. policy toward Cuba."

On the Summit of the Americas: "The Summit of the Americas is a forum for democracies, not for 20th century relics like the Cuban government."

On Blinken: "I will use every procedural method available to me to ensure that this Senate will have to take as long as possible to confirm him."

On Venezuela: "I predict in the year 2015, we are going to see severe human rights violations, severe repression, on the part of the Maduro government and all of the impact that's going to have on the region. And I hope we are ready to confront that."

Watch the whole speech below (or click here to watch the Western Hemisphere portion, which begins at 27:09):

The AP's Latest Attack: On Cuba's Independent Rappers

In Cuba, independent rappers who are not approved by the Castro regime's National Hip-Hop Agency (yes, there's even a state agency that monitors rappers) face daunting obstacles to perform their craft.

They are denied venues for concerts, equipment to record, and access to television and radio. Even worse, they face censorship, harassment, beatings and imprisonment. Such is the case of Angel Yunier Remon (aka "El Critico"), a 31-year old rapper, who is serving a 5-year prison term for his lyrical criticism.

In order to assist these beleaguered rappers, a Serbian concert promoter with first-hand experience in overcoming similar challenges under Slodoban Milosevic's dictatorship in the 1990s, was consulted. It was done through a program commendably funded by USAID.

The program was quite successful. It provided Cuba's independent rappers badly-needed resources and increased their visibility. It also helped create the wildly-popular Rotilla Music Festival, known as the "festival of freedom," where over 20,000 thousand young Cubans would gather for a three-day rave. So popular that the Castro regime forcefully shut it down.

But the AP doesn't like it. Therefore, these Cuban rappers have become the latest targets of the AP's Fulton Armstrong "crusade" against U.S. programs to support Cuban civil society.

(Want to know what Cuban independent rappers think of the AP's latest attack? Click here, in Spanish.)

Note the trend-line.

If it operates independently of the Castro regime, the AP labels it as an effort to "overthrow the dictatorship."

(Surely that in itself is a noble pursuit -- unless you have a soft-spot for brutal totalitarian dictatorships -- but the real end-goal of these programs is simply to support Cuba's repressed civil society.)

An independent Twitter network ("Zunzuneo") that allows young Cubans to freely connect with each other -- bad.

Go join Castro's official social media network, La Tendedera, says AP.

Independent workshops for HIV-AIDS activists -- bad.

Go join Mariela Castro's CENESEX, says AP.

Support for independent rappers -- bad.

Go join Castro's National Hip-Hop Agency, says AP.

Instead, why doesn't the AP use the same zeal to report on the imprisonment of 35-year old, Mauricio Noa Maceo, who just this week was handed a three-year prison term for trying to set up an independent ("unauthorized") Internet connection?

Why doesn't it report on David Bustamante, a 21-year old Cuban LGBT activist, who has been arbitrarily confined to an AIDS prison for publicly criticizing Castro's regime?

Why doesn't it report on "El Critico", the imprisoned rapper, who is routinely beaten, denied family visits and placed in solitary confinement?

Because such stories would upset its Havana bureau's "hear no evil, see no evil" arrangement with the Castro regime -- and risk its expulsion from the island.

A shameful arrangement they also want Cuban civil society, international NGOs and the U.S. government to emulate.

Quote of the Day: Cuban Rapper Disputes AP Story

It is a shame how our image was taken [so that] this news article reach the masses at the expense of our popularity in an attempt to soil it.
-- Bian Oscar Rodriguez Gala (a.k.a. El B), of the hip-hop duo Los Aldeanos, on the AP's latest USAID smear campaign, Facebook, 12/12/14

Rubio Opposes Blinken Nomination Over Cuba Policy

Rubio Opposes Nominee To Be Deputy Secretary Of State For Failure To Answer Key Questions About Cuba Policy

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced his opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Antony Blinken to be deputy secretary of state.

During Blinken’s confirmation hearing in November, Rubio questioned Blinken about any future unilateral changes to U.S.-Cuba policy absent democratic reforms, as required by law, on the oppressed island nation. When given several opportunities – during the hearing and in follow-up written testimony – to categorically rule out the possibility of unilateral changes to Cuba policy, Blinken demurred.

In making this announcement, Rubio issued the following statement:

“As I said after Mr. Blinken’s confirmation hearing, I am very concerned that President Obama’s nominee to be John Kerry’s deputy at the Department of State passed up several opportunities to categorically rule out the possibility of unilateral changes to U.S. policy towards Cuba. Unless Cuba begins an irreversible democratic transformation, the U.S. should not reward the Castro regime with unilateral concessions from us that enrich the regime and help it repress millions of Cubans.

One can disagree with U.S. policy with respect to Cuba and believe that our laws must be changed, but if you’re going to serve at the U.S. Department of State, especially in such a high ranking leadership position, you must faithfully execute existing laws. Mr. Blinken has been afforded numerous opportunities to make clear that he will abide by U.S.-Cuba policy that has been codified into law, and he declined to do so each time.

Unless Mr. Blinken makes such assurances that he will faithfully execute the laws that currently exist with respect to U.S.-Cuba policy, I will continue to oppose his nomination.”

On the President's Desk: Venezuela Sanctions Bill

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, said President Obama will sign the Venezuela sanctions bill that was passed by both chambers of the U.S. Congress this week.

The bill, the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, directs the President to sanctions Venezuelan officials who were involved in human rights violations against protesters, or who ordered the arrest of opposition activists for exercising freedom of assembly.

The sanctions include revoking visas or barring entry to the United States, and freezing their assets in the United States.

On Human Rights Day: Dozens of Dissidents Arrested in Cuba

Thursday, December 11, 2014
Editor's Note: These 32 arrests were in Havana alone. Nearly 70 members of the Ladies in White were arrested throughout Cuba.

From AFP:

Cuba police arrest 32 during rights protest

Police in Havana arrested at least 32 people Wednesday at a demonstration marking Human Rights Day, AFP reporters on the scene observed.

Among those detained were 16 members of the Ladies in White opposition group made up of the wives and mothers of jailed dissidents.

"Long live human rights! Long live freedom!" the protesters shouted as they were rounded up beginning at around 11 am (1600 GMT) near the historic Habana Libre Hotel in the capital city's Vedado business district.

The UN General Assembly in 1950 declared December 10 to be "Human Rights Day," as a platform to rally for a common standard of humane treatment for all people.

The Havana protesters were met by dozens of pro-government activists who shouted "Long live Fidel!" and "Long live Raul!" in support of President Raul Castro and his revolutionary icon brother Fidel -- his immediate predecessor as the communist island's leader.

It has become customary for Cuban dissidents arrested in periodic sweeps to be released a few hours after being detained.

The Ladies in White, founded in 2003, march with the government's permission every Sunday in the Cuban capital. The group is banned but tolerated by Cuban authorities.

The group in 2005 was awarded the European parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize honoring groups or individuals who have dedicated their lives to defending freedom of thought and human rights.

Powerful Images: Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Human Rights Day

On this Human Rights Day, dozens of dissidents were arrested throughout Cuba, including nearly 70 members of The Ladies in White, a peaceful pro-democracy group composed of the relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Sometimes pictures speak louder than words:











Quote of the Day: Cuba Will be Free Very Soon

Don't worry, this country will be free very soon. These people are very bad, the communists.
-- Cuban protester, told Reuters as he was grabbed by police and hauled away in a squad car for peacefully protesting on Human Rights Day in Cuba, Reuters, 12/10/14

Cuba’s Dissidents Have a Bone to Pick with the New York Times

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
By José R. Cárdenas in Foreign Policy:

Cuba’s Dissidents Have a Bone to Pick with the New York Times

In recent weeks the New York Times has been on what the BBC has called a “Cuban crusade.” Four editorials and three columns in less than two months that all basically conclude U.S. policy towards the Castro regime needs to change (any need for change in the regime’s repressive behavior towards its own people is simply glossed over).

No, nothing significant has happened on the island that justifies the Times’ campaign — no major reform or development that would cause Washington to rethink its policy. Nor do the editorials really add anything new to the debate; they are essentially a pastiche of well-worn arguments and clichés that if only the United States unilaterally changed its behavior then maybe, just maybe, the Castro regime will change its behavior.

The Cuba contributions are the work of newly minted editorial writer Ernesto Londoño, late of the Washington Post where he covered the Pentagon as a reporter. His apparent qualifications to editorialize on Cuba (beyond the fact that he speaks Spanish) is that he once went there as a college student.

The opinion pieces have been well-received by the Castro regime, which have featured them prominently in the state-controlled media. Fidel Castro even emerged from his dotage to personally praise them. (They also prompted a smack down from the Washington Post editorial board here.)

Nevertheless, something notable has resulted from the Times’ fixation on U.S. policy towards Cuba: a remarkable meeting between a group of Cuban dissidents and Londoño that took place recently in Cuba. (Yes, adding to surreal nature of the whole enterprise, the Times’ writer traveled to Cuba after writing six opinion pieces, not before.)

Londoño met with renowned Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez and others associated with the start-up independent news website 14ymedio, who proceeded to give him point-by-point rebuttals to the Times’ Cuba oeuvre. Make no mistake about it, these are not “radical” dissidents; Sanchez doesn’t even support U.S. policy.

But what the dissidents were bent on telling the Times was how irrelevant U.S. policy was to the daily lives of the Cuban people. According to Sanchez, “I don’t care for the idea that what happens in my country depends on what happens in the White House.” Reinaldo Escobar added, “They will have another argument for keeping repression when the embargo is lifted.”

They also condemned the notion that Cuba was reforming under Raul Castro: “All of these private businesses that are springing up and flourishing are sustained by illegality,” says Eliécer Ávila, also part of the 14ymedio team, meaning pilfering from state inventories to acquire scarce supplies. He says, “Many of these businesses are created so that government officials can place their children, grandchildren, and friends in them.”

They also criticized the Times editorials for their portrayal of Cuba. According to Miriam Celaya, also from 14ymedio, “What is going on with these editorials? They are still giving prominence to a distorted, biased view, composed of half-truths and lies about what the Cuban reality is. They are still giving prominence to what a government says, and Cuba is not a government.”

Ávila adds, “It would be a great favor to Cuba if, with the same influence that these editorials are intended to have on the global debate about one topic [the embargo], they also tried to shed light on other topics that are taboo here, but that go right to the heart of what we need as a nation.”

Powerful stuff. And one hopes that at least one visitor to Cuba returns to the U.S. with simplistic notions dashed that all that needs to happen to change the equilibrium in Cuba is for the U.S. to make unilateral changes to its policy.

Critics of U.S. policy towards Cuba have come and gone for decades because they all make the same mistake: they demand changes only from the U.S., not the Castro regime. They fall for the regime’s abhorrent ploy to keep 11 million Cubans living in squalor so that they think there is no option but that the U.S. change its behavior. But nothing justifies 50 years of uncompromising dictatorship and the sooner more people accept that, the sooner the Cuba nightmare will likely end.

Cuba Suspends Talks With European Union

Tuesday, December 9, 2014
For nearly a year, the European Union and the Castro dictatorship have been holding much-heralded negotiations, amid a review of the EU's "Common Policy" towards Cuba.

The EU's "Common Policy" is a rather toothless -- yet symbolic -- statement on behalf of human rights and democracy in Cuba.

The first two rounds of negotiations were welcomed by Havana, as they involved more trade, grants, investment and financing for the Castro dictatorship.

These rounds were followed up with high-profile visits by Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

During the visits, these dignitaries even kowtowed to the whims of Castro's regime and ignored Cuba's courageous democracy leaders.

Next month, the third round of negotiations were scheduled to take place -- and finally, they were supposed to discuss human rights and democracy.

Not so fast.

Yesterday, the Castro regime suddenly suspended the talks.

(As an aside: Hadn't Cuba "experts" assured us that every issue is on the table for Raul Castro?)

And why not?

After all, before the talks, the Castro regime had received billions in EU trade, tourism and investment.

During the talks, the Castro regime has received billions in EU trade, tourism and investment.

And after the talks -- whether suspended or not -- it will continue to receive billions in EU trade, tourism and investment.

In other words, the Castro regime has nothing to lose.

They set the simple terms of these negotiations -- gimme, gimme, gimme.

Also worth noting is the "excuse" that the Castro regime has given for suspending the talks -- that they felt "disrespected" by a cultural exhibit in Washington, D.C. last March, which featured photos of Havana by a Lithuanian artist.

What a joke.

A lesson for those who argue that we should embrace Castro's regime, in order not to give it an "excuse" -- a gratuitous proposition, as they will never run out of "excuses."

Must-Read: The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy

From The Daily Beast:

The Dark Side of Cuba’s Ebola Economy

The communist government’s medical missionaries win praise for the regime, but they are victims, too.
If you ask most people what Cuba is famous for they probably will name two things: rum and cigars. But if you ask leftists what Cuba is famous for they will usually say something altogether different: healthcare and education.

Despite all the government oppression and poverty and the endless speeches by el líder maximo and his sibling, the Cuban healthcare and education systems are still held up as justification for the 1959 Cuban revolution in and of themselves.

So good is the healthcare system on the island supposed to be, and such is the abundance of skilled doctors, that Cuba can even afford to export medical personnel to disease- and crisis-stricken parts of the world in a gesture of international solidarity that the capitalist West does not begin to rival.

Estimates suggest that around 50,000 Cuban-trained health workers are spread across 66 countries, with many stationed in some of the poorest corners of the globe. In 2010 Cuba provided the largest contingent of medical staff during the aftermath of the huge earthquake that shook Haiti. Similarly, after an earthquake devastated Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 2005, there were more Cuban doctors on hand to aid the relief effort than there were medics from Pakistan proper. Who said socialist internationalism died in 1989?

And so today, during the current Ebola crisis, while the rich capitalist countries pontificate selfishly about things like anti-Ebola border security, socialist Cuba has again come to the rescue, flying in 461 health workers to stricken West Africa—more than any first-world country.

Even John Kerry, secretary of state in a country that has spent decades trying to oust the Castro clan, described Cuba’s contribution to the fight against the Ebola outbreak as “impressive.”

This penchant for medical internationalism goes back to the greatest icon of the revolution, Ernesto “Che” Guevara. He was a doctor and envisioned a world in which a medic would use “the technical knowledge of his profession in the service of the revolution and the people.”

Yet like Guevara’s socialism, Cuba’s fraternal medical altruism has a dark side. Che may have felt a genuine affinity with the poor, but he was also a fanatic who locked up homosexuals and other “deviants” in labor camps. He wanted to “bring justice to the downtrodden” but he wanted to do it by launching a first nuclear strike on New York or Washington. The Cuban government, still led by some of Che’s former contemporaries, exemplifies a similar contradiction between idealism and brutal coercion.

There is in fact a great deal more to the Castro brothers’ medical diplomacy than the development of Cuba as, in the words of gushing Guardian columnist,  a “beacon of international humanitarianism.” The government in Havana rakes in around $8 billion a year on the backs of its health workers. Most notably it receives cheap oil from the Chavez/Maduro autocracy in Venezuela, but it also gets a hefty sum of much-needed hard currency from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for every doctor it sends to Africa and beyond.

Not that there is any shame in that: socialist economies need hard currency to buy things on the international markets as much as any other country. But if there’s altruism here, it’s on the part of the workers themselves, since they rarely see any of the money they bring in for the dictatorship back home. All the available evidence suggests that they receive a measly stipend from the regime—about $20 extra a month—with the rest pocketed by the government to bolster things like Cuba’s omnipresent security apparatus.

Yet lavish praise is heaped on the supposed generosity of Havana’s elderly rulers—the same ones who for 50 years have stopped most Cubans from travelling abroad.  “Cuba is a special case,” says José Luis Di Fabio, who heads the World Health Organization’s Havana office, told DeutscheWelle. “The country has the ability to react very quickly because of the experience of the physicians and the political will to do so.”

“Political will” in this instance is a euphemism, for there is ample evidence to suggest that Cuba’s medical diplomacy is far from voluntary for those sent abroad on their country’s international missions. Much like those who decline to attend the “voluntary” pro-government rallies which sporadically fill the streets of Havana and give a veneer of democracy to the one-party state, those medics who choose not to play ball with the Leninist Center can pay a severe penalty. As Madrid-based Cuban doctor Antonio Guedes told the same German website, “Whoever does not cooperate may lose his job, or at least his position, or his son will not get a place at university.”

This jibes with something Yanelis Ochoa, a university medical student in Santiago de Cuba, told me when I visited the country in 2011. Talking about the future, Yanelis said that when she eventually graduates she “may have to go to Venezuela or Brazil for a short time to work.” What about your boyfriend? I asked. Are you not getting married soon? “James,” she replied with unusual gravity. “You don’t understand how these things work. If they say I go then I go. It’s that simple.”

On the House Floor: Cuba Remarks by U.S. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen

Remarks today by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair emeritus of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Watch below (or click here):

Don't "Gruberize" With Cuba Policy

This week, The Economist published a remarkably shallow piece urging President Obama to unilaterally and unconditionally ease sanctions towards Cuba.

Its main rationale?

Because, purportedly, "support for the embargo across America is crumbling."

Its evidence?

"A nationwide poll taken earlier this year for the Atlantic Council, a think-tank, found that 56% of respondents favoured improving relations."

Of course, The Economist fails to mention that -- even in the Atlantic Council's push-poll -- when a brief explanation of the Castro regime's human rights abuses preceded the question, the number of Americans who supported engagement dramatically dropped from 56% to 43%.

In other words, The Economist is banking on the American people's lack of information regarding Cuba's realities.

Such a strategy is akin to that of MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, an Obamacare consultant, who is under fire from both Republicans and Democrats, for wanting to mislead, deceive and exploit the American people through misinformation.

This why foreign news bureaus in Havana only write "fluff" pieces or regurgitate Castro's press releases.

It's also why Castro's U.S. lobbyists and anti-sanctions advocates are constantly trying to "white-wash" the regime's abuses.

The fact remains that the more information the American public has about Cuba's realities, the more they oppose lifting sanctions or engaging with Castro's regime.

Why?

Because, unlike whatever Professor Gruber may think, the American people aren't "stupid."

Just imagine if the general American public knew that:

- Political arrests in Cuba have quadrupled since 2010, with over 8,400 arrests thus far this year.

- An American hostage, development worker, Alan Gross, was imprisoned for helping Cuba's small Jewish community obtain uncensored Internet access.

- Over 240 tons of heavy weaponry from Cuba to North Korea were intercepted in the Panama Canal. The largest interdiction of weapons in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, anywhere in the world, to date. This also threatened the safety of the Panama Canal and risked bringing global commerce to a halt.

- Democracy leaders Laura Pollan, leader of The Ladies in White, and Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, have mysteriously died.

- Cuba has wrested political, civil and military control of Venezuela, and has been exporting its repressive apparatus to other nations, including Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador.

- European and Canadian businesses have been illegally confiscated, their bank accounts frozen and an unknown number of foreign businessmen imprisoned without charges or trial.

- All foreign trade with Cuba must be done through Castro's monopolies.

- The Cuban people are denied Internet connectivity through pricing, discrimination and imprisonment.

- New long-term political prisoners, who have been arrested in recent years, 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, author Angel Santiesteban and activist Ivan Fernandez Depestre.

- Cuba has mobilized its diplomatic arsenal in support of Assad's genocide in Syria, of North Korea's crimes against humanity, of a nuclear Iran, of Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of the Crimea and of the violent actions by Russian separatists in the Ukraine.

If the Atlantic Council's poll saw support for engagement with Castro's regime drop from 56% to 43% with a simple explanation of human rights abuses -- it would plummet if Americans were made aware of all these facts.

Unfortunately, the American public generally doesn't follow Cuba policy very closely -- a reality Castro's lobbyists and anti-sanctions advocates try to exploit through deception and misinformation ("Gruberize").

A shallow and shameful strategy.

Menendez Statement on Venezuela Sanctions Bill

Chairman Menendez Applauds Passage of Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and author of the bipartisan Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, issued this statement following the bill’s passage in the U.S. Senate.

“Today, the United States Senate sent a clear and unequivocal message to the Government of Venezuela. For too long, Venezuelans have faced state-sponsored violence at the hands of government security forces and watched their country’s judiciary become a tool of political repression. Venezuelan leaders like Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado have become the target of vicious government-led campaigns that seek to silence them for speaking out in defense of democracy and the rule of law. We in the United States have an obligation to shine a bright spotlight on Venezuela’s abuses and must object to the severe human rights violations committed by the Maduro government and his paramilitary thugs.

Targeted sanctions to include asset-freezes and additional visa bans against the individuals involved in this violence are a necessary and long overdue response. We must always stand against human rights violations, political persecution and recrimination anywhere in the world, and certainly in our hemisphere. The Venezuelan people deserve a brighter future, not the dismal nightmare they’re enduring at the hands of President Maduro. Our fight to deliver hope and renewed opportunity to Venezuela has only begun.”

Rubio Statement on Venezuela Sanctions Bill

Rubio Comments After U.S. Senate Passes Venezuela Sanctions Legislation

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tonight issued the following statement after the U.S. Senate passed by voice vote the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, which is sponsored by Rubio and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Bob Menendez (D-NJ):

“The U.S. stands with the Venezuelan people and against their oppressors in the regime of Nicolás  Maduro. This is a long overdue but important step to demonstrate America’s commitment to the human rights and democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people in both words and actions. These sanctions will go after Maduro regime officials and thugs who have spent all of 2014 authorizing and carrying out assassinations, beatings, unjustified incarcerations, kangaroo court trials and absurd indictments of its political opponents and innocent Venezuelans demanding a better future.

I congratulate my House colleagues, particularly Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, for their work in passing Venezuela sanctions legislation earlier this year. Before this Congress adjourns, I am hopeful that, for all the challenges the Venezuelan people have faced this year, we can at least end it on a positive note by turning these sanctions into a law signed by the President and implemented by the Administration.”

Senate Passes Venezuela Sanctions Bill

Monday, December 8, 2014
From The Hill:

Senate sanctions Venezuelan human rights violators

The Senate passed a bill Monday that would sanction officials violating the human rights of Venezuelan protestors.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced S. 2142, which the Senate passed by voice-vote.

The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act directs President Obama to sanction any current or former Venezuelan government official who violated the rights of anti-government protestors this year.

Menendez’s bill comes as peaceful protestors in Venezuela have been killed and tortured by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) released his hold on the legislation this summer.

“A regional dialogue remains the best option to help Venezuelans find a negotiated, democratic way forward that addresses systematic violations of human rights,” Corker said. “But the Venezuelan government’s complicity with criminal activity that threatens its neighbors and the U.S. demands a firm response from our country and other nations.”

The bill also states U.S. support for the protestors and an open democracy in the South American country.

Pictures Show The New York Times' Cuba Double-Standard

When The New York Times' editorial writer, Ernesto Londoño, visited with Yoani Sanchez and other Cuban independent journalists last week in Havana, he told them that they couldn't interview him, "as the rules of his media prohibit him from giving interviews without previous consultation."

He also declined taking pictures with them.

(Cuban independent journalist, Miriam Celaya, wrote a must-read overview of their odd meeting with Londoño. Click here to read it -- in Spanish.)

Yet, Londoño obviously had no problem having his picture taken during an interview with the pro-Castro publication, On Cuba:


Or with Castro's state media, Granma:


Or with official pro-Castro blogger, La Chiringa de Cuba:


Pictures clearly speak louder than words.

No Ideology for Vile Dictators

A series of secret cables released by Argentina's Foreign Ministry reveal the cozy relationship enjoyed by Cuba's (left-wing) and Argentina's (right-wing) military juntas.

These cables document diplomatic exchanges -- and support arrangements -- between Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla.

For example, in 1977, Videla agreed to support Cuba's bid to join the Executive Council of the World Health Organization (WHO), in exchange for Castro's nomination of Argentina to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council.

And to scratch each other's back there, of course.

To this day, Cuba continues such "back-scratching arrangements" with the world's most vile regimes, i.e., Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Then, in 1982, Castro offered Videla's successor, General Leopoldo Galtieri, direct military support during the Falklands War against the United Kingdom.

In a meeting with Galtieri, former Cuban ambassador to Argentina, Emilio Aragones Navarro, offered to "send a submarine or sink a ship, anything."

"Argentina will not forget it, not now, nor for many years. To Mr. Fidel Castro, tell him I appreciate the spontaneous, decisive and firm gesture that he has had," replied a grateful Argentine dictator.

Previously, Brazilian intelligence had revealed that Cuba's dictatorship ran a clandestine arms network to Argentina, organized by the former Soviet Union, with the participation of Brazil, Peru, Libya and Angola.

Arms smuggling and fomenting strife in the Americas -- to North Korea and Venezuela, respectively -- are also activities Cuba's regime continues to this day.

Cuban Dissident Leader to NYT: It's Not Time to Lift Sanctions

Sunday, December 7, 2014
A change in 'medicine' at this late stage can be dangerous because enabling Raul Castro to further indebt the nation and facilitating him credits to modernize the repressive apparatus will not translate into benefits for the Cuban people. The intelligent thing would be to keep these measures, if there are no real changes, so when we arrive at the moment of a succession -- though our intent is to democratize Cuba before -- the successor will know that there are things that will need to be negotiated prior to normal relations with the free world.
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), Cuba's largest opposition group, on what he told The New York Times' Ernesto Londoño this week, El Nuevo Herald, 12/7/14

Must-Read: The Sole Impediment to Internet Connectivity in Cuba

Please read the following AFP article very carefully.

It clearly demonstrates how the sole impediment to Internet connectivity in Cuba is the Castro regime.

Arguments by anti-sanctions lobbyists that cooperating with Castro's regime telecom monopoly would improve connectivity are disingenuous.

As you can see below, the capability exists for Cubans to be able to connect to the Internet, but the Castro regime impedes it through pricing, discrimination and imprisonment.

Moreover, U.S. law has long-allowed U.S. telecommunications firms to enter into roaming agreements, establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunication facilities linking the United States and Cuba.

Thus, the focus of U.S. policy must be on circumventing Castro's monopoly, not strengthening its control through greater financing and cooperation.

From AFP:

Internet in Cuba only for the rich — or enterprising

Cubans have to go to extremes just to get an internet connection and somehow get around the strict control of the Communist authorities.

With their smartphones and tablet computers, they look much like young people anywhere in the world.

But these Cubans have to go to extremes just to get an internet connection and somehow get around the strict control of the Communist authorities. 

In the capital Havana, clusters of young Cubans can be spotted at weekends in groups near hotels, embassies and business centers in a desperate attempt to get online — somehow.

"Some people capture wireless signals after getting the codes from friends who work here, but I know there are others who manage to crack passwords with special software," one computer enthusiast said, speaking on condition of anonymity at the foot of an office block.

Lurking down a small street abutting a hotel, another strategy is at work. Several youngsters tap away furiously on their devices — they are online thanks to a shared connection courtesy of a classmate posted at hotel reception.

Suffice it to say that in Cuba, wireless signals — or failing that, any internet connection — are highly coveted.

They are under strict control, reserved for companies, universities and institutions. A privileged few — journalists, artists and doctors, in particular — are entitled to a particular connection. And that's it.

In 2013, only 3.4% of Cuban households were connected to the internet, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which rates the connectivity of countries.

Since June last year, the Cuban authorities have gone a small way to affording the island's 11.3 million population a rare chance to access the Internet, opening about 100 centers for the public to get online.

But at $4.5 per hour, rates are prohibitively expensive in a country where the average monthly wage is around $20.

Previously, only hotels could offer the Internet to the public, but again with a prohibitive rate of up to $10 an hour that only foreign visitors could afford.

The state telecommunications service provider, ETECSA, does not offer mobile Internet to its customers, while the 3G network is only for foreign visitors using roaming and offers often patchy performance.

ETECSA has now allowed subscribers to access their mail from their smartphones, but it only applies to the domain @nauta.cu. The company has also opened a service to send pictures from phones to any email address.

They are minor concessions in a country where foreign-branded smartphones are increasingly visible.

"Cuba remains one of the most restrictive countries in the world in terms of Internet freedom," Sanja Tatic Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net, at the American NGO Freedom House, told AFP.

"Rather than relying on the technically sophisticated filtering and blocking used by other repressive regimes, the Cuban government limits users' access to information primarily via lack of technology and prohibitive costs," she said. 

The Cuban authorities do censor certain websites — press and blogs that are against the Castro leadership, pornography and Skype -- but Tatic Kelly noted: "The total number of blocked websites is relatively small when compared to many other authoritarian states like China, Iran or Saudi Arabia."

The more tech-savvy Cubans have found a way around that too, downloading software that can hide their IP addresses to avoid detection and mislead snooping eyes into thinking they are surfing the net in another country.

For those who are less tech-smart, they can always rely on the "paquete" — USB sticks packed with pirated films, TV shows, pop music and games and sold on the black market for a few US dollars.

Cuba's rulers say they need to keep a tight rein on the internet to protect the island from cyberattacks.

Over 18 months, Havana has been the victim of cyberattacks from thousands of addresses registered in over 150 countries, according to deputy minister of communications Wilfredo Gonzalez.

That brooks no argument with Tatic Kelly. "Cuba does not register as one of the leading countries experiencing cyberattacks," she said, citing data from online security experts Kaspersky Lab, which ranks Cuba 199th in terms of countries hit with counterattacks.

At number one, the most targeted, is Russia, it says, with the United States third.

Disingenuous FIU Pollster Presents at Pro-Castro Soiree

Earlier this year, Florida International University (FIU) released a sloppy push-poll on Cuban-American policy attitudes, which was full of glaring manipulations, omissions and contradictions.

The poll was funded by a for-profit lobbying firm, the Trimpa Group, which is pushing the Obama Administration to unilaterally and unconditionally lift sanctions towards Cuba's dictatorship.

(In a recent New York Times story, this lobbying firm admits to representing clients on this issue. Yet, has not federally-registered to disclose its lobbying activity.)

After being pressed on the poll's inconsistencies, FIU Professor Guillermo Grenier admitted to manipulating the results.

This week, Professor Grenier attended a closed-door event organized by the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.

According to the private invitation, the focus of the event was to:

Condemn the economic, commercial and financial blockade; the subversive policy of the United States against Cuba; its inclusion in the international states-sponsor of terrorism list; and to support the growing international calls for the release of three anti-terrorism Cuban fighters who remain imprisoned in the United States."

Other attendees included the head of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., Jose Cabanas, the Cuban dictatorship's U.S. lawyer, Jose Pertierra, and "Maceito Brigade" leader Andres Gomez.

That's quite a pro-Castro soiree.

And yet -- even despite last month's election results (once again) disproving FIU's push-poll -- some media outlets still try to present it as an "academic" endeavor.

Quote of the Day: Congressman-Elect Curbelo's Victory and Cuba Policy

After [Congressman-elect] Curbelo's victory on November 4th (2014), the statements of anti-Castro proponents of dialogue have become pathetically defensive, and their assertions that 'Miami has changed' sound like a rendering of account to MINREX [Foreign Ministry] in Havana and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.
-- Emilio Ichikawa, Cuban author and blogger, on U.S. Rep.-elect Carlos Curbelo's (R-FL) victory over U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL), Emilio Ichikawa, 12/5/14