Vargas Llosa: Castro, Not Cubans, is Winner in Obama's Deal

Saturday, January 3, 2015
By Alvaro Vargas Llosa in Canada's Globe and Mail:

Castro regime, not Cubans, the big winners in U.S.-Havana deal

Any deal between the United States and Cuba ought to aim at maximizing economic freedom, handing the communist regime only the political benefits that are inevitable, and facilitating the growth of the still embryonic civil society on the island. Unfortunately, President Barack Obama’s “normalization” of relations with Cuba will have only a tiny economic impact on the people and bring the Castro dictatorship political and financial benefits.

The substance of the agreement does not reside in its exchange of prisoners, of course. Cuba released Alan Gross, the American contractor arrested for trying to set up satellite communications equipment, an unidentified U.S. spy, and 53 political prisoners. In return, Washington released three Cuban spies, one of whom was directly involved in blowing up two small planes from “Brothers to the Rescue,” the humanitarian organization that used to assist Cuban rafters. But there were many such exchanges during the Cold War. They brought freedom to people who were cruelly imprisoned, but they did not entail anything significant for the millions of victims who suffered under totalitarian rule.

The substance of the new agreement is that the Cuban hierarchy is now recognized as part of the civilized community of states and will be granted access to foreign exchange at a time when the Venezuelan subsidy is in grave peril due to that country’s economic collapse. No political change is even insinuated in the accords; the Cuban people will at best pick up a few economic crumbs spilled on the floor by their masters.

The only way the Cuban people could truly benefit from an agreement would be if the island was inundated with U.S. investment and trade, none of which will happen because the federal embargo prohibits this. Only the U.S. Congress could lift it.

Given the somewhat flexible conditions of the embargo, the United States is already Cuba’s fifth biggest trading partner and its largest supplier of food and agricultural products. This limited economic exchange will not vary much and the tiny amount of private enterprise allowed in Cuba will continue to see some 300,000 very small businesses go about their daily routine. The new measures entail a small increase of U.S. dollars that flow to Cuba by way of travel and remittances. But because the Castro regime has complete control of Cuba’s currency, the foreign exchange will go directly into its pockets. Under the prevailing system, the ordinary people will obtain only Cuban pesos worth very little.

It gets worse. The official U.S. recognition of Cuba implies backing its request for financial help from multilateral bodies. Venezuela, whose budget needs oil at $120 a barrel, is becoming an increasingly unreliable sugar daddy. China, which has extended credit to populist government in Latin America, loans money only under strict conditions and is already signalling that its economic slowdown will force it to be picky. The deal with Washington therefore gives the Castro brothers much-needed sources of cash.

When judging a political development, one should never take oness cue from a tyrant’s or demagogue’s propaganda. The fact that Raul Castro and his buddies, including Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Argentina’s Cristina Kirchner, are hailing the accords as a “great triumph” for the ailing Fidel Castro is irrelevant. What is relevant is the reaction of Castro’s victims, including the many dissidents and civic organizations that, under excruciating conditions, keep the flame of liberty alive and try to carve out a space for civil society on the island.

Yoani Sanchez, the iconic Cuban blogger and activist, spoke for most of them when she wrote: “Castro has won.” I hasten to point out that she is critical of the U.S. embargo and lives in Cuba – that is, she is not coming at this from the vantage point of the 1960s generation of exiles for whom the embargo is a quintessential symbol of the fight against the six-decade dictatorship.

Yes, I am afraid it looks like it is game, set, and match for Castro. For now.

Obama's Risky Diplomatic Move on Cuba Will Backfire

By Carlos Alberto Montaner in Huffington Post:

Cuba: Legacy Or Nightmare?

President Barack Obama wants to "normalize" relations with the Cuban regime. He presumes that it will be part of his legacy. Likely, that risky diplomatic move will backfire, although polls show that most U.S. Americans support the reestablishment of relations with Cuba and the end of the embargo.

According to the measure's adversaries, normalization is a morally questionable mission. Why lend a hand to a stubborn dictatorship in its terminal stages? It makes no sense. Besides, Raúl Castro complicates everything. He insists that the island's repressive one-party communist model will endure.

An editorial in The Washington Post summarized that point of view: "Mr. Obama may claim that he has dismantled a 50-year-old failed policy; what he has really done is give a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life."

Maybe Obama's initial mistake was to renounce something that didn't exist. A few weeks after Kennedy's death, Lyndon Johnson put an end to the efforts to terminate the Castro brothers' dictatorship by force. Since then, the strategy to change the Cuban regime has been replaced by an attempt to "contain" it.

How? Through economic pressure, diplomatic isolation and propaganda. Cold War measures against a Cold War government that continues to behave as if the Berlin Wall had not been toppled in 1989 and the Soviet Union continued to exist.

That's the way it has been for decades. To which was added, with the passing of time, a consoling theory: after the death of the Castros and the disappearance of the Sierra Maestra generation, the heirs would abandon that cruel way of governing and a peaceful transition to democracy and freedom would begin in Cuba.

There would be a repeat of what happened in eastern Europe to the communist regimes and in Latin America to the military dictatorships. Why should anything different happen in Cuba?

After the surprise announcement of Dec. 17, the first one to get in Obama's face was Democratic senator Bob Menéndez, the son of Cubans, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Menéndez was justly indignant. Despite his important post, and without taking into account the fact that he is a Democrat, the White House concealed from him its negotiations with Cuba and deceived him.

Until the day that the scheme was revealed, Obama insisted that he would make no further concessions to Havana, so long as Cuba didn't take steps toward an opening. That was a lie. Menéndez issued a harsh public statement. He felt cheated.

Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and Susana Martinez of New Mexico wasted no time joining the fray. Both called on the Obama administration to demand that Raúl Castro surrender to the United States several American felons -- murderers of policemen and hijackers of airplanes -- who have found asylum in Cuba.

What kind of "normalization" is that, with neighbors who protect criminals? Hadn't the White House decided that the island was no longer a haven for terrorists?

Obama has presented the Republicans with a good campaign issue for the period close to the 2016 elections. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, shortly before he announced that he would try to become his party's presidential candidate, hastened to describe Obama's new policy toward Cuba as "a misstep that benefits the dictatorship."

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, along with representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Díaz-Balart and the newly elected Congressman Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) -- all Cuban-American Republicans -- made similar statements but, understandably, with a tone of greater indignation.

Nevertheless, the institution where Obama and the Democrats will be punished most severely will be Congress. Republican representatives and senators will utilize the change of policy toward Cuba essayed by Obama to test the constitutional limits of the separation of powers, now that they hold a majority in both chambers.

Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which funds U.S. embassies, has said that not a cent will be spent to bankroll the new policy. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana might now be called an "embassy" but there won't be an ambassador.

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, has stated that a lifting of the embargo won't even be debated in the chamber. The embargo will remain in effect; no substantial changes will be made.

Perhaps the main course will be the public hearings that the Senate and the House will surely hold to question, under oath, the functionaries who took part in the negotiations with Havana. The presumption is that several laws were broken and the lawmakers will try to bring those violations before the courts. Whosoever lies shall be charged with perjury.

The Republicans' objective is to turn Obama's purported "Cuban legacy" into a nightmare. They are convinced that the President acted against the law and the principles and values of U.S. society. There was a reason why 10 presidents before him, Democratic and Republican, abstained from trying to straighten up the twisted relations with the neighboring dictatorship until change might come to the island. That was the prudent thing to do.

Obama Cut a Bad Deal With Castro - True Says Politifact

From Politifact:

Marco Rubio says talks with Cuba produced no commitment to democratic reforms

Sen. Marco Rubio -- a Republican born to Cuban emigres whose Florida constituency includes the nation’s largest concentration of Cuban-Americans -- has taken the lead opposing President Barack Obama’s overhaul of U.S.-Cuba relations. His main complaint: The United States isn’t getting enough out of the deal, especially when it comes to democratic reforms.

On Dec. 17, 2014, Obama said the United States would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than five decades, as well as easing longstanding travel and export restrictions. The move coincided with Cuba’s release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross.

Rubio called the warming of relations "profoundly disappointing. It is a victory for the oppressive Cuban government, but a serious setback for the repressed Cuban people." To Rubio, the agreements between the two governments -- which had been worked out in secret over 18 months -- were one-sided, with the United States drawing the short end of the stick.

Here’s more of what Rubio had to say at a press conference:

"The White House has conceded everything and gained little. They gained no commitment on the part of the Cuban regime to freedom of press or freedom of speech or elections. No binding commitment was made to truly open up the Internet. No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to a democracy.

And in exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom and to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to monitor conditions on the island, the same United Nations that did nothing when Cuba last year was caught helping North Korea evade United Nations sanctions."

We wondered whether Rubio is right that, under the agreement, Cuba doesn’t have to "even begin the semblance of a transition to a democracy."

What's in the agreement?

After looking over the publicly available information, it seems like Rubio has a point.

If talks between the United States and Cuba resulted in any final document, it hasn’t been released yet. Instead, we’ll rely on what the White House has made public in its comments. (Rubio’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this story.)

On the subject of "human rights and civil society," a White House summary focuses mostly on what the United States promises to do in fostering those goals in Cuba, not on what the Castro regime had promised to do.

The administration "will continue to implement U.S. programs aimed at promoting positive change in Cuba, and we will encourage reforms in our high level engagement with Cuban officials," the White House summary said. "Ultimately, it will be the Cuban people who drive economic and political reforms."

In his remarks announcing the change in policy, Obama seemed to acknowledge that the two countries disagree on human rights and democracy.

"Where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba," Obama said. "But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement. After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach."

This theme was reiterated during a conference call with reporters featuring unnamed "senior administration officials." They said that the United States’ emphasis on human rights won’t be decreasing, only pursued within a context of direct relations with the Cuban government.

The officials said the United States would seek to leverage other nations’ efforts to promote democracy in Cuba, including at the Summit of the Americas in Panama next year. They said the difference now will be that the United States would conduct its democracy-building efforts -- which they said the Cuban government forcefully opposes -- within the context of normalized relations.

Meanwhile, Raul Castro, in a televised speech from Havana, promised only "dialogue," not concrete steps, on democracy and human rights. He said Cuba recognizes "that we have profound differences fundamentally in the subject of national sovereignty, democracy, human rights and domestic policy. I reaffirm our willingness to dialogue on all these topics."

Are there concrete steps?

So far, we see nothing about what the Castro regime needs to do to promote democracy. Is there anything specific in what’s been announced?

The answer is: A bit.

During the conference call, officials said that the the Cuban government has made "sovereign decisions" to release 53 political prisoners whose cases were brought to Cuba’s attention by the U.S. government."

In addition, the White House says the Cuban government said it would be taking steps to increase Internet connectivity for its citizens. The White House argues that, in conjunction with additional authorization for U.S. telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba, ordinary Cubans will be empowered by better Internet access.

Finally, officials announced that Cuba would increase its engagement with the United Nations and with the International Committee of the Red Cross about monitoring conditions within Cuba.

Indeed, Rubio mentioned these three steps in his press conference -- but even if these changes prove permanent (and there’s no guarantee they will) they were outweighed, in his view, by the lost opportunity to leverage bigger pro-democracy reforms, such as the creation of political parties and a loosening of the Castro family’s grip on the island’s politics.

When we asked experts whether Rubio’s description is on target, they said it was.

"It’s accurate," said Eric Farnsworth, who worked in the Clinton White House’s office of the special envoy for the Americas and now serves as vice president of the Council of the Americas.

"Rubio is about right," agreed Brock Tessman, associate director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. "While these initial changes, particularly the introduction of open media technology, may eventually lead to more profound political changes, nothing in yesterday's agreement commits Raul Castro to concrete steps toward democratization."

Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska Omaha, concurred. He predicted that any concrete concessions on democracy and human rights would have to wait until -- or if -- Congress decides it’s ready to lift the decades-old trade embargo.

"This is what Congress will argue must be dealt with for the embargo to be lifted," Benjamin-Alvarado said. He added, "I take Raul Castro’s response to mean that he too understands the nature of how normalization must unfold and what conditions will have to be addressed."

Our ruling

Rubio said that in the U.S.-Cuba negotiations, "no commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to a democracy."

He’s largely correct. Cuba did promise to release 53 political prisoners, take steps to open up the Internet and allow greater scrutiny by international organizations. But the secret talks led to no breakthroughs in structural reform to a political system dominated for more than half a century by the Castro brothers. Rather than producing pro-democratic results now, the agreement seeks to create the conditions for results later.

Rubio's statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.

Obama Lied to Cuban-Americans - True Says Politifact

From Politifact:

In 2008 Obama said normalization with Cuba would require democratic reforms, Mario Diaz-Balart says

President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States and Cuba would proceed toward normalized relations put Miami’s Cuban-American GOP Congressional delegation in the national spotlight.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Reps Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a press conference Dec. 18 to bash Obama’s announcement.

Diaz-Balart characterized Obama’s position as a significant change from what he said during the 2008 campaign.

Back in 2008, during Obama’s first White House bid, the future president said that "before normalization would take place, there would have to be liberation of all political prisoners and some basic steps toward freedom, including freedom of the press, political parties, labor unions, etc.," Diaz-Balart said at the press conference. "Then, once again, President Obama -- breaking his own word, breaking his own pledge -- has decided to do something absolutely without precedent, and that is to give an anti-American terrorist dictatorship exactly what they have been asking for."

Is Diaz-Balart correct about what Obama, then a senator, said would be his criteria for normalizing relations with Cuba? We went back to his campaign speeches and statements to find out.

Obama’s 2008 campaign position on Cuba

Obama’s historic announcement to normalize relations with Cuba was announced jointly by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Plans call for opening embassies in Havana and Washington, easing travel restrictions and increasing the amount of money that Cubans on the island can receive from relatives in the United States. and other Americans. Those traveling to Cuba from the United States will also be able use credit cards on the island, and Cuba may be removed from the State Department’s list as a state sponsor of terrorism.

However, the longstanding trade embargo – strengthened in 1996 with passage of the Helms-Burton Act -- remains in place. Only Congress has the power to abolish it. Under Helms-Burton, the embargo can only be lifted when Cuba holds free and fair elections, releases political prisoners and guarantees free speech and workers' rights.

While Obama promised that the United States will continue its efforts to spread democracy to Cuba, we don’t see anything in what’s been released that would require Cuba to promote democracy or establish freedom of the press, political parties and unions in order to normalize relations. Under the agreement, Cuba released 53 political prisoners, pledged to loosen Internet controls and agreed to permit enhanced access for the International Red Cross.

Cuba also released USAID worker Alan Gross and an unidentified spy who had been imprisoned in Cuba for the last 20 years. The United States released three imprisoned Cuban spies in Florida.

Gross was a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development who’d been held since his arrest on Dec. 3, 2009. Cuban authorities charged him with smuggling satellite communications equipment to the country as part of the USAID’s pro-democracy programs. Media outlets have identified the spy as 51-year-old Rolando Sarraff, a former Cuban intelligence agent arrested by the Castro government in November 1995.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama sometimes talked about his criteria for normalizing relations with Cuba and lifting the embargo in the same breath, making it appear that his criteria overlapped.

During the Democratic presidential primary in 2007, Obama wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald in which he called for "unrestricted rights'' for Cuban-American travel and remittances to the island.

"Accordingly, I will use aggressive and principled diplomacy to send an important message: If a post-Fidel (Castro) government begins opening Cuba to democratic change, the United States (the president working with Congress) is prepared to take steps to normalize relations and ease the embargo that has governed relations between our countries for the last five decades," Obama wrote.

When Fidel Castro -- the island nation’s longtime dictator -- resigned in February 2008, Obama said, "If the Cuban leadership begins opening Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.'' (When he stepped down, Fidel Castro turned over power to his younger brother, Raul.)

A spokeswoman for Diaz-Balart also pointed to a speech Obama gave in Miami in May 2008.

"My policy toward Cuba will be guided by one word: 'libertad,' " he said, citing the Spanish word for "freedom." "The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba's political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. That is my commitment."

Obama called for a new strategy on Cuba, and held out the possibility of a meeting with Castro "at a time and place of my choosing, but only when we have an opportunity to advance the interests of the United States, and to advance the cause of freedom for the Cuban people."

Then Obama turned to the embargo:

"I will maintain the embargo. It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to begin normalizing relations."

We sent Diaz-Balart’s statement to a spokesman for Obama.

"I think its fair to report that there was significant progress here (regarding) the political prisoners – they released a large (number of prisoners) that we specifically requested," Eric Schultz said. "The president has always been flexible on specifics (regarding) negotiations and clear there would be some give and take."

Schultz pointed to various statements by Obama in which he addressed normalizing relations with Cuba, including an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on May 20, 2008. Blitzer asked Obama about charges leveled against him by his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain had said that Obama wanted to sit down unconditionally for a presidential meeting with Raul Castro.

Blitzer asked Obama, "Are you ready to normalize relations with Raul Castro’s regime?"

Obama replied: "No. ... I have never said that I was prepared to immediately normalize relations with Cuba." Obama added, "If we could see progress on a whole host of issues, then we should move in the direction of normalization, because what we have done over the last 50 years obviously not has worked for what is the primary criteria of U.S.-Cuban policy, which is making sure that the Cuban people have freedom."

As for meeting with Castro, Obama said that "what I have said is I would be willing to meet without preconditions, but with a lot of preparation. And this is the same argument that we've been having with respect to Iran."

Obama on embargo in 2004

Just a footnote that’s beyond the scope of Diaz-Balart’s claim: Obama articulated a more conciliatory position on Cuba when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004 then he did four years later when he sought the White House.

"I think it’s time for us to end the embargo in Cuba," Obama said on Jan. 20, 2004, in a speech at Southern Illinois University. "And the Cuban embargo has failed to provide the source of raising standards of living and it has squeezed the innocents in Cuba." The embargo, he said, has "utterly failed in the effort to overthrow Castro, who’s now have been there since I was born. So, it’s time for us to acknowledge that that particular policy has failed."

Our ruling

Diaz-Balart said that in 2008, Obama had said that normalization with Cuba would first require "liberation of all political prisoners, and some basic steps toward freedom, including freedom of the press, political parties, labor unions."

Obama did suggest such a linkage in 2008, though his phrasing was open to some interpretation. And on other occasions during the 2008 campaign, Obama offered a vaguer formulation for how Cuban relations could be normalized. On those other occasions, Obama said that if he saw unspecified steps toward democratic change in Cuba, he might pursue normalized relations with Cuba.

Diaz-Balart’s claim glosses over these nuances, so we rate the claim Mostly True.

It's Castro, Not Embargo, Why Cubans Don't Have Internet - True Says Politifact

From Politifact:

Marco Rubio says Castros, not embargo, reason Cubans don't have Internet

There’s a good chance most Cubans won’t be able to read this article. And the reason why — lack of Internet access — is a point of a contention between President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Obama on Wednesday, Dec. 17 announced sweeping changes to the United States’ decades-old isolation policy against Cuba, promising renewed diplomatic relations and an easing of regulations on commerce. Obama said the drastic shift in approach to the Communist-controlled island would help bolster the Cuban people, who he said have suffered from America’s cold shoulder.

"I believe in the free flow of information," Obama said. "Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe."

Rubio, a Florida Republican and a Cuban American, chastised Obama’s comments in an animated rebuttal.

"The president said that the people of Cuba do not have access to advanced, 21st century modern technology for communications and telecommunications because of the U.S. embargo. That is false," Rubio said. "The reason why they don't have access to 21st century telecommunications — like smart phones, like access to the Internet — is because it is illegal in Cuba."

Obama’s statement wasn’t as full-throated as Rubio made it sound. And some of what Obama suggested is true, experts told us.

That said, Rubio has the better part of the argument that Cuba’s restrictive policies loom large over the debate.

Cuba’s restrictions

Cuba has less access to the Internet than most countries in the world. It is the only country in the Western Hemisphere with an Internet access rating of "not free" by Freedom House, a human rights advocacy group.

Citing the National Statistics Office in Cuba, Freedom House said about 23 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet. But those numbers, while very low, are likely inflated: Many of those people have access only to a tightly controlled Cuban intranet that includes email and government-approved sites. Outside experts, Freedom House said, estimate only about 5 percent of people have access to the full World Wide Web.

The government of Cuba maintains almost complete control over telecommunications industries in the country, and it uses a mix of repressive policies and price gouging to keep Cubans offline. Regulations essentially prohibit private Internet use in homes and it is illegal to access the Internet outside government-controlled methods. On top of that, the cost of even a basic computer is more than twice the average Cuban’s annual salary.

Cubans who log on to the Internet do so via public, government-run access points. There, patrons deal with some of the slowest speeds in the world. And rates set by the government make it difficult for the average worker on a $20 weekly salary to consistently log on. Checking email costs $1.50 an hour. Access to the national intranet is $0.60 per hour, and international websites are $4.50 per hour, Freedom House said.

Bloggers and dissenters are quickly shut down and, in many cases, imprisoned. Alan Gross, the imprisoned American contractor released by Cuba this week, was arrested for building telecommunications infrastructure on the island.

As for smartphones, most mobile phones can send messages, even internationally, but cannot access the Internet. GPS and satellite capabilities are prohibited. An iPhone, if procured, would be a pretty dumb phone in Cuba.

Cuban officials have recently indicated a potential shift in policy that could open the Internet to personal and mobile usage, but it’s also possible it will be limited to Cuba’s intranet and email.

Such promises have been made before. Cuba installed a 1,600 kilometer fiber-optic cable between the island and Venezuela in 2011 with financial help from China (a project completed despite the U.S. embargo, it should be noted). It was supposed to increase speeds and access for Cubans. Actual advances have been modest.

And it’s not as though the United States is the only country capable of supplying Cuba with telecommunications technology in today’s global economy. The regime has prioritized preventing political dissent over technological advancement. There’s no guarantee that will change if U.S. policy does.

This is why Rubio is right in saying that the U.S. embargo is far from the only factor affecting access. Sure, Cuba is poor and has bad infrastructure, but there are poorer countries with better Internet access, said Larry Press, an information systems professor at California State University Dominguez Hills who writes a blog on Internet access in Cuba. When infrastructure improved in Cuba, access largely did not.

"I think Rubio is closer to the truth than Obama," Press said. "Both have a degree of truth, but the Cuban government's fear of the Internet was a bigger hindrance than the embargo."

The embargo effect

Rubio was not quite right, however, when he said that Obama’s comment was unequivocally false.

Obama said that U.S. sanctions on Cuba "have denied Cubans access to technology." This is true to a certain extent. Part of Cubans’ access problem has to do with the exorbitant cost of technology, relative to how poor the country is, and lifting those restrictions could help that problem.

In 2009, Obama cracked the door open marginally for American telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba by allowing them to establish connectivity between Cuba and the United States, and letting satellite radio and television companies serve Cuban customers. Additionally, people could donate (but not sell) telecommunication devices like computers and phones to Cubans.

The changes announced Dec. 17 further opened up the ability for U.S. companies to build telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba and it allows for the commercial sale of communication devices and software.

Matt Borman, deputy assistant secretary of export administration, told PolitiFact that if American companies were able to compete with other foreign telecommunications suppliers in Cuba, there is an expectation that it would pressure the government to create more viable infrastructure. That could spur more Internet freedom. In a report published in 2010, the Brookings Institution made a similar argument.

A of couple experts told us that Obama’s side carries weight because Castro has made an effort in recent years to ease some restrictions, such as lifting the ban on personal computers. (It may be hard to believe, but internet access in Cuba used to be even worse.) So the United States’ sanctions prevent Cubans from acquiring technology that is now legal, said Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba and Latin America at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Our ruling

Rubio said that rather than the U.S. embargo, the reason why Cubans "don't have access to 21st century telecommunications — like smart phones, like access to the Internet — is because it is illegal in Cuba."

"Illegal" is probably the wrong word. There are some ways to legally access the Internet in Cuba, but not in one's home, or on mobile devices, and not by connecting to the full World Wide Web. Internet use is primarily restricted to government-run access points that are heavily monitored. The usage rates, set by the regime, are so expensive that it is cost prohibitive for most Cubans to log on. Political dissenters are barred from publishing online and are punished if they do. The end result is similar to full prohibition: Cuba has one of the lowest rates of Internet access in the world.

The U.S. sanctions have played a role in limited availability of technology. However, Rubio is right that the Cuban government has nearly complete control over the Internet. That isn’t a result of sanctions on telecommunication business activity in Cuba. Even if the United States fully repeals its embargo, government control over Internet access could continue.

We rate Rubio’s statement Mostly True.

WaPo Editorial: With No Consequences in Sight, Cuba Continues Crackdown

Friday, January 2, 2015
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

With no consequences in sight, Cuba continues to crack down on free speech

A Cuban performance artist named Tania Bruguera planned a simple event for Tuesday: She would set up a microphone in Havana’s Revolution Square and invite anyone who wished to step up and talk about the country’s future. Dozens of dissidents planned to participate under the slogan “I also demand” — which might be taken as an allusion to their exclusion from the secret normalization negotiations conducted by the Obama administration and the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

That the deal announced Dec. 17 by President Obama did not include any protections for Cuba’s pro-democracy activists quickly became obvious. Security forces detained Ms. Bruguera as well as several dozen other activists. The free-speech performance never took place. “I spoke to Tania Bruguera and let her know part of her performance was done,” tweeted Yoani Sánchez, an independent journalist whose husband, Reinaldo Escobar, was one of those detained. “Censorship was revealed.”

The incident should have been an embarrassment to Mr. Obama, who said that he decided to restore normal relations with Cuba in order to “do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values.” But the administration shrugged off the crackdown. On Wednesday, the State Department issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned,” the same words it uses to describe human rights violations in China, Vietnam and other countries where the United States has no leverage and plans no action. Talks on the opening of embassies will go forward.

The State Department declared that “as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions.” There was no reference to consequences in the event Havana does not comply. That’s hardly a robust stance to strike with a regime that is desperate for the economic resources that would come with expanded travel by U.S. citizens and other benefits unconditionally promised by Mr. Obama.

The president could have conditioned those measures on guarantees that free speech would be respected and peaceful dissidents left unharassed — steps that fall far short of the full establishment of democracy required by U.S. law for the lifting of the trade embargo. That would have been in keeping with Mr. Obama’s own promise in 2008 that “significant steps toward democracy” must precede a normalization of relations — and his pledge in a 2013 meeting with dissident leaders to bring them into any bargain with the regime.

Instead, the Castro regime has been left free to continue stifling dissent, while reaping the economic and political benefits of Mr. Obama’s “engagement.” Raúl Castro declared in a speech shortly after the agreement was announced that the Communist political system would remain unchanged. Two weeks later, not one of the 53 political prisoners the White House said would be freed — about half of the total identified by human rights activists — has been reported released.

Instead, Cubans who seek basic freedoms continue to be arrested, harassed and silenced, while the regime celebrates what it portrays as “victory” over the United States. If support for the Cuban people and American values is supposed to be the point of this process, then it is off to a very poor start.

Latest: Cuban Artist Re-Arrested for Third Time, Along With a Dozen Dissidents #YoTambienExijo

Renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was arrested for a third time -- in three days -- this afternoon.

On Tuesday, December 30th, she had organized a rights performance entitled #YoTambienExijo, in which Cubans would be given a microphone to express their views in Havana's Revolutionary Square.

For this performance, Bruguera was arrested; accused of "resistance" and "public disorder"; had her passport confiscated and been forbidden from leaving the island.

Today, she went to the Castro regime's prisoner processing center, known as VIVAC, along with democracy leaders Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Maria Gonzalez and a dozen other dissidents, to demand the release of activists who remain imprisoned for seeking to participate in #YoTambienExijo.

Instead, they were all re-arrested.

(Further proof of Castro's quick, revolving-door with political prisoners and how President Obama cut a hollow deal in exchange for normalizing relations and easing sanctions.)

As of the time of this post, the following Cuban artists, journalists and activists (arrested in the last week) now remain imprisoned:

1. Tania Bruguera
2. Antonio G Rodiles
3. Ailer Gonzalez
4. Eva Baquero
5. Boris González Arenas
6. Camilo Ernesto Olivera
7. Andrés Pérez Suárez
8. Carlos Manuel Hernández Jiménez
9. Vicente Coll Campagnioli
10. Joisis García
11. Nelson Rodríguez
12. Agustín López Canino
13. Ernesto Santana
14. Delio Rodríguez Díaz
15. Pablo Pascual Méndez Piña
16. Waldo Fernández Cuenca
17. Raúl Borges
18. Yaneisi Herrera Cabrales
19. Ariovel Castillo Villalba
20. Carlos Manuel Hernández
21. Miguel Daniel Borroto
22. Raisel Rodríguez Rivero
23. Lázaro Montesino Hernández.
24. Oscar Casanella Saint Blancard
25. Dayron Moisés Torres
26. Danilo Maldonado Machado, el Sexto

Tweet of the Day: Unity Among Cuba's Opposition

From Cuban independent journalist, Yoani Sanchez:

Those who claim there's a lack of unity among Cuba's opposition should take note of its embrace in solidarity these days. 

Cuba Detains Protesters Outside Prison

Good coverage of yesterday's re-arrests by Reuters:

Cuban police detain protesters outside prison, dissidents say

Cuban police detained up to a dozen dissidents who had gone to a Havana prison to demand that fellow opponents of the government be released, dissidents said on Thursday.

The detentions follow a series of others since Tuesday in a crackdown against activists who have attempted to test the communist government's tolerance for free speech and assembly in the wake of Cuba's thaw in relations with the United States.

Cuban officials do not comment on police activity such as the detention of dissidents, and the Cuban government dismisses the opponents as paid advocates of the U.S. government. The dissidents have limited public support inside Cuba.

About a dozen protesters gathered outside the Vivac prison on the outskirts of Havana, a Reuters photographer witnessed. They were demanding the release of an estimated 10 dissidents who have been detained since Tuesday, although the whereabouts of those detainees was unknown.

The detentions at the prison started about 15 minutes after Reuters had left the scene.

"It looks like they are going to start arresting people. Now they are arresting people now," dissident Antonio Rodiles told Reuters before his phone cut off.

Performance artist Tania Bruguera was among those taken away, Rodiles said. Her phone stopped accepting calls as well.

Arrests, Re-Arrests and Those Castro Wants Forgotten #YoTambienExijo

Thursday, January 1, 2015
Dozens of Cuban democracy activists have been arrested over the last few days as they simply sought to express their views for one-minute, in a rights performance entitled #YoTambienExijo.

As famed Cuban rocker Boris Larramendi poignantly noted, "the regime is not willing to give Cubans even one minute to express themselves."

In order to confuse foreign journalists and rights monitors (or as we say in Spanish, "perder la pista"), the Castro regime has been arresting and re-arresting democracy leaders, and transferring them among police facilities.

The organizer of #YoTambienExijo, artist Tania Bruguera, has been arrested and re-arrested over the last two days, each time with her whereabouts unknown.

She is being accused of "resistance" and "public disorder." Her passport was confiscated and has been forbidden from leaving the island.

Other well-known democracy leaders such as Antonio Rodiles, Reinaldo Escobar and Elicer Avila have also been released. Some like, Ailer Maria Gonzalez, have been released and then re-arrested.

Some lesser known activists remain in prison -- many in unknown locations.  They include:

Pablo Pascual Mendez Piña y Boris Gonzalez Arenas, Waldo Fernandez Cuenca, Claudio Fuentes, Luis Trapaga, Raul Borges, Yaneisi Herrera Cabrales, Ariovel Castillo Villalba, Carlos Manuel Hernández, Miguel Daniel Borroto, Raisel Rodríguez Rivero and Lazaro Montesino Hernandez.

The Castro regime wants them to be forgotten.

Meanwhile, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto"), remains imprisoned since Christmas Day and was given a beating for New Year's at a police facility located in Havana's Zapata and C Streets.

And Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who had just been released on October 24th, but was re-arrested on December 26th, spent New Year's in a punishment cell (after a severe beating) at the Nieves Morejon Prison in Sancti Spiritus.

They will not be forgotten.

IBD Editorial: For Democracy Activists, Obama's Cuba Deal Means Crackdowns

By The Investors Business Daily's Editorial Board:

For World's Democracy Campaigners, Obama's Cuba Move Means Crackdowns

President Obama claimed his move to normalize relations with Cuba was a means of nudging the military dictatorship toward democracy. He was wrong. The regime is cracking down on dissent harder than ever.

In what ought to be called Crackdown Tuesday a large group of prominent Havana dissidents — activists, civil society advocates and independent journalists — were arrested as they headed for a pro-free speech soapbox "speaker's corner" event put on by Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguero, whose group is #YoTambienExijo, or "I also demand."

Among the arrested were prominent blogger writer Yoani Sanchez; her husband Reinaldo Escobar, who edits, an online dissident publication; Eliecer Avila, a prominent democracy activist; and members of the Ladies in White group, mostly wives of political prisoners.

Bruguero herself was hauled off by the Cuban secret police and held incommunicado for more than a day until she was released. She said Wednesday they tried to force her to sign a confession, but she refused.

So much for "promoting positive change," which is what the White House claimed would be the result of its move toward normalization. Fact is, the Castro regime sees normalization of U.S. ties as a green light to step up the barbarism.

It's not just attacks against high-profile dissidents. The Miami Herald reported earlier this month that the regime rammed and sank a boat of more than 30 refugees fleeing the island, killing one and jailing the men in the group as they were dragged back to shore.

And that underlines the naivete of the Obama administration. "We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba," the White House website reads.

Brought together through the desire to promote democracy? Not according to his new partner, dictator Raul Castro, who put on his military uniform and warned Cubans not to get any ideas from this move, defiantly warning that the communism that has so failed the country would remain in place.

There's little doubt he knows what he's doing.

Having survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and the "special period" of the 1990s when Soviet subsidies ended, the Castro brothers know very well that openness, democracy and anything the U.S. stands for is the regime's death knell. And that would explain the brutal crackdown, something many of Cuba's beleaguered dissidents saw coming early on.

Fact is, Obama's normalization of ties is nothing but a cash cow lifeline to a brutal police state, with billions in heavily taxed remittance cash and trade credits set to flow in, buttressing the regime by bankrolling the knouts, surveillance equipment, paddy wagons, rammer boats and dungeons being used more heavily than ever now that the communists have gotten what they want from Obama.

And the White House response to the brutality in Havana Wednesday was pure Jimmy Carter:

"We have always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do."

The hard cash and mealy-mouthed words have sent an awful message not just to Cuba but to all the world's anti-American dictators. Top dissidents were arrested in Moscow and Hanoi, and a hostage was taken in North Korea in the wake of Obama's move.

We expected the bad effects of Obama's ill-advised rapprochment with Cuba to show, but not this soon.

What it shows is the determination of Cuba and all bad actors to survive by any means necessary. They've never had a better ally in President Obama.

Tweet of the Day: To Those Who Speak About "Reforms" in Cuba

By Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles:

What would those who speak about reforms and changes say from a squalid, rat-infested cell, and in total defenselessness.

State Department on Cuban Repression: Speak Softly, Send Mixed Messages and Carry No Stick

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
In a tweet, Cuban democracy leader Ailer Maria Gonzalez, who was arrested yesterday as she sought to participate in the #YoTambienExijo performance, alluded to how "empowered" Castro's secret police seemed during the arrest, beating and interrogation of activists.

Ailer's remarks were aimed at President Obama and his allies, who argue that normalizing relations with -- and providing concessions to -- the Castro dictatorship will somehow "empower" Cuban civil society.

Yet, as both President Carter and Clinton learned (or failed to learn) before Obama -- it only "empowers" the Castro dictatorship.

Earning a particular chuckle in Havana was a statement released by the State Department (click here), which expressed "deep concern" about yesterday's wave of repression against Cuban dissidents.

(Curiously, we haven't seen any statements of condemnation from Obama's Cuba advisers and Castro darlings -- U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and U.S. Rep James McGovern of Massachusetts -- or Obama's Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona.)

Think about this -- throughout 2014, while Obama and Castro were playing footsie in Ottawa and Vatican city, political arrests in Cuba quadrupled to over 8,600.

Now it's abundantly clear why Castro felt so "empowered" to execute such record-breaking repression -- for there were no consequences to fear.

Even worse, when Cuba got caught red-handed trafficking 240 tons of heavy arms to North Korea in July 2013, Obama and Castro had already been seducing each other for over a month.

No wonder Castro got away scot-free with the most blatant violation of international sanctions -- anywhere in the world -- to date.

But here's the real kicker in the State Department's statement:

"We have always said we would continue to speak out about human rights, and as part of the process of normalization of diplomatic relations, the United States will continue to press the Cuban government to uphold its international obligations and to respect the rights of Cubans to peacefully assemble and express their ideas and opinions, just like their fellow members of civil society throughout the Americas are allowed to do."

That's cute -- except Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Roberta Jacobson, has already given the Castro regime a blank-check on this also, which it's already cashing.

On the day after Obama's Cuba policy announcement, Jacobson stated:

"I do not necessarily think that we’re talking about direct human rights conditionality in the restoration of diplomatic relations part. That is a legal process, if you will, or a diplomatic process that will be fairly mechanical."

Repress away -- for there are no consequences.

Finally, as for "international obligations" and the rights "of civil society throughout the Americas" -- perhaps Obama should have thought about that before he acquiesced to suspending the "democracy clause" of the Summit of the Americas process for Castro to participate.

Obligations?  What obligations?

(Curiously, we haven't seen any statements of condemnation from Latin American leaders either.)

Castro truly feels even more "empowered" to state -- "democracia, para que?" ("democracy, for what?").

Bring out the military fatigues.

Cuban Rights Performance Organizer Arrested, Whereabouts Unknown #YoTambienExijo

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, organizer of today's rights performance #YoTambienExijo, was arrested this morning.

Bruguera's sister believes she was taken to the infamous secret police headquarters, known as Villa Marista.

However, there is no confirmation of her whereabouts, as she remain incommunicado.

The performance, in which a microphone would be placed in Havana's Revolutionary Square, so Cubans can express their demands in one-minute intervals, was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Bruguera never made it to the site.

Castro's secret police showed up to her apartment at 5 a.m. to arrest her.

Over a dozen dissidents were also arrested to prevent them from assisting the event.

A heavy police presence surrounded the site all day.

Tweet(s) of the Day: If Cuba is Reforming...

By U.N. Watch's Hillel Neuer:

On the Backs of Cuba's Political Prisoners

This political cartoon says it all:

Rubio: Raul Castro Makes a Mockery of Obama's New Cuba Policy

Rubio Comments on Castro Regime's Latest Wave of Repression

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today regarding news reports of the Castro regime's efforts to suppress Cuban activists and independent journalists attempting to attend a rally in Havana:

"The Castro regime's latest acts of repression against political dissidents in Cuba make a mockery of President Obama's new U.S.-Cuba policy. The fact that the regime continues to violate the human rights of Cubans like this shows that it has even less incentive to change its ways since President Obama intends to give the Castros numerous unilateral concessions in exchange for zero steps towards more political freedom.

This is the real human tragedy of the President's new Cuba policy. President Obama should be ashamed of legitimizing and empowering the Castros while abandoning courageous Cuban dissidents like the ones who have been on the receiving end of the regime's repressive tactics in recent days."

Cuban Activists Arrested to Prevent Attendance at Rights Performance #YoTambienExijo

From The Miami Herald:

Cuban activists arrested to prevent their attendance at a Havana gathering

Police mobilize to prevent activists from taking part in a gathering at the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

Cuban authorities arrested several dissidents and independent journalists Tuesday in an apparent attempt to prevent them from attending a rally in Havana’s revolutionary square organized by a new movement that calls itself #YoTambienExijo (IAlsoDemand).

Among those detained as of early afternoon were journalist Reinaldo Escobar, editor of the online 14ymedio publication and husband of prominent blogger Yoani Sánchez. Eliecer Ávila, an activist, and Antonio Rodiles, who directs a human rights group called Estado de Sats, also were taken into custody. The arrests were reported via Twitter by Sánchez, who founded 14ymedio.

Sánchez said she was placed under house arrest and also reported that several other 14ymedio contributors were visited by State Security officers, who warned them not cover the event, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the Plaza de la Revolución. The demonstration called for participants to go before a microphone for one minute to share their thoughts, concerns or ideas about how Cuba’s future should unfold.

The rally was promoted via social media after the historic Dec. 17 announcement of renewed diplomatic ties between Washington and Havana. Hundreds of people said they planned to attend even though Cuban authorities denied permission to organizers, headed by prominent Cuban artist Tania Brugera.

Cuban government opposition leader, Angel Moya, also reported the arrest of Aliuska Gómez, a member of the Ladies in White group, and said several other human rights activists had gotten visits by State Security officers at their homes.

Several opponents and independent journalists said they were receiving fake text messages on their cell phones stating that the event had been cancelled.

Bruguera met with Cuba’s National Council of Fine Arts President Ruben del Valle for more than three hours on Saturday to try to obtain official permission for the event to no avail. A posting on the government-controlled website, The Jiribilla, lambasted the #YoTambienExijo rally as "a sham."

Bruguera, who refers to the event as “performance” art, said the idea came from a letter she wrote to President Barack Obama, Cuban leader Raúl Castro and Pope Francis following the Dec. 17 announcement in which she demanded that all Cubans have a right to stake their claim on the future of the island and also have a right to express their opinions through peaceful demonstrations in favor or against government action without “being punished.”

Meanwhile, a simultaneous rally is scheduled to take place in Miami at 3 p.m. in front of the Freedom Tower downtown.

More New Political Arrests in Cuba

Instead of releasing 53 political prisoners (which remains a mystery in itself) -- as Raul Castro "promised" President Obama -- this past week we've seen the arrest (and re-arrest) of democracy activists and political prisoners.

On Christmas Day, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto") was arrested for scheduling a visual arts performance, in which he was going to release two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned and faces charges of "disobedience."

On the day after Christmas, it re-arrested former political prisoner, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, who had just been released on October 24th. He was arrested for carrying a white sheet with the word "Cambio" ("Change") written on it. He remains arbitrarily imprisoned, was savagely beaten and his family denied information of his whereabouts.

On the following day, Luis Quintana Rodriguez, an activist with Oswaldo Paya's Christian Liberation Movement, was arrested, threatened and interrogated by the Castro regime about his opposition activities.

And today, all eyes are on the #YoTambienExijo performance in Havana's Revolutionary Square at 3 p.m., where a microphone will be placed for the Cuban people to demand their rights.  The organizer, artist Tania Bruguera, has already been threatened with "legal and personal consequences."

As of noon, Cuban democracy leader Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez's husband, Reinaldo Escobar, have been arrested.

As of 3 p.m., nearly a dozen other activists including Antonio Rodiles, Amaury PachecoJose Diaz SilvaClaudio Fuentes and Aliuska Gomez have also been arrested.

Meanwhile, silence from the Obama Administration.

Obama's Cuba Deal Poses Major U.S. Counter-Intelligence Challenge

We disagree with the first half of this assessment by former U.S. defense and intelligence official, Daniel J. Gallington, regarding the impact that American culture and capitalism will have on the Cuban people -- for they have been exposed to this (with limited impact) for decades through geographical proximity, American relatives, and millions of foreign tourists.

Sadly though, Mr. Gallington may be right about a successor to Castro stemming from the military, which Obama may have just facilitated thanks to his betrayal of Cuba's democrats.

Moreover, he's absolutely right regarding the influx of Cuban spies that will emanate from Obama's announcement -- and the imminent challenge it poses for U.S. counter-intelligence officials.

By Daniel J. Gallington, in U.S. News and World Report:

Keeping an Eye on Cuban Spies

America's new relationship with Cuba will likely mean an influx of Cuban spies.

On balance, it was probably a good idea to move forward with a new relationship with Cuba. The Castros are old, getting older and will soon be gone – and it’s doubtful that the Cuban people will choose, voluntarily of course, to succeed them with another such family dynasty. When the Castros are finally gone, there likely will be a muffled internal insurrection or two, as the competing factions for power seek to kill each other off – and there is likely to be a period of uncertainty before the emergence of a new personality that can coalesce a central government. The most likely successor will probably come from the military. No real surprises here.

During the coming next few years, we really don’t have to actually do much to influence the people of Cuba except inundate them with our media, social or otherwise, movies, TV, investments, business, travel, sports teams, tourism and the Internet. They continue to be huge consumers of American culture and capitalism will creep into their lives whether they want it or not, and no matter what the Castro government says or does to keep it out. In short, President Raul Castro can say that they will remain Communist all he wants, but that system will not be able to sustain itself in the face of the onslaught of American commercialism. Like the old Soviet Union, Cuba will soon implode from American and Western cultural influence – especially as they realize how poor they have become compared to their neighbors from the North.

What do we want from them? Cigars and resorts for our tourists? Not a whole lot really, nor do we need much of anything to let the natural symbiosis of the new relationship work out in our favor. In short, it will happen, and it will be to our advantage – especially after Raul is gone, just as Fidel is already mostly out of the picture.

So is that the end of the story with Cuba?

Not by a long shot, because we must now prepare ourselves for an onslaught of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Cuban spies. And I have bad news for you – they are very, very good at it, probably the best in our hemisphere, including us, who look like amateurs compared to them, especially when it comes to the long-term penetration of high-value intelligence targets and getting critical information therefrom. In my day, the Cubans were thought to be every bit as good as the East Germans, who were probably the best in the world, next to the Israelis, of course.

It is not surprising, therefore, that part of the deal we made to establish the new relationship was to release three members of the notorious “Cuban Five” from federal prison, one of them serving multiple life sentences for espionage and murder.

The Cuban Five, if you may remember, were a group of spies who successfully penetrated the Brothers to the Rescue and other Cuban-American groups in the U.S. that advocated overthrow of the Castro regime. The FBI broke them up in the late 90’s and they were all sentenced to prison. While there is lots of controversy surrounding them, the Cuban government later acknowledged that the five were intelligence agents.

The record of Cuban spies in our country is long and of major concern to our counterintelligence services and agencies. While the Chinese, just for example, are probably the largest and most prolific spies in our country, the Cubans make up for it with their specialized skills and knowledge of American social structures.

So one can only hope that an essential part of the new relationship with Cuba will also be an aggressive counterintelligence program on our part to protect ourselves from Cuban spies. And Cuba's spying program will no doubt also be enhanced by the Castro government as it expands its ability to gather national security information against us, both in Cuba and in the United States.

I say “only hope” because counterintelligence has long remained the unwanted step-child of our intelligence community, despite some new attention to its organization and structure. It remains to be seen, however, whether we have really improved our ability to actually catch spies, both outside and inside our government. And the Cubans, because of their consummate skills and abilities to penetrate our most sensitive targets, will no doubt be able to decide this for themselves – and probably before we realize it.

In short, I’m not optimistic. The Cubans are good, real good!

Must-Watch: The Ladies in White, Dissident Leaders Gather at Havana's Gandhi Park

Please watch the video below (or click here) of The Ladies in White, Estado de Sats' Antonio Rodiles and other dissident leaders at Havana's Gandhi Park this past Sunday:

Arguing With Idiots About Cuba

Young Cuban-American lawyer, author and columnist A.J. Delgado has a great piece entitled, "Arguing With Idiots About Cuba."

She's also a member of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC's Young Leaders Group.

It's so visual, dynamic and multi-faceted that it'd serve no justice to reproduce any part of it.

Thus, please click here to read it (and enjoy it) in its entirety.

Security Expert: Likelihood of Future Cyberattacks From Cuba is '100 Percent'

From The Washington Times:

Expert’s warning: Likelihood of future cyberattacks on U.S. emanating from Cuba is ‘100 percent’

The U.S. and Cuba are enjoying a nice honeymoon following the recent reconciliation between the two nations after five decades of acrimony. But don’t get too chummy, warns one information security expert.

“Apparently the United States has not yet learned its lesson of the downside of giving away communication technology to Communist regimes, and will once again pay the price. In a year or two when Cuba gets advanced broadband circuits promised by President Obama, the likelihood that we will see attacks on U.S. public and private networks emanating from Cuba is 100 percent,” predicts James W. Gabberty, professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City and an alumnus of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute.

“To Cuba, the internet is a veritable lifeline through which it will be able to concomitantly make accommodation bookings for the myriad future American hotels that will one day dot its coastline while simultaneously siphon intellectual property from U.S. industries, perhaps even our Hollywood movies that hopefully won’t offend Cuba’s communist regime,” Mr. Gabberty continues.

“When the day comes that Cuban-based cyberattacks penetrate U.S. networks, Cuba can simply follow China’s typical repudiation posture, and challenge the U.S. administration to prove it. That has worked for Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, and there is no reason to think it won’t work for Cuba,” he observes.

No Matter How You Spin It, Obama Betrayed Freedom-Loving Cubans

Monday, December 29, 2014
By Guillermo Martinez in The Sun-Sentinel:

No matter how you spin it, Obama betrayed Cuban exiles

One thing is absolutely clear in my mind: I am delighted that Alan Gross is free and back in the United States with his family.

The American contractor jailed for the last five years for taking satellite equipment to the small Jewish community in Cuba did not deserve the punishment he got, for what he did is not a crime in a civilized world.

How his freedom came about is another story. They say he was released for humanitarian reasons. But attached to his freedom came many unsavory agreements.

The much-ballyhooed agreement for Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations brings more questions than answers to mind.

For example:

Why now? Why President Barack Obama waits for the day after Congress ends its session to make the announcement of the new opening in relations with Cuba?

Why now when the price of oil is putting Venezuela and Russia in dire economic straits?

How much has Cuba really given to achieve this agreement? It has promised to listen respectfully to American demands in future negotiations — listen, nothing else.

Obama gave Cuba everything the island nation wanted, and in return got the release of a handful of political prisoners, a long-time intelligence agent that nobody knew anything about, and the promise it would listen to American demands — listen, nothing else.

It is obvious the answers to the questions raised explain clearly why the announcement came now, and give us an indication of what we can expect in the future.

President Obama waited until Congress finished its session so it would have time to create a lobby for his actions before the new Republican-dominated Congress convenes on Jan. 6. He wants to give the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is desperate to start selling products to Cuba, time to convince the Republican Congress it is in their best interest to open relations with Cuba.

Cuba accepted the deal now because Venezuela's economy is rapidly deteriorating and won't be able to continue providing cheap oil too much longer.

Raúl Castro is not as charismatic as Fidel, but he is a wise old man and he clearly understood that unless he allowed the U.S. to give him a helping hand, Cubans would be desperate for their basic needs.

It is important to note most of the dissidents in Cuba have criticized the new deal between Cuba and the United States. They know better than anyone else that Cuban security agents will not stop beating them up for demanding the right to free association and free speech. They cannot forget that less then a week ago, they were beaten for trying to gather on the day the United Nations celebrates Human Rights Day.

Now let's look at what comes next.

The U.S. Congress is going to have to approve the nomination of a new ambassador to Cuba. With all Cuban-American representatives and senators opposed to the new agreement, that will not be an easy task.

It is also going to be hard to get Congress to finance opening a new embassy in Havana and consulates throughout the island. It will closely study the new proposals to see if they violated the Helms-Burton law passed in 1996 under the Clinton Administration.

This reminds me that we have to talk about the relatives of the four Brothers to the Rescue members who were shot down by Cuban Migs in international waters over the Florida Straits. Brothers to the Rescue watched for rafts floating from Cuba so the U.S. Coast Guard could pick them up and prevent them from drowning.

To the relatives of Brothers to the Rescue, to the veterans of the Bay of Pigs, to the many Cubans who were infiltrated back into the island to fight the Castro regime, to the thousands of people who have been killed by the communists in Cuba, to the many tens of thousands of former political prisoners and to all decent Cubans, what President Obama has done is unacceptable. He has betrayed the exile community and the people of Cuba.

Despite Official Threats, Cuban Artist's Rights Performance Will Continue #YoTambienExijo

Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has organized a performance whereby Cubans will be given an opportunity to publicly demand their rights.

It's called #YoTambienExijo (#IAlsoDemand).

The concept is very simple:

An open microphone will be placed in Havana's Revolutionary Square at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, December 30th.

Everyone will have a right to speak at the microphone for one minute to demand their rights -- no insults, violence or profanity.

(A simultaneous performance is scheduled at Miami's Freedom Tower. Same date, time and format.)

Yesterday, the Castro regime warned Bruguera that she will suffer "legal and personal consequences" if she proceeds with this performance.

Another Cuban artist, Danilo Maldonado (known as "El Sexto") remains imprisoned since Christmas Day for scheduling another visual arts performance, in which he was going to release two pigs onto the streets with the names "Fidel" and "Raul" painted on them. He now faces charges of "disobedience."

We demand their right to be heard.

Does the Obama Administration?

Cuban Dissidents Blast Obama’s Betrayal

By Marc Thiessen in The Washington Post:

Cuban dissidents blast Obama’s betrayal

President Obama is basking in global adulation for his decision to normalize relations with Cuba. But there is one group that is not impressed with Obama’s rapprochement with the totalitarian regime in Havana — the dissidents on the island who are risking their lives for democracy and human rights.

Yoani Sánchez, Cuba’s most influential dissident blogger, declared that with Obama’s move “Castroism has won.” Guillermo Fariñas, a dissident journalist and winner of the European Union’s 2010 Sakharov prize for human rights, told the Guardian newspaper that Obama’s move is “a disaster.” Fariñas, who has conducted 23 hunger strikes to protest Cuban repression, added “We live in daily fear that we will be killed by the fascist government. And now, the U.S. — our ally — turns its back on us and prefers to sit with our killers.”

Ángel Moya, who was recently released from an eight-year prison sentence, told the New York Times that Obama “betrayed those of us who are struggling against the Cuban government. There will be more repression, only this time with the blessing of the United States.” Moya further declared that dissidents “are totally against the easing of the embargo” because “the government will have more access to technology and money that can be used against us.”

Moya is right. U.S. tourism and investment in Cuba won’t help ordinary Cubans at all; it will help the regime repress them. Here is why: The Castro brothers are the nation’s sole employer. Virtually everyone in Cuba works for the state. The regime’s monopoly on employment is a source of political control. Cubans are dependent on the Castros for everything — work, housing, education, food — and can see those things taken away for the slightest expression of counterrevolutionary sentiment.

This means that if U.S. businesses invest in Cuba, they would have to partner with the Castro brothers. They would not be allowed to hire Cuban workers directly or pay them in U.S. dollars. They would have to pay the Castro regime as much as $10,000 per worker. The regime then would give the worker a few hundred worthless Cuban pesos and pocket the rest. So rather than helping ordinary Cubans become independent of the state, U.S. businesses will be directly subsidizing the Castro police state, while using what effectively amounts to Cuban slave labor.

That is reason enough to bar U.S. investment in Cuba. But the other reason Cuban dissidents oppose Obama’s move is that he has given up U.S. leverage to influence a post-Castro democratic transition. As Rebecca Roja, a dissident who said the secret police knocked out two of her teeth during beatings, told the Guardian: “The Castros got what they wanted from the U.S. Now they have no incentive to change.”

After five decades, it is clear the Castros were never going to follow in the footsteps of the regime in Burma (also known as Myanmar), which negotiated a loosening of repression in exchange for a lifting of sanctions and normalization of relations. But those who succeed the Castros were likely to do so once the brothers were gone. Virtually everyone on the island — both inside and outside the regime — was waiting for the Castros to finally die so that the process of normalizing economic and political ties could finally begin.

Now the regime doesn’t have to wait or give anything in return — because Obama has unilaterally given the Cuban regime the political recognition it was desperately seeking. Obama has given the Castros legitimacy and hopes to soon unleash a flood of tourists and business investment that will only help the regime maintain its totalitarian system. The president apparently did not even seek any liberalization from Havana in exchange — no agreement to allow a free press, independent political parties, free market reforms or free elections, much less to end repression against dissent.

Fortunately, Obama was constrained from lifting the embargo entirely because Congress codified it in 1996 as part of the Helms-Burton Act. The complete lifting of economic sanctions on the Castros is conditioned by law on a post-Castro regime taking meaningful steps to dismantle the police state and move toward democracy and a free market economy.

The remaining legal restrictions on trade with Cuba are the last piece of leverage the United States has to press for democratic change on the island when the Castros are gone. Congress should listen to the dissidents on the island and refuse to go along with any further loosening of economic sanctions unless real democratic change occurs in Cuba.

The United States should not give away its last bit of leverage just as time prepares to do what the embargo could not — bring about the end of the Castro regime.

Albuquerque Journal Editorial: Make Fugitives' Return Part of Cuba Deal

By The Albuquerque Journal's Editorial Board:

Make return of fugitives part of new Cuban deal

In November 1971, a New Mexico State Police patrolman, Robert Rosenbloom, was shot and killed during a traffic stop on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Three suspects who belonged to a black militant separatist group known as Republic of New Afrika hid out for weeks, then carjacked a wrecker truck at gunpoint and forced the driver to take them to the Albuquerque airport. On Nov. 27, they hijacked Trans World Airlines Flight 106, flew to Tampa, Fla., where passengers were allowed off the plane, then flew on to Cuba and into the welcoming arms of the Cuban government, which gave them political asylum.

Two have since died, but Charlie Hill is still living in Cuba. Among other U.S. fugitives given asylum in Cuba is a member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army. She was convicted in 1977 of killing a New Jersey state trooper and sentenced to life in prison. She escaped to Cuba in the ’80s.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie want the Barack Obama administration to get these dangerous fugitives back as part of the thawing out of relations with Cuba.

Cuban officials say extraditing U.S. fugitives is off the table, claiming that, as a sovereign nation, it has the right to grant political asylum to those “it considers to have been persecuted.” It’s an interesting insight into the Castro regime that it considers those who kill police officers and flee to be persecuted.

The change in relations is much more important for Cuba, which has suffered a stagnant economy and repressive regime, than it is for the United States. Obama and Congress shouldn’t give up much, and the president shouldn’t even consider a personal visit to Cuba for camera mugging sessions with the Castro brothers until he gets an extradition deal to return some of America’s most wanted fugitives to U.S. soil and U.S. justice. And our Democrat congressional delegation should hammer that point home.

What a Deal for Castro - No Help for Cubans' Rights

By Rich Lowery in San Antonio Express-News:

What a deal with Cuba — no help for Cubans’ rights

Candidate Barack Obama said that, as president, he would talk to anti-American dictators without precondition. He didn’t mention that he would also give them historic policy concessions without precondition.

His surprise unilateral change in the U.S. posture toward the Castro dictatorship came without even the pretense of serious promises by the Cubans to reform their kleptocratic, totalitarian rule.

The trade of Alan Gross, the American aid worker jailed in Cuba for the offense of trying to help Jewish Cubans get on the Internet, for three Cuban spies is understandable (we also got back one of our spies, and Cuba released several dozen political prisoners as a sweetener).

The rest of Obama’s sweeping revisions — diplomatic relations and the loosening of every economic sanction he can plausibly change on his own — are freely granted, no questions asked. It is quid with no pro quo.

After waiting out 10 other U.S. presidents, the Castro regime finally hit the jackpot in Obama, whose beliefs about our Cuba policy probably don’t differ much from those of the average black-turtleneck-clad graduate student in Latin American studies.

Every dictator around the world must be waiting anxiously for a call or a postcard from Obama. The leader of the free world comes bearing gifts and understanding. He is willing to overlook human-rights abuses. And his idea of burnishing his legacy is to clinch deals with his country’s enemies.

Who helped negotiate the one with Cuba? Harry Truman had Dean Acheson. Richard Nixon had Henry Kissinger. Barack Obama has Ben Rhodes, the deputy national-security adviser who has what it takes to collapse U.S. policy toward Cuba and get nothing in return.

There is no doubt that economic sanctions are a blunt and dubious instrument, and reasonable people can disagree about their wisdom (I’ve gone back and forth about the Cuban embargo through the years). But dictatorial regimes hate them for a reason. All things considered, they want more economic wherewithal rather than less.

Cuba is heavily dependent on the largesse of its ideological partner Venezuela, whose irrational, left-wing policies have helped trash its economy. Just as the Cuban dictatorship faces the dire prospect of the collapse of Venezuela’s support, here comes El Yanqui to cushion the blow. The Castro regime will take a cut of the increased trade, remittances and tourism that will spring from Obama’s concessions.

Consider tourism. The Cuban military has an enormous holding company called GAESA. One of its companies, Gaviota, operates an extensive network of hotels and resorts, according to the strategic consultancy Stratfor. Imagine if the Pentagon owned the Marriott and Hilton hotel chains. That is the Cuban tourism industry in a nutshell.

About a million Canadian tourists go to Cuba every year. In total, more than 2 million tourists visit annually, and yet the Castro regime is still standing.

It is true, of course, that the embargo — which Obama can’t lift on his own — hasn’t ended the Castro regime. On the other hand, there is little reason to believe that lifting the embargo will end it, either. Our vast trade with China hasn’t yet made Beijing any less repressive.

The Cuba embargo is condemned as a relic of the Cold War, but it is the regime itself that is a relic, an inhuman jackboot left over from the era when people actually professed to believe in workers’ paradises.

There are holdout believers, still. The Nation magazine is doing a trip to Cuba, perhaps because the journey to North Korea is too long. The liberal elite has often treated Fidel Castro as a cute, plucky figure of defiance, and even now, the government has determined apologists in the U.S. Congress.

If Cuba were a racist apartheid-style system rather than a communist dictatorship, no one would be so eager to do business with it. The great and good celebrate the Obama changes as the end of an era. But they will replenish the coffers of a Cold War regime that is stubbornly still standing.

Why Isn't Obama Being Transparent About His Deal With Cuba's Regime?

Sunday, December 28, 2014
When President Obama first took office in 2009, he declared that "transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing."

Well, either Obama is not being transparent about his secret deal with Cuban dictator Raul Castro.

Or the deal is even worse than we thought.

In exchange for a myriad of concessions from the United States, the Castro regime was supposed to release 53 political prisoners.

Apparently, Obama was unaware that the Castro regime has been trading political prisoners for concessions for decades -- just ask Jimmy Carter -- and then re-arrests them (or new ones) later.

However, no negotiated political prisoner release has ever been surrounded with such silence and mystery -- or lack of "transparency" -- as the current 53.

As Reuters reported this morning:

"Cuba's most prominent dissidents say they have been kept in the dark by U.S. officials over a list of 53 political prisoners who will be released from jail as part of a deal to end decades of hostility between the United States and Cuba. For years, dissident leaders have told the United States which opponents of Cuba's communist government were being jailed or harassed, but they say they were not consulted when the list of prisoners to be freed was drawn up or even told who is on it. The lack of information has stoked concern and frustration among the dissidents, who worry that the secret list is flawed and that genuine political prisoners who should be on it will be left to languish."

According to Obama, the Castro regime also agreed to release a Cuban, U.S. intelligence asset, who is widely believed to be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.

Sarraff Trujillo was exchanged for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S., including one serving a life sentence for a conspiracy to kill Americans.

As if this 1-for-3 deal wasn't bad enough, there's still no information about Sarraff or his whereabouts.

As Reuters also reports, "his parents said they are desperate to hear from their son as they haven't spoken with him since before Obama's Dec. 17 announcement."

Meanwhile, former spy and double agent, Bill Gaede, who worked closely with Sarraff in the 1990s, has shed further doubts:

"The only reason people strongly suspected that the mysterious spy might be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo (a.k.a. Roly) is that his family can't find him. Cuban prison officials told them that their son had been transferred, but not to worry about him. He was in 'good hands'. Certainly, Roly fit most of the description made by Obama at his press conference announcing reestablishment of relations with Cuba: a Cuban intelligence officer locked up for 20 years for providing cryptographic information that led to the capture of the aforementioned spies. So who else could it be? And if in addition the Obama Administration 'carelessly leaks' the name through 'unidentified official' sources, we have the makings of what appears to be 'disinformation'. This speculation is reinforced by Roly's resume. It certainly meets the '20 years' part. It does not even come close to meeting the part about 'cryptography and the capturing of the Cuban spies'. There's a contradiction somewhere. Either the secret spy is not Roly or President Obama is lying through every corner of his mouth."

Needless to say, we believe the President of the United States over a former double-agent like Gaede.

But Obama's lack of transparency is not making it easy.

McConnell: After Obama's Cuba Deal, Israel Should be Worried

[Obama's Cuba deal] is going to strengthen the Castro brothers providing them with the kind of foreign currency that will allow them to continue to prop up their oppressive regime. We have a couple of Cuban Americans in the U.S. Senate: Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida -- both of them spoke forcibly against what the president did. As, interestingly, did the Washington Post. So I think it was another example of the president's foreign policy, which seems to reward repressive regimes and raise doubts among our friends about whether we are truly going to be with them at times of crisis... If I were the Israeli government, looking at what the president did yesterday with regard to Cuba, I would be pretty nervous that the president is not above making a bad deal. 
-- U.S. Senator Mitch McConell (R-KY), incoming Senate Majority Leader, interview with Israel Hayom, 12/26/14

Political Cartoon: On Obama's Bad Cuba Deal

Did Obama Lie to Cuban-Americans?

By Russ Sloan in The Daily Commercial:

Lies and politics are close cousins in the White House

“Lying can never save us from another lie” is probably the most famous quote from Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic. In politics we have often been subjected to political spin, half truths, exaggeration and downright lies. But when political lies consistently follow one after another, at what point can we believe anything that source says?

On May 23, 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama was speaking to the Cuban-American Foundation’s annual Cuban Independence Day luncheon, where he said the following: “My policy towards Cuba will be guided by one word, liberty. The road to freedom for all Cubans must begin with justice for Cuba’s political prisoners, the right of free speech, a free press, freedom of assembly, and it must lead to elections that are free and fair. This is my commitment.”

He stated that he would not begin to “normalize” relations with Cuba until all political prisoners are released. To all of the political prisoners still in Cuba, President Obama’s promise must ring very hollow today based on his decision to renew relations with the Castro brothers’ oppressive regime. To those of us who know what he said in 2008, it is just one more significant lie piled on a continuous stack of presidential lies.

One wonders how any politician today, knowing that there exists volumes of recorded utterances, can so blatantly ignore what they promised and now do the exact opposite. Apparently the president shares the beliefs of Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor who scoffed that the American people were stupid as they drafted and passed Obamacare.

I ask myself, how many times can anyone lie before you recognize that this person is no longer trustworthy? The entire litany of President Obama’s lies would exceed my column space, but the important ones would be his 30-plus promises that you could keep your health care plan, doctor and save money, or his 20-plus utterances that he could not ignore a significant portion of our immigration laws since he was a president not an emperor.

Obama campaigned against the spending of George Bush, only to make Bush look like a miser. He said Bush was un-American for adding $4 trillion to our national debt over eight years, only to see his administration run up $7.4 trillion more debt during his six years. He states that he has issued fewer executive orders than previous presidents but does not mention that his numerous presidential proclamations virtually amount to the same thing. This was just a deliberate half truth. We’re making progress.

Throughout his administration, over 20 times, he has promised that Iran would not get nuclear weapons. Does anyone now believe that? Iran has played Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama like novices in a high stakes poker game. It is one thing to disagree with the president based on an honest difference of opinion, but to constantly be inundated with lies is dumbfounding.

Vaclav Havel was correct, “Lying can never save us from another lie.” For the past six years, we have been subjected to a series of major lies that can all be fully documented by the president’s very own words.