Must-Read: Doing Business With the Castro Family in Cuba

Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Bloomberg Business has a lengthy story, which takes a close look at Castro, Inc.

It's entitled, "Want to Do Business in Cuba? All Roads Lead to Raúl Castro’s Son-in-Law."

The Obama Administration and its supporters should read this carefully -- for it underscores how doing business with Cuba means partnering and empowering the Castro family's monopolies, operated by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

This is when all of the "theories" about Obama's Cuba policy collide with the stubborn facts.

It's this gatekeeper of all business in Cuba, whom Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson -- shockingly and irresponsibly -- pretended to be unaware of during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this year. (Click here to watch the exchange.)

It's for this reason that the Senate and the House have introduced the Cuban Military Transparency Act, which seeks to prevent the Obama Administration's regulatory concessions from being funneled by Castro, Inc.

A similar provision was included in the House's Commerce, Justice Appropriations bill and passed by a 120-vote margin.

Read the entire story here.

Below are some important excerpts:

[A] few steps from the port in Old Havana, I see the city’s redevelopment in progress. Near El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway once knocked back daiquiris, the hulking Manzana de Gómez building is being transformed into a five-star hotel. Stylish boutiques sell perfume and stereos. Inside an old warehouse is a microbrewery teeming with people drinking lager made in huge steel tanks imported from Austria.

What isn’t immediately apparent to a person taking a walk on a warm Caribbean night is that all of this—and anything else that stands to make money in Old Havana, and much of the rest of the country—is run by a man who is little known outside the opaque circles of Cuba’s authoritarian regime. A quiet general in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s multibranch military, he has spent his life around the communist elite that served Fidel Castro’s revolution. Yet he is chairman of the largest business empire in Cuba, a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and operated under a rigid set of financial benchmarks developed over decades. It’s a decidedly capitalist element deeply embedded within socialist Cuba.

This is Luis Alberto Rodriguez. For the better part of three decades, Rodriguez has worked directly for Raúl Castro. He’s the gatekeeper for most foreign investors, requiring them to do business with his organization if they wish to set up shop on the island. If and when the U.S. finally removes its half-century embargo on Cuba, it will be this man who decides which investors get the best deals.

Rodriguez doesn’t just count Castro as a longtime boss. He’s family. More than 20 years ago, Rodriguez, a stocky, square-jawed son of a general, married Deborah Castro, Raúl’s daughter. In the past five years, Castro has vastly increased the size of Rodriguez’s business empire, making him one of the most powerful men in Cuba. Rodriguez’s life is veiled in secrecy. He’s rarely been photographed or quoted in the media, and his age isn’t publicly known. (He’s thought to be 55.) Rodriguez and the other Cuban government officials in this story declined multiple requests for comment [...]

Castro has kept the big-money industries in the hands of the state, and much of it is managed by his son-in-law. (Or former son-in-law; there are rumors, difficult to confirm, that Rodriguez and Deborah Castro have divorced.)

GAESA, as it’s called (it’s pronounced guy-A-suh), owns almost all of the retail chains in Cuba and 57 of the mainly foreign-run hotels from Havana to the country’s finest Caribbean beaches. GAESA has restaurant and gasoline station chains, rental car fleets, and companies that import everything from cooking oil to telephone equipment. Rodriguez is also in charge of Cuba’s most important base for global trade and foreign investment: a new container ship terminal and 465-square-kilometer (180-square-mile) foreign trade zone in Mariel [...]

[With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991], big change came to GAESA as well. Its tourism arm, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, cut deals with international chains, most notably Spain’s Meliá Hotels International and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, to build and run hotels and resorts in Varadero, a 20-kilometer stretch of white, sandy beach two hours east of Havana by car [...]

So much has changed in Cuba, but so much hasn’t. In August alone, the month the flag was raised over the U.S. embassy, security forces made 913 politically motivated arrests, according to the Cuban Human Rights Observatory. Castro’s government represses dissent, routinely harasses independent journalists and activists, and restricts access to the Internet for the vast majority of Cubans, Human Rights Watch says.

Foreign businesspeople are not immune. Sarkis Yacoubian, a 55-year-old Canadian, made his home in Cuba for two decades, building a company called Tri-Star Caribbean. He sold cars, trucks, and industrial equipment, mainly to GAESA-owned companies. On July 13, 2011, armed internal security troops—Cuba’s secret police—swarmed Yacoubian’s office. He was held for more than two years as police interrogators leveled allegations of tax evasion, corruption, and, ultimately, espionage [...]

Castro moved Cuba’s most profitable state companies under GAESA and Luis Alberto Rodriguez. The biggest addition to GAESA was Cimex, which had been run for three decades by military commanders chosen by Fidel Castro. Adding the Cimex companies more than doubled the size of GAESA. More recently, Rodriguez was given the green light to take over Habaguanex, the state company that owns the best commercial real estate in Old Havana, including 37 restaurants and 21 hotels.

Rodriguez rarely deals with clients, apparently preferring to delegate to the managers who run GAESA’s collection of companies. He seemed to be more hands-on in Mariel, where he was entrusted with building the $1 billion megaport and surrounding free-trade zone. As the vast ship terminal rose atop an abandoned U.S. air base by the old Mariel port, where Fidel Castro allowed 125,000 people to flee to the U.S. in 1980, Rodriguez regularly assembled his engineers for progress reports. Rodriguez liked to listen more than talk, according to people who dealt with him in these meetings. But when he spoke, Rodriguez was concise, specific, and crystal clear. The government saw the port and the surrounding special development zone as a gateway for a new economy for Cuba, Rodriguez explained. It would anchor a wave of international trade, factories, and economic growth.

On Jan. 27, 2014, the port was ready, and dignitaries took their seats under a brilliant sun for the formal opening. On the stage was Castro, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The port, a collection of more than a dozen big cranes, a 700-meter-long pier designed to handle the world’s biggest container ships, a highway, and a rail line to Havana, had been built by Brazil’s mightiest construction company, Odebrecht SA. It was financed at subsidized rates by Brazil’s state development bank in a deal negotiated directly between Castro and Lula, the former Brazilian president.

Rousseff, smiling, walked up to the podium and started her speech with the customary naming of dignitaries in the crowd. She thanked Castro and unnamed Cuban ministers, foreign executives, and leaders. And just before she leaned into her short address, she thanked one more person by name: GAESA Chairman Luis Alberto Rodriguez.

Image below: General Lopez-Callejas, in the white shirt, seated between Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel. 

Amnesty International: Cuba Must Release Imprisoned Artist #ElSexto

From Amnesty International:

Cuba must release graffiti artist jailed for painting Castros’ names on pigs’ back

A Cuban graffiti artist who has been unfairly held in prison for nearly a year after he painted “Raúl” and “Fidel” on the backs of two pigs has been named as a prisoner of conscience, said Amnesty International today as it called for his immediate release.

Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as ‘El Sexto’, was accused of “disrespecting the leaders of the Revolution” and sent to prison after officers opened the taxi’s boot and found the two pigs. Danilo intended to release them in an art show on Christmas Day.

“To jail an artist for painting a name on a pig is ludicrous. Cuban authorities are using any cowardly excuse to silence Danilo and send a message to others that any criticism of the government and its officials will not be tolerated,” said Carolina Jiménez, Americas Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International.

“What this story shows is that while Raúl Castro shakes hands with the world in his historic visit to the USA, things have hardly changed in Cuba, where people are still being thrown in jail solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Danilo was arrested by agents of the political police (Seguridad del Estado) in Havana while travelling in a taxi on 25 December 2014 and has been in prison ever since. He recently began a hunger strike and has been moved to an isolation cell.

“Danilo is a prisoner of conscience who should have never been put in prison in the first place. He must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Carolina Jiménez.

Since Obama Renewed Relations, Cuba Has "Increased Repression"

From Breitbart:

MSNBC's Diaz-Balart: Since Obama Renewed Relations, Cuba Has "Increased Repression"

Tuesday on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” Jose Diaz-Balart, host of “The Rundown,” said since President Barack Obama opened up diplomatic relations, Cuba is violating human rights with political prisoners and described it as a “increase of repression.”

Responding to Raul Castro’s call to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba during his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Diaz-Balart said, “You know, the embargo, if you look at how it was codified into law, it’s pretty basic and simple on how the embargo would be lifted. How all of the blockades that exist between the United States being able to fully have economic relations and support for the Cuban government. It’s pretty simple how that would go away. If there is a call for free and fair elections, if political prisoners are released, if unions are allowed to organize and people can move freely within the country. If those three things happen in Cuba, then the embargo would cease to exist. So it’s almost as if people are speaking in New York on different planets, because it’s pretty simple. You call for democratic elections,  you have a release of political prisoners, and have unions and the embargo’s over.”

Host Chuck Todd asked, “Ever since the United States cut this deal and opened up diplomatic relations with Cuba, tell me what’s happened to political prisoners in Cuba.”

Diaz-Balart replied, “Well, the increase of repression has been clear. A young man, El Sexto, who is an artist, currently in a prison in Cuba, no charges against him. He’s on a hunger strike, very close to death, and that is because, in an art exhibit, he brought out an art exhibit that had two apparently paper mache pigs. One said Fidel and one said Raul. And for that art exhibit, he’s close to death. Over the weekend, 70 people were arrested in Cuba. That includes Ladies of White and dissidents. The three dissidents that tried to approach the pope are still unaccounted for in prison. A lot of questions by Raul Castro, but what is going to cause a change in that government that’s been in power since January 1st of 1959?”

Host Chuck Todd added,”It was very important, I thought, we bring up that political prisoner point. These are people that the pope supposedly was blessing all these things. They put on a good show. Then when we all leave, something seems to change.”

Which Conditions for Lifting the Cuban Embargo Does Obama Disagree With?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Yesterday, during his remarks at the U.N. General Assembly, President Obama stated:

"I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore."

Obama is partly right.

The U.S. Congress will eventually lift the embargo -- but only upon the fulfillment of some very basic conditions in U.S. law.

These conditions are consistent with the democratic and human rights standards of 34 out of 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere.

(Though, ironically, Venezuela continues on a downwards spiral away from these standards -- thanks in no small part to Cuba's manipulation of the Chavez/Maduro governments.)

Thus, the questions should be --

Why does Obama want the U.S. Congress to unilaterally discard any of these conditions?

Does Obama not agree with these conditions?

Which one of these conditions does Obama oppose?

Is it, for example --

The condition that Cuba "legalizes all political activity"?

The condition that Cuba "releases all political prisoners and allows for investigations of Cuban prisons by appropriate international human rights organizations"?

The condition that Cuba "dissolves the present Department of State Security in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior, including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Rapid Response Brigades"?

The condition that Cuba "makes a public commitments to organizing free and fair elections for a new government"?

The condition that Cuba "makes public commitments to and is making demonstrable progress in establishing an independent judiciary; respecting internationally recognized human rights and basic freedoms as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory nation; allows the establishment of independent trade unions as set forth in conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labor Organization, and allows the establishment of independent social, economic, and political associations"?

The condition that Cuba give "adequate assurances that it will allow the speedy and efficient distribution of assistance to the Cuban people"?

The condition that Cuba is "effectively guaranteeing the rights of free speech and freedom of the press, including granting permits to privately owned media and telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba"?

The condition that Cuba is "assuring the right to private property"?

The condition that Cuba is "taking appropriate steps to return to United States citizens (and entities which are 50 percent or more beneficially owned by United States citizens) property taken by the Cuban Government from such citizens and entities on or after January 1, 1959, or to provide equitable compensation to such citizens and entities for such property"?

The condition that Cuba has "extradited or otherwise rendered to the United States all persons sought by the United States Department of Justice for crimes committed in the United States"?

Let's not speak of the embargo in vague terms.

If Obama is suggesting for Congress to unilaterally discard these conditions, then he should specifically state which ones he disagrees with -- and why.

Moreover, Obama should explain how turning a blind-eye to these basic conditions in U.S. law would not send a horrible message to the Cuban people about the United States' priorities, nor have dramatic short- and long-term consequences for the behavior of other pseudo-authoritarians in the region.

Rubio to Obama: Uphold U.S. Law (Cuba Sanctions) at the United Nations

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, today urged President Barack Obama to vote against an anti-embargo resolution coming up in the United Nations and expressed that the Administration’s position would play a role in his consideration of State Department nominees in the coming months.

Below is the full text of the letter:

September 29, 2015

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, the United Nations General Assembly will vote in the coming weeks on a resolution presented by the Cuban regime calling for an end to the U.S. embargo towards Cuba. While the General Assembly’s vote is symbolic, with no binding jurisdiction over the United States Congress, it fails to take into account the plight of those within the island that seek freedom.  Much has transpired between the governments of Cuba and the United States in the last nine months. Your administration has made many concessions to the Cuban dictatorship, none of which have been reciprocated. To the contrary, Cuba’s rulers, including Raul Castro, whom you are meeting with today, have responded with a dramatic increase in political arrests and other violations of fundamental human rights.

The embargo is critical to denying hard currency to the Cuban regime’s monopolies, which history has proven are only used to further oppression and enrich those close to the ruling class. Article 18 of the country’s Communist Constitution requires that all foreign trade with the island must be funneled through the state. Until this changes, it is illogical to argue that lifting the embargo would somehow benefit the Cuban people. It is the Cuban dictatorship and its backward political and economic policies -- not the embargo -- that has kept Cuban society from fulfilling its true potential.  Throughout the years, the United States has eased many aspects of the trade embargo, as well as travel restrictions to the island, and each time the Cuban dictatorship has manipulated these unilateral policy changes to its benefit. It is well past time for the Cuban government to change its repressive policies, without any further rewards.

Media reports that your Administration is considering abstaining from voting against the anti-embargo resolution are of even greater concern. Regardless of your beliefs, the U.S. embargo toward Cuba is codified in U.S. law and the reasons that it was imposed, including the Cuban government’s theft of billions of dollars of private property, remain unaddressed by Havana. Any disagreements over this law, which only regulates transactions by U.S. persons, should be debated in the United States Congress -- not at the United Nations General Assembly.

Furthermore, a failure by your Administration to defend U.S. law at the United Nations General Assembly would send a dangerous message to tyrants throughout the world that the President of the United States refuses to pursue policies changes through the U.S. democratic system and instead seeks to challenge his country’s own laws in international fora.

Last, but not least, an abstention by your administration would cripple the efforts of Cuba’s growing dissident movement, which is detained and harassed on a daily basis. It would be interpreted as the United States siding with the Cuban dictatorship over the island’s courageous democracy activists. Your Administration should instead use this opportunity to encourage the Cuban dictatorship to open its society by allowing freedom of expression, freedom of press, and multi-party elections. It should also demand that the Cuban dictatorship remove the real barriers that limit the Cuban people from economically flourishing. Then, and only then, would it merit the lifting of the embargo.

I intend to watch closely the position your Administration takes when this resolution is debated at the United Nations and consider the Administration’s position as key to my advice and consent of involved State Department nominees in the coming months.

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

Despite Obama's Courtship, Raul Castro's U.N. Speech Offers Little Goodwill

From CSN News:

Raul Castro’s First UN Speech Offers Little Goodwill Towards US

Any expectation that the Obama administration’s historic outreach to Cuba would bring a different tone from President Raul Castro was quickly dispelled when, in his first-ever speech at the United Nations, the communist leader criticized U.S. and Western policies from Latin America to Eastern Europe to the Middle East.

When he eventually got around to the restoration of relations with the United States – more than halfway through his 17-minute speech – Castro expressed no goodwill, but simply underlined Cuba’s conditions for normalization, including an end to the 55-year-old embargo.

“After 56 years in which the Cuban people put up a heroic and selfless resistance, diplomatic relations have been re-established between Cuba and the United States of America,” he said. “Now a long and complex process begins towards the normalization of relations.”

“But this will only be achieved with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba; the return to our country of the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base; the cessation of radio and TV broadcasts and of subversive and destabilizing programs against the island; and when our people are compensation for the human and economic damages they still endure.”

Raul Castro Should be Indicted, Not Welcomed by U.S. Presidents

Sunday, September 27, 2015
On February 24th, 1996, General Raul Castro gave the order for Cuban MiG fighter jets to literally pulverize defenseless two Cessna planes over international waters.

That attack resulted in the murder of three Americans and a permanent resident of the United States.

A U.S. federal court thereafter indicted the head of the Cuban Air Force, General Rubén Martínez Puente, and two MiG pilots, Lorenzo Alberto Pérez-Pérez and Francisco Pérez-Pérez, for the murder of these Americans. They still have not faced justice.

But it was Raul Castro that gave the order. This is not based on speculation, but on his own admission.

In an audio recording released from a closed-door meeting of Communist Party officials held on June 21, 1996, Raul himself accepted responsibility:

"I made it clear that it [the decision] had to be decentralized if it was going to be effective, and five generals were given the authority."

And just a few months ago, in Politico, U.S. Rep James McGovern (D-MA) unwittingly revealed that Cuban dictator Raul Castro told him he ordered the murder of these Americans:

"'I gave the order. I’m the one responsible,' [Castro] said."

This wasn't the only indictment Raul Castro escaped.

In 1993, a federal indictment listed Raul Castro as part of a conspiracy that smuggled seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period. However, at the last minute, a recently inaugurated Clinton Administration got cold-feet and squashed it.

And that's not to mention the innumerable crimes that Raul Castro has committed against the Cuban people over the years.

Yet, Raul Castro arrived in New York City over the weekend for the United Nations General Assembly meeting, and was warmly greeted by former U.S. President Bill Clinton (always looking for a speaking fee) and will (again) meet with President Obama on Tuesday.

And that's not to mention meetings with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the pro-Castro caucus of the U.S. Congress, led by Senator Patrick Leahy, Reps. Jose Serrano, Barbara Lee, Charlie Rangel, and its newest member, Minnesota's Tom Emmer.

This is not diplomacy. It's disgraceful.

Quotes of the Day: While Castro Lies at the U.N.

While the dictator lies cynically at the U.N. talking about peace, harmony and social justice; while the Pope speaks in parables in Cuba but very directly in the United States; while many only think about coming to do business with the dictatorship that exploits all Cubans and, others, in enjoying the charms of our tropical archipelago; we, Cuban democrats, continue to fight for the dignity of our nation.
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, Cuban democracy leader, head of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), Diario de Cuba, 9/27/15
The dictator Raul Castro talks about purported achievements at the U.N. So why doesn't he ratify the human rights accords signed in 2008?
-- Antonio Rodiles, Cuban democracy leader, head of Estado de Sats, Diario de Cuba, 9/27/15

Tweet of the Day: Over 50 Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Sunday

Castro Woefully Fails Governor Hutchinson's Litmus

Nobody should fool themselves.

If rice were not in the equation, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson would have no interest hobnobbing with Cuba's brutal dictatorship, in the hopes of selling some of the grain to Castro's import monopoly.

But Arkansas is the nation's top rice producing state, so they're desperate for where to sell it.

This is not an excuse for Governor Hutchinson -- to the contrary, rice sales (nor the sale of any other commodity) should guide U.S. foreign policy determinations. Plus, there are plenty of democracies in the Western Hemisphere, in order to be whitewashing Castro's regime for a profit.

Actually, if Governor Hutchinson wants to really sell a lot of rice -- leaps and bounds over what Castro's monopoly offers -- he should visit the Cuban-American community in Miami.

But now that he has chosen this erred path, Governor Hutchinson should be held to his own litmus for dealing with Castro's regime.

Earlier this week, Governor Hutchinson stated:

If Cuba responds to the lessening of economic sanctions by enhancing their freedoms and limiting or reducing political oppression and violation of rights in that country, then we should take it a step further and look at continued lessening of the embargo.”

Fair enough.

Here are the facts:

Since the Obama Administration's new Cuba policy took effect (including the easing of sanctions) on December 17th, repression has skyrocketed with well-over 3,000 political arrests; the number of Cubans fleeing the island has doubled; and (while we're on the topic) U.S. agricultural sales to Castro's monopoly have plummeted by 55%.

Thus, if Governor Hutchinson is honest to his word -- this will be a short trip.

Image below: Arkansas rice delegation grovels over Fidel Castro during one of their first trips in 1987.

Help Save Imprisoned Cuban Artist "El Sexto's" Life

Distribute and Help Save the Life of El Sexto

Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth) is a graffiti artist in Cuba, imprisoned since December 25, 2014, for attempting to perform an artistic action in a public space.

Danilo has spent nine months in the Valle Grande prison, charged with the crime of "contempt," and is waiting for a judicial process, where he faces a possible sentence of one to three years imprisonment.

For six years, Danilo has suffered police harassment, successive arbitrary arrests, detentions for more than 72 hours, searches of his home and confiscation of his works and his working materials. He suffers from bronchial asthma and has been affected by pneumonia.

  • We remind the Cuban authorities that the right to freedom is indispensable for expression and artistic creation in virtue of Articles 19 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; protected by Article 15 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory and both of which are considered binding.
  • We insist that the authorities eliminate the restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
  • We express our concern because Danilo Maldonado has been detained solely for exercising his artistic activity, and urge that he be released immediately and without conditions, because he is a prisoner of conscience; he has been confined for his peaceful activism in the rescue of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
  • We insist that the Cuban authorities drop the case immediately.
  • We ask the Cuban authorities to stop harassing and intimidating all the rest of the citizens who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.
  • We insist that the Cuban authorities promote and protect the right to freedom of artistic creation, and the right to participate in the cultural life, to access culture and respect for cultural diversity.
Additional Information

The graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), was arrested on December 25, 2014, when he took two animals painted with the names of Fidel and Raul and was about to drop them off in Havana’s Central Park, usually crowded, for a street intervention. He is formally charged with “contempt” and is awaiting trial. He faces a sentence of one to three years in prison.

The right to participate in public demonstrations is not recognized in the Cuban Constitution nor is it legally developed. The Penal Code, protecting individual rights includes the right to demonstrate and sanctions anyone who, in violation of the law, impedes the holding of a lawful meeting or demonstration, or a person from attending them. If the crime is committed by a public official, it is an abuse of office and the penalty is doubled.

However, the legal body itself considers that a crime is committed against public order by anyone who participates in meetings or demonstrations held in violation of the dispositions that regulate the exercise of this right, dispositions that do not exist. Sanctions are tripled for the organizers.

There is no procedure to notify or solicit authorization to hold a protest, nor legal recourse to appeal the refusal. However, there are frequently marches along central avenues, called and organized by the government itself, with a marked political-ideological character. The restrictions imposed on this right by the state, are not provided in law.

The situation of human rights in Cuba has deteriorated sharply in recent months, with ever more repressive practices entrenched mainly against the Ladies in White dissident movement and the activists who support them, and the government’s contempt has become ever more flagrant toward the recommendations made by the States parties before the Universal Human Rights Council during the periodic review, in which the priorities are the ratification and implementation of the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and their optional protocols.

In Cuba, “The educational and cultural policy is based on the Marxist ideology” and is tied to the “promotion of patriotic education and the communist training of new generations and the preparation of children, young people and adults for social life. The State, in order to raise the culture of the people, concerns itself with promotion and developing artistic education, the vocation for creation and the cultivation of art and the capacity to appreciate it.”

In 1961 Fidel Castro marked a limit for the full enjoyment and realization of the cultural rights of Cubans. In his speech “Words to the Intellectuals” his iconic phrase, “Within the Revolution, everything, outside the Revolution, no rights,” paraphrased the dictator Mussolini.

The Cuban Constitution says, “Artistic creativity is free as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution,” contradicting itself as it continues: “The forms of expression in art are free.”

We believe that the imprisonment of the artist is an excessive punitive measure in response to the peaceful expression of the politically critical art of Danilo Maldonado and it is an attempt to silence and censor even more the artistic scene within the country.

We believe that society has the right for its public spaces to be spaces for creativity, for artistic expression; because they are also collective spaces of knowledge and debate. The public space belongs to civil society and not to governments, corporations or religious institutions.

We believe that it is the duty of the State to protect artists as key actors in social change and to defend their right to dissent, instead of gagging them, persecuting them and imprisoning them, when they have a critical attitude toward the government, which is also part of their role as artists: to question the reality that surrounds them and to be an active part of its evolutionary transformation.

Other government practices that threaten the enjoyment and full exercise of cultural rights and artistic-creative freedom in Cuba are:

  • Institutional censorship with regard to almost all artistic manifestations.
  • The theft of artist identity (in the case of independent festivals) by the State.
  • The right of admission to cinemas, theaters, museums, galleries, theoretical lectures, denying entrance and participation in public spaces to people labeled as dissidents or Human Rights activists.
  • The use of aesthetic criteria as political conditions through official censors charged with justifying censorship.
  • Manipulation of artists and intellectuals committing them to position themselves with exclusively political measures like the execution of three young men who hijacked a boat (2003).
  • The social isolation of the artistic guild from smear campaigns and the intimidation of others.
  • The State monopoly on public spaces and institutions that give authorization to engage in public activities.
  • Discrimination and social cancellation of a person as reprisal for their critical attitude.
  • With all institutions controlled by the State, if there is forced expulsion there is no other institution than can take in the person.
  • Limitations on the freedom of movement: people are blocked from moving to alternative spaces when they suffer from police harassment. Refusal of permission to leave or enter the country, confiscation of passports, arbitrary detentions, etc.
  • Expulsion from schools, workplaces, institutions that protect artists, for political reasons.
  • The application of self-censorship to daily behavior. (People naturally assume it: censorship is ordinary.)
  • Physical violence in arbitrary arrests, home detentions, threats, home searches, confiscation of works and the means of work, police interrogations, prison, aggression against the family.
  • Lack of official response to legal demands and citizen complaints that permit the exhaustion of domestic legal recourse.
  • The right the authorities take for themselves to impose a single interpretation on an artistic work.
  • The lack of legal recourse that permits the public recognition of initiatives independent of or alternative to the Ministry of Culture.
  • Participation in political activities and military training is compulsory in the Cuban educational system.
  • Ideological conditioning in arts education. 
  • Forced expulsions.
  • The impact of the Ministry of the Interior in the development and implementation of cultural policies and in the behavior of arts institutions.
  • The use of artist and intellectuals in the spaces of political repression.
  • The promotion and support of the professional careers of artists and intellectuals is conditioned by their demonstrated compliance with official policy (policies related to publication, movie production, exhibition spaces).
  • Independent NGOs are not entitled to receive funding under the “New Law of Cultural Investment,” requiring all financing to pass through the Ministry of Culture.
  • Demonization of financing secured by artists officially discriminated against.
  • Use of art as popular recreation and not as a method of critical questioning and a space for promoting freedom.
Via Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in Translating Cuba.

A Brave Cuban Dissident Near Death

Saturday, September 26, 2015
By Jay Norlinger in The National Review:

A Brave Man Near Death

Readers of National Review are perhaps familiar with the Cuban street artist Danilo Maldonado, whose nickname is “El Sexto.” At the most recent Oslo Freedom Forum, he was a recipient of the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.

He was not present to receive the award, because he was in prison. He was put there on Christmas Day of last year. His crime was to take two pigs and dub them “Fidel” and “Raúl.” He was inspired to do this by Orwell’s timeless, and ever pertinent, parable Animal Farm.

Since September 8, El Sexto has been on a hunger strike. Hunger strikes by political prisoners are a complicated issue, and I wrote an essay about it several years ago. Suffice it to say that some prisoners feel they can do no other.

Obviously, El Sexto is now very weak, physically. He has written a letter that may be his farewell. It is hard to read. But, of course, worth reading:

"This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to hunger strike, we Cubans have waited too long to expel these rascals.

Now that I started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem through the roof for having made this decision. I am proud of being the artist that I am and make art that I do with the Cuba that I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding that for which to die, has not found the essence of life…

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy…"

It would be very helpful if the pope said something about El Sexto and other political prisoners. It would be very helpful if the U.S. president did the same. What can you and I do? Well, I suppose I can write a blogpost, but I wish it were much more.

Global Dissidents Ask That Obama Pressure Dictators, Not Coddle Them

By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

Global Dissidents Ask That Obama Pressure Dictators, Not Coddle Them

While President Obama was holding a private confab at the White House Thursday night with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to discuss, among other things, his pet project of climate change, dissidents held a public meeting in another part of Washington to demand more attention for a more traditional American priority, the support for democracy and human rights.

Chen Guangcheng from mainland China joined fellow Hong Kong democracy activists Martin Lee, Joshua Wong and Benny Tai at Washington’s Newseum to repeat a message that has so far failed to dissuade President Obama from cozying up to dictators: you can’t trust someone who mistreats his own people. It was a message that, coincidentally, Cuban dissidents were issuing in a desperate call from Havana at the same time.

“Obama should be on the side of the rights of the Chinese people, not on the side of the leader of the Communist Party,” Chen told me, speaking through an interpreter.

Chen was there for the kickoff of a series of events that will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of Freedom House, a Washington think tank that focuses on the promotion of human rights around the world. The opening night was dedicated to the three Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners and their demand that Beijing keep its promises to the territory.

Blown up cables from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraging the start of Freedom House in 1941 were staged on easels throughout the event, poignant reminders of a time when support for human rights and freedom was a bipartisan endeavor.

“The cause of the United States is democracy,” Tai said, adding that it is in U.S. interests to see China become a democracy. “Hong Kong is the place where China can practice democracy.”

A former British colony on the southeastern coast of China, Hong Kong became a part of the mainland in 1997 after Beijing promised that the city would retain a “high degree of autonomy.” Under a system that came to be known as “One Country, Two Systems,” China’s communist leaders also promised that Hong Kong would remain capitalist and would keep such rights as freedom of the press, speech and assembly at least until 2047.

Part of China’s promise was that Hong Kong people would be able to elect their own leader, the Chief Executive, by 2017. However, sometime in 2013 Chinese leaders began to put it about that whoever ran for chief executive would have to not just love China, but “also love the Communist Party” as Wong put it Thursday night.

Later, when Communist leaders insisted candidates would have to be “selected” by a committee made up of Beijing supporters—what Martin Lee termed “Iranian-style democracy, where only the Mullahs decide”—hundreds of thousands of people began to take to the streets of Hong Kong to march in protest. Wong, then only 17, emerged as the leader of what came to be known as the “Occupy Hong Kong” movement.

What they want is support from the world, especially the United States. “We need to get support from the White House,” says Wong. “Hong Kong will continue the fight, but we need support from the world.” President Obama’s statements on Hong Kong’s freedoms, however, have been “very weak,” he added.

This is a point that pro-democracy campaigners the world over bring up. Moral support gives validation to their cause and encourages them to keep fighting impossible odds, though knowing that immediate consequences such as prison or worse are imminent.

Wong, for example, has been charged in Hong Kong with “unlawful assemblies,” “incitement to unlawful assembly,” which could result in up to five years in prison. This “political prosecution,” as Wong rightly terms it, is in keeping with other noticeable deterioration in the territory’s rule of law.

Hong Kong, for example, continued to be the world’s freest economy in The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, a position it has held since the Index’s inception in 1995. Its score was lower than last year, however, as “recent political events appear to have undermined public trust and confidence in the administration.”

This is why it is important that the United States make its moral voice heard. Calls by dissidents around the world for support consistently fall on deaf ears at the White House, where Mr. Obama instead has given validation to dictators from Beijing to Havana.

As fortune would have it, while I was attending the dissidents’ event Thursday night, I received in my inbox a letter from a dissident leader in Havana, Antonio Rodiles from the Cuban movement Estado de Sats, signed by him and 13 other Cuban dissident leaders. The letter made almost exactly the same points the Chinese dissidents were making.

“The United States as a nation has declared time and again its total commitment to the defense of democracy and fundamental liberties,” read the letter, before taking President Obama to task.

Obama, it said, affirms that his policy of opening to the Castro dictatorship “is guided by the values of the Founding Fathers … However, the reality of the current situation contradicts this idea and paints a completely different picture. This unconditional rapprochement has only served to legitimize the longest lived and most destructive dictatorship in the history of the hemisphere, and has served to reinforce the violation of fundamental freedoms.”

The Cuban dissidents called on the U.S. Congress to hold firm and not give in to Mr. Obama by lifting the embargo on the Castros.

Obama and Xi on Friday agreed that neither government would engage in cyberspace espionage and issued a joint statement that “outlined new steps they will take to deliver on pledges made last year to slash their greenhouse gas emissions,” according to Reuters. Obama, according to officials, also hopes to see Raul Castro at U.N. meetings in New York next week. Why he thinks he can trust men who don’t trust their own people is a growing mystery in many capitals.

Letter from Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders to the U.S. Congress

Friday, September 25, 2015
Letter from Cuban Pro-Democracy Leaders to the Congress of the United States

It is with profound concern that we implore the Congress of the United States of America to read this letter directed against the strong campaign being waged to unconditionally lift the economic sanctions that weigh upon the Cuban dictatorship.

This campaign seeks to unconditionally lift sanctions with no requirement or guarantee from the dictatorship that it first take a step in the direction of respecting human rights and the promotion of democracy.

We are aware that this campaign is also currently being conducted within the Congress of the United States of America.

We consider it of vital importance that members of Congress know that since last December the repression on our island has escalated. Since the Summit of the Americas held in April, the regime has deployed a renewed campaign of repression, marked by violence and brutality, with the objective of suffocating the opposition movement. This violence has been directed especially towards groups demanding the exercise of basic human rights and that a general amnesty law be decreed that would serve as the initial step toward a process of real changes, such has been the case with the national coalition known as the Forum for Rights and Freedoms, which carries out the #TodosMarchamos campaign for a General Amnesty.

The regime fully opposes these demands, refusing to implement any policy which would have a positive impact on the Cuban people, including economic liberalization. State controls, excessive taxation, corruption, political loyalty, are all factors that are expressly designed to impede the development of micro-enterprises. In contrast, the military elite control the most profitable businesses and establish mixed enterprises with foreign companies. The sole logic of the Castro family and their close allies is to maintain full control of Cuba.

Raul Castro has been emphatic in his speeches and actions: "We will not cede even a millimeter." The Foreign Minister of the dictatorship emphasized it clearly in Washington: "The changes already occurred in 1959."

The United States as a nation has declared time and again its total commitment to the defense of democracy and fundamental liberties. The president affirms that his present policy is guided by the values of the founding fathers and that reestablishing relations will help create a greater responsibility for the regime in the topic of the respect for human rights. However, the reality of the current situation contradicts this idea and paints a completely different picture. This unconditional rapprochement has only served to legitimize the longest lived and most destructive dictatorship in the history of the hemisphere, and has served to reinforce the violation of fundamental freedoms.

The lifting of the embargo, as proposed by the current administration, will permit the old ruling elite to transfer their power to their political heirs and families, giving little recourse to the Cuban people in confronting this despotic power. Totalitarian communism will mutate into a totalitarian state adopting minimal market reforms that will serve only to accentuate the existing social inequality in the midst of an increasingly uncertain future.

Within the Cuban Catholic Church some representatives have played a fundamental role in these political developments. Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been a key actor, who regrettably, has on multiple occasions denigrated the work of the democratic opposition and denied the existence of political prisoners on the island.

Pope Francis has demonstrated that he is in favor of this policy and has played a key role in this process. His recent visit has demonstrated that the regime will continue oppressing and perpetrating violent abuses with no respect for the dignity of human beings. Silence before these criminal acts is a detriment to the Cuban people. The dictatorship continues gaining time and entitlements.

Accepting the primacy of this false pragmatism before a real commitment with the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Cuban nation is a troubling position. We address ourselves with all due respect to the Congress of the United States, and implore you to support the cause of democracy in Cuba and not a mistaken policy that can cause a profound harm to our nation. If a coherent policy does not exist toward the regime, we Cubans will pay a greater price on our path toward the democratization of our nation.

Angel Moya
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
Cuban Liberty and Democracy Movement

Raul Borges
Christian Democratic Unity Party

Hugo Damian Prieto
Civic Action Front

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez"
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
National Resistance Front

Jose Diaz Silva
Movement for a New Republic

Felix Navarro
Former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience
Democratic Party

Berta Soler
The Ladies in White

Antonio Rodiles
Estado de Sats

Egberto Escobedo
Political Prisoner Association of Cuba

Damaris Moya
Central Democratic Coalition

Guillermo Farinas Hernandez
Sakharov Prize recipient
United Anti-Totalitarian Front

Roberto Rodriguez Lobaina
Eastern Democracy Alliance

Angel Santiesteban Prats
Author

Gorki Aguila Carrasco
Musician

A Farewell Letter From Imprisoned Cuban Artist (on Hunger Strike) "El Sexto"

A Farewell Letter From El Sexto

Valle Grande Prison
September 16, 2015

Where I am there is little light. I’m in pants for not wanting to wear the prison uniform. They give me a mattress for 5 or 6 hours at night. I drink only water and no there will not be possibilities to respond (from you all to this letter) as to avoid burning contacts.

Thanks to Lia, to Gorky, Antonio and everyone for helping my mom to manage things. Thanks to Aylín for the beautiful and encouraging letters. I read them as many times as I could. I would like to write you a thousand letters as you deserve but now I do not think I will have the light, paper or energy to do it.

This may be my last letter from here in the punishment cell and if I survive you will hear more from my lips. So I want to tell everyone that I waited too long for this moment to hunger strike, we Cubans have waited too long to expel these rascals.

Now that I started, I feel my faith, determination and self-esteem through the roof for having made this decision. I am proud of being the artist that I am and make art that I do with the Cuba that I represent. So I am willing to give my life a hundred times if necessary.

He who lives without finding that for which to die, has not found the essence of life. A man with ideals of peace, love and that does not carry a weapon to assert his criterion is the man of the future. Because with his faith, his hope builds Eden on earth.

Thank you all for trusting me and know that if I die I will die happy to take with me a scratch of my time like Laura Pollan, Oswaldo Paya, who left traces of their existence, of their generation, of their responsibility to leave behind a legacy after their own, one lesson: to love what you do and devote your life to it.

I was born in a poor neighborhood, Nuevitas, Camagüey. My family is very humble: I lived in Arroyo Arenas from 4 years old; in Chafarinas, Guira de Melena; Covadonga, Las Tunas currently a field without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas, La Lisa. And I was lucky to live in Vedado often, there I have my daughter Renata María, who was born in England.

I am a wanderer and I rode back and forth a bit getting to know my country, my culture, and I love that I raise my voice to denounce what I find wrong. I visited Holland for three months, I lived in The Hague, 45 minutes by train from fabulous Amsterdam. I studied and lived in Miami Dade College, United States for 3 months as well. All these places taught me to relate to my surroundings quickly, that the most important thing is to have friends, to love, respect and to not do to anyone what we would not want them to do to us. I learned how to stand up against the powerful.

My art is respected today more than anything because I believe in it. I respected it and gave it ─ and still give it─ all my strength, perseverance, affection and love. Although I was misunderstood and perhaps to others still am, when those around you see how much you love and how much you are able to give and how much you respect your art and the alien, then they begin to value it. But first one must erect an altar in one’s chest of consecration and the others little by little will begin respecting what one does: this recognition is my legacy.

Someone said that all of humanity will part when we see a man who knows where he is going. This might be my last work and I have named it “Drawing Attention” or “The Awakening of the Inner Magician.” Each of us has an inner magician. May my gothic existence touch your to chests and ignite your calling and awaken that inner leader, be conscious of this gift of life and stand up against evil. Someone said “the world is not the way it is because of those who do evil but because of those who allow it.”

This piece is dedicated to my mother, my little daughter Renata María, to all those who support me, all that put in a grain of sand to achieve the freedom of Cuba. To all the Ladies in White of the world especially those in Cuba: no more beating of women! In memory of Laura, Oswaldo, Zapata.

The day I grabbed a spray in my hand I decided what to do with my life.

So be it.

I am with faith and conviction: Liberty or death, dying for art is living.

Hugs,

Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto.

El Sexto is on hunger strike since September 8th. He is reclaiming his freedom for being jailed since December 25th (of last year) for considering to release some pigs with the names of Fidel and Raul, which he never released because he was imprisoned. He is in jail without trial or sentence or justice.

Over 250 Cuban Dissidents Arrested During Pope Francis' Visit

Via Breitbart:

Dissident Group: 250+ Cubans Arrested During Pope Francis Visit

As the Cuban government begins to free dissidents, imprisoned to keep them from potentially disrupting Pope Francis’s visit with their presence, dissident organizations are releasing statistics on just how many people were arrested.

One organization reports that between 250-300 people were detained for their political beliefs, just in case they had planned to express them around the Pope.

The Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a pro-democracy group, issued a press release today listing 142 members of its organization that had been detained during Pope Francis’s visit to the country. According to the release, while many were arrested all around the island, 105 people were arbitrarily arrested in Santiago de Cuba, which Pope Francis visited on his last day in Cuba. Santiago is on the eastern end of the island, far from Havana. The other members were arrested in western Pinar del Río, Habana, Holguín, and Guantánamo. Many of those arrested reported being physically assaulted by police.

“If 142 UNPACU members have been arrested, the total number of those detained from different organizations should be around 250 to 300 activists,” the group estimates.

In addition to UNPACU members, at least 24 members of the Cuban Ladies in White group—composed of predominantly Catholic female relatives of political prisoners—were detained during the Pope’s Mass in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The leader of the organization, Berta Soler, reports being “dragged by the hair and neck” into a car by policemen, who later hurt her hands as punishment for attempting to attend the Mass.

Soler and other dissident members were allegedly invited to meet with Vatican officials, according to spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, who said he “did not know” why they did not attend a meeting while the Pope was in Cuba. Pope Francis himself said that he “did not know” and had “no news regarding detentions.”

“The Pope did not utter a phrase of solidarity with the victims of repression and, when traveling from Cuba to the United States, told the press that he did not know about the detention of pacifist dissidents,” the UNPACU press release reads. It notes that one UNPACU member, Zaqueo Báez, was arrested in front of Pope Francis. “While they [Pope Francis and Báez] spoke, event security tackled Zaqueo Báez strongly and tore him violently away from the Pontiff, ending thus his conversation with the Pope. The Pontiff… saw in first person how he was violently expelled and detained along with three other UNPACU activists.”

Another 50 dissidents were arrested last week, before the Pope’s visit, in anticipation of any protest plans they may have had. Most arrests occurred following the individuals’ leaving Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Chairman Duncan to Obama: Uphold and Defend U.S. Laws (Cuba Sanctions) in U.N.

Thursday, September 24, 2015
Congressman Jeff Duncan Urges U.S. Delegation to United Nations to Uphold U.S. Sovereign Law

U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, sent the following letter to Ambassador Samantha Power regarding reports that the U.S. delegation to the United Nations might refuse to oppose a resolution offered by Cuba that demands the end of the U.S.-Cuba embargo as outlined in U.S. law, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996:

September 23, 2015

The Honorable Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
The United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017

Dear Ambassador Power,

I write to respectfully urge you to uphold and defend the laws of the United States as they relate to the U.S.-Cuba embargo. I have received concerning reports that for the first time in 23 years, the U.S. delegation to the United Nations may abdicate its sovereign responsibility to uphold and defend U.S. interests as enshrined in U.S. law by abstaining, instead of voting against, on a resolution demanding the end of U.S.-Cuba embargo as outlined in the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (Libertad/Helms-Burton).

As the Co-Chair of the House Sovereignty Caucus, I am deeply disturbed that the U.S. delegation to a multilateral body could consider choosing not to affirm the sovereign laws of the United States. Irrespective of whether one agrees with the U.S.-Cuba embargo, it remains the law of the land in our country. For the U.S. delegation to refrain from exercising its responsibility to defend our country’s interests as articulated by our laws in the face of overt, sustained international criticism is to effectively undermine the rule of law in our country, the foundation for our modern political order, and the American principles for which we stand.

Furthermore, should the U.S. delegation to the United Nations refuse to support longstanding U.S. law in a multilateral forum, I am concerned about the ramifications this would have on U.S. foreign policy. After all, if the Administration does not uphold the rule of law to the world in an organization such as the United Nations, what legitimacy will the United States have to urge other countries around the world to respect the rule of law and democracy? What will this do to the pursuit of freedom around the world?

The issue before you is whether to uphold and defend the laws of the United States before the United Nations’ General Assembly. Regardless of differing political views on the U.S.-Cuba embargo, our modern political order depends upon a strong rule of law. With this in mind, I respectfully urge you to vote against any resolution that demands a change to U.S. law or that seeks to prevent the application of current U.S. law related to the US.-Cuba embargo.

Sincerely,
                                                     
Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03)

Editorial Cartoon: Pope Leaves Cuba, Doesn't Look Back

Who Will Speak for China's (Cuba's) Dissidents?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Any well-intentioned supporter of Obama's new Cuba policy should read the following op-ed very carefully.

It proves how unconditional engagement, business and academic exchanges don't improve the behavior of brutal regimes.

To the contrary, it lowers the principles, standards and behavior of our own government, companies and universities.

By Suzanne Nossel in The Los Angeles Times:

Who will speak for China's dissidents?

The Chinese government is tightening its stranglehold on dissent as it tries to steady its swooning currency and economy. Since July, Beijing has rounded up at least 270 human rights lawyers and activists, some of whom have now been missing for months. In recent weeks the Ministry of Public Security has targeted nearly 200 people for "spreading rumors" about China's plunging stock market and paraded a noted journalist on state-run television with a supposed "confession" that his unsubstantiated reporting led to market dips.

Yet as the pressure on dissenters has mounted, criticism from around the world has been muted. And when Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington this month for his first state visit, there's reason to worry that President Obama will hold his tongue. Word that the Secret Service plans to close off Lafayette Park to demonstrators during Xi's visit sends the wrong signal.

Over the last 10 years, Beijing has made shrewd use of its massive domestic consumer market, global infrastructure investments and cultural budgets to stifle reproach from governments and private institutions alike.

Indeed, with every large, global American bank, corporation, museum and university now compelled to have its own "China strategy," many of those that previously might have been outspoken on rights are now beholden to Beijing.

Last month, the American Bar Assn., for example, could muster only a tepid statement responding to the escalating roundup of lawyers, stating that "development of a just rule of law is a continuing struggle in every nation, including the United States." Critics cited this mealy-mouthed language as designed to not jeopardize collaborations with Chinese government-linked bar associations, judges and others.

University presidents and law school deans also have been mum on the crackdown, perhaps because 274,000 Chinese students attended U.S. universities in 2013-14, adding an estimated $22 billion to the U.S. economy. There are nearly 100 U.S. university campuses that operate "Confucius Institutes" in partnership with the Chinese, with Beijing-approved instructors teaching Chinese language and culture. Some top universities, including NYU and Duke, have launched major partnerships with Chinese universities, all with significant Chinese government funding. Western academics who criticize China can find themselves shut out from visas and conference invitations.

The media are not immune. After Bloomberg published an expose in 2012 of corruption among Beijing's ruling elite, the Chinese government cut purchases of the firm's lucrative financial terminals. Some in the newsroom claim that subsequent corruption coverage was curbed. In 2014, Bloomberg's chairman said in a speech that "we probably … should have rethought" far-reaching exposes that deviated from the company's core coverage of business news.

Even Google, which withdrew from China in 2010 because of its inability and unwillingness to accommodate Chinese censorship across its service, is reportedly working on a version of the Google Play app that will comply with Chinese strictures on speech. Last week Beijing declared new rules that U.S. tech companies must uphold if they want to do business in China, including storing their data in country and, ominously, "accept[ing] supervision from all parts of society."

Hollywood directors also strive to stay on Beijing's good side. Some vet potentially controversial scenes with Chinese censors to make sure their action films won't be barred from the world's second-largest film market.

Other countries succumb to these pressures too. South Africa, which counts China as its largest import source, was accused of "selling its sovereignty" when it acceded to Chinese objections and canceled a planned summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners in honor of Nelson Mandela rather than grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.

In the past, the West often raised human rights concerns with the Chinese. Even though such exchanges might seem fruitless, Chinese dissident writers, editors and lawyers insist the mentions are in fact essential for their protection and help subtly shape the Chinese debate.

Obama ought to keep that in mind when he meets with Xi. Now at a stage of his presidency in which he is trying to establish a legacy for history, he should use forceful language, mentioning key dissidents such as Ilham Tohti and Liu Xiaobo by name, calling out the relentless persecution of ethnic minorities and pressing Beijing to loosen restrictions on the media and the Internet. As the number of voices willing to speak out dwindles, each one becomes more important. If the U.S. president won't lead the defense of liberal values in the face of China's challenge, it is not clear that anyone else will.

Western university presidents, like-minded governments, newsroom executives and studio moguls need to hear that doing business with the Chinese should not mean caving in to Beijing. If they stiffened their spines collectively, the Chinese would have little choice but to adapt.

After blind Chinese rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in 2012, he said that he sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy because "if you look around the world, even though the U.S. is sometimes weak in the face of dictators, it's still the best defender of freedom." Obama should make it clear that the U.S. will live up to the faith invested in it by Chen and scores of Chinese dissidents.

Cubans Know Reconciliation, It's Freedom They Seek

During Pope Francis' visit to Cuba, there was a great deal of rhetoric about reconciliation.

It's a favorite talking point of Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski and others who seek to distract from the real problem facing the Cuban people -- the lack of freedom.

From 1959 to this very day, each generation of Cuban exiles has consistently opened their homes, schools and businesses to the most recent group of arrivals -- irrespective of their previous social status or political beliefs.

As a matter of fact, such unity and solidarity has been the secret of the Cuban exile community's success.

Free Cubans throughout the world know, understand and practice reconciliation.

The backward concept of "reconciliation without freedom" has sadly served as a convenient ruse for the Castro dictatorship itself.

After all -- if free Cubans throughout the world know, understand and practice reconciliation -- then what is truly being advocated is reconciliation with a regime that continues to murder, torture and imprison innocent people (even during Papal visits).

Thus, it's disingenuous -- and counter-productive -- to talk about reconciliation without freedom.

Even the 20th century's greatest proponent of national reconciliation, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, stressed:

"Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts."

That's why national reconciliation in South Africa took place pursuant to the end of apartheid.

In Germany, it took place pursuant to the collapse of the East's police state.

So why is Cuba the only case in which reconciliation is disingenuously argued before freedom -- as if Cuba's problem was among its people, rather than with its dictatorship?

In his epic 1963 Encyclical Letter, Pacem in Terris ("Peace on Earth"), Pope John XXIII identified the essential conditions for peace in four precise requirements of the human spirit: truth, justice, love and freedom.

That is precisely what the Cuban people seek.

In Cuba, the Pope Lacked Clarity

It's a shame -- to put it kindly -- that Spanish-speaking Pope Francis has been the Pope to speak with the least clarity -- also to put it kindly -- in Spanish-speaking Cuba.

His hear-no-evil, see-no-evil response -- during a press briefing on the flight to Washington, D.C. -- to a question on the arrest of Cuban dissidents caped off an already disappointing visit.

From Time:

"Pope Francis also denied knowledge of dissidents who were arrested trying to meet him. Asked if he had wanted to meet dissidents in Cuba, and what he would have wanted to say to them, the Pope demurred, declining to answer hypothetical questions. Reports have indicated that some 50 dissidents were arrested outside the Holy See’s embassy where Pope Francis stayed in Havana. Pope Francis added that he declined numerous requests for private audiences, including those from heads of state."

Quote of the Week: What Pope Francis Ignored in Cuba

The [Pope's] talk about the glory of God in heaven, but say nothing about the hell for us on earth. 
-- Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), which had over 100 members arrested during Pope Francis' visit, Reuters, 9/21/15.

In Havana, Pope Francis is no John Paul II

By Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute:

In Havana, Pope Francis is no John Paul II

This morning, the Washington Post editorial delivers a scathing review of Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba:

"The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts….

Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that 'service is never ideological.'"

To see how right this assessment is, contrast Pope Francis’s homily in Havana with that of Pope John Paul II 17 years earlier. (I was in the crowd in Havana on January 25, 1998, when the Holy Father delivered his moving message of solidarity with the oppressed people of Cuba).

In his homily, John Paul mentioned “freedom” 17 times and “justice” 13 times.

In his homily, Francis did not mention “freedom” or “justice” once.

Here is what John Paul said back then:

"While times and situations may change, there are always people who need the voice of the Church so that their difficulties, their suffering, and their distress may be known. Those who find themselves in these situations can be certain that they will not be betrayed, for the Church is with them and the Pope, in his heart and with his words of encouragement, embraces all who suffer injustice."

After a long burst of applause, the Holy Father said:

"I am not against applause because when you applaud the Pope can take a little rest!

…'The Spirit of the Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives… to set at liberty those who are oppressed' (Lk 4:18)…. A freedom which is not based on truth conditions man in such a way that he sometimes becomes the object and not the subject of his social, cultural, economic and political surroundings; this leaves him almost no initiative for his personal development. At other times that freedom takes on an individualistic cast and, with no regard for the freedom of others, imprisons man in his own egoism. The attainment of freedom in responsibility is a duty which no one can shirk. For Christians, the freedom of the children of God is not only a gift and a task, but its attainment also involves an invaluable witness and a genuine contribution to the journey towards the liberation of the whole human race. This liberation cannot be reduced to its social and political aspects, but rather reaches its fullness in the exercise of freedom of conscience, the basis and foundation of all other human rights."

To the crowds who were shouting: “The Pope is free and wants us all to be free,” the Holy Father replied:

"Yes, he lives with that freedom for which Christ has set you free….

The Church’s social doctrine is meant to be a reflection and a contribution which can shed light on and reconcile the relationship between the inalienable rights of each individual and the needs of society, so that people can attain their profound aspirations and integral fulfillment in accordance with their condition as sons and daughters of God and citizens in society."

John Paul was even more explicit a day earlier, during his homily in Santiago de Cuba, where he mentioned “freedom” 14 times, declaring:

"The Church calls everyone to make faith a reality in their lives, as the best path to the integral development of the human being, created in the image and likeness of God, and for attaining true freedom, which includes the recognition of human rights and social justice. In this regard, lay Catholics — holding to their specific role as lay persons so that they may be “salt and leaven” in the midst of the society of which they are part — have the duty and the right to participate in public debate on the basis of equality and in an attitude of dialogue and reconciliation. Likewise, the good of a nation must be promoted and achieved by its citizens themselves through peaceful and gradual means. In this way each person, enjoying freedom of expression, being free to undertake initiatives and make proposals within civil society, and enjoying appropriate freedom of association, will be able to co-operate effectively in the pursuit of the common good.

The Church, immersed in civil society, does not seek any type of political power in order to carry out her mission; she wishes only to be the fruitful seed of everyone’s good by her presence in the structures of society. Her first concern is the human person and the community in which the individual lives; she is well aware that actual people with all their needs and aspirations constitute her primary path. All that she claims for herself she places at the service of people and society. For this reason Christ charged her to bring his message to all peoples, and for this she needs sufficient freedom and adequate means. Defending her own freedom, the Church defends the freedom of each individual, of families, of different social units, which are living realities with a right to their own sphere of autonomy and sovereignty."

Pope Francis said nothing even resembling this during his Cuban visit. He is not expected to be so reticent during his visit to Washington. But then, as the Post correctly notes, “it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.”

WaPo Editorial: Pope Francis Appeases Castros in Repressive Cuba

Monday, September 21, 2015
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

Pope Francis appeases the Castros in repressive Cuba

In his visit to the United States beginning Tuesday, Pope Francis will meet not just President Obama and Congress but also those marginalized by our society: homeless people, immigrants, refugees and even the inmates of a jail. He’s expected to raise topics that many Americans will find challenging, such as his harsh critique of capitalism. His supporters say it’s all part of the role the pope has embraced as an advocate for the powerless, one that has earned him admiration from both Catholics and some outside the church.

How, then, to explain Pope Francis’s behavior in Cuba? The pope is spending four days in a country whose Communist dictatorship has remained unrelenting in its repression of free speech, political dissent and other human rights despite a warming of relations with the Vatican and the United States. Yet by the end of his third day, the pope had said or done absolutely nothing that might discomfit his official hosts.

Pope Francis met with 89-year-old Fidel Castro, who holds no office in Cuba, but not with any members of the dissident community — in or outside of prison. According to the Web site 14ymedio.com, two opposition activists were invited to greet the pope at Havana’s cathedral Sunday but were arrested on the way. Dozens of other dissidents were detained when they attempted to attend an open air Mass. They needn’t have bothered: The pope said nothing in his homily about their cause, or even political freedom more generally. Those hunting for a message had to settle for a cryptic declaration that “service is never ideological.”

Sadly, this appeasement of power is consistent with the Vatican’s approach to Cuba ever since Raúl Castro replaced his brother in 2006. Led by Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the church committed to a strategy of working with the regime in the hope of encouraging its gradual moderation. The results have been slight. Cardinal Ortega obtained Raúl Castro’s promise to release all political prisoners, but arrests have continued and dissident groups say the number of jailed is now above 70. One leading Christian dissident, Oswaldo Payá, was killed in a suspicious 2012 auto crash.

The Vatican’s greatest success has been the adoption of its strategy by the Obama administration, which has also restored relations with the Castros while excluding the political opposition. Here, too, there have been disappointing results. U.S. exports to Cuba, controlled by Havana, have declined this year, while arrests of opponents have increased, along with refu­gees. Many Cubans are trying to reach the United States ahead of what they fear will be a move by the Obama administration to placate the regime with a tightening of asylum rules.

Pope Francis may believe that merely by touring the country he will inspire Cubans to become more active and press the regime for change. But two previous papal visits, in 1998 and 2012, did not have that effect. By now it is clear that the Castros won’t be moved by quiet diplomacy or indirect hints. A direct campaign of words and acts, like that Pope Francis is planning for the United States, would surely have an impact. But then, it takes more fortitude to challenge a dictatorship than a democracy.

Though U.S. Remains Shamefully Silent on Cuba's Repression, Pope Should Speak Up

By Kristina Arriaga in USA Today:

Cuban dissidents long to hear Pope Francis preach religious liberty

Although U.S. remains shamefully silent about Cuban suppression of speech and worship, Pope Francis should speak up while world listens.

Like any pair of dictator-bullies, the Castro brothers can freely make jokes and speak about others, but will detain, beaten up, censor or imprison anyone who dares to do the same about them. This should come as no surprise. Fidel’s first dictatorial act against free journalism came in 1959 when he started by muzzling, not the main newspaper of Cuba, but Zig-Zag, the weekly Cuban version of Mad magazine, which had dared to run its first (and last) cartoon of Fidel.

Apparently this kind of free speech is something we as Americans should no longer find worthy of defense in Cuba. While we rightly grieved in solidarity with many nations for the murdered cartoonists and journalists of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, inspiring “Je suis” pins, posters and Facebook postings, our government has remained silent when Cuban journalists, artists and writers have been censored and imprisoned.

For instance, mum has been the word when it comes to the arrest of young Cuban graffiti artist, “El Sexto.” According to reports smuggled out of Cuba, El Sexto, who has a wife and infant daughter, was imprisoned last December on a charge of contempt for having tried to carry out a performance with two pigs painted with the names of “Fidel” and “Raul.” Months after his arrest he has not been taken before a court. A few weeks ago according to his mother, he went on a hunger strike.

El Sexto’s type of dissidence and civil disobedience is something Americans would not have stood for had it happened in the U.S. in the 1960s or in South Africa during Apartheid. And yet, the U.S. remains silent. It also remains silent in the case of African-Cuban doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who has been imprisoned multiple times for his peaceful protests against the Castro regime. He has endured over 11 years of prison and has lost most of his teeth due the beatings and the horrible conditions in the gulags of the island. For all the claims the Castro regime has made in defense of the black population in Cuba, many of its bravest dissidents are black including Berta Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, a defiant group of Cuban women who dress in white and walk together to mass on many Sundays. This summer they were the victims of several brutal beatings.

Artists and journalists such as Cuban exiled novelist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and Time magazine-lauded blogger, Yoani Sanchez, who still dares to live in Havana, have consistently tried to appeal to the world and to our government for freedom of speech as the virtues of openness between the U.S. and Cuba continue to be universally extolled. But to no avail.

Our government remains silent, or at most, will tweet its disappointment at arrests here and there but continues forging ahead with a plan that will benefit the Castro thugs but not the people of Cuba. This month these dissidents hope, as do I, that while Pope Francis remains in Cuba, he will call for freedom of speech and of worship, and for the kind of openness that his Polish predecessor, Pope John Paul II spoke about frequently when, in 1998, he was the first Pontiff to visit the island. They hope that Pope Francis will recall his own experiences in Argentina and will extend the hand of solidarity to those who lack a voice.

They hope, against all hope, that the Pope will disavow the strange and inaccurate words of Cuban Cardinal and Havana Archbishop, Jaime Ortega, who recently stated that there were no political prisoners in Cuba while 60 dissidents languished in prison. They hope for the Spanish version of the Hebdo “Je suis:” They hope to hear the Pope say: “Yo, yo tambien soy cubano.” “I, too am Cuban.” And invite the rest of the world to do the same with El Sexto, with Berta and the Ladies in White, with Dr. Biscet, with Yoani and with so many others who have earned and richly deserve the world’s solidarity.

Kristina Arriaga is executive director of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

CNN Interview: On Pope Francis' Visit to Cuba

CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone discussed Pope Francis' visit to Cuba on CNN en Español today.

Click here to watch.

FPI Bulletin: A Blind Eye Toward Freedom in Cuba

By Ellen Bork of The Foreign Policy Initiative:

A Blind Eye Toward Freedom in Cuba

On Friday, President Obama spoke with President Raúl Castro by telephone, to discuss the latest set of restrictions on trade to be lifted by the White House. Meanwhile, Cuban authorities arrested more than five dozen activists before and during a papal visit to the island, said José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Cuba’s largest dissident organization. These arrests are the latest indication that the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba is a one-sided affair that will legitimize the Castro brothers’ dictatorship without bringing liberty to the Cuban people.

The president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council described the recent changes to U.S. policy as “seismic”. American companies will now be able to business directly in Cuba, whether by creating subsidiaries or opening offices there. Americans will also be able to open bank accounts in Cuba. In addition to a number of American firms, the primary beneficiary of these changes will be the Cuban regime, not private enterprise. According to Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, “Every single trade and commercial transaction with Cuba has to be done through an entity owned and operated by the Cuban dictatorship.”

Rather than diminishing, there has been an increase in detentions over the course of this year. In August, there were 768 arrests, the highest monthly tally for 2015, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. Sometimes, senior American officials acknowledge what is happening. In response to the round-up prior to the Pope’s visit, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, tweeted about the arrests, adding that they amounted to “disappointing business as usual for the Cuban government.” Yet such candor is the exception, not the rule.

In other cases, the White House has not simply closed its eyes to the regime’s oppression, but refused to acknowledge the dissidents’ existence. When the U.S. Embassy in Havana was reopened with a flag-raising ceremony on August 14, the U.S. chose not to invite any dissidents. Implausibly, Secretary of State John Kerry explained that the ceremony was a “government-to-government affair,” with no space for members of civil society. The editors of the Washington Post responded, “Inviting the dissidents would be a demonstration to Raúl and Fidel Castro of what the flag stands for … Not inviting them is a sorry tip of the hat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control and rule by fear.”

For its part, Havana does not even pretend to be changing. Cuban officials say engagement with the US will not change the country’s policies by so much as “a millimeter.”  “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States,” said Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in an interview with Reuters.  However, in important respects, Washington is willing to pretend that Havana is changing. In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department unexpectedly upgraded Cuba from Tier 3 – reserved for the worst offenders – to the Tier 2 watch list.  According to the Department’s annual report, countries on the watch list must launch “significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance” with anti-human trafficking standards. Previously, Cuba spent 12 consecutive years languishing in Tier 3.

The Obama administration also removed Cuba from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. U.S. law allows for this change if Cuba has not supported terrorism in the previous six months and provides assurances it will not do so in the future.  Havana maintains it should never have been on the list in the first place.

The significance of Cuba’s removal from the terrorism list is chiefly as a stepping-stone toward diplomatic relations and the eventual lifting of the embargo.  The new opening for U.S. firms to conduct business in Cuba is part of this strategy. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), articulated the administration’s rationale: “As we get more and more complex exceptions and rules and regulations, it just becomes more obvious that we have to lift the embargo.” However, an end to the embargo depends on either congressional action or the coming to power of a democratically elected government in Cuba.

President Obama’s behavior indicates his apparent belief that the U.S. should give up its economic and political leverage before receiving any assurances that democracy will one day come to Cuba.  He justifies this approach by citing the examples of normalized U.S. relations with China and Vietnam. However, what those examples show is that diplomatic and economic openings may strengthen the ruling party rather than creating pressure for it to respect human rights and personal liberties. Both China and Vietnam remain one-party dictatorships decades after the U.S. expanded its commercial and diplomatic ties.  Both have been able to build up their militaries and upgrade their repressive apparatuses. Only by insisting on a linkage between opening and reform can the U.S. secure a better outcome for the people of Cuba.

Testifying before Congress in February, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski stated: “The nature of the Cuban regime has not changed and we have not claimed so. … I have no indication that they have any desire to become our partner … That's not the way this works in any authoritarian state.”

So how does it work? The administration hopes that a taste of prosperity will create an ever-growing appetite in Cuba for economic—and then political—freedom. Yet there is no reason to believe that Cubans lack such an appetite. Rather, they lack the means to confront an entrenched dictatorship that will employ violence to preserve its power.  By legitimizing and enriching that dictatorship, the Obama administration’s policy will only make the dissidents’ struggle even harder.

While the administration seems fully committed to a policy of rapprochement without conditions, Congress should defend the principle inscribed in U.S. law, that a restoration of freedom is the essential prerequisite for lifting the American embargo. In the meantime, Congress should expose the false premise of the administration’s policy toward Cuba while pressuring both the White House, as well as the Castros, to respect the Cuban people’s inalienable rights.