Andy Garcia: Nothing Has Changed in Cuba

Saturday, August 8, 2015
The political situation in Cuba has not turned. There is one government, a dictatorship. The Castros are still in power. There’s never been a popular election in Cuba. Nothing will change in Cuba until the Castro regime leaves and the people are free.
-- Andy Garcia, renowned Cuban-American actor, Variety, 8/8/15

Pyongyang is Eating Havana's Lunch

Young, Swiss-educated Kim is turning out to be quite the economic "reformer."

Arguably much more than his old, uneducated counterpart in Cuba -- Raul Castro.

So where are the calls to engage Kim and increase business with his monopolies, as a way to "help" the North Korean people?

Wouldn't that be consistent with Obama's shameful dictator-down-economics?

Just compare the below images of Pyongyang (top) to Havana (bottom) -- it's obvious which regime is most successful at "spreading the wealth."

And even Raul thinks Pyongyang is where the opportunities lie -- particularly for weapons smuggling.

From The Diplomat:

How Is North Korea's Economy Doing?

Is North Korea’s dilapidated economy on the rise? And if so, does that mean better living standards for ordinary North Koreans? The answer to both seems to be “yes,” according to a report released Sunday by the Congressional Research Service.

Modest economic growth has improved conditions for a segment of the population, according to media accounts of the report. As per usual procedure, the think tank of the U.S. legislature did not make the report public.

The sunnier economic conditions can be attributed to limited agricultural and labor reforms introduced by the regime of Kim Jong-un, the report argues. In a break from its communist past, the government now allows farmers to keep a portion of their harvest and empowers managers to make some hiring and firing decisions.

Reports of growing wealth in North Korea aren’t new. Travelers to the capital Pyongyang, especially, have noted the emergence of relatively affluent middle class in recent years.

“Pyongyang and some other major cities are doing better, it seems,” Andray Abrahamian, the director of research at the non-profit Choson Exchange and a regular visitor to the country, told The Diplomat. “Consumers and consumption are certainly more evident in the capital in a way that is new.”

More generally, somewhat tolerated private markets have sprung up across the country to fill the gaps in the crumbling state distribution system, as cataloged in books like North Korea Confidential.

Constituent to U.S. Rep. Emmer: You Lost Me on Cuba

A Letter to the Editor in Minnesota's St. Cloud Times:

With Emmer on Cuba’s side, I will vote differently

I was furious to see U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer recently filed a bill to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. I grew up in North Miami, Florida, and went to school with kids whose families escaped communist Cuba with only one suitcase and the clothes on their backs. They were forced to leave behind their land, homes, cars, furniture, clothes, jewelry and even the kids’ toys. And they were the lucky ones.

People who were too poor to leave behind anything for the Castro brothers and their henchmen were stuck in Cuba. Fourteen-year-olds with machine guns manned the street corners to make sure everyone toed the Communist Party line.

Emmer has been duped. He didn’t speak to everyday citizens, dissidents, the Ladies in White or political prisoners. I believe Emmer spoke to Communist Party members pretending to be everyday citizens when he went to Cuba in June.

Businesses whose owners think they will make a profit dealing with Cuba are in for a big disappointment. The economy in Cuba is abysmal. When it was time to harvest sugar cane, everyone, no matter his or her occupation or condition, was forced into the fields to cut cane. Teachers, shopkeepers, students, tailors, mechanics, the elderly, women who were eight months pregnant, it didn’t matter, it was mandatory to cut cane.

U.S. businesses will find when it comes time to pay the bills, Cuba won’t. Either the U.S. taxpayers will need to subsidize the deals, or the businesses won’t get back the cost of production.

If Emmer’s bill becomes a reality, he can count on me to vote for his opponent in a primary. I am thoroughly disgusted.

Rosalind Kohls
St. Cloud, MN

New Embassy, Same Old Dictatorship

An excerpt from The New York Times' story, "Cuban Youth See New U.S. Embassy, but Same Old Drab Life":

While the news media was buzzing about the new American Embassy, which had reopened for the first time in more than 50 years, barely a word passed among the Cuban youth about the many changes afoot in their nation.

“Change? My life won’t change,” said Yunior Rodriguez Soto, 17, posted by the court with a few friends. “I mean, look how we’re living, look how we are playing?” he said, pointing at the goal, which had been knocked askew.

He paused. The ball zipped out of bounds and a friend raced to retrieve it. Change, in his mind, would come in spite of the government, not because of it.

“They won’t let it happen,” he said, referring to the Cuban government. “It’s just how they are.”

Much has been made of the historic shift underway in Cuba, where the government is making strides to open the ailing economy to world markets and re-establish relations with the United States for the first time in half a century. For many, that has raised hope of a new prosperity.

But there is an air of cynicism among the Cuban youth who see the ideals of Fidel Castro’s revolution as dated as the battered cars that traverse Havana’s streets. Once so integral to life on the island, they are relics of a bygone era, removed from the economic imperatives that are driving the young to flee in record numbers.

As much as the young welcome political opening and economic reform, such changes are unlikely to filter down to their lives anytime soon. Measurable change will come slowly, stalled between the leadership’s desire for prosperity and its determination to maintain control.

Even with evidence of change in the streets of Havana — new clubs, bars and glimmering restaurants that rival those of more affluent Caribbean neighbors — life for many Cubans has barely improved. And that may well inform the Cuban authorities’ biggest challenge in coming years: managing expectations.

“So far, the only way to see change is to make a boat and sail off,” said Dayán Roa Santana, 20, a Cuban baseball player, who did just that in late December.

Top Senators Blast State Department's Manipulation of Human Trafficking Report

Friday, August 7, 2015
Earlier this week, a Reuters investigation uncovered how the State Department's trafficking experts were politically overruled on their bottom-tier ranking of Cuba's forced labor and human trafficking abuses by the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, led by Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, tarnishing the integrity of the U.S.'s Trafficking in Persons report.

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the political manipulation of the report.

It was not a good day for the Obama's State Department.

From Roll Call:

Foreign Relations Panel Blasts Human-Trafficking Report

Testimony from a State Department official Thursday did little to dispel claims that an annual human-trafficking report was driven by politics.

State Department Undersecretary Sarah Sewall defended the integrity of the report, which upgraded the status of Malaysia and Cuba, to three members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by citing the report’s criteria, Secretary of State John Kerry’s public comments, and her own assessment — but occasionally declined to comment on internal deliberations.

The committee was unconvinced.

“This is possibly the most heartless, lacking-of-substance presentation I’ve ever seen about a serious topic,” Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “I don’t see how anybody could believe that there was integrity in this process.”

Committee members claimed both countries’ upgrades from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report were based on politics, allowing the Trans-Pacific Partnership to continue along a fast-track path with Malaysia included, and helping justify recent renewed relations with Cuba.

Corker threatened to subpoena State Department documentation regarding the preparation of the report if it wasn’t promptly turned over.

One of the panel’s main points of contention was that the results of the improved human trafficking situation were minimal at best and the upgraded status disincentivized either country from continuing to progress.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the report and of human rights violations in Malaysia and Cuba, cited a recent Reuters article claiming the TIP office’s recommendations were overruled 14 of 17 times by diplomatic bureaus and that the TIP office recommended that neither country be upgraded.

“We don’t comment on internal deliberations,” said Sewall. “What I can tell you is that the reporting that was done by the TIP office and the team at the state department was thorough and fact-based.”

“I feel for our witness, I know she has to come up here and do what she does,” Corker said. “This may be the worst day she’s ever had in her service to have to say the things that she’s reading to us right now.”

Leader of Cuba's Ladies in White: Regime Sees Obama Policy as Green-Light for Repression

The [Castro] regime has intensified its repression because it feels impunity. It feels empowered by new relations with the U.S. government, as if it has been given a green-light.
-- Berta Soler, leader of the renowned Cuban pro-democracy movement The Ladies in White, Diario de Cuba, 8/6/15

Washington Times Editorial: Obama Hides Evidence of Castro's Cruelty

From The Washington Times' Editorial Board:

Mr. Obama’s Cuban legacy

The U.S. hides the evidence of growing cruelty of the Castro brothers

The French, as they usually do, have a word for it: the tendency of a man to judge problems solely on the basis of his professional skills. The French call this “deformation professionelle.” If you’re a lawyer, you want to litigate difficulties away, a physician wants to prescribe medicines to wipe them out, a surgeon is eager to cut them out. If you’re a diplomat, you want to bargain them away — whatever the sacrifice and cost, to reach the “successful negotiation,” which is the point of the exercise.

It’s not enough that Washington has made a deal with a bankrupt Cuban regime, throwing them a life line of support just when their last sugar daddy, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has gone to his just reward and his heirs can no longer afford to give the Cubans oil. At the very moment he was concluding a deal with President Obama, Raul Castro, the aging dictator-in-chief once removed, was throwing new political prisoners in jail. We’re not supposed to notice.

There’s a lot of hip, hip hooray and ballyhoo, too, about how Cuba will open up to foreign trade when and if the United States lifts the trade embargo, and become another, if smaller, China. But smoke is getting in someone’s eyes. The Canadians have been open to trade with Cuba for decades, but unable to do much business with Havana because of restraints on trade and the usual Marxist economic incompetence. In sheer desperation, the government now permits certain (very) small business ownerships. With an expected wave of American tourists, soon a few luxury hotels and boutiques will be allowed, but available only to foreigners and Cubans with dollars remitted from kin in the United States.

The ferocious warriors of the dainty teacup in Foggy Bottom have spread a veil over the continuing human rights cruelties of the regime with whom they have chosen to sip and sup. The sight of the cruelty can curdle the cream in any deputy assistant undersecretary’s cup of Earl Grey. In this year’s annual report by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons — or “slavery” in plain talk — Cuba was removed from the “Tier 3” blacklist. There was the official claim, disputed by the State Department’s own trafficking analysts, that Cuba had made notable improvements in its sorry record of kidnappings and imprisonments without cause.

The Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau of the State Department scoffs, politely, of course, at claims that the Castro brothers are permitting progress toward human decency. Nor is there an attempt to show the lengths to which the regime goes to indenture its citizens. The Castros’ highly touted extension of medical services — of whatever quality — to other Latin and African nations is not necessarily voluntary by the doctors and nurses, but carefully disguised penal servitude for its medical students and graduates. The Cuban government takes most of their meager earnings.

The careful exposure of the complexity of the Cuban tyranny, as developed over a half-century and as has impoverished the island and driven its elites abroad, is necessary if Mr. Obama’s grandiose initiative to improve relations will mean anything beyond jobs for a few diplomatic clerks. It’s impossible to identify a single concession which the Castro brothers made in return for the semi-respectability the Obama administration conferred on them.

It’s another example of the inability, or lack of will, of the Obama administration to defend American interests and those of subjugated peoples in its foreign relations. There must be a limit to what the U.S. should tolerate when it extends the prize of diplomatic relations to a sordid foreign regime.

A new administration in 2016, whatever its party and personal affiliations, will have a large diplomatic mess to clean up after. It’s part of Mr. Obama’s growing legacy.

How the Tail (Castro) is Wagging the Dog (Obama and U.S. Business)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Here's the best kept secret in Washington, D.C.:

Since President Obama's December 17th deal with dictator Raul Castro, authorized exports (of agricultural commodities, medicines and medical devices) to Cuba have plummeted.

As The Texas Tribune detailed, "through June, the United States collectively shipped about $83 million in goods to Cuba, and is on pace for exporting about $166 million for the calendar year. That’s well short of the $291 million in goods shipped in 2014, and well below the $348.7 million shipped in 2013."

How could that be?

Just one day after Obama's announcement (December 18th), the same newspaper had reported, "The White House’s decision to ease sanctions on Cuba and improve America’s relationship with the Castro regime could reignite economic ties with the island nation, foreign-policy experts say."

Ponder this -- President Obama has done diplomatic contortions for the Castro regime; it has unilaterally eased sanctions, in order to decrease transaction costs for authorized exports; and it has stimulated a 36% increase in American travelers (carrying new cash) to the island.

Yet, despite what "experts" predicted, exports have plummeted.


The answer is simple: Because in Cuba there's only one buyer -- the Castro regime.

And that buyer is now playing hard to get -- for it wants even more (for nothing in return).

Despite the Obama Administration's lofty rhetoric about the Cuban people, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba must be made with a Castro-owned entity. The regime's exclusive right to trade and control foreign investment is enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution.

In the case of agricultural commodities, Castro's monopoly is called Alimport.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself recognizes: “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, Alimport."

Now Castro has closed Alimport's spigot.

After all, why would Castro spend any more hard currency, when --

It has U.S. Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) lobbying to provide his regime with billions in tourism income;

It has U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) lobbying to provide his regime with private financing;

It has U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN) and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) lobbying to lift all sanctions on his regime's monopolies;

It has former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez lobbying for international financial institutions to provide his regime with loans and lines of credit;

It has U.S. agribusiness and travel companies on a full-out lobbying offensive; and

It has President Obama fully committed to a dictator-down-economics approach.

Why would Castro spend any more hard currency, when --

The tail is clearly wagging the dog.

Quote of the Week: On U.S. Business Opportunities in Cuba

There is a tremendous amount — it’s breathtaking — the amount of aspirational rhetoric chasing very little reality.
-- John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on the perception of U.S. business opportunities in Cuba, The Texas Tribune, 7/30/15

Bush and Rubio Are Right to Criticize Obama on Cuba Trafficking Report

By Daniel Vasquez in Sun-Sentinel:

Bush, Rubio blast Obama for going easy on Cuba for human trafficking: They're right

Obama shouldn't cut corners on Cuba

America and Cuba are racing to normalize relations. We get that.

But giving Cuba a break on forced labor and human sex trafficking shouldn't be a part of the game plan.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are both blasting the Obama Administration for allegedly rewriting an annual State Department to make some nasty countries appear a lot less nasty, including Malaysia, China and Cuba -- all in the name of political expediency.

Listen to Rubio, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, as reported by el Nuevo Herald: “The president and his administration have set a dangerous precedent that could lead countries to believe that they can negotiate their way out of being named and shamed for their human trafficking abuses, instead of actually adopting reforms and tackling the problem."

Bush and Rubio are righteously peeved at reporting interference by State Department brass that apparently resulted in the U.S. giving Cuba brownie points for thinking about change and talking about change, without actually making change.

Cuba was removed from the report's Tier 3 nations list, despite the fact that Cuba does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The report alludes to Cuba efforts, but that's about it.

We know the Cuban government is abusing its people, locking many in prison for even suggesting political and social change, and we know it systematically fails to protect its people from the worst crimes of forced labor and human trafficking of adults and children.

The State Department itself acknowledges that sex trafficking of kids in Cuba in connection to tourism is a significant problem, but they give Fidel & Co. an E-grade for effort.

There is good reason to believe that a new relationship between America and Cuba could eventually lead to better conditions for the Cuban people. But, it will take time. Cutting corners along the way to serve the overall purpose could backfire in a bad way and harm Cubans more in the end.

Cuban Rocker Gorki Aguila Has Been Arrested

At noon today, Castro regime officials showed up at the home of Cuban rocker, Gorki Aguila, and arrested him.

He was given no cause for his arrest and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Aguila, front-man of the band Porno Para Ricardo, recently authored a song in honor of the pro-democracy movement, The Ladies in White.

Click here to watch it.

UPDATE: Aguila was released this afternoon and warned that if he demonstrates this Sunday with The Ladies in White, he'll have his passport permanently revoked.

Cuba: Highest Number of Political Arrests in Over One-Year

Tuesday, August 4, 2015
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 674 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of July 2015.

This is the highest number of political arrest documented by the CCHR since June 2014.

These are only political arrests that have been thoroughly documented. Many more are suspected.

Last week, the Cuba Observatory for Human Rights had separately documented 630 political arrests.

In its report, the CCHR notes that "nothing indicates [these levels of political arrests] will change."

Yet, President Obama claims this is "what change looks like" in Cuba.

In Iran and Cuba Polling, It's All About How the Question is Asked

In April, On Message conducted a national opinion poll, which showed how the more Americans know about the Castro regime’s record on human rights violations and hostility toward the United States, the more likely they are to strongly disapprove of President Obama’s Cuba policy.

Even last year's Atlantic Council poll showed that when an explanation of human rights abuses by the Castro regime preceded the question, the number of Americans that support engagement went down from 56% to 43%.

The same thing is now playing out as regards Obama's Iran deal, where in the words of Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, "the more people know about the deal, the more likely they are to disapprove of it.”

Meanwhile, a story in Politico has suddenly "discovered" that it all depends how you ask the question, "recent polling suggests Americans both support and oppose the [Iran] agreement, depending on how the question is asked."

And, of course, every community has its Sergio Bendixen's and Guillermo Grenier's -- always happy to peddle fuzzy math -- in order to further their political agenda:

"A new national survey of 1,000 American Jews, conducted by GBA Strategies for J Street, finds that a large majority of Jews support the agreement recently reached between the United States, world powers, and Iran. The 20-point margin (60 percent to 40 percent) in favor of the agreement is consistent with the 18-point margin found in the LA Jewish Journal’s survey released last week, as well as the 18-point margin in J Street’s survey conducted prior to the agreement."

Imagine that -- even Jewish-Americans purportedly support Obama's Iran deal.

What a "novel" strategy.

Fostering Repression in Cuba, One Daiquiri at a Time

In USA Today, Rick Jervis has a column on his adventures at Havana's El Floridita bar.

All he tells readers is that it's "the legendary Havana bar made famous by Ernest Hemingway and known as the 'cradle of the daiquiri.'"

The rest is about fun and games, a competition of famous American bartenders and how hanging out there is somehow -- "fostering U.S.-Cuba relations, one daiquiri at a time."

It's this type of irresponsible fluff that -- sadly -- makes American travelers oblivious to Cuba's realities.

Why not tell readers the whole story behind El Floridita?

How it became the "cradle of the daiquiri" due to a young Catalonian immigrant, Constantino "Constante" Ribalaigua Vert, who went from being a bartender to its majority owner until his death in 1953.

How it was stolen from Constante's family and heirs, including a noted charity set up by Catalonian immigrants, in the early 1960s.

How it's currently "owned" by Palmares, S.A., a shadow company of the Castro's Ministry of Tourism.

How it's headed by Colonel Manuel Marrero Cruz, a confidant of Raul Castro, who previously ran Gaviota, S.A., a shadow company of the Cuban Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR).

How each $6 daiquiri (hard currency or CUCs only, of course) -- nearly half the monthly salary of the average Cuban worker -- goes directly to Castro's police state.

How the tourism industry is one of the Cuban military and intelligence service's main sources of income -- second only to human trafficking, which the Obama Administration has recently tried to whitewash.

How frequenting El Floridita is -- in reality -- "fostering repression, one daiquiri at a time."

Sorry to kill your buzz. But facts matter.

Report: State Department Manipulated Cuba Human Trafficking Report

Another reason why the Obama Administration can't be trusted in its dealings with the Cuban regime.

As a Reuters investigation has uncovered, the State Department's trafficking experts were politically overruled by Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson, tarnishing the integrity of the U.S.'s Trafficking in Persons report.

From Reuters:

Special Report: State Department watered down human trafficking report

In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse.

The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed.

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons - or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said.

The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery - such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution - won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said.

The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously known by diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions and is the basis for many countries’ anti-trafficking policies. This year, local embassies and other constituencies within the department were able to block some of the toughest grades.

State Department officials say the ratings are not politicized. “As is always the case, final decisions are reached only after rigorous analysis and discussion between the TIP office, relevant regional bureaus and senior State Department leaders,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in response to queries by Reuters.

Still, by the time the report was released on July 27, Malaysia and Cuba were both removed from the "Tier 3" blacklist, even though the State Department’s own trafficking experts believed neither had made notable improvements, according to the sources.

The analysts clashed over Cuba’s record with the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, whose view took precedence in the final report. 

Human rights groups and people with knowledge of the negotiations over the rankings said an unearned upgrade for Cuba, especially at a time of intense attention due to the historic diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, could undermine the integrity of the report.

Cuba had been on the “border line” for an upgrade in recent years, a former State Department official said. And although Cuba ended up with an upgrade, the final report remained highly critical, citing concerns about Cuba’s failure to deal with a degree of alleged forced labor in medical missions that Havana sends to developing countries.

After Strengthening Regimes in Burma, Iran and Cuba -- Obama Eyes Venezuela

The Bloomberg article below reports that Venezuela is the next "test of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural pledge to 'extend a hand' to repressive and corrupt regimes if they are 'willing to unclench' their fists."

Except in the case of Burma, Iran and Cuba -- Obama "extended his hand," while those regimes remain with clenched fists.

In each case, the regimes have been strengthened, repression has intensified and democracy activists have been relegated.

Maduro must be thrilled.

Correction: Maduro's patrons in Havana are thrilled -- it's a two-fer.

From Bloomberg:

Obama Charm Drive Targets Venezuela After Iran, Cuba

The Obama administration’s charm offensive with unfriendly states has rolled through Myanmar, Iran and Cuba. Next stop: Venezuela.

Just months after the administration declared Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, it’s working to improve relations, driven by concern that upheaval there could destabilize the region.

State Department officers have been meeting quietly with officials in the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro since April to develop what Secretary of State John Kerry has called “a normal relationship.”

The outreach is another test of President Barack Obama’s 2009 inaugural pledge to “extend a hand” to repressive and corrupt regimes if they are “willing to unclench” their fists.

Falling oil prices, plummeting foreign reserves, a 68.5 percent inflation rate and growing political tensions are battering Venezuela. There’s enough at stake that even a Justice Department probe into the alleged drug ties of the lead Venezuelan in the talks hasn’t derailed the diplomacy.

A Song for Cuba's Ladies in White

Please watch this video of the new song Cuban rocker Gorki Aguila wrote for the pro-democracy group, The Ladies in White.

It has great images of The Ladies in White and the courageous activists that accompany them in their weekly demonstrations, despite knowing they will face harassment, beatings and imprisonment.

Sadly, rather than standing in solidarity with these game-changers, the Obama Administration has chosen to embrace the dictatorship that represses them.

They are the ones paying the highest price of the new Cuba policy.

Click below (or here):

Cuba Concessions Slap U.S. Allies in the Face

By Peruvian activist Humberto Rotondo in PanAm Post:

Cuba Concessions Slap U.S. Allies in the Face

Obama Doesn't Know His Friends from His Enemies

On July 20, after decades of hostilities, Cuba and the United States officially renewed diplomatic relations by reopening embassies in each country’s capital.

The critiques of this rapprochement have been varied: while some doubt the Cuban government’s good will and believe they will continue aiding terrorists and violating human rights, others claim the shift led by President Barack Obama makes the United States look weak before an old enemy.

While these may all be valid points, there is another that has been woefully ignored.

As 21st-century socialism advanced throughout the continent in the early 2000s, and tensions between Cuba and the United States were at their peak, anti-US sentiment spread across Latin America like wildfire. The Cuban government fed fuel to the fire by pressuring countries that were unwilling to adopt the socialist model by means of espionage and financing terrorist organizations.

Many countries eventually succumbed to their influence, but a few resisted. Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, for example, refused to change their economic policies and defended their democracies and rule of law.

In fact, not only did these countries resist, they progressed. By steering clear of failed models, these nations were able to pursue promising projects, such as the Pacific Alliance trade bloc. It should have come as no surprise to US officials that their country was not invited to participate.

During the period of 21st-century socialism’s greatest expansion, these countries stood their ground, without much help from their supposed allies to the north. Preoccupied with escalations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the United States practically abandoned these Latin American countries to fend for themselves.

Nevertheless, these countries did not cave to the Chavista pressure backed by Havana. Following years of tremendous indifference, the expectation of support from the United States soon faded away.

However, it is one thing to be indifferent, and quite another to be insulting. For those countries that resisted 21st-century socialism, the shift in US diplomatic relations with Cuba is a slap in the face. The US government has chosen to disconnect from reality and even gone so far as to claim that Cuba does not support terrorist organizations.

For the Obama administration, renewing diplomatic relations with a bankrupt dictatorship is apparently more important than supporting its supposed allies, who are regularly harassed by the same regime it now embraces.

Over 60 Political Arrests Today, 630 in July

Monday, August 3, 2015
The Castro regime continues to make a mockery of Obama's deal.

Over 60 Cuban dissidents were arrested today. They include Lia Villares, the young blogger leading a campaign for the release of artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," who has been imprisoned since December 25th, 2015 -- just one week after the Obama-Castro deal.

Meanwhile, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights has documented 630 political arrests throughout the month of June 2015 -- the highest monthly tally this year. Of those, 340 were female democracy activists.

In other words, while the Obama Administration and the Castro dictatorship were celebrating renewed diplomatic ties, a record number of dissidents were being arrested.

But the mockery doesn't end there.

Also this week, Jorge Ramirez Calderon, one of the political prisoners released pursuant to Obama's deal, was notified that he is now facing a 4-year sentence for "public disorder."

His crime? Participating in a March 28th protest in the town of Manicaragua, for which he was severely beaten and arrested.

And independent journalist, Lazaro Yuri Valle, along with democracy activist, Yasser Rivero Boni, were beaten and arrested for filming an area of Old Havana where a building collapsed.

Here's what Yuri Valle reported about the spike in repression that's currently unfolding:

"The beatings are merciless, the repression has gotten completely out of hand.  An elderly man, who had open heart surgery, was thrown into a police truck like an animal. Things are out of control. Not only do they send the police to beat us, but also mobs are set loose on us. They hit us however and wherever, anyone can be hit or stabbed, or pricked with needles, as they have been doing."

Sadly, these are the extraordinarily courageous people being thrown by the wayside by Obama's new policy.

WSJ: Clinton Needs to Read Up on the Castros

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

Clinton Needs to Read Up on the Castros

The embargo does not block the sale of books to Cuba, or isolate its economy from the world.

Getting to the left of Vermont senator and avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is no easy feat. But Hillary Clinton’s speech in Miami Friday was an excellent effort. What could be more reassuring to the extreme fringe of the Democratic Party (i.e., primary voters) than a candidate who uses the talking points of Fidel and Raúl Castro to explain Cuban isolation and misery?

The problem for the rest of the electorate is what the speech says about Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy judgment. Her remarks do not inspire confidence that she has a strategy for dealing with the intransigent Castro dictatorship.

Things are not going well for Mrs. Clinton. Gallup reported on July 24 that Mr. Sanders’s favorability rating had doubled since March to 24% while Hillary Clinton’s had dropped five points to 43% since April. The loss of momentum calls for creativity. Playing the Cuba card is a way to win back the far left, as well as to bring in campaign donations from unprincipled corporatists eager to go into business with the regime.

Mrs. Clinton’s call for the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo “once and for all” is neither new nor unique; she advocated doing that a year ago at the Council on Foreign Relations. It’s a view shared by a variety of Americans across the political spectrum, including libertarians who believe the U.S. government shouldn’t have the power to dictate where they can travel any more than it should fund the Inter-American Development Bank, which undoubtedly wants to add the crooked Castros to its “client” list.

But when Mrs. Clinton said on Friday that “we must decide between engagement and embargo, between embracing fresh thinking and returning to Cold War deadlock,” she was applying the same reasoning the Obama administration uses to argue that the U.S. needs to either accept the nuclear deal with Iran or go to war. This is a false dichotomy that doesn’t hold for Cuba policy any more than it holds for dealing with Tehran.

Mrs. Clinton called on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “answer the pleas of the Cuban people.” Cubans “want a closer relationship with America,” she said. They “want to read our books, surf our Web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century.”

The Cuban regime couldn’t have crafted a better “blame America” narrative for the island’s isolation. If polls suggest Americans are buying it, it’s because the dictatorship has done such a good job of spreading propaganda in American universities and media. Mrs. Clinton, after serving as secretary of state for four years, should know better.

The embargo does not block the export of books to Cuba because informational material is exempt. Cubans cannot read “our” books because Cuba controls the reading material that enters the country and imprisons for “dangerousness” anyone caught with nonapproved texts.

There is no such thing as “our Web,” and the U.S. embargo does not restrict Cubans’ access to the Internet. Most Cubans cannot get computers. Most of those who do have them are denied access to the World Wide Web. It’s only the party faithful who get approval.

As to learning from “our people,” Cuba tightly controls interaction with foreigners, and those who step out of line can go to jail. Try getting a visa from Cuba if you have been labeled a “counterrevolutionary,” as I have. These policies are expressly designed to block Cubans from communicating with each other and with outsiders to keep them from organizing politically or socially.

The unconditional end of the embargo will do nothing to change this. On the contrary, it may strengthen the dictator’s hand if it results in fresh capital flowing to the island.

Click here to read the entire column.

Obama’s Mistaken Cuba Policy Could Carry a Heavy Price

By Frank Calzon in The Miami Herald:

Obama’s mistaken policies could carry a heavy price

President Barack Obama took office amid widespread hopes. Within a year the Nobel Peace Prize was his. Today, those hopes have dimmed and the prize is tarnished.

Even The New York Times that strongly urged an accommodation with Havana now concedes that “It would be naïve to expect that the Cuban government, a dynastic police state, will take big steps in the near future to liberalize its centrally planned economy, encourage private enterprise or embrace pluralistic political reforms.”

The president’s legacy on the Middle East is not better. Longtime American allies the Saudis and Israelis, Egypt, Jordan and the smaller Persian Gulf states are alarmed by the president’s nuclear-arms deal with Iran, an ally of Cuba and a rogue state abetting the region’s terrorists and holding four Americans hostages.

Cuba's democratic opposition on the island feels betrayed. Many see Iran and its nuclear ambitions as a threat to U.S. security, but they do not see Cuba the same the same way. Yet it was Havana that partnered with Moscow to install nuclear missiles on its soil and point them toward Florida and Washington. That was in 1962 under Fidel Castro. In his memoirs, Nikita Khrushchev said Fidel urged him to carry out a nuclear attack against the United States. These days, Fidel’s brother and successor Raúl Castro, welcomes Russian spy ships to berth in Cuban harbors.

Havana and Tehran are miles apart but share common interests: supporting terrorists, suppressing dissidents, seizing hostages. Both are ruled by “iron fists”; Iran by a Muslim theocracy and Cuba by a murderous dynasty. Each insists on holding onto their old ways.

President Obama extended a “hand of friendship” to Havana and has turned his back on Cuba’s courageous dissidents while Cuba provides weapons to North Korea, and Cuban agents help repress the Venezuelan opposition. What the leaders in Teheran and Havana want is American dollars to strengthen their totalitarian regimes. Cuba wants tourism; tourist dollars flow directly into the coffers of its military. And the President is ready to return billions of frozen Iranian assets to the ayatollahs.

What has the United States gained in the Iranian deal ? Perhaps ten years — after that, Iran builds the bomb it wants.

Hostage taking is a savage, aggressive act. Iran holds three Americans hostage in its prisons and cannot account for the disappearance of a fourth. Obama did not make their release a condition for ratification or implementation. President Obama mirrors the style of former President Jimmy Carter, pleading without convincing. It took the election of Ronald Reagan to win the release of 62 Americans seized when Iranian militants took control of the U.S. Embassy in 1979.

In dealing with Cuba, Obama has been strangely reluctant to insist on reciprocal measures. Raúl Castro and his henchmen got away with pulling American aid worker Alan Gross from the seat of an international airliner departing Havana and imprisoning him for five years for giving away a laptop computer and satellite telephone to Cuban Jews wanting access to the Internet. The administration ransomed Gross by releasing four convicted Cuban spies. One was serving a life sentence for plotting with Cuba’s military to shoot down a civilian rescue plane flying over the Florida Straits in international airspace. Three Americans and a Florida resident were murdered.

Lamentably, Obama has not sought the return of American fugitives, including one who escaped from prison where she was serving a life sentence for the killing in cold blood of a New Jersey state trooper; and Obama has yet to reclaim millions of dollars stolen in a Medicaid fraud and stashed in Cuba’s National Bank.

Is it possible that the ayatollahs still leading “Death to America” chants five times in Tehran’s mosques will release their American captives to President Obama?

His legacy could carry heavy costs. How many American lives and how many millions of dollars will be necessary to spend to reverse the damage done to U.S. citizens, interests and credibility around the world?

It’s Time for Kerry to Engage With Cuban Dissidents

Sunday, August 2, 2015
By Andres Oppenheimer in The Miami Herald:

It’s time for Kerry to engage with Cuban dissidents

If Secretary of State John Kerry is serious when he claims that the Obama Administration will keep pressing for democracy and human rights in Cuba, this is the least he should do: invite Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when he travels for the historic event there on Aug. 14.

It sounds like a trivial gesture, but it’s not. Cuba’s dictatorship — yes, even those of us who don’t oppose the reestablishment of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic ties must call it for what it is — refuses to have direct contact or even participate in events attended by peaceful oppositionists.

Anybody in Cuba who dares to organize with others to demand free elections or freedom of speech is considered a “U.S. mercenary,” and is officially treated as a non-person. When foreign embassies celebrate their national holidays and decide to invite dissidents, the Castro regime sends pro-government artists or state-salaried “intellectuals,” but no government officials.

For the Obama administration, inviting Cuban dissidents such as the Ladies in White or other well-known peaceful opponents to the Aug. 14 U.S. flag-raising at the embassy in Havana — scheduled to be attended by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez — would be proof that it’s not bluffing when it says that it will maintain its commitment to democracy and human rights in Cuba.

It would also be a way for Obama to correct the mistake he made in breaking a longstanding U.S. promise to peaceful opponents that Washington would not make a deal with the Cuban regime without consulting with them. Cuba’s opposition was caught by surprise by Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, and lost political clout internally by not being able to claim even a minor role in their outcome.

In a telephone interview from Cuba, well-known Cuban dissident Guillermo Fariñas told me that, so far, neither he nor any fellow peaceful opponent he knows has been invited to the Aug. 14 ceremony. If Kerry invites dissidents, it would be the first time in his memory that the Cuban government and opponents would mingle in a social event, he said.

“It would be a step forward,” Fariñas told me. “The U.S. government would send a signal that despite the fact that they didn’t take into account the opinion of most oppositionists when they negotiated this, they still support Cuban democrats and democracy.”

He added, “and if Cuban officials don’t attend, the whole world will know which side is the intolerant side.”

Some Cuban dissidents have a bad feeling about the timing of Kerry’s trip because it coincides with a long-scheduled Aug. 12-18 summit of Cuba’s internal opposition and Cuban exiles in Puerto Rico, which will be attended by most dissident leaders, including Fariñas. The U.S. State Department knew about the Puerto Rico meeting long ago because it helped the Cuban dissidents get U.S. visas to attend it, they say.

Could it be that Kerry timed his visit to Cuba so as not to coincide with Cuba’s internal opposition leaders, and avoid an early confrontation with the Cuban regime that could spoil his diplomatic fiesta, some dissidents ask. Others say Kerry has no excuse not to invite oppositionists, because there are 11 members of the peaceful opposition - including Oscar Elias Biscet and Marta Beatriz Roque - who are barred from traveling abroad, and will thus be on the island that day.

Asked whether Kerry will invite dissidents to the flag-raising ceremony in Havana, a State Department spokeswoman emailed me that “we are working on the itinerary for the Secretary’s trip... and we have not yet determined the lists of invitees for the different possible events.”

My opinion: Not inviting the dissidents to the main ceremony would be a major mistake, and it would make a travesty of Obama’s stated commitment to continue pressing for fundamental freedoms in Cuba.

Obama has often said — rightly — that after five decades of a U.S. policy of confrontation that hasn’t worked, it’s time to try something new, and engage with the Cuban regime. But he has always added that the new engagement with Cuba “will include continued strong support for improved human rights conditions and democratic reforms.”

Well, the first part of his plan has already been carried out, and he has already engaged with the Cuban dictatorship. Now, it’s time to engage — or re-engage — with Cuba’s peaceful opposition.

Tweet of the Week: Another Birthday Without Her Imprisoned Father

As background, Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto" was arrested on December 25th, 2014, for poking fun of dictators Fidel and Raul Castro.

That was just one week after the Obama-Castro deal was announced. He remains imprisoned at the infamous Valle Grande prison.

We have yet to hear the Obama Administration mention him once. Apparently, as to not "offend" their new partners in Havana.

Tweet by Cuba democracy activist, Ailer Maria Gonzalez:

Today is the 2nd birthday of Renata Maria, daughter of graffiti artist "El Sexto," who is imprisoned in Cuba. Renata we will get your daddy out!! 

Maduro Learns From Obama's Cuba Deal: No Consequences for Confiscations

Venezuela's Maduro government is clearly taking note from Obama's one-sided deal with Cuba's dictatorship, whereby the U.S. has established diplomatic relations, eased sanctions and is allowing companies to traffic in stolen American property.

All for nothing in return.

With no consequences to face -- as Maduro's advisers in Havana have now proven -- Venezuela is moving ahead with confiscations.

Ironically, some of the companies lobbying to do business with Cuba's regime are now suffering the consequences in Venezuela.

There's something karmic about that.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Venezuela Takeover Order Riles Companies

Maduro’s government wants industrial zone to build housing for poor

The government ordered major food companies, including units of PepsiCo and Nestlé Inc., to evacuate warehouses in an area where the state plans to expropriate land to build low-cost housing.

Thursday’s order, delivered by National Guard soldiers and housing officials, gives companies 60 days to clear out of the structures in an industrial zone, workers and company officials said.

These people condemned the move as the latest sign of increasingly hostile relations between the private sector and President Nicolás Maduro’s leftist administration.

Mr. Maduro in recent months has ramped up accusations against companies including the Pepsi bottler Empresas Polar SA, the country’s biggest food vendor, that he blames for Venezuela’s galloping inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods ranging from cooking oil to shampoo. Business leaders deny the allegations and say the economic woes stem from rigid state controls and the government’s mismanagement.

Major distributors, including U.S. agriculture giant Cargill Inc. and Mexico’s Coca-Cola Femsa SAB, also rent storage space in the industrial zone.

Video of Week: Cuban Police Attacks Skateboarder

Click below (or here) to watch Cuban police confiscate a skater's board and physically attack him.

Just imagine what happens to dissidents and political prisoners.

Cubanos de todo el mundo compartan este Video para que todo el mundo vea lo mal que la policia cubana trata a la juventud.
Posted by Cubanos Shoutout on Saturday, August 1, 2015