Young Cuban Dissidents: Obama's Policy Helps Castro Regime, Not the People

Friday, August 28, 2015
The following video captures the opinion of 20-something year old members of Cuba's Ladies in White, the renowned group composed of the wives and other relatives of political prisoners.

Their message is clear: Obama's policy helps the Castro regime, not the Cuban people.

Click video below (or here) by Tracey Eaton for The Pulitzer Center:

Freemuse: Release Imprisoned Cuban Artists

Cuba: Freemuse calls for the release of imprisoned artists

The Cuban graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, best known as El Sexto, who has been arbitrarily imprisoned for eight months in the Valle Grande prison, located west of Havana, has initiated a hunger strike, according to El Nuevo Herald and various other sources.

El Sexto was arrested on 25 December 2014 while he was on his way to put on a performance art piece called ‘Rebelión en la Granja’ – the title in Spanish of George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm – which included two pigs decorated with the names Fidel and Raúl.

El Sexto was charged with contempt, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. According to El Sexto’s mother, María Victoria Machado, he is going on a hunger strike to protest his continued detention without due process.

El Sexto is not the only young artist imprisoned in Cuba. On 28 January 2015, the rapper Maikel Oksobo ‘El Dkano’ (real name: Maikel Castillo Pérez) was sentenced to a year in prison in Havana. It is generally believed he was targeted for having used music to express his dissenting political opinions. El Dkano was sentenced under a charge known as ‘peligrosidad predelictiva’ (‘dangerousness that is likely leading to a crime’), which is used to imprison dissidents for long terms.

Freemuse calls for the release of the two artists. “Cuba over the years has produced and supported many great artists, but it is appalling that the Cuban authorities continue to repress artists, who are addressing serious problems,” said Ole Reitov, Freemuse Executive Director. “A solid state system should not fear but stimulate artistic freedom and live up to international conventions guaranteeing freedom of speech.”

Freemuse is an independent international organization advocating freedom of expression for musicians and composers.

Cuban Activists Fear Arrest Ahead of Pope's Visit

From The Catholic Herald:

Human rights activists fear arrest ahead of Pope’s visit to Cuba 

Pope Francis is due to visit Cuba in September - but group's opposing the government have concerns

The leader of a human rights group has raised concerns that the Cuban government will repeat its crackdown on activists when Pope Francis visits next month.

In 2012 Cuban officials made arrests during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, to keep dissidents from communicating with one another, according to the head of an opposition group.

Berta Soler is the leader of The Ladies in White, a group of wives and other relatives of jailed Cuban dissidents.

“We’re really worried,” Soler told CNA. “When Pope Benedict XVI came to Cuba they shut down telephone lines in an area of some 15 to 25 miles.

“They did the same to the cell phones of human rights activists and their close relatives.”

Soler claims the government put them under surveillance three days before the former pope’s arrival.

“Cuban officials began arresting all the human rights activists so we couldn’t participate in the Masses the Pope celebrated in Santiago de Cuba and Havana,” she said.

Pope Francis is due to visit Cuba next month, from September 19th to 22nd.

“We’re waiting [to see what will happen]” Soler said. “We’re thinking the same thing is going to happen when the Holy Father Pope Francis comes.”

Solder said The Ladies in White as well as other human rights activists will try to go to the Masses because “we want to be close to the Holy Father.”

They aim to go, despite feeling they are going to be arrested.

Soler met with Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square in May 2013 and sent a letter to the pontiff through the nunciature and through friends.

Soler said she asked the Pope: “When you come to Cuba could you listen to us even for a few minutes?”

The dissident leader said there had already been arrests of The Ladies in White and other opposition activists recently.

The group has been going on marches for the past 18 Sundays.

She said that the Castro government is assembling “paramilitary mobs organized and financed by (the regime) to physically and verbally attack us.”

She thinks national police and state security agents are also involved.

According to Soler, “there are about 80 political prisoners and 42 who are only technically released or on parole.”

The latter 42 could be arrested again and sent back to prison without trial at any moment.

On Sunday August 16th more than 60 human rights activists along with some Ladies in White were restrained and arrested as they were marching after Mass at Saint Rita’s Church in Havana.

Then another 50 human rights activists and members of the Ladies in White were arrested in Havana on Sunday August 23 at at the protest march.

Speaking to the newspaper Martí News, Solder said excessive force was used in some arrests.

Those detained were released five hours later, while others were released at nightfall in uninhabited areas where Soler said there was risk of violence or assault.

Soler was also charged.

Must-Watch: Video for the Freedom of Imprisoned Cuban Artist #ElSexto

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Cuban rockers, rappers and dissident leaders -- on the island -- gathered to film the following video for the freedom of imprisoned artist, Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto").

El Sexto was arrested on December 25th, 2014 -- just one week after the Obama-Castro deal.

His crime? Drawing the words "Fidel" and "Raul" on two pigs.

He is currently on a hunger strike protesting his unjust imprisonment.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Quote of the Day: The Intra-Castro Transition in Cuba

Most Americans don't spend a lot of time thinking about [Cuba]. And most of the public policy leaders in our country don't know a lot about the true nature of the Castro regime and what's happening there. And what's happening there is very simple: Raul Castro is transitioning that government eventually towards a succession that will involve his son as the leader of that country. What they're looking for is enough revenue to allow that system of government they have in place to sustain itself for the long term. And this opening, this one-sided opening will make it easier for him to achieve that goal. And that means the Cuban people will never have freedom.
-- U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), interview on CNBC, 8/26/15

When Was This Cuba Story Written?, Pt. 2

The following article could have been written this week -- and some variant of it probably was -- by a journalist speculating about the "unprecedented" opportunities Obama has created for telecom in Cuba; how it will "promote freedom" in Cuba; and the "impediment" of the embargo.

Yet, none of the above is true.

So when was this story actually written?

From The Orlando Sentinel:

Let Cuba Hear The Voice Of Freedom - Pick Up The Phone And Call

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies . . .

''Hola, this is from Norte America, George Washington country, land of the free.''

''Que?''

''We're having arroz con pollo today, fried plantains, salad with all the fixings and a beautiful flan eggcustard for dessert. You could have such a wonderful meal, too. But first, you must get rid of Fidel.''

Click.

* * *

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies . . .

''Hola, this is from Norte America, land of opportunity. Today we are honoring Cuban patriot Jose Marti by serving a roast pig, black beans and rice, and a special pineapple bread that's out of this world. Plus, a mango shake. You should try it. We would love to share. But first, you must get rid of Fidel.''

Click.

* * *

One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies . . .

''Viva Cuba Libre! This is los Estados Unidos. We are thinking of you as we sit down to a picadillo dinner. Nothing fancy - it's a weekday. We're using ground sirloin. It's only about $3 a pound. What does it cost in Cuba? We heard ground beef goes for $25 in the black market - if you can find it. You don't have to pay those prices, you know, chico. When are you going to get rid of Fidel?''

Click.

* * *

It has been three days since phone service between the United States and Cuba was made easier by direct-dialing capability offered by AT&T Corp. and rival MCI. Another four long-distance phone companies also have plans to make the direct-dial service available.

For 30 years, the U.S. embargo against Cuba had not allowed such service, but the Cuba Democracy Act of 1992, although tightening other aspects of the U.S. embargo, liberalized communications between the two countries. Then, in October, the federal government approved direct-dial service from the United States.

Many Cuban-Americans don't know what to make of the service. Many with close relatives in Cuba welcome it after years of having to wait for days for an operator to get a call put through Cuba's antiquated system. Many others fear that the United States will be aiding and abetting communist dictator Fidel Castro, allowing him to profit from the service.

Being in the communications business, I see the potential for a great public service in the making.

Americans interested in expanding democracy throughout the hemisphere will have the opportunity to tell Cubans about life in the States, and offer tips about how to make their lives better in Cuba.

But first, get rid of Fidel, we can advise those who have phones in Cuba, likely to be those who at one time supported Castro.

Certainly, food is not the only topic of importance, but it is the one topic that all people can understand. It is the one issue that meshes the political with the dire economic conditions in Cuba.

Notwithstanding the anti-Yankee propaganda spewed by Castro's revolutionary goon squads, most Cubans on the island understand that Castro's communist system is at fault for the crummy situation they've faced for almost 36 years now.

The Havana riots of August, which brought several thousand young people to the streets, protesting the totalitarian regime, was a strong signal that Castro's government is losing its iron grip.

So if you care about freedom, reach out and dial some Cubans. They desperately need the support of freedom-lovers everywhere.

Answer: December 5, 1994

Obama's Cuba Policy Seeks to Preserve Status Quo

By Cuban blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo in The PanAm Post:

The DC Ivory Tower That Threw Cuba Under the Bus

Cubanologist "Change" Is Unalterable Fraud

Everything had to be thought of for us poor, unfortunate, incompetent Cubans. US academia conceived our national destiny — up to the very last detail — beginning in the early 1990s, a quarter of a century ago. While this proposition should have been left in the past for archeologists to discover, it has now become a future fossil of our nation in disarray.

Indeed, “Cuba” as a topic is pondered upon with greater clarity from a distance, within Georgetown University, for example, rather than at the University of Havana. In 1993, a scholar from Georgetown, the intellectual heart of Washington, DC, drew the sketch of Cuba’s transition from Marxist totalitarianism to state capitalism. This was a direct flight from dictatorship to dictocracy, without a single layover in democracy. Poor unruly Cubans, we would not know what to do with freedom!

You can still see this for yourselves on Amazon; the title is Cuba in Transition, Options for U.S. Policy by Gillian Gunn, who was the director of the Caribbean Project at Georgetown University at the time. She was later accused by Chris Simmons of having been a spy for the Castro regime, which she denied, calling the idea “preposterous.”

In any case, Uncle Sam’s logic couldn’t be more discriminatory: why have yet another third-world subdemocracy in the US hyper-imperial democracy’s backyard? To find more corruption in Latin American administrations and even more violence among Continental Caribbeans? To add yet another failed constitutional state to the love-hate relationship? Weren’t Cubans already acquiescently accustomed to decades of tyrannical discipline?

Ever since the yankee military invasion in 1898, it is evident that we poor Cubans — with our pseudo-republics and local super-revolutions — don’t deserve much more from the United States. Yes, “todos somos Americanos” (we are all Americans), as Barack Obama stated in his elementary-level Spanish at the White House in December. However, “some of us are more American than others,” as George Orwell would have probably said if he had heard this statement himself.

The truth of the matter is that what would be found intolerable by any given US citizen all of a sudden should be tolerated by 12 million Cubans on the island and the other 3 million living in exile around the globe: Castroism must be the criterion for truth; the revolution is an infallible source of the right to perpetuity of power; our sovereignty does not depend on the participation by the people but rather the participation of a corporate-military elite.

And this is the extremely dangerous message being sent from Washington, DC, to the rest of the hemisphere: pecking order is pragmatically imposed above any historic injustice and immoral system. Rights are the private property of those who remain in power (this is why in the Cuban constitution the Communist Party’s monopoly in politics is still enshrined with impunity).

The migratory apartheid, imposed on one fourth of the Cuban people who cannot reside permanently in their own country, is a factor which ensures regional stability. And much worse: Cuban cadavers lack international prestige. Which is why the UN officials are unconcerned about the children assassinated in the Florida straits on order from Havana. It’s also why the mortal attempt on Oswaldo Payá‘s life in July of 2012 did not cause a break in the secret diplomatic pact among Cuba, the United States, and the European Union: because far beyond ideological labels, power always supports power.

And this is also an extremely dangerous message for Washington, DC, since it retains its antipodes as allies. The US democracy is guilt-ridden and cowers from promoting democratization. They are abandoning victims to fend for themselves, and instead hugging their aggressor.

Cuba shouldn’t be the exception to this unethical equation — especially when the destiny of the Cuban post-revolution was conceived ahead of time from within the academia of Washington, DC.

In a similar vein, Glenn Alexander Crowther published his monograph “Security Requirements for Post-Transition Cuba” in 2007; in this case he wrote about the US solution for the Castro clan’s militarism. And here too — as with many other model analyses focusing on “Made-in-the-USA Cubanology” — everything looks so crisp, so balanced, so rational, so politically flawless.… As if they were not dealing with a mafia in Cuba, who will resort to mass murder to perpetuate power: willing to sacrifice their own people, as became frighteningly clear during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

President Barack Obama’s final months in office may be more or less decisive for my country, Cuba. However, Cuban dictator Raúl Castro’s final months in office will paradoxically mean nothing. His deceitful promise to leave all posts in 2018 does not change the fundamentally offensive nature of Castroism at all.

We are no longer facing a “fraudulent change,” like the martyr Oswaldo Payá denounced during his life, but an “unalterable fraud.” And it doesn’t seem to bother the nations of the free world in the least bit, the United States included.

Therefore, it is up to us — the few Cubans who remain free — to ask ourselves if it might not be precisely the opposite: that what’s most important to the nations of the free world (the United States included) is to conserve Cuba’s status quo, in keeping with the shameless phrase “better the Castro you know, than other criminals you don’t.”

Translated by Rachel Rodriguez and Vanessa Arita.

Obama's Good Intentions and Bad Outcomes

By Frank Calzon in UPI:

President Obama's good intentions and bad outcomes

President Obama was not looking to start an arms race in the Middle East when he negotiated an accord with Iran. Obama said he wanted to stop Tehran's manufacturing of nuclear weapons. But in light of what they considered a bad agreement and afraid to rely on Washington's assurances, if Tehran were to threaten them, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates have begun looking for weapons to deter the Ayatollah's ambitions.

The accord negotiated by the U.S., Russia, France, and Tehran offers little but a hope that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon in 15 years. But here is what we do know: It provides Tehran trillions of dollars, that Iran, the most important financier of terrorist groups, will share with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Obama also says he had good intentions when he said that Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad had to go. When that didn't work, Obama made a threat on American television; if Assad would crossed a red line by using chemical weapons against his own people, the U.S. would act. When Damascus gassed, according to Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, "hundreds of children," the President failed to act, and the Syrian strongman was emboldened. The unintended consequence has been an estimate of 330,000 dead and 4,013,292 Syrian refugees.

The U.S. accord with Havana is not better. The President, in search of a personal legacy, wanted to normalize relations with Havana. He gave in to Havana's blackmail in order to free an American hostage by releasing four convicted Cuban spies from American prisons, one of whom played a part in the murder of three Americans and a U.S. resident in international airspace by Cuban warplanes under the command of Cuba's then-Minister of the Armed Forces, General Raul Castro. Obama received in exchange an American hostage languishing in a Cuban jail for the crime of distributing computers among Havana's Jewish community.

Mr. Obama ordered removing Havana from the list of countries supporters of terrorism while American terrorists continue to enjoy the regime's hospitality.

And because Cuba's tourist industry is controlled by the military, American tourists are now bringing to Cuba's security forces millions of dollars.

While the U.S.-Cuba talks were underway, the Da Dan Xia, a Chinese ship, was intercepted by Colombia with a large shipment of weapons hidden under tons of cereal. The ship was on its way to two Colombian ports and then to Havana. To maintain its deniability of Cuba's terrorist activities, the U.S. failed to ask Cuba if the weapons were intended for the FARC, the Colombian terrorists.

In 2013, again Havana was caught, this time by Panama, in the process of smuggling war planes and war materiel on a North Korean ship to North Korea in violation of UN sanctions and Washington looked the other way.

Another unintended consequence of the deal with Havana has been the discarding, for all intents and purposes, of the Democratic Charter that limited recognition in the Americas to democratic governments freely elected and under the rule of law.

Washington may claim that it did not intend to subsidize Iranian support for terrorism or an increase of repression, suffering and abuse in Cuba, but those consequences are real and Raul Castro in Havana and the Ayatollahs in Iran have been emboldened.

As they say, the road to somewhere is paved with good intentions.

Free Imprisoned Cuban Artist #ElSexto

Yesterday, on the eight month of his arbitrary arrest, El Sexto began a hunger strike to protest his unjust imprisonment.

From the New York-based, Human Rights Foundation:

Free El Sexto

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls for the release of Cuban graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, best known as El Sexto, who has been arbitrarily imprisoned for eight months in the Valle Grande prison, located west of Havana. El Sexto was arrested on December 25, 2014 while he was on his way to put on a performance art piece called “Rebelión en la Granja”—the title in Spanish of George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm—which included two pigs decorated with the names Fidel and Raúl. El Sexto was charged with contempt, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison. This past May, El Sexto was awarded the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent for his bravery and ingenuity in peacefully advocating for individual rights in Cuba.

“El Sexto is in prison for satirizing a family dynasty that for 57 years has ruled Cuba with absolute power. The Castro regime arrests and imprisons those who are critical of the government regardless of how harmless that expression may be. What is most ironic is that Fidel and Raúl Castro’s reaction to the Animal Farm skit confirmed El Sexto’s underlying point. The Castros reacted precisely how Napoleon, the porcine dictator depicted in George Orwell’s satire, would respond when met with criticism,” said HRF president, Thor Halvorssen. “Just like the barnyard dwellers in Orwell’s novel, Cuban artists like Danilo Maldonado, Tania Bruguera, or Gorki Águila are methodically punished for refusing to abide by the capricious rules of a totalitarian regime that lacks a sense of humor and represses even the slightest expression of freedom,” Halvorssen added.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.

Is This How Trade Will Foster Freedom?

Is this how trade will foster freedom and democracy?

Note how Iranian dissidents sound just like Cuban dissidents.

By Benjamin Weinthal in Fox News:

After nuke deal, European companies rush into Iran to sell tools of oppression

The lifting of international sanctions on Iran has triggered a stampede of European companies beating a path to Tehran to secure contracts, but some of the equipment being offered has dark, dual purposes in the hands of the Islamic Republic’s oppressive government.

The cranes made by Austrian manufacturer Palfinger could be used to transform Tehran’s skyline, but also have played a starring role in Iran’s infamous public executions, where convicted criminals are often hanged from the giant booms high above public squares. German company Herrenknecht, whose senior officials visited the Iranian capital last month, makes industrial drilling rigs critics say could be used to nestle nuclear facilities deep inside mountains. Other companies lining up to do business with the mullahs make equipment that also could be used against Iran’s enemies – or its populace.

“It reminds me of the economy and the industry of the Third Reich,” said Ariel Muzicant, vice president of Europe’s Jewish Congress.

Palfinger gained widespread notoriety after one of its cranes, identifiable by the company name and logo, was shown in a widely-distributed photo by award-winning photographer Ebrahim Noroozi hoisting the lifeless body of a condemned man. The graphic picture, coupled with company CEO Herbert Ortner’s remark to the Austria Press Agency that Iran is a “promising market,” with strong demand for cranes and no domestic competition, generated debate in Europe.

Martin Herrenknecht, founder of the German firm which boasts its “state of-the-art deep drilling rigs drill down to a depth of 6,000 meters,” was in Iran last month to generate business.

“I am glad to help you with my tunnel boring machines,” Herrenknecht told the mayor of Isfahan, according to a German news report.

Heavy-earth moving equipment could be used by Iran for nefarious purposes, such as Iran’s infamously hidden illegal nuclear site Fordow, buried deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

But Iran’s misuse of European technology is not limited to heavy construction machines. In 2008, the then-joint Finnish-Germany venture Nokia-Siemens sold Iran’s regime sophisticated surveillance equipment. After Iranian protesters flooded the streets in the 2009 “Green Revolution” to denounce the country’s fraudulent presidential election, Iran’s regime used the monitoring technology to disrupt Internet, Twitter and mobile communications among demonstrators.

In response to the Nokia-Siemens deal with Iran, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced in 2009 legislation to punish foreign companies that sell high-tech goods to Iran by shutting them out of U.S government contracts. Both senators oppose President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

Siemens was represented last month during a business delegation trip with Germany’s economic minister and vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in Tehran. According to a Tuesday Persian-language report in Iran’s state-controlled Mehr news, an Iranian information technology official announced a joint-project with an unnamed “foreign company” to start phase two of a “targeted filtering” program that is designed “towards [censoring] websites and networks that have social harm.”

Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, told FoxNews.com he welcomed the “implications posed by sanctions relief and Iran’s economic reintegration into the global financial system.”

However, he also warned that “the human rights situation in Iran is deeply concerning and it is integral that all stakeholders, including investors and businesses, work to avoid contributing to human rights harm in this difficult context.”

Some European leaders and activists believe companies should self-impose a boycott of deals with the hard line Tehran government.

“Germany should not sell security technology to dictatorships like Iran, Saudi Arabia or Russia,” said Volker Beck, a Green Party leader from Germany. “And goods should not be exported which can be used there for torture or the implementation of the death penalty.”

From the view of Iranian dissidents, the revival of commercial deals with Iran’s regime is a setback for democracy.

"Conducting business with the Iranian regime is a stab in the back of the Iranian opposition,” said Hiwa Bahrami, who represents the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) in Austria and Germany. “The terror against the Iranian population will not decrease, but increase.”

He noted that hopes the 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would usher in a more moderate era than that of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have gone unrealized, as executions have soared in the last two years.

Still, European business and political delegations continue to flock to Iran. Last week, Italy’s foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni was in Tehran on Wednesday.

“In addition to political co-operation, our two countries can work together in the fields of trade, commerce and economy," Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said last week while in Tehran, where he announced that Italy provided Iran a $3 billion line of credit.

An Iranian regime spokesman, Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht, said a result of French foreign minister Laurent Fabius’ recent visit could lead to France selling French-made Mirage warplanes to Iran. A French business delegation of nearly 100 French company executives will visit Tehran next month.

After robust sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2011-2012, trade plummeted to under $10 billion. Given the European gold rush into Iran, bi-lateral trade between Europe and Iran could rapidly reach levels approaching $30 billion, according to analysts.

Duke Student: Obama's Cuba Deal is as Bad as it Sounds

By Barak Biblin in The Duke Chronicle:

Another failure is no surprise

Earlier this month, a column arguing for the merits of the Iran deal was published in The Chronicle, titled “If it sounds too bad to be true, it probably isn’t.” Although I believe that this administration’s deal with Iran will go down in history as one of the most detrimental foreign policy failures, I think that it is a topic that has already been well covered here on The Chronicle by both sides. Instead, I will address the skepticism and hesitancy from supporters of the deal to believe that the President of the United States could be so naïve. Could the Obama administration truly have failed as miserably as critics claim?

Fortunately for those still skeptical, the president has provided us with plenty of proof that he is truly capable of a failure of this magnitude. Under this administration, if it sounds too bad to be true, then we have made another deal with a tyrant, terrorist or oppressor. As we enter the final years of this weak presidency, the enemies of the free world – from Putin to Assad to even ISIS and the Taliban – jump on the opportunity to take advantage.

If you’re baffled by the situation with Iran, just take a look at Cuba. Thanks to President Obama, Raul Castro scored the biggest victory of his career, securing everything from much needed finances to unprecedented global legitimacy. What did we receive in return? Not a single one of our goals have been met. As the US embassy in Cuba opened this month for the first time in 54 years, Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed this a victory, saying, “having normal relations makes it easier for us to talk – and talk can deepen understanding.” While the president and his administration continue to live in their fantasy of a worldview, the Castro regime laughs at the notion of any talks or change in their own oppressive policies.

Within just the first 48 hours of the opening of the US embassy in Cuba, over 200 political dissidents were arrested. Just in Havana, 60 members of a pro-democracy group composed of wives, mothers and daughters of Cuban political prisoners were arrested. Some were brutally beaten.

And if you are still as optimistic as the president is that more “talk” is the solution to tyranny, here is what Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s lead negotiator and director of US affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, tells Reuters: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda in conversations with the United States… Cuba will never do absolutely anything, not move one millimeter, to try to respond.” Although Secretary Kerry may convince himself that “Cuba’s future is for Cuban’s to shape” following these new relations, a very different reality persists. The future of Cuba is shaped completely and will remain to be shaped by the Castros and their military dictatorship. Even though they have pocketed all of our concessions, they have made it clear to the Cuban people and the entire world that they will not change their ways.

Additionally, the notion that more trade or tourism will liberate the Cuban people is yet another fantasy. As long as 90 percent of the Cuban economy continues to be state owned, almost every dollar flowing into Cuba will continue to go towards fueling one of the most repressive and militaristic regimes in the world. Today, every single other market economy and 99 percent of the world allows trade and travel with Cuba. When every Canadian dollar, euro, peso, ruble or franc flowing into Cuba goes to the government, it is no surprise that the very trade and travel President Obama advocates for has proven to be useless. The Cuban economy is not one of the poorest in the world because they cannot have an Apple store in Havana; it is because every foreign business in Cuba has to turn over their employee’s wages to the regime. The Cuban people do not live in poverty because of our policies; they do so because of Castro’s repressive economic policies, ideologies and corruption – all of which President Obama is clearly willing to further fund with American dollars.

Even as the oppression of the Cuban people continues to grow, the administration seems fully content with lining the pockets of the oppressors themselves. Although Cuba released 53 political prisoners as part of the deal, this is less than a drop in the bucket. In 2014, Human Rights Watch reports that even as Cuba was negotiating with the administration, the regime more than doubled its number of “short-term arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders, independent journalists, and other critics." Furthermore, as USAtoday writes, “according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, the number of political prisoners detained in Cuba has risen from 2,074 in 2010 to 6,424 in 2013. Through the first 11 months of 2014, that number is at 8,410.” Granted not all political dissenters are detained; "other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

Despite his tyranny, Raul Castro secured concessions he could have only dreamed of – the release of the remaining Cuban spies, an increase in remittances and investments, a flow of American tourists and their dollars – all of this as we mistakenly remove his regime from the state-sponsored terrorist list.

As the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama truly holds the best cards at any negotiation table. As the leader of the free world with the greatest economy and military behind him, he is the only person who could have stood up to the most evil regimes in our world. Instead, he folded.

While our hope in Cuba should be democracy and the end of oppression, no part of this deal moves that aspiration forward; it does the opposite. As in both Cuba and Iran, while we lose our best leverages, military dictatorships stand to gain in every way.

For 19th Sunday in a Row, Over 60 Cuban Dissidents Arrested

Monday, August 24, 2015
Over 60 Cuban democracy activists were arrested in Havana on Sunday, as they sought to peacefully demonstrate after Mass.

Among those arrested were more than 40 members of The Ladies in White, the renowned group composed of the wives, mothers, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Also arrested yesterday, in the city of Trinidad, were two independent labor leaders -- Adonay Rizo and Osvaldo Arces.

And this morning, former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, was arrested as he headed to the Havana headquarters of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, silence from foreign news bureaus and no consequences from the Obama Administration.

This is "what change looks like" -- more repression, silence and no consequences.

Give Castro's Washington Embassy the Address it Deserves

By Marion Smith in The Washington Post:

Give Castro’s embassy in Washington the address it deserves

Rename 16th Street for a dissident who died under mysterious circumstances.

Raising the flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14 was a historically symbolic act, but equally symbolic were the absence of dissidents and the failure to talk about Cuba’s repressive regime at this public moment. The 45-minute ceremony illustrated everything that is wrong with Washington’s Cuba policy.

Americans and Cubans who have wanted for decades to hold the island’s dictatorship accountable for its human rights crimes absorbed a tough blow. But if the Obama administration won’t give them the right Cuba policy, Congress can award them an important and symbolic concession: Rub a reminder of the regime’s brutality in its face, every day, by renaming the street where its embassy stands in D.C. after one of its victims, the slain opposition leader Oswaldo Payá.

We all want a free, democratic and prosperous Cuba at peace with the United States. But this is not what Fidel and Raúl Castro want. Raul has made it clear that Cuba will remain under the control of the Communist Party and will not change the nature of the regime. As Josefina Vidal, director of U.S. affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry, put it: “Decisions on internal matters are not negotiable and will never be put on the negotiating agenda.” This is why the Cuban government refused to offer any meaningful political or economic reforms that might loosen its stranglehold on power, such as democratic elections or the release of all prisoners of conscience.

Despite good intentions, the U.S. policy shift morally and financially bolsters the Communist Party and disheartens people — both here and in Cuba — who have fought for freedom and prosperity. America’s recognition of the Castro regime legitimizes the party’s rule and makes continuity of party control more, not less, likely after Raul’s retirement or death. Victims of the Castro regime feel they have lost their staunchest ally, the United States. During an audience with Congress, dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Pérez — commonly known as Antúnez — said the majority of Cuba’s dissidents consider the negotiations between Washington and Havana a betrayal that threatens Cuban people’s aspirations for freedom.

People who oppose the rapprochement appear powerless. Easing the embargo bails out the party by letting it broker deals with U.S. corporate investors while choosing which Cubans get to do business with Americans. Tourism dollars coming from the United States will open a new revenue stream for the Cuban military, which owns the largest hotel conglomerate in Latin America and the Caribbean and most of the hotels on the island. Its parent company is run by Castro’s son-in-law, Luis Alberto Rodriguez López-Callejas.

The monopoly of power and money that senior Communist Party members enjoy is maintained by repressive measures against ordinary Cubans who dare challenge the ongoing tyranny. According to Amnesty International, Cuba still stifles “freedoms of expression, association and assembly.” The rights group’s investigations reveal that, in the past year, “the number of short-term arrests increased sharply and politically motivated criminal prosecutions continued.” According to a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch, Cuba still condones beatings and arbitrary arrests of its political opponents.

Although U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry noted last week in Havana that rapprochement “doesn’t mean that we should or will forget the past,” he failed to mention the injustices and the victims of Cuba’s Communist Party. The Castro regime is responsible for the deaths of about 10,000 Cubans. He ignored the dozens of political prisoners still held captive today. These artists, journalists, scholars, religious leaders and dissidents are in prison because their creativity, cause or conscience is deemed a threat by the Castro regime — the longest-running military dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere.

To keep the memory of the regime’s victims alive, Congress can rename Washington’s 16th Street Northwest, where the newly reopened embassy sits. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced a bipartisan bill to rename it for Payá, an activist who was expelled from the state-run university in 1972 for practicing Christianity. (Cuba does not condone the free expression of religion.) Payá went on to become one of the most prominent activists for democratization in Cuba and one of the biggest irritants to the Castro regime. You could consider him the Václav Havel of Cuba.

On July 22, 2012, Payá was killed in a car accident in the island’s Granma province under mysterious circumstances. The Human Rights Foundation, which conducted an examination of the case, concluded this year that “evidence, which was deliberately ignored, strongly suggests that the events of July 22, 2012, were not an accident, but instead the result of a car crash directly caused by agents of the state.”

Renaming the Cuban Embassy’s D.C. address as No. 1 Oswaldo Payá Way would not reverse President Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, but it would be a visible reminder that the United States supports the hopes and aspirations of Cuba’s dissidents, too.

There is precedent for such a move. In 1984, the U.S. government renamed the street in front of the Russian Embassy for the famed Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. The message that the U.S. government intended to send was that we remember those still struggling against oppression and despair in an imprisoned nation, even if we engage in open diplomacy with its government.

Cuba could retaliate, of course, by naming the street in front of the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana for the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez or whistleblower Edward Snowden or revolutionary Che Guevara or one of the 70 fugitives from U.S. law still harbored by the regime. But that decision would cast into even sharper relief our governments’ differing values.

Neither peaceful relations with Cuba nor a brighter future for the Cuban people will be achieved by ignoring the bloody and ongoing abuses of the Castro regime. This is how to remember them.

Quote of the Day: Chasing Dreams, Not Reality in Cuba

What we have now are companies chasing dreams as opposed to chasing reality.
-- John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on the hype of business opportunities in Cuba, USA Today, 8/23/15

Cuba's Few (Controlled) Hotspots Are Hardly an "Opening"

Excerpt from "The Internet Dealers of Cuba" in Motherboard:

It’s true the hotspots are better than nothing, but, in many ways, they shouldn’t even be looked at as a symbolic opening of Cuba’s notoriously closed government.

“35 wireless hotspots. That’s nothing in a country of 11 million people. Could you imagine if in Manhattan you could only access the internet at 35 hotspots? That’s insane,” Jose Luis Martinez, communications director at the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, told me. “They’re all censored and monitored and controlled by the government, so it’s not that significant of an opening at all.”

Like nearly everything else in Cuba, all internet access on the island is wholly controlled by the communist government. Whether you are accessing the “public” wifi through a hotspot, connecting in a hotel, or using one of the handful of government-owned computer labs, you must use a scratch card issued by the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), which is also the only cell phone and telephone company on the island.

ETECSA was formerly a collaboration between the Cuban government and Telecom Italia, but became wholly owned by the Cuban government in 2011, when Telecom Italia sold its stake back to Cuba. ETECSA is now tasked with installing and operating the wifi hotspots, selling cell phone and landline plans (there is no mobile internet in Cuba), selling internet scratch cards directly to users, operating a small number of computer labs (some of which have internet access), and managing a Cuba-only set of email addresses.

Because ETECSA offers so many important services, lines at ETECSA stores are unruly, disorganized, long, and slow moving. Like nearly every other logistical task in the country, using a hotspot is a huge pain in the ass.

Want to get on the internet? Get in line at one of the giant blue ETECSA stores and be prepared to spend 10 percent of your monthly salary on a $2, one-hour scratch card. And be prepared to wait. That is, of course, if ETECSA actually has any of the cards in stock, or has the means to activate them, neither of which is a given. In the very touristy beach town of Varadero, I was unable to buy a card for two days—cards couldn’t be activated at the ETECSA and every hotel I checked had sold out of their supplies.

ETECSA stores, for the record, are rarely located close to the wifi hotspots. There are ETECSA kiosks located throughout the country, including some next to public wifi areas. I did not, however, see a single kiosk that was actually open. It is also possible to buy the cards in certain hotels at a markup, though supplies were limited in most hotels I went to, also.

The inconvenience is “another way of limiting the amount of time people spend on the internet,” Martinez said.

“Finding these cards is hard and expensive and it’s why the Cuban black market gets ahold of these things. It puts Cubans in a constant day-to-day survival mode,” he said. “If you’re heading halfway across town to get access, you’ve got less time to read outside news and perspective. It’s very intentional and gives Cubans very little time to think about and formulate what they’re going to do when they actually do connect.”

Cuba: Two Young Dissidents Handed Long Prison Sentences

Sunday, August 23, 2015
Last week, the Castro regime handed two young democracy activists, Jordys Manuel Dosil Fong and Reinier Rodriguez Mendoza, long prison terms for the "crime" of "social dangerousness" (also known as "pre-criminal danger").

This draconian edict means the Castro regime believes Dosil and Rodriguez are "likely" to commit "crimes" in the future -- due to their dissident activities.

Dosil, 30, will serve a 3-year sentence, while Rodriguez, 37, a 2-year sentence.

They were both arrested pursuant to peaceful protests in Havana's Central Park.

Both are members of the Cuban Patriotic Union's (UNPACU) Havana delegation. Four other UNPACU activists remain imprisoned in Havana, without trial or charges.

The Castro regime continues to mock its deal with Obama by arresting thousands of dissidents for short-periods of time, while selectively keeping some for longer terms.

Just days after the deal, the Castro regime imprisoned renowned artist Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto") and rapper Maikel Oksobo ("El Dkano").

Both remain imprisoned since December 25th, 2014, and January 28th, 2015, respectively.

Mum's the word from the Obama Administration or its talking heads.

This is "what change looks like" in Cuba.

Images below: Reinier Rodriguez Mendoza doing the "L" sign ("Libertad") after being detained. Also, Rodriguez's wife and young child, whom he will be separated from for the next two years.


The Price of American Diplomacy in Cuba

By Michael J. Totten in The World Affairs Journal:

The Price of American Diplomacy in Cuba

If you watched the American Embassy’s reopening ceremony in Cuba on television, or saw some of the photographs, you may have noticed dozens of bare flagpoles in the background.

After the US and Cuba dissolved relations during the Cold War, the former American Embassy building became the US Interests Section.

Not a lot went on in that building since our two nations didn’t have normal relations, but even mutually hostile governments have to talk to each other once in a while, especially if they’re neighbors, so the US posted diplomatic staff there.

And in 2006, they created a gigantic electronic billboard in the windows of the building to broadcast messages to the Cuban population outside. They quoted some terrific people.

 “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent” – Abraham Lincoln

Communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff.” – Frank Zappa

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”—Universal Declaration on Human Rights

According to The Wall Street Journal, the billboard even pointed out that Forbes listed Fidel Castro as the seventh-richest head of state in the world. The guy is worth 900 million dollars while the wages of his miserable subjects are capped at twenty dollars a month.

You can imagine how well that went over down there. The whole thing enraged Castro. Remember, he and his brother Raul own all the newspapers in Cuba. You can’t buy the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, or The Economist down there. Google News doesn’t exist either because private Internet access is outlawed.

If you want to read something, you’re stuck with the Granma, the Communist Party daily, or Rebel Youth, the magazine written by the elderly walking dead for the island’s young people who’ll go to prison if they rebel or even complain.

So yeah, Castro hated that billboard at what’s now the American Embassy. How dare the United States quote Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. So he erected 138 black flags in front of the building so the people of Cuba couldn’t see it.

In 2009, Barack Obama pulled the plug on it.

Let’s get one thing out of the way here. Barack Obama is not best friends forever with Fidel Castro. He does not prefer a tyrannical regime to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln. He pulled the plug because he wanted to improve relations with Cuba, and that billboard got in the way.

Fine. But it creates a bit of a quandary, doesn’t it? How does it look from the Cuban street if the United States government is all chummy with the government that kicks them in the ass every day?

Maybe it’s fine. Honestly, I don’t know. You won’t encounter much if any hostility from Cubans toward Americans if you go down there like I did. The same was true of the communist bloc in Europe during the Cold War.

Remember the 1979 revolution in Iran? Anti-Americanism was rampant there then. Why? Because the United States was all chummy with the tyrannical regime of the Shah Reza Pahlavi. Iran is still hostile more than a third of a century later.

And let’s not forget that Cuban anti-Americanism of yesteryear was the result of the United States government being all chummy with the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Sometimes you have to choose between having good relations with a nation’s government or good relations with a nation’s people. When dealing with awful regimes, you generally have to pick one or another.

There are exceptions. The US gets along just fine with both the government and the people of Vietnam right now despite the fact that Vietnam is still ruled by a one-party state that calls itself communist. Perhaps the same can happen in Cuba after a while. I have no idea, really.

Either way, I rather doubt the people of Cuba enjoyed having their access to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln denied. Because they certainly aren’t getting inspiring messages from Fidel or Raul Castro.

Radio Interview: On Obama's Cuba Policy

CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone discusses Obama's Cuba policy with Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy's Secure Freedom Radio.

Click here (or here) to listen.

Victim of Cuban Spy Sues U.S. Bank for $57 Million

The article fails to highlight that the Cuban spy, Juan Pablo Roque, provided the Castro regime intel that led to the murder of three Americans and a permanent resident.

From The New York Daily News:

Woman who married Cuban spy suing JPMorgan for $57M for hiding country's cash

Ana Margarita Martinez won a $7.1 million judgment against the Cuban government for 'emotional distress' in 2001, after she found out her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, wasn't the man she thought he was.

A Miami woman who was married to a Cuban double agent wants JPMorgan Chase to pay through the nose for allegedly hiding Cuban cash.

Ana Margarita Martinez won a $7.1 million judgment against the Cuban government for "emotional distress" in 2001, after she found out her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, wasn't the man she thought he was.

She'd met Roque in 1992, after the former Cuban Air Force major made headlines for allegedly braving shark infested waters to swim to Gitmo seeking political asylum in the U.S.

They dated for three years before getting hitched.

Unbeknownst to Martinez, Roque was an FBI snitch – and an undercover Cuban agent who'd been sent to gather intel on the Cuban exile community in Miami. She found out both after he snuck out of their home one night in 1996, and then appeared on CNN in Cuba a few days later crowing about his accomplishments.

Adding insult to injury, when asked what he missed about Miami, he said just one thing: "My Jeep."

Martinez, who'd been born in Cuba, said she'd been completely duped. "She believed that Roque shared her anti-communist ideals," court papers say.

A federal judge in Florida found Cuba liable for Roque's actions, saying he was "especially offended that Cuba – a country that disregards human rights – has callously trampled the rights of one of our own citizens on our own soil in furtherance of a vile criminal conspiracy."

Martinez, 55, tried to collect on her judgment by getting orders against banks that might have been holding some of the country's assets when the country was designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the US.

JP Morgan Chase told her in 2007 it didn't have many Cuban assets - but the suit notes that in 2011, the bank struck a deal with feds agreeing to pay $88 million in fines for having handled $178 million in wire transfers involving Cuba and Cuban nationals between 2005 and 2006.

The suit seeks a total of $57 million in damages from the banking big.

A rep for JP Morgan Chase declined comment.