SOS: Three Innocent Lives at Risk in Cuba

Saturday, October 3, 2015
SOS: Three innocent lives at risk in Cuba

This call for help for the lives of three humble and peaceful Cubans is addressed to Pope Francis, to the governments of the free world, to organizations defending human rights and all people of good will.

On the morning of Sunday September 20th, within minutes from the start of the first Mass by Pope Francis in Cuba, three residents of Calabazar village in the Cuban capital, with Biblical names and members of a cell of the pro-democracy organization Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, named “Felix Varela” passed through Security rings without hurting anyone and approached the Bishop of Rome with the intention of calling attention to the things that make our country an inferno for the lives of most Cubans.

Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and the outstanding Lady in White Maria Josefa Acón Sardinas, wanted the Supreme Pontiff, the foreign press, and through this, the World, to know that in Cuba there are political prisoners who survive in subhuman conditions, that we live under a harsh dictatorship that tramples the rights and fundamental freedoms of human beings, and that the repressive forces beat Peaceful Women and men who just dream about a fraternal, fair, democratic and prosperous Cuba.

These three good Cubans, Zaqueo, Ismael and Maria, are on hunger strike as of Sunday September 20, and later also of thirst, in the infamous center for “investigations” at Aldabó and 100th Street in Havana. They are accused of assault, disrespect, public disorder and resistance. Their lives are in grave danger. With their strike they are sending a clear Message: they are not willing to serve prison time for an action to which they were compelled by the criminal methods of the Castro regime and the indifferent attitude towards the suffering of the victims of repression displayed by institutions and personalities that have a sacred duty to condemn abuses, all affront to human dignity, and always be “good Samaritans”.

In an open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, dated September 3, we had already warned: “Many members of our organization and other groups of independent civil society wish to attend, with discipline and respect, to your masses, but the secret political police will prevent them as happened during the visit of your predecessor Benedict XVI. On behalf of those who could spend the days of your historic visit in dark dungeons, we also, since now, give you our warmest welcome.”

We had also written to the Cuban Bishops in order to inform them on the brutal beatings and even torture against peaceful human rights defenders. The same day of the arrival of the Successor of Peter to Havana, many dissidents were surrounded, and that same evening Berta Soler, Martha Beatriz Roque and Miriam Leyva were arrested. The three had been invited by the Church to be among those who would welcome the Argentinian Pope on his arrival in the Nunciature. All this was convincing Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael that there was no choice: They had to raise the cry of an enslaved people in that square.

Zacchaeus and his wife Mary received permanent surveillance since the day before, only the correctness of their intention, and perhaps their biblical names and that of the UNPACU cell they belong to (Felix Varela), could make it possible for them to avoid so many agents of the secret political police and get to Francis on that Sunday morning. Gallant Zaqueo rose to reach the representative of Christ, of whom he had heard was a fair man, concerned about the persecuted and oppressed of the earth.

Mary, like the mother of Jesus, suffered long ago the Stations of the Cross of her people, her sisters the Ladies in White and her own. Countless are the arbitrary arrests, beatings and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment. Ishmael, like Abraham’s son, knows what it means to wander in the wilderness, be expelled, to live without rights, so he thought he should overcome the fear that paralyzes, (John Paul II told us: Do not be afraid), and that Sunday to do for his country what he had never done and we all should do. Ismael thought, God will hear me.

The preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Whereas it is essential that human rights should be protected by the rule of law, so that man is not compelled to have recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression.” In Cuba we have a regime that blatantly and cynically violates the civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights. The Castro regime’s abuses committed against the people are more than enough for Cubans to rebel against injustice. Cuban democrats are people of peace convinced that violence is never the best solution, so we persevere in our peaceful struggle in the midst of hatred and brutal repression.

Zaqueo, Maria e Ismael wanted (and succeeded in doing so, and all Cubans are indebted to them), to draw attention to our difficult reality. Complex reality that when healthy solution is not sought in time, ends fatally producing extreme situations like the one we see today in Syria. Situations that the Pope, and all people of good will, rightly condemn. Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael gave a prophetic cry, alerted everyone and told us with their action: It’s okay to rejoice with the process of normalization of relations between the US government and the Cuban regime, but do not forget the victims of violations of human rights, nor harbor any illusion that only that process will end the suffering of an oppressed people.

Zaqueo, Maria and Ismael were arrested before the Pope Francis and before several television cameras. The images were seen around the world. Now they have undergone 11 days on hunger strike and 6 without consuming water. Dozens of peaceful activists are now victims of repressive actions for claiming for their release. We fear for their lives. Therefore this SOS, is aimed at every person of good will.

Thank you so much.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia,
General Coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU)


Quote of the Week: Legitimizing the Regime is Contrary to a Transition

Legitimizing the [Castro] regime is the path contrary to a transition.
-- Antonio Rodiles, Cuban democracy leader, on Obama's new policy, Diario de Cuba, 9/30/15

Cuban Dissident's Daughter Arrested, Sexually Abused

Last Sunday, the daughter of Daisy Cuello Basulto, a member of The Ladies in White, was arrested, violently stripped down and forced to urinate in front of police officials at the station located in the Cotorro neighborhood.

The Ladies in White are a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, daughters, sisters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners.

Cuello's daughter, who is 21-years old, was arrested along with her mother as they peacefully demonstrated with The Ladies in White.

Click here to listen to Cuello's testimony (in Spanish).

It's what "change looks like" in Cuba.

Congress to Castro: Sorry Raul, No Guantanamo For You

Thursday, October 1, 2015
Earlier this week, at the United Nations, Cuban dictator Raul Castro demanded the return of Guantanamo as a condition for the "normalization" of relations with the United States.

Today, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to support -- by a 270-156 margin -- the House-Senate Conference Report to H.R. 1735 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016.

Among the provisions in the Conference Report is Section 1036, which states:

"No amounts authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available for the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2016 may be used— (1) to close or abandon United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; (2) to relinquish control of Guantanamo Bay to the Republic of Cuba; or (3) to implement a material modification to the Treaty Between the United States of America and Cuba signed at Washington, D.C. on May 29, 1934 that constructively closes United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay."

The Senate will consider the Conference Report next week.

WaPo Editorial: The One-Sided Relationship With Cuba

From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

The one-sided relationship with Cuba

SINCE DEC. 17, President Obama has been engaged in a sweeping overhaul of U.S.-Cuba relations at the heart of which are conciliatory gestures by Washington; more travel by dollar-spending Americans to the impoverished island; a pledge to deal with differences, including on human rights, through diplomatic channels rather than confrontation; and a presidential call for the end of the U.S. trade embargo. In calling for “reform” in Cuba this week at the United Nations, Mr. Obama made no use of such provocative terms as “liberty” or “democracy.”

President Raúl Castro’s regime, by contrast, “seems to have done little beyond reopening its Washington embassy,” as The Post’s Karen De­Young reported Wednesday. Mr. Castro’s son-in-law, an army general, still controls the dollar-earning tourist industry, the Internet largely remains unavailable to ordinary Cubans, and, most important, dissidents remain subject to arbitrary arrest and detention — including several snatched off the streets for daring to approach Pope Francis during his recent visit.

Mr. Castro has in fact appeared to pocket Mr. Obama’s concessions — and raise his demands. His speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Monday read like one of his brother Fidel’s old jeremiads from the 1960s, complete with a call for Puerto Rican independence and condemnation of alleged NATO encroachment on Russia. More pertinent for Mr. Obama’s normalization project, Mr. Castro cast bilateral reconciliation as a long, complex, process which can only reach fruition once the United States ends the “economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba,” and the “return” of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. These conditions, as Mr. Castro knows, range from politically difficult (lifting the embargo) to impossible (Guantanamo). The true practical relevance of lifting the embargo, at a time when it already exempts food and medicine, and travelers from the United States brought $3.5 billion worth of goods to Cuba in their luggage during 2013, while Cuban Americans sent $3.1 billion cash in remittances, was not seriously discussed.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama staged yet another photo opportunity and private meeting with Mr. Castro at the U.N., after which Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, was pleased to chide the U.S. president for failing to use his executive powers even more aggressively to circumvent the embargo law. Mr. Rodríguez said: “He has not done so. I expect him to do so.”

When it began, Mr. Obama billed his opening to the Castro regime as a more effective means of bettering the lot of the island’s impoverished and repressed 11 million people. So far, it’s raised their hopes, but not their prospects. Perhaps it’s time Mr. Obama started reciprocating the Cubans’ offer of advice and tell Mr. Castro more plainly what he expects Havana to do, starting with allowing the Cuban people freedom of speech, press and assembly. After all, Mr. Castro’s executive powers, accumulated over more than half a century, are much, much more extensive than Mr. Obama’s.

Sun-Sentinel Investigation: U.S. Welfare Funds Flow to Cuba

Click here to read the entire investigative report.

Also, note in the graphs how the numbers have dramatically risen since Obama's new policy was announced on December 17th, 2014.

From The Sun-Sentinel:

U.S. welfare flows to Cuba

They’re taking benefits from the American taxpayer to subsidize their life in another country.”

Cuban immigrants are cashing in on U.S. welfare and returning to the island, making a mockery of the decades-old premise that they are refugees fleeing persecution at home.

Some stay for months at a time — and the U.S. government keeps paying.

Cubans’ unique access to food stamps, disability money and other welfare is meant to help them build new lives in America. Yet these days, it’s helping some finance their lives on the communist island.

America’s open-ended generosity has grown into an entitlement that exceeds $680 million a year and is exploited with ease. No agency tracks the scope of the abuse, but a Sun Sentinel investigation found evidence suggesting it is widespread.

Fed-up Floridians are reporting their neighbors and relatives for accepting government aid while shuttling back and forth to the island, selling goods in Cuba, and leaving their benefit cards in the U.S. for others to use while they are away.

Some don’t come back at all. The U.S. has continued to deposit welfare checks for as long as two years after the recipients moved back to Cuba for good, federal officials confirmed.

Obama Mocks Cuba's Victims

During Cuban dictator Raul Castro's visit to New York City this week, he received the red-carpet treatment from the Obama Administration, some Members of the U.S. Congress, corporate CEOs and the United Nations.

The Members of Congress that visited Castro were the usual suspects from the "Castro Caucus" with the new addition of U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota; the corporate CEOs are looking for a profit no matter how unpalatable their business partner; and the United Nations loves anti-American dictators, even giving them slots in their Human Rights Council.

But even in the best case scenario -- despite (or due to) the flurry of unilateral concessions the Obama Administration has already given the Castro regime -- the President should have been more stern with Raul Castro.

Instead, President Obama and the First Lady couldn't seem happier to welcome the Cuban dictator (see image below).

This takes place as Amnesty International names a new Cuban prisoner of conscience, artist Danilo Maldonado "El Sexto," who is in critical condition on the 24th day of a hunger strike; as the three dissidents who personally pleaded for Pope Francis' help remain imprisoned at the infamous torture facility of "Aldabo y 100" and face charges of "contempt"; and as the tally of political arrests since the December 17th deal approaches 4,000, with increased force and violence.

It also comes as senior Obama Administration officials are themselves admitting that they are frustrated by Castro's unwillingness to reciprocate U.S. concessions.

"There’s been no real give at all from Havana," a senior Obama official told The Washington Post .

Moreover, that the Castro caucus in Congress “are desperate for gestures” from Cuba, “and they aren’t getting those gestures,” added the official.

So why the broad smiles and banter with Raul Castro?

Is the Obama Administration unaware of how that picture will be used to demoralize Cuba's courageous democracy activists?

President Obama must have gotten dozens of requests from foreign leaders for bilateral meetings during the U.N. General Assembly meeting. Yet, only a handful were granted.

Did Raul Castro deserve one of those few meetings?

Since the beginning of the Castro family's totalitarian dictatorship, Raul has served as the regime's chief executioner -- responsible for thousands of deaths (including those of Americans).

Raul was nearly indicted in U.S. federal courts (politically scrapped at the last minute by President Clinton) for trafficking seven and a half tons of cocaine into Florida.

Raul has stolen and hoarded nearly all of the island's wealth under the control of his military cronies and phantom corporations.

And since Raul's "promotion" to dictator-in-chief, Cuban pro-democracy activists are suffering the highest number of political arrests in 30 years.

Is this how Obama wants to "win-over" the Cuban people -- by embracing their oppressor?

It's a mockery.

Man Jumps Fence at U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Handed Over to Regime

Cuban democracy activists report that a man jumped the fence at the U.S. Embassy in Havana yesterday, while yelling "Down With Raul!"

His name is Carlos Manuel Figueroa.

Upon entering the Embassy compound, Figueroa was handed over to Castro regime security officials, who proceeded to beat and arrest him.

He remains imprisoned at the police headquarters at Zapata and C Streets.

Cuban Artist "El Sexto" Played by Rules of Engagement — and Got Burned

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

Cuban artist El Sexto played by the rules of engagement — and got burned

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, aka “El Sexto,” played by the rules of the people-to-people policy so highly regarded in these days of rapprochement.

Early last year, the young artist participated in a ground-breaking educational scholarship program at Miami Dade College, traveling from Havana to study English, computing, business and social studies.

No surprise to anyone, about half of the class of 17 young Cubans stayed in the United States, taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act to remain and become a resident.

But not Maldonado. He returned to his homeland, his soul recharged with ideas about artistic expression and pushing the limits of censorship. His experiences made him want all the more to be a part of the brave, bold generation challenging the status quo in a Cuba stuck in the dark ages of totalitarianism.

Isn’t that the point of cultural exchange programs and the “people-to-people contact” lauded in speech after speech? Americans travel to Cuba and share values — an army of peacemakers breaking through barriers. Cubans travel to the United States, experience democracy and take back what they’ve learned, contributing to change.

Only in theory, it seems.

Not long after his return, El Sexto was arrested in December for attempting a performance featuring two pigs named Fidel and Raúl. He planned to let them roam around Havana’s Central Park, but was detained before he could get there. The reason: disrespect of national figures. Yet Maldonado hasn’t been formally charged in the ensuing nine months of imprisonment.

Typical Castro style: Throw away the key, ask questions later. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, says his jailers only give her the run-around and set dates for a release that never comes. “He committed no crime,” she says in a video.

To protest, Maldonado, the father of a toddler, has been on a water-only hunger strike since Sept. 8.

At the United Nations on Monday, President Barack Obama once again publicly extolled the virtues of the people-to-people policy he has taken to a whole new level, lifting every restriction on travel and trade with Cuba he can possibly remove without congressional approval.

But in the afterglow of the American olive branch, Cuba has continued to operate with the same repressive stance of the last 56 years.

“I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear,” Obama told the U.N.

I couldn’t agree more. But at some point the Castro regime has to be held accountable for the flagrant abuses of international human-rights principles it hypocritically claims to embrace in the presence of world leaders. So far, the only thing Castro has brought to the diplomatic table is a laundry list of demands and power grabs.

As for Raúl Castro, he has only himself to blame for the satirical depiction by the artist.

He demands respect and gives none, certainly not to “the people of Cuba,” in whose name all the political theater is being staged.

Freedom-loving people should demand that El Sexto, a brave artist who tasted freedom all too briefly, be released before it’s too late.

Obama Flunks His Cuba Exam

By Jaime Suchlicki in The PanAm Post:

Obama Flunks His Cuba Exam

The Results Are in, All in the Wrong Direction

Now that the dust has settled somewhat from the storm produced by the Barack Obama administration’s new policy toward Cuba, it is possible to analyze some of its consequences.

The most obvious ones are permitting more US tourists to visit Cuba; allowing Cuban-Americans to increase remittances; increasing the revenue of the Cuban government; and removing Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism. Expectations in the island have grown that these policies will bring more changes and increase prosperity.

Yet, there are other more significant, long-term consequences. First, concerned about the possibility of unrest and US subversion in the island, General Raúl Castro’s administration has increased substantially repression against dissidents and the population in general. The aim is to maintain complete control and to prevent civil disobedience. Repression is likely to intensify and to continue.

Second, there is a growing fear in Cuba that the new US policy will lead to the end, or at least the modification, of the Cuban Adjustment Act. This is producing an urgency to leave the island. Outmigration by sea and through third countries is increasing, and this is likely to accelerate.

Third, the divide between Cuban whites and blacks in the island is increasing. Remittances from Cuban-Americans, mostly white, go to their friends and relatives in Cuba. Cuban blacks receive little from abroad. Tourism has little impact on predominantly black areas in eastern Cuba.

The perception among blacks that the Castro government cares little about them, and the reality that the government hierarchy, both military and Communist Party, is primarily white, is increasing a sense of alienation and frustration. This unintended consequence of US policy does not bode well for Cuba’s future.

Finally, the Castro regime is reasserting its close relationship and allegiance to Cuba’s old allies, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. Agreements between Castro and Vladimir Putin call for more visits by Russian navy and air force to Cuba. Raúl Castro continues to support Iran’s nuclear ambitions, as well as to maintain his commitment to the survival of the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Obviously, US policies are not moving the Castro regime in a desirable direction. As a matter of fact, the regime is becoming more entrenched and inflexible in the face of US overtures and policies. This is likely to continue as the regime prepares for succession to a new, younger military cadre led by close members of the Castro clan.

Raul Castro has been promoting his son, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, and his son in law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López Callejas, as key players in his succession plans. What are clearly not in his plans are closer relations with the United States, a political transition, or respect for human rights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the entire story here.

Below are some important excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amnesty International: Cuba Must Release Imprisoned Artist #ElSexto

From Amnesty International:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since Obama Renewed Relations, Cuba Has "Increased Repression"

From Breitbart:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama is partly right.

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

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

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

Thus, the questions should be --

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

Does Obama not agree with these conditions?

Which one of these conditions does Obama oppose?

Is it, for example --

The condition that Cuba "legalizes all political activity"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is the full text of the letter:

September 29, 2015

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

Dear Mr. President,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

Marco Rubio

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

From CSN News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This wasn't the only indictment Raul Castro escaped.

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

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

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

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

This is not diplomacy. It's disgraceful.

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

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

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

Castro Woefully Fails Governor Hutchinson's Litmus

Nobody should fool themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier this week, Governor Hutchinson stated:

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

Fair enough.

Here are the facts:

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

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

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

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

Distribute and Help Save the Life of El Sexto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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