Images: Cuban Dissidents Launch Protest at Castro's Justice Ministry

Saturday, October 10, 2015
On Thursday, a group of courageous Cuban dissidents launched a protest at the Castro regime's Ministry of Justice in Havana.

They threw hundreds of small flyers throughout the premises reading "Long Live Human Rights" and "Down with the Dictatorship."

The dissidents were quickly arrested. Their identities and whereabouts remain unknown.

Government agents then meticulously picked up the "threatening" flyers one-by-one.

See images below:

U.S.-Cuba Relations: Obama Gives, Castro Takes

By Guillermo I. Martinez in Sun-Sentinel:

How U.S.-Cuba relations work: Obama gives, Castro takes

Raul just says what he wants, and Obama gives

Negotiations between two nations are not an easy proposition, even under the best of circumstances.

Usually it entails a difficult give and take by each country, a lot of posturing until an agreement is reached.

That has not been the case in the negotiations between the United States and Cuba in the efforts to normalize relations. So far things have been moving quite smoothly with Cuba making demands and President Barack Obama acquiescing to most of what Cuban President Raul Castro seeks.

The process started Dec. 17, when Obama and Castro announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries after more than half a century.

That was the start of one of the most bizarre negotiations in recent history. In addition to the usual political requests, Cuba asked and the American government acquiesced to having a Cuban spy jailed in the United States artificially inseminate his wife in Cuba.

Since then, the United States has been doing most of the giving, and Cuba demanding more and more each time.

In July, the United States unilaterally declared Cuba was no longer among the worst international offenders when it comes to human trafficking. What did the United States get in return? Nada! Zip! Nothing!

But the United States and Obama were not through giving Cuba things it wanted.

In September, the Obama administration announced still another batch of regulatory changes that would make it easier for Americans to travel, do business in Cuba and even invest in the island.

It makes no difference if any and all business with Cuba has to be made with the son-in-law of Raul Castro. Obama was in a giving mood, and Castro was gladly willing to take.

According to reports, the rules announced in September would allow American companies to open branches on the island, and conduct transactions and finance operations there.

Then came the second meeting between Obama and Castro, at the United Nations. Again the two men, now at least on pleasant terms, shook hands.

One would have expected Castro would at least be thankful for Obama's giving mood. An indication the two countries were on much better terms would have been most welcomed.

Despite repeated complaints by the United States that Cuba was violating the human rights of the dissidents on the island, thugs working for the government and police harassed, beat up and jailed dissidents in Cuba.

In fact, since the United States and Cuba first announced they were re-establishing diplomatic relations, the Cuban government had increased its repression on dissidents. The number beaten, jailed or intimidated has doubled.

During Pope Francis' visit to Cuba, the dissidents were kept away. When one came close to the Pope with a communique in hand, secret police whisked him away violently. Neither the pope nor the American government said anything about the incidents.

At the United Nations, Castro delivered his usual anti-American speech, full of demands. Cuba wants the United States to return Guantanamo Naval Base, reparations for the Cuban economic blockade (Cuba's term for the embargo) imposed by the United States, and the end of U.S.-sponsored Radio and TV Martí broadcasts.

Not a word about human rights, or allowing greater freedom to the Cuban people. Not a word about allowing more foreign business enterprises in the island. As far as Castro is concerned, he has given all he needs to give.

And he is right. Why give anything at all when Obama is in such a generous mood?. Who knows how much more Obama is willing to give.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said there was much more that Obama could do by executive order. He does not need Congress to lift the embargo in order to still grant more concessions to Cuba.

All this because a weak American president — the weakest in more than 35 years — believes that increased contact between Americans and ever day Cubans on the island will bring about changes that the Cuban government will not be able to stop.

Despite my skepticism, one must hope Obama is right and that the everyday Cuban — the one making $20 a month — benefits from this attempt at bringing the two nations closer.

However, I will not be holding my breath waiting for more concessions from Cuba.

Obama Policy Leads to Escalation in Repression of Cuban Dissidents

By Nat Hentoff of The Cato Institute:

Normalizing U.S. Relations with Cuba Leads to Escalation in Repression of Cuban Dissidents

On Dec. 10, 2014, the Cuban government marked the 64th anniversary of international Human Rights Day with sweeping nationwide arrests of pro-democracy dissidents. One week later, on Dec. 17, President Obama announced that the United States and Cuba had agreed to begin the process of normalizing relations.

The agreement, reached after 18 months of negotiations, included plans to reopen the U.S. and Cuban embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C., and a promise by President Obama to advocate for an end to the economic embargo of Cuba. In exchange, Cuba released 53 political prisoners on a list presented by the U.S. negotiators.

The Cuban government’s response at each stage in the process of reconciliation has been a steady escalation in the arbitrary harassment, abuse, arrest and detention of Cuba’s pro-democracy dissidents.

Human Rights Watch reports that “the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) — an independent group the (Cuban) government views as illegal — received over 7,188 reports of arbitrary detentions from January through August 2014, a sharp increase from approximately 2,900 in 2013 and 1,100 in 2010 during the same time period.”

Before CCDHRN’s blog stopped being updated in June, its monthly arrest reports reflected that Cuban security police had made over 2,000 detentions for peaceful political activity since President Obama announced the normalization of relations in December 2014.

“Detention is often used pre-emptively to prevent individuals from participating in peaceful marches or meetings to discuss politics,” Human Rights Watch noted in its 2015 report on Cuba. “Other repressive tactics employed by the government include beatings, public acts of shaming, and the termination of employment.”

Yilenni Aguilera Santos is a member of the Damas de Blanco (“Ladies in White”) protest movement, a group of wives and family members of former and current political prisoners. On June 22, 2014, she reported suffering a miscarriage following a severe beating by Cuban security police during her detention in Holguin.

On Sept. 27, 2015, the website Diario de Cuba reported that the 21-year-old daughter of Damas de Blanco member Daisy Basulto was arrested, violently stripped, forced to urinate in front of police officers and then held in a cell at a police station in Cotorro, where she was exposed to a toxic chemical that made her ill.

The Cuban government prides itself on the excellence of its free nationwide healthcare system. But it maintains an “overcrowded,” “unhygienic” prison system, where “unhealthy conditions lead to extensive malnutrition and illness,” according to Human Rights Watch. Inmates “who criticize the government, or engage in hunger strikes and other forms of protest, are subjected to extended solitary confinement, beatings, restrictions on family visits, and denial of medical care.”

During the Castros’ 2003 crackdown on pro-democracy dissidents, 10 independent librarians were among the 75 dissidents sentenced to 20 years or more in prison and forced to serve their terms in isolation cells 3 feet wide by 6 feet long.

Kevin Sullivan, writing in 2004 for The Washington Post, reported that at least 20 of the 75 dissidents “are seriously ill in Cuban prison cells.” According to Sullivan, “a picture emerged of inhumane prison conditions and continued harassment of the dissidents’ families by Cuban security agents.”

The conditions of confinement for political prisoners in Cuba have changed little since 2004. Alexander Roberto Fernandez Rico, one of the 53 prisoners released by Cuba in December, was arrested in April 2012 for shouting anti-Castro slogans while witnessing the police beating of a bus passenger. By the time he was released from prison, following a lengthy hunger strike, he was blind.

The Guardian newspaper reported that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while attending the official flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Aug. 14, “insisted that Cubans should be reassured that a return to diplomatic relations with Washington would result in the country’s leaders being held to account over their human rights record.”

Meanwhile, Cuban dissidents were barred from attending the public ceremony at the insistence of Cuban authorities.

On Sept. 30, Carlos Manuel Figueroa Alvarez — who was arrested at a Human Rights Day protest in 2013 and was one of the 53 prisoners released — shouted, “Down with Raul!” as he climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. His efforts to seek the protection of U.S. authorities were rebuffed as he was forced off the embassy grounds by U.S. security personnel and turned over to Cuba’s security police.

His current whereabouts are unknown.

Cuban Independent Journalist Arrested, Faces Sham Prosecution

Update: The Cuban authorities intend to prosecute Roberto de Jesus Quiñones for a "crime" called "spreading false news about international peace."

From 14yMedio:

Independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones Arrested in Guantanamo

At six in the morning on Monday, a group of 15 Interior Ministry troops stormed the house of lawyer and an independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Quiñones, in the city of Guantanamo. The troops conducted a thorough search and took the reporter, without specifying the reasons for his arrest or his final whereabouts.

According to his mother, Maria Haces, 77, among those who participated in the operation were men in olive-green uniforms and others in blue and black, plus individuals in plainclothes. The entire search process was filmed with a small camera and they ultimately seized a computer, several disks and documents. The arrest occurred in the absence of the Quiñones’s wife, who is traveling in the United States.

The reporter is also a member of the Corriente Agramontista association of independent lawyers. His reports on events in his province are published by the agency CubaNet and one of his last works denounced the poor state of the road known as La Farola, in the Nipe-Sagua mountain range of Tánamo-Baracoa.

Before turning to independent journalism, he was a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and collaborated with the official press on reviews of the cultural life of his city.

No references of any facts that led to the police action, as it is not the exercise of their professional activities.

The arrest occurred within hours of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). during its meeting in Charleston (South Carolina, USA), expressing its concern about the situation of the press in Cuba and repression against independent reporters.

Video: Menendez Floor Speech on Trajectory of Obama's Cuba Policy

Thursday, October 8, 2015
Click below (or here) to watch yesterday's floor speech by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on the trajectory of Obama's Cuba policy.

It contains powerful images that add context.

A transcript of the remarks can be read in the post below (or here).

Must-Read: Menendez Floor Speech on Trajectory of Obama's Cuba Policy

Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Menendez on Trajectory of Cuba Engagement Policy

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor on the recent flawed policy changes with Cuba and provided a progress report on democracy and human rights on the island.

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

I rise today – as I always have – in defense of the Cuban people who long for the day when they are free of the iron fist of the Castro regime.  A day when we can honestly say:  ‘Cuba es libre’ -- and mean it.  I rise with great concern over the trajectory of the policy towards Cuba that President Obama announced on December 17th, 2014.

In executing this new policy, the Obama Administration has spared no generosity towards the dictatorship in Cuba.  It commuted the sentences of three Cuban spies, including one serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy against Americans who died while flying civilian aircraft in international airspace that was struck down by Cuban MIGs.  It eased a host of travel and trade sanctions in spite of the purpose and intent of U.S. law.  It removed Cuba from the state-sponsors of terrorism list while it continues harboring fugitives from U.S. justice and members of foreign terrorist organizations.  It negotiated an agreement to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba that falls short of international legal norms.  It upgraded Cuba in the trafficking-in-persons report despite its continued slave labor and human trafficking practices.  And it even acquiesced to shunning dissidents from attending the U.S. Embassy's flag-raising ceremony in Havana.

Yet, Cuban dictator Raul Castro refuses to reciprocate any of these concessions.  To the contrary, Castro has emphasized that he  ‘will not cede one millimeter’ -- and in his speech at last month's United Nations General Assembly gathering demanded even more, namely for President Obama to evade U.S. law as regards sanctions, to shutdown Radio and TV Marti, to end democracy programs, to return Guantanamo and to pay a trillion dollars in damages to his regime.

Today, ten months later, the metrics of this new policy show it's clearly headed in the wrong direction.  The Castro family is poised for a generational transition in power.  The Cuban regime's monopolies are being strengthened.  Courageous democracy leaders are being relegated to obscurity – their voices muffled -- by the actions of the United States and foreign nations alike.  Political repression has exponentially increased.  The number of Cubans desperately fleeing the island is rising.  And the purpose and intent of U.S. law is being circumvented.  The trajectory of our policy is unacceptable and I urge President Obama to correct its course.

While speaking recently to a business gathering in Washington, D.C., President Obama argued how he believes this new policy is ‘creating the environment in which a generational change and transition will take place in that country.’  But the key questions is – ‘a generational change and transition’ towards what and by whom? Cuban democracy leader, Antonio Rodiles, has concisely expressed this concern --  ‘legitimizing the [Castro] regime is the path contrary to a transition.’

CNN has revealed that the Cuban delegation in the secret talks that began in mid-2013 with U.S. officials in Ottawa, Toronto and Rome, and which led to the December 17th policy announcement, was headed by Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin.  Colonel Castro Espin is the 49-year old son of Cuban dictator Raul Castro.  In both face-to-face meetings between President Obama and Raul Castro this year -- first at April's Summit of the Americas in Panama City and just last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York -- Alejandro was seated – with a wide grin -- next to his father.

Alejandro holds the rank of Colonel in Cuba's Ministry of the Interior, with his hand on the pulse and trigger of the island's intelligence services and repressive organs.  It's no secret that Raul Castro is grooming Alejandro for a position of power.  Sadly, his role as interlocutor with the Obama Administration seeks to further their goal of an intra-family generational transition within the Castro clan -- similar to the Assad’s in Syria and the Kim’s in North Korea. And we know how well those have worked out.  To give you an idea of how Colonel Alejandro Castro views the United States, he describes its leaders as ‘those who seek to subjugate humanity to satisfy their interests and hegemonic goals.

But, of course, it also takes money to run a totalitarian dictatorship -- which is why Raul Castro named his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez Callejas, as head of GAESA, which stands for Grupo de Administracion Empresarial, S.A or translated Business Administrative Group.  GAESA is the holding company of Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Cuba’s military.  It is the dominant driving force of the island’s economy.  Established in the 1990s by Raul Castro, it controls tourism companies, ranging from the very profitable Gaviota S.A., which runs Cuba’s hotels, restaurants, car rentals and nightclubs, to TRD Caribe S.A., which runs the island’s retail stores.  GAESA controls virtually all economic transactions in Cuba.

According to Hotels Magazine, a leading industry publication, GAESA, through its subsidiaries, is by far the largest regional hotel conglomerate in Latin America.  It controls more hotel rooms than The Walt Disney Company.  As McLatchy News explained a few years back, ‘Tourists who sleep in some of Cuba's hotels, drive rental cars, fill up their gas tanks, and even those riding in taxis have something in common: They are contributing to the [Cuban] Revolutionary Armed Forces' bottom line.’

GAESA became this business powerhouse thanks to the millions of Canadian and European tourists that have and continue to visit Cuba each year.  These tourists have done absolutely nothing to promote freedom and democracy in Cuba.  To the contrary, they have directly financed a system of control and repression over the Cuban people -- all while enjoying cigars made by Cuban workers paid in worthless pesos, and having a Cuba Libre – which is an oxymoron, on the beaches of Varadero.  Yet, despite the clear evidence, some want American tourists to now double GAESA's bonanza – and, through GAESA, strengthen the regime.

An insightful report this week by Bloomberg Business also explained how, ‘[Raul's son-in-law, General Rodriguez] is 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.’  In other words, all of the talking points about how lifting the embargo and tourism restrictions would somehow benefit the Cuban people are empty and misleading rhetoric.  It would only serve as a funnel for Castro, Inc.

Here's what over a dozen of Cuba's most renowned pro-democracy leaders, including the head of The Ladies in White -- a pro-democracy group composed of the mothers, wives, daughters and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners -- Berta Soler, former prisoner of conscience Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez’ and Sakaharov prize recipient Guillermo Farinas, warned in an open letter to the U.S. Congress dated September 25th, 2015: ‘The lifting of the embargo, as proposed by the [Obama] Administration, will permit the old ruling elite to transfer their power to their political heirs and families, giving little recourse to the Cuban people in confronting this despotic power.  Totalitarian communism will mutate into a totalitarian state adopting minimal market reforms that will serve only to accentuate the existing social inequality in the midst of an increasingly uncertain future.

From an economic perspective, the very concept of trade and investment in Cuba is grounded in a misconception about how ‘business’ takes place on the island.  In most of the world, trade and investment means dealing with privately-owned or operated corporations.  That's not the case in Cuba.  In Cuba, foreign trade and investment is the exclusive domain of the state, i.e. the Castro family. There are no ‘exceptions.’  In the last five decades, every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has been with the Castro regime, or an individual acting on behalf of the regime.  The regime's exclusivity regarding trade and investment was enshrined in Article 18 of Castro's 1976 Constitution. That has not changed.

Moreover, M. President, there is no private sector in Cuba. We often hear the Obama Administration and the media refer to Cuba's small ‘self-employment’ licensees as ‘private enterprise,’ which implies ‘private ownership.’  Yet Cuba's ‘self-employed’ licensees have no ownership rights whatsoever - be it to their artistic or ‘intellectual’ outputs, commodity they produce, or personal service they offer.  Licensees have no legal entity – hence business—to transfer, sell or leverage. They don't even own the equipment essential to their self-employment. More to the point, licensees have no right to engage in foreign trade, seek or receive foreign investments. Effectually, licensees continue to work for the state -- and when the state decides such jobs are no longer needed, licensees are shut down without recourse, which has happened several times in the past.

The fact is, we already know what expanded U.S. trade with Cuba would look like.  Since the passage of the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act  (TSREEA), over $5 billion in U.S. agricultural and medical products have been sold to Cuba.  It is an unpleasant fact, however, that all those sales by more than 250 privately-owned U.S. companies were made to only one Cuban buyer: the Castro regime.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself, ‘The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT.’

Exporting to Cuba is not about trading with small or mid-size farmers, private businesses and manufacturers around the island, as some of my colleagues would like Americans to believe.  So, it should be no surprise that U.S. products end up on the shelves of regime-owned stores that accept only ‘hard currencies,’ such as the U.S. dollar or Euro, with huge price mark-ups.  Shoppers at these ‘dollar stores’ are mainly tourists.  Little imported food or medicine ever makes it into stores where Cubans shop; neither is it available on ration cards.

It requires a tremendous leap of faith or belief in some extreme and unprecedented economic model -- call it ‘dictator-down economics’ -- to argue or theorize that current or more U.S. sales to Castro's monopolies have or can ever benefit the Cuban ‘people.’  The facts prove otherwise, as has been the case with sales of U.S. food and medicine. So what makes us believe expanded trade with the U.S. would be any different?

As a matter of fact, since December 17th, despite the Obama Administration's efforts to improve relations with the Castro regime, which have included an increase in travel and eased payment terms for agricultural sales, U.S. sales to ALIMPORT during the same period have plummeted by over 50 percent.  The question is:  Why would even more concessions make this manipulation by the Castro regime's monopolies any different?

Let's stop talking about the embargo in vague terms. The embargo, as codified by the U.S. Congress, simply requires the fulfillment of some very basic conditions, which are consistent with the democratic and human rights standards of 34 out of 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere.  Cuba remains the exception.  Though, ironically, Venezuela continues on a downwards spiral away from these standards -- thanks in no small part to Cuba's control over the Chavez/Maduro governments.

When President Obama or some of my colleagues call for the lifting of the embargo, they are asking Congress to unilaterally discard these conditions.  So, I ask them, which of these conditions -- codified in U.S. law -- do they disagree with or oppose that they are willing to unilaterally discard them?  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 commitment 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?’ Which is it? Which conditions do they disagree with?

If President Obama, as media reports indicate, takes the unprecedented step of abstaining from voting against a Cuban resolution in the United Nations General Assembly criticizing his own nation's law -- which is what the Cuban embargo is -- he would be disavowing these basic conditions.  Think of the horrible message that turning a blind-eye to these basic conditions in U.S. law would send to the Cuban people about the United States' priorities. Think of the horrible message it would send to Cuba's courageous democracy leaders.

Since December 17th, scores of foreign dignitaries, businessmen, and Members of the U.S. Congress have descended upon Havana to meet with Raul Castro and his cronies, while sidelining Cuba's courageous dissidents.  As Cuban independent journalist and blogger, Yoani Sanchez, lamented – ‘a true shower of presidents, foreign ministers and deputies has intensified over Cuba without daily life feeling any kind of relief from such illustrious presences.’

Sadly, as the AP reported, ‘more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have come to Cuba since February without meeting with opposition groups that once were an obligatory stop for congressional delegations.’  The reason U.S. lawmakers don’t meet with human rights activists and political dissidents is because – if they do so – they don’t get a meeting with Raul Castro. I guess to many of my colleagues a photo op is more important.

Perhaps the biggest affront was during the flag-raising ceremony for the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana -- to which no Cuban dissidents were invited. The Secretary of State said publicly this was due to ‘a lack of space’ and this it was a ‘government-to-government’ function.  Yet, images clearly showed there was plenty of space and lots of non-governmental figures on the invitee list.  Can you imagine what the world would be like today if this had been the attitude of the United States towards Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Havel, Walesa and Mandela?

Meanwhile, adding injury to insult, Cuba's courageous dissident leaders, now neglected by the Obama Administration and Congressional supporters of the new policy -- and even further neglected by foreign dignitaries and unscrupulous businessmen searching for a profit at whatever cost -- are facing a dramatic increase in repression.  Since December 17th, when President Obama announced his new policy, Raul Castro's dictatorship has exponentially increased the number of political arrests, beatings, and detentions.

Just between January and March of this year, politically motivated arrests increased nearly 70 percent, from 178 arrests in the former month to 610 in the latter.  According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an internationally-recognized human rights watchdog, the total number of political arrests during the first nine months of this year were 5,146.  In just nine months, these 5,146 political arrests surpass the year-long tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests), 2011 (4,123 political arrests) and 2015 is tragically on-pace to become one of the most repressive years in recent history.

The official number of September arrests alone were 822 – the most in 15 months. They include Danilo Maldonado, a 31-year old artist known as ‘El Sexto,’ who was imprisoned on December 25th, 2014 -- just one week after the new policy was announced.  El Sexto was arrested for painting the names Fidel and Raul on two pigs, which was considered an act of ‘contempt.’  He remains imprisoned without trial or sentence or any justice. Amnesty International has recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

They also include Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and Maria Josefa Acón Sardinas, a member of The Ladies in White. These three dissidents sought to approach Pope Francis during his recent Mass in Havana to ask for his solidarity with Cuba's political prisoners and democracy movement.  They were dragged away and arrested under the eyes of the international media.  They have been on a hunger and thirst strike since September 20th and are being held at the infamous secret police center for ‘investigations’ at Aldabó and 100th Street in Havana.  I'm very concerned about their well-being.

They also include the case of Digna Rodriguez Ibañez, an Afro-Cuban member of The Ladies in White in Santa Clara, who was attacked by Castro regime agents and pelted with tar. That's right -- with tar.  And Eralisis Frometa Polanco, another member of The Ladies in White, who was pregnant and forcefully aborted due to the violent blows to the stomach she received during a beating for her peaceful activism.  And Daisy Cuello Basulto, also a member of The Ladies in White, whose daughter was arrested, stripped naked and forced to urinate in front of male state security officers, as a means of tormenting her mother.

For 24 straight Sunday's in a row, Cuban dissidents have tried to peacefully demonstrate after Mass under the slogan #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) and for 24 Sundays in a row they have been intercepted, violently beaten and arrested. This image is of Cuban dissident leader, Antonio Rodiles, a 43-year old intellectual, after having his face literally shattered during one of those peaceful Sunday marches.  Yet, despite the tremendous indignities these dissidents suffer at the hands of the Castro regime, they remain undeterred in their struggle for freedom and democracy for all Cubans.

Rather than shunning these courageous dissidents, the United States should be embracing them.  On the same day that news hit that 882 political arrests were made in September alone, by the Castro regime, Secretary Kerry is in Chile talking about some marine life agreement with Cuba. What about the human Lives in Cuba suffering under this oppression?

The Obama Administration's policy seems to be bringing little comfort to the Cuban people generally, as they continue to flee by land, air and the perilous journey by sea across the Florida Straits, where countless Cubans have lost their lives in search for freedom.  Nearly 32,000 Cubans entered the U.S. in the first nine months of the fiscal year that ended on September 30th, up from about 26,000 migrants who entered last fiscal year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Fewer than 7,500 Cubans came in 2010.

Finally, M. President, as one of the authors of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 – known as the ‘Libertad Act’ -- and having served as a manager in its conference committee, I'm concerned that the recent regulations and actions being taken by the Treasury and Commerce Departments contravene the purpose and intent of the law. As the final conference committee report of the Libertad Act made clear – ‘It is the intent of the committee of conference that all economic sanctions in force on March 1, 1996, shall remain in effect until they are either suspended or terminated pursuant to the authorities provided in section 204 of this Act (requiring a Presidential determination that a democratic transition is under way in Cuba).’

Those are the conditions I previously addressed.   The report also states that ‘the explicit mandates in this legislation make clear congressional intent that U.S. law be enforced fully and, thereby, provide a basis for strict congressional oversight of executive branch enforcement measures henceforth.’  In furtherance of this intent, the prohibition on U.S. assistance and financing of agricultural sales to Cuba; the prohibition on additional imports from Cuba; and the prohibition of travel relating to tourist activities in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, are explicit, clear and leave no room for exceptions. These provisions were precisely written to deny U.S. funds to the Cuban regime's repressive machinery, and prohibiting them from being funneled through Castro's monopolies. Yet, that's the -- perhaps unintended -- direction the new regulations are headed-in -- with the tragic, repressive consequences on full display.

Any hope that President Obama's goodwill would elicit a different tone from Raul Castro was further diminished by the Cuban dictator's speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month. Castro dedicated his 17-minute speech almost entirely to bashing the policies of the United States from Latin America to Eastern Europe to the Middle East.  He praised Latin American autocrats in the mold of Hugo Chavez, sided with Putin and Assad, criticized representative democracy and dismissed human rights as a "utopia."  While President Obama referred to the concessions he's already made in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly, Raul Castro audaciously demanded even more.

We all remember the message President Obama sent to the foes of freedom in first inaugural speech: ‘[W]e will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’  I urge President Obama to follow his own doctrine and reconsider some of the unmerited and reciprocated generosity in his new policy -- for Raul Castro's fist clearly remains clenched, yet the President's hand is still fully extended.

He claims that those who don’t agree with his Cuba policy are stuck in the past, but it’s the Castro regime that’s stuck in the past – still living their misguided Cold War dream – and the world hasn’t insisted they move forward.  Instead we are rewarding them for their intransigence.  Unless we challenge them we will not see real change.

The fact is -- hope and change do not come easily, they don’t just happen.  Like any parent with a child, they won’t change unless you challenge them and give them a reason.  Like Congress, it needs to be challenged to change.  And so with Cuba. The world needs to challenge the regime or change will never come – not give in and give everything.  To do so only strengthens their resolve to hold on to their Cold War dream and prolongs the day when we can truly say to the world: Cuba es Libre.

Why is Pritzker Promoting Kleptocracy and Labor Violations in Cuba?

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker is on a two-day visit to Cuba, as part of the Obama Administration's new policy of promoting business -- despite it being against the law -- with Castro's dictatorship.

The highlight of her trip yesterday was a tour of Castro's new Port of Mariel facility, which serves as a model of everything that's wrong about business in Cuba.

(Pablo Diaz Espi, editor of Diario de Cuba, explains why -- here.)

In short, the Port of Mariel was built by the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, in minority partnership with a shadow company of the Cuban military (Almacenes Universal, S.A.).

It was financed with money fleeced from Brazilian taxpayers, which is now under investigation.

Odebrecht's CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, is in prison as part of a major corruption scheme.

Former Brazilian President Lula da Silva is under investigation for influence-peddling on behalf of Odebrecht in Mariel, which included various "gifts" to dictator Raul Castro.

Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff suddenly "classified" all documents regarding the Port of Mariel dealings, a shady and unprecedented move.

Cuban weapon shipments to North Korea, in violation of international sanctions, were being smuggled from the Port of Mariel even prior to its completion.

Odebrecht has been found guilty of slave-like labor practices.

Moreover, why would Pritzker promote business and investment -- despite it being against the law -- with a regime that violates every essential international labor norm.

In other words, why would she lobby to allow American companies to partake in such gross violations of international law, including the:

Forced Labor Convention (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labor Convention (No. 105); 

Freedom of Association and Protection to Organize Convention (No. 87); 

Protection of Wages Convention (No. 05);

Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98);

Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111);

Employment Policy Convention (No. 122); and

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23).

Is promoting kleptocracy and labor violations a new centerpiece of the Obama Administration's Cuba policy?

Miami Herald Editorial: Congress Shouldn't Budge on Cuban Embargo

By The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Unceasing beatings and arrests in Cuba

Two reports this week put the human-rights problem in Cuba into stark, and discouraging, relief. In the period since the landmark agreement in December reestablishing full diplomatic relations with the United States, the Castro government appears to be doubling down on repression.

One report, delivered Tuesday at the General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, is contained in a depressing overview of press freedom in the Americas. No country is safe from the wave of censorship sweeping the region, the report says. Yet Cuba is a special case:

In Cuba, despite the reestablishment of relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments, little progress has been made in freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of the press, and two journalists remain behind bars. The methods of repression include censorship of critical websites, inspection of emails, suspension of mobile phone service and physical and verbal attacks on activists and independent journalists.”

In other words, nothing has changed: Expressing an independent opinion in Cuba is hazardous to your civil liberties. On Monday, the independent Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation put it into numbers: The Havana-based group said it recorded 882 political detentions in September, the most in the past 15 months.

And, according to the commission, being a dissident is hazardous to your health, as well. It accused government agents or their surrogates of carrying out 93 beatings of political dissidents during the past month, an “abrupt” escalation over the 21 registered in August.

What’s even more outrageous, if such is possible: The commission said the government unleashed “a genuine wave of political and social repression that led to at least 353 ‘preventive detentions’ ” during the visit of Pope Francis and in the days leading up to it, with the aim of keeping dissidents from attending any gathering with the pontiff.

Keep in mind that all of this is taking place within the context of a “normalization” of relations with the United States based on the presumption of concessions by both sides. For the United States, as President Obama made clear in his declaration last December, improvement in the human-rights climate on the island is one of the principal objectives of U.S. diplomacy. Yet so far, Cuba couldn’t seem to care less about its obligation to treat its citizens with respect.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that “a full democracy takes time, but there is progress.” He compared the establishment of full relations with China and Vietnam to the process underway in Cuba and said that in both of the other countries, improvement in democracy was gradual.

But he also implied that there has to be a commitment by the government to do its part. “There has to be a path traced to improve the relationship of the government with its people.” We wish we could report signs of betterment, but Cuba’s record is just the opposite. Things are certainly getting worse.

Mr. Kerry tied his remarks on gradual improvements in the democratic climate to the administration’s desire to get rid of the trade embargo. He said that would help the people of Cuba. Perhaps he’s right, but it’s up to Congress to take decisive action, and at this point, dropping the embargo would be premature.

No one realistically expected an overnight improvement in the climate of democracy in Cuba as a result of the normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States. But until the government takes concrete actions to lift the stifling repression and allows Cubans to speak without fear of retaliation, Congress shouldn’t budge.

Quote of the Day: Pritzker's Premature Trip to Cuba

[Secretary Pritzker's] visit should not have been scheduled until the Cuban government had, at minimum, formally responded to each of the initiatives announced by President Obama since December, and then put into regulation, so this trip is premature.
-- John S. Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, on U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker's trip to Cuba this week, The New York Times, 10/7/15

Is it the Right Time to Lift the Cuban Embargo?

By Pablo Diaz Espi, editor of Diario de Cuba:

Is Now the Right Time?

Will a lifting of the US embargo be beneficial with the Castros still in power?

The most recent and vocal proponents of the lifting of the American embargo on Cuba wield as their main argument that this measure will benefit the Cuban people, improving their quality of life and, in the mid term, facilitating the spread of democracy to the island. It is worth analyzing how valid and accurate these arguments really are.

A few days ago the Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo provided a glimpse of what could happen in a Cuba free of commercial restrictions but still under the Castros' control. During a visit to the island by former president Lula da Silva, in 2011, the Odebrecht Group, a construction giant responsible for the work in the area of Mariel —featuring a new container terminal covering 465 km2 for free trade, located to the west of Havana— allegedly lavished gifts on Raúl Castro.

This incident constitutes part of several judicial "megaproceedings" shaking the South American country’s foundations, already having taken down several important figures related to Cuba.

Marcelo Odebrecht —president of the Group and with personal ties to da Silva— accused of heading a bribery scheme worth 2.1 billion dollars involving Petrobras, which he purportedly overcharged, transferring the financial surplus to executives and politicians. Odebrecht was also sentenced for subjecting employees at sugar and ethanol plants being built in Angola to slave-like conditions.

Former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010), meanwhile, is being investigated for "influence peddling," particularly in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Brazil's Public Ministry suspects that between 2011 and 2014, drawing upon the political capital he acquired during his time as Chief of State, Lula "secured economic advantages, direct or indirectly, from Odebrecht in exchange for influencing acts carried out by foreign public agents, paid for directly or indirectly by the National Development Bank (BNDES)."

In September Jorge Dirceu, the former treasurer of the Workers Party, educated and trained in Cuba, was sentenced to 15 years of prison for committing ("with sophistication") the crimes of corruption, money laundering and criminal association.

In light of these facts, and from a Cuban perspective, it is worth looking into the gifts received by Raúl Castro and his son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez Callejas - president of the all-powerful GAESA, the conglomerate that controls the revenue from tourism, telecommunications and currency exchange in Cuba, among other things, in addition to being the Cuban partner on the Mariel project, tied to the corrupt plot in Brazil. Did they receive money? If so, how much?

In a country with an independent judicial authority, one might expect an investigation of this now. But in Cuba, of course, nobody will do so —or even take an interest in the matter.

The Castros’ business

According to The Washington Post, in 2013 alone American travelers took assets worth 3.5 billion dollars to the island, while Cuban-Americans sent 3.1 billion dollars to the country in money wires. And this is in spite of the embargo, which already allows Havana to buy foods and medicines directly from American companies. What this makes evident is that when they talk about the end of restrictions what the Castros are really interested in is access to international credit and, particularly, to American banks. In other words, the Castros want to exploit the U.S.A. like they did the USSR and Venezuela under Chavez: a source of funding that allows them to retain their power line their coffers, until they known they are out of danger.

In return, they offer what any capitalist would find a tantalizing offer: an unexploited market, devoid of competition, as we Cubans cannot invest in our own country; 10 million potential consumers; a workforce that is relatively well-educated, very cheap, and without any rights (including, of course, the right to strike and to organize in independent unions); a centralized economic interlocutor; zero criticism by the press; and a banned opposition and repressed civil society that cannot question business practices.

In the 90s, after the fall of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe, the lifting of the embargo would have been a good option. It was what some of us called for then, but we were, frankly, outnumbered. The regime, with its heavy-handed, inefficient structures and its intransigent ideological discourse still intact, would not have been able to handle such a shift in the ground rules. But now, having taken note —after looking to Russia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and the former Soviet Republics— that a totalitarian state is not required to subjugate and control a society; now that the Castros have assimilated the transformation to state capitalism (breaking their own laws and Constitution, but nobody cares); now that totalitarianism has been but partially overturned, but still poised to suck all investment into a quagmire of corruption and absurd laws... is the lifting of the embargo really a positive option for Cubans?

The argument that a lifting of the embargo would be a blessing for the island's people warrants very careful reflection. Let us suppose that all the economic and commercial restrictions are actually lifted, and that the regime acquires access to loans and the green light to negotiate with any and all capitalists dropping by the gardens of the Hotel Nacional. Who will oversee those loans for Cuba? What institutions?  Who will decide what to buy, and at what price?  General Rodríguez Callejas? The state that has striven to stymie a system of dual currency?

The immense debt and the corruption generated by a state without institutions or freedoms would be another heavy weight to be borne by all Cubans —above all by the poorest: the black population, residents in rural areas, those without access to the hard currency or the information society; those who the Castro regime keeps marginalized.

In this regard, though it may seem counter-productive, the current embargo in its present configuration —with Havana free to acquire medicine and foods, the increase in permitted money wires, the ease with which one can travel, and Washington's offer to develop telecommunications on the island— just might be a better deal for the Cuban people than its elimination. In the long run, maintaining it may help to reinforce an institutional framework that is necessary for the country's future. To lift it would open the door to more corruption, more opportunism, and more wrongdoing.

If the embargo is lifted now, who shall ensure justice, fairness and reason when it comes to contracting debts and investing, and defend the true interests of the Cuban people?  Who will decide what course to follow as a nation? Capitalist partners, companies like Odebrecht, or the state which has squandered billions of dollars on a demented “Battle of Ideas” and dispatched thousands of agents and troops to infiltrate half the world?

This is not to deny the advantages of an end to the embargo, but rather to endorse a careful selection of the right moment for it. In the midst of the current clamor to lift it, it is essential to weigh the risks. Wouldn't it be better for Cuba, before lifting the embargo, if Washington and the European Union, as well as other countries in Latin America, headed up by Brazil, insisted upon a true change in the country's laws, guarantees, and that the Castros give up their monopolistic and repressive control of the country? Given the current decrepitude of the regime's leadership, and the cracking of its ideological control mechanisms, this would be more feasible than ever.

It is worth asking whether the lifting of the embargo with the Castros still in power will facilitate a transition to democracy, as its proponents argue, or, on the contrary, give rise to Cubans' worst nightmare: a failed and exclusive state, corrupt to its core, controlled by a post-Communist cadre of ideological transvestites, propped up in power by new capitalist partners; a genuine feast for wheelers and dealers, unprincipled businesspeople and lobbyists of every stripe, disguised as benefactors and democratic agents.

Over 882 Political Arrests in September

Tuesday, October 6, 2015
The Cuban Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) has documented 882 political arrests by the Castro regime during the month of September 2015.

This bring the total number of political arrests in the first nine months of this year to 5,146.

In just nine months, these 5,146 political arrests surpass the year-long tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests), 2011 (4,123 political arrests) and is (tragically) on-pace to become one of the most repressive years in recent history.

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

It's "what change looks like."

Must-Read: Cuba's Regime Tries to Blackmail the U.S. Congress

As we posted months ago -- far from "empowering the Cuban people" -- the Obama Administration's new policy has put Castro's monopolies squarely in the driver's seat.

Click here to read, "How the Tail (Castro) is Wagging the Dog (Obama and U.S. Business)."

Now that the Obama Administration and the U.S. agri-business lobby are eating out of its hand, Cuba's regime wants to blackmail the U.S. Congress.

From Politico:

Cuba to US: We don’t want your food

As the White House tries to open up a trade relationship, Cuba shuts off the spigot. What’s going on?

As President Obama’s Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker journeys to Havana tomorrow to promote the idea of a warmer U.S. trade relationship with Cuba, she's shadowed by an awkward fact: The existing trade between the two nations is vanishing, and nobody is quite sure why.

Strange as it might sound for a country under a 53-year embargo, Cuba does buy a significant quantity of American goods every year, thanks to a little-known exception that allows American companies to sell food and medical supplies there. But as the two countries grow diplomatically closer, that business relationship has dropped off sharply.

Agricultural exports to Cuba slid from $710 million to $291 million between  2007 and in 2014. In the first seven months of this year, they’ve fallen to $122 million, a 41 percent drop. In July, the only agricultural product that Cuba imported from the United States was poultry, according to the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

As Pritzker arrives on Tuesday for two days of high-level talks with senior Cuban officials, the drop-off is a stark reminder of how much control the Cuban government can exert over the relationship—and the limits of the White House’s ability to promote U.S. interests.

"What the Obama administration does is only 50 percent of the equation. This is also about what the Cuban government wants,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “And right now the Cuban government is showing a less than enthusiastic focus on what the president’s done.”

In part the numbers are going down because of pure economics: falling commodity prices push down the value of all trade. Many experts also point to the fact that Cuba can buy agricultural products in a global market. The U.S. has some major competitive advantages—high-quality products and a coastline less than 100 miles from Cuban soil—but American producers still have international competition. And a U.S. law forbids domestic producers from selling agricultural goods on credit to Cuba, putting U.S. producers at a disadvantage.

But many experts say economics is only part of the reason for the decline in exports. They also point a finger at politics. All U.S. agricultural goods must be sold to one state-owned company, Alimport, and many Cuba observers generally believe the Castro regime uses it as a political lever. During much of the 2000s, Alimport purchased U.S. agricultural products from dozens of states with the hope of garnering support from the states’ respective lawmakers to repeal the embargo.

"Alimport can certainly make decisions on imports that aren’t purely economic,” said Michael Gershberg, the special counsel at Fried Frank who focuses on trade issues. “If they receive orders from the government to make decision based on political reasons, that can certainly have an effect [on purchases].”

When the strategy failed, the Cuban government moved in the opposite direction: Instead of buying from many different states, it decided to dramatically cut back on all U.S. agricultural products.

“They tried the carrot. That didn’t work,” said Parr Rosson, the head of the department of agricultural economics at Texas A&M University. “This may be the stick.”

As diplomatic relations improved over the past year, the “stick” approach remains. In 2007, U.S. producers sold $109 million worth of corn and $67 million worth of soybeans to Alimport. Through July of this year, they’ve sold less than $5 million worth of corn and less than $7 million worth of soybeans. In fact, total U.S. food sales to Cuba fell to less than $4 million in July, one of the lowest numbers since the law allowing such U.S. agricultural exports took effect in 2001.

Despite the Obama administration’s desire to renew diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, increased trade still requires cooperation on the part of the Cubans. Pritzker’s visit to Havana this week is intended to push Cuba towards a more open business climate. But if President Raul Castro intends to restrict purchases of U.S. agricultural products as leverage to pressure American politicians into repealing the embargo entirely—a job that falls to Congress—the White House is stuck.

Obama's Cuba Policy: Distract from Human Life, Focus on Marine Life

On the same day human rights monitors were reporting over 882 political arrests by the Castro regime in September 2015 -- documenting an exponential rise in human repression on the island --  Secretary of State John Kerry was in Chile promoting some vague marine life agreement with the Castro regime.

Talk about misplaced priorities.

Meanwhile, The New York Times, which found no space to report on the increase in human repression in Cuba, lavished praise on the marine life agreement.

From The New York Times:

Cuba and U.S. Agree to Work Together to Protect Marine Life

The Cuban and American governments have agreed to work hand in hand to protect marine life in the seas that join their countries, a move that represents the first environmental dividend of a thaw between the two Cold War foes.

Under an agreement announced Monday at an oceans conference in Valparaíso, Chile, government agencies from Cuba and the United States are to map marine life in protected areas in the Florida Straits and Gulf of Mexico and compile an inventory of shared species.

Quote of the Day: Cuba's Absolute Violation of Freedom of Expression

In Cuba there's a structural situation whereby the violation of freedom of expression is absolute.
-- Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, during the Inter-American Press Association's General Assembly, 10/5/15

WSJ Editorial: Obama's Castro Courtship

Sunday, October 4, 2015
From The Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board:

Obama’s Castro Courtship

The U.S. may stay silent while the U.N. condemns the U.S. trade embargo.

President Obama gave Raúl Castro the expected gift of a handshake photo-op this week, conferring legitimacy on the 56-year-old dictatorship with a bilateral meeting. But could Mr. Obama’s courtship of the Castros be so passionate that he’d even abstain from an anti-U.S. resolution at the United Nations?

That’s the recent scoop from the Associated Press, which reported that the Obama Administration is debating whether to let the U.N. condemn the U.S. trade embargo without a peep of protest. What a stunning turn that would be. Cuba and its pals roll out the condemnation every year in the General Assembly, and the U.S. routinely votes against it.

For the U.S. to abstain now would essentially endorse a denunciation of America by an assembly that includes some of the world’s most unsavory regimes. This goes well beyond Mr. Obama’s famous “apology” tours for alleged past U.S. sins. He would be apologizing for a law currently on the books that has been supported by members of both parties for years and that Mr. Obama has taken an oath to uphold and enforce.

Mr. Obama may feel he must slap America in the face in this fashion because Raúl has been playing hard to get. The U.S. President has given him diplomatic recognition, easier travel by Americans to the island, and returned some spies. But Mr. Castro now says he won’t make any concessions until the U.S. lifts the trade embargo and returns Guantanamo Bay to Cuba.

The current Congress won’t do either, which means Mr. Obama has to find other ways to please the Castros enough that they’ll grant him the Havana trip Mr. Obama covets before he leaves office. If refusing to oppose a denunciation of America at the U.N. doesn’t work, don’t be surprised if he does try to give Gitmo back without Congressional approval.

When Did America Become So Spineless?

By James S. Robbins in USA Today:

Ich bin ein Bejinger

Insulated communist leaders need to hear call for human rights loud and clear.

When did America become so spineless? There was a time when the world expected the United States to be a resolute voice for human rights, when American diplomacy sought to prick the conscience of dictators. There was an age when we assumed that role with pride. It gave birth to “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Tear down this wall.”

But now the first principle of American foreign policy is: never hurt anybody's feelings.

Case in point: Last Thursday Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a unanimous consent resolution that would rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” after the noted dissident and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He and his wife Liu Xia are currently languishing in a Chinese prison for the crime of promoting political freedom and justice in the communist state. Renaming the plaza would force Chinese diplomats to see Liu Xiaobo’s name on their way to work, and on every piece of mail that crossed their desks.

There is worthy precedent. In 1984, the street in front of the Soviet Embassy was renamed “Andrei Sakharov Plaza,” honoring the famous human rights activist who was in internal exile with his wife Yelena Bonner in Gorky. The measure passed Congress with strong bipartisan backing. Of course, there were naysayers. Columnist Jack Anderson called it a childish "cheap shot." But this symbolic measure did not derail U.S./Soviet relations, and may have helped Sakharov. A year later, Bonner was freed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. A year after that they were both released from Gorky. Who knows, maybe the renaming showed Moscow that the United States was serious.

But that was then. Sen. Cruz’s attempt to tweak Beijing failed when Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., raised an objection. She did not want the Senate to embarrass Chinese president Xi Jinping on his trip to the U.S. "Maybe people don't believe that diplomacy makes a difference,” she said, “but I do." By this definition, diplomacy means that no foreign dictator ever be made to feel a modicum of displeasure or be forced into even a moment of reflection on their contemptible ways.

The White House made this point more vividly. A group of demonstrators — pro-Tibet, pro-human rights, anti-communist — had gathered in Lafayette Park across from the executive mansion during Xi Jinping’s visit. But the White House bowed to Chinese requests that Xi be spared the sight or sound of protesters on his Washington visit. For fear of what? That he might stomp off in a huff?

In a similar incident last July, two Cuban pro-democracy activists were threatened at the State Department just for showing up. Dissident blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo and Rosa María Paya, daughter of the late pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Payá, attended a joint press conference by Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. They were confronted by a U.S. official who informed them if they tried to ask any questions they would be forcibly ejected. They probably felt like they were back home in totalitarian Havana.

Is President Obama’s standing in the world so weak that he fears any show of American resolve will scuttle his delicate diplomacy? It is worth remembering that Senate approval of the 1984 renaming at the Soviet embassy came weeks after President Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko had a productive meeting to discuss Reagan’s ambitious proposal for a broad arms control framework. But for Reagan, progress on arms control did not come at the expense of America’s responsibility for global leadership. His diplomacy spoke from a posture of both power and principle.

“Ronald Reagan understood that standing for human rights actually strengthens our diplomatic hand,” Sen. Cruz told me. “It highlights the very principles that make our nation great.” He stressed that it is not a question of whether or not to talk to our adversaries, but “we don’t have to grant them moral parity. We don’t have to check our values at the negotiating-room door.”

Sen. Cruz intends to bring the matter back to the Senate floor this week, hopefully with better results. Because this kind of diplomacy does make a difference.

Obama Doesn't Understand Why Raul Bites His Hand

By renowned Cuban author and journalist, Carlos Alberto Montaner:

Obama doesn't understand why Raúl bites his hand

In his United Nations speech, Raúl Castro attacked “the blockade,” demanded the return of the base at Guantánamo, and asked for an end to the Radio Martí broadcasts. He defended Nicolás Maduro and Rafael Correa. He sided with el-Assad's Syria, Iran, Russia, and Puerto Rican independence. He criticized the market economy and, in a heavy-handed flourish, closed with a quote from his brother Fidel, an obligatory gesture in Cuba's unctuous revolutionary liturgy.

Shortly thereafter, he met with the U.S. president. According to The Washington Post, a somewhat disappointed Obama mentioned to him the overlooked matter of human rights and democracy. There wasn't even a glimpse of a political opening.

Obama doesn't understand that, with the Castro brothers, there is no quid pro quo or give-and-take. To the Castros, the socialist model (they constantly repeat this) is perfect, their “democracy” is the best in the planet and the dissidents and the Ladies in White who ask for civil liberties are merely salaried servants of the yanqui embassy, invented by the media, people who deserve to be thrashed.

The Cuban government has nothing to rectify. Let the United States, that imperial power that abuses other nations, rectify. Let capitalism, that system that spreads misery worldwide with its free market, repulsive competition, hurtful inequalities and lack of commiseration, rectify.

To the Castros and their troops of battle-hardened Marxist-Leninists, indifferent to reality, the solution to all evils is in the collectivism managed by army officers, with the Castro family directing the puppet show.

Raúl, Fidel, and all those around them are proud of having created the greatest subversive core in the 1960s, when they founded the Tricontinental and nurtured all the terrorist groups on earth who knocked at their doors or forged their own intelligence services.

They worship the figure of Che, dead as a result of those bloody goings-on and recall with emotion the hundreds of guerrillas they trained or launched against half the planet, including the democracies in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay.

They become teary-eyed when they remember their feats in Africa, carried out for the purpose of creating satellites for the glory of the USSR and the sacred cause of communism, as they did in Angola, where they managed to dominate the other anti-colonial guerrillas. Later, in bloody combat on the Ogaden desert, they defeated the Somalis, their friends before the war, who are now confronting Ethiopia, Havana's new ally.

They feel not the slightest remorse for having executed adversaries and sympathizers, for having persecuted homosexuals or religious believers, for having confiscated estates that had been honorably acquired, for having separated families and pushed into exile thousands of people who ended up at the bottom of the sea. What does this minor individual suffering matter when compared with the glorious feat of “seizing the skies by storm” and changing the history of humanity?

O for the grand days of the not-so-cold war, when Cuba was the spearhead of the worldwide revolution against the United States and its minions in the West! A glorious era, betrayed by Gorbachev, when it seemed that soon the Red Army would triumphantly camp on Washington's boulevards.

Obama's mistake is thinking that his 10 predecessors at the White House erred when they decided to challenge the Castros and their revolution, identifying them as enemies of the United States and of the ideas upheld by democracy and freedom.

Obama doesn't understand the Castros nor is capable of gauging their significance, because he was not -- as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. were -- steeled in the defense of this country against a very real Soviet threat.

Even Clinton, who dodged the draft rather than fight in Vietnam, in the post-Soviet era understood the nature of the Cuban government and signed the Helms-Burton Act to combat it. Bush Jr. inherited from his father the conviction that an enemy crouched 90 miles away and treated Havana in that spirit during his two terms of office.

Obama was different. When he came to the presidency, 18 years had passed since the Berlin Wall had been toppled. To him, the Cold War was a remote and foreign phenomenon. He didn't realize that there were places, like Cuba and North Korea, where the old paradigms survived.

He had been a community organizer in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, concerned by the troubles and lack of opportunities that afflicted his people. His battle was of a domestic nature and was inspired by the struggle for civil rights. His leitmotif was to change America, not to defend it from external foes.

Like many U.S. liberals and radicals, especially those in his generation, he thought that little Cuba had been the victim of the imperial arrogance of the United States and could reform and normalize as soon as his nation gave it a hand.

Today, he is incapable of understanding why Raúl bites that hand instead of gripping it. He doesn't know that old Stalinists kill and die with their fangs always sharp and ready. It's all part of the revolutionary nature.