Urgent: Cuban Dissidents Protest Chief Prosecutor's Office, Castro Launches Manhunt

Friday, October 23, 2015
On Thursday, nearly 20 Cuban dissidents undertook a surprise protest at the headquarters of Castro's Chief Prosecutor on behalf of political prisoners, Zaqueo Baez, Maria Josefa Acon and Ismael Boris, who were arrested on September 20th and are being held incommunicado for approaching Pope Francis during his Mass in Havana.

The protesters called for the release of these political prisoners and threw pamphlets throughout the premises. They were then able to flee and quickly disperse throughout the streets of Havana.

Click below (or here) to watch video footage of the protest.

Last night, the Castro regime launched a manhunt for the protesters.

Their homes have been raided and families threatened.

Over a dozen have been arrested and some nearly beaten unconscious, including Vladimir Turro Paez.

The protesters are all members of the Civic Action Front (FAC-Orlando Zapata Tamayo) and the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

Castro Pocketed WHO Funds Destined for Ebola Health Workers

This also violates international labor and human trafficking covenants.

And yet, some still advocate for "dictator-down-economics."

From Diario de Cuba:

Not a penny for fighting Ebola

The Cuban medical personnel who fought Ebola have not received the cars, homes or payments promised them by the regime, while those tapped for honors are still waiting for their medals.

The Cuban medical personnel who fought Ebola have not received the cars, homes or payments promised them by the regime, while those tapped for honors are still waiting for their medals.

Death and burial far from their homes and families was the risk run by the Cuban health personnel who traveled to Africa to help stamp out the Ebola epidemic. If they returned safe and sound they were to receive a car and a house from the State, and full payment from the World Health Organization (WHO) for services rendered.

But, according to one of those who was deployed, who spoke under the condition of strict anonymity, to date they have not received a car, a house, or one penny from the WHO (pay due estimated at $8,000-10,000 per month). And neither have the 248 medical professionals promised the Carlos J. Finlay Prize been decorated, due to the absence of medals.

The only money they had during their dangerous missions in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, says the source, came from their own savings, aside from their daily expense allowance "provided by the UN," consisting of 70-100 dollars. This money was distributed by the económico (a medical brigade member who functioned as an administrator), in accordance with the regions in which they worked.

The amount saved by each member of the brigade ranged from $35-60 dollars per day ($1,000 to $1,800 per month). "Thus far, this has been the only economic compensation they have received for their dangerous mission in West Africa," says the source.

In December of 2014, the magazine Newsweek revealed the lack of transparency surrounding the monthly payments to be issued by the WHO to the Cuban health brigade in Africa, "which were estimated at $1,500 in salary, and an additional $1,500 to be deposited into personal bank accounts."

According to their report, a WHO spokesman stated the organization allocated $200-240 a day to each member of the brigade as a stipend for expenses. The figures show that, based on the testimony of the Cuban brigade member, the Cuban personnel ended up receiving less than half the money designated for them.

Similarly, the Office for International Development (OFID), belonging to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) funded the Cuban government with $400,000 to support the work of the Cuban brigades in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The calculations reveal that the Cuban government pocketed at least $26.4 million, at the expense of Cuba's health personnel.  Moreover, the regime actually benefited from excellent PR burnishing its international image due to coverage by the likes of the The New York Times.

Of all the members of the Cuban brigade, two died in Africa after contracting malaria, and two in Cuba for reasons that are still unclear. The Cuban government's neglect of these heroes is common knowledge, while the regime has striven to focus attention on the image of the five spies released on December 17.

Gloria Estefan: I'll Go to Cuba When It's Truly Free

I'll go to Cuba when it's truly free, and not just open to foreigners, to celebrate with the Cuban people a new beginning.
-- Gloria Estefan, renowned Cuban-American singer and songwriter, People en Espanol, 10/22/15

Putin's Deputy PM: Russia's Coming Back to Cuba

Obama's seduction of Cuban dictator Raul Castro is clearly not working.

Tweet from Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin:

Free the Cuban Three #FreeTheCuban3

Obama's Celebrity Circus Goes to Havana, Provides Castro Cover

Thursday, October 22, 2015
For the past year, Havana has become a playground for Obama's celebrity friends and supporters.

We've seen Jay-Z and Beyonce lounging at the Cuban military’s (twice-confiscated) Hotel Saratoga.

Paris Hilton taking selfies with former dictator Fidel Castro's son.

And Katy Perry partying at a club with current dictator Raul Castro's daughter.

Under the guise of “supporting the Cuban people” -- and completely aloof to the island's brutal realities -- these celebrities are enjoying the hospitality of the Castro dictatorship and supporting its repressive apparatus.

Meanwhile, innocent Cuban men, women and children are being beaten on the streets for their peaceful democracy activism, and artists imprisoned for their attempts at critical expression.

Supporters of the Obama Administration's policy will surely argue that such trips -- no matter how shallow and insensitive -- actually hurt Castro's regime by "exposing" the Cuban people to American pop-culture.

That's proven nonsense. 

Here's why: The above-mentioned celebrity boondoggles share another important characteristic -- they were all first revealed and featured by Castro's state media.

That's right -- it was the Castro regime itself, through its tightly-controlled state media outlets, that originally leaked how Jay-Z, Beyonce, Paris Hilton and Katy Perry were in Havana.

If these American celebrities are such a threat to Castro, then why is the regime so eager to highlight and exploit them?

Because they don't hurt the regime. To the contrary -- these celebrity tools serve as a perfect distraction for dictatorships.

They are free tourism marketing tools. (Again, tourism doesn't undermine the Castro regime, it enriches it, which is why it spends such badly-needed hard currency advertising for tourists in cities such as Madrid, Mexico and Toronto.)

These celebrities also help desensitize public opinion about the brutal reality of Castro's regime, while serving as a guise for repression.

Think of the propaganda boon to have Beyonce prancing around Old Havana's tourist traps [channeling a Joanne Chesimard fashion vibe], Paris Hilton posing at the stolen property that bore her family's name and Katy Perry discussing LGBT rights with a dictatorship that doesn't respect any rights.

The sad reality is that -- last Sunday -- more Americans were concerned about Katy Perry's outfits in Havana, than the injuries suffered by The Ladies in White who were beaten for peacefully marching for freedom.

It's akin to Obama's overall Cuba policy -- focus on business, tourism, sharks and celebrities -- relegate fundamental freedoms, rights and democracy.

It's part and parcel of the new circus.

Important: Learn About Cuba's GAESA and Iran's SETAD

A few weeks ago, a Bloomberg investigation explained how the big winner in the Obama-Castro deal is the Cuban military's business conglomerate GAESA, run by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

Click here to read the Bloomberg piece.

Similarly, a Reuters investigation had shown how the big winner in the Obama-Khamenei deal is the Ayatollah's business conglomerate, SETAD.

In other words, all foreign trade and investment with Cuba and Iran are funneled through its regime's powerful business conglomerates.

Both entities also share an affinity for trafficking in stolen property.

This isn't a question of theories. It's a matter of fact.

These regimes are organized like Mafia-states.

Akin to those who currently defend business with Cuba and Iran, there were those who -- in its heyday --unscrupulously defended the Mafia as a guarantor of security, stability and economic development.

Of course, that was short-sighted, irresponsible and dangerous.

As it would have been to argue that doing even more business with the Mafia would somehow bring it down.

(It took RICO laws to do that.)

Yet, that's precisely what some purport with Cuba and Iran today.

From Reuters:

Conglomerate controlled by Iran's supreme leader a winner from nuclear deal

The historic nuclear deal reached between Iran and major world powers has yet to be implemented, but one clear winner has emerged: Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei has yet to publicly back the accord, which lifts some sanctions on Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program. But he does stand to benefit, thanks to his close control of one of the most powerful and secretive organizations in Iran -- "Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam," or Setad.

The deal, which is likely to go into effect after clearing a major Congressional hurdle last week, lifts U.S. secondary sanctions on Setad and about 40 firms it owns or has a stake in, according to a Reuters tally based on annexes to the deal.

The delisting of Setad -- which has little connection to Iran's nuclear program but is close to Iran's ruling elite -- feeds into U.S. Republicans' criticism that the deal will empower Iran's hardliners and help fund its regional ambitions.

Former U.S. officials say Setad was just one of a slew of entities sanctioned because they were considered part of the Iranian government. One former official said Setad was also targeted because the United States saw it as close to Khamenei and believed that the sanctions might induce him to back serious nuclear negotiations.

With the nuclear deal reached, they say it is now appropriate to remove those measures. Many U.S. sanctions related to Iran's support for militant groups and alleged human rights abuses will remain in place.

With stakes in nearly every sector of Iran's economy, Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to religious minorities, business people, and Iranians living abroad, according to a 2013 Reuters investigation, which estimated the network's holdings at about $95 billion.

Iranians who said their family properties were seized by Setad described in interviews in 2013 how men showed up and threatened to use violence if the owners didn't leave the premises at once.

The Slippery Slope: Iran, Cuba and Now North Korea?

By Michael Goodwin in Fox News:

Iran, Cuba and now North Korea? Obama signals he is ready to talk with Kim Jong-un

Just when it seemed President Obama might be running out of adversaries to appease, North Korea popped up on his radar. Dear Leader, meet Dear Leader.

Standing with South Korea’s president last week, Obama said he favored Korean reunification, but also signaled he’s ready to talk with the Hermit Kingdom.

“As my administration has shown with Iran and with Cuba, we are also prepared to engage nations with which we have had troubled histories,” he declared.

As usual, he coupled that with a stern-sounding warning, adding,“Pyongyang needs to understand it will not achieve the economic development it seeks so long as it clings to nuclear weapons.”

All pudgy dictator Kim Jong-un needs to do is play hard to get, routinely denounce America, and presto — he’s assured of victory. In exchange for vague promises, which nobody expects him to keep, he’ll get to keep his nukes and free American food to feed his starving country.

That’s a good one. Given his complete surrender to both Iran and Cuba, the warning is hollow. It’s code for get out the welcome wagon.

All pudgy dictator Kim Jong-un needs to do is play hard to get, routinely denounce America, and presto — he’s assured of victory. In exchange for vague promises, which nobody expects him to keep, he’ll get to keep his nukes and free American food to feed his starving country.

The Iran and Cuba surrenders also point to another likely outcome. Both reportedly now have military advisers and fighters in Syria, joining with Russia to defeat our allies among the Syrian rebels.

The Obama appeasement disaster would be complete if North Korean troops join the Russian axis. And why wouldn’t they? Vladimir Putin is a better friend and worse enemy.

How to Amend the Cuban Adjustment Act

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
The Sun-Sentinel has published a series of investigations into how the Cuban Adjustment Act is being incrementally manipulated by those seeking to commit Medicare fraud and abuse our welfare system.

It has also published Congressional reaction to these investigations.

As the conversation over how to address the Cuban Adjustment Act gathers steam, below are excerpts from the June 1, 2012 testimony of CHC Editor Mauricio Claver-Carone in the House Judiciary Committee, which forewarned about these problems and how to simply address them.

From Claver-Carone's testimony:

The Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966 gives Cuban nationals -- once they reach the United States and stay for a year -- a right to become legal, permanent residents. Cubans are the only nationality to which the U.S. Congress has awarded this special privilege.

The legislative history of the CRAA holds that immigrants from Cuba are refugees under international law, hence its original name.

Under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

Undoubtedly, Cubans remain persecuted for their political opinions by the Castro dictatorship, which remains as brutal as ever. Thus, it is not yet time to repeal the CRAA [...]

However, some things have changed since the CRAA was originally enacted.

In 1994, as rising political pressure and economic woes threatened the regime’s post-Soviet existence, Fidel and Raul Castro resorted to their old tactic of creating a migration crisis (i.e. Mariel boatlift of 1980), but with a new twist. Thus, they began allowing Cubans to take to the sea in makeshift rafts.

From this crisis, the Castro regime extracted a migration accord ("1994 Accord") from the Clinton Administration, which allocated a minimum of 20,000 yearly visas to residents of Cuba -- regardless of their political status vis-à-vis the dictatorship.

Since the 20,000 minimum visas per year could not be met through the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) preference system, the Clinton Administration decided to use the CRAA as its legal authority to allow this new category of Cubans to come to the U.S. and become legal, permanent residents. It even created a “visa lottery” program to randomly select -- once again, regardless of political rationale -- who receives a visa -- in clear violation of the CRAA’s original intent.

Pursuant to the 1994 Accord, nearly half a million Cubans have entered the U.S. and become legal, permanent residents under the CRAA. Although no longer a pre-requisite, most have nonetheless had a political rationale for fleeing the island -- others have not.

Yet, both are equally afforded the benefits of the CRAA. Not only regarding their migratory status, but also the generous means-tested public assistance programs afforded to refugees and to which they qualify thanks to the CRAA. These include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Such public assistance is meant to help Cuban refugees settle in the U.S. However, many non-refugee Cubans currently use these benefits, which can average more than $1,000 per month, to immediately travel back to the island, where the average income is $20 per month, and comfortably reside there for months at a time on the taxpayer’s dime.

The time has come to legally ensure that only Cubans who come to the U.S. as refugees are afforded the special privileges provided under the CRAA -- and thus, restore the law’s original intent.

This does not mean that Cubans who are not refugees should be denied entry into the U.S. It simply means that they should be subject to the same set of immigration rules as Mexicans, Canadians, Filipinos or any other nationalities patiently waiting to do so [...]

Otherwise, this current backdoor loophole risks altogether ending the needed special protections the CRAA originally intended for those persecuted by the Castro regime -- further endangering lives, while granting a calculated victory to the island's cruel dictatorship.

The Castro regime has manipulated the 1994 Accord to create a system of travel back-and-forth to the island for tens of thousands of non-refugee Cubans, who nonetheless adjusted their status under CRAA. Meanwhile, it continues to deny the right of return to those who have fled for political reasons -- keeping their names on an infamous “black list.” This travel network carries minimum political risk for the regime, as it fully controls access to the island, while delivering huge financial benefits for its totalitarian economy -- thanks to the constant stream of desperately needed hard currency it creates. It has also facilitated the Castro regime’s ability to establish and repatriate funds from lucrative criminal enterprises, including billionaire Medicare fraud schemes.

These incongruences are further exacerbated by the fact that the U.S. government outsources the first-tier screening of Cubans chosen to be paroled into the U.S. under the CRAA to the Castro regime. That’s right; the U.S. Interests Section in Havana hires Castro regime personnel to interview Cubans seeking visas. Thus, adding insult to injury, current U.S. policy allows the persecutors to choose who will be afforded the privilege of the CRAA.

The result is a process whereby thousands of Cuban non-refugees are being admitted to the U.S. under CRAA, while many who are genuinely persecuted for their political views are being denied entry [...]

The fairest and easiest way to legally classify those Cubans who have a legitimate political rationale for seeking refuge in the U.S. versus those who do not is by identifying those who quickly turn-around and travel back to the island.

Identifying those who travel back in order to determine a political rationale for CRAA purposes is not a new rubric. It is how U.S. law distinguishes legitimate versus fraudulent refugee claims for every other nationality in the world.

Under Section 208.8(b) of Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, an asylum applicant who leaves the U.S. pursuant to advance parole and returns to the country of claimed persecution is presumed to have abandoned his or her asylum application. Such an individual’s underlying asylum status may be terminated even if the individual has already become a lawful permanent resident.

Therefore, in order to rightfully restore the original intent of the CRAA, Congress should [apply refugee parity], which would make [CRAA] consistent with Section 208.8(b) as applied to Iranians, Syrians, Sudanese and other source-nations of refugees, whose asylum status may be terminated if they choose to return to their country of feared persecution, until they become U.S. citizens.

It is the most reasonable way to ensure the CRAA continues to protect Cuban refugees who are fleeing the Castro regime’s persecution, without providing a financial lifeline and an additional control mechanism to their persecutors.

Quote of the Day: Cubans Mostly Govern in Caracas

[Venezuela] is a bankrupt country, where Cubans mostly govern in Caracas.
-- Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica and Nobel laureate, BBC Mundo, 10/20/15

Must-Read: Castro Orders a Reduction in Purchases From the U.S.

By J.J. Almeida, son of former Raul Castro confidant, deceased Cuban General Juan Almeida, in Translating Cuba:

Cuban Government Orders a Reduction in Purchases from the United States

The reduction in products imported from the United States could be explained as an unspoken attempt by the Cuban government to manipulate an important American commercial sector with the goal of derailing the embargo.

A government strategy? According to statistics published by the US-Cuban Economic and Commercial Council, commercial activity by state import conglomerate, ALIMPORT, has decreased. From 2009 until today, the Cuban government has significantly reduced its purchase of food, drugs and medical equipment from its neighbor to the north, which reached a high of $710 million in 2008.

Several experts say the decline is due primarily to financial considerations, specifically those related to the Cuban government, which they liken to an ineffective, bankrupt company. But I find this explanation to be unconvincing. Governmental ineffectiveness is relative and the prospect of bankruptcy is doubtful. If we carefully dig a little past the airtight surface of the opaque Cuban economic system, new statistics begin to appear.

A friend — an official of the Ministry of Economy and Planning, where my mother worked for years — informed me that the decline only pertains to trade with the United States. “A directive came from upstairs and it has nothing to do with money,” he notes. “Since late 2012, Cuba has increased purchases of food and medicines by more than two billion dollars.”

Further investigation led me to a US-based Cuban merchant who has a license to sell American goods to Cuba. He assured me that the decline in purchases of US products by Cuban companies such as Cubazucar, Transimport, Alimport, Cubametales, Quimimport, Maprinter, Consumimport and Palco is intended to put financial pressure American producers so that they might in turn lobby their senators to lift the “blockade.”

Meanwhile, Justo J. Sanchez, an award-winning journalist and analyst in New York, believes that “if ALIMPORT and other government agencies think that cutting off business dealings with American farmers will put pressure on supporters of the Helms Burton Act, they are politically naive. That idea won’t even get off the ground.”

He adds, “Most observers agree that the farm lobby, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, has the power to change the policy imposed at the time by President Clinton. The bill that would repeal the Helms Burton it rests on the shoulders of six senators, three from each party. The others will remain cautiously in the shadows until after the next presidential elections.

“The death notice will not appear until sometime after Obama leaves office. The farmers do not have the influence or resources to convince legislators of their point of view, something the banking, tourism and industrial sectors can do more easily. It is a well-known fact that the tourism industry has been lobbying for a diplomatic approach since the George W. Bush administration. If Cuba wants to see Helms-Burton wither and die, it will have to learn to play in the big leagues of American politics.”

Using trade as a tool to exert pressure is not a new tactic and it can seem like an effective strategy. As my grandmother used to say, “better to be here than in the breadline.” Passion often blinds us and looking at the world through a partisan lens often leads us in the wrong direction. But it is easy to understand that the real architects of the new relationship between the US and Cuba were not Barack Obama and Raul Castro; they were the seldom-mentioned representatives of America’s industrial, economic, commercial and corporate interests.

So I decided to investigate and contacted a prosperous, well-connected European businessman based on the island with years of experience. When I asked why Cuban purchases of American products had fallen off, he replied, “It’s not a written policy. It’s more like a verbal order from GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A or Business Administration Group, Inc.), which is common practice among military men. There is concern about hacking and cyber-espionage, and the best protection (for them) is verbal communication. Business is not conducted here in a business-like climate. You’re dealing with lieutenants, captains, colonels and generals.”

“These are the rules of a country at peace which enjoys being at war.” he adds. “And foreign businessmen, the people who make money, have to let them use us as pawns in their game of politics or have to carry out some filthy spying exercise for them. Those are the rules of the game and you have to take it or leave it.”

Christie Seeks to Bar New Jersey-Cuba Flights Until Most Wanted Terrorist is Extradited

From The New York Post:

Christie urges Port Authority to reject Newark-Cuba flights over cop-killer case

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is urging the Port Authority not to reopen direct flights between Newark and Havana because of Cuba’s continued harboring of convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard.

“It is unacceptable to me to me as governor to have any flights between New Jersey and Cuba until and unless convicted cop killer and escaped fugitive Joanne Chesimard is returned to New Jersey to face justice,” Christie wrote in a letter to PA chief John Degnan obtained by The Post.

“I will not tolerate rewarding the Cuban government for continuing to harbor a fugitive,” he added.

Chesimard was convicted in 1977 of the brutal murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in 1973 during a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike. Officer James Harper was wounded in the melee.

Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, busted out of a New Jersey prison in 1979 and fled in 1984 to Cuba, where she was granted asylum. She was serving a life sentence, and escaped with armed accomplices.

Obama's Cuba Policy in a Nutshell

Excerpt from renowned author and journalist Andres Oppenheimer's review of Obama's foreign policy in his most recent The Miami Herald column, "Will Next U.S. President be a Hawk?":

Cuba has not made any major economic or political changes since the Dec. 17 start of the U.S.-Cuba normalization talks, despite the reestablishment of diplomatic ties and Obama’s recent announcement of measures that significantly weaken the U.S. trade embargo on the island. An Oct. 8 Washington Post headline read, “U.S. officials are frustrated by lack of progress in trade with Cuba.”

Senior Cuban Official in Moscow for 'Military Cooperation' Talks

Less than 24 hours after the Castro regime vaguely denies reports of a Cuban troop presence in Syria, a senior Cuban regime official travels to Moscow to discuss military cooperation with Russia.

Meanwhile, yesterday, Russia's Ambassador to Cuba thanked Castro's regime for supporting its actions in Syria at a Havana event with Assad officials.

In addition to Castro's support for Russia's actions in Syria, Castro has been harboring Russian intelligence ships tasked with monitoring U.S. defense facilities throughout the year.

From Russia's TASS News Agency:

Russia is interested in naval cooperation with Cuba — defense minister

Russia is interested in building up naval cooperation with Cuba, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu said at a meeting with Cuba’s Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas.

Shoigu tanked Cuba for hospitality Russian ships enjoyed while visiting Havana’s port.

"We are interested in building up cooperation in the naval sphere," Shoigu said.

The outlook for military-technological cooperation between Russia and Cuba will be the theme of a separate discussion at a meeting of the bilateral commission concerned.

"Of course, our military-technological cooperation is a special subject. It’s been developing fast and in a very positive fashion. We will be discussing all that at a meeting of the commission for military-technical cooperation," Shoigu said.

He recalled that Russia had accumulated vast experience of training Cuban military personnel.

"This aspect of partnership has very good prospects. We will be prepared to furnish assistance in training Cuban military further on," Shoigu said.

"Our contacts at the Defense Ministry are becoming a good tradition," he concluded.

Russian Ambassador Thanks Cuba For Supporting its Actions in Syria

Monday, October 19, 2015
Less than 24 hours after the Castro regime vaguely denies reports of a Cuban troop presence in Syria, both Cuban and Iranian state media publish stories of a gathering at the Russian Embassy in Havana with Syria's Charge d'Affaires, whereby the Russian Ambassador thanks Cuba for supporting its actions in Syria.

Click here for the version in Iranian state media.

From Castro's state media outlet, Prensa Latina:

Syrians in Cuba Thank Russia's Support in Fighting Terrorists

The Syrian community in this country thanked today Russia's support in fighting terrorists in the Levantine state, and emphasized respect for international law in that solidarity action.

The Charge d'Affaires of the Syrian embassy in this capital, Loai Aloja said at a meeting in the Russian embassy that Moscow's military actions in Syria are in defense of the international law and the UN Charter.

In front of 50 representatives of the community of his country in Cuba, Aloja stressed that Russia not only defends with its actions the Syrian people, but also the entire world.

The Arab diplomat denounced how imperialism and its agents overthrow legitimate governments, on the contrary of what Russia does.

"Moreover, what is happening now in Syria is also part of the own resistance of our people," the official said, referring to the progress achieved in the military field these days.

Western countries met in Syria all the world's terrorists to kill our citizens, Aloja denounced.

"We are and will be friends of Syria," Russian ambassador to Cuba, Mijail Kaminin stated for his part, who said his country was fighting against terrorism and respect for international law.

"We are in Syria at the request of its legitimate government," said the Russian diplomat, who considered the Islamic State terrorist group as a threat for all human beings.

He also thanked Cuba's support to Russia's actions to restore peace in the Levantine country.

Amnesty International: The Unlikely Chance of a Serious Human Rights Debate in Cuba

By Amnesty International's Louise Tillotson in Inter-Press Service:

The Unlikely Chance of a Serious Human Rights Debate in Cuba

Nearly a month since Pope Francis ended his historic visit to Cuba, any hope that authorities would loosen control on free expression in the country is fading as fast as the chants that welcomed him.

At the start of his tour, Pope Francis said Cuba had an opportunity to “open itself to the world.” He urged young people in the country to have open minds and hearts, and to be willing to engage in a dialogue with those who “think differently.”

Cubans listened, but the government didn’t.

Instead, the Cuban authorities continued to prevent human rights activists from expressing their dissenting views.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, an independent organization, in 2014 there was an average of 741 arbitrary detentions each month.

Last month, during the Pope´s visit, the number increased even further, with 882 arbitrary detentions registered.

Activists Zaqueo Baez Guerrero, Ismael Bonet Rene and María Josefa Acón Sardinas, members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), a dissident group, are three of the activists detained. They were arrested on 20 September after they crossed a security line in Havana as they attempted to talk to the Pope and have been held in prison since then.

They are believed to be charged with contempt (“desacato”), resistance (“resistencia”), violence or intimidation against a state official (“atentado”) and public disorder (“desorden publico”). If convicted, they face prison sentences of between three and eight years.

The crackdown seems to have escalated since the Pope left the country.

On Sunday, 11 October, hundreds of human rights activists and dissidents, including members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and of the group Ladies in White (Damas de Blanco) were arbitrarily arrested and detained on their way to peaceful protests organized across the country calling for the release of the activists and prisoners of conscience. The Patriotic Union of Cuba is one of the organizations reporting the highest number of detentions.

One activist recently told me how a bus carrying him and 29 other people was stopped on the way to the city of Santiago de Cuba by 40 police officers.

“They took us off the bus one by one and threatened us with blows and imprisonment. I was taken in a jeep and left somewhere remote and had to walk for various miles to get home,” he said.

According to José Daniel Ferrer, General Secretary of UNPACU, four homes of social leaders were recently robbed or vandalized.

Another activist said he was hit after being arrested: “An official told us we all had to shut up or the police could take out our teeth if it was necessary,” he said. He said the police only stopped hitting him when they saw lots of blood.

Also on Sunday, in Havana, 60 Ladies in White were arrested. Some said they had been beaten, and detained for hours after a peaceful march that lasted less than 10 minutes. “The march started at 1.30pm and was stopped at 1.40pm,” Berta Soler, leader of the group told me.

The mother and grandmother of prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado Machado, a graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” also joined the Ladies in White. Danilo´s mother said: “There were lots of police, who picked up the Ladies in White in buses. They picked them up so no one would see them protest.It left me traumatized to see how they dragged the women.”

For many, Pope Francis´ visit to Cuba was a sign of hope for freedom of expression in the country. But the recent crackdown on those who think differently shows that the same old tactics of repression are still being used to stifle dissent.

Cuba is undoubtedly at a crossroads when it comes to the protection of human rights. The Cuban government has long said it promotes the rights to education, healthcare and that it has made some advancements for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

But it is impossible to comprehensively assess the wider human rights situation in Cuba when the fundamental right to peacefully express a view is tightly controlled and independent monitors are unable to enter.

As long as Cubans are only allowed to disagree in spaces controlled by the government, but not on the streets, and while the right to protest is severely restricted, a wider discussion on human rights remains an unlikely reality.

When Did ‘Freedom’ Become a Dirty Word Regarding Cuba?

By Dr. Jose Azel in The Miami Herald:

When did ‘freedom’ become a dirty word?

Neither Pope Francis nor Obama used the word regarding Cuba

What message is being sent about American values?

When discussing Cuba or U.S-Cuba policy, the word “freedom” has become politically incorrect in official circles. In his 1998 homily in Havana, Pope John Paul II mentioned freedom 17 times.

But Pope Francis did not use the word once during his recent visit to Cuba.

In 2007, President Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly noting that: “The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And … the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly and, ultimately, free and competitive elections.”

President Obama, in his recent U.N. comments regarding Cuba, did not use the word freedom: and unassertively stated the obvious: “We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties.”

This statement unambiguously acknowledges that the struggle for freedom for the Cuban people has now been relegated to a subordinate position. Increased commerce is the new guiding light.

Yet freedom has not advanced in Cuba. The recently published Human Freedom Index, the joint project of various respected organizations, is perhaps the most studious and comprehensive global measurement of personal, civil and economic freedom ever put together covering 152 countries.

For context, the United States rates No. 20 in the aggregate freedom index, China is No. 132 and Iran closes the rankings at No. 152.

And Cuba? Well, Cuba, one of the least free countries in the world, cannot even be included in the index given its total lack of transparency and the unreliability of its data.

Vanishing the term freedom from policy discussions suggests we have abandoned the core American principle of being the voice of liberty for oppressed people.

Even worse, the new U.S.-Cuba policy appears to be based on some “moral hazard” calculation.

In the vocabulary of finance and economics, moral hazard describes a condition in which we do not have to suffer the consequences of our decisions. In other words, moral hazard occurs when one person makes a decision, while someone else bears the costs if things go badly.

When people are isolated from the risks associated with their actions, they may behave differently from how they would act if they were fully exposed to the risks.

Consider how careful politicians are when spending your money. Or how much risk we may choose to take to protect our car from theft when we know it is fully insured against theft.

The new approach to U.S.-Cuba relations makes it clear to all that liberty for the Cuban people is no longer the primary objective or moral compass of the administration. The natural consequence is the legitimization and, perhaps, perpetuation, of the Cuban tyranny.

This consequence will not be endured by the policymakers, but by the Cuban people. From the perspective of moral hazard, it is fair to ask: Would policymakers be as callous or careless if their own aspirations for liberty were at play?

It is not objectionable to argue for a new approach, or for reconciliation, as President Obama, Pope Francis and their supporters seek.

However, it is objectionable and deeply offensive to our values that the new approach deliberately excludes the concept of freedom for the Cuban people from all communications.

Implied is a call for Cubans to resign themselves indefinitely to freedomless lives. Sadly, this is a call made by those enjoying the blessings of liberty, therefore, moral hazard.

Supporters argue that the new policy seeks to improve Cubans’ well-being. But well-being and freedom are not mutually exclusive conditions. Advocating for one does not require us to give up advocating for the other.

What message is the United States sending to Cubans by refraining from calling for their freedom? Why is it deemed necessary? What is the international community to make of this self-censorship?

If we believe in the promise of freedom, then the explanation has to be that the administration does not want to upset the Cuban government, which rejects the concept of liberty.

How is that timidity a projection of American values, of “the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

Is $1.35 Billion the Price of Cuba's Support for Russia's Actions in Syria?

Less than a week after news reports indicate Cuban troops are supporting Russia's actions in Syria, Vladimir Putin's government approves the construction of four power units at two Cuban thermal power plants.

The project is estimated to cost around $1.35 billion.

Perhaps this is the price of Cuba's support for Russia's actions in Syria -- along with the $32 billion debt Putin wrote off last year.

From Sputnik News:

Russia to Build 4 Units at 2 Thermal Power Plants in Cuba 

Russia might build four units at two thermal power plants in Cuba.

Russia and Cuba are planning to sign an agreement to construct four units at two thermal power plants in Cuba, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s decree said Monday.

"Approve… a draft agreement between the Russian Government and the Government of Cuba on the construction of power units at Maximo Gomes and Este Habana thermal power plants," the decree reads. "And after coming to terms, to sign the agreement on behalf of the Russian Government."

Russia's Inter RAO-Export and the Cuban company Union Electrica signed a memorandum of understanding on the prospective contract for the construction of four power units in Cuba with a capacity of 200 megawatts each during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Havana on July 11, 2014.

One of the units is to be constructed at Maximo Gomes in the Mariel municipality; the other three will be installed in Santa Cruz del Norte’s Este Habana.

The deal was previously estimated to cost $1.35 billion.

Both power stations, where the four generators are planned to be installed, were built by Soviet experts using domestic energy equipment.

Over 150 Cuban Dissidents Arrested on Sunday, As Repression (Impunity) Intensifies

Sunday, October 18, 2015
For the 26th Sunday in a row, over 150 Cuban dissidents were arrested by the Castro regime as they tried to attend Mass, then peacefully demonstrate as part of the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign.

Among those arrested were over 80 activists from the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) in the eastern city of Santiago, including its leader Jose Daniel Ferrer, plus nearly a dozen others in Guantanamo.

Meanwhile, in Havana, over 70 members of The Ladies in White -- the renowned group composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners -- were arrested.

Castro's secret police also intensified a new tactic of trying to keep leaders of The Ladies in White from reaching their colleagues on Sunday morning, so it began surrounding their homes since Friday.

Such was the case of Leticia Ramos Herreria, a leader of The Ladies in White in the province of Matanzas.

Ramos Herreria was viciously beaten by police officials outside of her home on Friday. They cracked her head and injured her ribs. She has been urinating blood since.

Another police official then beat Ramos Herreria's 24-year old son, pressed a gun to his chest and threatened to kill him.

Yet sadly, for the 26th Sunday in a row, the Obama Administration has nothing to say about the repressive tactics of its new diplomatic partner.

It's "what change looks like."

Obama Administration Ignores 'Women of Courage' in Cuba and Iran

By George Phillips of The Gatestone Institute:

Women of Courage Betrayed by U.S. and the Media

- Berta Soler and the other "Ladies in White" have been ignored by the Obama Administration -- bypassed year after year. These and countless other brave women who are also human rights leaders -- often falsely accused of crimes, and who are currently suffering in Iranian prisons -- should be recognized as Women of Courage, but remain sidelined by the U.S. government, the media, and most notably by women's groups.

- Why are we not only failing to help them, but instead washing our hands of them?

- Disingenuously, Obama keeps repeating that his deal will "prevent" Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- when the deal clearly empowers Iran to get them.

Pope Francis, on his recent trip to Cuba, failed to embrace publicly the world famous "Ladies in White" ("Damas de Blanco") -- the wives and relatives of Cuba's jailed dissidents.

"Ladies in White" was formed by Berta Soler in 2003 after 75 human rights activists and journalists were sent to prison by the Cuban government. The men in their family had been jailed for being activists. The "Ladies in White" were peacefully calling for their release.

This year, for twenty straight Sundays between April and August, members of the "Ladies in White" were arrested as well -- for leading protests against the Castro regime for having imprisoned their family members and for suppressing human rights.

These women have also been routinely harassed and beaten during their peaceful efforts to stand for freedom.

On September 20, on their way to a special meeting with Pope Francis in Cuba, Berta Soler and her husband were arrested by police. An additional 20 members of the "Ladies in White" were also arrested to prevent them from attending the papal mass in Havana.

Berta Soler and the other "Lades in White" have been ignored by the Obama Administration – bypassed year after year as one of the ten women honored by the U.S. Department of State at its annual Women of Courage Award.

Iranian women have also largely been bypassed for this honor. As members of the Obama Administration move forward with the policy of engagement with the brutal regimes in Havana and Tehran, it is important not to forget the courageous people, including women, who oppose them.

Since the inception of the award in 2007, eleven Afghan women and four Pakistani women have been honored as Women of Courage.

Although there are plenty of deserving candidates among Iranian women for this award, only one has been selected, and that, in 2010: Shadi Sadr, a lawyer and journalist who started a website dedicated to women's rights activists in Iran and has represented activists in court.

The Women of Courage Award, which in the past also has been given posthumously, should also be awarded to Neda Agha-Soltan, whose was brutal murder was recorded live during the "Green Movement" protests in Iran in 2009 and gained world-wide attention.

Neda, as she has become known, was hailed by protesters as an "Angel of Freedom." After her murder, the Iranian regime banned prayers for her. Her grave has been desecrated, posters memorializing her have been torn down, and her family has been targeted.

Unfortunately, members of the Obama Administration failed to give any support whatsoever for the Green Movement in 2009 and certainly do not seem likely to do so now. The current U.S. Administration evidently prefers clinging to a quixotic "Iran deal," supported by only 21% of the American public, and that, in any event, many believe will have catastrophic consequences. Disingenuously, President Obama keeps repeating -- most recently on a CBS 60 Minutes interview with Steve Croft -- that his deal will "prevent" Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, when the deal is quite clear that it empowers Iran to get one.

There are also countless brave women, also human rights leaders, often falsely accused of supposed crimes, who are currently suffering in Iranian prisons. They, too, should be recognized as Women of Courage, but remain sidelined by the U.S. government, the media, and most notably by women's groups.

One of these women, Bahareh Hedayat, was arrested in Iran in 2009 for her work in a student organization and the "One Million Signatures Campaign for the Change of Discriminatory Laws Against Women."

The official charges against her included "acting against national security and publishing falsehoods", "insulting the Supreme Leader" and "insulting the President."

Just as she was finishing her prison term and scheduled for release, she was given an additional two years for a previously suspended sentence in 2007 relating to peace activism. The extension was added by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the ethereal-sounding grounds of "acting against national security", "disturbing public order" and "propaganda against the state."

Iran targeted another woman, Narges Mohammadi, after she met with the then European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in 2014. Doctors are requesting her be moved from prison to a hospital, to prevent a paralysis from which she is suffering from becoming worse.

Recent charges against Mohammadi from her arrest this May include "activities against national security and anti-government publicity" for participating in human rights campaigns and a campaign against the death penalty.

Also serving 14 years in prison is another opponent of the death penalty, Atena Daemi. The regime imprisoned her because of her Facebook posts and information on her mobile phone critical of the Supreme Leader, as well as her efforts against death penalty.

Daemi's health is also poor. She is having increasing difficulty sleeping and seeing, and may have multiple sclerosis.

While frequent charges against these women include "insulting the Supreme Leader" and acting "against national security," it seems as if their actual "crime" actual "crime" is freedom of speech.

The "Ladies and White" and so many other brave Cuban and Iranian women are merely asking for freedom and justice. Why are we not only failing to help them, but instead washing our hands of them?

Miami Herald Editorial: Cuba’s Much Ado About Two Little Pigs

From The Miami Herald's Editorial Board:

Cuba’s much ado about two little pigs

A Cuban graffiti artist has been jailed for 10 months

Cuba’s questionable human-rights record is on display again over a relatively insignificant act of civil disobedience. But how authorities have handled it, up to now, says volumes.

The brouhaha is over Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, or the Sixth One. Mr. Maldonado has been in jail since Dec. 25, 2014.

His crime: Attempting to put on a performance-art play that included two pigs named Raúl and Fidel. The pigs were appearing in a performance of Revolt in the Farm, an obvious takeoff on George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm.

In Cuba — before and after its renewed political relations with the United States — such irreverence in the guise of contempt for political leaders and the regime has been punishable by law. Clearly, the revolution has little tolerance and no sense of humor about these things.

El Sexto staged a hunger strike for 24 days when authorities announced recently that the artist would be released last Thursday.

That day, according to El Nuevo Herald reporters, the graffiti artist’s relatives gathered outside the Valle Grande prison waiting for him to walk free.

It never happened.

According to Cuban blogger and activist Lia Villares, prison authorities told relatives they had no instructions to release El Sexto.

Then the artist’s mother was notified by State Security that, yes, he had served the time required and would be released before Oct. 21.

Was this all some cruel joke? As this is written, the family sits and waits, as does El Sexto.

In the past eight months, Cuban authorities announced several times they would release the graffiti artist, then reneged. Disappointing? Yes. A total surprise from this mercurial and heartless regime? No.

In any free society, the joke El Sexto concocted would have been regarded as biting, but harmless political humor, not an assault on the state requiring imprisonment.

In the United States, people are not thrown in prison for drawing a Hitler mustache on a poster of former President George W. Bush or for waving banners critical of the commander in chief as President Obama’s motorcade whizzes by. Oh wait, we live in a democracy. It’s different in Cuba, not matter what tourists visiting the island are told.

The punishment imposed on El Sexto, an insignificant, young, rebellious graffiti artist, is excessive. And the uncertainty over his release has been painful for both the artist and his family. Supporters have ramped up a social-media campaign: #FreeElSexto.

Now, months after the United States and Cuba renewed relations, the constant mantra is that democratic influences will bring about change inside Cuba.

However, it’s still hard to believe a tiger like the Cuban government will change its stripes. It’s a lesson it reinforces by taking action against people like El Sexto.

And it is yet one more of too many post-normalization examples that confirms the regime is long way off from having the United States grant its fondest wish: ending the embargo against it.

Boston Herald Editorial: U.S. Getting Nothing in Return for Obama's Cuba Overtures

From The Boston Herald's Editorial Board:

Syria gets new ally

The geopolitical tinderbox that is now Syria continues to demonstrate the dangerous incompetence of the Obama administration at creating the power vacuum that has allowed this to happen.

For several weeks Russian planes have been bombing whatever they damned well please — and more often than not that means over the CIA-backed Free Syrian Army rather than Islamic State fighters.

This past week an additional 1,500 Iranian fighters, accompanied by kindred spirits from the terrorist ranks of Hezbollah, landed in Syria, presumably to prepare for a Russian-led offensive around Aleppo, according to Associated Press reports.

All of that designed to bolster Russian ally Bashar Assad.

Into that toxic stew now come Cuban paramilitary and special forces units in support of Russia and Assad. A U.S. official has confirmed a report by the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies that the Cuban troops involved likely trained first in Russia and then were transported on Russian planes directly to Syria.

The Cuban troops are believed to be expert in operating the Russian-made tanks — also already on the scene. It wouldn’t be the first time Cuban troops have aided the Syrian regime. They were also on the ground in 1973 to support Syria in what became known as the Yom Kippur War against Israel. So surely having Cubans, Iranians and Hezbollah in the neighborhood has got to be making the Israelis a little nervous long about now.

And much as this paper has supported a normalization of relations with Cuba, clearly the United States is right now getting nothing in return from the Castro regime for its many diplomatic overtures.

What President Obama called a “historic step forward” and the beginning of “a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas” during a Rose Garden announcement in July has netted him what exactly? Another ally for the Russian-led battle to save a failing despot.

It would all be rather embarrassing — that is if this president were capable of embarrassment — if it weren’t simply so damned dangerous.

Cuba in Cash Crunch (Again), Seeks Credit (Again), Now Wants Obama to Deliver

The following article highlights the absurdity of Obama's Cuba policy.

In sum:

-- There is only one client in Cuba for foreign trade - Castro's monopolies;

-- Castro has recently received generous subsidies (from Venezuela), debt relief and forgiveness (from Russia, China, Mexico and Uruguay) and credit terms and agreements (from Japan, Germany, France and corruptly from Brazil);

-- Despite this, Castro's "broke" (again);

-- Now Castro seeks even more generous credit terms (to salvage his regime); and

-- Obama would like to bail Castro out.

Fortunately, Congress stands in the way, as financing for Castro's regime is specifically prohibited by U.S. law.

From Reuters:

Cuba in cash crunch due to low commodity prices, Venezuela woes

Low commodity prices, a drought at home and Venezuela's economic crisis have created a cash shortage for Cuba's Communist government, restricting its ability to trade just as it could be taking advantage of an economic opening with the United States.

State companies have cut imports and are seeking longer payment terms from suppliers, diplomats and foreign business people say.

The cash crunch, combined with Cuba's hesitancy to embrace a recent softening of the U.S. economic embargo, demonstrate some of the complications U.S. companies face in Cuba even though Washington is chipping away at the sanctions.

The Caribbean island's cash flow has been cut by low prices for nickel, one of its leading exports, as well as for oil.

Cuba receives oil on favorable terms from Venezuela and refines and resells some of it in a joint venture with its socialist ally. But prices for refined products are down in tandem with crude.

"There is no money," said the foreign director of a manufacturing firm in a joint venture with Cuba. Like others interviewed for this story, the director wished to remain anonymous to avoid annoying the government.

Comments about the liquidity shortage are echoed by others doing business with Cuba even with tourism up 17 percent this year.

"Cuba is clearly feeling the squeeze," said the commercial attache of one of the country's top trading partners. "They are falling behind on some payments and asking suppliers for credit terms of 365 days or longer, compared with 90 days to 180 days."

Economy Minister Marino Murillo, speaking to the National Assembly in July, said export revenue had been less than expected and "adjustments" would be made.

Identifying those adjustments is difficult as Cuba's finances are opaque. It is not a member of any international lending organization and the local currency has no value abroad.

Cuba Requires Political Adherence for 'Self-Employment' Licenses

The Castro regime is seeking a four-year prison sentence against Alexei Serrano Avila, a Cuban "self-employed" licensee, for joining a dissident group, the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU).

He was arrested three weeks ago, during which he has spent eight days on a hunger strike and been the victim of at least two violent beatings in prison. 

Serrano Avila was a licensee who sold agricultural products from a kiosk. As he started participating in activities with UNPACU, he began suffering harassment, arrests and beatings at the hands of the Castro regime's inspectors and security forces.

Pursuant to this latest arrest, for seeking to travel from Palm Soriano to Santiago to attend Pope Francis' Mass, the Castro regime destroyed his kiosk and confiscated its goods.

Of course, none of this is new.

Despite what the Obama Administration and its allies purport -- that "self-employment" licensees are a means of "empowerment" for the Cuban people -- the fact is they require a stamp of political privilege, approval and obedience from the Castro regime. 

(We've long explained this herehere, herehere, here, here, here and here.)

In other words, they foment submission and control, which is partly why Castro created them during the 1990's in the first place -- to reign-in the widespread and uncontrollable black-market.

Fact: Economic 'Reforms' Do Not Lead to Freedom

For those who espouse the theory that economic reforms lead to political reforms -- let alone to economic and political freedoms -- here are some sobering facts.

This week, the U.S.'s Congressional-Executive Commission on China issued its 2015 Annual Report.

This join commission, mandated by the 2000 U.S.-China Relations Act, is tasked with monitoring human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an Annual Report to the President and the Congress.

Here are two of its Executive Summary findings:

• During the Commission’s 2015 reporting year, the Chinese Communist Party sought to strengthen its control over politics and society in order to maintain its rule in China’s authoritarian political system. Central Party leaders stressed the objective of enhancing Party leadership over non-governmental organizations, businesses, government agencies, and judicial and legislative institutions. The Party reportedly aims to ‘‘incentivize specific behaviors’’ by individuals and groups through a new ‘‘social credit’’ system which some observers have likened to a proxy for the legal system or labeled as another method of social control. Party authorities expressed the intention to use the law as a tool to impose the Party’s will.

• Sources asserted that human rights abuses in China reportedly were ‘‘at their worst since 1989.’’ Chinese authorities continued to harass, detain, and impose prison sentences on democracy advocates who exercised their rights to the freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and demonstration, including individuals who advocated for democracy in Hong Kong. Some representative cases of detained democracy advocates include Zhao Haitong, Chen Shuqing, Yao Lifa, and Shen Yongping.