Castro Shuts Down Only Email Service in Cuba

Friday, November 20, 2015
Exhibit A of why Obama's policy of collaborating with -- rather than circumventing -- Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, is a dangerous folly.

Not only would U.S. companies be colluding with ETECSA's control and censorship (plus potentially violating U.S. law), but with a flip of a switch -- and no explanation -- Castro can simply shut it off.

From Motherboard:

Cuba's Only Email Service Has Been Mysteriously Shut Down

The Cuban government has shut down the island's only official email service provider and it's not clear when it'll come back.

The Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced in an official note Wednesday that it has had to "completely stop email services" in the country.

As is often the case in Cuba, the communist government hasn't given an official reason for the shutdown. Service on the island has been spotty for more than a week, according to Jose Luis Martinez, communications director at the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, who is in regular communication with people on the island. Earlier this week, ETECSA said that the "infrastructure that supports the accounts has had a technical failure that affects the sending and receiving of emails.”

While there's no "law" (quotations added by CHC) that stops Cubans from using Gmail or any other email service provider, the shutdown of all official email accounts, which are called Nauta accounts, will have huge ramifications for how people communicate on the island.

There is very little wifi access in Cuba and no mobile internet service for Cubans whatsoever, but standard cell phone service is pretty widespread. The Cuban government allows its citizens to send and receive text-based emails on mobile phones using standard cell signal and Nauta accounts. As a result, Nauta emails are how a lot of business gets done on the island, and it's how a lot of people communicate with those overseas while they're on the go.

Rubio Pledges to Undo Obama's Cuba Policy

From The Hill:

Rubio pledges to undo Obama's Cuba thaw

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says he would undo much of President Obama’s diplomacy with Cuba if elected president.

“Nothing was asked of Cuba,” he said Thursday of the White House’s diplomatic thaw with the island nation earlier this year, according to The Associated Press.

“We somehow ignore the fact that 90 miles from our shores is an anti-American communist dictatorship that oppresses its people and sows instability,” Rubio added.

“We have a vested interest in ensuring there’s stability on that island, and you won’t have it as long as it’s a dictatorship,” the GOP presidential candidate continued. “People think it’s because we’re being stubborn or holding onto old policies. I’m prepared to change strategies with Cuba, but it has to be one that yields results.”

Rubio said he would downgrade the Embassy of the United States opened in Havana earlier this year if he wins the presidency, instead making the facility a diplomatic interests section, which it was before the Obama administration.

He also pledged to snap back into place restrictions on U.S. government and business dealings with Cuba.

Rubio criticized American corporate interests for blindly rushing toward Cuba’s markets.

“American companies think that they want to invest in Cuba. They have no idea what the terms are," he said. “The terms are, you don’t own anything. You can’t go to Cuba and open a business and own it.”

He also charged that Cuba’s restrictive society presents an immediate humanitarian concern for Americans.

“As long as they’re an oppressive regime, people are going to get in rafts and leave that island and come to the U.S.,” the presidential candidate said. "It’s our Coast Guard that’s going to have to go and save their lives in those straits.”

Rubio, whose parents fled Cuba’s government before his birth, criticized current U.S. policies on Cubans seeking refuge here.

“What I have criticized — and what I think makes no sense — is that we allow people to come to this country on the Cuban Adjustment Act,” he said.

“One year and a day after they’ve arrived, they’re traveling to Cuba 15 times a year,” Rubio continued. "The laws that exist are hard to justify anymore.

“When you have people who are coming and a year and a day later they are traveling back to Cuba 15 times a year, 12 times, 10 times, 8 times, that doesn’t look like someone who is fleeing oppression.”

The American Embassy in Havana began flying a U.S. flag over its facilities for the first time in 54 years last August.

Obama announced he would begin restoring diplomatic ties with Cuba late last year following decades of tension during the Cold War.

Quote of the Day: How Cubans Are Responding to 'Normalization' With Castro

It is now clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear and desperation, leading many of them to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro's Cuba. I am concerned about what that means for my community in South Florida.
-- U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), in a letter to President Obama, The Miami Herald, 11/19/15

Diaz-Balart: Premature To Think U.S. Airlines And Cruise Ships Will Go To Cuba

From WLRN's interview with U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Chairman of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee:

The trade embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress. Yet, several industries are working to increase ties with the island, including airlines and cruise ship operators. Carnival Corp’s Fathom cruise brand has plans to begin sailing from Miami to Cuba in May. American Airlines is among the air carriers waiting for U.S. and Cuba negotiators to complete talks regarding regularly scheduled commercial air travel between the two countries.

Do you support those efforts to engage economically with that island?

Diaz-Balart: The law is still there. The economic sanctions remain in place. Congress, and the House in particular, has spoken very loudly on the two industries that you just mentioned. There is language in multiple appropriations bills in the House now being negotiated that deal with not allowing those things to actually happen. I think it's premature for anybody to think that those things are going to happen. On the floor of the House of Representatives we have had very strong bipartisan opposition to what President Obama is doing on the issues of either regular flights or on cruise ships going [to Cuba].

The law right now is that anybody who [has] business dealings on the island of Cuba on a property that was confiscated you could sue [in U.S. courts] that company that is now doing business on that stolen property. I think one of the reasons you're not seeing that many businesses investing [in Cuba] is precisely because I don’t think it's a good deal. It’s a risk they might get sued in U.S. courts. The biggest risk is that you're dealing with the Castro regime that is known to incarcerate and enslave and confiscate from those who do invest in the island.

There's over a dozen different provisions in about half a dozen of the appropriations bills that deal with Cuba.

It remains a terrorist state. Even though President Obama, in another concession to the Castro regime, arbitrarily took it off the list of states that sponsor terrorism, the only thing that's changed on the island is that the repression has been escalating.

Is it time to sunset the Cuban Adjustment Act?

Diaz-Balart: You have seen a dramatic increase of the abuse precisely because of Obama's new policy views. Is there always some abuse? Absolutely. There [are abuses of] just about every government program.But you've seen a dramatic escalation because of President Obama's concessions to the Castro regime. There's one bill in Congress to in essence  get rid of the entirety of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Would you support that?

Diaz-Balart: Have the conditions that warranted the Cuban Adjustment Act in the first place diminished? I would argue that the conditions have not improved. What has changed because of President Obama's policy changes is the level of abuse. If you want to stop the abuse, there are two things that should be done: No. 1, reverse President Obama's policies that have led to the massive increase of that abuse. And No. 2, deal with the issue of welfare-type payments that are going to folks who are abusing and wasting taxpayer money.

Cuban Adjustment Act is Not the Cause of Latest Refugee Crisis

Thursday, November 19, 2015
It has become the media's accepted talking point that the latest Cuban refugee crisis is due to "fears" that the privileges afforded under the Cuban Adjustment Act ("CAA") will soon come to an end.

Yet, history does not support this theory.

Were the Cuban refugee crises known as Camarioca (1965), Mariel (1980) and Cojimar (1994) due to "fear" that the CAA would soon end?

Of course not.

The cause of the latest Cuban refugee crisis is the same as the prior three -- namely a desire by the Cuban people to flee the Castro dictatorship and a desire by the Castro dictatorship to relieve itself of disaffected Cubans.

So much for the "hope and change" that Obama's new policy was supposed to afford the Cuban people.

History also shows it stems from Castro perceiving weakness in a U.S. President. Like with Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Bill Clinton in 1994, the Castro regime knows it can use human beings as weapons to continue extracting concessions from a unilaterally eager and generous U.S. President.

The Castro regime knows the Obama Administration is desperate to show any sign of "success" with its one-sided deal, particularly with the December 17th anniversary quickly approaching. Castro wants even more, but is not willing "to cede one millimeter" in terms of political, economic and human rights for the Cuban people.

Thus, play the refugee card.

Must-Read: Third Time is Not a Charm Engaging Castro's Regime

A great analysis from Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter:

Obama Cuba Policy: The Third Time Repeating and Doubling Down on Failure 

On December 17, 2014 President Obama made a general observation in his statement on changing U.S. Cuba policy: "I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result." The president should have looked back to the previous two attempts to normalize relations with the Castro dictatorship in the 1970s and 1990s to understand that Cuba policy has not been static over the past five decades. Understanding the reasons for the policy he has sought to replace may have saved lives.

The First Time

The Carter Administration was the first to lift the travel ban and hold high-level negotiations with the Cuban dictatorship, and both sides opened Interest Sections in their respective capitals between 1977 and 1981. Then from 1981 to 1982, the Castro regime executed approximately 80 prisoners, which was a marked escalation when compared to 1976. Furthermore, during the Carter presidency, Fidel Castro took steps that resulted in the violent deaths of US citizens.

During the Mariel crisis of 1980, when over 125,000 Cubans sought to flee the island, the Cuban dictator sought to save face by selectively releasing approximately 12,000 violent criminals or individuals who were mentally ill into the exodus. This first attempt at normalizing relations saw a worsening human rights situation and migration crisis.

The Second Time

The Clinton Administration in 1994 initiated regular contacts between the U.S. and Cuban military that included joint military exercises at the Guantanamo Naval base. Despite this improvement of relations the 1990s saw some brutal massacres of Cubans that are rightly remembered such as the July 13, 1994 "13 de Marzo" tugboat massacre and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down. The shoot down involved two planes blown to bits over international airspace by Cuban MiGs killing three American citizens and a Cuban resident who were engaged in the search and rescue of Cuban rafters.

The worsening human rights situation was a contributing factor in the August 1994 rafter crisis in which 35,000 Cubans fled the country. Experts have identified that this was a migration crisis engineered by the Castro regime. The Cuban dictatorship did this because it successfully reasoned that it could coerce the Clinton Administration to the negotiating table to obtain concessions which indeed it did and prolonged the life of the dictatorship for another twenty years. 

The Third Time

The Obama Administration beginning in 2009 loosened sanctions on the Castro regime. On his watch concluding on December 17, 2014 the Obama administration freed all five members of the WASP spy networ, including Gerardo Hernandez -- who was serving two life sentences, one of them for conspiracy to murder four members of Brothers to the Rescue murdered during the previous attempt at normalizing relations during the Clinton Administration. They de-linked the pursuit of full diplomatic relations from the rise in human rights violations in Cuba and in the region by Cuban state security. The Obama administration has doubled down in concessions even were the Clinton administration did not ignoring the Castro regime's continuing sponsorship of terrorism and smuggling of weapons to sanctioned countries in order to take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. President Obama is following through on his pledge made at the State of the Union to work for the lifting of economic sanctions on the dictatorship. On his watch human rights are worsening with an escalation in arbitrary detentions, violence against activists and prominent opposition leaders who would have been critical for a democratic transition killed in what appear to have been state security operations.

Once again the worsening human rights situation, and the belief that the Obama Administration can be coerced is leading to a migration crisis where tens of thousands of Cubans are fleeing the island. The objective of the dictatorship is crystal clear in exchange: end economic sanctions that protect U.S. taxpayers and limit their ability to make mischief and secondly end the Cuban Adjustment Act in order to leave Cubans more firmly in the dictatorship's control without an avenue of escape.

Hopefully the price in blood and treasure expended for the third time will persuade future occupants of The White House not to make the same error. Three times that American presidents have been perceived as weak by the Castro regime have ended in mass migrations and loss of life. Three presidencies have pursued openings with the Castro regime with disastrous results in terms of U.S. interests and human rights. You can't keep doing the same thing over three presidencies and expect a different result. It is also interesting to note that under presidencies perceived as tough on foreign policy, Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), and George W. Bush (2001-2009) did not have these type of migration crisis with the Castro regime.

Tweet of the Day: Capitulation is a Miserable Failure


An Unreliable and Politically Irrelevant Cuba Poll

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Despite the high-flying rhetoric and predictions earlier in the year, anti-sanctions lobbyists have run into a wall in the U.S. Congress.

This is mostly due to the horrible (and predictable) metrics resulting from Obama's one-sided deal with Cuba’s dictatorship.

As U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) eloquently summarized during an October 7, 2015, floor speech:

"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."

We'd also add that this new policy has done nothing to temper the Castro regime's alliances with rogue regimes throughout the world. To the contrary -- Castro has doubled-down on his support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, Iran's Mullahs, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and Russia's Vladimir Putin, whose intelligence vessels are now using Cuba's ports to spy on American military bases.

Desperate for any traction in Congress, a coalition of anti-sanctions lobbyists (composed of unscrupulous business interests and ideologically pro-Castro groups) have released a poll of four states (Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Tennessee), purporting support for Obama's Cuba policy and for the lifting of sanctions.

This latest polling charade is farcical for four reasons:

It's not reliable. The poll only surveyed 150 people in each state. Any poll with such a small sample size is universally considered unreliable. Moreover, it's statistically impossible for a poll of 150 people in one state to have a 4% margin of error, as its purports. Thus, they seek to intentionally mislead (or lie).

It's agenda-driven. The poll was sponsored and paid for by a coalition of anti-sanctions lobbyists. This poll is akin to J Street's (anti-AIPAC group) infamous polls purporting that 84% of American Jews support a deal that preserves Iran's nuclear program.

It's low information. Not only is the sample size minuscule, but it focuses on a segment of the population that does not follow developments in Cuba. In contrast, a scientific poll conducted by OnMessage, Inc., shows how the more people are aware of Cuba’s repressive realities and anti-American activities -- namely the metrics highlighted above -- the more they oppose Obama's policy.

It's politically irrelevant. Cuba policy is a non-issue for voters in Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and Tennessee. It's literally the last thing on their minds when they go to the voting booth. Voter intensity for Cuba policy is only among the Castro regime's victims and their families, and those who follow the issue closely. Hence the reason why every single elected representative of the Cuban-American community -- both Republicans and Democrats -- stand in unison against Obama's Cuba policy.

Opponents U.S. sanctions policy towards Cuba should focus on the merits, rather than silly attempts to misinform and misrepresent Cuba policy to general public.

Prominent Member of Cuba's Ladies in White Denied U.S. Visa

It's unclear who's manning the front-lines of the new U.S. Embassy in Havana, but a clear trend is developing whereby Cuban democracy activists are being denied non-immigrant visas.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for officials from the Castro regime, who seem to be traveling around the United States at leisure.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy denied a visa to Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as "El Sexto," a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, who recently spent 10 months arbitrarily imprisoned for a performance that displeased the Castro brothers.

This week, the U.S. Embassy denied a visa to Maria Cristina Labrada, a prominent member of The Ladies in White, to attend a conference.

The Ladies in White is the internationally-renowned group composed of the wives, daughters, mothers and other relatives of Cuban political prisoners. They are recipients of the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

In the image below, Labrada is the one in the front, leading the peaceful demonstration.

No to Impunity: Justice is Vital to Reconciliation

From Cuba Archive:

No to impunity: Transitional justice is vital to reconciliation

Lately, we hear talk of the reconciliation of the Cuban people. No doubt that is a desirable goal, particularly in resolving personal quarrels, but for national reconciliation to succeed, the near universal experience of the last half-century across the globe teaches us that “transitional justice” is a vital aspect of that process. And, that can only take place when a true democracy with a rule of law replaces the repressive regime and guarantees a course of action consisting of seeking truth, holding perpetrators accountable, arriving at some form of redress, and putting mechanisms in place to prevent abuses from recurring. Although each society must find its own particular approach, fostering transparency and taking victims into account are essential to the legitimacy of the process as well as to promote societal peace and consolidate the new democracy.

While it’s useful to set the foundations for eventual reconciliation, present-day Cuba does not yet offer the needed conditions. The Cuban regime is embarked on the transformation of a totalitarian system cloaked in orthodox Communism into an authoritarian model with selective elements of capitalism —a hybrid fascist system with amorphous ideological justifications. At the same time, a dynastic succession already set in motion seeks to maintain power in the hands of the same military dictatorship guilty of multiple and systematic crimes against humanity and sustained by a huge repressive apparatus and Stalinist laws.

The crimes of the Cuban regime

To help develop responsible views regarding Cuba, please visit Cuba Archive’s website, including our electronic database of documented cases of deaths and disappearance.

As a sample of our work, of the 325 documented cases (1959 to 2015) occurring in the month of November, thirteen have occurred since Raúl Castro assumed power in July 2006. Causes of death/disappearance include 154 executions by firing squad, 62 extrajudicial executions (assassinations committed by state agents), 6 forced disappearances, and 29 deaths in prison for medical negligence or suicide/alleged suicide. (Numbers are partial, as this is a work in progress.)

Of the cases occurring in the month of November, we highlight the tragic death of Darío Andino León, age 18, on November 18, 2014 at a Military Unit in the province of Cienfuegos. He had been doing his obligatory military service, enduring extremely harsh conditions and, while on a home visit, joined a group of neighbors who took to sea in a rustic vessel to escape from Cuba. Five days later, after a terrible ordeal at sea, they were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned to Cuba. After several days in a hospital, Darío was transferred by State Security to a detention center and placed in isolation for deserting his military service. Sent to a punishment cell and left incommunicado, several days later, he reportedly he hung himself with a sheet. He left a very young wife and one-month old daughter. (U.S.-Cuba migration agreements call for Cuba to respect the physical and emotional integrity of anyone intercepted at sea and repatriated by the U.S.)

Syria Isn't Obama's Only Refugee Crisis

Monday, November 16, 2015
In Syria, we are seeing the effects of a refugee crisis due to President Obama's (lack-of-a) policy.

Meanwhile, closer to our shores, a Cuban refugee crisis has unfolded as a result of Obama's short-sighted policy.

Yesterday, nearly 1,000 Cubans were being shot at and tear-gassed by the Nicaraguan military (allied to Cuban dictator Raul Castro), as they sought safe-passage through the Central American nation to the United States.

Apparently, they do not share Obama's enthusiasm for "normalizing" relations with Cuba's dictatorship.

From The Tico Times:

Cuban migrants caught in limbo again as Nicaragua sends them back to Costa Rica

Alain Pentón looked surprisingly calm sitting on a bench as a crowd of Cuban migrants anxiously gathered in front of Costa Rica’s immigration control center, just across the border with Panama. Pentón, a 38-year-old Cuban migrant, left the island at the end of September. After facing extortion from Colombian police on his way toward the United States, waiting for a temporary transit visa in Costa Rica was a piece of cake, he said.

Pentón and his group of seven friends and family from Havana eventually received their temporary Costa Rica visas and boarded the first bus out of Paso Canoas. The crowd cheered and the Cubans on board waved to their compatriots as the neon green Tracopa bus pulled onto the Inter-American Highway, headed north. But their troubles weren’t over yet: Nicaragua closed its border to the Cubans on Sunday and riot police fired shots and tear gas after 700 Cuban migrants reportedly tried to cross into the country.

Quote of the Day: No Improvements in Political or Civil Rights Since U.S. Ties

There have been no improvements in the area of political and civil rights or other fundamental rights. That is the opposite of what people expected when diplomatic relations with Washington were normalized.
-- Elizardo Sánchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHR-NR), Institute of War and Peace Reporting, 11/15/15

Appeasement Will Not Improve Things in Cuba

By Dr. Javier Garcia-Bengochea in The Florida Times-Union:

Appeasement and moral cowardice will not improve things in Cuba

A recent rebuttal to my guest column on Cuba made four broad points:

■ Cuba has benefited from socialism.

■ Cuba’s dictatorship isn’t objectionably repressive.

■ Latin America supports President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba.

■ My characterization of that engagement as “disgraceful” was incorrect.

Anyone who’s seen Cuba, including the writer, knows better.

Socialism has destroyed civil society.Cuba’s cities resemble Hiroshima. A “Hitler made the trains run on time” argument is disgraceful. Moreover, statistics from Cuba are entirely unreliable.

For example, what would Cuba’s infant mortality be without the highest abortion rate in the world? Or mandated abortion if there might be a birth defect? Or when Cuban doctors are ordered to “terminate” every sickly newborn — from the womb to a plastic bag — and report them as stillborn?

Cuban women cannot afford conventional contraception, yet there’s negative population growth. Abortion, being free, is Cuba’s contraceptive.

Cuba has been very successful in creating a health care apartheid: one system exclusively for foreigners and communist party elites and the other for the masses. The latter are the filthiest facilities I have seen as a physician.

The Cuban health system is a disaster.

Cuba’s doctors agree. They fight to drive cabs and wait tables to access the valuable second currency, rather than toil for pennies per hour practicing medicine.

When I delivered two lectures at the quadrennial Cuban neurosurgery meeting in Havana in 2013, the audience swarmed me afterward, not just to share anecdotes about my father — Cuba’s premier neurosurgeon — but to beg for help defecting.

Other Cubans don’t share the writer’s (or Obama’s) optimism regarding unconditional American engagement. They are fleeing Cuba in record numbers.

Some Cuba watchers speculate that if the borders opened today, more than half of Cuba’s 11 million people would immediately immigrate to the United States — and virtually everyone under the age of 40.

Due to the influence of the Castros, most of Latin America is leftist.

Having been defeated during the 1980s, communism-Castroism has been resuscitated through the façade of democracy to build authoritarian rule.

The institutions of “representative democracy” as mandated by the Inter-American Democratic Charter signed by every nation in the hemisphere, except Cuba, are under assault by these leaders.

While the United States remains committed to isolate dictatorships in the West, these authoritarian aspirations cannot be achieved. Normalizing relations with and accepting Cuba’s dictatorship lifts this impediment.

Of course they support engagement.

Finally, progressives say that with normalization, Latin American countries will join us to pressure Cuba on human rights. Yet, a multitude of foreign leaders, including Americans, have visited Havana feting the dictatorship while repression of Cuba’s pro-democracy advocates has skyrocketed.

None, especially the pope, has condemned these atrocities.

The Associated Press counts only 70 political prisoners because being truthful would see the AP expelled from Cuba. There were more than 200 political arrests one recent day alone and almost 1,100 in October.

So much for truth to power.

Abandoning the principles of democracy and human rights for appeasement will only cultivate more dictatorships — left and right.

Cuba’s repressive apartheid now has the imprimatur of an American president. Imagine Abraham Lincoln saying, “We will help the slaves by ending the isolation of their masters and engaging them economically.” Neither can I.

Admittedly, my use of the word “disgraceful” was inaccurate. As the Cuban expression of outrage goes, “No tiene nombre!

“This has no name!”

Javier Garcia-Bengochea is a neurosurgeon at Baptist Health. He is among 5,913 claimants certified by the Treasury Department as owed damages from the Castro regime for the illegal confiscation of their property in Cuba.

1,403 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba Under U.S. Embassy Watch

From The PanAm Post:

1,403 Arbitrary Arrests in Cuba under U.S. Embassy Watch

Regime Escalates Repression following Normalization of Relations

While President Barack Obama reviews options to ease the trade and financial embargo on Cuba, the Cuban police are busy arresting dissidents for political reasons almost daily.

Since August 14, when the US flag was raised over the Havana embassy once again, Cuban security forces have conducted 1,403 “arbitrary arrests,” according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.

The ICCAS report released on November 6 claims that Cuban authorities made 647 political arrests in July, 768 in August, and 882 in September.

Police detained these activists for various reasons, including holding pro-freedom events on Fidel Castro’s birthday, protesting the opening of the US embassy, attending mass, and calling for human rights with messages written on a bed sheet.

The report, which draws on monthly data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), identifies the city where each arrest took place, the names of the arrested activists, the alleged crime, and the name of the source.

The Targeted

Among the thousands targeted, the document claims that police harassed Wilberto Parada Milán of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) on August 14, and warned him not to leave his house in Havana to protest against the opening of the US Embassy.

It further alleges that Cuban intelligence agents, dressed up as civilians, beat up Marcelino Abreu Bonora of the Civic Action Front, and told him they had orders to do it again if he approached Plaza Ernesto Guevara.

Others included independent journalists Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca and Yasel Rivero Boni, who spent five hours in jail for taking pictures of a fallen wall. Police also detained Javier Joss Varona of the Eastern Democratic Alliance (ADO) for two days, because they suspected he could “illegally” travel out of the country.

The report lists other reasons activists were arrested, including trying to attend Pope Francis’s mass, denouncing the living conditions of a mother of three at the Communist Party’s provincial office, and being married to a dissident woman.

Torture Center for Dissidents

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, tells the PanAm Post that Cuban police can detain citizens for hours for almost any reason.

“In Cuba, you can get arrested if they catch you talking about human rights with someone, or if they see you handing out anti-government flyers,” she says.

The Ladies in White group was among several other dissident organizations that Cuban police prevented from attending the pope’s mass in late September.

Soler spends time in jail almost every Sunday, along with her fellow Ladies in White, for taking part in the #WeAllMarch campaign, calling for an end to arbitrary detentions, the release of all political prisoners, and free and plural elections.

The dissident leader has no doubt that the state’s repression of activists has escalated since the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations last December: “In September, there were hundreds of dissidents arrested who wanted to attend the pope’s mass.”

The crackdown has been so intense that some Ladies in White activists have had to make frequent trips to the hospital to treat injuries suffered at the hands of police, she explains.

Soler claims that Cuban agents have also transformed a police-training building into a detention and torture center for Ladies in White members. “How is this possible? These detentions are so arbitrary,” she concludes.

Je Suis Cuba

By Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of murdered democracy leader Oswaldo Paya, in Translating Cuba:

Je Suis Cuba

Two years ago in Paris, at exactly this time, I had the satisfaction of meeting in person a renowned Cuban writer who lives there. I was there only a few days and traveled little around the city. They were days of work, meetings and interviews before flying to Strasbourg, to attend the Sakharov Prize ceremony for the child activist Malala Yousafzai, who had suffered an assassination attempt at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban in an attack that shocked the world.

I remember that at the foot of the most famous tower in the world all the languages I could hear echoing. I imagine that this is the sound of freedom of movement. Something thousands of Cubans have not had, Cubans who escape the island on rafts, ready to die and in many cases dying in the sea. The same freedom of movement that made possible the terror in the City of Light this Friday, when eight boys started shooting dozens of other boys.

I know what this is, I have lived it. The families of the more than 120 fatally wounded victims will never recover. This November it will not be easy for the French people to overcome this. Like the Christian refugees, who have been lucky enough to escape the ethnic cleansing occurring in the Middle East with less media coverage, will not return to their countries.

And again it is repeated: attacks on human dignity are no longer circumscribed by geographical boundaries, call it jihadism or the Castros’ totalitarianism. Terror has shown the power to cross the Mediterranean, like authoritarianism is reproducing in Latin America.

I fear that the crime that took the life of the young activist Harold Cepero on a Cuban highway should have warned us of the deaths of teenagers on the streets of Caracas two years later.

Solidarity is no longer a question of altruism but of survival. We do not ask for whom the bell tolls. As in Paris and so in Havana, it tolls for all of us.

Banks Are Right to Be Wary About Cuba Transactions

Last week, The Miami Herald ran a story entitled, "Banking woes ground some charter flights to Cuba."

In sum, it's about the Castro regime, travel providers and anti-sanctions lobbyists fretting how U.S. banks are being too cautious about any transactions involving Cuba.

Thus, they're prodding the banks to "have no fear" -- for Obama has purportedly said, with a wink-and-nod, that "it's OK."

So banks should have nothing to fear, right?

Wrong.

Banks are on the front-lines of sanctions implementation.

Banks are also on the front-lines of sanctions enforcement and liability. 

If you look back at some of the biggest enforcement actions against banks in recent years, the sanctions violations took place years before -- in some cases, over a decade before.

For example, the Lloyds TSP Bank PLC case was settled (for $350 million) in 2009, but the violations in question took place between 1995 and 2007.

The Credit Suisse AG case was settled (for $536 million) in 2009, but the violations in question took place between 1995 and 2006.

The Barclays Bank PLC case was settled (for $298 million) in 2010, but the violations in question took place from the mid-1990s through 2006.

The HSBC Holdings PLC case was settled (for $1.9 billion) in 2012, but the violations in question took place from the mid-1990s through 2006.

The BNP Paribas S.A. case was settled (for $9 billion) in 2014, but the violations in question took place between 2004 and 2012.

So on and so forth. 

The Obama Administration might irresponsibly be willing to skirt the law, create vagueness and give banks "winks and nods" now -- with anti-sanctions lobbyists cheering them on -- but these banks are correctly prudent to cross their t's, dot their i's and follow the letter of the law very carefully.

It's also what non-political bank regulators and compliance experts would advise them.

That's why, despite the State Department's begging and pleading, no major or regional U.S. bank with experience in international transactions was willing to conduct banking services for the Castro regime.

Instead -- after nearly a year of searching -- only a small, Florida-state chartered, real estate bank (Stonegate Bank), finally decided to do so -- mostly for the national media attention.

That should raise red-flags with Florida's bank regulators.

The fact remains that any liability for sanctions violations or missteps will not fly away with President Obama in a Marine helicopter on January 20, 2017.

It will only go away when Congress lifts its Cuba sanctions laws.

And, as history has shown, these violations and missteps can be much more costly than any business prospect with Castro's shadowy monopolies and banking system.

Over 150 Cuban Dissidents Arrested Yesterday

For the 30th 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.

Meanwhile, in Havana, nearly 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.

Among those (re-)arrested in Havana were Zaqueo Baez, Maria Acon and Ismael Boris, the three Cuban dissidents who were released last week after spending over a month in prison for approaching Pope Francis.
  
Ironically, they had joined The Ladies in White in their Sunday march to thank them for all of the pressure and solidarity on their behalf.

Finally, nine members of The Ladies in White, including five from the province of Matanzas, remain unaccounted for after their arrest. They include Leticia Ramos, Marisol Fernandez, Annia Zamora, Sissi Abascal and Mercedes Lopez.

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

Quote of the Day: Castro Strategically Controls Venezuela

Venezuela has been subordinated to the Cuban regime since Chavez took power. We shouldn't forget how in 1994, when Chavez was released from prison for his coup attempts against the government of Carlos Andres Perez, Fidel Castro skillfully became his political mentor and putative father, deeply penetrating his soul and will. That allowed the Castro regime to strategically take over [Venezuela] and even impose Maduro as the successor to the deceased president, who was seen as the most convenient option to serve their interests and objectives.
-- Pedro Carmona, exiled Venezuelan business leader, interview with El Nuevo Herald, 11/15/15

U.S. Embassy in Havana Denies Visa to Cuban Dissident Artist "El Sexto"

Sunday, November 15, 2015
Yet the U.S. Embassy has no problem granting visas to the Castro family to visit New York City.

In a sad trend, Obama's policy keeps "empowering" the Castro family, while shunning its victims.

From Diario de Cuba:

U.S. Embassy in Havana Denies Visa to El Sexto

The United States Embassy in Cuba has denied a non-immigrant visa to the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), according to information on Friday from the artist himself, via his Facebook account.

The graffiti artist displayed a document where the embassy said that the decision cannot be appealed, but that it is not permanent. In any event, it recommended that Maldonado wait for one year before submitting a new visa application.

The artist was recently released after spending 10 months in prison without trial for trying to stage a controversial performance in December of 2014. Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

Quote of the Day: On the Recent Exodus of Cubans

The recent exodus provides further evidence of the Cuban people’s desperation. Even as diplomatic — and soon commercial — relations are restored, Cubans are not hopeful that their lives on the island will improve. That’s why they keep risking their lives to move to the United States.
-- Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, international spokesman for the dissident group Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), on the doubling of Cubans fleeing the island this year, PanAm Post, 11/13/15

Must-Read: Cuban Military Prepares to Milk Cruise Ships

Rather than "empower" the Cuban people, the Obama Administration's policy continues to "empower" the Castro regime's military conglomerates.

By Cuban independent journalist, Ivan Garcia:

Cuba: Waiting and Hoping for the Cruise Ships

One warm evening in September, a scrapping brigade arrived from (Cuban military-owned enterprise) Habaguanex and, in a little more than two hours, dismantled the aluminum tubes and awnings of three open-air bars on the Avenida del Puerto, where habaneros and tourists drank beer or ate fried chicken among the ambling musicians and prostitutes on the hunt.

The smell of fritanga combined with the street-sellers’ cries and the nauseating odors from the contaminated Havana Bay. The spillage of waste matter was the pretext for the mandarins, who control the strongbox in the old part of the city, to disassemble the gastronomic shed, a couple of outhouses and, in passing, put some three dozen workers out of work. But the real reasons were something else.

Let’s call him “Mario,” a bureaucrat from the Habaguanex corporation, and he says: “The businesses adjacent to the port are controlled by military companies, who receive rent and fees from the old warehouse of San José, which has been converted into a handicraft market and even hostels, cafes, restaurants and shops. There is a master plan for converting the port into a tourist plaza that would offer recreation facilities and services for the cruise ships.”

In 2014, another old market in the port zone was transformed into a beer hall. And the inauguration of a maritime esplanade just in front of the Alameda de Paula is imminent.

They also have repaired and expanded sections of the road, planted palm trees and put up modern lighting on the street median. The area where the mobile bars were has been cleared to have more space for future tourists.

They’re going to relocate them to other sites. They don’t want the view of the Bay entrance and the Christ of Casablanca to be obscured. By 2016 they hope to have more than 70,000 tourists from the cruise ships,” pointed out Mario.

The regime is betting a lot on cruise-ship tourism in Cuba. President Obama, according to his roadmap, is interested in empowering private entrepreneurs and regular Cubans. But to the autocracy, only those businesses where the State is the manager are important.

Or to be more exact, the military businesses. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, Raúl Castro’s son-in-law (although some rumors indicate that he separated from Raúl’s daughter, Deborah), is a kind of tropical Martin Bormann, who handles the treasure of the business network of the Army, which controls the holding company GAESA.

There is no way to probe into or know the volume of money they handle and how these funds are used: It’s a State secret. The generals, now converted into businessmen, have substituted white guayaberas for their uniforms. Eighty percent of the Council of State and the principal posts in the national economy are controlled by the Armed Forces.

After the U.S. Department of Treasury granted licenses to authorized cruise companies so they can go into Cuban ports, the falcons rubbed their hands together.

Raúl Castro is an expert at camouflaging his intentions. He also has been clever in dismantling, stone by stone, his brother’s pernicious voluntarism. He has changed the furniture, but he keeps up the décor.

Like Fidel Castro, he has boosted parallel mechanisms in the economy and the private reserves where the budgets are not discussed in the docile local parliament.

Castro the First was a staunch enemy of cruise ships, and he prohibited them in 2005. He argued that a horde of drunken tourists with little money would dirty up the Bay (even more than it is) with beer bottles and other garbage.

But General Raúl Castro thinks differently. The mid-term plan is for U.S. tourists to become an engine of growth that will catapult Cuba into the greatest tourist spot in the Caribbean.

But the present hotel infrastructure isn’t satisfying demand. “Every time a cruise ship comes into port, the beer, rum and mineral water disappear from the shops in Old Havana. We’re hallucinating if we think that four or five million Americans will come to the island, when we haven’t invested enough in lodging or services,” points out Fernando, a tourism officer.

December 17, 2015 — the day the United States and Cuba announced a resumption of relations — left in shreds Castro’s propaganda apparatus. For decades, it sold the narrative that the Revolution was of the people, by the people and for the people.

But a group of measures dictated by Raúl Castro put it into question. If anyone has been the big loser from the timid economic reforms of the last eight years it’s been the most poor, especially the elderly.

Without blushing, the olive-green autocracy has implemented unpopular measures that harm the population.

The Customs tax rates, the stratospheric assessments on commodities sold in the dollar stores and the favoring of cruise-ship tourism over ferry transport between Havana and Florida, which would permit a large transfer of assets and alleviate the poverty of many Cuban families, are evidence that the regime governs only by thinking about its corporate benefits.

The White House has issued more than 15 “specific licenses” for passenger ferry service to Cuba, but they can’t operate immediately because of a lack of infrastructure on the island, sources from the Ministry of Transport confirmed at the beginning of October.

In a clear stalling tactic, the authorities allege that they need time to create an adequate infrastructure to receive ferries. José Ignacio, an expert in port services, thinks differently.

“It’s a contradiction that the Government says it doesn’t have the infrastructure to receive ferries and jumps for joy at the future arrival of cruise ships. The reality is simple: the cruise ships constantly leave behind dollars in cash. The ferries, to be more economical and transport up to 200 pounds per passenger, would boost trips for Cubans located in Miami, who would benefit their relatives with their packages. The official strategy is that they send all the money they want, so that people are obligated to buy in the State shops,” says José Ignacio.

Quietly, a state mercantilism is being built in Cuba, governed by silence and the lack of transparency. The worst possible capitalism.

Translated by Regina Anavy.