Where Are the "Cuentapropista" ("Self-Employed") Defenders?

Friday, December 4, 2015
Last week, nearly 60 Cuba "cuentapropistas" ("self-employed licensees") were arrested in the historic Old Havana district.

They were mostly those who practice under licenses for "jewelry repair" and to produce "imitation jewelry."

These "cuentapropistas" had their personal effects confiscated, along with their work equipment and money. To add insult to injury, upon arrest, their bail was set at 5,000 pesos.

Also, during the last months, scores of "cuentapropistas" have been shut down and expelled from the Avenida del Puerto, an area adjacent to the Port of Havana.

Why? In anticipation of potential cruise-ship arrivals next year (thanks to the Obama Administration), all of the areas surrounding the Port have been taken over by GAESA, the military corporation run by Raul Castro's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

GAESA will flood the area with new retail stores, restaurants and other strategic enterprises. Thus, all of those cruise-ship travelers will overwhelmingly benefit the Castro regime from beginning-to-end.

The Castro regime is simply doing what it has done over-and-over again: It issues "cuentapropista" licenses during hard economic times, then reverses, freezes or revokes them upon recovery.

This is why we are seeing how Cubans prefer to spend thousands of dollars (by selling everything or borrowing from their families) to flee the island -- and risk their lives -- than to become a "cuentapropista" licensee.

We've waited to post this information, as we were hoping that the most vocal (purported) defenders of "cuentapropistas" in the United States, including the Obama Administration, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and anti-sanctions lobbyists, would have spoken out by now.

Yet, they haven't -- further demonstrating that all of the talk about "empowering" the Cuban people is simply a poor distraction from the reality of embracing the Castro dictatorship and doing business with its monopolies.

Kenneth Cole: Castro Didn't Get the Memo on Internet Freedom

Tweet of the Week: 

Gloria Estefan: The Real Embargo on the Cuban People

The biggest embargo there is the [Cuban] government’s embargo on the people because up to now, they’ve done business with every other country in the world, they’ve had travelers from everywhere… But nothing has changed for the people of Cuba.
-- Gloria Estefan, renowned Grammy-award winning artists, The New York Post, 12/3/15

The Cuban Migrant Crisis is a Castro Production

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

The Cuban Migrant Crisis Is a Castro Production

As Populism Loses Ground Regionally, Havana Knows Just What Buttons to Push

We Cubans are like guinea pigs. Every conceivable social experiment falls upon us, be it a communist revolution or the current state-led dynastic capitalism. Either way, we get a perpetually castrating Castrocracy.

On top of it all, we Cubans never escape alone. We always do it in spectacular stampedes, causing conflicts and chaos on our way — we’re a plague without a country. On second thought, let me fix my initial statement: in practice, we Cubans are more like rats.

Before 1991, the outpour of Cuban exiles only affected the United States, whose citizens had to endure wave after wave of islanders fleeing the Castros for decades. But after the fall of the Soviet Union and its European satellites, the entire world became a target, and countries like Sweden, Spain, Chile, Mexico, and even Russia had to pay the price.

Wherever Cubans don’t need a visa to travel, there we go, like the apocalypse horsemen. Instead of turning against our oppressors and fighting them, we run away.

Now it’s Ecuador’s turn. There, Rafael Correa, an eccentric president, wants to stay in power indefinitely. Correa is an economist who studied in the United States just like other criminal dictators. He is now imposing a tyrannical “Citizen Revolution.” Violating the Ecuadorian Constitution, which enacts “universal citizenship” and forbids limiting the entry of foreigners, Correa’s government will begin requiring Cubans a tourist visa in December.

It seems that Cubans don’t qualify as foreigners, much less as citizens. Those who flee from the island under communist rule are not worthy of respect in the eyes of Latin America’s progressive, populist regimes.

Nicaragua deploys its tanks and anti-riot troops against the elderly, women, and children, deporting them like cattle to the Costa Rican side of the border. The Daniel Ortega administration excels at this kind of pest control. All they need is the order to exterminate, which comes from Havana.

Ecuador discriminates Cubans, condemning them to return to Cuba. The inflexible Sandinista ruler prevents people from running away from Marxist misery and reaching their Floridian promised land: Hialeah, or North Havana.

Meanwhile, in Havana, fake protests are orchestrated in front the Ecuadorian embassy. All of a sudden, the notoriously brutal Castro police respects demonstrators. Foreign media record the show and send the news across the globe. Viewers might think: yes, it’s bloodcurdling, but Cuba is transitioning toward democracy!

The truth, however, is very different: the pro-Castro regimes across the continent are in danger. Kirchnerism lost in Argentina. In Venezuela, Chávez’s ghoulish soul will begin to collapse after the December 6 congressional elections.

Here’s the strategy behind the latest Cuban migration crisis: use our people’s despair to destabilize our hemisphere once again, and to distract the media from the “popular” coup d’état that President Nicolás Maduro has warned will take place if his ruling party loses the elections.

Totalitarians do nothing spontaneously; one must read between the lines to understand the script. And we Cubans keep playing our part as rats who eat nibble at anything, except at the archaic Castroism that controls us.

Castro's Caracas Two-Step

Thursday, December 3, 2015
Upon being elected last week, Argentina's new President Mauricio Macri urged MERCOSUR to invoke its “democracy clause” and expel Venezuela from the regional trading bloc due to its human rights and anti-democratic practices.

This proposal was quickly rebuked by the governments of Brazil and Uruguay.

Less than a day later, Brazil and Uruguay dispatched its foreign ministers to Havana for emergency consultations. The visit included a meeting with General Raul Castro.

With Venezuela's December 6th legislative elections looming, the Maduro government is clearly in trouble. Meanwhile, efforts to save Maduro's rule are being coordinated by his Cuban mentors, the Castro brothers.

It's not quite clear how the Maduro government will handle its precarious state and overwhelming opposition on December 6th -- whether through fraud, force or provoking a crisis (like last week's murder of opposition politician, Luis Diaz), in order to "postpone" the elections altogether.

However, one thing is for sure, Maduro needs a distraction to pivot the international media and observers away from his “handling” of December 6th and its aftermath -- and Castro is ready to deliver.

Thus, watch for the Cuban refugee crisis in Central and South America to escalate in the coming days and weeks.

Maduro (and Castro) has a great deal riding on it.

The Hill: Keep U.S. Chamber Out of Cuba Policy

By Mauricio Claver-Carone in The Hill:

Keep U.S. Chamber out of Cuba policy

With predictable consistency in modern times, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has exercised its poor judgment on the defining foreign-policy issues our nation faces. Even worse, it’s always for the same short-sighted reason: It places the profits of some member company above American foreign-policy interests.

Profits are important. So are the nation’s foreign-policy interests. They are not always compatible.

In 1941, the Chamber actively lobbied against American involvement in World War II.

"American businessmen oppose American involvement in any foreign war," the Chamber argued then. Why? Because some of its member companies, including DuPont, Standard Oil and Alcoa, had business arrangements with German companies and cartels, and were afraid to disrupt business and the flow of profits. So Hitler was deemed palatable. "Hitherto we have been a nation... with no jealousy or resentment with respect to the aggrandizements of other countries," said the Chamber.

The Chamber also fought bitterly against Gen. Douglas McArthur's post-war breakup of the zaibatsu – Japan’s imperial monopolies that controlled the country’s economy and whose executives were responsible for countless war crimes. Why would the U.S. Chamber support Japan’s monopolies?  To maintain long-established, pre-war business relationships between the imperial monopolies and American companies.

Imagine how different the world would have been if the Chamber had gotten its way.

In 1982, the Chamber actively lobbied against President Ronald Reagan's policy to boycott and prevent construction of the Trans-Siberian gas pipeline.

Reagan believed that the pipeline would provide the Soviet Union with hard currency that it desperately needed and make Germany and France energy-dependent on the USSR.  The Chamber cared only about General Electric's contracts for compressors, turbine rotors and pipe-laying equipment. It even publicly accused Reagan of "economic warfare" and fanning a "potentially dangerous conflict" within NATO.

History has shown that the Reagan administration’s disruption of the pipeline was a key factor in the collapse of the Soviet empire and, again, how dangerously wrong the Chamber was.

In 2010, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions imposed on Iran.

Those sanctions are now universally credited for having debilitated Iran's regime and for bringing it to the negotiating table.

Aside from the mullahs, of course, guess who were the main U.S. opponents to imposing those sanctions? That's right -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A nuclear Iran? U.S. national security? Neither was a priority for the Chamber. What mattered were the business interests of Cargill, Boeing, Halliburton, Caterpillar and Siemens.

In 2014, the Chamber actively lobbied against sanctions on Russia for its aggression toward the Ukraine.

No armed incursion, violent provocation or violation of international law is worth disrupting any financial, defense or energy deal with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin's cronies, argued the Chamber.  Needless to say, Putin has gotten that dangerous message loud and clear.

And following this tradition, last month, the Chamber led a delegation to the Havana International Trade Fair -- desperately seeking a deal with Castro's monopolies.

Here in the United States, the Chamber likes to talk disingenuously about Cuba's "emerging private sector," the "people" and "entrepreneurship." Media reports, however, described how it was all about meetings with Castro's apparatchiks -- over cigars and mojitos -- at the mezzanine of the twice-confiscated, luxurious Hotel Saratoga.

It was about how to cut a deal with one of the shadow companies run by Castro's military and intelligence services, which control more than 80 percent of the Cuban economy.

"We need two or three or four or five important deals... to show that there's momentum, to show that this is for real," said former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.

(Newsflash: Since 1992 and 2001 – as a result of exemptions to U.S. sanctions on Cuba – more than 250 U.S. companies have cut deals with Castro's telecom monopoly, ETECSA, and food import monopoly, ALIMPORT. None of the money the Cuban government collects has trickled-down to the Cuban people.)

The new “deals” may be dandy for Gutierrez's consulting fees, the Havana trysts of the delegates of the Chamber’s members, and heirs of the Castro brothers, but the deals do nothing to promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people. To the contrary -- they has proven to only empower the Castro family's repressive political and economic monopoly.

So, for the noble cause of a free and democratic Cuba -- please, don’t let the Chamber of Commerce set U.S.-Cuba policy.

Claver-Carone is a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C. He is an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Cuban Regime Orders Demolition of Five Churches

From Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW):

Cuba: Government Issues Church Demolitions Orders

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) received reports that Cuban government officials issued an order to demolish all churches in the Abel Santa Maria neighborhood in the city of Santiago de Cuba.

According to Rev. Alain Toledano, who leads one of the targeted churches, the authorities have also instructed the pastors and families who live on the affected church properties be evicted.

The order, issued Nov. 27 by government Planning and Housing Officials, came two weeks after members of the Emanuel Church, affiliated with the Apostolic Movement and led by Rev. Toledano, started a “sleep in” in an effort to block government efforts to confiscate the property and destroy the church. Rev. Toledano told CSW that two churches affiliated with the Baptist and Assemblies of God denominations in Santiago, as well as two Assemblies of God churches in the Las Tunas Province, are also under threat of government confiscation and demolition.

“There is a witch hunt against churches in Cuba at this time, mainly against the churches of apostolic and prophetic ministry. The communists have intensified in their hatred and persecution of the church following the Pope's visit to Cuba and the re-establishment of relations with the United States. I request constant intercession on behalf of the churches in Cuba. In our case, this would be the second time that the racist communists have attempted to evict us from our house, throw us out on the street and demolish our temple, only now their diabolical hatred and fury is directed at other congregations too,” said Rev. Toledano.

Although the Cuban government has refused to register the Apostolic Movement, the Emanuel Church property is privately owned by Rev. Toledano and his wife, Marilin, and they have paperwork demonstrating that they had the approval of government officials to carry out all the construction and renovation work which has taken place. Rev. Toledano told CSW that one of the Assemblies of God churches under threat in Las Tunas is also facing demolition, despite the fact that the denomination is legally registered and the government issued permits for construction.

The threats against the churches appear to be part of a general crackdown and expropriations of church properties, linked to the implementation of new legislation in January.

Legal Decree 322 gives sweeping powers to the authorities to confiscate property at their discretion, and CSW received reports from numerous registered and unregistered denominations that the law has been used to target scores of churches, including historic properties, across the island. Some religious groups were given the option to remain in the properties as tenants as long as they pay artificially high rent to the government and submit all their activities in advance to the Communist Party for approval, but most have rejected this.

For the 'Mutual Benefit of CIMEX and Texas'? Really, Governor Abbott?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015
According to a press pool report from the Austin American-Statesman, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated in Havana yesterday:

"Texas wants to begin the process of building relationships with business leaders like CIMEX so that [if the embargo is lifted] we will be well prepared to act swiftly to the mutual benefit of CIMEX and Texas."

One can only hope that this statement is based on Governor Abbott's ignorance -- or the fact that he's only hearing from Castro's apparatchiks.

Otherwise, Abbott is worse than the Obama Administration, which at least purports to seek to "empower" the Cuban people through its policy initiatives.

Abbott is admitting he seeks to "empower" Castro's repressive organs -- so long as Texas makes a profit along the way.

Will Abbott next toast "to the mutual benefit of SETAD and Texas" during a drip to Tehran? (SETAD is the Ayatollah's business conglomerate.)

After all, Iran used to purchase way more Texas rice than Cuba did before each of their "revolutions."

Hoping that this was indeed a thoughtless comment -- let's shed some light.

CIMEX stands for Cuban Export-Import Corporation.

It is one of the Cuban military's largest commercial entities, whose operations range from banking to retail. Its yearly revenues are over $1.5 billion and rising -- thanks to Obama's new policy.

CIMEX has historically been at the center of the Castro regime's illicit financial activities throughout the world, including terrorist financing, diamond smuggling, arms sales and narcotics trafficking.

It was the financial arm of the Cuban intelligence services ("DGI") until General Raul Castro folded it -- along with the island's spy agencies -- under the military's control.

The head of CIMEX is Colonel Hector Oroza Busutin, a Raul Castro confidant.

CIMEX is now a subsidiary of the military's GAESA commercial conglomerate, which is headed by Raul's son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas.

This is precisely why -- as we warned yesterday -- "rice does not a foreign policy make."

Doing Business 'In', or 'With' Cuba?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
By Dr. Jose Azel for Global Risk Insights:

Doing Business in, or with Cuba?

First, let’s get the preposition right.

All commentary regarding entering the Cuban market makes reference to investing “in” Cuba. But, when used as a preposition, “in” innocently indicates inclusion within a space or place.

However, “in” is an insufficient and misleading preposition with reference to Cuban investments. Investing “in” Cuba is a naive expression that closes the eyes to the “with” character of those investments.

Cuba is not like other foreign markets where the investor’s due diligence requires mostly investigating demographics, local market information, and maybe some political risks. Cuba is a totalitarian state.

Investing in Cuba necessarily requires investing in a partnership with the Cuban government, and more specifically with the Cuban military. It is thus much more precise to use the preposition “with”’ to denote “accompanied by.”

Investing with Cuba, in association with the Cuban military, requires a much more rigorous due diligence.

Investing “in” Cuba requires the investor to contend ‘only’ with factors such as median income of $20.00 per month, outdated internet, communications and information systems, an unfriendly business environment, violation of worker’s rights, widespread corruption, unreliable energy, outdated water and sewer systems, a crumbling infrastructure, a bankrupt economy, an awkward dual currency system, and much more.

In addition, investing “with” Cuba requires foreign firms to accept being minority partners, with the Cuban government representing the controlling shareholder.

Under this arrangement, the Cuban government expects foreign investments to generate revenues for the state on its terms. If the venture fails to meet the expectations of the state, it may arbitrarily terminate the agreement, and there is no independent judicial system to adjudicate any investor claims.

It is also a mischaracterization to speak of a “private sector” in the country with the suggestion that such a sector exists as possible partners for American investors. There is no private sector in Cuba in the sense that we use that term in free market economies.

The so-called self-employed (cuentapropistas) in the country are not equivalent to a private sector.

These are individuals that have been granted permission by the State to operate in one of 201 highly specified domestic trade activities and under very restricted conditions. They do not have legal standing as would a sole proprietorship, partnership or corporation in the United States.

It is therefore very misleading to speak of a private sector in Cuba.

Let’s take just one aspect of doing business “with” Cuba to illustrate how it offends our labor, business laws, and our expectations of corporate behavior.

Foreign investors operating in Cuba cannot hire their own employees.

The foreign firm must negotiate with the Labor Ministry a “contract for the supply of its labor force” indicating the quantity and qualifications of needed employees. The state staffing agency for foreign enterprises then sends its pre-screened personnel to the foreign firm.

The foreign employer pays salaries directly to the staffing agency in foreign currency, or equivalent Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

Cuban workers are then paid by the staffing agency in non-convertible national Cuban pesos (CUP). Under this arrangement the state pockets over 90 percent of the worker’s purported salaries.

This practice is a form of slavery that violates International Labor Organization conventions. Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner has aptly named it: Cuba the pimp state.

It is a repugnant practice that would expose participating American companies to public scorn and endless litigation.

Corruption is a serious problem in official Cuba with an ethos of unlawfulness, and a state-controlled economy where there is little respect for the rule of law.

American companies, particularly publicly traded firms subject to myriad anti-corruption and disclosure regulations, would find it nearly impossible to operate lawfully in such an environment of systemic and endemic corruption.

Those looking to invest “with” Cuba should therefore include in their due diligence the vetting of their to-be controlling shareholder:  a state owned enterprise such as GAESA, the vast conglomerate run by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas; General Raul Castro’s son-in-law.

And we should all begin using the preposition “with” to specify that, is not investing “in” Cuba, but in partnership with the corrupt Cuban military.

For a True Art Basel VIP, Look to Cuba’s 'El Sexto'

By Fabiola Santiago in The Miami Herald:

For a true Art Basel VIP, look to Cuba’s El Sexto

He spent 10 months in prison without trial for his artwork

After spending 10 months in prison without a trial for making art the Cuban government considered defamatory, graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, better known as “El Sexto,” is visiting Miami. Bienvenido.

Freed after Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, the young Cuban artist came to accept a human-rights award for work that pushes the boundaries of censorship on the island. He couldn’t have arrived at a better time. As top artists, galleries, exhibitors, museum curators and collectors gather for the 14th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, we’re once more feasting on the best contemporary art in the world.

May this be the oxygen El Sexto needs for the next stage of his life and work in Cuba. May his presence give the issue of artistic and personal freedom in Cuba the exposure it merits at this crucial time in history, when the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments seems to have done little to quash human-rights abuses.

The Ladies in White and other dissidents marching to church on Sunday are routinely harassed, beaten, and detained across the island. Artists such as internationally renowned installation and performance artist Tania Bruguera — an Art Basel regular — and the lesser known Maldonado have paid a high price for testing the limits of what rapprochement means for the Cuban people.

Both were arrested for attempting performance art projects — she an open mic on Revolution Square, he letting pigs he painted with the names Raúl and Fidel roam in a Havana plaza. Bruguera was temporarily detained and put under house arrest repeatedly, her passport confiscated. She was monitored, harassed and banned from the Havana Biennial. After eight months, thanks to her high profile abroad and appeals by entities like the Guggenheim Museum, she got her passport back and was able to leave Cuba.

Maldonado was released in October with the warning “not to make the same mistake” or he’d be returned to prison.

During a Miami news conference on Monday to accept the Human Rights Foundation’s Václav Havel Award for Creative Dissent, Maldonado focused attention on the latest exodus of disaffected Cubans. Some 4,000 are stranded at the Nicaraguan border in a bid to reach the United States.

I want to say to those stranded in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Panama that you’re not alone, that we’re not going to leave you alone to come into harm’s way. But we cannot give a prize to immigration or to stimulate Cuban immigration. We need to seize this moment to make people see that this is not the solution for Cuba — to leave, to escape. We need to be responsible for our own destiny, our own country. That same energy spent shouting ‘Libertad!’ in Costa Rica we need to spend shouting it in Cuba… No one is going to do for us what we ourselves need to do.

People without artistic sensitivity, people who think art is only a hobby of the wealthy, often ask me why art matters.

Maldonado easily answers that question.

For his boldness, his conscience and heart, he’s the year’s true Art Basel VIP.

The First Anniversary of a Truncated Hope

By Havana-based blogger Rebeca Monzo in Translating Cuba:

The First Anniversary of a Truncated Hope 

Some days from now it will be the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the great expectations awoken by the desired event seem to have fallen into uncertainty and stagnation.

The vast majority of Cubans believed they saw on this event the potential for great improvements in every sense, but disappointment soon invaded all of us on seeing that the island’s government had not taken a single measure to indicate good faith and the desire to realize the changes so greatly longed for.

The fact that they authorized travel for all Cubans and have streamlined the paperwork is nothing new, nor is the authorization to buy and sell homes and cars. These are not government handouts, but simply a restoring of citizens’ rights usurped 56 years ago by the regime itself.

Government immobility has led to a new stampede of Cubans abroad, using every kind of means to escape from a regime in which nobody believes or has any confidence.

Moreover, while thousands of compatriots abandon the country that is totally bankrupt, selling all their property and belongings in order to finance the path to a new dream, the influx of tourists to the island grows as never before, surprising given that the country does not have adequate infrastructure to receive them.

Shortages in the markets and hard currency stores, the sporadic disappearance of basic goods like mineral water, soft drinks and beer, the bad state of the streets and highways, the unhealthy atmosphere in a city where garbage collection is inadequate, the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera in the capital and other provinces, make me question what motivates this great arrival of foreigners, among whom we find stars of the screen, the stage and music.

Could it be they want to visit this great Caribbean Jurassic Park before the oldest and sickest of its dinosaurs, still breathing, cease to exist? Only time will have the last word.

Rice Does Not a Foreign Policy Make

In 1999, Governor George Ryan (R-IL) was the first sitting U.S. governor to take an official delegation to Cuba.

That trip was sponsored by the Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc., Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and other agri-business interests.

A decade later, The State-Journal Register would write, "10 years later, Ryan’s trip to Cuba has had little impact on Illinois."

Since then, dozens of official trips have been taken to Cuba by sitting U.S. governors. Also, with nothing to show for it -- other than wining and dining with Castro regime officials.

Since Obama's December 17, 2014, new policy announcement, there have been three trips -- by Governors Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) and now, Greg Abbott (R-TX).

Today's trip by Texas Governor Abbott was organized by Cynthia Thomas, a Dallas-based lobbyist, who told The Texas Tribune, “This’ll be my 39th trip to Cuba since 2000.”

While Cuomo's trip was meant to bring ideological backing to Obama's policy, Hutchinson and Abbott's trip share a commodity interest -- rice.

Arkansas and Texas are top rice producing states. Meanwhile, the rice lobby has been the tip of the spear in lobbying efforts to ease Cuba sanctions.

Yet, all three Governors share the poor taste in how their trips have been executed. They have focused solely on meetings with Castro regime officials and monopolies run by its infamous military and security services.

We love rice. And if Castro has cash, sell him all your rice -- and take his cash. That's less cash Castro has to cause harm upon the Cuban people and conduct nefarious activities.

But let's be honest about the facts.

Every single "foreign trade" transaction with Cuba has to be made with a Castro-owned entity. The Cuban regime's exclusive right to trade and control investment is enshrined in Article 18 of Fidel Castro's 1976 Constitution.

Congress authorized “cash-in-advance” sales of U.S. agricultural product to Cuba in the 2000 Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act. More than 250 privately-owned American companies have since sold $4 billion in agricultural products to Cuba. All of those sales were to a single buyer: the Cuban government.

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself notes, “The key difference in exporting to Cuba, compared to other countries in the region, is that all U.S. agricultural exports must be channeled through one Cuban government agency, ALIMPORT."

In other words, the "Cuban market" is composed of only one entity -- ALIMPORT.

Ironically, since Obama's new policy, the Castro regime has cut U.S. agricultural cash purchases by over 50%.

Why? In order to blackmail the Obama Administration, and the U.S. Congress, to provide financing to its monopoly.

If Governors Hutchinson and Abbott want to serve as tools in Castro's blackmail -- that's up to their conscience.

But don't insult our intelligence with claims that financing Castro's monopolies will "export freedom," benefit the Cuban people or promote regional democracy.

That's utter nonsense -- no matter how good your rice is.

'Normalization' Doesn't Bring Hope for Change, It Kills It

Yesterday, we corrected the media's disingenuous reporting about "rare" protests in Cuba.

This morning, the BBC adds this whopper: "Visa protest sign of new boldness in Cuba."

New boldness?

The BBC was founded in 1922, so surely it's historical memory can't be that short.

Does the BBC not remember when Cubans crashed a bus through the compound of the Peruvian Embassy in Havana, and a couple of days later, over 10,000 people were crammed seeking asylum in the small diplomatic compound?

That was the prelude to Mariel in 1980.

Does the BBC not remember the "Maleconazo," where thousands of thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana shouting "Libertad!" ("Freedom!")?

That was the prelude to the rafter's crisis of 1994.

Elitist thinking in Washington and the media is that Cubans are happy to live under the Castor dictatorship, so long as they can sell chachkas and receive tips from foreign tourists.

What Carter (1980), Clinton (1994) and Obama (2015) never realized (or want to realize) is that "normalization" doesn't bring "hope" for change in Cuba.

To the contrary, it signals the end of "hope" for change.

The greatest irony Obama's current policy is how embracing an octogenarian dictatorship is spun by the media as "progressive change."

To the contrary, it normalizes the status quo.

Thus, another refugee crisis.

El Sexto: U.S. Has Given Away Too Much in 'Normalization'

There have been no positive changes. The U.S. has given away too much at the normalization talks, and that has let Cuba continue its repression. The wave of Cuban migration you're seeing in the crisis in Central America right now is the strongest indication of that.
-- Danilo Maldonado ("El Sexto"), young Cuban artist and Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience," who recently spent 10 months in prison for a critical performance, WLRN, 11/30/15

Castro Reimposes Restrictions on Cuban Doctors

In case there's any doubt how arbitrary decision-making in Cuba is:

From AP:

Cuba Imposes Travel Permit for Doctors to Limit Brain Drain

The Cuban government announced Tuesday that it is reimposing a hated travel permit requirement on many doctors, requiring them to get permission to leave the country in an attempt to counter a brain drain that it blames on the United States.

It is the first major reverse in Cuba's policy of allowing unrestricted travel for its citizens, put in place in 2013 as President Raul Castro allowed new freedoms as part of a broad set of social and economic reforms.

The government announced on the front page of state media that health professionals in specialties that have been drained by large-scale emigration in recent years will now be required to get permission from Health Ministry officials in order to leave the country.

What We Learned (Knew) From Alan Gross' Interview

Monday, November 30, 2015
On Sunday, American development worker, Alan Gross, conducted an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes about his five-year ordeal as a prisoner of the Castro regime in Cuba.

The interview confirmed many things we've long-known, while (hopefully) providing some lessons going forward -- as current events in Cuba go from bad to worse.

What we learned (knew) from Gross' interview:

- How Gross' imprisonment was indeed a hostage-taking. The segment's opening line says it all, "the new opening to Cuba would not have happened without an old-fashioned swap." Indeed, Alan Gross was taken hostage in order to procure a series of concessions from the Obama Administration, including the release of Cuban spies convicted by U.S. federal courts in a conspiracy to murder Americans. This was also admitted by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and his aide, Tim Rieser, who (nevertheless) worked incessantly to pay Castro's ransom.

- How Gross was mistreated by the Castro regime. As Gross himself recounts, "they threatened to hang me. They threatened to pull out my fingernails. They said I'd never see the light of day." He was subjected to sensory deprivation, held in squalid cells, drugged and malnourished -- losing up to 110 lbs. This happens in Cuba all of the time. This is not a "benevolent" dictatorship. Yet, these are the new business partners the Obama Administration and some unscrupulous lobbyists seek.

- How the Castro regime knew it could coerce President Obama. In the interview, Gross explains how the equipment he took to the island was in plain sight of Cuban customs. It was also not the first time Gross traveled to the island to help the Cuban people with uncensored Internet connectivity. Moreover, there have been others like Gross. He was taken hostage during the first year of the Obama Administration because the Castro regime knew it could coerce the new President, who kept sending all of the wrong signals by streamlining democracy programs and further unconditionally easing sanctions. Thus, it waited patiently to succeed. If the Obama Administration would have made it clear that the taking of an American hostage would be met with severe consequences, Gross would have been home long ago.

- How Obama's new policy stems from coercion. Any policy that stems from coercion is inherently counter-productive. The current repression and refugee crisis taking place in Cuba -- along with the Castro regime's utter unwillingness to "cede one millimeter" -- is proof of this. Such a policy has only empowered the Castro regime.

- How Castro's American victims have been denied justice. The 60 Minutes interview -- along with the media in general -- continues to trivialize the "spy swap." The fact remains that the Cuban spies released were imprisoned in the United States for serious crimes, including a conspiracy to murder Americans. We should never forget the families of those young Americans, the pilots of the Brothers to the Rescue planes disintegrated in international waters by Cuban MIGs, who were murdered by the Castro regime with the help of those Cuban spies. The lesson learned by rogue regimes has been that they can murder Americans, have U.S. courts and juries duly convict those involved -- and see justice aborted by a stroke of the President's pen.

What the Obama Administration should learn from the Gross experience:

- How regimes that coerce concessions are never satisfied. As we've seen throughout the year, no matter how many unconditional concessions and impunity President Obama grants the Castro regime, it simply emboldens it to want more. Repression, refugees and rogue activities are on the rise. That is the result of Obama's coerced policy.

What Gross should consider going forward:

- Respect those who choose solidarity with the oppressed. As Gross himself recognizes in the interview, to receive and impart information is a universal human right. It's protected by international law. Efforts by the United States to support that fundamental right in closed societies throughout the world are not "cockamamie programs." There are extraordinarily courageous people -- who like himself at one time -- apply to administer these programs. They deserve our ongoing support, respect and admiration.

Fact: Protests Take Place Every Week in Cuba

Yesterday, over 250 courageous dissidents were arrested, as they attempted to peacefully protest in Cuba.

The week before, over 300 dissidents were arrested.

The week before that, over 150 dissidents were arrested.

And before that, over 200 dissidents were arrested.

For 32 weeks is a row, hundreds of Cuban dissidents have been undertaking peaceful protests, which have been met by the Castro regime's brutal repression and widespread arrests.

For 32 weeks in a row, these protests have also been met by the silence of the Obama Administration, which has relegated the importance of Cuba's democracy activists to closer ties to their oppressors.

They have also been met by the silence of the foreign media, which is too busy propagating the Obama Administration's (increasingly indefensible) policy narrative, fluff stories and remain afraid to lose their bureau's privileged standing on the island.

That's their shameful call. But at least don't distort the facts.

Over the weekend, hundreds of Cubans gathered at the Ecuadorian Embassy in Havana to protest a new visa requirement announced for those who seek to travel to the Andean nation. This is part of the Cuban regime's "handling" of its most recent refugee crisis.

In reporting on the Ecuadorian Embassy affair, the AP's Havana bureau had the gall to write:

"Street gatherings that aren't explicitly pro-government are extremely rare in Cuba and the crowd in front of the Ecuadoran embassy on Friday expressed a degree of anger at President Raul Castro's government that is rarely seen in public."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post's headline read, "Cuba sees rare protest as migration tensions rise."

At the very least, they owe the hundreds of Cuban dissidents arrested every week an apology -- and their readers a correction.

Washington Times Editorial: Obama's Open Hand to Cuba Has Been Met With Fist

From The Washington Times' Editorial Board:

More bad news from Cuba

Hundreds flee to Central America, reprising the Mariel Boatlift

The continuing crisis in the Middle East has pushed the continuing crisis in Cuba off the front pages, but it’s nevertheless a disaster, and getting worse. Not since the Mariel Boatlift of 1994 has the hemisphere seen anything like it. Thousands of Cubans are abandoning the island, often selling their last belongings to put together the $15,000 needed to reach some part of Central America. From there they hope to reach the United States to join relatives or friends in the United States.

Last week, more than 2,000 Cubans were stranded on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Government spokesmen on Havana’s government radio boast that the cost of getting abroad is proof that these are not poverty stricken refugees. The facts are different. The money usually comes from abroad. Estimates of the legal and illegal transfers from the United States and goods in kind totals more than $5 billion annually.

The U.S. remittances and in-kind aid have been keeping Cuba’s economy from total collapse. With the Venezuelan government now tottering, it has suspended its concessionary oil shipments to Cuba. Following the suspension of Soviet aid after 1990, remittances from the United States had permitted Raul Castro’s dictatorship to attempt another negotiation of its foreign debt. The lenders are counting on the new relationship between the United States and Cuba, such as it is, to revive the bankrupt economy.

Nicaragua’s closing of its borders to Cubans has not stopped the attempts by Cubans to flee. Cuban body snatchers are using flights to Ecuador, where they hope the plight of the migrants will get the attention of U.S. authorities for special entry arrangements. Cubans trying to cross the 90-mile Strait to Florida have special immigration status which permits them to remain here — if they can reach land in the United States before their flimsy crafts sink, or they are picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. If they are, they are returned to Cuba.

Despite the optimistic talk of Cuban agents and Castro friends in the United States, including businessmen who want to sell their wares in Cuba, the mood on the island is dark. Hopes for formal abandonment of what remains of the Cuban embargo, and U.S. government credits as the next step, has kept a steady stream of optimistic reports from Havana. But that is not how the people who actually live there see it. The young have no memory of anything but the misery of the Castro years and they are eager to take whatever chances they must take to get overseas.

There is a growing fear that the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, which accorded Cubans who made it to the United States special privileges, might be victim to a general overhaul of the immigration law. Cubans are aware that immigration has become the central issue in the Republican primaries. Many see escape to Central America as the only route to the United States at a time when that door could be closing.

Even President Obama can see that his open hand of friendship has been met by a fist. Concessions were not negotiated in the re-establishment of relations. Consideration of special interests has taken over. The United States will probably have deal with the plight of the growing number of the stateless in Central America. The price of incompetence is more misery.

Curbelo: Focus on The Cuban Adjustment Act's Abusers

By U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) in The Miami Herald:

Keep the Cuban Adjustment Act, but clamp down on its abusers

In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country’s generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system. Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities, enjoy these privileges.

Reportedly, some Cubans qualify for public-assistance benefits in the United States and then move back to Cuba. Many of them receive more in benefits than retired Americans who have worked in this country for decades.

On Oct. 8, I met with senior White House staff involved in immigration and Cuba policy. I requested that meeting in a good-faith effort for cooperation to try to address abuses of the CAA and avoid a possible migrant crisis. The goal was to find common ground for a legislative solution.

While acknowledging the abuses, the officials echoed Secretary of State John Kerry’s words that the Obama administration, “has no plans whatsoever to alter the current migration policy.”

The president’s refusal to do anything to address abuses of the CAA is unfortunate. His inaction is inviting the Castro regime to instigate another migrant crisis, when he instead should be working with Congress to fix the law’s deficiencies. That crisis may be quickly approaching.

According to reports, many Cubans have been fleeing the island via government-owned and operated planes en route to Ecuador or Guyana, where visas are not required of them. From there, they make the long trek through Central America and Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States through our southern border. In too many cases, they put themselves at the mercy of despicable human-trafficking rings.

Additionally, the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua has likely conspired with the Castro regime to close and militarize its southern border, creating a refugee crisis in Costa Rica.

Just like Mariel in 1980 and the 1994 Cuban-migrant crisis, the regime appears to be manufacturing a new crisis in order to extract even more concessions from the Obama administration.

Since President Obama’s Dec. 17 “engagement” announcement last year, the Castro regime has been engaged in an unapologetic crackdown on its people. Almost 7,000 political arrests have been made against dissidents and pro-democracy activists. During the same period, there has been a 78-percent spike in Cubans arriving in the United States. Costa Rican authorities have reported that the number of Cubans entering their country illegally has grown to 15,391 so far this year from 5,400 in 2014.

It is 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 to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro’s Cuba.

I am concerned about what this may mean for South Florida. The spirit of the CAA continues to be relevant and is needed to provide refuge for Cubans fleeing the Castro regime. I will continue to work on curbing its abuses while ensuring this important pathway to freedom remains available so that, “Those who seek refuge here in America will find it.”