WaPo Editorial: A Warning to America From a Cuban Dissident

Saturday, December 19, 2015
From The Washington Post's Editorial Board:

A warning to America from a Cuban dissident

WHEN PRESIDENT Obama began the opening to Cuba a year ago, one of the arguments the White House advanced was that a full-fledged embassy in Havana would give U.S. diplomats more freedom to roam the island than was the case with the constricted “interests section” that existed earlier. The administration emphasized that expanded “people-to-people” contacts, including with Cuban dissidents and human rights activists, would be an important outcome of the thaw.

Antonio G. Rodiles, one of many Cubans who have suffered harassment, arrest and beatings for speaking out, heard those promises, but, in an interview at The Post this week, he expressed deep disappointment that it has not happened. Rather than more contact, he said, he has seen U.S. diplomats less than before and suggested the reason: The United States has made Raúl Castro and the Cuban regime its chief interlocutor. Concern about human rights, long a mainstay of U.S. policy toward Cuba, has been “sidelined,” he lamented. Cuba’s fractious opposition feels left out in the cold.

In the same week that Mr. Rodiles described this situation, Mr. Obama suggested in an interview with Yahoo News that he would go to Cuba before he leaves office only if he could “talk to everybody.” He added, “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.” That’s a nice gesture, but it does not change the reality for most Cubans who live under Castro’s dictatorship.

Mr. Obama has counseled that change in Cuba will take time, and “normalization will be a long journey.” Certainly, both Raúl and Fidel Castro, who have ruled the island for a half-century, are in their twilight years. But Mr. Rodiles made the sobering argument that the Castro brothers are girding themselves against embarking upon Mr. Obama’s journey. They are preparing to perpetuate the regime by passing the baton of power to Raúl Castro’s son and son-in-law; they show no sign that their henchmen will stop using violence and coercion to repress free speech; and they keep a tight grip on the economy and society as a whole.

As it has before, Mr. Rodiles pointed out, the regime is also trying to play games with emigration, allowing a surge in order to put pressure on the United States. Mr. Rodiles said that the White House fails to understand the complexity of a power structure determined to exploit the gains from Mr. Obama’s opening for its own survival rather than acquiesce to changes that would loosen its grip.

Barriers are falling — the latest being a bilateral agreement announced Thursday for scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba — but these incremental steps should not be mistaken for the arrival of freedom in Cuba. The Castros will not give an inch if they can avoid it. The real challenge for Mr. Obama is to cause change, and not just enrich and empower those who would stymie it.

Menendez: Path to Cuban Liberty Farther Away Today Than 365 Days Ago

Menendez on 1st Anniversary of Cuba Engagement Announcement

The Cuban path to liberty is undoubtedly farther away today than 365 days ago.”

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) issued the following statement on yesterday’s one-year anniversary of  the Obama Administration’s Cuba engagement policy announcement:

One year ago the President announced sweeping changes to America’s strategic approach to the Castro Regime. In broad strokes, we learned of the forthcoming reestablishment of diplomatic relations – an exchange of symbols with the American flag flying over a United States Embassy in Havana and the Cuban flag flying over a Cuban Embassy in Washington; we learned about a general outline of the process by which Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism would be lifted; and, we learned about the forthcoming transformative effects of a unilateral easing of sanctions to increase travel, commerce, currency, and the flow of information to and from that beautiful island.

For those of us who understand this regime, we cautioned for nuance, and against those broad strokes. At least require the Castros to make certain concessions, which would be as good for U.S. national interests as for U.S.-Cuban relations: Push for changes that put Cubans in control of their own political processes, economic incubators, civil society and governance. Push for changes that honor America’s legacy as a champion for human rights. Push for changes that would ultimately bring Cuba into the community of nations, contributing to – rather than detracting from – a more prosperous hemisphere.

But, most importantly, remember that it is a lack of resources – not a change of heart – that has slowed the Castros’ adventurism and instability-inducing support for those who would pose threats to our national interests.  Think strategically.

Instead, we traded strategy for tactics. Opening channels of communication means nothing unless we are going to communicate our values, champion the material changes that the Cuban people seek, and speak in the language that the Castros understand – the communist revolution has failed miserably, it’s time to step down. The Castros know it, but it’s the antiquated hallmark of the revolution and the iron-fisted rule that came from it that keeps them in power. And, until that’s truly challenged, we can expect to witness the weakening of our leverage.

Indeed, the regime is already breathing new life into its repressive state systems: Since the President’s announcement one year ago, Cubans have been beaten, arrested, and repressed at higher rates than ever before; U.S. fugitives and members of foreign terrorist organizations still enjoy safe harbor on the island; not a penny of the $6 billion in outstanding claims by American citizens and businesses for properties confiscated by the Castros has been repaid; unrelenting censorship and oppression of Cuban journalists continues unscathed; and the Cuban path to liberty is undoubtedly farther away today than 365 days ago.

As predicted, this one-sided deal was a win for the Cuban regime and a loss for the Cuban people. We have witnessed how the regulatory changes announced last year not only circumvented the intent and spirit of U.S. law, they financially emboldened the Cuban government. To date, the Obama administration has spared no generosity in commuting the jail sentences of Cuban spies, easing travel and trade bans, removing Cuba from the states sponsors of terrorism list, indefensibly upgrading its ranking in the trafficking-in-persons report despite its continued slave labor and human trafficking practices, and even acquiescing to shun dissidents from attending the U.S. Embassy's flag-raising ceremony in Havana.

All of this against a backdrop of continued deceit, repression, and violence and not a single iota of reciprocity by Raul Castro towards the restoration of democracy in Cuba.

I stand with thousands of Cuba’s civil society leaders, dissidents, journalists, and everyday men and women who long for the day when the freedom we enjoy in our great country extends to theirs. As long as I have a voice, they will have an ally to speak truth to power against this dictatorship, and against any effort to legitimize it or reward it. We must realize the nature of the Castro regime won't be altered by capitulating on our demands for basic human and civil rights. The trajectory of our policy is unacceptable and I continue to urge President Obama to correct its course. If the United States is to give away its leverage, it should be in exchange for one thing, and one thing only, a true transition in Cuba.

Obama's Cuba and Iran Deals Provide Regime Continuity

By Aaaron David Miller in The Wall Street Journal:

In Cuba and Iran, Change Is Slower Than Obama Would Like

Heading into 2016, it looks like there’s going to be far more continuity in how Iran and Cuba deal with the U.S., and vice versa, than some might have hoped after President Barack Obama’s outreach to their authoritarian regimes.

The changes with Iran and Cuba are at best transactions, not transformation. Relations between the U.S., Iran, and Cuba had reached rock bottom after years of inertia, suspicion, mistrust, and conflicting interests. What’s been set into motion in each case is an incremental and gradual process that tests the possibility of big time changes over time. When Mr. Obama told Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen that she needed to give the process time to work, he was making a virtue out of a necessity. President Obama will be long gone from the White House by the time there is empirical evidence that the payoff on Cuba–concrete and sustainable benefits for the Cuban people or changes in how the island is governed–has come to fruition. A Republican presidential win in 2016 would further constrain and delay prospects for dramatic change.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone in the Obama administration believed that the opening to Iran and Cuba would directly affect and influence the behavior of hard-line elites who have benefited from the closed system they created; or that people-to-people interaction–the “bottom-up approach”–might pay early or meaningful dividends. “It was just pure fantasy to think … that the United States could directly shape the nature of the Cuban political system,” Julia E. Sweig, a Cuba specialist at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, recently told the New York Times. It’s an open question whether, as the administration hopes, it is possible to open up more space for Cubans by promoting greater commercial activity. There is a danger that the administration’s goal of using the new opening to raise public expectations in Cuba could backfire as change comes too slowly and there is little means to pressure a repressive system to accelerate it.

Whatever hope there was that somehow the nuclear accord with Iran would create an opening for U.S. relations with Iran has been exposed for the fallacy it has always been. Mr. Obama got what he wanted out of the deal: a slower, smaller, more easily monitored Iran nuclear program for a limited time. But the Iranians got more: In exchange for a nuclear weapon they don’t possess–one that U.S. intelligence suggests they haven’t yet made a decision to develop–they are getting out from under many international sanctions, with billions to help their leaders co-opt public dissent, fuel their regional ambitions, and still maintain a large enough nuclear infrastructure should they want to weaponize in 10 to 15 years. When it comes to change, the nuclear agreement has accelerated hard-liners’ determination to avoid any process that allows the deal to facilitate improved U.S.-Iranian ties. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been sitting in Evin prison for more than 500 days; Iran’s human rights record remains among the worst in the world.

The track record for highly ideological states changing quickly or easily is poor. China, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union are examples of states where tight control can be maintained even while economic openness and greater contact with the outside world can be promoted and outreach calibrated to co-opt public dissatisfaction and still satisfy the leaders and elites who benefit from highly centralized control. Cuba and Iran are not the same, and each process the Obama administration has set into motion will play out differently. But chances are that we’re not in for a virtuous or quick cycle that’s going to transform relations with the U.S. or the political system in either country. More likely is that politics in the U.S., Tehran, and Havana are going to create a painstakingly tortuous cycle of fits and starts that will continue to expose Mr. Obama to charges that in each case he gave a lot more than he got.

One Year After Rapprochement, Cuba is No Freer

Friday, December 18, 2015
By Charles Lane in The Washington Post:

One year after rapprochement, Cuba is no freer

Much has changed in Cuba since President Obama and the island’s dictator, Raúl Castro, announced their rapprochement a year ago.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into Cuban government coffers, due to more U.S. tourism and remittances. Havana has negotiated a generous U.S.-tolerated debt restructuring with Western creditors. You can’t walk down the street in Havana, it seems, without bumping into a would-be U.S. investor. And, of course, the stars and stripes wave over a reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana.

When it comes to the elementary freedoms that the Castro regime has denied its people since 1959, though, results are scant.

“This year has been a bad year for us,” democratic activist Antonio G. Rodiles told Post editors Tuesday. Rodiles cited a “huge increase in arbitrary arrests,” as well as his own savage beating by regime thugs in July.

“Raúl Castro has been legitimized and recognized by the majority of the governments of the planet, and played a leading part in a Summit of the Americas, amid flashing cameras and meetings with Barack Obama,” writes independent blogger Yoani Sánchez. “Inside the country, he has not wanted to give even the slightest recognition to his critics, against whom he has continued arrests, mob actions and painful character assassination.”

As for freer telecommunications, there are a few new open-air WiFi hotspots, exorbitantly priced and officially monitored, Sánchez notes. Meanwhile, Washington trumpets a deal to restore snail-mail service between the United States and Cuba — on a date to be announced.

This is what happens when a magical-thinking president runs up against a communist octogenarian who inherited Cuba from his brother Fidel — and aspires to pass it on to his son, the current intelligence chief, and son-in-law, the tourism industry boss.

“Our central premise,” Obama explained to Yahoo News this week, “has always been for a small country 90 miles off the shores of Miami, that if they are suddenly exposed to the world and America and opened up to our information and our culture and our visitors and our businesses, invariably they are going to change.”

If Obama can figure that out, so can Castro; the dictator has every incentive to limit U.S.-Cuban interactions to those he can contain and control, which is what he has done so far. (By the way, Havana is 229 miles from Miami.) When Yahoo News asked Obama to list “concessions” Castro had made, the president couldn’t name one.

Obama wants Congress to lift the rest of the embargo, in part to eliminate one of Castro’s last propaganda excuses. Anticipating that, Castro has declared that, even if the embargo ends, “normalization” as he defines it would hinge on more U.S. concessions, including a handover of the naval base at Guatanamo Bay.

U.S. engagement probably won’t “work” in Cuba any more than isolation did; and Cuba is not analogous to China, to which it’s often compared.

There was no real alternative to trade and engagement with a geopolitical giant such as China, human rights notwithstanding. Tiny, impoverished Cuba offers no strategic compensation for legitimizing its dictatorship through business as usual — not even the agreement to protect whitetip sharks and other marine life Washington and Havana so excitedly unveiled.

We could have let the regime stew in its repressive juices, or presented it a “road map” linking changes in U.S. policy to irreversible democratic reforms in Cuba. Let Havana explain why denying free elections for 57 years — 57! — matters more than trade.

Belatedly, Obama is injecting a note of conditionality, telling Yahoo News that he won’t visit the island in 2016 unless he’s free to meet dissidents.

That would be a welcome contrast to Pope Francis’s itinerary, which included a sit-down with the ancient Fidel Castro, but not with dissidents — some of whom were arrested in front of the pontiff.

We’ll see how hard a bargain Obama drives. Would he demand a meeting with Rodiles, who’s among the activists Raúl Castro dislikes most — yet who says U.S. diplomats have snubbed him since the embassy reopened?

Would Obama insist on a live TV speech, as former president Jimmy Carter did in 2002? Or would he settle for a closed-door sit-down with two activists, like the one he held at the Summit of the Americas — and that he cited to Yahoo News as a “precedent.”

Meanwhile, 45,000 Cubans fled the island for the United States this year, partly due to rumors of more restrictive U.S. immigration policies, partly because of what Sánchez calls the “conditioned reflex to escape a hopeless existence.”

“Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that, over time, you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,” Obama told Yahoo News.

He has all the time in the world to try his theory — before leaving office a year from now. Cubans are tired of waiting.

Renowned Cuban Dissident Arrested, Missing: Silence from Obama Administration and Media

Early yesterday morning, the Castro regime began "celebrating" the anniversary of ties with President Obama by storming into the Havana headquarters of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) and arresting its leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer.

Ferrer has not been heard from since.

The Castro regime knew that the news cycle would be filled with efforts by the Obama Administration to defend its one-sided deal and with talk of a commercial flight agreement. It also knew that the media would play right along with Obama's efforts to distract from Cuba's repressive realities.

Thus, what better time to arrest one of Cuba's most renowned democracy leaders.

Also yesterday, the Castro regime handed independent labor leader, Osvaldo Arce, a two-year prison term for "social dangerousness."

It's what "change looks like" in Cuba -- Obama distracts, while Castro represses.

Result of Obama's Policy: Increased Repression of Cuban People

By U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) in Medium:

One Year Later, President Obama’s Appeasement Policy Shows Results: Increased Repression of the Cuban People by the Castros

Like his approach to dictators in other corners of the globe, President Obama’s policy toward Cuba has been one of coddling the oppressors while sidelining the oppressed pro-democracy and human rights activists struggling for change.

One year after President Obama announced that he planned to “normalize” relations with the Castro regime, it is time to take stock of how the Cuban people, the purported beneficiaries of the President’s policy toward Cuba, have fared.

The human rights situation in Cuba has deteriorated drastically. Political arrests totaled 1,447 in November, the highest month this year, and 7,686 for the year to date. Each Sunday, the Ladies in White, and anyone who dares to accompany them to mass, are brutally beaten and arrested in the streets of Havana. More than half of the Obama-Castro so-called “list of 53” political prisoners released following the December 17, 2014 announcement have been re-arrested in the past year, while no headway has been made to recognize the most basic rights such as free expression, association, an independent press, and representative government.

Cubans are departing Cuba in record numbers, with thousands risking their lives in makeshift rafts or across dangerous, inhospitable terrain to escape their island prison. Cuban activists signed a statement condemning the Castro regime’s instigation of a migration crisis, as the regime did in 1965, 1980, and 1994, to extort further concessions from a pliant U.S president. But undeniably, Cubans increasingly are finding less reason to have hope in their future at home and seeking a different future elsewhere.

If President Obama sold his appeasement of the Castro regime as the catalyst for change needed on the island, those who actually live in Cuba aren’t buying it.

In addition to failing the Cuban people, President Obama’s policies jeopardize American national security interests. One of the most damaging spies in U.S. history, Ana Belen Montes, remains in federal prison for espionage against the United States on behalf of the Castro regime. The five WASP spies, whom President Obama released at the time of his December 17 announcement before they had completed their sentences, were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and one was also convicted of conspiracy to murder. Just this year, Colombian authorities found that the Chinese-flagged ship Da Dan Xia en route to Cuba was smuggling explosives and other weapons rather than transporting grains as listed on the ship’s documents. This incident follows the July 2013 incident where Panamanian authorities intercepted the Chong Chon Gang ship that was smuggling at least 240 tons of war materiel including two MiG-21 fighter aircraft, missile defense systems and missiles disguised under sugar, in a blatant violation of international sanctions against North Korea. According to numerous press reports, the Cuban dictatorship has inserted Cuban special forces into Syria to man Russian tanks and fight Syrian rebels on behalf of the dictator Assad.

For one year, President Obama has applied his appeasement policy full-throttle with the opening of an embassy in Havana, diplomatic recognition of the Castro regime, removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list, release of convicted spies including a conspirator to murder, and sanctions relief well beyond anything contemplated by Congress when it codified sanctions in the LIBERTAD Act, which President Bill Clinton signed into law.

Now that the Obama-Castro honeymoon period is over, we must take a clear-eyed look at the failures of President Obama’s appeasement of brutal dictators.

Predictably, prioritizing appeasement of tyrants over solidarity with the oppressed has had disastrous results for the Cuban people. It is time for the President to abandon his appeasement policy toward the Castro brothers and chart a course that supports the Cuban people rather than bolstering their oppressors.

One Year After Obama Recognized Their Dictator, Cuba's Dissidents Cry Foul

Thursday, December 17, 2015
By Mike Gonzalez in Forbes:

One Year After Obama Recognized Their Dictator, Cuba's Dissidents Cry Foul

It’s been a full year since President Obama announced he would recognize the dictatorship of Raul Castro, and the tally so far is grim. Cuba is further than ever from becoming a democracy where people enjoy normal civil liberties; it is in fact closer to becoming what China specialist have identified as a rival model, a “resilient authoritarian regime.”

Just last week, the Castro regime thumbed its nose at the world by arresting between 150-200 dissidents on Human Rights Day. The dictator, Raul Castro, knows he can act with impunity because the world has never complained about what he does, and now that, too, includes the United States.

For 34 consecutive Sundays—that is, almost since President Obama extended his hand in friendship to the country’s oppressors—regime-organized mobs have blocked a brave group of middle-aged women known as the Ladies in White from marching after church service. These women are always insulted, often beaten and occasionally arrested.

Meanwhile, Castro has put family members in charge of a corrupt regime that can now expect to have durability after the two Castro brothers pass from the scene. Castro’s son-in-law, Gen. Luis Alberto Rodriguez, controls an estimated 90 percent of the Cuban economy through the holding company he leads, GAESA. As Bloomberg put it recently about would-be foreign investors, “wait until they learn all roads lead to Raul Castro’s son-in-law.”

The island’s defenseless dissidents have bitterly denounced what they term Obama’s betrayal of their movement. On the day of the anniversary this week, more than 100 former political prisoners who served close to 2,000 years in Castro’s Gulag signed and prepared to deliver to the administration a letter, the first three paragraphs of which read:

"Mr. President:

Based on our history and experience as political prisoners under Castro’s totalitarian regime, the new Cuba’s policy established by your Administration is has been a regrettable mistake. This will prolong the life of the dictatorship, is worsening the human rights situation there, marginalizing the democratic opposition and compromising U.S. national security.

The normalization of relations is creating false expectations and granting benefits to the tyrannical regime in Cuba; it is also allowing the Paris Club to forgive billions in debt providing the regime hard currency which it funnels into its most repressive institutions: the military and intelligence services giving new life to what were dying institutions.  Human rights violations in Cuba have a terrible history, but the current policy has taken a bad situation and made it worse. Violent beatings against activists peacefully assembling have escalated and worsened over 2015.

Politically motivated arbitrary detentions in Cuba as of the end of November 2015 are a documented total of 7,686 and are on track to break the previous record set in 2014 with 8,899 arrests. Over the course of this year the number of detentions have [sic] escalated: 178 in January; 492 in February; 610 in March; 338 in April; 641 in May; 563 in June; 674 in July; 768 in August; 882 in September; 1,093 in October; and 1,447 in November."

As is customary with Mr. Obama, his belief that he’s done the right thing remains unshakable. In fact, he recently told Yahoo News that he wants to reward the Castro brothers with nothing less than a presidential visit next year.

The problem is, Mr. Obama won’t be just another Birkenstock-shod leftist academic who treks to Havana to soak up the Revolution. He will bring with him the insignia and the cache of the presidency of the most important country on earth.

The Yahoo interview revealed once more that Mr. Obama’s Cuba policy is imbued with extraordinary (and dangerous) naïveté.

Of Castro, he said, “I do see in him a big streak of pragmatism. In that sense, I don’t think he is an ideologue,” said the president, who even sees the totalitarian leader as a forward thinker. “I do also think that Raul Castro recognizes the need for change,” he averred. “And part of the reason for the timing of these changes is his desire to help usher in those changes before he and his brothers are gone.”

On this last score, President Obama is very much correct, as these changes will surely make Gen. Rodriguez’s business even more lucrative. Let’s hope, of course, that this could not have been what the president meant.

On Raul’s pragmatism and ideology, these views are contradicted by everything we know about the dictator, who’s long been considered the more ideologically committed of the two Castro brothers—the Bolshevik who converted his older brother Fidel. He is renowned also as the more bloodthirsty one.

The Cuba Archive Project has documented 191 executions on Raul’s orders in the first month and a half of his tenure as military governor of Oriente Province in 1959. These are just the cases that were documented. Eyewitness said that Raul personally administered the coup degrace to at least 78. The killings have continued for the five-and-a-half decades the Castros have controlled the once-wealthy island of Cuba.

This is the man with whom President Obama will meet and joke if he goes to Havana.

Mr. Obama told Yahoo that he would make the trip only if he can meet whomever he wants, presumably meaning dissidents. I spoke to one of them this week, Antonio Rodiles, who happens to be visiting Washington. He told me that he’d be delighted to be invited to the White House. “I don’t think they’ll have me, though. They don’t want to hear anything that contradicts their failed predictions."

Havana Playbook: Obama’s Cuba Policy Year in Review

Havana Playbook: Obama’s Cuba Policy Year in Review, Presented by the Office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

A CHOKEHOLD ON FREEDOM: Dissident Arrests at Record High, Obama Continues To Make Unreciprocated Concessions – PLAYBOOK EXCLUSIVE: Rubio Comments On Anniversary of Cuba Deal

A not so good Thursday morning, especially for the 53 Cuban dissidents whose “releases” were announced a year ago as part of the Obama-Castro normalization deal, some of whom have been rearrested and arbitrarily detained again since, some several times.‎

HEADLINE HISTORY: One year ago today, President Obama announced his intention to normalize diplomatic relations with the communist regime. “Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world,” Obama said.

WHEN YOU SHOW UP TO A HOLIDAY GIFT EXCHANGE WITH SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE ONE FOR YOU -- While that “better future” for the Cuban people has not materialized, Obama has announced a steady stream of concessions to the regime in the past year and now says he even wants to visit his “non-ideologue” friend Raul Castro in Cuba. Meanwhile, Cuba has made no progress on political reforms or human rights. Perhaps if Obama visits Cuba in 2016, he can bring a check back for the nearly $8 billion in uncompensated property claims and $4 billion (plus interest) in U.S. court judgments against the Castro regime? Or maybe he’ll bring back some of the more than 70 fugitives who continue to be harbored by Castro in Havana, some of whom the FBI has described as “domestic terrorists,” to face justice?

PLAYBOOK EXCLUSIVE – STATEMENT BY U.S. SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: “The first year of President Obama’s Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness – as if we are ashamed of our moral obligations as the world’s most powerful nation. Because of President Obama's Cuba policy, the U.S. has never been closer to the tyrants that rule the island or more alienated from the Cuban people working tirelessly to build a free and democratic future. Because of President Obama’s weakness in negotiating with the Castro regime, cop killers, terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice continue to enjoy greater freedoms in Cuba than average Cubans who are experiencing a historically relentless wave of repression and political arrests this year.

-- “American businesses have placed a risky bet to enrich themselves and, in the process, enrich the Cuban military that actually controls the economy.‎ The next U.S. president should end the many concessions this one has made to the regime, and send a clear message that betting against the Cuban people’s free and democratic future is a losing bet. With a year to go, President Obama can still inflict a lot of damage that further sets back the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, but those who care about freedom and the fate of the Cuban people will continue to fight him at every turn.”

WRONG PRIORITIES – From the Associated Press, 11/18/2015: “Environmental cooperation has been one of the most visible areas of progress in the relationship as the United States and Cuba negotiate and discuss a number of issues. They include much thornier matters on which the two countries remain far apart…”

As for one of those thornier matters… Between December 17, 2014 and October of this year, politically motivated arrests increased by over 500%, jumping from 178 arrests in the former month to 1,093 in the latter. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), an internationally-recognized human rights watchdog, the total number of political arrests during the first ten months of this year was 6,239. In just ten months, the number of political arrests surpassed the yearlong tallies recorded for 2010 (2,074 political arrests) and 2011 (4,123 political arrests). CCDHRN publishes monthly reports of every reported case of abuse or persecution in Cuba. Check it out: http://bit.ly/1TDOcNN

PREDICTIONS FULFILLED – Rubio in The New York Times in July 2015: “Yet Mr. Obama insists that building economic and diplomatic ties is likely to bring freedom and democracy to the island. However, our extensive experience with transitions from Communism has shown that economic opening and diplomatic engagement do not automatically lead to political freedom.” http://nyti.ms/1NvorLQ --Rubio in The Wall Street Journal in December 2014: “The entire policy shift is based on the illusion – in fact, on the lie – that more commerce and access to money and goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people.” http://on.wsj.com/1Rnabe7

BLOODY SUNDAY (x34) -- For 34 Sundays in a row, Cuban dissidents, including the Ladies in White, have tried to peacefully demonstrate after Catholic Mass under the slogan #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch)… Every Sunday, regime thugs violently beat and often arrest them. One Cuban dissident leader, Antonio Rodiles once had to be operated on overnight to repair his nose after receiving a beating at the hands of state security agents during one of those peaceful Sunday marches.‎

-- Berta Soler, president of the Ladies in White in Cuba, testified before Rubio’s Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee during a February hearing regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba, where she and several other human rights activists described the repressive life on the island. http://bit.ly/1YiEBNW

RED CARPET TREATMENT FOR REGIME PROPAGANDISTS: “Cuban reporter asks Josh Earnest a question (or 6)” by USA Today’s Gregory Korte: “That reporter was Cristina Escobar of Cuba’s national television network, who got the last question for White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. She immediately fit right in alongside her American counterparts, asking a four-part question on a wide range of Cuban issues — with a two-part follow-up… At least a dozen Cuban journalists attended [the May 2015] briefing.” http://usat.ly/1Y2z1o2

PRISON CELL TREATMENT FOR INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS: From Reporters Without Borders: “Conditions for journalists in Cuba have worsened in recent months. They are still subjected to harassment, which typically takes the form of arbitrary arrest. Dozens of independent journalists covering the marches through the streets of Havana that the Ladies in White opposition movement stages every Sunday have been arrested, held for several hours and then released.” http://bit.ly/1QAUVZG ‎Despite Obama Administration’s pledges one year ago, international human rights experts have yet to be granted access to Cuban prisons.

REAL POLITICO PLAYBOOK - VIA MIKE ALLEN ON 8/15/2015 -- CNN’s JAKE TAPPER showed up the broadcast networks yesterday – and did U.S. journalism proud -- with tough coverage from Cuba that included opposition views and ballsy questions. See a Storify, “Tapper live tweets his trip to Havana.” http://cnn.it/1KnttI8

OUT AND ABOUT: The August 15, 2015 flag-raising ceremony at the newly re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana was quite the affair… SPOTTED: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, State Department officials, Castro regime thugs, American business interest leaders and anti-embargo lobbyists… NOT SPOTTED: A single Cuban dissident, pro-democracy leader or activist. Apparently they were left off the invite list due to a “lack of space” and “protocol.” How then to explain the tens of empty seats during Kerry’s speech?

EMBARRASSMENT FROM WHITE HOUSE PODIUM (12/17/2014): Press Secretary Josh Earnest talking like this is a White House Spring Break trip – On President Obama’s possible visit to Cuba: “I assume like many Americans he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and a lot of fun things to do. So if there’s an opportunity for the president to visit I’m sure he wouldn’t turn it down.” http://bzfd.it/1C2DmJb

INFELIZ (UNHAPPY) NAVIDAD?: Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is getting ready for a Cuban Christmas, “You had a private conversation with me and now you decide to make that public. I really don’t appreciate that, for one, I really don’t… And yes, this year, if my wife doesn’t kill me now because of what you just did, we will take our kids to Cuba to be exposed to that culture…” – Video here: http://politi.co/1RILCHN

CYBERCRIMES AGAINST THE CUBAN PEOPLE: New York Times editorial11/30/2015: “The only thing keeping the island in the digital Dark Ages is a lack of political will.”

– “The Cuban government has shut down the island's only official email service provider and it's not clear when it'll come back… As is often the case in Cuba, the communist government hasn't given an official reason for the shutdown.” Via Motherboard: http://bit.ly/1I1jpKm

NOT THE ONION: “US, Cuba talk cybercrime cooperation” by The Hill’s Cory Bennet: “Law enforcement is a key area in the bilateral relationship as the United States continues on the path toward normalized relations with Cuba,” the State Department said in a statement‎. Law enforcement cooperation - except when it comes to the extradition of more than 70 fugitives from American justice walking freely on the island, including cop killers. Former Attorney General Holder didn’t seem interested in pushing cooperation on behalf of their victims when pressed earlier this year.‎

SHOT: Last year, “These 5 Facts Explain the Economic Upsides of an Opened Cuba” by TIME’s Ian Bremmer: “The Caribbean country could be the next frontier of global business”‎

CHASER: MOVE OVER SMALL BUSINESS, MAKE ROOM FOR THE OBAMA CRUISE: Earlier this month, “Nearly 60 Cuba ‘cuentapropistas’ (‘self-employed licensees’) were arrested in the historic Old Havana district… 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.” http://bit.ly/1RevY7G-- All of the areas surrounding the Port have been taken over by Raul Castro’s son-in-law so the military corporation can open retail stores to re-fill their coffers. http://bit.ly/1NKRD5k

CASTROS LOSE PROXY VOTE IN VENEZUELA (12/6/15): Castro-worshipper Nicolas Maduro’s socialist party suffers electoral defeat in overwhelming rebuke of Venezuela’s Cuba-style policies – “Venezuela’s opposition party wins parliament in a blow to Maduro” by CNN: http://cnn.it/1TFSp3H

TRANSITIONS? – Following her bureau’s request for the State Department to manipulate Cuba’s ranking in its annual ‘trafficking in persons report,’ Roberta Jacobson was nominated for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, despite no follow through on her sworn congressional testimony that the U.S. would continue to prioritize human rights as part of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba… http://1.usa.gov/1My87gl-- According to The Grey Lady, actually insisting nominees answer questions is beyond the pale…http://nyti.ms/1TOlyd1

LAW? WHAT LAW? “Top U.S. diplomat comes up short on conditions for lifting Cuba embargo” by The Washington Examiner’s Susan Crabtree: “Late in the [February 2015] hearing, Jacobson had trouble answering a basic question about the conditions current law requires Cuba to meet for the trade embargo to be lifted….

-- “Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a Cuban-American who has long fought for human rights changes in Cuba, pressed Jacobson on the topic. She said Obama had requested that Congress lift the embargo and wanted to know which conditions under the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 the Cuban government had met to make that possible.

-- “’I’m sorry, I don’t have that in front of me,’ Jacobson said.

-- “Clearly annoyed, Ros-Lehtinen quickly responded: ‘I hope that when you’re negotiating with the Castro government you know the current laws… Please go and check that out,’ she added, ‘because that is U.S. law, and we are hoping you will abide by that.’ http://washex.am/1Ri3bPQ

COMING ATTRACTIONS – “Cubans are streaming north in large numbers” by the Washington Post’s Nick Miroff: “A year after President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced with great fanfare their plans to normalize relations, an old source of tension has stubbornly returned, with a rush of Cubans trying to get to the United States.‎

“The number of unauthorized Cubans arriving in the United States nearly doubled in fiscal 2015, rising to 43,159 from 24,278 the previous year, according to U.S. border officials, and the surge appears to be accelerating. The vast majority are coming not in rickety boats or rafts but right through U.S. ports of entry at the border with Mexico. Combined with the more than 20,000 who are issued immigration visas annually under existing accords, it amounts to the largest influx of Cubans into the United States in decades. http://wapo.st/1SQRGfM

FOR YOUR RADAR: Rubio on the Cuban Adjustment Act: “It is outrageous that America’s generosity toward Cuban nationals is being taken advantage of by those who abuse the law. Furthermore, the Obama Administration’s normalization policy has created a series of inconsistencies, which have led to widespread abuse of the benefits in a law meant to assist those fleeing repression. While it’s important to preserve the protections the Cuban Adjustment Act affords to Cubans fleeing persecution, we need to eliminate the loopholes being exploited by those who abuse U.S. law, travel back to Cuba frequently and take advantage of American taxpayers. The federal government also needs to follow through in securing a data agreement between the Social Security Administration and DHS to make sure no one is illegally collecting benefits outside the U.S.

-- “The Cuban Adjustment Act was designed to protect Cubans fleeing the repression of Castro’s dictatorship. The need to help those fleeing repression in Cuba has not changed given that, since the Obama Administration announced its counterproductive policy of normalization with Castro’s dictatorship, political arrests and repression have increased. But if you keep returning to the country you are supposedly fleeing, it’s hard to argue that you are a refugee and deserve the assistance that comes with it.  The law should be reexamined to reflect this.” http://bit.ly/1M7HXfD‎

REMEMBERING --Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Jr., Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales…The “Brothers to the Rescue” pilots that were shot down in 1996 by the Cuban military after a “Cuban Five” spy infiltrated the group… Reminder: Ringleader Gerardo Hernandez’s double life sentence was commuted by Obama as part of normalization deal… As the Brothers to the Rescue pilots families mourn the loss of their loved ones, Hernandez’s “frozen sperm was shipped to Panama for secret fertility treatments for Adriana [his wife], all facilitated by the Obama administration — at the urging of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — as part of its backdoor diplomacy with the Cuban government.” http://yhoo.it/1NlhUmQ

-- New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster… Murdered during a traffic stop on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973 by Joanne Chesimard… “Chesimard escaped from prison in 1979 and eventually ended up in Cuba, where she was granted asylum by Fidel Castro and has been living under the name Assata Shakur.” http://7ny.tv/1SQTyFs‎

-- Frank Connor… Husband and father of two killed in a 1975 lunchtime bombing orchestrated by Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional Puertorriquena (FALN) bomb maker, Morales who was implicated in a string of bombings in the United States in the late 1970s that resulted in the deaths of four Americans... Morales escaped U.S. custody after his initial imprisonment and has apparently been provided safe harbor by the government of Cuba since the 1980s. http://1.usa.gov/1lSH2KB

TO COVER CUBA, YOU MUST FOLLOW THESE DISSIDENTS ON TWITTER: The Ladies in White: @DamasdBlanco – Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White: @bertasolerf -- Jorge Luis Garcia Perez "Antunez,"Afro-Cuban opposition leader: @antunezcuba -- Antonio Rodiles, head of the independent think tank, Estado de Says: @AGRodiles -- Guillermo Farinas, former prisoner of conscience and Sakharov Prize winner: @cocofarinas -- Lia Villares, youth leader and blogger: @liavillares -- Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, former prisoner of conscience and US Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient: @OscarBiscet -- Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, independent labor leader: @ivanlibre -- Damaris Moya Portieles, female Afro-Cuban democracy leader: @DamarisMoyaP -- Leticia Herreria, regional leader of The Ladies in White: @leticiarhcuba -- Felix Navarro, independent farmer, teacher and former prisoner of conscience: @felixncuba --Rosa Maria Payá, Cuban political dissident, human rights activist and journalist: @RosaMariaPaya -- Cuban blogger @yoanisanchez-- Danilo Maldonado aka “El Sexto,” Cuban artist and dissident recently released from prison: @dmmelsexto

BIRTHDAYS: Fidel Castro is...ageless (h/t Vladimir, Nicolas, Bashar, Kim Jong Un)…

Cuban Political Prisoners Ask Obama to Revisit His Policy

The following letter, signed by 126 former Cuban political prisoners, who served a combined total of 1,945 years in Castro's political prisons and labor camps, was delivered this morning to The White House:

December 17, 2015

The Honorable Barack H. Obama                                                                    
President of United States of America
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President:

Based on our history and experience as political prisoners under Castro's totalitarian regime, the new Cuba policy established by your Administration has been a regrettable mistake. This will prolong the life of the dictatorship, is worsening the human rights situation there, marginalizing the democratic opposition and compromising U.S. national security.

The normalization of relations is creating false expectations and granting benefits to the tyrannical regime in Cuba; it is also allowing the Paris Club to forgive billions in debt providing the regime hard currency which it funnels into its most repressive institutions: the military and intelligence services giving new life to what were dying institutions. Human rights violations in Cuba have a terrible history, but the current policy has taken a bad situation and made it worse. Violent beatings against activists peacefully assembling have escalated and worsened over 2015.

Politically motivated arbitrary detentions in Cuba as of the end of November 2015 are a documented total of 7,686 and are on track to break the previous record set in 2014 with 8,899 arrests. Over the course of this year the number of detentions have escalated: 178 in January; 492 in February; 610 in March; 338 in April; 641 in May; 563 in June; 674 in July; 768 in August; 882 in September; 1,093 in October; and 1,447 in November. Political prisoners continue to be a reality in Cuba.

Despite the claim that there would be continued support for improved human rights and democratic reforms in Cuba the past year has demonstrated otherwise. Inviting the Castro regime to the VII Summit of the Americas in Panama in April of 2015, violated the democratic ideals of the summit. The dictatorship's anti-democratic and violent nature was made evident during the Summit with Cuban nationals and U.S. citizens beaten up by state security and requiring hospitalization and summit events interrupted by acts of repudiation organized by the Castro regime. The U.S. government responses were low level pro-forma protests while President Obama met with Raul Castro as an equal.

The Administration's new Cuba policy over the past year has compromised U.S. national security. First, commuting Gerardo Hernandez’s two life sentences; he was convicted for among other things conspiracy to murder three U.S. citizens and one resident of the U.S., and returning him to Cuba where he received a hero's welcome in what was an immense propaganda victory for the Castro regime, sending a dangerous signal to those who would harm Americans.

Secondly, removing Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list on May 29, 2015 despite: 1) the Castro regime being caught smuggling heavy weapons and ammunition through Colombia on February 28, 2015. 2) Being linked to international drug trafficking along with its client state Venezuela as reported on January 27, 2015. 3) Being in violation of UN international sanctions to North Korea on July 15, 2013 when caught smuggling tons of weapons and ammunition including ballistic missile technology. Ignoring this will get more Americans killed and undermine U.S. interests.

Finally, having the US Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas meet with the Castro regime’s Interior Minister Major General Carlos Fernandez Gondin in what was officially described as a visit of collaboration and engagement sends worrisome signals that should concern those who care about national security. Gondin has a history of engaging in the mistreatment of opposition activists and has an agenda to undermine U.S. interests, legitimizing him with an official visit sends a terrible message.

We the undersigned are political prisoners who collectively have served 1,945 years in prison for resisting the Castro dictatorship and fighting for democracy in our homeland of Cuba. We are writing this letter out of a deep conviction that this new U.S. Cuba policy will not only harm Cuban aspirations for a free and democratic Cuba while worsening human rights there but also endanger American lives.

Sincerely,

(Name, Years in Political Prison)

Orestes Abreu, 5
Israel Abreu Villarreal, 14
Dr. José Aguiar, 15
Nicolás Aguiar, 15
Ángel Alfonso Alemán, 18
Miguel Álvarez Cardentey , 24
Bernardo Álvares Perdomo, 10
Francisco Álvarez Rojas, 13
Jorge Arrastía, 15
 Ángel Ávalos, 17
Gabriel Astengo, 9
José Bello, 9
Emilio Bringas, 15
Rodolfo Camps Verdecia, 9
Aurelio Candelaria Velázquez, 18
Héctor Carbonell, 5
Carlos Casanova, 20
Pedro Castillo, 20
Orlando Castro, 10
Joaquín Chanyín, 18
Georgina Cid, 15
Pedro Corzo, 7
Enrique Cosío, 13
René Cruz Cruz, 17
Ángel Cuadra Landrove, 29
Ileana Curra Luzón, 3
Pascual Ovidio Delgado, 16
Ángel F. De Fana, 20
José M. Del Pino Martínez, 19
Jesús Díaz Martínez, 14
Ernesto Díaz Rodríguez, 22
Vicente Echerri, 2.5
Cándido Elejalde, 12
Guillermo Estévez, 19
Mario Fajardo, 17
Jorge Fernández, 6
José L. Fernández, 6
Oneida Fernández, 10
Alberto Fibla González, 26
Osvaldo Figueroa, 24
José Luis Fornell, 12
Pedro Fuentes Cid, 16
Ángel García Martínez, 10
Hiran González, 11 months
Teodoro González Alvarado, 16
Jesús González Martínez, 15
Rubén Gonzalo García, 18
Elias Gonzalo García, 14
Alberto Grau, 25
Manuel F. Guevara, 29
Jorge Gutiérrez Izaguirre, 18
José A. Gutiérrez Solana, 10
Basilio Guzmán Marrero, 22
Jorge Guzmán Chaple, 13
Ambrosio Guzmán, 15
Rafael Hernández , 4
Sergio Hernández, 12
Dasio René Hernández Peña, 28
Servando Infante, 18
Kemel Jamis Bernal, 14
José A. Jiménez, 12
Roberto Jiménez, 17
Tobías Junco, 10
Antonio Lamas, 22
Gloria Lassales, 6
Isidoro López, 2
Pedro López González, 10
Pedro Juan López Díaz, 10
Reinaldo López Lima, 23
Antonio López Muñoz, 27
Jesús Lucena, 18
Maritza Lugo, 5
Carlos Fausto Mariscal, 28
Ino Martel Casuso, 6
Domingo Martínez, 9
Leuterio Martínez, 12
Teodoro Martínez, 16
Emilio Martínez Venega, 14
Luis Massón, 6
Eduardo Ochoa, 9
Ángel Pardo Mazorra, 24
Ramón Méndez Pimentel, 26
Ricardo Montero Duque, 25
Eduardo Morales, 6
Alejandro Moreno Maya, 18
Olga Morgan, 14
Sixto Nicot, 18
Emelina Núñez, 6
Pablo Palmiere, 18
Roberto Martín Pérez, 28
Ildefonso Pérez, 6
Roberto Perdomo, 28
Roberto Pizano, 18
Carlos Pons, 20
Ramón (Rino) Puig, 15
Pablo Prieto Castillo, 26
José L. Pujals Mederos, 27
J. René Ramos, 21
Hernán Reyes, 8
Roger Reyes, 20
José del Río, 15
Agapito Rivera, 25
Agustín Robaina, 15
Ofelia Rodríguez, 14
Nelson Rodríguez Pérez, 9
Jesús Rodríguez Beruvides, 16
Tebelio Rodríguez San Román, 15
Aracely Rodríguez San Román, 15
Gerardo Rodríguez San Román, 15
Rodolfo Rodríguez San Román, 15
José O. Rodríguez Terreiro, 10
Ana María Rojas, 12
Nellys Rojas Morales, 9
Caridad Roque, 16
Alvin Ros, 6
Enrique Ruano Gutiérrez, 8
Ariel Semanat, 18
Evaristo Sotolongo, 16
Arturo Suárez Ramos, 23
Luis M. Tapia, 11
Efraín Taquechel, 10
Ricardo Toledo, 9
Armando Yong, 21

MSNBC Interview: What Has Changed Between the U.S. and Cuba?

CHC Editor Mauricio Claver Carone discusses the anniversary of Obama's Cuba policy with MSNBC's Jose Diaz Balart.

Click below (or here) to watch:

U.S.-Cuba Deal at One Year: To the Brutal Victor Goes the Spoils

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
By Cuban author and blogger, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, in The PanAm Post:

U.S.-Cuba Deal at One Year: Castros Stronger Than Ever

To the Brutal Victor Goes the Spoils

The pact between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro is bearing fruits … for the communists. A non-interventionist US president, a Peronist Catholic pope, and a right-wing military dictator exalted by the Latin American left was bound to be a winning ticket.

And so it has been. One year after a new era in Cuba-US relations was announced, it is evident that the Castro regime has secured political stability, a large amount of foreign subsidies, and debt write-offs. Even a dynastic succession is on track for 2018, when Raúl Castro will hand over all the titles he inherited from his older brother Fidel in 2006.

Let us, then, be humble. The elder Castro was right when he decided to impose his regime through violence. The Cuban Revolution was a historical necessity; capitalism remains a fraud which is doomed to failure; and Fidel Castro has been a visionary this whole time.

Let us also be fair with the Cuban people: we are too skeptical, conformist, ungrateful, lazy, and evasive. We weren’t up to the task of being the chosen people to lead the socialist utopia. As soon as we could, we betrayed the island’s proletariat, those who control the means of production, to seek refuge in air-conditioned Hialeah shops.

It is no coincidence that the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement was announced on Pope Francis’s 79th birthday, December 17. Havana generals and Wall Street bankers will pat themselves on the back since their secret deal is close to fruition. The White House’s ideological blindness has enabled this pact to go forward in spite of recalcitrant critics’ insistence on calling tyranny by its name.

Both in Cuba and abroad, speaking of fundamental freedoms is counterproductive at this point. Those of us who have lived 57 years under a regime with no respect for human rights shouldn’t be so impatient when the transition toward post-Castroism is around the corner!

During the last year, the number of arbitrary detentions, beatings, and imprisonments without charges or trials has increased exponentially. Censorship in Cuba has become so blatant that the regime even targeted officially recognized artists such as Tania Bruguera and Juan Carlos Cremata.

Let’s put things on a balance: both the United States and Cuba now have embassies in each other’s capital. Their doors have closed on Cuban civil society and opposition groups, but this “milestone” has produced a guilt-ridden hysteria among US academia and media-types.

Americans can also send instant messages and snail mail to Cuba (so that the political police can more easily read it with impunity). Meanwhile, Cuba’s Computing and Communications Ministry refuses to offer private internet services. They don’t want users’ money; they want the submission of their thought.

Large cruise ships — Granma’s of grand glamour — are soon to arrive in Cuba, but the government still doesn’t allow its citizens to enter their own country by sea. That’s our punishment as the proletariat’s pariahs. Nobody cares about the apartheid of a people ever in diaspora, men and women forced to use the Cuban passport even when some hold dual citizenship. And even with that document in hand we can’t permanently reside in our own country.

The new rules establish that no foreign investor can be of Cuban origin. The Castro gerontocracy has always been motivated by contempt and distrust rather than by profits.

But such details will be ironed out during the orchestrated transition towards a “post-Castro” Cuba. The United States still has a lot to yield to the Castros; Washington still hasn’t turned over Ana Belén Montes, the Cuban spy who infiltrated the Pentagon’s higher echelons and is serving a 25-year term. It should be a piece of cake, since Obama has already released five of Havana’s hit-men, some of them with life sentences.

The first anniversary of Cuba’s deal with the United States signals a new phase in the communist revolution. It leaves the world a wonderful lesson: those who kill more, win; those who win, are legitimate; the dead are just a myth made to fit into the mass-media’s narrative; and those whom Castro doesn’t like, the totalitarian regime will destroy.

Cuban People Are Shouldering Financial Burden of Obama's Castro Bailout

Last week, we posted how the Paris Club of creditor nations was close to finalizing a deal restructuring Castro's $11.1 billion debt with the group.

The deal has now been finalized.

Here are the terms:

First, the Paris Club will forgive $8.5 billion of the debt.

As for the remaining $2.6 billion -- repayment is structured over 18 years and annual payments gradually increase from 1.6% of the $2.6 billion ($40 million) in 2016 to 8.9% in 2033.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, Castro will be spared any burden for his financial irresponsibility for the rest of his life.

It will be the Cuban people -- in 2033 -- when Raul Castro turns 102 years-old, or is dead, who will pay the heaviest burden of this debt.

Castro will now also get a new credit card from the Paris Club.

As one foreign banker stated, "this is an astoundingly generous deal, a fabulous agreement for Cuba."

Cuba's dictatorship, that is.

Again, why such generosity towards this repressive totalitarian dictatorship?

As Reuters had explained, "most of the creditors are willing to show flexibility due to their increased interest in doing business in Cuba following the Communist-run island's detente with the United States."

In other words, the Castro regime has done absolutely nothing to deserve such generosity -- nor will it have any further incentive to do so.

It's simply another multi-billion dollar consequence of Obama's bailout of the Cuban dictatorship.

U.N. Human Rights Chief: End Harassment of Cuban Dissidents

United Nations Human Rights Chief Urges Cuba to Halt Harassment of Civil Society Activists

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Tuesday that he is concerned at the extremely high number of arbitrary arrests and short-term detention of individuals, including human rights defenders and dissidents, in Cuba in recent weeks.

“There have been many hundreds of arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions – which in my view amount to harassment – in the past six weeks alone. These often take place without a warrant and ahead of specific meetings or demonstrations, and seem to be aimed at preventing people from exercising their right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “I was particularly shocked that a number of people, including members of the Ladies in White NGO, were arrested on Human Rights Day, on 10 December. This shows an extraordinary disdain for the importance of human rights on the part of the Cuban authorities.”

The High Commissioner urged the authorities to respect everyone's right to freedom of expression, and to peaceful assembly and association, and to stop arbitrarily arresting people, in particular before, during or after peaceful demonstrations. “I call for the release of all those arbitrarily arrested who may still be in detention as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of their rights,” he said.

Obama Sees Cuba Through Rose-Colored Spectacles

By Elliott Abrams in Newsweek:

Obama Sees Communist Cuba Through Rose Tinted Spectacles

In a new interview with Yahoo, President Obama goes further than ever with his new Cuba policy—in essence giving an early announcement that he will visit Cuba next year. The inducement of sitting down with Fidel Castro is apparently too much to resist.

Final year travel to see bloody dictators has been a problem before, and Bill Clinton almost went to North Korea in 2000. He finally did visit in 2009—but not as president.

In this interview, Obama says “If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody.” This presumably means dissidents, the people whom his Secretary of State ignored during his own visit to Cuba.

But there are many ways of parsing what “everybody” means, and I would bet heavily against Obama demanding, much less getting, the right to sit down with all of Cuba’s leading, courageous, anti-regime dissidents. A tamer crowd can easily be assembled in some sort of compromise with the regime.

The president’s desire to get down there is clear, and leads him to misrepresent what’s actually happened in Cuba since his new opening to the regime was announced last year. Consider this line in the Yahoo story:

"The president hopes that 'sometime next year' he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that 'now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe (go) there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.'"

Shine a light? What progress has been made, exactly? On freedom of speech or of the press, zero. On holding a free election, and breaking the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, zero. Here’s the Washington Post's assessment months after the new Obama policy was announced:

"In announcing the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, President Obama said 'nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight' by his policy of 'engagement.' That’s just as well because in the first six months of Mr. Obama’s normalization of relations with the Communist regime, most indicators of human rights on the island have moved in the wrong direction.

Since December [2014], there have been more than 3,000 political detentions in Cuba, including 641 in May and 220 on Sunday alone, according to dissident sources. Most were accompanied by beatings; at least 20 detainees required medical treatment in May. After Cuba was invited for the first time to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, regime thugs attacked the civil society activists who also showed up."

In fact, the president announced his new policy a year ago this week. But last week on December 10, Human Rights Day, the regime arrested more than 150 dissidents. In the past year there have been a historically high number of political arrests, more than 8,000.

The president explained his thinking, or part of it, to Yahoo:

"'Our original theory on this was not that we were going to see immediate changes or loosening of the control of the Castro regime, but rather that over time you’d lay the predicates for substantial transformation,' he said.

'The more that they see the benefits of U.S. investment, the more that U.S. tourist dollars become woven into their economy, the more that telecommunications is opened up so that Cubans are getting information, unfettered by censorship, the more you’re laying the foundation for the bigger changes that are going to be coming over time,' he added."

This theory is utterly without bases in theory or fact. First, he assumes his deal with Castro is actually going to bring all those reforms, especially an end to censorship. So far the regime has actually cracked down, not opened up.

Moreover, the president’s theory that more tourism will bring political reform is bizarre. Has it done so in China? In fact, Cuba has long traded freely with every single country in the world except the US, and has had tens of thousands of tourists from Europe and Canada. Is there something magical about American tourists that will force Fidel and Raul to give up communism?

But the president appears to believe Raul may not really be a communist anyway. “I do see in him a big streak of pragmatism. In that sense, I don’t think he is an ideologue,” Obama told Yahoo.

Raul Castro joined the “Socialist Youth,” a pro-Soviet communist group, as a teenager. He was absolutely faithful to the Soviet Union while it existed, and remains absolutely faithful to the Leninist view of politics: dictatorship, repression, prisons, never an election, never free speech or press.

This man is “not an ideologue” because he decides to accept American tourist dollars and investments, with all of the money put through regime channels?

It’s laughable, but not to the Cubans who continue to struggle for freedom. Consider this comparison. Natan Sharansky was imprisoned in the Soviet gulag when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire.” Sharansky has said that:

"It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War.

This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell’s Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.

It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin’s 'Great October Bolshevik Revolution' and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution–Reagan’s Revolution.

We were all in and out of punishment cells so often — me more than most — that we developed our own tapping language to communicate with each other between the walls. A secret code. We had to develop new communication methods to pass on this great, impossible news."

That was the message Reagan sent to prisoners in the gulag.

Obama’s message to Cuba’s political prisoners: Raul Castro is “not an ideologue.” The Reagan-Obama contrast speaks for itself. An Obama visit to Castro’s communist regime in Cuba will only make this contrast worse.

One Year Later: Obama's Cuba Policy Proves to Be Counter-Productive

Monday, December 14, 2015
A year ago this week, President Obama announced a new Cuba policy that diplomatically recognized the sole remaining dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, unilaterally eased a series of trade and travel sanctions, and commuted the sentences of Castro agents convicted for serious crimes -- including murder conspiracy -- against Americans.

Meanwhile, the Castro regime promised nothing in return -- a commitment that it has followed-through upon, stressing that it will "not cede one millimeter" on fundamental rights and freedoms for the Cuban people.

By all metrics, Obama's new policy has not only proven to be irresponsible, but counter-productive.

When Obama announced that his new policy is "what change looks like" on December 17th, 2014, perhaps few anticipated that it would mean "change -- for the worse."

Yet, here are the irrefutable facts of 2015:

-- There has been a historic number of political arrests. With a few weeks still to go, there have been well over 8,000 documented political arrests in Cuba throughout the year. The Castro regime will quadruple the year-long tally of political arrests recorded in 2010 (2,074) and double that recorded in 2011 (4,123). Last month alone (November 2015), there were over 1,447 documented political arrests, which is the highest monthly tally in decades.

-- A Cuban migration crisis has unfolded. The number of Cuban who have entered the United States has spiked by nearly 80% compared to last year. Over 43,000 Cubans have managed to arrive in the United States during the year, while tens of thousands more are stuck desperately trying to make the journey -- via Ecuador -- up South and Central America. Compared to 2009, when President Obama took office, these numbers have sextupled from less than 7,000.

-- Internet connectivity ranking has dropped. According to the ITU's Measuring the Information Society Report for 2015, which is the world’s most reliable and impartial global data and analysis on information and communication technology (ICT) access, Cuba has dropped ten spots in this ranking from #119 to #129. Cuba fares much worse than some of the world's most infamous Internet suppressors, including Zimbabwe (#127), Syria (#117), Iran (#91), China (#82) and Venezuela (#72).

-- U.S. agricultural sales to Cuba have plummeted. Despite the Obama Administration's easing of sanctions, U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba have precipitously declined by nearly 40% compared to last year -- from $290 million to $160 million. In August 2015 alone, U.S. agricultural exports dropped 84% from $14.3 million in 2014 to $2.25 million, one of the lowest numbers since U.S. agricultural exports were first authorized in 2001.

-- Castro has lied about terrorism without accountability. While recognizing that the Castro regime continues to harbor terrorists, the Obama Administration removed Cuba from the "state-sponsors of terrorism" list based on vague commitments, which it has failed to uphold. There has been zero progress on the ETA terrorists sought for extradition by the Spanish government or the "Top Ten Most Wanted Terrorist" sought by the FBI. Meanwhile, FARC narco-terrorists continue to enjoy luxury accommodations in Havana's finest confiscated homes. As for the February 2015 illegal arms cache intercepted in Colombia, which was brokered by the Cuban military -- mum remains the word.

-- Castro has lied about political prisoners without accountability. While over 200 Cuban dissidents were being arrested on International Human Rights Day (December 10th) last week, Castro's Attorney General told the international media that there are no political prisoners on the island. Meanwhile, most of the 53 political prisoners released in the months prior and after Obama's December 2014 announcement have been beaten and rearrested on multiple occasions, while some have been handed new long-term prison sentences.

-- International political and economic pressure has further eroded. Despite the Obama Administration's prediction that its new policy would allow other countries to hold the Castro regime accountable for its repressive practices, the opposite has been the case. Presidents, foreign ministers and other dignitaries have flocked to Cuba to discuss business opportunities with Castro's state monopolies. Yet none has made any minimal gesture of solidarity with Cuba's civil society. Meanwhile, international creditors have pardoned tens of billions in the Castro dictatorship's debts.

-- Castro's state monopolies have been strengthened. Despite the Obama Administration's rhetoric that its new policy seeks to empower Cuba's "cuentapropistas" ("self-employed sector"), the opposite has been the case. The Castro regime's military conglomerates, led by GAESA, have been at the center of all trade delegations. Even the limited spaces in which "cuentapropistas" previously operated are being constricted so that GAESA can further centralize its control of the island's travel, retail and financial sector. This has led to the widespread expulsion, arrest and confiscation of "cuentapropistas" from designated tourist zones.

Finally, in an extraordinary failure of leadership, President Obama has yet to offer any sympathy or support to the mothers and other relatives of the young Americans who were murdered by the Castro regime in collusion with the Cuban agents whose prison sentences he commuted. In addition to losing their loved ones, these American families saw justice aborted -- without any notice or gesture -- by a stroke of their own President's pen on December 17, 2014.

"It's like they murdered my son all over again," said one of the mothers.