Cuba, U.S. Presidential Candidates and the Cuban-American Community

Saturday, January 2, 2016
A Letter to the Editor of The Jersey Journal:

Cuba, U.S. presidential candidates and the Cuban-American community

On Jan. 1, Fidel and Raúl Castro mark 57 years tormenting the Cuban people.

After enjoying an initial popularity while promising a freer, more prosperous society, the duo imposed a Soviet-styled totalitarianism plagued by unprecedented oppression, shortages, paredones (firing squads), and forced labor camps (especially for religious Cubans and gays).

Cubans soon began to "vote with their feet" en masse. Indeed, Hudson County is home to a notable Cuban expatriate community, second only to Miami.

Predictably, the dictators answered President Obama's recent olive branch with increased repression and the arrest of more dissidents, notably young Afro-Cuban women.

Dictatorships of every genre — from Lenin to Perón — foster foreign fans who extol alleged achievements in justifying their horrors and misery. Like the Trujillos in the Dominican Republic (1930-1961), the Castros gifted the "presidency" from brother to brother, both octogenarians. This gerontocracy still counts on a cadre of apologists who recycle Havana's party-line and habitually attack pro-democracy Cuban-Americans with contradictory right-wing and left-wing vitriolic insults.

Our own Jersey Journal recently published a puerile letter by a Richard Heubel (Nov. 22). In differing from GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz regarding Syrian refugees, Heubel slurs all Cuban-Americans.

Other presidential hopefuls in both political parties have expressed national security concerns vis-à-vis Middle-Eastern migrants; yet, Heubel whines exclusively about the only two Hispanic candidates. Furthermore:

1. He absurdly calls both U.S. senators "Cuban ... immigrants," seemingly unaware of the requirement of U.S. citizenship-by-birth to be president. Rubio's parents are Cuban-born. Cruz's father is Cuban-born, his mother of Irish-Italian ancestry. How many generations does it take for Heubel to accept foreign-born descendants as legitimate Americans? Would he call President Obama (whose father was Kenyan-born) "the Kenyan president," or Jersey City Mayor Fulop (whose parents are Romanian-born) "the Romanian mayor"?

2. Heubel grumbles about criminals among the 1980 Mariel boatlift Cuban refugees: Certainly, it was the Castros who dumped common inmates on the Freedom Flotilla, which was tantamount to a declaration of war vs. the U.S.

3. He mentions past violence in the Cuban-American community, deceptively promoting caricatured ethnic stereotypes with Hollywood's fiction á la "Scarface."

Ironically, the Castros' Cuba has long sponsored international terrorism. Cuba sought to nuke the U.S. in 1962, a scheme paradoxically foiled by Nikita Khrushchev. Weeks after the Missile Crisis, the FBI thwarted a Cuban government plan to TNT blast midtown Manhattan on that Black Friday. The Kennedy Administration expelled implicated UN Cuban diplomats.

Heubel is entitled to advocate for the aggressive dictatorship. However, why does he confound his criticism of presidential candidates with an insensitive demonization of the entire Cuban-American community? Why not address the politicians' personal opinions without hate-mongering against an industrious community constituted of victims of a six-decade dynastic tyranny?

Perhaps the Cuban-Americans' extraordinary achievements in our open society par excellence may have generated the envious motives leading to Heubel's bigoted rants.

Roland Alum
West New York

Radames Suarez

Alum is a University of Pittsburgh's external Research Associate. Suárez is a New York City librarian.

Cuban Dissident Released in Obama Deal, Then Arrested Again, Now in Grave Condition

Wednesday, December 30, 2015
From PJ Media:

Cuban Activist Freed in Obama Deal, Then Arrested Again, Now in Grave Condition

The Obama administration is calling on the Cuban government to free a political prisoner -- one of the dozens released from prison a year ago as a rapprochement gesture, only to be re-arrested a few months later.

Vladimir Morera Bacallao, 53, is reportedly near death due to the hunger strike he started behind bars in October.

Morera Bacallao, a labor activist, was arrested in April in the run-up to the regime's sham municipal elections for posting a sign outside his home stating: "I vote for my freedom and not in an election where I cannot choose my president."

A month ago, he was sentenced to four and a half years behind bars.

Around the same time, another one of the political prisoners whose release was hailed by the Obama administration as a grand gesture of the Castro regime toward human rights was sentenced to another prison term. Jorge Ramirez Calderon received two and a half years behind bars for "joining a peaceful protest asking for improved sanitary conditions and water in his community," the State Department acknowledged at the time.

"Respect for human rights is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, and we call on the Cuban government to respect its citizens’ rights to free expression and peaceful protest," the State Department said Nov. 24.

Morera Bacallao was transferred from his prison cell to an intensive care unit last week. At today's State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters the activist is in "very serious condition."

"The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating physical condition of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, who has been on a hunger strike since October to protest his imprisonment for peacefully expressing political dissent," Toner said. "Mr. Morera Bacallao was one of 53 prisoners of concern released shortly after the December 2014 announcement of the president's new policy direction on Cuba, but detained again in April of 2015 for hanging a sign outside his home in protest of municipal elections."

"...The United States urgently calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Morera Bacallao."

Amnesty International noted on Dec. 10 that 1,477 arbitrary politically motivated arrests by Cuban officials in November -- "the highest monthly total in many years."

“For weeks on end, the Cuban authorities have used a spike in arrests and harassment to prevent human rights activists and dissidents from protesting peacefully," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) noted that during President Obama's time in office "activists Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza died under uncannily similar circumstances" as hunger-striking Morera Bacallao. "Activists Laura Pollan and Oswaldo Paya also perished at the hands of Castros' thugs during this administration."

"Morera Bacallao has risked everything for the basic right to have a voice in his government. His unjustifiable imprisonment and mistreatment are further indictments of the brutal malevolence of the Castro regime, and the utter failure of Obama's appeasement of Cuba's dictators," Diaz-Balart wrote on his Facebook page. "I urge human rights organizations and the Obama administration to bring attention to the urgent case of Vladimir Morera Bacallao, and to demand that he receive immediate medical attention. We must not remain silent while another courageous activist hovers on the brink of death."

Quote of the Day: Who Sees Growth in the Cuban Economy?

Here two things have improved: transportation and the houses being built for the military and the police. Nothing else. People still have no money.
-- Aylem, a hairdresser, pursuant to the Castro regime's announcement that the Cuban economy grew by 4% this year, Diario de Cuba, 12/29/15

The Irony of Rahm's Cuba 'Vacation'

By Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations:

Rahm Emanuel in Cuba

Here’s the news out of Chicago:

"Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting short his family vacation in Cuba and will return to Chicago on Tuesday to deal with the latest crisis involving the city’s Police Department."

While the press is paying attention to the shootings, I’d like to ask another question: what is he doing taking a “family vacation” in a viciously repressive communist country?

Think of it: the liberal Democrat ignores suppression of freedom of the press and speech and religion. The elected mayor frolics in a place where there has not been one free election since Fidel Castro took over in 1959, nor will there be while he and his brother Raul live.

The island’s prisons are full of political prisoners, but Emanuel ignores this. There are plenty of human rights activists and former political prisoners who would be happy to talk with him about Cuba’s future, but that won’t happen: he’s on a “family vacation,” you see.

Can you imagine a “family vacation” on South Africa’s beautiful beaches while Nelson Mandela sat in prison on Robben Island? A fun time in Russia while Sharansky was in the Gulag? No. So why is Cuba different?

Emanuel’s visit to Cuba is an expression of indifference to human freedom. Cuba is surrounded by democracies whose people do not live in a police state and do not go to jail for asking to vote or trying to publish a newspaper–and their beaches are equally beautiful. Chicago’s mayor chose to hand some badly needed cash to the Castro regime, and there is simply no excuse for it. But there is a considerable irony here: just as Amnesty International is pounding Emanuel over protection of human rights in Chicago, he’s off sunning himself on an island that is famous precisely for the violation of human rights.

After Meeting With Cuban-American Members of Congress, Family of Prominent Dissident Subjected to Threats

Tuesday, December 29, 2015
When Cuban dissidents and civil society leaders meet with Members of the U.S. Congress who advocate for human rights, freedom and democracy -- they and their families face death threats and harassment.

When unscrupulous businessmen travel to Cuba in their private jets and stay at the military's 5-star hotels, in order to shill for Castro's business agenda -- they are welcome with open arms.

Sadly, those businessmen who keep their heads down, mouths shut and wallets open, in order to "earn" a visa from the Castro regime, enable such behavior.

From Civil Rights Defenders:

Family of Prominent Cuban Human Rights Defender Subjected to Threats and Harassment

Cuban human rights defender, Ailer Gonzalez Mena, of Estado de SATS, has been threatened by the Cuban authorities over the weekend. The security police visited her father and told him they had evidence she was meeting with the "Cuban-American Mafia Members of Congress." They also asked him if he and his wife "were currently able to receive bad news," as the father had recently undergone heart surgery.

"The supposedly bad news would be that something is going to happen to me," said Ailer Gonzalez Mena in an interview with Civil Rights Defenders.

The security police also demanded to know whether Gonzalez Mena’s daughter, who is currently residing with the parents, held the same political beliefs as she did.

"It is a common strategy of the Cuban authorities to mobilize the family against human rights defenders such as us," Ailer Gonzalez Mena explained.

The threat is a result of Ailer Gonzalez and Antonio G. Rodiles, also a member of Estado de Sats, who in recent weeks conducted meetings with several members of the U.S. Congress who support their campaign #TodosMarchamos for transparency, democracy and the release of political prisoners in Cuba,

Repression has escalated in recent weeks as the #TodosMarchamos (#WeAllMarch) campaign is gaining momentum on the Caribbean island and among Cubans living in exile. Organised by Estado de Sats, Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) and several other organizations of the Foro por los Derechos y Libertades (Forum for Rights and Freedoms) its core message is to call on Cubans to join the marches and demand amnesty for all political prisoners.

"The enthusiasm and strength of the campaign is incredible. And now the support of the expatriate community in Miami is getting stronger and stronger," added Ailer Gonzalez Mena.

The police have repressed the Sunday marches like clockwork every week since mid April 2015, but the participants have not been deterred and return defiantly again and again. As a consequence of these marches the number of arbitrary detentions of democracy activists skyrocketed throughout 2015.

According to the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation, (CCDHRN), there were less than 200 arbitrary detentions in January, but this had increased almost eight fold to 1,500 in November.

Tweet of the Week: Time for Conditions, Not Concerns

Obama-Castro Deal Making Things Worse in Cuba

From The Telegraph:

How more Cubans are fleeing for the US than ever

Yenis Rojas should be a symbol of Cuba’s future. A doctor, she has worked all her life for the state, and is full of drive, energy and ambition.

And yet, despite the announcement a year ago that America and Cuba were re-establishing ties after half a century of hostilities, she sees no promise in her homeland and has fled.

“I had to get out,” she said, speaking from the Costa Rica, close to the border with Nicaragua, where she is camped out. "I couldn't stand it any more."

On Sunday, Pope Francis called for Central American states to find an urgent solution to help them.

"I ask the countries of the region to generously resume efforts to find a quick solution to this humanitarian drama," he said, speaking from St Peter’s.

It is a problem that has been brewing for many weeks. Last week the Nicaraguan government proposed that Washington organise an airlift to take the migrants directly from Costa Rica to the United States. The Costa Rican government has tried to convince both Belize and Guatemala to allow the Cubans passage to reach Mexico.

Almost 6,000 Cubans are currently in Costa Rica, said Mrs Rojas – waiting like her, her husband and their friend to make it to the US. Her 14-year-old son has stayed behind with a sister; she hopes eventually to bring him to the US.

Since leaving Cuba on November 9, she has journeyed by boat, bus, foot and plane to get closer to her goal of reaching the United States. Next was an eight-hour walk to the border crossing, before carrying on north.
Cubans have since 1966 been able, unlike any other Latinos, to show up at an established US port of entry, declare their nationality, and enter the country. But with the new agreement, they fear that policy may end.

“Now we all want to leave Cuba more than ever,” she said.

Mrs Rojas, 36, is one of an estimated 45,000 Cubans to have left the island this year – the biggest annual exodus since the 1980 Mariel boatlift, which hauled 125,000 people across the Florida Straits. Many now are using a new route – flying in to Ecuador, which has lifted visa restrictions, and then travelling overland through Central America and Mexico.

But did not the agreement bring the prospect of better days? Embassies have opened, business has surged, credit cards are now being accepted, and – last week – direct flights and postal services resumed. Internet access has widened and arrivals of American visitors increased 50 per cent, year on year. Has this not helped them financially?

“For us Cubans our lives have not changed,” Mrs Rojas said. “Actually, it’s getting worse.”

Catholic Bishop: Some Cuban Political Prisoners Serving Life Sentences

From Breitbart:

Catholic Bishop Accuses Cuba of Holding Political Prisoners

The bishop in charge of the pastoral care of prison inmates in Cuba declared Wednesday that Cuba is holding a number of political prisoners on the island, some of whom are serving long sentences, a claim that Havana has repeatedly denied.

“Let’s be clear,” said Jorge Serpa, the bishop of the western diocese of Pinar del Rio. “We do have cases of political prisoners, persons serving long sentences for whom I have requested a review on behalf of the Church, and I will not tire of doing so.”

The bishop’s statements formed part of an interview published Wednesday in the magazine Palabra Nueva, a publication of the Archdiocese of Havana.

The Cuban government vehemently denies the existence of political prisoners on the island and instead punishes dissidents or members of the opposition under non-political charges, such as disturbances of public order or danger to the state.

In the interview, Serpa, who is head of the Commission of Pastoral Work with Prisoners of the Catholic Church in Cuba, said that there are “persons serving 47 or 40 years in prison.” He added, “In my group there are seven ‘color orange’ prisoners, who are those serving life sentences, and some of them are political.”

Who Cares About Vladimir Morera Bacallao?

Monday, December 28, 2015
On the morning of February 23rd, 2010, we posted a note entitled, "Who Cares About Orlando Zapata Tamayo?"

It was a desperate plea for the world to focus on the plight of a young Cuban political prisoner, who had spent over 80-days on a hunger strike protesting the torture and abuses of the Castro regime, and whose health had quickly deteriorated.

The Obama Administration and the international media remained silent.

That afternoon, Orlando Zapata Tamayo tragically died.

We'll never forget the eerie premonition of that post.

On January 19th, 2012, we similarly posted a note entitled, "Who Cares About Wilman Villar Mendoza?"

Villar Mendoza, 31-years old at the time, had been arrested for staging a peaceful demonstration on November 14, 2011, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Similarly, the Obama Administration and the international media remained silent.

He died the next day, pursuant to a 50-day hunger strike.

Here is a tragic fact: From Orlando Zapata Tamayo and Wilman Villar Mendoza, to Oswaldo Paya and Laura Pollan, more Cuban political prisoners and dissident leaders have been killed (or died in mysterious circumstances) under Obama's watch than under any U.S. administration in decades.

We'd also stress that this has been under the orders of General Raul Castro, who Obama this month professed to be "more of a pragmatist" -- perhaps in the mold of Bashar al-Assad.

It's a striking reminder about Raul Castro's brutality and the impunity he has felt in dealing with the Obama Administration.

Today, not based on premonition, but on the hope that a valuable lesson has been learned, we pray that the world's attention turns to Vladimir Morera Bacallao.

Morera Bacallo, an independent labor activist, was one of the 53 political prisoners released as part of the Obama-Castro deal on December 17th, 2014.

He was re-arrested in April 2015, pursuant to the Castro regime's sham municipal "elections."

His "crime"? Placing a sign outside his home that read, "I vote for my freedom and not in an election where I cannot choose my president."

Last month, the Castro regime informed Morera Bacallao that he had been handed a new four-year prison sentence.

In other words, Raul Castro reneged on his deal with Obama.

Morera Bacallao has been on hunger strike since October 9th, 2015.

Last week, in the exact same pattern that led to Orlando Zapata Tamayo's death, he was transferred from his prison cell to an intensive care unit in the Santa Clara Hospital.

He is near death.

Morera Bacallao is a man of extraordinary character and conviction.

Despite Tourists, Canadian Firms Noticeably Absent From Cuba

Sunday, December 27, 2015
There's a very interesting article in Canada's Globe and Mail entitled, "In tourist-deluged Cuba, Canadian firms are noticeably absent."

It makes the point how despite Canadian tourists forming nearly 50% of visitors to Cuba, they have very little commercial presence in the island's tourism sector.

One academic poses the question, “Why aren’t there more Canadian infrastructure companies, more interests, given that there are more than one million Canadian tourists?

First, this further proves how the talking point about U.S. companies "missing opportunities" in Cuba is a farce.

(Click here for more statistics that contradict this favorite talking point by Castro's lobbyists in D.C.)

But the biggest problem is highlighted throughout the article -- the lucrative tourism industry in Cuba is controlled by Castro's military.

And they aren't letting go, as monopolists never voluntarily do.

The article makes it clear -- "All major tourist facilities, retail chains, gas stations, telecommunications, rental cars and import companies remain in the control of the government, usually through the military."

As for existing minority ventures with the Cuban military, it's clear who calls the shots:

"Guy Chartier, who is CEO of Wilton Properties, the Cuba branch of Montreal’s Dundee 360 Real Estate Corp., said there has been a significant overall shift in tone from government in the past year. His company was invited by the military, which controls tourism ventures, to more than double the size of its resort project at Jibacoa, midway between Havana and Varadero – the new plan covers more than 3,200 acres – and urged to accelerate construction of their 350-room hotel in Havana."

And they have one goal -- to remain in power:

"[Y]ou have to have relationships of trust with people in the regime, said [Canadian lawyer] Gregory Binioswky, who has lived in Havana for more than 20 years. 'Forget your Harvard Business School ideas: You can come to Cuba with the biggest idea and pool of capital but if they don’t see it as in their interest…I tell all my clients, Cuba is not an investor-friendly government. There is a daunting bureaucracy. There are non-economic policies that have an impact on the economy.'"

Thus, it defies common sense and logic to believe that feeding billions to Cuba's tourism industry, which represents the Cuban military and intelligence service's main source of income, will somehow weaken the Castro regime.

To the contrary -- the Castro regime has overwhelmingly gamed it to its favor, while the Obama Administration plays right into their hands.

Newsmax TV Interview: On Obama's Cuba Policy

Interview with CHC Editor, Mauricio Claver-Carone, on the anniversary of Obama's new Cuba policy.

Click below (or here) to watch:

Red Cross: Cuban Migration Crisis May 'Spin Out of Control'

From AFP:

Cuban migrant crisis in C.America may 'spin out of control': Red Cross
A building crisis in Central America of US-bound Cubans being blocked at borders could "spin out of control" on the frontier between Costa Rica and Panama, the Red Cross warned Thursday.

"If Costa Rica doesn't give visas to the Cubans stranded in (the border town of) Paso Canoas, we should be prepared," Victor Hall, of the Panamanian Red Cross, told AFP in a telephone interview.

He said the number of Cubans stuck in the isolated town, prevented from traveling on to Costa Rica, had swollen to 602 by Thursday.

All of them aim to get to the United States, which has a decades-old policy of accepting them if they set foot on its soil.

But another 5,000 to 7,000 Cuban refugees are already blocked on the next border, between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has been refusing them entry since mid-November, forcing Costa Rica to make increasingly desperate pleas to other Central American nations to take the Cubans in to allow them to continue their journey to the US.

Faced with refusals by the other countries, Costa Rica last week announced it would issue no other visas to arriving Cubans and threatened to deport them back to their homeland.

Hall told AFP that the Red Cross "understands that another 2,000 Cubans are crossing the country (Panama) to get to Paso Canoas."

He said 12 Cubans have been taken to hospital with critical health problems, some of them with diabetes, kidney failure or high blood pressure. Others were treated for injuries from blows they said they received in the first stage of their journey, through Ecuador and Colombia, to Panama.

The Red Cross said temporary shelters set up for the migrants in Paso Canoas were collapsing under the sheer numbers of people. He said there was a need for blankets and pillows.

Among the migrants are pregnant women, and one Cuban woman told the newspaper La Estrella de Panama that she had to confide her son to a Costa Rican couple for months to avoid him going hungry.

On Christmas, Cubans Prefer to Risk Lives at Sea

Clearly, they didn't get the Obama-Castro memo.

From The Miami Herald:

Dozens of Cuban migrants land across Florida Keys

The first group, still wet, was found around 4 a.m. at a Walgreen’s parking lot on an unspecified Key

Others came ashore at Lower Matecumbe Key, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West and Grassy 

Groups of migrants from Cuba landed in various parts of the Florida Keys on Christmas Day, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

The landings began just past 4 a.m. when 15 migrants, still wet from the voyage from Cuba, were found in a Walgreen’s parking lot on an unspecified Key. They were reported in “good condition,” according to sheriff’s department spokeswoman Becky Herrin.

Three hours later, in Lower Matecumbe Key, over a dozen more migrants made it ashore, most of them in good condition as well. Just a few minutes later, south at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West, an “unknown number of migrants” came ashore.

Finally, just past noon, one migrant — possibly having strayed from one of the other landings — was found at Grassy Key.

Agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection were called in to take custody of the migrants. Cuban migrants who make it to U.S. soil are generally allowed to stay in the country.